Monday, November 13, 2017

Aidan, Spring 2002 - 8 November 2017

My swollen eyes,
     raw throat,
     throbbing head, and
     broken heart
express feelings for which I have no words.

As much as I hurt,
     it is nothing compared to your
          Surprise, when the door burst open;
          Fear, as you fled from the dogs;
          Panic, when safety eluded you;

You trusted me with your life.  I failed.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Great Escape, 2017

8 January 2017

Sunday is a day of rest for some.  Others try to fill their days with activity.  While we had plans, we weren't in a hurry to get outside, since the day had started at -20F.  One plan was for Scott to skijor with three two-dog teams on a trail somewhere.  Another was for me to take a short walk with Sally, just to keep my legs moving.  Later, we were going to take the garbage, which was full to capacity, to the transfer station. 

We started with Dora and I going to the garage to sort the recycling.  While I determined what should go into which box, she investigated every place a squirrel may have been at some point.  Dora and Sally are the only two of our dogs that I am comfortable taking outside without a leash.  Usually.  Solo.  Not in multiples.  Never.  

I vaguely noticed something fly past the garage as I opened the door to let Dora out.  She, too, proceeded to fly, offering me my first lesson of the day:  Always, always, look out the window before letting a dog out, no matter where you think the rest of the dogs are.  Dora was, of course, flying after the setters.  Down the driveway they went, with me yelling incoherently behind them.  

Cold Day
Running first to start the truck, I then ran to the house to alert Scott to the escape.  He was incredulous; he knew that the gate had been latched.  I had looked earlier, and also knew that the gate had been latched.  The buggers had figured it out.  Scott rushed to get the trailer hooked up to the truck, while I grabbed leashes from the van (because you need leashes when you are going to put the dogs directly into the trailer…) and out to check tracks in the driveway.  

There were three sets of tracks headed down the drive to the road, two that veered off into the woods, and no way of knowing which dogs went which way.  Except for Declan, who always heads into the woods.   Declan is either a good boy or an aberration in the setter world.  He came back on his own and right to me when I called him.  He also went quite happily into his crate in the basement.  Three dogs hit the end of the driveway and headed south.  We had no idea where the fourth dog may have gone.

Scott and I headed out, following the feral setter tracks on the side of the road, slowing at driveways to make sure they hadn’t veered off.  Once we hit McNiven, we turned right, because the dogs usually went that way and we assumed that they would do what they usually did.  Just remember what people say about that word.  

Danielle, our wonderful neighbor, was apprised of the situation at 9:22, no more than ten minutes after the yard break.  Vern, another neighbor, spotted one dog headed toward McNiven at 10:30.  Whichever dog that was had covered at least a mile and a half in ten minutes, and was probably behind the others, since Vern didn’t see them.  

We were very confident that the dogs were headed to Chisholm, again, especially since we could see paw prints of the right size running along the road.  We had our first doubts when we came across a deer carcass on the side of the road.  Dogs, especially our dogs, are opportunistic feeders.  There not only weren’t any dogs about, but also weren’t any paw prints.  We turned around.

They had never turned left in the past, even though that direction was more interesting in a non-paved, houseless way.  However, there were four sets of tracks, which would be consistent with that single dog Vern had seen joining up with the others, headed in that direction.  

We followed tracks all the way to highway 25, about six miles from home.  I got out and checked.  There were only two sets of appropriately sized tracks, and they turned onto the highway.  We looked at each other.  What had happened?  Where were the other dogs?  Were these our dogs’ tracks?  Coyote tracks are similar in size.  We followed, anyway, to the top of the Laurentian Divide, at which point we could no longer see tracks and did not believe our dogs would have gone so far.  We turned around.  

Danielle had, in the meantime, also been driving around.  She did the same as we had, first driving toward Chisholm, then back toward home.  She went in the opposite direction entirely, following the road north, to the left from our driveway.  She covered nearly 20 miles. The only tracks she saw were the ones that went south on 25, but she had to go home to relieve her babysitting sister. 
We also went home, to see if any more dogs had returned and to feed Blitz and Lucy.  If they ever learn how to unclip themselves, we will be in great trouble.  

