By: Raymond Greiner
Jim and Susan Marshall met in college and married shortly after graduation. Both earned meteorological science degrees and were offered an opportunity to work as a team for the US weather service. The first six months they were assigned to a northern California weather station to analyze and document data transmitted via satellite-projected imagery.
They received an e-mail message from their district supervisor stating they will be transferred to a weather station in northern Alaska. This was exciting news, as they previously had shared wilderness-backpacking trips and often yearned for an adventure in Alaska’s interior wilderness areas.
The Alaskan weather station was located in Alaska’s Brooks Range south of the Arctic Circle in a remote location. This geographic zone is among the most isolated sections of Alaska.
The team currently occupying the station will be reassigned and Jim and Susan are replacements.
They flew to Fairbanks and took a taxi to the office of Arctic Air Service, and met pilot Bill Foster a veteran bush pilot. They stayed overnight in Fairbanks and would depart the next morning for the weather station.
Their weather service supervisor provided a list of proper clothing needed to endure arctic conditions and they had prepared well for their venture into this high latitude.
It is mid winter and during this season sunlight appears for only a few hours daily. The flight’s departure will be timed to coordinate landing at the weather station during the brief daylight period. Departure time from the Fairbanks’ lighted runway was eight AM navigating with instruments.
The plane was about eighty miles from its destination when the engine began to misfire. Bill Foster said, “I think the fuel line is freezing.”
He tried to make radio contact with Fairbanks and also the weather station to no avail. The engine was losing power and suddenly stopped. Foster frantically looked for a landing area, but it was heavy forest in every direction and he displayed fear on his face.
The plane struck tree limbs and the wings were ripped off. The fuselage fell to the ground and Jim and Susan’s seats broke loose slamming them forward. Foster’s head struck the windshield from the intense force of the crash. Other than a few cuts and bruises Jim and Susan were uninjured. Foster was motionless in his seat. Darkness added fear and misery. Temperatures were well below zero.
They were wearing parkas and it was pitch dark. Jim and Susan verified to each other they were uninjured. Jim felt his way forward and checked Foster’s pulse. No pulse was detected. Susan found her pack and retrieved a flashlight. They were shocked, in disbelief of their circumstance. No way to contact help, and with the intense cold they knew it was mandatory to build a campfire. In the plane’s cargo hold were sleeping bags, a small tent, matches, two cases of bottled water, an axe, and emergency food rations consisting of a few dehydrated meals, also a propane stove with a camping cook kit. This was a desperate situation.
Jim and Susan gathered firewood and started a campfire. They removed the plane’s seat cushions to form a mattress, erected the tent near the campfire and put the bottled water near the fire to prevent freezing. In a flash they were thrust into a survival condition, and fortunate to be alive.
The plane would be reported overdue and a search plane dispatched. Jim and Susan must keep the fire going for warmth and to signal their location. The downed plane would be difficult to see from the air as it is buried among heavy tree growth. Their camp was on the edge of an open area but not large enough to land a bush plane. They might be stranded for days. The cold combined with survival conditions created the ultimate challenge. Jim and Susan were experienced campers and more capable of coping with their predicament than most.
Four days passed. The food was gone, and they melted snow for water. The situation grew perilous as fear magnified. It took great effort to keep the fire going day and night.
During the few hours of daylight on the fifth day the wayward survivors heard the distant sound of dogs barking. This startled them. Then a sled dog team appeared at the far end of the open area heading directly for them. They couldn’t believe their eyes, and began to wave and shout at the team moving toward them.
The team arrived at the survival camp. It was an overwhelming moment of joy. Six very large dogs driven by a young woman with a rifle in a scabbard mounted to her sled. She was dressed in fur from head to toe clearly an arctic resident.
She spoke, “Hey there, looks like you’re in some trouble. I’m Samantha, and I’ll help you out.”
Jim and Susan couldn’t believe their eyes. This was a small, beautiful woman, certainly not what they would expect in such an isolated and foreboding place.
Samantha said, “I live in a cabin about five miles from here and we’ll transport you. We’ll form a plan for your return to wherever you need to go.”
Susan responded, “We thought we’d die here. Our plane crashed and the pilot was killed. We were headed to a national weather station where we’re assigned to work. We’re meteorologists. We’re grateful beyond description. Do you live alone in this desolate area?”
