The Birth Of The Land

A poem by Pat O'Cotter

For a thousand years the Devil crouched
On the white hot flags of hell:
For a thousand years the Devil cursed
The imps that had chained him well;
For a thousand years the Devil sulked
And planned with his hell-trained brain
Of the things he'd do, when his term was thru,
And freed from the blistering chain.

He'd even the score with the men of earth,
And give them back pain for pain,
For all of the days he had felt the blaze
And the sear of the galling chain.
And it came to pass when his time was up
And hell's gates were opened wide
That all hell rang, and the clinkered imps sang
When the Devil passed Outside.

"I have served my time," the Devil said
As he halted by heaven's gate;
I have sweated in hell for a thousand years
And each year was a year of hate.
I have framed my plans for a thousand years,
I have worked out the details well
Now I'd have a place near the human race
As a sort of a prep school for hell.

The sons of men, on the earth below
Have scarcely a chance to sin,
Churched, belled and gowned, they mope around
By precept, all sealed in;
There is never a sin for lust of flesh
Nor sin for a man struck blow,
And the red blood crime of the olden time
Has passed with the long ago.

Hell's motley crew is scarce worth coal
When they come to the thing called death;
They squat on the coals with the real damned souls
And listen with bated breath,
To the tales of the earth, when the world was new,
When a man had to fight for his own,
When he took his wife at the risk of his life
And killed for a half-baked bone.

Now I'd build a place where a man might sin
For the sake of his own desires;
Make his the cause, and his the laws,
And the penalty, mine own fires;
Hast a place on earth to breed such men
Each for his own deeds blamed?
If you'll give me a place, I'll breed a race
That hell may not be shamed.

The God King sighed as he searched the plat
And the map of the earth below;
I have given a place for every race
In the belt from snow to snow.
I have given a home to each bird and beast
For even the fox has its hole,
I have given all land to the sons of man
And I've builded a home for his soul.

In the seven days that I toiled below
When I builded the seas and lands,
There was much to do, and I didn't get thru
And one place unfinished stands.
It's the part of my work that I really regret,
For I know it's the worst of the lot,
It's known down below as The Land of the Snow,
Or, The Country that God forgot.

It stands apart by the Northern Pole,
Unfinished, forgotten, alone,
And no man's hand has won this land,
And no man calls it his own.
The country is made up of odds and ends,
Unfinished mountain, and swamp and lake,
Stuff that couldn't be used when the earth was fused;
If you want it, it's yours to take.

"I'll take this plot," the Devil quoth,
"For I like your description well,
Yes, I'll take this place and I'll mould a race
That will be a credit to hell."
Then he whistled an imp from the uttermost part
And they dropped as the comets whirled
Past the white baked stars, past Venus and Mars
To the unfinished part of the world.

He landed at last on Denali's crest
And he gazed on his acres wide--
Barren and bleak, from each mountain peak
And swamp to the Arctic's tide.
The Devil grinned as he stood and gazed
Said he, "This is just what I need,
It's the place of my plan, for the downfall of man
Where I'll change his ambition to greed."

Then he summoned the legions of hell to his side
Named an arch imp to straw boss each crew.
Tho they gibbered and cursed, each one did the worst
With the jobs Satan gave them to do.
They tumbled the mountains high up, and on end,
Piled glaciers where streams ought to be,
And swamp land was placed in the desolate waste
That stretched from the hills to the sea.

They shook down all hell for a climate to fit,
But they couldn't get suited in hell,
So they took the worst parts and with devilish arts
They built one that suited them well.
They laid out muck swamps where the water lies dead
Bred mosquitoes and moose flies and gnats
Put the brown bear that kills on the barren brown hills
And with quill pigs infested the flats.

They shut off the sun for full half of the year,
Made each glacier a blizzard blown trap,
They strung out volcanoes half way to Japan
Each one with a hair trigger cap.
They planned for the coast line a system of storms
Each equipped with a ninety mile breath
And then spread o'er it all the fog that men call
The North Coast mantle of death.

