North. There’s always been something special about that particular direction in my life. It is the last direction, a final destination. North is the fiercest, the most independent…but also the most peaceful, the easiest to understand. South has always meant escape, a place I go to disappear. Jack Kerouac knew it, outlaws know it, and so do I. To head south is to dive into chaos, to melt into the confusion and steam of the tropics and become anonymous. East. Full of mystery and civilization, the east offers the allure of riches and cultures unknown. It is the direction of money, of trade and business, where life moves in circles instead of lines, and to die means only to be reborn. West. Freedom, anything is possible, cinematic happy endings and new beginnings, opportunity, go west young man; go into the future, ride into the sunset.
But North, North defines challenge, a direction to follow when I want to turn my back on society, the bearing I take when solitude is my goal, when what I want is to pit myself against nature, to feel her strength and test my will against that strength. It is a wild and uncomfortable direction, dominated by unforgiving wilderness and uncompromised beauty. North is raw. North is romantic. The many questions of life drift away. Things like shelter, food, water, warmth and companionship are all that matter. Life is simple when it’s difficult, that is the true allure of the north…simplicity through fortitude. It is not a place to be conquered or claimed, it can only be witnessed and survived.
So go further, follow the compass into the great white north, into the Arctic Circle and onto the ice of a frozen ocean, birthplace of the wind.
Ancient and animistic, full of contradiction, the far north is a place where night’s darkness reigns for months at a time only to be replaced by the light of a midnight sun. Where the aurora borealis dances above the ice in vivid displays of red, yellow and green arcs. A white world lit by an atmospheric rainbow. Where stars come home and the spinning earth stands still. The top of the world, the arctic is both beautiful and deadly. Survival is the only victory. At first glance it is a barren wasteland, cold and cruel, wicked in its intensity and bland in its homogenous landscape. Above and below the ice and snow, however, an Eden of life blooms.
I’m not a superstitious person, but something about the arctic makes me believe in magic. It seems close to something that I can’t understand, the last stop before a bridge that I can’t see to a place I can’t go. Sacred in its power, the north is poetic and violent, humbling and invigorating and full of many other adjectives that can only be felt in order to understand. Perhaps it is in the magnetism of the place, a magnetic charge on which all direction is based. Without North, one can argue, there would be no south, east or west.
In the end, that is what has always attracted me to the direction north…its mystery. No other direction can take you closer to nature’s secrets, make you feel so small, or beguile you so easily with its immensity. For North is not, nor has it ever been, ruled by mankind…and there is something enchanting about that.