“Yes, it’s a long story, and I’ll explain after we arrive at my cabin.” Samantha said.
Jim stated, “Your dogs are huge, I’ve never seen such large huskies.”
Samantha smiled, and said, “They’re not dogs. They’re gray wolves I rescued from their den. Bounty hunters killed their parents and siblings and the pups were hidden in the den. They were small, still nursing, and I carried them to my cabin and fed them powdered milk using a basting tube until they were able to eat solid food. They imprinted with me, and have no fear of humans. I’m very attached to this group. These six are far superior to common huskies, with great strength and endurance. I’ll tell you more about them when we return to the cabin.”
Susan said, “What an amazing event this is. We’re thrilled to know you.”
Samantha asked, “When have you eaten last?”
“Two days.” Jim responded
Samantha went to her sled and returned with packets of pemmican and handed them to Jim and Susan. Samantha helped pack their tent and sleeping bags on the sled. The three then departed toward Samantha’s cabin. Samantha’s wolves made an exceptional team, and this was fascinating to Jim and Susan. They were impressed at the wolves’ power and the speed of the sled.
As they neared the cabin the wolf team barked. Samantha’s cabin was nestled among a grove of hemlocks high on the bank of a frozen creek. It was a small, quaint cabin, well constructed with a low sloping roof. Samantha unhitched her wolves and staked them a few feet apart. They entered the cabin and Samantha put tinder and kindling in the woodstove and lit a fire. Soon the cabin warmed. Samantha put a teapot on the stove and the three shed their fur clothing.
Samantha said, “I’ve plenty of food. Dried salmon, and I shot a caribou last fall and the meat’s packed in the cache. I’ll cook for us this evening. I seldom have guests; it’s a special event.”
Susan asked, “How long have you lived alone in your cabin?”
Samantha said, “A long time, since my parents died when I was sixteen. During our evening meal I’ll give details. It’s quite a story.”
Jim and Susan remained in a state of shock from their entire experience; however, Samantha impacted them in an indescribable manner, she seemed angelic. They could only imagine their destiny if Samantha had not found them.
Samantha asked, “Where’s the weather station located you need to get to?”
Susan said, “It’s in the southern Brooks Range near a place called Saw Tooth Ridge.”
Samantha said, “I’m not familiar with the station, but know where Saw Tooth ridge is. It’s about seventy miles from here.”
Samantha cooked a delicious meal of salmon steaks with biscuits and gravy.
Jim said, “I don’t recall when I’ve appreciated a meal more.”
Samantha said, “I was born at this cabin. My parents William and Martha Shepherd were remarkable people. My Mom was a schoolteacher in Fairbanks and my dad was a diesel mechanic. They married young, both twenty, while Mom was a college student. They became addicted to the Alaska’s vast interior and canoed various rivers in summer months. They felt a desire to build a cabin in the Brooks Range and staked a gold claim on this creek, which permitted them to build this cabin. Eventually they gave up their jobs and moved permanently to the cabin. My dad delivered me. I’ve been at this cabin since birth.
“My parents died of pneumonia when I was fifteen, and I buried them nearby. I had to use stones to cover their bodies. It was impossible to dig a deep grave because of the permafrost. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving this place. My parents taught me all they knew about arctic subsistence, and I learned methods to make a good life in this harsh; yet, beautiful place.
“Dad had a dog team and taught me intricacies of training and using sled dogs, a necessity during winter months. I bonded with his team, but they all either died or became too old to pull the sled. Then I discovered my wolf pups, and trained them to harness. They’re amazing from every perspective. I pan a small amount of placer gold from the creek each summer and use my team in winter to travel to a native village fifty miles south, located on the Chilkoot River, and a large riverboat brings supplies each summer. I make one winter trip each year to purchase basic needs. I trap salmon in summer and cure the meat on drying racks to preserve for winter food for my wolves, and also hunt game.
“I know it’s an unusual life, also work intensive. I’m a fixture here, and happy for the opportunity to help you two out.”
Susan said, “I can’t believe you live alone in such a remote and wild place. Do you ever get lonely?”
“On occasion, but it subsides, and my connection with the endless array of life surrounding me has penetrated in a spiritual fashion. My wolves center my life. They are so human like, and display unconditional love deeper than humans are capable of.” Samantha responded.
