Dog Days of Winter.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

I stood firm, both freezing feet planted solidly on the brakes, 
but my knees were knocking something fierce under my three layers of pants.
No amount of clothing could've kept me warm nor comforted me
as 24 Alaskan Huskies, tethered to four separate sleds, 
howled and cried and yanked at their harnesses.
Like a bunch of wailing kids fed too much sugar then asked to stay put,
waiting impatiently on the other end of a tight hand-hold,
yanking and pulling and fighting to break away.
Each jump and howl shifting the sled beneath my feet, 
reminding me that THEY were in charge.  Not me.
"Whatever you do, don't let go.
DON'T.  LET.  GO," our guide sternly instructed.
Shit.  This is serious business.  Now I'm nervous.
"If you lose your balance or fall off the sled and topple over in to the snow,
don't be all dramatic.  Get back up, chase after the sled, grab on and throw your body on top of the sled until you can get your bearings.  Then keep going.  The dogs won't stop to wait for you."
And they didn't.
As soon as I lifted my foot off the brakes,
they took off at a full sprint, as if they'd just found new legs,
pulling my nerves along for the ride as I gripped the handle, holding on for dear life.
Oh my God, what have we gotten ourselves in to.
I can't feel my toes.
They're going so fast.
I have to keep my mom upright.
Just hold on.  Just hold on.  Don't let go.
Now, I tend to take (most) things (too) seriously.
A little dramatic.
But this.  This was serious. 
Reminded by our guide over and over of the weighty responsibility we had to these dogs, this sled and the rider in it. 
"ALWAYS.  PAY.  ATTENTION to the dogs and their lines, to how close you are to the sled ahead,
to the dogs behind, upcoming twist, turns, trees and hills. . ."

While adrenaline and fear ran amok from frozen finger tips to frozen toes,
my mom giggled with glee, 
nestled snuggly in to the sled, 
as we twitched and turned around sharp curves and bends in the soft snow.
And then the silence.
Only the galloping of hooves, the panting of the dogs
as they sprinted for. . .nothing.
Just the path ahead.
But free!  Despite the bindings of their harness, FREE TO RUN!
To just be huskies and do what they do best.
The quiet sound of my own breath muffled by my face mask.
Maybe the occasional musings of my mother, telling me to slow down. . . 
but for the most part, silence.  Magic.
Nature does that.
And in quiet, centered moments like this, clarity always comes in to focus.
Reminding you it's most often the "showing up" that's the hardest part.
Stepping out of your comfort zone, facing fear, bearing your soul, being vulnerable. . .
Once you jump on and allow yourself to be seen, you just go with it.
Eventually things click.  You get it.  You find a rhythm.  
Maybe a well-worn path already laid out for you, 
or create one of your own, that better suits you.
In zero-degree weather, you're too cold to care about what's coming.
There's no time for second guessing.
With hands frozen to the sled, tingling feet, wind and cold stinging your eyes,
a cold so intense it burns through each layer of wool and Nylon and leaves you shivering hours afterwards. . .
nothing else matters.
You just have to be present and do your best.
Taking in as much as you can along the way.
(Thanks to my mom and her frozen camera phone.)
As we defrosted our frozen fingers and toes, 
sought warmth and refuge from a crackling fire, our hands wrapped around hot cups of chocolate and replayed the excitement and fear, mishaps and triumphs,
simple gratitude came to mind.
Not just for the experience, but the place.
Have you ever traveled somewhere and felt totally and completely connected to it?
As if it was made JUST for you?
I think we all feel that for some place or another.
Maybe our home town, a place we vacationed once, 
our hearts leaning towards the ocean, waves lapping against sand,
or towards snow-covered mountains or dry desert sands.
But you know it. 
A place that beckons to your spirit and leaves you yearning for more.
Never mind the long, long, winding, two-lane road to get there.
In your mind, it's worth it.
It can feel like traveling to a lost love, one who is waiting and ready to embrace you with everything they've got.
The subtle intricacies of this place, 
that might go unnoticed by any other,
speak to you in a way you can't explain.
For me and my family, this magical Minnesota place,
where Birch trees stand arm in arm with Evergreen's.
Old, dilapidated barns hold firm against gravity. 

Trees are sprinkled with snow like sugar on a cookie.
Springs whisper towards the frozen lakes.
Deer prints, wolf prints, moose prints
leave their impression on otherwise untouched snow. 
Ravens and Eagles and Hawks soar the skies, no matter the season,
as if to welcome you. . . 
THIS, is the North Woods.
Where my heart is.
Now, other than, you know, the nature part, 
the small, Minnesota town is not much to squawk at.
Ely is a small, sleepy, slow-moving place.
Temps are cold enough in the winter to send most people packing.
But where the locals and devoted visitors,
don't bat an eye at anything dipping below single digits.  
It's what they know, embrace and really LIVE in it.
Where TRUE outdoorsmen, REAL Vikings, rugged men of the northern wilderness,
pitch teepees in the middle of winter.
Sell goods made of fox, wolf fur hats and bear skin mittens.
Yes, a titch crazy.  But SO cool.
Ice Sculptures are the featured art of the season.
Where again, cold is merely an inconvenience, 
as they chip away at massive ice blocks with ice picks and chain saws and shovels.
You'll find most of the locals shuffling up Main Street in their well-worn moosehide Mukluk's and Wintergreen coats.
It's not Aspen or Vail or Breck, but for us?
It's home away from home.
It's playing cards with Grandpa, Cheerios at stake.
It's pancakes for dinner.
Soup on the stove.
Wool socks on the feet and fleece blankets close at hand.
It's making the most of all the time in the world.
This. . .
Or this.
With little else to do in this sacred little place, this time of year,
the world is your oyster.
The town lodge pool, your ocean.
These little trips, are just as much about adventure,
as they are memories.
Disconnecting from it all,
taking up space OUTSIDE instead of in.



gabbygrace said...

what beautiful writing, I was transported....awesome adventure!

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