Sunday, February 19, 2017


Well almost two years had gone by since that great adventure in the “Great White North”. Now here he was once again sitting in his favorite relic of an armchair at the “Outpost”, a piece of furniture that had belonged to his Great Grandfather “Bob Leboeuf”. Held together with Duct Tape because it had been chewed up by one of his sister Michele’s dogs while in her possession, it was ugly as sin but he didn’t care. While it’s final destination was to be the trash heap, he had acquired it, saying to his wife, Fran, that he’d get it fixed one of these days. After all this time, this had never been done but that was still “OK” with him as it represented a certain connection with the past and his ancestors. He could visualize that wonderful old man, sitting there with his prayer beads, praying to God for forgiveness every night or watching “Billy Graham”, an American Christian evangelist, ordained as a Southern Baptist minister, on his Black & White TV. The then young boy could never understand why this very Catholic man would listen to an American preacher as it was a terrible “Taboo” in those days to look outside the box. He had asked the question to this wise old fella and he had answered, “Well Gino, the various religions around the world were invented by man and there are many out there. Most of them if not all of them contain a message of peace and forgiveness so there is nothing wrong with checking other perspectives. It only makes you worldly”. Yeah, she was and old chair but after maybe eighty years of existence, a certain indentation had formed in the cushion and this made it very unique and special as it was still more comfortable than the disposable Chinese crap that was being sold today.

Almost on the verge of falling asleep, with his feet up, he was enjoying watching his dogs, curled up all together in a massive ball right next to the wood burning stove, absorbing its cozy warm heat. A lot of water had flowed down the Madawaska River and some members of the “old guard” weren’t with him anymore as they had since then crossed over to the other side of “Rainbow Bridge”. Looking at their pictures on the “Memorial Wall”, where a hand painted sign read “May their spirits run with the winds”, he missed them but was at ease with all of this as they had had a good life where many adventures had been had. A new bunch of white “puppies” had taken over where his old “Boyz” had left off and the legacy of the “Spirit Dogs” was and would be secured for future generations. They were still a delinquent handful bunch of juvenile yearlings and not yet ready for the racing circuit by any standards but that was OK too. With the patience and devotion, he had put towards their training, he could see that they had the potential of becoming great sleddogs just like their predecessors. They were the result of an accidental breed but when he saw who the parents were, at sixty (60) years old, he had decided to take a chance and raise them. The mother was his best female leader, “Barbie” and the father was no other than his famous “Merlin” and his ever hard “magic wand”. This was to be their first year in harness and he could see the genetics that had been passed on to these future “Champions”. Where he used to enjoy watching the elegant powerful and smooth gait of the now deceased nut case of a “Merlin”, here he was now privileged to see him once again in action but this time by a multiplied factor of ten (10). It had been a crap shoot but the results were there in front of him and spoke for themselves. These ten hellions were carbon copies of the “wizard” when it came to work ethics on the gangline. They were powerful, dedicated and committed to going the distance, whatever it was. He would continuously test their resolve and would push them. He would see what they had in their guts and once in a while on a twenty-five (25) mile training run, he would stop around the twenty (20) mile mark and see how they would react. The results were astonishing. They would bang in their harness, bark and jump up and down as if they were telling the sled driver, “Come on, is that all you’ve got? Let’s go, we’re burning daylight here and there’s still lots to explore.” This was enjoyable to see and it made him smile. However, this was a habit that he did not approve of. He was of the opinion that when they did stop on the trail, they needed to remain tranquil and composed so they could rest and recuperate. This jumping around in excitement did not promote discipline in the ranks and they would have to learn to be calm when he called “Stay!”. But that would be thought over time and what he was seeing right now did promote in a positive way that they enjoyed being with their musher out there doing their thing.

It was now again Christmas Eve and they had just returned from their traditional “night incursion patrol” so to provide food as gift to some of the habitants of the forest. He had packed his sled to the max but the new “recruits” had performed flawlessly to his delightful surprise. They hadn’t growled or barked when they fed the deer herd nor had they lost sight of their purpose when they were running side by side with the pack of coyotes. While the deer herd would share four bales of hay and two buckets of wheat and barley feed, the family of coyotes would receive gorging amounts of meat and bones. He knew that this wasn’t exactly kosher especially after dealing in the past with that same hungry pack of coyotes but he enjoyed doing these little gestures as it wasn’t every day that you would be in a position to interact and actually touch some of these members of the animal kingdom. Besides, it always intrigued him to see how the population of these two species had survived after a season of hunting and trapping. He wasn’t against these practices but he thought that in this day and age, killing these animals for the sport and fun of it was a practice that needed to be reviewed. He had come from a long line of bushmen who had fed their families wild meat and that was an acceptable practice as back then people didn’t have much money and depended on these resources to survive. Trapping and hunting were necessities as one provided a supplement to their income and the other was a cheap way to put food on the table.

One of his childhood memories was when he was maybe three (3) years old, his father had broken his back at the Fraser Mill. The doctors of the time had put him in a full body cast that started from under his chin all the way down to his pelvic bone. He was to be laid out on a bed, incapable of moving for a very extended period and no money was coming in. Subsequently, his father and the musher’s grandfather “Emile” would go to the bush to “poach” and trap. Of course, the poaching aspect of it was against the law, but the family needed to be fed and he provided. That particular year had not been too fruitful when it came to large games as he had only managed to “bag” a small deer doe that weighed less than fifty (50) lbs. Consequently, snowshoes through thick snow and a packsack on his back, he would walk his trap line where he would catch beaver and muskrats for their fur and meat. The “dogman” could remember his mother going to the shed where she would chop away with her hatchet at the carcasses so to extricate some frozen meat from the bones. It had been a tough one but they had survived that winter on food that Mother Nature had provided. Although a bit twisted, for this reason, he felt compelled to return the favor by feeding some of the occupants of his native forest. They had helped his family though hard times and he felt that he owed them that much.

