Category Archives: Essays

The “Arctic” Hare Trains: Dogsledding I

Essays - Travel

“Dogsledding exists at the intersection of skill and chaos…” —Burton Penner

I wake to the sound of howling and barking. It pierces the cold clear air. My eyes are open now and the bright sunlight comes through the trees and the snow sparkles in small dollops on top of spruce boughs. The dogs cease their howling song after a three or four minutes and now I’m fully awake but I dread moving out of my sleeping bag. It’s so cold. I’ve left the top of my sleep system open, being paranoid about condensation, so snow surrounds the inner lining of my sleeping bag. I move reluctantly, trying to get socks, fleece pants, jacket, and snow pants on, and finally put my boots onto my feet. I have left my boots open with my shell jacket laying over them, but they are still frozen stiff, and difficult to get into. I have to take short breaks in between layers to warm my hands. After 45 seconds my fingers turn bright reddish purple and become useless. I must re-warm them slowly in order to continue dressing. In this way the morning routine seems hurried and yet painfully slow at the same time.

The days all begin like this. I wake up to a clear sky, the trees overhead. Sometimes, during the night, if there is wind, the exposed portion of my face will be sprinkled with snow. Most days the sky is a light gray, but on the last day the sun comes out and the sky is an immaculate blue. After breakfast the sleds are packed and the dogs, who have slept tied to a stake line one next to the other, are hitched to the sleds. Wheel dogs first, then swing dogs, then the leads. Zeus lunges at his harness. He’s a swing dog today, second row on the left and impatient to get started. All the doggers begin the day with enthusiastic impatience, howling the sun up into the sky, then wiggling like slippery wet eels into their harnesses. They lunge happily forward into the day, into time, into the cold.

A word about the doggers[1]. They are attached by a short lead line to the stake line each night. They curl up into little balls on or beside a small pine bough bed, their tales over their noses. Eager to get into their harness each morning each dogger jumps and yelps and howls, putting their paws through the straps without trouble. If you bend their paws too much they yelp. They beg for belly rubs, and Frazier puts his nose in my face, not so much licking me as much as he is stabbing me with his nose. It stamps my face again and again until he jumps down to all fours again. Ethyl, usually grumpy and snapping at the other dogs, jumps up and puts her paws on my shoulders too. She is a beautiful white dog with dark brown-markings around her eyes and ears. I scratch behind ears, smushing her face close to mine. Cedar wiggles on her back twisting around and around until I scratch her belly too. Each and every dogger gets pets and pats and belly rubs each morning and night and every time the sleds stop. Their loyalty, their work ethic goes beyond the names. It’s clear our foremost duty on the trail is to stay alive to take care of the dogs. It’s this partnership that allows everything else to be possible. The way that you exist in nature when you dogsled is different than if you are hiking or kayaking or rappelling down a cliff. It’s more significant and very sharp. It requires faith in another living thing that you must impart without the aid of language. It requires grace and acceptance. It is tied inexplicably with the magic of a wintery cold landscape the same way the movement of a camel evokes the way that sand moves over dunes in the desert.

[1] The word is dogger to refer to one dog, and doggers to refer to multiple. Originally it referred to a worker who attaches dogs (as to logs), moves articles mechanically by dogs, or fastens articles (as stock to be machined) into dogs that will hold them for further processing. ‘Good dogger!’ ‘Come on dogger! Let’s go, HIKE!!’

I’m standing on the left runner of a sled, feet one behind the other in a kind of improvised fifth position. My sled partner, Bob, is on the right runner. We fly across the snowy lake. The dogs pant and pull, snapping up snow as the run in small sips. Sometimes the snow becomes sticky and slushy, melting into a sticky, gluey substance that makes the sled move in a sliding slow motion as if through honey or molasses. The runners collect this slushy ice substance and have to be de-iced twice a day by the end of the trip, which requires flipping them on their side and hacking at the ice with a small sledge hammer, then flipping the sled over again, making sure to be ready with the break. As soon as the runners touch the ground again the dogs take off, and if you’re not ready, your sled will be 25 feet away from you in a matter of seconds.

