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Ice, Mating

The hole had been shielded by wheat husks and walnut shells. In winter, the covering would be removed so the snow could collect over the two ice blocks – a male, a female. After five winters, the couple would begin to creep downhill, growing into a natural glacier, free of the cultivating hands of men. Freshwater children would spring from her womb providing the village with water to drink and to irrigate their fields.

We’d come as witnesses, Farhana and I. She wanted to know how they were chosen. I told her. The female ice was picked from a village where women were especially beautiful and, because that wasn’t enough, talented. Talent meant knowledge of yak milk, butter, fertilizer and, of course, wool. From caps to sweaters and all the way down to socks, the questions were always the same. How delicately was the sheep’s wool spun? And what about the kubri embroidery on the caps – was it colourful and fine? Most importantly, did all the women cooperate?

‘And the male? I suppose beauty and cooperation aren’t high on that list?’

He was picked from another village. One where men were strong and, because that wasn’t enough, successful. Success meant knowledge of firewood, agriculture, trekking and herding. There was a fifth, bonus area, and this was yak hair. From this some men could spin sharma, a type of coarse rug. A glacier in a village with such men had to be male.

She laughed. ‘So who does the picking?’

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