Our story begins as Miyax (cool name), dressed in a warm parka, looks up at the Arctic sun. It's 6:00PM, which she knows is the time when the wolves get up. Guess they're nocturnal (meaning, they sleep during the day).
On her stomach, she crawls up to the top of a frost heave, and then looks down at a group of wolves. She discovered the pack two days before.
Miyax is a wee bit scared – not of the wolves, it turns out, but because of the fact that she's lost on the North Slope of Alaska. The North Slope, we learn, is an eight hundred mile stretch of land with no roads, no trees, and a lot of wind. There are no landmarks, either, to help Miyax figure out how to get back to a town. That's scary enough, but frankly, we'd be scared of the wolves, too.
Apparently, Miyax depends on this wolf pack to survive, but she's not convinced that they'll be all that helpful. Wait a sec. How are wolves going to help her survive? We thought they were going to eat her.
She wants to ask them for food, so she tries to catch the black wolf's eye.
Many years ago, her father had done the same thing, and the wolf had led him to a dead caribou where her father had a feast. Unfortunately, Miyax's dad never actually told her how he managed to talk to the wolf, so she's out of luck.
Soon after her father did this, he disappeared in a kayak in the Bering Sea and was never heard from again. Poor Miyax. Not only is she lost in the wilderness – she doesn't even have a dad to come home to.
As it turns out, Miyax has been patiently watching these wolves for days. She thinks she can figure out how to communicate with them by learning their language. Which is what, exactly? Howling? Tail wagging?
She tries again to make eye contact with the black wolf. He's the biggest of the pack, and he reminds her of her father. She thinks he's wise, because all the other wolves in the pack seem to rely on him when things get dicey.
This black wolf will look at just about anything but Miyax. He's totally playing hard to get. But Miyax knows she has got to be patient. Her father taught her that, too.
The problem is, it's pretty hard to stay patient when you have no food. She has to eat or she'll die.
Miyax, we learn, is "a classic Eskimo beauty" (1.8), which means she has a round face, flat nose, and black eyes. Her body is strong and compact, which helps her conserve heat in the brutal Arctic winters. But none of this matters now that she's lost and foodless. Who's around to impress, anyway?
Trying a different method, Miyax decides to talk right to the wolf. She uses both Eskimo and English.
Oh! The wolf turns her way, but keeps his eyes down. Well that's progress at least.
He looks at his pack – three adult wolves and five puppies. When he looks at the puppies, his eyes get all tender and gooey. But then when he looks out across the tundra, they harden again. Guess the message is, don't mess with my kids, because I love them a lot. Classic dad move.
It's bleak out here. There are no trees because the soil is frozen. The only plants that grow are small flowers, grasses, moss, and lichens. There are some birds, some insects, and of course, the wolves.
The more Miyax looks around, the more she freaks out at her dire situation. We don't blame you, Miyax. You've certainly lasted longer than we would. But then again, that's not saying much. Shmoop is not exactly known for our survival skills.
Miyax, we learn, is Kapugen's daughter, someone named Martha's adopted daughter, a student at the Bureau of Indian Affairs School in Barrow, Alaska, and a thirteen-year-old girl.
Oh, and she's married. To a boy named Daniel. Did we mention she's thirteen? And married? Yikes.
Daniel can't be a very good husband, because the whole reason Miyax is lost in the tundra is that a week ago, she ran away from him.
She whispers to the wolf again, but he flat out ignores her, so she tells him how worried she is about her predicament. It was pretty scary when she had realized she was lost and was spending her days going in circles.
Yes. It works. The wolf, whom she now calls Amaroq, is totally looking at her.
Excited, she leaps to her feet. But Amaroq is totally not having that. He snarls and shows his teeth, so Miyax lies back down again, a little scared. She crawls back to her camp, feeling discouraged that Amaroq doesn't seem to be a fan.
Looking around her house, she thinks about the few things she brought with her when she ran away a week ago. Just a backpack, some food (only a week's worth), needles, matches, a sleeping skin, a ground cloth, two knives, and a pot. Not much. Not much at all.