With the addition of food and water for ourselves (coffee for Scott, who lives on it), we went back out, driving again down our road to McNiven, with two different plans in two different minds.  I thought we were going to drive back toward 25 and Scott thought we should go back toward Chisholm; neither of us thought to communicate our ideas with the other.  Fortune, though, was on our side.

We arrived at the stop sign at just the moment Dora was coming onto McNiven opposite us.  She looked tired and ready to go home but did not drop the long feather that was in her mouth.  Sally, her mother, came next, carrying a wing.  Both girls hopped willingly into the trailer, then we turned left, to check out 25 again, now looking for Shady and Lichen alone, and not knowing if they were even together.  It was 11:30.

Again, we got to the corner of McNiven and 25.  Again, we saw prints headed south, toward Kinney, or Buhl, or who knows where.  Again, we followed them until we decided there was no way that they would have gone that way. Again we turned around.  

After dropping the girls off at home, we ended up driving north on highway 73, out of Chisholm.  We had found Sally and Shady several miles north of town in a field off of 73 last year.  She and her brother Lichen may have gone that way, right?  

Next was my second lesson of the day:  Don’t assume that dogs are such creatures of habit that they will always turn right, especially if there are paw prints to the contrary.  Seriously.  Stop.  Get out of the truck.  Check the road thoroughly for tracks going in all directions.

At 3:00, Danielle went back out to see if she might see them.  It was at 4:23 that she called with good news.  We were a good fifteen miles from Buhl when she called.  She had seen them, called to them, offered them potato chips, on a snowmobile trail just outside of Buhl.  They barked at her and ran by.  We were at least fifteen minutes away.  Danielle thought they might have headed north, toward Kinney, and drove along the road where she could keep an eye out for them in the openings between the trees.  

We drove as fast as we safely could to meet up with her.  Feeling brilliant, I suggested Scott drop me off at a trail crossing point so that I could check for tracks while he continued on to see where Danielle was.  At that hour, of course, I could barely distinguish anything in the snow, let alone paw prints on snowmobile tracks.  And, though it was nearly twenty degrees warmer than when we got up, it was cold.  I greatly regretted getting out of the truck long enough for Scott to drive away and leave me.  

In the meantime, Danielle had spoken with a couple of snowmobilers and determined that the dogs had probably continued toward Buhl, rather than turned in my direction.  She came to get me while Scott waited with the trailer.  We held a conference and Danielle headed to Chisholm to talk with snowmobilers on that end of the trail.  This sounds simple, but there are many, many points where a pair of dogs could have deviated from the main trail and disappeared.  

I walked to the point at which the little spur trail joined the Mesabi [bike] Trail section of the snowmobile trail through Buhl.  Shady and Lichen’s prints had been obliterated by snowmobile traffic for the most part, but I did see two different pairs of prints turn left, to Buhl.  I called them and waited until I was too cold before returning to the truck.  

There is an official Mesabi Trail access point in Buhl.  It overlooks a pit lake on which several people were fishing.  I saw no tracks on the trail, aside from those made by snowmobiles and deer, and walked up to the top of the slope, at which point I whistled and called, watching the far side of the lake for movement.  Nothing.  

Scott and I drove around some more.  The light was fading fast.  It started snowing.  These are tough little dogs, but Irish Red and White Setters were not bred to be without shelter in sub-zero weather.  We were much more worried now than we had been even an hour earlier.  We drove randomly through tiny Buhl’s neighborhoods.  In one window, I saw a dog look out.  It’s head had similar markings to our dogs’ heads, so I became momentarily excited.  Then I realized that, even at dusk, that dog was liver and white, not red and white.  

Map of Lost Dogs
As we were approaching the Mesabi Trail access point again at about 5:00, Scott suddenly began yelling at me.  “There they are!  Get out!  Get out!”  He was practically pushing me out the door before I could get my seat belt off.  I saw them trotting with their heads down and tails out, in a very determined fashion, as I struggled out of the truck and up the trail. 

Now, I had been fantasizing on how this would go:  We would see the dogs and I would give the “come” whistle.  In my fantasy, Shady and Lichen would stop when they heard the whistle and come running when I squatted on the ground with my arms outstretched.  The probability was more along these lines:  I would whistle and they would glance over their shoulders, look each other in the eye, and continue on their way, frightened by now of any people they saw.   

