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Archive for the ‘Conservation Canines’ Category

In early December I took a birthday weekend trip up to Seattle to see some missed 4-legged and 2-legged friends. The visit was just what I needed, but I do wish I could have stayed in the fair state of Washington. Waylon felt the same way, as evidenced by his texts the day after I left…

sad Waylon

Where is my Steph?











D’awww I’ll be there next weekend! I’ll cancel Christmas with my family!

Sigh.

Waylon

Ok I’ll have my driver pick you up.
















Thanks for the love, Waylon. I hope you and all my Washington friends had a wonderful Christmas!

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I feel like I always mention how I’m not a fan of change, but I’ve given myself a lifestyle centered on change. I was reminded of that once again the night before last as I slept in a much-loved place: Waylon’s kennel at Pack Forest.

After staying with a good two-legged friend in northern Seattle for a week and a half**, it was time to venture south to visit last fall’s stomping grounds at Pack Forest to see my favorite four-legged friends at Conservation Canines. Like most of the CK-9 Alberta 2013 crew, I was hoping the second year of the study would line up for this winter. Sadly, unless there’s a last minute phone call – which is always possible for this program – our hopes of returning to Alberta are almost gone.

While most of last year’s crew members are spread out around the western U.S., two have been here volunteering at the kennel and training with the dogs. Heath, the program coordinator, is also here, but the kennel just feels so empty. There are supposed to be certain faces here, but it’s almost as though this is how it’s always been around here. As much as Pack Forest will always be Pack Forest, the dogs and people of this program will never be the same as they were last fall.

When I arrived 2 nights ago, I really wanted to just go up to the kennel to see my puppies. However, society recommends socializing with humans before running off to give some canines long overdue lovin’. There was no doubt about it, though: I was going to be sleeping in a kennel like I did so many times during training a year ago.

I think it was around the late break time (11pm) when I finally made it up to the kennel. Chester and Pepsi saw me first, but Waylon got the first official visit. As I opened the door to his kennel, the recognition burst toward me at full force. First he squirmed his way through my legs, asking for body rubs the whole way. Once I was down on his level, he put all his weight into a walking lean against my body, going back and forth saying, “You’re back! You came back!” Of course by this time, the happy “dopey ears” were out. I was doing my best to just give him a good rub down all over.

Once we’d finished the preliminary hello, he did a 180 to pick up his Huckama ball so we could play our ball tug game. You see, there’s not really a way for me to grab this ball, but Waylon thinks it’s a blast for him to have the ball in his mouth and let me try to grab the little portion that I can reach. I pull whatever I can grab, and he playfully growls and bats at my arm as we tug; needless to say he wins more often than not. Still, as soon as he’s won, he’s practically pushing the ball into my hand for me to grab it for another go. For a big yellow lab who’s always been teased as the “grumpy old man,” it’s adorable.

I think it was around 1am when all of the human visiting stopped and I finally made my way up to the kennel for the night. Waylon is one of the lucky dogs who now has some carpet in his kennel, but I still put some pads down for my sleeping cushion. And Waylon promptly claimed them for his own and decided we should play on the pads! I managed to get him off the pads for just long enough to half-lay out my sleeping bag and climb in, and by this time Waylon was in the “take in every possible part of Steph’s scent” mode in which he burrows his head against my chest and keeps nuzzling closer and closer, which happens to be partway inside the sleeping bag. Again, adorable.

By this time it was almost 1:30, and Waylon thought it was time to play again. When I started ignoring the ball in the face and rolled onto my side, he claimed the area in the crook of my bent knees as his bed. Then he rested his head on my legs and – I kid you not – gave a contented sigh. This is about when my heart melted.

The next thing I know, it’s 3am, AKA time to play! By the time we settled down again, Waylon had claimed more of the sleeping pad for himself, thereby scooting me to the edge. Well, let’s be honest, I consider his comfort is more important than my own, so even though I started to shiver because I was practically on cold ground, I did not insist on repositioning. And this time he had his head resting right on my stomach and was rapidly drifting off to dreamland. How could I disturb him?

