The Frontiersman’s Diary

Photo by Dawn Agran on Unsplash

In September of 1906, Elijah Dane Coleridge, heir to the Coleridge pastry fortune, defiantly set out to live in a secluded cabin in Alaska and, aside from continued cartoon caption submissions to the New Yorker, was never heard from again. Years after his disappearance, the following diary entries were discovered near what appeared to be a makeshift toilet deep in the Alaskan wilderness.

September 9, 1906

The Alaskan land is thick and green. I feel almost as if I’ve stumbled upon a new Earth. A far cry from my city life, but that is what I wanted. I am inspired. Reborn.

I arrived at the cabin where I’ll be setting up my “home base,” as it were, for my expeditions. It is a small cabin, but cozy, and more than enough for my needs. Father was wrong — I am not regretting my choice in the least now that I am here. If anything, I’m more encouraged than ever. I’ve followed my heart, and that’s not something many people can say for themselves at the end of the day.

Tomorrow I will meet the guide for my treks through the wilderness, Yuri. He came recommended by many townsfolk when I made enquiries. I’m told he is reserved socially, but that his knowledge of these wild lands is unmatched.

My adventure begins!

September 12, 1906

Pleased to report things are continuing to go smoothly in my new life. The wilderness is hard, but it rewards those determined to dwell within it and play by its rules. I’ve already written four pages of my novel, so great is my inspiration here. I’d have been lucky to have written a paragraph by now if I was still in the city with Father.

I’ve met my guide, Yuri, and “reserved socially” was an understatement. The man speaks more in grunts than in words, but I have no doubt of his survival skills. He’s already taught me to chop wood, which left my hands blistered but my heart bursting with satisfaction and pride one can only find in nature. I am finally providing for myself! Won’t Father be bitter.

My guide is quite the religious sort, it would seem. Every half hour or so during our time together he retreated to a corner to mumble prayers while staring at a paper of some sort that he keeps nestled in his breast pocket. I couldn’t make out what was on the paper, but it seemed quite important and personal to the man and I didn’t dare ask. It seems the land isn’t the only thing here that contains mysteries a-plenty!

September 30, 1906

I have never known illness quite like this. I’m afraid to report that I’ve been essentially bedridden these past two weeks. It seems Mother Nature’s greeting was not destined to be a gentle one! But it’s of no consequence, I am beginning to regain strength now, day by day.

Yuri has been bringing me nourishment. If nothing else, this sickness has given me cause to get to know my mysterious guide a little more, although not as much as one might like. He is 59 years old (or so he thinks; he’s unsure of the date of his birth) and has known no other world besides these great forests. They are a home to him and he cares for them like one would a true mother.

His diet consists exclusively of moose meat. He is very skeptical of outsiders and I have a feeling it will take some time to earn his trust.

I’ve made casual inquiries regarding his prayers and religion, but most answers have been simply a swift exit and a slam of the door. But at least once he hung around long enough to curtly reply that he’s found a true faith in something that many “do not understand.”

I hope to ask a viewing of his sacred cloth paper in the future. But as of now, the topic is still too sensitive.

October 6, 1906

I am back on my feet again, and a good thing, too; snowfall has begun and I’ve much to do if I want to be prepared for the winter months.

However, neither my improved health nor the sense of urgency instilled by the snowflakes has been enough to pry my wandering mind away from my guide’s curious habits.

I caught glimpse of Yuri’s prayer papers yesterday when he was in a particularly deep meditative state. He didn’t hear me enter the cabin and I couldn’t help but seize the chance to look upon this sacred object of my guide’s. It is hard to put into words exactly what I saw, or understand its significance. I can only report that it looked to be a primitive drawing of a smallish hound dog lounging leisurely atop a very small red house. Next to this beast was an equally childlike drawing of a comparatively large yellow bird with triangular spikes around its skull. I’ve never seen a bird quite like it in my time in this wilderness (which, admittedly, has been less than Yuri’s).

I didn’t have time to process the curious sight before Yuri sensed my presence and quickly ended his prayer, removing his scroll hastily from my line of vision and producing a curt grunt as he did so. I apologized for the intrusion and he left without saying a word. The plot thickens, I believe.

Speaking of plot, I’ve written five more pages of my novel, which is coming along smashingly. I do believe I’ll send the first published copy to Father. Would that I could see his face when he receives it.

October 10, 1906

Snowed in. Dreadful! I suppose that is the one thing you can expect from these conditions: the unexpected. I open the door and am greeted with a wall of ice. It’s as if I’m in a snow globe!

Fortunately, I have enough food to last a day or two, by which time I’m hopeful the sun shall return. For now, I am cozy by the fire reading my Milton. Just try and tell me I don’t have the chops for the wilderness now, Father!

