Monday, October 29, 2007

To this day

It's through difficult people and experiences that I've learned what's important to me. Today, after writing a heartfelt e-mail to the COO of my company appealing for her to create a position for me instead of relying on grant-funding to keep my position, I felt strongly compelled to write some thoughts down.

Some of the biggest atrocities in human history happened because some person or persons were afraid to speak up. I have been called lots of things because I speak out about the things that I see as injustices: ballsy, brazen, bold, bitchy (how many other "b" words can I come up with?) But nothing worthwhile is every easy.

If there's three words I think encapsulate who I am, it's tenacious, passionate and persevering. And I am done apologizing for who I am. It's taken me 35 years to stop apologizing.

I believe in what I do, the words I say, the work I do, and the things I strive for.

I believe one person can make a difference: what direction that difference goes --- toward positive or negative -- is up to that person.

I believe in our abilities to change.

I believe if the glass is half full, we should drink up and enjoy this day.

Maybe some would say I'm naive. But this is who I am, and I believe I am not sorry.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Happy HOWL-o-ween!

Tonight, even the dogs donned costumes: Karma was a (not-too-happy) spider and Gracie -- our pound rescue -- was a prisoner. After pumpkin carving and trick or treating, we all painted uni-brows on ourselves, set the timer on the camera, and took a picture of our goofiness. Look closely, you just might see the uni-brows, and a small creature in Lisey's lap.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Fell into a sea of grass and disappeared among the shady blades..."

"She sings a song, and I listen to what it says: well if you want a friend, feed any animal."
More pictures to remind me to enjoy life...Elise makes up and sings songs all the time. She just made one up the other day called "Whiskers follow me" which is appropriate considering there are usually whiskered, four-legged creatures following her all over when we're at home.

Thank you, Elise, for being such a compassionate and creative little person. I'm so proud of you. I'm so proud of both of my girls. We are fortunate.

"Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last..."

"Got no deeds to do, No promises to keep. I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep. Let the morning time drop all its petals on me. Life, I love you,All is groovy." Simon & Garfunkel -- The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy).
We went for a wonderful autumn hike Saturday at Virginia Kendall Cliffs. Elise was fascinated with the different colors of leaves, with the water impressions on the cliffs, with life. Children teach us how to live in the moment. I took the series above while she was looking around at the cliffs and holding her "beautiful orange and yellow leaves."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered"

This quote seems again fitting to my current job situation. I had a difficult time swallowing that pill -- that I'll be out of a job in six weeks -- today. So, I did what I do in these situations: I tried as best as I could to reframe.

For example, I've wanted to move, and this might be the perfect opportunity. I wanted to free up my time and schedule for this winter, and this will definitely do that. I wanted to do more with my grooming business, and this will definitely do that also. And, I wanted to spend more time with my kids. And now, I can.

What looks at first to be an inconvenience might just turn out to be one hell of an adventure.

Reframe. Simplify. Perspective is everything.

"If there's one thing I just can't get with at all,/ it's the urge to kill something beautiful just to hang it on your wall." Ani Difranco

This picture was taken at the Cabela's store in Dundee, Michigan. As we walked around looking at the various animal exhibits on display, I overheard a man saying to another man as he walked to the check out counter, "all I know is I'm going to shoot the first thing I see."

I am still baffled by this mentality. I understand hunting for meat, and I actually respect this type of hunting -- called subsistence hunting -- than our far-removed method of picking up a pound of ground chuck at the local grocery. I think if you're going to eat it, you should have some connection to the process.

Trophy hunting, or hunting just to hang something on your wall, really bothers me.

In the late 1800's, during Custer's Last Stand, hundreds of thousands of buffalo were slaughtered on the prairies of South Dakota simply for their hides. The meat was left to rot on the remaining carcass. This decimation of bison ultimately led to the decimation of many natives living off the land. Similar things happened with our useless slaughter of wolves and other big game.

Hunting ranches where animals are kept in fenced areas for people to come shoot are no different. Trophy hunting is no different. It's a squandering of life.

I am thankful for the animals and plants that nourish my and my family's bodies. I know there is a cycle to everything, and that eventually even my own body will feed others.

