Saturday, February 22, 2020

Life After Loss

After losing our Roo Bear, I have been very wary of letting Cricket run loose, so I've been skijoring with her. She is very strong and fast! I still try to let her enjoy retirement--when she wants to stop and sniff something or pee on something, I do not discourage her. But she's only interested in such things for a little while when we first start out, and then she is all business. She is a very serious dog! It is amazing that although she is very youthful, she doesn't have the temperament of youth. She doesn't like to play, she doesn't like to run in circles, she does NOT like puppies, she does NOT like Labradors. She likes only to eat, to run, and to cuddle.

I put the word out that we were looking for a Friend for her. The owner of our boarding kennel suggested we meet Roxy and Greta, two sweet girls who are half MacKenzie River Husky and half Alaskan. They were the result of an "oopsie" breeding, and I know most of the homes where their siblings are. These two girls were in a pet home, but their humans moved to Oregon and could not take them, so they ended up being "boarded" indefinitely. I'm a sucker for giant, fuzzy dogs, but also prefer older dogs, and they are only 3! Still, no harm in meeting them. One never knows. Also, a boarding kennel is a perfect place to meet since they both are comfortable there, but also so many dogs come and go that no dogs really regard it as "their" place.

We only met Greta, the sweeter of the two, and she was really, really sweet (and being beautiful was only a bonus!), but Cricket was pretty unimpressed. Greta wanted to play! Cricket did not want to play.

She gave me a hug! Many hugs, in fact! If I had been looking for a dog "from scratch" and not to be Cricket's companion, I'd have taken her in a heartbeat.

Cricket was rather annoyed and needed a hug, too!

"Can we please go home, without that giant puppy?"

Well, if any local Fairbanks folks are reading this and would like one or two beautiful, sweet, 3-year-old girls with known health and behavior histories, let me know! The former owner would be more than happy to talk to you at any time, too!

Today we headed up to Cricket's kennel of origin. I figured it would be a slam dunk here, and it was. In fact, when we went to look for Cricket herself, two other dogs were up for retirement, and one was still on the list (the other was claimed by their current dog handlers, a couple from Oregon who fell in love with him and want to take him home with them after they finish their stint as dog handlers). Several others were also on the list. We finally narrowed it down to Thistle, a 9-year-old leader who was ready to retire, and Gremlin, a boy who was born at the same time as Cricket, so both sets of puppies had grown up together. Both were sweet, cuddly, and calm, and Cricket tolerated them both. She did not actively engage, but she's not really an active engager for anything but cuddling, and she only wanted to cuddle with DL then. But she knew them and obviously didn't mind them either, which is about as good as can be expected with her.

DL and I could barely decide between the two, and honestly, I think either one would work out just fine. But what swayed me toward Thistle was her eyes. This face:

Those eyes! She reminds me so much of Autumn. I think that is an "old leader" look.

You can see it again in this photo, in which Thistle and Sparrow remind me so much of Autumn and Linden:

The dogs look very similar to each other, but one's eyes are all wisdom and inner calm, while the other's are all gooberdy ebullience.

Happy, happy! Joy, joy!

This photo (I put Thistle's name into Jodi's blog to find these) reminds me also of Autumn, how she used to hang out on top of her doghouse:

Well, I'm going to pick her up next Thurs! I hope Starbuck-A-Roo, Autumn, and Linden, all continue to smile down on us and wish us a smooth transition!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day to my 14 loyal readers. Today we honor St. Valentine, a 3rd-century Roman clergyman who was arrested, imprisoned, and condemned to death for marrying Christians, continuing Love in a time and place that it was illegal.

My Facebook feed is full of love stories today, but my favorite is that of an old friend from California celebrating the 20th anniversary of asking his then 8-year-old future stepdaughter's permission to propose to her mom. "I told myself if she said no or was hesitant, then it just wasn't the time yet. Because I'd been in her shoes with a new parent spouse coming in, I understood the change that meant. Luckily she said yes, was excited and gave me a big hug."

Love is not just two young people over a candlelit dinner. Love is older adults finding ways to make already-formed families blend. Love is also DL studying the wall calendar and then saying, "Oh! Happy Valentine's Day!" and me saying, "Oh crap! I defrosted some burger for meatloaf; weren't we planning to have crab legs? You know? Romance?" And DL replying, "Meatloaf is fine, if you want meatloaf."

