Saturday, November 24, 2012


Winter has finally arrived. 

Two days ago, I sat on the porch of the cabin barefooted writing; today the temperature has dropped 20 full degrees and keeps dropping. Snow covers everything. It is a blustery, frigid cold, with the kind of wind that knocks down trees. Yesterday, the dogs and I almost turned right onto a trail, but some part of me decided against it. As we drove past, a large part of a tree crashed down loudly onto the forest floor. It sounded like a gunshot as it bounced indifferently off the very trail we narrowly decided against going down.

Days seem to slip away from me. A trip to town for straw and then strawing dog houses and keeping a fire going in the wood stove encompassed most of today.  

I think some primitive part of my brain kicks in up here. I seem to think about two things often: warmth and food. Things like showering and how I present myself to the outside world take a backseat to simple survival. Chopping firewood, making and keeping fires going, chopping meat, strawing houses, hunkering down...

Thursday, we celebrated Thanksgiving with Mike and Cathy, who own the cabin I am renting. This afternoon, neighbors Jim and Denise invited me for Thanksgiving dinner. Their cabin is simple and functional, with a steep slanted roof for snow to easily slide from. It is warm, with one main room and a wood stove. Like most of the cabins here, the wood stove is the central focal point in the room. 

I am continually impressed with the frugality and inventive functionality of mushers’ homes. Function precedes aesthetics. Here, Gortex bibs and snow clothes hang from PVC piping dangling from the open beam ceiling, along side of pictures of the star athletes (the dogs) in racing action. Next to a coffee pot (a mushing necessity), a clothesline might be draped across the room with dog booties or wet gloves pinned up to dry.

I’ve eaten meals and slept in quite a few homes of people who’ve opened their doors to me having not known me an hour previously. During training and race season, their humble homes turn into dens full of tired mushers snoozing haphazardly in random places, like bears content during a winter’s nap.

There is lots of cabin hopping going on since winter’s arrival. The cabins of several key mushers in the area are stopping points in an elaborate system of trails linking this cabin to the next. I suppose this is how people survive these long winters.

Last evening Michael and I traversed through the wild, windy frigid night along back roads with the intent of heading to the McMillan tavern popular among the handlers at the Stielstra’s – The Shanty. We stopped quickly at Al Hardman’s cabin to see if aspiring musher, Danny Glen and her husband Bill wanted to join us for drinks. A few beers and good conversation found two hours gone. It seemed much cozier to stay in Al’s cabin around the wood stove than head back out to The Shanty.

I think winter is here to stay. We are all blanketed in a cover of white, not only from the snow, but also the gray-white expanse that is the U.P. sky. The sun is replaced by gracious hospitality of those who live here.

White ground, white sky...

I am thankful for my mushing family – for friends who I feel more akin to than most of my own family. I am thankful for the hospitality of those who live here and only hope I can return their kindness some way.

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