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I believe in the love of a loyal dog. I have faith in the goodness held in a woman's heart. Together they share an authentic beauty and a devoted bond the beautiful pairing of a woman and her dog.
Fat black thunder clouds billowed high in the Rocky Mountains sky, foreshadowing that a stormy-weather day was already brewing on the cattle ranch where Sagebrush, the tailless puppy, and her parents, Maverick and Ginger, slept in their warm, cozy doggy beds. The aspen leaves quaked in the wind and blew from their branches, forming a carpet of gold on the earth surrounding the little mountain cabin. A cloud of light smoke curled in the breeze and rose from the top of the chimney. It was the Young Miss who was up early, stirring the embers of last night's fire in the fireplace to warm the cabin before anyone else was awake.
It was harvesttime on the cattle ranch — a beautiful, magical time of year. It was time to reap the bounty of all the summer labor. The apple crop had been good, which made Sagebrush and the Young Miss especially happy. The Young Miss would gather buckets and crates and fill them brimming full of all the different varieties of apples that grew at the ranch. The Young Miss laughed to herself every time she remembered the first time she saw Sagebrush nosing through all the apples just to pick out that very special one that she would choose to munch on.
"I never knew puppies liked apples so much." The kind Young Miss giggled as she watched Sagebrush chomp on her apple. When the little dog was done, only a single apple seed remained from the delicious red fruit.
The Young Miss would carry the apples into her mountain cabin, where she would work for days peeling, chopping, and baking until the entire kitchen smelled of sweet cinnamon, sugar, and cloves. The kitchen cabinets were lined with glistening glass jars that would be filled with apple sauce and apple butter. Sagebrush, happily keeping the Young Miss company, was by her side all the while.
In the forest that surrounded the little mountain cabin, it was harvesttime as well. The little people known as the Shuns were busily preparing for winter too. On this cloudy mountain morning, the Shun called Acorn was up early, contemplating the best use of his time for this day. Acorn had lived in the tree hollows his entire life. As far back as he could remember, he had been aware of the giant tree-cutting machines that were clearing the forest of the trees and food the Shuns needed for survival. He and his family had moved to different tree hollows numerous times just to stay clear of the giant tree-cutting machines. It was during that last move that he met the beautiful Rainbow.
Acorn still fondly remembered the first time he laid eyes on Rainbow. He was traveling through a field of wild sunflowers when he abruptly stopped, seeing something much more brilliant than the stunning yellow of the flowers. Brilliant red hair appeared among the sunflower stalks. He had never seen so much hair. Long, wild red hair framed the most beautiful face he had ever seen. She had twinkling blue eyes, and a smile he would never forget appeared at the corners of Rainbow's mouth when she saw Acorn approaching. That was some time ago now. From the moment that Acorn met Rainbow, the two never left each other's side. They were completely devoted to each other. Theirs had been the most beautiful Shun wedding ever. Shuns from miles around heard about Rainbow and Acorn's wedding and traveled far to witness their remarkable love. There had been singing and dancing and wedding cake to celebrate. Just when Rainbow and Acorn thought they couldn't ask for any more happiness, they were blessed with a vibrant redheaded baby they named Termite. Acorn didn't think his life was lacking in anything. He had never been happier.
And so it was on this day that Acorn was in quest of the delicious miner's lettuce that his family loved so much. Miner's lettuce is a glassy green herb with pink and white flowers that grows along the stream beds high in the Rocky Mountains. Gathering enough miner's lettuce would assure that Acorn's Shun family would be well provided for over the long winter months ahead. The beautiful Rainbow had picked stacks of sunflowers and used the stalks to weave tiny baskets that she and Acorn could use to gather the miner's lettuce in. She had even woven a basket just big enough to fit her precious baby Termite in. With their baskets in hand, and the baby Termite riding in his basket on Rainbow's back, the two Shuns embarked upon their harvest adventure.
It was Rainbow who first spotted the lush green miner's lettuce growing wild on an untamed mountain slope on the edge of Butterfly Creek.
"Look, Acorn!" Rainbow squealed, pointing toward the lush green herb. Termite began to squirm in his basket, giggling and pointing at the miner's lettuce, making sounds only his parents could understand.
"Marvelous!" Acorn replied, smiling from ear to ear. "We are going to pick as much as our baskets can hold!"
Acorn and Rainbow began the task of gathering the miner's lettuce from the edge of Butterfly Creek. The time passed quickly as the two worked side by side. Soon fat drops of rain began to fall on top of the water with a gentle plop.
"We're going to have to hurry, Rainbow," Acorn said as he squinted, looking up at the dark black clouds.
It was Termite who heard the sound first. He had stopped his baby jabber and turned his little head toward the unknown noise. Rainbow, who had been bent over, picking lettuce, stood up, looking toward the mysterious noise as well.
"Did you hear that?" Rainbow questioned Acorn.
"Just a little bit more and we are done," Acorn replied, hearing nothing unusual.
