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Dog naming is one of my favourite parts of mushing,” says Brad Muir, owner of Sundogs Excursions in Waskesiu, speaking slowly and philosophically while describing his naming ritual for new litters of potential future sled dogs.
There is Biscotti, Allegro, Pesto and co-lead, La Dolce Vita. Well-known Italian fare and adage it would seem, served as direct inspiration for one particular batch of fuzzy-headed Alaskan husky pups, all born four years ago on New Year’s Day.
The naming ceremony, a thoughtful process for Muir, takes part on the first full moon after a new litter is welcomed. “I love to lie in bed, moon in the window, drawing together my experiences in mushing.” Muir asserts he never names a dog after a person. Instead, what most often inspires him is the environment around and above him. Naming ceremonies often centre on a theme.
Nine years ago, celestial phenomena served as inspiration for another themed litter: Arcturus, Étoile, Eclipse, and Equinox. Arcturus, named for the brightest star of the northern celestial hemisphere’s Böotes constellation, would live up to his name, I would learn.
Arcturus is Muir’s strong, focused, and disciplined lead dog. With co-lead La Dolce Vita at his side and four other sled dogs following suit, he would lead us deep into Prince Albert National Park’s boreal forest.
It’s a frigid February when we meet up with Muir near Anglin Lake on the southern edge of the great northern forest. Since 1997, Muir’s been running dogsledding and winter camping expeditions for those he says “are seeking adventure, and a basic primal connection with a wild heritage.”
Muir, a park naturalist since 1981, is a gentle spirit, eager to share his thoughtful philosophies and panoptic knowledge of the park and its ecosystems.
His goal, in fact, for those who take in a winter adventure, is for the experience “to leave an imprint on your heart, mind, and outlook.”
“I hope it will leave people with a better understanding of local ecosystems and encourage them to live more simply and be aware, and grateful for everything we have.” These, he says, are the grandest takeaways from such an experience.
It was precisely for these reasons I came back for a second installment of winter enjoyment. Last year’s excursions of dogsledding and wildlife trekking had imprinted on me—big time. In fact, though a longtime resident of the province, my perception of winter in Saskatchewan, and how to celebrate its solace, beauty, and adventure, shifted.
This year’s experience however, would be much more extreme as we would be camping outside. After months of severe cold weather, February had arrived and its typical weather followed suit.
It was the kind of Saskatchewan day that would fool most in a photo—a dreamy landscape complete with a bright blue sky, beaming sun and sparkling, crisp, white snow—the kind of day that leaves you snow blind.
Those from this part of the country know days like this are usually some of the coldest. And in this case, they would be right. The morning started out at -29° Celsius.
After downing a second cup of Muir’s freshly brewed coffee, we readied the two teams of dogs that would transport the four of us. We were headed on a 7-mile ride to Beaverdam Lake, where our back country camp at Great Heron Provincial Park awaited.
After a slightly bumpy but relaxing 45-minute ride through the snow-canopied forest, we arrived. Chilly from sitting, I decided on a brief walk around camp to survey the surroundings and better acclimate to the extreme temperature.
I quickly discovered what a difference being properly dressed made. I mean, it sounds simple enough, but during the last excursion with Muir, I had made some errors in clothing choice: this time around it would seem I had chosen wisely. I was surprised at how easy it was to actually be outside in such extreme cold. And thankful.
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