Northern Wilds Magazine
Sylvia is all smiles about going for a sled ride. But a good mood doesn’t always last. | ERIN ALTEMUS
Dog Blog

Mood Swings

As the parent of one child who has little experience with other small children, I often find myself surprised by the many facets of watching a baby grow into a small child. I had no idea that a toddler could spill so much. Hand our kid a cup of milk, a bowl of cereal, a plate of food and it is sure to end up back in my lap or hers or in the crevices of the couch or on the carpet. I should not bother trying to get these food products into her mouth but just dump them on myself to save on the surprise factor.

I also had no idea a two-year-old could be so emotional. One minute she is laughing and talking and dancing and the next I have committed some terrible foul that causes her to throw herself on the floor in utter and total weeping agony. Recently, I brought Beezus our star leader in the house for a night inside, and even though she loves and knows Beezus, she insisted that he shouldn’t be here and finally broke down sobbing about this calamity. Matt and I are trying to weather the mood swings without casualty, but sometimes her moods rub off.

Training dogs is often our respite from the child, and indeed a few weeks ago, we received enough snow to make the leap from the ATV to sleds. I hooked up the first sled team of the season and hit the trail. The woods, buffered by a foot of snow, reflected a bright sun and the quiet whoosh of the sled runners made my giddy.

Most days, we take turns running a team and trade off on watching Sylvia. But several times, we have packed Sylvia along for the ride, feeling good about ourselves for getting her some outdoor time, even on a brisk day. The first time, Matt took her in his sled. When he returned, he reported that she tried to climb out several times and that he had to hold her while standing on the runners. This seemed like a recipe for disaster. The next time, he put her in a car seat. This went well. She couldn’t escape and she even napped for most of the run.

Armed with this information, I decided I would take her on a run. She happily agreed to going along. I strapped her into the car seat and placed it in the sled. She watched while I hooked up the team. Less than a mile from home, she wailed, “No go to Junco!” Junco is our half-way turn-around. She wanted to go home.

If this weren’t bad enough, she also had to go “potty.” Not wanting to stop and undress her on the trail, I told her to hold it. Then I told her to go in her diaper. “Go potty!!!” She cried over and over. It soon became clear I was going to listen to her sobs for some time and there was nothing I could do about it. Trying to turn around was nearly impossible and a danger to the dogs and or of losing the team. I took the shortest route I could and headed home. A mile from home, she fell asleep. Under no circumstances will I be doing this again this year. Once home, I planned to immediately bring her inside before unhooking the dogs. But once out of her car seat, she was all smiles again and in her bossy tone that she uses most of the time, she instructed me to “put the dogs home.” We unhooked each dog, took off their harnesses and brought them back to their individual spots.

Matt and I often say we are simply trying to hold our heads above water. Between unloading truckloads of meat and kibble and driving the toddler around and keeping a watchful eye on her, we continue our day jobs and training dogs when there is time. During the first snow of the season, we had to get the plow truck unstuck with the bobcat and then dig out the bobcat when that became stuck. We’ve been burning a fire steadily since the end of October.

Now in recent days, we have become aware of a wolf hanging out by our kennel. The dogs have been awake at night, often barking for an hour or two at a time. We take turns going outside to check on things and nothing is amiss except dogs looking off into the dark woods and barking. Then two days ago, the dogs were at it again during the day. I walked out the front door and saw a large dog limping through our front yard and towards the woods. It took me a split second to realize this was not one of our dogs, but a wolf. Matt investigated and found a spot where it had been sleeping, melting the snow right down to the ground. Our dogs are nervous, and so am I. But this story is still developing—just another aspect of our life surrounded by miles of wild territory.

This winter doesn’t look to be an easy one. It will be cold, snowy, and busy as ever. It is what we signed up for. It is what we often joke about as “living the dream.” I almost never take the easy path in life. But I will take a moment of peace and quiet on the trail, just me and my dogs any day.

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