Saturday, October 31, 2009

Some pictures...Happy Howl-o-ween!

Some pictures from Elise and Sophie's Halloween parade yesterday. I have to shoot a wedding reception/Halloween party celebration tonight, so I will miss trick or treat. Such is the life of a photographer though!

Elise was a "butterfly princess"

Sophie was a pirate, arg matey!

I don't know who this little boy was, but if I ever had a little boy, I would want him to look like this. Such a cutie!

Dogs made an appearance...

We are also dog sitting a little chihuahua mix named Gypsy. She was rescued by Sophie and her dad this past spring. Sophie's dad went to the Dominican Republic for eight days, so we are watching Gypsy. She has been a wonderful guest at the ranch.

Gypsy and Sophie

Yo queiro taco bell!

Karma the cattle dog mutant loves Gypsy the Chihuahua mutant. They have been best buddies during Gypsy's stay

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Side note #2

Wedding day, September 12, 2003

Sometimes, I only get the clarity and perspective I need to write about where I come from when I am away from it. In those quiet moments, distance gives birth to a new perspective.

Somehow, every time I leave, I hope to return and keep that new-found perspective. But it always seems to fade and the reality of life takes over. Luckily, I scribbled some notes during my recent training trip to Michigan.

I remember his sensitive ears - a musician's ears. I remember watching him on stage playing, his long fingers tapping out a string of alluring notes, watching his body sway soulfully in rhythm with the notes. I was enamored. I remember, drunk on love, pulling a dirty bouquet of fake flowers out of a flower bed outside of the nightclub he played in that night in November. And I told him I wanted to marry him.

I wanted that more than anything then and I was in love with him for his passion and his strength and his creativity and ambitions.

Now, I am in love with a memory.

Maybe it's wrong to put all this out there so publicly.

But so many people don't acknowledge that....marriage is hard.

We're in limbo. Sleepless nights give way to restless days, not knowing which direction to turn. I can only hold on to that memory so long.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

14 dog training run video

I'm only now getting around to editing all the video I shot during the fabulous training weekend at Shaws last weekend. The following is a string of 14 dogs, a combination of mine and Joann Fortier's teams, during a training run we went on together last week. I've edited out some of the cuss words :-)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Tribute to Bob and Jan Shaw

The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. Hopefully this montage, taken during Bob and Jan Shaw's annual fall training session, will speak volumes. Bob and Jan have been a cornerstone of the mushing community in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for years. This was the twelfth annual fall training session they've hosted, and the video features many of the mushers who have shared the trails, laughs and good times with the Shaws in the Upper Peninsula. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Talkin' Dog: Updates from the Shaw Rig Session

Teddy, at Arctic Wind Sleddogs, is a classic Shaw dog: full of character.

We wake to dogs howling, barking, jumping to go. The chaos is broken only intermittently by the steady fall of raindrops. Every year for the past twelve, serious mushers from all around gather at the home and kennel of Bob and Jan Shaw, about 20 miles west of Newberry, Michigan in the heart of the Upper Peninsula. It is a gathering of friends, old and new, and people I am happy to call an extended family.

Joann Fortier gets a kiss from one of the dogs

Hearty and stalwart, we thrive in inclement weather. Mushers are the only people I know who get excited in weather others take cover from. Cold? Awesome! Snowing? Even better. Raining? long as it's below 50 degrees.

But, for five days, it's been nothing but solid, steady rain. Rain the local weather station described as "soaking" rain. Cold rain: with temperatures hovering between 34 and 41 degrees, the dogs were happy to run. Eventually, though, even my Gortex became tired and soggy.

We must love what we do to do it in this miserable cold rain. And we do it for a love of dogs and nature few understand.

But we also do it for a love of the camaraderie we share.

Emily Curtice, 7, hold a pup at the Shaw rig session

Here, we are a gathering of like minds. And we talk dogs...and talk dogs...and talk dogs...

The rain can't stop all the dog talk

Stay tuned for the low down on all the dog talk that went on this weekend...

