Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What I Learned from 30 Dogs

From February 10-13, I was part of an "Eat, Pray, Mush" retreat with eight College of Saint Benedict alumnae/staffa nd two other Benedictine Sisters. We gathered in the pristine Boundary Waters area near Ely, Minn., where the Wintergreen Lodge guides quickly took us through the "Dos and Don'ts of Dog Sledding." Each day began around 7:30 a.m. when we were enthusiastically greeted by 30 dogs howling for their breakfast. To my surprise, being acknowledged and affirmed was as important as being fed and watered.

Harnessing and selecting a team of five dogs for each two-person sled wasn't simple. Dogs were placed next to dogs with whom they were compatible. Some dogs had to be "top dogs" while others pulled conscientiously without drawing attention to themselves. Some barked as though pleading, "Pick me!" Others got depressed if they weren't chosen. All appreciated being affirmed and thanked.

At the signal, "Hike, Hike!" the dogs took off with the enthusiasm of race horses out of the starting gate! Whenever they found their rhythm, pulling the sled across expansive fields of snow and frozen lakes felt effortless. They were completely focused, on task and enjoying it!

Pulling up steep hills required assistance-- we pumped, or got off the sled to make the climb easier. The dogs could be distracted by something on the trail, the scent of another animal, the need to "eat snow" or mark the territory. No matter how tired they were at the end of the day, the prospect of home revived them and they picked up speed.

It didn't take me long to realize they weren't simply dogs-- they were Curly, Heinzy, Steve, Sparky, Sheila, Elwood, Jupitor, Orion, Matilda, to name a few. Very quickly, bonding with the dogs as we traveled through the stunning winter beauty of Minnesota's forests turned our gathering of 11 women into a community. Thank God for dogs!
photos: (top) Patches (right) with a friend relaxing after the run. (bottom) Sheila getting a belly rub by Teri Carlisano, with Curly and Heinzy in the background.
S. Katherine Kraft talking about the dogs after a 2010 trip:

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