November 21, 2010
The sun raked over the top of the Alaska Range and shone a spotlight on four randomly chosen peaks scattered over an unimaginable distance. I wanted more than anything to tell someone, "Look at that! What amazing light today." But it would have fallen on the ears of the dogs, who would have looked back at me for a moment and then kept on trotting down the trail.
I often focus so hard on the dogs that a chance look up at the scenery snaps me out of their world just for a second and into the reality of the fact that this is my job. I am a musher for the National Park Service, and the crepuscular winter wonderland of Denali is my office.
Looking back on the day, I think about how I am silent for three whole hours of it. I talk to no one but dogs, and am allowed that quiet time to study them and interact with them and work alongside them. The sound of the wind whispering through my half-frozen hair is the only sound I hear - besides, of course, my mushing partner on the radio every so often who today warned of moose on the road up ahead. It was, thankfully, uneventful. After some goading, the moose wandered off into the woods and we swooshed on by on a nicely packed trail.
One thing I've learned about dogs is that they're always just about to teach you something, and are you paying attention? If you aren't, the lesson will likely occur at that precise moment. And thus we all expand our knowledge daily, both of ourselves and of each other. We take chances on new trails, put our faith in new leaders and occupy daily a visceral sense of adventure with a calm trust in our skills and in our dogs.
Every twenty miles will be different from the last, and the dogs will doubtless humble me and make me proud and make me laugh and make me work. My attachment to them increases tenfold every day and my heart grows bigger for them every day. I hardly know how to describe that connection, one that must be felt to be understood. I guess I'll say that a job is not a word that describes my line of work.