As most of you will know, my very loved Mother, Morna Murray, passed away October 14 at 85 years after a heart attack.
My brother Jim and I have been surrounded by love and support and we are so grateful for it. The kindness of her many friends has been incredible. And it has been so wonderful to hear stories and expressions of love from all those that were a part of her life.
She was definitely a social butterfly - something she did not pass on it me! LOL
She INSISTED that she did not want a funeral, so her closest friends organized a lovely low key Memorial for her last Saturday. She would have loved it so much. All kinds of folks she loved and loved her and so many great stories being told.
My sole contribution to the wonderful day was a slide show. Many asked if I could up load it so they could share it or view in later, so here is a version of it.
The memories these photos represent are my most cherished possessions and she will live forever in them.
Miss you SO MUCH Mom.
'Mark and I did a 'thing' this week. A rather big 'thing' actually ...... we bought a farm!
It's east of the city of Red Deer, near the lovely community of Pine Lake, and it is wonderful. Kind of my 'dream farm'.
I said that to a friend the other day and she said "I thought you already lived on your dream place". Well, in honesty, I do - but different dreams.
When I was a child growing up, 'NorthWapiti' was never something I could have even conceived of - but once I did realize and conceive of it, it became an all-consuming passion. For over 30 years I have eaten, slept and breathed Siberian Huskies, sled dog racing and the Iditarod. And even the last few years not running Iditarod, not racing, I have continued to run dog teams and participate in behind the scene ways in long distance sled dog races. I've have loved and do love it all but something was missing.
It took me a lot of self reflection to figure out that what was missing was some dreams.
I need dreams - I actually think we all need dreams - but me, in particular, *I* need dreams.
This LOVELY piece of land, that still feels so much a piece of soul, is STEEPED in memories. Every corner, every trail has memories. FABULOUS memories that I cherish and adore but memories. Yup, I love my life with my huskies, my border collies, my chickens, etc, etc .....but dreams were missing. Memories were smothering them.
We had 'casually' looked at places for a few years but nothing even held a candle to where we already live....and then a few weeks ago we stepped out of our truck, smack dab into a place that was perfect.
We roamed the property with our jaws hanging open. So beautiful, so tidy, and so full of dreams.
We left the house as the last thing to view and knew we were in 'trouble' the very moment we opened the back door. It is beautiful. Before getting back in our truck we had instructed our realtor to place an offer. This week the offer was accepted and on August 15th it will be ours.
So, what about the Siberians? As you all pretty much know, it has been many years since we had a litter and we have been gradually downsizing. Right now we have 12 Siberians left. Last January I made arrangements for the 5 key 'young' dogs in the kennel. They need to run and contribute to a team in a manner more than I can now offer. They are too nice dogs to simply sit in my yard and age away. The plan was for them to leave in February of '20 so I still had a bit of one more season to enjoy, but that was not to be. They will be leaving in July (and yes, that will be a very, very, very hard day). Bingo will not be asked to move. She is 13 years old, blind, has no sense of smell and is prone to bouts of dementia. I've been stalling on putting her down as it is (and twice already made appointments to have the vet come out that I cancelled at the last minute). I would like to find a home for Rocky. He would LOVE being a house dog and would be a lovely leader for a recreational team. That leaves Turtle, Tramp, See, Smartie and Irving that will be making the move and living out their lives with us. And yes, I am taking one dog sled with me (all the rest have already been sold) so I can putter a bit with them.
So after 30 years, NorthWapiti is closing its doors. I always vowed that the end would be deliberate, thought out, and with what is best for the dogs first. That has always been my commitment to them.
Am I sad? You bet! Unbelievably sad. But it was time. My heart will always belong first and foremost to Siberians - but sometimes loving something means recognizing when it is best to admire it from a distance. I am blessed by the wonderful owners and breeders around the world that own NorthWapiti dogs and will be continuing on the lines for us.
