The frosty Alaskan air bit at my cheeks, numbing my face and causing my nose to run. I trudged through the 3 feet of snow, with every step wishing more and more that I hadn’t left my snow shoes at home. There was a big blizzard and Mom had told me to come straight home after checking my animal traps.
They were set up on a small island in the middle of a lake that I always hunted on in the winter. Every few days (or whenever needed) I would make the treacherous walk across the ice and hunt for food. It was always a great disappointment when I came back from a visit to the island empty handed.
I could just now make out the silhouette of the island through the dense snow-fall. I was getting close. The wind and snow was making it very challenging to walk, but I willed myself to go forwards and get to the island where the tall pine trees would shelter me for a while. Plus, I didn’t want to let Mom down like I did last week.
It had been a perfect day for hunting. No snow was falling and it was relatively warm. But I had failed to live up to her expectations and only brought one rabbit home. I needed to make up for that.
Once I reached the island. I hunched under a tree and breathed on my hands. The cold damp snowflakes lost their perfectly symmetrical shape and dripped off my skin. I got my lucky bow loaded with a sharp flint arrow, in case I saw something move. The bow had been a gift for my 12th birthday from my dad who died last spring, and I haven’t stopped using it since. The wood is smooth and feels good on my bare hands. I traced my finger along the 5 separate grooves in the grip that spell out my name, “Mandy”. For some reason it helps me concentrate.
I was snapped sharply out of my daydreams of Dad when I saw a shadowy figure stumbling around in my peripheral vision. I swiveled around and came face to snout with a wolf! But where was it’s pack? Where was it’s mother? It looked far too young to be out here on it’s own. It must have lost it’s family in the storm.
This was a perfect chance to make up for last week! We NEVER had wolf since most of them traveled in groups, and if you tried to kill one the whole pack would be on you. But this one was alone. It didn’t stand a chance against my perfect shot. I pulled back the string on my bow with as much force as I could muster and aimed at the wolf which was about 10 yards away.
When I knew my positioning was just right I---- I stopped… I didn’t release the string, I didn’t let the arrow fly. I just didn’t- I couldn’t. I wouldn’t let myself kill an innocent creature who had just lost it’s family in a terrible storm!
I studied the wolf. It was grey and white with flecks of black here and there and had stoney grey eyes. But what really struck me was an intriguing black mark on its snout that looked vaguely like a Raven. The wolf turned around and started calmly trotting away as if nothing had happened. I let out a long sigh as I slung my bow over my shoulder. I decided to call her Raven.
When I arrived home I realized that I had completely forgot to check my traps! Oh no… this is bad! Bad bad bad! What am I going to tell Mom? I thought panicking. I slinked past the big sturdy oak door and into our pathetic little log house. I cringed when I heard Mom’s sharp voice cut into my thoughts. “Well… Lets see what you have” she said tapping her foot on the deer skin rug.
The thing about my mom is that she can be very difficult sometimes. A normal parent would rush up to me and greet me at the door with hugs and kisses. They would probably set me down at the fire in a fuzzy blanket with a bowl of warm soup and let me take a nap. But my mom scolds me if I don’t bring enough food home and sends me straight to work. She shows no signs of concern and speeds right past the fact that I had just been out in a deadly storm.
She’s been all rough and tough since Dad died and I can tell shes under a lot of stress, but she can just NEVER lighten up! Things just aren’t as fun without Dad around to make jokes and goof off. He always found a way to make Mom laugh but sadly he left me clueless when it comes to what his secret was.
“Umm… Well…” I mumbled sheepishly looking at the ground and scuffing the tip of my worn leather boot against the rough wood floor.
“Well what Mandy?” she moaned snatching my gloves from my hands. “Winter is a very serious time in Alaska! You need to focus! You are my only child and we- I rely on you to provide us with food! I’m too old to hunt so I do all the indoor work. It’s a cycle Mandy, and when you fool around you break it! Lately it just feels like I can’t trust you anymore...” She sighed. “Oh and don’t scrape your boot on the floor. You’ll soil it” She stalked off in a wave of disappointment.
I absolutely hated it when someone didn’t trust me! It made me feel like an irresponsible little kid. I was not a two year old and I knew very well how to take care of myself! That day I promised myself that I would hunt like never before and get her a wolf, or a bear, or something! I would earn her trust back...
It was a whole year later and here I was out in the snow, still looking for that wolf I owed Mom. At least today there was only a light snow fall and it was way easier to see. Not to mention I remembered my snowshoes which also helped out… ALOT. I was just beginning to walk across the lake to get to my hunting island Where I would check my newly designed animal traps. I had spent months designing and trying to find a way to upgrade them and I think I finally figured it out. The snow lay in only a thin sheet on the lake and it made satisfying crunching sounds whenever I took a step. It was abnormally warm but that didn’t stop me from being so hopeful.
I breathed in the crisp morning air and smiled. Today was the day… I felt it. Just something about the way the wind whistled and the sunlight hit the snow causing it to glitter and look like millions of precious little crystals told me that today was the day that I would earn Mom’s trust back. I was so caught up in my optimistic web of thoughts that I didn’t even notice the faint groaning noise coming from the ice right below my feet.
