Caravan Draft Chapter Six

Chapter Six
Two Fools

 

When Rol stopped the sled, Anchu’s senses awoke. Hitherto, endless eyes-closed plodding into blackness had become hypnotic. One step after another, then another. Any change from the monotony was noticeable, and none more so than halting the sled.
He began to sense the troubles in the party. Tun approached with the reindeer-driven racing sled, while suddenly Rol was driving the dog team. Tun could barely move, walked with a frozen stiffness, and could not bend down. Then Anchu saw Rol collapse and fall to the ice in a heap. The night grew ever colder, and the team moved ever slower with each step, into the barrage of wind-driven snow and ice. Finally, Tun unhitched the team and pitched a tiny shelter in the midst of the frozen plain.
Dogs were whimpering, limping as they nearly crawled their way to the makeshift windbreak. Tongues and lips grew pale as the dogs’ thirst went unquenched, and brutal air constricted capillaries at the surface of the skin to conserve body heat.
When Rol remained unconscious and Tun curled beside him shivering, Anchu suddenly recognized the imminent danger. Thoughts flooded his senses with the clarity born of life and death circumstances. When an old dog knows his time has come, he would curl up the way Rol and Tun had, to close the circle, to face the end of the trail.
“We need a runner.” he thought. Someone to forge on to the caravan ahead, to fetch help for Tun’s beleaguered party. “I’m the fastest.” he concluded his thought, and began to rise through the dogs piled atop him. He breached the flap that held the vicious wind at bay, several dogs stirring at the disruption.    He sneaked his way out into the howling, sub-freezing night. The wind blew so hard it pushed him, caused him to stumble and misstep. He turned to take a long look at the group before leaving them behind, then turned seaward, smelling for the scent of the trail.
“What are you doing?” A voice called to him from the edge of the dog pile. It was Larik, who now took several steps into the raging blackness to stand beside Anchu.
“I’m going for help.” Anchu shouted, to be heard above the wailing storm, “To catch up to the rest and bring people to help us.”
“It’s deadly out there, little brother.” Larik spoke, his face nearly pressed to Anchu’s. “And we have no idea how far away they are. If you just start walking you could freeze to death and die without a pack to keep you warm.”
“If I stay here, we’ll freeze to death and die anyway.”
They both stood, facing away from the wind, and held a long gaze into one another’s eyes. There was an inescapable truth to both their statements. The choices seemed to be winnowed to two: stay here and die for certain, or strike out into the featureless black, an act which held their only hope, yet did not guarantee survival.
“I’ll go.” Larik said, as he faced seaward, staring into the darkness.
“I’m the fastest.” Anchu replied.
“But I’m rested.” Larik continued. “You’ve been hitched to the team and pulling the sled since the afternoon.”
“So have you.” Anchu answered, as he, too, now faced seaward, and took an extra step to be further from the shelter than Larik.
“I wasn’t on the team,” Larik shouted as he took two steps to be more seaward than the youngster, “I was at the rear. I’m fit and rested.”
“But I’m the fastest!” Anchu insisted.
“I don’t think you understand what you’re talking about. What is this, your first winter? Your second? You have no idea what awaits you out on the tundra. I’ve been there. I’m older.”
“But I’m faster.” Anchu repeated. “Watch.”
With that, he burst into his fastest sprint, and disappeared immediately.
“No! No! Wait! What will your sister do if you never come back? Come on! You have family…”
Only the growling wind answered Larik’s calls.
“Anchu!” he barked as loudly as he could, walking toward the place he’d last seen the young dog. “Anchu!”
The unrelenting wind and cold berated Larik, compelled him back to the relief of the shelter. He stood, blasted by ice shards, struggling to open his eyes to look for Anchu.
“Sure! Go kill yourself!” he shouted into the void, “Make your sister cry!” He listened for a response. “That should make him think.” He waited for Anchu to come back out of the nothingness, to defer to his elder teammate.
A strange feeling overcame Larik. A new and unfamiliar sense. His stomach turned, though not from hunger, and despite the onslaught of the storm he could not tear himself away from his watchful stance. It would be normal for Larik to leave someone to their own devices, to seek comfort for himself. To write off such a foolhardy plan and the fool who created it. But his mind kept a vision of Anchu, alone and far from his pack, as he lay freezing on the tundra ice.
“Anchu!” he called again into the dark, and felt a lump climb into his throat. “Anchu!”
Larik thought of the innocent young dog and his beautiful sister. How could a world take such youth and beauty when here he remained, healthy and strong? This embittered and cantankerous old dog, who so recently craved escape from all of this. The world of man, the pressures, duties and responsibilities of a pack member. The inescapable heartbreak, the price to be paid for letting someone into your life.
“Anchu!” he called again, with frightened desperation in his voice. The new and strange feeling gripped Larik. He could not will himself to return to the safety and comfort of the windbreak. He could not take his mind from the fact that Anchu was in peril, and his stomach flipped again thinking of it.
“I can’t go after him.” He thought to himself. “Only a fool follows a fool, I say.” He tried to remind himself how often he’d thought he’d be content living as one alone. “Besides, then we’d just have two dead bodies out on the ice instead of one.”
He then realized that, instead of pacing back and forth while his thoughts raced, he’d paced in a straight line; seaward.
“Well, I probably don’t want him to get too far.” He quickened his pace to a trot, ignoring the blinding spray of ice and shale against his face. “When I get hold of him…” he growled.
He broke into a brisk gallop.

Larik’s fragile heart shielded itself as best it could from pains. Keeping to one’s self was the simplest course. If something got too close, Heart would paint the scene with a disguise of selfish emotions.
Scene One was Ridicule, and had played out. The fool followed the fool off stage.
Scene Two, Selfish Logic, had also crossed the footlights.
“Return to the shelter!” said one character.
“Two bodies instead of one? Posh!” said another.
Scene Three, Annoyance, sang its coloratura to the tunes of sarcasm.
“What good is youth and beauty, wasted on the young and foolhardy?”
“There are old dogs, and there are bold dogs. But there are no old bold dogs.” Said the hardscrabble veteran of a decade on the Arctic Tundra.
Scene Four, Anger, was unfolding.
“This is just what we need. As if we don’t have troubles enough.”
“Why must he run so fast?”
Larik’s gait broke into the fastest sprint he could muster. The strong and hearty wheel dog, liberated from sled work for days now, dashed off stage as the curtain fell.
Scene Five opens. The stage is dark. The orchestra fills the air with the sound of Nature’s fury, gusting crescendos.
A tiny spot slowly fades up, centered in the air mid-stage. Fading in is an image of Larik. Time is slowed, and we watch the sleek animal stretch eager forelegs to their fullest. Rear feet plant, haunches tighten, we see the rippling muscles of this graceful and powerful being, as every ounce of energy and passion propel his flight, headlong into the roaring darkness.
The image and the light fade into blackness. We hear the clickety-clack of claws on ice.
“Anchu!” the call stretches and reverberates, competing with the shouting wind, it echoes off the distant mountains and fills the air. We hear the slightest quiver in the voice. “Here I am! Anchu!”
The voice repeats as it, the clickety-clack, and the orchestral wind fade, bringing down the curtain on Act One.
“Anchu!”