Iditarod veteran and maker of Momentum and Pursuit dog foods, Tim Hunt, speaks at the Shaw Rig session about fall training standards

Friday, October 23, 2009

Side note #1

October, 2009
I cannot sleep. It's 12:56. I've been in the soaking rain all day, driving for half the day. I go out to the truck and swipe some pieces of napkin from the glove compartment, swiftly stuffing them into my ears, hoping they block out the howling and excitement of the dogs. New smells, new dogs, ready to run, to greet each other and the morning rain tomorrow. I am not, however. I cannot sleep.

As I stuff the tiny bits of napkin in my ears, I remember that memory of him - probably my first clearest memory. Seeing that loud, obnoxious punk band (what a first date!) and fetching tiny bits of toilet paper from the bathroom for his sensitive ears. I stuffed them into his ears that night gingerly, as if offering a special trinket to a new lover. Who knew how true that would become.

I have loved him. I have been loyal through the good and the bad. So much bad. And when I am away from him, I miss him.

But so often anymore, I miss him when I am with him too.

The rain still falls on my hat, my hair, a steady-falling, cold rain. A U.P. rain.

We are at a crossroad. And I'm so tired of being at this crossroad. We need to pick a direction and move forward. I'm so tired.

I lay down on my pillow and listen to the rain fall on the canvas roof of the camper. I snuggle down deep into my sleeping bag. My nose is cold. Nine weeks ago I lay in a hospital room in the greatest pain of my life, unable to conceive of ever living this life again. And here I am.

I am thankful. I close my eyes, thinking of the way he smiled at me back then, and I listen to the rain.

Stay tuned for images from the annual fall rig session in the Upper Peninsula

Scene from a junkyard in Frederick, Michigan

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Walking is also an ambulation of the mind" - Gretel Ehrlich

Today, I walked.

I walked into the chilly October air, following the dogs. A dog is as good as a compass.

Eyes to Heaven, thanks to this natural chappel. Who needs a church? Mine is right here.

As we set out on our journey, the sky was a dizzying azure backdrop behind tall trees with yellow and red and orange leaves. They wave to me, tiny hands fluttering hellos from on high.

Eventually the path becomes obscure, covered in leaves, like golden lava curling around themselves. The dog perks up, wary of some wayward creature, then commences her splashing into a drainage ditch.

Dogs are pure in-the-moment experience. There is no here or there, no then and upcoming. There's only now. This path, this sky, this scent, this splash. When it's gone, it's forgotten.

I strive for this kind of zen. When I am troubled, I walk. It calms my mind. Today, I walked for hours. I walked until my thighs quivered with tiny muscle spasms; I walked until my left pinkie toe bled.

We wander through the thicket, having lost the trail. It's okay: I follow them. We listen to the leaves swish, swish under foot, to the squish, squash of my shoes on soggy mud. Still, I follow my dogs. They have never let me down.

Sometimes it's hard to know which direction to go.

We traipse through mud, through brier patches and weeds, hoping to find the way.

"Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In the end, I am happy with my path, however unorthodox.

Sure I live with nine dogs and my idea of fun is sleeping with my dogs in the snow. But if others could find one half the pure joy I find from my dogs and my lifestyle, perhaps my path would not seem so unusual.

Here's to the oddities and being true to yourself.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October is best

October really is the best month. It appeals to all the senses so shamelessly. The smells of falling leaves and wood stoves, the colors screaming for attention in vivid contrast against a blue sky, the taste of pumpkin and nutmeg and cinnamon, the cool temperatures and fuzzy warm clothes, and the my case, of screaming dogs.

Fall is also a great time to support your local farmer.

Sophie hangin' in the spooky graveyard of Dussell Farm's pumpkin patch

After two days of running dogs, today was a great day to take a break and enjoy fall. I worked on resealing and painting the dog boxes and getting propane for the camper for my departure to the great north woods on Wednesday. Then we took the girls to Dussell Farms for some good old fashioned, cider-drinkin', kettle-corn-eatin' fall fun.

Elise playing in pumpkin guts!

Today reminded me of a poem I wrote when I was a sophomore in college. I wanted to post it here. Hope you enjoy it and are celebrating the wonders of fall.