Miyax's original plan was to walk to some place called Point Hope. She wanted to take a boat to San Francisco, where her pen pal, Amy, lives. From what Miyax has heard, it's a beautiful place.
Why in the world did she decide to run so far away from home? All we know so far is that her husband, Daniel, is "terrifying." (1.25) He must be, for Miyax to go through all this trouble. But terrifying how? Guess we'll just have to be patient.
Miyax's set-up on the tundra is not too shabby. She built a sod house with her ulo, or woman's knife, and then she arranged all her belongings nicely inside. She even decorated, with some bird feathers (hey, whatever works).
She has a fireplace outside, where she keeps her pot. But it's empty, because she hasn't found any lemmings to eat. In the early winter, there are tons and tons of lemmings. But it's summer, now, so they have all gone.
This means that all the animals that eat lemmings are gone, too. But it also means that there are more caribou, which means there are wolves, which hunt caribou.
Too bad Miyax didn't bring her gun. She could have hunted caribou, too.
Miyax eats some grass and moss. It tastes pretty gross (duh), so she decides to cook it.
As she goes to fetch water, she thinks about her run-in with Amaroq, and realizes something awesome. He had spoken to her.
He had told her to lie down, and she had totally understood him. In fact, she had done exactly what he told her to. He had spoken to her in wolf gestures. Sweet.
She's really excited about this, so she promptly abandons her meal and goes to check out the wolves again.
She tells Amaroq that she's very hungry, but he plays hard to get again. Ugh, how long is he going to be playing these games?
A black puppy, though, is happily looking right at her. The pup's mother doesn't like this behavior and tells him so with some wolf gestures. The pup apologizes.
Our Miyax is watching it all, trying to figure out their language. She names the mother wolf Silver.
The black pup plays with his sister, and this reminds Miyax of Eskimo children playing, which makes her laugh.
For her current state of affairs, she seems to be in pretty good spirits. Shmoop would be sobbing in the corner. Oh wait, there are no corners in the endless tundra.
She checks out the other wolves. There's a gray one she names Nails, and a small one she calls Jello.
Silver, Nails, and Jello all go up to Amaroq and bite his lower jaw. Seems like some sort of wolf ritual.
Amaroq, Julie thinks, must be the wolf leader. He howls and all the other wolves gather around him affectionately, which shoos away any fear Miyax had of them. Wolves don't eat people, after all. We hope.
After watching their interactions, Miyax knows she needs to figure out a way that she, too, can show Amaroq affection. If he accepts her into the pack, she might be able to survive.
Naturally, she watches the pups, hoping they will have a different, easier way of showing Amaroq love.
Amaroq, Nails, and Silver all take off down the tundra. Jello, however, stays behind with the puppies.
Miyax realizes she now totally knows how to say a few different things in wolf language, so she decides to practice while watching the pups play with Jello. All the pups get tired except for the black one – he's special.
Watching the black pup play with his sister, whom Miyax has oh-so-cleverly named Sister, Miyax tries to learn more wolf language from them.
Then she practices by saying "lie down," to Sister. It totally works! Sister lies down obediently.
All the pups are watching her now with curiosity. The black one, the bravest, comes right up to her. She names him Kapugen – Kapu for short – after her brave father.
Miyax is super excited that she's finally learned some wolf language, so she watches them play all night long, hoping to learn more.
Eventually, the three adult wolves come back from the hunt, and Miyax decides to try her luck speaking wolf language to Amaroq.
She walks right up to him. Okay, this girl is brave.
It doesn't work at first, but then, when she pats him on the chin, Amaroq looks down at her with love and friendship. Miyax is totally thrilled – now she's a member of the pack.
Later, when Amaroq returns from another hunt, she's disappointed to see that he doesn't have any food, which is scary, because pretty soon Miyax will be in danger of starving.
How are the pups getting food? she wonders. They're not nursing anymore, so they must be eating something.