When I started down this LOVELY, challenging, winding, hilly trail - filled with deep valleys and giant peaks - so many years ago, one of my first mentors, Chris Marshall, told me that his time in the breed was over, that he had done what he thought was right for the years he was in the breed and now it was my turn. He said he only hoped that he didn't do anything to harm the breed when it was in his hands.
I hope the same.
Since one of my first memories in life is being curled up on the 'chesterfield' with my Dad watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon - and in the years since I've spent A LOT of time alone (ish) with the night sky - I'm kind of a Space Nerd.
So I was excited this morning to see a trailer for the new movie 'First Man'.
There was also a quote in the trailer that I LOVED and that reminded me of some stuff that happened when I was at Jamie Gardner's fabulous Sheep Camp weekend a week back.
The quote, credited to Neil Armstrong was -
‘We need to fail down here so we don’t fail up there.’
At Sheep Camp it puzzled me to hear people complaining that their dogs were acting badly in training sessions. What more perfect place is there for a dog to mess up and show its issues than at a training camp surrounded by supportive Clinicians with years of experience? It would be a total waste of time for participants and Clinicians alike if you were to go to such a camp and have your dog behave perfectly. Wouldn't it? I am frustrated in a training situation when everything goes RIGHT! Failing is part of learning, isn't it?
Transitioning my thoughts and beliefs from the sled dog world to the sheep dog world is taking some time, but gradually I am getting my feet under me and learning to see and apply the things I held true as a musher to my border collies.
Thanks to the influence of Jamie Nelson, I've LONG been a proponent with my sled dogs that training is training and if no training opportunities present on a training run, you really didn't accomplish much.
So, if your dog runs perfectly at a Clinic, did you really get your money's worth?
I've even been known to set up training opportunities for sled dogs.
Probably my best example of that is the year that my team - which is well trained to eat like wolves and does so at every opportunity - figured out that abandoned camping spots along the Iditarod Trail were great sources of leftovers (not all sled dogs excel at their 'eating like starving wolves training' like mine did). They spent the entire race running from camping spot to camping spot where they would dive into straw piles and rummage around despite my loud, colourful and ignored objections.
I was not a happy musher.
So, once home I emptied the truck dog boxes of straw, hauled it onto the trail and made it look like a cross between an Iditarod camping spot and a Golden Corral buffet. It took a LOT of time to get by that spot (and another like it I also set up) the first time but I was TRAINING and getting by it was my only goal for the day. But the next day was better and the next day better than that. By my next Iditarod they could pass camping spots well.
In the sheep dog world I am still a LONG way from having to set up training opportunities - they present on a regular basis - but when they don't, I hope that I still see the value, am able to embrace them or even create them!
The 'critter count' here at NorthWapiti grew a little 10 days ago. Nope - no puppies, no chicks, no kittens - and we don't count bees. There are, by my calculations, 1.4 million of them here (no, I'm not kidding 24 hives of about 60,000 bees each) .... Our 'critter count' grew by THREE.
Meet - Parsley
Why ducks, you ask?
Well, our gorgeous piece of property in the Tawatinaw Valley, which we love dearly and has been more than ideal for us for the last 19 years, is just not suitable for sheep.
Being in a river valley, the ground is mostly sand with pines, lichen, and scrubby brush.
While we could clear out a corral, feed year round and haul the sheep somewhere to properly work them, that really is not fair to my husband, sheep and this lovely piece of land.
We looked pretty seriously at moving, but to be bluntly honest, dog bylaws in the province have gotten so out of control that to leave a place that we know is accepting and supportive of our dwindling, but still important to me, sled dogs would be insane.
So things were in limbo..... until Twig and I went out to do a sheep herding demo with some friends in a nearby town.
Gisela, another herding friend, was doing a demo with her border collies and ducks after our sheep demo. It was the first time I had actually watched dogs working ducks. It got gears really turning.
