Thursday, February 28, 2008

Yay for SNOW!

Major Bed Head happy to see so much snow in the morning!

Snow day! YAY!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Make room for Mr. Yeti!

Happy 4 month birthday, Mr. Yeti man!

Yeti loves to cuddle with mom

Yeti, already hanging with the pack on the couch. He's gonna fit RIGHT in at the Lazy Husky Ranch!

Monday, February 25, 2008

"It could be worse: I coulda missed my calling. Sometimes it hurts, but when you read the writing on the wall, you can't cry anymore" Sheryl Crow

So many set backs and disappointments, and lately, too much time to think about them. But, I feel an upswing. Being true to myself and my "calling" is the most important thing to me. It means having the dignity to stop things that are happening for the wrong reasons and cut ties, even if it means taking longer to reach goals.

I have cut ties and felt loss. And now I'm looking up. I'm already planning for next winter. The minuscule amount of snow we had here began thawing yesterday, and already I dread the coming of summer. For mushers and huskies, summer is what winter is to most people: a drag, time spent waiting for the next fall, for cooler temperatures and finally, snowfall.

Through all the disappointments and losses of this season, I have learned so much. And in the face of those disappointments, I say ultimately thank you. I will come back stronger next winter. And I can't wait.

The biggest issue with mushing in Ohio are two things: money and time. Well, maybe three -- snow. To train dogs properly for any distance race takes so much time (running 20 miles by dog team takes at least a couple hours, plus another hour or more for hook up and feeding/watering). And feeding this pack the high-quality food they need runs us about $1200/year. And that's modest: we only have seven dogs!

And to get to proper trail conditions -- ie snow -- means travel. Which takes more time and money.

My family has asked me numerous times why I couldn't pick a cheaper sport!

But I don't think I picked this sport; I think it picked me. I have absolute faith that things are unfolding as they should.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

U.S. Ends Protections for Wolves!

Click the above title to read the story from the NY Times.

Open season on wolves in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana -- my old stomping grounds.

Since when did an animal become the symbol of such ridiculous political jockeying?

Other stories about this subject

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Killing Moon

I went moon chasing tonight. And I found her, bathed in the red shadow of Earth, out in a field where the artificial light doesn't shine. It was cold – so cold I had to keep jumping back into my truck every five minutes to thaw out my fingers. Without my tripod handy, I had to take about 25 shots before getting this one.

2008 promises to be an unusual year. Not only is it leap year, there will be two total eclipses: one, the other night on February 21, and the other, a total solar eclipse, slated to occur on August 1.

Interesting facts about total lunar eclipse:
-- It can only occur during full moon and when the sun, Earth and moon align in the same plane

-- A total lunar eclipse is caused from the moon moving behind the Earth.

-- During a total lunar eclipse, Earth blocks all of the direct rays of the sun, but leaves the indirect rays, thus creating the red color.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Puppy Names Needed!

New Alaskan Husky pup with Sophie on the way home from the U.P. Please send me your ideas for puppy names! UPDATE: as of 2/24/08 his name is YETI!

We emerge this morning to a foot of new snow. I had planned on getting on the road early, but nature thought otherwise.

As I start digging my truck out, Jan tells me to wait, that the plow guy is coming and he’ll dig me out. So we go back inside for some hot tea. It's then Jan pulls out an inch-thick binder that contains the geneology of all of their huskies dating back 30 years. She even has the lineage of dogs in other kennels.

I am only now beginning to realize and appreciate the kind of reputation the Shaw’s have. Mention to a musher in the U.P. that you have a "Shaw dog" and it becomes clear what the dog looks like, in general. Our Mandy is a Shaw dog.

Bob's trophies I saw at the beginning of the season mean more to me now. First place in a 75-mile race is quite an accomplishment. In the den at the Shaw’s, photos of dogs are scattered among family photo collages. Dog booties and harnesses lie in front of the wood burning stove to dry. Their lives have centered around dogs for the last 30 years, starting with Siberians to their now well-known Alaskan Huskies.

