I realized something recently. That I had been walking through the dogyard, and not talking to Nibbler. That I had been moving fast and seeing only bowls or dog poo, seeing the water buckets or worn chains. I had not been seeing the dogs.
A shift in the time of year made me look up more. I greeted each dog individually. I let Hawkeye put his paws on my shoulders, I played with Foreman, I gave respectful nose kisses to Ia. I braced myself as Wembley punched my stomach with her strong legs, I sat on Inferno’s house with him leaning into my lap, his head under my arm. As for Nibbler, I stood quietly and let her lean her long body towards me, as I gently stroked her forehead.
The dogs in the summer continue to reveal parts of their personalities. Ia stands completely still, reserving her energy and never moving quickly enough to break into a pant. Bayley is a chaotic mess of dirt and movement. Foreman and Wembley grind matching trenches into their circles from their fast paced energy. Hyside rests in a perfectly-shaped depression next to his house. Ariel digs holes that Maihi would have been proud of, and Ellie spends a lot of time napping on her roof.
The trust between us all continues to build and bond. It started with noticing how Taz will look up at me, after I fill his bowl and before he eats, a thank you and greeting. I started saying 'you're welcome' each time. Recently, I've noticed that Foreman, less consistently, offers the same devoted look. During the winter and training season, the caring and trust that passes among myself and the dogs is obvious, as I lift them into boxes, rub down their paws and joints, and thank them for the work they do. It is less obvious in the summer, but still part of our lives.
Instead of rushing through chores, I began to have those long conversations about the winter to come. I talked to Oriana and Paolo about the possibility of adventures, picturing them in the team with their ears forward. I asked Hilde what she thought about spending more time in front of the team. I watched Inferno bounce around his circle, trying to translate that into a harnessed juggernaut of momentum.
The team will be different this year, and I feel that shift in the dogyard now. I am curious about how the yearlings will do, I am curious about how some of the younger dogs will step up to lead. I am curious about what the team will feel like as long time team members like Taz and Bayley turn seven, and some of the original heart of the team continue to retire out, as I said goodbye to Thai, Maihi and soon to Gunnar.
For the young dogs, I invite them to trust in me and try new things. For the dogs in their sophomore or junior years, I ask them to join me in becoming stronger and more confident. For the dogs in their last years of racing, I hold them close and give deep thanks for the thousands of miles we’ve traveled and for the miles still to come.
For everyone, I know the winter ahead promises so much. There are many unknowns: will it snow? Will it grow cold and the ground freeze? There are also many knowns: that we will have adventures, that we will travel far and wide and cover so many miles, and that, throughout it all, we will all take care of one another.
I can feel all of those promises threading throughout the dogyard now. Even though we won’t be starting until October 1st, the shift towards the start of the season has begun.
And, yes, I have been thinking about what races we might enter. About returning to the Midwest and returning to Fort Kent. In what way that will happen, in what classes or races or whatever we end up entering, that is still to be decided. The team, as always, is a small one of 16 dogs, and three of them are yearlings in their first young year of racing. But the hope is to return to the Midwest and to return to Fort Kent. The rest, well, it is only August.