The Last Winter

The Last Winter

A Story by Carol Cashes
"

barleygirl's story about her mountain hike brought a rush of memories about my gold prospecting days. While her story is entertaining and warm...this one is bleak and cold...

"

 

The Last Winter

 

The world has been reduced to black, and various shades of gray and white.  Snow has been falling for eight days, and I can only see out through a thin strip at the top of the windows.  I’m tired, I can only sleep three hours at the time before I must clear the doorway and check that the top of the marker poles can still be seen.  This summer past, I placed 10 foot poles at two foot intervals to mark the paths to the barn and the woodshed.  There are twenty to the woodshed and thirty-seven to the barn.  I also painted them a bright red, but at night, they become just another shade of dark gray, their vivid hue stolen by the swirling snow. 

 

My days and nights are reduced to cycles of sleeping, clearing snow, checking on the horse, and bringing from the woodshed only the number of pieces I have burned since the last trip.  This activity does not deplete my energy and rob me of vital body heat, and is the right amount of exertion to ensure adequate circulation.  I eat before each trip out and tried to read the first two days, but the blinding whiteness drained me, and I now just sleep until the next cycle.

 

It’s beginning to take longer and longer for the horse to respond to me and I will have to bring him in soon.  I must try to save him if I can. The first day of the snow, I placed old blankets on extra hay in his stall and I must break the ice on his water every three or four hours.  I considered banking a small fire in the barn, well away from any timbers and piling stones very high around it to ensure containment, but this goes against all I know of hay, barns and fire.  I will bring him into the cabin if this goes on much longer.

 

He and I have worked together fifteen summers now, and I am too old to do our work alone.  My bones could not tolerate the heavy burdens he carries for me from the claim to my cabin, and I no longer have the inclination to acquire a younger horse to replace him.  When he dies, I will cease to work, and it will be my last winter. 

 

I miss the dog.  He found his way to me this past summer and I fed him and took him in.  Before the snow was very deep, I would let him run when I went to the barn and the woodshed, and he would come bounding up when I called him to come in.  The fourth day he did not return and I dare not travel beyond my markers to hunt for him.

 

The silence of so much snow is deafening.  The absence of the noises of the forest, the wildlife and the wind in the trees, is louder than the roar of the waterfall when you stand so close as to be soaked in minutes from the mist.   When I speak aloud to reassure the horse, my words boom like the dynamite used by the road crews in summer to shift the granite rock.

 

I must bring the horse in, now.  He is lethargic and shivering, another few hours and he will surely die.  I drape all of the old blankets on him and begin moving his grain and hay to the cabin, piling it outside the door.  I lead him out of the barn and he stumbles in the first high drift.  I try to soothe him and to urge him to hurry with me to the cabin, to the light ahead, but he is old, now, and tired, and I must pull roughly on the halter to move him forward.  When we reach the cabin, I pull him through the door and to the opposite wall, to a space I have kept clear for just this purpose.  There is hay, a small trough with grain attached to the wall, and a bucket of water.  He begins to shudder from the sudden warmth of the room, and can barely stand.  I urge him down, and remain by his side, stroking his legs to help the near frozen blood to circulate.  He finally stops his shivering, and lays his head back as if to sleep.  With one big sigh through his pink nostrils, he breathes no more, and is gone.  I continue to stroke him for my own comfort and until my legs begin to stiffen.

 

I get up and move the bed away from the wall, open the trap door to the cellar and climb down the ladder into the dirt-walled space.  I need no lantern here, for the light is golden and ever shining; night and day, summer and winter.  In fifteen years, my horse and I have filled this crude room with the golden light pulled from the claim and I will breathe my last breath here.  I am glad, now, that the dog is not here.  I hope he got lost and someone down river has taken him in.  I would not want to leave him here to starve and I can be easy in my mind when I come down here to stay.

