My furry homies
Skylar introduces herself to most people by jumping up in a vertical wiggle with her mouth wide open, aiming her giant-looking teeth at any body part she can latch onto. It’s a bit overwhelming.
When I come home, she groans this high-pitched nervous whine that, if emitted by a human, would be a strong indicator of a social anxiety, or perhaps a precursor to an epileptic fit.
She whacks her tail with the ferocity of a beaver against walls, legs, the floor or my face, when we are lying in my bed, feet-to-head.
Skylar assumes the position of a sprint runner at the start line when my morning alarm goes off and freezes herself in slobbery anticipation for me to roll my legs over the bed.
“Fooooood!” is the chorus I imagine is ringing through her minute brain. She takes off to the kitchen, slides her doggy toenails across the tile and jumps her front two feet, hops them is more like it, until I am kind enough to deposit two scoops of kibble in her bowl.
I think she just breathes in, using all her lung’s capacity. She doesn’t really chew, that takes too much time. And when you’re as excited as she is about eating, you don’t have time to enjoy whatever it is you’re eating. You just swallow, and hope you don’t later eat something your system rejects and cause all your kibble to come back up. Then again, if you’re Skylar, you eat throw-up too.
Skylar eats shoes, socks, bones, Goober (the kitten)’s toys, pine cones, pine needles, sometimes her own poop, depending on the day and flavour, I assume
As neurotic and “energetic” (that’s dog owner talk for crazy) as she is, Skylar is the best relaxant and cuddle partner. She wedges herself between my legs and the cough, propping her chin on my thigh, while we watch TV. When we go on walks in the beautiful trails behind our house, she darts from male pee spot to pee spot, but never strays too far from me, making the walk enjoyable for me, energy-spending for her. Then she collapses at home and I forget for a moment what an insane puppy she is.
Goober helps me forget this too, by acting as a diversion. He pops his little head out from behind couches and corners, providing a teeny-tiny target for Skylar to clumsily lunge at. She usually opens her mouth around the scruff of Goober’s next, but never causes harm, save for the slobber that acts as kitty hair gel. Goober’s hair is usually spiked these days.
The two of them chase each other. Don’t shake your head at me for exposing my kitty as prey to a larger animal. He makes her yelp with his needle claws, and they both have an understanding they share of when is play time, and when is cuddle together on the fluffy blanket in an adorable photo op time.
The two of them are both teaching me to enjoy simple pleasures, as that is the only luxuries to which they are accustomed, or that they understand. It is nice to know there are two furry creatures at home that live for the moment I walk in the door. And feed them.
Day is done
The Quest is over, and I can sleep!
The champ won the final race, 15 minutes ahead of the next guy. I gleefully covered as many finish line arrivals as I could, spending hours reading in my truck, looking up to Shipyard’s Park every now and then for a musher’s silhouette.
The wait was worth it, the sense of accomplishment and relief oozing off of the mushers as they arrived at the final checkpoint, knowing they could sleep in a warm bed, with warm clothing. I asked about the biggest challenges, the greatest memories, and their tired eyes would again light up as they recounted tails that they will surely recount the rest of their lives.
At the Finish Banquet Saturday night, one musher proposed to his girlfriend after accepting his prize, and of course my eyes watered up, blurring my vision through the camera lens as I still tried to capture images for Monday’s deadline. Another musher cried when he won the vet’s choice award for supreme dog care on the trail. Again, those hormones had my eyes all ablaze with moisture.
When I had finished taking notes and snapping shots, it was time to mingle around the tables of mushers, handlers, race staff and volunteers that had patiently answered my questions and let me intrude on their adventures for the last week and a half. It was a little like saying goodbye on the last day of summer sleepaway camp.
Who knows when or if I’d ever see some of the musher’s wives again? Or chat with a four-time champion musher about breakfast preferences? It’s a little bit of a let down after a week of highs, adrenaline, and excitement that swept me up into the Quest hurricane.
At the same time, it’s nice to be able to catch up on work e-mails and stories from my regular municipal beat that have been cast aside. Though at times the Quest was cold toes, smelly hair, nutritional sacrilege and missing the husband, I am already hoping they ask me to cover it again next year.