Then suddenly the ice tremored beneath me knocking me down. My face connected with the cool slick ice and my vision went blurry. It felt like my eyeballs were spinning around aimlessly in my head as if the impact of the fall had knocked them out of their sockets. The taste of blood filled my mouth as I scrambled around trying to get a grip on the ice. My muscles ached and it was hard- too hard to pull myself up.
I could feel the ice straining beneath me to stay together but it was useless. Any minute now there would be one final crack and it would be goodbye for me. The freezing, endless, black pit of death would swallow me up for good and leave Mom forever wondering what had happened. MOM. MOM!!!! It hit me like a bolt of lightning. Mom couldn’t hunt! I guess she could if she had to but she said it herself last year that she depended on me to get us food. I couldn’t leave her alone knowing that two of her most beloved family members are dead! I know she hasn’t been the nicest mom to me these past few years but she always cared.
A huge crunching sound pulled me out of my panicked thoughts. the ground gave way underneath me and I was free falling. The cold water was sharp and stung when it hit me. I started to sink-- fast. All of my already heavy winter clothes were soaking up water and weighing me down, down, down. For a moment everything went black. Then I saw a shape flash before my eyes for just a fraction of a second. I was dazed, confused, and- probably dying but I swear I saw that same raven marking that was on that wolf puppy’s forehead. No no no… It couldn’t be- could it? Some say that right when a person is about to die, every memory of their life flashes before their eyes. That must be what happened.
I felt my body get tugged around by an invisible object. I was running out of air and I felt like a dead fish but I managed to weakly reach out my hand and grab onto---- fur? I was being stupid it must have just been my bearskin coat but it felt strangely warm and alive. Next thing I knew I was being hauled up out of the water and onto the ice. I wanted to open my eyes so badly but they stayed shut as if there were tiny pebbles resting on my eyelids. Finally after what seemed like ages, I drifted off…
I felt numb everywhere and I couldn’t move. Maybe I had been reincarnated and was now an ice statue. It sure felt like it. Something warm and fuzzy was curled around me and wondered if I was back home with Mom, wrapped in a blanket. But there was wind swooping over me like a constant wave so I must have still been outside.
My eyes were crusted shut by water that had frozen over but I managed to pry them open. I was on the lake and I knew that for sure because I could see the small island in the distance. I looked down at the ice and gasped- Well I would have if I had the strength but it was more like a pathetic terrified squeak.
The wolf with the marking-- Raven was curled up around me. But she was cold and unmoving… Her fur was frozen into big chunky spikes and heat no longer radiated from her slim figure. She was dead... She must have remembered me from when I spared her life and decided to repay me by sacrificing herself so I wouldn’t die! Or at least thats what I told myself. She looked as if she had curled up around me to warm me up. My vision was going blurry due to the hot tears that were now streaming down my cheeks.
I was sore all over, excruciatingly cold, and terribly hungry but I didn’t care- I had to get Raven off the ice before we weighed it down and fell in again. I struggled to my feet trying to balance myself on the slippery ground. When I got a good grip on her fur I heaved her up and onto my shoulder. She was surprisingly light but I still wavered when I tried to take a step.
The wind was picking up and the sun no longer shone like it had earlier. Grey ominous clouds closed in and I saw streaks of lightning in the distance. Thunder followed shortly after so I knew I had to hurry for the storm was nearby. My legs were quivering with the effort to keep myself upright and I swear Jack Frost had paid a visit to my face but I kept going.
When I reached the island I found shelter in a medium sized animal den. I lay Raven down gently and curled up in a tight ball. I kept replaying the scene when I first found Raven in my head like a broken record. I slumped down and closed my eyes until the sound of thunder outside lulled me to sleep.
My eyes fluttered open and I heard a gasp coming from my right. I glanced over and relief flooded through me. It was Mom sitting on a wooden stool beside my bed. She had tears in her eyes and looked really worn out. She must have gone looking for me and brought me home.
When I was well rested and feeling a bit better, I told her the whole story starting with when I first found Raven. I think that whole incident helped Mom because she really loosened up. She even let me give her hunting lessons! When it was finally spring I went for a walk with her. We paddled across the lake to the island in our two canoes and had a picnic. Towards the end of our fun little trip we visited Raven’s grave which we marked with a big boulder that had her name scratched in it. I used my hunting knife and wrote it using big fancy letters just like Dad had on my bow.
Mom got tired so she went home without me which gave me some time to myself. I walked around a bit, picking flowers and gradually forming a pretty border around the grave. I stooped to pick up some lilacs to complete my floral rainbow when a small hollow area in the soil snatched my attention. I kneeled down on the blanket of moss splayed beneath me, each patch acting like a cushion for my knees.
What I felt at that moment is hard to put into words. It was like thousands of people had come up to me, each and every one of them carrying the best of news. In that compact cave lay three little baby wolf pups... but what made them special was that printed in the soft velvety fur on their snouts, was a Raven.