Part 1, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Author and narrator Gary Paulsen spent most of his life "in the forest or on the sea," frequently hunting. While running a dog team one December morning, he finally began to examine the rightness of this aspect of his life.
Paulsen followed his trapline, acutely aware of the surrounding pristine beauty. Suddenly, a white-tailed doe exploded from the woods, chased by a wolf pack. She raced onto a lake's thin ice and fell through. Although she recovered, the wolves were on her, and Paulsen, watching helplessly, was witness to her horrific death.
While two wolves held her nose, others ripped her rear until they could pull out her entrails. She was still alive and standing as they hungrily devoured her. Paulsen, sickened, yelled, but the wolves only paused. One rose to see him, and Paulsen observed its blood-covered head.
Paulsen realized the wolves "[were] not wrong or right—they just [were]." "It was wrong to think they should be the way [he] wanted them to be." With that small understanding, he was seized by an insatiable desire to learn more—about the animals and the woods.
Paulsen became involved with sled dogs relatively late. At forty, he lived with his wife and son in Minnesota in a cabin with no plumbing or electricity, trying to supplement his meager income as a writer. He took a job trapping for the state; some friends gave him four older dogs and a broken sled. Through trial and error, Paulsen got the dogs to run. Obeah, a large, wolf-like creature, became a passable leader.
Paulsen ran his line regularly, catching a few beaver. He felt confident but really knew nothing about trapping or dogs. One bitterly cold night, twenty miles from home, he foolishly decided to let the dogs run rather than camp, thereby learning a valuable lesson from one dog, Storm.
Storm pulled "from somewhere within himself," exceptional in strength and devotion. The going was tough because of the terrain and extreme weather. Suddenly, Storm began to spray blood from his rear end.
Paulsen unhitched Storm and tied him in the sled's basket. Determined to pull, Storm went "absolutely insane," ripping the sled until he got to the side, pulling awkwardly.
Storm pulled for seven more hours, spraying blood continuously, while Paulsen waited in dread for his beloved dog to die. Amazingly, when finally home, Storm stood tall, tail wagging. The mysterious bleeding stopped, and Paulsen knew he had learned a little about the insatiable drive behind animal behavior.