Love is also Cricket coming to work with me because I can't bear to leave her alone.

Love is a noncustodial parent's little girl running up with a big smile for a giant hug. Love is an expectant father cleaning the cat's litterbox even though he hates the jerk of a cat because his pregnant wife loves the danged thing. Love is eating tofu bacon because your spouse has high cholesterol. Love is getting up at 5 a.m. so your dogs don't miss out on their morning run when you have an early class. Love is having 3-year-old dog ashes by your bed because you can't bring yourself to scatter them as you'd planned. Love is DL doing all of the shoveling on snowy days so I can ski with the dogs. Love is my mom and sister emailing me obscure nutrition and obvious safety tips. Love is bundling up and filling the bird feeder when it is -40. Love is also chocolates and carrots and cheese and pie. Mac n cheese and lasagne and caribou soup. Love is HD ordering a black wolf stuffed animal and painting Roo's markings on it, and gently delivering it to my house as I stand on the porch and sob. Love is MK collecting her sweetest, most cuddly sled dogs into the house for me to cuddle. Love is bumping into KN at the Denali Center visiting her mom. Love is so many tears, and courage to face each new day.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020


These are things that I know to be true:

1) Starbuck-A-Roo loved us, very much, and will never stop.

2) We loved Roo, very much, and will never stop.

3) We were very blessed to have spent six years together. And I will be forever grateful that although her end was premature, sudden, and shocking, it was instantaneous and without pain, and she was probably in the happiest husky State of Being: Running at top speed with a giant smile on her face.

4) I have no regrets. I understand that any time someone is hit by a car, there is some degree of culpability. There is a borough-wide Leash law, and although off-leash dogs are all over the neighborhood trails and parks, in theory dogs should be Within Your Sight and Under Voice Command At All Times. But dang huskies! Even Roo-liable Roo was only 90% reliable. Honestly, when Autumn and Linden used to run off, it was not cars that I had worried about. My highest fear was that they'd get into someone's livestock and get shot. And they were way less reliable than Roo. It is really unexpected that while they lived to dotage, Roo was the one to get hit. But these are the odds that we play, and those are the chances that we take every time we let them run free. I told her musher when I called her to tell her the news, that while I had no regrets, I was still deeply sorry that this was the outcome. She said not to be sorry, that "huskies need to run free". She said we had done a wonderful job loving her and taking care of her and finding opportunities for her to be who she is, the Roo who was so extraordinarily loving that she had to have a heart on her chest.

5) BUT I am going to be more careful from now on. I'm going to skijor with Cricket for a while rather than letting her run free, until I learn what she is like as a single dog. Their personalities really change with companions, and with lack thereof.

6) But we do need to get Cricket a new Friend at some point. Dogs are social animals, and I think it is not healthy or kind to leave them home alone all day when the humans are gone. She has been coming to work with me a few days each week. Already, I see a different Cricket. She is more extroverted and less shy, although in a serious and unpuppylike way. She has always been such a serious girl! We do have some thinking to do on what kind of dog we need to look for. With Serious Autumn and Goober Linden, it was easy to blend in any dog, since we already spanned the range, so of course the addition of the sweet, amiable Roo was a piece of cake. When Roo was alone, it was easy to let her be alpha and blend in the shy, but affable, Cricket. I think we could benefit from another sort of gooberdy dog to balance the Serious Cricket, but gooberdy dogs seem to annoy her... Well we have some thinking to do.

7) I am going to have Cricket evaluated to be a therapy dog. She is such an attention whore in my office, it seems she'd be a good fit.

8) There are so many clichés about love and death and heartbreak that we have repeated so often they have lost their emotional punch, but they still have meaning. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We are stronger for our losses. It only hurts this much because we loved that much. I feel the depth and truth of these things, and I believe in them, I truly do.