Caravan Draft Chapter Five

Chapter Five
Good Things

 

   “And how many good things do you have?” Mother asked Sasha warmly, engaged in the rapt, attentive bathing of her sibling.
Brothers Anchu and Splotch had taken the bone she considered hers, despite her protests, and she now sought Mother’s intervention. Breathless from her frantic flight from the scene of the purloining, she repeated her testimony in anxious and clunky sentences, punctuated by frequent looks at the accused and the rapidly disappearing item in question.
“So I understand.” Mother answered, and repeated, “And how many good things do you have?”
“I don’t know. But my bone!”
Mother addressed her as a teacher would a student, a question to provoke thinking and a reasoned answer, “Don’t you have another bone somewhere?”
“But that was mine and they took it!” Sasha answered without looking to Mother, her eyes fixed on Splotch as he crunched down the last bit of evidence. He and Anchu trotted off between the dogs’ houses, looking for further opportunities this sunny late winter day.
Now, after six moons, Sasha and her litter mates were nearing full size. Alas, they were still very young, still learning to navigate in the context of a social world; elders, leaders, siblings, people, the cat. They had yet to witness babies, puppies, living beings newer than themselves. They had yet to encounter the Great Wide World, with rules of conduct and safety piled atop the rules of civility, and its own complex and fluid laws of territorial and property rights.
Sasha flopped to the ground, hopes extinguished, and heaved a huffy sigh.
“So,” Mother continued, “you say it belonged to you, and you are vexed that you don’t have it.” she restated the facts.
“And Splotch and Anch’ took it and that’s not fair!”
“Okay. So lastly we add injustice to your grievance. Or is it vengeance you desire?”
“No, no!” Sasha sat squarely and looked directly into Mother’s eyes. Despite the current squabble, Sasha’s heart was true, as were her siblings’. “They’re my brothers. I wouldn’t wish anything bad on them.”
Mother’s lips curled into the slightest smile at this, and she went on with her lesson. “So you think there was something the universe made just for you. Specifically and personally, like your teeth or your tail.”
Sasha felt she was in no mood for conversation. Certainly no mood for lessons. Her focus was on the fact that the bone was already gone. She felt a sense of loss. A sense there was something she could have had, and now can never regain. She answered Mother’s question without any thought about its meaning, or what the intent of the lesson might be. She drolled in a conciliatory tone of reluctant and indignant surrender. “I know the universe didn’t make the bone just for me.”
“Only your heart belongs to you, precious one,” Mother cooed, as she looked to her daughter with a warm, knowing smile, “and even that can be stolen from you.”
“What?!” Sasha leaped to her feet, wide-eyed, stricken with fear, “I’ll die!”
“No, no.” Mother calmed her, “That’s just a saying. It means we don’t really control who it is we love. Love happens on its own. It’s not something you can make up and decide for yourself.”
“How does that help me with the bone theft?”
“We don’t really own anything outside of our own bodies. Everything else is part of the world.”
“Then why is it called ‘mine’? What about my rag ball? It’s not mine?” Sasha whined, feeling like she was losing more things. Feeling like she was being compelled to let her siblings help themselves to things she’d become accustomed to, attached to. She whimpered, on the verge of tears.
“Now, now. We’ll call your ball ‘yours’, and you can keep it for yourself. Just because things are part of the world doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of our lives, and sources of joy or solace. But things pass into and out of our lives as easily as the wind.”
“My bone sure did.” Sasha replied. She watched Splotch and Anchu approach Kotka’s dish. He lunged toward them and blasted them with a deafening, growling bark. Both the youngsters yelped and spun, Anchu knocking down Splotch and running right over him in his haste to escape the huge Husky. Kotka turned to hide his face and chuckled. He caught Sasha’s eye and winked at her.

   Sasha giggled out loud, the sound decidedly foreign in the roaring, freezing, endless Arctic night. The dogs in the pile closest to her did not respond, did not want to risk any movement that might allow in the frigid air. There totaled about thirty dogs huddled behind Tun’s windbreak, some inside the tiny hide shelter, the rest mounded on and around it.
She was just inside the tent, beside Rol. From where she lay, a tiny gap opened onto the world outside. As small as her own eye, it revealed glimpses of horizontally-passing snowflakes and ice shards. An ear or a tail would shift into or out of view as the dogs continually sought respite from the storm in the heaping pile of fur balls.
“And how many good things do you have?” Mother’s voice repeated the question, like an echo that had taken so long to course its way up the canyon and back. Remembering this lesson was where this started. Frozen and scared and in pain, in the depth of the black gale, Sasha had begun to enumerate her woes. Her desperate thirst, her persistent hunger, the pain in her paws, the fierce cold, the biting wind.

“Okay.” Mother summed up the lesson as she released the sibling from bath duty, and moved on directly to Sasha. She started with the ears and face. “You can look around you any time and count the good things you have. Family and friends. A good home. Your heart and mind. Your body. Even your breath and your life.” She finished with the ears and paused to look her daughter in the eye. “Or you’re free to go on worrying about something that doesn’t exist anymore and didn’t belong to you in the first place.”
Still moping, a short while later Sasha made her way to Kotka’s doghouse. She related the whole tale, from the felonious misdeeds of her brothers to Mother’s lesson.
“I don’t understand. How can I count good things when they are being taken from me?” she posited.
“I don’t really know much about this.” Kotka said rather solemnly. “I don’t even remember having a mother, or brothers, and I never really had anything. Excepting my breath and life as your mother said.”    His eyes wandered across the homestead slowly, and his head cocked a little. “Well, until I got here. I’ve come to have family, and friends. Comforts and caring. I have caring. And peace. Now that I think of it…”
“If everything is part of the world and nothing belongs to me,” Sasha rambled, interrupting her friend, “I guess I’ll never have anything either.”
“Oh, I didn’t say I have nothing.”
“That’s what you just said!”
“No. I said I’d never had anything besides my breath and life.”
“But everybody has those things. It’s a given.”
“Not so fast, young lady.” Kotka shifted his weight off his bad leg, “What about Iluk?” he asked, referring to the dog that had died just weeks ago, from unknown and presumably natural causes.
“But he’s dead!”
“Exactly.” He sat, staring at Sasha.
“Okay, so I have my breath and life. There. Two things everyone else…I mean…every living being has. How does that help me?”
“Well, you wouldn’t be able to talk about it if you weren’t alive. There’s that.”
“Great. So I have being alive and agony.” she fumed.
“So how many were there?” Kotka asked.
“What?”
“How many good things did you count?” he queried, turning to chase a bird from his dish.
“I don’t know.” Sasha pouted, “I didn’t count.”
“Well, isn’t that silly? You say you have only three things but haven’t counted?”
“What’s to count?” Frustrated and annoyed, she threw herself down. “All I have is a ball.”
“How about family?” Kotka countered, “You have siblings.”
“Oh yeah, and brothers who steal from me.”
Kotka was looking around the homestead again, enumerating all he saw from his perspective. “You have Bek and Nina. And Jiak.”
“Well, yeah, Jiak.” Sasha conceded briefly, “But I don’t own Jiak!”
He leaned closer and insisted. “But you have Jiak in your life.”
“Yes. That’s a good thing I guess.”
“And your bed. And supper. You never are cold or hungry.” The mentor continued, remembering times when this was not always so for him. He took notice of one precious thing after another that had been missing from his life before Bek brought him home that fateful day. It was easy to see the bounty from his perspective.
“Yes, that’s true too. I am grateful.”
“There, you have gratitude. And friends. How about me? Am I really nothing to you?”
“Oh, no! No!” Sasha ran to him and pressed her snout against his, “I treasure you most.”
“And you have your mother.” Kotka sounded a little sad as he said this. Taken from his own mother earlier than he should have been, watching Mother tend to her brood was the most magnificent and valued reward he had come to know at the homestead.
A tear welled in Sasha’s eye as she sat looking toward the yard.
“So you still feel you have nothing?” Kotka offered.
She was frozen still, her gaze fixed.
“I’m counting.” she replied.

Here in this shivering camp Sasha wondered where Splotch was now. And her other litter mates, Anchu being the only one still with her. She thought of her dear friend Kotka, whom she hadn’t seen since she’d joined the sled team on the mountain ascent. She poked her head up and out of the pile between one dog’s head and another’s butt, and called his name. She discovered immediately the futility of trying to out-roar the storm.
Then she realized that the objects in the tiny gap were becoming brighter. Day was dawning. At first light she would gather up her brother, and they would seek out Kotka. And Stone and Dak, Umka and Alexei and Larik.
She added these now to an account, an inventory of all the good things she was grateful to have.
An account which began, first and foremost, with her breath and life.

