Shepherd’s Winter – Part 30

thJ2RYF01PAmarok Again

The next day ice fog settled into the valley. Crystals of diamond dust seemed to fall from the sky like magical powder. It was a peculiar and inspiring scene. Shepherd wrestled with Pal and Trap in the snow. Later he filled their dishes and commanded Pal and Trap to stay at the cabin. He started his snow machine and drove toward Daniel’s.

Daniel greeted Shepherd from the porch as he stopped the engine.

“How are you, Shepherd?” Daniel said warmly and held out his hand.

Shepherd shook his hand and smiled. “I’m doing well. I wanted to get away from the cabin today.”

“How is you family?” Shepherd said.

“They are fine,” Daniel said. “They went into Ruby to pick up some supplies. I told them I would do it, but I think they wanted to get away from me for a while.”

“I can’t imagine that,” Shepherd chided, “but I’m glad they aren’t here there is some things on my mind and I wanted to talk to you privately.”

“Sure, Shepherd,” Daniel said. “This sounds serious. Let’s step inside and talk over some coffee or if you like tea.”

“Coffee will be fine,” Shepherd said.

Daniel brewed the coffee and they sat comfortably at the dinning room table.

“What is it, Shepherd?” Daniel said.

“Amarok,” Shepherd said. “Who is it?”

“Daniel smiled painfully. “There is a code, Shepherd; things we don’t’ speak about unless among our kind.”

“Daniel,” Shepherd said. “I have risk my life for you, I have put meat on your table, we have shared each other’s hospitality, you have given me a fine dog as a gift, I have carved a home in a godforsaken wilderness, and tamed a wolf, don‘t tell me I‘m not your kind.”

Daniel smiled proudly. “Yes, I knew from the moment I saw you, I knew. Amarok is our version of the KKK. There are a few, a tiny few, who want to scare you away.”

“Thanks, Daniel,” Shepherd said. “I don’t have to know who they are; I just know not to shoot.”

“Like we have said before, my friend,” Daniel said. “Frightened men, that’s all. In time they will tire.”

“But what about killing dogs?” Shepherd said.

“It is a warning to others,” Daniel smiled slowly. “Our ways are strange to some. They kill my dog and then they kill one of there’s. That way there is no revenge. They take care of it themselves. Once we start running short of dogs, it’s over.”

“That’s good to know these things,” Shepherd said.

“But you never heard it from me,” Daniel said.

Shepherd sipped his coffee.

“What else did you want to talk about?” Daniel said.

 

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Shepherd’s Winter Part – 29

thP9RHFH0PBen And Izzy Visit

The day after the blizzard abated Ben and Izzy drove to the cabin on their snow machines.

Shepherd stood on the porch with Pal and Trap.

They cut their engines.

“Dad wanted us to check on you,” Ben said climbing from his snow machine.

“I was safe,” Daniel said. “I thought of you guys too. How did you do.”

“We were fine,” Ben said.

“How is Trap doing?” Izzy said petting Trap.

“As you can see he’s doing well,” Shepherd said.

“Do you think he’ll stay with you,” Izzy said.

“No,” Shepherd said. “He’s restless and wants to roam. It’s his nature to be in the wild. Someday he’ll leave. He’s waiting either for the right time or the right excuse.”

“Is that how you are?” Ben said.

“That’s a surprising question,” Shepherd said, “but it’s a good one. I like it here.”

“Aren’t you afraid of Amarok?” Izzy said.

“Are you?” Shepherd said.

“No,” Izzy said.

“Why?” Shepherd said.

“I don’t really want to talk about Amarok,” Izzy said.

Shepherd turned to Ben. “What about you?”

“No,” Ben said. “I don’t want to talk about him either.”

“That’s okay with me,” Shepherd said. “I’m not afraid of Amarok either.”

“Don’t you ever want to go out on the town, chase women, get loaded, or just hang out with your rich friends?” Ben chided.

“No,” Shepherd said seriously. “I’ll never go back to that. It is a vain empty life. You have it so much better here.”

“We watch movies and it looks fun and exciting,” Izzy said.

“Have you ever seen a movie about natives in Alaska?” Shepherd said.

“Sure,” Izzy said

“Is it really like that?” Shepherd said.

“They portray us as being slow and dull and uninformed,” Ben said.

“Believe me,” Shepherd said. “They are the slow, dull, and uniformed.”

The boys spent another hour at the cabin. Shepherd prepared a meal for them and the sped away; disappearing into the streambed.

