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Changing of the Season, By Debbie Clarke Moderow. April 17, 2016

17 Apr 2016, by Debbie Moderow in Dog Journeys

Winter has come to an abrupt end here in Denali Park. Three short weeks ago we were on a 250-mile dogsledding trip—a welcome adventure that I managed to pull off between two lower-48 book-tour trips. Today, our mushing trails are puddles, our dog yard surface has returned to gravel. Scores of swans have winged their way north. Audubon reports that the return of migratory birds is in full tilt. Springtime has arrived in Alaska.

 

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As always the ending of one season delivers a few glorious developments. It’s time prepare my greenhouse; images of fresh rosemary, kale, chard, and basil dance through my head. Hikes with small groups of dogs have already begun. Today with Rosie and Stoney, I traipsed through puddles and listened for birdsong along the way.

 

Despite enjoying these springtime rituals, there’s no denying that I have always been a winter person. And this winter was short. I wish I’d had time to enter one more race, or take off with Mark on another extended trip. I also wish this weekend didn’t bring on a significant farewell—to our two-season handler, Emily. She and her partner Nat have lived in a cabin on the edge of our dogyard for two winters. They’ve become part of our team.

 

IMG_1007Emily skijoring with Topher and Tiger

As our handler, Emily has had significant responsibilities during the two winters. With the publication of “Fast Into the Night” this February, it was important to me—and even more significant for the dogs—that Emily become a full partner in managing every aspect of our kennel. She did a fabulous job.

 

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Emily on the runners

It’s no simple task to watch over 28 beating hearts while their owners are in Anchorage—or off on a book tour. Emily has delivered two or three meals a day, trained our huskies on fifty mile runs. When we haven’t been in residence, she’s been responsible for wondering why everyone was barking at 2 am—and going outside to investigate. Nat has been here to help her, despite working long hours at his own separate job.

 

During her time with us, Emily oversaw many canine milestones. One year ago she watched Brie deliver her “Soup” litter—Chili, Chowder, and Stew. She witnessed a few of my Iditarod elders begin to falter; she and Nat helped me recognize when several golden oldies had reached the end of the trail. Emily and I reeled at the sudden diagnosis of Rosie’s diabetes. We learned how to test her blood sugar levels and adjust her insulin. Together we watched this lovely girl grow blind—then we helped her navigate daily walks. Now she enjoys a new and worthwhile routine.

 

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Rosie

From the runners of a dogsled, Emily learned to understand the nuances that distinguish one dog from another—like the quick turn of her head that means Toni is sick and tired of Truffle, or the way Mugs’ ears flatten when he loses interest in running in lead. As the months passed, I came to ask Emily questions about dog dynamics. Her bond with our huskies was deep, her insights invaluable.

 

Three weeks ago, between returning from Vermont and heading to San Diego for book events, Mark, Emily, and I managed to take twenty-two dogs on a six-day camping trip. The snow was perfect, the weather over the top. The following pictures tell the story.

 

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Emily helping me and Mark leave our camp for a run, and enjoying a cup of coffee alongside the team in the morning.

 

The canines and humans of the Salty Dog Kennel thank you both, Emily and Nat. Please come back to visit. You’ll be greeted with woofs and wags, twenty-eight strong. Porcini and Truffle will yap hello, Stoney will leap on top of his house when he sees you, and Rosie will insist on going for a walk.

 

You’ll also be welcomed by an author and her husband who understand well that these two “winters of the book” would have been incredibly different without you.

 

We thank you.