“Did seeing them make you doubt your whole life?”
We’d just spent an hour in an exuberance festival created by Kristin and Andy Pace, co-owners of Hey!Moose Kennel, twenty-somethings who take turns racing their sled dogs in the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod.
“Yeah, kind of.”
They talked about training their dogs to be happy and fearless by taking them on trips to new places and setting off into scary situations. The day with terrible wind and cold is the day you want to stay in, Kristin told us, but that’s the day you have to go out because you want to teach the dogs that everything they encounter is fun. Ice, wind, summits, rivers, everything. It all has to be fun.
I thought about our kids and wondered if they would have been happier if I’d run them in sleet, metaphorically speaking, although a couple of them would claim that I did. In any event, the concept of happiness being the principle means by which a dog or a person can overcome extreme adversity is pretty intriguing. How would one become that persistently happy? Practice, the Paces would say. And then they add, “We weren’t just training the dogs.”
I sighed. When I was in my twenties, my life was an angst festival, one problem I created after another. Life was a hair shirt with happiness something I’d already lost and probably wouldn’t find again. Back then, I thought happiness was a destination.
They showed us film of a stretch of the Yukon Quest that was accidentally taken by a camera on Kristin Pace’s parka that she thought had died because of the cold. In the clip, her dog team is at a standstill on a massive, very steep slope. She has already come probably half the way up to the summit but her team is at a standstill, the lead dog turning to the right, other dogs deciding to lie down. She is discouraged and crying, sobbing she says. She anchors her sled with two snow hooks and then goes to the front where she pets the lead dog, caressing his face and his ears. She tells us then that her lead dog told her he didn’t want to lead anymore and so she unhooked him as lead and moved a swing dog into his place. And the new lead dog aimed himself at the summit at started moving. He saved the team, she said. His name was Littlehead.
“You can’t teach dogs to turn around,” she said. “Turning around is something you just don’t do.”
I took my phone out of my pocket and wrote those words in an email to myself. Turning around is something you just don’t do.