Daazhraii-joring

That’s a mouthful, eh?

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I have been running on the Mountain Road most clear evenings since school started. While my feet pound and my breath rushes I can let go of the day and let my mind watch the colors change on the tundra. I get to measure daily how far the snow has crept down the flanks of the big mountain at the head of the valley. Daazhraii free runs with me and, in theory, provides some warning in the case of dangerous wildlife. Mostly he lollops along with his enormous tongue hanging out and plunges around in the kettle ponds terrorizing the ducks, though now that I mention it, I realize the ducks have gone.

Last night I put on my hip belt and the dog sat sweetly while I fumbled with his harness. I clipped a bungee line to him and then to me, and Geoff took off on his bike. “Daazhraii, come on bud,” Geoff called, and we were off for the very first time.

It’s called canicross: dog assisted cross country running. It feels like flying. Daazhraii hauls with his heavy freight dog shoulders, chasing the bike, and the bungee rope stretches and pulls on my hip belt. I glide, my arms and hands free to fly.

We ran our usual route, and I didn’t feel that tightness in my belly that means I’m really pushing myself, even though we were moving faster than I usually jog. Daazhraii was focused and bouncy, a little surprised to be allowed to pull, but delighting in the freedom to guide our speed.

I was giddy. It’s fun and freeing and glorious, and it takes teamwork and energy and focus. We practiced “whoah” and “hike”. Once he gets used to pulling (he’s been trained not to pull on leash, so it’s an adjustment for him) we’ll work on “gee” and “haw” and “on by”. I can’t wait for ski season.

He’s a little young to work. You are supposed to wait until a dog is about a year old and his bones and muscles are fully developed before putting him to work in harness. Daazhraii is only ten months, but he isn’t working too hard or too often, and I want to make sure to practice “whoah” while I can still dig in my heels and stop him. On skis, that is going to be a lot harder.

What joy, though. I couldn’t keep from grinning, and Daazhraii ran laps around the driveway when we got home to the cabin, just to let some of the happy fun fizz off the top. daazhraii august snow

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In other news,

Inevitably, yet to my continual surprise, things are changing (as they always are).

I have moved into the cabin with Geoff. It’s a contradiction that I recognize. After all, I love living alone. Somehow, though, this makes sense. This arrangement is temporary, as is almost every aspect of my life in Alaska. That certain knowledge frees me from the burden of expectation. I am happy.

I like the warm, cheerful, cluttered chaos of the house. The cabin has no running water, and it’s small for two people who are used to living alone, but I like it. I like washing dishes with water hauled from school in jugs and five-gallon buckets and heated on a hot plate. I like going outside to pee and check on the northern lights.  I like that I can see my snowmachine parked in the driveway from bed. I like the curios and bric-a-brac hung from the beams and tucked into the logs of the walls. I like that I am free to enjoy it all and not worry about what happens next.

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As of last week, my freight canoe is finally done. Her name will be Lyra. In June Geoff and I will run down the Tanana and up the Yukon. We’ll take a break for dipnetting and in August we’ll run up the Chandalar to Venetie and then on to Arctic. Is it summer yet? I’m ready for the sun and the smell of green things and the hiss of silty water against the hull.

I feel like the universe is making me eat my words this month. I have decided that I am getting a dog. I feel like the world’s biggest hypocrite: I always swore I wouldn’t do this, and here I am looking for a puppy. Going out alone last week got me thinking: Why shouldn’t I have a dog for company when I go on adventures? I’ve been interested in skijoring since I first learned about it. Why shouldn’t I take my skiing up a notch and get a four-legged partner for speed over snow?

I’m in Boston now, getting ready for an awesome weekend with old friends. The important things haven’t changed.

 

 

February Hammock

I hung out in my hammock tonight. Before you ask, I don’t know the temperature, and it doesn’t really matter: when I ski, no matter how cold it is, I usually have to stuff my gloves into my hoodie and go bare-handed to keep from sweating. When I got back tonight, I thought, why not? and hung the hammock out for the first time since September.

I had the realization while I was flying, double-poling, down the Old Airport, that skiing won’t always be an option. Maybe it was this balmy, some-degrees-above-zero night that brought it home for me: Summer will come, and I’ll have to hang up my gear until snow hits again. The sandals and hiking shoes will come out from behind the pile of winter toys, and I’ll have to figure out how to entertain myself on a ground made of dirt instead of snow and ice. It’s so weird, in the spring, when the kids start wearing shorts and I see their knees for the first time. It feels indecent after snowpants in gym class.DSC04482.JPG

I’ve completely fallen in love with skiing this winter. I know I’ve written a lot about it, and I’m sure it’s tiresome for most of y’all, but it really is awesome. After giving up on crossing the slough (it was all overflow, which is absolutely unlike last year, when it was solid all winter) Ben and I explored an old burn just north of the village last night, and I broke trail through this brushy undergrowth, hooking my skis under every fallen limb and punching my poles into the deep snow, nearly toppling off balance with every unexpectedly deep punch, but the sky turned an outrageous tortoiseshell purple, and my chilly cheeks burned from smiling waaay more than my legs burned from plowing all that knee-deep snow. I pinched a bud on one of those wonderful, pungent trees that grow in the wet areas in the flats and it released that green ginger smell into the evening air.

Tonight’s outing was just about flying in the full, cloudy dark for a few minutes, (I like the way my skis rattle on the ice when I’m really moving and I can’t see a damn thing) and coming home with a pumping heart and some endorphins tickling my brainpan. It just feels so good.

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I’m not ready to let go of this yet. Jake’s asked me to start harnessing Angel when I go skiing, and to let her run with me so that eventually we can try skijoring. I’m super psyched. I don’t know anything about skijoring or dogs at all, but it’ll be fun to figure it out, and it’ll give me something new to do on the weekends. I want this part of winter to last and last, and it’s a funny thing to think how much I’ll truly miss the snow and ice when it’s gone.

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