 

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Shepherd’s Winter – Part 28

 

thNLX3S3XILonely Universe

The wind howled across the meadow like a pack of hungry wolves. Throughout the day and into the evening Shepherd listened to the radio drowning the evil sound. It was programming form Ft Worth or someplace; nothing relevant to the conditions outside the door.

In a light hearted moment Shepherd held a large wooden spoon to his mouth as if a microphone. “Well the conditions in the valley are bad. Ahem, ahem, very bad. They’re still bad and we don’t know when they’ll be getting better, but they’ll stay bad until they get better. Well that’s our live report.” Pensively he confessed. “It’s much harder than one thinks.”

“Well, let’s go to our man or dog on the street.” He walked over to Pal, bent down, and shoved the spoon in his face like a microphone. Pal licked it. “That’s your problem, Pal, you have no imagination. And Trap I’m not ever going to try to interview you. I can’t trust what will come out of your mouth. All those years hanging out with the pack being an alpha male, your speech is probably salty and unbridled. Some in our listening audience have sensitive ears and prudish ways.”

Shepherd rinsed the spoon at the kitchen sink by pouring water from pitcher over it. “Sorry, Pal, some of the things you do with that tongue…”

Shepherd’s mood turned serious as he heard the canvass that covered the wood shed flap like a beating drum.

Shepherd cracked the door and looked over the meadow. “No man could survive this,” Shepherd mumbled. He quickly shut the door. He retrieved an old blanket from the loft and stuffed it at the bottom of the door.

“There’s only one thing we can do boys,” Shepherd said to Pal and Trap, “Feed the fire and ride ‘er out.”

The snow pelted against the cabin like miniature meteorites from angry Inuit gods protesting the arrival of a man who does not belong. “Goooo baaaaack,” the angry wind seemed to say.

For three days there was no let up. At times the wind abated for a few minutes and then a burst was unleashed fiercer than anything previous. Pal and Trap took comfort being close to Shepherd as if they knew their existence was dependant on him.

There exist a feeling as if marooned on a far away planet light years from earth and human contact. It is like being alone and the only inhabitant of a far off galaxy forgotten by time. Within that little world called a cabin time does not exist, nothing lies beyond the doors. Shepherd imagined and felt as if he was alone in all the universe.

He thought of truth. All that existed beyond this cabin and wilderness was a lie. “Dogs don’t lie. With intellect comes deception. Anything that humans tamper with becomes a lie or a deliberate manipulation of nature.”

In time the coarseness and brutality of nature felt more like a shield from the world beyond.

Shepherd sat in his chair before the fire; on his right laid Pal and on his left was Trap. “We are safe here, boys, but I‘m afraid old Trap you will leave us when the time is right for you. You have been a good friend. If ever you are lonely, afraid, and hungry you‘ll know where to come.”

 

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Shepherd’s Winter – Part 27

thT15S8CORCold And Love

With the sun in full view Daniel and his family boarded their snow machines and buzzed north and disappeared into the stream bed that led to the river that would lead them to their home.

Loneliness descended on Shepherd as if an angel of death swooping from the mountains to the north carrying abandonment and foreboding. Angry clouds like galloping grey steeds wielding frozen swords of pain invaded the wilderness around Shepherd’s cabin.

Shepherd split wood at a furious and fearful pace and stacked it on the porch.

He stood before the fire to warm himself and listened to the radio. The barometric pressure plummeted.

He split and stacked more wood. Pal and Trap looked on as if lending moral support. Shepherd puffed and blew vapor from his lungs like a steam locomotive.

Above him he heard the wind pass through the pines like a bow over the stings of violins. It was the hideous sound of a mad and demented composer. In moments a coldness swept by him as if somebody suddenly opened the door. He split feverishly like bailing water from a sinking boat.

His instincts alerted weather coming like nothing he had ever experienced. He began to doubt his survival. It was like watching a wave advancing in which there was no hope, only the inevitability of being swallowed.

He closed the shutters and secured them.

Shepherd stood at the front of the cabin a short distance away facing the wind in defiance. His thoughts drifted to Daniel and his family, but assured that he was wise of the ways of the wilderness and home safe. Suddenly without warning a warmth came over him. It was like embers laying deep in his chest and radiated to his entire body. His muscles relaxed. It was Nan; sweet, pure, strong, vibrant, and comely – a jewel of the north.