I talked to a few folks about it and just over a week later Bet and I were picking up our new ducks.
They are Indian Runner/Peking Duck crosses from my friend Jill. Jill uses them for herding in addition to her sheep and has some lovely working dogs.
You can see a video of Jill doing a 'duck demo' here .
We set up the pen we used for the chickens last year with a dog house, a 'pond' and the likes. They seem to be enjoying the set up and are settling in well.
Got to say, I'm enchanted. They are ADORABLE.
Twig is also enchanted. They are HERDABLE.
Zac says 'They are not sheep'. He refuses to look at them, but I can get him to move around them so they go where I need them too.
Bet gets so excited around them I think she pees alittle - not that she'd admit it.
Stay tuned - new adventures on the way!!!
The other day I was puttering around the Tawatinaw River valley with my lovely nieces and a small herd of dogs that were loving splashing in the water on a warm summer day.
We headed up to one of my favourite ridges where I often sit and watch clouds roll across the valley and immediately I noticed something bright orange sitting along the ridge line. I muttered under my breath thinking someone had left some garbage up there but was silenced quickly when I realized it was a memorial marker.
That afternoon at the hairdresser I Googled the name on the rock and found a lovely obituary for a man close to my age that had some struggles in life, but seems to love and be loved well. One of the things he loved was this valley.
I roam this bit of the Tawatinaw valley on a daily basis and there is not much of our 160 acres of land and the land surrounding it that has not been touched by my footprints, sled runners, my snowshoes, quad tracks, bike tires, and the paw prints of a dog or two or four or 16 that seem to always be tagging along with me. My love for this spot began the moment I first set foot on it, as many can attain, and hasn’t waned even a touch in the 19 years since.
It is extremely rare that I run into other people in the valley, but sometimes I find signs of their presence - empty beer bottles (which disgust me), smashed bits of vehicles that folks tried to squish down trails intentional keep too narrow to accommodate them, footprints, crayfish traps, remnants of fires thankfully well put out, and images from our game camera.
And then there are the signs of those that inhabited it in a different generation - graves (at least 4 scattered around the property), fragments of old bottles and metal that sometimes work their way up to the surface of well worn trails, old house sites with their dug out basements/cold storage spots, and the likes.
And, of course, the signs of the MANY animals that have and do call this area their home - moose, deer, bear, coyotes, wolves, cougars, fishers, bobcat, lynx, skunk, porcupine, rabbits, eagles, herons, foxes, elk, beavers, otters, and many smaller critters have all been documented on the property.
And if you have sat in my infamous ‘Chairs’ out along the trail, you were in the presence of the ashes of many amazing sled dogs - and some truly awesome pets - that have shared my life.
As much as I think of it as ‘my’ corner of the world, it is not. I am just one of thousands and thousands of souls that have been connected to this land and will be connected to it in the future..
Years ago I ran into a lady whose Great Uncle lived in the area. We did the ‘where did he live?’, ‘where do you live?’ Game and it turns out we were talking about the very same place. He lived here during the Depression and passed along the fact that his young brother contracted an illness and died here - one of the small graves, I’d suspect. I wish we had kept in touch and I could have found out more.
I know brief tidbits of the valley, like the story from the woman I ran into and some of the older folks that lived in the area and berry picked down here their whole life. Stories of fires, stories of going to school, stories of the old shingle factory, crossing the Tawatinaw with oxen and wagons heading to settle the Peace Country… The folks we bought the property from had grand plans cut short by his heart attack and death here (the lilac in front of the house was planted in his memory by his children). A few years back a Mother and daughter stopped in to see the place. The daughter had fond memories of picking blueberries out here with her Grandma. She reported that Joyce had sadly passed a few years back. I told her she was welcome out any time to pick berries.
Connection to land is special thing. I am grateful to have experienced it and have that thread of community that runs behind, through and eventually beyond me via it.
