Dog Sledding Through Social Issues

Photos of bouncy happy dogs ended up in my Twitter feed one day. Who can resist photos of happy dogs? It was Blair Braverman’s feed — they were sled dogs, and she had written a book, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Eventually I bought it and, a further eventually, I read it.

Great decision. Not only is Braverman a dogsledder with interesting Arctic experiences that developed her skills and interests, but she is clearly a writer as well. I would read beautiful sentences or note how she skillfully alternated between timelines and I would be increasingly impressed. Then it was revealed that her first year out of high school she had a capstone-type project of writing a novel and that her undergraduate degree was in English or journalism or something similar. “There we go,” I thought. “Now I see how this all came together.”

In writing about falling into a pit during a race and then getting back out:

“And [the dogs] were so happy, every muscle in their bodies bounding with excitement, smiles wide, not wolves at all–they were sled dogs, and it was a perfect ten below, and there was nothing in the whole world as fun as running and racing and tumbling into pits and getting out of them again.”

pg 270

Oh, to be sled dogs!

“The noontime sunset cast the water in shadow but lit the mountaintops gold.”

pg 263

“Our breath trailed behind us like footprints.”

pg 67

But, as beautiful as the descriptions of working with the dogs, of Norway, and of the glacier in Alaska, were, this book was a tough read for me. I was not entirely prepared for it, despite the subtitle that starts out Chasing Fear. Braverman uses her skills as a writer to perfectly capture, in all its nuances and manipulation, what women face all the time when dealing with men.

Immediately, I was thrown back into my own “normal” experiences as a woman when some men have thought they were entitled to my space, my body, and my decisions:

  • The guy my first night of college who thought it was perfectly fine to crawl into my dorm room twin bed. Luckily he was too drunk to be too much of a threat.
  • The coworker who would sit and watch me doing a task and make suggestive sounds and motions repeatedly and I was too young to really know how to handle it. I have randomly pondered how it was that someone from the company eventually came to interview me privately if this had been going on. And during the interview, as professionally and kindly as it was handled, I experienced a weird guilt and embarrassment?! It was only years later that I realized that one of the chefs had probably reported it, putting his neck out for me. (Sexual harassment reporting was fairly new at the time and he was African American and I and the harassing co-worker were white – I think there would have been social dynamics he must have considered before he reported it for me.)*
  • The paramedic who would always follow me out to the bay at night when I put my turnout gear next to the ambulance, even when I specifically waited until he was not in the room to see me leave to do so. I eventually just quit volunteering with that shift.
  • The guy I was semi-dating who, when I suggested we go for a run at my favorite park, agreed but then never got out of the truck and instead wanted to make out. When I called him on it, I said, “When I said I wanted to go for a run, that’s what I meant.” He just laughed and said, “I know.” He’s also the one who suggested that we do some martial arts practice together and then came out of the changing room stark naked. Semi-dating turned into no interaction. We eventually became friends again and to this day he randomly tells me he has always loved me. I actually believe him. But, how do you trust someone when the relationship begins like that, before it is even a relationship? The confusing part is that he has other great qualities.

Braverman captures that aspect well, too–how these kinds of interactions (and worse) make women doubt ourselves and leave us with a sense of confusion and shame that does not belong to us.

Although I was not prepared for it in her book, it is important. These misogynic/disdain-for-women-as-full-humans secrets should be dragged out into the light.

Another thread gently and unobtrusively woven throughout the narrative addresses how we care for each other as a society and in community.

Around the same time I started the book, we were having Gene Nichol as a guest lecturer at my place of work and he was speaking about his book The Faces of Poverty in North Carolina. I was quickly trying to read his book before the lecture. In it, he writes of the devastating poverty that exists in our state while our state and local governments and our general population make a studied effort to be totally blind to it. So, at the same time that Nichol’s words were ripping out my gut and dragging my battered heart along behind it, I was reading Braverman casually mention that in Norway,

“. . . their poverty was less about need than class, less about money than the facts that they were both northern and rural.”

pg 19

The immediacy of the contrast, coupled with my own personal experience in the past of seeing how easily we cast off people, brought me to tears. Why do we do this here? Why are we so committed to not caring for one another?

Braverman does not spend a lot of time on the formal social support systems in Norway, but woven throughout the narrative is her experience getting to know Arild, the local shopkeeper in a northern rural part of Norway. In the rural areas, it has long been the social role of the shopkeeper to be an additional safety net. The shopkeeper knows everyone in the area and checks in on people if they had not been seen in a while or are generally homebound. While Braverman was living there, she saw that this included the local alcoholic. They never let him go hungry. They made him use his own funds for the alcohol and, when he ran out each month, he ran out. But, they never let him go hungry or unseen.

Over the course of the book, it seems that she may be suggesting that this tradition is fading as modern life continues to creep into the livelihoods and ways of those in rural areas. But her descriptions of the role Arild played are a glimpse into how communities can care for each other, even when the shopkeeper is just as human and imperfect as the rest of us.

