A Squirrel's Lessons: What I Learned in a Month at Bacon's Acres

Hello, Zoe here! I met Kristin in Nome during this year’s Iditarod. Half a year later, I came down to Big Lake to help with what Kristin calls “squirrel season.” That’s the time of year when summer slides into autumn, the nights get cooler (and come sooner!), and there is plenty to do to get ready for a long winter. I learned the basics of running dogs and helped with as many odd jobs as I could, and my month at Bacon’s Acres was gone before I knew it.

I’m back in Nome now, missing o-dark-thirty pre-run coffee with Kristin and the best tail waggers I’ve ever met. I left behind a bit of my heart, but I’ve been thinking about the lessons I’ve taken home with me.

  1. Pay attention

    Whether running dogs or tackling projects around the property, I quickly learned to use all my senses, at all times. Looking over lines for frays and bites. Listening for an outburst of barking that could mean something astir in the dog yard. Finding each dog’s hip bones with the palm of my hand, feeling them through plush fur to judge the dogs’ weight. Sniffing the steam rising from giant pots of meat to be sure I didn’t burn the bottom. Sampling stew and spaghetti I would portion out to be vacuum sealed and frozen for trail meals, aiming for salty and fatty enough to be enticing even when Kristin’s too tired to be hungry. It was a lot to take in, and taking it all in was vital.

  2. Making mistakes is the fastest way to learn

    It’s good to be corrected—then you’re sure of how something should be done. Otherwise you don’t know if you did it right or it doesn’t matter or your mistake has simply gone unnoticed. Being wrong can be stressful and embarrassing, but you learn quickly. However, always, always strive to do things correctly the first time and every time, because—

  3. The stakes are high

    There’s a big difference between riding along on the back of ATV and being the one who’s driving. The first time I had dogs hooked up, the weight of responsibility struck me: that’s four, six, eight… lives attached to you, in a literal, physical sense. When you run dogs, you are in charge of their safety. Take that seriously.

  4. The right tools help

    I came to deeply appreciate simple tools for simple tasks: dog booties, a drill, a thermos that keeps coffee hot for hours. And while there is nothing like a good branch lopper, if you use a lopper when what you need is an ax, it will be a much longer and harder job. That said, when what you’ve got is a lopper…

  5. Make do

    The lopper can do it. You can find a way to tie off your dogs with pretty much any kind of line you have at hand. If the dryer doesn’t work, you can hang your clothes outside. Kristin and I would take this approach to cooking as well, yielding culinary inventions like the one-pot leftover-nacho-toppings-on-two-kinds-of-pasta-plus-miscellaneous-vegetables-and-thai-simmer-sauce delight.

  6. Seize the moment

    A similar mentality to using the right tools for the job. When it’s sunny, do laundry and lay out your clothes. When it rains, wrap booties. When someone texts you in the morning about an entire hog up for grabs…

  7. Be flexible

    Inevitably, someone will text you in the morning about an entire hog up for grabs. That’s 100+ pounds of meat, and with meat a dollar a pound, and a couple dozen hungry dogs in the yard, it makes sense to take advantage of the opportunity. It amazed me how often opportunities like this came up.

  8. Be grateful

    In just the one month I was resident squirrel at Bacon’s Acres, I saw so many people donate food, funds, and other kinds of support to Kristin and the dogs. Running dogs is kind of a crazy thing to do, and no musher could do it without help. Kristin talked a lot about all the people in her life who hold her up, and it made me think about the people holding me up, too.

    And this crazy life at Bacon’s Acres holds a lot of other things to be grateful for: the pond and the sandhill cranes, gorgeous dawn runs when most of the neighbors are still asleep, the dogs, the dogs, THE DOGS.

  9. Be joyful

    A lesson I learned as much from Kristin as those dogs themselves. There is so much beauty left in this world, and I want to keep finding it, sticking my nose in it, rolling around in it. There’s always humor. There is deep pleasure in completing things, and in competence, in calmness.

Although my squirrel days have come to an end, I know I’ll be thinking about Bacon’s Acres and my time there, through the long winter and every season to come. Can’t wait to welcome the team back to Nome!