In These Last Days Of Winter – The Law Of Life By Jack London

Before I sat down to write this post, I glanced out of my window and saw a teenage girl flouncing past in a crop top, capri leggings and fluffy flip flops. Winter still has a few days left to its name, but in that teen’s world, it would seem Spring arrived yesterday. With it being the last ‘official’ week of Winter, I thought I’d focus my attention on sharing something wintry every day for the next seven days.

I was reading into senicide – the killing or abandonment of the elderly – among peoples of the North this weekend, and followed an internet trail to The Law Of Life, a short story by Jack London, first published in 1901. (You can find it for free online, though I read it in this collection of London’s short stories.)

London’s tale, set in the Klondike region of Canada’s Yukon Territory, is about a former chief called Koskoosh and the last few hours of his life. The story begins with him sat by a small fire and a small pile of firewood. It’s Winter, and his tribe must move away to find food. Koskoosh’s sight is almost gone, but his hearing is still sharp, and he listens to the tribe pack up camp. Eventually, Koskoosh is left alone with just his fire and thoughts for company. He knows that when the firewood is gone, and the fire dies, the cold will be sure that he’s quick to follow.

“He placed a stick carefully upon the fire and resumed his meditations. It was the same everywhere, with all things. The mosquitoes vanished with the first frost. The little tree squirrel crawled away to die. When age settled upon the rabbit it became slow and heavy, and could no longer outfoot its enemies.”

– The Law Of Life, Jack London

White Fang and The Call of the Wild are two of my favourite books, so why it took me so long to delve into London’s short stories I’ve no idea. But they’ve come at a time when I’m frantically searching for direction, and they’re providing it in droves.

“For a while he listened to the silence. Perhaps the heart of his son might soften, and he would come back with the dogs to take his old father on with the tribe to where the caribou ran thick and the fat hung heavy on them.” – The Law Of Life, Jack London

The intimacy with which London writes about the North, its people, creatures, landscapes and seasons is profoundly inspiring, and I can confidently say The Law Of Life is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. To be immersed in the way in which London enables though his writing is such a powerful, special gift. I really hope you read The Law Of Life, and I would love nothing more than to hear your thoughts on it.

A beautifully made animation based on the story.

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