Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Passing of a Champion

"Those that are dead are not dead- they're just living in my head..." - ColdPlay

MARCELLUS (1995 - 2009)

It's a gray and dreary day here at the lake. On TV Ted Kennedy is being honored for serving others, overcoming the horrors of his life to try and help others as best he could. Some are calling this summer the season of death after so many famous folks have passed on into the afterlife. Here at the kennel this past season has been terribly difficult to endure as well. One of our 15 year old retired leaders recently had a stroke and has finally moved on down the trail where we will catch up with him one day.

Mr. Marcellus was named after Muhammed Ali whose original name was Cassius Marcellus Clay. I received him from one of my old mushing boss's, Curtis Erhart, an Athabascan Native from the village of Tanana up on the Yukon river. He was just a few months of age when he nestled into my arms, I would never of imagined that this lil' energetic ball of fur, as well as his girlfiend June-Mari, would be my chaperone as we covered 10's of thousands of miles all over Alaska and the Yukon. How many times had he saved the team as we sought our way thru a storm or across Fish Lake as we headed north to visit my gunnas in Nuchalawoya?(tanana) Marcellus was one of the 'Magnificent 7'- in our 1st 1,000 miler, the 2000 Yukon Quest, we ran some 700 miles, from Circle-Whitehorse, with half as many pooches as most of the other teams we were competing with, finishing 13th out of 29 squads.
Marcellus (right) and Sheyla in lead in the 2004 Iditarod

It wasn't his race performances that distinguished this creature of Nature, it was the way in which he related to others on a daily basis that made him such a noble beast. He was dominant yet not a bully. Marcellus was rather independent, just by a shrug or grunt he would let others know his wishes. He rarely barked but certainly knew how to howl. An "Aurora Husky", his bright spirit was the spotlight of my early years in the north. For a kid from Chicago his guidance was a godsend. In his 'retirement' he spent most days playing w/ Junie and his right hand man, Mr. Uncus. Every summer afternoon he could be found sleeping out in the yard, for this was the center of his kingdom. Winters would find him on the couch next to Uncus snoozing away dreaming of their next meal to come.

Marcellus (center) in the yard with his buddies Flame and Oscar

Yet with the stroke his movement became incapacitated and these past few weeks have been quite disheartening as I have watched a part of my soul slowly disappear from sight. I was once told by a famous dogmusher that caring for dogs after thay have served their purpose for you (i.e. racing) is an Anchor that will weigh you down. For some this might make sense yet for me it was in Marcellus older years that I connected with him on an even deeper level. So many shared adventures (like our trip to visit schoolkids in Manhattan) sunsets and moon rises- he was more than just 'some animal'- he was my best friend, one of many now. As a child I sold my soul to the wilderness, to the natural beauty of this world that all of us never pay enough respect to. I'm under a spell that shall never be broken- always together boy - always.

Marcellus with his girlfriend June-Mari