Jim asked, “How’d you ever know where we were stranded and in such desperation? How’d you locate us? Also, I don’t see a clock or calendar in your cabin.”
Samantha said, “My parents never used clocks or calendars and I became accustomed to their living format. The ancients’ didn’t use clocks or calendars because they were intimate with planetary cycles. The Sun, Moon, weather patterns, and seasons were timepieces. Our daily lives emulated ancient living philosophies. It’s natural, and connected us directly with Earth’s purity and the ubiquity of its embrace.”
Samantha was silent for a moment, and then asked. “Do you two believe in God?”
Susan answered, “No, we’re atheists, and believe God and religions are fabrications as a means to control people.”
Samantha said, “I was an atheist early in my youth, and my parents taught me believing in God, or not believing in God, is a personal choice related to how we sense, or are unable to sense, God’s presence. They both believed in God, but couldn’t clearly define God, causing my atheist’s views to manifest.
My observation of natural phenomena over the years changed my course of thought forming a spiritual revelation. God surrounds me, and God is everything, in total, not a person but a force of universal metaphysical energy.
“Your stranded location came to me in a visionary dream. I feel God’s power spoke to me through this dream, and I followed my heart and instincts to find you and succeeded.”
Jim and Susan struggled to comment on Samantha’s testimonial.
Samantha continued, “I dream often, and these dreams seem real and influence me in various ways.
“I dream about my parents because they formed the foundation of my life. They were my teachers. My Mother had a degree in biology and was enthralled by nature and its endless designs and functions. This dominated her life entirely. She taught me everything she could. I became mesmerized by the abundance of arctic life. Here in the arctic we have a magnificent bird, the golden plover. These birds’ build nests here during summer then migrate each year to Hawaii, which is a 3000-mile journey. The parent birds leave a week ahead of the fledglings. Without ever making the trip the fledglings then arrive at the exact place where their parents are located. Nature is full of such events, and as one immerses in nature’s mysteries we become intimately connected. To me, it seemed the only solution to these mysteries is the existence of a greater power, which we’re unable to clearly identify. So, we call this God, and live our lives believing in God’s divine influences without full explanation. Nature, and the massive Universe, represents personal guidelines adding purpose and direction to our lives.
“I’ve enjoyed meeting you two, and you’re fortunate to be given this new opportunity. I’ll help you get to where you need to go. I suggest you remain at my cabin for a few days to gain strength and prepare for the trip. We can make the seventy-five miles in one long day using my magnificent wolf team. Mostly it will be dark, but I’ll use a powerful headlamp and the wolves can see well in the dark. We often have full moonlight and much of the trip will be open tundra or flat, frozen rivers and creeks. It’ll require stamina, and you’ll need to rest as much as possible before departure.”
Jim said, “Do your wolves have names?”
Samantha said, “They sure do. Queenie is the leader; she’s the smartest of the group. The others are Flecks, Seeker, Luna, Jester and Incognito. He’s the fastest wolf, with very long legs, and pulls next Queenie setting the pace. These wolves are so amazing. Their names were chosen related to my observations of particular personality traits they each revealed.
“Queenie demonstrated leadership qualities, so I named her Queenie. Flecks had dark flecks throughout his light colored fur. Seeker’s ears rotated when he heard unusual sounds as he sought the sound’s source. Luna howled at the moon every night. Jester was always teasing his siblings. Incognito was so named because I couldn’t come up with a name for him. So, he’s Incognito.”
Susan said, “I love them too, they saved our lives.”
Departure day arrived and Samantha packed the sled, also carried the tent and sleeping bags in case they had difficulty, and in addition bundles of dried salmon for the wolves and bags of pemmican for the humans. Samantha was very fit, from a lifetime of arctic life, and was as skilled and tough as any male in the arctic. She was an expert marksman, and carried her .308 Winchester in the event they confronted a rouge grizzly bear or mountain lion.
The trail was smooth, and they used the frozen rivers and creeks when they could. The six wolves were pure power and displayed no challenge regarding their task. They stopped twice to feed the wolves and stretch. Fourteen hours later they approached Saw-tooth ridge and spotted the weather station. Samantha and her magnificent wolves overwhelmed Jim and Susan.