But killing for the sake of killing....I just can't get with at all. So, to the guy I overheard in Cabela's on Monday, October 15: this entry is for you. I hope somehow you are grateful for the first animal you see, and for the sacrifice it will make for you.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Simplify, Simplify, Simplify"

It was difficult, but somehow I dragged Sophie away from Tasha Canine's three week old pups at Tasha and Ed's and headed home today. Tasha connected me to Sam and Jill Caldwell who connected us with our newest dogs, Brie and Coneaut (sp?), two beautiful female gee/haw leaders.

Happy Birthday to me. I am 35. Things I've learned on this birthday:

1. I don't need to have "stuff" to be happy. This weekend I slept in vehicles, on the ground, in bunks and rest stops, and have been dirty. I stripped myself of make-up and frills -- all the stuff that a professional life seems to dictate -- and felt happy and home. I will be sad to return to work and the pressures of what that means.

2. I love to be awakened by the sound of howling huskies. I love their prancing, jumping, running, trotting, talking, howling, woo-wooing ways. I need to move. I want acres and acres of land. I'd live in a box if I could have acres of land and be awakened by howling huskies instead of an alarm clock.

3. There are still really good people in the world. Jan and Bob Shaw opened their doors to me and Sophie without ever having met us. And they want us to come stay at their place while they go on vacation this coming summer to take care of their dogs and watch their place while they are gone. They are the best people: kind-hearted, funny. soft spoken. I love them, and Tasha and Ed, and all the friends I made at their "so mush fun" weekend.
4. Mushers are a strange lot. They are overall good and generous people, but, as one person put it this weekend, "they are great people, but they all have their quirks." Being around 30 mushers this weekend was enlightening. I mostly listened, and I learned a lot. And I feel grateful for the opportunities, and so excited for this coming winter.

5. Thoreau: "Simplify, simplify, simplify"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The howling awakens me at sunrise. I’m at Nature’s Kennel, home of Tasha and Ed Stielstra and over 100 Alaskan Huskies. By seven-thirty, the dog yards break out into full blown chaos as the teams start to hook up. One by one, they’re harnessed and hooked to the gangline. The morning is bright blue and crisp. I don't have a thermometer, but if I'd have to guess, I'd say it's about 36 degrees.

When they come back an hour later, the dogs are all tongues and tail wags. The yard is quiet, and the dogs are unharnessed and returned back to their homes: blue or white barrels fashioned on wooden platforms.

Inside the Stielstra’s cozy home are pictures and trophies galore. Tasha’s 1st place U.P. 200 trophy is strategically placed in the corner between two sofas, and Ed’s statues sit in window sills from the John Beargrease. They range from “best kept team” to “7th place.” Smiling pictures of Ed’s Iditarod team hang on the wall collage, and pictures of "Nature" -- the kennel namesake, hang proudly on the wall above a bookshelf with appropro titles like "Yukon Alone," and "Back of the Pack."

I wander into the yard while Mariah Smyth is preparing her 12 dog team to leave. I hop on just as she flies by and, after brief introductions, I realize she is the sister of Cim Smyth. Before I know it, we're off the trail going about 13 miles and hour buzzing past tree branches and hitting bumps that send me flying around on the back of the quad. I'm glad I didn't bring Sophie on this ride!

She says she's been mushing all her life. Growing up in Big Lake, Alaska with a family of mushers, what else is there? She's staying with the Stielstra's for the winter, running the racers and living currently in the dog trailer.

A funny conversation mushers have is about poop. Jan Shaw laughed when we started talking about my Jack and how he had the runs. She said, "whenever mushers get together, the conversation is always about poop!" It's true: while sitting around a campfire last evening, the conversation eventually found its way to the topic.

Mushers are not squeamish either. They'll talk about poop over dinner or ice cream, and would just as soon scoop it than anything.

I am dirty. I have not had a shower for two days. The temperature hovered around thirty last night, and the cover of Tasha's big tent and my arctic rated sleeping bag did little to keep me warm. Tonight, Sophie and I are staying at the aptly named "Generic Motel" in McMillian. We're stopping by Carp Lake on the way home to check out a couple gee/haw leaders who are potential additions to my own kennel. We'll see...

