When we’re mushing, the dogs are harnessed with a single lead-section gang line and are kept together by a neck line. Jazz, my older dog, used to lead on a recreational team back in Tennessee. (Yes, there are dog teams in Tennessee. They run with wheeled carts most of the year.) So, when he’s in harness, he’s serious. Head down, shoulders taut, gait as steady as a metronome. Annie is a different story altogether. As far as outdoor sports go, she’s more like a sorority girl in a brand new Patagonia jacket. When given the call to take off, she bolts as if we were on a sprint line. Jazz can barely keep up with her. I always search around with my headlight, trying to find the deer she’s chasing, but there never is one; she just loves to take off.
I worked up a sweat jogging behind them. Then we came to a road with a slight downhill. That’s when it happened. They took off, using the grade for momentum. For half a mile or more, I was just along for the ride. At first I held on for dear life. When I had gotten used to the speed, I relaxed, stood back on the runners, and closed my eyes. Time and space seemed to disappear. The whole world was just the snow that passed us in the glow of the lantern. Everything around us was dark and still. There was no noise in the world but the padding of the dogs’ feet on whiteness and the slide of the runners on ice. No one cheered. No one barked.
I opened my eyes to see their heads bobbing in the yellow light as they loped ahead of me. The road forked and I yelled out a “Gee!” and Jazz, ever the professional, turned himself and Annie to the right. “Home for treats!” I yelled, and they picked up speed as they headed toward the garage. They slowed to a trot and I started kicking again, all of us panting and exhausted. We trudged back into the light of the garage and went through the business of stepping out of harnesses and shaking the melting snow out of our coats.
Together, the three of us made our way into the kitchen. The dogs lapped water from their big blue bowl and I put on a pot of coffee. The rest of the evening was devoted to hot beverages and library-borrowed documentaries— perfect. Annie fell asleep at my feet, and Jazz joined me on th e couch with his head on my lap. I scratched his ears while listening to Shelby Foote talk about Harpers Ferry, and tried to understand what anyone does with a cat.