Molting Season

Yep, summer’s almost here. I can tell by the way my coat is falling out all over. I look like a shaggy mess. Like I got caught in a tornado or something. And my person picks it off constantly. Then there’s the brushes. Sheesh! Next thing I know they’ll be bringing out that green kiddie pool and making me take a bath in it. Boy do I hate baths. Ugh!

The Shed

It’s great to see things greening up. This time of year there’s new stuff every week. Different flowers and shrubs growing, and chipmunks everywhere. We got back to Mr. Nishan’s tool shed on the walk, but whatever was living under there must have moved on to better digs. Or maybe no digs. Maybe they didn’t like my burrowing into their nest.

The lawn must be molting as much as I am, ’cause my person is out there constantly with the giant vacuum cleaner he calls “the mower”. That thing scares me, it’s too loud. Mom’s vacuums are loud enough, but that one is horrible. Maybe that’s why she makes him keep it outside, ’cause I never see him using it in the house. He always warns me so I can go hide in the fort under his bed.

 

Relaxing In The Sun

 

It’s been pretty quiet around the ranch, aside from the mower, and I must admit I am enjoying the mild weather and pleasant sunshine.  Also my person is out even more than he is in the winter, what with the constant work of a molting dog and molting lawn at the same time, plus cleaning up brush piles. And cooking many yummy things on the little black stove in the cabana! He tries not to bother the little bird in the moss-carpeted nest.

Moss Nest Guest
A Little Privacy?
Getting The Hairy Eyeball

 

In fact, maybe he’ll tire himself out so much he can stop nagging me with that brush. I think a lot of the hair on the chair comes from the cat. I think she gets up there when I’m out and just rolls around on my chair with glee, and laughs when she hears Mom caterwauling about the mess.

Wait…what’s that?

 

What Is That?

Oh no! The green pool!

 

Clear trails,

Sasha

 

 

Caravan Draft Chapter Four

Tundra

 

Chapter Four
Makeshift

 

Every cruel bump of the solid tundra transferred directly to Tun’s aching back. He clenched the back bow of the sled and pressed on into the unrelenting headwind. The constant pain awakened his weary mind, delivered him via endorphins back from the sleepy brink of hypothermia, fueled his brain with fear-riddled adrenalin.

Now his mind raced. He hadn’t slept for two days. The threat of the approaching war party drove him and the many others that had gathered at The Lodge to make haste. A grueling round-trip was made to deliver displaced families to safety. Following this, he helped the remaining families to cobble together dog teams, reindeer teams, sledges and sleds to embark on their forced emigration.

It was this penchant to care for all the others that had left Tun last to leave, with his young friend and surrogate charge, Rol. This now haunted Tun, as he soberly appraised their current and potentially deadly circumstance. Their hurried exodus had left them ill-prepared to face the worst of the Arctic, in which they were now immersed.

He had loaded all the food available at the Lodge, and it was a great deal, in order to provide as best he could for the large party, knowing they would face a week of travel across the barren tundra. These provisions were loaded onto Tulaen’s large sled hauled by a team of two reindeer, and on several dogsleds as well.

Tun had anticipated that he and Rol would catch up to the rest once they reached the open plain. The timing of the storm could not be worse, and now it hobbled them, and he feared the pack train had traveled farther than he’d estimated, and had made extensive progress before the onset of the gale.

He had only frozen fish, and then only enough to provide perhaps a half each, which went for all the dogs and the men as well. He had little by way of shelter, save the handful of hides that had made their way onto the sled. They’d left behind many things Tun now wished for. Things that seemed easily replaceable, but now seemed invaluable. Extra boots, gloves, hats. Wool blankets, long coats, tarpaulins. It would have required another sled to carry all this, a luxury they did not have. Working tirelessly in the sheltered campus of the Lodge, the men were dressed in a single light layer of clothes, their industrious activities keeping them warm, if not sometimes overheated.

He’d expected to be with the pack train by now. Here the vast reindeer herds would march into the sub-freezing wind with little care. They would form a windbreak for their fellow travelers, who followed closely behind, sometimes driving their sledges right into the herd to benefit from the shield. The reindeer would naturally alternate at the brutal forward edge, a rotation of leaders sharing the onslaught until their turn was complete, and they could slip back into the herd to warm up.

The Chavchu would have sedans on sledges. Small, rectangular hide litters in which mothers and children would share body heat, remaining sheltered and warm within.

Tun stepped suddenly on the claw brake, and the team halted. In his rush to catch up to the pack train, his weary mind had suggested he could just load Rol up like household goods and haul him along. He couldn’t simply leave Rol where he was or he’d likely freeze to death.

Now Tun felt he faced two poor choices. He could try to forge on, in hopes of catching up to the well-equipped convoy. Or, he could stop here and shelter in place, in hopes the storm would pass soon.

“In hopes…” he said to himself, for both options relied heavily on this. Something needed to be done for Rol, and every minute counted as his core body temperature would continue to drop. This was Tun’s deciding factor.

Pain following him with each movement, he proceeded to turn the cargo sled perpendicular to the wind. He pulled the racing sled up behind it, forming a windbreak, marginally effective against the fierce gale. He laid a hide on the ice in the lee of the barrier, and pulled Rol onto it. Larik, Omok and several other dogs wasted no time joining Rol on the blanket, and they curled beside him, pressing as closely as they could.

Tun then set out on the arduous task of walking the length of the gang line, and unhitching all the dogs. Men and dogs alike needed one another now, to huddle close and share one of few remaining assets, body heat. This was not a camp pitched of necessity, but one pitched somewhere between desperation and death.

As Tun unhitched the dogs he held the conscious thought that this action might save some of them. They were needed for warmth, and Tun was concerned for their lives as well. If the men were to die here, there was no reason the dogs should be sentenced similarly by being restrained.

Tun used two more hides attached to the top rail of the sled and stretched to the ground to form a small, tent-like structure. More dogs added to the pile forming around Rol, and the rest made their way to the windbreak, curling themselves beside and atop one another. The escape from the full-on wind, and body-against-body, brought incremental but desperately needed and welcome relief from the worst of the penetrating cold.

Beginning to benefit from arrangements, too, Rol’s mind half-woke in the hide tent, dogs piled atop him, and Tun shivering beside him. In the darkness, he thought for a moment that he must be home. Or encamped in the expansive Oloy Valley with the herd, sleeping with his own dogs and his father. It was colder than it had ever been in the yaranga, and Rol thought perhaps he was fevered. That would also help to explain the trembling and pains in his extremities, the swirling sensation his mind felt as he laid still. The vicious wind pulled up a flap of the shelter, and it coursed its way over the men and dogs, fully awakening Rol’s mind now to the present reality.

Tun scrambled, dogged by back pain, to pull the flap closed. He turned to see Rol moving his arms, and was thankful he was coming around.

“We’ll warm up now.” he shouted to the boy. “You’ll be alright.”

Tun decided to believe this with all his will.

Litters Of Critters

Here we go again, with spring birthing season. The birds are crazy these days. It seems like every kind of bird I’ve ever seen is in the yard now, and they’re all building nests, sitting on them, or fetching food for hatchlings. The noise and mess is everywhere, and you don’t see a bird flying without something in its mouth, either a stick or piece of grass or a bug or a mouse.

There’s these little darting birds that built the cutest nest in the rafters of the cabana. It’s way up about five times my height so I can’t see if there are eggs or baby birds in there. This nest is the best ever! It’s built out of sticks and dirt and spit like most nests, but then the outside is carpeted! They get green moss and put it all over the outside of the nest. It makes a great camouflage!