Rainbow never got a chance to respond. The sound of giant trees cracking in half, followed by the sound of boulders knocking together, nearly deafened her. A loud rumbling and cracking sound followed as she looked at Acorn, speechless. Last summer's major wildfire had left the land void of its ground cover. With no vegetation growing on the soil, a giant mass of broken trees, rocks, and mud began cascading down the hillside toward the wide-eyed Shuns.
"Acorn!" Rainbow screamed. "We have to get out of here! Now!"
Termite began to fidget and cry in his little basket. The sound of Termite's cries brought Acorn out of his trance as he rushed to his family's side.
But Mother Earth was already on the move. The powerful debris flow was moving quickly toward the little family as the skies opened and the rain began to pour down upon them. Within minutes the clear waters of Butterfly Creek were turning muddy as the water began to rise.
Meanwhile, just a little bit upstream from where the Shuns were stranded, Mr. Hiker Man was regaining his balance after taking a nasty tumble in Butterfly Creek and hitting his head. The compass he was carrying with him to provide him accurate directions had crashed on a rock when he fell into the stream. The compass was now shattered into pieces.
"Doggone it!" Mr. Hiker Man declared as he regained his balance from his fall. His hiking boots and socks were drenched now. His walking stick floated downstream in the current. As he began to get his bearings, a fear came over him, and he got goosebumps on his now-cold skin. He was lost without the aid of his trusty compass. "Now what am I going to do?" he asked himself as there was no one else anywhere around to hear him.
Suddenly a loud blast of thunder struck overhead, and he began to run up Butterfly Creek, his boots making sloshing sounds with every step he took. At least he still had his emergency whistle. If he needed to, he could blow his whistle, and surely someone would hear.
But the swift-moving waters deceived the inexperienced Mr. Hiker Man, and before he knew it, he had lost his footing. As the undercurrent tugged at his legs, he lost his balance for the second time of the day and began floating and bobbing on top of the now-fast-moving water.
"Yikes!" Mr. Hiker Man screamed, with no one to hear him. He reached for his emergency whistle and began to blow as long and hard as he could. The next thing he knew, he had floated a considerable distance and was fast approaching a tall clump of miner's lettuce alongside the stream. Between breaths he continued to blow his whistle with all his might as he reached out to grab hold of the one thing that was going to prevent him from continuing downstream. He dug his fingers around the roots of the miner's lettuce plant and clung to the plant with all the strength he had left.
Rainbow and Acorn stared wide-eyed at this strange human who was clinging to the same lettuce plant they were standing on, blowing his whistle all the while. This very strange day was just about to get a lot stranger. The emergency whistle fell from Mr. Hiker Man's mouth as he stared at the tiny Shuns who were atop the very same lifeline that he was clinging to. He shook his head from side to side and blinked his eyes.
"What in the world?" he said to the tiny people in front of him. "Are you for real? I must have hit my head harder than I thought. This can't be happening to me."
"I'm afraid it is. But it's happening to all of us!" Acorn screamed above the noise of the water.
"Who are you? What are you?" Mr. Hiker Man questioned.
"We're Shuns. I'm Acorn, and this is my bride, Rainbow, and our baby, Termite."
"I must be dreaming! This is a nightmare! That's what it is," Mr. Hiker Man replied. "There's no such thing as little people or Shuns or whatever you all are!" Mr. Hiker Man was getting very frustrated trying to figure out what was happening.
"Oh, we are very much for real. We were out harvesting today when we were caught off guard by Mother Nature. Now we are in one heck of a mess. I don't know how we are going to get out of here," Acorn explained.
Meanwhile, back at the cattle ranch, Sagebrush and the Young Miss had taken a break from preserving apples to go into the forest to gather dill weed and wild garlic for the pickles they were planning to make. Sagebrush knew exactly where the aromatic plants grew alongside Butterfly Creek, and the puppy couldn't wait to show the Young Miss.
"Follow me!" Sagebrush squeaked as she ran through the forest followed by the Young Miss. The Young Miss gathered the wild garlic and dill weed as the raindrops began to fall. Abruptly, Sagebrush perked up her big ears, straining to hear a shrill distant noise that was very new to her.
"These are going to make our pickles taste delicious, Sagebrush," the young ranchwoman said. "I can't wait to see how they turn out."
When the little dog didn't answer, the Young Miss turned her attention to Sage's whereabouts. "Sage, did you hear me?" She turned to see the little dog lost in a world of her own. "Are you listening to me, Sage?" But her questions went unanswered as the little dog continued straining to hear the mysterious sound.
"Can't you hear it?" Sagebrush questioned her mistress. "It sounds like a whistle."
The Young Miss turned toward the direction Sage was looking. "I don't hear anything, Sagebrush. Are you sure you heard a noise?" Just then the noise became louder.
"There it is again!" Sage whispered. "Can't you hear it?"
The Young Miss stood very still, straining with all her might to hear.
"Someone's in trouble and is blowing their whistle to signal for help!" Sage exclaimed. "Come on, we have to go and see if we can help them!"
