The man trudged through the thick snow that covered the rocky ground. The fierce winds blew bits of ice and frost in every direction clouding his vision. He’d made this trip before. He remembered
the other times that he’d brought the goods from the town through the mountain pass and back home. The times before, the air had been quiet and pristine. Not so say that the climb was any less
difficult, but he’d never made the journey in these conditions before. This time, the Sierras seemed different, almost other-worldly. He could barely see in every direction he looked. He searched
behind him, holding the lantern outward to see through the wintry haze. He looked at the sled, checking to make sure that nothing had fallen off during their ascent. All of the boxes were still
there. His dog, a hulking Saint Bernard, faithfully followed close behind him
He saw that the dog was moving slower than his usual pace. It was not easy for a large dog such as his to breathe in such an unforgiving environment. The altitude was becoming overwhelming He
decided that they still had time to stop just one more time. They came to a small cave in the rock that could shield them from the falling snow. They crammed themselves through the tiny crevice
that led to the cave. With ease, he sat himself on a rock inside and threw off his pack. He let the rope he pulled the sled with go and watched it shuffle the snow as it fell. The dog crawled up
and lay down on top of him so they could share their body heat with each other. He unzipped the bag and pulled out a thermos of hot water and a metal bowl. He twisted off the cap slowly, watching
the steam rise to his face. It moisturized his dry, cold complexion, rising into his pores and caused his forehead to break into a cold sweat. After wiping his brow with a handkerchief, he poured
the steaming liquid into the bowl and set it on the ground next to the dog. He sniffed at the surface with his wet nose first and then began to lap up the water. He saved the last few drops for
himself, taking a few drinks at a time. The water was extremely hot, but still refreshing. He savored the flavor. It warmed his cold, aching body. He could feel it run down his dry throat. He drank
it quickly so that the twenty-below temperatures would not freeze it over.
He looked off to the west. Through the storm on the other side of the mountains, he could see a small outline of the sun and the surrounding sky. The sun was beginning to set and the sky changed
from a bright orange into a darker hue. He jumped up, threw his gear back into the bag, and threw the pack over his shoulder.
“Hurry, boy!” he yelled to his dog, standing himself up, propping on the walking stick.
He knew that they had to hurry. After they left the town, they began working their way through the foothills and up the eastern slope. They still had a ways to go. They had to get up the mountain
and climb back down the west side to the cabin before nightfall. If not, they would freeze before they even had a chance to contemplate death.
The man and his companion continued onward across the mountainside. Across rugged, sometimes dangerous landscapes, they traveled. At the same time, there was a surreal beauty about the range.
Looking off in any direction, they could see signs of Mother Nature’s art. Her divine beauty could be seen in the way that the snow capped the monumental rocky peaks and the evergreen pines in the
valleys below them. The sky was her palate, and the only color of choice was white. Pure white. With strokes of her brush, she churned up the snow and moved it in whichever direction she desired.
She blew the strong winds against the two mountaineers to weigh them down further. Something about them troubled her. They’d upset her delicate balance and stumbled through her creation, spoiling
it with every step they took through the pass. This storm was one of her many masterpieces she had created in this world and these intruders were poisoning it. In an act of vengeance for their
foolish missteps, she made their journey even more unbearably difficult as time crawled onward.
They began to approach the final feat to overcome this mountainous path. The time that it took to crest the peak seemed like an eternity to them. About halfway up, he began to tire out. The arid
winds chapped his face. His lips bone dry. It was becoming hard to breath in the increasing altitude. Meanwhile, the dog dragged behind him, feeling the same wariness. He began to pant more
profusely the higher that they went. They were exhausting any energy they still had. Their destination was still a ways away from there and the man began to fear that neither of them would make it.
They were losing the battle. They would soon be defeated and be left for Mother Nature to consume them. He collapsed onto the ground and rolled back down the slope a few feet, kicking up the snow
as he tumbled downward. The lantern slipped from his hands and slid down the slope and off of the sheer cliff into a thick cloud of nothingness. Without the light, he could see only about two
inches in front of his face. The dog lay down next to him as if he were giving up himself. As the man began to slip away and finally accept their impending fate, it was as if his life was flashing
before him at one point in time.
Boyhood—He remembered the times when he used to skip rocks on the Merced when the water was calm, or scaled the little hills in the vallies thinking that he’d conquered the tallest climb
in the world.His teenage years—He remembered the times that he made the five-mile hike across the foothills each day at dawn just to get to the schoolhouse by eight o’clock and how much
longer it took during the cold winters.Manhood—he remembered those three years he spent building the cabin that he would never see again, stacking wall upon wall of logs just to make a
decent dwelling. The last day that came to his mind was when he found the dog. It was summer—the air was hot. The man was fishing down by the river when he heard howls in the distance. Too late in
the day to be wolves, he thought. He followed the noise until he came upon the helpless animal. He was caught in a bear trap whining and moaning in pain. He hurried over and threw himself down to
aid him. Using all of his strength he pulled the trap apart and the dog lifted his leg up and out of the trap. His paw bloodied, he continued to whine in pain. The man examined the dog. He saw he
had a makeshift collar made out of a thin rope and a red bandana tied around. This was how his master identified him; it meant he was a hunting dog, large one at that. He watched the injured
creature hobble away and he continued about his business. However, the dog felt obligated to repay his savior in some way. In an act of devotion, he followed the man back to his cabin. Fearing that
his master or masters had left him for dead when no search parties arrived, he decided to care for the dog, to redeem himself for those he had left behind before. The dog become his hunter and
retriever, ensuring that they would never go hungry. So there they met, and there they stayed dedicated since then. The memory began to fade back into the man’s darkening mind. Soon, there was only
Then, something happened. A feeling hit him, as if a fire had been lit inside his soul. It gave him a sudden surge of energy. Whether it was the stress of the climb or the fact that they would die
if they did not continue, the feeling was there. Not in the man, who was still on the ground slipping into unconsciousness, but in the dog, his only friend. He could sense the danger of the
situation that his master was in. This second wind of sorts encouraged the dog to get up and urge his master to do the same. After hesitating, the dog finally mustered up the strength to stand. He
picked up his front paws and pushed his heavy body upward. Then, he pushed up his hind legs and hurried over to his master’s side.