The backcountry of the “Madawaska Valley” always offers magical winter sceneries and he enjoyed exploring every “nook and crannies” of it. There was lots to see and he always would say, “I wonder where this trail goes?” He had checked many of them over the years and knew the area like the back of his hand. While traveling here, there and everywhere, he had come across many instances where if he hadn’t been around, things might have turned differently. There was that one time where he sneaked up with his dog team on two poachers that had “dropped” a full grown bull moose just to get its trophy “rack”, leaving the entire dead mass behind. Those guys had been surprised to see him appear. Not much had been said but these two would get the message quite clear that this valley was out of bound for their types. Funny enough, he hadn’t seen them around since then. Of course, who could forget his trapper friend. A true gentleman trapper, he enjoyed more breathing fresh than catching fur but he did it because it was a long life dream to do the “Davy Crocket” thing. One day while the ex-soldier was grooming his trails, he would have to cross the ledge of a beaver dam to carry on. He wouldn’t be able to do as a snowmobile was blocking the path. The musher didn’t see this as a big deal as he recognized the machine and thought it would be a good occasion to chat with his friend. As soon as he killed the engine on his snowmachine, he heard his name being called out. “Gino, Gino, over here!” the voice yelled out in a calm desperate way. He could identify it and yelled back, “Mr. Levasseur, where are you?”. “Over here!” he replied, his voice now full of encouragement. “I’m over here!” Now suspecting that the trapper might be in trouble, he decided to investigate and this was a simple a matter of looking where the tracks led to find him. From a safe distance, he scouted the horizon and spotted him. He could see that his friend had fallen through the thin ice and here he was with his back towards him, kneeling down, cold water to his waist, not moving. “Don’t come any closer! he instructed. “The ice is not safe!” “No shit, Einstein!” he wanted to say but held back. Listening for further instructions from the trapper, he heard him yell, “Go to my ski-doo and get those large pliers. Although he had never used them, the musher knew what he was talking about and retrieved them. Not really concerned for his own safety, he rushed to the man in trouble and saw what the problem was. It turns out that while he was setting that trap, the ice gave up, he flinched and the mechanical death trap, slammed on his two thumbs. Here he was, not able do anything as the two hands could not reach one another and he couldn’t untwist the wire that was securing the trap to its anchor. “OK”, he thought, “It’s kind of early for the annual “Polar Dip” but here it goes. With that thought, he simply “scissor dropped” himself in the frigid water and pried open the trap with the pliers. His thumbs released, the trapper then replied, “Never mind the trap, Let’s get out of here before we freeze to death!” They had done so and had made a “Beeline” straight to his cabin where they would warm and dry up. “Are your thumbs OK?” the musher asked. “Yeah, they seem to work. Let me test them. Reaching under the mattress of one of the bunkbeds, he pulled out a “26 ouncer” of DeKuyper gin and twisted the cap right off. “Yeah, I’ll be fine,” he grinned, “Care for a swig!” he winked. “Don’t mind if I do!” his rescuer said while taking a good swallow after grabbing it... = -)
 There were all sorts of incidents that had happened out there and they ranged from being buzzed over by a curious bald eagle, to being attacked by a bear and of course who would forget that night when he was to be surrounded by that pack of coyotes. But one of the most memorable instances was when once again, he was traveling by snowmobile in early March and was collecting the ever hard to find, “Chaga” mushroom. He would suddenly spot some blood on the trail and was curious about what this might be. He kept following it and it led to a big splash of a blood stain with a fresh maybe “four-hour old placenta” that was just sitting there. He continued on and then saw the female moose on the left side of the trail maybe 200 feet ahead of him, steam coming out of her nostrils. He didn’t know if it was because she had been running scared from the noise of the machine or she was in protective mode for her calf. Regardless, he didn’t care to find out. Consequently, our main man decided to not push the envelope so hit the “kill switch” of the iron sled. The woods became silent and you could hear this “mother” snort at him. At the same time, he could hear the calf cry in pain and agony. It was close as where he had parked the machine, the little one had decided to leave the packed trail and here it was ten feet away with only its snout sticking out. The poor little baby moose had been struggling to get itself free but at less than “one day” old, it didn’t have the strength to liberate itself from the deep snow. “OK, little guy! Quit wiggling!” he spoke to the youngster. We’ll get out in no time! As for you mom, stay right where you are and everything will be fine.” at least he hoped, wondering if she’d charge him and stomp him to death. “Just stay there!” With that, he put his “Action Jackson” hat on and jumped feet first in the snow. He “swam” his way through the thick stuff to the newborn and cradled it with his two arms. Easier for him, with the calf in his hands, he started walking backwards when suddenly he fell backwards. Now close to its edge, thinking quickly and with the momentum, he raised his arms over his head swiftly and successfully lobbed the baby back onto the trail. The little guy got his second wind, got back up on his wobbly legs and headed towards “Mom”. Both once again reunited, they would acknowledge his efforts and would carry on just sauntering away to safety.
Spring had turned into Summer. Summer had turned into Fall and yup, you guessed it, Fall had turned into Winter and she was to be a “whopper”. December had come in with a screaming vengeance and had dropped three (3) feet of snow with more storms coming. The musher needed to keep his trail system open so to train his dogs so he went out to do his thing. He was traveling in the same general area of the “Moose” incident with his little buddy “Bryan” who had showed up with his extended family at the lodges. They had decided to reunite and spend the holidays together and their destination was to be “Baisley Lodges”. To the musher, this “Bryan” kid was a special guest and he was happy that he was with him on that day. This was his second visit in the same year and it was important that he share some winter experiences with him. One of the main reasons Bryan was there was because he wanted to go for a sleddog ride.   With the severe weather patterns that “Mother Nature” was sending their way, the Dogman knew that most likely the sleddog ride would not happen. It was a question of being a responsible adult and not putting this young boy in a hazardous situation. He knew quite well how turbulent the high plateaux of his backcountry could be and had learned the hard way not to push the envelope. So now, Bryan’s visit was coming to an end and an alternative plan needed to be formulated. So, he hitched up a snowmobile sled that sort of looked and worked like a dog sled and off they went exploring, with Bryan on the runners. A few hours into the trip, here he was now wishing that they would have seen some sort of wildlife so to make this outing somewhat meaningful. So far it had been pretty boring for him, standing on the back of that sled. But as if the message had been received by them, here appeared a female moose and her huge “juvenile” male offspring in front of them on the trail. He couldn’t be sure that it was the same animals but agreed that they might be so told the story about the rescued baby moose to his autistic friend. “No Gino!” the young boy said convinced, “It’s them for sure. They just want to make certain that you know that they’re all right! Just like for me, you’re their hero!” The way he saw things and the way the words came out of that innocent child’s mouth would stir some seriously deep emotions inside him and a small tear now freezing while rolling down his cheek, was to appear. There was something there in that little phrase that this Ontario kid had uttered and although he refused to believe it, not only had he just received a very special gift, a “Christmas Miracle” had just occurred and our main man would finally “get it”. Here he was dealing with what the medical profession had portrayed to be a mentally challenged person but this was not at all what our main man was seeing. No, not at all. Here he was sharing another beautiful moment with this very intelligent young person who had to deal constantly with the hardships and pressures of being belittled by his peers because he was way smarter than them and acted differently. This would finally accentuate in the old mountain man’s thick skull what this second visit from “Bryan” was all about. The fact that, and according to his mother, this is what he wanted to do, “Go back to Gino’s place for Christmas.”, was perfectly clear now. This young boy felt safe in this setting created by the ex-soldier. He didn’t know that this man had been bred by a powerful military machine for the purpose of violence, pain and death nor did he seem to care. Instead, he was taking him at face value without judgement or preconceived notions. Yes, he was special kid but in an amazing way. He had made the old soldier understand something, something that had to do with the true “Meaning of Life”. He had made him realize that everybody has their own challenges to deal with and although sometimes this overwhelming urge to end it all invades one’s person, you must never surrender as you are needed by someone out there and it’s a matter of finding out what you were destined for. He had made him realize that no matter how desperate the situation might become, hope is the only something that should never be lost as this is your lifeline to something that will ultimately lead you back on the right “trail” and lighten the load of the journey you are on. And finally, the past was not where the future resided. The future in itself was where salvation could be found and one should move on in that direction.  Was it faith that would make it that these two individuals would meet or was it a message from forces of the universe telling him that there was a reason why he existed. This he didn’t have an answer to. All he could say was that when they had showed up at the lodges that previous summer, in his own way, this little angel called “Bryan” had spelt out for him as to why he needed to keep on living. That short time that they had spent together in August had definitely delivered the clear message as to where the path he was on, was leading to and confirmed that he had chosen the right one. People lived in desperate times and were discouraged with what was happening all around them. If the musher could help out by performing simple little deeds to bring a little bit of peace in their hearts, he would serve for that purpose. Selling the business had been an option at the time but this was not to be considered no more. True enough, it wasn’t a fancy place nor was it an expensive place. But, it was a special place to be shared with special people and this was how he would finally discover these realities.
“YOU’RE A COOL KID, BRYAN” – Yup, that’s what he had told his new best friend when he left that day. “And don’t let anybody else say anything different.” Those were basically the last words he had told him before he left. It was a simple good-bye but this was all he could muster at the time. He was holding back tears and was trying to swallow that watermelon size lump in his throat…
You see this young “Thirteen-Year-Old” teenager had showed up at Baisley Lodges two weeks prior full of questions, questions that were right up the musher’s alley – What kind of animals live here in the woods? Do you have Brook Trout in the river? Do you know if there are fossils around here? They just kept on coming so considering he was more than enthusiastic about exploring this area and that they were in a rush to go visit family in Moncton, N-B, the old man took the opportunity to suggest that on their return trip they schedule a day so that this young man and himself could go out there and do the “Indiana Jones” thing…

For some reason, they did accept the invitation and when they did come back, the “Kid” and him set out for what was to be one hell of an enlightening journey.
The first night, he could not dedicate too much time to him as he was busy dealing with some veteran issues with a representative of one of these organisations. So “Bryan” entertained himself by fishing the Madawaska river in front of the lodges. He was adamant that he would catch a Brook Trout so to have for breakfast the next morning. This was not to happen and he was left a bit disappointed.

The next morning when the “alcoholic” opened his eyes, he was glad to see that he was still alive. For some reason and contrary to his usual habits, that night before, he had managed to crack open and polish a full bottle of “1959” Napoleon Brandy and that was to be a huge mistake. Although it had gone down more than smoothly, when he lifted his head off his pillow, he knew exactly why he didn’t drink anymore. This major hangover accompanied by a pounding headache would set the day and it would be a long one. Regardless as to how he felt, he had promised young Bryan that they would go canoeing so best put his best foot forward and soldier on. The chores done, with the canoe strapped to its top, they jumped in the truck and headed out to tackle the mighty “Green River”.