She ponders this question while she settles in for sleep in her sod house. She thinks about the different personalities of the wolves and how they fit in the pack.
Waking when she hears the wolves return from yet another hunt, Miyax goes to see if they have brought any food home. They haven't. What? How are they not starving, too?
When she realizes that she will go hungry for yet another day, Miyax gets all practical-like. She gathers some edible grasses and seeds from the tundra. Not very tasty, but they'll have to do. Famished females can't be choosy.
She tries to hunt for birds, but is unsuccessful. When she sees some birds circling something in the distance, she realizes it must be whatever the wolves have killed on their hunt. She gets so excited she takes off for it across the tundra.
Bad move, Miyax. Very bad move. Looking back towards her house, she realizes she has absolutely no idea where it is. The tundra all looks the same, so she has to retrace her steps super carefully.
Silver returns from the hunt. Miyax watches her curiously, because she still doesn't have any food with her, to feed the puppies.
As Miyax spies, Kapu nudges his mom in the corner of her mouth. Silver promptly regurgitates a blob of meat. As revolting as that sounds, Kapu totally goes to town. Dinner is served, folks.
This isn't great news for Miyax, because she is not a wolf puppy, and can't tell the adult wolves to cough up dinner.
Or can she? Brave Miyax gets Jello to come over to her, using wolf language. When he comes near, she squeezes his nose in her fingers. In wolf speak, this means she's in charge.
Then, she nuzzles his mouth. Lo and behold, Jello gags up a meal. Miyax is pumped. She uses the wolf barf to make a stew. Yum?
While she prepares her food, Kapu watches. He wants to play, so Miyax thinks tug-of-war with her mitten might be a good idea. It's definitely not. Kapu is ridiculously strong, and steals her mitten with no trouble at all, and takes it back to the other pups. Oops.
Miyax gathers some lichens and grass to burn in her fireplace, and cooks her… stew.
It's yummy, and Miyax takes her time enjoying every bite. She saves some for later, too. Leftovers, anyone?
Now that she's eaten, Miyax can move on to other problems, like how in the world she's going to get out of the tundra.
She's quite the problem solver, though, and realizes there are lots of clues, like where the lichens grow, that can help her find her way.
If only she'd listened more carefully to Kapugen.
After her dinner, she's tired, so she goes back into her house and falls asleep. When she wakes up a few hours later, she's feeling good. Great, even. So she eats some more and her stew quickly disappears.
She needs to figure out a way to tell Amaroq that she needs more – a whole caribou leg would be ideal.
As she brainstorms, she notices that the grasses are changing colors, which is a surefire sign of autumn, which can't mean anything good. In autumn, there are snows and white-outs, making it way harder to get food.
Amaroq, meanwhile, calls the wolves together. Miyax joins them, planning her use of wolf speak. She wants to tell Amaroq that she's lost and helpless, so he'll get her some food. But Amaroq's busy. He smells something on the wind. It's a caribou herd.
And the wolves are off! After a few failed attempts at some of the faster caribou, Amaroq and the other adult wolves chase a weaker one.
Miyax is so excited, watching this hunt, that she forgets she's pretending to be a wolf and stands up. Kapu notices and doesn't like it, so Miyax lies back down.
The two play for a bit, and then Kapu's siblings join in.
As she looks around their wolf den, she realizes that soon, they will leave to roam the tundra for the winter – then Miyax will have no one to depend on.
That's a way scary thought, so she remembers what her dad always told her: when she's afraid, she should change what she's doing.
So she knows that she can't depend on the wolves to survive. She has to make a go of it on her own.
She'll hunt birds, she decides, and she gets right to work making snares and setting them up around her camp.
She catches some birds, returns to camp, and cooks them, feeling better about her situation. Plus she's got more food, which is always a good thing.
The wolves have returned from the hunt. Amaroq and Jello get into a brief kerfluffle, which makes Miyax curious. Why don't the others like Jello?
