Two Rivers, Alaska is the only place I know of in North America where a "pick up band" at a party consists of a pair of Scots pipers. My friend and mentor Mike Green is a piper and member of the world famous Red Hackle Pipe Band. Last night he brought along a friend, and they entertained and delighted us all with a jam session.
|Only in Two Rivers - or maybe the Highlands of Scotland - does a 'pick up band' include highland pipers|
While others spend time on New Year's Day may spend time reflecting on events of the past year, I try to look forward to the new, current one. It is at least my intention to do so in this post, though in all truth the present is always connected to the past as well as to time yet to come.
The Future of the Team and the Stardancer Historical Sled Dogs Project:
Since most followers of my blog were attracted because of the dogs and my pursuit of historical authenticity, I'll start there. At present there are 15 dogs in the Stardancer kennel. All are in good health and good condition. Of those 15 dogs, I can easily field a team of 8 that are honestly reflective of teams used in the late 18th or full 19th century Canadian fur trade. The dogs on the team today range in age from 11 months (Thor) to Denali (10 years). I don't think I'll need to retire any of the older dogs this year, though of course that is dependent upon many uncontrollable factors. Dogs who retired in the Stardancer kennel STAY in the Stardancer kennel.
I am bringing in some new blood very soon with an eye toward establishing my own breeding program. The opportunity to purchase Thor was an incredible stroke of unexpected luck. Grand Marais and Lutsen from the Points Unknown Kennel of Minnesota will be coming home at the end of this month. These deep Hedlund Gray Huskies may well become the foundation of a future breeding program, along with another puppy I've been promised from a Hedlund breeding from entirely separate lines. There is a third breeding done by a friend that may also provide a very suitable puppy for the team, so I'll have no need to bring in additional dogs for at least a couple of years, and perhaps won't need to do so for the remainder of my mushing career.
As frequent readers know, it's important to me to maintain a good age spread in the team so I don't some day wake up to realize I have lots of retired dogs in the yard, but not enough young, sound dogs to make up a team.
Training for the remainder of this season will be focused primarily to training my youngest leaders, with Rose, Orion, Capella and Cassiopeia getting lots of hook-ups and lots of time 'up front'. I couldn't be more delighted with their progress thus far and it is time to give them every opportunity to gain experience. Of course this is in conjunction with puppy socialization, habituation and training, all of which is crucial to their future mental health and abilities in addition to just being a heck of a lot of fun.
Of immediate concern is the need to recruit a new dog handler. I've tried to not share too much information about our handler as he prefers to live a quiet and private life, but he's recently given notice that he and his wife, Clare, are buying a home of their own in the area. This is great news for them and for our little community, but not so great news for me and the team. Ted is an EXCELLENT handler and dog man in his own right and his loss will be felt from a long time to come. He will certainly be missed by me and by the dogs.
In terms of equipment, I have nearly everything I need to achieve my goal of accurately reenacting any period of dog mushing history from 1763 to 1963, with the exception of harnesses and rig for running historically authentic single file teams. I need to make that gear myself, and it's a project that has been on hold for a couple of years now. If I were to make a New Year's resolution, that would be the one.
Having a good handler on the property is extremely important with my work schedule being as it is, and at the moment I have no idea who I might recruit for the job, though I'm confident it will someone very good. I keep reminding myself that we do have a lot to offer in exchange for a moderate amount of labor.
Next month the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race will be running from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, and the celebrations and events associated with the start of the race provide some great opportunities to bond with friends I only rarely get to visit in person. In March, my friend Kyle Belleque will be bringing a team of his Nushagak Kennel dogs to Two Rivers to race in the TRDMA's Two Rivers 200, and will be basing here at the house. I've offered to provide logistical and handler support to him so he can run his old school dogs with some of my old school gear in that event.
With a current temperature of about thirty-below zero F (- 34 C), it's not easy to anticipate the tasks of summer. There are just a few kennel improvements I'd like to make this year. I want to install two more pens, one of which will be unconnected to any of the others to provide a safe place for females in season or a place to house dogs who may be ill with potentially contagious disease. I want to rearrange a couple of the existing pens to make it easier to access them when working in the kennel. If resources allow, a covered shed of some sort in which to store the tractor and other wheeled equipment could be very useful to us, and a vermin resistant food storage building of some sort might make it possible to buy dog food in larger quantities thus providing some financial savings as well as some peace of mind would be a nice addition.
Being in the midst of THIS mushing season, it's even harder to express hopes and aspirations for the next. I'll have puppies to introduce to harness and the work for which they were bred, along with (hopefully) strong teams of experienced dogs to train and condition. I'd like to be able to at least consider some longer trips through the back country, since that really is the goal and job of the team. Certainly some camping trips into the White Mountains and perhaps some other areas new to me and the dogs would be great fun.
Other Hopes and Aspirations:
With rapidly changing conditions in the Alaskan oil patch comes rapidly changing conditions on the job. I've had some difficulty coping with some of my increased work load, but I'm now confident of my ability to do so and conditions are such that job security shouldn't be too scary of an issue so long as I can keep my own head and attitude toward the job together. That "attitude" part has been rather difficult the past year, but again I'm confident in my own ability to adapt.
My job requires that I travel Outside for clinical rotations to maintain my medical skills three times each year. I'm tentatively planning on doing those rotations in April, July and either September or October. By scheduling that way I can reserve most of my "R&R" time for the winter dog mushing season.
I don't have much hope for improvement in my financial status. While prices of everything continue to increase, my income has been flat for several years and I see little reason to believe that is likely to change. Financing the tractor I purchased last summer was a calculated risk that so far is working out well, but it does mean I have to be very careful about controlling my spending for the next three years or so. Financially, things seem to be under control - but it has to be strict and careful control.
My social life has seen recent very positive changes and I feel like that is likely to continue through this new year. My ability to participate in living history events around the State is entirely conditional depending upon who events are scheduled in relation to my work schedule, but there is nothing new about that situation at all.
My writing endeavors will probably remain stable, though I have been able to expand my historical research activities quite a bit recently. Frequent followers can probably expect to see some new historical information posted here, on my web site, and of course in On the Trail magazine and perhaps a new (to me) market or two as well.
In terms of personal health, I'm very happy with the result of last year's intensive weight loss effort. I feel I'm at a healthy weight and in better than average physical condition for a many of my maturity. My most important health related goal for now is to stabilize my weight and continue to work on expanding my capacity for physical endurance. I've found that my tolerance for extreme cold isn't as high as it once was, and I'm hopeful that my physician can help me out with that a little bit. I think it may be related to some of the medications I take, and with my reduced size at the very least we may be able to adjust dosages downward or perhaps even eliminate one or more of the most likely offenders.
In Summary, as I look forward to the year ahead I am feeling good about the prospects. Barring major unforeseen events I think it can be a year of considerable accomplishment and contentment. I'm very much enjoying the lifestyle I've created for myself, and I'm feeling good about my ability to maintain it.