The Start of the Exhibition
Day 1, Monday, March 8, 1999

It is the morning of our departure from Croinor Adventure where we meet Flag and Ivan, our outfitters. They are a bit nervous about traveling with us since we speak little French and they speak little English. Today, we must learn how to harness the dogs, how to maneuver the sled through the woods, how to command the dogs, and how not to lose the sled when (not if) we are tipped over. Louise, who speaks strong English, teaches the next lesson, which is the importance of the brakes. With thanks, there are brakes on the dog sled and it is a necessity to stop the dogs from pulling us. Now that we have learned how to tie the sled to the nearest tree if the sled must be abandoned momentarily it is time to learn why. One by one, on this sunny March morning, we unchain, harness and rechain each anxious sled dog, preparing them for today’s trek to camp one. Now that they have been moved into running order, lead dog to main dog, the dogs are visibly excited about the prospective run through the woods. They’re barking and struggling and wagging with anticipation, 35 at a time. Each of the four sleds and the snowmobile must be ready to run quickly since the dogs aren’t willing to wait any longer.

Louise demands I get into the sled quickly and we take off through the path of birch trees. I hadn’t anticipated this but there was good reason for it. Animals in that state of excitement are best to be allowed to release their tensions with exercise. This avoids a dog fight. It seems that people and animals behave similarly. Once a quarter mile into the trail, Louise stops for a moment so that I can share the steering with her. I’m standing on the right runner, Louise on the left, our inside hands are overlapped in the center for stability. Learning the process of turning the corners is not a natural one. It’s taking some training to get the feel for it and the dog’s impatience to run is evident. Louise and I are enjoying the beautiful winter wonderland as we ride, talking about Canada, our jobs, our histories and our families. Racing through the great pine trees, the dogs take a sudden turn to the right, Louise loses balance and bumps me, whereby I sail from the sled and learn just how deep the snow is. Thankfully, there is no lesson for me regarding the hardness of trees. My estimate on the snow depth is two feet since it was difficult to see out of when lying face down in it, even after turning my head to one side.

Pete is not as lucky as I. After all of the sleds catch up, Pete shares his ripped pant story. It seems a tree pulled him off the trail while travelling around a corner, and the dogs would not stop. He was trapped in the same two feet of snow as I with a branch to his leg and the unstoppable dog team pulling him forward. This was bonding. Dad had fallen off his sled as well. It seems the corners are difficult to master. Sam was bringing up the rear with his sled, although he was so far behind the lead sled that I barely saw him all day.

We made it to camp for lunch. Here is where the skill of tying the rope to the tree comes in handy. Once that is done, we tie the lead dogs to a distant tree, keeping the dogs from packing together and fighting.

Camp is a thick canvas, two-room tent of semi-permanent appearance. Flag and Ivan have built the tent by felling pines in the forest, stripping them of their greens and creating a foundation for the canvas to be supported by. The stripped greens create an evergreen scented floor that acts as an insulation for the room and smells like Christmas. In each half of the tent there is a potbelly wood stove with a stack of birch next to it. One half of the tent is the cooking/dining area and the other is where we will sleep. Our water will come from the pond once the men chop a hole through the foot-and-a-half-thick surface.

After lunch we decide to travel by dog again for a few more miles when one of dad’s dogs gives out from exhaustion. He (the dog) sheepishly rode on the lead sled back to camp and then by snowmobile back to the house. Camp is located just off a small pond called The Pump House. I walked out onto the lake for a few moments of silence and to see the last moments of the day fade into peach sky. Soon, Carl, Pete and Sam followed to enjoy the evening silence as well.

Once dinner is cleared, it is easy to become lost under the sea of stars in the forest night. The country is beautiful here. There is well over two feet of powdery white snow and one can see the wispy effects of northern lights in the distant, starry sky. So far, we are laughing, relaxing, talking a great deal, getting used to one another individually, appreciating one another culturally and making our way through an unfamiliar way of life.

(group image: left to right top row: Carie, Pete, Flag, Carl. left to right bottom row: Sam, Ivan.)

the idea of dogsleddingthe drive to Senneterrelearning the ropeson to Fall Down Lakeanother big firebitter cold thinkingthe grand finale