I am becoming one with nature
This morning we left Dawson for Pelly Crossing, a town 3 hours south of Dawson, 3 hours north of Whitehorse. Halfway home for me and the 3/4 point for the mushers.
Along the way the photographer pulled over, and got out. Curiosity piqued, I did too, and saw five giant moose grazing on the side of the highway. I tried tiptoeing and walking ever so cautiously around the car, and then saw the photographer march right up to about 10 feet away from one to take pictures. Oh, I guess they aren’t going to charge at and eat me, I thought. They were pretty giant and moved surprisingly quick when they spotted a juicy-looking bit of leaf or whatever it is they were eating.
Foxes, I found, don’t charge either, at least the Dawson City ones. Last evening, I took a walk around while the sun was about to set, so I could see all these crazy olden-time buildings. I walked into the playground of Robert Service School and sat on a swing. Then this cat-dog looking thing with like a black mask and bushy tail, came and sat a couple feet away from me. I had just read a section of “White Oleander” (By Janet Fitch) in which the main character gets mauled by dogs, so I was nervous. But the little creature, which I determined to be a red fox, just sat and watched me swing and then went on its merry way. Fun stuff.
Went to a seminar on dog psychology last night that was disappointingly more about the science of comparing human eyes and ears with dog eyes and ears. I did learn that some dogs can be trained to smell cancer and ovulation (not at the same time!) and that Skylar ranks among the more intelligent dog breeds as a golden retriever. I think I would have got more out of the seminar if the silk-scarf wearing lecturer didn’t repeatedly scratch his crotch every few minutes. Weird!
Now we wait in Pelly for the first mushers to arrive. I take back my judgement of the BO-smelling people of the Dawson checkpoint, because with a decreasing availability in shower services, I fear I may become one such person myself. Wish me luck in the personal hygiene and journalistic scoop departments!
Live from the Yukon Quest
Instant Karma? Perhaps as a quick reward to my renewed appreciation for little adventures throughout my Yukon adventure (see last post), I got called into the boss's office the next morning with a request I couldn't turn down.
Could I drive up to Dawson City tomorrow and cover the second half of the Yukon Quest?
The photographer and I left Whitehorse yesterday on a six-hour drive up the Klondike Highway to Dawson. The drive was a scenic split through snow-topped mountain chains, roadside stops at gas stations with dirty toilets (a requisite for any road trip), sporadic, stack-y radio feeds from CBC, depending on how far we were from the last town.
We pulled in about 5:30 p.m. and I was thrown right into the throws of Quest coverage, running around with my head cut off, trying to secure interviews with race officials, trail markers and, of course, the guy in first place who stands to repeat his fourth win of the Yukon Quest.
The Yukon Quest is a dog sled race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse. It was spawned from the Iditarod as a race meant to be tougher, more authentic and with longer distances between checkstops. People and dogs have died on the Quest. It's intense, to say the least.
This morning, someone in the wood lodge here called out, "Musher!" and immediately, heavily-booted feet quickly marched out through the doorway to the checkpoint line on the riverfront. The seventh musher was in, looking tired, with eight dogs strung up before her. Watching the mushers and their dogs is so ... wow! It just hit me I'm describing the toughest dog sled race to people who, for the most part, are my family and friends in Ottawa who maybe saw the movie "Iron Will." Ok, so I don't know that you'll "get" the magic of Dawson City, which has been preserved since the gold rush days and is therefore spotted with old, Saloon-looking buildings with facades reminiscent of City Slickers. Nor will you likely know the magic of watching a man and his sled dogs run over the hilltop into the checkpoint, exhausted after having just run maybe 10 hours out in the barren wilderness. It is moving.
My favourite part is when everyone cheers as the teams slow to a halt in the checkpoint, giving the onsite veterinarians a chance to look over the dogs real fast and race officials to records timings.
You never know what you'll hear when they arrive. They may report an injured dog, a beautiful ride, a treacherous trek up over large snow drifts, tales of desperation or excitement.
We wait hours between mushers, in which time period anticipation builds, and takes of past quest runs are exchanged between rookies like myself and seasoned Quest mushers who have since retired.
