A war is being waged against life on Earth. Rivers, forests, oceans, whole species, and millions – if not billions – of people have already been counted as casualties. We are losing this war. Badly. If we lose this war, we lose everything. We must not lose this war.
Winning a war requires exceptional bravery. Warriors must risk everything. Many will be imprisoned. Many will be physically and psychologically maimed. Many will be killed. Where will we find the bravery required of us?
This question is posed everywhere and by everyone in Thacker Pass. The fight for Thacker Pass is, after all, one more battle in this war against life. Sage brush tremble with premonitions of the approaching machines. Snow melts and hisses with the knowledge that the thawing ground makes construction more imminent. Coyotes recognize the gallows being built. They crack jokes nervously and laugh half-heartedly. Ravens circle our camp asking us what we are prepared to do.
I grow bitter with the constant questioning. When so many generations of our ancestors lived during times when ecological collapse was unthinkable, why must I live during times when ecological collapse appears inevitable? When so many humans alive today choose to pursue comfort, peace, distraction, and sedation, why don’t I? When so many ignore the war, why must I fight?
The alternatives are seductive. I could focus on falling love with a woman, maybe becoming a father, enjoying time with friends and family. I could focus on easing the anxiety and depression that haunt me. I could find a home, find a job, find stability. Instead of fighting, I could simply live. Who would blame me?
The winter wind in Thacker Pass would. She never lets you forget about life. Sometimes, she blows from the north. Oftentimes, she blows from the west. At all times, she blows cold.
But, do not mistake her coldness for cruelty. Her lessons hurt, but they are not unkind. If you let her, she’ll touch your bones – no matter how much wool or down you surround yourself in, no matter how many jackets or sweaters you place in her way. She’ll kill the chill in your fingers and toes. She’ll burn your lips with a passionate kiss and then numb your exposed tips and bits.
When she comes out of the west from the sunset, she bears wisdom from the shadowlands. When she approaches from that eternal darkness, she brings tidings from the dead. When she arrives frigidly with stinging snow from the north, her caresses are the first news of your death. Soon, she murmurs, the numbness will grow from your chilled edges to your hottest depths. You will succumb to the everlasting winter. And, what will you do, she asks, with the warmth yet remaining to you?
I have dreaded her and her icy, unceasing insistences. In the morning, wrapped up and warm in my sleeping bag, I have cringed at the thought of facing her. Throughout the day, I have watched her vigilantly with fear of the snow she might drag over the mountains. At night, I have begged her to calm down, to stop slapping tent flaps and car windows, so I could sleep. The war is difficult enough, I have told her, without the constant pain you bring.
When, at last, she rendered useless the defenses I wrapped my body in, she rendered useless the defenses I wrapped my petty desires in, too. I surrendered to her. She washed over me, hungry to know my body. She left no part of me unlicked. The pain, at first, was excruciating. My blood fled her touch. My skin threatened to shatter like frozen puddles. My bones nearly snapped in her frozen grip.
When I did not deny her, she rewarded me with numbness. The pain dulled and then vanished. My fear was replaced with a calm, cold stillness. I was as strong as ice, as powerful as a glacier, as immovable as a snow-capped peak. No temptation of comfort threatened to pull me away. No yearning for warmth distracted me. No craving for consolation softened my heart.
I died to everything but my purpose. My spirit leapt from the cage of my self-pity to join the grim ghosts who dance with winter wind in circles over the land. I experienced what death feels like. No pain found me there. No weariness. No bitterness. The numbness was delicious.
Slowly, the wind pulled herself from me. My blood cautiously returned to my muscles, flowed back into my limbs, and trickled to my toes and fingertips. As my inner flames rekindled themselves, the pain returned. The ache re-inhabited my bones. My flesh stung once again. My lips smoldered where the wind’s lips had been.
I expected the bitterness to settle back in. I searched my soul for my old lusting after an easier life. But, the bitterness was gone and an easier life was no longer appealing. The wind had showed me my future, had given me a taste of the tantalizing, inevitable anesthesia that awaits us whether this war claims us or we die many years from now warm and cozy with the knowledge that we won.