Things move at their own pace here. With all this snow, there’s no moving too fast. Finally the plow man shows up at 10:30, digging out the Shaw’s half-mile long driveway. A half hour later, I’ve successfully dug my truck out, thanks to Bob’s help, and after short goodbyes and hugs, Sophie and I are off – our final U.P. trip of the season over.

After six hours, we come to Saginaw, and the first glimpse of a bigger city. There is little snow, but somehow people have driven cars in snow-filled ditches. Everyone is in such a damned hurry. By the time we reach Ann Arbor, people in other cars are tailing my ass. Being back in the city depresses me.

Back home, the new little guy sits on the couch panting with the other huskies. Coming in from the sub-arctic temperatures we’ve had lately, the huskies pant incessantly in the evenings when we let them in. And little guy (who now has a list of about 20 possible names! See below* ) pants, lounging on the couch right along with the big dogs. He will fit right in here at the Lazy Husky Ranch. He’s got long legs, good pads and a hearty appetite – all the makings of a good sleddog. And the best part is, we will raise him, so he’ll be accustomed to the routines of our kennel. I have high hopes for him, and I have already started thinking of next winter.

Possible Names:
*Petzel, Rosco, Rodeo, Diesel, Max, Hershey, Kodiac, Chance, Eagle, Valentine, Gonzo, Groucho, Scout, Nitro, Hawk, Trooper, Yooper, Cinder, Ernest, Orion, (Super) Nova, Sirius, Dagwood, Cedar, Apollo, Mister, (Captain) Morgan, Monty, Mario, Morell, Mervis, MacDougal, Murray, Stuey, Thad, Teva, Thor, Truman, Turner, Tristan, Dane
Zed, Fozzy, Iko, Lincoln, Eclipse, Lunar

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sophie's First Dog Run

Sophie on her first dogsled ride with Cedar and Foxy at the Shaw kennel.

A little faster now: Sophie cooks on the trail with Jack and Helga at the Shaw kennel.

This video was shot from the back of a snowmachine, so it's a little bumpy. Sophie did great! Jan Shaw says I could take lessons on dog mushing from her! :-)

Sophie’s First Run

The phone rings at the Shaw’s all day. The calls are from other kennels wanting to chat about the U.P. 200 – the U.P.’s most popular sleddog race. Bob brings print-outs of the latest race standings to the kitchen regularly. Twenty-seven teams started out, and only sixteen finished. Ed Stielstra won first place in the 240-mile sleddog marathon. We’re shocked when, at 3 o’clock, Rodney Whaley, hasn’t finished the race. A rookie from Tennessee working under the direction of Al Hardman, Rodney needs this finish as a qualifier for Iditarod, which he is registered to start in just two weeks. We’re all talking dogs, and the phone hasn’t likely seen this much traffic at the Shaw’s in awhile.

In these circles, if the focus isn’t on dogs, it’s on the weather. What’s the temperature outside, how much snow, what kind of snow? Wet snow? Hard-packed snow? Snow falls steadily for hours outside, and Bob remarks with a hint of sarcasm, “well, the good news is it’s still snowing!”
Jan has a homemade barometer next to the sink in the kitchen; it’s filled with liquid, and when the liquid rises to the top of the spout, a storm is coming. No need to rely on the television or radio, and this weatherman predicts weather patterns with more clarity and accuracy.

There is a thermometer and a bird feeder just outside the window over the sink in the kitchen too, and Bob can tell the names of any of the little birds who hang out there. Today, a nuthatch rested on Sophie’s open palm while she stood next to the birdfeeder.

In short, the lives of those who live in the north revolve around nature. Being here, I feel at home. The drama of home slips away from me again now that I’m back here. Tomorrow, sadly, I return. The winter’s adventures are likely over. Plans have run amok.