“During visits [traveling out and around] he kept careful track of what people needed, whether it was a new belt or a refrigerator or just human company, and he did what he could do to provide it.”

pg 40

* Yes, there is anonymous reporting, I believe. But, the location I was cornered into to do my work would have been in the line of sight of only one person. If I figured it out when I thought about it enough, so could anyone receiving the report or learning of it. I never told anyone about the company interviewing me, mainly because, again, I was embarrassed that any of it had occurred in the first place. Now, I am glad I never told anyone, for this other reason. And, if it was him, I wish he would know he did the right thing and that I am grateful.

Grandma’s Puppy Camp

I am dogs-cat-bunny-and-puppy sitting for my daughter.

I am happy to report that New Puppy flies in and out of their dog door with no problem. She also pees and poops outside happily and regularly. But, New Puppy does not seem particularly concerned about also peeing inside.

As a little background, I was not allowed to have pets growing up. Thus, the start of my adult life proceeded through the following rapid sequence: graduated from college in May, first career-type job started in July, rented my first post-college apartment, went to the animal shelter and adopted a puppy. I have basically had dogs ever since.

At first, I only adopted puppies. But, when my young daughter’s beloved Black Cat died, I was regularly checking the kitten status at the shelter. I had been told that “kitten season” was delayed because of the cooler weather. On one of these stop-bys, there were still no kittens, but I immediately fell in love with a 5-year-old Coton de Tulear dog. (We did eventually get a kitten too, the one who grew up to be White Cat.) Oh. My. Goodness! I had no idea how much easier life could be if you adopted an adult dog who was already housebroken!

After Little Dog passed on, there was a puppy adoption again. Then, my two current dogs were adopted as adults.

So, it is not surprising that my daughter’s first two dogs of her own have been adopted as adults. She is amazing with animals and, of course, she got to experience housebreaking the puppy we got while she lived at home.

But, life is kind of busy with a 1-year-old and 3-year-old and both parents working and life, and they have only had New Puppy for about two weeks now.

The best way I have found to housebreak a puppy is to use a crate when you are not home or cannot watch them like a hawk. If they are out of the crate, confine them to the room that has the doggy door and don’t take your eye off them. The second they start to sniff for a pee spot or squat, one sharp “no” and hustle them out the doggy door (with lots of praise and love when they finish outside).

New Puppy and I were doing pretty good with the peeing because she generally wanted to stay in the same room with me. But, after I fed her, I knew she was going to need to poop — and dogs are notorious for seeking a bit of privacy when pooping inside a home. Looking around, I realized I could slide the couch down to block one doorway and slide her crate down to block the other doorway.

So, here we sit. In this one room, all together. Of course, all three dogs seem to be happiest right around my feet and Gentle Giant sits and pants his hot breath right across my hands on the keyboard.

We only have about 30 hours left of Grandma’s Puppy Camp, but I figure whatever progress New Puppy can make in that amount of time is probably the best gift I can give to my daughter and her whole family right now. (Plus, I am kind of sick, so the sacrifice is not that big.)

Wish us luck!


New Puppy did great in the remaining 30 hours. No start-to-have-an-accident episodes at all. Hopefully, the little bit of additional learning she achieved will stick and transfer once regular life resumes and she again has freer roaming privileges.

In the Middle of It All

I am one of those people – the ones who significantly rearrange furniture within rooms and between rooms on a recurring basis. I don’t know what drives other people to do this, but for me, no matter how often I am sure I have the most functional arrangement, there always comes a time when there is a better arrangement.

Saturday was that time.

An example of the reasoning behind the changes: I set up a room for the grandkids immediately when I moved in. That was on the main floor. I set up my bedroom in the basement room (a very nice room that was cooler in the summers). I told myself that when the grandkids slept over, it would be just fine. I would get a baby monitor so I could hear if they needed me and I told myself that adults sleep on different floors than children all the time. Yep. I couldn’t do it. I could not bring myself to sleep in my room on a entirely different floor when they had sleepovers. That meant I wasn’t getting great sleep on those nights. So, even though I loved my library/study as it was, with a lovely alcove window facing the wooded area behind the house, one of the changes was to move my bedroom up to the main floor. And, if you move your bedroom into the study, you must move the computer and recliner out. And so it goes.

As I was heaving and pushing and carrying things hither and thither, my two 65-pounds dogs were always lounging smack dab in the way. I was musing to myself why this might be and I realized that they wanted to be near me but I was constantly in motion. The best solution, for them, was to take up posts in the middle of it all – at the focus.

Which made me think of my childhood. My mother was always complaining that my brothers and I would literally sit in the interior doorways of our house. She complained because we were in the way when other people wanted to be in motion. We would sit crosswise in the doorway, feet propped against one doorjamb and back braced against the opposite one. Sometimes we were there chatting, sometimes that was where we chose to read a book, sometimes we were just there. We did not have a TV when I was growing up (a choice my parents made) and Nintendo was just barely coming out (one of my brothers eventually saved up enough money to buy his own). So, if we were not at school, in the neighborhood, in the woods, working, or out and about and, therefore, were inside the house, I guess we just wanted to be in the middle of it all. At least, during the day.

PS I am quite happy with the new arrangement of the house. Stay tuned for the next rearrangement!