Thursday, April 30, 2009

Missing Michigan

I’m at work, listening to Sufjan Stevens’ "Come on! Feel the Illinoise!" album on my ipod when it hits me. Despite the sound of the copy machine and sitting in my cubicle writing press releases, I am missing Michigan. Not only that, I'm missing training and winter.

County Road 500

I'm immediately transported to the winding two-lane highway of M-123. I am driving toward Tahquamenon Falls, through the tiny town of Paradise, to Whitefish Point, where it’s always fairly cold, even in July. I hear the waves lapping the edge of the coast of Lake Superior (summer), or, in winter, I hear the sounds of dogs, smell the cold chill on my nose, the friends I’ve made there and their hospitable kindness.

Our good friend Jan Shaw with Sophie

"Tug Party" - last season, making tug lines at Sled Dog Lodge

Talking Dog during a Seney 300 checkpoint at Al Hardman's cabin

I miss the snow, riding the sled through the hardwood trees. I miss simple pleasures.

I am sad and lonely for Michigan. My spirit calls to me to go north, where it’s slower, colder, friendlier. I need a campfire, a beer and hours of dog talk!

To all of my Michigan friends, I can't wait to talk dog with you soon! Until then, listen to some Sufjan Stevens that reminds me of driving on M-123 and makes me miss you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Castor canadensis - the tale of the big brown beaver

It's been really hot - almost 90 - here lately. It should be about 30 degrees lower. And it's been a humid kinda heat, the kinda heat that makes my hair curl. The kinda heat I despise. In this heat, I hibernate. So do the dogs. Activities slow to a minimum. The dogs do as little as possible, cowering in the shade, waiting for the heat to subside.

Sunday night, Elise wanted to go kayaking.

By 7:30 it was still hot. And I admit, I grumped a little. I was already sweaty. I wasn't looking forward to getting even sweatier paddling across the lake.

As we pushed the kayak from shore, however, the breeze picked up. The sun sat in the western sky, a hot, life-giving orb all orange and ruddy smudge. And then, on the opposite bank, I saw what I thought at first was a small black bear. The dark round mass huddled next to a tree, clearly foraging.

I snapped a picture - so quickly it's not even clearly focused (I apologize to your eyes!)

Soon, it saw us, and slid into the water (see its tail below?)

Elise and I played hide and seek with this beaver for over 30 minutes, chasing her as she swam, head above water. We got so close, we could see her whiskers.

When we got too close, she acted out her classic warning signal to other beavers by dunking herself herself under the dark water, smacking her fat tail on the surface in an attempt to splash us. Water doesn't deter us, however. Especially not on hot days! She didn't seem too afraid of people, though, from the close proximity she allowed.

I was sure glad Elise talked me into a kayak adventure. Five minutes on the lake eases all of the tension away.

Looking forward to the next paddle...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night."

Yes, it's true. Rainer Maria Rilke said it best: the green of spring is a scream.

Everything is announcing itself. Daffodils stand proudly, "look at me!" Buds seem to spring from every living plant. And dogs...well, they announce themselves too. Nature has made Big Brown announce her presence to our boys, who are starstruck and in love. So poor Big Brown has to spend time in the "heat pen."

She's been a good girl, though, so tolerant of the isolation her "time" brings. After all, we don't want puppies...yet.

We have other announcements too. The Lazy Husky Ranch is honored to announce it will be blogging for the Akron Beacon Journal, under their pet-dedicated site,! I have developed a small group of people who follow this site and send notes to me from time to time from all over the world, which I appreciate very much. I hope by blogging about our dogs, dog sledding, and any other dog-related topic on the Beacon's page I can spread awareness about this awesome sport and share some tidbits about dog health and kennel management as well.

Thank you to Jim Arnold, site manager and writer for the Akron Beacon for the opportunity! Follow us at!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A night out

There's never a day when I don't look forward to coming home to my pack. Even on the coldest, rainiest, snowiest or gloomiest of days, they always greet me with a smile and a wag, and I'm always happy to see them. They are my therapy. They ground me with their affection, humor me with their silly antics and accept me for exactly who I am, however I present.

There're not a lot of people I can say that about.

But one person I can say that about is Sophie. My "Sophie Queen."

Sophie and I went to the "big city" two nights ago to see one of our favorite female musicians, Neko Case.

