The lead dog was called Gandy.
If he didn't go, nobody
did. Jannick the musher
was Danish. I almost didn't catch
his name. It was so windy
and the wind was so loud.
"Yah! Gandy, yah!" he sang out.
Also whistled and clicked
his tongue. He stood on skis and slid
along beside the sled. If the sled
went too fast he sat down
on the front. So he was the brake.
His face was bright pink.
He laughed a lot and explained
everything. We weren't on the glacier
but on the runoff of gravelly snow
and ice and dirt that skirts
the glacier. "The name for this—
I forget it in English." We bumped
along. Tilted and jolted.
Lily sat up front, my arm around
her waist, her hair flickering
in my eyes. We almost tipped over
more than once. Then stopped
to let it in: the snapping wind,
that buffeting hum. And everything
cloud-colored: a gray sky
falling into gray snow.
He took our picture with the dogs
and they were gray too: a patchwork
of gray and dark gray,
sandy browns and black, silvery
white; their long, coarse fur
greasy like duck feathers. "Waterproof,"
Jannick assured us, gloves off.
"Feel how warm the skin is
under all this." They pulled against
their harnesses, anxious
to get going again. Nosed us
as he called out their names:
"Gandy, Darwin and Apollo,
Little Franka, Pedro, Bacon, Gnist."
These dogs once hunted polar bears
and seals. "Well, not these
particular dogs, but the breed."
Now Darwin rolled over
on the crusty snow. Franka's
broad head was blunt and black
as an anvil. Lily cradled it
in her arms. "You can't stay
out long," Jannick said. "Weather's
too chancy. Changes fast." So—
we swung the sled around, retraced
the slushy ruts of sled tracks
and ski tracks. The other dogs
left behind at the camp cried
and barked as we drew near.
They could smell us before we could
see them. Back inside, he lit up
his pipe. We hung our borrowed
snowsuits up to dry.
Sat in the now-loud silence
till the kettle—
Jannick's cell phone
trilled. The next riders
would be there soon. We sipped
instant coffee while he waited
for our Visa to go through.
Old Schmidt clacks two sticks to tell his sheep it’s time for bed he smells like a barn Mother says blue overalls always muddy always something filthy in his hands a hoe or rake a snake a dead bird a wiry dog trots alongside dirty as he is tin bell around its neck so weird familiar music comes drifting back bark jingle mutter clack and fades away they were a little family it’s true it’s time he calls time to go back over the hill into the barn where he did sometimes drowse beside them where he was happiest there in the dry hay the sagging gray barn they locked up they burned down one night all the sheep inside.