Sunday, September 30, 2007

Jill? What's in your head?

Cobwebs. Enthusiasm. Cynicism.
I went out the ol' four-wheeler Friday to scout out a new trail for fall training. The trail Rich and I went on before that with a nine-dog team was just a little too marshy. We got stuck and had to turn the team around in a tight spot which resulted in a massive tangle. Capiche slipped her harness and took off down the trail for a few seconds until she realized we weren't behind her. She spun around and came back. Good girl!! She's definitely going to be good for us this winter. She sat and watched as Rich and I painstakingly unhooked each dog and released them from the tangled web of tug, neck and gang lines. It was not pretty and at the end I was shaking and very, very sweaty. So, I decided to find a better trail on the system behind out house. One direction led me a new house smack-dab in the middle of the trail. The next route led me to more bottomless bogs. I got stuck twice and had to winch myself out. The only problem was the winch was underwater and the only trees to latch onto to were tiny pecker poles. I got out though and realized that fall training wasn't going to work on the trails out of my yard. In the winter, they are fine; frozen and snow-covered. So, yesterday, in search of a more suitable path, I loaded up the quad and headed out to Cripple Creek to Steve's house. Dana and I took the machine out to find me some new training trails. Eureka! So, starting tomorrow I will truck the dogs west every other day and train there until we get snow. (Lisa, a cheque is on the way for the use of YOUR machine)
It's a bit of a hassle but I'm looking forward to seeing some new terrain. I got two new dogs - Happy and Sally - a couple days ago. Happy has his name for a reason, but Sally still isn't sure and only comes out of her house to eat when I am very, very far away. I spend time each day sitting near her house talking to her and trying to reassure her that all is well at Spitfire Kennels. But, like me with my fledgling locks, it will take plenty of patience. Oy.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Beeee careful out there, lady!

Ok. I have a lot of video clips from the past couple of years but this is one that stands out in my mind as funny/stupid/ridiculous. This clip was shot last summer by Sam and unbeknownst to me. We had a hornet problem (that's putting it lightly) around town and these meat-eating fuckers were everywhere (sorry Gran). Processing fish was impossible without shelter, dog food wasn't safe, I mean it, the hornets invaded. So anyway, after the mushing season, I chucked my dog sled on the lawn (Liz's lawn, actually. We were still living in the tiny crack shack on Goldhill Road). So, in July, I finally got around to cleaning out the sled to store it properly and, wonder of all wonders, the winged buggers had built their nests in my sled. So, instead of doing the sane thing and spraying it down with bug-killing stuff, or just waiting for them to vacate, I wanted to destroy and conquer...with two broken trail markers. So, here I am in all my wasp-killing glory. The thing I like about this video is not my throaty yowl, but Bully, calm as always, in the driveway. Then the randomness at the end it really too much. I hope you all find this as funny as Sam and I did.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The height of just-too-muchery

I ran the dogs yesterday and it was chaotic but necessary. The trails are really swampy and I almost got the four-wheeler stuck several times. All the dogs did an amazing job but Capiche really stood out in lead. Hitchcock was also great and the pups were surprisingly strong and eager despite the tough conditions.
Theresa and I are at LuLu's and she's showing me how to upload video to my blog. Here's a short clip of me mushing in the White Mountains last spring. More to come.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Autumn visitors

It's getting cold now. My flowers are dead, but my spirits are high. Well, sort of. Libby's leaving for Iceland tomorrow and that makes me sad, but she'll only be gone for a few months and I'm super stoked for her. This will be a new and exciting twist in her already full life. I'll miss you Libby.
Yesterday, Sam and I were working on the house when a mama moose and her two calves stopped by for a visit. They were so close and weren't bothered at all by the screaming, crazy dogs all around them or by me snapping away and speaking softly to them. We've seen this mama and her babes periodically throughout the summer and it's been neat to watch them grow. It is a little disturbing, however, to see how fearless they are because inevitably they'll be around all winter when I'm out with the team. Anyway, here are some pics of mama and one of her babes, the other was a little shutter shy and didn't come out of the brush for her closeup. Ruffles, my blind, deaf old biddy, wandered a little too close at one point because, well, she didn't see or hear them I guess. But I wrangled Ruffles back into the house where she cuddled up with her armless monkey (Sister ripped the arms off the monkey several months ago) and fell asleep, oblivious to how close she came to getting kicked by the moose.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Looking 'artsy in a clean sort-of way'

