Old Dog - A Short Story.
The sun shone brightly in the north country, belying the bitter cold that surrounded her. Old Dog pushed on through the snow, deep, cold and seeping the remaining strength from her body. Yet she pushed on, single- minded, survival her goal.
Old Dog remembered better days, happy days on their plot of land with its wooden cabin that she shared with her human. She could run free through the stand of birch and willow that dotted their land, assured that her human would be there. Together they lived their lives in the most remote area of the north country of Minnesota.
As the cold bit at her, the snow acted like a giant wall, always pushing back, never relenting. Her mind went to the days of warm summers with her human, chasing the sticks that he would throw for her. Her love of chasing and dashing into the lake to retrieve them were warm memories for Old Dog.
They enjoyed many wonderful times through the seasons, always there for each other.
His friends would visit and she looked forward to seeing them; it was extra attention that she enjoyed. The humans would sit on the front deck, talking and laughing. She would lay there enjoying the sound of their voices and the occasional pat on the head.
When it was time to eat she was assured that each of them would slip some food to her as she sat beside the edge of their chair, moving when she received a morsel of food from one of the men to the next chair.
When the men talked and joked they always called her human "Gordon".
But that was then, and times changed for Old Dog a few seasons back.
Old Dog loved the cabin, sparse in furnishing, nothing that wasn't needed, but comfortable for her and Gordon. He did have one thing that wasn't needed for survival, books, many books resting on the wooden shelf that he had built.
Each evening, after they had eaten, Gordon would sit in his old chair in the summer; the warm breeze coming through the open windows. In the winter, the season of the ''white ground'', the fireplace would provide heat to warm the small cabin.
He would pick a book from the shelf and would start reading. He would read out loud. Old Dog loved this, the sound of his deep melodic voice was comforting for Old Dog. She, in turn, would nuzzle his hand, something that he liked. She knew he did, because he would pat her head when she did it.
They lived their lives in balance, each depending on the other, each protective of the other. Many seasons passed, then one day Old Dog started to notice something different about Gordon. He moved much slower, splitting wood for the fireplace took much longer and he would have to rest more often. Sometimes he would forget to feed her so she would bark and stand at her food bowl. Then he would remember and feed her.
Old Dog was worried about Gordon; at times he would fall asleep in his reading chair and spend most of the night there. Old Dog wouldn't move from his side. She stayed with him, never leaving his side.
One morning in the awakening season the flowers were blooming, leaves appearing on the trees, it was time to run through the timber and swim in the blue water.
This morning was different, and Old Dog had a bad feeling. Gordon didn't get out of his bed, not really unusual, as there were always a few mornings that he slept in. Mostly it was after his friends had visited.
Old dog laid next to his bed waiting for him to wake and pet her head. This morning it wasn't to be. She waited and waited. Nothing. Gordon did not move. She barked and pulled on his blanket. Still nothing.
Finally in desperation she jumped up on his bed nuzzeling his face. That was when she knew, his skin was cold, very cold.
Her human, Gordon would not be waking. She would not leave his side; she would protect her human. It was her duty to guard Gordon and she did not take her duty lightly. They were pack; she would protect her pack.
Time passed. Old Dog didn't know how long she had guarded Gordon, but the sun had come up many times.
She was very hungry, but worse was the thirst. She needed to find water. Being spring, the window was open with only a screen covering it.
Old Dog wasn't called that name by Gordon, she was ''Sugar''. She loved that name and his voice when he called her that, but now she too was feeling the affects of age.
Her mind remembered the times that Gordon would take some white powder he put in his coffee and she would lick his hand. He would laugh and tell her that she was as white as sugar, and she would return his laugh by running around the cabin and happily barking as Gordon chased her until they were both worn out. Good memories.
She was a medium sized dog, 35 pounds with long white fur, white as the snow, wide chest and a powerful runner.
She knew that she had to leave her beloved human and find food and water. Once she did she could return to guard her human, her pack.
She ran towards the window, jumping up on the old wooden bench that had been there for as long as she could remember, and into the screen.
With a tearing sound the screen pulled loose from its moorings and she tumbled onto the porch. Water - she knew where she could drink as much cool clear water as she needed.
She headed down to the stream that ran into the small lake on their land. It belonged to Gordon and Sugar. It was theirs, always had been, and she would do her best to insure that it was always theirs.
