Monday, July 30, 2012

The Guardian: A Farm Story

So today I have a story to share. This was written last winter, but I submitted it this spring to a magazine, without it being accepted. I think I'll revise and try again later this summer, but here it is...Enjoy!


Kaspar lay in the doorway, watching the water drip off the barn roof. It formed a muddy puddle inches from his nose. He was bored. Gone were the magical winter days he had romped with his siblings in the snow. The spring rain was flooding the lower pastures and it would be weeks before the lush mountain grasses bloomed.

A growl rumbled in his throat as a strange scent reached his nose. The goats, lazily chewing their cud, pricked their ears. The bark Kaspar spent his spare time perfecting echoed across into the darkness. A howl and the patter of retreating feet answered him. He ignored the goat’s admiration. As a livestock guardian he had done his duty, nothing more. There has to be more to life, he thought.


Augusta!” Kaspar sat down to wait, frustrated. He could memorize a pasture in a day, but the little white goats scattered across the mountainside were identical. And hide and seek is her favorite game, he growled.

“Here I am,” Augusta said, trotting up from a clump of kids. “This meadow is so nice.”

“I suppose its good enough for most goats, but don’t you think you should do more than eat and grow fat?”

“Like what?” 

“Exploring outside the fence,” Kaspar suggested.

 “It’s dangerous. There are bears and mountain lions and…and huge wolves.”

 “I’d protect you.”

“I’d be the laughing stock of my friends. Exploring…as if well brought up goats like to jump on cars, eat tin cans and raid gardens,” she said with a toss of her head.

“We wouldn’t make trouble, we’d explore. Come on, you’re my best friend. I can’t go without you.”

“I’ll think about it.” She leapt in the air and galloped away.

He tried to wipe away the tears of disappointment with his paw. Of all the kids he had licked dry at birth, only Augusta had become his friend. The other goats were too much in awe of his bravery. They feared him. It was his sense of duty to Augusta that kept him from leaving on adventure. He gave a little bark of defiance at the inviting shadows in the woods.

But it was tedious work. No bears or mountain lions raided the herd and the howling of wolves came from far up in the mountain peaks. Kaspar detested the fence most of all. His mission in life was to come up with a dozen unique escape routes, in case of emergency. He hoped, deep down, to prove how unnecessary it was. After all, some goats were allowed to free range with their guardians. Despite his growing restlessness, he never stayed away long and always spent the night curled up next to Augusta.


One warm day found Augusta dozing in the sunshine. Kaspar ran up, panting, and put his slobbery nose in her face, wagging his tail. “I have it.”

Augusta jumped, snorting her opinion of his wet nose.

“Wait! I dug a hole big enough for you to climb out,” Kaspar said. “I thought we could go down the mountain and visit the barnyard.”

Augusta thought for a moment. “Do you think such behavior would suite the descendent of Swiss champions?”

“How should I know?”

“Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt,” she said.

They slipped beneath the fence and trotted down the rocky trail towards the farm below.

“Where do we go now?” Augusta asked, looking up at the huge barns with wide eyes.

“Follow me!”

A spacious pasture, barn and milking parlor were reserved for the dairy goats. “Do you think I’ll get to live here someday?” Augusta asked.

“I hope not,” Kaspar said, sitting down nearby. “It would be so boring.”

Lost in happy thoughts of her future, Augusta noticed the milking parlor door stood open. She trotted up the cobble path, curious.

“Don’t go in there, we’ll get caught!” Kaspar whispered. But Augusta didn’t hear him.

Inside, several goats stood in stanchions, eating grain, while the dairy hands milked them. Other goats bleated to be let in. Augusta, curious to see more, sprang onto the platform where the goats stood. The view was better, but she found herself face to face with a grouchy old goat with long, sharp horns.

Kaspar heard snorts, the rattle of pans and a loud bang. From puppy-hood he had been taught to stay out of milking parlors. But this is an emergency, he though, and he raced in, barking.

At the door, he slipped on freshly spilt milk and skidded across the concrete floor, bumping into a milkmaid who was balancing two buckets in her hands. She tripped on top of him, soaking him with milk when the pails went flying.

It was total chaos. Does bolted from their stanchions in panic, while others laughed so hard they began to stomp the floor with their hoofs – adding to the din caused by frantic bleats. Augusta was cornered by three furious does. She quailed under their gaze, bracing herself for their horns and closing her eyes. Instead, she felt a wet tongue on her face. Kaspar.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said.

They left without a backwards glance. The dairy hands, busy placating the does and sopping up the milk, were glad to be rid of dog and goat. The door slammed shut after them.

Augusta and Kaspar plopped down on the cobbles to decide what to do next. “What’s in this building?” Augusta asked Kaspar, who was busy licking the milk from his forepaws.

“Oh, nothing much.” He did not look up as he continued his grooming.

