Sunday, December 1, 2013

early winter, a wayward ash bucket, and them dogs in a shed: a diary from the upper peninsula

Now this week, here. Enveloped in snow and cold. This morning hearing the wind. The very sound and wail of cold as it wraps around the cabin seeking a way in. Winter falls like a shroud with deep folds. It is dark here, only dim light coming through. It takes a minute or two to get used to, then the comfort of the shroud takes hold. The quiet of it, the stillness of it, the way it eases the eye. The wind has stripped all but the evergreens, and the snow has buried the duff. Now only bones and needles. And, surprisingly enough, apples.

There is nothing better for solitude than early winter. I used to think solitude romantic, but I have been made aware that I see many things that perhaps I should not through a romantic lens, so sometimes I try to take a step back, try to see things in other ways, and I have thought of solitude as scary, mysterious, natural, unnatural, precious, impossible, unattainable, a prison, a freedom, a luxury. Yesterday I thought of solitude as a need as simple as water. When there is thirst, you drink.

More snow overnight.

Looking out.

This morning I need my ash bucket—the ash in the woodstove is a few inches thick—but it is not where I thought it would be. I thought I was ready for this cold and snow. The water pipes froze Saturday because I left open a vent in the crawlspace, a vent that is directly in front of a pipe. But I didn’t know that until Sunday when I was on the phone with a plumber and he asked if any vents in my crawlspace were open. I said no, I closed them a month ago. Then I went down to the crawlspace and looked. I thought I was ready for winter. Maybe once I find that ash bucket, I will be.

Thursday - Thanksgiving
Yesterday a morning of bright, unpredicted sunshine. It helped to warm the cabin, which started out icy cold. I got a number of candle orders out to the post office and dropped the van at Jerry’s for an oil change and a change of tires. As I was loading my snow tires into the van, old spring mud rubbed off on my jacket.

Alien landscape, northern style.

This morning I awoke with a rhyme in my head.
I am thankful for my head and my feet,
I am thankful for the food I eat.
I am thankful for my nose and my tail,
I am thankful for the U.S. mail.
I am thankful for each hair on my head,
I am thankful for a nice warm bed.
I am thankful for each day as it dawns,
I am thankful for my nightly yawns.
It needs a little work. It could go on and on.

Mid-morning I walked to Jerry’s to pick up my van. Halfway there, I heard a dog crying. The noise was coming from a shed at the end of a short driveway that I was passing. Last year two draft horses were removed from this place, and the horses now live at Starry Skies Equine Rescue and Sanctuary. The guy who lives here, who had the horses, was fined $10,000 and told he could no longer keep horses. The case was in court last month. There was a story about it in the local paper.

There were no cars or trucks in the driveway, just tire tracks. I hesitated. The dog yowled. A neighbor came from across the road and together we went into the shed, which was open on one side. In the shed were two dogs, I think sled dogs, Alaskan huskies, which are popular here in the U.P. One was on a leash attached to the north wall, and the other, the yelping one, was on a leash that was attached to a pole that the dog had circled two or three times, her leash now wound tight around the pole, giving her a tether of about 6 inches. This did not stop her from leaping and jumping as I approached. I grabbed on to her and held her close, trying to contain her movement. Both dogs had bowls of food, but neither had water, and the crying one, in her wound up state, could not reach her food. A small cow, maybe a calf, stood quietly in a pen in the northeast corner.

The neighbor got some water and brought it to the dogs. A car pulled into the driveway and the person in the car began yelling at us, telling us to get off the property. This was not the owner of the dogs. I had never met this person. But my neighbor knew this person, and I was quickly reminded that this is a small place with big, long relationships. A shouting match was not going to help those dogs in the shed, so I left and walked on up the road to my van. Once back home, I called the sheriff’s office to tell them about the two dogs tied up in a shed without water at this place where last year two horses had been neglected and starved. The officer I talked to said he would tell the animal control officer. In a few days, or maybe tomorrow or Saturday, I will call again to follow up.

Many years ago, on a particularly hot Fourth of July, another woman and I removed a dog from a bad situation. This dog was guarding a construction site, but he had been left alone over a long holiday weekend without food and water, and when we offered both he became wiggly as a pup. The dog was confined in a space that was becoming increasingly dirty. We cased the joint for a day or two, keeping the dog fed and hydrated, considering our options, and then, in an operation reminiscent of Lucy and Ethel, we got that dog out of there. What a pussycat. The hardest thing about moving him was that he weighed 200 pounds and only wanted to sit in your lap. But he settled nicely into the local shelter, eventually got adopted, reportedly became a couch potato. And you know, nobody ever came looking for that dog.

Long icicles hang from the front porch, dripping. I found the ash bucket out by the wood, which was not a bad place for it to be.

Looking back.

No thoughts. Just plans. Two below zero and not a breath of wind.

I called the sheriff’s office and was told the dogs’ owner had returned from Wisconsin and therefore the dogs are being cared for. Also, the owner is threatening charges of trespass. Remember Alfred E. Neumann of Mad Magazine?

Except, maybe I am worried about them dogs.


  1. Hi Leslie, now without reading too much into my comment, I think two huskies and a small cow would make fantastic friends...... I'm so glad you came by and took care of them! It breaks my heart that the owner would leave them like that, even though they had food and water that is just not right. Now, having had a husky, they are runners so that's always a problem, but you learn to deal with that. And not by tying them up in a shed!! Well, you never know, maybe the owner (jerk) would like to find a nice home for them...... A cozy cabin and a river to play in? :)

    Hope you are staying warm, 70 degrees in California today and we might get in the 50's later in the week! That's cold for us, ha! Take care, keep us posted with the dogs!

    1. Yes ... those dogs would like to be running, I am sure. And I'd like to see them running. And no doubt they'd be the best friends.

      I am going to be warm until about Thursday or Friday, when you all out there in Sunnyville hit the 50s and we go down to zero and below ... arg.