The Progression of Autumnal Equinox

It is the "x" that stands out, as sure and spirited
as a red tailed hawk. It is horse riding in
October, the strong animal full-throttle between
the legs of a Libra. It is crow-call and hardening
Earth; it is the last refrain before a flush of
tired leaves give in to their vivid death.

It is roaming into obscure places to meet
Eve of All Hallow. It is tires kicking up leaves,
and smiling silently at their weightless succession
as they fall and scatter behind a girl in a black car.
It is the smell of wood burning stoves
filling noses cold from the days that chill,

that chill. It is an amber hue that glorifies death,
and covers the hills that surround my home.
It is an ancient Celtic whim,
an impetuousness that lands in a series of words
in three stanzas.

(C) Shannon Mugrage Miller, 1994

The Lazy Husky Ranch's fall mascot, done by yours truly

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Could you be loved?

Today, the 15th, was my birthday. This year was extra special. I have a lot to be thankful for. Surviving, for one.

And I am thankful for having so many special people around me who love me. And for having so many awesome people and animals in my life who I love dearly. Today was the best birthday I have had since I was a kid.

Thank you.

Could you be loved?

"Don't let them change ya or even rearrange ya...
We've got a life to live.
They say only the fittest of the fittest can survive...
Stay alive!"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Meat: it's what's for dinner....for the dogs!

Yum! The dogs are consuming over a pound of meat, mixed with warm water and kibble, per feeding now. Here, Jack (right) and Big Brown (left) eagerly await dinner time!

This time of year gets gross if you're a musher and happen to be a vegetarian.

I write about this every year because as the caloric needs of the dogs increase, I am amazed, every year, by how ravenous the dogs get!

We have been training intensively now with the temperatures getting cooler, and the dogs are super-charged and ready to roll!

My little team lined out on the trail. Gwennie (left) and Jack (right) up front, Yeti (left) and Ruffian (right) in point and Big Brown in wheel

We've still only been doing five mile training runs because I'm working with a young team and trying to keep it light and fun for the first month. But now that they're getting it, we're going to step up the miles starting this week.

Ruffian, one of my yearlings (left) and Yeti, who will be two years old this month, resting in lead after a five mile run

To compensate for all the calories burned by these high octane doggies, they also receive a high-end kibble (I currently feed Eukanuba Performance, which is 28% protein and 18% fat. The average dog food is somewhere between 18-24% protein and 10-12% fat), and a smidgen of corn oil mixed in for extra fat.

As disgusting as it may look to us, the dogs gobble it up ravenously. As the miles increase, the amount of meat they consume increases too. The calories burned daily by the sled dogs running in Alaska's annual Iditarod race average 10,000 calories! We're certainly not anywhere near that amount, but these superior athletes need a lot of calories.

Lined out and ready to roll!

To see why, click on the video below. My dogs were cooking in this video at between 13 and 17 miles an hour!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gratitude (Kodachrome)

Just six weeks ago, I didn't think I'd be able to witness something as spectacular as an Ohio fall this season.

The rural road that leads me to my favorite places...

I didn't think I'd have the strength for this either.

Today on a training run at the state park

I am so grateful, still, every day. People have asked me if I've settled down yet, or stopped being amazed by the simple beauty of life. Nope, not at all. Every day is a gift. I've got new eyes. I see things in kodachrome.

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera" (I actually have Canons)
"I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away"

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Youngsters in training

"A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself." - Josh Billings

I am running young dogs. Yeti, my up-and-coming leader, will be two years old this month. Gwennie is two, and my other girls, Ruffian and Big Brown, are yearlings. In fact, Ruffian and Big Brown have only about a dozen hook ups, including a couple from this past spring, total. They are about as green as they come.

So, it probably goes without saying that this last month since I started training the youngsters, I've spent just about as much time redirecting and correcting as I have running. It's vitally important - especially with young dogs in training - to make things fun and keep the initial runs shorter and light, stopping frequently to give praise (even if you're cursing under your breath).

Running dogs can be joyful. It can also be incredibly frustrating, and a hell of a lotta work. Especially with youngsters.