October 15, 1906

It would seem the optimism of my previous entry was spoken with a bit too much haste. The snow has not let up. If anything, it’s grown twofold. And I am down to my last salt pork.

I daresay my unease has grown with about the same consistency as the snow accumulation outside my window pane. But I am trying to keep a stiff upper lip. My writing has been a good distraction. Two more pages added to the pile.

Last night I dreamed of the dog and the bird on Yuri’s paper. Something about it… I can’t quite describe it. They’ve haunted my thoughts of late. I am hopeful these are not the first signs of madness. Certainly not. I wouldn’t dream of giving Father the satisfaction.

October 18, 1906

Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani?

October 19, 1906

Farwell, dear diary. You’ve been a most agreeable companion.

October 22, 1906

Some say that in the moment before death, you see an angel. In my case, that angel was a large, socially reserved man named Yuri. Just when I had all but given up hope of surviving these brutal plains, in comes Yuri, his feet adorned with snowshoes, to check on my health in the midst of the storm.

He lifted me off the cold floor, where I lay resigned to death, and put me on the bed. Then he poured water he’d brought into my mouth and, in a few hours, aided me in the chewing of some bread.

I owe this man my life. I believe I will dedicate my novel to him. Speaking of, I managed to write another page despite my weak state. Malnourishment, like Father, cannot stop the creative soul.

October 24, 1906

I am feeling stronger every day. Yuri is staying in the cabin to wait out the storm, which worsened considerably when he arrived to my rescue. He’s breathed new life not only into me, but into the whole cabin.

He cleans and chops wood and cooks salt pork and beans in the fireplace. I feel as if I am at university again with a new and interesting roommate.

His strange prayers have continued, but I ignore them and read my Milton. My curiosity of his ways has not wavered, but I have resolved to give him the space he needs. We all have our quirks, after all.

I also think he is beginning to trust me. I woke up last night and found him sitting up in his cot, staring at me in the glow of the fire. He’s also stopped hiding his scroll from me. It’s right there atop his pillow as I pen this entry at my desk. Every day the ice piles up outside, but with Yuri, I believe the ice is beginning to thaw.

November 2, 1906

I have rushed to this diary page in order that I may transcribe exactly what I have just experienced and not forget or leave out a single detail.

I was sitting by the fire reading my Keats when Yuri approached me and said it was time to tell me about the truth. I closed my book and sat up straight, my heart beating rapidly in my chest.

He proceeded to inform me that among his people, he known as “a seer.” Meaning, he explained, he has glimpses of the future — visions of what may come. (Amazing. Fascinating. I haven’t the words.) He cannot control these glimpses, he says, but they have always been proven to be true. It is apparently how he was able to sus out my dire situation during the winter storm.

That brought us to his scroll, which he unveiled to me as if it were the finest, holiest of gems. For the second time I was confronted with a sketch of a small dog and a large, yellow bird. These creatures, Yuri told me, were gods who would appear 50-odd years in the future. Their names are Snoppie (sp?) and Woodcock (sp?). They are born of another god by the name of “Chuck Schultz.”

“They will walk among us,” Yuri told me in a reverential voice. “I pray that they will look upon us with favor.”

He then asked me if I wanted to join him in prayer with his scrawling and I obliged eagerly. Up close, the drawings bear even less resemblance to real creatures.

After what felt like hours of silently staring at this Snoppie and Woodcock, Yuri asked me if I liked them. I told him I did, immensely, but he didn’t seem convinced. He rolled up the scroll and returned to his cot without another word, and he immediately fell asleep, clutching the scroll closely. I do believe I saw him kiss Snoppie’s head.

I am not sure what happened, or what to make of it, but I feel I have entered a new stage in this adventure — a new chapter, as it were.

November 5, 1906

I awoke this morning to find Yuri prostrate on the ground sobbing. I jumped up and immediately asked the matter. It turns out he had a dream that his beloved Snoppie came under aerial attack during a “great war” that has yet to occur. The vision frightened him so that he awoke and began to pray with all his great might that Snoppie would be careful.

What does one do when confronted with such a situation? I patted the poor man on the back and said, “There, there. Snoppie seems the kind of pooch who can take care of himself.” This seemed to give Yuri some comfort and he went out and buried his face in the snow. He refused to eat the rest of the day, preferring to fast.

Needless to say, I haven’t been able to pen a word for my novel of late. My mind is consumed by Snoppie and Woodcock. What is the hold they have on this man? For fear of encouraging his delusions, I haven’t dared reveal that my dreams, too, have begun to be plagued by their inexplicable presence.

November 7, 1906

Today Yuri treated me to revelations about all the other gods who will follow Snoppie and Woodcock into our mortal world in the years to come. There’s certainly nothing to do in these winter storms but hear him out, unsettling as his tales are.