As I was contentedly lying there, left side shivering and yet refusing to reposition, I realized just how much this dog’s happiness means to me. Waylon’s hips won’t allow him to do any more studies, so he’s retired and needs a home. In my happy mind, ideas began churning. What if I work on a fishing vessel for winter, then “settle” in a place where Waylon could live with me for the next few years?! Sounds great, right? The answer is yes and no.

If I were to change my life like that, all of a sudden I’d have all those expenses I’ve been avoiding. I’d need motorized wheels, a place to stay that allows dogs, and a typical in-town job to pay the bills. Waylon and I would get to be together forever, but I’d be giving up all the freedom my current lifestyle grants. I most likely wouldn’t enjoy my job, and I wouldn’t be free to travel nearly as easily.

So really, for completely selfish reasons, adopting Waylon makes no sense. As much as a little voice is telling me, “You should keep Waylon!” I know it wouldn’t be fair to him or me. He deserves more than life with someone who’s just getting by. He needs a retirement full of belly rubs, wrestling, and playing tug.

So really, I love him too much to seriously think about keeping him. When I leave Pack in a couple days, I’m considering that I could very well be saying goodbye “forever.” I know there are other dogs at Pack and everywhere, but Waylon’s such a big misunderstood goof that he’s won my attention. I mean, I broke trail for him for a winter! If that doesn’t make us friends, I don’t know what will.

I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to say. My thoughts aren’t flowing into eloquently typed words for this topic. Maybe here’s one point:

  1. Because I’ve created a lifestyle of change, I have to let some people or things go, which will never be particularly easy. Perhaps it’s selfish of me to keep moving on in search of the next episode of life. Or perhaps it isn’t. Any wisdom on that one?

    Waylon

    2/3 of Team Purple, Alberta 2013

With such restless thoughts running through my head, it’s a wonder I fell asleep again that night. (Keep in mind I was also shivering.) πŸ™‚ Around 7:00am Waylon let me roll over and climbed on top of me to essentially gave me a ‘bear hug’ for the last half hour of sleep. By 7:30am it was once again play time, and Waylon overwhelmed me with his adorable nuzzling again. I may not have the chance to have him forever, but I have him forΒ  now.

**More to come on my visit to Seattle soon

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What do you mean I have to say goodbye to this face?

puppers

D’awwww

And this face?

Tucker

Tucker!

And this one?

gingers

Ginger buddies

Pardon me, but this sucks!

Pixie

The best sister I could have asked for

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved dogs. I was about 2 years old when my family got our first Shetland Sheepdog. Pixie and I were always best buds. Although she was a family dog, we were the closest – maybe because I was the closest to her size. I could hug her and pet her all I wanted while others didn’t necessarily have the chance. I’d walk her around the neighborhood, chase squirrels up trees with her, patrol the Lake Superior beach for seagulls with her, cuddle with her, and make her a sandwich to open on Christmas morning. I have an older brother, but I was closer to my little sister. πŸ™‚ (Hey, my bro speaks computer, so I think it’s understandable!)

Sadly we put Pixie down in spring of my senior year of high school. My parents, Belgian exchange student, and I left home for the weekend (worst. idea. ever. with a sick dog), and we knew it was time to say goodbye when we returned. Watching my good friends come say bye to Pixie was absolutely awful. As I type this, I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it. The day was a half day of school, and the appointment to take her in was later in the afternoon. With my free hours, I did a lot of crying and lying on the hard floor, just looking at my buddy. I had spent the last 2 nights sleeping on a cot while praying she’d just pass away in her sleep. I didn’t want to make that trip to the vet’s office. Unfortunately, that’s what it came down to. Before we left home, my mom and I carried Pixie on a tour of the house. Having not been allowed on the carpet, she’d basically never seen any of our bedrooms. I carried her to my room and laid her gently on my bed, telling her “my bed is your bed.”

bed

Her bed

Somehow I survived losing Pixie. I drove her to the vet clinic and hugged her for dear life as she faded away. At this point in writing, I’m not too tough to admit that I’m practically sobbing. March 20th makes it 6 years ago, but I will always love my pup.