While heading out to their destination, Bryan started talking and it seemed like it would never end. Initially, the musher thought that his rambling was because he was nervous and excited but how he was spitting out the information, he suspected that there might be something else. He was most precise and very well informed on all the subjects he was talking about but these were all over the place. He would be suddenly explaining the characteristics of a “Light Titanium” frame of a Bugatti sports car to swiftly change to a completely different topic, the muzzle velocity of a “50 Cal” machine gun round. He continued with this jumping from one subject to another and although it made for a strange conversation, this was OK as many of the topics he was talking about were things that also interested the adult quite a bit. Eventually, he started quizzing him on his routines back home only to realize that his young friend was asthmatic and didn’t do much for physical activity. Add to that the fact that he was going to a “special school” for special kids and this made him start questioning himself as to who he was dealing with and if this was a good idea to bring him out of the security of his “Bubble”.  Here and how he was explaining his daily routine and its restrictions, he was drawing an unfounded conclusion that he was some sort of “pussy” and a “Momma’s Boy”. It wasn’t fair that he would judge him like this but he wasn’t in the best frame of mind and his brain wasn’t firing on “8 cylinders”. Therefore, he wasn’t thinking straight. However, he was to soon realize that where he lacked in the sports department, he sure made up in the intellectual one. Remember the rambling? Well, it turns out that it wasn’t just words he was throwing out there. He had a mind like a steel trap and it seemed to the man that he could retain most of the information that he was exposed to. By now, the “Dogman” was more than curious to see where this adventure would take him so he decided that he would work around these limitations and make the best of the day.
They finally arrived at the “Winding Eddy”, the spot where they would put the canoe on the river. There, they would not be alone as a woman and her cute daughter were standing admiring the scenery. It was obvious that there was some sort of chemistry there and the cute little blond girl tried to strike a conversation with Bryan. To her disappointment, the young man would have nothing to do with her and just stood there staring at the rushing water. “Hey Bryan!” his partner shouted over all this rumbling noise, “Grab your stuff and let’s get going.” This sort of short-circuited the anxiety he was being engulfed with and he came to him. The musher instructed him to sit in front of the canoe and this he did gladly. From how he was behaving, the man knew that he was not comfortable with this “girlfriend” situation so he hurried up to get going. When they left those folks behind and they were once again alone, he relaxed and started talking again. “Can I fish now?” he asked. “Of course you can!” the “guide” replied. “As a matter of fact, you can fish as much as you want and I’ll take care of the paddling. “OK”, he simply said. “I want to catch a Brook Trout”. The trip down river would prove to be a bit strenuous. The water was low because of the time of the season and many boulders were exposed. Consequently, the man would need to pay attention and zig-zag his way down in many places. Of course and as in all swift current water courses, they would casually collide and bounce off against many of these large rocks. To him, this was normal routine as he was most comfortable in “Class 2” rapids. However, this was not the same for his passenger. When earlier he had asked him if he was familiar with canoeing, Bryan had said yes. But after tackling what he perceived as dangerous waters, he was now confessing to the fact that contrary to what he had experienced in cyberspace, this was a bit scary. In as such, he put his fishing rod away and white knuckled the gunnels of the canoe, most likely scared shitless. The situation was getting tense and even though there was no danger at all, it was time for Gino to defuse this situation. He could recognize the fact that he was panicking and it was necessary to intervene. “Hey Bryan,” he suggested, “Are you OK?” To this he didn’t respond. Rather, he was glaring forward and telling him where all the rocks were and which direction to go. He needed to reassure him that everything was all right so he started sharing stories with him about this particular Bald Eagle that made this place his home and hunting grounds. The words had not been out of his mouth for more than ten seconds when behold the said bird of prey took off from the top of a spruce tree and surprised them, flying right above their heads. “Look Bryan! There he is.” the excited guide shouted. Trust him! He will guide us to safety.” So for a while, they observed him gliding up and down in the “Thermals” and this seemed to bring back his young friend back from where he was. “He’s really escorting us, isn’t he?” the boy said. “Yes he is.” The man simply said smiling. “You don’t have to worry about a thing.” I guess he felt safe by now so he pulled out his fishing rod again and started casting for that “Brook Trout”. Casting he did and whipping that hook around the man’s head he did also. The paddler wasn’t comfortable with this and as he suspected and as he had done to his great grandfather, “Bob Leboeuf” when he was his age, the hook caught the brim of his hat and yanked it off the top of his head. The guide wasn’t too impressed but Bryan thought it was funny to see that $300.00 hat floating next to the canoe. With some difficulties and before it sank, it was finally retrieved and put back on, fully soaked and cold. Never would he have entertained the idea of wearing his prized “Akubra” Australian hat like that but its now soaked texture sort of cooled off his sweltering head and cured his headache… Who would have thought?

So anyway, they carried on, now with a reassured young boy who was confident that things would be OK. In this particular river, the water is crystal clear and its riverbed offers millions of different shaped stones. From what could be witnessed, you could tell that this assortment of “gems” struck his fancy. Here he was describing the different rock formations telling the musher about all sorts of different facts about the many types they came across. This really impressed the man and he just couldn’t believe that all this information was coming out of this kid. To him, it sounded that he should have been a much more mature person who could have been a professional geologist. “Wow!” he thought to himself, “Where the hell did he get all that knowledge? How is it that he can retain so much data about so many subjects?” This was to be a mystery that intrigued him and one that needed to be answered. At that stage, all he could do was listen and be educated. The water conditions would not improve and eventually they would get hung up on a bolder, not moving at all. This did not sit well with his shipmate and all of a sudden, panic set in. He was fidgety and wanted to stand up in the small craft. This unfortunately was to translate into a precarious situation where one might fall overboard and be carried away by the current. Again and this must be emphasized, the situation was not as drastic as one would think. However, that young inexperienced friend of his did not know any better thus the super agitated scene. “Bryan!” the guide shouted sternly, “You sit down and wait!”. The tone of the voice was commanding if not too severe. This had for effect that he was to completely shut down to the outside world and would not again speak anymore. They were now stuck and here they were not communicating at all. The silence seemed to extend way beyond its short timespan and this “eternity” was eating at the man’s insides. What had he done? In a matter of a split second, all this trust that they had established, was gone. Did he feel like a heel? You bet he did. Was he going to give up? No he wouldn’t. “Bryan! Bryan!” he shouted out trying to get his attention, “Bryan, I need your help! You grab that other paddle and plant it hard between those rocks. I need you to hold the front (bow) of the canoe pointing downstream. Come on! You can do this!!!” he emphasized. His reaction was spontaneous. Like himself, he could recognize the fact that this menacing situation might be dangerous. What he probably didn’t realize was the fact that when the man did have to get out of it to push, it was most important that he not let the “pea pod” slip out of his grasp. Otherwise, the young boy and the canoe would carry on out of control in those somewhat turbulent waters. His young friend didn’t need to know this part of the equation and after giving him further instruction and these were clear, he decided to jump in the water to get it unstuck. “Hold on Buds and make sure that you keep the nose of the boat pointing that way (downstream).” Holding on to his paddle as hard as he could, Bryan firmly planted it between two large stones and this did the job of acting as the needed point of pivot. The guide carefully walked on the slippery slimy rock bed and pushed the canoe sideways. He had underestimated the force of the current but with some effort, the yellow boat rotated on itself 360 degrees. Eventually and with his shipmate’s much needed help, its bow was once again pointing in the right direction and they were floating again. “You can now let go Buds!” he instructed the excited child, “We should be all right now!” He then quickly got back into the canoe and away they went once again for some “smooth sailing”. “Boy, that was quite the rush!” Bryan laughed. “Yup,” his canoe cohort replied also laughing, “You did real good, Bryan!” “Can I continue fishing?” he asked. “Yeah Bryan, of course you can.”

Still under the watchful eye of our companion, the “Bald Eagle”, the remainder of the trip would prove to be uneventful and “safe”, according to Bryan. While he was still trying to catch his “trout”, the musher was paddling quietly, enjoying the bright beautiful sunny day. Him sitting in front reminded him of when that same Great Grandfather Bob Leboeuf used to take him fishing. Just like his “sidekick”, at his age, he was also that skinny little runt with a nerdy attitude. Oh how he could remember those times when the bullies used to pick on him on a most regular basis. Those guys were mean and the episodes were hurtful. Because of his size, there wasn’t much he could do to defend himself so just like Bryan, he would escape to the safety of the nearby woods where he would entertain himself by exploring and discovering all sorts of splendid treasures that the land could offer. Where his passion was to collect rocks, his was to try to locate and identify all the living creatures of the forest. He could remember that old prospector of a grand-father of his, telling him that he was a special kid and if he didn’t give up, things would go his way eventually. It had worked for him so he decided that he should share some of this backwoods wisdom with young Bryan. “Listen Buds! Back home, these bullies that you encounter, pick on you because they are jealous. You have a certain gift and it doesn’t sit well with them. They don’t like people that are smarter than they are and that’s why they act that way. The best thing to do is to avoid confrontation. Even better, recognize their habits and stay out of their line of sight. Remember this, the best way to win a fight is to walk away from that fight. At that moment, it might be embarrassing to do so but still, it’s the best thing to do. Also, that “wolf tooth” necklace that I gave you has a special significance. You now belong to the “Wolf Clan” and if you need some assistance, know that those who belong to this clan will be there to help you. That is the promise that we make to each other and we do honour it by protecting one another.” Agreeably shocked by what was being said, the smiling young man turned around and said, “Thanks! That means a lot to me.”

