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.
As the cold has progressed, puddles in the trail have frozen at night, only to be broken by the weight of the dogs and the four wheeler as they cross. This pattern has created seas of icy water with chunks of ice surrounding them and floating in them like small icebergs. Max went out to view these spectacles and see if his bath boats could fair the arctic waters as well as the dogs.
Mike has been impressed with the young dogs commitment to driving their way through these icy puddles. One year old leaders Gerber and Cashew charge in without hesitation, the waters deep on their bodies as they lead the way to the far side. Not even taking the time to pause as they shake the water from their coats and continue down the trail.
As fall has progressed into winter, hunting season came to a close. Busy with tours until the last few days of the season, Mike was finally successful in finding a moose to fill the freezer for the winter. He, Max, Thomas, and Savannah worked to retrieve the animal, bringing home the four quarters, the head, and the ribcage. Working late into the night Mike ultimately called me to come and pick up Max. As I drove up the trail on a borrowed four wheeler, my fingers quickly became painfully cold. We have heat on the handlebars of our four wheelers for training the dogs, because you cannot let go as you bounce over rutted ground. You must maintain control or the wheels will be shoved sideways by ruts, the speed will become to fast or too slow. In many ways you are warmer on a sled than on the ATV. As you sit on a machine your bent knees get the brute of the cold wind in a way they never do on a sled. There is nothing on the sled that you need to grip hard. In fact maintaining a loose quality, moving hands and feet is part of the process of staying warm. The following day, as Mike began the work of butchering the moose, he set aside steaks for the crew. Eating his that night Max explained, “We don’t have to eat chicken anymore. We got a moose with steak in it!”
The first snow of the year fell on September 23rd. Much wetter snow that we usually get, it lent itself to building snow men. Max created small ones here and there. Over the next few days they proceeded to list and deform as the last warmth of the fall sun shone on them. Their twisted, shrunken bodies stayed for several days showing off the nature of the freeze thaw cycle of fall. This week, real snow fell. The cold, dry kind Denali is known for. Deep enough to cover the ground, it will not melt and I am thrust back to thinking about how snow impacts my actions. The way I must use more awareness as I walk to accommodate for the ever present possibility of slipping. The way I have to climb back down to ground level to enter the back door of the house. The way the wood becomes frozen together in the wood pile and coated with snow, creating puddles as it melts. The way my foot hovers over the break pedal as I use time to slow me down, anticipating starts, stops, and turns of the truck in a different way.
As summer tours came to an end, I thought that I would have more time. I even told people, that like a swimmer practicing for a meet by wearing two swimming suits, that once I wasn’t giving tours that I would be light and fast. It may be the daylight, but somehow, each day goes by without time for so many of the things I would like to do. Meanwhile the dogs get stronger, the miles longer. I will find time for more stories, soon.
Until next time, I hope you are having as much fun with your dogs as we are with ours.
Mike, Caitlin, and Max