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TEXT 17: SHOWDOWN ON THE TUNDRA

The day it happened, I had decided to take a walk after work on the night shift. Work was on the north slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska. It was May 1974. I had taken a job on the trans-Alaska pipeline at one of the camps in the mountains.

To the south, the mountains looked like upside-down V’s-steep and foreboding. To the north were the rolling hills that sloped down to the Arctic Ocean, one hundred miles away. I decided to walk north with my camera, so I could get a picture of the camp with the rugged mountains as a background.

It was four in the morning when I set off. There was enough light for a good picture as the arctic summer was upon us. I had been walking for fifteen minutes when I came across an antler, three feet long, bleached white by the sun, that a caribou had shed. It would make a perfect addition to the picture. I could lay it on a small hill and frame the camp inside the curved antler. It had six sharp tines on it, two of which were broken. Carrying the antler, I walked for another hour toward the hill from which I had decided to take the picture.

Then I saw the wolf, just fifty yards away. It was coming into my path at the angle, in that unusual bouncing walk wolves and coyotes have. I stopped. The wolf kept walking until it was directly in front of me. Then it turned and looked at me as though it had known all along I was there.

My first response was to look for other wolves. The tundra was treeless and rolling, with many gullies and small hills. This is why I had not seen it earlier. It had just come out of a ditch. There is stood, on those very long legs, staring at me. The nearest tree was at least a hundred miles away, but still I thought about it. All I had with which to protect myself were the caribou antler and a jackknife.

“Wolves seldom, if ever, attack,” I said to myself. But there stood the animal fifty yards away, with the hairs on the back of its neck raised – an animal that could kill me. Did it know that?

I knew that I could not show fear. If the wolf sensed that I was afraid … well, I could be in trouble. Maybe I was already.

I can’t say how long we looked at each other – ten seconds, thirty, a minute maybe. I thought hard, fast. There was no place to run, no place to hide. I was two miles from camp. The only thing I could do was to take the offensive and show the wolf that I was not a person to be fooled with.

I decided to take my chances with the caribou antler. It was heavy enough and stout, and the tines were six to eight inches long. If it came to a showdown, I would go for its ribs, hoping that a tine would go in between two of them into the lungs. I would have my jackknife opened in my left hand.

Then the wolf began to circle.

I forgot about the knife.

I began walking toward camp, directly in line with the wolf. It stopped. I stopped. I noticed I was downwind from it. Perhaps when it smelled me, it would be scared away. After all, I was a human. “Hadn’t we ruled the earth for thousands and thousands of years? Yes,” I thought, “but not with a caribou antler. Even primitive people would have been better armed – they would at least have had a spear.”

The wolf started circling again. I started walking. It stopped. We studied each other. The wolf was grayish-yellow and weighed about eighty pounds – half my weight. And still it could kill me. But what a grand creature – those long, powerful, slender, fast-moving legs so perfectly designed for the tundra.

I began walking again, and so did the wolf. I forced my mind back to the caribou antler, which was my real security. “Go for the ribs. The antler will probably break if you hit the wolf on the skull,” I told myself. I kept looking at the tines. If only I had time to sharpen them on a rock. Then I would have something. They were about as sharp as a table knife.

The wolf stopped. I stopped. Then it sat down facing me. I longed to know what was going on in its mind. It surely wasn’t afraid, for people were new to this land. It was too far from the ocean for the Eskimos to bother with and too far north for the Athapascan Indians.

I decided to make the next move – toward camp. The wolf was sitting on my left, far off the line to camp, but still only fifty yards away. It had been circling carefully, getting neither closer nor farther away. I took a step, and the wolf leaped to its feet as though stung by a bee. I stopped, frozen in midstep. It circled, and I began walking again. Then it stopped, facing me, and I could clearly see its raised neck hairs. I growled, a well-thought-out growl. Again I studied the caribou antler. It was a little long for a quick swing, a little heavy for close hand-to-hand combat – no – hand-to-teeth combat. Go for the ribs.

Then it moved – this time directly at me.

I moved toward the wolf, growling. We moved a dozen steps toward each other before we both stopped. Five seconds passed. I knew what I had to do. I had to make the next move.

I stepped toward the wolf, and it leaped six feet to one side as though stung again. Then it retreated those dozen steps it had taken earlier – back to its fifty-yard distance.

My whole body swelled with relief. It had retreated. It had shown fear or at least the next-best thing to fear – confusion. For the first time, I realized that I was shaking. But it was over, wasn’t it? The wolf had retreated.

I turned away and began walking toward camp. The wolf was off the side, circling again, wanting to get downwind for a smell. I speeded up.

