Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tramping around with DA Clown thru a Canine Wonderland

" Will ya look at all of that energy..." - J. Runyan (horse fella from New Mexico)

My buddy Rich, a Yukon Quest volunteer for many years, commented that he loves watching mushing events every winter because he never knows what we'll be up to next. Rich is a Nam vet originally from Chicago, "You're a lucky man Hugh, not every person gets to live their dreams." He should know, he's seen the huge mess saga evolve since its inception so many moons ago. When one lives a 'Dream' as bizarre as this city boys being able to sleep is a challenge in itself. Feeling the rhythm of the team on the trail as it clicks together as one solid unit is always in the back of my mind, " Is it time to harness up yet?"

Just finished feeding the pooches, love this time of day. It's a time to unwind, frolic and play. Sauntering back towards the house after feeding one of the 'retirement' dog pens, as well as Peter's dogs, I glance up towards the pen housing the finest litter these eyes have ever laid eyes on- Annie's Army. I can't help but start giggling. Four of the eight dogs are sitting in unison, looking as orderly as a group of cadets. Jewel, Amigo, Joker and Jericho are all facing the east, shoulder to shoulder, enjoying the warmth of the sun's rays as they cascade over the mountain adjacent to Annie lake. It looks like a casting call for the movie "Snowdogs". They all have contented smirks on their faces having just enjoyed a massive heaping of beef broth for breakfast. Wonder who's gonna pass gas first?

I'm such an idiot. The first thing I'm gonna do if we are fortunate enough to win a race one of these winters is to apologize to all of the former racing pooches for my ignorance throughout the years. (Tamra too!) As any parent will tell you one child with too much energy is destined to create problems. The calender says I'm 43 years old now but anyone who knows me can assure you that growing up was never a concern of mine. Harnessing the energy from within is. It might be the result of being introduced to the wilderness at a young age? or perhaps having a wolf as a mother and polar bear as a father? The youthful vigor never seems to go away. Probably has more to do with the endless coffee each and every day! Folks sometimes ask me what the middle initial in my name stands for. I often reply that it's a tie between Hermit and Hedonist. (I was actually named after both of my grampas.)

How a person of my goofy character ended up lost in the professional world of mushing madness is the true mystery. Yet here we are... what to do, what to do? Get serious? Nah. Let's go play with the pooches. Any success we have this year will be determined by the harmonious nature of the beasts. To view them as a community instead of just individual specimens has been an enlightening venture. I'm amazed how many people there are that we compete with who buy animals, sometimes even whole dog teams to race with annually. Humans have various viewpoints with regards to running dogs yet for our kennel half the fun is raising them. Watching the pups grow and evolve is the true heart of what mushing should be about. Racing is just one facet of a dog's life, how we respect them in their older years says just as much about a musher as how fast their team might perform during one certain season. Seeing fourteen year old June-Mari's personality shine thru our yearling leader Goldy's eyes we witness not only the passage of time but the continuity of canine spirit throughout our kennel. To evolve one must learn from the experiences of those who have been on the trail of life before us.

Watching the lil' furballs clean each other, licking leftover morsels off of one another's faces is a comical experience to enjoy. Sometimes though their wild nature intervenes, perhaps over an old moose bone or some leftover stew. You had better be wary if one is willing to offer our northern Dawgs a chance to have more freedom. Just take a look at the tv, struggle for dominance amongst the pack, wherever it may reside, is a natural part of the world's pecking order. Mistakes are more often made by the human caregiver than the animal who is usually acting instinctively rather than being a 'bad' dog. Read the signs of your beloved beasts. When a nostril flares or eyes widen one should automatically know how to react instead of spending endless minutes with their alter egos contemplating various courses of action.

Freedom- why? Yeah, it might make sense for most humans but these are wild northern beasts. They are not trained to spend their lives living indoors splayed out on couches. These Dawgs were born to dance. 'Civilized' pets may roam around the backyard for a few minutes to get some exercise. Up North most Canine Champions start to 'loosen up' after 10 or 15 miles. Most humans would consider the opportunity to complete a marathon race quite the accomplishment. 26 miles to these Dawgs? A pleasant way to enjoy the morning sunrise. "Hey Boss- is Your break time over with yet? We pooches were hoping to put in another 50 or so if ya feel like you're up to it!" This reason alone is why we are committed to letting our dogs enjoy as much playtime with one another as is safely possible. Tethering is a necessity at times but allowing any dog the chance to think for them self through exploring the world on their terms enables their spirits to shine that much brighter. Maybe it's we humans that need to become more adept at listening and learning from our furry companions? Learning is so underrated these days.

Others might scoff at our Doggie Dreamworld- as one Quest champion so eloquently put it, "Hugh Neff sure is stupid." This musher is not the only one, he's probably more the norm for the status quo crowd. That's the funny thing about life though, when people talk word always gets back to you about their negative ways. One episode I was a witness to occurred during the finishing banquet in Fairbanks four years ago. We were in the bathroom, two other gentleman were squawking to each other by the mirror while unbeknownest to their ears I was going potty. " One commented in a thick European accent, " Does that guy even realize how good the dogs are he has? " The others reply? " I Know! He has no clue." giggle,giggle, giggle... The room suddenly became silent as I opened the door having just flushed the toilet. Gee, I wonder who they must have been talking about?

I still have alot to learn about racing dogs that's for sure. Yet it's what I'm learning about these beasts away from the hysteria and hoopla of the 'new age mushing scene' that has been the greatest accomplishment on our resume. In some parts of this world animals are becoming more humanized. Which is fine I suppose ... yet up north what's wrong with letting them be who and what they are? Spirits meant to fly despite not having wings. Who needs an abundance of $ or trophies when the greatest gift we can ever receive is the opportunity to Dream of a better tomorrow? On trails that lead us to find even more unknown beautiful vistas to enjoy. While discovering a bit more of the hidden treasures that lie within our very souls.

Can we go play now? H. H. Neff

P.S.: We have been receiving numerous inquiries over the last few weeks with regards to joining the Laughing Eyes Kennel Team. Tamra has done a great job bringing our website up to date. Their are numerous ways to become a kennel team partner. Sponsors are always welcome- Especially those of you who have any positive causes that might need to be promoted. In the past we have worked with numerous groups ranging from the Make-A-Wish foundation to the National Education Association. As a young man I was taught by my father, our Boy Scout Leader to give back to the community. Any success this 'Dream' of ours may have depends on how we are able to help the world around us. Winning may be nice but it's never the ultimate barometer of achievement. As 4-time Iditarod Champion Martin Buser proclaimed, " It's what you do for others with your success that determines who you are as a person."

Let's all grow together! HHN