Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Welcome To The Chocolate Factory

"Listen as the WIND blows across the Great Divide, voices trapped in yearning..."
The energy is expanding, guess it just must be that time of year. Or is it just another full moon? Yesterday while staring out at the lake I felt like part of an old Ansel Adams print. The cloud layer was thick, barely a few hundred feet up the surrounding mountainsides. We are constantly being showered with wind driven yellow leaves as they create a mosaic of colors surrounding the dogyard. One wonders if the dogs even notice as they gnaw away on their individual moose bones. This time of season various friends and neighbors offer scraps left over after all the meat has been processed and properly frozen. It's nice to know that the dogs help ensure that as much of the animal that is deemed not proper for human consumption is put to good use.

Most mornings, if we're not out playing on the trail somewhere, you'll find me stoking the fire underneath a large barrel of boiling meat or fish. Often my thoughts will wander back to earlier days working for other mushers as a handler whether it was the Erhart family, Ray Brooks, Paddy Santucci or Mr. Jerry Riley. Numerous people have passed on a bit of their mushing wisdom for others to decipher thru. Lester Erhart, an Athabascan native elder from Tanana, taught me the most about how to survive in the north, " Always keep an eye out for dead standing trees- never know when a fire might save your life in the bitter cold." I always think of Lester whenever we have handlers staying with us. No one is going to spend more time working or caring for our pooches than me. Each and every day this seventy year young man would be up and at it taking care of them dogs. It's no wonder he's one of the geatest dogmen ever.

In Joe Runyan's dogmushing novel he mentions that Lester's dream was to just once have the greatest dogteam on the whole planet. (I suppose most mushers might have thoughts such as these.) Knowing myself however I've become a bit more realistic. Who knows if we'll ever perform to perfection in a race but I definately hope to have one of the greatest dogyards in the world. After all, races usually only last a few days to a few weeks- where the pooches spend the rest of their time is of even greater importance! Growing up in Evanston Il. I was much like any other typical child of the seventies. My hero wasn't Harry Potter, it was a man called Mr. Willie Wonka. (And we're not talking about that Johnny Depp stuff either.) Lo and behold 30 years later we have our very own Chocolate Factory right outside the front door. Hills for the dogs to scamper around on , a lake and streams to swim in and travel upon in the winter as well.

Everywhere around here must be respected and cared for to help ensure a healthy environment. On weekends all the dog waste is put in the truck and then hauled off to the dump. Trails must be kept clean- obstacles whether they be tree limbs or large rocks are removed to create a smoother surface for the dogs to tread upon. Much like anywhere else on this earth sometimes we find spots where people have dumped garbage in the woods. To my eye no sin could be greater than trashing Mother Earth. Who do we complain to when this happens? No one- it's faster and more efficient just to clean up the mess ourselves. Besides, it makes one feel honest with a sense of integrity performing good deeds. I just feel sad for people who treat life this way- they're not 'evil', just spiritually sick inside. One of our handlers Karl helps me cleaning up each day, it's refreshing to see how he appreciates our unique northern lifestyle.

Presently we're running a few hours everyday with the racing squad and yearlings. How quickly we travel or the number of miles covered is of less importance this early in the year. "Time in Harness" however is quite valuable as we introduce the younger, less experienced pooches to this newfound wondrous world of exploration. Preparing the squad can be an exercise in patience with all of the pups pent-up energy unleashed in a cacophony of canine frenzy. Twisting and jiving back and forth they yip out in glee, " C'mon hurry up you humans- it's time to boogie." Having extra neck and tuglines around nearby is a necessity for the occassional chewer yet this is their school session when the pupils must learn to act properly. (Or else they receive a "timeout" and miss out on that day's run.) Out on the trail, the dogs are constantly being rotated around as we perfect the overall strength of the team. Most of the dogs get a chance to run in lead, how big of a team that's behind them depends on their overall speed and head smarts. Some Dawgs are natural leaders; they tend to be a bit more dominant than their littermates. A few of our more experienced racers become a bit bored during this time of year yet the young punks running next to them have a way of keeping them energized.


Speaking of which this week's featured dogs are Sicily and Geronimo. Sicily is a three year old female that we acquired from my good friend Mr. Ray Redington this past spring. Tamra and I spent a night at his place after the Kobuk 440 race. He lives in Knik, right down the road from Iditarod HQ and Wasilla, the home of Sarah Palin. I love talking dogs with him, his brother Ryan, his father and Uncle Joee. I call Ray the 'Conscience' of the Iditarod- his grandpa Joe was its founder. Before we left his house we were walking around the dogyard as he muttered to himself, "What good dog can I give to Mr. Hugh Neff? The pooch he selected is beautiful, she was on an Iditarod squad last year and has a heart of gold. Ray's a true mushing genius in his own right and it's an honor now to have such a talented lil' gal from him. Sicily's original name was "Screamer" though she actually is quite dignified around other dogs.

Geronimo (left) with his buddy Tolliver (right)

Geronimo, on the other hand, just turned a year old and acts as if he's been eating way too much of Mr. Wonka's magical candies. He's the son of Annie and Brady and much like his parents has a very outgoing personality. Walking by his house he constantly jumps up for a hug and a pat of appreciation. Unlike some humans who are constantly ordering their dogs to sit!, lay down! or be still! We encourage the pooches to express their joy at being a true 'wild treasure' of nature. Sure, they can show a bit of puppy love with everyone who comes in contact with them yet they must also learn to respect others space as well. Geronimo is what we refer to as a "cow dog" - white with black spots- he also has a strange marking on his face that resembles a mustache. Though a bit young it's already obvious that he has a load of natural talent that must be nurtured properly, only time will tell... Enjoy the view, Hugh P.S.: Just a reminder that I'll be in the chicagoland area the end of october for a friend's wedding. We already have a few schools lined up for presentations but still have available times if you know of anyone that might be interested. I assure you it's a show for all to enjoy and learn from! If you have ?'s our contact:

Training on Annie Lake Road with the new Honda (Watson and Sicily in lead)


At 4:06 PM , Blogger Sebastian Schnülle said...

Hey Hugh, hope you enjoy the warmth of the Honda. Damn, I wish my trails were a bit wider here, I miss the rig already. Forgot to put on longjohns this morning and almost froze to death on the Quad. Have fun



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