My interview with the front runner occurred at one of the local pubs over his celebratory rums. The informailty of the chat and the level of his achievement do not match.
The mushers and the dogs are so impressive. It’s beautiful to see this dedication. I mean for most of the participants, mushing is their life.
And here I am, wide-eyed and a big giant newbie, soaking it all in, getting lost in the majesty and thrill of the Yukon Quest.
As the msuehrs race on, we move too. I expect to be out of Dawson tomorrow night, staying over in Pelly Crossing.
See you then!
Ain't so bad
Sometimes I think my new Yukon life is really boring. Like Friday night when the big event is going to one of husband’s hockey games and by the time we get back and he showers it’s “late” (read: 10:00) so we read and go to bed. C’mon, that’s pretty lame. Or even worse are the Saturday nights when he’s working overnight and has thus taken the truck with him and it’s just me, the puppy and the kitty on the couch for a CSI marathon. Par-tay!!
But then other times, when I do a little inventory of all the cool things I’ve done, I realize this is all part of a wicked adventure. I’ll be smug, but I mean hey--this is the Yukon. By virtue of even being North of 60, my life is not boring. When I can survive two weeks of pillaging, -45 cold weather, freezing my damn hands off just to get the mail, I can call that something of an adventure. Right? To remind myself (mostly) of what this crazy Yukon journey’s all about, especially before I move to an insanely remote community north of here, (called Ross River) I have compiled a list of fun things I have done in Whitehorse:
(in no ranking order)
1. Hiking up a MOUNTAIN. Not the Gatineau Hills, not the toboganning slope, but a mountain. Grey Mountain, which overlooks downtown Whitehorse. We drove up to the peak the night we got our pickup truck. That was terrifying for *someone* and super exciting to me. I loved looking out the window, over the steep, narrow edges. He nearly cried as our back tires spun out while the truck was angled up about 45 degrees. The next day we hiked it. I drank actual spring water, like, from a spring, that tasted SO good. Eff Evian man, that stuff was mint!
2. Interviewing Sam Roberts. Pseudo-superstar, at least in Canadian rock star terms. That’s as close to a true celebrity as I’ve come (well wait, does Sam Roberts trump Paul Martin?). He was actually a nice guy, maybe trying to let me know he wasn’t an a-hole. He had a small frame, a demure speaking voice and was actually quite informed about the Yukon, so he got some points there.
3. Tobogganing in a desert on Boxing Day. So when this part of the world was covered in glaciers, one started to move, and scraped the ground, and created a big sandy desert up here about a 45 minute drive away from Whitehorse. Snow covers the sand in winter and voila: presto change-o, we have a toboggan hill! I learned how to drive the Skidoos that shuttled us up to the tops of the massive slopes and had crunchy sand bits in my teeth when I went to sleep that night.
4. Speaking of Christmastime, I got to be the voice of the North on a Palm Springs radio Station on Christmas Eve. They called our paper looking for a ‘Santa Watch Correspondent’. I gave them the low-down: Our armed forces were ready to protect Santa, everything was on schedule and initial sightings of his sleigh had been made. That day, I felt like a celebrity, at least to the eager kiddies in Palm Springs.
5. Sitting at a campfire in our new friends’ backyard, passing around a bottle of butterscotch schnapps, everyone taking a swig. Roasting hotdogs and marshmallows over the fire, snuggling close to keep warm. Looking behind me, over my left shoulder, and seeing the sky light up with dancing green northern lights for the first time.
6. Turning a corner on our usual hiking path behind our house, to take a route we hadn’t tried before, and finding a Secret Garden of a winter walking trail. Soft, powder snow sat on tree branches bent over from snow’s weight to form a tunnel, a continuing archway over our walking path. It was so beautiful, a scene that I hope will stay locked in my brain forever.
I guess there are more things, on a smaller notch of the adventure scale, but that’s the list I have come up with for now. Want to come live up here with me?? Tell your friends, the Yukon’s not so scary bad.
Of course, I can say that now that it’s a balmy -2 outside and once again the grocery store’s produce section has things for sale.
Here are some of the things I noted in my Steno Pad, while waiting for an interview to show up at the Bakerei Kaffee Haus this afternoon on Main Street.
