Gifts from the Cold
By: Brad Cole

The drifting snow twisted like white powdery snakes across the frozen ground racing toward the setting sun. The fifteen-mile per hour wind was burning the right side of my face with frostbite. But that was not anything new. I was on the north shore of St. Lawrence Island, just outside the village of Gambell, looking across the Bering Sea. The ocean stretched out endlessly to the horizon in a blue and white jumbled mass of crushed, uplifted ice that formed pressure ridges. Carefully, I watched the snowy ground to see if I was stepping on the gravel beach or a frozen sea.

Just then, above the fading colors of dusk reflecting off the western sea, the light of a single star pierced through the darkening sky. The brightness of the star seemed to ring like a bell through the dark depths of my soul. It was the first star of the approaching night, I thought, a night that will become enchanted by a clear starry sky.

I have always seen a raw, rugged beauty in the most desolate of landscapes. Even cracked and frozen, the surrounding sea is a wonderful reality in the life of Gambell and an important source of food and livelihood. Though hard work, the seals and walrus caught among the ice were a tasty meal. It made me wonder what spiritual treasures may dwell secretly in the coldness of our lives. Will it weaken our spirit if we try to turn away and escape from the grim realities of life? Could a soul's salvation ever come easily and without struggle?

Still standing quietly watching the stars slowly begin to appear, I heard and then saw a small red boat containing three parka bundled men cruising through the calm waters of the open lead next to the shore. They had been south of the village hunting among the floating ice and were probably returning home with a seal or two, I thought. Though cold it still looked like fun.

A few of the villagers quickly drove up on 4-wheelers and helped to pull the boat out of the water onto the snowy shore. They will be up late in their heated homes tonight talking about the hunt and cutting and storing the wild meat, I knew from experience.

Hunting was their way of touching the winter sea to feel its richness and spread its wealth among the people, I felt. It is the way of the hunter to find the bright stars in a desolate night and to bring them home as gifts from the windy cold.

The village of Gambell sits on the northwest cape of St. Lawrence Island.