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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