The reality:  I managed to get out of the truck just as they moved out of sight beyond a building.  I whistled, I ran, I whistled again and gave the pathetically high-pitched “hey hey hey” that field trialers know me for.  When I got around the building, there they were, standing on the slope, looking back.  I called their names, dropped to my knees, and opened my arms to them.  

They came running.  I was never so happy to see them respond to a recall and they seemed to be just as happy to respond to it.  They were ten miles by road from home, nearly six hours into their adventure, and they were strong and confident.   Their tails were out and wagging and their heads were up and observant. 
Tired Lichen

I walked them up the side road Scott had continued up (to block the dogs’ path on the trail).  They ran happily to Scott, too, and then, like their mother and half sister, hopped gratefully into the trailer for their ride home.  

None of the dogs were injured during their wanderings and they all smell delightfully of Balsam.  Sally, at 11, has been walking up and down the stairs, as has Dora, who has spondylosis.  Lichen and Shady are also a bit stiff but appear to be shaking it off more quickly, as they are younger and in much better condition.  Lichen has been walking carefully, with his hind legs a little more apart than usual, due to abrasion to his dangly bits, but he will be fine.  

The final lesson?  Don’t believe dogs can’t open gates, just because they have no thumbs!

New Addition to the Latch

Monday, June 13, 2016


The word “pace” can have different connotations.  

One concept of pace can be seen in quadrupeds.  Animals pace by moving the legs on one side of the body forward at the same time.  This is contrasted with the trot, which involves diagonally opposite legs moving together.  The pace is less natural than the trot, as evidenced by the harnesses worn by pacers in harness racing.  

People refer to “pace of life.”  Life moves a lot faster in some areas than others.  For example, people in New York City often don’t feel they have time to stop and chat with neighbors on the sidewalk, while folks in small midwestern towns may block intersections as the lean out their truck windows to catch up on the latest news.  

One variation on pace is frequently spoken of in running.  Runners don’t usually think in terms of miles per hour.  They look at minutes per mile, instead, and refer to that as their pace.  It is not uncommon for runners to average 8 to 10 minute miles.  

I occasionally worry about my pace.  My average pace is closer to 16 minutes per mile.  You can find me running down a road or trail, with a worried look on my face, wondering why I can’t seem to “improve” my pace.  Then you’ll see me slide to a stop as I spot something really interesting to look at.  

I pondered my pace on Sunday morning’s run.  It would be really nice to become fast enough to have, say, an average pace of 12 minutes per mile.  To do that, I would have to focus on improving my stride, increasing my endurance, and maintaining that faster pace.  I have even learned how to do those things.  

But do I want to?  Do I want to run faster and not surprise Scott with a handful of fresh wild strawberries to go with breakfast?  Would I truly want to ignore Sally’s beautiful points on Ruffed Grouse and American Woodcock when she runs with me?  Is running faster more important to me than stopping to chat with my neighbors when they stop to see how I am doing?  

I think I’ll keep running the way that I have been.  Life is too short not to stop and smell the roses.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Crossfire Tumblin Tumbleweed, JH, CD, JH, CGC

Tweed the Skijor Dog

Yesterday, Tweed and Scott took a walk down to the neighbor’s house and back.  Tweed was happy to be out and about with his man.  Not too many yesterdays ago, Tweed took himself for a walk, as he liked to do, causing us to drop everything and go looking for him.  I think he was looking for birds.

Just five years ago, Tweed led Sally’s first litter of puppies through the forest near the Boundary Waters, giving them pointers on how to make life interesting for their humans.  I’m sure he told them how humans found it exciting to watch them run away, with no care in the world, while said humans chased after them shouting incoherent words which may or may not be fit for polite society.  

Tweed the Reader
Fourteen years ago, Tweed taught me the importance of a good recall and the danger of grabbing the cord on a flexi leash without wearing gloves.  Months before that, he was playing on the trampoline, with Alice and Wayne Guthrie’s kids, at Crossfire IRWSs.  

