A Happy Little Post

I sympathize with our few dedicated blog followers.  The past several blogs have been rather emotional as we have said goodbye to so many of our old dog friends.  I fear that some people may come to dread a new post to read, wondering “oh no, who now?”

But this isn’t that post!!!  No, this post is not sad at all!!  This is actually a blissfully HAPPY post.  Fear not, dear reader, no tissues needed!

This weekend, we packed up the crew and headed out to the hills to do a brisk fall overnight training trip and enjoy the changing leaves.  There is nothing like unplugging, getting out, sleeping on the ground under the stars (which were eventually overshown by the HUGE day-after-harvest moon), listening to the songs of the coyotes and the rustle of the leaves, with the gentle sleep sounds of your dogs around you.  And so we did!  And it was wonderful!

“Come said the wind to
the leaves one day,
Come o’re the meadows
and we will play.
Put on your dresses
scarlet and gold,
For summer is gone
and the days grow cold.”
–  A Children’s Song of the 1880’s

Posted in Fun Stuff | 1 Comment

Cancer Sucks

Dave writes:

Way back in 2002, some CO mushing friends of ours entrusted us with my first team of eight young and happily crazed Siberian Huskies.  When I first saw them, seven of the group had sleek, beautiful coats, the eighth dog looked a bit ratty with a dusty, shaggy, shedding coat.  As much as I love all of our dogs, I took particular interest in this little messy girl with her moth-eaten coat.  Much to the amusement of her previous owners, our inexperience with huskies became apparent soon after; the ugly duckling Airaphin’s coat was simply in the midst of her semi-annual shedding process.  She quickly transformed from a dreadlocked mess of a dog into an incredibly beautiful agouti brown and off-white supermodel with streaks of burgundy highlighting her coat.  Airaphin (also referred to as Finny, Farmer Face, FinFin, etc.) was the grand-daughter of a big male named Worf, also part of the group of eight, and her grandpuppy Liam was another great member of our dog family who came along a bit later.  She had canine family in Alaska, including 3 grandpuppies that lived with other kennels.

Finn was a definitely contributor to our team, she would run wheel alongside Worf, or match her icy blue eyes to another and pair up with Rabbit.  For many years, Finn joyously ran as part of the main team on her powerful stocky legs.  In the yard, Finn got along great with the other dogs, and enjoyed being pet to the point where her eyes would mostly close and her body would relax to the point of bonelessness.  She was renowned for her ability to get filthy, but loved having a good snuggle.  Finn continued running with the main team until her spine began to give her problems as an older dog, but even then she would run with us on smaller, less powerful teams for shorter distances.

Last fall, at age 16, some aggressive tumors cropped up on her neck and shoulder.  We removed them and the vet determined they were soft tissue sarcomas.  Finny was otherwise extraordinarily healthy and a wonderful patient, rarely if ever needing a cone, and very much enjoying some indoor recovery time with us by the woodstove.  Two more times additional lumps recurred in the same area, and we had them surgically removed.  In spite of the tumors, Finny’s spirits were great and she continued with a wonderful joy of life – a blessing in that she could still act like herself, yet extremely frustrating that she seemed otherwise fit and the cancer was stealing her from us too soon.  The final time the tumors returned even more aggressively, and after consulting with our fantastic veterinary team, we decided that further surgical treatment was not in Finny’s best interest.  So we enjoyed our time with Finn until she made it clear that her quality of life with her tumors had tipped the other way.  With a final lick to my chin and nose, she headed off for a reunion with her teammates along the Great Trail earlier this week.

We so very much miss her piercing blue eyes, super thick agouti coat, gentle short licks of contentment, unabashed joy of running, persistent shouting about dinnertime, and her presence in the yard among the other dogs.  Having a kennel of many dogs mathematically equates to losing our dear friends from time to time, but no loss is easy or taken lightly, and five dogs this summer leaves five big holes in our hearts.  We think that maybe the other dogs that have passed on came by on Monday and helped lead Finn out onto the Great Trail (she was a great sled dog, but not a terribly good leader…).  We hope the journey to the other side is another grand adventure, as the dogs always enjoy seeing what is just out of sight around the next corner on new trails.  She was the last of my original team, and we are heartbroken.  Run fast, run free, run happy; we will see you again one day, sweet girl!


