The view of snow covered mountain with pine trees comes into focus as sound of the camera clicks. “That's a beauty!” Dottie says looking at the odd half dozen pictures she just took of the great Alaskan landscape. This what her first trip above 64 degrees longitude.
Since the year after she graduated from college, Dottie hadn't lived in one place for more than a month at a time. After getting her bachelor's degree in photography, Dottie started traveling around the world, selling her pictures to magazines and in coffee houses. She made enough to get around. Occasionally she’d had enough to buy a plane ticket or a nice hotel room for a few nights, but would hitchhike and stay with people or stay in cheap motel rooms along the way. She had a vast network of connections around the world.
Now she was in Alaska, an all expenses paid trip by National Geographic to snap some pics of the mountains and snow. It was a crisp morning with a temperature of 5 degrees. She grew up in Colorado so the cold temperatures didn’t bother her. She put on her boots and coat, grabbed her camera and a small backpack with some water and other supplies for a day of hiking. Toto and her walked out of her motel room and walked down the street to the local village general store.
Dottie had found Toto in a box of free puppies in Iowa a little over a year and a half ago while visiting her sister. Toto was a little black lab mix that followed her everywhere and that Dottie took on every adventure. Her sister disapproved of her having the dog saying she could hardly take care of herself let alone a dog. She named her Toto because the week her sister kept trying to take away the dog or make her get rid of it like the evil witch in the Wizard of Oz.
In the general store Dottie grabbed a map and a couple granola bars.
“Hello ma’am how are you today?” The clerk asked.
“Hello, I’m good. How are you?” Dottie responded with a smile.
“Oh just fine. Thanks for asking. Got any plans for today?” he asked looking at the map questionably. And proceeding to run through checking out the granola bars. “That will be $3.26 by the way.”
Reaching into her pocket for some money she responded to the clerk who was wearing a ball cap and green checkered wool shirt, “I’m a photographer and today I’m going to hike out this way to take some pictures,” she said tracing her finger on the map. She handed the money to the clerk.
“Now miss, do you know your way around there? It’s getting cold out there and the people get pretty sparse and far inbetween from each other. From that point,” he points to a spot on the map she had just pointed to, “the closest person is a good mile away. Do you have a snowmobile?” By now he was concerned and it was clear he thought that she wasn’t too bright.
“No I’m hiking out on foot, and thanks for the information. This isn’t my first walk in the woods and I think I can handle myself, but thank you for your concern.” She smiled and put her granola bars in her bag.
“Miss that ain’t such a good idea.” he said as she reached out her hand for him to shake and she left with a cheery “Good day”.Once outside the store she took out a pencil and sat at a bench to draw out her plan, looked at her compass and started off down the road with Toto at her side.
After walking for awhile she had taken a few good pictures and what just walking around. There was desolate landscape in every direction. She had eaten her granola bars and drank most of her water. It had been snowing and was rather windy.She turned around and saw that her footsteps got shallower the farther back they went which meant they were filling with snow. She realized that trying to follow her path in to get back to town would be difficult. She looked at her map and guessed to be about where she had wanted to be. “The nearest person is a good mile away,” she said to herself under her breath scanning the map. The clerk hadn’t told her a mile in which direction. Dottie looked down at Toto who was looking up at her. “Which way should we go Toto?” she asked her dog. Toto cocked her head and walked a few steps south-east, turned and looked back at Dottie. Dottie shrugged and started walking in the direction Toto had picked out, knowing it was a bad idea.
They walked for hours longer. The snow had temporarily stopped, but the wind had picked up. Dottie was starting to feel cold. She was now realising that her jacket wasn’t as warm as she had thought or hoped it was. She had bought it online used and it said it was good for thirty below. Obviously That was a lie. For short periods of time Dottie would carry Toto so she wouldn’t have to walk in the snow. Lucky for her Toto weighed no more than forty pounds. Dottie had packed a small bag of dog treats with her and had been feeding them to Toto, knowing that she would need the food as energy to keep going, after all she was still just a puppy.
More hours passed and now Dottie was freezing. Toto was walking slower and stiffer. Dottie knew that she couldn’t go on much longer. Now, she was scared and was thinking that she should have listened to the clerk or at least tried to walk back in the direction she had come after taking her photos. It was dark and had been for a little bit. Dottie was tired and her backpack felt like fifty pounds on her back; other than her camera there wasn’t anything important in there. Dottie removed the memory card from the camera and zipped it securely in her breast coat pocket and put the camera back in it’s case in the backpack. She dropped the backpack in the snow by a tree and kept walking, stumbling now. She couldn’t stop moving or else she’d never find shelter, but she was getting weak and Toto was doing her best to keep up.
Not but half an hour after ditching her backpack Dottie fell to the ground. She was experiencing the symptoms of hypothermia and so was her dog. She was hallucinating and sleepy. She curled into a ball and sighed. Toto waddled over, her legs stiff, and curled up as close to Dottie as possible. Dottie hugged her and fell asleep with Toto sharing the little heat she had.
They slept there overnight with the temperature dropping continuously and leveling out at -15 degrees with the wind chill. Dottie’s temperature had dropped dangerously low and she was severely frostbitten. Her organs were borderline shutting down and Toto wasn’t doing any better. Dottie was unconscious and if she had stayed out there for a few hours more she would have died. She should have died. It’s a miracle she didn’t die; she was lucky. The sound of a snow machine came into range. The machine pulled up to her and a man jumped off and ran over to the mound that was Dottie curled around her little puppy. Toto struggled to open her eyes and look at the man. She could barely move, but tried so hard to at least wag her tail. The man patted Toto and went to pick her up when he noticed the human figure encircling her as if for the first time. He lifted the edge of the hood to reveal Dottie’s frozen, frosty face, sleeping, barely hanging onto life.