SCENE: Beside the storefront window in a two-seater table, sipping raspberry-lemonade organic stuff.
Beard like a brillo pad
Crooked teeth smile
Hair in a ponytail
Why's he on trial
City steps take me
Come to awakening
I'm no better than him
Bubbled tan froth
foaming at the mouth
furred jackets here
are a faux-pas down south
Coffee beans organic
and indie rock blare
A waitress, the young one
with beads in her hair
We met her with a triangle haircut, she was short and quiet and just small. Small voice, small hands, but though she was quiet, she was fun and smiled at you when you smiled at her, and had really fun ideas of games to play at recess.
She joined us in our elementary school folly, playing hide and go seek, truth or dare and eating all the candy we could from our pillowcase sacks after trick-or-treating.
We grew together, us in height, she in character. We went through that god-awful white eyeliner phase in Grades 8 and 9, we had photo shoots in our basements and backyard on our Grade 6 graduation present cameras.
She always wore seed-bead homemade necklaces and when we did get her to laugh, it was big and blaring and her usually squinty eyes were wide.
Her basement held the best big-party sleepovers: Six or so of us preteen skinny girls laughing and doing makeovers, listening to Dance Mix 98 and Spice Girls CDs. I think our Grade 7 Spice Girls party was in her basement. She was the quiet but beautiful Posh Spice.
She went out with a cute boy, whose garage band even wrote a song dedicated to her. It was an awful song, but aren’t all songs by Grade 7 garage bands? She loved it, but tried not to let it show. She played the flute beautifully, and sang with just the same airy, steady voice. Although few knew, because her quiet demeanor kept this feat hidden. When she did sing in public at our high school talent shows and musicals, it was usually a part of a group or choir.
She played a beautiful bobby soxer in “Leader of the Pack,” and though she may not have stood out, she was our friend and we cheered for her because we knew she was good.
She had a best friend who I like to think brought out the best in her. She became less quiet, (though by no means loud) let herself enjoy shopping at the suburban mall and began to believe she was a good performer. She was, but of course, it’s one thing to be good and another to know it.
The two of them promised to move to Hollywood to be big famous stars. They weren’t like the other junior high girls who said they’d be singers or actresses “when they grew up”. Oh no, they were going to do it.
After Grade 8, her family moved to Texas. We wrote back and forth letters with fuzzy and scratch-n-sniff stickers all over the envelopes. We wrote about the parties we started to drink at, the boys we started to kiss and the dramas of being 15 and awkward. I don’t think she kept up with her flute lessons, but she did keep acting on stage, signing and dancing for whomever would cast her at the small-ish town. Every once in awhile, we’d give her a call, usually around a table on new years’ eve or during the summer, lying around our friends’ backyard pool. She visited once or twice, and commented on how cold the summer nights were here, but other than climate, her changes were gradual.
She was more beautiful than before, a little more self-assured, a little more willing to take the crazy high school risks that I lived for.
We got infrequent updates on what plays she was in, on her preparation for prom and college. We did the same, branching off to different schools and area codes.
Nowadays, we hear from her once in awhile through e-mail, or her once best friend. She lives in LA and is still trying to make it. That sounds like she won’t, I know. I believe she can. I also know, though, that it’s not always about how good you really are. They call it a break for a reason, right?
I wonder about her. I wonder if she has a good girlfriend with whom she can still have sleepovers and talk to about the boys she kisses, although these days I guess that’s her fiancé, if the grapevine is correct.
I wonder if she’ll keep going for her dream. Her Grade 7 dream she has chased for so long and all the way to Hollywood. I wonder if she’ll just resign herself to being a wife and tending a house and being OK with that. If there’s any bit of junior high her still around, then she’s built for something bigger. But, like I said, she’s quiet in nature and though powerfully talented by now, I wonder if she’ll let that be her guiding force. The ring on the finger can pack a strong pull. And who can make life plans when that involves waiting tables while waiting for a break?
If she’s reading this, I hope she knows I still think about her often and wait to see her name on a screen sometime. It’s a matter of time, I know it. A matter of time, and who’s to know if she’ll wait it out.