There is Charlie, a god of woe. Linus, a god of innocence. And, perhaps most terrifyingly, Lucia, a god of mischief who will torment those who follow her. Yuri sat in a glazed silence for a long time after telling me about Lucia, as if he were picturing the depths of hell she would drag one into were one to fall for her schemes.

But this future he speaks of is not without some joy. He said there will be much dancing. Then he got up and demonstrated how Snoppie will dance. I felt a tinge of embarrassment watching this rough frontiersman dance wildly in the style of the futuristic canine of his dreams, but it wasn’t long before I joined in and the two of us danced away our worries as the snow fell into the night, as soft and silent as stars.

November 16, 1906

Snow has continued to pummel the landscape and Yuri has continued to pummel me with details about his visions. Indeed, it seems a relief to him, an unburdening of sorts.

I am happy to provide an outlet for the man, and I enjoy the fruits of his supposed clairvoyance immensely. But if I’m being honest with myself, I am frightened by how drawn I’ve begun to feel toward Snoppie. The pull has given me an uneasy feeling. At night, I toss and turn, thinking of his little red house and him atop it — the essence of cool confidence. Sometimes, when Yuri is asleep, I will snatch his drawing away and gaze upon Snoppie.

Yesterday, while mindlessly whittling, a habit I’ve picked up during the endless days indoors, I looked down and saw I’d inadvertently whittled Snoppie’s likeness. Yuri heard my gasp and rushed over. When he saw the figure, he fell to his knees in supplication and praised Snoppie’s wonders. I felt I had no choice but to join him. I felt, how do I put it…blessed.

November 22, 1906

Yuri and I have been busier than ever with a new project: we’re drawing Snoppie on the cabin walls. We aren’t content with one drawing, no, no. We’re filling the cabin with Snoppie’s likeness from ceiling to floorboard. And it’s not just Snoppie (although that would be more than enough). We’ve also included the blessed Woodcock and Chuck and Linus. (Not Lucia. We’re not insane.)

We used up all the ink I’d stored for penning my novel. I sat in wonder at how little irritation this caused me. It was almost a relief. Snoppie, in some sense, has freed me from the shackles I made for myself.

As for Yuri, I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm from him. He was almost floating around the cabin, chanting, “You’re a good man, you’re a good man, you’re a good man…” to no one in particular.

When we ran out of ink, we turned to our charcoal stockpile. We certainly won’t be needing it to keep warm anymore — we’ve got Snoppie watching over us now.

December 3, 1906

There’s just something about December that makes me feel giddy in a way that’s always been hard to explain. I have an explanation for it now, of course: it was the love of Snoppie washing over me from the future. Now I finally have a name for it. I’m only sorry it took so long!

Despite my good mood, however, my companion has started go grow silent. He’s worn a concerned look on his face the past few days and I haven’t seen him sleep in a long while. My whittling knife has also gone missing. I pray to Linus it turns up soon — my Snoppie figure deserves a matching Woodcock.

December 18, 1906

Yesterday I watched as Yuri threw his snowshoes into the fire. He turned and looked at me and I looked right back at him. Neither of us said a word. I went back to my meditations on Snoppie’s wonders, a practice which fills most of my days now.

December 20, 1906

This morning I awoke to find Yuri holding a knife to my throat. I looked back at him with sleepy eyes and asked what the matter was. He informed me Snoppie had given him instructions to take my life. I breathed a sigh of relief and brought my neck closer to the blade. “As he commands…” I said.

But Yuri couldn’t go through with it. He dropped the knife and begged forgiveness, whereupon I slapped his face and kicked him hard for his disobedience to our god, who has been nothing but good to us. He fell down and sobbed and said his head hurt. I kicked him again.

I felt rage at his weakness in a moment of trial. I wished right then and there for a sign from Snoppie for what to do next. None came. He has abandoned us because of Yuri’s failure. I fear challenging times are ahead.

But at least something good has come of this day. I have my knife back.

December 24, 1906

Today Yuri and I set out to burn down the forest. This will show us the way, according to Yuri’s latest vision. The last tree standing will be the foundation of our new life. As he commands.

I reek of sap and smoke and feel more alive than ever before. Tomorrow our final standing tree will be revealed to us all. I am so exhausted, but I can hardly sleep.

December 25, 1906

Well, the wind must have taken a bad turn in the night and our cabin caught fire and burned to the ground. I was able to make it out but Yuri wouldn’t leave his Snoppie drawings. He was a good man. But he was not smart enough to realize Snoppie is so much more than a childish drawing… He is also an elegantly crafted wooden figure, whom I have preserved safely in my breast pocket.

I am surrounded by ash and wind that chills my core. It’s a new beginning, that much has come true. I’m just not sure if I’m better off than my last one. Indeed, I feel an odd mixture of optimism for my future and sorrow for my past. It’s almost…Oh, how best to describe it. Perhaps it’s “good grief.”

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r.j. kushner

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