Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Tonight is the big night.  We are saying "good-bye and good-riddance" to 2009 and the first decade of the century and mellinium, and "hello and welcome" to 2010 and the second.  I can't say that I'm disappointed to see either fade away into history.  They certainly won't fade to obscurity any time soon.

The last decade made a HUGE impact on my life.  Doyon Universal Services took over the pipeline security contract in November, 1999 and were just getting their foot in the door through the non-event of the "Millinia Computer Bug".  The company, and those of us on the ground, proved our ability to adopt to change immediately upon the terrorist attacks of 9/11, followed by a massive oil spill caused when Danny Lewis shot a hole into the pipe on October 4th, 2001.  The decade saw the U.S. involved in two major shooting wars, both of which are still on-going to a large degree.

We were just starting to become accustomed to a new definition of "normal life" when my wife of not-quite 20 years died in April, 2005.  That was probably my greatest life-changing event of the decade - actually of my entire life thus far.  I think since Shiloh's death I have more cognizant of the concept of "living purposefully" rather than just drifting along with whatever life happens to bring.

Since then of course I've gotten into dog mushing and living with dogs.  I've learned more than I had imagined possible about dogs and their humans, and continue to learn more with each passing day.

That pretty much brings us up to the year 2009, to which I say "good-bye and good-riddance".

In order to enjoy the good years, one must endure the others, and for me 2009 pretty much qualified as one of those others.  I can’t really call it a ‘bad’ year.  I didn’t suffer any major ill health events or bad injuries, though the minor stuff was disruptive.  I haven’t had to file for bankruptcy nor lost my job or anything truly major like that.  Although they year didn’t offer any extreme lows, neither did 2009 provide any extreme highs.  I guess for the most part I would have to describe the year 2009 as ‘disappointing’.

The first disappointment was in January, when I learned of the death of my father in a very roundabout way.  A friend of my sister's happened to see his obituary in the Kansas City Missouri newspaper and called to express her sympathy.  My sister was a bit floored by the news. She called me to share the news.  My father and I weren’t particularly close, but neither were we estranged.  He and my mother divorced when I was quite young.  I got to know him reasonably well as I lived with him for a year or so when I was about 18, and we enjoyed our infrequent visits when circumstances brought us together.  In all truth, learning of his death was more like learning of the death of a friend than that of kin.

In spite of delays due to weather and my odd work schedule, the team and I enjoyed good training conditions much of last winter.  The puppies did wonderfully with their early ‘puppy runs’, and the adults all did surprisingly well through the course of the season.  We didn’t meet the goals I’d established at the start of the season, but we had a lot of fun together, and that was the most important goal of all.

In March I suffered the first expensive loss of the year, when my old PC died an agonizing death due to viral infection.  I replaced it with my ‘new’ Macbook Pro and I’m loving this machine.  I’m especially loving not having to download security updates every other day and having to spend money on anti-viral software and update subscriptions.  It was a financial hit, but the result is something I really can’t complain of.  Nonetheless I’m still struggling to find and learn software to do some of the things that came easily (intuitively) on the old machine.

A new living-history club in Alaska held their inaugural event in May.  This event is based on the American Civil War, and it looks like it will become an annual encampment.  Although I’m not a big fan of the ACW period, I took the trade store to the encampment and had a good time along with  moderately brisk sales.

In June I traveled to Talkeetna for our annual Memorial Day Weekend Rendezvous.  It was well attended by ‘all the usual suspects’ and I had a marvelous time.  I was only able to spend 1 night at our Alaska State Rendezvous at the Delta Bison Range, but that event also had a good turn out, and the limited time I had on site was recreational time well spent. 

It was a challenging year for my Nor’ West Company business.  Black powder sales were up considerably, probably in response to the election of a democratic party president.  Sales of all other goods dropped off significantly, due mostly to general economic conditions throughout the U.S.  I’ve responded by carrying greatly reduced inventories of historical reproduction items.  I think NWC will persevere, but only time will tell how well the company survives these hard times. 

