Rol left the house in good order, save the burnt food smell, and insured the door was latched and would not blow open again, as he found it. He flipped the burnt food pail upside down behind the shed, and scrubbed the other cook pot clean before hitching the team.
“It feels strange this time. Leaving here.” Sasha said. “Last time it felt like I was leaving my whole world behind. Now it’s just a distant memory. This could be any place, any yard, any doghouse.”
“Perhaps we’ll meet up on the trail.” Anchu offered, always looking for the positive, the silver lining in any situation. “Or maybe in Tunkan.”
“Up! Up!” Rol commanded, as the team stood and tensioned the gangline.
“All those dogs.” Sasha spoke her thoughts out loud. “Who would take all the dogs?”
“Hike! Hike!” the call came, and the team plied the trail eastward.
At the top of the valley wall, Sasha decided she would not look back. All the way up the long draw of the sidecut she had thought of turning her gaze at the top. Back upon the trail to her once-beloved home. To look to the place where Mother stood patiently watching Sasha and Anchu leaving. She found herself thinking in a different light as she and the team ascended the ridge. There are times for looking back, looking long. Times to hold these visions close in our hearts and minds.
Then there are times for not looking back. This needn’t represent an ending or beginning. There are times for looking forward. Times for seeking and seeing what is before us. Time to leave the dreams of last night’s slumber, and look to define new dreams, new destinations, new aspirations. What is past is now history, memory. It cannot be affected or altered any more than one could remove the sun from the sky. Good and bad, memories will always remain unchanged, unaffected by time.
A feeling rose within her. She began to feel and see herself as an independent being. Not only part of the team, not only part of a pack. Not only part of Tun’s family, not only Anchu’s sister, but one equal and kindred to all other dogs, and yet apart. She saw in her life a wheel around which the outboard aspects of her world turned. She remained centered, the hub.
There was a spoke of now and today. Rol and the team returning eastward, returning to Tun and Tati and the village. And here was a spoke populated by her old homestead; Bek, Nina, Jiak, Kotka, Mother, Nona the Cat. The dogs’ yard. A house with her name on it.
Another spoke ran all the way to the top of the mountain, past Tear-In-The-Rocks Creek, to Tun’s hilltop Lodge, its solitude and sanctuary, its freedom and comforts. Still another led to Kantuk. Jiak and Tati sharing afternoons together. Sasha playing with laughing children, or sleeping in the warm yaranga. Simple, happy times that now seemed long ago, yet the smiles and the sun shone as brightly as the last day she was there. The warmth of the love and happiness shared then filled her now, as the team trekked past Silver Creek, and up the Tunkan Trail.
Elsewhere, another spoke of the wheel reached down into darkness. It was filled with mystery and fright and longing. Strangers and soldiers. Illnesses and wringing hands, hastily sent messengers. Peering down a long cave, the images faded into the darkness. Danger unseen, yet sensed. Cold violence and cruel death hidden within, veiled in blackness.
Opposite this spoke’s fearful composition, one that reached all the way to the heavens. It touched and stirred the Spirit Lights that danced above. It was white as snow and shined as brightly as the stars. It was safety and surety, warmth and welcoming. It was the spoke of love, all around and above her. From her first vision of Mother to the love of her life, Jiak. From kind and caring Bek and Nina to the wonder-filled joy and love of Tun. It was kisses on the head from Tati, congratulations from Akej, hugs of laughing children.
As these thoughts swirled around her mind and heart, she looked up the trail to the top of the hill ahead. Beyond it stood the mighty mountain, the ancient dormant volcano that stood watch over Tunkan. Tiny crystals of ice floated down through the air and were illuminated by the sun, streaming up the trail. A glittering, sparkling column reached skyward and seemed to clasp the hands of the Spirit Lights, joining past, present and future.
A great sense of peace and belonging washed over Sasha as she observed the shining spire of ice and light. How could she not have thought of this before? How all of Mother’s teachings guided her to this very place in her life, this moment of realization.
“A pack does not need to be all the same species.” Mother had told her when the whole world consisted only of Bek, Nina, Jiak, Nona the Cat and the dogs in the yard. “We are all of us a pack.” she concluded.
