Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Day at the Races
I went up to Oquossoc today to cover the dog sled races. Oquossoc is a little town just the other side of Rangeley, and they were bringing back dog sled races for the first time in more than a decade. It was very much a grassroots project, as most things are hereabouts, and somehow they only ended up with six registrations, of which four dropped out for various reasons. Disappointing, but they had a good crowd and it was a no-pressure way to test the system. There will be more teams entered next year.

These dogs were from Lincoln, Maine, and obviously took a lot of interest in checking things out. We'll get back to that issue a little later.
If you've ever wondered how they get the dogs out of those little cages on the trucks, this is one method. Anthony, the more experienced of the two drivers, lifted each of his dogs out. Lee, who has only been racing a year, let his gang leap out. Note that these aren't terribly big dogs. I don't know that anyone races the huge Malemutes, but there were some near-sneers about purebred Siberians among the aficianados. "They photograph really well," one fellow said. Real sled dogs, as in the Jack London book, are whatever you find, crossed with whatever else you find to produce what you need.

When we had races in the Star Lake area in the early 1960s, there was a fellow running pointers, and that's become fairly common -- they're long-legged, muscular dogs who love to run. The race marshall told me that there was a guy running ridgebacks a few years back, and he was quite impressed with their pulling power, but of course they can't take the cold and are only good for sprints. But he said there was also a guy with a team of Irish setters who had a wonderful time and apparently did stand up pretty well to the elements. You wouldn't use them for the Iditarod, but there may be some short-haired dogs at Fort Kent next week in the 250-mile race there.
As you can see, these are hardly the half-wild dogs of the Jack London stories. The two kids are strangers to them, just a brother and sister who had come up for the races and came over to play with them before they got into harness. This is Anthony's team, the more experienced gang.
And they're experienced with kids, too. This is Anthony's daughter, Delia, helping to hand out the harnesses. Anthony would ask her to get the red harness for such-and-such a dog and she'd pull it out of the pile. She had the right color but wrong harness a few times, but considering I think she was about three, she's a pretty capable partner. Anthony told me he was an avid racer some years ago, but since he's had the kids, he has cut back on the time commitment. Now he runs a dog sled tourist business in town, giving people rides or letting them see how the dogs work, and, as he says, paying for his habit. Obviously, Delia has picked up Daddy's matter-of-fact affection for dogs.
Not a bad crowd, as Lee, the fellow from Lincoln, takes off with his team on the 40-mile course. The teams started two minutes apart, but it didn't take long for Anthony to add some distance.

The course went through the woods and then came out on Cupsuptic Lake. This is Anthony's team in the lead. The dogs were aware of us, as they came up on the small crowd that had jumped into cars and gone up to the lake to intercept the teams, but they kept charging along with a little encouragement from him to stay cool.

Lee's rookie team, however, was much more distracted by finding people out on the trail. You can see the ears going up and the lead dogs slowing down to have a look, despite Lee trying to keep them on task.
Too late. The dogs have totally lost focus now, and it took him some effort to get them back into the race. On the way from the starting point to the lake, I had come across Lee's team at a road crossing and he was having trouble getting them to take the turn up into the woods.

All that curiosity that was so cute in the first picture I posted was killing him in the race -- he needs to find, or develop, a pair of lead dogs who know what's going on and will keep their heads in the game.

Anthony's team finished the 40 miles in 3 hr. 20 min. 1 sec., Lee's team didn't come in until 4 hr. 44 min 13 sec. This would not have been as noticeable if there'd been 20 teams, but it certainly showed this day. However, everyone had a good time and Lee and his dogs will learn, and will be back.
I went back to town and stepped over to Koob's Garage, where I had seen this cartoon original on the wall a few months ago, but Mike Koob wasn't around and I still don't have the explanation. If you click on it, I think you can read the caption, which says "We did everything modern science could do, but there are some things we just haven't learned."

More to the point, you can read the signature "Booth" in the corner, and the fact that this appeared in the New Yorker in 1971. There is a story here and I let you know when I find out what it is. Rangeley is a popular place -- William Wegman, the weimeraner photographer, has been coming here since he was a young lad and has a place up here -- but what George Booth was doing in town I don't know.
On the way home, I stopped at Small's Falls, which I had photographed last fall. Getting there was a little more challenging this time, mostly climbing over a nine-foot snowbank at the road's edge. The falls are only a quarter of a mile or so from the road, and a few people had been there, so I was able to walk in their footprints, but that didn't make it an easy walk -- just a possible one. And so I got a cover shot for the next issue of the Rangeley Highlander, where the dog sled race story will appear, too.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Free comics from 1950

One of our papers, The Livermore Falls Advertiser, has a weekly feature called "This Week" in which the news from a random year is highlighted. We don't do a 25-50-75-100 years ago style feature because the archives are too trashed.

This year, the young reporter chose 1950 and wrote her piece, and then, as I do each week, I went through looking for an illustration. Unfortunately, none of these fell in the target week, but I found them interesting enough to photograph anyway. "Squire Edgegate" was in the paper fairly frequently, one of three or four regular strips that were made available for free. I'm not sure the business model, but I was tickled by the complaint about gas prices. (click on any of these for larger, more readable versions)

Then I flipped a few more pages and saw a familiar face:

As near as I can tell, the Savings Bonds people had tapped into the nostalgia of vets and probably some loyalty to War Bonds by getting cartoonists to reprise their wartime characters to persuade the vets to invest their benefit payments in bonds.

