To Build a Fire.
To Build a Fire & other stories
In winter months, the northern parts of Canada and Alaska receive very little sunlight and become dangerously cold — so cold that a man could freeze to death if he is not careful. This is the Arctic: one of the coldest places on earth.

The Newcomer is an inexperienced young man who comes to this frozen land in search of gold. He has been warned about the dangers of the cold, but goes out on a trip anyway. He is hoping to find a way to send logs down the Yukon River once spring arrives and the ice melts. He has also been warned not to travel alone in such cold, but he goes anyway, with only his dog for a companion.

As the story begins, they are hurrying to get back to their camp and rejoin the man's friends. After the dog falls through some ice, the Newcomer begins to worry about the dangers of the cold and of frostbite, when it is so cold that a person's skin freezes.

He stops to build a fire and eat some lunch.

Soon, however, he decides to continue on his way back to camp and follows a creek to check for any open water and his future plan for the logs.

Suddenly, the man falls through the ice. He knows he will need to build another fire or die. He is wet and cold but succeeds in starting a second fire. Foolishly, however, he builds the fire under a pine tree covered in snow. The heat from the fire melts some of the snow in the tree and sends a huge fall of snow from the tree right on the fire. The fire goes out. He tries to start yet another fire. It is so cold, however, that he has a lot of trouble trying to light the fire. His hands are so cold they have no feeling. He cannot even feel his matches.

Finally, holding the matches with his teeth, he gets another fire started, but his hands are so cold that he cannot control them and the fire goes out. He even tries to kill his dog to use the warm body to keep him from freezing. But it is too late. Finally, the dog watches him die.

Vocab checkpoint
Newcomer noun

A newcomer is a person who has just joined an established group of people, a club or a community. It is used from the perspective of the group towards its new member.

inexperienced adjective

Inexperienced means that a person has little or no firsthand knowledge of a particular activity, profession or way of life.

in search of adverbial phrase

In search of is often used in place of the -ing form of the verb "to search". It emphasizes an established practice rather than a casual, spontaneous activity. This sentence could be written as:

The Newcomer is an inexperienced young man who comes to this frozen land searching for gold.

logs noun

A log is a tree that has been cut down and stripped of its branches. This way the log is prepared for transporting down the river to saw mills (factories where the logs are cut). This method of transporting logs is often referred to as "floating": logs are floated down the river.

frostbite noun

Frostbite is a very severe (serious) medical condition (freezing of the skin) caused by extreme exposure to cold weather or ice. Frostbite usually affects fingers and toes first, but can easily spread into the body if left unattended. It can cause gangrene, in which the body parts die and must be amputated (cut off) to protect the person's life.

creek noun

A creek is a tributary (smaller branch) of a river.

open water noun phrase

Open, in this case, can mean free flowing or not frozen. Open water is often used to refer to a stretch of water away from the riverbank or shore. In The Open Boat by Stephen Crane, you saw how four men struggled against the open water of the sea, or open sea.

Foolishly adverb

A foolish person allows little regard for danger or for protecting him or herself against dangerous conditions. A foolish person may be intelligent, though sometimes foolishness may be compared with words like stupid and idiotic, which indicate that a person may not be intelligent, or may behave according to impulse.

feeling noun

Feeling, as a noun, refers here to the sensation of touch in the human body. When a person has frostbite, feeling is the first sensation to be lost. We often use the word numb (pronounced num) to describe loss of feeling.

feel verb

Even though feel is connected to the internal sensation of feeling which disappears when body parts become numb, we also use it, as a verb, to describe the outward sensation of being able to discern (recognize) the presence of an object by touch. This is the meaning used here.

Feel may also be used to describe other emotional or physical sensations (or feelings).

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