Then, Amaroq heads her way, looking straight-up fierce. She's scared he's going to attack, but when he gets close, he calls her. She crawls toward him. Invitation accepted.
He leads her back to the den, where it's clear he wants her to sleep. So Miyax copies the wolves' bedtime behavior and settles in for the night, all snug and warm.
When she wakes up, it starts to get foggy, which blocks her sight. Scared, she snuggles up close to Kapu. Awww.
Watching as one of the pups, whom she calls Zing, nurses from Silver, Julie realizes she might be able to do the same thing. A little weird, yes, but hey, she's hungry.
But when she tries, Silver clamps down her jaws on Miyax's shoulder. Miyax realizes that she, like the other pups, has been weaned (meaning no more milk from Mom). No dice on the wolf milk.
She opts to go back to her house and try to find some more food on the tundra. When she thinks she's a safe distance away, and hidden by the fog, she stands up.
But wise Amaroq can tell that she's standing and snarls, so Julie crawls again. We swear, it's like these wolves have ESP or something.
Back at the house, she dozes a bit, and then sings some made-up songs to pass the time. Suddenly, she hears an airplane headed somewhere. She listens for its direction, and then marks it in the ground with some pebbles, figuring that in that direction is Fairbanks. This also tells her that Point Hope is the opposite direction.
Later, when the fog clears, Miyax sees the wolves running across the tundra. She's worried they are finally leaving her.
But then, the earth begins to shake, and she realizes that a herd of caribou must be nearby. The wolves are on the hunt. Finally, some action.
Amaroq, Silver, and Nails take down one of the caribou. The wolves all feast on the kill.
Miyax, however, has wait until they're all done chowing down, because she knows they can get feisty when someone tries to take their food. She's totally excited though – this might be enough food to last her for a year. Lucky girl.
When the wolves are done, Miyax gets to work on the caribou, cutting the meat and saving the pelt. She smokes the meat over her fire, and makes up a song about Amaroq.
She tells herself she's a wolf now, but a two-legged one. Amaroq even lets her walk instead of crawl.
Time passes, and Miyax stays holed up with her pack. The pups are beginning to explore now, under the supervision of Silver. Autumn has almost arrived, and the sun stays low on the horizon. That means less food.
Miyax has a run-in with Jello at the caribou, which worries her, so she decides to bury her food to keep him away from it. Jello is getting creepier and creepier. He definitely makes us nervous.
More time passes, and Miyax, worried about autumn, decides to make a new mitten. While she works on it, the sun sets completely for the first time. Even though night lasts only for an hour, it's not a good sign, because it means it will soon get cold and snowy.
(Quick side note: yes, the whole sun thing is a little different in Alaska. In the way, way north – not only in Alaska, but also in places like Norway – there are times of year when the sun never even sets! Pretty interesting, right? And very helpful for Miyax.)
The sunset also tells her that today is August 24th, which is the day her boat is arriving in Point Hope.
Later that evening, unable to sleep, Miyax decides to go get her food from her underground hiding place. But Jello is there. Uh-oh.
Miyax taps him on the nose with her knife – she's the boss – and he slinks away. Phew.
That night, she hears another wolf pack howling. Amaroq answers. She peeks out of her house to see Amaroq trotting away on the tundra, with all of the other wolves in her pack following. Jello is last, and Miyax gets it: he's "the low man on the totem pole" (1.255).
As she watches them run, she notices Jello runs apart from the others, with his head down, like a lone wolf, which can't be good.
Miyax looks up and notices many birds migrating south. She waves good-bye to them. She hears Amaroq howling and thinks he's calling her.
But she can't go on the hunt with them – she has to finish smoking her meat. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.
Later, she sees the wolves hunting lemmings, which have come back to the tundra. More food for Miyax. She watches another bird migrate south, and uses his direction to make a compass with her pebbles.
That night, she rereads her letter from her pen pal. San Francisco, here we come.
The next day, when she's finished smoking her meat, she heads to the wolf den to tell Amaroq she's all set to travel, but the wolves are all gone.