 

There are a lot of rabbit babies this time of year. And it seems like there’s more pine squirrels and chipmunks, but I never see them as babies. Or maybe they’re born that big and never grow. Poor things. Wait, what am I saying? A chipmunk as big as a dog would be my worst nightmare! Then again, they could chew some big holes into the house if I let them, (and frankly what choice would I have if they’re as big as me?) then I could sneak into the house through their hole, and I wouldn’t need to wait for a person to open the door when it’s rainy and windy!

 

Birds I get. The animals I get. What I don’t get is the trees. They’re doing crazy mating things, too. Turning all kinds of colors, like turkeys do to lure mates. And some even have little furry kittens growing right on their branches. But I never see the baby trees running around. In fact, I never see trees moving, now that I think of it. How did they get everywhere? Maybe they only move at night?

 

Tree Kittens

 

On our hike I smelled something as we passed Mr. Nishan’s tool shed. Something made a nest under there. A weasel or a skunk, I bet. Or a dragon. I was told there’s a dragon in the cellar, maybe that’s why I’m not supposed to go down there. (I didn’t see it the time I got in there, and was told it was on vacation at the time and I was lucky to escape with my life!) Well, skunk or dragon, I wanted to have a better look, but couldn’t fit under the shed, so I had to dig my way in. I tried at one point to chew through the wood siding or move the shed with my teeth. Even my person tried, but said it was too heavy to pick up. I finally got under there, but then it was too dark to see anything. It smelled good though, and given another few hours I could have dug out the whole underside of the shed. I got called out, finally, and we had to go in, but I’ll work on it more next time.

 

A couple weeks ago we had five inches of snow on the trees with little leaf buds. It broke a lot of them, and we have now three places on the trails blocked by downed trees. I’m glad the trees are making more now. The world would look terrible without trees, wouldn’t it?

 

Clear trails!

Sasha

Caravan Draft Chapter Three

 

Chapter Three
Man Down

Tun was awakened by his lost-balance alarm as his hands slipped off the back bow. He swatted at the air for the handle as the sled moved out from under him, and he fell, flat on his back on the rock-hard ice, intense pain radiating from his pelvis and lower back. He looked up to see Rol’s reindeer about to walk over him, and he rolled painfully out of the way.
“Whoa! Whoa! Hold up! Whoa!” Tun called as loudly as his hoarse throat allowed, but it was to no avail. The team could not hear him over the roar of the raging storm, and continued to walk at their slow, steady pace.
Rol pulled the reins and halted his sled, stepped off to assist Tun to his feet. Trembling, he moved slowly, stooping awkwardly as an old man. He could provide little help, his muscles weak, and he groaned with his efforts. Tun winced, holding his hand to his back, and urgently spoke to Rol.
“The team! Stop the team!”
The young man chased after the dog sled, taking up a slow and steady trot into the wind. He tried to increase his speed, but his body could not respond. He held this pace as the sled kept moving steadily eastward. The movement generated a little heat, precious little, and Rol welcomed it. Yet simultaneously, the heavy breathing required became painful as the sub-freezing air burned at his throat and lungs. He tried to call out to stop the team, but found his throat dry and frozen. A strange sound barked from his mouth, and he tried again, but now only raspy gasps came out.
Hot blood rushed to his hands and feet, awakening frozen nerves, and the pain grew greater with each step. Several agonizing minutes passed as Rol incrementally gained on the sled team, until he could reach out and grab the back bow, and hop onto the runners. He stepped both feet onto the claw brake, and it dug into the solid ice.
The dogs, who had been plodding so hypnotically they never noticed Tun’s weight come off the sled, now sensed the drag of the brake, the pull on their harnesses. There was not one among them that wasn’t thankful for the stop, and they longed for a camp and a fire. They stood, eyes closed and heads hanging down, hoping in the next few minutes for a man to unhitch them so they could huddle together. They all were desperate with thirst.
The pain in Tun’s lower back was so intense it wracked him with every step. In agony, he walked to the racing sled, stepped onto its runners, picked up the reins and snapped them on the reindeer’s backside. She lurched forward, and stabbing pains ran up Tun’s back. He gritted his teeth and gripped the handle of the sled. There would be no nodding off for him again, as long as this fire burned in his back and stabbed at his shoulder blades.
Several minutes passed as the ambling reindeer caught up to the halted dog sled. Here, Rol stood still as a statue on the runners. His exercise had warmed him, but also formed perspiration on his skin. Every movement brought a new sensation of cold, and Rol tried to keep his skin from touching the insides of his apparel. The pain in his toes continued to increase as warm blood flowed to them. It felt like being stepped on by a reindeer’s solid hoof, multiplied a hundred times. He tried to wiggle his toes inside his mukluks, but doing so was more painful, and so he ceased.
At the edge of hypothermia, coupled with physical exhaustion and dehydration, Rol’s eyes, too, closed as he stood gripping the sled. His knees unlocked and he awoke instantly, catching himself by wrapping a mitt around the handle at the wrist, like a paw, his hands unable to clasp fingers to thumb. Every muscle in his body was shaking, as if in the grips of Saint Vitus’ dance.
The blustering gale jostled both men, shoved at them like an insolent jester. It pushed dogs off their feet, causing them to stumble, and pressed at the sleds as if begging them to remain still. It roared and howled with power, whistled and screamed with ferocity.
Every bump in the solid ice was felt in Tun’s back, as he finally caught up to Rol. For a moment, he stood still as the younger man, clinging to the sled to hold himself upright against the badgering wind. He had achieved this goal, his mind told him, drunk with exposure, spent from his exertions. His brain stood idling. No thought entered into it. “I’m here.” he thought, “I made it.”
Deep from the recesses of his mind, his consciousness called to him. It seemed his inner voice was as muted by the storm as the men were. He called to himself again. An iron will and strong heart broke through the fog. “Keep moving.” was all it said.
“Move!” the voice repeated, and Tun heard the address. “Move!” it said again, as if to imply the last chance to do so may be rapidly approaching. Tun could sense his unresponsiveness. The thought of moving pranced across his mind, but made no connection to the neural and muscular systems required.
It was not logic that parted the curtain of consciousness, but fear. Healthy fear that Tun had acquired through his many years of living in this merciless country. Fear of frostbite, fear of freezing to death. “Frostbite. Death. Frostbite. Death.” The voice continued until he began to move. Slowly at first, as if unsticking himself from the sled. Then awkwardly, as he tried to keep his ailing spine from flexing as he walked.
Suddenly, a picture flooded his senses, returned him to a day and time long, long ago, when freezing and death visited him in the most cruel fashion. He sucked in a breath in shock, as he did that very moment in the past, and immediately his heart was filled with worry for Rol. He made his way to the young man, or the boy, as Tun thought of him, for he was somewhere between the two.
Rol stood hunched over the back bow of the sled. His hood was drawn completely closed, without so much as a gap through which to exhale. Tun placed his hand on the lad’s shoulder, and felt his quaking frame. Rol did not move.
“How are you doing?” the big man shouted at the side of the hood.
Rol made the slightest turn toward Tun, and shrugged his shoulders. He moved his numb, mitted hands to the hood, fumbled with it, trying to find the opening, his hands visibly shaking. He pressed the hood to his face so his mouth was at the gap.
“Wa-when w-will w-we s-stop?” he shuddered forth words in a strange, growling sort of voice, immediately pulling the hood closed again.
“We must keep moving, Rol.” Tun shouted to the hood, “If we stop moving out here, we’ll die.”
Rol made no response for a moment. One could only guess what was happening inside the hood. Then it moved up and down twice, in a silent nod of affirmation.
There was little by way of shock or drama in Tun’s statement. For men or almost-men that live in this harsh place, these were simply facts. Freezing and death were natural elements, like the sun and the snow, and their presence loomed over these men, and all other animals of the peninsula, human or otherwise. Like the wind and cold, death is an everyday part of life for those who live hand-in-hand with the Ice Queen.
Rol stepped off the runners and went limp. He fell face-forward and slammed onto the ice like a rag doll thrown down by an angry child. If not for his thick fur hood, pulled closed all around his head and face, he might have cracked his skull. He laid there, unmoving.
With every ounce of strength, ignoring the searing pain in his back, Tun dragged the boy to the racing sled. He would have lifted Rol, but was unable to do so in his present condition, and he rolled the lad up onto the heap of belongings on the sled. He tied the trailing line of the cargo sled to the reindeer’s harness, and placed several hides over Rol, covering him entirely. He had to lash these in place to keep them from blowing off. With those preparations complete, he moved in his stilted fashion to the cargo sled.
“All dogs up! Let’s go! Eik! Eik! Eik!” he barked out froggy commands. The team did not respond, could not hear him over the wailing wind. In stiff, painful steps, he walked the length of the sled and the fourteen-dog team until he came to the lead at the end of the long gang line. There remained hope as long as his loyal team could hold up. He had pressed them harder than he had ever pressed dogs. Well beyond the limits of reason, bordering now on abuse. Their flight was desperate, and all members of the party were pushing their luck. They needed to keep moving, or die doing so. He found he could not bend, and so fell to his knees and shouted.
“Pick it out, Dak! Eik! Pick it out!”
The dog looked at him in confusion. The sled was not moving and the driver was not on the runners, prerequisites for such a command. His voice weaker with each word, Tun pleaded now.
“Eik! Dak, please! Eik! Pick it out. Eik! Eik!”
Dak sensed urgency and desperation in his human friend’s cries, and responded to Tun’s orders without further delay. He stood on four painful feet, thirteen dogs doing the same behind him, and again the weary entourage moved on.

