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Book Title: Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers: Reflections on Being Raised by a Pack of Sled Dogs|
The author of the book: Gary Paulsen
Edition: HMH Books for Young Readers
Date of issue: August 1st 2007
ISBN 13: 9780152061036
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 460 KB
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Reader ratings: 5.5
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My dog annoys me a lot of the time. She's a small, snarly breed (yorkiepoo) who attacks members of our family without warning or provocation. When she's perched on a high piece of furniture (especially a bed), she feels big enough to challenge us and often does so, staring us down if we enter the room, daring us to come within snapping distance. She's obsessively possessive of cough drops and chocolate, hoarding those little bits of poison in her makeshift lairs and assaulting anyone who unwittingly edges too near. She and I mostly steer clear of each other, but that changes temporarily whenever I read a Gary Paulsen book about him and his dogs. The companionship to the deepest part of the soul that is poignantly expressed in these books affects the way I see my own dog, softening my resentment toward her, and I believe she senses it. After finishing Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers: Reflections on Being Raised by a Pack of Sled Dogs, I got down on the floor on an equal level with my dog to pet her. She almost always walks away if I extend an invitation to hop up and join me on the couch, but when I'm on the floor she ambles over and wants me to pet her. The kinship between man and dog in this book is so winsome that it bled over into my life and influenced the way I interacted with my pet, and how rarely can a book boast an impact like that? Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers is not just another Gary Paulsen wilderness memoir; it's one of the finest books of his long, distinguished career in children's literature, a bright star among many bright stars that twinkles with a braver, fiercer light than all but one or two Paulsen offerings. This is one of the better children's books you're likely to read.
Gary Paulsen knew and worked with scores of terrific dogs during his sledding career, but Cookie was as memorable as any of them, a passionate animal with an unbreakable will. She bore numerous litters of champion dogs: natural leaders and indefatigable sled-pullers who saved Paulsen's life many times on runs in the dead of Minnesota winter. Her final litter was fathered by a ragtag hound named Rex, whom Cookie jumped in the middle of a sled run for a quick mating session. After this overture Paulsen could expect a batch of puppies in precisely sixty-five days (Cookie was a dependable gestator), and as he made camp to allow the unexpected romantic interlude to play out, he pondered the nature of love and mating. The act of carnal knowledge is a ceremony of mystery and wonder with nothing artificial in it, simply two creatures acting on nature's prodding to be close. Intercourse isn't dirty and it's not a lustful game; it's the joining of two souls for the miracle of creating kids who are part of both parents yet somehow entirely their own beings. Paulsen writes about his thoughts as he listened to Cookie and Rex: "(T)he sounds were sweet, soft, gentle—not whines so much as terms of endearment, courtesy, and hope. They made me think of all the good parts of living and loving; how two can honestly become one; how we have made it all seem pointless with posturing and fashion and frills but that it is not frivolous, it is as old and meaningful as time, and it has all to do with the one thing that we are on earth to do—to make more, to make better, to bring new things into it, into life." Humans joke about sex and twist it into something it isn't, something vulgar or profane, but in nature the act is sacred, and its unapologetic consummation between two of Paulsen's sled dogs let him see that clearly. Cookie and Rex's unplanned mating led to what happens for the rest of this book.
Cookie's litter was due mid-January, a hectic month for dogsledders in northern Minnesota. Her time came just as one of the worst blizzards Paulsen ever saw whipped across the state, temperatures nosediving to forty degrees below zero Fahrenheit, one hundred below with windchill factored in. Cookie lived with the other dogs in an outdoor kennel and couldn't be brought into the house to give birth—her winter coat was in full bloom, which would make the heat indoors life-threatening—but Paulsen couldn't leave her to have the puppies in the kennel, not in this weather. The sopping-wet pups would turn to ice in seconds. Paulsen erected a crude shelter for Cookie and himself out of straw bales, stacking them in a rounded enclosure like an igloo to keep the braying winds and lethal cold at arm's length. Insulated sufficiently from the elements, Cookie had her litter a few hours later as Paulsen bided his time sitting nearby. Seven warm, gray puppies she tugged from inside herself, miniature versions of the magnificent sled dog Cookie was, but the eighth and final pup was stillborn, dead upon delivery. Cookie and Paulsen both did their best to resuscitate the unresponsive babe, but it was beyond help. With a heavy heart Paulsen attempted to remove the last puppy Cookie would ever birth, but the mother was far from ready to give up on her child. Even as Paulsen continued to try and whisk the dead infant off the scene so Cookie could focus on her other children, the mother's heart would not let her baby go, and she put Paulsen on notice in no uncertain terms that taking the puppy from her would not be tolerated. The lengths she went to in order to guard her deceased pup make for as emotional a story as anything Gary Paulsen has written, and form the foundation of this book. It is sobering and awe-inspiring.
