Winter in Alaska is a dangerous time. Okay, that’s a gross understatement, and if I were to detail out the various ways that winter in Alaska is dangerous I’d end up with a book instead of a newsletter. So if you aren’t really sure that Alaska is dangerous in winter, I’d recommend some crazy “reality TV” on the subject. That seems to come close to the true nature of… nature.
Why am I telling you this? Mostly to make conversation. And to tell you about a rather unfortunate hiking experience. It was either early April or late March and still quite snowy. (We tend to get snow the way Seattle gets rain and D.C. gets bullshit, which is to say in large quantities.) I was in my twenties and still feeling quite invulnerable, so I was hiking with very little in supplies.
The mountain in question is hiked regularly by dozens of people during the summer and fall months, so it’s not like I went looking for trouble. I didn’t go looking for avalanches either but found one of those all the same. I ended up on the far side of the mountain, down a rather steep valley where roads are few and far between. Darkness was setting in and the small bag I’d brought with me was under about three tons of snow.
I tried to gain my bearing for a bit, but the moon wasn’t visible where I was and in Alaska you see ALL the stars, so I was officially lost.
What I’m about to tell you should be considered bad advice. I was an idiot. But the avalanche had uncovered a side of the mountain and in side, I could see the black outline of a cave. I figured that best bet for me would be to make shelter in the cave for the night and then walk my way out the next morning.
As I got closer to that cave, I could feel a bit of heat coming out from it and I could even see a very dim glow. I don’t know what I expected when I got there, some sort of lava fissure? No. There, sitting in the dark was a large man.
Well, not exactly a man. A golem. It wasn’t moving or doing anything really except staring off into the distance. It looked like someone had decided to mix pottery with a gingerbread juggernaut. Its eyes glowed red-hot and if it had been moving, I’m sure I would’ve run screaming back into the cold.
But I was cold, and this thing was putting out a considerable amount of heat. So, I slowly walked over and sat down to the creature’s right. Not directly in front of him, but still in sight. I figure it would be best not to surprise this thing.
Now most people might have just sat in silence with this thing, but I’m not most people. It would be rude to not introduce myself. And for about twenty minutes I spoke at length about why I was in the cave.
No reaction. Until I said, “Oy vey.” With this small utterance, the creature moved and stared at me. Now I’ll be the first to admit I know very little Yiddish. Between Fiddler on the Roof and… Okay all my Yiddish is from Fiddler. So, what do you suppose my next words were?
Yup. “L’chaim.” I even made a slight toasting motion.
The creature stood suddenly and stretched. It spoke with rapid fluency in a language I have never heard before or since. It seemed to understand why I was confused, so it walked outside, and came back with a block of rapidly melting snow. He formed a puddle in the middle of the cave and scooped more dirt into it until it was a large, muddy mass. Then, it opened its mouth and popped the mud pie in.
I wasn’t about to eat mud, so I just gave him the ole thumbs up. Good for you buddy.
But my new-found friend wasn’t done. In a few short moments, he spit out a clay tablet, etched with all sort of writing and maps. He handed it to me the way you might pass a baby rabbit to someone else.
I looked at the tablet and back at the golem. The maps were surprisingly accurate, but I had no idea how to read the writing. When I told him as much, he punched me, right in the face.
When I woke up several hours later, in the middle of a park, in the center of a circle of melted and dry ground, I had a clay tablet, the ragged remains of my bag and a black eye.
I keep reminding myself I should learn Yiddish in case I run into him again. I’m not as young as I was back then and I worry that getting cold cocked by a golem again might end me.
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