The other man could build the fire. A foot of snow had fallen since the last sled had passed over, and he was glad he was without a sled, travelling light. He cannot feel his feet and looks down to make sure he is truly standing. As for lunch, he pressed his hand against the protruding bundle under his jacket. To build the fire he had been forced to remove his mittens, and the fingers had quickly gone numb. He beats his arms and hands for five minutes when he is suddenly overwhelmed by fear of his own death.
Maybe running would make his feet warm. The fear of death came over the man. But the tremendous cold quickly drove the life out of his fingers. The old men had been right, he thought. He calls the dog, but his voice reveals his fear and his intentions. After realizing he was freezing, he quickly puts them on again, but never learns. It takes imagination to understand man's place in nature and the forces at work in the universe.
The dog was still watching him. All this happened quickly, and before the animal could get away, he encircled its body with his arms. He tried to poke it out with his fingers, but his shivering frame made him poke too far and he disrupted the nucleus of the little fire, the burning grasses and tiny twigs separating and scattering. His erect position in itself started to drive the webs of suspicion from the dog's mind; and when he spoke peremptorily, with the sound of whiplashes in his voice, the dog rendered its customary allegiance and came to him. He smiled agreeably to himself as he thought of those biscuits, each cut open and sopped in bacon grease, and each enclosing a generous slice of fried bacon. He tried to pick one up, but failed. He removes one match with his teeth, but drops it.
It certainly was cold, was his thought. The flame went out in a puff of gray smoke. The dog heard danger in the man's voice. The story made me feel chilled to the bones, sometimes my teeth chattered. The sensation developed into pain that grew acute. The remoteness of the Yukon wilderness, as well as the absence of a human travel companion for the man, serve to illustrate the existentialist idea that man is alone in the universe.
London illustrates and emphasizes this theme in three ways: through his choice of setting, his imagery, and his artful placement of irony within the story. The main obstacle of his journey is the many covered springs that mean death to whoever falls into them. The man doesn't pause to consider the ''conjectural field of immortality and man's place in the universe. It was a big gray animal, half dog and half wolf. He murmurs aloud to the man that he was right in his advice about traveling alone. The situation is no longer one in which he could lose fingers or toes, but his life. He tried to pick one up, but failed.
London uses certain techniques to establish the atmosphere of the story. He built his fire underneath the trees because it was easier to gather the wood. This threw him into a panic, and he turned and ran up the creek-bed along the old, dim trail. Usually the snow above the hidden pools had a sunken, candied appearance that advertised the danger. The man is clearly not an experienced Yukon adventurer. The man's boots were covered with ice. Next, he gathered dry grasses and tiny twigs from the high-water flotsam.
His friends were already there. His quickly freezing face shows that he is not prepared for these extreme conditions, and yet he overlooks this warning sign, yet again. He did this sitting down, and he stood up to do it; and all the while the dog sat in the snow, its wolf-brush of a tail curled around warmly over its forefeet, its sharp wolf-ears pricked forward intently as it watched the man And the man, as he beat and threshed with his arms and hands, felt a great surge of envy as he regarded the creature that was warm ant secure in its natural covering. A real man could travel alone. The man closed his eyes and floated into the most comfortable sleep he had ever known. The old man at Sulphur Creek presents a different possibility for the relationship between humans and nature: one based on healthy fear and respect of the natural world.
The man collected more wood. He reached into his pocket for the matches. It knew that it was no time for travelling. Also, the man was chewing tobacco, and the muzzle of ice held his lips so rigidly that he was unable to clear his chin when he expelled the juice. He began threshing his arms back and forth, beating the mittened hands against his sides.