Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Trial runs with Starbuckaroo!

So I got this little pulk to haul around skiing in case Autumn goes lame on the trail. Skiing with it is super easy. I usually forget it's there. Step 2 is teaching Starbuck to skijor. Although I wanted to try it without the sled first, I hooked up to her with the sled first and asked DL to take photos of the expected final product. She did not cooperate.

First of all, here is sled 1.0:

And here is Starbuckeroo wagging her tail, every fiber of her being eager to please, but unsure what to do:

And more of it. I did not wait long for better photos, since I feared she'd either melt into a puddle, or her heart would explode:

She stared up the road. "We going for a walk?"

So I unhooked from both her and the sled, packed her line, left the sled behind, and walked down to the ski trail with her. We had just returned from skiing a short out-and-back with Autumn, Linden, and DL, but we left the three of them behind for skijor training. I envisioned being hauled down the trail by Starbuck's extreme enthusiasm. I dressed extra warmly to ward off what I was sure would be a stiff wind as she whipped me along. I decided to ski freely down our little spur that leads to the main trail, which is wide and smooth and perfect for a first trial. I took a deep breath, hooked up to her, and... stood there. She wagged her tail and wriggled.

"Go on, Roo! Go on!"

She rolled over for a belly rub.

"Mush! Go! Ahead! Hike!"

I was unsure what her "start" command was. Unlike "gee", "haw", "whoa", and "on by", for some reason starting does not have a standard command. Usually, running is the default. When you are standing still, you strain against the brake and say, "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" and as soon as you want to go you just stop asking them to stop, and off they go. So Starbuck and I stood there, I scratching my head while she angled to be petted.

I decided to ski a few strides, and hope she'd catch on. She ran a circle around me. I unhooked her line, unwrapped it from me, and hooked it back.

After several starts like this, she finally got the hang of it. Just like her fur, her heart, and her personality, her pulling style is soft and gentle. When we made some tight turns, or when she took a command correctly, I told her she was a "good girl". That made her stop in her tracks for a petting! So I had to learn not to praise her while running. It's more difficult than it seems! I used to praise Autumn and Linden all the time when we skijored and hauled my snow testing equipment around. I always told them what good girls they were! I can't talk to Starbuck at all while skijoring, it seems. I must save all of my praises for the end of the run.

Knowing that I have Starbuck and my rigged-up pulk with me, I find skiing such fun again! I realized that happiness is nothing more than freedom. A good job makes us happy because it's freedom from financial worries. Finding a life partner makes us happy because it's freedom from loneliness. Having a reliable dog in a rural lifestyle is, at its core, no different from any other risk reduction. I think that's why Alaskans love dogs so much. In our minds, we tie the love, companionship, and physical help all together in one furry little package. Getting Starbuck as Autumn and Linden aged was definitely a good move. The thought of losing either of them has always made me sad, but the thought of losing Autumn in particular has always made me frightened on a visceral level. Having Starbuck will not remove the sadness, because you can't replace an emotional bond. But it does remove the fear, because you can certainly replace the practical aspects of having a smart dog looking after you.

I'm afraid the preceding paragraph sounds cold, but I don't know how else to say it. I love all three of my furry beasties very much, but there is more to it than love, too.


Allmycke said...

At one time, my big Scrapper was entered into a contest in Inuvik where the dog who could haul a load of dog food the longest distance would win the feed. Scrapper was a happy-dumb kind of dog and didn't at all get this hauling idea... Instead, he walked back to the sled and peed on it...
Some years later, when I was ready to leave Inuvik, I had to put him and his mother to sleep. It was the only thing I could do, as I didn't think they would adapt to new families. It broke my heart and it took years Before I could even look at Pictures of them - even if I realised I had done the right thing by them.

Arvay said...

What a difficult decision that must have been. I'm so sorry you had to go through that.