Thursday, 13 October 2005

October 13, 2005 Hallowed Ground

The last few runs I've scaled back the mileage a bit as 'The Moms' (Kara and Nahanni) are back in harness and not quite ready to do the 20-mile runs the Main String was doing.

So, aiming for a run in the 15-mile neighbourhood, I headed off towards Perryvale. One of my favourite runs cuts along the highway ditch, then dips into the woods on a hilly, windy, wonderful trail that drops you out near the Perryvale dump - excuse me - the Perryvale Waste Transfer station. Backwoods as Perryvale may be - we are environmental conscious!  Across from the dump is the Perryvale Cemetery - a wooded spot that I think would be a lovely place to spend eternity.

As I was watering my leaders, Olena and Hilda (who have gotten over their hatred of each other and actually now seem to enjoy running together), I noticed a new grave in the cemetery and decided to wander over and see if it was anyone I knew. It was only a few feet away and I could easily keep an eye on the dogs. I opened the small people gate and checked out the marker. It was a name I knew from the neighbourhood, but not one I could put a 'face' to. I spend a moment paying my respects anyway. The grave was covered in slightly wilted roses, pine boughs and even an antler shed - very beautiful, actually.

The only time I've visited the Cemetery was during breaks on training runs. Each time I slip in, I vow to come back and really take a look around. It is really a special place. Unlike the huge cemetery my Dad is in in Calgary, this one obviously has no rules about leaving flowers or gifts on the graves. Fresh, wilted, dead or plastic - the flowers speak lovingly of the people buried there. The child's toy resting on one grave is a poignant tribute - the garden gnome next to another endearing (or creepy, depending on your view of garden gnomes). Some of the graves there date back over 100 years. It is hard not to wonder about the lives and stories that go along with each marker.

I was never far from the dogs and they stood relatively patiently the whole time watching me, but the 10 minutes I spend wandering was alittle too long. As I watered the other dogs, Olena started to get herself all worked up. All the rest of the dogs and I know that Olena worked up is a frightening thing. As I put away the watering jugs and bucket, she started barking and fussing. By the time I was ready to go, her eyes were flashing and sparks of fire shooting from her nose.

Olena - Always ready to go
(Click for a larger version)

I wanted her to swing the team around in a tight circle so we could head back the way we had come. Needing her undivided attention to make her understand what I wanted, I called her name. Her head snapped around and she shot me a sharp salute - "Reporting for duty" - but her attention lasted a nanosecond before she just started trying to guess what I wanted. She swung to the right, then left - a nervous Hilda tried to keep up with her. I told Olena to "Stop" - she did and I gave the 'Haw' command. She shot around to the left and I gave a second command to bring her all the way around, quite pleased at how well this was going. Silly me. At the last second Ollie's focus snapped - she stopped, pondered the situation for a second, decided there was no way this was really what I wanted and darted right - straight under the gate and into the cemetery.

Now, a stretched gangline has a lot of power to it. Martin Buser has a great story about stripping a windshield, rear view mirror and other accessories off of a snowmachine that an unwitting driver parked on the inside of a turn he was maneuvering a big string of dogs around. Just a few weeks back, I flipped over our ½ full horse-watering trough when my young leaders tried to follow Mark's team down a different trail. I was fully aware of all that as I watched my leaders heading for the once peaceful cemetery. I was horrified at what could happen here - visions of tombstones toppling like dominos ran through my head.

Thankfully, the dogs hit the limits of the gangline about a foot away from the first headstone. I let out the breath I had been holding tightly onto. It took a few minutes to drag the Evil One back under the gate, straighten out the team and get everyone pointed in the proper direction. Olena was still vibrating with energy, but I held on tight to her collar, looked into her eyes and told her to 'Settle'. That lasted long enough for us to get back underway and moving was really all Devil Dog needed to do.


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