My hair is such a disaster, the Red Cross wouldn't give it coffee.
For a couple, maybe three, weeks now I've been attempting somewhat unsuccessfully to dread my hair.
Now, there are a lot of misconceptions about dreadlocks, and so I would like to dispel some of those urban hair myths if I may:
- For most, simply not brushing your hair does lead to dreadlocks, not very nice ones anyway. I have a few friends who this has worked for, but there is some maintenance involved.
- You still have to wash your hair when you have dreads. Dreadlocks form best with dry hair. Oily hair does not work as well, therefore washing is a must.
I guess those were the two main things.
My hair is thick, curly and course. I though it would be perfect for dreading, but it's not taking very well, hence the above disaster comment.
A couple weeks ago, when I made the decision, I sat down with a fine-tooth comb, clips, tiny elastics, beeswax and an entire season of Will and Grace. I separated the hair into sections and backcombed, or teased, the snot out of it. Then I twisted and twisted with a bit of wax until my head was covered in puffy, schlongs of hair. After a few days, the knotted hair began to unravel. Can it be? I kept up the maintenance, sitting down each night and teasing the crap out of the hair. (with a comb, not verbally). Again, after a few days and a gentle washing with all-natural shampoo, the knots were coming out. Did I tell you that I have horse hair? I mean, really, WTF?
I'm now in the third week and all my original dreads have come undone. I'm not giving up, however. Now I want them more than ever. It takes months for dreads to start and sometimes years for them to look good, if you like how dreads look, which I do.
So, even though I'm not patient, I will wait and tease and tease and probably get teased. That's OK, though.
I won't post any pictures because, well, you know, the aforementioned disaster. But Google Medusa and you might get an idea.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

When good meat sandwiches go bad

I feel lucky that I have such a diverse group of friends here. Smart, funny women who aren't afraid to cut loose every once in a while. Women of all ages that I can talk politics, current events, books, music or even 'that funny smell behind you' with. Some are hardcore outdoorswomen, some are not. Most are crafty in some capacity or another and therefore I'm able to learn new things all the time. Friday, I met a group of friends at the Pub to see Tim Easton. We talked about work a little, but mostly laughed and joked. While at the Pub, I met for the first time, a group of other women who I caught up with later at the Marlin. They were strangers, but we bonded pretty much instantly. It's rare for women, I find, to open up and accept new girls into their group. But this bevy of four let me in and we exchanged phone numbers at the end of the night. One women, a geography professor at the university, who lives in Goldstream with her husband, actually called yesterday to invite me to dinner with some of her other friends. I accepted, figuring it would be an opportunity to meet new people. I showed up and we got to work harvesting vegetables from her huge garden. We picked corn, beets, carrots and Swiss chard for dinner. Inside we opened a bottle of wine, cooked salmon and talked until late in the night. I'm so glad I went. She offered to help me set up my garden here if I would show her how to make mosaic-tile tables and tie dye shirts. I mean, where else does that happen?
On the other end of the girlfriend spectrum, I went on an all-women moose hunt on Thursday and met some entirely different kinds of women. Hardcore, fearless outdoor enthusiasts with whom I could also relate. I was there on assignment and learned a lot. Alaska lures all kinds; writers, artists, musicians, dog mushers, labourers, teachers, students, etc. Though I have only met a fraction of the cool, unique women here, I'm looking forward to meeting more, and the great things about Fairbanks is that you never know where or when it will happen.
Here are some photos from the moose hunt Thursday.