Snud

Mudder

 

What do you get when snow melts? Snud! Mud made from snow. It’s really amazing how some snow turns into mud. Mostly snow is frozen water, and usually when it melts that’s what you get. Maybe it’s a special kind of snow, or maybe just a special time of year, but the snud season is upon us.

Along with snud season comes the opening of the yard around the back door, where I hang out. The fences come down and last year’s leaves get raked out of the way, and I can get my nose to the foundation. There’s always something trying to get into the cellar. I’ve been down there myself, and I can tell you it’s nice and cool and a little wet. Not snud, ’cause there’s never snow in the house. Must be plain old mud from when the water runs down behind the stone steps.

Pine squirrels are the the most pesky, and the most organized. I think it’s like a little platoon or something, because there’s never just one. If you sit at one corner waiting for the one to come out, the other one runs in through the gap behind the lattice. If you go over there to chase that one, the first one comes out from the corner. I decided to simply lay down in the middle, and when I did they both ran in at the same time! I’m not giving up, though.

It’s been crazy warm some of these days, though still snowing off and on this week, Sunday was like summer, and my person had to peel off a couple of layers on the walk.  I smelled something across Widowmaker Field. Something revealed after the last late snow melted. It required some effort to drag my person over the hill. And then, I was vindicated!

The story in pictures:

 

 

At night it’s still cold, but it won’t last long, I know. I can tell by the molt happening to my coat. The winter hairs are starting to fall out in little clumps. This usually raises mom’s ire, and she crabs that the vacuum cleaner is overwhelmed. I don’t like the vacuum cleaner anyway because it’s so loud (and I’m afraid of loud noises), so maybe they’ll get rid of it so mom won’t need to crab about it. I’d be pleased with that.

 

Clear trails!

Sasha

Caravan Draft Chapter Two

Chapter Two
Dark March

 

At the lead, Dak held his eyes tightly closed, marching blindly at a plodding pace in the brutal Arctic night. The tornadic wind shoved menacingly at his chest, resisting his efforts, and hurled a never-ending onslaught of tiny frozen particles at him. Even if daylight, he would be unable to keep his eyes open.

Behind him, thirteen weary dogs shared the burden of the heavily laden cargo sled, similarly holding eyes closed, ears folded down, the bitter cold biting at their feet, their noses, their thinly-coated bellies.

Stone was behind Dak, so drained and tired that his closed eyes often convinced him he was asleep, and he would nod off while walking. He’d awaken to the harsh reality of the merciless night, suddenly feeling the frigid air and the relentless wind. Again he would remind himself that he’d seen worse. This malevolent storm still did not equal the pain felt the time he fell through the ice into the nearly-frozen water of the river.

Never before had he been rendered helpless. The water, a fraction of a degree above solid ice, almost instantly numbed muscles and arrested their motion, stabbed at every inch of skin like a thousand knives, drove the very breath from his lungs. A strong swimmer, he now found all four legs unresponsive, and they made just the slightest ellipses despite his greatest urging. He watched the water rise to consume him, to flood his open eyes and wash in agonizing waves into his ears.

He stopped breathing. His next breath would be his last, he knew. He was scared and saddened, but ready to escape the unendurable pain. He ceased his efforts to fight, and surrendered. A strange calm enveloped him, and he was surprised to find himself admiring the beauty of the sunlight as it danced on the crystal ceiling of ice above him.

It was not Stone’s time, however, and a force that seemed as mighty as the gods themselves clenched a great talon onto his vertebrate lifeline, catching at the last possible moment the last talonful of tail. Swords of pain shot up his back and up his neck as his entire body weight was hauled by this delicate appendage, against the current of the river and carrying the added weight of saturated fur. The agony of his spine rivaled that of being frozen alive, and with this he said goodbye to this life, and exhaled.

Instantly, his pain subsided, and for a moment, everything became brighter. Then he was running to his favorite thing in the world, Tun’s open arms. Then, as quickly as it came, the light faded.

Excruciating pain rapidly returned to Stone’s world when he awoke to find himself inches from the coals of a hot fire. It was not the heat that caused his suffering, but the return of warm blood to partly-frozen extremities. He couldn’t move, and saw with horror that his coat was solid ice as if it had been painted on layer by layer. It clad him like a suit of armor, prevented his movement, and laid on him like a ton of rock.

Stone stumbled and awoke again on the desolate tundra behind Dak, walking through the frozen night. His ears felt as if they were on fire, and he again recalled how this minor discomfort paled in comparison to the worst he’d felt.

Every dog, and Rol, maybe his reindeer, too, wondered how long they would continue. Some, perhaps, wondered how long they could continue without dropping from exhaustion. Mile by mile the world grew colder and the gale grew greater. Barely walking now, they moved slowly, step by step ever eastward into the withering wind, and there was no sign of stopping. More than one dog began to limp, hold up a paw occasionally, hopping along on three.

Anchu’s regular place was fourth in line, right behind his sister. On the East Woods Trail he first thought they were simply bound for another adventure. Still in his first year, he was slow to sense the fear in the air. Running to escape looks a lot like running a race on the surface of it. The clues slowly revealed themselves to the young dog. A lack of encouraging calls from humans, or rallying cries from teammates. No jovial exchanges between the people, or sidebar challenges between canine athletes. No one was talking, no one was laughing. No one was smiling.

Then Anchu saw the hue of trepidation and anxiousness, smelled the apprehension and dismay. Now the fear reached him and flooded over him. He was afraid, and didn’t even understand the reason to be fearful. Afraid of the fear itself. Now he trudged through the coldest, windiest, blackest night he’d ever experienced. In a place he was sure he’d never been, even further from his peaceful home on the moraine than he had been at Tun’s mountaintop Lodge.

He called to his sister, barely a dog’s length away, and could hardly hear his own voice above the hurricane. He tried again, but gulping the loads of frozen air required for barking brought sharp pains. He abandoned the effort. He was thirsty, but the windswept tundra was as clean as a kitchen floor. No snow to eat. Nothing but rock hard ice with bits of shale in it. He wished they’d pitch camp. Wished there was a fire and a hot meal. Wished he could talk to his brave sister, who always made him feel safe and protected. He wished they were Home, and this thought caused him to begin a whimpering that would continue through the night, unheard by any but the Ice Queen.