I didn’t have any major summer projects on the books, and it’s just as well because we had another bad wildfire year, resulting in the air filled with choking smoke.  Between my employer required training and an extra week of work I did for a coworker I felt like I didn’t have a lot of time to myself last summer.  That rather hectic schedule continued into the early autumn, and I have to remind myself in the future not to give away my limited free time so generously. 

Moose hunting season was a total bust this year.  Following a clinical training rotation in Kentucky I came down with a nasty flu, probably the H1N1 ‘Swine flu’ that has been so bothersome around the world.   I didn’t take my rifle for a single walk in the woods, and I’ll be working during the general moose season next year.  I have applied for some drawing permit moose hunts, but I truly doubt I’ll draw a tag.  In all the years I’ve applied for drawing permits, I’ve never won a single one.  I don’t have the political or social connections required to win the “random” draw.

October really sucked – and I’m still suffering the effects of October’s events.  It started innocently enough, with a four-wheeler in need of what I though was some minor maintenance.  I learned that the machine had dire carburetor problems and needed a new one, but that also had major engine problems.  The cost of replacing the carb and rebuilding the engine is far greater than the value of the machine.  I had the mechanic slap it back together as best he could in hopes it would survive the remainder of the season.  Just putting tires under it and learning it’s poor condition cost me a tidy sum of money.

While I was stuck at my place of employment one of my dogs, Abner, was severely injured at the kennel where he was boarded.  The folks caring for him and our veterinarian did a brilliant job saving his life, but in the process made some disagreeable decisions.  Essentially Abner was removed from me and given to another person who had more money to spend on his care. 

The good news about all of that is Abner is healing very well indeed, and even though he has only 3 legs, he has been running and training in harness and is very happy doing so.  The bad news is the loss of trust and ultimately the loss of previously close friendships.  I still find myself depressed mourning that loss. 

To add insult to injury, the four-wheeler completely died during a training run on October 30th, making it impossible for me to train dogs until we received adequate snowfall to allow me to safely run teams with a sled.  That meant only 1 near disastrous run in November, and even in December training has been difficult.  I feel like we only just now getting a good start on our training. 

The lack of snow this winter has made training a challenge for everyone in this area, but there is no significant relief in site.  At this point I’m resigned to doing the best I can to run small teams to bring along the yearlings as best I can, but I’m truly concerned about my ability to train leaders for the team.  I’ve been focusing on running trails that require the dogs to make lot’s of gee/haw decisions. 

When all has been weighed and measured, I feel like the year 2009 came up very short.  It has had some high points, my presentations on the history of mushing at the AMDA Symposium in Fairbanks and the NAVC Conference in Wisconsin were very well received, and I did enjoy some great times at living history events.  On the other hand I feel like summer was squandered through work-related training and overtime work, and autumn essentially fell apart. 

With a temperature of 20-below, today will be a day of rest for the team.  I’ll do a few things around the house but mostly I’m looking forward to celebrating New Year’s Eve at the lodge.  I want to bid adieu to 2009, and say ‘hello’ to a new year and a new decade. 

I think the year will bring some interesting challenges.  My duties at my place of employment are being expanded, and I’ll soon be able to honestly refer to it as “work” rather than my “place of employment”.  Some of those new duties include quite a bit of walking, which will be great for my health and physical condition.  I’m looking forward to that.

I’m very much looking forward to building a handler’s cabin on the property and recruiting a full-time handler rather than having to board the team elsewhere while I’m away.   I’m also planning to strip the engine and drive train out of the dead four-wheeler to turn it into a four-wheeled training cart, which I think will make fall training easier and more effective for the team and I.

My work related training will provide for some nice trips Outside in April, June and September and I’ll probably be able to start seriously training the team on the trails during my October R&R. 

Of course, a year is a long time, and circumstances are always subject to change.  The changes aren’t nearly so important as is how we choose to respond to them.  I’m hoping that whatever comes up, I’ll be able to respond well and have some fun along the way.

In closing, I just want to wish you and yours a very happy and prosperous New Year!

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