It’s summer. I really can’t help but start with the season, the conditions. Mostly because I am itching for those conditions to be different, to be winter again.
I am actually not much of a winter person, when it comes down to it. I like warmth and my brain needs sunlight, badly. Summer is the flourishing time, the reprieve.
But winter is when the game is on, when my little pack and I venture out into the cold and the dark and become a unit moving through the night. Winter is when we test our mettle. I am ready to do that now. Except, I am not actually ready, and neither are the pups– we all need this flourishing time, this reprieve, to grow and build and prepare.
In my years of mushing, fall has always held that certain excitement. The briskness heralding frozen trails, opening Alaska wide to my runners and their feet. But that excitement has always come as… A little bit of a shock. Because I am a summer person, a sun-person. I languish in the easiness, the warmth. The forgiveness of this season.
This is the first time, honestly, I have been thinking so much of snow in June.
I’ve mushed since I was fifteen– More than half of my life. Yet I haven’t gotten to try my own hand at this. To find out if I can succeed on my own merits. If I can bolster up a team from the start, give them all home and purpose and happiness and drive, and if we can take that sense of belonging together to cross a finish line a thousand miles away.
You can put together a team of adult huskies pretty quickly. There are a lot of sled dogs in Alaska. And in the season of training you’d take to get them ready for a thousand mile race, that group of dogs will coalesce.
But, I don’t think as much, as thoroughly, as when you start all together from year one, and work your way through all the steps that lead to a race like that. Through free play and socialization, through learning a rhythm in running and finding new confidence in distance, through learning to camp and then learning to sleep right away. Through becoming a unit. A pack. Who know each other backwards and forwards because you’ve all just gone through some ridiculous adventures for the last three years.
That’s why I didn’t opt to run Iditarod the second I started my kennel. Why I didn’t throw together a group of full-grown adults, already trained and primed. I invested in pups. I’m playing the long game. The truth is, I really only have one shot at this. I want to do it in the way that I think will be the most fruitful, the most rewarding, for the whole team. My team.
Playing this long game, going through all the right steps to make it to the start line, and then the finish– This is tough. It’s a slow toughness. I have to do the best things I can do right now, even in summer.
So that means enjoying my playtime each day with the dogs. That means loving on them, investing that individual time with every member of the team. That means working on training, addressing behaviors that can’t necessarily be worked on in wintertime. And it means building myself up, too, getting miles under my own feet so that I can come to par with the team.
Anyway, I have never had to be so deliberate, to play such a long game, and I have never felt so impatient either. In my piecemeal mushing days, where I was seasonal, my summers were in other places and meant other things. Now that I am here, with my dogs, and we build together, I try to be more present. I try to take my time, and appreciate each day I have to work towards our dreams. I put my head to my dogs’ heads. I sit with them, hold them, play with them. We speak back and forth with how we shift our shoulders or turn our faces, in a language most humans forget they have in their own body. We take long walks under thundercloud skies, and sing and dance together in the heat of the day. We explore the woods and the trails and the cushions of the couch. We are happy in this summer, right?
I’m not sure, exactly. So I sit on the newly clean porch and at least soak in the sun. When I close my eyes for a while, the dogs close theirs too, and howl; and in that plaintive song I am sure I hear their wish for winter too.