This story was a horrible way of introducing the end of a field season, but I was thinking about saying bye to these Alberta dogs, and the memories came rushing up. Thankfully none of these 10 dogs are going away in that fashion, but I’ll be leaving them for “home” in just a couple weeks. Since there aren’t many projects in the works, the majority of our crew won’t be staying on for summer, meaning we’re heading separate directions and hoping this wolf, caribou, moose, and deer study will happen again next winter.

Anticipating the end is the roughest part of every field job – at least for me, since I’ve liked every job and crew I’ve been a part of so far. This season has extra poignancy because I have to go from life with 10 dogs to life with none. In my opinion that’s the epitome of depressing. In general I feel I’m a pretty independent person. However, a friend back in AK contradicted me, saying, “You’re dependent on those dogs!”

He does have a point. Dogs are kind of my favorites. When I started dating a friend, my other friends said to him, “Listen, you know how this works, right? First come dogs, then you, then it’s the rest of us.” (You may think it’s sad, but it’s true.) Face it: dogs are cuter, smarter, more forgiving, and happier than humans! Why shouldn’t I love them?

Saying bye to our human team members will be sad, but I think we can essentially all agree that saying bye to the dogs could be the real tearjerker. These pups are amazing; they have the highest work ethic and love their job more than anyone I know! With their charming good looks and sweet personalities, they’re fantastic co-workers.

With that in mind, come morning we’ll be rolling out of camp and on our way to Jasper for the night. But of course that’s only after we try to see the aurora again, drop off a freezer in Edmonton, and drive the snowy roads – you know, the usual for our Alberta crew.Β  Time for road trip adventure part 2. This time it leads back to the kennel at Pack Forest, where we’ll find Pips, Pepsi and …(see below)… waiting for us! (Not to mention Frehley, Buddy/Dexter/Steven, Alli, Annie, and Casey. Oh, and some people like Heath, Bud, and Julie.)

Dozer

Dozer

It’s not time to say bye yet, but that time is creeping closer. I think I need a hug from my ginger bud Chester now.

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As a resident of Alaska, it can sometimes be easy to forget how few people have the chance to see the Northern Lights. Some of my best college memories come from 1AM phone calls from Teri at the other end screeching, “Go outside! The Lights are dancing!!!” Other times our intramural broomball game would end at 12:00AM and rather than heading to bed like responsible students, we’d bundle up in cold weather gear and headlamps for a “midnight hike” to Smith Lake on the UAF trails system. There we’d build igloos, tackle each other in the snow, dog pile, and talk as we watched the Lights until 2:00AM or later. When I lived in my cabin off-campus, I sometimes stayed up late studying in the Honors House (with internet), which left me with a late night bike ride or walk home. It was all worthwhile when I could watch the aurora and belt out music on the short trip.

midnight crew

Time for an adventure on the trails!

No, I really didn’t get that much sleep in my early college years, but it was totally worth it! I enjoyed watching the aurora in a few different places with great friends, but there was one thing I never really tried: aurora photography. What?! The nature photographer didn’t take any aurora shots over the course of 4 winters in Alaska? Nope. To be fair, I didn’t have a quality camera (DSLR) until my senior year, but I could have borrowed one or hung out with photographers. Although it seems like a shame my portfolio lacks aurora shots, my memories trump any pictures I could have snapped. (And that’s saying a lot, because I have seen dancing green, white, red, purple, and pink lights!)

During training in Pack Forest, I heard members of the Alberta CK-9 crew mention their hopes of seeing the aurora while in the field. Since we weren’t heading that far north, I wasn’t really expecting to see it – especially being in an oil camp. Luckily for the others on our crew, God was smiling down on their hopes.

After dinner on March first, part of our crew retired to a trailer to watch “Return of the Jedi” to complete the trilogy. Aurora forecasts were reasonably high, so other folks decided to drive to a more remote area with a clear view in the hopes of seeing the Lights later in the evening. Once I’d finished skyping with Teri and watching the Imperial troops get destroyed by ewoks, I joined 2 more aurora hunting trucks driving north.