But the cold stopped those memories as it was the here and now for Old Dog. The wind was starting to move the branches of the trees, snow falling again, adding to the heavy blanket covering the ground. The temperature was dropping, adding to Old Dog's pain.
Her body was thin, her once heavy coat was sparse. Since the passing of Gordon her hearing diminished until it was almost gone. Her sight, once able to spot danger at vast distances, had diminished to the point that everything she looked at had a haze covering it. Her endurance was limited. Once able to bound through the deep snow, it was now a struggle to push herself ahead, one painful step at a time. Only her sense of smell had remained.
She was vulnerable, very vulnerable in the land that gave no quarter to the weak and old. Predators were everywhere in this land. In the winter the most dangerous were the wolves - powerful beasts that could run in deep snow for hours at a time. Bobcats, quick and agile were there as well.
But it was the snow and cold that were her biggest enemies now. She had not eaten for days, further taking her little strength.
Pushing against the snow and wind, her eyes stinging from the cold, pain was shooting from her paws up her legs with every step.
She had to find shelter soon or there would be no tomorrow. Either the snow and cold would get her or the wolves would find her. She didn't have the strength to fight them off, and she well knew it.
Old Dog had a mission, one that she would not be deterred from. Behind her, trying to stay in the path that Old Dog had plowed through the snow, was ''Little Dog''. Old Dog looked over her shoulder to be sure that Little Dog was still there, following her. She stopped, exhausted and in pain, allowing Little Dog a bit of rest before they tried to move on.
Old Dog's mind wandered back to that day, the day her life changed forever.
Gordon's friends had come to check on him. It wasn't like Gordon to miss a gathering of his old friends. Their friendship was more than friendship, more like brothers. They had known each other since the early days on the Rez. All of them had Ojibwe blood running through their veins.
Old Dog heard them coming, their old pickup making more noise than a herd of buffalo. She ran to greet them, to take them to Gordon. Barking and running back and forth between their truck and the cabin, frantic as she was, the friends knew something was wrong.
Rushing to the cabin, they saw the screen that Old Dog had knocked out in her escape to find water.
The friends pushed through the door. Gordon was lying exactly as he had been when Old Dog broke through the screen.
The men knew that their life-time friend and brother had walked on.
The next few days were a blur for Old Dog, the friends had made sure that she was fed and had water, but they couldn't replace her spirit.
Old Dog watched as they built a mound of earth, heard the singing of the ''Death Chant''...They laid her best friend in the grave that had been dug into the mound. Gordon's body had been guarded day and night by his friends. The night before being laid in the mound, one of his friends sat next to the body the entire night. This was tradition with the Ojibwe. It was done to be sure that evil spirits didn't visit.
The day Gordon's body was laid in the mound was the worst day of Old Dog's life. Nothing had ever given her this type of pain and sorrow.
On top of the mound his friends put a ''Spirit House'' - a small rectangular wooden building and many of Gordon's most sacred belongs were put in the Spirit House. Then it was over.
Old Dog didn't know what to do, his friends wanted to take her to live with them. All of them knew that they had a duty to care for those that were left behind. This was tradition among the Ojibwe.
But Old Dog wouldn't leave with them. She ran off into the timber and hid. She would go back to Gordon when they had tired of looking for her, however long that took. They were good men, and she loved them, but they weren't Gordon. It was with him that she would live out the remaining days of her life.
Through the remainder of the summer she would sleep on the mound at night and hunt for food during the day. Each time the friends came back to look for her and check on the cabin she would hide in the timber.
They always left food for her.
One day as the season of the falling leaves was beginning, she was walking along an old narrow road. She remembered that Gordon called it a ''snake trail''...Hearing an engine, she hid in the deep underbrush that bordered the snake trail.
A truck came to a stop; the door opened and a sack was dumped out. The truck drove off and soon a small creature worked it way out of the sack and began running up the road after the truck. Barking and whining, it soon ran out of energy and sat there, looking at where the truck had gone, alone, in very dangerous territory.
Old Dog watched as it then wandered in circles, not knowing what to do and totally alone.
Old Dog knew that it was one of her kind. Acting on instinct, she dashed out of the underbrush and grabbed the pup by the nape of its neck, taking it back into the timber to hide it.
Little Dog didn't know what was happening. He tried to fight back, but the powerful jaws held him firm, not hurting him, but holding him firm.
Old Dog ran for hundreds of yards into the deep timber before she found a spot to hide the little one.
Laying there, looking at Little Dog, she knew that Gordon would want her to protect it, nurture it and teach it to be a survivor.
