Alaska Life Adventures

September 7, 2011

Harbingers of Autumn

Photos & Story by Mary Shields

Editor's Note: Thanks to Mary Shields, our special guest contributor. In 1974, Mary was the first female musher ever to finish the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Mary Shields Howling with HuskyFor those of us who love winter best, the first harbingers of autumn are teasing our senses. A breezy day sails yellow leaves down from the birch trees. Horsetails, those ancient, ferny plants, are yellowing on the forest floor. A family of 15 teenage grouse all freeze in unison on my lawn the other day, looking like realistic park-art, but suddenly they all take wing and disappear. Mary Sheilds with Husky PuppyHigh-bush cranberries are easing from orange to red, but the distinctive cranberry fragrance has not yet filled the boreal forest, though it won't be long. The night sky is quite dusky as compared to June and July, but out-of-state visitors still marvel that "it's light" all night long. I search the 2:00AM sky for that first twinkling star or more accurately a planet, but the clouds keep their secrets. I'm sleeping out on the deck, no mosquitoes to bother me. I saw a half moon a week ago, and expect to be surprised by the big bright moon soon.Mary Shields Harnessing Dog

Why would I love winter best? I love it for the quiet, and the clean sparkly snow. But most of all I love it for the winter sled dog trails that take me through the beautiful boreal forest, and I love it for the fun of going out on the trails with my family of sled dogs. For the past 42 years, I have been excited to harness up my team and return to favorite haunts from the previous years. How will last year's pups work out? Mary Shields Feeding DogsWill the old sled hold up another winter?? With my new knee replacement, will I be able to keep up with the dogs on the uphills?? I promised myself I would "keep on mushing" until I was sixty years old. I'm now sixty-six -- what am I thinking?

I guess I'm thinking I love dogsledding and hope to be able to continue for another five or ten years.I can't imagine living through a winter and not getting out on the trails. But it is true I am slower every year. I don't have the strength I used to have.

What will the winter bring? I don't know. I do know I will keep trying. Winter will tell, stay tuned. I'll report again in November. Until then ,
Happy Trails Everyone.
Mary Shields

Mary shares her life of dog mushing with visitors to Fairbanks in the summers. 2011 was her 25th year. If you are interested in learning about Alaska's state sport, check out her web site: