Shepherd’ Winter – Part 7

thNV08XDIPSettling In

The next day Daniel pulled up to Shepherd’s cabin in his snow machine. Shepherd greeted him at the door and they visited over coffee. They spoke little of the events the night before.

Daniel rose from the dinning room chair. “I wanted to check on you and tell you thanks for seeing Nan home safely. She can take care of herself, but things can happen.”

“She is a beautiful daughter,” Shepherd said. “You and your wife are blessed.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Daniel said. “Now that you know where I live, come, stay anytime.”

“And the same goes for me,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd thought highly of Daniel, his family, and his people. They were the peaceful ones of the American natives. They did not want to quibble or fight over hunting grounds and territory, but rather chose the worst of environments certain no one would dispute with them over the land. “And her I am,” Shepherd said. “He treats me like a brother, but history tells him I am a competitor; a part of a social structure that will consume him and his way of life as sure as the legend of Amoruk.

Life there was as struggle especially families. In New York life revolved around how to entertain and amuse yourself. Shepherd’s short time with Daniel’s family brought him to the realization that everything revolved around survival and food. They were a part of the food chain in a very real way, not in the abstract.

Shepherd did not have such worries. His pantry and larder was full. He had enough money to last a lifetime. He could not imagine gutting an elk or moose. He cleaned fish with an uncle when he was a boy and it made him vomit. He knew the day would come when he’d have to do it.

Pal was playful and eager to please. Shepherd taught him a wide range of voice commands and hand signals. The experience was good for both of them, especially

Shepherd; it took the edge from his New York impatience.

Shepherd and Pal spent days full of wonderment; Shepherd, his first winter in the wilderness and Pal the first year of life. Behind Shepherd’s wonderment was imagination. At times he haunted him at night; imagination that was built and nurtured on experience and reality. What secrets did the cold and dark hold? Did Pal already know them? Both became comfortable as wind, cold, and snow fashioned the landscape and imagination.

“I really like it here, Pal,” Shepherd said petting him with long strokes. “I’m breathing again.”

 

 

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Shepherd’s Winter – Part 6

th93XX3MQ5The Council

They came to a stop at Daniel’s house. It was a log home, slightly larger than Shepherd’s. They shut off the engines.

“Make sure your family is safe,” Shepherd said.

Nan went inside the home for a moment and came back out. “Everyone is fine she said, but Father is long overdue.”

“The river leads to Ruby?” Shepherd said.

“Yes,” Nan said.

“Is that the way your Father would come back?” Shepherd said.

He handed Pal to Nan, started the machine, and headed on the trail toward Ruby.

Shepherd figured the drive would be two hours. It was a clear half-moon sky and the trail was easy to follow. The cold was not unbearable, yet it was uncomfortable. He heard earlier form his shortwave radio temperatures would be below zero Fahrenheit.

There were snow machine tracks leading to Ruby, but none returning. He expected to meet Daniel along the way, but after nearly two hours there was no trace of him.

He saw several lights ahead of him. It was Ruby. It looked as if everyone was inside.

Shepherd stopped at the first house and knocked at the door. A young man came to the door and stared.

“I’m looking for my friend, Daniel,” Shepherd said. “He came to town several hours ago and has not returned to his family. They are worried about him. He lives east maybe 20 miles on the river.”

“There is a tribal council meeting tonight,” the young man said. “Maybe he his there. Keep driving it will be the building with all the snow machines.”

“Thanks,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd drove for no more than three hundred yards until he saw a well lit large log building with at least twenty snow machines parked outside.

Shepherd walked into a small foyer. He stomped his feet and entered a hallway that led to a room with the door open. Inside were men in a half circle. Three men sat in front of them. Shepherd entered the room.

One man rose from the three. “This is a closed meeting. It’s tribal.”

“I just wanted to check on my friend,” Shepherd said. “His family is worried. Do you know him?”

“I am fine, Shepherd,” Daniel said raising from the other men. “This is the man I told you about who lives near me.”

“I’m sorry for interrupting,” Shepherd said. “I just wanted to make certain Daniel was safe. I’ll wait outside.”

Shepherd took a step away and turned back. “Does this meeting have anything to do with Daniel’s dog?”

“Yes,” said one of the three.

“Nan, Daniel’s daughter and I saw something strange about halfway between my cabin and the river and several days ago something large in the distance moved slowly toward my cabin.”

“Tell more,” the man said.

Shepherd related all the events that happened with he and Nan and also the night at the cabin, even the strange behavior of Pal.

They spoke in their native tongue to each other. It was all respectful and organized. As the conversation became more intense Shepherd slowly moved to the exit.

“Do not go” the man said. “We would like to hear if you have an opinion.”

Shepherd moved closer the men.

“I cannot be sure what the first thing I saw was,” Shepherd said. “I’m certain it was taller than an average man. What Nan and I saw was definitely a man and I base that upon the fact it hid motionless behind a tree; an animal would not do that.”

A man from the group said, “But we are not dealing with a man or an animal.”

“Thank you, Shepherd,” the man from the three said. He addressed the group. “Let’s go home now and be vigilant.”

Daniel introduced Shepherd to several men, all natives. There was some light conversation a few more questions.

They drove back to Daniel’s home where he was introduced to his wife, Maggie, his 15 year old son, Ben, and his 17 year old son Izzy.

“Stay with us tonight,” Maggie pleaded.

“I’m really concerned about my cabin,” Shepherd said.

“It may be dangerous,” Daniel said. “Can I send one of my sons with you?”

“No,” Shepherd said. “I will be fine.”

Shepherd drove back to his cabin with Pal in his box. The ride was uneventful. The cabin was undisturbed.

 

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Shepherd’s Winter – Part 5

Some-Thing or Someone

(Continued from yesterday.)

thTNZIHJ4VShepherd quickly got ready.

On the rear of his snow machine he placed a box for Pal. In fifteen minutes Shepherd and Nan were skimming across the snowed plain on their snow machines. They drove on the frozen stream that cut a gully and led to a forest. Shepherd followed closely. On both sides a wall of white. Standing high over them where pines laden with snow.

Nan maneuvered the machine like she knew every bend in the stream and every rock protruding above the ice.

Her tail lights came on. She stopped. They cut their engines. Nan hopped from her machine and walked ahead. Shepherd grabbed his rifle and caught up with her.

“A tree across the stream,” Nan said. “It was not there when I came this way earlier.”

“Perhaps heavy with snow,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd climbed to the top of the stream bank and ran his hand across a roughly cut pine. He quickly slid back down the bank.

“It’s been cut,” Shepherd said. “Someone wanted you to stop here.”

Shepherd brought his rifle to he shoulder and aimed at the trees above and fired off three rounds. “If someone is out there that will speak volumes.”

Shepherd and Nan listened and looked overhead.

“You know how to handle a rifle?” Shepherd said.

Nan grabbed a rifle from her machine. “Never leave home without it.”

“Go up the bank over here,” Shepherd said pointing to the south bank, “And I’ll go up on the other side. Take a good look.”

They crawled to the top of the bank and scanned through the trees.

Shepherd strained his eyes. Deep into the trees something large and dark moved behind a tree.

“Nan!” Shepherd whispered loudly.

Nan slid down the bank and crawled up the other and laid next to Shepherd. “Do you see something?”

Shepherd pushed his rifle firm in the snow and aimed it toward the tree. “Come take a look at the tree I’m aimed at. There is someone behind it.”

Shepherd moved out of the way and Nan looked down the sights of the rifle. “It is someone or …”

“It is someone,” Shepherd said. “Some-things don’t conceal themselves.”

“Keep an eye on him,” Shepherd said.

“What are you going to do?” Nam said.

“Move the tree,” Shepherd said.

“How?” Nan said.

“I came prepared,” Shepherd said. He slid down the bank and untied a small chainsaw from his machine. He tugged it a couple if times and cut the fallen tree from their path.

Soon they were on their way until the steam bed rose where they could see over the banks. They reached the point where the stream joined the river. A small bridge across the stream marked the path to Daniel’s home.

(Continued tomorrow.)

 

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Shepherd’s Winter – Part 4

thSQTJIJVOStrange Night

(Continued from yesterday.)

For three nights Pal whimpered and Shepherd slept next to him by the fire.

Before long the cold that crept over the mountains and swept along the river from the north showed its bitter and fearsome teeth. It was as if there was anger to it. As if the wilderness was taking displeasure in Shepherd’s presence.

They sat alone by the fire. Pal watching the flames with curiosity and Shepherd reading White Fang by the light of a small lamp. The wind howled through the pines like forlorn souls from the ancient hunting grounds of the north who died in search of their quarry.

Pal became frightened and got to his feet and sat before Shepherd. He pawed at Shepherd’s feet. Shepherd looked at Pal’s worried eyes. Shepherd moved aside the book and Pal sprung into his lap. Shepherd began reading aloud. Pal soon went to sleep.

The night was eerie in every respect. The cabin creaked and snapped as if prodded by the unseen. There were strange sounds whether real of imaginary; Shepherd did not know.

Pal was still a pup; his powers of perception not fully developed. Shepherd felt Pal tremble. He wondered if his instincts were telling him to be in fear. Could there be a grizzly that had not yet hibernated? Are there wolves in the area?

Shepherd cradled pal in one arm and retrieved the rifle from next to the door. He made certain it was loaded and ready for use.

Thoughts of legendary beast that roamed the north woods crept into his mind.

“It is no wonder the natives conceived of Amarok, a wolf-like creature who fed off hunters foolish enough to hunt on their own. Perhaps he will find a man foolish enough to live on his own,” Shepherd thought, smiled, and said just above a whisper, “But I am not alone. I have Pal.”

One of Pal’s ears lifted.

“What is it you hear?” Shepherd said.

Pal growled low and quiet.

“Stay here, Pal,” Shepherd said sitting him in front of the fire. “Stay.”

Shepherd flipped off the small lamp and went to the window. He peered out trying to see as much as possible. There was nothing but loneliness and cold. Snow sifted across the plain to the front of the cabin. Suddenly something in the distance trudged through the snow coming straight for the cabin.

“Could it be Daniel,” Shepherd thought, “perhaps hunting and can not make it to his home?”

Pal moved anxiously as if he wanted to be with Shepherd.

“Come on, boy,” Shepherd said and Pal dashed to his side immediately. Shepherd reached down petted Pa. “Nobody said this was going to be without fear.” He looked out the window to where he last spotted the mysterious figure moving toward the cabin. It was gone.

Shepherd squinted and scanned the plain. He knelt down next to Pal and rested his hand on his neck. Pal was no longer trembling.

“What was it, Pal?” Shepherd said.

Pal slowly walked over to the fireplace and laid on his crumpled blanket.

Shepherd made coffee and sipped it through the night. Pal slept contently.

(Continued tomorrow.)

 

 

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Shepherd’s Winter Part 3

thXCZESSR1Pal

The snow came. It was in the night when it fell.

Shepherd scraped frost from a window in the dinning room. White. He brewed coffee on the stove and slipped his clothing on. He jumped from the porch and into the snow. He was a child. He laid in the snow and looked upward and watched the snow fall on him. “The first snow and I’m already mad,” he thought chuckling.

Two mornings later Shepherd sat in a his chair in the living room. He was reading Call of the Wild. He heard dogs barking in the distance. He slung on his coat and stepped out on the front porch. He listened as the barking became louder. Over a ridge of snow in the direction of the stream a dogsled team plodded toward the cabin.

The dogs and sled came to stop only feet from the porch. A man in thick clothing and a fury hooded parka walked from the rear of the sled to the steps of the porch. He slipped back the hood. It was Daniel smiling broadly.

“How are you doing, Shepherd,” Daniel said.

“I am doing well,” Shepherd said, “and you and your family?”

“We are native,” Daniel said. “We do well when things are bad.”

“Come in,” Shepherd said. “Let me warm you. I have coffee and pie. Do you like cherry pie?”

“It has been a long time,” Daniel said. “You go ahead. I’ll be with you in a moment. I will tend to my dogs.”

Shepherd went inside. He warmed some stew and placed two bowls on the table along with two slices of cherry pie and a steaming cup of coffee.

Shepherd heard Daniel stomp the snow from his boots. Daniel entered the cabin. Tucked in his arms held to his chest was a pup.

“My family and I were talking about you and how you might become lonely,” Daniel said. “A dog is a good gift. A good dog is the best gift.”

Daniel handed the pup to shepherd.

“Look!” Daniel said. “He takes to you right away.”

Shepherd petted and smiled at the pup. “What kind of dog?”

“He is a Husky,” Daniel said.

“Does he have a name?” Shepherd said.

“No,” Daniel said, “he is yours, it is up to you to name him.”

“Have you ever read Call of the Wild?” Shepherd said.

“You will name him Buck?” Daniel said. “That name ‘s been taken.”

