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A Siberian dog signal-howl

Curve-billed Thrasher, Alamogordo NM, November 12, 2011

"Suddenly there rose upon the still night air a long, faint, wailing cry like that of a human being in the last extremity of suffering."

A camp in the middle of a clear, dark winter's night presents a strange, wild appearance. I was awakened, soon after midnight, by cold feet, and, raising myself upon one elbow, I pushed my head out of my frosty fur bag to see by the stars what time it was. The fire had died away to a red heap of smouldering embers. There was just light enough to distinguish the dark outlines of the loaded sledges, the fur-clad forms of our men, lying here and there in groups about the fire, and the frosty dogs, curled up into a hundred little hairy balls upon the snow. Away beyond the limits of the camp stretched the desolate steppe in a series of long snowy undulations, which blended gradually into one great white frozen ocean, and were lost in the distance and darkness of night. High overhead, in a sky which was almost black, sparkled the bright constellations of Orion and the Pleiades--the celestial clocks which marked the long, weary hours between sunrise and sunset. The blue mysterious streamers of the aurora trembled in the north, now shooting up in clear bright lines to the zenith, then waving back and forth in great majestic curves over the silent camp, as if warning back the adventurous traveller from the unknown regions around the Pole. The silence was profound, oppressive. Nothing but the pulsating of the blood in my ears, and the heavy breathing of the sleeping men at my feet, broke the universal lull. Suddenly there rose upon the still night air a long, faint, wailing cry like that of a human being in the last extremity of suffering. Gradually it swelled and deepened until it seemed to fill the whole atmosphere with its volume of mournful sound, dying away at last into a low, despairing moan. It was the signal-howl of a Siberian dog; but so wild and unearthly did it seem in the stillness of the arctic midnight, that it sent the startled blood bounding through my veins to my very finger-ends. In a moment the mournful cry was taken up by another dog, upon a higher key--two or three more joined in, then ten, twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, until the whole pack of a hundred dogs howled one infernal chorus together, making the air fairly tremble with sound, as if from the heavy bass of a great organ. For fully a minute heaven and earth seemed to be filled with yelling, shrieking fiends. Then one by one they began gradually to drop off, the unearthly tumult grew momentarily fainter and fainter, until at last it ended as it began, in one long, inexpressibly melancholy wail, and all was still.

From CHAPTER XXIII, ''Tent Life in Siberia" by George Kennan, Project Gutenburg EBook #12328

Tent Life in Siberia

A New Account of an Old Undertaking

Adventures among the Koraks and Other Tribes In Kamchatka and Northern Asia


George Kennan

Author of "Siberia and the Exile System," "Campaigning in Cuba," "The Tragedy of Pelee," "Folk Tales of Napoleon"

_With 32 Illustrations and Maps_


clipped September 13, 2009

Collection: Natural Science