From the Editor: Hammering Home the Point
A Qimuksiqti and Her Dogs: Remembering Siu-Ling Han
Gone Without a Trace? Searching for the Origins of
Dog Transport in the Archaeological Record
Dogs of Knud Rasmussen’s 2nd and 5th Thule Expeditions
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Terrier (left) and her boyfriend Nasalik comfortably relaxing in their pen
shortly after arriving at their retirement home. photo: Hamilton
This Changes Everything
by Mark Hamilton
"No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond
the first encounter with the enemy's main strength"
Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke (the Elder)
I think our most recent wake up call was when our financial advisor looked at me and said, “Once you reach 70.5 years-of-age the government requires you to begin taking at least their minimum withdrawal amount from your IRA”.
Ok, maybe he wasn’t actually looking at me when he said that, but since I was going to be 70.5 before Sue…I took his statement kind of personally. What had until that moment been just another meaningless date on a future calendar instantly became something else, something that required my forethought and perhaps a bit of planning.
For both Sue and me there have been a number of these moments over the course of the last four to five years. They weren’t all things that immediately directed our attention to the calendar but all in one way or another compelled us to consider ourselves in terms of our ages.
One of those occasions didn’t so much require a decision from us as it required self-recognition that we no longer were confident in our ability to control our team in harness when something went very wrong, like somebody’s loose dog or a wild animal attacked our team.
That single acknowledgement ended 40+ years of our working dogs in harness. It also forced us to reconsider the age and number of dogs we would be keeping. Finally, it also caused us to recognize we likely were no longer fit to undertake arctic travel by dog team. That left us to ponder if there were any remaining reasons to travel to the arctic.
Not too long after that we made the “big” decision that it was now the appropriate time to start closing out our doggie days. Our then-current four dogs were to become our last dogs.
Yes, this was a hard decision, even a distressing one. We struggled in finding the resolve to abide by that decision because it changed everything.
We very much wanted to attend Sui-Ling’s “after-party” in Ottawa late last year but circumstances prevented it. When the date was set for a second party, this time in Iqaluit, we resolved to attend and soon began making plans and securing reservations.
Soon enough we found ourselves once again driving to Ottawa to catch a flight headed north. Even though we assumed we’d never be traveling north again, the routine was quite familiar and comforting. It was absolutely wonderful to see, in some cases for the very first time, long-time friends and to spend time with them. For us it was the kind of experience we imagine Sui-Ling had in mind when she requested an “after party”. It was a life-affirming, supportive and joyful gathering of her friends. It was also hard enough on our aging bodies to confirm that we were indeed beyond that period in our lives when we could travel on the land in the arctic by dog team.
On Easter Sunday in Iqaluit we got an early morning call from our friend and house-sitter to let us know that thirteen year-old Pikatik, a female from one of Sui-Ling’s litters, had died quietly overnight. That didn’t become reality for us though until we arrived back home. Living with just Skunk, Monkey and Pakaq (Pikatik’s son), the youngest about eleven years, was undeniably different. Everything had changed.
We started talking again about what would come next, after we became dog less. Then, a few days later, an email arrived from friends on Baffin Island. They had a dog that was ready for retirement. They knew about our decision not take in more dogs but this was a special boy for them and so they wondered…
On reflection, it still seems odd to us that their email’s subject line wasn’t “This changes everything”.
Our response was as much a surprise to us as it was to them, “Yes. Is there a female around that came come along as a companion for him? We prefer to kennel dogs in pairs.” Plans were hastily made and before the dust made by rushing around pulling all the loose ends together even had time to settle, we were driving north again this time to meet a plane arriving from Iqaluit. There was a bit of unneeded excitement (loose dog) at the airport but the border crossing and drive home were drama free.
Nasalik and Terrier were great road trip travelers. They slept quietly in their wire dog crates between rest stops. Here at home – their new home – they’ve settled in nicely. The kennel is becoming as quiet as it was before their arrival, with the exception of feeding time and the two new voices joining into group howls.
It seems as though that observation made by Field Marshall von Moltke sometime back in the 19th century has proved true for us, our going dog-less plan didn’t survive past the first (near) encounter. At this point we don’t know what our revised plan will be, or even if we’ll have a revised plan. Wherever our path leads, we have a couple of new, young-ish Inuit Dogs that are coming along with us.