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Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Paws" of Life Strikes Again!

My dogs were more than just hard workers, they were my angels. Living on the mountain in Maine wasn't just tough, it was downright insane. We had to struggle through the mood swings of mother nature in a way that most people would never even imagine.
One morning, I awoke at 3am as usual to get myself ready for school. Since we lived so far from civilization I had to get an early start. It took about 30 minutes to get down the mountain on a good day. But this day, wasn't so good. We had about 2 feet of fresh snow on the ground that hadn't been packed yet. And this 2 feet of powder laid on about 5 feet of old snow. Most people don't think much about this but we had to weigh every detail of the natural world in order to survive. A life with no electricity, plumbing, heat, running water or even a bathroom can really make you use your brain.
Anyhow, it was still dark out. There was a stillness in the air that made my nose tingle. I was about 14 years old. And I was about 4' 8" tall at around 80 lbs. Not a very large girl, but when you add the weight of the long johns, snow suit, double sweaters, gloves, boots, ski mask, hat and a 20lb book bag, it kind of weighed me down.
I could hear the dogs whining outside. They were very aware of my schedule and I was the only one who tended the farm. So all the animals had to be fed before I left at around 4am. They waited patiently yet hungrily for the only real meal they would get for the day till fox hunting time.
I trudged my way through the back door with loads of animal food and dishes in my already awkwardly bulging arms. It was certain that I'd be bombarded by "The Goat" who we called Jamal. She is yet another story all together. But it was routine for her to knock me down and steal as much food as she could before I got my barrings and smacked her one. Once I recovered from her ritualistic attack, I managed to feed the rest of the animals.
After the feeding, I took a moment to evaluate the conditions outside. It was sketchy. The snow had stopped falling but the ground seemed unsteady under my feet. I knew the clock was ticking and if I missed the bus, it would mean staying home with my mother all day. Not something I looked forward to. So I rushed and decided to wing it.
I finished my chores and headed out the front door this time where the dogs had congregated after their meals. They usually followed me about half way down the mountain before turning and heading back home. It was another routine. One I actually enjoyed.
The path from the door to the wood line where the road began was unused. Of course this set off alarm bells in my head as I knew it would slow me down a great deal. It was bad enough that I had made a habit of falling on my ass going down every morning and having to wash my clothes while I sat naked in the girl's locker room at school every day. I really didn't like to be slowed down knowing I'd be wet through if I stayed in the snow long enough. So I had to get through the path quickly to get to the mountain road.
Even as I knew I'd sink, I gave it a shot. Off I trudged like a caveman with a sack of rocks on his back, I barreled through the deepening snow to the tree line. I was doing okay for the first 10 steps, maybe. Then it became crystal clear that there was trouble ahead. As my next step felt like I had just walked off a cliff. I fell fast and deep into the snow. The beautiful shimmery powder swallowed me like a beast in disguise!! I fell so deep that I had to drop my bag to catch myself.
I stopped sinking at about my waist and I remember keeping very still to see if I'd fall deeper. When I didn't, I started wiggling around to get up out of the snow. But it suddenly became like quick sand and began enveloping me and pulling me deeper in again until I was chest deep into the snow.
At this point I got scared, as I didn't know just how deep the snow was and getting out would be extremely difficult even with help. Fear of suffocation in a frozen hell didn't help matters. So I began to yell for my mom and her boyfriend. But it was no good. They're all nighters kept them in a coma like state, as usual.
All my yelling got the attention of the dogs. Kodiak and Uetec, the brother huskies I'd bought for my mother were quick to begin dancing around the way they did the last time I needed saving. They bellowed and howled like wolves and began pacing around the crater I was stuck in. I knew they wanted to help but I saw they were sinking as well! I didn't want them to try and help me. I feared I'd take them down with me!
Venus, the mid size mixed hunting breed was very much interested in taking charge of the situation. She was quiet and very methodically assessing the situation. She circled the scene repeatedly and seemed to keep the huskies at bay while she worked. I could see her wheels turning as she looked at every detail of the hole I was stuck in. I helped her by moving so she could see what happened when I did so. She became very cautious and made several attempts to get close to me, but as I was certain it would happen, she began to sink in with me.
I barked orders at her to stop and go back to the house. She backed away and circled again looking for another way, but still began to sink. So I ordered her again louder, to go back to the house and get help. The huskies cried out with every order I yelled, they howled and jumped around looking back and forth from Venus to the cabin.
Venus took the order and ran back to the huskies where they seemed to stand together as a group for a moment before they scattered around the house. I wasn't sure what they were doing. I thought they'd given up.... I was wrong.
After a moment or two I heard the dogs begin to bark and howl the way they do when company comes. We didn't often get company so when the dogs barked that way we always jumped to attention. It was then, even in my frustration that they managed to convince me for the second time that they were FAR smarter than any human had ever given them credit for.
The dogs jumped wildly at the doors banging on them, at the front and the back. Venus ran free around the house several times sounding off her alert bark. The huskies were getting rough on the doors as they were big and didn't realize their strength.
I was shocked to hear my mom's boyfriend hollering at the dogs. When he came out, all three dogs ran over to the hole I could barely see out of and continued barking wildly!
He took a moment to look more closely and then I yelled his name and told him I needed help. He realized what had happened and laughed mockingly. It was about another 10 minutes before he finally came out with a sled and snow shoes and after about 15 minutes of grueling efforts I finally got out. It was light by this time. I believe it took over an hour all together.
We both sat there breathing heavily and looking at the dogs who all seemed to be celebrating. It was rather funny! They were jumping up and down whining in that high pitched "happy" tone and even seemed to have these goofy smiles on their faces.
Of all my mom's...ahem...boyfriends, this one was the only one who still seemed to have some sense left. I assumed it was probably because he was closer to my age than hers, but who's asking? LOL!!
He couldn't help but shake his head at the dogs. We didn't often need to use words. He was a rustic fellow who never spoke much. Body language and even a simple look often said it all. And in his face I saw a man who understood what the dogs had just done. He stood up, gave them each a good rough rubbing and then rewarded them with his entire breakfast.
And that meant the world to those dogs. They are my angels. They are my saving grace. I will forever marvel at their wisdom and for the halo's they dawn over their fat furry heads even when the world seems cruel and unrelenting.
Respect your pets. For they may save your life.

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