Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Am I a musher?

The dogs and I returned to the farm in Ohio late Monday evening. It was warm - 47 degrees when we pulled in - and things looked barren and different, yet familiar and for that, comforting. The giant oak in the front yard stood naked against the late December sky. When I pulled out of here two months ago, the leaves were still on the trees.

The last two months have been a blur of "cabin-time." Days run together; I can't decipher one from the next. "Cabin time" seems to seal me off from "real time." Life in the eastern U.P. feels different than life anywhere else. It's as if the little community of Deer Park/Newberry is a dark hole, insulated from the rest of the world, like some Faulknerian hamlet.

I used to think I wanted to live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After being there for not quite two months straight, now I'm not so sure. The area along the Lake Superior shores near Grand Marais must see the least amount of sunlight of any place on the planet at this time of the year. Combine that with the isolation, the longing for my children, as well as the lack of nearly any kind of employment, I know I could not ever live there permanently.

Oh Thoreau, going to the woods to live deliberately is good...for awhile. After a couple months, though, I craved things like...dare I say... Stabucks®, a television, a Target®. Oh, and a cell signal.

Life is difficult, but it seems more difficult there, in the isolated area between Newberry and Grand Marais. Things take longer: driving to town and back is a 50 mile round trip and takes half a day. If it's snowing, it takes longer. Days are dark. The silence is deafening.

There is more drama in a place the size of a shoe box than anyone could ever imagine. I've heard stories about poached bears, family feuds, love affairs and scandalous encounters enough to create the label Days of Our Lives, the Deer Park Edition.

There are so many Catch-22s in this sport. In order to train dogs effectively for races like those I run, one must live far away from populated areas in order to have adequate trail access and so as to not aggravate the neighbors.

However, caring for dogs and operating a kennel is expensive, and jobs aren't plentiful in remote areas with adequate trail access.

Likewise, in order to afford this sport, one must have a good job; however, it's near impossible to train the dogs the way one needs to train and maintain a normal 40 hour work week.

I digress.

Coming back to the farm and to my kiddos after two months away has been an overwhelming, emotional experience. I am at a crossroads, and I don't know what the future holds for me or this sport. It seems mushers and mushing are a dying breed. It's just not practical - and seems downright silly if you think about it - to spend so much money and time training a bunch of dogs to pull a sled for hundreds of miles simply for one or two...maybe three races a year. So much is sacrificed. For the first time ever, I'm left wondering if it's all worth it.

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