by: Gary Paulsen
illustrations by: Ruth Wright Paulsen
Bradbury Press/Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990
Gary Paulsen ran the Iditarod twice. Once in 1983 and again in 1985. The account in Woodsong is from the journal he kept for the 1983 race. He finished that race in 17 days.
The Iditarod is a predetermined long distance dog race from Anchorage to Nome and covers almost 1,000 miles. The official length is 1,049 miles, honoring the entrance of Alaska as our 49th state. It begins on the first Saturday in March and finishes when the last musher reaches Nome, two to three weeks later.
To run a team in the Iditarod requires lots of training. If this is your first race, you must submit proof of completing at least two races of 300 miles each and one race of 150 miles. You need paperwork regarding good health and humane treatment of the dogs, a list of sponsors and $4000.
I have no plans on running the Iditarod or any other race. But my relationship with animals goes back pretty far, even though we were not allowed to have a pet with fur. My mom and dad always told us it had to do with walking, cleaning up and the generally huge responsibility of caring for something totally dependent on us.
As I grew up, I suspected it had something to do with the heartbreak my mom experienced when my grandma sent Mom’s dog off to war. She was a young woman, late teens, probably, and Blackie had been a true and loyal friend since he was a puppy. When the call for volunteer dogs was sent up from the U. S. Army, Grandma answered with Blackie. He didn’t come home.
So we had a series of short-lived goldfish and longer-lived turtles, all named Oscar, the later ones with Roman Numerals after their name, Oscar II, III, IV and so on. I’m not sure how many Oscars are in the ground behind the house where we grew up. I don’t know why they were all named that.
But no dogs.
We got our first cat when the father of the children I babysat became allergic to him. Princey was a big black and white who lived up to his name. He didn’t rule the house, but he changed the family dynamic in important ways.
Now we had to be responsible. Princey had needs: food, water, clean litter, and cuddles. He was a grown-up cat, but liked laps. He had his moments, though. He’d catch something in the corner of his eye (that was in another dimension, I’m sure) and take off like a shot, running through the house and ending half-way up the doorjamb in the hallway. Then he’d do a little shake and look at us as if he was saying, “What are you looking at me for?”
Princey was a good cat until he got sick. My folks, then my mom had a series of cats after that. But none like Princey. And no dogs.
Cats are still in my life. Each one is kinda different and each one is kinda the same. I love them all.