She was on the East Trapline Trail, heading west, heading for home, the Homestead in the moraine, leading a team through the spruce forest. The sun was at their back and the sky was clear, and all the world was painted with gleaming white new snow. The air was wonderfully cold. No slush or puddles underfoot. The sled was weightless, trees flew past as if they were rafting down a swift river. The pulling was effortless, and Sasha looked down to see her feet were not touching the snow. Her legs made galloping motions in the air as she, the team and the sled glided airborne, just above the ground. She turned to look back, overjoyed with anticipation of seeing Jiak on the runners. Behind her was a huge team. So many dogs she couldn’t count them, the gang line so long it disappeared around a bend, and she could not see the sled at all.
As she turned back to the trail, she froze in terror, as an enormous polar bear stood immediately ahead of her, blocking the trail. The bear raised itself on its hind legs, and stood as tall as a spruce tree. It stretched its gargantuan forelegs and Sasha could see strips of flesh, skin and dog fur hanging from its claws, as drops of blood dotted the snow beneath them.
From out of nowhere, Mother suddenly stood between Sasha and the giant bear. Mother bared her teeth and planted her feet, growling and glaring at the beast. The bear reached out two paws as large as reindeer, and gathered up the team, the harness and the sled, raising them skyward. Mother leaped, flying through the air to the treetop height of the bear’s throat. She turned her head ninety degrees and clenched her jaws onto the mighty monster’s neck. The bear pawed at Mother, swinging its head violently side to side, trying to shake off the attacker. It shrieked in pain, an ear-piercing noise. Mother held tight, her tiny body battered by the giant paws, flung back and forth by the bear’s shaking, all four legs dangling high in the air. She made not a sound, her eyes fixed on the target, her determination and fearlessness apparent in every inch of her being, every look on her face.
The bear staggered, took two steps back, still pawing at its own throat. The ground beneath shook. It stumbled to the side and fell into the forest, knocking down fifty spruce trees with a tremendous crashing crescendo as it struck the Earth with a deafening noise. Snow and evergreens filled the air in a great cloud, limbs falling, thumping, snowflakes gently wafting their way to the ground.
“Mother!” Sasha called out, “Mother!” She awaited a response. She turned to look for her driver. What was he waiting for?
As she looked back, the innumerable team of dogs was gone. There was only a long gang line, the rings hanging empty save the very last one. Far down the trail stood Anchu at the wheel position. She could see his mouth moving but heard no words. He, too, was calling “Mother!”
Sasha looked to the sled for Jiak, or Bek, or even the new guy, Tun. She beheld a stranger, dressed in smooth leather. He held in one hand a whip, and in the other a bag filled with colorful feathers. He threw the bag into the air, and as it hung momentarily suspended in its arc, he cracked the whip and the bag split open. Instantly the air was filled with big snowflakes, thick and heavy snow, a blinding blizzard.
“Mother?!” Sasha called into the forest where the bear lay.
Suddenly, she was standing on the roof of her dog house, and no snow was falling. Then, as she looked below, she saw she was standing on a lean-to, and Tun sat within. Beside him sat Mother, wagging her tail. And then there was Bek, and Jiak and Nina! Tun was pulling gifts from his bag. A rib bone for Mother. A rifle for Bek. He pulled out a dog sled, handling it as if it was as light as a boot. He handed it to Jiak, who smiled from ear to ear.
As Jiak placed the sled onto the snow before the lean-to, a team appeared in its harness. At the wheel were Alexei, and Spring, one of her mentors. At the swing positions were Dak and Kotka. Sasha was thrilled to see Kotka pulling the sled, no stiffness or limping from the leg he had broken. In the lead was Stone, and beside him, Lema, the pack mother of her former team. Bek, Nina, Jiak and Mother climbed onto the sled, headed westward, looking over their shoulders waving and calling out a cheery goodbye. Tun smiled and waved as he watched them leave. The moment they were out of sight, he fell to his knees, sobbing inconsolably.
Sasha jumped down from the roof and ran to him. It was agony to see him cry, this man whose voice sounded like song, who was never without a smile on his face, and she realized how much she had come to love him already, how her heart ached to see his sadness. She sat in front of him, but he did not notice her, his face buried in his hands, consumed with grief. She barked twice, and the big man looked up to see her. The moment he laid eyes on her, his face lit up with joy. He reached out and grabbed her, hugged her tightly and laughed out loud. He kept laughing heartily, a big booming laugh that continued until it echoed off the mountains and became a chorus of laughter, filling the valleys with song.
He stood and danced with Sasha, holding her forepaws as she stood upright. Icy crystals of snow began to fall, in colors, indigo, crimson, gold, silver. Soon they were joined by other dogs, standing upright and dancing. Her new team was all there, and then there were Yura and Nib, and all the other dogs from the Homestead. And there were wolves, and the wolves danced with reindeer. The giant bear rose from the dead, his bloody neck turning into a bright red scarf, and he began dancing with Mother. Beside the dancing crowd sat a chorus. Reindeer and wolves and owls swayed rhythmically as they joined together in song. They sang out loudly and gleefully.
“We’re a pack, we love to run
And pull for Bek or Jiak or Tun.
Life is joy, our work is fun.
A Pack means love for everyone.”
Bek and Nina and Jiak returned and picked up the tune. And there was a Chavchu herder dancing with a wolverine. Then the man from the Fur Trader’s was dancing with Nona the Cat.
And it seemed the whole world was celebrating.
They would dance in and out of Sasha’s dreams, through a rainbow of snowflakes in the sunlit night, as she slept with a smile.