Little Dog looked at her, scared and trembling, not knowing if he was going to be a meal for this creature.
Old Dog nuzzled him, and licked his face. Little Dog remembered his mother doing that months back, before he was taken from her and then thrown out of the truck to die.
Little Dog snuggled against Old Dog, feeling safe now.
Old Dog had a new mission.
Old Dog slept fitfully that night, her hearing was bad and her eyesight at night was even worse than during the day. She depended almost entirely on her sense of smell for warning signs.
The first light crept through the trees, slowly making it way to their hiding place. Old Dog nuzzled Little Dog, waking him from his sleep. "Come, little one, we must be moving. It is dangerous to stay here any longer."
Little Dog was confused. Why did they have to leave? He was comfortable and warm, snugged up to Old Dog.
Old Dog, started moving east, towards the cabin. Little Dog stayed by her side. It would be a long journey with the little dog and her dwindling strength. Slowly they made their way through the timber.
Little Dog was hungry, more hungry than he had ever been in his short life. Old Dog found a small puddle of water and they both drank from it. It was food that they needed now. Old Dog was hopeful that Gordon's friends, her friends, had left food at the cabin.
The sun was high in the sky when they spotted the cabin. "Little Dog, you stay hidden in the timber, I will go to the cabin to be sure that it's safe."
Old Dog slowly walked toward the cabin; her senses on alert. She checked out the cabin and land around it. She could smell the food that the friends had left for her. Safe, she headed back and got Little Dog who was hiding in the fallen leaves.
As they reached the cabin, Old Dog told Little Dog, "I will eat first and then you can eat. Eat slowly or you will be sick."
Old Dog knew that there was only food enough for one dog, the friends didn't know that there were now two dogs to feed. She took two mouthfuls of food and beckoned Little Dog over to finish the food.
They repeated this time and time again. Old Dog spent her days teaching Little Dog how to survive in the north country.
The season was reaching deeper and deeper into the time of the white ground. Soon Old Dog knew there would be bitter cold. She was hoping that Little Dog was learning. She didn't think that she would survive the winter, but she had to do her best to insure that Little Dog did.
Soon the white ground was upon them, the days getting colder and colder, and Little Dog was struggling with survival. If Old Dog hadn't been there Little Dog would have died.
The food from the friends was not as timely as it had been. Winter made if tougher for them to get to the cabin and they may have thought that Old Dog had left and was deep in the timber.
The days were becoming very short now, and the temperature was dropping so low that Little Dog was shivering all of the time. No food was from the friends for days now. Old Dog took Little Dog into the timber where they had to hunt for food. It was useless. Old Dog's hearing and sight were too far gone for her to be able to hunt successfully. Little Dog would chase rabbits but he didn't have the skill to catch them yet.
Old Dog had shown the little one how to get under the cabin. There was a crawl space that allowed them to get out of the wind, rain and snow, but it was bitterly cold; nothing could help them with that.
She had to take Little Dog and leave the safety of the cabin and hunt for food. The first heavy snowfall had hit. It was now or never.
Enough of those memories. Now day after day, they hunted to no avail. Old Dog was suffering badly, her paws were frost bitten. It was painful to walk on them, and running was nearly impossible.
They had to try to get back to the cabin, and hope that there was food, even though Old Dog was almost certain that there would be none.
Now plowing through the deep snow with the little one struggling to keep up, she knew that her mission was in grave danger.
In the town of Ponemah, Jean Paul woke with a start. He called the other two friends and told them he had a dream and they must leave for Gordon's cabin, now. No one questioned him.
Soon they were on their way to Gordon's cabin. It would not be an easy journey. The snowfall had intensified to a full blown snow storm. The old truck that they had had seen its better days a decade ago. If the truck broke down or became stuck in the deep snow, survival was not expected.
But they were friends of Gordon's, blood brothers who, if anyone could survive, was them.
Old Dog was plowing through the snow, eyes burning from the bitter cold wind, shaking from the cold and lack of food. Little dog was nearing his end. Old Dog turned and saw that the little one had stopped and was lying in the snow, unable to go on. This meant certain death for him. Old Dog reached him and took him in her jaws, increasing the strain on her weakened body. Together they forged on. One step at a time as the north country took its toll on them.
The friends were driving slowly, hardly able to see in the blinding snow. Each had their show shoes - they were Indians, woodsmen, and wrapped in heavy bearskin coats. They, too, were on a mission.