The canoe trip ended and although they had seen all sorts of wildlife and landscapes, Bryan was a bit disappointed as he had not caught that “Brook Trout” that he craved for. They returned to Baisley Lodges where he was met by his mother who came to ask how the trip had gone. “Well,” the tired guide replied hesitantly, “He can be a handful but we made it work.” “Oh,” she was to answer back, “I should have told you that he has a form of autism called “Asperger Syndrome”. He can function very well with this but tends to lack in the department of social interaction. As you might have noticed his mind anchors itself to restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. As a milder autism spectrum disorder, it differs from other ASDs as he can communicate in relatively normal language and can be functional on his own.” This revelation was to floor the man. Here he was all day, passing judgement on another person who just like him was suffering from some form of mental illness. Yes, their issues were different but at the end of the day, they were in the same boat. Here they were, being judged and pegged as mentally retarded individuals by people who didn’t have a clue as to what they were going through. The fact that he had wrongly assessed this entire situation did not sit well with the man and in as such, he needed to go and retreat to the seclusion of his dog barn. Hugging one of his dog’s head, “Trevor”, he started balling his eyes out, trying to figure out how he would make thing right with my young friend Bryan. There was one hell of a load of guilt surrounding this incident and the tears just kept on pouring. She was a good cry, one that would extinguish that “Warrior Flame” that had once again sparked up and engulfed his person during that past  summer. The crying done, it felt really good to once again find peace in his heart. And the irony of it all, it wasn’t his psychologist or the “medicine” that had put out the flame. Rather, a young handicapped thirteen-year-old lad had innocently intervened and had succeeded.  “Yes, you are never too old to learn a valuable lesson, Gino Roussel” he said severely reprimanding myself. “This one is for the records and should be emphasized. Never judge a person till you have walked a mile in his shoes.” The dogs fed once again, he was to return home and just like Bryan, he looked for and found comfort in the solitude of his own mind.

The next day, he found Bryan at the dock, still trying his luck at catching that illusive “Brook Trout”. “Hey Buds!” he asked, “How’s the fishing?” “Still haven’t caught one!” he replied a bit miffed, “But that’s OK, I’ll keep trying!” There was to be a turn of events as unexpectedly, his mother had decided to stay an extra day. Seeing this as a chance to mend fences between them, the musher decided that he would capitalize on this good fortune and go out there, exploring with his young friend. One of the things that he had brought with him on this trip was this fancy state of the art metal detector. This sort of struck his fancy as the man knew of a possible archeological site, a site where in the late 1800s, the local Malecite Natives would take care of a bivouac area for the British soldiers who traveled back and forth from Halifax, N-S to Quebec City, Qc. Then called the “Halifax Route”, the Madawaska river was part of this strategic watery thoroughfare where they would stop for food and overnight rest. It was up river from the lodges, maybe five kilometers and after proposing this outing to Bryan, he just dropped his fishing pole and rushed to the family van to retrieve his metal detecting equipment, complete with excavating tools. After telling his mom as to where they were going, they loaded the truck and headed for another adventure.

When they did get there, a plan was formulated and they were off “digging”. Contrary to him, the man didn’t expect to find anything but when the metal detector started alerting to a possible hit, Bryan was not the only one to get exited. So did he. Here they were, breaking up earth so to identify what was making the instrument go “bizurk”. Initially what they were finding, were old rusty oil cans dating from the sixties. Then old whiskey bottles started popping up. For the musher, this was discarded garbage but for the “archeologist” these were treasures. Of course, these would be to a “Thirteen-Year-Old”. These things had been there way long before he was born so in his mind they were antiques. The novelty of rummaging through this old dump site would soon wear off so the “ex-soldier” suggested a different location. “Hey Bryan,” he explained pointing to it, “See that area where there seems to be some elevated grounds in the form of a rectangle, maybe we should try there. That could be where once stood a building.” So they moved a few meters and as sure as God made little green apples, the detector was going crazy again as they started to find square nails and old carriage bolts. They hadn’t struck gold but had found something of the said period (1800s) and both of them were all in our glory. The funny thing about all this was that both of them had entered their comfort zone and enjoying each others company. The trust had risen back up to the surface and once they had peeled that stigmatic layer away, they were just two “normal” friends having a good time doing something out of the ordinary and special. Watching a concentrated Bryan retrieve those metal objects, sometimes with his garden shovel and sometimes with his bare hands, made him realize that “yes” he was special. He was an intelligent young man who if given the opportunity, would have a great future filled with wonderful accomplishments. There were no doubts in his mind. He was a hell of lot smarter than a lot of these people out there that walked around and considered themselves normal.

The dig done, it was time to leave. However, the day wasn’t done as a new mission would pop up. It was important to him and they would find him that trout. So cruising the countryside, they headed out to five different locations but again they would not catch anything. On their way back home, the Dogman could see that this did not sit well with Bryan. He was taking this as some sort of personal defeat and the disappointment showed in his face. “Hey Bryan,” he suggested, “You do realize that during this time of the year, trout won’t bite because they’re fraying.” “What do you mean?” he said inquisitively. “Well, at this time of the year, it’s time for them to make babies and when this happens, they won’t bite.” “Oh, then that’s OK!” he replied. “I guess I’ll just have to come back next year.” The trout conversation kept on going for miles after miles when suddenly the man realized that all that this kid wanted to do was to eat a trout so he would know what it tasted like. “Wait a minute here!” he said to himself, “If that’s all he wants to do then I think I might just have the solution.” Turning to his passenger, he said, “Bryan, I think I might have just solved this dilemma.” And on that note, instead of driving down the usual road to Baisley Lodges, he pulled in at the family garage by the road and escorted him inside. He opened one of the meat freezers and pulled out a “four pound” trout, a fish that a friend of his had given him. He had not yet eaten it as he was waiting for a special occasion and this particular scenario did fit the bill. “Here Buds! You can take this trout home with you.” “Really?” he said all excited. You’re giving this to me?” “Yup Buds! This one is all yours!”

He had made a huge impact on his life, this young man and when it came time to part company the next day, it was to be an emotional departure. He walked in the Bunkhouse where the emotional ex-soldier courageously tried to hold back the tears. He wasn’t doing a good job but managed to tell him that he was a cool guy and that he shouldn’t let anybody else convince him of anything less than this. This he received loud and clear and to show his appreciation, he initiated and gave the man a huge hug. “I love you Gino”, he whispered quietly. “So do I, Buds! So do I!” the proud man insisted swallowing his pride, his eyes full of tears. “Now get out of here. I’m tired of crying”…

“Yeah, yeah, Ms. Bizoony, I’ll go get some more wood and stoke the fire!” he said to one of his new yearlings. “You do realize that we really don’t need it to be 104 degrees in here, you know!”. She was a bossy little thing this young white bitch with blue eyes and out of all of his ten (10) “white lab rats on stilts”, she had become his favorite dog. It was funny how it had happened and never in a million years would he have seen this coming. She was the runt of the litter and when he had taken her for her first shots at the Vet Clinic, the veterinarian while examining her, looked over her glasses and said, “Ouff! This one has a serious heart murmur. Her heart beat is very weak and irregular. I don’t even know how she lived for this long. Are you sure you want to spend the money for her shots? The chances of her surviving the winter are very slim, you know.” This was a bit of a “downer” for our musher but he would still take a gamble on this tiny one so told her to proceed with the vaccination anyway. True enough, there was something different about this “sick one”. As if they knew, her siblings would have nothing to do with her. They would chase her away from the food bowls and while they would cuddle all together to keep warm, she was to be rejected by them. Subsequently, she would find her own “safe place” in a dark corner of the shed under a pile of lumber where she would stay and sleep all by her lonesome, sad and dejected. While the other nine puppies were growing up plump and full of “Piss and vinegar”, she would turn out to be “skin and bones” and very timid towards people. The man would take pity on her and would slide her extra portions of food hoping that she would get through another one but always keeping in mind that her days might be numbered. She wouldn’t take it from his hand but when he would leave, she would discreetly go to where he left it and gobble it down. Yes, he could have brought her inside and get involved with her wellbeing but he believed that he should not interfere and let nature take its course. If she was not to survive then this was to be her destiny. That’s how it happened out there in the wild in clans of wolves and coyotes. This was called “strength in numbers” where only the fittest of them all would be accepted. This was their way to ensure the survival and good health of the “Wolf Pack”.