Posted in Cast of Characters, Setbacks | 1 Comment

Billy and Donna, a Love Story

100772667His name was William J. Mahoney II, but he went by Billy.  He had a handsome face that could be equally goofy and he was strong and athletic.  On the morning of September 11, 2001, he was 37 years old, was married to the love of his life, Donna, and had 4 beautiful kids.  Billy loved sports, particularly baseball and swimming, and was a handyman who enjoyed working on projects and building things with his hands.  He was also a firefighter with Rescue 4 in Queens, New York.

mahoney_williamI never knew Billy or his family.  I probably heard his name over the past 15 years, but it wasn’t until yesterday – 9/11/16, fifteen years after he died – that our paths crossed.  I signed up to hike the memorial stair climb to commemorate the loss on 9/11/01 by climbing 110 stories of stairs (the height of the World Trade Center buildings) with Dave and the men and women of Inter-Canyon Fire/Rescue, who have done this event every year.  Although I had gone and supported in the past, this was my first time to sign up and actually walk each of those steps.  When I picked up my entry packet with my commemorative t-shirt, I found Billy.  Each person who climbs is assigned a person who was lost on 9/11/01 to climb in memory of – so there he was.  “William J. Mahoney II, Firefighter, Rescue 4 Never Forget.”

Photo By Kathryn Scott/Special to The Denver Post

Photo By Kathryn Scott/The Denver Post

Nearly 3,000 people climbed the 110 stories of stairs at Red Rocks on 9/11/16.  Ironically, almost the same number of people who died on 9/11/01.  Each person climbing had the photo of someone they were climbing to honor.  So many people, so much loss.  As my friend Kristine said, sometimes it felt like they were right there beside us.  It was powerful and moving to tears.  As soon as I got home, I did some research and learned more about Billy, but almost nothing about his widow and kids left behind.

I have been thinking about Donna Mahoney.  My imagination has taken great liberty thinking about her.  I imagine her with hazel eyes, much like the eyes of my childhood best friend, flecked with gold and green.  If you look at her eyes, you can see flashes of joy, anger, pride, and deep, unspeakable pain – the kind of pain that comes from having your beating heart ripped out of your chest and being expected to carry on with life.  I bet she is a firecracker, not taking any crap, but quick to forgive and eager to laugh.  And I bet no one made her laugh like Billy did.

In my mind (and this is total conjecture on my part), I can imagine Billy and Donna as likely high school sweethearts.  She loved him fiercely, and even though he exImage_1234asperated her, behind every eye roll and sigh, there was love in her heart.  He was her one and only, even if she had to share him with the fire department.  And he adored her, even though she sometimes felt like she wasn’t enough, needed to lose those last baby pounds, didn’t have time to get a decent haircut, or yelled at him for leaving half-finished projects all over the house.  Donna and the kids were his everything, but he sometimes found it hard to tell them that.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I wonder if Donna had an urge to call Billy and beg him to take a sick day and come home from the station.  Even if she did, she likely didn’t actually call him – she knew that while he was at the job, he was fully at the job.  I can almost see her getting the kids ready for school that morning, maybe listening to the news in the background while making lunches and brushing hair….  Did she see the first plane hit the tower?  She would have gotten a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, knowing Billy was on call.  When the second plane hit, she would have maybe flipped on the scanner or called the firehouse.  She would have known that the crew from Rescue 4 was responding.  She would have known that Billy was rushing into that fiery mess, because that is what he did.  She would have been watching, like I was and the rest of the US was watching by this point, she would have gathered her kids around her, and they would be standing there together watching the news….

