27 March 2009

Harnessing the dogs

It was a glorious +8C (45F) and sunny yesterday. The snow is slowly melting, and then freezing over at night, which makes it pretty easy to get around on top of the snow. So we got outside and took a tour around, searching for signs of spring.

Grass is amazing stuff, it's started growing under the snow, on top of the compost piles which are just beginning to peak out. Our first sighting of bonafide dirt and vegetation since December!

This is as close as we get to flowers this time of year, last year's evening primrose pods. But they are beautiful in their own way.

The larch are beginning to show some of the bright spring green of new growth.

Still, the most beautiful feature of the landscape is the snow itself. We had some light snow and wind this week, and it left ripples in the snow like sand on a beach. The melting snow even felt like wet sand under our feet, we could close our eyes with the bright sun and reflecting snow in our faces and take a no-hassle, zero-impact and entirely free vacation.
This one reminds me of an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture.

And then I couldn't help myself, I had to see how far away the garden is, so we got out the shovel. In the lowest spot, we have less than 2 feet to go! And and there's double digits and rain in the forecast for tomorrow! (50F) The soil is only frozen in chunks, so the frost has already started to come out of the ground.

To prolong our beautiful day outside, we got the dogs out to pull the sleigh around. We made some harnesses for them, and have been training them to pull a light sleigh. Partly to teach them to work, as they are the right age, and partly because they have so much energy, they pull our arms out on our longer walks. It took them a few times in the harnesses, pulling the empty sleigh to get the idea of pulling, but once they got used to it, the were jogging along, tails up and dog-grins on their faces. Animals like to know their purpose.

We had to get them in the right order too. First we tried the alpha male in the lead, and the female, who is second in dominance, in the rear. But the alpha male kept turning around, in mid run, to nip at the other dogs, and the female, in the rear, was pulling most of the weight. So we switched them around, and our female, Ruby, is an excellent lead dog, she leaps into the harness to get the sleigh going when I call her. And the alpha male, Blackie, is an excellent rear dog because he has the strongest herding instincts of the three and loves to keep the others in front of him, nipping at their heels. Buster, the middle dog, is the good natured follower, and would follow either of them around.
And now they are ready to pull a load, we gave them a couple of logs to pull down to the house. With the surface of the snow still fairly hard, they could easily pull a load of about 100 lbs, 500 feet down the field. Harnessing the dogs this time of year has been good for them, it settles them down and gives them something to learn. Next winter we hope to have some second-hand cross country skis, and harness the dogs up for skijoring. Ruby and Buster will no doubt be thrilled at this, but it will take some training to keep Blackie out in front of us, and not in the rear, herding us home!


Chiot's Run said...

What fun. I bet the dogs are loving it.

angela said...

How I envy your winters, still I have just planted my Autumn seedlings. We grow food all year around here so that is a bonus.
Still its nice to dream!

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Chiots, it seems we got some more of the white stuff for the dogs to practice. We lost a foot in the melt last week and gained a foot back in snowfall yesterday!

angela, winters have their beauty that's for sure, but they can be as harsh and unforgiving as any desert too. This time of year, I look back to the deep freeze of January/February, and wonder how we made it through.
Plant some seeds for us in your garden!

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