But before we leave, we spend the whole day Sunday running teams. And the most exciting thing is today is the day of Sophie’s first run.

She stands on the sled runners of the Hall sled, and she looks as though she’s doing a half split just to get her legs to reach. At 53 pounds, Sophie can’t hook up as many dogs as she’d like. We start with two good leaders: my Foxy, who just turned 12 and Cedar, who is one of the Shaw's “old timers” at 11 years old. They are both reliable and strong. Many Alaskan Huskies live to be 15 years or more. Cedar is thrilled for the chance to hook up, but Foxy isn’t so thrilled. Reluctantly, she goes along with it, though, and before I know it, Sophie is whizzing past following Jan’s lead by snow machine.

As I stand waiting drinking Diet Coke, a heavy wet snow begins falling. My eyes fade from focusing on the snow to focusing on the forest surrounding me, and there isn’t a sound, except the faint sound of snow machines way off in the distance. I think about this winter and my plans, and where I went wrong again. Had I focused on my own mushing and not on others, I might have been successful this winter.

Before I have a chance to brood too much, Sophie is heading up the driveway, having successfully run her first small dog team.

By the end of the day, we’ve hooked up seven teams in the kennel, and have run every dog in the yard except for the puppy team, which is still recovering from yesterday’s Jack Pine 30. Sophie has run three pairs of dogs, and rode in the basket with me and a six dog team. Jan is convinced Sophie will be a musher!

Friday, February 15, 2008

UP 200 - current temperature: -15

Sophie in downtown Marquette after the start of the U.P. 200. It was -15 degrees.

Lake Michigan on route 2, just over the Mackinac Bridge. I asked Sophie while we drove if we'd see some polar bears walking across this frozen lake.

My favorite picture from the U.P. 200. Yes, there is a small child being pulled in this tiny covered sled. Winter is celebrated, and is a way of life. You can't see it here, but on the back of the sled is the infamous bumper sticker from these parts that says, "Say 'ya' to the U.P., eh!"

Turn your computer screen (or your head) to watch this video of Tim Hunt, bib 20, coming down the hill at the start of the U.P. 200. We got there just after our friends from Nature's Kennel came down the hill. Sorry, Ed! Congrats on your win! And good luck in the Iditarod!

February 16, 2008

Outside, snow is piled half way up the sliding glass doors. Sophie and I lie in sleeping bags next to the wood burning stove at the Shaw kennel after a long day of chasing dog teams around the U.P. at races.

This region is more beautiful and stunning in winter than in summer. Lake Superior looks like polar bears could shuffle across it. Last night at the start of the U.P. 200, the temperature was -15.

Long shadows fall over fields of white. Tundra glistens blue sky bright. Winter is a quiet solitude, giving the illusion of purity with pristine hills. Ice along Lake Superior forms changling sculptures, wind scooping out dugouts, carving out peep holes.

Being here simplifies me, helps ground me and remember who and what is real. At the awards banquet after the Jack Pine 30 this afternoon, the room was full of mushers and their handlers, family and friends with their winter bibs and anoraks. Not a stitch of make up could be seen in the room and heads of hair were either tangled or stuck in odd positions from being stuffed inside fur-lined bomber hats to combat the arctic temperatures outside. Many weathered hands chugged beer and hugged friends in celebration.

Emerging from a corporate-trained, well-groomed and manicured world, I at first worried about my hat head, remarking that I badly needed a brush. But Jan quickly reminded me of where I was: not a beauty pageant, but an awards banquet with a room full of mushers.

“Mushers don’t worry about that kind of thing,” she said. What matters more is the grooming of a trail.

Watching the teams fly along M-553, I couldn’t help but reflect on why I wasn’t there and all that went wrong this season. It wasn’t my year, that’s for sure. But nothing stirs my heart like the deep snow, arctic temperatures and running dogs; I don’t think anything ever will.

