Friday, February 5, 2010

The Cremation of Sam McGee

I've been reflecting on why I've got this thing for the Chilkoot Pass Trail.
1) it's a historic trail and I love history; that's easy.
But then again, the description of the trail includes a bunch of old junk laying next to a trail that thousands of people hike each year; not exactly pristine Alaska and Yukon wilderness.
2) The trail represents a challenge.
Hmm. I've also heard some say the trail is for an "older, softer hiker", not the He-man march of pain I was envisioning. I guess we qualify as "softer" if not "older".

Perhaps there's a mystical explanation...

In the Fourth grade, my elementary school invited all the children to dress as their favorite character from a book for a day. Many girls came as Laura Ingalls Wilder (yes, my mother did stay up all night making my bonnet). I'm not sure what the boys came as. But my teacher was the best.

Mr. Van Epps dressed as a gold rush stampeder/sourdough. He wore a flannel shirt, work pants and a cap. That wasn't why he was the best; he was best because he recited, "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert Service.

It's a grim tale. Sam McGee is from Tennesee and can't seem to get warm in the Arctic wind. Sam makes the poet promise that if he dies, they won't abandon his body in the snow but cremate Sam's last remains instead.

The first and the last stanzas of the poem are identical:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights;
But the queerest thay ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

My interest in the Chilkoot? I guess I'm just a sucker for ghost stories...or something.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Van Epps! I haven't thought of him in years. I wanted to be in his class, but I had Mrs. Henderson that year. She was nice, but a little boring and I don't remember her reciting any grim poems. You'll have to post after you guys do the hike and let us know how it goes.


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