“You’re right,” Shepherd said. “I will call him Pal.”

“That’s a good name,” Daniel said. “He will be your pal.”

“How old is he?” Shepherd said.

“Two months,” Daniel said.

“I will have all winter to train him,” Shepherd said. “When spring comes he will be reading.”

Shepherd and Daniel sat down to a good meal of the stew and cherry pie.

Shepherd put the dishes into the sink and poured two glasses of whisky.

“A man who lives alone must watch how much he drinks,” Daniel said. “Your life depends on how sober you are.”

“Don’t worry, Daniel,” Shepherd said, “only when guests arrive and the celebration of your gift.”

They sipped for an hour talking about the cold and surviving the wilderness.

“I must go now,” Daniel said. “Not much daylight remains.”

Shepherd opened the oven and pulled out another cherry pie. He wrapped it in cloth. “My gift to you and your family.”

“My wife and children have never had cherry pie,” Daniel said. “They will surely enjoy it.”

Daniel slung on his parka. He stepped over to the fireplace where Pal was asleep. He leaned down and said, “Take care of Shepherd.”

Shepherd walked with Daniel to the porch. Daniel packed the pie on the sled and rocked the sled free. The dogs sprung to their feet.

“Yaaw! Yaaw!” Daniel called out to his team of dogs. Daniel circled the dogs and sled around and they headed down a gentle slope of snow toward the stream that led to the river.

As he watched Daniel skim over the snow he thought about loneliness, real loneliness, for the first time in his life. He realized that of all the things he planed for that was the one thing he gave no attention.

Daniel was a man of the wilderness. He heard stories of loneliness and how it can shred a man.

Shepherd returned to the cabin. He pulled his chair closer to the fire. He held Pal in his lap and read to him from Call of the Wild.

 

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Shepherd’s Winter – Part 2

Warning Loneliness

(Continued from yesterday.)

thFCM1XGGMShepherd sat a table and heated the sauerkraut with bits of squirrel sausage and hot dogs on a propane heated stove. They rolled the kraut and hot dogs in homemade bread and washed it down with coffee.

“This is good,” Daniel said.

“I’ll start a hot dog stand on the road to Ruby,” Shepherd said.

“I’ll be your first customer,” Daniel said.

Shepherd smiled. “You’ll be one of my only.” He sipped his coffee.

“Do you have a snow machine?” Daniel said.

“Yes,” Shepherd said. “Do you?”

“I have one for everybody in family,” Daniel said.

“When will the snow come?” Shepherd said.

“It is already deep in the mountains,” Daniel paused and thought. “This weekend, big snow.”

“This will be my first big snow up here,” Shepherd said. “Last spring there was some snow but it was a spring snow.”

“I worry for you, Shepherd,” Daniel said.

“I will be fine,” Shepherd said.

“Many men have come here and said that,” Daniel said.

“I am prepared for the winter,” Shepherd said. “I have a tight cabin, plenty of wood, and enough food for three winters.”

“That is good,” Daniel said. “You prepared well; I can see that, but did you prepare for loneliness?”

“That’s why I came here,” Shepherd said, “to get away from people.”

“Certain people?” Daniel said. “You left friends behind?”

“Sure,” Shepherd said. “I have friends.”

“To bad,” Daniel said, “you will miss them.”

Shepherd’s eyes fell to his empty plate. His thoughts became forlorn and dark.

“I will help you unload your provisions, Shepherd,” Daniel said. “I must make it home before night fall.”

After Shepherd’s winter provisions were moved from the jeep and stacked in the dinning room and kitchen Daniel left. Shepherd started stacking canned food items in the cabinets and stopped. He walked to the front porch and watched Daniel walk to the stream in the distance. Daniel walked along the stream heading toward the river.

Shepherd looked at the mountains to the west; they were caked in snow and it spread to the foot hills. Shepherd thought deeply for a moment. “I have prepared for everything except my mind.”

Shepherd looked toward the stream. Daniel stood on a rock. He waved. He knew Shepherd would be watching. Shepherd waved big and friendly, but his heart was sad and already longing.

Shepherd watched Daniel until the stream disappeared into a gully.

(Continued tomorrow.)

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Shepherd’s Winter – Part 1

This story has 33 episodes. One will be posted each day. 

thUGSKY6BWFirst Visit

Shepherd first set foot on his property in Alaska early spring when the ground had not yet thawed completely. He dug a well, cut timber, and cleared a space for his house. He slept in the bed of his truck cradling a rife.