It's a culture of perseverance and endurance that I love: today, while teams of dogs were coming in and packing up from the Jack Pine, a mother strolled by with a baby in a toboggan sled, bundled up like a little mummy, only little eyes peeking out. Winter is a way of life, and life does not stop here because it’s -15 degrees outside. Life and winter are celebrated.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


"Zero is a number which quantifies a count or an amount of null size; that is, if the number of your brothers is zero, that means the same thing as having no brothers, and if something has a weight of zero, it has no weight." Wikipedia accessed 2/10/08

So, by this logic, because it's zero degrees outside, is it safe to assume there are no degrees outside? If something has a temperature of zero, it has no temperature?

Still, we frolic outside. Above, Foxy stretches languidly as we prepare for a walk. Lovin Winter! Welcome back to NE Ohio!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Rallying the pack

Five thirty a.m., and I am up, sitting groggily at the table thinking about making coffee. Suddenly, the dogs start howling: first Jack, head held highest, moon-shaped mouth, ears back, he stands in the back of our property on the edge of the trees howling. Then the others join in. Many domestic dog breeds howl at the sound of sirens whizzing by. But this sort of howling is different. There are no sirens. Jack is simply rallying our little pack.

While I was up north, I wrote about the howling that occurred in the dog yard and the different types of howling and what it signifies, at least in a wolf pack. Watching this display, I cannot help but see the ancient connection dogs have to their cousins, the wolf. A lot of people think Foxy is a wolf-dog when they see her, ignorant of how truly enormous wolves really are.
While wolves are related to dogs, wolves do not pull. There are stories from Jack London claiming some sleddogs were wolf-dogs. But to my knowledge, wolves have not been used as sleddogs because, by nature, they resist pulling.

I let Foxy in, and as I type, she sits with her giant right paw resting on my forearm. Despite the sometimes crazy looks we get when we tell people what we are into or how many dogs we have, I am so happy to have these amazing dogs in my life.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Because I am now an independent contractor working from home, I’ve had a brief stint as a stay-at-home mom these last two months since returning from Michigan. McDonald’s playland has become our second home.

Watching the other moms talk about their kids’ developmental milestones, what baby food they’re currently eating, and life with toddlers in general alienates me. I sit in the corner, wondering what happened to me, why I am not driven to talk about my children incessantly. A chubby blonde mom with, from what I can see, two children under the age of three, snaps a picture of her son on the sliding board, apparently sending it to her husband, who I assume is at work, busy providing for this little family.

Elise is currently surrounded entirely by boys, seven of them. As things get increasingly rowdy, one of the moms, a pretty, thirty-something with long, layered dirty blonde hair that's been set in hot rollers – obviously a former prom queen -- says,

“Steven, settle down around the little girl, okay,” and I’m mildly miffed. My girl can hang.

Just today I ran into Angie, a friend I went to high school with, and told her I feel sorry for Elise’s first boyfriend. She’s going to eat him alive. Angie said, “maybe her first ‘boyfriend’ will be a ‘girlfriend.’”

If this happens, I'm happy if Elise is happy. I’m proud of the fact that my girls can take care of themselves. They’re not delicate little misses. They’re funky, sassy and assertive. Elise is veritably fearless, giving our dogs commands like a champ and jumping around with the playland boys with ease. And Sophie has collected a multitude of insects, gets A’s in science and always has dirt under her nails, messy hair and skinned up knees. Either of my girls can be anything they want to be, and I’ve always told them that.

In a few days, we will leave for the U.P. again where I hope to put them both on a sled with their own small team of dogs.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

If you don't know Jack

Jack, pouting because he wants to get hooked up

Woke up and took a small pack of dogs to the park for a run. Came home sweaty and invigorated to find Chris playing Beatles songs on his guitar in the kitchen, sipping coffee, while Lisey danced with a bubble wand. Dogs yip outside, then randomly start a rallying howl. I live for times like these.

My boy, Jack, sits with me as I type, big head resting on my leg, one blue eye and one brown staring up at me. Life is good.