By some miracle, she did manage to get through the winter and with her nine (9) other rambunctious siblings, would be allowed to explore the seven (7) acre property. They were a bunch of “rif-rafs” and the trouble they would get into made it that the musher was a lot of times truly regretting to have let this breed reach full maturity. It was totally ridiculous and discouraging, the antics and stunts they would pull. But they were “Merlin and Barbie’s” puppies so it was expected that they would be full of energy but “Jesus” they were a hard bunch to control. How bad was it? Well the only way they would go back inside their enclosures was to have it that they would have food waiting for them there after their outings. Forget feeding first! There was no way that they would ever go back to the shed on a full stomach. Anyway, one day in May, “Ms. Bizoony” decided that this was it and that she would never go back inside. She had discovered this great outdoors and had figured out that with all this space, she could run away from her family of bullies. This did not sit well with the musher because he was afraid that she might go to the road and get run over by a vehicle. He tried to coax to go back in but there was no way she would. He tried to bait and trick her but still she wouldn’t cooperate. She had found security, in the “Gnomes Magical Forest” and would just lie there under her favorite spruce tree, observing from a distance what was going on in front of the “Bunkhouse”. This “cat and mouse” game was getting more than ridiculous and at the end of the day, the musher eventually gave up on her, saying “Fuck it “Bizz”, you’re on your own. For some even stranger reason, she never ran away and would just sniff around Baisley Lodges when it was dark and quiet. The musher could see her there trying to hide in the bushes but was just too disheartened to continue the game so just kept feeding her from a distance.  This was to last three days and on that third day, he was doing something else in the morning and had forgotten to feed this white pig-headed bitch. He was sitting in his spot, writing on the computer when behold, “Ms. Bizoony” moseyed right in and plunked herself in between him and his new sidekick “Trevor”. She looked at him as if to say, “Whether you like it or not, this is where I belong.” “Well, I’ll be damned!” the man said to her as if she would understand. “You think you’ve earned a spot on the couch?” She looked at him straight in the eyes, curled up right next to him, put her head down and gave a big sigh of relief. So there it was. She had decided to adopt the man so in return, he started taking her with him on his daily jogs. Of course, she would not be allowed to free run like his huge “Wolfdog”, “Trevor” so he started putting a harness on her and would tie her to his belt with a leash. On the first try, it didn’t take ten steps and here she was pulling, following the big black dog. He could feel her strength at his end of the leash and she was actually helping him move forward. “For a little girl that has a heart condition, for what you have there, you’re quite the puller.” he thought to himself. He didn’t know how long or if she would last but she was good company so he would allow her to tag along on these daily outings. The further in the summer they progressed, the more powerful she became. Not only could he feel her power in front of him when running the uphills, she was actually enjoying this tremendously. There was no doubt about this as every morning, she would go to where her harness was hanging and would sit there till it was time to put it on and go. There was something special about that “little girl” of his but he just couldn’t figure out what it was. They kept their running schedule going and he thought that there was no harm in teaching her the “Gee/Haw” commands. It wouldn’t take long and before you knew it, she understood these directional commands way better than “Trevor”.

Her heart muscle grew stronger and stronger and her heartbeat, according to the musher’s statoscope, was regular.  Now playing and aligned with the new “Quarterback” on the field, “Trevor the Bruiser” and sporting a set of “linebacker shoulders”, she started to feel more confident about herself. As a result, she would bloom into a true contender in the yard to the point where it didn’t matter who the challenger was, male or female, young or old, she would not back down from any aggressive behaviour towards her. When the training season came along, she was ready. The musher was certain of this so walked her right to the front of the gangline, hooked her up next to his old now almost totally blind main leader “JR” and told her, “Bizz, it’s now your turn to shine. Make Daddy proud and run like the wind.” Standing there, holding that gangline tight and straight, while the musher was hooking the other crazy excited canines, she would just turn around once in a while and glare at them with those crystal blue eyes as if to tell them, “You best start behaving like real sleddogs. I’m taking names and there will be hell to pay once we get back to the dog yard.” She would learn the ropes from his three other leaders and good old “JR” would feel secure enough with her by his side to keep on running lead even though he could not see two (2) feet in front of his nose. True to her words, she would police the other dogs in the yards to the point where she would become the “Alpha Dominant” female, even dethroning “Mother Superior from Hell”, his grey girl, “Lady”.

“OK, OK!” he said to her, “I’ll go and get some more firewood. He didn’t have to bother telling the other dogs to stay as while she was escorting him outside to the shed, she had only needed to give them that icy glare of a stare. They knew what it meant… They walked into the wood shed and while he was gathering something to burn, she was sniffing at something under the wood pile. It had been sitting there for years buried under the pile as the guy who had delivered wood those many years ago had just thrown the burning material on top of it. He had totally forgotten about it but here it was once again, this green case being re-exposed after all this time. “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” he said to her agreeably surprised, “I had totally forgotten about Leonard Lanteigne’s old barrack box. Yup Bizz, I think you’re right! I think this would be a good time to see what’s in it.” Let me bring this wood in and we’ll come back to get it.”

They did this and brought the dust covered barrack box into the “Outpost”. He had lost the key way back then but the cheap padlock would be no match for the crowbar. He put the green fiberglass case on its hinged side and with the locking mechanism being exposed towards the top, he inserted the metal nail puller through the latch area of the security device and twisted it with a force that would snap that padlock clean open. Just like a kid unwrapping Christmas Gifts, here he was finally opening the rusty creaky lid of the mystery box.

Inside were all sorts of things, mostly paperwork that his Malecite Native friend had considered important. Letters to his sick mother back in St-Basile, New-Brunswick from him while he lived in the Yukon were in there. His service records and his rack of military medals were also in the “box”. Gently picking these up so that they wouldn’t rip to shreds due to their poor conditions, he was holding them in his right hand and carefully stroking the ribbons. These were a true statement of the gallantry and valiant service that this old army veteran had provided around the world in the name of his country, Canada. This man had served from 1950 till he was forced to retire in 1982, due to a heart attack. Our intrigued musher was noticing that this “Man of War” had seen action in nine (9) “Peace Missions”, starting way back then, in the forgotten Korean War. The one that would stand out the most was that grey “Gaelic Cross” with the Red & Grey striped ribbon at the extreme left side of the “rack”. Leonard had never really spoken about his time in the military, never mind bragging about his heroic acts in Korea. To our main man’s greatest surprise, here in front of him was the “Order of the British Empire”, a most prestigious honour bestowed upon him and presented personally to him in 1954 by the then young Queen Elizabeth II. The letter scotch taped to the back of the medals and personally hand signed by the Queen, spoke of his heroism while the “Royal 22ieme Régiment” saw action at “Hill 355” on November 22nd, in1952. Disregarding the bullet wound to his left shoulder and seeing them in danger, under a ceiling of more heavy machine gun fire, he had rushed across the enemy line so to aid a family of nine (9) where he protected and singularly rescued them from an attacking North Korean squad. “Wow” our most impressed man was to shout out loud, “Who would have known!” He continued to rummage through the barrack box where he found a whole bunch of back and forth correspondence with Veterans Affairs Canada, where he fought them for seventeen (17) years just to get what was due to him for his war injuries. After so many years and this was vouched by the stack of envelopes bundled together and held by an elastic band, the top one would reflect that his claim had finally been finalized and he would be getting a medical pension, in the total amount of $153.97 per month. Shaking his head in disbelief, our main man was more than pleased that he hadn’t been treated in this same manner as this same department had looked after him quite well and were giving him enough benefits to live quite decently. “Things have improved a lot since then!” he thought to himself, contented. There was another stack of envelopes neatly piled in the other corner and he could recognise the name from who they were from. It turns out that one of the guys that he would dream about on a regular basis, “LCol Dodd Tweedy” had helped Leonard Lanteigne by lending him money so that the “Korean Vet” could buy a house for his mother. What was strange about all this was that this was something that he had only dreamed about. Weirdly enough, here in front of him were the actual bank statements showing the transactions that covered many years and confirmed that the loan had been paid in full. “How can it be that these things are now appearing in front of me?” This was to be a mystery that would never ever be explained…  But sitting there digging through his mentor’s old documents was to be a revelation that was something even more important. He was realizing that he was doing the same thing and was actually following in the footsteps of other veterans before him. Like him, they had taken it upon themselves to not depend on the system and do something about the care and welfare of fellow veterans. This would seal the deal and would to re-affirm that he had chosen the right path.

