Far Horizons

by Bliss Carman


 

MANACHABAN


 

UP the Manachaban Valley the white man calls the Bow,
When ice lay blue on the ledges and the passes were packed with snow,
I went with my brother Assiniboines ages and ages ago.

From rock peaks gaunt and crusted the tailing snow-banners blew,
Like smoke from the pointed tepees in a camp of the Manitou.

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Snow on the blue-green spruces and the tapering lodge-pole pines,
Snow on the gray-green poplars lifting their smooth slim lines,

A smother of snow in the heavens where the cold white sun shone pale,
And a hand that clung to our snowshoes, as we broke the knee-deep trail.

Then down from the North came swirling the Warriors of the Sky.

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Out of the wild Lost Canyon their level charge came by.

The tall pines swayed together moaning as if they knew,
While driving in clouds above us the ice-barbed arrows flew.

We heard them hiss in the willows as they sank and settled from flight,
While still the white hosts followed hiding the sun from sight.

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We gathered our buckskins about us, and leaned to the slant of the storm,
And thought of our far-off lodges with their fires bright and warm.

Swift as a white owl swooping, the peril unlooked-for came,
And fell on that band of hunters,—the shadow they feared to name.

Lost! was the sun in the heavens; darker the short day grew.

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Strange were the passes about us, in a place we had thought we knew.

Lost! was the trail behind us. There in the formless vast
The track of our snowshoes was buried almost before we had passed.

Heavier grew the going, more uncertain the light.
And we thought of the Silent Walker, who appears at the edge of night,

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At the side of the daring traveller with unknown miles to go,
A shadow out of the shadows leaving no track in the snow.

The wisest shall not outwit him, nor the strongest outreach his stride.
And those whom his gray hand touches must falter and turn aside.

They shall not return to their lodges where their women and children are,

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Nor camp by their own bright rivers that flow towards the morning star.

They must tarry in that Lost Valley of the North, which no man knows,
Where the pale Ghost Lights go trailing over the drifting snows.

And so we fell upon silence and were touched with cold white sleep,—
The spell of the Shadow Walker, his eerie way to keep.

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The clean snow covered our bodies. The spring wind bringing the rain
Whispering over the ranges signalled to us in vain.

The summers returned in their season to flower the prairie floor,
And Wawa came back to his reed-bed, but we to our tribe no more.

So did we pass from our hunting and were lost on that mountain trail,

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As the flame dies down to an ash at the end of a camp-fire tale.

Lost? And forever? Then how is it all so familiar today,—
The sifting snow in the willows, the creak of the snowshoe’s play,

The very bend of the river where Sundance Canyon lies,
And the swaying pines in the smother as the sun pales out of the skies?

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Why should I cry to my senses in this nineteen-twenty-four,
As up the Manachaban Valley we swing to the stride once more,
Breasting a glorious snow storm, “I have been here before!”