In August of 2000, I drove north from SE Kansas across Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan just to visit with a couple of breeders, one of whom happened to have a puppy available.  I had no serious intention of actually buying the dog—I just wanted to meet the breed face to face.  As many people will attest, though, who couldn’t love Tweed?  I bought the largest crate that would fit on the passenger seat of my little truck and squeezed the four month old Tweed inside.  

Tweed on the NorthFace
Tweed loved everyone and enjoyed every place that he stayed, provided there was a warm bed for him to sleep on.  In the house he liked to be in front of the fireplace.  While camping he preferred to use Scott’s down NorthFace jacket.  

He was the best eater.  Nearly anything we offered him was eaten happily.  He wasn’t very fond of celery, even with peanut butter, but he loved tomatoes and liked to pick his own cherry tomatoes from the plants we bought just for him.  He even picked his own raspberries without being poked by the thorns.  

It is thanks to Tweed and Ciaran, who went before him, that I learned to hunt, took up mushing, and have the beautiful Sally, Dora, and Shady and the handsome Declan and Lichen. 

Yesterday, Tweed and Scott took a walk down the road together.  This morning we accepted that it was time for him to leave by himself.  It was with aching hearts that we drove him to the only place he ever thought to avoid.  

29 March 2000 - 20 December 2014
May the shamrocks fall softly, my friend.  You will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Fiddlin' Fifty and Lonesome Polecat

We worked hard to come up with a route online and check to see if it was passable on the ground.  We checked, double, and tripled checked the mileage between turns.  We enjoyed every minute of it, worried even so that it could all fall apart on the day of the event.

Ready to go

Lining up volunteers was one of the more stressful jobs.  We didn't have definite tasks for them, just vague ideas of what needed to be done.  There were concerns that we wouldn't have enough to keep things running smoothly and then had plenty of volunteers to sit around and wait while the riders were on the road.  We can't thank our friends at the Iron Range Dog Training Club enough for the assistance they provided.  Nor can we thank the wonderful participants enough for their donations to the club. 
 Everyone was super friendly, tolerant, and overall awesome!  The food was great.  The weather was close to perfect.  With one notable exception, most of the vehicles encountered were polite, if not friendly.  The neighbors didn't seem to mind the traffic.  In fact, they didn't seem to notice. 

Monitoring traffic while reading Fancy Nancy
 The Lonesome Polecat Award was mentioned and I am sure its explanation has been anxiously awaited.  As some of you know, Scott and Susan have participated in Mush for a Cure for the past few years.  The pertinent part for the Fiddlin' Fifty is the Dork Award.  This award is given each year to the participant who does what could be called the dumbest thing during the course of the event.  Even more pertinent to our event:  Susan was the 2014 recipient of the Dork Award for finishing with not one, but two bent ski poles!  We have decided to adapt this and call it the Lonesome Polecat Award.

We were fortunate enough to have not one, but two riders this year who qualified!  Who would sign the waiver, acknowledging the helmet requirement, yet still come without a helmet?  Fortunately, Adam's head and Scott's are near enough in size for Adam to be able to borrow one.

Navigating Mud Hole
The other qualifier probably should have checked his equipment a bit better before setting out.  We'll let the photo explain what qualified Kip for the award.
Congratulations to both of you!  Next year we'll try to have a polecat available for the winner to be photographed with.  

We are already looking forward to doing this again next year.  Susan has been told that we can use the same route as this year but has different ideas brewing in her head...  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fiddlin' Fifty: This is how we roll

This is how we roll

Be nice--We are being scrutinized.
Please respect everyone--Our actions reflect upon us all.
Do not litter.
Pee discreetly.
Know your limits.
Be aware of vehicles--The roads are open to all traffic and we are an anomaly to many.
Obey all traffic laws--Saving seconds is not worth injury, or worse.
You are responsible for yourself.
Go as hard as you want, but this is not a race.  (yet…)
Help each other.
In case of an emergency, use 911.
If you drop, text your bike number to 218-404-5101.
If you absolutely need outside help text 218-404-5101.  We will do our best.
Thank a volunteer.
Have fun--It’s what it’s all about.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fiddlin' Fifty Cue Sheet

Here it is, in all its glory!

Fiddlin' Fifty Recipe Card
If you need to have the cue sheet sent to you in a different format, please let us know!