"The black battalions of the forest were a dark fringe where the sky and snow had a meeting place. With curious
reluctance, he stepped away from the plane and, leaving behind his last link with civilization, comfort, and
tangible evidence of man, he walked off over the snow."
Flying from Prudhoe Bay back to Fairbanks, a aircraft full of oil company executives and engineers crashes in
"Awareness returned slowly, and with it the consciousness of cold. Not a shivering cold, not even the icy edge
of a cutting wind, but the immense and awful cold of a land of ice, of a land beyond the sun. Of frigid, unending
miles lying numb and still under the dead hand of the arctic."
A massive search is organized with American and Canadian rescue planes combing the landscape but the weather
does not cooperate and hope diminishes … even in the mind of the sole survivor.
"The sky was heavily overcast but he rushed out, shouting loudly, uselessly. He heard it overhead, heard it pass
on … at least they were trying. Hope mounted, then died."
But, as the meager supplies from the plane dwindle, survival for a man who has spent his life in air-conditioned
cities becomes a constant and losing battle as problems he had not foreseen circle like a hungry pack of wolves.
"He had been hurt in the crash, and he was just now realizing it. The night in the cold and his odd sleeping
position on the ground seemed to have turned his entire body into an assortment of seized and overstretched
muscles. He moved and it hurt, but that wasn’t the worst part. It was the sense of fragility that scared him, the
sense that if he was called upon to use his body, it would fail him."
And small successes begin to seem like the largest victories …
"… yet he had created this little bit of civilization, it was a long way from being a building, even a crude one,
but it was shelter nonetheless. He thought of the buildings he had ordered built, the oil and gas wells he’d
drilled, the tank complexes and pipelines. Al had been a natural outgrowth of this same simple need. Shelter and
fuel. At one end of the spectrum it demanded a fire and a windbreak, at the other cracking plants and parking
lots. He saw in himself an extension of the natural order of things. Man against the elements. Man triumphant
against the elements. The third night was coming and he was still alive."
But if he ever returns to civilization he may no longer find it the salvation he once thought it was, his
perspective may be forever changed.