In This Issue....In the News: Must-visit Websites
BAS Vignette: Memories of a Non-Doggy Man
Four ISDs, two mushers on a Double Driver sled gliding along
on peaceful snowy trails – pure bliss! photo: Hamilton
by Mark Hamilton
I enjoy writing on a computer. I don't know if I can still write with a pen on a piece of paper anymore, but sitting in front of a computer and looking at the screen as the thoughts in my mind appear before my eyes is endlessly enjoyable. The next step, getting those initial thoughts into a form that someone else will at least read and perhaps even find interesting, is work, but I enjoy that effort as well.
Part of the enjoyment for me in writing an opinion article is when I start out to write a specific piece and then discover that the process is taking me somewhere else. It turns the process into a journey of discovery that adds an additional dimension to the process of writing. That's what happened to the opinion piece I set out to write for this issue of The Fan Hitch. I got so far away from where I intended to go that I just cut the whole unplanned part out and I'm now using it to create this article. You'll get to see the original piece at some other time in the future, maybe.
One of the standard pieces of advice offered in high school graduation speeches is, "Find something you like to do, and work at that." What I like about that advice is it acknowledges, without ever mentioning, a basic reality of life - you're going to be working for quite a long period of time, and it's easier if you're working at something you enjoy. It's sound advice, although not immediately useful for anyone who hasn't yet stumbled on something they like.
Sue and I both love mushing. And, as every musher knows, you have to love the dogs and everything about the dogs to be willing to do the daily work involved in having a team of sled dogs. There is so much more to do that it adds up to a job few would do just for pay. To do all this work you have to love it.
This has been a very difficult winter for mushing where we live. We got a late start because it turned cold much later in the season than usual. We began our training on the cart and within a couple of weeks we got a couple of snowstorms. No complaints there, we just switched over to a sled and had some truly memorable training runs. But then it warmed up again, and it rained as well. Pretty soon we were locked into an ice-enforced layoff. Every time the ice started to melt, it got cold and rainy again. There weren't any snow-covered trails anywhere nearby, only ice-encapsulated trails. We couldn't even find bare trails close enough by to make transportation to those sites reasonable. Our standard is the dogs should get to run for a longer period of time than required to transport them to the location. So far this season, we haven't enjoyed any substantial snowfalls that have lasted for more than a couple of days. Every storm that started out as snow ended as rain. It was frustrating for us and the dogs.
A few days ago that all changed. The day after we located some nearby bare trails, on the very morning we intended to visit them with our cart, we got 8-10 in (20-25 cm) of snow. It was very dry snow, the kind that makes ice as slippery as if it were covered with a coating of water. But the next day it warmed up a bit when the sun came out. That night, when the temperature dropped, the snow bonded to the ice on our favorite training trails. We were at the trailhead as early as we could get there on Monday morning. It was a great run. Our lead dogs demonstrated to us that they hadn't forgotten their commands or how to keep the team moving. All the dogs demonstrated that all their crabbing with each other through the fencing at feeding times was just an outlet for their frustration, nothing more. The sled moved smoothly, quickly and effortlessly through a forest occupied only by us, our dogs and the wildlife that lives there.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of this run was that, although we were having a really great time, the dogs were having an even better time. By their performance, their body language, and the expression on their faces, the dogs made it clear to us that they were enjoying it far more than we were. In their lives they have gone well beyond the advice to "Find something you like, and work at that". They hadn't just become one with their work, they were their work. And they loved it.
The ISD is a remarkable animal. Thousands of years of selection against defect that would hamper performance, against weakness to depravation, and to hostile weather have culminated in Canis familiaris borealis. They find joy in their work, and in the shared experience of that work with their teammates, both canid and human.
The ISD seems to be in sufficient numbers in parts of Greenland at this time to avoid being seen as in peril. Across Arctic Canada only small, local populations are to be found. In Alaska there are even fewer dogs, and we have heard only hints and rumors of some few dogs in Arctic Russia. On the other hand, the number of people interested in the ISD is increasing, and there are people with local efforts working with the dogs in the Canadian Arctic. It will be a horrible loss to the world if the traditional ISD cannot be reestablished across its native environment.