Thursday, March 12, 2009

All On A Winter's Day

I just got back from skiing with my Malamute, Breeze. Breeze and I "skijor" together. With me wearing a wide, padded belt, a towline between us, and Breeze in harness, we can make pretty good time cross-country. But for years I've been using a "Flexi" leash instead of a towline. This is because the Flexi automatically retracts. That way it never gets tangled, I never run over it, and Breeze never steps over it (tangling himself).

Today I was skiing alongside railroad tracks when a deer jumped out of the woods ahead of us.

Breeze bounded forward and popped the Flexi line from the Flexi handle as though it was attached to it with a mere tab of scotch tape. He was off like a shot and there was NO way he would be deterred from getting that deer.

And maybe he wouldn't have had a chance if the deer hadn't doubled back on him... deer are inclined to do -- I've had it told me (and so I'm sure it's true) that though a deer can out sprint most dogs, in the long run it will not outrun them. Hence, it needs to elude them by the trickery of doubling back or jumping fences that the dogs cannot also jump.

Well, whether that's true or not, it would have appeared to be so as I watched Breeze nearly get the deer (They were about 75 yards ahead of me when it looked as though they made contact, so I couldn’t actually tell if Breeze got a piece of the deer) on the deer's first double back.

Then I watched in horror and wonder as the two went up a rise and crossed the railroad tracks and vanished out of sight. I skied for all I was worth to get past that rise that blocked my view of the two of them.

Just as I got to the end of the rise, I saw that the deer and Breeze had found two different breaks in the old fence that lined the harvested cornfield that lay on the other side of the tracks. The deer's break was east of us both, but Breezy had stood his ground, working on navigating a break in the fence much closer to where the two had initially crossed the tracks.

That meant that at exactly the same time the deer turned back to the west again (I don't know why it decided to double back yet again when it didn't work the first time) Breeze had made his way through his break in the fence and was on the deer's heels again.

I watched in amazement. If you'd asked me if a malamute had any chance of keeping up with a deer at a dead run, I wouldn't have hesitated a minute. I would have said an unequivocal "no way".


By the time I tripped out of my skis and made it over the broken down fence to the cornfield, both animals were out of sight. I looked and I called. The field stretches more than a half-mile both ways -- unbroken landscape -- and yet I couldn't see either of them. Even if they were within the range of my sight (they didn't appear to be), the two of them have white tails running both away from me and against a snowy-white background.

Suddenly, almost at the limits of the distance of what I could see, a single dot of brown against that snow white had just turned south that entire half mile away from me. It was moving FAST. It was the deer and it had come to the end of the length of cornfield east to west and was now heading south along a tree line that bordered the field.

And then...

...there he was.


A second dot of brown against snow white broke to the south. Breeze was STILL on that deer's tail. As god is my witness, Breeze was still only about twenty yards behind the deer

And I was a bundle of raw and mixed emotion. I was scared witless as to how I was EVER going to get Breeze to return to me. And yet I was witnessing one of the most beautiful scenes of a dog in action that I have EVER seen.

He was so far away now that I doubted he could even hear my shouts. The nearest cross road -- my second-biggest fear -- was a half mile away. But it was to the south. That's the direction they were headed.

I lost sight of them

I kept walking toward where I last saw them. I kept calling, though I figured that by then I was doing so to no listening dog. Still I walked. Still I called.

I had probably been walking no more than five minutes. But fear stretched those minutes to what felt more like hours.


About a half mile out. Brown/gray dot heading my way. Closer now. Now close enough to see the touch of pink of a lolling tongue. Breeze.

And he was coming directly to me across that field. No veer to the right for an interesting scent. No turn to the left for a look at anything. Just straight across the field -- looking straight at me and smiling all the way -- to a now kneeling and hugely smiling dad, waiting with open arms. I pulled him to me and we rolled over together. Happy dog. Relieved, and now happy dad.

We walked a mile toward home. Then I dropped the skis and put them on again. Our last mile we skijorred home -- this time with the line secured to my belt.

Breeze is nearly asleep beside me as I'm typing this. His side is pushed up against my leg. He's tired and he's content. And I'm relieved.

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