Early in “To Build a Fire,” as the protagonist stands above the icy terrain, what does he see?

Early in “To Build a Fire,” the protagonist stands above the icy terrain and sees a dangerous place, though it does not frighten him. He notes that though there are no clouds, there is no sun either, and this makes it gray and dreary. He sees the undulations of several feet of snow atop several feet of ice and the main trail, like a “dark hair-line” through the spruce trees.

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The protagonist sees a large swath of the Canadian Yukon, a massive expanse of open land covered with three feet of ice and just as many feet of snow on top of the ice. The landscape itself looks pure white, and it seems to undulate where ice jams have formed underneath the soft snow. He sees that the day is rather gloomy and dark, as though there is a pall over it, as the sun is not visible over the horizon and will not be for many days. This reference to a “pall” is somewhat ominous, as a pall is a piece of cloth that one would drape over a coffin for a funeral. Despite the fact that the sky is cloudless, the day is very gray and bleak. The protagonist sees the trees, a “fat spruce timberland,” stretching out in many directions.

In addition to the rolling snow and the gray, sunless sky, the protagonist sees a “dark hair-line” through the whiteness, which he knows to be the main trail that leads five hundred miles to the south and seventy miles to the north. That dark line appears to curve and twist over the snow, disappearing between more islands of spruce trees that dot the landscape. This scene makes “no impression” on the man because he “has no imagination” and, evidently, cannot envision all of the tragedies that could befall him all alone out here.

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