Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter Games

Recently we headed over to some Winter Games. We were scheduled to set up some photography at the Saturday events. We almost didn't make it because The Fisherman had a migraine, but at the last minute - the very last minute - he thought he could make it. We scrambled to load up a smaller version of our originally intended set-up and hit the road. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm for winter. It's a good thing, too, because we were set up outside. I hear tell it was the first beautiful day in all of the nearly 10 years of the winter festival. We were one of only two merchandise vendors. The remainder of the space seemingly crowded with vendors were concessions vendors and participants in the Chili Cook-off. We enjoyed the day a great deal and had many visitors to our boothless "booth". And we even made some sales, too.

The event has two main features: the sled dog races up the mountain and the festival-like events down the hill at a casino. Saturday's events at the casino included a live band, a dog weight pulling contest, ice carving contest, dog shows (best purebred, best northern breed, owner-dog look alike contest, best mutt, best iddy-bitty dog and best "lap-dog"[70 pounds and up]). Here are some photos from Saturday's fun. Sorry about the quality - or lack thereof. It seems I need a refresher course on my camera settings, having blown out or blurred nearly all the photos. But you'll get the idea.

This guy was the winner, pulling around 650 pounds.

Not too many participants in the ice carving contest. But the local chain-saw carver, who creates bears, eagles, and other sculptures from big forest logs, was on hand. Though I didn't hear, I'm pretty sure he was the winner.  I couldn't imagine what he was making in a horizontal format.

I don't have a clue what this gargoyle like creature was but it turned out very good.

Ahaa! Two horizontal blocks of ice became a dog sled, complete with hooded musher hunkered down in back. He even stuck in blue eyes for the dog. Very nice.

The next day, The Fisherman still not feeling all that well, I went up to Day Two of the sled dog races myself. One of the founders of the races at the games is a friend of ours. His sister is also a friend of mine from Bible study. He was racing and his wife was the official time keeper. They needed the two of us Bible study gals to stand at the place where the race trail crossed a maintenance road - to keep the dogs from veering onto the road and to stop any stray vehicle that might wander along. A dozen or so Young Marines were there to help but their numbers were consumed with an especially exuberant dog team I'll show you later.

So Nancy and I drove to the spot where the trail crossed the dirt road and we waited, each of us on either side of the trail. Watching the trail curve around the trees, we waited for the sound of barking dogs at the start line to quiet down. Then we knew a team was on their way. The dogs bark with excited anticipation until they hear their musher tell them to go. Then it's all business and they're off.  Pretty soon we saw a flash of movement around the bend and here came the first team.

And the second...

Then the third, our friend, Ron.

He's getting out of mushing. Has sold or given away all of his dogs. Except for one 14 year old long-retired favorite, Snowflake. He was running a team for another musher and I was glad to be able to see him race for the first time since I've been an Iditarod fan.

This wasn't exactly like the Iditarod mind you. The largest teams run here were only 6-dog teams compared to the Iditarod's 16-dog teams that start out the race. And this race trail was only 4 miles long, not 1000.

And here comes the winning team coming in to the finish.

Eliminating some drag, the musher hunkers down to make it easier on his team to run the last stretch.

Here comes Ron, coming in for the finish.

After the race, it's chow time. "Dog trucks" are fitted with welded on eye bolts all around the truck and dogs are chained up temporarily before and after a race.

Then, it was back into the cozy shelter of their individual boxes.
 Up you go!

Here's a couple of the small sleds that were used that day. Sleds are big enough to carry any equipment needed for safety out on the trail and also large enough to carry a dog inside, should it become tired or injured. On the Iditarod trail, sled bags are often used for a musher to crawl into and catch some sleep when they stop along the way.

Believe it or not, I'm such an Iditarod nerd that I actually know the names of some of the parts of a sled. But I'll spare you the identifying of them. Feel free to just look at the pretty sled in the pretty snow and sunlight.

More tomorrow of snow, sleds, dogs and mushers.

Our Favorite Snowstorm

Writing about last week's snow storm reminded me of our favorite snow storm. It was when I was working at our church. Everyone else on staff had gone home for the day. The snow was coming down heavy. Really heavy. I'd always known that, should there be a bad storm, I could just sleep over at the church. The youth pastor had a couch in his office and I always carried a blanket in my truck. The kitchen had snacks, and even a small arsenal of frozen dinners I'd brought as lunches for the week. The church library was full of books and videos I could use to pass the evening until time to go to sleep. As I looked outside at the heavy snow coming down, I thought this just might be the night I'd actually need to engage this back-up plan.

Inexperienced with snow-driving (and hating it) the prospect of a 20-some mile drive home in a blizzard was just too daunting. I called my husband and told him I was too uncomfortable to drive home, that I thought I should stay in town. There were folks I could have stayed with in town, but frankly, I didn't want to be on the roads at all, not just the highway home. He said he would come get me and take me back into town the next morning for work if I wanted him to. I didn't know what to do. I was worried about him driving in it, too. But, his experience with driving in snow was much broader than mine and he wasn't as scared of it. He said it was up to me.

I hemmed and hawed, not knowing what to do. I had pre-thought this scenario for so long, I thought I was fine with it. But the more I pictured myself alone in the church all night, I got a little nervous. With enough assurance from him that he would be fine on the road and that we'd be fine going home, I took him up on his chivalrous offer.

I anxiously waited for him to drive to me. He got there much sooner than I expected but by the time he arrived, the storm had settled heavily in upon the town. I was anxious about the drive home, wanting to get right on the road as soon as possible. The sooner we got going the sooner we'd be safely back at the cozy home we'd built with our own hands. The home that was toasty warm from the day's fires, waiting to envelop me in security against all the dangers of the storm.

