Thursday, January 31, 2008

A bucket in the hand is worth none in the woods

Take a look at your hands. What do they say about you? Mine are dirty most of the time. I have several rough, dry patches. I'm right-handed, but always wanted to be left-handed like my dad. Or at least ambidextrous. I wear my watch on my right hand. The top of my left hand has burn marks on it. Every night I get up a couple times to deal with the dogs (dogs in the house have to go pee, or they're too hot, or they want to play, or they whine for no reason - Roy - or they've already peed on the floor and are sloshing around in it) and while I'm up, I stoke the fire in the woodstove. In my semiconscious state, I am clumsy and careless and inevitably burn my hand. The latest ritual burn happened last night and is a big one.
My left thumb has a puckered, white scar all the way down, from tip to base, and is the results of a sugar-bush accident many years ago. I was cutting pipeline at the family maple syrup farm and sliced into my thumb. I staggered through the woods calling for my dad. He wrapped my squirting thumb in duct tape and took me to the hospital. The scar still looks new.
I wear four rings. Two on my wedding-ring finger; the white gold and diamond wedding ring that Sam and I picked out in Anchorage, and a gold band that was my Gran's wedding ring. On my right hand, I wear two rings on my middle finger; a silver ring with an amber dollop, and a gold band that belonged to my other Grandmother, who has since passed. I don't take my rings off very often, only to play my djembe.
Most of the time, my fingernails are dirty, that's why I keep them short. Before I got into mushing, my hands were quite weak, albeit clean. I'd have trouble with the pickle jar and such, but now after a few years of hauling wire-handled, 50-pound buckets filled with water, meat, kibble and dog shit (not all together) my hands are stronger. The first summer I worked as a handler, my hands hurt more than my other also-achy body parts during those first few weeks. I'd wake up in the morning and try to get dressed for another day of dog chores, but most mornings my hands wouldn't work right. They were all crumpled up like little monkey claws. Not anymore, though. I can crack walnuts with these puppies, now.
I can type fast. And play a few songs on the piano.
I have frostbitten my fingers a few times, but not badly. I've shot assignments and worked on the dogs at 20 or 30 below with no gloves on and paid the price. But it's impossible to put ointment on a dog's feet or change a lens with big gloves on. I froze my right hand to a door knob in Circle City, Alaska, a couple years back at 55 below zero. I wasn't wearing gloves. Again, I paid the price. The cost? A layer or two of skin. I take better care of my hands now. I recently spent $120 on a pair of big over-mitts to wear when mushing. They've been totally worth the hefty price.
You know what they say: Warm hands, cold heart...wait a minute...warm hands, cold feet? No, that's not right. Well, whatever, I've got warm hands at least.

1 comment:

dogsled_stacie said...

I can relate! In fact, I just gave Ray shit the other night as he dug into a roasted chicken with TOTALLY DISGUSTINGLY DIRTY dogyard/chainsaw/woodcutting hands!!! Ew, I just about puked. I couldn't believe it didn't occur to him to NOT grab the chicken like a neanderthal with those skanky hands. In fact, I bet the neanderthals had better hygene!!