Until next time...see ya. I can't wait to take a shower and sleep in a real bed tonight.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Shaw Kennel

October 11, 2007: The Shaw Kennel

Jan Shaw is quiet and reserved. The Shaw house is small and cozy. She tells how it used to be a modular home, but she and her husband, Bob, added on to it, creating the cabin-like dwelling that now sits on a dirt road off Seven Mile Fire Line Road, 20 miles outside of Newberry, MI. The doors are always open here. They have about twenty-five dogs in two kennels outside their house; what use have they for locks?

It doesn’t take long to realize this is a musher’s house. Dog harnesses hang from the antlers of a Mule deer, and dirty Carharts hang from several hooks in the doorway. Antlers of every size hang on the walls, along with a badger, an antelope, a small black bear, a whitetail deer, a pheasant, and back in the master bedroom, two Caribou hang from the walls. Walking around their house gives me the opportunity to test my eight-year-old’s – and my own -- knowledge of animals.

After running two teams of dogs, including my own, we clean up gear, feed, and then settle in to feed ourselves. Jan quietly says she has some southwestern stew she’s cooked up. “I hope it’s not too spicy,” she says and she serves up bowls of the piping hot concoction. I eagerly gulp down her hearty meal, gracious for the warmth. It’s good: full of green beans, peppers, broth, vegetables and some fairly large balls of unidentified meat I falsely assume is beef. I at first carefully dodge the meatballs, but then abandon my nearly vegetarian diet and dig in. Sure enough, it’s spicy, and Bob is sure to point out several times through dinner how spicy it is, as only a husband married many, many years can get away with.

“If I’d have made chili like this, you’d holler at me,” he quips with a grin.

Sophie, my eight-year-old, focuses on cottage cheese, bread and some noodle soup; she says, trying to be polite as possible, that the stew is too spicy. It is then Jan says, “She probably wouldn’t eat it anyway if she knew what was in it.”

I brace myself. I assume it’s Elk or Antelope – which wouldn’t surprise or offend me. I’ve eaten game before, including elk and buffalo, in Wyoming and it’s actually quite tasty. But when Jan reveals quietly and nonchalantly what the meatballs are, I have to try very hard to mask my reaction.

"Do you know what it is?” she asks me.

“No, what is it?” I ask, trying to look calm.


I gulp, thinking in a flash of the Oswald Bear Ranch just 10 miles from here that we visited four months ago. We held two five-month-old bear cubs, and one of them made a bruise on my thumb that lasted two months from biting me in play.
I look at the bear head hanging on the wall.

Later, after dinner, I say to Sophie, “how am I going to tell Chris that I ate bear?”

* * * * * *

Dogs howl throughout the evening and into the night, cutting the silence of the star-filled, brisk UP air. First one howls a lonely wail, then others join in. Soon, there’s a chorus of howls, and suddenly, as sleddogs are wont to do, they all stop in unison. There isn’t a sound after the howling stops.

I lie in bed, looking at the pictures that cover the walls. Some are of family members taken long ago, but most are pictures of dogs: jumping, running Alaskan huskies hooked to lines, smiling, pulling. Nature is everywhere in this house from the knotty pine walls to the figurines and prints of bears, dogs, wolves, and trees. Awards hang proudly on the walls, too, from various sled dog races. I feel safe and warm with Sophie lying next to me, the dogs and the big, quiet UP night all around. I feel privileged to be here, and I never want to leave.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

We've had another incredibly busy weekend. I swear sometimes I think I need to go back to work to rest up!

Chris and Angry Bird played the annual "Interstellar Barn Jam" last night and Chris got to showcase the accordian we picked up in Munising this past summer. They had a great set, and the girls had a lot of fun running around outside until 11 p.m. Above is (from left) Elise, Sophie and Sophie's friend Marni.

Today, I worked refurbishing my dog box and making a picket line in preparation for our UP trip next week. We leave Wednesday afternoon and won't return until the following Monday. I can't wait. :-)

We also had a bridal shower for Chris's mom who is getting remarried after being divorced and single for fourteen years. She remet her first love, Keith, who was her "highschool sweetheart." The shower was ornery and a little disconcerting considering the "gifts" my mother-in-law received (see below). If you can't see it, check out the look on her face as she checks out the "thong" underwear she holds in her hands.