And when the buildings collapsed and the world became dust, did she know?  Did she run out into the street looking for Billy?  Did she have family or neighbors that showed up and held her in their arms while she shook with fear and anxiety of not knowing?  Did she hear his voice in her mind saying goodbye?  How did she manage all the mixed feelings of anguish, anger, hope, despair, and desperation?

And the days and weeks following, with so many unanswered questions and so much effort going into recovery – how long did she have hope?  How on Earth do you pick up and move forward without knowing?  At what point, exactly, does your heart stop beating?

My heart breaks for Donna.  It aches for Donna.  I wish I had a way to reach out and tell her, after all this time, that I cry for her.  That I can only imagine (and at the same time I don’t want to imagine) what she has gone through the past 15 years.  That I hope the universe has returned some joy to her heart, and that she has peace in her heart.  I hope her kids have grown, and that someone was there to walk her daughters down the aisle at their weddings, and to see her sons grow up and find their own paths in life.  I hope she knows that there are people she has never met who are touched by Billy’s actions, and will remember his name, and hers.  Donna Mahoney – I wish you love and peace.


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Kicking off Training Season


IMG_9080The Spirits of Changing Seasons finally gave us morning temperatures in the high country that are cool enough to consider starting our fall training!  And somehow, as we come to the conclusion at the beginning of each fall season that “Yes, tomorrow we will go”, the dogs immediately know.  The result is an early morning with noisy, insanely excited dogs, and groggy humans pouring coffee down their necks to get the dogs loaded before the neighbors call the cops with noise complaints.

Our closest training area is 1.5 hour drive (each way) into the high country where the temperatures are cool and there is enough dirt road to run a dog team and ATV on.  It seems so silly to do a 3 hr drive for a half-hour run, but that is what we do, and it makes all the difference to start training early as far as getting the the dogs in shape and working on all the mental aspects of developing and maintaining good habits on the line and in harness.

IMG_2259Our median age for our team this year is 10.8 years with ages between 7 and 13.  (The old ladies are in their own team (mostly the sit around harassing the younger dogs, swapping stories, and trying on their old harnesses for fun), so they aren’t included in the average here.)  In human years, that means our team dogs are roughly 50-91 years old….  So it takes some doing to get them trained up in a manner consistent with what their older bodies are capable of doing and finding the balance between pushing their limit, but not overdoing things.  It is sort of a septuagenarian team, so slow and steady progress is our goal.  Lots of rest, good food, muscle work to keep bodies limber, and medical attention when needed.

IMG_2280The benefit of having older dogs is that they already know what to expect, and are mentally tougher than some of the younger dogs.  Not much phases them, including the group of mama cows and calves that were right next to the trail and started running when we passed.  And just as I said “at least they weren’t moose”, a moose showed up!

IMG_2284But the first few runs are in the books without incident, and the dogs are now napping in the sunshine feeling very content.

Life is good!


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Missing the HR Department


Sally having a strong conversation with Braeburn, who was bothering Hen (on the end) with Liam intervening as a peace-keeper

Nothing has highlighted the recent loss of many of our pack leadership like the introduction of a new member.  Since Pedro’s arrival, we are really finding that we miss the particular roles that Sally and Liam played as our “HR Department” for the newbies.  While all the dogs lend to the successful blending of new dogs into the pack, it turns out that Sally and Liam both had fairly critical roles that we may have underestimated.

Of course, we knew that Sally was a very dominant pack member, and Keeper of the Rules.  Many of the rules were passed along to Sally from previous Rule Keepers, Trout, and Bizzy (who created the rules and taught them to Trout).  But Sally also had some of her own rules that she enforced.  The Rule Keeper task hasn’t really been filled by anyone yet, although both Braeburn and Anvik have sort of stepped into the role.  They are just not as effective (yet?) as Sally was.

Sally was UNQUESTIONED.  She was calm and confident, and just took care of the education of new pack members as to what was tolerated and what was not tolerated.  She wasn’t mean, but she was authoritative in a way that no one ever wanted to see if she could back up her role.  There were no questions:  Sally enforced rules consistently and effectively.  She would break up disagreements before I was even aware they were happening.  She directed the pack and they respected her entirely, even as a very frail old lady.