 

I return to the room above and look fondly at the horse.  He was my only companion for so long, and I find myself grieving and missing his easy presence.  No matter, I will be joining him soon.  I bank the fire and set the room to rights.  Everything is put away and all the cooking utensils are clean and hung.  From the bed, I take one of the blankets that warmed me all these years, and drape it over the horse; it is his shroud.   I bundle up the remainder of the bedding, toss it down into the cellar and turning, I look around this room that has been my home for fifteen years.  I go to the door and open it wide, looking upon my last winter.  The snow, still in the ever-swirling dance.  Now, I am ready to move into the golden room and I climb down, pulling the door down over my head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2019 Carol Cashes


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Reviews

A very good write. yet sad in many ways I had hoped the horse and the old woman would live through the harsh winter. I loved the imagery of your words and storytelling. you showed great compassion.

Posted 1 Year Ago


You write about conditions of winter harshness that I have never experienced and I am unlikely to. It makes my whingeing about a couple of inches of snow sound pathetic by comparison. You conveyed the harshness and solitude well, and that poor horse is still on my mind. A good write Carol.

Chris

Posted 1 Year Ago


We live off grid on a mountain in the Kootenia National forest. Our neighbors, recently lost her horse. the last winter had four feet of snow and our neighbors wife is only 5 foot tall. The horse corral and paddock was about a hundred yards from their home. They are both 65. It was a shear struggle for her to go to her horse and feed him and water him and care for his needs. So this piece had lots of resonance. Being in the western part of the country, where pioneering is still alive and well, ending life as you've described here is very real and very realistic in the minds and hearts of the older generations here. What you've described is a perspective on life soon lost, a way of living soon lost. Private personal understanding, belief is all older less technological societies can count on. Loved your depiction. Letting it rest in my mind and heart.

Posted 1 Year Ago


My first thought was "must live in Scotland"...minus eleven overnight last night, and not a kick in the arse away from it now. :)
A flash of memory, stored for so long and at the slightest nudge, brought to life once more. The cycle of life and living completing its never ending task of renewal, as you pass on its memories.
Love it.

Posted 1 Year Ago


This is a brilliantly told snippet of a hard life lived in a righteous way. I am very much honored that my story inspired you to pull this one out & I'm glad I found it. This is excellent writing that evoked a million different feelings & memories in me. I love the matter-of-fact way it's written, & to me this does not seem like a sad story, but merely a true story, becuz life is often dreary like this, especially in hard times or near the end. This feels like a celebration to me & I wish I had a similar way to go someday! (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 1 Year Ago


Interspersing realities with emotional glimpses into your human insights... you made a fair "short story" out of a good - what could/should be - longer one.



Posted 2 Years Ago


Chris

2 Years Ago

Nods... solitude is not loneliness - unless you let it.
Carol Cashes

2 Years Ago

Solitude is a state I crave, but life's circumstances cannot allow at this time. Ooohhh, but one fi.. read more
Chris

2 Years Ago

There IS a peace that transcends and the true silence ...calms.
You have successfully conveyed images of cold and warmth in both the physical and metaphorical sense.
Captivating writing.

Posted 2 Years Ago


Carol Cashes

2 Years Ago

Thank you so much for reading this. It's one of my personal favorites.
Planning to survive is very much like building a nuclear plant--you try to anticipate all possible problems. Unfortunately, one sometimes runs out of options.
An intriguing and insightful tale that, unsurprisingly, has the ring of truth.
Powerful piece, Carol.


Posted 2 Years Ago


Carol Cashes

2 Years Ago

Thank you for reading this tale. I've imagined living alone in the mountains many times but did not.. read more
Now I'm a true fan of you x this is beautiful !!

Posted 2 Years Ago


Carol Cashes

2 Years Ago

Thank you for reading this. I have three pieces about gold and prospecting. Actually did that myse.. read more
' The silence of so much snow is deafening. ' stellar line amongst many that captivate the gold minor/ prospector's ( I presume?) lonesome and quite hopeless situation!

A marvellous, moribund winter tale!

Posted 2 Years Ago


Carol Cashes

2 Years Ago

Don't know how I missed this review. Thanks so much for reading. And I ask you the same question -.. read more

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12 Reviews
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Added on June 8, 2017
Last Updated on January 3, 2019

Author

Carol Cashes
Carol Cashes

Biloxi, MS



About
I'm very cynical, jaded, just this side of bitter and the only reason I haven't crossed that line is a good man loves me. I am extremely empathetic, but seldom sympathetic. I can be a ferociously lo.. more..

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