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!”

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

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

 

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