Instead of trying to compare the aurora here to what I’d seen before in Alaska, I decided to enjoy the atmosphere of a “first” viewing. A perfect driving song – “Welcome Home, Son” by Radical Face – played as we followed the other truck down the dark road. “We’re rolling out of camp to hunt for the elusive aurora borealis,” narrated Suzie in her David Attenborough impression. Attentiveness to the sky filled the truck, and within minutes, we were rewarded with a streak of light low in the sky.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I really should have volunteered to drive, as Suzie was having minor heart attacks as the lights brightened and danced in the sky. πŸ™‚ As we continued on, the truck that had left camp earlier joined us as we rolled north. “Did you see that explosive display a few minutes ago?” came through over the walkie talkie. Why yes, yes we had seen it, and Suzie had kept us on the road even though she was quite distracted!

Eventually we reached the corner of Pony Creek and Argo Roads, where there was a large clear area for watching the Lights. Different personalities and music preferences broadcasted themselves as we watched what we could see, but the Lights had died down as we’d driven. Even though rap and swearing hadn’t been present in my previous aurora viewing sessions, I ultimately decided maybe that’s what some people enjoy in a peaceful setting like a dark sky and soothing lights.

We moved locations to some lake, which reminded me of Smith Lake and also nothing like Smith Lake. The company was different, it wasn’t nearly as cold, and we had driven rather than walked there. Still, there was a lot of laughter, dancing to keep warm for our 2 hour stay, and light drawing. We had to wait for the Lights to come out again, but that’s part of the aurora experience. You can’t just give up hope and go back to bed!

I had my camera out from the start, and after remembering my Nikon D5000 hates autofocus in the dark, I switched to manual to get in business. I wouldn’t say any of these photos are fantastic, but it was nice to finally give it a try and put my tripod to use. Word on the street is that the Lights may be visible again later this week, so hopefully we’ll get another chance and I can try different settings. Here’s what I got this time:

bench

All bundled up

lights

First attempt, and my exposure was off












aurora

Pretty

light

Not bad considering I guessed on the settings!














late night crew

Aurora Hunters



I learned a few lessons from that night:

  1. Bring a headlamp, silly.
  2. Figure out how to set the focus at infinity.
  3. If necessary, noise (graininess) can be reduced later using Nik Software from the 2011 NANPA conference. Thanks, College Scholarship program!
  4. Don’t worry about the photographs that much because honestly, they’re not going to magically make my millions… unless a howling wolf shows up in the shot… or a lynx catches a hare under the glow of the Lights.

And the last lesson?

Going to bed at 2AM truly is rougher than back in the day, but it’s still worth it.

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In curling, it’s the last end of the game or the “hammer rock in the tenth.” In hockey, we’re deep in the third period. Or for you American goofs, we’re in the fourth quarter or the bottom of the 9th inning. Get the picture? Time is running out, and every second, sweep, shot, interception, fumble, single, and strikeout matters. I guess every scat sample, broken part on the snowmachine, hole in the muskeg, healthy dog, and happy team matters, too.

Even though it’s unreal to us up here, the 2013 Alberta study is quickly coming to an end. As always – for me – it’s bittersweet. Yes, eating some quality ice cream, seeing Dozer, running outside, and having a beer again will be nice. Yet that means this chapter of 2013 will be over. It’s back to the world of buying our own food, paying for housing, and unavoidably spending money. Heck, maybe things will get really crazy and I’ll go see family for the first time in over 2 years!

My freshman year of college was one of the best years of my life. My best friend Teri and I pretty much never wanted it to end, but as the sun started to thaw out frozen Fairbanks, it seemed like friendships loosened up from the deep freeze. Summer was around the corner, and we recognized our group would split for a few months – probably never to be quite the same again.

It’s the same with all my field jobs. As the end nears, I realize I’m not ready for changes or the time to say goodbye. The stress of searching for the next job has been kicking in over the last few weeks. As much fun as seeing all the possibilities is, the actual act of writing cover letters, tweaking the resume, and applying for jobs is generally quite the killjoy.