Imagine my joy, then, when during the last two training runs, I've witnessed things begin to click in their little heads. I've seen the transformation of my little pack go from haphazardly free running in the kennel area to working as a well-oiled team along the trail. There is no joy like it.

Today was a gorgeous fall day. The rain we've had for weeks finally stopped, and the clouds opened up, revealing the vibrant orange hues of fall against the contrasting bright blue sky. I went for a three and a half mile brisk hike alone in the woods, then loaded up the huskies and went for a blissful five mile training run. Now that the youngsters are starting to know what's expected of them, I will begin slowly adding miles.

Here is a silly video from tonight's training run. Happy trails!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Foxy dawg update

Most who know me also know about Foxy, the matriarch of my little kennel.

Foxy has quite a history. In her glory days, she led 950 miles of the 2002 Yukon Quest for a musher named Wayne Hall out of Eagle, Alaska.

Foxy is really the kind of dog most people come across once in a lifetime. Super intelligent, loyal and strong, Foxy now spends most of her time cleaning up the food bucket after feeding time or trying to chase cats and other small animals. At nearly fourteen years old, Foxy is fully retired and enjoying her retirement. We named our kennel after her four years ago because, even then, she seemed to feel she "did her time" on the trail and wanted only to lounge lazily on our sofa.

Last January, on the coldest night of the season, Chris let her out to go potty before we went to bed. In a real fluke because Foxy never left our yard without us before this, she broke through our kennel fencing in hot pursuit, we think, of some small critter. Just a quarter mile from our house, at 1 a.m., a vehicle hit her, breaking her pelvis and section of her right hip. We were devastated.

Many, including our vet, suggested putting her down. But we could see the will to live in her eyes, and the strength she possessed.

Foxy during her recovery period

It was a rough month or so. Foxy is no small dog. I spent every day carrying her and all her 62 pounds outside to use the bathroom. I fed her painkillers throughout the day and night, and nursed her back to health with pans of water at her "bedside" and good food for her to lap up.

Amazingly, she pulled through incredibly well! Most cannot even tell she was ever injured.

Today, I recorded a short video of her running! When I take the dogs out for runs, she still gets excited when she sees the harnesses come out. And it makes me so happy to see the happiness in her eyes and her tail wagging for meaty bones - Foxy loves to eat!

Her birthday will be this coming December 28 - what Wayne and Scarlett Hall reported was the coldest day of the year in Eagle at negative 50-something. No wonder Foxy felt spry that night she broke out of the fence here: it was negative 18 that night, and the temperatures were perfectly suited to a retired Quest dog! Click on the video below to see Foxy in action, following me around the backyard today.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gettin down to bidness!

My fur kids have been training. And we are all so happy to be back on the trail.

We are only doing about five miles at this point, but have some big things planned for the upcoming season. By the first week of January, we will hopefully have traveled some 600 miles to prepare for the first of at least two professional races: the Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Classic 8-dog class.

Unfortunately, Jack, my only Siberian, will not be racing. He is so stubborn! He's going into his third consecutive year of running and training and has hundreds of miles under his belt. However, if it's not his idea to take a command, he will not do it. He is only good for shorter distances anyway. He will be running with Sophie in her two-dog race, also at Tahquamenon, in January.

Here are more pictures from today's beautiful run.

Gwennie being silly hiding under Jack. She loves her siberian playmate

Jack and Gwennie again

Ruffian (left) and Big Brown resting along the trail. They are yearlings and only have about a half dozen hook ups under their belt so far this season. They are doing great, however.

My fur kids

Contentment: Big Brown sleeps on Yeti's belly on the ride home. I have yet to put my dog boxes on the truck bed, so the huskies have the luxury of riding in the cab with me. What a sight: rolling down the highway with five husky heads sticking out of various truck windows!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Some fall pictures to welcome October - the best month of the year!

These pictures are from a trip to the pumpkin patch to welcome October with Elise and her kindergarten class today.

Elise (center) with her kindergarten crew

Elise has to be different and get her face painting on her hand

Feeding goats. I've always wanted goats.

Parents intensely focusing on face painting

A a little house....on a little chain, just like our dogs!

This young cow tried nursing from my hand while I was trying to show some kids how prickly a cow's tongue is!