You can hear the sound of supper coming long before the wind picks up its scent. The clanking of steel bowls, heavy thud of bootsteps on the wooden floor, and final latch click of the old screen door opening on its creaky hinges. Within moments, the dinner songs begin, accompanied by the sounds of chains dragging along as hungry, tail-wagging tap dancers eagerly pace for their share. Tongues slap wind burnt muzzles and moisten ice tipped whiskers in anticipation of the warm rich feast. The scent of supper makes my stomach growl, and I too find myself singing along.
Father arrives and despite the raging urge I have to dive into my bowl, I wait for him to put it down. His thick strong fingers look like the old weathered harness I wear with their deep cracks and dry rough surface. Despite the cold, I can see his fingertips are exposed from his cut-off, wool gloves or, more accurately, what is left of his fingertips. I see only four fingers and a stump of a fifth, the majority of which was likely stolen by the cold. There are puddles of oatmeal mixed with an intoxicating gleam of fish oil splashed on his hands, which he extends for me to taste test. This has only made me hungrier, but I sit and wait for my signal. The saliva has begun pooling in my mouth and the contractions in my stomach are now causing a sharp ache. He looks at me fondly, scratches behind my ears, then pats me twice on the head—the signal. I barely catch a glimpse of his back as he turns away since my face is so deep in my bowl.
It only takes a few moments for the heavy dish to be licked clean. Even the ground where the fish broth splashed has been neatly tidied up. By the time I finish, Father has just made it over to my young neighbour who is loudly vocalizing his impatience. Supper has warmed me up so much that I have to open my mouth to cool down. Still feeling overheated, I take a few bites of snow and savour the feeling of little crystals melting on my tongue. I lean my head back and invite the cool liquid to quench my thirst and refresh my body. The heavy load we pulled today left us panting for most of our trek, and the wind, howling and sharp, dried out our mouths and stung the outer edges of our snouts. One more bite of snow seems like the perfect way to finish this satisfying meal.
I hear the door creak open again but this time, it is accompanied by a pair of slow and unsteady feet along with a set of very light and energetic steps. Grandmother slowly begins to make her way down the stairs. Her large, heavy, fur boots, bound with hide strings and beaded embroidery, leave tiny prints in the snow—for grandmother walks gently. Holding her hand is the tiny one, who I can see is wearing an oversized fur coat with Father’s large hat. Grandmother looks down at her, smiling with eyes that glow almost white like snow under the night sky. The little one is giddy with delight being back outside and once she sees me, peels away from grandmother’s hand and dashes in my direction. I run out to the end of my chain and strain as far as I can to meet her. She trips in the snow and lands in front of me, giggling. I look down and see her smiling gleefully. There is a slather of fragrant reindeer stew wiped across her cheeks, which I carefully wash away. This makes her giggle erupt into a fit of laughter and she flops onto her back so I can finish washing her up.
Grandmother arrives and opens her hand. Hidden inside her mitten is a large piece of reindeer, which the little one collects and passes to me. I take it gently using my lips, being mindful not to touch her with my teeth. I lie down beside her and the little one nestles close and burrows herself into my fur. Grandmother slowly makes her way down to the snow and sits down beside us, wrapping an arm over my shoulders. The three of us sit there waiting, sharing my warmth. A few moments pass and the little one begins to stir, somewhat impatient, somewhat excited. I give her a slight nuzzle to comfort her and she snuggles closer and finally settles.
Grandmother’s eyes have not left the sky since she sat down, nor has she moved a single muscle. Grandmother is too busy reading the sky. She knows the performance it will give this evening long before its first rehearsal. As if on cue, she points upwards and behind the darkness emerges a shimmering green light. It starts out faint at first, and then builds in intensity. Images begin to appear on the night stage—rolling panoramic stories of travelling families on sleds, fires and tents, hunts and chases, small cabins in the forest. The green hues pulse, flicker, and glow like crackling fires across the horizon. The fires are ablaze tonight.
The little one is silent; she is under the spell of the light. One day, she too will sit under the green light and converse with her grandmother amongst the stars. She too will learn how to read the lights. And she too will guide her family and our sled. Stars shine on in the distance and like little burning sentinels, they relay their secret messages. We sit there silently, transfixed by the spectacle of dancing lights before us. As the colourful images begin to fade away, we slowly awaken from their enchantment. The little one turns to look at us, smiling, then points towards the brightest star in the sky.