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.
I’ve never been much of an athlete. I played soccer in middle school. I was on a lacrosse and swimming team in high school, but I was never impressive. The dogs just blow me away. This time of year they are running for hours at a time, up to 50 miles in a stretch and ready to do it again after six hours of rest. And not just ready, screaming to do so. The snowfall has been light this year. There is not nearly enough for a sled. So we are still training on wheels. With a big group that means the truck. Yesterday, Max and I were able to join Mike for training. With Max as supervisor, Mike let the dogs go one at a time from the trailer. I ran back and forth to the gang line, hooking up each dog in its spot. “Lancelot, three left,” “Carhartt, 11 left,” “Wingman, 16 right,” Mike called. Each spot from one and two in the back to 17 and 18 in lead, is numbered to help hook the dogs up quickly and efficiently. The left and right, corresponding to the side of the line each individual dog prefers to run on. Within five minutes all 18 dogs were hooked up and we jumped in the truck. Away they went. Heads tucked down. Looping into their harnesses. Ten, eleven miles an hour, up hills, down hills, on the flats between the swamps. I sat in the truck, tired after my five minutes of sprinting, while the dogs went mile after mile, with no sign of tiring.
The snow at the sides of the trail is deeper. Watching from the truck, I looked for tracks. You can see the busy track of other dog teams, leaving a wide trail, three feet across with many small round steps between, as dog after dog follows the leader. You can see the tracks of canines, their steps a narrow, almost single file line. You can see the tracks of moose, bigger, and alternating from left to right. The trail winds its way through valleys and up and down hills. Some places the rounded, almost turquoise, ice of overflow lines the edges. As water seeps out of unfrozen springs and rivers, it flows over older ice and builds up these creeping pillows of ice. The mountains catch the quickly falling light, turning from gold to pink. Max was worried about the light. It was about three pm when we were returning home. “But I wanted to get home in the day,” he said. Again I wonder what day and night are, without consistency of light.
Around the kennel, we are thankful for many things. Firewood, running water, enough food, and family members, including, of course, dogs. I’ve been asked what my favorite dog is, but rarely, which one I am thankful for. Savanna said she is thankful for Gunnel. She says, "As temperatures drop and mileages increase, we must make sure everyone goes to sleep with a full belly. That's why I'm thankful for Gunnel. No frill, no fuss, he always cleans his bowl. His table manners and his dinner dancing feet are hardly poetic, but they are certainly something I'm always grateful to see! "
Thomas said he is thankful for Arson. He says, "It has been a pleasure to watch him develop into a true leader. He is always ready to take off and if he isn't out in front, he is trying to be. No obstacle seems to faze him. He is always eager to charge through and is an ideal example for the rest of the team. No matter what trail lies before him he is going to put all of himself into conquering it."
Right this moment, I am thankful for Willie, the beagle, for his desire to sit with me. And while there are dogs who have stood out to me for their talents, ability, and the lessons they have taught me, I think that more than anything, I am thankful for the characteristics of dogs. I am thankful for their affectionate personalities, always hopeful for a pat and willing to share their warmth. I am thankful for their honesty. I am thankful for their belief in me. No matter how many mistakes I make, the dogs always believe the best of me. And I am thankful for their joy in life. If only we could all face life’s opportunities, whether it is a chance to meet a friend, a bite of food, a romp in the woods, or a run at 40 below, with the happiness and enthusiasm of a dog.
Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.
Mike, Caitlin, and Max