Then knowing full well that man would not go
To a Land so forlorn to behold,
He salted the hillsides and some of the streams
With nuggets and traces of gold.
He tinted the hills with a green copper ledge
And covered the valleys with game,
All this for a lure, then the Devil felt sure
That the white man would fall for the same.

* * * * *


The lure of the little known places
Still calls, as it called to your sires;
The longing for wide open spaces,
The perfume of evening camp fires;
The hunting for treasure unfound yet
The knocking at fortune's own gate;
The doing of deeds for the joy that it breeds
Were all used by the Devil as bait.

The summers besprinkled with sunshine,
The hillsides a riot of bloom
With meadows a color shot grandeur
And valleys as still as a tomb.
With mountains of cloud-encased beauty
Or with stars shining down on it all
It's the trails we don't know that call us to go
And no wonder man heeded the call.

The winters, the trails all unbroken,
The far fields that beckon and call;
The song of the frost on the runners
And the Northern Lights high over all;
The trees in the bend of the river,
The streams that nobody has spanned;
The whisper of gold, the story half told,
All this by the Devil was planned.

When the trap of the Devil was ready
Widespread went the whisper of gold,
And the white men stampeded like cattle,
There never was tie that could hold.
The first mad rush to the Northland
When the scum from the four ends of earth
Came in with a rush, a scramble, a crush
Like scrap in a fusing pot hurled.

They came all untaught and not ready,
Spurred on in the mad rush for gold;
They died here unsung and uncared for
Of famine, and scurvy and cold.
They had the same laws as the wolf pack,
Stay up, for you die if you fail,
And the paths to the Northern placers
Are marked by their graves on the trail.

The towns that they started were plague spots
With brothels and dance halls aglare,
With cribs, faro banks and roulette wheels
And phonographs adding their blare.
All traps for the young and unwary,
All builded to help with his fall,
Never dealer was fair, never game on the square
For the Devil presided o'er all.

Nick fiendishly grinned when he saw his work
And he chuckled with devilish glee--
"When it comes to making an up-to-date hell
They've sure got to hand it to me.
For every ten souls that come in to this land
There's nine of them headed for hell
With never a fight, the percentage is right,
And my prep school is doing quite well."

* * * * *

Thus for a time he ruled this land
Where few might venture forth,
For never a man-made law held good
From Dixon's Entrance north.
He held this land in his claw tipped grip,
And he took his pay in souls,
Theirs was the blame, for they played his game,
And they paid for it on hell's coals.

But the Devil lost when the law came in,
Or the men who made the laws,
The gambling hall and the dance hall went
And the Devil was forced to pause.
For the life in the land develops men,
Men of an alien breed,
A new made lot, that couldn't be bought,
And strangers to graft or greed.

They loosed the land from the Devil's grip,
They pierced the hills with their trails,
They flagged the rocks at the harbor's mouth,
They paved the way for the rails.
They builded a school where the dance hall stood
And they brought in their children and wives;
They gave their all to the new land's call
And some of them gave their lives.

Now the pimp and the brothel have passed away
And the gambling hall is a dream;
A railroad train now follows the trail
Where we followed a nine-dog team.
A thousand stamps now sing their song
Where we panned on the gold shot ledge,
And a picture show now marks the line
That once was the frontier's edge.

The milch cows graze where the brown bear roamed
And a saw mill sings its lay
On a bar in the Yukon River
Where we panned one summer day.
They are raising wheat where the bull moose grazed
In the summers of long ago,
It seems kind of strange when we note the change,
But we'd rather have it so.

* * * * *

Yet, sometimes we dream as we camp at night
In the bend of the river's flow
Of the land that was, of the land we knew
In the days of the long ago.
The wild free land that bred the men
Who fought with might and main
And took this land from the Devil's hand,
And we'd like to see it again,

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