Old Dog, with little sight and no hearing, carrying little dog, was close to the end. Only her mission keep her going.
Old Dog was confused by the storm which was nearly a whiteout. She was lost, and for the first time in her life, she felt panic. She couldn't let it show because the little one would not understand.
Then with the little hearing that she had left, she heard the long howl of a hunting wolf pack. She had to move; the wolves were going to close on her and the little one soon.
She was stumbling, stopping every few steps as the snow became a barrier that was close to insurmountable. She pushed on, paws bleeding from frost bite, every step was painful almost beyond her ability to move forward.
Then she smelled it, smoke. It had to be coming from the cabin she thought, so she pushed on, now with renewed determination. The one last sense she had was leading her home.
But it was too late, the wolf pack was on her. Yards away, sensing the kill, they closed on her.
Old Dog dropped the little one. "Run. Follow the tire tracks to the cabin little one. Run like the wind." Little Dog didn't understand, so she nipped him. "Run, Little Dog, run to the cabin."
Old Dog knew it was the end for her. Determined to save the little one, it was her mission, she steadied herself and faced the pack. The pack leader was huge, over 100 pounds. Old Dog was less than 25 pounds, the weight loss from feeding Little Dog with her food, and the lack of food while hunting had turned her to skin and bone. Yet she was determined to fight to the end to save Little Dog. It was her mission - he was her pack and she must save the pack; the pack must survive.
The wolf pack leader charged her. She turned, and instead of running charged the pack leader. She knew that she only had one small chance to slow them down. As they collided, the pack leader sent Old Dog tumbling backwards. Then she used her last trick. Over the years Old Dog had fought many a battle and learned many tricks of survival.
As the pack leader went over the top of Old Dog she bit down on his hind leg. For a minute she would have the advantage. She knew that the other wolves would be on her quickly but she would delay them as they tore at her and finally killed her. That was the sacrifice that she was willing to make.
She felt her teeth, although two of her canine teeth were chipped, sink into the pack leaders hind leg. She held on as the pack leader savagely attacked her, his teeth sinking into her neck and skull. The other wolves were on her now, tearing at her flesh. She felt no pain, as she clamped down on the pack leader's leg. Soon everything was becoming a dream to her...Had she given Little Dog enough time to make it to the cabin? Did he understand what he was supposed to do? Those were her last thoughts as death closed its grip on her.
Then a chilling howl shattered the air like glass. The howl drowned out the sound of the storm.
Coming out of the blinding snow were three creatures, wolves, but larger than the pack leader or any of the pack had ever seen. They stopped their attack on Old Dog who laid there bleeding, unable to get on her feet as she felt the hand of death on her.
The Ghost Wolves moved toward the pack. Each howling their defiance. The power of their howl stopped the wind. Calm descended as the Ghost Wolves moved forward, fangs snapping at the air, flashing eyes, showing their power.
They were here, but was it to take the kill from the pack?
The pack leader knew that they would stand no chance against these creatures. They headed off into the timber, not willing to challenge the Ghost Wolves.
The friends had heard the howl, their ears splitting at the sound. They threw open the door, and ran towards the sound. Little Dog was in their path. One grabbed the little one in his protective arm while the other two headed towards Old Dog.
The Ghost Wolves were on Old Dog who could no longer fight, but they didn't attack. They licked her wounds and laid next to her to give her their warmth.
The friends stopped, they knew what they were seeing. The Spirit of Stone Hand had called on the Ghost Wolves to save Sugar and the little one.
As they searched the area with their eyes, they saw a sight that told them that the Spirit World of the Ojibwe was around them.
Stone Hand stood next to Sugar, the Ghost Wolves beside him, protecting them. Stone Hand picked up Sugar and walked toward the cabin. Taking her wounded body inside, Stone Hand laid her on her blanket. Little Dog laid next to her.
The next morning there were no friends there, no Stone Hand, no Ghost Wolves. Only a man in his 30's, tending to Old Dog and the little one.
"Well Old Dog, what should I call you? I think that I'll call you ''Sugar''..And you, little one, what should I call you? I think that I'll call you "Ogichidaa" (warrior).".
Two years later Sugar walked on peacefully. Now she would soon meet her beloved Gordon in the Spirit World.
Ogichidaa and Gordon, or was it Sugar and Stone Hand, lived on for many years. The circle had been completed.
Kavika 2015, all rights reserved.