Friday, January 31, 2020

I love you, Starbuck-A-Roo

Starbuck A Roo 26 Jan 2007 - 26 Jan 2020

Starbuck-A-Roo, the Roo of my heart, the Roo of my soul, was hit by a car. We were headed out to walk the trails, and she and Cricket ran down the trail behind our house with classic insane happy husky joy. At the bottom of our hill, you turn right to go to the main trail system. Autumn and Linden have done it a thousand times. Roo and Cricket at least 100's. But for whatever reason, when I got to the bottom of the hill, their tracks did not point right; they pointed left. Toward the road. Well, it's still a quarter mile to the road, so I wasn't worried. It was pretty cold (-20F), so I figured the princesses had just decided it was too cold for them and run home. So I shouted their names. Cricket came to me. Roo did not. I figured she was on the porch. So Cricket and I walked back up (DL was inside, recovering from a knee pain). We opened the door. DL said he had not seen Roo, but he got dressed and came outside to look with us. Cricket and I headed back out. Again, no tracks to the right, only to the left. We walked back up to the house. The answering machine was blinking.

The man was very kind and compassionate and brought her body back to us. He explained how she had just darted in front of his truck, with no time for him to avoid her. She left us instantly. She didn't suffer. DL retrieved her body while this stranger witnessed my grief and responded with kindness and honesty. I noticed that after he read her tag, which reads "Starbuck (Roo)", he called her "Roo". It was the name she gave herself, and it suited her so well that no-one who knew it called her "Starbuck" anymore. I was touched that a stranger picked up on it.

I held her body. It was still soft and fuzzy, but cold and dusted with snow. Her soffty paws were still sofft and frito-y, but cold. I reminded myself that it was just a shell I was holding. An empty shell that was beautiful only because of what it had once contained. We took her to the vet to be cremated. I told her she was The Best, and that I'd love her forever, and I'd miss her forever, and I'd never forget her. I collapsed on our living room floor.

Cricket displays the same Wisdom at the loss of her sister as Roo did with her Friends at the Denali Center--She loved her very, very, very much, but the time to honor them is while they are alive, but when they are gone, life goes on, and they want us to pursue life. Eat, Cricket says. Sleep, Cricket says. But I'm afraid I'm not as Wise or as Strong as dogs, and I cannot stop crying. I worked from home much of this week, going in only to teach. I lined up both Love and distractions. I cuddled Cricket, bundled up for a daily run at -30, took Cricket to visit MK so we could cuddle her bunch. I vacuumed, I sorted old clothes for donations, I reviewed my lectures for each day's class. And I cried at the wall, I cried at the woodstove, I cried at the couch, I cried into my tea, I sobbed into DL's arms, and I sobbed uncontrollably while Cricket leaned her head into my chest.

I loved Autumn and Linden very dearly, but I had the honor and quiet pleasure of watching them grow old. Roo was on her 13th birthday, which non-husky owners would say is a good run, but which every husky owner knows is a too-soon wrenching of her from our lives. The loss of her physicality hurts the most. She was soooo sofffft and soooo huggable and sooooo loving, and she was almost always at my side. I still slice carrot slices in half and then look down and see only Cricket there. I know that on the whole we have still been blessed, and I am grateful for the 6 years we have had together. I still feel as if I have been punched in the chest, but all of the dog lovers around me (and there are many in Fairbanks!) who have gone through this grief say that the only way through it is through it, and one day, I will smile instead of cry when I think of her.

All of my dogs have been exceptionally sweet, but only one was so overflowing with sweetness and love that she needed to be a therapy dog:

And she had a Heart on her Chest:

And she looooooved each and every one of us!

Roo looooved Autumn:

And Roo looooooved Booger:

And Roo looooooved me:

And Roo looooooooved Cricket:

And Roo loooooooved DL:

And Roo! Loved! Snow!

She smeared her face into it and slid like an otter:

Oh yeah!

Here is a video:


I comfort myself to think of them reunited:

I loved them so, so much:

This was on the side of Donnelly Dome:

Roo never knew Autumn and Linden as young dogs. She only knew them as elderly ladies. I hope they are running and playing together in the snow, as she never saw in life.

I feel similarly about her Friends at the Denali Center. I'm sure she is very happy to see that her Friends are not in fact bedridden or in wheelchairs, and can run and hike and ski with her!

Well, one regret I don't have to live with, is that I always gave them my all while I had them, I am 100% confident of that. Even if it was past midnight and I was exhausted and had an 8 a.m. class the next day, if she came and sat next to me, I always petted and cuddled her until SHE was done. I never wish I could have loved her more, because I loved her as much as I possibly could.