Newborns grow into frisky, happy puppies, and their joy around a farm and a kennel are infectious. An entire chapter is devoted to the blessing of having the puppies around. The older dogs had games of their own they played with the pups, a surprising variety of fun that no two adult dogs conducted in the same way. It's humorous and heartwarming to read, demonstrating the intelligence and creativity of the kenneled canines. Carlisle the quick red dog's game is my favorite, but all of them mentioned in Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers bring a smile to one's face. The adults didn't avoid the pups because they were immature; they delighted in being part of their lives. "All the adult dogs wanted to be visited by the pups—males, females, young and old. They loved the little pack—as they had loved all the puppies we had raised—and they would reach out and try to snag the puppies into their circle as they went by, hooking them with a foot and pulling them in to play and roll, and I could not watch it without thinking of them all not as a kennel or a pack but as a wonderfully happy family with fifty-odd uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters and parents and grandparents." The puppies reciprocated their elders' affection. "The puppies, fat and round and happy, spread an almost consummate joy wherever they went, and if it took all morning they would go to every single dog to say hello and play, at least for a few minutes." The dogs knew they'd miss out on a lot of joy on if they restricted themselves to age-based cliques, and never made that mistake. By playing together and all becoming friends, their kennel was a happier place. And games weren't the only aspect of their interaction. Paulsen tells of the education imparted by the elder generation to the rambunctious young ones, on subjects including how to get food from inside a hard beaver skull, self-cleaning, and singing. And just like human kids, the puppies "learned of love simply because of what they were—puppies—and it is impossible not to love them, even when they are eating your favorite parka that you left on a doghouse for just a minute while you ran to the bathroom." Kids and puppies get into mischief whether they mean to or not, but they learn of love early on because we can't help loving them in spite of their occasional naughtiness. Unconditional love is the model they learn to follow in interacting with parents, peers, and someday their own kids, and the seeds are planted when they're little. There's no more rewarding stage of life than childhood.
Gary Paulsen relates several anecdotes of letting the young dogs into his home when they grew old enough to be curious, and the damage they inflicted inside in the space of a few seconds. Paulsen was in the early stages of training Cookie's pups to be members of a sled team, but he thought it would be good for them to get a taste of life indoors, so he let them in several times in spite of the minor devastation caused during their first romp. As the dogs became comfortable in the house, they eventually passed that instinct on to their own descendants, and having them visit the house every now and again ended up as part of the routine. When the pups were ready to be harnessed to a sled for their first voyage through the crisp virgin snow of Minnesota wilderness, their ecstasy was boundless, and they were almost impossible to control. They chased every animal that popped into view—mice, squirrels, grouse, rabbits, even a moose, a car, and a coyote—but didn't catch any of them, not that they minded. As Paulsen says, "Nothing mattered but the day and the sun and the snow and the celebration of the first glorious run with the young dogs." When you're young and have limitless energy, potential, and ambition, and all you want is to be free and try daring new things and get caught up in the euphoria of life with your friends who are equally excited about testing their strength and talent, it doesn't matter much on any given day whether you accomplished what you aimed to. You were out there giving it your all and being innovative and crazy, and that's what you'll remember about those youthful days beside friends with the future seemingly endless before you like the clean snow of a wilderness sled run, feeling like you can do no wrong. It's a joyous season of life.
On a night early in the pups' training, Paulsen tells of a sled run that started out uncommonly well, but detoured sharply into disaster. When many Minnesota train routes were rendered obsolete by the advent of trucks to transport supplies, the train tracks were removed but the paths retained for dogsledders and other sportsmen to use. The wooden trestles remained to allow passage over lakes and rivers, but once when Paulsen took his dogs on a long run, they ran into a problem halfway across a trestle. The dogs stopped abruptly and Paulsen was thrown from the sled to the snowbank ten feet below, luckily avoiding the unforgiving ice and freezing river. After he collected himself, Paulsen had a big problem: trying to get his dogs to reverse course in a coordinated manner. He decided his best option was to untie them one at a time so they could move independently, but as he did they each ran off into the night, bound for home. Even Cookie, the last dog untied, deserted Paulsen, leaving him with a multi-day journey through heavy snow and bitter cold while hauling his own dogsled. He knew the dogs were only doing as they were taught by racing for home, but that didn't ease his predicament. The story was nowhere near over, though. Cookie was not a typical sled dog, and her response to this trial was as incredible as we've come to expect by now. It's another emotional high point of the book.