He was going to close the lid when suddenly he noticed a brown envelope taped to the inside of it and addressed to him. Grabbing it only to rip it open just as fast, he pulled it through it’s opened end. It was a hand-written note by “Leonard which was to read –

“Dear Gino,
The time has come for me to hang up my snowshoes and gun and settle       down. This will be my last journey as I make my way, way up North. Tomorrow before the crack of dawn, I will be leaving my sweet little cabin and will be on my way. I’ve got all my gear and am looking forward to the trip. I hear the black bears and coyotes are thick around the “Monts Groulx” area but my sharp eye and my trusted “303” have never failed me yet.
Since I’m not the young “Coureur des Bois” I once was, I expect to make it home in time for Christmas. I think I can still manage a five-mile pace even at my age. These moccasins of mine still have plenty of spring in them and can carry me for the distance. I know that this might make you sad but please understand that I must return to my roots and home. Pray that this last journey will be as memorable as the countless ones I have experienced.
By now, you must be scratching your head as to what is in that “urn” you picked up at my cabin that time you picked up your sled. No, they were not my ashes. Actually, they’re the ashes of Storm and Crystal, those two “Spirit Dogs” that “Jeff of the North” rescued and brought back with him when he left the Yukon. I faked my own death and made arrangements with the mortician and he cremated my two wonderful dogs and put their remains in that urn. You know the story as to how I was blamed for killing that Quebec Game Warden in “Lots Renversés”. Although I had nothing to do with this, his “friends” keep on trying to peg it on me. I’m tired of all this harassment so this is one reason I am leaving. I don’t want any more trouble with these people. I hope you understand. Besides it’s pretty close for me to be checking out and move towards the “light” and my friends up North will help me reach this goal in a traditional Nordic fashion.
We will meet again, sincerely yours,
P.S. I’m sure that you’ve kept Storm and Crystal’s remains and that you will make certain that they finally get home back to the Yukon where they can once again join their “Pack” and run like the wind…

To bastardise the works of author “Robert W. Service when he wrote “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, my twist to his version would look like this –

“Not only in the Land of Midnight Suns have the Northern Lights seen some queer sights”
“On a pitch dark night, neath the étoiles bright, a mystery would be shared”
“The details fine, midst the northern pines, for some reason none would be spared”
“Bold enough to hear them, he would be bold enough to share them”
“After all that time it had been hidden, now the true time for the “Christmas Secret” was to be given” 

  “What do you think, Bizz? You think it adds some class to the décor?” he asked her as she had taken her spot on his lap while he was testing his new foot stool. “Hey, it certainly works for me!” he laughed, scratching her behind the ears, with his feet up on the barrack box. He was looking at his watch and it was just past midnight but still it wasn’t yet time to depart. Earlier back at the lodges, he had made up a lame excuse to exempt himself from the party and it was probably still going strong. He had to, simply because he needed to quietly escape without anybody noticing. He had done this, the reason being, he didn’t want to deal with “Bryan” who would be disappointed because he still hadn’t gotten his sleddog ride. True enough, he felt guilty about leaving him behind but this animal feeding secret mission was something that he had to and always did alone.

There was to be a disturbing loud rattling chain noise when the “Outpost” barn door squeaked open and bumped against the log wall. As the stranger was slowly walking in the long dark hallway, the sound of heavy footsteps banging the snow off boots was starting to creep the man out. The worst of it and what was most odd about all of this, was that none of the dogs had budged or barked, not even, “Ms. Bizoony”, his overly protective girl. A bit puzzled and looking at the axe on “Stand-By” by the stove, the musher got up, walked to the “French Doors” and there he was, standing there… With his hood over his head, a faceless figure, dressed as “Santa Claus”, was staring directly at him through the windows.

Thinking that it was Bryan’s uncle pulling one of his infamous pranks, he told him, “What the fuck are you doing here, Bob?” There was to be a moment of silence, when unexpectedly he heard, “Nooooo Gino, it’s not Bob.” the deep ghostly monotone voice replied. “Now guess again!” Recognising it instantly and with chills now running down his spine, the confused man shouted, “Leonard!!! What the hell are you doing here?” Ah Tabarnack!” his mentor answered, “Are you just going to stare at me and let me freeze or are you going to let me in?” More than happy to see his old buddy, the thrilled ex-soldier swung the two doors wide open and rushed out to give him a huge “Bear Hug”. “Come on in, my old friend! Please do come in!” All the dogs, excited to see the newcomer, joyfully followed and jumped all over them, doing the happy dance. “Ho! Ho! Ho!” he laughed, “I see that the next generation of “Spirit Dogs” is in good hands!”, the short Malecite Indian said after examining these fine looking specimens. “But of course, there was no doubt in my military mind that you would take good care of them.”

It was definitely a strange sight, seeing him there, dressed in this long shiny luxurious red silk coat as the musher thought that it might be a “tad” too big for the short small man. With that said, the long real white beard that was blending perfectly with the white polar bear “ruff” of his hood was another pointer that he should not comment on the gentleman’s wardrobe. Knowing Leonard’s hot temper, he knew better. Besides there were to be no uncertainties about what he was witnessing. Here he was being honoured, with the presence of the one and only “Real Santa Claus”.  “You got any JAVA?”  the newly elected “St-Nick” asked, just before strolling in and making himself at home. Taking his “hoody” off and turning towards him, our main character could now truly recognize the man behind the facial hair. “I think it’s time you knew the whole truth.” the man in the traditional red suit added, truly smiling at his long lost friend. “You think so? Gino countered, “Then grab a chair! I’ll pour us a couple of cups of black coffee”. Settled down, in the corner of small log cabin, here they were, just like in the old days, the “Master” and the student, sharing a good conversation that would last the better part of a couple of hours. From what Gino could see, Leonard was gradually easing his way into and addressing the “Christmas Secrets”. I guess he didn’t want to shock his younger friend’s system too drastically, in case he ended up on the floor, dead from a “stroke”.

“You know Gino,” he started, “It is true that Santa Claus does exist, or at least that’s what you guys call him in this neck of the woods. All over your world, this same entity takes many forms and is referred to by many names. Nonetheless, we all speak of the same message and this one is one of “Peace”, “Love” and “Forgiveness”. Over those many centuries since we’ve been around and have mingled with you, “man” has put their own spin on this message to the point where it has become completely distorted, unreal and dysfunctional. “No my friend,” he emphasized while bowing his head, “Christmas does not come from a store. And yes, Christmas does mean more than a little bit more. Christmas is a time to be shared in complete harmony and this to the point of pardoning even your worst enemy. It is a time to lay down your sword and stop killing in the name of what ever “God” you believe in.” “Gino!”, he paused, “I am not of this world but I do not come from a kingdom. I am a simple man, one of the “Star People” who has come from a far away galaxy. Our entire globe was involved in a devastating war and a very few of us survived that horrendous “Holocaust”. Consequently, and with the greatest of regrets, we had to leave our beloved home to forever never return to it. We traveled the universe and came across your magnificent “Blue Marble” where of our own free will, we decided to share our knowledge with members of your specie. We thought them languages to communicate and skills to progress so that all could continue to exist. Gino! We didn’t do this in the name of a Supernatural being. No, we didn’t! We did this so that all of us, us all together, we the inhabitants of “Planet Earth” could cohabitate and raise our children in a peaceful world. What happened to us is exactly what’s presently happening to your planet since this past century. Engulfed and motivated by pure hate and greed, you are waging war against each other and not concerning yourselves with the consequences. Where we are smart enough to travel through time and space, this knowledge, we have not yet shared with you. While some of us managed to escape towards a brighter future, you are doomed to die forever.”  With that long statement, he had run out of wind and stopped. Leonard grabbed his face with both of his hands and then started crying.  Our main man couldn’t do much to console him so just sat there and watched him, sobbing. This would last for just about half an hour and I guess, he had to relieve some of the built-up pressure. Yes, he was the “Chosen One” but the musher was surely the lucky one. For the next century, Leonard Lanteigne would be the “Big Cheese” at the North Pole and he had way too much on his plate when it came to re-establishing some sort of world order. Even so, the elders had chosen wisely. They had elected him as the new “Santa Claus” and this guy had “attitude”. They had made the right choice as he would roll up his sleeves and would make the big difference.

The crying done, it was time to get the job done. “Alright!” he spoke in a commanding tone while slapping his hands together only to swiftly stand up, “Let’s see what these “Spirit Dogs” of yours got under the hood! Now get dressed and let’s go!” “Where are we going?” the musher asked, “Are we delivering presents?” “No, that was already taken care of, earlier.” St-Nick replied only to add, “We’re off to visit one of your friends. It’s about time you meet him face to face. Now grab your gear and let’s get going!” Turning his attention to the yearlings, he belted out the order, “While he’s getting dressed, you pups, fall in line, to by two and follow me!” They did with total exactitude as there was no doubt that night as to who the “Boss” was and that for sure was final. Leonard Lanteigne had not lost his touch and as one could see, he still could perform magic when it came to these animals.