The lightning cracked and boomed in the distance, and the raindrops began hammering down on the pair. "Come on, Sage, let's get to the barn. I'll saddle my horse, and you go up to the cabin and get Maverick and Ginger. Between the four of us, we can cover a larger area."
Sagebrush and the Young Miss ran as fast and hard as they could to get to the barn. Once inside, the ranchwoman began to gather her gear and saddle her horse. Sagebrush ran on to the cabin, calling out for her dear parents, "Mama, Daddy, come on! There is someone stranded in the forest. We must go and see if we can help them!"
"What's going on?" Maverick questioned his puppy as Sagebrush appeared in the doorway. "Your fur is drenched with rain, Sagebrush!"
"I was down by Butterfly Creek," Sagebrush answered breathlessly. "I know that I heard someone blow a whistle. They could be in danger!"
"Are you sure you heard something, young lady?" Ginger gently questioned.
"This isn't a corky tale, is it?" Maverick questioned, looking deeply into Sagebrush's big brown eyes.
"No! It's not a corky tale! I know that I heard something!" Sagebrush squeaked.
"Okay, Sagebrush," Maverick said, looking at Ginger. "Come on, Mama. Let's go see what our baby heard."
All three dogs came running out of the house toward the barn, where the Young Miss had already mounted her horse and was waiting. The ranchwoman pulled at the reins of her trusty mount back in the direction of Butterfly Creek, all three dogs following closely behind.
Deeper and deeper into the forest, the search-and-rescue group traveled. The dogs had their noses to the ground to detect any unfamiliar smells. The Young Miss paid close attention to the actions of her horse. Sight, hearing, and scent are natural detection tools of a horse, which can prove valuable to the rider on a search mission. Unexpectedly, Sagebrush stopped in her tracks, her big ears perking up. "There it is again! Can you hear it?"
At that same moment, the Young Miss's horse hesitated in its stride. The horse's ears moved forward, his nostrils slightly flared, making a snorting sound indicating that he had sensed someone or something close by. None of them dared breathe as they listened with all their faculties. And then, unexpectedly, they heard the whistle. The horse turned his head toward the noise as they proceeded upstream. As they reached a clearing in the trees, they were stunned at the scene before them.
Mr. Hiker Man was splashing and struggling with all his might while grasping the roots of the lettuce plant. Letting go was not an option. Standing on top of the lettuce were Rainbow and Acorn and their tiny baby, Termite, all clinging to one another for dear life. Above the roar of the water, the baby's cries could be heard.
The Young Miss took immediate control of the situation, reaching for her lasso. Mr. Hiker Man stopped struggling when he saw her.
"Help!" he screamed out. "You've got to save me! I think I am going to drown!"
"Don't worry!" the Young Miss called out. "We will get all of you to shore."
"All?" Mr. Hiker Man questioned. "You have to save me first! Don't worry about the little people!" he declared.
"Sagebrush, Maverick, Ginger!" the Young Miss called out to her dogs. "I need you to form a bridge to get the Shuns to safety."
"A bridge?" Maverick questioned. "What do you mean, miss?"
"I need you to form a bridge across the water with your bodies so the Shuns can climb onto your backs and get to shore. Now, line up! Nose to tail, nose to tail!"
"Forget about them!" Mr. Hiker Man screamed. "It's me you need to save! They are just little people. I matter more than they do!"
The scared, cold, wet, shivering Shuns clung to one another, wondering what would happen next.
"Nonsense!" the Young Miss exclaimed loudly as she whipped her lasso into the air, swirling it overhead and flinging it into the air up and over Mr. Hiker Man's head.
Mr. Hiker Man was so surprised he was momentarily speechless as he worked the lasso down over his chest and under his arms. The Young Miss backed her horse up, dragging Mr. Hiker Man toward the bank of Butterfly Creek.
Meanwhile, all three dogs had formed a corgi bridge with their bodies as they lined up nose to tail in Butterfly Creek next to the tall clumps of miner's lettuce where Rainbow, Acorn, and Termite were stranded. Acorn stepped onto Maverick's nose first, extending his hand to the beautiful Rainbow, and she and Termite climbed onto Maverick's nose and walked all the way across Ginger's back and finally to Sagebrush. Now safe from the rising waters of Butterfly Creek, they collapsed, so very exhausted from their harvest adventure.
With everyone now safely on dry land, the Young Miss dismounted her horse to survey the situation. Mr. Hiker Man was near tears as he struggled to stand up. The Shuns were making sure they were all okay as they sat on Sagebrush's back.
"I thought I was going to die!" Mr. Hiker Man blubbered. "Thank you for saving me, miss. If you hadn't come along when you did, I don't know what might have happened!"
"You are going to be just fine, sir," the Young Miss answered.
Sagebrush turned to smile at the three Shuns on her back. "Everybody okay?" she questioned.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Corky Tails: Tales of a Tailless Dog Named Sagebrush"
Copyright © 2018 Joni Franks.
Excerpted by permission of Xlibris.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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