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Tiny specks of ice filled the air and bit into my hide. Banks of white covered the mountain up to my knees. I followed carefully behind Mother, watching where each of her huge hooves left a print in the snow. It seemed as if we had been walking forever.
"Little Bub Moose, are you doing okay?" Mother's beautiful face peered back at me. Small icicles hung from her chin and her dewlap -- the loose, flabby, beardlike piece of skin that swayed beneath her throat.
"I'm fine. Are we there yet?"
Mother rolled her big brown eyes. "You just asked that a moment ago, Bub. We're still not there."
A strange growly sound came from my tummy. I looked at the ground. There were no signs of tender morsels to eat.
"I'm hungry. Are we almost there?"
"No, Bub. We still have to move farther down the mountain. A stand of pines and aspens will mark the entrance to a valley where the snow isn't as thick. We should be able to find food there." Mother gave a low snort and began walking again.
It would be nice to get some warm milk from my mother. I was almost big enough to forage all on my own but not quite. I had learned many lessons in the forest and could take care of myself. But Mother couldn't stop to feed me. She needed all the strength that she had to keep us moving through the big snowstorm.
The sky darkened again. The wind whistled, driving the snow so thick that I could hardly see Mother's rump. Ice slapped against my face. We had stopped for a short time during the night. Now we had to keep going. Mother was determined to get us to the shelter of the canyon that she knew. My feet slipped as I tried to keep pace with Mother's long stride.
Alert for danger, I kept my ears perked. Mother had told me that we needed to be watchful for the wolves that were lurking in the trees. The only wolf that I knew was my friend Snow. We had gone on an adventure last fall when we were still babies. Actually, we had been lost together, but I really had a lot of fun with the little wolf.
It was hard to think that someone like Snow could be a danger to me. Snow had helped me learn about things in the forest. When his parents found us, they didn't harm me in any way. They just wanted their baby back.
The forest was warm then. The leaves of the trees were just beginning to sprinkle down to the ground. We had played in them, hiding and jumping around for hours. The forest was very different now. Heavy snow covered everything. Small trees were shrouded in white. Some were totally buried by the heavy blanket of ice and snow.
The hungry feeling in my tummy kept coming back, but I knew that I must be brave for Mother. Someday I would be on my own. Being brave was probably a good lesson for me to learn. I could hear small grumbles coming from inside of me. Being brave was hard to remember when I was so hungry.
"Are we almost there?" I snorted for Mother.
"We may have to stop soon, Little Bub. It will take us another day or two before we reach the valley. We may have to rest." Mother's fur seemed to sag around her big bones. I suddenly noticed how tired she looked.
"It's okay, Mother. We can stop if you think we need to." I spread my long legs out to keep from slipping.
"That might be a good idea, Little Bub. Come, get some milk."
I scooted closer to Mother's warmth. When I leaned down to get my milk, I could see a broken willow tree a few feet away. Probably snapped by the weight of the snow, the place where it split was bright and shiny. The light-colored wood reminded me of my friend Dudley. Only, he didn't break trees. He chewed them down. Mother's milk made me feel safe and happy. I closed my eyes.
I could almost see Dudley and the clearing where we first met. I had been just a baby back then. Mother told me that Dudley was a beaver and had lived in the forest for a long time. Asleep near a pile of brush where Mother had left me, I almost got whacked with a little tree Dudley took down. He was a nice beaver and managed to warn me to get away, just as the branches fell near my bed. Dudley worked all the time. The other beavers weren't nearly as busy as he was. Mother said that was why he got to stay at the pond. His children moved on to places of their own.
I couldn't help but wonder what Dudley was doing right now. Was he working, or was he safe in his beaver lodge with his family? Or was he...
"That's enough, Bub. I have to keep strong." Mother's voice snapped me from my daydream. She gently nudged me away. "I am going to lie down for just a bit."
Mothers legs slowly folded beneath her. I looked around. It seemed safe enough, but Mother looked so weak. I stood over her listening for the sounds that meant danger.
It had been a long time since I had heard the wolves call in the distance. I listened for the special sound of Snow's little howl. Straining my ears, I only heard the wind rustle the trees nearby. Even the wolves must be hiding in safe places.
Mother's eyes were closed tight. White frozen powder swirled around us. Sometimes the icy crystals stung my eyes. Still I kept watch. Slowly I dropped to my knees, then curled up near Mother.
I tucked my ears and listened only to the sounds of her breathing. A quick nap, then we would move on.
Heavy clumps of snow dropped from my lashes when I opened my eyes. I shook my head and glanced around. Mother was still asleep. I shoved my back against her belly. Small clouds came from her big nose. Pushing again, I moved her slightly.
"Mother, wake up. We have been asleep for a long time. We need to be moving on. It's getting dark." I stood and stared down at her.
"Bub Moose. I am so tired. Have we been here very long?" Mother asked.
"Long enough to get covered with snow and ice. We need to get going. I am hungry, and we have to get to the valley you told me about. I don't think it is ever going to quit snowing." I nudged Mother with my nose.
Struggling, she got to her feet. Shaking snow and ice from her body, Mother stuck her big nose into the air and snorted.
"You're right, Little Bub. We must keep moving. Come on."
Mother's strides were shorter than before. It was easier to keep up with her. I even bumped into her rear a time or two.
"Bub, move ahead of me. Just keep walking along the mountainside until you see some trees. We need a shelter where we can spend the night."
Mother let me lead. My hooves broke through the icy snowpack. Taking steps cautiously, I watched for the trees. Mother let out short snorts to let me know that we were on the right trail.
We followed along a ledge that was sheltered by the mountain. The little bit of light was beginning to fade. Being the leader made me feel very grown-up and brave. Until...
A strange tingling feeling raced down my spine. It kind of prickled the hair at the back of my neck -- just behind my ears. It was a weird feeling, like someone or something was watching. I looked all around. There was nothing but Mother. She was farther back than she was a moment ago. I slowed my pace as we moved on. But the strange tingling that made my ears twitch just wouldn't go away.
A dark silhouette at the top of the mountain peak suddenly caught my attention. Like Mother had taught me, I stopped dead in my tracks. Sharp eyes focused, trying to make out what it was. I stood staring for a long time. I didn't blink. I didn't even breathe deep.
"What is it, Mother?" I whispered.
Mother didn't say anything.
"It's so dark I can't tell what I'm looking at. Do you see it?"
Again there was no answer. I turned to see if she was watching the same thing I was.
Panic filled my heart.
"Mother? Mother, where are you?" She was gone.
I forgot about the animal I thought I saw in the distance. Eyes wide, I perked my ears toward the spot where I had last seen Mother. Instead of her huge brown frame and her long beautiful nose, there was nothing. Behind me, the white emptiness of the falling snow was all I could see. I spun around so quickly I almost buried my hind legs in the deep soft powder. I lunged and yanked myself free.
I had to find her. What if she had fallen? What if she was hurt? I had to find her, fast!
"Hrronk...hrronk! Mother where are you?" My legs trembled as I charged back down the path.
I felt so very alone.
Text copyright © 2002 by Carol Wallace and Bill Wallace Illustrations copyright © 2002 by John Steven Gurney
Illustrations copyright © 2002 by John Steven Gurney