Anvik keeping an eye on things.


Braeburn drama.


In comparison, both Braeburn and Anvik ARE questioned.  Their rule-enforcement approach is quite different than Sally’s in that they both know the rules, and know when rules are broken, but are not exactly sure what to do about it.  Both Anvik and Braeburn look to US to do the enforcing, so it comes off more of a tattle-tale sort of “Hey! You broke the rule and I am telling mom” type of thing.  Anvik has a bit more authority over the situation, and will confront the violator and inform everyone a rule has been broken, but Braeburn is much more of a pesty little brother, sticking his nose in other people’s business.  And when you are an annoying little guy sticking your nose in other people’s business, it often gets bit, creating more drama than is needed.


Liam the benevolent

Now, the loss of Liam is interesting because we really didn’t understand how important his role was for the new pack members until now that he is gone.  Liam was a dog who got along with pretty much everyone.  He was a big, bouncy, goofy lover, and he was really great as a mentor ambassador to pack life.  He would gleefully show the new dog around, introducing them to the sticks, rocks, digging spots, and cool shady places, but always in a way that mirrored the other dogs’ level of comfort.  If the dog was shy, Liam would coax him out of his shell; if the new dog was boisterous, Liam would have a calming effect.  He could be kenneled with anyone, and since he was pretty much raised by Sally from 8 weeks old, he knew and never questioned the rules.  He was enthusiastic, happy, and a really positive “buddy” dog.


Finny the over-enthusiastic

We thought that maybe Liam’s grandmother, Finny, would be a good ambassador substitute.  She has a lot of Liam’s happy enthusiasm.  But she also tends to come off as a bit of an over-passionate, ultra-gung-ho, camp counselor on WAAAAY too much coffee, singing camp songs with such over-the-top gusto that it gets a bit creepy and off-putting….  In Finny’s defense, she really did give the job a good stab, she just took it to a level 15 when it should have stayed at a level 7 or 8.  “Sing with me!  Come on!!  SING WITH ME!!!!!  SING!!!!!”


Dreamer, warming up the licker

Then there is Dreamer, who loves everyone, but is such a fervent love sponge, she just sucks up all the space and energy with her assertive attention-seeking.  When she can’t demand human attention, she resorts to head humping whatever dog happens to be nearby.  Not exactly the best first impression one wants to give a new pack member.


Pedro feeling more at ease

Even given our lacking HR group, Pedro has settled in quite well and is feeling more comfortable with us and the pack.  He has become quite sweet with us, asking for ear scratches and enjoying hanging around near us.  He enjoys playing with the other dogs, and even made a special friend with one of our frequent “guest campers”, Cayton the Dangermouse (who is not a husky, but don’t tell him that).


Pedro and Cayton being buds


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Patience for Pedro

Meet PedrIMG_8977o, the newest member of the Odaroloc pack.  He is a handsome yellow guy, around 6 years old (a baby in our kennel!) and he has been getting to know us for about a week.  He blended in with the dogs just fine, without a hackle raised, sniffing everyone with a friendly greeting.  The pack humans, on the other hand, he has warmed to a bit slower….

IMG_8988Which is fine.  We learned long ago with other shy dogs, that time and patience is golden in learning to trust.  The first few days, Pedro kept way out of arms reach, almost like a feral dog with no interest in human activity or goodies (who turns down a hotdog??), preferring to keep to the shrubs.  We spent hours sitting in the back yard, talking to him, brushing other dogs, scratching ears, or sitting quietly and just observing him.  He was not afraid, rather just not at all interested in us.