Behind Anchu walked people-loving Umka. After a separation from Tun, he was overjoyed they were together again, and eagerly anticipated the time they would go back to their regular, adventurous and fun lives. Following Tun as he puttered and worked. Curled beside his bedroll at a trail camp, or winning a race for him at Summer Festival. Umka thought of the innumerable evenings on the porch of the dogs’ house at The Lodge, Tun singing his songs, patting and petting his dogs as each drifted off to sleep. He dwelled on this vision, and despite the bitter cold, felt warm within.

Alexei was equally grateful for having reunited with his brother Larik, after Larik quit the team to stay behind in the smoking ruins of Tunkan. After the grueling round-trip to Bek’s, and Rol continuing without a break, he refused to stand and return to the trail. The pack would not accept this, and returned to retrieve him after their duties were fulfilled, delivering Rol safely home. Alexei vowed he would never be apart from Larik again. He would stick beside him through anything, even face death itself by his side.

Umka, too, would make such a silent pledge. Once together again, he swore never to separate himself from the smiling giant.

Behind Rol’s sled, out of view of Tun and the team, Larik followed amidst several orphan dogs who had attached themselves to their fellow emigrants. The hasty nature of their meetings, without introductions, left them unaware of one another’s names. The subsequent race up the mountain then into the storm perpetuated this condition, and the insistent wind extinguished any possibility of conversation.

His thoughts argued with themselves, alternately seeking to justify or curse his presence here on this pitiless plain. He should have stayed in Tunkan, where he’d decided he would separate from the team, live independently, emancipate himself from the harness and the sled and the life of a working dog. The vision of living free in the wild expanse of the Chukchi Peninsula called to him. He was ready to get on with it when his brother returned, and Alexei was keen to do anything for Larik, to be together as they had since birth. Apart barely a day, Alexei could see no light in his world without his ever-present brother, and went to find him. He made no consideration of what he would leave behind, and without knowledge of what the future would bring, it was then Alexei vowed that it was life with Larik, or he’d as soon have no life at all.

Now Larik thought of that day, when the rest of the pack came to find him and Alexei. How they decided democratically that as long as they were separated from Tun and at a loss as to his whereabouts, they would join Larik and form their own wild dog pack together. That mild morning was like a dream, and the happiness, joy and revelry of the day was Larik’s fondest memory.

Still, he was thankful and glad to be running with Tun, now that they’d found one another again. He hadn’t realized until he saw him again just how much he loved him.

“Great.” came the response from the other side of Larik’s thoughts, “so now we’re out here and not even with the pack. Surrounded by dogs we don’t even know. Freezing. This is the worst storm I’ve ever tried to mush through, and the people aren’t stopping to camp.” He thought again of the dream, striking out on his own if need be, to live the wild and free life. “I could start right now I suppose.” The debates continued in his head. “I could pitch my own camp and make a bed right here. Well, if there was anything to make a bed in. Can’t just sleep on the ice on the open tundra, you’d just freeze solid.”

He continued to walk as he argued with himself, occasionally opening one eye as best he could against the stinging ice pellets. He’d look to assess the dogs around him, maybe recruit them for his wild dog pack. Sometimes he’d try to look ahead, to see his brother, Tun, Stone or Willow.

This thought startled him, as he remembered Willow, the pack mother that partly raised him, had died last winter in a bear encounter. It was Sasha now. Sasha was now their pack mother.

Sharp pains flashed up his left foreleg as the sub-freezing miles wore on. He could see nothing ahead, not even Rol’s back, darkness and wind-driven snow unyielding.

Now he felt he wished he had reported for duty in answer to Tun’s call. At least he would be near them. Behind Stone and Mother, and Tun right behind him. He longed to be with them now, and tried to move through the train to catch up to them, but the pain in his leg was amplified by the effort, and he could make no gains.

Larik saw the dog beside him begin to lift the same paw. He drew closer to him to be heard above the raging storm.

“I’m Larik.” He shouted into the dog’s ear. The other leaned in, “Omok.” he replied.

They each opened ever-so-slightly the eye facing the other. The blistering wind and stinging snow seemed to subside a bit, seemed more bearable now, to facilitate this meeting. They held this look for a moment. This was not an ordinary introduction. This was the kind of instant bond born of shared calamity.

To be vexed by life’s ills and difficulties is unavoidable. To face them alone is unimaginable. Larik and Omok, who had each felt the isolation of this desperate flight, muzzled by the roaring winds, now felt some kinship.

Kindred in the face of their foe, the mighty Ice Queen. Each thinking that now they felt less alone as they began to wonder if they had pressed too hard, gone too far.

As they began to wonder if this is the place they would die.

 

So The Snow Goes

Happy Dog

 

Last time, my person hogged up all my space with the first chapter of Caravan. It’s a bit nerve-wracking for those in the story, so I’m glad it’s fiction. Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I must admit, even I was happy we had a warm, sunny, springy day to walk in, even if the snow is fading. I really love the snow and the cold weather. My folks are from Siberia, you know, so it’s normal for me. But sometimes the warm sun feels good, and I see we have some different birds in the yard these days.

On the trails, we thrilled to the last of the snow. It uncovers hidden treasures as it recedes, and we can find mouse runs and bits of leftover kills. I found some bunny scraps left behind by Brer Coyote. Scraps is right. Nothing but fur. Ever heard of sharing?

Well, I can read the signs. This is the Melting Snow Moon. I can smell it.

It’s the Snow Geese that take the snow with them. We saw a flock fly over and listened to their funny squeaky honk that sounds more like quacking. Yeah, when the snow geese go north, they take the snow with them. It’s a sure sign.

Days are getting longer, so that’s a good thing. Gives me a little more time to try to ambush the skunk by the side of the house before the people call me in. And on to the next season!

I like mud, too.

 

Clear Trails,

 

Sasha

 

Caravan Draft Chapter One

Chapter One
Summit

Sasha could hear the pounding of her own heart in her ears as she hastened along the snow-covered frozen trail. Without conscious will, she had assumed the same demeanor and posture as the other dogs. Her tail was pulled down and close, and she hunched as she ran to reduce her profile, ears laid back on her head. She breathed heavily but held in her tongue. Her muscles trembled though she wasn’t cold, and her stomach seemed to be rolling and roiling inside her. These were the physical manifestations of fear, something of which she had learned a great deal in a very short time.

The party with whom she was fleeing stretched out in a single-file line, racing their way over the East Woods trail at a punishing, reckless pace. Ahead of them drove their beloved human companion and driver, Tun, an eight-dog substitute team pulling his overloaded cargo sled. Behind Tun rode their young friend Rol, driving Tun’s slim, ornate racing sled, it too heaped with belongings. Rol drove a single reindeer in harness, and slapped the reins across its flanks, compelling it to move faster. They stole looks over their shoulders, hunching and trembling like the dogs.

Surrounding Sasha was her pack, her dogsledding teammates, her family. Ahead was Dak, the skilled lead dog, and Stone, the oldest. Beside her, her own brother Anchu, and behind them energetic Alexei and his brother, strong wheel dog Larik. Umka, the seventh on the team, ran beside Kotka, Sasha’s mentor and longest-held friend, a slight limp betraying his healed broken leg. The entire entourage ran as fast as they could manage toward the summit of Tun’s mountain to escape their pursuers.

What had been one of the finest days in Sasha’s short life was subsequently overshadowed by harrowing and mysterious events. The Summer Festival at the tiny village of Tunkan brought Sasha and Anchu to their first dog sled race. An unexpected and exciting win was a sweet surprise, and the team reveled in their success.

Before a day passed, they were called upon to travel with Rol to Sasha and Anchu’s birthplace, the homestead of Bek, Nina and their son Jiak, to determine the reason for their absence from Festival. Sasha was eager to see Jiak, her first love and dogsledding driver, after two moons in her new home. She was equally eager, if not perhaps more so, to see Mother again, and relate to her all the exciting things that had passed since their parting. She would see Kotka, and all the dogs of her former team.