Neko belts it out on a tour in support of her new album, Middle Cyclone, at the Playhouse Theater in Cleveland on April 21

This was Sophie's first "real" concert. Aside from seeing George Clinton and the Funkadelic in a camping/outdoor concert last July and The Cheetah Girls. :-)

The Neko show gave me an opportunity to practice my low-light photo skills, despite the rule of "no cameras" in the theater. hehe!

Here are some of my favorites:

Sound check

With guitarist Paul Rigby performing title track from Middle Cyclone

Performing "I Wish I Was the Moon" with a stunning backdrop

Pedal steel guitarist, Jon Rauhouse

The romantic ambiance of the Playhouse's Allen Theater set the perfect mood for the music

Stay tuned for a big announcement coming up for the Lazy Husky Ranch!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rainy Days and Mondays...

Like Karen Carpenter said, rainy days and mondays always seem to get me down. Weekends are never quite long enough. Monday finds me back in my suit, heading downtown, leaving my dogs.

But when five o'clock comes, nothing makes me happier than trading in that suit for Carharts and heading outside with my dogs - even on rainy mondays. No matter what the weather, dogs are always happy, and they always make me happy.

They love these cool, rainy days! They splash in puddles and are covered in mud. They make me laugh.

Others may look at my life and criticize me as a "simpleton" for living close to the earth. They may look down their noses at me because I choose to share my life with eight dogs. They may think it strange.

But my dogs are always happy to see me. Even on rainy days and mondays. And I am always happy to see them.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Turtle cove via kayak

Elise and I discovered a village of painted turtles yesterday on our first kayaking and camping trip. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera died, so I was forced to capture these images with my cell phone. Not the greatest, but for a phone, not bad either.

Elise and I took the kayak out during a gorgeous and unseasonably warm 70 degree day yesterday. After paddling across the lake, Elise pointed in the direction of a tiny cove.

"Go that way, mommy!" I steered the hull in that direction figuring the quiet cove would give Elise a chance to eat her fruit roll-up and me a chance to take a break. I'm fighting a nasty cold after my first week back in a full-time job away from home.

One beauty of kayaking is the opportunity for viewing wildlife via these tiny shallow coves where much of wetland creatures spend their days and where larger boats cannot venture. As we paddled silently up the cove, we spotted a heron (infamous in these coves because they can easily snatch fish out of the shallow water), a Canada goose, and heard the chorus of spring peepers. We navigated past several felled trees and came finally to the end of the cove, where we found five painted turtles in various places of repose: on tree stumps, rocks and along the shore. Soaking up the warm afternoon sun, they were startled when Elise finally broke the silence.

"I love you, turtles!" she said quietly. Several of them jumped in the water with a plop. But one lay still, eyes slightly closed, uber relaxed. We managed to get very close to him before he slid into the murky water. We watched him swim just under the surface, then pop his head up and look at us inquisitively. I paddled quietly toward him, and he dunked himself back under the water, popping up on the other side of the boat. He did this about half a dozen times, each time stopping to study us as he emerged.

The painted turtle who played with us for twenty minutes

We took the camper out for the first time this season too! We can never go for long camping trips, or far, because we need to stay close to home for the dogs. But it was wonderful to get away to the woods, make a fire and sit with the kids in nature.

A pug at the campground

It seems spring has officially sprung!

Monday, April 6, 2009

A final fling: unfazed by the weather

Big Brown (foreground), who is named after the 2008 Kentucky Derby champion Thoroughbred, is our newest addition to the kennel. She is Ruffian's (who is also named after a champion Thoroughbred race horse) sister.

Spring. A time of renewal, birth and sunny days. For mushers, spring means movement. After moving hundreds of miles through fall training and winter's racing season, spring finds us moving equipment and dogs. It seems mushers never stop moving.

Tuesday morning, when northeastern Ohio was blasted by what will likely be a final winter storm, we headed north. In a last minute decision guided by the luxury of spontenaity I have been blessed with over the last year and a half, I made a final winter trip to Michigan to see my good friend Joann Fortier, have some fun, and bring home a new pack member, Big Brown.

You see, Odessa is expecting a litter of pups next month. So Joann had to make room in the kennel for their upcoming new additions.