By mid summer the cabin was complete; a kitchen and dinning room to the left of the font door, to the right a living room and a closed off bedroom to the rear. There was a loft above the kitchen and bedroom. A fireplace was built from rock gathered from a stream bed and sat in the center of the cabin.

During the entire building phase Shepherd always had the feeling something or someone was watching. He speculated it may be an animal doing so out of curiosity and waiting for a moment of weakness. He discounted it may be human. His property was three miles from any beaten road and a pathway to his home was constructed only by him; no one else knew of its existence.

Shepherd was never more than 8 to 10 feet from his rifle and if the rifle was not with him he had Colt .45 revolver strapped to his side. For one of the very reasons he moved to Alaska he was now dreading; he did not want to worry or be in fear of others intruding.

This was all prompted by a number break-ins to his apartment in New York City and a mugging just outside his apartment building by three teenagers two years earlier.

He had enough. He sold his interest in a business, cleared out his savings, and sold his stocks. He told a friend he’d “rather die at the mouth of a grizzly than the gunshot or blade of a thug.”

Shepherd strung barbed wire from tree to tree around the parameter of his cabin. He attached cowbells to sound a warning.

It was a busy summer he had little time to grow and store food. He drove his jeep through the thick bush of the pathway that led to a dirt road and eventually to Ruby.

He loaded with provisions and returned.

Shepherd drove the jeep to the edge of the property. He climbed from the jeep, unhooked the barbed wire, drove past, and hooked it again. Shepherd drove toward the cabin and slowed. A man sat on a stump. A rifle laid across his lap. He was native.

Shepherd stopped about 50 feet from the man. He grabbed his rifle and swung his legs from the jeep and walked toward the man. The man rose allowing the rifle to fall along side him as he held it by the butt.

He was a short stout man with deep valleys etched in his face. His eyes were small and piercing.

“Can I help ya?” Shepherd said.

“I walked this way and needed a place to rest,” the man said. “I was tracking an elk.”

“My name is Shepherd,” Shepherd extended his hand.

The man grasp Shepherd’s hand. “My name is Daniel. You have a fine cabin.”

“Thank you,” Shepherd said.

“You plan on staying the winter?” Daniel said.

“This is my home,” Shepherd said.

“You from New York?” Daniel said.

“The accent?” Shepherd said.

“Yes,” Daniel said, “I went there when I was in the Army.”

“I had to get out of the city,” Shepherd said.

“Ha,” Daniel said, “Little extreme, wouldn’t the Catskills be just as good?”

Shepherd grinned. “It would have taken me two years and a bribe to get a building permit.”

“Yeah,” Daniel said. “Life is simple in that way, but here you got to track your meat. You got meat?”

“Canned,” Shepherd said. “I was too busy building to go hunting.”

“You will have the learn to live from the land,” Daniel said. “This can be a cruel place and unforgiving.”

“Thanks, Daniel,” Shepherd said, “I will remember those words.”

“When I was in New York City someone said that to me also,” Daniel said.

“Daniel,” Shepherd said smiling. “There is no elk, is there?”

Daniel smiled. “Would you have believed I needed a cup of sugar?”

“Where do you live?” Shepherd said.

“Follow the stream that passes just down the slope to the river and go north,” Daniel said. “I have a house one mile from where the stream and the river meet.”

“Do you have a family?” Shepherd said.

“Wife, two boys, one girl,” Daniel said.

“You came a long way for no elk,” Shepherd said. “Have a meal with me.”

“Well, I am hungry,” Daniel said.

“When was the last time you had hot dogs and sauerkraut?” Shepherd said.

“Once,” Daniel said. “When in New York, a street vender.”

“My mother has a special way of making it,” Shepherd said. “She adds bits of pork sausage in the kraut. I trapped a squirrel two days ago and made squirrel sausage.”

“How does it taste?” Daniel said.

Shepherd motioned with his head toward the cabin. “Let’s go find out.”

As they walked to the cabin Daniel remarked, “That is good, you have plenty of wood. If you starve you will starve warm.”

Shepherd looked at him and squinted on eye.

“That is a joke,” Daniel said.

“If not for the possibility of being true it would not be funny,” Shepherd said.

“You will do fine,” Daniel said. “I will see you make it. A rotting body attracts bears.”

(Continued tomorrow.)

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