Ushering in winter: November memories

by • November 3, 2015 • ToastComments (0)1026

Photo by Melissa DeVaughn A curious Inca nudges the camera. Sled dog memories make November a favorite month.

Photo by Melissa DeVaughn
A curious Inca nudges the camera. Sled dog memories make November a favorite month.

November is a great month. Growing up, it marked the beginning of the “holiday season,” when we’d be getting out of school for every little thing. You didn’t need to twist my arm – any time out of school was a good time.

Today, as an adult, I look forward to November for many of the same reasons – the excitement of Thanksgiving (my personal, favorite holiday) and the festive days ahead entice me to get in the spirit.

And nothing can heighten that spirit like the white stuff – good old snow. What is winter without snow?  Miami. And there’s a reason none of us live there.

November just isn’t the same without snow. When I moved here 20 years ago, it was guaranteed that there would be snow this time of year. In fact, by Halloween, the snow had usually arrived for the duration. I have – for whatever reason, don’t ask me how and why certain memories stick and others don’t – a clear image of taking my sled dogs on a 24-mile run on an early November morning. It had just snowed. It was my father’s birthday, so it was Nov. 6. As we covered the trails, the dogs’ breath came simultaneously, like a faint chorus heard from afar. I stood on the sled runners and watched them, moving in unison, intent on their chore. It was relatively early in the season, so I kept trying to stop the team to get them to rest, to take it easy.

The dogs would have none of that. The minute I set the snow hook, they’d begin whining, first Beethoven, then Curious, then Lily, who was usually such a sweet, quiet girl except when interrupted during a run. They’d lunge at their harnesses and chew the gangline, eager to keep moving after a summer of lethargy. I’d let off the snow hook, and hang on tight because they would take off like they’d been lit on fire, almost jerking me from the sled. I’d ride the brake for a few second, secure the hook back into the sledbag and let them settle back into a reasonable pace.

Still, I’d stop the dogs every two miles or so, forcing a break that they didn’t want but also putting off the time that this run would be over, and my solitude among the snow-covered spruce trees would end.

Those days are gone now. The dogs are retired, and I haven’t run them more than a half dozen miles at a time in years. Still, I remember that one particular run so clearly. The dogs were in a good mood. I was in a good mood. Bill, the trail groomer, had recently packed the trail, and it looked as if I was the first one to enjoy them. No one was around. Although I was only a few miles from my house, on trails linked to a road, which linked to a highway, I felt as if I were the only person in Alaska: me, my dogs, my sled and an early November afternoon all to myself.

I soaked it in like a drug: the soft snow, the sharp, blue sky, the panting of the dogs and endless miles of spruce forest. How did I ever get so lucky to be here? It was as if, November, on that particular day, rose up from its unobtrusive self, tapped me on  the shoulder and made me look around at all this beauty.
It reminded me that among the many days when I could complain about deadlines, rain, cold, or other nagging nothings, there are days like these, when Alaska is at its best and I’m thankful to be a part of it.

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