11 July 2013 8.30 PM 79 F Sunny with blue skies
Alaska in the summer time. An amazing place, full of nature’s wonders, wide open spaces, 24 hours of daylight and boundless opportunities to get out and explore.
For us mushers, who have spent the other 3 seasons of the year immersed in our sled dogs, in squeezing out every possible moment of time in the day to fit in all that needs done to ensure the smooth running of the team, the kennel and our daily lives, summer is the time to finally draw breath. The additional daylight, as bright at midnight as it is at midday, tends to trick us a little. We find ourselves still doing things out in the garden or playing with the puppies at 1.00 AM, when we should be fast asleep. The weather in June was also a major contributing factor to those late nights. We saw record high temperatures during the month, many days when it was above 90 F with hours and hours of blazing sunshine. It was late in the evening most days, before it became pleasant to actually be outside – for us and the dogs.
The dogs don’t really enjoy the excessive heat – any more than us pale skinned northerners. We hide in our house, they hide under theirs. Quite a few of them have dug a tunnel network that would be the envy of the VC at Cu Chi. It wasn’t unusual to hear the noises of dogs playing at 3.00 in the morning, and to watch them snooze in the shade all day.
However, it isn’t only the heat that is a bit of an issue for us and the dogs. Of all the things that Alaska is famous for, one of them is truly – and literally – a pain in the neck, as well as the arms, hands, head, face – in fact any piece of exposed skin. For the dogs, that means ears, muzzles and bellies are all targets for that most dreaded of summer visitor – the mosquito.
We’ve been here for 4 years now and have been told this is the worst mosquito laden summer in quite a while. It certainly is the worst we’ve experienced and it is no fun at all. We have a variety of defences up against them. Skeeter Vacs are running at each corner of the dog yard and are supposed to provide anti-mozzie coverage for an acre each. We have bird feeders out and have tried to entice the swallows that visit, to stay – seeing as an adult swallow will consume it’s own bodyweight in mosquitoes each day. We have also planted marigolds and mint as a border around one of the fence lines that is closest to the trees. Those plants are supposed to have something about them that the bugs don’t like. To some extent, it is working. Our immediate surroundings are reasonably safe to be out in, despite my wife’s objection to the sight of any mosquitoes at all. The proof that all our efforts are having some effect is provided each day when I take one of our dogs for a walk. Once we get round the corner of the drive, it’s just horrendous. You can see clouds of the little devils swarming and waiting for your sweet, warm blood. I’m walking up the road, flagellating myself like a mad monk and the poor dog is either twitching her ears like crazy, flailing at her face with her paws or rolling around trying to squash the ones that are biting her belly. I should point out that the walks are not really optional – the dog in question is post-operative and is being confined to the house during recovery. I guess the downside of being consumed by mosquitoes during these walks several times a day is more than counterbalanced by the relief of being bug free inside the rest of the time.
A group of our original dogs have their own room in the shop. In the winter, they make full use of it and with it’s stable door closed and a doggie door in place, without heating the room, the dogs will turn a -30 F night into +10F by the morning. In the summer, it’s a different story – they all seem to prefer to lie around outside and the above picture perhaps illustrates why.