The landscape here is transformative. It has, no doubt, changed me this fall and winter. But another element is transformative, too: the sense of community here.
Maybe it is because of this harsh landscape that the people who live
here -- the people I've come to know as friends -- are the total opposite of harsh.
I have been humbled by the
willingness and generosity of the people I am proud to call a community
of friends here. Two such friends are Tom and Scott.
I had stopped the team to rest briefly and to offer snacks, and Tom and Scott - who had been expecting me at Jim Warren's cabin - drove snowmobiles out to where I was stopped and met me there. After snacking the dogs, Tom and Scott led me to the trail that leads to Jim Warren's camp, where I had coffee and warmed up.
And, at 7:30 that night, in an almost total white out, they led me with snowmobiles down the trail to M-414 where I was back in familiar territory.
We parted ways at the intersection of M-414 and M-410. It was 8:30 when Tom bid me adieu and I ventured off with the team in the blinding snow. My eye lashes were popsicles and I could hardly see passed my wheel dogs, the snow pelted into the beam of my headlamp with such force. At one point, I turned the lamp completely off and ran by the light of a half moon.
My sled runners sounded like the hull of a ship parting cold water. At
least that's what they reminded me of. They creaked rhythmically as they
parted the snow, matching the cadence of the dogs' jingling collars. Even familiar territory can seem unfamiliar in a night time snowstorm, and it is easy to miss a turn. We
flew down the side of County Road 410, finally turning sharply into the woods to head for home.
About three miles from the cabin, as the snow continued to fall in that stillness, I heard a low howl in the not so far off woods beside Seven Mile Fire Line road. This was not the howl of one of the sled dogs from the kennels in the distance. This was a different howl, a lone howl, deep and guttural.
The trail leading to the cabin is a quick 90 degree turn off Seven Mile Fire Line road. The dogs know it instinctively because it leads to home, and never fail to take it, even when I don't want them to. As the low howl in the distance became louder, we came upon the turn off for the trail to home.
Normally my leaders fly into that turn. Not this time. They passed it.
"Whoa," I called out to my leaders and gave a sharp "Gee!" command, telling them to turn right for home. Again, they refused. Their ears perked up, and the hackles raised on their backs.
The howling in the distance stopped in an eerie silence. My dogs insisted on going straight ahead up Seven Mile Fire Line, and for once, I didn't argue with their judgment.
Later that night, back in the cabin, I woke at 3 a.m. from the distinct sounds of coyotes yipping just outside. Big Brown, my lead dog who has become "cabin dog" woke from a dead sleep too and went wild, jumping for the door to see out the window. The mirthful-sounding coyotes seemed to be laughing outside as the snow piled up around us.
Ever mindful of the fire, I rose briefly to add another log, then retreated back into my fleece sheets for slumber, safe and warm in this quiet Heaven.