Shepherd turned to the cabin as if in a trance and it was a trance. He stumbled on the first step. He sat on the steps as the cold rushed around him. He thought, “I have instincts for everything, but emotions and love.” A thousand frames sped though his mind; the smiles, the glances, the tears, the expressions, the words; all the signs that

Nan was falling in love with him… and he with her.”

 

 

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Shepherd’s Winter – Part 26

thKEOKQOQWNan’s Tears

Shepherd cooked all morning long. He was anxious about his visitors. He checked the clock that hung on a beam in the kitchen. He constantly heard the hum of snow machine engines that Pal and Trap couldn’t hear. He felt a strong bond with Daniel’s family. It was nothing he had experienced before. Pal and Trap had the feeling something special was planned. It made them fidgety and restless.

Shepherd prepared a big meal: a canned ham scored and with cloves, candied yams, green beans, cranberry jelly, biscuits, diner rolls, pumpkin pie, blueberry pie, apple cider, and white wine.

The sun was three quarters over the southern sky when the dogs reacted to the buzz of distant snow machines.

Daniel and family arrived and soon the cabin was filled with joy, laughter, and noise. They ate and played cards and games. At times Shepherd stopped to observe the joy of family. At times his eyes became moist.

Shepherd stood back and watched Daniel, Maggie, and the boys playing a highly completive and animated game of slapjack. Nan stood on the other side of the table opposite Shepherd.

Nan edged to the other side of the table and whispered to Shepherd, “Are you alright? You seem to be crying.”

“They are called tears of joy,” Shepherd whispered. “I never thought I would be around people this happy and feel this happy.”

Nan gently squeezed his hand and returned to the other side of the table.

The game ended with Maggie the declared winner to a chorus of boos, but she regaled in victory. The only one to cheer for her was Shepherd.

“I see a guitar in the corner,” Nan said. “Do you play it or dust it?”

“I really don’t play well,” Shepherd said.

Izzy walked over the the corner and picked it up. “There is dust on his bookshelf, but none on the guitar,” he said.

“Izzy!” Maggie said. “We are guest. That is impolite.”

“He’s making a point,” Shepherd said, “I play the guitar more than I dust.”

Izzy handed the guitar to Shepherd. “Play us something.”

“I’m shy about it,” Shepherd said.

“We are friends,” Daniel said. “There is no better way to know one another than to share your embarrassment.” Daniel nodded. “Let us be friends.”

“Sure,” Shepherd said, “I’ll play something, but whoever laughs sleeps on the porch.”

Shepherd cradled the guitar and tuned it. He looked into the fire and sung I Am I Said with a few alterations.

“Alaska’s fine, the sun don’t shine most the time

The feeling is laid back

Pine trees grow and temperatures low

But you know never thinking about

Making my way back

Well, I’m New York City born and raised

But nowadays, I’m lost between two shores

Alaska’s fine, now it’s home

New York’s not home to me no more

I am, I said
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair
I am, I cried
I am, said I
And I am lost, and I can’t even say why
Leavin’ me lonely still

Did you ever read about a frog who dreamed of being a king
And then became one
Well, except for the names and a few other changes
If you talk about me, the story’s the same one

But I got an emptiness deep inside
And I’ve tried but it won’t let me go
And I’m not a man who likes to swear
But I’ve never cared for the sound of being alone

I am, I said
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair
I am, I cried
I am, said I
And I am lost, and I can’t even say why

I am, I said
I am, I cried
I am…”

Everyone applauded except Nan. Shepherd saw a tear roll from her moist eyes.

 

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Shepherd’s Winter – Part 25

th930AG0M6Change

“The men at the council meeting a few months ago are good and honorable men,” Daniel said. “But there are a couple who live in fear.”

“Fear of what?” Shepherd said.

“In their lifetime they will see their ways disappear,” Daniel said. “You represent that fear.”

“All I want to do is live out here and be left alone,” Shepherd said, “and help where I can.”

“Most of the men know that,” Daniel said. “They could see it in your eyes. They all recognized the risk of coming all the way from your place to out here and into Ruby. They know you are a good and brave man for doing that. But there are some, that no matter what you do, it will never be enough.”

“I don’t want to change anything,” Shepherd said.

“We are not afraid of change,” Daniel smiled. “Some change is good. It is our identity, our culture, our ways. But everybody’s ways change. Few cultures live like they did three hundred years ago. Even the ones who don’t want change want to hold on to snow machines, rifles, TV sets, and liquor?”

“They fear the white man,” Shepherd said.