There is no need to steer the sleds, the doggers follow the trail ahead made by skiers and other sleds. Sometimes when the snow becomes thin, and the ice becomes visible and water starts pooling underneath, the dogs will avoid that section and reroute the sled moving back to the trail after the short detour. They know to avoid thin ice moving the sled effortlessly around it. It’s human error that puts the sleds through the ice.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When people take a vacation, it’s an escape from reality. When they return to their everyday life it’s ‘back to reality’. I feel the opposite. Reality was pushing the sled up hills, over portages beside thin ice on the river, across large windy lakes, and through deep, thick forests that required us to break trail every day. Reality was the act of surviving, daily. The cold surrounds me all the time. I’m not cold necessarily, but it’s always there forcing me to pay attention to how much I’m sweating as I’m pushing a 300 pound sled, or skiing for five or six hours straight. How much water have I been drinking? Is it enough? Will I succumb to frostbite? Hypothermia? This is not even as intense as it could be—we have supplies, plenty of food and guides who know these woods inside and out. It still feels intense though. I am surviving in a harsh, frozen landscape where even silence feels stretched and brittle. It crackles in the air even over the whoosssshhh shusssshhhh the sled makes over the snow.

None of these things were too much of a concern, but they are there in your mind as you travel through the wilderness. My life is so close. It’s big and vast as the lake and the woods around me and so so full. Falling off the trail, falling through the ice, twisting an ankle, getting my boot caught under the metal-spiked brake on the sled…What better reality than the one where you are constantly thinking of survival, constantly breathing in clean air, constantly being physically and mentally challenged and constantly being pulled forward through this vast wilderness by a team of faithful dogs.

Bob puts his foot through the ice on our first day. It’s my fault. The ice is thin and our sled is tipping toward the river. I’m terrified of going into the water myself, as I know wet clothing is one of the worst things that can happen. It’s not like I can go back into the lodge and change. I pull and pull the sled but it’s as if I’m not doing anything. My boots are sinking further into the snow, and sliding further toward the river. In between trying to right the tipped sled I steal terrified glances at the cold brown water. It moves sluggishly under the thin layer of broken ice, there is barely a current at all. We finally right the sled, but I feel terrible that Bob has had to get wet in the process.

On the fourth day Bob tips off the trail falling a couple of feet down an embankment. It’s my fault. To make matters worse he’s one of the most experienced among us. Minus the guides, and Paul himself. Bob has been to Greenland, the Arctic, and Elsmere Island, Alaska, to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Being partnered with me means he’s had to put up with a lot. On the last day we switch sides, me on the outside as the smaller one, Bob on the inside to keep the sled on the trail. I still let him man the sled solo on the same section of river that we went over on day one. I am not going to take any chances. I’m also sad that I’m too afraid to go with him over the difficult terrain. The sled still tipped precariously over roots and rocks, even under Bob’s expert care. I ran after it, grateful for the chance to move my feet and perhaps warm my toes, which have become painfully cold over the course of the week.

It was not the only time I had to run as fast as I possible could after a sled. I sprinted after the sled after Donna and I (mostly I) lost control. I sprinted after it in heavy boots through deep snow. I pelted, hard for what was probably only 25 or 30 feet. Maybe less. I hear Donna scream after me. “Loose sled!!” My feet felt like lead and the snow feels like peanut butter. I’m not a sprinter. I’m not even really a runner. But it’s amazing what your body will do when your mind shuts off and all that is left is necessity. I catch the sled and push the break and the dogs slide to stop. Donna catches up and we resume our wild ride through the woods.

Dog tails. The long hair moves slightly in the wind. Sometimes the tails wag with enthusiasm. They are constantly curled like flags at full mast ready to lead the way at all times. These tails are curl around noses at night, and wave a greeting every morning. They are happy curly tails.

Thanks to Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge for the best dogsledding trip a girl could ask for, so excited to travel with them to Svalbard this spring!

Cold, Grumpy B**tch: Women in Commercials

Essays - Women - Women's Issues

I’ve noticed something lately during the awards shows, games, and events on television. We already know that channels like Lifetime and Bravo show very different commercials than Spike TV or FXX. They’re catering to their different markets. I get that. The fact that the commercials are sexist is a bit beside the point I’m going to make, but definitely still an issue.

In commercials married women are portrayed as nagging, un-fun, grumpy, cold bitches. If it’s a commercial for alcohol or perfume, the women is single, super-sexy and ready for anything. After she’s married she becomes ‘mom’– and not just to her kids, to her husband too. “Put that away”, “Don’t do that”, she rolls her eyes at her silly husband and looks like the most unhappy person. The people that I’ve met who are near my age or a bit older seem like they have great marriages. Spouses have fun together, they travel, they joke, they have discussions– pretty normal stuff. Hell even my parents still have fun together and take smoochie selfies on the beach. It doesn’t mean they have perfect lives, or perfect relationships, but it does mean that they are more three-dimensional then these ad stereotypes allow.

