Sasha’s mind was racing, taking in the events of this singular morning. Things moved so quickly, she felt she had no time to react as she was hitched to Tun’s sled with her brother, Anchu. They were heading to the East Trail, pulling Tun’s sled, part of a new team, before she realized she would not be returning. Mother and the Pack gave her, and Anchu, a warm and hopeful sendoff, and just like that, their lives moved on in a literal sense as well as a figurative one.
So many things went through her mind as the team cruised along the trail. She was still recovering from the suddenness, the unexpected nature of this event. She’d always known she might someday move on to a home of her own, this Mother had told her. Yet having earned a place on the team and having her own name on her doghouse led her to believe she might stay at the Homestead with her favorite person, Jiak. There, the home in which she was born. The only home she’d ever known.
This day was bright with sun, reflecting off the melting snow, the occasional puddle. Sasha inhaled the cool, clean air, smelled the melting snow and the warming Earth. The beauty of the day overwhelmed her senses. The five dogs she’d joined on the team were strong and experienced. They were happiest working and moving, and the new recruits helped share the load. The whole team already worked well together, and they moved swiftly and smoothly up the East Trail and into the spruce forest.
Sasha’s mind wandered again. She thought of her former home, Mother, her people, and the other dogs she’d left behind. She missed them intensely, though she’d been gone only a matter of hours. At the same time, she couldn’t help herself from being excited and curious about the new frontiers she was bound to experience. She was familiar with Tun, and knew by his aura and his close friendship with Bek, Nina and Jiak, that he was a good person to be teamed with. She wondered where they were going, wondered where Tun lived. She reframed the last thought; she wondered where she would now live with him.
“Oh my goodness,” she suddenly said aloud to the new team, “Where are my manners? I should have introduced myself. I’m Sasha, and this is my brother, Anchu.” Anchu, less experienced at mushing, was a little winded, and distracted by his concentration on pulling the sled. He looked up and about, making eye contact with each dog and nodding a breathless acknowledgement.
“That’s okay, Miss,” a big tan and white Husky responded, “leaving home and joining a new team is bound to be a tough thing to do. Tun calls me Rocky, though my name is Stone. Up at the lead is Dak. Ahead of you Alexei, and this is Umka and Larik.” Except for Dak at the lead, who was too busy concentrating on the trail, the other dogs nodded and barked hellos.
“We’ve been together a very long time,” Stone continued, “and we’re glad to have a full team again. We’ve been struggling along since… well…since we lost our mother, Willow, and brother Rika, this winter.”
“You lost your mother?” Sasha replied incredulously, “Can’t you go look for her?”
Larik was next to join the conversation. “He means they’re dead. I hate polar bears.” His voice sounded a bit funny, as if his nose was stuffed up, and he bore the last scabs of a wound healing on his snout, leaving a scar to remind them all, forever, of the bear attack.
“Oh my goodness, that’s so sad.” Sasha answered, “I’m sad for you.”
“Haw! Haw! Det! Eik! Eik!” the driver called to the team as they approached the intersection of the Tunkan Trail. “Haw! Come on now, boys! Up you go!” Tun’s language was lively and prone to make you smile just by the ring of its tone.
“Coldward.” Sasha identified the ordinal direction.
“Yep.” said Stone, “Heading home.”
“So, you are all brothers from the same litter?”
Umka burst out laughing. “Good gracious, no!” he said, the laughter still in his voice. “He means our Pack Mother, Willow.”
“That was her name. She was the only mother we had.”
“I’m not sure I understand. How can she be Mother if she’s not really your mother?”
“Well, Miss,” Stone replied, “we all need a mother.”
“But everyone has a mother. I mean a mother you were born from.”
“Oh yes, of course. Your birth mother. Still, every pack needs a mother, even if it’s an honorary title.”
“Mothers are good at being nice.” one of the dogs behind Sasha offered.
“Mothers are always brave.” said Alexei.
“Mothers keep us together as a pack. Not just for working or hunting but also when we’re not doing anything.” added Umka.
“Mother.” The simple word, all alone, floated forward from Larik, at the wheel position. “Mother.” he repeated, followed by a small cry.
“Mother.” Sasha heard from Anchu.
The remaining three dogs said it simultaneously, as their countenance became long and forlorn, “Mother.”
Anchu now began to whimper. “I miss Mother.” he said, “I miss home.”
Now the entire team had changed its mood. From a happy, energetic team of dogs they had transformed into a line of sad sacks, hanging their heads, beginning to lose speed.
“Det! Det! Pick it up!” Tun called.
“I’m sure she was a fine mother.” Sasha addressed the team. “I’ve recently left my own mother behind, too.”
The team trod along in silence. The occasional whimper or cry betrayed their thoughts, deeply mourning and recalling their losses.
“I’ll tell you what my Mother would say.” Sasha volunteered in a cheery tone, “She’d say ‘Sadness begets sadness, Joy begets joy’.” She’d hoped it might pick them up a little, encourage them to shake off the blue mood. It had the opposite effect, making them long more for a mother that would dispense such advice.
“Come on now you boys.” Sasha continued brightly, “Another thing she told me was to hold my head high. Make her proud.” She had to catch a lump that climbed into her throat, steady her voice, “Let’s make all our mothers proud.”
All seven on the team, Anchu included, lifted their heads at the sound of this heartfelt admonition. The day seemed to whisper to the team. The familiar and ever-present spruce forest surrounded them, protected them. The bright sun shined down upon them, warming them, lighting their way. The blue sky showed not a cloud, nothing but bright promise, and the silent wood seemed to pay solemn homage to all mothers, now, past and future. Indeed, our Mother Earth seemed to caress the tiny microcosm and its eight inhabitants.
“That’s a fine sentiment, Sasha.” Stone said, “Proud for Mother.”
“Proud for Mother.” another dog said, then another, as they lifted their eyes to the beautiful world.
Another minute of silence passed, as the mood shifted. As they entered the Tunkan Trail, their heads and hearts steadily rising, their pace picked up a little.
“Proud for Mother!” called Dak from the lead.
“Proud for Mother!” his four longtime teammates echoed.
Sasha looked behind her to check on brother Anchu. His face was pulled into a grimace, a precursor to tears. He swallowed hard, twice, and in a tremulous voice said to his brave sister “Proud for Mother.”
They trotted along in silence for quite some time, each individual deep within their own thoughts of Mother and mothers. Smiles slowly came to them, as the brief sadness of parting was overwhelmed by the lifetime of joy and love mothers had imparted on each.
One by one, each looked to Sasha. They were warmed by her true and valiant heart.
Alexei turned to her.
“Will you be our Mother now?”