That’s enough with all this sappy sadness! Although seismic crews are going home for the season, rigs are being pulled out, and temperatures are rising, our work is far from over. We’ll stay here until camp forces us out! We’ve collected over 1000 samples, but there are plenty more out there just waiting to be found. Since we had an unseasonably warm February with no “cold days” (unworkable at below -10F) and temperatures generally between +5 and up to +35F, the ice road conditions grow worse daily. On some roads we’re even dealing with mud rather than just slush! The chances of getting stuck in wet snow, sliding across the slick roads, or breaking through muskeg keep increasing, but we don’t have time for such adventures. Ideally we’ll end up with better access in the next few weeks… via helicopter! There are potentially positive sides to worsening conditions. πŸ™‚

We’ve got just over 2 weeks of work to go, and we’re fighting to the finish. It’s time to enjoy the longer days, take the pictures I’ve been meaning to take for weeks, see the supposedly real wolves and lynx, and bring this winter season to a fantastic end. Time to make the most if it and get the win!


moon

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Oddly enough, I don’t quite know what to write about! I’m not going to start daily updates of my work up here, so I almost feel like I’ve reached a standstill on my usual topics. Historically – except for my last entry – my blog has been about my adventures. Most days here are adventures in some way, but nothing I can go into terrible detail about like I generally do.

For some potentially entertaining reads, visit the Conservation Canines Facebook page to see some of the blogs I’ve written there. If you Like the page, I can guarantee you’ll get some cute pictures in your feed! I’ve listed my blogs in reverse chronological order below (most recent on top):

Why I love Waylon

An Unpredictable Day

Surveying at Last

Scouting in Alberta, eh

I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but almost all the CK9s are rescue dogs. Since they’re such high-energy dogs, owners typically find it too difficult to keep them out of trouble. The dogs want to play all the time; otherwise they easily get bored. How many families can actually afford to play with their dogs all the time? Not too many, based on all the dogs in shelters. Conservation Canines gives dogs with an extreme ball drive the chance to have their dream job: hiking outside and “searching” for their ball. How awesome is that?

To be honest, these dogs aren’t totally right in the head. Don’t get me wrong – they’re completely lovable, but they’re just a little too excited about toys.

Sadie

Notice how she has a Kong in her mouth but she’s waiting for someone to throw her the one on the couch?

Take Sadie, for instance. She is a special case, as she’s also particularly vocal about wanting to play. Up here in Alberta when she’s taken outside to “take a break”, the Kong toy gets left in the trailer. Sometimes it’s placed on the counter, sometimes on top of the fridge, sometimes on the couch, or just on the floor. Regardless of where it is, the instant Sadie is back inside and free from the leash, she either has the Kong in her mouth and is ready to play, or she’s sitting right in front of the out-of-reach Kong, just staring at it until someone grabs it for her. She remembers where we set it every single time. How’s that for being ball-crazed?

Sadie did retire from the program a few years ago, but things didn’t work out with search and rescue work or being returned to her previous owners. Somehow she ended up being dropped off at a shelter with a note saying she needed to be euthanized. She may have been hit by a car at some point, and she was also terribly overweight. Luckily the folks at CK-9s got that memo (after her microchip was checked) and Sadie was brought home to live happily with Liz and Tucker. Now she’s a back-up back-up dog for our work in Alberta.

not excited

“Life is boring. Sigh”

We also have Sampson, a very sweet black lab who was born for this job. When everyone was at WFR training in Oregon, I decided to attempt a long run on the hills of Pack Forest with this easy going guy. I only learned it once we started running, but he’s a dream running buddy! He doesn’t pull or fall behind AND he seemed to want to run on the same surfaces as me. I kid you not, as soon as there was a softer section of road that I thought about moving to, he was already transitioning over!!

Sampson is about as mellow as they come when he’s living at the kennel in Pack. Honestly, there’s not a light on behind those eyes when he’s in there. His whole expression is rather deadpan, and he’ll pretty much do whatever you want. Why is he so great at this job full of play? He has a split personality. Show him a round object, and BAM! You’ve got super Sampson of brute stamina and strength! He’ll plow through anything in his way, and he gets excited about any round object, be it ball or otherwise. I’ve been told that he once got excited by a pumpkin. He may be #1 on our list of overworkers, which many of our dogs are since they just can’t wait for the next time to play ball.

excited

“Life is the best!!”