There the man lay almost lifeless in the snow. With his dry nose the dog nudged the man and coaxed him to stand up. The first time, there was no movement. He nudged again, this time pushing harder
to get him to move. Still there was no response whatsoever. The animal’s persistence was enduring. It was as if he was trying to say, “C’mon, you weak sonofabitch, get up! You can do it! If you
don’t, you’re gonna die, and so will I! Move!” Every time he urged his master up, he did so with more force. He eventually resorted to barking and howling as loud as possible in hopes that someone
would hear them through the strong winds. After watching and waiting for someone to reach the top of the hill in search of them, he was sure that no one would come for them. One last time, he tried
to get his master to move. Apprehensive to do so, he finally decided to do the only thing that would get the man to respond. In a great frenzy of courage, he lunged forward and bit into his
master’s arm, sinking his teeth far enough in to bite through his heavy wool jacket and three layers and break the skin, but not far enough to severely injure him. The man shrieked and writhed on
the ground in pain as the dog pushed him up onto his feet. In a few pushes forward, he had finally gotten his master to finally stand and move slowly up the hill, hauling the cargo behind them
The pair persisted upward, the dog leading them while the man followed behind trying his hardest to keep up. The dog slowed only occasionally to make certain that the man kept moving. If he fell,
the dog came to help him back up. Little by little, they treaded across the snow in hopes that they could make it. The man glanced to the horizon to find that the sun had set and the sky had become
a dark shade of blue. Night would be there soon, which pushed him to move faster, eventually surpassing the dog’s speed and forcing him to run after his master to catch up. They were only a few
feet away from the top, but seemed like several hundred to them from where they were. He began to lose his footing and slid back down. His face was glazed with the snow as he picked his head up
from the cold ground. Anyone else would have given in long before they’d reached the top. They were beginning to tire again and were falling into the same trap that Mother Nature had put them in
before. Yet, something told them not to quit on each other. The man’s energy was becoming stronger again, as if God was using his own arms to pull him up. He was almost numb, yet he still came up
from the bed of snow. The energy was so strong that he could not find a reason to quit again.
He pulled himself up from the ice and picked up his feet again. He inched one foot in front of the other while the dog stood behind to make sure he did not fall again. With every step, his legs
ached. He thought for a moment that he could hear his knees cracking under the weight of his body. They climbed, climbed, climbed, with step after step after step until his left foot finally
crested the daunting knoll. With one final stride, he planted his feet onto the level surface of the peak and pulled the rest of his body up and over. There, he was graced with one of the most
beautiful sights that he had ever seen. He knew he’d seen it before. Now, it seemed all the more worth seeing. He gazed out on the scene, letting his eyes absorb the wonder of it all. The dog stood
by him in their moment of rest.
In the distance, an isolated glen was nestled in the foothills of the surrounding peaks. In that glen were many snow-covered trees and a very faint window of light. When he looked to the sky, he
saw plumes of smoke rising into the storm. They were close. The man could almost smell the pinewood burning on the open hearth. He pictured a large pot of soup steaming and bubbling over the flames
just waiting to be slurped up by the coldest and hungriest of men. They walked together down the other side slowly so as not to lose their footing. Both man and beast kept the feeling to
themselves, but both were thrilled. They would have liked to acknowledge the fact that they had survived. They felt contented and warm deep down inside their cold and restless bodies. The man
wished that he could embrace his friend who had saved him in his greatest time of danger. The dog would have liked to jump on him with such a force that it would have pushed the man down into the
snow and begin licking him and slobbering on him with a jovial bounce. Both thought of sharing this moment, yet both were too exhausted by their journey. Instead, they shared a mere glance at each
other as they walked. The man looked down on his friend, and the dog met eyes with him. Thank you, he thought. I know you probably cannot understand me. All the same, thank you.
There was an unbreakable bond between them. They could feel that they would be able to live on for a long time together as kindred spirits in a world where only the two of them existed. They’d
depend on each other often times before, but none more so than this day. They had conquered the blizzard. Somehow, though, both of them knew that Mother Nature would be back to give them another
feat to overcome. They had impressed her with their perseverance through her tumultuous work of art and the hardships that she had thrown into it. She had to make it harder for them the next day
that she would encounter them. Not any day in particular, but something told them that she would come for her vengeance again soon. For now, they would wait to meet her next challenge. They now had
a feeling that this force beyond their understanding that had helped them along this day would be with them in any other time of danger afterwards. They had a name for this force: friendship.
A small plain cabin with a shingled roof covered in freshly-fallen snow and log walls was visible only a short distance away. They approached the porch, eager to enter, throw off their troubles,
and embrace the warmth that awaited them. There they entered…
© Copyright 2016 Samuel Shrader. All rights reserved.