His favorite Canada Goose Parka and Arctic mittens on, our musher turned his headlamp on and stepped outside. The dog teams weren’t parked at their usual location from where they would normally leave and this he found a bit confusing. Instead, when he looked around the corner of the building, there sat three sleds with all the dogs ready to move out. He would smile seeing Father Christmas, as he’s called in England, standing there behind his sled with his “Ghost Rider” team. Tonight was a special night and it would be led by no other than his long lost friends, the musher’s old white girl, “Alaska” and the ever yappy “Oumak”. Now laughing and shaking his head, he walked to them, hugged them by the neck and asked “So guys, what do you think of the North Pole? “Oumak” being the regular goofball that he was, was just jumping up and down and barking his head off in excitement. Our main man didn’t know if it was because he was glad to see him or he just wanted to get the show on the road. Grabbing that idiot’s head so to avoid being slobbered to death, the dogman giggled and said, “Hey Big Guy! I see that some things will never change. That’s OK! I’m just glad that things worked out for my favorite racing Husky.” “Gino!”, Santa shouted, “Get over here! I’d like you to meet my Chief Elf “McSprinkle”. The musher shuffled through the loose snow, back towards the two gentlemen and when he shook Santa’s “number one”, he said, “Haven’t we met before?” “That’s possible.” McSprinkle replied with a wink and a trivial and somewhat embarrassed confirmatory smile. “Gino,” the man in the red suit butted in, “McSprinkle needs some extra help in the “Toy Shop” and you’re coming with us on this recruitment drive. You lead off! We’ll follow! Direction? The “North Star”. Now, let’s go, let’s get going!” “Ahh! Santa! You do realize that just over this ledge here, that there’s a hundred foot drop straight down!” he said trying to give a hint to Leonard that this was a bit ridiculous and totally dangerous. “Hey, what’s the first thing I ever thought you?” the other one replied. “I guess that would have been to trust the dogs, but…” he tried to finish his line of reasoning but was to be again interrupted. “No buts about it.” St-Nick rebutted, “Believe! Just believe in the powers of the “Spirit Dogs”. Now, go for it! We’ve got to get this done before the crack of dawn.” There was no sense arguing with the “Big Cheese” and at this stage of this peculiar mind boggling strange escapade, he had nothing to lose so might as well go for the “Gusto”. So, to be heard over the thirty-six dogs that were howling and raring to go, he belted it out to his leaders, “Trevor! Bizoony! Ready???” And with that habitual “Wit, Wit” whistle of his, throwing caution to the wind, he leaped into fate. “Uptrail, you guys! Uptrail!”

Instead of crashing down that steep cliff, his dog team began to lift. Soaring through the air without fright, believe it or not, they had just taken flight. Not even looking for a reason, he settled down and drove his dog sled. Not searching for an explanation, at this point, he didn’t care where it led. Flying through that dark sky, he was riding this great “high”. For this grand childhood dream of his, finally this wish would be given. “On By, my big Trevor! On By my Ms. Bizz! On By my beautiful treasures! Let’s visit the heavens!

Of course, he was still the student and still had lots to learn from the “Master”.  At break neck speed, here was Leonard, once again whizzing by him pulling a vortex style spiral spin, all the dogs and sled rotating clockwise on themselves while darting onward. He was still that “show boat” that he knew so well from when he had first met him at the “Mushing School”. Here he was performing aerial acrobats masterfully while exhibiting the true power of flight of these magical “Spirit Dogs” “Watch this!” he instructed the musher after making a full circle only to once again fly by him. And with that, he shouted to his lead dogs, “Mak, Alaska! Straight up you guys! Reach for the Sky!” Like a bolt of lightning but shooting in the wrong direction, they disappeared, leaving behind but a trace of star dust. McSprinkle who was flying “Tail End Charlie”, cavalierly glided next to him and said to our awestruck musher, “You see how it’s done? Now follow me!” Saying the magical words, within not even a split second, there was to be another winter lightning strike illuminating the dark night and just like St-Nick, he also was gone. “Well, it’s our turn, I guess.” he convinced himself, “Well I guess destiny lies ahead. So Boyz and Girlz, let’s get ready and go for it!”  “Trevor, Bizz! Straight up you guys! Reach for the Sky!” Amazingly, it was nothing but a flash. It had worked and here they were, vanishing into thin air. They were traveling through a corridor of the deep space, one that the great physicists of our time, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking would describe as the “Forth Dimension”. To the “Star People”, these were familiar as they were shortcuts in between galaxies. These corridors were well mapped and they would use them constantly to travel from one universe to another. “So now I get it.” the musher said to himself, finally grasping fully the phenomena. That’s how Santa delivers all those gifts to the children of the world. He travels trough one of these portholes, the clock stops and then he’s left with all the time on his hands to make them happy.”  “Ho! Ho! Ho!”, St-Nick started laughing when he did slide back with his dog team, right next to his. “It’s as simple as that!” he continued, “Now listen and listen good. Since you’re new at this, I want you to be my right “Wing Man”. This way I can keep an eye on you and if you get into trouble, I’ll be here to help you out. Copy that?” Roger that!” the novice space pilot replied.

From the looks of it, they were heading towards a “Meteor Shower” as there was to be a whole bunch of shooting stars streaking down from the complete darkness. However, instead of falling and burning through the atmosphere, these “lights” orbited, organised themselves in behind the man in the red suit and his two escorts. “Ghost Rider One! Ghost Rider One! We’ve got your “Six” and in position and to rock and roll!”, one of the newcomer announced. “Roger that, Sierra Papa Four! Nice to see you again and welcome aboard!!!” Leonard replied only to add, “You’ve had your briefing and you know your missions. Now it’s a matter of reaching the target so Stand-By for deployment.” Our musher was used to all this military jargon and was right in his element. Adrenaline pumping through his veins, he got a double dose when he turned around and saw the huge organisation. From the ground looking up, people thought they were seeing Canada Geese but in fact they were close to one hundred dog sleds, stealthly traveling in a “V” formation. This so far was all good with our main man but there was still one thing still puzzling him. He just couldn’t figure out how these “Space People” communicated. “Let it go, Gino!” he thought to himself, “And enjoy the ride!” “Yeah Gino, let it go!” Leonard said, now a voice inside and sharing his head….

“Hey, excuse me Colonel! You might want to see this and right now!” Joe, the scope dope said to the Shift Commander of NORAD Headquarters without even lifting his head from his antiquated radar screen. “Listen Joe! It’s past 4 O’clock in the morning and Mr. Claus has already gone through at midnight, so give it a break with the Santa jokes, will you.” Col D. Saunders insisted, waiting for his boring shift to end so he could re-join his family for Christmas Day.  “No Sir! I really mean it! You’ve got to see this. I can’t describe it other than to say that it’s a huge spaceship!” There was a sense of urgency coming from his voice and all the ears of the “sleepy heads” in the “Cheyenne Mountain Complex”, in Colorado Springs, suddenly all perked up. The Canadian Colonel put his coffee mug down and rushed over to look over Joe Bunyan’s shoulder so to see for himself what the panic was all about. “Holly Shit, Batman, you’re right! There is, something huge flying East on the coast of the North Atlantic.” “Should I push the “red button and go “Hot”, Sir?” the nervous young Joe asked. Taking his time to reflect on what he was seeing, his guts told him that this unknown flying object was something good. “You know Joe!” he said, “I’ve got a good feeling about this. I think we’re just going to let this one ride itself out and see what happens.” “People,” he verbalized loudly to the rest of the personnel in the “Hole”, “There is nothing to report here. Do you understand? Nothing to report!” Taking a deep breath and now muttering to himself, he said, whoever you are and wherever you’re going, Good Luck!”

The dogsled “pack” was now entering the dangerous airspace over the Middle-East where the Syrian/Iraq conflict on the ground was still going strong even on this special night. “Hold on Boyz,”, Ghost Rider One instructed, “From what I can see, they’re still fighting down there and she’s going to be a rough patch. As discussed during the briefing we’ll do two “fly pass” and then land and tend to our wounded. Remember, this is a “Peace Mission and no more blood needs to be shed!”. All the call-signs were on board with this statement and they didn’t need to acknowledge as it had been perfectly understood what their different assignments would be.

Meanwhile, while trying to hide a huge Russian Aircraft carrier, the size of seven football field, in the Caspian Sea, the officers on board thought that they had been tricked and that the recent negotiated cease-fire had been violated. Seeing the large flying mass approaching and headed in their general direction, the “Ops Center” immediately scrambled five “MIG-31” fighter jets with twelve more on the ramp, engines running while they waited for further instructions. Leonard had anticipated this manoeuver and told McSprinkle to carry on with the first “Fly Pass” as they had reached Aleppo way before them. “As for you Gino!” he said to his friend, “Follow me and I’ll show you how it’s done.” “Hey Leonard!”, he spoke out to the man sharing his mind, “You were there for me way back then! Now it’s time for me to return the favour.  I was in for an ounce, now I’m in for a pound!”