The last dog I’ll highlight is one everyone has a soft spot for: Chester, the biggest player and lover out there. He and I are ginger buddies, so I have a little extra love for him. πŸ˜‰ Anyone who meets Chester can see why he’s the traveling face of the program. Although he too is a rescue dog, he’s got a personality to woo anyone. Imagine a happy dog’s squirm as it moves toward its owner. Got it? Now magnify that by 10 and add a wagging tail, smiling face, full body wiggle, and regal run. Now you’ve got Chester! No matter who you are, he’s happy to see you. Once you’ve met him, your new purpose in life – should you choose to accept it, which you will – is to love him.

cuddle

He knows how to get comfortable.

stylish

He knows what’s up.












Somehow Chester was labelled as an aggressive dog when he was placed in a shelter. He does have altercations with a chicken and a cat in his history, but he’s as sweet as they come. At wildlife research-related conferences, he can charm everyone while Heath talks about the program. Chester’s personality seems perfect for life as a therapy dog; he’s just so happy to see everyone and will cuddle until he’s blue in the face. And to top it all off, he has a lionesque stance as he gazes across the horizon at his domain. The curve of his tail and the arch of his back just project a lion’s regality.

Way. too. cute.

I could go on about our dogs, but there’s probably more to life than just gushing on how awesome dogs are. My point is that the CK-9 program does wonders for some unfortunate dogs that end up in shelters. There have been times when a dog has been hours away from euthanasia when Heath rushes in, checks out his or her ball drive, and leaves with the dog. Talk about close calls! Unfortunately the program isn’t large enough to save more dogs from euthanasia, but at least it gives a few dogs another shot at life with love and plenty of play. That play time even ultimately helps researchers protect wildlife. Really, does a job get much better than that?

(If you’d like to help out the program by making a tax deductible $15 donation, you’ll not only help us rescue more dogs who can then go help protect wildlife and wild lands, but you’ll also get a desk calendar with pictures from our pooches on projects from the previous year! Email Conservationcanine@gmail.com to order one.)

Thanks to Canyon for the pictures of Sadie and Chester, as well as to Caleb for the pictures of Sampson!

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moon

Outside camp in Alberta

Ahh how familiar winter in Alberta feels to me. Dry air, dry snow, generally little wind, and southerly sunshine. It’s similar to winter in Fairbanks but with many more hours of daylight. Personally I’d prefer to have less daylight; the sun is too bright on my sensitive eyes!

trucks

5 of our 6 steeds

Our trip up here proved to go without incident, for the mostpart. We ended up with multiple nights of late drives for a few reasons.

  1. Obviously a group of 13 field biologists, 9 canines, and 2 snowmachines will be up to no good and should be carefully scrutinized before being given entry into Canada. (the ~ 3 hour wait wasn’t actually all that bad)
  2. Kamloops, British Columbia, has not 1, but 2 Super 8 Motels.
  3. When you’re aΒ  5 truck convoy trying to find a coffee shop in Revelstoke, B .C., it’s impossible to stay together. Even with walkie talkies, we probably lost a good hour just attempting to all gather in one spot to hit the road again!
  4. After our delay in town, we ended up behind an accident on the highway. Eating cereal, pushing each other into the monstrous snow bank, walking from truck to truck, and playing different tunes on the radio helped pass the time as we sat for a couple of hours.
  5. On Canadian highways in winter, apparently there’s no such thing as center dividing lines or road edge lines.Β  Driving slowly is the only safe way to go when driving through snow at night.

We reached our destination a day later than planned due to driving adventures in Edmonton. Our Snowmobile Training course carried on too late into the afternoon (because we had poor directions to reach the course in the first place and therefore had a late start), so we stayed in Edmonton for 2 nights rather than just 1.