Sasha thought of the wheel. Bek and Jiak, Tun and Tati. Her team, Akej’s team, Ilja’s team. Of Chimlik and Sarut. Of Kotka and Rol, Rol’s family and herd. The bears, the wolves, the owls and the sables. “We are all of us a pack!” she spoke her thoughts again. As she returned her gaze to the Earth, she marvelled at a newfound feeling within. A warmth and belonging. She now saw everything around her as her own. Not only part of her world, but part of her life. Simultaneously she felt as if she, too, belonged to all these things. The people and the dogs, the Spirit Lights and the snow, the volcano and the trees. She was overwhelmed with a joy hitherto unknown. All the world is her pack, she realized.
“We are all of us a pack.” she repeated the words as if hearing them for the first time. Indeed, she felt as if she were seeing the world anew. There must be a reason for this, something must have awakened and inspired this spirit. She vowed to waste no time at this moment trying to discern what the trigger may have been. She’d have the rest of her life to reflect on that. For now, all she wanted was to experience this fullness of spirit, this lightness of being. She felt as if no worry could vex her that she could not see as part of the wheel, this great ballet of life, this kaleidoscope world. She rather suddenly felt she loved everything. Even the fierce wolverine, even the rabbits deigned prey.
She watched Kotka trotting along beside the team, and thought of his harrowing tale of fearsome intruders. She thought of the people called soldiers. She could not understand their actions, yet felt still that these, too, were part of her pack. “A mean dog has a reason to be so.” It was as if Mother were whispering the lesson in her ear. Surely the soldiers, too, had reason for their malevolence. This thought, that these so foreign to her, and perhaps evil, were equally a part of the wheel, raced around in her head. Their deeds may be harmful, but they still deserved love and respect. This dichotomy pulled at opposite ends of her heartstrings. On one hand, these wayward ones are still us, still part of our pack. And on the other, the heartache of her own kin, and the unresolved quandary of their present location and condition. Emotions swirled like snow devils as she and the team topped the last rise before Tunkan came into view.
“Stop! Stop!” Rol shouted excitedly, momentarily forgetting mushing commands. “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” he repeated, “Hold up!”. Still standing on the runners of the racing sled, his hands holding an iron grip on the backbow, Rol began to shake with fear. He stood, wide-eyed, his mouth hanging open, as he looked into the village.
“Oh Great Spirit!” he called out, for protection and safety, for consolation and assurance, or perhaps to wipe away the terrible scene before him. The boy who was almost a man could not contain himself, and burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably, the heels of his hands pressed to his eyes.
There, spread across the tundra before him, were the remains of Tunkan. The village he’d left just two days ago filled with revelers and racers, children and campfires, dogs and reindeer and laughing out loud. Now, smoke rose from blackened wood frames of cabins burned to the ground. Not a single one of the dozen buildings was spared. Several yarangas were collapsed into heaps, plumes of black smoke rising from them.
Rol was terrified by the scene, and felt that those responsible may still be near, felt he may be apprehended at any moment. He jumped off the sled and hid behind a boulder, eyeing the destruction. He stayed there, frozen in fear and time, observing the smoldering village, looking for signs of life, of his people. No person could be seen, the only activity a half-dozen dogs that scampered from one smoking mass to another. They would each go to a spot in the center of the village and stop, lie down for a while. Some would remain here as others came and went. They seemed to be huddled around a bulge covered by a blanket of furs. It shocked him to see the bulge move. A hand reached out and touched a dog. Just a touch to the head, held for a long minute, then the hand withdrew. The dog continued to stand and stare at the bulge for another minute, its tail swinging slowly side to side in relaxed, friendly motion that was completely out of context in the midst of utter destruction.
Someone was there. Someone remained in the village amidst the smoke and debris, where not another soul could be found. The touch of the hand to the dog proved it was not some unknown marauder. Now Rol reconsidered the scenario at Bek’s. Perhaps the family did not simply go somewhere. Perhaps those responsible for this preceded Rol to the homestead. This served only to increase Rol’s fears. Suddenly he worried about his family. His parents and sister, though not at festival, could be gone already. He had to get to the village. Whomsoever was in the bulge must know something about what occurred here. Maybe they were the only people left on the peninsula, he and the bulge with a hand.
“Mush up! Let’s go!”
The team drove into the place that was once the village of Tunkan.