Old Blue

When I was a lad of ten, my great granddad
once told me a tale that left me out of breath,
a tale of love, of danger, with an end that’s sad,
about a boy, his dog, and a savage death:

“The winter of 1873 was one of record cold,
with snow uncommonly deep, brutal both for man
and beast. We had a ranch out west. Truth be told,
it was the kind where everyone has to do what they can.

“I was just a boy about your age; my best friend, Old Blue,
was the greatest dog I ever knew. We’d grown up together,
were never apart. The love we shared ran deep and true.
Old Blue and I were quite the hunters, but one after another

“all the game had disappeared during that terrible winter.
Then, one day while my dad and older brothers were gone,
off trying to save our cattle, I decided that night’s dinner
depended on me. What I did next was wrong…dead wrong.

“Old Blue and I had to go far, much too far, hunting for game.
As the day wore on, the shadows grew long; snow began to fall.
Suddenly, I realized I was lost – everything looked the same.
If it hadn’t been for Old Blue, I’d have had no chance at all.

“With my old dog leading the way, we were heading for home.
That’s when I saw the first one…really just a hint of a flash,
a blur moving off to our right. I had been warned not to roam
this deep into the woods. I wondered why had I been so rash!

“Old Blue was growling deep and low when the second appeared
through the trees to our left, and I was afraid to turn and look back.
We hurried forward. Despite snow stinging our eyes, we persevered.
A glimpse of a third, then more – we were encircled by a wolf pack!

“Finally, a landmark I recognized. The house was still half a mile.
Now the wolves were ready, no longer remaining out of sight.
They were closing their circle. A charge would come in a little while.
I figured I might kill one with my single-shot rifle if I aimed just right,

“but I knew we were goners once the wolves launched their attack.
Then Old Blue stopped dead in his tracks and grabbed my sleeve.
With a strange, sad look in his eyes, he licked my hand, stepped back,
and then took off running, abandoning me there. I couldn’t believe

“Old Blue would leave me all alone! Crying, I again headed toward
home. Then I heard the wolves leaving, chasing after my Old Blue.
The next day my dad and brothers went searching for the coward
that had abandoned me to my fate, my life-long friend proved untrue.

“ My dad told me this, ‘We found where the wolf pack finally caught
your dog – a bloody scene. There sure was a lot of fight in that Old Blue,
seems he killed one wolf and injured several others. Maybe you ought
not be mad, son. Your dog sacrificed himself to draw them away from you.’”

Harry Edward Gilleland      07.20.04