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A Fowl Experience
By Jim Lanier

...A dozen dogs stuck in a coop
In a scene that was most whacky
A few hens wound up fricasseed,
And Jim lost two hours to Mackey...
                       (From the Cheechako Chronicles, by Hurricane Dave)

During my thirty plus years of mushing the Iditarod, I've experienced many fine miseries. One of the finest occurred as I drove my dog team up the Yentna River, veered slightly off the main river trail and charged up the riverbank, stopping in front of a cabin, a part of Riversong Lodge. Sensing that someone was inside, I knocked on the cabin door, which was opened by the lodge's winter caretaker. Such caretakers are often short on company and welcome a stranger (not all, some being in that situation for a reason). Anyway, this guy invited me to come in for coffee and to sit for a spell, and I didn't mind if I did.

Finished with both the coffee and the sitting, and once again outside at my sled, I heard the caretaker say," No need to turn your team around. Just go straight ahead. That trail you're on makes a right turn just beyond the main lodge and then continues back down to the river." Thanks," said I, "I'll take your advice." I pulled the snow hook, releasing the sled, and sure enough, we turned to the right, just beyond the building and headed for the river. We were also headed, fatefully, for several large barnyard geese, strutting smack dab in the middle of the trail. The dogs went bananas and charged. With a relatively soft trail surface there was no way on God's green Earth I could hold them back. Then the geese, honking loudly and as if following a script, waddled off the trail toward a nearby chicken coop, with chickens. I urged the leaders, "On by!" (Go straight ahead, and don't even think about going after those birds!) The leaders gamely obeyed my command, but the rest of the dogs cried fowl and pulled off for the poultry. With a sort of "What the hell!?" the leaders abandoned all and joined in the chase. Totally out of my control, out of any control whatsoever, they chased the chickens through their small rectangular door and into the coop. Before I could snap out of my stupefied amazement, they were followed in rapid succession by the next several members of the team.

So I found myself sitting on the snow, feet propped astride the little door, yanking on the gangline and extracting the team from the chicken coop, one dog at a time and each with a squawking, bleeding chicken in its mouth. Noticing the caretaker, I started to apologize for the ruckus and for the damaged chickens, but he interrupted, "It's ok. This is the most fun I've had all winter!"

About the Author: Jim Lanier, Iditarod musher and author, is at work on "Beyond Ophir - Confessions of an Iditarod Musher."

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