She got one!

Birch forest.
Bumper sticker in one of the guides' trucks. Treadwell was a douche who lived with bears in Alaska until they ate him.

Scouting a field for moose.

Making our way to a blind.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Autumn colours, eager pups

Fall training will start in just a few days, so in the meantime, I, with the help of Rich, have been running the dogs loose on the trails behind our house. Today was gorgeous. It was cool and the fall colours are magnificent. Here are some pics from today's run.
Peace.We took seven dogs, well, actually six, Gus was loose but decided not to come on the run.

Sneaky Pete on the right and his sister Parker on the left. Petey won by nose.

To the left, Sister cutting Pete off. That's Capiche coming right for the camera. She hit me going full speed and knocked me on my ass.


Capiche with Pete in hot pursuit.

My boy Strider.

Mama Ruffles didn't come either, she wanted to stay home so she wouldn't miss her stories.

Monday, September 10, 2007

McCandless: Selfish? Foolish? Mentally ill?

I went to the screening of Sean Penn's Into the Wild last week. The movie is based of Jon Krakauer's book. It's the true story of a rich, well-educated boy who deserts his money, his family, his life, to travel around the U.S. and eventually finds himself struggling to survive in Alaska. He didn't survive. He died of starvation a few months after wandering, stumbling, bumbling into the wild.
I'm not going to go on a whole rant here, but I have to say Chris McCandless was a selfish, selfish guy. He left his parents and his sister, with whom he had a tight relationship with, and didn't give them any indication where he was. He had no contact with them at all. Apparently, he wandered around touching all those he met, changing their lives and making them see the errors of their ways, and yet he left those who loved him the most completely in the dark until they got word of his mysterious death in Alaska. I can completely understand wanting to get away from everyone and everything and I also understand the lure of the North. I've moved thousands of kilometers away from where I grew up, gone to work abroad, but still, I stay in touch with my family, probably not as much as they'd like, but I do. I love them because they are, and always will be, my family. There is no denying it (abusive relationships aside). They are blood and that bond means something. My father has been instilling that in me my whole life and though we have our problems and disagreements, they are my family and I love them. Chris' family worried for nearly two years, but he changed his name, burned his ID and simply disappeared, causing his family grief I can only imagine. What if your son did that to you? Would still think McCandless was a hero? I think not.
I, like many, became enamoured with the book, the whole saga actually. My first winter here I took a team of dogs out the bus to see it for myself. For the record, I didn't see any pants or boots that were apparently left there by McCandless 14 years earlier.
There were things I liked about the film. The scenic shots, the music... Oh, I also liked that it was filmed here in Alaska and employed Alaskans. It has given Alaskans something to be proud of: Alaska.
The film's producers talked repeatedly, with me and other reporters, about the importance of accuracy, but the film was riddled with misleading errors. It is Hollywood, I know, but don't claim it is truth, when it is not. He didn't die from eating potato seeds, he starved. And really now, the scene when he realizes that he ate these seeds and then looks it up in his field guide...give me a break, please. The grizzly bear, the darkness in July...there is more which I won't get into. I interviewed several people who both liked and disliked the film (and the book for that matter) and am looking forward to writing the article. One interviewee brought up the point that McCandless was most likely mentally ill and was disappointed that that wasn't even touched upon in the book or the film. Whatever his reasons or thought process, McCandless is not like 95 percent of people who come here, as one man close to the film said in recent newspaper and radio interviews. Perhaps he meant the sense of wanderlust, which I too have suffered from, but I'm sure that 95 percent of transplants didn't knowingly and purposely hurt, crush, devastate their families to come here. I know I didn't.
Chris McCandless is no hero.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Happy Sam-iversay...part deux!