Augusta thought it very strange – the big door was bolted shut, but three small square hatches stood open and inviting. A clucking, scratching noise drew her to stick her head in.

WHAM! Out of nowhere a bunch of feathers hit her head, knocking her away from the door.
“Egg stealer! Hen snatcher!” the rooster shrieked, strutting up.

She attempted to dash away and received a sharp peck on the rump. “That’ll teach you not to come meddling in my coop,” the rooster said.

“Kaspar!” she bleated in terror.

The rooster’s crowing was cut short when Kaspar pounced, pinning him to the ground with his mouth around its neck. “Enough of your fowl language,” he said. “Promise me you will leave young, innocent goats alone in the future.”

The rooster’s feather’s drooped. “I will, I will,” he squawked. “I must, I must.”

“Then go and tend your hens,” Kaspar said, releasing the bird.

The rooster slunk back to the coop. At the door he turned, ruffling his feathers, and gave a triumphant, “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”

Kaspar was incensed, but the rooster was too quick for him and ducked inside. He shook the feathers out of his mouth and rejoined Augusta. Angry clucks and squawks issued from the coop.

“Can we go back now?” Augusta asked.

“Don’t you want to see something?”

Augusta hesitated. “Only if there’s no more chickens.”

“You found the only coop on the farm.”

“In that case, what’s over here?” she trotted off to a rail fence further down the road.

“Not over there,” Kaspar called.

A nauseating smell reached Augusta’s delicate nostril. Then she heard Kaspar’s tread behind her. “You can’t catch me!”

Bounding forward, Augusta slipped as she rounded the corner of the sty. She did a serious of hops to slow down, but misjudged the distance and found herself flying through the fence…right into a puddle of mud.

Ominous grunts surrounded her as giant snouts rose out of the mud. “What do you want here, missy?” a gravelly-voiced pig grunted.

Augusta was so frightened she launched herself into the air, splattering the pigs. Her pure white coat was brown but she no longer cared about that, she just wanted to get away from the pink and brown monsters.

Kaspar found the pigs in an uproar, but Augusta was nowhere to be found. He ran around the sty, but only pig-scent reached his nose. Where did she go? For the first time in his life, he was worried. She must be around here, he decided. Otherwise she would have run past me on her way back up the mountain.

He searched and searched until he lost hope. Each set of tracks and whiff of scent had turned out to be a dead end. Hoarse, with sore paws and a drooping head, he climbed back up the mountain as the sun set.

At the bottom of the pasture, he slid under the fence. The goats were snug in the barn and he sat down by a tree. He whined, missing Augusta. I lost her.

A terrified bleat woke him. It came from the far side of the pasture, near the woods. He jumped up, barking. Augusta? When there was no answer, he thought he had been dreaming. Then he heard the howl.

Fear gripped him and he took off towards the sound. “I’m coming Augusta!”

Scarcely visible in the shadows, a lone wolf cleared the fence in a single bound. It was bigger than Kaspar and moved with eerie silence. The wolf loped into the moonlit pasture, cutting between Kaspar and the barn.

When Kaspar barked, the wolf turned its yellow eyes upon him. They eyed each other, muscles tense – each waiting for the other to make a move. The wolf licked his lips, altogether too content with himself.

“Leave, leave!” Kaspar barked.

The wolf cocked his head and lunged. At the last moment, he dodged Kaspar and ran towards the woods. Feeling very pleased, Kaspar chased him, barking with all his might.

“Leave my goats alone and don’t you dare come back!” he cried, stopped in his pursuit by the fence.

Excitement over, Kaspar decided to check on the goats. When they recovered from fright, he understood that none of them had seen Augusta either. With a heavy heart, he sat in the doorway and listened to the sounds of the night.


The morning dew glistened in the sunshine, birds sang in the trees and the goats went out to pasture. One goat, very dirty and smelly, with straw sticking all over, straggled out from under the feeder. Kaspar sniffed the air twice, not sure if he could believe it. “Augusta?”

She bleated softly. “Yes.”

“Where have you been?”

“Here, where I belong.”

“I spent all day looking for you. Why did you leave me?”

“If you like the chickens and pigs lurking in the barnyard, then you can have them.” She stomped her little foot. “I’m staying here.”

“You won’t ever come exploring again? You’d make me leave you behind?”

“Yes,” Augusta said, “But when you come back from keeping those animals in line, you’ll always find a friend here.”

Kaspar’s ears drooped. “You do take some looking after,” he said as he began to lick her clean. “Maybe exploring isn’t as necessary as I thought.”

She just looked at him through half-closed eyes, basking in the warm sunshine. He snuggled down beside her for a nap. “It’s good to be together,” he said.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Is It July Already???