The final chapter is called "Last Run", and get ready for a story as poignant as the title foreshadows. Paulsen was concerned when Cookie started limping in recent runs, and consulted a veterinarian. After years as Paulsen's incomparably dependable lead dog, it's arthritis of the back ankles that took Cookie down. She couldn't run sleds anymore, the vet unequivocally said. Paulsen weaned her off life in the kennel and into the main house, where he and his wife had quite a time keeping Cookie under control. She was used to being in charge of her home; why should that change because she was shacking up with humans instead of dogs? At least one unfortunate house cat made a meal for Cookie, collar and all, before Paulsen realized he had to be specific about each individual domesticated animal Cookie wasn't permitted to snack on. It wasn't long before Paulsen received bad health news of his own, a heart condition that would prevent him from ever entering another sled race. Changes in diet and exercise ameliorated his health, but he had to join Cookie in retirement from dogsledding. He tried to sit and relax with her in the house, read books, take notes for novels he wanted to write, and watch television, but settling into a sedentary lifestyle isn't easy for a man and his canine companion who have enjoyed the rush of sledding the perilous paths of Minnesota winter. "I had come to know greater things in my life" than taking it easy, Paulsen says, and being kept from participating in them was difficult. Paulsen learned to hold conversations with his old sledding partner, trying to view their current condition as the start of a new adventure for him and Cookie rather than the end of a legendary partnership. But the love of the run still pumped through Cookie's veins as it did Paulsen's. Even after the other dogs were sent away and the kennel removed, Cookie remembered exactly where she'd stood to have Paulsen harness her to the team, and twice her instincts overrode her new lifestyle and she hopped out of the house and trotted to her old position, proudly waiting to be tied in with the team for a glorious run through moonlit Minnesota night. In her heart of hearts she couldn't accept that she would never again feel the thrill of racing on such a night. And then one day the end was at hand for an old dog who hadn't run the trails in years, and lifelong friends were separated by the part of life's wondrous story that one wishes would not come, the end. Love buried beneath the patch of earth where so many memories were made isn't love ended but deferred, transformed from the physical plane to the realm of vivid memories that will forever hold true of halcyon days enjoyed together, "of when she was young and there was nothing in front of us but the iceblink on the horizon, and I hoped wherever dogs go she would find a lot of good meat and fat and now and then a run." Goodbye is the hardest part of any story, but it can't undo the joyful moments that preceded it. No matter what, those are ours for keeps.
I can't explain how Gary Paulsen packed this much emotion and meaning into eighty-one pages. And Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers features many full-page illustrations by Ruth Wright Paulsen, generally at least one per chapter, which means the story is shorter than the page count indicates. It is a masterpiece, a perfect example for authors who release mammoth tomes yet can't generate more than a fraction of this book's emotional potency. Gary Paulsen is one of the greatest writers of his era, but I still marvel each time he produces a book that touches me this deeply. If you love Woodsong, you're going to want to read Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers. I don't know if I can express how much it means to me, but I've tried my best here. This book is an intense love letter to a way of life and the tempestuous bond between humanity and the wild, and will keep the winterdance alive long after Gary Paulsen is gone. And that, my friends, is a priceless gift.
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Read information about the authorAlthough he was never a dedicated student, Paulsen developed a passion for reading at an early age. After a librarian gave him a book to read--along with his own library card--he was hooked. He began spending hours alone in the basement of his apartment building, reading one book after another.
Running away from home at the age of 14 and traveling with a carnival, Paulsen acquired a taste for adventure. A youthful summer of rigorous chores on a farm; jobs as an engineer, construction worker, ranch hand, truck driver, and sailor; and two rounds of the 1,180-mile Alaskan dog sled race, the Iditarod; have provided ample material from which he creates his stories.
Paulsen and his wife, Ruth Wright Paulsen, an artist who has illustrated several of his books, divide their time between a home in New Mexico and a boat in the Pacific.