I texted my pastor about it: "How can I get through the rest of my life without hugging her and holding her soffty paws?"

He replied:
Ahhh well, you hug the memories and carry her forever and ever in your heart and sooner or later find someone else who will need your love. And 90 years from now, which will seem like forever but really will be just a twinkling, when you step into the Country of Light, there will be...

And sometime, ohhh sometime, either when you need it absolutely the most or when thy spirit has settled a bit, there will come a dream, or you'll suddenly feel a wet nose in your hand, or a just Roo's smell in the wind, and you'll smile, knowing that because Love never ends, Roo is always and still and forever with you.

And all the time apart will be as nothing.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Starbuck A Roo 26 Jan 2007 - 26 Jan 2020

The Roo of my heart, the Roo of my soul. Roo of the Heart on her Chest, Roo of the soffffy paws. On her 13th birthday, she left us. Please don't ask for details. I can't talk about it yet. Cricket, DL, and I will heal, but it's so, so hard right now. She was the Best Roo, the Lovingest Roo, the Amazing Boneless Husky. I will love you forever, Roo. I will miss you forever Roo. I will never forget you Roo. When you find Autumn and Linden, they will introduce you to a Sammypants. You will love her. Please give them my love. When I come along, I'll be so, so happy to see you again.

This popped up on my facebook feed today:

That is the greeting I envision Roo getting. She has never met Sam, but I'm sure she'll love her.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Dressing for Cold

When people say they would like to visit Fairbanks, I often recommend March. Summer in Alaska is peak tourist season for summer stuff, but March is the time for skiing, dog mushing, and aurora viewing. It's really like two different places! In March, it doesn't get that cold, but it can still drop to 0F/-18C, which is colder than many people are accustomed to. Below that, we are getting into real danger of actual bodily damage. I have been writing cold weather tips notes to different folks over the years, so I've decided to paste them all together and post them here for permanent (and editable) reference. Please note that these are Fairbanks notes. It's cold and dry here. Winter in other places is different (most notably with respect to moisture management).

For me it is far more important to cover all exposed skin than to put on a ton of heavy clothes. So hat, scarf or neck gaiter, and mittens are essential. The layers against your skin should be silk, synthetic, or wool, not cotton. Long underwear will likely be needed (these come in different weights). OK from toe to head, here we go:

Wool-based socks are a must. If you wear cotton socks, you ask to lose toes. :) I like Smartwool midweight hiking socks and wear them every day. Other good brands are Darn Tough, and Bridgedale. The shoes themselves are less important to me than the socks. I often wear sneakers with good socks, but the reverse (crappy socks with good boots, no matter how good!) just does not work. That being said, if you want to spring for good boots, here are my recommendations.

At these temperatures, a lot of shoe sole materials get hard and dangerously slippery, even so-called "winter boots" that are otherwise warm and well-made. I think they are intended for winters in places like New York or Toronto, where it's cold, but not deep cold. Natural rubber is best. Synthetic or leather soles are out of the question. Don't worry about water-proofing or wind-proofing as we don't really have either of those (our water is frozen). Over the years, I have purchased several brands of winter boots, and have concluded that the most reliably good are from LL Bean and Sorel. Bean boots are still made (and repairable!) at their factory in Maine, and have eminently wonderful natural rubber-based sole that I even wear on ice. Sorel is now Made in China, but their boots are still reliably warm and have excellent traction in deep cold (this last property is the most challenging to find). For dressier boots, I have had good luck with La Canadienne and Aquatalia. These are both more urban, fashionable brands, but they have excellent craftsmanship (being manufactured in Canada and Italy, respectively) and sensible designs (rubber soles, waterproof materials).

I like ultrafine merino wool base layers for both top and bottom base layers. Icebreaker was an early pioneer in pushing these products to us, and they've sure succeeded with me! I wear one of their shirts as a base layer every day. Smartwool also makes these nowadays, and there are many other brands that are equally good. Other than that, I have no particular recommendations. Wool sweaters and down puffies make nice insulating layers for deep cold. I tend to wear Carhartt pants on weekdays and ski pants on weekends. As a woman, my butt and thighs tend to get colder than the rest of me, so I have a down skirt that I wear as an outer layer when it's colder than -20F/-30C. I have no particular coat recommendations. I tend to wear a midweight coat and cram more and more layers underneath as the weather gets colder. I am quite uncomfortable in my heaviest coats, so I only wear 'em as we approach -40. Here is a selfie in my heavy, insulated Carhartt coat. I believe it was -30 this morning. The coat is crunchy, and I'm not comfy:

I have no particular recommendations for gloves/mittens, but for the coldest weather (-30 or below), light liners inside of heavy mittens are nice. They absorb sweat and also enable you to take off your mittens to, say, adjust your scarf or pee, without exposing your hands to supercold air. For really warm mittens, be prepared to spend on the order of $100 or more.

