July 24, 2015. Fireweed and Sunshine, by Debbie Clarke Moderow25 Jul 2015, by Uncategorized in
It’s midsummer in Denali—a season of abundance. Sunlight bathes our Denali Park kennel for extended hours; even in the middle of the night we never experience complete darkness. Everything living thrives in the sunshine. My greenhouse is bursting with kale, chard, pak choy, snap peas, lettuce, arugula. And the herbs—Italian parsley, chives, mint, and thyme—overflow from their containers.
The dog yard, home to all twenty-nine huskies of the Salty Dog Kennel, is also awash in summertime glory. Really, it’s turned into one gigantic fireweed garden. The dogs lounge on top of their houses, ringed with the lanky gaudy-pink flower. The tender stalks are edible, so as they grow taller the dogs reach with their paws to snag a tasty cluster as it sways in the afternoon breeze.
Now that the warm season is in full swing, our huskies live for backyard outings. Pups Chili, Chowder, and Stew are thirteen weeks old tomorrow. I often take them to our 25′ by 50′ arena, where they romp with woofs, tussles, and dares. They chase bugs, baby squirrels, and cotton grass that grows along the fence line. They splash in the baby pool, a summertime ritual that teaches them not to be wary of water.
Hiking with our dogs on our backyard trails is a treat for humans and canines. Daily I walk the pups and their mother Brie for several miles. The little “Soups” chase their mom for several miles now. She pounces them in play and corrects them when they’re too rough on each other. She herds them away from the wrong trail, shows them how to eat ripening blueberries, and leads them back to their pen, tired and content.
We also take the team dogs on regular outings behind our home. In small groups they follow me, playing tag in the taiga forest thick with dwarf birch and willows. They all learned to come and sit for biscuits as pups; this means as adults I call their names and every dog responds by running to me for a reward. They don’t sit for long, but I won’t give them a biscuit until their butt touches the ground. Then they’re off, chasing the scent of wild creatures that frequent our summertime trails.
That we share our backyard with a variety of wildlife is always evident. Moose live all around us, and they draw grizzly bears toward our neighborhood during calving season. Caribou pass through, and we see scat from wolves and coyotes on a regular basis. Right now there’s a cow moose and her new twins frequenting the area. One night last week, at 2:00 AM, I woke to wild barking and looked out the window. There she was: the mama moose munching on the fireweed at the edge of the dog yard. Of course her arrival brought on a riotous canine response. Twenty some huskies spun in their circles, offended that this imposter was enjoying a free-range feast. This particular cow is a little thin; her chestnut colored calves are fat and furry. They frolicked in the shadows behind their mother, which drove our dogs wild.
Of course there is danger, whenever moose and working dogs come face to face—and they were meeting, that night, in a garden of gourmet appetizers. After all, this dog yard belongs to my huskies; and a mother moose will always protect her young. Yet somehow this cow seemed calm, trusting (more than I was) that a sled dog would not break loose and run toward her. I knew too much. I’ve had my dog team stomped by a cow moose on the winter trail, and I’ve also witnessed our magician Rosie free herself from her tether at the most inopportune time. Well-aware that a confrontation between one of my huskies and this gorgeous moose could endanger the dog, I traipsed out to my Subaru in the dawning light. Honking the horn, I shooed the cow and her calves away.
The dogs cheered me on with rowdy yowls and yaps. When the moose was gone they quieted, but then the pups started to sing. Chili, Chowder, and Stew are just learning to carry a tune, and for the first time ever I watched them point their little noses to the sky in order to initiate a full dog yard howl. The other twenty-six quickly joined in. When the melody ended silence returned—and I went back inside for a few hours of sleep.
I woke a short while later to a loud and irregular clanging. At first I wondered if someone was thrashing on our front door; then I wondered why it sounded like a herd of reindeer prancing overhead. The dogs were quiet, which made no sense; they always announce the arrival of any person or creature with a hearty unmistakeable barking. I lay in bed puzzled and listened some more, and realized the ruckus came from a bunch of fledgling ravens. It must have been a bright new day for these mischeivous winged pranksters traipsing on our metal roof. I could not imagine what they were doing, dancing, squawking, and flapping on top of my house at four in the morning. But then again, it all made logical raven-sense. The sun had risen, these energetic birds were out and about.
One thing leads to another, when you live in the midst of a bunch of animals during a season of non-stop sunshine. So it shouldn’t have surprised me, as I was trying to tune out the raven ruckus, that Cheddar, my leader who sleeps next to my bed, began to wag her tail.
Thump thump thump.
I tried not to move, knowing that if I even blinked, she’d think it was time to get up. But the troop of adolescent ravens would not quiet. Their fun delighted Cheddar, and there was nothing I could do about it. She leapt to her feet and began nuzzling my arm. A ray of sunlight streamed through the window, smack into my eyes. I tried not to, but I couldn’t resist thinking about coffee, and how it might be the perfect day to take the pups for a swim in a nearby pond. I often tell visitors that we sleep much more in the winter than during June and July. And so it happened last week, that one thing led to another during a busy night. Then the ravens woke up Cheddar, who rousted me out of bed and into another spirited summertime day.