Joann gives some lovin' to one of her top dogs, Odessa, who is expecting a litter of puppies next month. Ana looks on in the distance.

This meant another long car ride to northern Michigan.

But the girls sure have a blast when they're up north! I think they're yooper girls at heart.

Sophie bonds with Big Brown

Unfazed by the weather, Sophie and Ana played in the snow, along with Elise, who was out back "digging for treasure" in the snow!

The girls wore themselves out playing.

Sophie and Elise loved Ana

And when the girls finally fell asleep, Joann and I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. drinking wine, watching Iditarod videos and talking dog. Joann is like my soul sister. We think alike, want the same things, love the same things. We both have girls who are four years old, and have a lot of the same viewpoints on life.

So many people I've met in Michigan have become my second family. I know the sounds of their voices in my mind, the smells of their homes, and know I'd be welcome on any of their sofas anytime. I am always happy to head north, and always sad to leave.

Joann Fortier and me squinting in the bright sun as Sophie snaps our picture

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Duck, duck, goose....goose!

A pair of Canada geese nesting with a pair of mallards behind

Everything is paired up for spring. Canada geese squawk if I come too near them; they're not thrilled about this photo opp. You see, they're expecting. And the mallards behind them (yes, back there. They blend well, don't they?) - they're expecting too, and they take cover under the protective hyper-vigilance of the geese.

There's a lot of action on land.

Karma the cattle dog runs super fast, trying to dry off and warm up after a cold dip in the lake

People seemed to be out every where today. Motorcycles roared, bicycles buzzed on the Towpath trail in the Cuyahoga Valley. But out on the water, solitude was still attainable.

Karma and Gracie cool off in Indigo lake

As my paddle tip touched the water for the first time this year, my hips fell into a familiar, easy sway with the rhythmic splash, splash paddling, and I remembered quickly why I feel at home and at ease here. The day was not bright; it wasn't even warm. But as the hull of my kayak hit the water, I officially embraced spring's return.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cuyahoga Valley Vagabonds

In the hills and valleys between Akron and Cleveland, the Cuyahoga River meanders through heavily forested land. Dense with hemlock, beaver, and deer, the marshy area is home to the only national park in Ohio. Once Elk roamed the 51 square miles of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and some say the Huron, Ottawa and Erie tribes fought over this land before the British and French took over in the 1700s.

Rich with history, thriving with wildlife and plentiful with photo opportunities, Elise and I took advantage of the unseasonably warm 70ish temps today to venture into the Cuyahoga Valley, along with a coupla mutts.

Karma couldn't resist splashing in Indigo Lake after a hot hike

Neither could Elise, although more modestly.

This day was bittersweet for me because this ends almost two years of being self-employed. Tomorrow, I start a new job - one that I am excited about. However, I will miss the time I've gotten to spend with my pooches and my kiddos.

So, today, we look out over the horizon at things yet to come.

And we look, thankful for today, and hopeful for what tomorrow might bring.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ruffian Goes to the Dog Park: aka Doggy Enrichment

A beagle at the dog park

Like it or not, our dogs are captive animals. Regardless of whether they are pets (highly domesticated) or working dogs like ours (often not quite as domesticated), they are captive animals, just like those in zoos.

When I was a zookeeper, we practiced enrichment activities like most zoos. Enrichment activities are activities aimed at improving the lives of animals by giving them things to play with, stimulating their minds and bodies. An example of this would be a ball or a frisbee for a dog.

Enrichment is important because, just like you and me, animals get bored when their environment is always the same. Enrichment often gives the animal an opportunity to react as it would in the wild, and actually helps animals live longer, richer lives.

Soaring red tailed hawk above the dog park

I am lucky because, having only seven dogs, I am still small enough to provide enrichment to my pack daily. For their safety, our huskies are tethered despite our fenced in kennel area and yard. But twice daily, I unchain them for free play time with our house dogs. This not only gives them a chance to get much-needed exercise, it also teaches them how to exist as a pack and how to interact with other dogs. Additionally, it gives them opportunities to chase, as they would in the wild.

This is vitally important - especially for dogs - because they are pack animals with a distinct pecking order in the wild. A good place to experiment with enrichment is at your local dog park.

Ruffian had her first visit to a dog park yesterday. She did great! Click the video below to see her (and all the other dogs) in action!