For scarves, I like the lightweight wool ones that I can wrap around my face and still breathe. You can often find these in hippie-dippie stores in big cities. If the store is dimly lit, smells like patchouli, somehow supports a free Tibet, and sells chunky silver jewelry that serves spiritual rather than decorative purposes, look for the rack of colorful scarves, and you'll find some really wonderful ones.

For neck gaiters, I like synthetic fleece. Turtle Fur has a proprietary fleece that is extra soft, but really any fleece will do fine. Our local Apocalypse Design makes a really wonderful polar fleece one, which I am wearing here, along with the aforementioned down skirt (this outfit is for a trail walk with the dogs; this sweater is alpaca; this coat is down; temperatures were about -30):

For hats, I like fleece-lined wool. The soft fleece against my forehead and ears, and the wool outside to block wind and some moisture. Turtle Fur makes a nice line, but so do many other companies. I have many hats. Many, many hats.

Oh, here is another clothing demo. I was just goofing around as DL was checking my camera settings. On the bottom is my merino wool long underwear. On the top, my inner layer is merino wool, and that sweater! That sweater is fleece-lined wool, which is my favorite combination for hats, so when I saw it, I had to try it for my body:

It's suuuuuper warm, from a company called Laundromat. It's easily the warmest sweater I own, and it's really wonderful! I can even wear it outside briefly at -40!

Here is what I wore to work today (-20F/-30C):

Smartwool socks, Sorel boots, silk long underwear, Carhartt pants, ultralight merino baselayer, wool sweater, down vest, midweight coat, wool scarf, fleece-lined wool hat.

OK I think that covers everything. (literally!) This is compiled from over a decade of emails to visitors!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020


It is pretty normal for Alaskans to take a mid-winter break to someplace warm. DL and I decided to go to Montana. :) Long-term readers of this blog may remember one Sammypants. She was the dog of some dear friends of mine from the days of being TAs in the physics department! Well, dear Sammypants finally passed away at the age of 16. I like to think that my Linden was super happy to see her again! I'm not sure about Autumn though... Anyway, we decided to visit the little family in Missoula, which was their hometown, to which they had happily returned.

AL shares a rather uncommon family name with DL. A brief discussion of their family histories, as well as a physical resemblance among DL, AL, and AL's father, make me think that it is more likely than not that they are related. So we were also going to visit cousins!

Ahhh! That mid-winter getaway to a warm, sunny place! :D

(This is from a day snowshoeing at Lolo Pass.)

In Arlee, the hometown of AL (population 602), a Tibetan Monk saw a ridge of hills surrounded by mountains, that reminded him of a sacred place in Tibet that had appeared to him in his dreams. So there he constructed a Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.

Wisdom from a Tibetan master of the Nyingma school of Buddhism, Wisdom from a child in pink:

The splash of pink moves among the stones:

DP, AL, and the Pink One, approaching a pyramid of prayer flags:

DL and I can now use this photo for our holiday cards and let people think we visited Tibet:

The great buddha in the center of the wheel:

I usually take an extra day off when I get home from vacation. This time, it was particularly helpful. I'm super proud of how well we ate all of our fresh food before we left!

So I had to go grocery shopping, and it is also very cold!

Roo and Cricket were super happy to be back on their couch:

Although their kennel takes lovely portraits!

They even get Cricket to pose!

On my way home from running errands today, I saw this sweet boy unaccompanied on the street:

It was on a curved part of the road, so I decided I would only take one shot at catching him. I pulled over and opened my door, and he eagerly jumped in the car! Phew! When I got home, I saw that he had an ID tag, and that his name is Chena. His owner came to pick him up immediately. What a huge schweetie he was!