Verses of the Ballad #2


For my first full length novel, I was under a powerful compulsion to tell the story of the landscape which forged my youth and laid the foundation for the man I would someday become.

This story would combine all of the elements of my childhood; dog mushing; living in the bush; poverty;  learning to hunt & run a trap-line; unlimited outdoor adventure; my family’s communal dream of someday winning the Iditarod–and out of this font of source material, I would tell the tale of the Northland, a stately character in its own right.

Jr. Jason 1989--photo courtesy of Jim Brown

The following is a passage from Ballad of the Northland–

“Stooping, he carefully placed the weighted tip of the pick
against the ice, scoring it just a little, then drew it back and brought
it sharply down. A puff of powdered shavings flew up and the brief
cracking sound was immediately carried away. He struck several
times in this manner, driving the pick into the ice with the precision
of a needle in a sewing machine, until dark water gushed in a quick
geyser. It spread into a wide pool, and then subsided.”

This passage is from early on in the narrative, at a point just after the Yentna River freezes up (the very next morning after, actually), and “Uncle” is carefully checking the ice’s suitability for crossing.

“Uncle nodded to himself and continued on. He moved about
fifteen feet out from the bank before repeating this process, working
slowly and cautiously. As he struck with the pick, The Boy could
read the sure knowledge of certain black death waiting just inches
below his feet in every swiftly violent movement of his shoulders.
Another small geyser spurted, fell back.”

These two passages illustrate a concept that is continually at work in Ballad; the character of the surrounding environment linked to some kind of emotion, and running in the background like a dark current, the certain knowledge that in the Northland, death is the price to be paid for failure.

Thanks for tuning in–more to follow….

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