Why does every commercial portraying a husband and wife cast the wife as either a ‘mommy’ to her husband, or a grumpy sex-withholding bitch? Here are some examples:

1. Aleve. Woman takes Aleve, magically her headache is gone! (yay) Husband sees this and hints that maybe they can have sex now that she doesn’t have a headache. This is also seen as the kind of stereotypical excuse women give for not wanting to have sex in the first place. Haha!! Now she doesn’t even have an excuse Husband thinks. Woman rolls her eyes at her husband and shuts off the light. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been married, but doesn’t this seem a bit harsh? If I got rid of my headache why wouldn’t I want to be with my husband/boyfriend/partner?

2. Home Depot. Husband and wife are at the store looking for home-improvement supplies. Husband finds lawnmower and starts riding it around the store– just a fun loving dude out with his wife. When she see’s her husband all he gets is crossed arms and a grumpy-mommy look. Why can’t she want to have fun with her husband? I get that they’re adults but it seems like the husband is being portrayed like an overgrown child, or totally sex-crazed which is insulting in itself.

3. Value City Furniture. I can appreciate the humor here. And maybe the wife really has a lot of work to do. But again, the husband is all about ‘pleasure’ in the bedroom- and all the wife wants to do is ignore him (cold) and work on her side of the bed. All she says to her husband the entire commercial is ‘It’s one bed.’ What a b.

These commercials have grabbed onto a stereotype, and in order for it to be a stereotype it must have come from somewhere, the pattern must exist somewhere. The woman’s sole purpose is not to be there just so her husband can have fun, or just so he has someone to have sex with. In that sense this portrayal could be accurate. But for the 30 seconds you have for the commercial, the preferred, ‘funny’ portrayal is one of a grumpy woman.

Can’t you sell the same medication, the same shopping experience and the same furniture if the husband and wife are having not necessarily a perfect interaction but maybe one that’s more balanced than defaulting to ‘nagging mommy lady who hates fun.’ I think so.

Would You, Could You, for a Box?

Essays - Fashion - Women

Birchbox, Barkbox, NatureBox, Ipsy, Wantable, FabFitFun, Club W, StitchFix…

Our society has turned from hunter gatherer to hunter-wait-for-it-to-be-delivered. And in some cases there is minimal hunting– these services even offer to hunt for you if you’ll answer a few questions beforehand.

You can get everything you need from healthy snacks, wine, bras, makeup, accessories, clothing and supplies for your dog — all in a box. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Take it a step further and this is the ‘small business’ equivalent of taking the advantage back from stores like Walmart and Amazon. And a large part of our commerce happens online. If you live in a small town and can’t get access to something, you order it. When you don’t want to fight the mob at the mall (or the awful music, inescapable) then you have it delivered.

Personally I love to shop. And I love to shop by myself. The notion that someone is waiting for me, even if they’re not, is unbearable and I can’t concentrate. However, the only thing I can say I love a little more than shopping is waiting for a package in the mail. If you read my other post on marketing and the ‘language of obsession’ then you know obsessively tracking a package and being marketed to as if I’m ‘addicted’ to something bothers me. This, unfortunately, doesn’t mean I’m not a package tracker. It’s actually one of the reasons I stopped my subscriptions to some of these boxes. It was draining my wallet, the tiny samples were cluttering my bathroom, and I had more important things to think about then when a certain package was arriving.

I found that the problem was my ‘Profile’ was never quite right. The Julep colors were not that great. Why is dark blue any less or more ‘Classic with a Twist’ than is any other color? It took two Fix’s before I found a partial StitchFix that worked, and as for Birchbox I found the questionnaire too confining and the samples I received didn’t fit “me “one way or the other.

Whether it’s food and drink (Plated, NatureBox, SaffronFix or Club W), clothing (Stitchfix, Wantable), beauty (Birthbox, Julep, Ipsy) or even a box for your furry friend (BarkBox) one has to decide how much these things actually apply to you and your life. I’m sure there are many more boxes that I’m forgetting or don’t even know about…if you enjoy them great! If it’s helpful and convenient, great! I love Stitchfix and would totally recommend it– it’s useful if you don’t like shopping, or don’t always know what items to pair with what other items or how.

Stitchfix is one that I go back and forth on. Sometimes I don’t want to pay that much for the clothing they send. Other times my stylist (who must think I’m bipolar or crazy or both) hits the nail on the head and I absolutely must keep the item (read: anything in the color green or anything that any one else would think is hopelessly boring I mean minimalist).

So. My most recent fix. Not as good as the last one. I still haven’t made the plunge and taken the 25% off for purchasing the entire box. Nor have I purchased any $120 jeans, or any $88 jeans. Especially not since getting bicycle grease on a new pair not even a week ago (Quelle horreur I can’t even talk about it). And perhaps I haven’t grown up enough yet, but I can’t get my head around paying more than about $25-30 for jewelry either.