As a random side result, we had delicious breakfast at Cora, a Canadian restaurant chain I’m familiar with thanks to past visits to this northern neighbor. Practically every dish comes with a variety of fresh fruit that’s peeled, cut, or sliced before being arranged like artwork. I know I haven’t considered this question seriously enough to give a 100% definite answer, but I think that if I had to eat at one restaurant for the rest of my life, it would be Cora. http://www.chezcora.com/home

breakfast

Where breakfast becomes delectable art

Right after we got up to oil camp, which lies between Lac La Biche and Fort McMurray, our group sadly seemed to break into “the handlers” and “the orienteers.” Instead of housing all of us in trailers separate from the main part of camp, only the handlers and their dogs were set up there. We orienteers were taken to Dorm F, where we each were given our own room amongst the oil workers. True, only parking lot separates our group, but at first it felt strange to be so far apart.

driving

Exploring the roads

For the first 10 days or so, handler/orienteer teams didn’t work together. While handlers set up training exercises and went looking for real field samples to train the dogs on to solidify that scat = ball concept, orienteers headed out on scouting missions. Since 95% of our roads are seasonal ice roads, they change a little from year to year. We were given rough maps from previous years, and it was our job to see which roads actually existed and were drivable. If we found roads that weren’t on the maps, we were to drive those and see where they went. In essence we became modern day explorers! … with trucks… and heat… and dataloggers to track our routes… and ready-made snacks… and more safety gear than you can really imagine. Still, I had a good time because it was my job to drive around corner after corner!

stuck

The ever unpredictable muskeg strikes

The downside to these roads is that they’re built on top of muskeg, which is boggy ground. The main roads are fine to drive on, but it’s hard to know for sure which roads are stable until we’ve heard that thunk and fallen through the muskeg. Just great! Generally if there are only short trees around, the terrain is flat, or we see grass coming up through the road, we probably shouldn’t be driving that road. Unfortunately those are just approximate clues; there is no key to recognizing soft muskeg.

Getting unstuck may include digging parts of the truck frame free, placing branches in front of or behind the tires for traction, calling for another truck to pull the stuck truck out, calling on the radio for any sort of assistance, and sitting pointlessly for hours. No one on our crew has had to spend a night out, but we do have the emergency kits to stay in the trucks overnight. Curling up on a truck seat in a down sleeping bag wouldn’t be that bad; I’ve done it before! πŸ™‚

Once we had scouted most of the roads and the dogs seemed ready to work, the surveys began on January 10! Team Bengali was reunited once again; I had missed having a dog to hang out with in the woods! On day 1 Waylon found us 11 poops. Temperatures hovered around -9F, which is the coldest temp we’re allowed to work at – for the dogs’ sake, not ours. Most of my body was warm, but I remembered just how quickly fingers can get cold. Liner gloves + latex gloves sure don’t cut it for long when I’m collecting scat from the snow and entering data on a touchscreen phone!

poo

The returns of day 1

Maybe this winter I’ll finally allow myself to use some handwarmers as an admission that I’m in fact not a machine with immediate finger rewarming capabilities… maybe. The other option is my usual finger rewarming method of “throwing” my entire arm like I would a baseball to force blood back into the fingers. Kicking an invisible soccer ball does the same trick in getting blood back to the toes. (Assuming I have all my fingers and toes at the end of the season, I’ll report how stubborn I was about not relying on warmers.)

Life has been as standard up here as you can ever expect for fieldwork, meaning plans change every day. Originally we were told we’d be working on a 2 days on – 1 off – 3 days on – 1 off schedule, but teams encounter different situations daily, and some dogs need healing time or more rest. We can’t predict when cold days will happen (cooler than -9F), so those impact our schedule, as well. The schedule really is more like a rough guideline than a norm. πŸ˜‰

Waylon, Brandon, and I have been having a grand ol’ time up here. We don’t necessarily always find scat, which is unfortunate for Waylon because he doesn’t get his ball, but that’s the truth of reality. If we’re in bad habitat with few food sources, the wildlife probably won’t be using that area very much.

road

Not quite wilderness

When monstrous machines are tearing down trees to make new roads, the wildlife probably won’t stick around. Even though most of the time we’re hiking in untouched snow with no sign of human presence, we’re not always walking in the woods up here.

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Sometimes the truth hurts, doesn’t it Waylon?

Waylon

A sleepy Waylon after a hard day’s hike

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