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Let me tell you about the day that I stopped praying to a God, and started praying for a God.

Winter in Canada is cold. Everyone knows that. In the dead of winter it gets very cold. -30 degree Celsius is what the all weather thermometer on the side of my Grandfather's garage said. Even with the wood stove in the back burning so hot the hinges glowed red, the cavernous garage was cold. Frost played on the concrete floor beside the rollup door. Snow falls in all sorts of strange ways. Today it was blowing up from old drifts, spraying like sand on the back of my one-piece snowsuit. I was heading out to the ice-fishing hut that we had hauled out on the thick ice of Wanapitei.

Let me paint you a picture of Wanapitei. A few million years ago, a huge rock fell out of the sky and drilled a big divot in the rock of Northern Ontario. This isn't a little tourist lake with a bike path around it. It is visible from space. Many kilometers across. Black water deep. It just freezes over in January, after months of extreme cold.

A snowmachine is not a tool. It is a plaything. Contrary to popular belief, roads remain the primary way of getting around in Canada during the winter. Snowmachines are toys, the dirt bikes of the snowbound. A giant series of trails wreathed my city, groomed and maintained like bike trails. An icy highway lurked out just outside every door. It lulls you into a false sense of security.

It is cool to ignore the cold. It is a uniquely Canadian affliction. Windchill warnings on the news measure the time it takes exposed flesh to freeze, like a demented UV reading. It is just a psychological response. Complaining about the cold would make you very cranky for a good six months. Most Canadians complain about the heat in the summer. Even given this attitude, we recognize dangerous conditions. Minus 30 is a yellow alert kind of time. If it gets worse, its time to be careful. I revved up the snowmachine with teenage abandon and plunged into the cold. Vinegar on the visor of your helmet keeps your breath from fogging the glass. Zipping your snow pants over your boots keeps the ice off the laces. Gloves with fingers lose heat faster. Some things you just know in your blood.

Onto the trails I knew like the lines on my hand. Snow changes at different temperatures. You get a feel for it. That drift is too deep, that crust will not hold. Too close to a tree will drop your skis. Out into the grip of winter, a common act of youth. It was exciting to drive too fast, turn too hard, jump the drifts and bumps. Further away from the works of man, his dirty salted roads and smoking chimneys. To nature on a leaping steel animal, wrapped in a cocoon of heat, acrid oil smoke staining your space fiber suit. Fresh snow, white as a bleached bone in a desert.

While touring along trails I had seen a million times before, I got lost. Extremely lost. The blowing drifts erased my stitching path across the snow. All the well traveled paths ended and disappeared. I had a creeping sense of dread, but it was drowned out by cocksure teenage bravado. The lake is just over that next hill, across that next swamp, along that next high-tension Hydro line. On and on I went, deeper into the belly of the winter. Further into the desert of ice.

The sun shines a hazy orange red in the evening of cold day. You can feel the temperature drop as the light dims. The omnipresent wind slowed as the ruby sunset blazed in the darkening sky. No chemicals flowed in the clouds out here. The air burned to breathe, pregnant with the tiny ice crystals I churned up on my last tether to mankind. The creeping dread had become abject fear. I was as lost as a child in a grocery store. My breathing was rapid and shallow. I darted and drove recklessly, sinking the machine and yanking it loose on foot, exhausting myself. I had no gauge of were I was. I was starting to get cold. Colder than a deepfreeze.

I learned that you keep a deepfreeze at -25 degrees so that the ice in the meat stays stable. Colder causes freezer burn, as the ice sublimates into a gas and ruins the frozen food. I saw sublimation. The mist rose like angels across the barren fields between the pines. I was in places untouched by man.

The snowmachine ran out of gas. I had been running it wide open across a lake, desperate to try and find a heading. I cried out in spiritual pain when it coughed and sputtered. The light, powered only by the spinning flywheel of the engine, dimmed and faded away. I coasted to a sickly stop and cried like a hopeless soul. I knew I was going to die.

I know why religions pop up in the desert. Listening to the wind, I saw all my life pass me by. Not flashes of actions or memories, but feelings. Love filled me and I cried because I was never going to see them again. Anger flowed, at myself and the world, and the winter and the cold. The raving laughter of a fool followed. I laughed at the absurdity of freezing to death. I pulled my sweat filled ski mask off and dumped it in the snow beside the dead machine. Then I sat on the cold padded seat and regarded the fading path in the snow that lead me to the final stop. My cut on curtain of perfection. No one on Earth knew were I was. I was where man was never meant to be. The tree fell in the forest, and I was there to hear it.

Light faded. The temperature dropped. You can see 5 kilometers in a straight line before the curve of the Earth obscures your view. 30 kilometers around me was black dark. No lights, no hope. The sky was clear, a painful blistering oceanic blue. I was in the frozen belly of the world. This was Nature. I found my true fear while I sat with my back on the freezing plastic seat I rode.

I am scared of Nothing. Oblivion. Emptiness.

I have never been more utterly alone. The only flickering chemical reaction in my entire sensory realm was me and the burning stars billions of leagues away. The pale piteous moon was absolute white. It was the back of the eye of God. No pupil, no vision, no acknowledgment of my yearning soul. It was Zen, hideous perfect Zen. Oneness with the entirety of the soulless blank hollowness of the Universe. I closed my eyes and let my instincts take over. My mind was gone.

Hypothermia causes psychosis, as the heart slows and deprives the brain of oxygen. Frostbite is the formation of sharp ice crystals inside the delicate sides of a cell. The knife that cuts from inside. My body did things to say alive. It chewed my fingers to keep the blood flowing. It made me dig down and curl up in an icy burrow out of the wind. It let my eyes freeze shut, frost lacing the lashes like rope. It pressed my dry tongue against the tooth that cracked when it froze. It gave control back to my mind after all those months in the hospital, in the coma. The animal just wasn't ready to die.

I live now in the tiny ordered world we have created. I know what else there is. My mind boggles at trying to describe it, and the fear brings the bile to my throat. I think back to the dream, the black blue stage behind the world, and I squeeze every sensation I can out of this strange life. The pinpoint stares from the lost souls at night almost let me forget.

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