IMG_9009Over the week, however, he has learned the routine and the rhythm of life here, and as he gets more comfortable with the dog happenings, he is starting to become interested in these humans that hang out all the time.  He started coming closer and closer.  Then he would come up from behind and give a sniff.  This is all VERY good dog behavior.  Pretty soon, as I sat and scratched various ears and rumps, a yellow head showed up to have an ear scratch!  And maybe hotdogs aren’t so terrible after all!  And hey, maybe hanging out on the sun porch with the other dogs is a nice way to pass the afternoon.  He even got bold enough to check out a neighbor who stopped by to say hello to the pack.IMG_8955

IMG_2121We are really looking forward to learning more about Pedro from Pedro, and having new adventures with him exploring trails once the weather cools down.  He seems like a really interesting fellow with new lessons for us.


Posted in Cast of Characters | 2 Comments

Progress in AK

20160709_232746_resizedDave writes:  Earlier this month, I traveled to Alaska to help complete a few more projects on the house and yard; mainly things that we couldn’t get done during the winter months.  After a nearly all-day long process of getting to Anchorage, I arrived at a friend’s yurt to spend the first night, trying to fall asleep in the 1:30 am “dim” part of the day – you can’t quite call it “dark” outside.  I fell asleep and slept straight through until morning, which happened at about 4:15 am as the sunlight re-emerged from its (and my) brief slumber.20160710_065943_resized


Our builder/friend Dan had been hard at work in the cabin for several weeks, getting the bare drywall transformed into real walls with mud, tape, texture, and paint.  He found our paint sample colors that we had been playing with during the winter and painted the walls to match.  TC now claims that we must have been hungry when looking at paint samples, as the interior wall colors turned out to be “cheesecake”, “cranberry”, and “sage”.
They look amazing, and delicious.  The exterior painting was subbed out to an old Army veteran who shared stories of the Vietnam supply depot at Kam Ranh Bay while we applied paint to the house (driftwood gray walls, chocolate brown soffits and gable ends, and forest green trim to match the metal roof).  The paint looks much better than the former primer, and will protect the house for years of Alaska weather exposure.20160710_092259_resized

Meanwhile, we installed floor tiles in the bathroom and mudroom, and necessary items completed in anticipation of the new floors through the main room.  Prep items included finishing some ceiling texture and paint, sealing the upstairs window trim (in order to remove the giant scaffolding in the main living room), urethane coatings on the exposed wood on the kitchen beams and ceiling, kitchen window trim finishing, etc.  The stone fireplace hearth looks amazing with assorted collected rocks.

IMG_14321Between coats of urethane on all the wood surfaces, I worked outdoors to better secure the dog yard fencing, which was hastily installed after the ground froze solid last winter.  Base timbers keep the fence solidly along the ground, and rebar pounded into the ground at each end of each timber prevents the fence from moving.  Other projects that week included the vent system is installed to better circulate and exchange the cabin’s air with outside air, Dan fabbed up some concrete countertops to the exact size of our little kitchen and then polished them to an amazing finish, undercabinet lights will provide great illumination during the winter months, and eventually the laminate floors were installed in the main room.

The cabin tasks fully spanned each day, and the days are very very long in July in Alaska.  Again, we couldn’t have gotten it all completed without a little help from our friends!  So additional thanks to the following people: Peter and Joyce for a spontaneous housing option the first night; Dan for hammering through tasks like a madman and letting me harass his sweet puppy Opal; Jodi for letting us continue to borrow Dan for extended periods of time; Hans and Kelli for the ride from the airport to Willow and having our 4Runner “Shifu” ready for use; Rich for dirty chainsawing efforts and half a ride back to Anchorage; Tom and Mary for the ride the rest of the way and some great dinner company while waiting for the plane (and a good book for the flight); Lev, Ginny, and Sue for visiting; TJ and Lindsey for their good humor, heavy lifting, various tool loans, a cot and blankets to sleep on; the Townsite Grill for a decent greasy burger; the Stitts for fantastic homemade salmon/halibut kabob dinner; Newman’s for offloading our oil tank so that we could move it to the north wall of the cabin; and everyone else who offered to come by or take me fishing or visit or any of the many things that I wanted to do but was too busy getting things ready for another wonderful stay in our little TajMa-Small!


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