Place

Place

Boundaries

Issue #6 – In The Field

The clouds are low and long and perpetual, tufted and thick as down. It will snow soon and for a good while. This is welcome news, for even though we are breaking trail, the sleds want a good base. It is cold too, well below well-below zero, and that is good for the dogs, who are lethargic in more temperate climes. Wolves and humankind have grown up together over our short part of the long life of the Earth, and we make good partners now, having somewhat both domesticated and freed each other. All the members of my team are wild in the main – Alaskan huskies – the term used to denote that not one of them are pedigreed, but all are mixed mutts and curs, bred and chosen by nature to run. I am here in the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada to be wild with them. We have made a bargain. I will feed and shelter and protect them, and I will lead. For their part they will pull and run and pull and run and run. Out-of-harness they will frolic and I will watch. It is no disadvantage that I am a woman; on the contrary our guide tells me, in a small aside unheard by the men, that women make the best mushers. It is our empathy and intuition, our commitment to the good of the group, our innate respect, and our egalitarian understanding and appreciation of role that makes us trusted by the pack and worth following. And my six dogs do follow, they run and pull for me and run some more. It is easy. The guide, who had taken the rear position, starts to pass each team ahead of him, one by one, demonstrating and explaining his technique. We are novices, though, and not intended to follow his example. Even so, I do, when the men ahead are slow, unconvincing to their teams who are in turn aimless and purposeless, uncoordinated. My dogs are impatient, restless and itchy, so I give them permission. “On by,” I say. “On by!” I turn them to the left holding my right hand higher to keep them facing ahead heedless of the teams they pass, who thereby are unchallenged. In this way I preempt the canine equivalent of trash-talk or smirk and so avoid a dogfight. I do not look at the men I pass either, for the same reason, although unlike the dogs they are resentful. I catch up to the guide, running just behind him. He is pacing himself to stay with the group. My dogs are as one now, flying, and they don’t want to slow down. They will me to give the command, I hear them clearly. But it would be bad manners to pass the guide – I am a little afraid that I am in trouble as it is – and I don’t know where we are going either, as there is no trail to follow. So we stay behind, apace. I know I am in the clear when the guide turns and fixes me in his look. He has been paying attention to our maneuvers, to my command, and the hint of a smile flashes from his eye.

And so it goes for four wondrous days, in a great circle from base camp, to yurt, to cabin, to base again, over rivers and islands, into Canada and back.

At the end of the trip we arrive at the kennel truck. It is my last encounter with the dogs. My last act – my last gift to each of them, is to load them up into the warmth. They are not large animals – forty to forty-five pounds apiece, but still I am a girl and slight and tired. They are ready though, waiting, asking, noses up, and I lift all six one at a time shoulder high into their beds. The guide watches in his still way. I embrace the hard and the soft of it as I do the wild, unafraid to handle them, for we are the same. We are bound by joy, to each other, to the Earth, to life. They sing to me, the Earth sings to me. I am their sister and her daughter. These are her stories I tell, the notes of her songs transmuted into words.

excerpted from “In the Field” – READ FULL ESSAY


Leaving
Issue #21 – Hawai’i – Part I
Kin
Issue #2 – Family

 


 

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