“Yes, my friend,” Daniel said.

“And a friend of the white man is their enemy,” Shepherd said.

Daniel and Nan glanced at each other uncomfortably.

“Is this visit to tell me we can no longer be friends?” Shepherd said.

“That will never happen,” Daniel said, “I only want you to know there are others willing to be your friend also. Don’t be afraid to look beyond our family.”

“We only want you to be cautious, Shepherd,” Nan said. “We want nothing bad to happen to you. We will do what we can.”

“Do you know of specific threats to me?” Shepherd said.

“No,” Daniel said, “there will be a coldness by a few and perhaps someone will sneak out and slip sugar in your tank.”

“How long will it go on?” Shepherd ask.

“Until they know you are not going to move or you shoot one of them,” Daniel said.

“Well,” Shepherd said, “I don’t want to shoot anybody.”

“Sometimes if you just come close that will be enough,” Daniel said.

“Yeah,” Nan said. “Enough to let them know you are serious.”

“Well,” Shepherd smiled, “I’m not leaving. This is still better than where I came from.”

“We are glad,” Nan said. “The boys said if Amoruk cannot scare him…”

“Are we still on for tomorrow?” Shepherd said.

“Nan says it’s okay. I know the boys will want to play with the wolf. I must okay it with my wife, but I think she would like to eat out sometime,” Daniel smiled broadly. “There’s so few places.”

 

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Shepherd’s Winter – Part 24

A Serious Matter

Each day that passed, a speck more of sunlight, but not warmth. The cold was deadly and challenging, an adversary with no compassion or conscience or trace of hypocrisy. Respect and fear was the only way to traverse from fall to spring. The moments of play and romping in the snow were like tempting the Devil.

The ears of Pal and Trap stood like soldiers called to attention. Something was near. Shepherd rubbed a light layer of frost from the window and peered across the lonely snow and windswept meadow. Suddenly appearing out of the stream bed were two humming snow machines.

“Mind your manners, Trap,” Shepherd said, “I think it’s Daniel and one of his boys.”

The snow machines came to rest in front of the cabin. It was Daniel and Nan. Shepherd met them at the steps to the porch. They greeted each other with a hug.

“We thought we’d check on you,” Daniel said. Daniel’s eyes widened. “What is that?”

“I call him Trap,” Shepherd said.

“Is he wild?” Nan said.

“Not now,” Shepherd said. “Let’s go inside and I’ll tell you about how Trap, Pal and I got to be friends.”

Shepherd, Daniel, and Nan sat around the table over coffee as the events surrounding the domestication of Trap were told.

After all questions and curiosity had been satisfied Shepherd ask, “So what brings you out this way.”

“Like we said,” Daniel said, “we worry.”

“That is nice,” Shepherd said. “I worried about your family. I think about you everyday. It‘s a blessing to have friends like your family. You are more than friends; I feel like you have become like family.”

“And the dogs,” Nan said raising her eye brows, “do they worry and think about us?”

Shepherd smiled. “And the dogs. I told Trap all about you folks.”

“How are Maggie and the boys?” Shepherd said.

“They are fine,” Daniel said.

“Have the boys ever wrestled and played with a timber wolf?” Shepherd said.

“Not that I’m aware,” Daniel said.

“Tomorrow,’ Shepherd said. “You and your family are invited out here. I have plenty of room, spend the night.”

Daniel looked at Nan. “We will come.”

“Good,” Shepherd smiled.

“I am curious, Shepherd,” Daniel said. “Tell me what you did in New York. Do you have family and children? If you don‘t want to say, that‘s okay.”

“Daniel, I have no secrets. Never a wife or children,” Shepherd said. “But I was married to my job and my children were my clients. I was a broker. Eight years at Sterling,

Paxton, and Purcell’s. I had interest in some businesses of my own also.”

“Why did you leave?” Daniel said.

“It just wasn’t me. I thought it was at first, but when you wake up one morning and ask who am I and all I have to answer with is a bank account, a personal portfolio of stocks that are obscene, and everyone around me hoping for my demise, one starts to question things. And then when you’re outside the shark tank the vermin on the streets take over. I lived in mortal fear from every direction.”

“You have danger here,” Nan said gesturing to the surroundings.

“For sure, I do,” Shepherd said. “But I have friends here, real friends.”

“But there is a serious matter I would like to speak to you about,” Daniel said. “I am worried about you.”

“What does that mean?” Shepherd said.

 

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