For me it’s all about the thrill of the chase; the hunt for the quality pieces at mark downs, or at thrift stores, the way a store feels familiar and so you, and the atmosphere of boutique on a quiet afternoon. Even saving up for a piece that you know will get years of wear and love. As a novelty I love Stitchfix, and I plan on putting my poor stylist through the wringer at least a few more times– besides who says this can’t be a totally new way to hunt?

No, it’s not OK Cupid. Not at all.

Chicago - Dating - Essays - Women

Like many people my age I’ve made an online dating profile. Actually I’ve made two. It started after three different people mentioned OK Cupid to me in the space of about two weeks, and they all said how successful it had been for them or ‘their friends’. So I made a profile. There were probably many things wrong with it; maybe it said too much in some areas and not enough in others. Oftentimes saying something on a dating website has another meaning. ‘Just looking to meet new people’ for example is ‘just looking to hookup’. I’m someone who is very direct, forthright and brutally honest. In these cases, for me at least, it’s difficult to catch subtext and what everything means–it seems to me that it changes constantly.

So here I am, naively trying to chat people up online and it’s failing miserably. Between disgusting messages from (sorrynotsorry) horribly unattractive men, and having my ‘matches’ ignore me completely (have they even read my message?) I grew frustrated quickly and closed the profile.

Then I tried and With both it was the same story. I got one sucky date out of the deal (pictures are worth a thousand of the wrong words) and I shudder to think how much money I have wasted in this process. In fact different sites have taken on different connotations with the exceptions proving the rule. Tinder/Grindr anyone?

What I have learned. Whether it’s a Facebook profile, a Twitter feed, an online dating profile or any other kind of online presence, the information you provide, and what you don’t provide is very important. How you provide the information is also important.

This might seem obvious, and it is but many people forget how much of our lives are online. You could argue it’s all online. Business transactions, banking, trading, social life, dating life, office interactions, family interactions, customer service interactions, shopping and even artistic ventures are all online.

For some people the online dating venture works. For multiple purposes. To “meet new people”= f*** me, to ‘meet someone special’=I’m serious about dating, and for people who just want to waste time online. For me interactions like this have to be in person. It’s easier to see and feel what you do and do not want. At least much easier than online, where you can say or do almost anything behind a screen.


The Language of Addiction in Advertising & Marketing

Chicago - Essays - Women - Women's Issues

“OMG I’m addicted to this one!”

“I’ve been so addicted to sugar lately.”

“…Riiigggghtttt?? Sooooo addicted!!”

“Definitely addicted to shopping. Totally.”

You many have run across one or more of these phrases in your daily life, whether you catch yourself saying them, thinking them, or you over hear them. This ‘addiction’ especially for women is phrase thrown around when talking about our favorites products, our favorite stores, or favorites items of clothing or accessories– those of us who cannot stop buying shoes or handbags know what I’m referring to.

But should we throw this word around so much? No, we don’t mean to make light of someone with a real addiction. That’s not the point. But what if when we say we’re addicted, that’s exactly what we mean.

For example everyone drinks in college. In America there is a pervasive culture of drinking in college, so much so that when students graduate, the habits continue. All the while they technically qualify as alcoholics. Though most of us grow up and out of this habit ‘alcoholism’ is perhaps more pervasive among college students and young graduates than it should be. I think the same principle applies to addiction. We apply the term so much that on the one hand it begins to lose its meaning. On the other it’s also retaining it. I think of the confirmation emails I get whenever I purchase shoes from DSW. The tracking email quite literally invites me to begin tracking the package obsessively. And most times I do. StitchFix is another example. Though I love this program the language of addiction is built in. a ‘fix’ is something that a drug user needs. My fix. Gotta have it. Magazines, beauty websites, facebook posts, they invite you to be addicted by pointing out that you already are.

Addicted to our new eyeshadow? Win/buy/tweet here to score!

Celebrity X is addicted to our new product! Read/click/check it out here and see why!

Here is another example of the language of addiction being built in. The ‘have to have’ takes consumerism a step further. You are mentally and emotionally incapable of resisting this. So just give in.

While I’m not saying that we should go on a giant no buying strike (we do need an economy) I am saying to sit up and take notice of marketing strategies (aimed almost exclusively at women) that accuse us of something that is technically quite offensive and use this to sell us products that by and large, we do not need. Yes buy the mascara that works for you. Go after those cute heels. Spend on your favorites books and movies. These things make us happy. But how about leaving the culture of the ‘addicted’ ‘addle-brained’ woman behind?

Perhaps it’s human nature to be addicted to something, or more than one thing, and that’s why it is so effective. But if we can stop using the word we can put it back where it belongs, and start to take stock of how we as women want to be perceived and addressed, both by others and in advertising and marketing.