Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall, friends, and fires: Shaw's Rig Session 2010

Dawn is barely breaking when I hear the quick, light steps of Jan Shaw making coffee. The warm, small home of the Shaws is soon filled with the inviting aroma of homemade bread and coffee. The sound of a gentle, steady falling rain makes me want to stay in the safe cocoon of my sleeping bag, but I know better.

There are dogs who need miles.

My team ready to go on a training run this past weekend

It is here, in the Upper Peninsula, that my love of mushing really gained a foothold - here in this stark wilderness. Here in the rain, snow, and ice storms. Here in negative temperatures. Here, in this unforgiving landscape.

Taking a break along one of the gorgeous trails outside the Shaw kennel in the Upper Peninsula

The dogs did great this weekend! It was a first rabies clinic and camp out for yearlings Kerouac and Aspen.

Ten month old, Kerouac, holds the line tight while resting along a ten mile run

New kennel member Tak (far) and two-year old Big Brown (closest) stand ready during a run

My young leader, Ruffian, being silly while resting along the trail

I am fortunate to have the best trail helpers ever on my training runs: Emily Curtice and my own daughter, Sophie.

Emily Curtice (left) and Sophie stopped along the trail. They bonded this past weekend over dogs and dirt :)

As I come in from my run, Bob Shaw asks the perfunctory, "how'd they do?" in his gruff Yooper accent, long O's made even longer.

It's a common courtesy to ask this question, and we all hope for clean, uneventful training runs.

"Good," I answer. "I didn't get lost," I say with a wink.

I will miss these people when I leave. I always do.

As all the teams begin to pack up on Sunday, the rain begins to fall steadily. With good company, standing in the rain with hundreds of dogs on Saturday was lulling and jovial. But as we leave, the rain takes on a different tone and makes me cry. Weather is only a reflection of ones heart.

Soon the wind comes to strip the trees of what remains of their colorful clothes. The leaves fall in a haphazard flutter scattering sullenly behind my truck as I make my way along Lake Michigan on Route 2. A hawk soars effortlessly on the winds, and the waves make a raucous on the shoreline.

Now that I'm home, it's happening. It always happens.

With a good night's sleep and the 10 hour drive behind me, the flood gates have opened and I cannot write enough. I am a ball of emotion and it's all flooding out of me in words.

How is it the U.P. always has this effect on me? Wyoming was the same. I wrote almost my entire master's thesis while living in a tiny, one-room cabin with no running water in Teton National Forest with 180 sled dogs. That was over ten years ago. It's like the dogs, the lifestyle, opens up a faucet in my heart and so much pours out of me. It's like being home - not only in the landscape and with the people, but also, home - finally - in myself. Comfortable in my own skin.

When I leave, I always, always cry, because I know where my heart is. And I leave a little piece of it in the woods every time I leave the U.P.

Apparently I have passed this trait down to my off spring: I came home to two notes taped to the back door, both from Elise. One was for me, and the other, for Sophie.

They were love notes, written in her first-grader's scrawl, expressing how much she missed us and loved us. Sophie came back out to the kennels at 2:30 a.m. as I was finishing putting the dogs away last night to tell me how happy the notes made her - that she smiled the whole time she was in the house.

Then, this morning, I found a poem written in Chris's scrawl, but which had been dictated, he told me, from Elise while he gave her a bath.


Our dogs are big and strong,
They pull the sled
All day long,
And after they run
At night they rest
Our sled dog huskies
are the best.

They bark, bark, bark
And mush, mush, mush
Yeti's the leader
of the pack.
The other huskies
run in the back.

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