From Jack London’s The White Silence – originally published in his first collection, The Son of the Wolf, but now in any anthology of his short fiction.
No more conversation; the toil of the trail will not permit such extravagance.
And of all deadening labors, that of the Northland trail is the worst. Happy is the man who can weather a day’s travel at the price of silence, and that on a beaten track. And of all heartbreaking labors, that of breaking trail is the worst. At every step the great webbed shoe sinks till the snow is level with the knee. Then up, straight up, the deviation of a fraction of an inch being a certain precursor of disaster, the snowshoe must be lifted till the surface is cleared; then forward, down, and the other foot is raised perpendicularly for the matter of half a yard. He who tries this for the first time, if haply he avoids bringing his shoes in dangerous propinquity and measures not his length on the treacherous footing, will give up exhausted at the end of a hundred yards; he who can keep out of the way of the dogs for a whole day may well crawl into his sleeping bag with a clear conscience and a pride which passeth all understanding; and he who travels twenty sleeps on the Long Trail is a man whom the gods may envy.
The afternoon wore on, and with the awe, born of the White Silence, the voiceless travelers bent to their work. Nature has many tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity–the ceaseless flow of the tides, the fury of the storm, the shock of the earthquake, the long roll of heaven’s artillery–but the most tremendous, the most stupefying of all, is the passive phase of the White Silence. All movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and man becomes timid, affrighted at the sound of his own voice. Sole speck of life journeying across the ghostly wastes of a dead world, he trembles at his audacity, realizes that his is a maggot’s life, nothing more.
Strange thoughts arise unsummoned, and the mystery of all things strives for utterance.
And the fear of death, of God, of the universe, comes over him–the hope of the Resurrection and the Life, the yearning for immortality, the vain striving of the imprisoned essence–it is then, if ever, man walks alone with God.