What does snow smell like?
The scent of frigid ice, covering plains upon plains of barren white tundra. Does it even have a smell? Is there anything beyond the chill that shocks and freezes the inside of one's nostrils when they inhale the below-freezing air? I wonder if it's even possible to smell something you've spent your entire 18 years of living around, especially if the smell is very slight. I have a feeling the smell of green, thawed earth would be very potent. The smell of growing life. But do these endless slopes and plains of ice carry a scent with them? Would a green person from the far south, someone who has never felt the icy wind, has never seen days upon days of night or endless day, be able to smell it?
These thoughts float through my mind as I watch the midnight sun hang close to the arctic horizon, bathing the expanse of icy tundra in its lowest seasonal light. I sit on the top of the rise that my cabin is built against, hugging my knees loosely against my chest and resting my chin lightly on the sealskin. The icy breeze tears at my cheeks from up on the exposed rise, cheeks that are roughened by years of the arctic wind. I've never had a problem with their exposure to the elements. In fact, I should probably never sit out in the cold for as long as I do, since I stay out well beyond the universally safe time-limit of the arctic. I'm waiting to find my limit in the cold. Waiting to feel the numbness in my fingers, be stricken with the body-shocking chills that the below-freezing temperatures are supposed to bring. I haven't reached it yet.
The sound of padded paws on ice alerts me, and the breeze and sun hit the side of my face as I turn my head to see a small arctic fox slinking its way around the bottom of the rise. It stops to peer up at me from below, black eyes steady and pointed white ears alert. I make soft clicking sounds with my tongue, extending a gloved hand. It pads up the rise cautiously, giving me its usual sniff-down before circling me in inspection. I chuckle as it stops to look at me expectantly.
"How are you tonight, Akiak?" I whisper into the howling arctic wind, pushing the fur of my hood away from my face as I fish through the pockets of my thick coat to pull out strips of dried elk meat. I toss it on the ground for Akaik, the Inuit word for brave. He has been coming around for quite some time, bold in my presence and comfortable to be beside me. The food I give him coaxes the trust, as well, of course.
He scarfs down the meat, and settles to lie curled against me, sharing my warmth and utilizing the shelter I provide against the wind. I watch the breeze and the sunlight play across his shaggy white fur while I scratch his ears lightly, causing him to close his eyes and lean into the gesture. With the summer weather, his fur has started to gain grey and brown patches around his narrow snout and ears. He perks at the faint sound of a single howl in the bright night. Something stirs deep within me as the far-off call is taken up by the rest of the pack, and Akaik's hackles raise.
"It's not close at all, sweetheart," I whisper to him, swiftly eradicating the feeling rising in my gut. My words soothe him, to my surprise, and he rests his head back down on his small paws, his tail curling up around his nose. His black eyes glint from behind the white fur.
"Rheaden! Come inside!" A voice shouts through the wind from the cabin at my back, causing Akiak to leap and sprint down the rise. My heart sinks as I watch the spooked fox dash off into the tundra, a white blur flickering against the sun-dazzled ice. I draw in one last deep breath of the icy arctic expanse, rising to stretch out my frozen limbs and joints. Light pours across the ice from the open cabin door, down in the small valley made from ridges of ice. I sigh at my antsy neighbor, standing in the doorway. He gathers me into the cabin once I'm within arms length and shuts the door tight against the cold, chewing my ear off the whole time he hustles me to the stove. I shed my gloves to warm my bare hands in the heat as my friend and self-proclaimed "caretaker" runs a nervous hand through his copper hair.
"I hate it when you do this."
"Do what?" I inquire innocently through my teeth, rubbing my hands together.
"Catch your death out there, I know you haven't been in here for a while. The stove was practically out."
"This is why I have to keep track of you. Are you trying to freeze to death? Seriously."
"Have I died out there yet? No. Quit acting like a nervous twit, I'm fine." I slug him in the arm with a right-hook, and he dances away to rub it. His hazel eyes narrow at me as I flash him a charming smile. Halin only mean well, and I know that. He's just so damn nervous all the time. I have no idea why he still lives up here.
He holds the glare for just a beat longer before sighing and massaging his face to cover a smile.
"Rhea... Just stop scaring me, alright?" I shrug out of my thick, fur-lined coat on my way to him, tossing it on my small table before wrapping my arms around his waist and giving him a big hug.
"You get scared far too easily to agree to that one."
He grunts behind his hands.
"Hal, you have to trust me. But I'll think of you next time." A blue-brown eye peeks from behind his fingers and copper tresses as I grin up at him. He rolls his eyes as he puts his hands on his hips underneath my arms, and I rest my chin innocently on his chest, giving him the biggest blue puppy eyes. His shaggy hair is muffed up as he looks down at me, his pale cheeks chafed from the cold.
"Cute. But you'll have to prove it." I frown as he pats me on the head. I slither away from him to smooth back my dark curls.
"You'll see," I chime, going to the stove to put on the kettle for Hal and I.
Halin is all of 20 years old, and I have practically lived with him all my life. His mother took care of me to help out my father, who has been gone hunting and whaling with Hal's dad to support us and our community while I was growing up. My own mother died when I was very young, from a very untimely heart attack. I would have liked to know her, very much. Everyone in the community tells me I resemble her in every way, but I think that's just because I inherited her Inuit features. But I can understand that, I guess. I even have her rare blue eyes.
I live on my own now mostly, taking care of the cabin while my father is out for long periods of time, being meticulously looked after by Halin. He treats me like an older brother, even though I already have Rowan. But he's always out with my father.
"Hal, what does snow smell like?" I ask in a flat tone, surveying him as I take the screaming kettle off of the heat to pour the contents into large mugs. I add sugar and goat's milk to my tea as I stir it. Halin snorts as he takes his mug to the table.
"What kind of question is that?" he grunts into his tea.
"Just answer it, ass hole." He eyes me as I join him, taking the seat by the window.
"Smells like nasal frostbite."