When Baree ventured forth from under his rock at the beginning of the next day, he was a much older puppy than when he met Papayuchisew, the young owl, in his path near the old windfall. If experience can be made to take the place of age, he had aged a great deal in the last forty-eight hours. In fact, he had passed almost out of puppyhood. He awoke with a new and much broader conception of the world. It was a big place. It was filled with many things, of which Kazan and Gray Wolf were not the most important. The monsters he had seen on the moonlit plot of sand had roused in him a new kind of caution, and the one greatest instinct of beasts—the primal understanding that it is the strong that prey upon the weak—was wakening swiftly in him. As yet he quite naturally measured brute force and the menace of things by size alone. Thus the bear was more terrible than Kazan, and the moose was more terrible than the bear.
It was quite fortunate for Baree that this instinct did not go to the limit in the beginning and make him understand that his own breed—the wolf—was most feared of all the creatures, claw, hoof, and wing, of the forests. Otherwise, like the small boy who thinks he can swim before he has mastered a stroke, he might somewhere have jumped in beyond his depth and had his head chewed off.
Very much alert, with the hair standing up along his spine, and a little growl in his throat, Baree smelled of the big footprints made by the bear and the moose. It was the bear scent that made him growl. He followed the tracks to the edge of the creek. After that he resumed his wandering, and also his hunt for food.
For two hours he did not find a crayfish. Then he came out of the green timber into the edge of a burned-over country. Here everything was black. The stumps of the trees stood up like huge charred canes. It was a comparatively fresh “burn” of last autumn, and the ash was still soft under Baree’s feet. Straight through this black region ran the creek, and over it hung a blue sky in which the sun was shining. It was quite inviting to Baree. The fox, the wolf, the moose, and the caribou would have turned back from the edge of this dead country. In another year it would be good hunting ground, but now it was lifeless. Even the owls would have found nothing to eat out there.
It was the blue sky and the sun and the softness of the earth under his feet that lured Baree. It was pleasant to travel in after his painful experiences in the forest. He continued to follow the stream, though there was now little possibility of his finding anything to eat. The water had become sluggish and dark. The channel was choked with charred debris that had fallen into it when the forest had burned, and its shores were soft and muddy. After a time, when Baree stopped and looked about him, he could no longer see the green timber he had left. He was alone in that desolate wilderness of charred tree corpses. It was as still as death, too. Not the chirp of a bird broke the silence. In the soft ash he could not hear the fall of his own feet. But he was not frightened. There was the assurance of safety here.