“Don’t walk too fast!” I shouted inside my mind. It might sense fear. So I stopped and faced the wolf again. We were now seventy-five yards apart, too far for me to see if the hairs on its neck were still raised. We stared at each other; then I turned and began walking again.

This time I did not stop. If the wolf followed, I knew what I would do. I should have done it in the first place. I would stop and lash my jackknife to the end of the antler. I could use a bootlace. “Perhaps I should stop and do it now,” I thought. “No, keep walking.” The wolf was following my trail, sniffing my tracks and raising its nose to the wind. I went into the gully. The wolf was out of sight.

Five minutes passed, and I had not seen it. I walked rapidly, straight for the camp. Fifteen minutes passed – no wolf. For the first time I felt safe – no, overjoyed. I found that I had developed a very warm feeling for my caribou antler. Without it, I might have acted differently. I might not have had the nerve to walk at the wolf with only a jackknife. I wondered what the wolf had in mind when it came at me. What would have happened if I had panicked and run? What would I have done without the antler?

Soon I was standing on a small hill three hundred yards from camp. I could smell bacon. The day shift had just gotten up and was going to breakfast. The sun had cleared the mountain to the east. It was a beautiful morning.

I stood on the rise, wondering what to do with the antler. I could take it with me on the plane when I left, but it would cheapen the value of the antler to take it away. It had served me well. I would always have it anyway, in my mind.

I dropped it to the ground. Like a fake Hollywood chair, it broke in half.

I. Using Context to Get Word Meaning

In each of the following sentences, a word is underlined. Below the sentence, there are three words or groups of words. Read each sentence. Choose the letter of the word or word group that has the same meaning as the underlined word.

1. The sky looked dark and foreboding, so we dressed for stormy weather.

a. cold b. glittering c. threatening

2. The cook used the tines of a fork to make holes in the piecrust.

a. long handles b. sharp points c. sharp blades

3. The flash flood carved gullies in the soft sand of the desert.

a. lakes b. ditches c. mounds

4. Don was tired of being bullied by Sam, so he decided to take the offensive and challenge Sam to a boxing match.

a. easy way out b. safe place c. position of attack

5. Primitive cave dwellers used crude stone tools.

a. of early times b. of poor times c. of future times

II. Noting the Correct Sequence of Events

The following events led up to the man’s showdown with the wolf, but they are not listed in the order in which they happened. Show the correct sequence by writing the numbers 1 through 5 before each sentence.

a. The wolf began to circle around the man.

b. The man started walking back toward camp.

c. The wolf came out of a gully and kept walking toward the man until it was directly in front of him.

d. The wolf followed the man as he walked toward camp.

e. The wolf stood fifty yards away, staring at the man, with the hairs on the back of its neck raised.

The showdown came when the wolf started to move directly toward the man. The sentences below tell the events that followed. Show the correct sequence by writing the numbers 6 through 10 before each sentence.

f. The wolf finally left the man alone.

g. The wolf retreated back to a fifty-yard distance.

h. The man moved toward the wolf and growled at it.

i. The man returned safely to camp.

j. The man turned away and began walking toward camp.

III. Predicting Outcomes

Mark an X before each fact that helped you predict that the wolf would not attack the man.

1. The hairs on the back of the wolf’s neck were raised.

2. The wolf circled carefully, not getting any closer.

3. The man told himself that wolves seldom, if ever, attack.

4. The wolf weighed about half as much as the man.

5. The wolf moved a dozen steps toward the man.

6. The wolf leaped to one side when the man stepped toward it.

7. The wolf retreated back to its fifty-yard distance.

IV. Noting Details

Choose the ending that completes each sentence correctly according to the story “Showdown on the Tundra.” Then write the letter of the correct ending before the sentence.

1. The man started off on his walk

a. in the evening as the sun was setting.

b. at four o’clock in the morning.

  1. at four o’clock in the afternoon.

2. He picked up the antler in order to

a. use in the picture.

b. have a weapon handy.

  1. study it more carefully.

3. When the man first saw the wolf, it was

a. standing still, staring at him.

b. walking behind him.

c. coming into his path at an angle.

4. After thinking the situation over, the narrator decided that he had to

a. run back to camp as fast as he could.

b. find a place to hide.

  1. take the offensive.

5. The narrator felt that his real security was

a. his jackknife.

b. the caribou antler.

  1. the fact that he was human.

6. When the man stepped toward the wolf, it

a. moved toward him, growling.

b. leaped to one side and retreated.

  1. showed no fear.

7. When the man dropped the antler on the ground, it

a. sent up a cloud of dust.

b. broke in half.

  1. landed with a crash.

 






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