Last week I alluded to the time my sister was bitten by a malemute, but I could just as well have said "a wolf" because she was bitten by a wolf at the same time. Since I've mentioned it, you deserve to hear the story, so let me tell you about the time I saved my sister from a wolf.
In the summer I turned fifteen my family made a car-camping trip from Atlanta, Georgia, to Fairbanks, Alaska, all seven of us in a station wagon. One late afternoon on the Alcan, when the weather threatened rain, my mother prevailed upon my father to make an exception to camping out and let us stay at the White River Lodge.
Mom and Dad quickly made friends with the proprietor and his wife, Dan and Erica Nolan, who enjoyed showing us their place, including a pet wolf, Wolfie, on a chain in the back yard, and some eaglets Dan had rescued and was raising. Erica showed Mom some new wildflowers, and we all slept well in real beds that night.
On the way back down the Alcan, two weeks later, we stopped by the White River Lodge to say hello to Dan and Erica. Dan and Dad disappeared into the cafe for coffee. While Mom tended to our two-year-old brother, my three sisters and I asked Erica if we could pet Wolfie again. We had already made friends with him, so she just said, "Yes."
We were petting and admiring Wolfie when a big malemute named Cindy came charging into our small group for her share of attention. She frightened my seven-year-old sister, Laura, who, backing out of the way, tripped over the wolf's chain and fell. As soon as she went down, the malemute jumped on her with a snarl. At that, Wolfie joined the attack.
In that flash of chaos and panic, of growling canines and screaming children, it was I, I am proud to say, who rushed in to save Laura. Nor has my memory unduly enlarged me to heroic proportions, as my mother's journal corroborates my story: "Diana, being closest to Laura, rescued her." By the time Mom, Dad, and Dan arrived, I had dragged Laura to safety, and she was no longer in danger of being torn to shreds by a vicious wolf and snarling malemute.
She had a gash across the back of her head and claw scratches on her ear. While we doctored those wounds, Dan and Erica expressed again and again their apologies and embarrassment. It was the nature of the malemute to jump on what was down, Dan explained. The dog and the wolf were only acting as their natures demanded, but, he said grimly, Cindy would have to be shot. We said, no, no, please don't, it wasn't her fault, but Dan said he couldn't keep a dog that attacked his guests. As I remember, we heard the shot as we drove away, but here I must be corrected by my mother's journal. It says we learned later that Dan gave Cindy to a neighbor. I do remember correctly that Wolfie was sold to Walt Disney and starred in Nickie of the North, making him the only Hollywood star I have known personally and certainly the only one who has bitten a member of my family.
After we were well on our way down the Alcan, Laura said something felt funny in her hip. Mom pulled down her pants and discovered the worst wound of all, where the wolf's fang had gone deep into Laura's flesh without even tearing the denim. The closest doctor was a hundred miles away, in Whitehorse. Fifty miles from Whitehorse, we had a flat tire. Fifteen miles later a second tire blew, and there we were, stuck on the lonely Alcan in a burned-out forest with a child who needed a doctor. Dad picked up the tire and stuck out his thumb. The first car that came along stopped for him, answering the unwritten rule of the Alcan never to pass anyone in trouble, and, indeed, every driver that passed us (there weren't many) as we waited for Dad to come back from Whitehorse stopped to ask if we needed help.
It seemed like an infernally hot and long wait to the six of us stranded by the crippled car. The only relief in the blackened landscape was its undergrowth of bright purple fireweed. In fact, it was only three hours before my father was back with a patched tire. Fifteen minutes later we were on the road.
In Whitehorse the doctor told us that Laura's wolf bite should have had stitches but that the best we could do now was to keep the wound open and clean so it would heal from the inside. So, three times a day for three days, we stopped to sterilize instruments and treat the wound. The healing was quick and full, and even the scar didn't last long. Laura does still have a long, straight, dead-white scar under her dark hair, a sort of badge about which she can say, "This is where the wolf bit me." What I have is a story I can introduce with, "Let me tell you about the time I saved my sister from a wolf."