It is one of those things that takes you back to a time or place. Maybe it is the smell of your grandmother’s basement. Maybe it is a song that makes you remember a certain summer. There is something about this time of year. I get the feeling when I look out the windows in the morning and I am able to see the mountains. The feeling comes again in the evening when the kennel is still light after dinner. I feel it when I am filling the stove in the morning. It is the extended daylight. It is the feeling of the snow under my feet, much harder than it is mid-winter, from the warmth of the sun heating it in the day, the cold of the night freezing it like concrete. All of these moments give me a feeling, a glimpse of a memory. It sends me to a different time and place. It makes me feel Iditarod.
It has been cold. Since Thanksgiving the temperature has hovered at 15 degrees below zero. In the cold, life becomes a series of tasks to keep things warm. Plug in the car, fill the wood stove, warm up the four wheeler, put the dogs in the barn. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
It only took a moment. Even though it is known as moose flats, they surprised me as they stepped out from the willows. I’d been watching the dogs. Looking for changes in ear position. Wondering, as one would pick up his head or look off to the side. I’d seen some of this throughout the whole run, but nothing that warned me about these particular moose. Cow and calf they hopped out onto the trail and began to trot across it. The dogs love to chase, but they directly their energy forward. From Whiplash and Jigsaw up front to Gremlin and Gunnel in the back all of them drove forward, but stayed on the trail as the moose found their way off into the willows on the far side. Just as quickly as they appeared, they disappeared again. And the dogs run on.
It is four degrees below zero this morning. This is the coldest I have seen it yet. The clear skies show off the stars, still present in the sky until after the school day starts.
The dogs play with the ice from their water pails. Keeping them hydrated becomes a challenge these days. Almost more so than in the heart of winter as there was no snow cover until a few days ago. The dry frozen ground is dusty. Scattering the light and obscuring vision as the dogs run. Providing no opportunity for them to bite snow or soften their footsteps.
This is the first morning that I really have the feeling of getting up in the dark. This becomes such a normal part of the routine the winter, but here at the end of summer, it feels different. We are at the time of year that the amount of daylight changes at an astonishing rate. Things that are done on a schedule show off the changes in daylight, as I struggle to find lights I haven't needed in months. As I return people to their hotels after our evening tour I have to remember to turn on the interior lights and use not only my headlights but even the high beams on the ride back. It was 10:30 pm on August 14th the first time I saw the streetlights come on that mark the intersection of the Denali and the Parks highway. These are, by the way, the only two streetlights in Cantwell.