Thursday, March 29, 2007

Looking Back While Looking Ahead

Yesterday a big chunk of snow fell off my roof while I was out with my dogs. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it’s happened before earlier in the winter during a warm spell, but this time it’s different. This time it signals that break up is on the way.

In fact, I’m SO confident that breakup is on the way that I even bought my Nenana Ice Classic tickets in hopes of winning the jackpot for guessing the exact date and time the ice goes out on the Tanana River. The jackpot is usually pretty substantial, enough to buy a whole lot of dog food and kennel improvements.

The lack of snow has been a real vexation this winter. We only had 28 inches of snow all winter, more than three feet below “normal”. As a result we spent a lot more time training dogs on four-wheelers last fall, and all winter long endured hard packed, icy trails that makes it difficult for both humans and dogs to avoid injuries. My little team came through the season unscathed, but many of my friends and neighbors did not.

Even though I trained as regularly as my work schedule would allow, I doubt our team did more than 150 miles through the entire season. That’s due to lack of dog power more than anything else, and with the addition of Rose and Nells to the team I’m sure we will increase that mileage considerably next season.

I’m really not ready for winter to end, but ready or not it is an inevitable part of the cycle of seasons, and the cycle of life. By the time of my next “R&R” from work I imagine the snow will be well on it’s way to gone, the ground soggy and muddy. It will time to put my mukluks and parkas away, in exchange for neoprene “break up boots” and light jackets. It will be time to park the snow machine and fire up the four-wheeler, and time to take the dog box off the truck and rig it for summer time activities instead.

It’s also time to start anticipating warmer weather projects, and I have plenty of those to do. The new flat bed on my truck needs to be painted to match the cab. I may be a low-budget musher, but my rig doesn’t have to look like one. While I’m at it I’ll do some modifications to my dog box to fit how I prefer to do things. I want to mount different rails on top for hauling sleds, add a storage compartment for the ramp I use to load and unload my big freight dogs, and put some reinforcing blocks under the footboards so the ramp is more secure. With that much new wood going onto it, the box could probably stand a coat or two of paint as well.

I also want to fence in my dog yard. That’s a very high priority to me. A few weeks ago I stood shivering on my porch with a shotgun in hand watching a moose, and waiting for her to decide whether she was going to try to stomp my dogs or move along. A good perimeter fence will make things safer for everyone, and if I’m lucky and a good scavenger I may even be able to provide a large fenced play area where the dogs can safely run free.

Speaking of standing on the porch, the visqeen I used to enclose the porch is tattered and windblown, and needs to come down. If I’m feeling exceptionally motivated I may decide to replace it with bug screens this summer.

I plan to have my friend Terry Snow bring his bulldozer over to cut a different trail between the dog yard and power line right of way. Currently I run the dogs down the driveway, but that requires a wicked sharp 90 degree ‘haw’ while the dogs are at their strongest and fastest. I’ve come near to flipping the sled on that turn several times this winter, and if we get more snow next year trying to do the same will almost certainly result in an upset. Besides, he owes me some work since I didn’t need his pre-paid snow removal services at all this winter.

I would also like to lay a new laminated wood floor and repaint the entryway into my house. The carpet in that area should have been replaced years ago, and a wood floor will be much easier to keep clean considering all the mud, straw and other ‘gunk’ I tend to track in.

I also have a bunch of t-111 siding leaning against the house that will serve better duty as platforms for dog houses. That will help me keep a safe, tidy kennel and make good use of material that is otherwise little more than an eyesore.

I have plenty of smaller projects to keep me occupied as well. I have a canoe to finish building, a sled in need of serious structural repair, dogs to train, fish to catch, living history events to enjoy, trails to hike, and berries to pick.

Somehow, I have a feeling, that come next fall when the clouds roll in, the puddles start to frost over and the snow begins to fly I’ll be as disappointed to see the summer end as I am now to say good-bye to winter.

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