Jonathan and Amy lived in the Valley of the Black Dog. They had a daughter named Etta, a sweet young girl with long, thick, raven-dark hair, dark eyes, and a round face.
Etta’s cheeks dimpled and her eyes sparkled when she smiled. At the age of six, each morning as the sun’s first light appeared over the eastern mountains, she rose with her father, ate breakfast, and fed Oscar, their big black dog. As he walked towards her, his giant bushy tail cut the air behind him like a giant dorsal fin. He had long floppy ears covered in long black fur, which complemented his fluffy black coat and full lion-like mane. In the summer months, when Etta had no school, she helped her father move sheep from their pens by their home to the foothills where she and Oscar watched the sheep graze until mid-day. Once her chores were complete, Etta would sit down to a mid-day meal with her father and mother. When they finished eating Amy would work with Etta to reinforce what Etta had learned in school about reading, writing, and working with numbers.
“Before we read,” Etta asked, “please tell me, again, about my cousins, Justin, Jake, and Elan. They tended the sheep, didn’t they? Just like me?” “I thought we were going to do some reading today,” Amy replied.”Can you tell me a story about Justin, Jake, and Elan, first?” Etta looked at Amy with her large innocent disarming eyes.”Okay,” Amy said as she reflected on Etta’s cousins who had left the Valley of the Black Dog months before Etta was born to explore the high eastern mountains. Etta had never met her cousins but still felt a strong connection to them. Family was very important. Uncle Josh and Aunt Melissa, Justin’s and Jake’s parents, still lived in the valley, as did Uncle Sam and Aunt Sandee, Elan’s parents, and Etta visited them regularly.
“We will still do reading later,” Amy instructed Etta. She thought for a moment before she started her story.”You know how we enjoy the cycle of seasons that brings us change throughout each year? Well, there was one year, before you were born, when we thought summer would never end. Summer had dragged on longer than usual, and it seemed that fall would never arrive. The rivers and ponds were drying up, and the grass had all turned brown. It was a very unusual time, without explanation for why this was happening. Each day, in the early evening, before the sun set, while there was still plenty of light, Jake and Elan would meet Justin in the same hills where you and Dad tended the sheep today. They helped Justin bring the sheep home.
Justin was ten years old and Jake and Elan were about your age. Oscar was young then and not nearly as skilled at tending sheep as he is now. One particular afternoon that summer, just before Jake and Elan were set to arrive, Justin noticed that Oscar had disappeared. Justin stuck his crook in the ground. He left a note for his brother Jake and cousin Elan that he was going to look for Oscar. He asked them to take the sheep home, if he wasn’t there when they arrived.
“”Wasn’t that when the nights were very dark before there were stars and a moon to brighten the night? What if the sun went down before Justin found Oscar? It would be too dark for him to find his way home.” Etta asked, concerned.”I’m not sure Justin thought that far ahead,” Amy responded.
“Justin figured, that if he got to higher ground he could see all around. He called for Oscar as he walked. “Oscar, that’ll do,” he called.
“Oscar, that’ll do.” Etta looked up and imitated her mother, “Oscar, that’ll do.”Amy smiled and continued.
“But, still no Oscar. Justin got to the top of the tallest rise and looked out over the valley. He could see the village below with smoke rising from the chimneys and the fields of ripening corn and patches of green. He could see all the way to the river where boats full of goods were making their way to market, but he couldn’t see Oscar anywhere.”