     Wow! Where has time gone? It seems like yesterday when I wrote here last...and only a little while before that when I stepped of the plane safely back home in beloved Idaho! I guess time flies when you're busy...and having fun.

First, the dogs...
     Unfortunately, neither Jersey or Summer had pups - leaving me very disappointed. However, I've been partially consoled by playing with Hannah's adorable four pups. They aren't so small anymore, but it's been fun to watch them grow. Since Hannah and I are planning on doing some training together, I'll get to watch them as they grow into the great sleddogs I'm sure they'll become. I'm excited about getting to train with another musher this winter, it will be so much fun - especially for those night/camping runs!
     On another note, I can scarcely wait for the rest of my team to arrive. Six are scheduled to come so far. Two from my long-time friend and mentor Lanette Kimbal, as part of a trade for some of my dogs off my 2011 team, and four from Scott Smith - the trainer of Aaron Burmeister's 2012 Iditarod team. Razz, Mambo and Nibbs all ran on my team and Mouse helped train pups (Mouse, Mambo and Nibbs raced as well, just not on the Iditarod). Since they all had their share of attention in last winter's posts, I won't go into detail about them - but I'm soooooo excited! Looking forward to their arrival helps with the disappointment of no pups this year.

Second, the new job...
     I'm so thankful to have such a great trainer and co-workers at Safeco. It's been an adjustment to the full-time job, but I've been having a blast. The first several weeks were a lot of classroom time, but last week we answered billing calls. It is so much fun to be able to solve customer/agent problems!
My new shift, starting in September, is four-tens - which gives me three days off per week to train dogs and write. I have an awesome manager, and can't wait to get to work for real. As a Gold CSR, I get to be licensed in the 40+ states Safeco writes's been fun to get all the mail and e-mails with my non-resident licenses!

The writing...
     With the new job, for the first couple weeks, I didn't have much time to write - but prior to that I did submit a story and was asked to write an article on the Iditarod for the Continental Kennel Club's magazine.
    The first is a short story that was just published earlier this month in Splickety magazine! I learned a ton just going through the editing/submission process...and it gave me some confidence that I can get published for fiction.
     With CKC, the magazine isn't out yet but I look forward to seeing it in print. Since dogs are my passion (if you haven't noticed yet!), it's always a blast to write for CKC. A huge thanks to my Iditarod friends for photos to go with the article!
     Now that things have calmed down, I'm writing again. I've got a few things going and lots of ideas. During lunch, before it got sooo warm, I was jotting down the beginnings of stories in my notebook. It was great to sit in the grass under the trees (our work campus is very pretty and nice), with my sandwich, pen and paper...until the sprinklers when off!
     I've been making process on the re-write of the Northern Realms Chronicles, book one...I really want to get it done so I can start book two - to follow my fiery, red-headed subcharacter on his's high time for him to have something written about him; which is impossible with the book one cast.

     Sometimes, when you've written a lot and not read much, it's a good idea to step back and read some great books...and take some time to hang out with other authors. Two of my writing friends and I are attempting to meet once a month or so to just talk writing...we'll see where it goes. Our first meeting we went to the local writer's guild meeting. What an eye-opening experience! I guess I've gotten to the point that, for my long stories, I'm still more worried about finishing them than finding publishers...
     As for books, I just finished an awesome book called The Merchants Daughter by Melanie Dickerson. It's a retelling of beauty and the beast with a beautiful ending. Gave me lots of new ideas!
     Another book I was thrilled to finally find is Kestrel's Midnight Song, by JR Parker - a young author in Idaho. It was an awesome read and I loved his style...can't wait to see what else he writes!
     Looking for something new, I found by accident The Hunter's Moon by O.R. Melling. There's three books out from her at the moment and I can't wait to read the other two! Set in Ireland, it's a tale of two girls who find a way into Faerie...that almost spells a good story right there. I loved the message of the book as well, reminding us that we shouldn't forget the unseen portion of this world.
     One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis and I think everyone should read his On Other Worlds - a collection of essays on writing and The Abolition of Man. If only I could duplicate his simple, easy-to-understand way of writing...he say's the most profound and true things, without a bunch of long, philosophical definitions (not that I mind that, but C.S. Lewis' books are a breath of fresh air!)
     And, at long last, I managed to find some books by George MacDonald - a friend and contemporary of JRR Tolkien and C.S. Lewis books. Seems like all my favorite authors are British...I just love their sense of humor!
     Finally, last but not least, I read Reckless by Cornelia Funke. I absolutely love her style and all the stories I've read by her. If you haven't read the Inkheart books, or Reckless, you need to...the Inkheart movie doesn't do the book justice (in my opinion, the only redeeming part of the movie is the ducktape line...). Again, from all of her books I've gained a lot of ideas.

     Well, this turned out a lot longer than I expected so I'll force myself to stop for now. For those of you who don't know, you can also keep up with me on Facebook...