Spring seems to be coming about 2 weeks later than normal up here, but it is coming nonetheless. Temperatures have been climbing well into the forties and up to 50 above zero, snow and ice is melting rapidly, and we are clearly in the 'melt-down' phase of break up.
With rising temperatures we have to be much more careful about running the dogs. Dogs do a great job of staying warm, but not such a good job of shedding heat, and as they are still wearing their thick winter coats, overheating is a concern. I'm beginning to suspect that our little run the other day may have been the last run on sleds for this season. Thus it is time for me to change my focus from winter dog-mushing season to summer 'projects around the house' season.
Reviewing the Mushing Season:
My primary focus this past winter was in training my young leaders, and I'm very happy with the progress thus far. Orion, Capella and Cassie have all proven to be pretty competent young dogs, though I do need to spend time with them over summer and into autumn teaching them to pass other teams more efficiently. Meanwhile, all of the dogs worked very well all season long with no significant injuries or issues.
As part of changing my focus to warmer seasons, I took the four-wheeler into the shop in town for some work yesterday. There is an issue with the engine that needs to be addressed, and while it's in I've asked the shop to do some repairs to the winch, install hot-grips and a throttle warmer, and give it a thorough nose to tail servicing. By the time I return from my next tour of duty at work I imagine it will be ready to go back into service for mud season, true break-up, summer and well into autumn. For the next several months the four-wheeler will be our most important sled dog training vehicle.
Focus on Summer Projects:
Another part of changing focus is to firm up my plans for summer kennel and property improvement projects. Probably the most ambitious project for this summer is to expand the dog yard about 20 feet toward the rear of my property. Once completed, it will add roughly 2,500 to 3,000 square feet of space, much of which can be used as a play area for allowing dogs to play 'run amok' during the off season. It will move one of the pens away from the house, which is important because I worry about snow sliding from the roof falling onto the dogs housed in that pen. By preserving the few birch trees that are in that area I can create more shade for those dogs who have the most difficulty during hot weather. With the planned expansion I'll be able to install some addition post and swivel tethers for additional safe housing and I think if I can do the project as planned it will also be easier to clear snow away from the pen gates, which has been a difficult issue to manage this year.
The first step to that project will be some basic measuring and surveying to mark the area in which I wish to expand. That will be followed by clearing out a bunch of dog-hair black spruce that is overgrown in that area, cleaning out a junk pile that I inherited when I bought the place back in 1995, and then if necessary I may need to bring in some fill to prepare the surface. I think I'll be able to do much of the clearing during my next R&R, though I suspect the ground won't thaw enough to permit me to finish that stage until June.
Once the prep work is finished I'll move my existing pens back about 20 feet, changing their configuration so that the rectangular 10 feet by 20 feet pens are laid out end to end, rather than side by side. This not only creates more space inside the yard and reduces the temptation of 'fence fighting', it also provides a longer stretch of chain-link fencing around that side of the perimeter of the yard, conserving wire fencing materials to contain other parts of the kennel.
Once the pens have been moved I'll start moving the existing post-swivel tethers and houses, installing some new ones, and then fill in the gaps I've created in the current perimeter fence with less expensive wire fencing and with gates. I suspect I'll need to do some landscaping work to fill in holes dug by the dogs and I may even be ambitious enough to spread some grass seed to make the big play area more attractive.
Once the kennel project is finished, my second major project of the summer will be to construct a pole shed under which I can park the tractor, four-wheeler and other equipment to prevent it from being buried in winter snows. I believe I have most the materials I'll need for that project already at hand, or will create them when clearing away the trees and brush for the kennel expansion. It will nonetheless by another multiple step process, as I'll need to move an existing storage shed elsewhere, to make room for the equipment shed. I'll need to fill in a big hole underneath that shed, probably spread some rock or gravel and compact it, dig either 6 or 8 post holes and plant the primary supporting posts.
One the primary load-bearing posts are planted I'll need to reinforce the corners post and beam fashion, put a snow and rain resistant roof over the structure, and probably install some sort of siding on three sides of the shed.
I may decide to run electrical power from the house to the shed to plug in engine heaters, battery chargers, air compressor or other appliances that may be needed to make cold engines start reliably during winter's coldest conditions.
Although those two projects are ambitious enough, there are plenty of smaller projects that also need my attention this year. For example, I have several dog houses in need of repairs, I have an old, no longer used C-band satellite television dish laying the back yard that is just begging to be re-purposed, perhaps as a gazebo roof or maybe as a sauna. If I'm VERY creative I might even think of a way to build a structure that will serve as both.
My attached garage and shop area is in DESPERATE need of a major cleaning and reorganization, and I'm estimating it will take at least two full days for me to accomplish that project alone. I may well decide to move my chest freezer from the garage up to the covered deck so that it can be unplugged during the coldest weeks of winter, perhaps saving me a few dollars on my outrageous electric bills.
Although these are great plans, one never knows what will happen in life from day to day. When the season starts changing from the warmth of summer to the cold days of autumn I'll have to take a look back to see how much actually gets accomplished. I suspect that it look a bit different than the plan, but I'll betcha we get most of this stuff done.