“We’re here for only a short while,” Amy Geller said out loud, sketch pad on lap, pencil poised over blank page. “Then it’s back to the spider.”
A pause. Her breath a plume of freezing vapors, emitted percussively as she spoke.
“But as far as I know,” she continued with added emphasis, “spiders don’t write poems.”
“Neither do you.” Michael said with good humor in his voice, perched just above and behind Amy on a small ledge, looking out on the ice shelf as lazy bergs travelled through their own private channels of chilled slush. In the short distance, just across this channel, a vast, white frozen expanse for miles upon miles was laid before them.
The morning air was crisp but bearable; both explorers bundled tightly in warm gear.
Amy looked over her shoulder at Michael Fitzsimmons, smiled with mirth in her eyes, matching his own, before returning her regard to the shelf.
“I might write poetry, you know,” she said. “You don’t honestly know that I don’t.”
“Well, if you do, I’ve never read any of it,” Michael said with a huff, settling his weight more evenly on the ledge. A few clumps of snow fell down to the off-white patchy hoarfrost where Amy sat, ten-feet below his dangling boots; her pencil a blur on the page as she began to sketch.
“I prefer to let my drawings do the talking for me,” Amy said without looking up.
“Where did you hear that?” Michael asked.
“That bit you just said about the spider.”
Amy’s pencil danced across the white of the page. From Michael’s vantage point, the sketch pad was almost lost in all the white snow surrounding it. As her drawing of the horizon took shape, it seemingly brought substance to the pad in her hand, materializing it out of thin air as she drew. Light and dark arcs of lead working together to make the vista come to life.
“An artist said it in a documentary I saw last week,” she said, still not looking up, except to check her subject with quick glances. “They were at the edge of the world, and he was there to draw the landscape for the expedition’s record, something like that. They were from Iceland.”
“But what was he talking about, with the spider? God, I hate spiders. Surely they weren’t finding too many of them out there,” Michael said. “I can’t imagine they’d find much besides the odd penguin or polar bear.”
“You’d be surprised what kind of wildlife exists in the harshest of places,” Amy said, “There were these pure white rabbits in the film that looked to be a pretty big deal.”
“White rabbits?” Michael asked incredulously.
“Were they late? For a very important date?”
“Actually, they looked very statuesque. Not in too much of a hurry to go anywhere.”
“Makes sense. It being as cold as it is. I’d be sitting there just like I am here.”
“They were beautiful. With black eyes. I wish I could have been there to draw them.”
“Nothing like them here?” Michael asked. “In Alaska?”
“Not that I know of. I wish. I’d draw them if there were.”
Amy’s head hovered low over her labor—the drawing near to its completion.
The previously white page was now covered in every shade of subtle grey and black—a landscape brought to bear with nothing but pencil and a keen eye for aesthetic nuances, but Amy wasn’t satisfied; she could only see the ways in which she hadn’t gotten the image right.
After a deep inhalation, full to the gills with chilled air, Amy blew the eraser shavings and chips of abandoned lead from the page. She looked over it, vexed. The wind played coyly with two orphan ringlets of blonde hair, framing her face, poking out from her purple beanie.
“So, what did he mean, this Iceland guy? About the spiders?” Michael asked somewhat impatiently. “Quit dancing around the subject, Picasso.”
He rose from the ground trailing tufts of snow from pant legs and rear end.
Amy got up too, folded her sketch pad closed, and stared out at the horizon.
“I’m not sure why he said spiders,” she said in a solemn tone. “I think it might have been the first creature to come to mind, maybe, though I couldn’t even begin to guess why. I found it to be somewhat poetic.”
“What he was referring to, though, about us only being here for a short while, is true,” she continued. “That being about humans. He was suggesting, I think, that when we’re all gone from this earth, the planet will be given to what is left behind, and…”
“And what’s left behind, well…it won’t be us, so…”
Silence rushed to fill the small gap in conversation trailing Amy’s words. The wind picked up on the idea, whistling through the breach emotively.
“And spiders don’t write poetry.” Michael said, ending the hush.
Michael looked out over the small swatch of Alaska placed before them like a tableau of desolation and splendor—a mixture of the dead and the thriving. Amy, standing just below him, sketch pad clutched tightly to her chest, reveled in the same view.
“I don’t know,” Amy finally said. “Maybe not in ways that we can read.”
She looked forlornly down at her meager portfolio of art for several seconds, before raising her eyes back to the glittering vista. The sun far from its apex in the sky.
“Maybe they don’t need words,” she mused. “Not like we do.”
“I, personally, could do without spiders,” Michael said. “And I like poetry.”
“Well, I happen to like spiders, and I’m not so sure they can’t write poetry.”
She smiled up at him.
Michael playfully kicked powdery snow from the ledge down onto Amy’s covered head. She yelped from the cold, scrambled to get away from the shower of hoarfrost like chilled dust sprinkled over her.
A few lone crumbs of ice kissed the edges of her portfolio, curling the paper.
“Whatever you say, Picasso.” Michael said, good-naturedly.
The two of them made fresh, exultant tracks through the slush, following the slight suggestion of a path to their waiting car, and a promise of warmth.