The man picked up Dottie and brought her to the snowmobile, but realized he had to bring Toto home too because the dog was going to die if left out here an hour longer. He took Dottie’s jacket off of her and put his warm jacket on her in hopes that it would keep her alive until he could get her home. Dottie was having trouble producing her own body heat. He scooped up little Toto and put her in the sled attached to the snowmobile.
Unconsciously Dottie rode on the machine for about a mile until they reached the cabin of the man. When they got there he ran her inside and laid her on the couch and put Toto inside by the fire. Both of them were in rough shape. The man did everything he could to revive Dottie. It didn’t look good for either one of them. He wrapped Toto in a blanket, gave her stew, water, attention, and even let her sleep on the couch for a little while snuggled against her owner.
Slowly Dottie warmed up. Some of her frostbite started to reverse. Once during the night she opened her eyes to see a man sleeping hunched in a chair beside her. Toto was on her lap. Toto wagged her tail to see Dottie awake and licked her hand. Dottie was worried; she had no idea where she was nor how she had gotten there. Toto seemed fine. She was still cold, tired, and hungry. After a few minutes of trying to make her hand work and pat the dog and staring at the handsome young man, Dottie fell asleep again.
That morning the man attended to Toto. Dottie heard the clatter of his dishes and his soft voice as he spoke to her dog. This woke her up from her sleep and she fluttered open her eyes to the man who had slept in the chair dropped to her side, his eyes growing as big and round as half dollars. She tried to turn to him, but her body and neck stiff, rejected the idea. The man was holding her hand. She tried again to move, but could only grimace and a little groan escaped her lips. It was another miracle that she survived the night and the man knew it as he stared at her in wonder.
Dottie was studying the man’s face. He was still a stranger to her. As she hoped he wasn’t a murderer or crazy person, she was also grateful to him for taking her in and bringing her back to life. She tried to move again, but felt like she was rising from the dead. She tried to move again and bring life back into this body of hers. She arched her back trying to life some part of herself from the couch and groaned again.
“Shhh, it’s okay, just lay there, the man rushed to say, clearly worried. “You’re okay.” She looked at him, trying to focus and slightly confused. She was wondering why he seemed so scared, he didn’t even know her.
Her eyes shifted to Toto walking towards her. She just realized that her puppy was no longer on her lap. Why did her mind feel so fuzzy? Calmly she looked at Toto and a small smile took control of her lips as her dog laid its head on the edge of her side and stared at her too.
For the first time Dottie took in her surroundings. She turned her head to look around and loosen her neck some. She was in a little log cabin on a couch. Other than the chair near the couch that the man had slept on and the fireplace, there wasn’t much in the room. She could feel the man’s eyes on her. She looked at the baby blue electric blanket that warmly, tightly, wrapped her body, no doubt it’s what kept her alive. She looked at the man now with eyes empty any previous confusion.
“Hey, can you hear me? Do you understand me?” The man asked her still worried.
She slowly nodded, still staring at him. She opened her dry mouth a couple times while squeezing her eyes closed, trying to find any saliva to swallow.
“Are you thirsty? Would you like a glass of water?” He asked already starting to get up.
Another nod but with her eyes still closed and her face facing the ceiling. She was glad that he understood what she wanted and couldn’t wait to drink a glass of water. He came back with a glass of water and helped prop her up and held the glass for her as he poured it into her mouth. It was amazing. Dottie realised how thirsty she was. After a few gulps he laid her back down and set the glass on a small side table. She wanted more didn’t want to ask right now. She looked at the man that knelt on the ground next to her. He didn’t look that much older than her, maybe a couple years at most.
He suddenly opened his mouth to speak “My name is Joe. You’re safe, I promise. Can you talk? Can you tell me your name?” he said. Dottie could still hear the hint of concern in his voice.
She looked at him and opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She hadn’t spoken since being in the cabin. She was starting to worry that she had lost her voice. Dottie attempted to clear her throat and tried again. She opened her mouth and out came a squeak.
“It’s okay. You can try later when you’re stronger. Would you like to try to eat some venison stew?” he said quickly, dismissing her attempts to speak. At first she was upset that she couldn’t talk and that he had dismissed her, but this was short lived with the mention of food. She nodded and the man stood and walk around the hall to what she assumed was the kitchen. She could faintly hear his footsteps around the house wondering when he was coming back. She wriggled a little just to move around and clear her throat again. Her hands looked really bad and if she had had more feeling in them she would have had tried to pick up the glass of water, but she feared that she would drop it and anger the man.
He came back with a pillow and bowl of soup. He set the soup in the chair that he had slept in. He pulled the girl forward and placed the pillow behind her, propping her up so she was sitting. The man, Joe, picked up the stew bowl and pulled the chair closer to the couch and sat in the chair holding the stew in his lap. He fed her the stew for a bit and helped her get up and go to the bathroom. After laying her back on the couch he put Toto back up on her lap. She felt better and soon fell asleep.
After a couple hours she woke up again and again Joe came over and sat besides her and held her hand. Joe talked and told her what had happened. She couldn’t remember much of it, but remembered taking pictures of the mountain.
“Can you talk now? If you can’t it’s fine. Can you try to tell me your name?” Joe asked. He had a habit of asking too many questions at once. “Do you remember why you were out in the snow?”
She cleared her throat and opened her mouth and out came a hoarse whisper this time, “Dottie.” Joe gave her some more water which she greedily drank. “Dottie,” she said a little less harsh.
“Dottie? That’s your name? Dottie, like short for Dorothy?” She nodded. “Dorothy and Toto, like the Wizard Of Oz?. Nice to meet you Dottie,” Joe replied with a warm smile. She smiled back at him.