The weather station was well lit with a landing strip nearby. The sound of barking wolves aroused the two station attendants and they appeared at the door. They couldn’t believe Jim and Susan were alive, and greeted the group with enthusiasm. Two men, Joe and Larry, had been at the station four months and were ready for relief. Joe radioed Arctic Air informing them of the situation. They will resume the search for the missing plane to retrieve the pilot’s body.
Samantha drew a map showing the general vicinity where the plane crashed. Larry printed the map and e-mailed it to Arctic Air to assist locating the wreckage to retrieve the pilot’s body.
Samantha and her wolves stayed overnight and departed the next morning to return to their cabin. Jim and Susan hugged her, and told her they would visit when they are able. The station has a good snowmobile and they intend to eventually visit Samantha. Joe and Larry were in awe of Samantha, and gave her additional food to take back to her cabin.
Joe and Larry will remain at the station for few days to familiarize Jim and Susan with the operation’s functions.
A plane landed a few days later to retrieve Joe and Larry. Jim and Susan were now residents of the arctic. The standard schedule for assigned time at the station is four months. A new team will be assigned and Jim and Susan will be given a new assignment someplace in the lower states.
Susan asked Jim, “How can Samantha live like she does, all alone for so very long?”
Jim responded, “I’m unsure. Her parents obviously were extraordinary. They were obsessed with arctic life for whatever reasons. Samantha grew up within an environment her parents created and this condition became ingrained. Her parents taught her all they knew. Her Mom was a teacher, and her father was highly skilled at functioning in this challenging place. Samantha’s loves for her wolves and her natural surroundings became her spiritual guide combining to create a love bond with the wilderness few ever attain. Her recognition of arctic wonder, and the bond with her wolves enhanced her life.”
Susan said, “After we become familiar with things I want to request a few days off and use the snowmobile to visit Samantha. She saved our lives, when we were stranded and in peril. When she arrived with the wolf team I’ve never felt such a feeling of joy and appreciation. I thought we’d die a horrible death.”
Jim said, “We’ll do it. I’m sure our supervisor will approve.”
As Jim and Susan approached Samantha’s cabin they were in disbelief. It was nearly invisible, overgrown with trees and arctic bush. The roof sagged, and it was obvious this cabin had been abandoned for years.
The door remained intact and they went inside. Samantha’s belongings were still in place, and things were fairly orderly, but some disarray from rodent infestation. They were shocked, and without words.
They found a steel chest with no lock but hinged closed. They opened the chest and found a book titled The Journal Of Samantha Shepherd 1928-1958, also a photo album showing various stages of Samantha’s life with photos of her parents. They also found six small wooden boxes, and each with a name inscribed. Queenie, Incognito, Seeker, Luna, Flecks, and Jester. These boxes contained the ashes of her beloved wolf team. Susan put her hands over her face and wept. She couldn’t control herself. Jim hugged her, and they silently held each other.
The two meteorologists returned to the weather station in a somber state, unable to find reason or logic related their experience. Neither had ever been spiritually inclined. This was a paranormal event, and as trained scientists they lived in a world of facts and statistics.
Jim and Susan’s assignment neared termination and a replacement team would soon arrive. They performed exemplary during their time at the station, and were praised by their supervisor.
The new team was also a husband and wife. Phillip and Karen Williams. The two couples were very compatible, near the same age and it was a delight to share their company. Jim and Susan will remain another week, and then return to Fairbanks.
During dinner one evening Karen said, “We know of your horrible experience and the plane crash. It’s a miracle you survived.”
Susan said, “More so than you can possibly imagine. Do you two believe in God?”
Karen’s response, “No, we’re atheists. Religions are a manipulation effort to control people.”
Susan responded, “We were atheists too until our plane crash and we nearly died.”
Phillip said, “It was pure luck you survived. I don’t think God played a part only fortunate circumstances.”
Jim said, “A few months ago I’d readily agree with you. However, we have a story to share and this may apply bearing on the possible reality of God’s presence.”
Susan beamed a broad smile and said, “I want to tell you a story about a wolf girl.”
“Wolves symbolize the harmonics of arctic life. When my wolves howl each wolf is distinctly identifiable from the tone of their voice, and this penetrates my heart and mind.
“Wolves have been an earthly presence for 850,000 years and the arctic is their refuge. The bond with my wolves demonstrates love in its purist form.” Samantha Shepherd’s journal entry.