Upon arrival the home was found to be deserted, and every dog in the yard was gone except Kotka, who had fled to the woods. He described a frightening incursion by strangely-clad invaders, taking all the dogs and people with them. Bek had called them “soldiers”.

When they returned to Tunkan, the laughing village, host of the Summer Festival, they found it pillaged and torched. The fearsome intruders from the west were responsible for this, and none of it made the least sense to Sasha or her teammates.

Now Tun and Rol pressed eastward, fleeing their persecutors, last to leave in a long string of refugees. Chavchu reindeer herders drove their animals ahead of them, and more than a dozen dog sleds carried people, families and their belongings. A number of orphaned dogs followed with the group, similarly driven from the only homes they had ever known.

Both sleds were loaded to capacity with all that could be hurriedly made to fit. The air was crisp and cold, and the snow well-packed, yet Tun’s team struggled as the trail pitched uphill. He stepped off the runners and trotted behind the sled to reduce the load. Higher and higher they continued to climb until they emerged from the forest near the peak of the mountain. The next leg would be the most difficult, as the steep slope loomed before them.

“Whoa now.” Tun called to the team, ”All dogs down.”

Most of the dogs laid down in their traces, panting hard and welcoming the rest stop. Two dogs up front, who looked enough alike to be twins, stood staring ahead at the trail, awaiting the command to move again.

The imposing peak of the great mountain stood before them. Ancient etched and jagged granite, with strips and stripes of glacier, snow and ice. An intimidating incline without a trail or cover, the wind careened up its face and threw itself from its top to form billowing clouds of blowing snow in the sky.

Tun spoke to Rol and rifled hastily through his sled, extracting a gang line extension and a bag of harnesses. He called his loyal team to him; Dak and Stone, Alexei and Larik, Anchu and Sasha and Umka. One by one he placed their mushing harnesses on them, assisted by Rol, and commenced to connect tug lines to the long gang line, already equipped with eight strong Chukchi dogs. Despite calls, Larik did not report for duty, but Tun wasted no time returning to their climb. With fourteen dogs in tandem, the tiring troupe again attacked the ascent.

The early winter wind brought with it a haunting scent, climbing the slope and stampeding past the party. All the dogs seemed to detect it simultaneously as they lifted their noses to the air.

“The strangers!” Stone called to the pack, and they turned their heads to the timberline as it receded.

Fourteen dogs and a man were no match for the million-ton mountain which has stood for millennia. They slowed to a crawl, frequently coming to a complete halt. Tun would shove and heave, and more than once Rol needed to join him to move the long cargo sled foot by foot up the steep slope. Both men turned their eyes often to the backtrail.

At long last the crest of the summit drew near, as Tun continued to push the heavy sled, and every dog strained at the long gang line. One more step, one more step. Each inch of progress purchased with exhausted muscles and heaving breaths.

Dak, in the lead, was first over the top, right behind him Stone. Before Sasha reached the ridge, they disappeared over it, and so it went with each of the dogs in the long procession.

As Sasha crested the ridgeline, she was startled to discover they were on a bluff that towered hundreds of feet above the base. A narrow shelf ran perpendicularly, barely wide enough for a sled. The whistling wind inundated all with blinding clouds of blowing snow. Winds driven up the face of the cliff would collide with and part the curtain to reveal a vast, featureless plain below. As far as she could see, nothing but flat, frozen windswept tundra greeted her.

“Haw! Haw! Haw! Haw! Haw!” Tun’s powerful, booming voice could barely be heard above the Arctic din cascading over the mountaintop and shrouding everything in white. If not for Dak’s recollections of vague familiarity of this rarely-trod route, the sharp turn might well have resulted in disaster, and a blind helpless plunge into the rock-strewn abyss.

The group skirted along a narrow ledge, twenty feet below the driftcap, parallel to the cliff. The overwhelming blowing snow whited out everything beyond a few feet, making for a nerve-wracking transit, the precipice beside them a constant threat. It seemed one misstep could find them in mid-air at any moment, though the buffeting wind served to shove them back against the wall of granite. They continued along this seismic cut, guided only by Dak’s nose and their faith in his instincts. It crept its way down from the peak of the mountain, leading them eventually to the wide open tundra.

When finally they were on level ground again, they turned due eastward and struck out across the stark landscape. Sunset was drawing near, and here the wind raced across the open terrain without hindrance, and reached phenomenal speeds. Ice bits and even tiny shards of rock peppered the party like miniature gunfire, as they bore down directly into the Arctic headwind. They followed a freshly-laid trail, preceded by the others that had fled before them.

Their breakneck pace waned as the blistering wind blinded them and hammered them with brutal gusts. The sky grew darker and the numbing temperatures grew ever colder. The frantic pace of the hillclimb and the sprinting undertaken when they reached the plain began to ebb. Gallops slowed to trots. Trots slowed to walking.

Now as darkness fell, the gale increased in its fury, and cold was driven through dog’s coats and humans’ alike. Sasha pondered at these strange days.

“Why do the strangers persecute us?” she wondered. Surrounded by all those she knew and loved, led by their strong friend Tun, Sasha was less fearful now, yet apprehensive about the future. Mystery loomed before her, and she thought now of all those she had longed to see since the odyssey began. Her mother, her human family of the homestead on the moraine, all of her former teammates and other dogs from her first home. Dear Jiak.

In the howling wind Sasha swore she heard their voices calling out to her. From someplace deep in the darkness, perhaps high above the smothering storm, they sent their spirits to her.

“We are all of us a pack,” came their soothing thoughts, “and a pack is a forever love.”

The sounds faded into the roar of the polar barrage, and Sasha leaned into her harness, ignoring the pain in her paws.

 

Skunks And Yoga

On The Widowmaker

 

Snow! Snow! Snow! Gosh I love snow. You can eat it and dig in it and run through it. You can spin three turns and have yourself a bed in an instant. And you don’t get overheated on your hike.

My person is excited about the third volume of my stories, as he finally got started on Caravan. I’m glad it’s fiction, because it’s a lot colder up above the Arctic Circle than it is here. It’s 16 degrees (F) here today, and with the wind, feels like 2 below zero (F). My team on the tundra is facing far lower temperatures and far greater winds. It must be fifty below where they are. I’ll just lay here by the wood stove and watch the old man write.

I took up two new hobbies. One is Yoga. I don’t know what it’s about but they have this thing called “downward dog”, and I’m a natural at it. This Yoga thing must be right up my alley.

The other thing is macrame. You know, tying knots. The only thing I have to work with is my jorring lead, but I’m making progress.

Had a skunk come around this week. Time for them to come out of hibernation. He was close to the house in the night, but in the morning was nowhere to be found. I suppose that’s good, cause every time I get a decent layer of skunk scent on me, my people wash it off with this awful-smelling, perfumey shampoo. Eww! And it will be three moons before I’ll be able to find a dead thing to roll in.

I know that skunk’s here somewhere.

 

Clear trails!

 

Sasha

 

Snow And Gunpowder

Nishan Hill

 

Woo! Hoo! More snow!

We had a good snowstorm blanket the ranch with fresh powder up to a Chusky’s knees, and we went for a great hike on Sunday. Uncle Matt cousin Max and some other people friends came over to do some rabbit hunting. I was ready to see them cry when they saw how I could run much faster than them, and I still have trouble catching a rabbit.

Well, I guess the rabbits found out about it, because nobody saw a single one! They must have been hiding in their dens.

We went for a long walk and rooted around through some grapevine tangles, and never scared up a bunny. As we were heading through Chuy’s trail eastward, a war broke out. It was a small war, I guess, and they took their time shooting. Still, I’m afraid of loud noises and the gunfire was between us and the house!

My person ducked into Mr. Nishan’s machine shed, and we waited it out. The wind blew all around and snow continued to fall as we waited. It was really cold, so we were glad to be out of the wind.