“All right then, let’s go and meet them!” he replied, “Hold on to your dentures! You’re in for one hell of a ride!” “Oumak, Alaska, let’s go get them.” he shouted but with the coolest of demeanour. At that moment, the two space pilots shot out at the speed of a laser beam and these two balls of fire, trailed by two red streaks were heading unswervingly towards the nose cones of the five Russian aircrafts. This was to be a space age game of “chicken” and the “MIG 31s” would flinch and break formation, scattering off to all cardinal points of the compass, North, South, East and West. Four of them did. For the squadron leader, this was not to be the case. Maj Gustav Kharlamov was a battle tested veteran pilot of the Russian Airforce who had been around for thirty years and who had ice running through his veins. A bit “touched” and a bit on the suicidal side of the fence, he relished these close quartered dog fights. The more dangerous the mission was, the better the “Adrenaline Rush”. That’s what had kept him going after all these years and like many others of the military profession, he knew quite well that he would crash and burn once he would turn in the keys to his aircraft in exchange for a rocking chair. This present war that his country was engaged in, didn’t make any sense to him as he was thinking of all those innocent civilians that he was bombing and killing from the safe height of ten thousand feet in the air. In an automatic robotic like deportment, they would erase from their conscience the fact that these were alive and breathing human beings down there and in as such, they would treat these targets as inanimate objects and terminate them. Like too many of his comrades, he was sick of all this blood shed but also like many of them, he was an instrument of the mighty military industrial complex and he was a “machine” that had been created for that soul purpose. He had held his grounds during this close encounter and had seen the two ballistic dog sleds shoot right by him but had never had the time to react fast enough to counter strike. The two mushers had whooshed way past him and were turning back, thus robbing him the opportunity to chase those two red amber and shoot them down. Here they were after turning around on a dime and slowing down, one on each side of his fighter jet, now escorting him.

“Well greetings to you there, Grandfather Frost!” the Russian Major said when he looked out the canopy of his cockpit. “Those are fine looking dog teams you are driving here tonight. It is very nice to finally get to meet you!” he added as if this was not a surprise to see two dog sleds flying through the air, “It has been a long time coming but I’ve always believed that you existed and here you are tonight finally here to grant my wish.” The good major’s mike in the headset of his helmet was stuck and keyed in so inadvertently, not only could the Aircraft Carrier hear this transmission but also anybody in the possession of a scanner or a simple AM/FM radio…The different factions of belligerents were also listening and so were some of the hopeful innocent civilians.

Not caring that his superiors might think that he could be “shell shocked” if not demented, he continued to talk to the man from the North Pole. “You know Grandfather Frost, I am glad to see you here today. You know, I have but one single wish in my heart and if it was to be granted, it would be that whoever we are and for what ever reason we are killing ourselves, we all drop our weapons and march towards a world of peace. It is time that the world community turns its back on the “Puppet Masters”. It is time to let them fight it out amongst themselves in the “Octagon.” This I say to you my dear sir, is something that will never happen as they are a bunch of cowards that would never do their own dirty work themselves. It is time to give peace a chance because at the rate we are going, we are not going to leave anything for the future generations and will be sending them back to live in the “Stone Age.” Santa thought that he could not have explained the situation any better and in the native tongue of this Russian man, said, “My dear friend, consider your wish as being granted.” “Thank You comrade Frost! That pleases me very much! We will meet again, I assure you, if only in my dreams.” the battle fatigued pilot answered back before breaking right real hard to then pull on his “joy stick” real hard and putting his “bird” in a “G-7” steep incline. Kicking in the “after burners”, the silver arrow shot up in a straight line and he would continue to climb way up to the emptiness of the stratosphere one very last time. He had no intention of returning to the “mother ship” and if he was going to die, he would do it on his own terms. “Good-bye cruel world, Good-bye!”. Consumed by guilt and to escape the demons of his nightmares, he reached the handles of the ejection seat and pulled on them. Floating out there, he would last maybe three minutes but finally with a liberating smile on his face, he would close his eyes and accept the destiny of his brutal vocation.
The “Christmas Miracle” would happen and there would be dead silence filling the air of the ancient city. Everybody had understood the message and the dust would finally get to settle down. The two “Fire Balls” would there after join back up with McSprinkle and they would fly for a second time over Aleppo, just to make sure that it was safe to land. While the rest of the “Star People” would touch down amongst the ruins of the great city, Leonard and his “Wing Man” carried on and landed in the “Kasbah”. While the “Star People” and their dog teams would evaporate into thin air, these two were not yet done. “Let’s go!” Leonard insisted, “Let’s go and find him.”

They had walked for a while through mountains of rubble when this stray brown mutt, ultimately met up with the pair. “How are you doing there, Boy? I think you know where they are, don’t you?” Santa Claus said to the tail wagging mongrel. “OK then, show us the way.” Happy to do so, “Wolfy” would take point and would lead them to a blast hole in the cement basement of a demolished building. Not too worried about dirtying his fancy suit, Leonard stuck his head through the opening and started to talk in a foreign language to the three occupants of the cubby hole. Here he was explaining to three young orphans that they were now in no more danger and shouldn’t be afraid of him. They didn’t have a clue as to who this weird looking stranger was, as at five years old, all of them had only lived through and only seen nothing but the brutality of men killing other men. So how could they know any better? Patiently, Leonard would take time to explain that he was there to take them away from this manmade “hell on earth”. He continued and told them that he would take them to a mystical place where they could live without fear and starvation and this for the rest of their lives. The three of them, their eyes opened wide and hope filled their hearts. Convinced that they had been rescued, one would speak, only to say these simple words, “Yes please Sir, take us with you!” As he reached his hand in to pull the first child out, Leonard turned around to our musher and joyfully articulated, “Gino, meet your friend Omar!” When he was in reaching distance, our musher opened his arms and the little child rushed him and gave him this huge “Bear Hug”, one that it seemed would last forever. “Hey, Omar, you’re going to be all right.” the musher whispered only to hug him back. “Everything is going to be all right.

With heavy hearts, it was time once again for these two old friends to go their separate ways. St-Nicholas and McSprinkle would leave with the three new elves and our musher would return to the “Outpost” alone and via the same way he had come here. He was just about to pull anchor and call the “Uptrail” command when that same ugly mutt came back and started barking at him. Remember where at one point he had said that he didn’t speak “dog”? Well this had obviously changed. “OK Wolfy! Yeah, I’ve got room for you back home at the barn. Come on. Hop on!” “Ho!Ho!Ho!” Leonard laughed. “Yup! Way back then, I knew I had made the right choice.” On that last sentence, they all took off and while they circled over the debris of what was once a great city, they could see over ninety ambulances lined up and driving one behind the other through a cleared roadway of Aleppo. Yes, the “Star People” had re-materialized and yes they would help these pour souls and guide them towards a peaceful existence. You know what Gino? he said to himself, “Miracles do happen! You just got to believe.”

When he came back to reality, he was lying on the floor and had twelve set of eyes staring down at him. He had just put himself through another “Sweat Lodge” meditation session and had once again visited that strange place in his busted head. “Ouff!” he reflected real hard on this one. “I’ve gone on many of these but this trip was to say the least, interesting!” What was amazing about it, was that instead of battling the demons, this journey had a happy ending.

“OK you guys, let’s go home!” he told his young troops and away they trotted off. They would return to Baisley Lodges but they only had to get there just before the crack of dawn. He was in no rush so he would take this occasion to stop at the top of one of his favorite spot, “Blizzard Alley”. From there he could gaze over the distant skyline and see all the shiny bright Christmas lights dancing in the silent valleys below them. To really extend the time spent with his new dogs, he was walking up and down the gangline, taking this opportunity to pet and thank all the new “Kids” for their devotion. He knew that this crew had big shoes to fill as they would be following in the footsteps of those extraordinary explorers, those famous canines that the world knew and called, the great “Canadian Snowhounds”. It was a tall order but he knew they were up to the challenge and together they could achieve success. They would take care of him and he would take care of them and together they would be headed towards more new and bolder adventures. Because there were so many places to visit and so many people to see, he was wondering if he would live long enough to visit half of them. For sure though, one of the plans would be that he would honour that strange request. Some day and somehow, he would make that trip to the Yukon and set free the spirits of those two dogs that had made this great journey all possible. Looking at the North Star that glistened above where his dearest friend resided, he would raise his right hand, close his eyes and would make this solemnly oath, “Leonard,” he pledged, “I hear by declare that you’ve got my word. Come hell or high water, this is something that will get done!” When he re-opened his eyes, to his greatest surprise, here were the Northern Lights entertaining him. The “Marionettes” as they’re called in French Canada, were dazzling him with beautiful multiple colours. All of sudden, here they were all joining as one and once again they drawn the portrait of the “Master”. “Well I’ll be damned!” he said to himself, “Could it actually be?” And that same little voice inside him replied back to him, “Peace on Earth to one and all! And remember, together we can make a difference…. = -)