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An Angel in Fur

Desperate for help in a blizzard, help came not from humans, but an animal that’s never been tamed.

picture of baying wolf

My girlfriend, Dawn, and I stayed out late into the night not long after New Year’s Day 1996.

It was snowing heavily when we got into my car, and we decided to go only as far as my mother’s house, about 10 miles away. I drove slowly, the headlights of my compact boring white tunnels in the swirling flakes.

Around 1:30 a.m., about a half hour after setting out, we turned onto Mom’s road in a rural area near the northern Minnesota town of Walker. There were only a couple of dwellings on the two-mile stretch leading to her house, and Mom knew all the comings and goings in this quiet area.

By then the storm had become a raging blizzard. The windshield wipers groaned, protesting the mounting accumulation. Ghostly drifts shrouded the road and I tried to keep the wheel steady. I shifted into low gear and Dawn gasped. “Don’t worry,” I assured her. “We’ll make it.”

No sooner had I spoken when we hit a hidden dip. The car lurched sideways and I struggled to regain control as we shot into a ditch. “Hold on,” I said. The wheels spun futilely when I pressed the accelerator. We were stuck.

“What now?” Dawn whispered.

“We’ll have to shovel our way out as best we can,” I said.

I reached onto the floor of the backseat. All I had was a snowbrush. Dawn and I got out.

Squinting against the stinging crystals, she wielded the brush and I scooped the white powder with my hands, trying desperately to free up space around the tires. But as fast as we dug, the driving snow relentlessly filled in the gaps.

We looked at each other in desperation. The windchill must have been way below zero, with the gale shrieking off the flat fields bordering the road. Our tennis shoes, jeans, sweaters and jackets were no match for the cold.

We climbed back into the car and started the engine to warm up. But in about 15 minutes it died.

“Snow blocking the exhaust,” I sighed. We sat quietly for a moment, the howling wind stealing through every possible crack. Thick frost built up on the windows.

Think, I told myself. Mom’s house was still a good two miles away, too far to walk in this terrible storm.

“Remember that house about a half mile back?” I asked Dawn. She nodded. “Maybe we can get help there.”

“I can’t think of any other way out,” she said. “Let’s go. It’s worth a try.”

Again we ventured into the blizzard, which had now become a whiteout, and plodded through knee-deep drifts toward the house. After some 10 yards, I looked back. I couldn’t see Dawn. I couldn’t see more than five feet.

“Dawn!” I called. “Can you hear me?” Retracing my path, I found her. She looked dazed.

“Thought I was right behind you,” she said. She wasn’t going to make it. I led her back to the car, settled her in and took off running as fast as I could to the house.

Finally I stomped onto the dark stoop and pounded on the door. After a while a porch light blinked on and a man pulled open the inner door. I saw him pull the screen door shut.

“I’m sorry to wake you,” I said, “but my car is stuck in a ditch, and my girlfriend and I are stranded.”

“Can’t help you,” the man said, his face set, and he started to push the door closed. I could see that he was old and frightened, but I tried again. “Please, I just need to use your phone.”

“Don’t have one,” he said. “And my car doesn’t work. Like I said, I can’t help you.” He shut the door. The light went off.

What are we going to do? Tears froze on my face as I headed back to the car. My shoulders and back tense from bracing against the driving snow, I trudged on, feeling weaker with every step.

Stumbling along, I was vaguely aware of something following me. But I was so exhausted, so agonizingly cold, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. I didn’t have the strength even to turn around and investigate. Too much effort, I thought sluggishly.

“God,” I said, “only you can help us now.” Then, my head swimming in blackness, I pitched forward into a drift….

When I came to, a prickly, hairy form covered me like a blanket. What…? Some sort of a huge black dog had lain on top of me. “Good boy,” I whispered, rubbing my hands in the stiff fur under his neck. Is he wild? I wondered. No pet would be out in this weather.

I looked into his eyes. He seemed somehow to want to help me, almost as if he knew why we had crossed paths.

I pressed my face into his thick fur and breathed the air warmed by his body. The dog stood up.

What a magnificent animal, I thought. I had never seen a similar breed. Feeling new strength, I rose and headed for the car. I half expected the dog to continue on with me, but looking back I saw nothing; my dark rescuer had disappeared into the storm.

I found Dawn shivering. “I didn’t have any luck at the house,” I told her. “But on the way back, something incredible happened.”

We huddled close in the backseat, and I began to describe my encounter with the mysterious black dog. “What was he like?” Dawn asked. “Was he beautiful?” I stretched out the details, making the story last. Just the telling of it warmed me, and I could feel Dawn relax in my arms.

When morning light brightened our snow-covered windows, we heard the roar of a snowplow. Then someone rapped on the glass. The Good Samaritan driver took us to my mother’s house. “You were out all night in that awful storm?” Mom said. “God must have been watching over you.”

I told her about the black dog who saved my life, and she looked doubtful. “I know my road,” she said. “There’s no such dog around here.”

Then her eyes widened. “But, you know, twice I’ve seen a black wolf wandering around that very spot—” She stopped. She knew it as well as I did. That dog, or wolf, or whatever it was, wasn’t wandering. It had been sent.


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