Part 1, Chapters 3-4 Summary
From a very young age, Paulsen hunted and trapped. After a "simple . . . almost silly" incident, he believed they were wrong. One dog, Columbia, pulled a prank demonstrating humor. In the kennel, the dogs were restrained by chains. One day, Columbia maneuvered a bone just out of reach of Olaf, his dim-witted neighbor. As Olaf struggled, Columbia watched and finally "leaned back and laughed."
The trick's sophistication astounded Paulsen; he reasoned other animals also must be capable of high-level planning. Concluding it was wrong to kill such intelligent, complex creatures, he stopped trapping.
Until he began training his dogs for the Iditarod, a grueling dogsled race across Alaska, Paulsen ran trap lines without trapping to take his dogs out. On one "phony" run, his sled shot off a gully edge. Paulsen sustained a serious knee injury and was stuck forty feet below the trail.
Ordinarily, when a musher is lost, a team continues on. Paulsen's dogs, however, found their way to him; with their support, he made it home. This reinforced his belief that his dogs had much to teach him. In their compassion, they possessed "great, old knowledge; they had something [humans] had lost."
Paulsen notes that the main element setting people apart from animals is fire. An early insight from this came on a run to train young dogs for the Iditarod. The first night, Paulsen started a small fire; the dogs instinctively "went crazy with fear."
Paulsen calmed them; fear quickly became fascination. When the fire went out, they wailed a song of loss. Within an hour, his pups went from fear to understanding to loss. He reflected that humans take much longer to go through the same process, marveling at the dogs' advanced sophistication.
In another incident, Paulsen was stopped for the night when a large doe appeared. Chased by wolves, in a "mad gamble" for her life, she sought protection from two usually fearsome adversaries, man and fire. Tense, the doe stayed until the wolves left, then disappeared.
A third experience involved a bear, Scarhead. One summer morning as Paulsen burned trash near the kennels, Scarhead made a mess trying to get "whatever smelled so good." When Paulsen chased him, Scarhead towered over him threateningly. Paulsen froze, but the bear walked away. Angry, Paulsen ran for his gun to kill Scarhead. Then he thought, "Kill him for what?" "When it is all boiled down [he was] nothing more and nothing less than any other animal in the woods."