Not Just a Boy, a Dog, and a Frog

Inspired by Gordon Shepherd’s 6-year old grandson

To recap: Before the magical discovery in the spring of this year, Charlie Boy would have felt a little nervous as he wandered deep into the Lapland forest in the north of Finland. Late in the evening the summer sun shines night and day here within the Arctic Circle, casting eerie shadows on the path. Charlie had two pets, a frog, Frankie, and a chocolate Labrador, Looby-Loo, who accompanied him on all his wanderings.

Still in the spring of this magical year, Charlie, Looby-Loo, and Frankie are on their usual prowls over Lapland’s mountain, moor and forest. They are especially enjoying the colours of the new flowers – snowdrops on the forest floor, their whiteness competing successfully with the hilltop snow, and the yellow of the winter aconites opening their petals widely in the sunlight afforded by the still-leafless trees. To hear the birds singing from the treetops lifts their spirits, the blackbirds’ and the thrushes’ songs sometimes difficult to distinguish – who cares for it now, they’ll learn the difference in time.

In a deep valley between two mountains, the forest canopy of pine trees was particularly dense; even though the morning sun was slanting through the tree trunks, it was shady and cool on the path. Looby-Loo had been busy sniffing and wandering off the path, in and out of the bushes, so Charlie had put Frankie on his shoulder, from where he hopped on to the top flap of his rucksack. Here was a comfy hammock aloft, from where Frankie thoroughly enjoyed the view – quite a different perspective from his usual low-level hoppity-hop.

The trio stopped for an early lunch by a small sandy beach on the curve of a river. Looby-Loo and Frankie splashed about in the shallows, while Charlie unpacked the food from the rucksack. Their noisy laughing and splashing did not deter a large heron from alighting on the opposite side of the river only a stone’s throw away. Looby-Loo noticed the big bird’s steely gaze focused on Frankie; she knew that herons eat frogs as well as fish. Frankie had not seen the Heron and when Looby-Loo gently picked him up in her mouth he protested, “Hey, Looby-Loo, I was enjoying that!” She deposited Frankie on the large fallen tree trunk that Charlie was sitting on, lunch laid out on a cloth beside him. Looby-Loo then demonstrated the danger as she took a run back to the river bank, and scared the heron away with three loud barks.

“Oh, oh!” Charlie thought, “Looby-Loo has licked Frankie’s back – what’s going to happen now?” He waited a few minutes before putting down her food bowl. “Are you all right, Looby?” Charlie asked hesitantly. “I’m fine, Charlie, thanks. I just thought I should chase away that pesky heron”

“Come here,” said Charlie as he patted her head and stroked her back to her great delight. “All normal,” Charlie thought, “thank goodness!” When Charlie had finished his lunch of homemade, thick-sliced bread, cheese and chutney, he fancied climbing a tree. “You two pack away the lunch things please, and behave while I climb this big pine tree.”

“We will – be careful!” they chorused.

Charlie had a little difficulty reaching up to the lowest branch, but Looby-Loo kindly allowed him to stand on her back so that he could grab it and haul himself up. He was soon high up in the trunk, practically out of sight; not out of earshot, though, as he happily relayed finding a chaffinch’s nest containing six lovely mottled eggs, while farther up, the hole leading to a woodpecker’s nest with four glossy white eggs that he could only just see in the tiny dark cavern.

From near the top of the tree, where he couldn’t go any farther because the thin branches wouldn’t support his weight, Charlie could see the mountains in the distance. The valley rose steeply to a high saddle between two huge mountains, which, all of a sudden, became the picture frame for forked lightning. The spectacle was stunning in its beauty, but also in the fear that it put in Charlie’s heart, for the wind was blowing towards him. He knew that a forest was not the place to be in a storm with thunder and lightning, for if a tree were struck by lightning, electrified rainwater would be sent to the ground and anyone caught underneath could be very seriously burned and maybe die.

Even though he could feel his heart beating, he listened intently for the thunder, which always follows lightning. He heard a vague rumble after a minute. This gave him hope that he and his two friends would be able to get out of the forest before lightning struck, because he knew that sound travels slower than light, and therefore that the storm was still some way off. As he glanced back, he could see that ominously dark clouds had taken up the frame where the lightning had sparkled.

As he descended as quickly as he could, another thought crossed his mind; that the last thing they had to do to leave the forest was cross the river by way of the iron bridge, another magnet to attract lightning. “There’s no time to lose, I must go quickly with Looby-Loo and Frankie, cross that bridge and get onto the open moor.”

Climbing down the big pine tree, he was coming closer to the ground, when he saw below him that Frankie had wandered away from the lunch log back towards the water he’d enjoyed playing in so much. At the same time, he saw some movement at the water’s edge, and it took him a moment to realise that he was looking at a wolverine that had come to the river for a drink. Slowly it dawned on him that the wolverine had paused from its slurping, and was taking rather too much of an interest in the happily hopping Frankie.

“Looby-Loo, go get Frankie!” he shouted from above. Looby needed no second bidding, but by the time she reached Frankie he had frozen in terror at the sight of the now approaching wolverine. She soon gently picked up the wayward frog in her mouth and, returning to the log, popped him safely into Charlie’s rucksack. Still, the wolverine seemed curious, and began slowly to step towards Looby-Loo, probably attracted by the smell of the remnants of the trio’s lunch behind her. This was not a good situation, as wolverines have quite a reputation for being fierce, and have been known to prey on animals as large as young reindeer….

To be continued…

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