At one point, my person pointed to the window and said “Okay, I’m going to knock out that window. You go to Dawson and get Sergeant Preston. Understand? Get Sergeant Preston!” I think he thought he was in the TV show for a minute.

Finally, the shooting stopped, and we came down through the Avenue Of The Pines to discover it was our own people that came for rabbit hunting. Geez, I should have thought of that. They never intended to run after the rabbits!

I was really tired by the time we came in, and I had a good long nap in front of the wood stove. I pretended I was huddled around a fire with my teammates on the frozen Chukchi Peninsula in Siberia.

When I woke up, I was glad I was home and warm.

 

Clear trails!

 

Sasha

My Birthday!

I forgot all about it last week, until my person came home with a larger-than-usual bag of snacks and goodies. Then he said “Happy Birthday! You’re ten years old!” (It was the day they call “the third”, though it seems like there have been a lot more than three days in the last few years)

I’m not really sure what the big deal is. I didn’t do anything special. But I guess my people thought I was special for the day, and that made me very happy. The Jack Link’s beef jerky meant a lot, too.

Most of our beloved snow has melted away, and today it’s rainy. Maybe winter is over? Gosh, it seemed really short, or maybe that’s just because I’m getting old. How often do we get birthdays, anyway? Maybe I’ll have another this week, and more jerky.

 

Clear trails,

 

Sasha

Snow Shoe Heaven

I’m so glad we had plenty of snowfall, and my person finally got out his snow shoes!

We had a great hike last weekend, around all the trails out back. Snow smells great, and it’s really easy to track things like bunnies and mice. Their scent sticks to the snow, and it’s easier than trying to pick it out of grass. We move slower when my person has snow shoes on. It’s kinda nice to go slower sometimes, though I never think of it. Usually I want to cover as much ground as I can, check out all the trails before it starts to get dark. But when I’m forced to slow down, I notice a lot of things I usually just run past.

I noticed a huge wasp nest in the cherry tree, and I was scared at first and wanted to run. I didn’t see any wasps, and in some places the paper-like stuff of wasp nests had begun to tear. I guess they must have moved out or something, or maybe there’s a lot of frozen wasps in there! I better remember that when spring comes around.

On the trail, my person, slow enough as it is, insisted on stopping and taking photographs. At one point, I could smell the bunnies in the thicket right ahead of me, and I forgot that he said the “Hold up!” command. I took off after the bunny scent and pulled him over on his backside! I didn’t mean to, but afterward I thought it was kinda funny.

Great news! I was out in the driveway and smelled something familiar. I dug and dug and guess what I found? It was the bone I thought the snow plow had eaten! It was buried in the snow. I dug down to it, but it was frozen to the ground. Fortunately, my person understood my quandary, and kicked the bone loose! Now I’m ahead of the game, since they put another bone in that sock for Christmas! Don’t tell them, but the “beef tip” snacks were terrible. Maybe Doone The Cat will eat them.

Clear Trails!

 

Sasha

A Tree In The House?

Wow! We had a good blizzard drop about a foot-and-a-half of snow on us. It sure looks pretty, but has impeded my person from snow shoeing or ski-joring. Hopes are high for this weekend!

I don’t know what gets into people at this time of year. Maybe it’s to celebrate the return of the snow, or maybe snow makes them crazy. All kinds of decorations come out, and every room is smothered. My person tacked up colored light bulbs on the front porch, and put out his cardboard painted snowman.  Then, they brought this little pine tree into the parlor. I remember they did this last year, too. I mean, there are thousands of pine trees around the house, so it seems a little odd. Next thing, they’ll try to hide it. They’ll put colored light bulbs on it and then a bunch of shiny things like birds put in their nests. They’re not fooling me. I know they have a tree in there.

I see the sock hanging up, the one with black paw prints on it. I didn’t walk on it, so I don’t know how that happened. Probably Doone The Cat. The important thing is that not long after they hide the tree in the parlor, they load up that sock with some of my favorite treats!

So I went out to chew on the ham bone Mom gave me, and when I got to the driveway, I discovered the snow plow had eaten it. I never knew a truck would eat my treats, but you can bet I won’t be leaving any lying around again.

 

Clear Trails!

 

Sasha

 

Snow!

I’m so excited! I knew I smelled it, and as soon as the door opened, there it was, a foot of new snow!
It  was really deep over by the pine trees, and I had to hop from one step to the next!

This means my person will get out his snow shoes. Sheesh, if you thought he was slow before!
Or maybe those ski things! Then I can run down the hill!

We went for a great walk in the snow. Everything smells different, and it’s easier to see tracks than smell them!
Hope you get lots of snow where you are, too.

 

Sasha

Lodge Release News

Hello everyone!

I’m excited to announce that today my human published my second book, Lodge!

These stories pick up where Homestead ended, and take us through our first summer, our first trip to the Summer Festival at Tunkan, and our first look at dogsled races!

It’s available in paperback and ebook on Amazon. Search for Sasha Of The Chukchi Sea, or go to my human’s author page at: amazon.com/author/scottroconnor.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading it!

 

 

Meanwhile, here at home, we’ve finally made a good turn toward winter. Temperatures were down to 9 degrees F last night, and we have a modest layer of snow. Still not enough for sledding.
The smell of the skunk still lingers a bit around the cellar door, but it’s fading.

Clear trails!

Sasha

First Frosts

Last weekend I saw a few flakes of snow fall from the sky, that’s when I knew it’s almost time for winter! These days are getting cooler, but still mild during the day, but as this moon wears on, it gets colder and colder.

Soon the ground will be frozen in the mornings, frost on everything, little puddles with the thinnest layer of ice on top. Hunters will be out often during this time, and we’ll hear guns going off in every direction in the woods around the ranch. Loud noises scare me a little.

But then, know what’s next? Yes you do! Come on, guess again!
Yes! The turkey holiday!

All my favorite people will come over and there will be the hugest feast of the year. (Must be they need to use up all the old stuff, I guess.) Plenty of turkey and turkey bones (and a strange assortment of turkey-based meals for a long, long time.) And but also pie! Chocolate pie! Okay, so the people always make a big deal over the pumpkin pie. I don’t get that. A gourd in a pie or candy? That’s a choice?

 

Last night a skunk got near the house, or under it. Wow! Woke us all up out of sound sleeps at midnight.
So, I need to go air out now. (And make sure she doesn’t move in to hibernate!)

Clear Trails!

 

Sasha

Weird And Spooky Things

Something really strange is happening again around the ranch. This happened last year, too, and the year before that.

Normally, my people decorate our house with pretty things like wreaths, silk flowers, holiday decorations and colored lights. Now they have made the place look terrible on purpose! There are human skeletons, some in pieces, hung and scattered about. Pumpkins bear faces resembling humans. Some kind of ritual or sacrifice, I guess.

On the front lawn is a 9-foot tall man-looking thing with a green face, and nailed to a tree is a small woman, spread eagle as if she’d flown into the tree. Her hands are green and her hair is purple.

There’s a HUGE spider hanging from the kitchen ceiling, and all around the place are more scarecrows than you’d need for a whole sunflower farm. Don’t they know the gardens are dead now? What do we need all these scarecrows for? (Besides, I’ve never seen a crow come in the house.)

Maybe they’re trying to keep the hunters away from the house (and their noisy guns!)

It’s a good thing I remember seeing this holiday before, or I’d be worried about my people.

Clear trails!

 

Sasha

My Stories

 

Hello:

I was totally surprised when my person published the first volume of my journals!

This is my story from the moment I open my eyes as a puppy, and follows me through my first spring.

I remember it like yesterday. Learning about home, family and people. Learning how to chase a bunny. I remember the first time I put on dog boots, how clumsy I was as a little puppy!

In this volume I also start my lessons in dogsledding, and learn what it’s like to be part of a team.

It just gets better from there!

Volume 1: Homestead is available in paperback and e-book on Amazon.com

If you enjoy the story, look for my second volume Lodge soon!

 

Clear trails!

Sasha