I doubt I’ll spend my whole life here. It feels like there are still new adventures out there for me and different landscapes to love and explore but for the time I’m here, I’m going to love it as it deserves to be loved - and when I leave, like Tom Parker, a bit of me will likely stay behind.
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A few months or so back my dear friend Kristin Fox asked if I would be a KeyNote speaker for her at a Women’s Business Conference she was organizing with her new company FinFoundHer in Chicago.
To be honest, I was thinking mostly of deep dish pizza, popcorn and some long overdue time visiting with a few of my friends fondly known as the ‘Minions’.
Kristin has long been gently pushing me to combine my Iditarod experiences with my ‘pre sled dog’ life as a business woman and do this kind of thing. While I appreciate her kind prodding, I generally get distracted by a dog, a sheep, chicken or something like that because those things are now my ‘comfort zone’. But I’m always poking people to step outside their comfort zones, so it was likely time I put up or shut up.
As time got closer I began to put some thought into exactly what I was going to speak on.
I eventually turned to the Bio that another friend, Heather Walls, wrote up and sent to Kristin for me while I was up in Alaska judging Iditarod in March.
“Wow. I’d like to know that woman”, I thought as I read it over. “She sounds cool.”
My stomach flipped when it occurred to me that it was MY bio I was reading.
“Am I really that person?”
Heather hadn’t spoke at all out of turn, I HAD done all the things she mentioned - and I had read and approved the Bio before it was sent out, but I guess I was focusing on the correctness of the statements rather than a big picture.
I guess I tend to think more of myself fumbling and figuring out her way on a herding trial field or chasing a chicken around a pen trying to sort out how I’m going to catch it than the woman in that bio.
BUT, I do pride myself in figuring out ways to rise to the occasion when I get myself into ‘situations’ - and I was going to do my best to do that this time. Mostly, I think because I didn’t want to let Kristin down or make Heather appear like a liar.
So I fleshed out a presentation and then I fussed and fussed and fussed some more over it.
Yeah, I’ve done lots of presentations and public speaking over the years, but mostly I’m speaking to dog people telling the story of my life. I know that subject matter well. It is my comfort zone.
This was not but I put some slides and thoughts together that I thought was decent.
I was feeling good about it all till Saturday night when I went down to the Conference to meet up with Kristin. I walked into the building and realized that these women were not my people. There was not a dog or a chicken to be found.
I drank a number of margaritas at dinner that night trying to distract myself from the commitment I had made for the next day (well, and also because they were super tasty and washed down well the most excellent Mexican food we were eating).
The next morning I was up early flipping slides and running over my notes on the concepts I had put together. By the time we got downtown my stomach was in a knot.
I stepped up to the podium to face these beautiful, strong, confident women feeling like a total fraud but if I was going down, I was going to go in a blaze.
I was as nervous as I’ve ever been at a presentation as I began to speak. Would these women understand what I was trying to explain with pictures and stories of fluffy dogs, dead moose and snowstorms????
I noticed a few writing notes as I spoke and prayed they were not writing grocery lists or reminding themselves to book a hair appointment next week.
But no, it seemed like they were actually ENGAGED and interested!!
I took a deep breath and finally felt my stomach and shoulders relax a bit.
The presentation wrapped up and there was that TERRIFYING moment of truth - “Are there any questions?”.
Hands shot up everywhere.
Please don’t let them ask how I pee on the trail, I thought.
Not that that isn’t a valid question, I get asked it all the time and don’t mind answering but I wanted them to have got the concepts of building teamwork and teaching leadership that I had been trying to pass along.
AND THEY DID!!! The questions were TREMENDOUS.
I was so relieved and it was SO GRATIFYING!!!
My thanks to all that took the time to tell me how much they enjoyed the presentation and that they felt they got ideas that they could take away and use in their work. I can’t begin to say what that meant to me.
So, when was the last time you did something for the first time?
You should get on it!!!!!!!