"Male Call" had ended four years previously, so the idea of a now-civilian running into Lace would be pretty appealing, particularly at a moment when he's got a wad of cash in hand. And, to tell the truth, the idea of Lace promoting bonds wasn't so far-fetched -- she always had a bit of Good Girl lurking around the perimeter. Wish the reproduction had been better, but it's hard to make Lace look bad.

The series ran for a few issues and also included this single panel:

According to, Nick Penn had a couple of strips, including "Helen Highwater," which was a pretty girl strip, and the Navy strip "Stalemate." I suspect that the idea that, with the war over, Stalemate had married Helen and had her knitting booties was pretty funny stuff for those who knew both strips.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the snow continues to slide off the roof. This chunk has a good deal of ice under it, so kind of came down in one piece. I expect at some point it's going to crash onto the path and I'm going to have some serious excavation to do. I just want it to hold on until the weekend so I don't have to confront it on the way to work at 6 a.m.

Anyway, things could be worse. Nobody was living in here -- the actual house is on the other side of the garage and they were mostly using this as storage. They had plans to fix it up, but I suspect those plans have changed. I don't know if the roof was flat before or not, but it sure as hell is now.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Your choice -- Right click and print out!
In response to public demand

Thursday, February 14, 2008

After the ice storm

Having mentioned how the dogs don't mind stomping out their yard after each storm, an extreme example of how kibble is more important than comfort.

Destry stays in the already-broken area, but Ziwa is perfectly willing to deal with a crust that is almost -- but not quite -- thick enough to support an 80-pound dog, as long as there is more kibble out there to be eaten.

This kind of entertainment makes it worth coming home for lunch, and the dogs enjoy a little midday snack, too.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A courageous stand against racism

WHITE HOUSE (AP) -- President Bush says recent displays of nooses are disturbing, and show that some Americans are losing sight of suffering that African Americans have endured throughout history.

Marking African American history month at the White House, Bush says the era of lynching is "a shameful chapter in American history." He says displaying a noose "is not a harmless prank," and that the word "lynching" shouldn't be mentioned in jest.

Bush says the noose is a symbol of "gross injustice," and that Americans should agree that displaying a noose is "deeply offensive."

Wow. What a breakthrough!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Remember last spring?

This picture was taken last April, when I gave up trying to use this door, after it kept getting swamped by falling snow from the mudroom roof.

Well, it's only February 9

This year, I didn't even try to use this door. As you can see, I have a path shoveled out to the backdoor. As you may also be able to see, we're not anywhere near through with winter, and the snow is already so far piled up that now when the snow falls off the roof, it falls onto that huge pile and then slides down into the path.

The other day, I had to shovel the path in the morning before I went to work. It was about 5:30 and still dark out, so I put on the mudroom light so it would throw a little light out there. But it didn't, because the snow is now so high that it blocks the windows.

We've got at least another month of snow, maybe two.

I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile ...

The dogs are coping pretty well. They're not getting a lot of exercise because the paths are too often impassible, but they're hounds and hibernation is just fine with them. And they enjoy clearing out their own yard in the back. What I do is toss a cup of kibble out there and they paw through the snow to find it. In the process, they trample the yard down enough that they have a nice spot for themselves later. Each day, I toss the kibble into the adjoining virgin snow and the area gets larger, until they've got a pretty decent size place trampled out.

Then, of course, it snows again, but they don't mind having to start over.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Quick learner

Six weeks ago, the young man driving this sled had never seen snow. He's the son of the editor I hired for our weekly paper in Livermore Falls and had lived in Florida and Texas before arriving in Maine in the middle of a nasty blizzard. He was so excited by his first sight of snow that he jumped in the middle of a bunch of it and discovered ice ... and a cracked ankle that put him in the wrong kind of boot for his first few weeks here.

But he's adapted, as you see. He and his mother went to the dog sled races today, two days before his 13th birthday, and someone there offered him a rig and a dog so he could enter the junior one-dog sprint. He finished third, which ain't bad for someone who's just getting used to the idea of a real winter.

Here he is with some other dogs, one of whom is delighted to see him and one of whom has other concerns. I'm told his grandfather gave him some Jack London books, so he'll be studying up on all this sled dog business. But he seems to have grasped the essentials.

As for me, I was up in Rangeley covering a pond hockey tournament. They started the tourney last year and had 10 teams; this year, they got 20 signed up from around New England and Canada. Pond hockey is becoming a big thing, probably because it's a lot of fun and because there was a hockey surge a few years ago with high schools starting up teams, but those guys are all getting into their thirties now and starting to enjoy the idea of a game where you don't get smashed into the boards quite so often.

Next weekend? Next weekend I'll be heading back into the hills to cover a dogsled race in Oquossoc. Not sure what Andrew will be up to. Something involving snow, I imagine.

(Andrew's mother took the top two pictures, I took the last)