But The Fisherman had another idea. "Hey, let's go to dinner!"

"What? Are you crazy? We need to get home!"

"Ahh, we'll be fine."

I decided to trust his greater experience with snowstorms rather than the fears of my inexperience, the fears that were always ready to over-react to things anyway. Actually, it was quite amazing that I did this, choosing to not trust my fears which always seem so convincing. I decided to trust his evaluation of the storm.

We went to our favorite Chinese restaurant another 6 miles down the road...deeper into the storm. We shared the road with only a handful of other cars. Who else would be so foolish to be out in such a storm? We got to the restaurant and asked for seats by the window. I think there was only one other table occupied with diners in the whole restaurant, and they were nearly ready to leave.

Though I was still a little nervous, I'd let go of the bulk of my fear and had chosen to trust my husband, his judgment and his driving skill.

 To this day, it's our favorite memory of dining at our favorite restaurant. We go to this restaurant on our anniversary, on our birthdays, with friends, with family. But this was our favorite visit. We both love the memory of having nearly the whole place to ourselves and looking out the window at a gentle but heavy snow coming down on the nearly abandoned road.

There's something about's just so quiet. Snow that's not accompanied by wind, that is. It's peaceful, even though it can create threatening conditions. There's nothing like looking out a window at those big, fat, white flakes coming down through the otherwise still air. The cloud cover seems to create a ceiling and all of the outdoors seems as if it's a big room. We love it when we're snug in our own cabin in the woods during one of these quiet snows. But there was just something so special about being in that restaurant for this particular storm. Something about being "caught" in town in the storm. Something about watching the snow fall while eating our favorite food, cozy and safe inside the restaurant. Something about the fact that nearly everyone else in town was already hunkered down at home, leaving the whole town to us. Something about having the whole restaurant to ourselves, the quiet inside matching the quiet outside.

We made it home safe and sound. Walking into our cabin from the cold and the snow is also one of my favorite experiences. Cozy. Warm. Strong and sturdy. Built with our own hands. Our shelter.

And if I don't have to drive in it, I do love the snow.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Storm's Coming

Wow! I can't believe it's been almost a month since I last posted. More than that since I had a real post.

The winds have been blowing here "on the mountain", as they say up here. That means a storm is coming. They've been blowing for 2 days and nights. They blow hard and I generally dislike it very much. They slam into the house and bend the tops of tall pines as their persistence creates both constant and gusting roars ripping through the long pine needles. When we bought our property we had no idea how windy it was up here. We bought in winter and didn't realize that every spring and every fall the winds assault these mountain communities for weeks until the full change of season takes place. And every time there's a storm coming, the winds make their appearance for a couple days preceding.

I'm talking serious winds. Winds that make driving on the highway a tense experience. Winds that send your hair all over creation. Winds that make you lean into them. Winds that shut car doors on your leg, and winds that can rip cold air right through to your bones. After two days of these winds, I went outside tonight and it was...absolutely still. It stopped me in my tracks, the silence, the peace. I exhaled a slow and long breath of relief. I smiled. I sighed. I drank in the sight of motionless treetops. The quiet was beautiful. Ahh.

But, at this time of year, it does mean that this is literally the calm before the storm. It's supposed to snow tonight and all day tomorrow. But we're ready. I filled our water jugs when I was in town Friday. We restocked our wood shed a couple days ago. I pulled the truck in backwards today when I came home. That way we can drive straight out in case the snow is deep. When there's several inches snow on the ground I prefer to drive straight out in Forward rather than backing out in Reverse, even though we have 4-Wheel Drive and it's not that much of a problem.

Fortunately I don't really think the concern is warranted this time. Last night I heard the tail end of a weather forecast for tomorrow that said " the high country. Forecasts call for 8-14 inches of snow." What high country? Our high country? The high country north of us? South of us? West of us? I never could find out but checking the internet today it predicts only 1 inch in our area. That's fine with me! But you never really know for sure whether the forecast will run true. We never really how a storm is going to hit us. Sometimes it's worse than predicted and sometimes it seems to split and go around us entirely.

Last Saturday we'd heard snow was coming in the night. It came early. On our way in going to church as a matter of fact. That's one of the disadvantages of living over 20 miles from town; the weather is often different where we live than in town. It can even be different in different parts of town. And the drive is so long that the weather can change en route. It was barely snowing at our house, just little tee-tiny flakes. On the way to town we ran into rain. By the time we reached the half-way point, the rain was getting slushy. Another couple of miles brought discernible snow. Each mile after that was different. We hit pockets of heavy snow and light snow. By the time we were five miles from town it was downright bad. The plan was to swing by and get a $5 always-ready pizza, go by the drug store to pick up some things, and then head to church further down the road another 8 miles. 2 miles outside of town we were in a blizzard. We knew we needed to turn around and go home. So close, we decided to pick up the pizza and then turn around.

Big, fat, wind-driven snowflakes came flying at us as we drove home. It reminded me of "warp speed" in the original Star Wars movies. The drive home was slow. The roads were still OK - slushy and not iced over yet - but we were concerned about elk in the road. The snow was coming down and blowing so hard our visibility was only about 50 feet. We came home and hunkered down for the night, disappointed that we missed church but very thankful that the snow hit on our way in rather than while we were sitting in church. We would have had it much worse driving home at 8:30 pm if we'd sat in church for an hour and a half while a blizzard quietly raged outside. It's just one of the downsides to living so far from town.

I'll write more soon, to catch up with what's been going on for the last month.