Today is our two-year anniversary! "Our love and admiration has grown exponentially over the last two years, imagine where we'll be after a lifetime," said Sam this morning. What a guy!
We decided this year not to get gifts or cards but rather enjoy a nice dinner out this evening. Except that I saw a cool 'Music of the World' CD and wrapped it for him, which just made him feel like crap because he didn't get me anything (as per our agreement), so that kind of backfired. In two years, Sam and I have shared so much: Amazing float trips down wild and not-so-wild Alaska rivers, camping trips, we've built a home together, together we've recognized my dream of being a dog musher and made it a reality, we're living both of our dreams of doing what we want, where we want; we've laughed (mostly me at him...did I say at? I meant with), we've cried, but most importantly we've grown together. We have learned so much about each other and ourselves by being open and honest, we've compromised and we've stuck to our respective guns. We have so much to learn from each other. Sam is organized and loyal. I am flighty and also loyal to the things I am passionate about. Sam is patient, I am not. We are both working photojournalists with very, very different styles and therefore can learn and share new and unique ideas every day, not just about our work but regarding life in general.
To sum up, I am in love and loved more so than I ever have been before. Thank you, Sam.
PS Thanks to my parents and good friends Myron and Joan for the thoughtful cards. They were unexpected and most appreciated.

Sam and I last weekend putting in the canoe on the Chatanika River.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Yeah, Sandra Bullock? You owe me $4.50!

Premonition sucks. Especially when the guy's head rolls out of the coffin. Don't rent it.

Anyway, this weekend Sam is hunting for Bullwinkle on the Chatanika River. I was supposed to go moose hunting with him, but he convinced me to stay and take this sled-dog chiropractic course. The teacher is a doctor who used to work on people, was introduced to mushing, liked dogs better, and now has devoted his life to huskies. I took an afternoon course of his last year on how to adjust the dogs' backs but this weekend's course is more extensive. Bully was my test bunny because he's so laid back. Since I'll be going out with the team for longer periods of time this winter, I need to know how to fix them if something goes 'pop' or 'click.' Today we learned how to identify shoulder and neck injuries, how to pinpoint which muscle or joint is tweaked, how to distract and/or manipulate the joint in question and how to loosen the joint to prepare for said manipulation. Many mushers spent a lot of time at checkpoints massaging dogs' muscles trying to get rid of stiffness or soreness, but if you can get proficient in identifying the problem, it will inevitably make the whole process much more efficient. Today was a little overwhelming with a lot of anatomy that I wasn't familiar with like, for example, supraspinatus, subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor, etc. And of course, Wes, our instructor, pulled me up in front of the class to go over everything we learned from the day, which I mumbled and joked my way through and despite being called out, was really glad he chose me because it helped me remember more. Tomorrow we're working on hips, wrists and backs.
On Monday, I'm going to the premiere of 'Into the Wild,' a movie directed by Sean Penn based on Jon Krakauer's book of the same name, which is debuting here because it was filmed here. The book recounts the true story of Chris McCandless, a rich, well-educated kid who burned his money, threw away his possessions and came north to Alaska. He hiked into the woods near Healy , found an old abandoned bus and moved in. Over several weeks, he realized he was not prepared to live with nothing in the wilds of Alaska and tried to go back. But the river he crossed early in the spring had risen and he was trapped. He starved to death and was found later in the fall by hunters. I read the book several times and was intrigued, but came to conclusion, like many, that the kid was an irresponsible idiot who had no business being out there in the first place. But still, I made a pilgrimage to the bus last winter by dog team. There was a plaque that his family had put up and letters to Chris from people who had travel to the bus to see where he died. It was all very creepy. In the winter, you can only get there by dog team or snowmachine and the route is pretty much impassable in the summer.
Anyway, here are some photos of the bus I shot last year. I sold one of them to Men's Journal for an article they did in this month's issue. The movie has been getting a lot of publicity and Alaskans are skeptical. I'm anticipating a cheesy Hollywood flick. I'm writing a review of the movie for a magazine here and won't be afraid to tell it like is, but am trying desperately to keep an open mind.