The Quest

Pictures taken in Arctic Alaska around 1907

The project began nearly 20 years ago. I remember the conversation with Alaska’s state archeologist Michael Kuntz who discovered the Mesa site.

When I asked him if the first paleoindians had malamutes 12,000 years ago, and if so, whether or not they physically resembled our modern Alaskan malamutes. This he couldn’t confirm, but he did confirm that the paleoindians definitely had dogs.

So, whatever cold weather or arctic traits that were beneficial for dogs to posses back then, should hold true for today especially since the land and climate in those days were similar to what it is now.

So, this brings us to the question of what are suitable Arctic comparable traits for Alaska’s Arctic? And this is what my quest is about.

First, I want to empathize “Alaska’s Arctic” because it is very unique in comparison to other polar regions of the world.

Arctic Alaska consists mostly of the Brooks mountain range where snow is sometimes three to five feet deep. The Brooks Range is the world’s highest range of mountains within the Arctic circle. It extends 600 miles west to east and reaches heights of 8,500-9,000 feet and widths of 200 miles.

So, obviously the indigenous people and their dogs who lived there had to deal with deep snow. And we know for certainty that most indigenous people resided in the mountains during winter.

So this is the reason why the malamutes are larger framed dogs in comparison to Greenland and Inuit dogs.

Secondly, even though we have AKC standards, I believe, they aren’t descriptive enough. (I have written more about this subject in my latest book).

After all, the authors of the standards did not have any sled dog travel with malamutes in Arctic Alaska.

This is what my quest is about: to discover and document exactly what it takes for dogs to live, thrive and travel in Arctic Alaska.

Let’s go back in time:

With new data and DNA testing, we now have proof that markers from Tibetan wolves are in a few Alaskan malamute bloodlines.

We can safely say now, that Alaskan malamutes accompanied the first paleoindians who crossed the land ridge (beringia) from Asia 12,000 to 14,000 years.

When we look into the eyes of our happy-go-lucky malamutes begging for popcorn, we are looking into the eyes of ancient history.

Not only a dog-breed history but also an ancient peoples’ history. By preserving Alaskan malamutes to be as close to original Arctic compatible dogs, we are actually preserving an ancient peoples’ culture and history as well.

For many decades I’ve studied and documented specific Arctic compatible traits in dogs. These documents will be published in my next book, along with the continuation of my training strategy.

I feel it’s pertinent to preserve the Alaskan malamute breed, thereby we also help preserve the culture of the first paleoindians who’s ancestors are spread all over the country from New Mexico, Arizona to Utqiagvik (Barrow) Alaska.

For those interested I’ve posted the study. It was published in 2015 and was the most extensive study at that time. Two of our malamutes were in the study.

The Call

When I ventured alone deep into the thick and silent forests of Michigan’s countryside, the aroma of fresh soil, pine and cedar trees mixed with campfire smoke sent an inviting fragrance that I could not resist. I felt a calling and decided that in this manner I would live my life.

I questioned back then, but now know, that this simple calling that I have been following for over 52 years is a God-given call. It is still vibrant and alive in my spirit.

Albeit, this calling has taken me to the underwater scuba-diving world in the Atlantic Ocean, to dog sledding on Arctic Sea ice, I’m still following my call.

Though, many wonder and some have asked me “why do you venture into the Arctic wilderness for up to five months at a time without seeing another person?” I want to say, it’s not to make a splash in polar exploration, breaking records or none of this nonsense. These are merely “byproducts” for lack of better words.

It’s all about following my call.

I’m still pursuing that fragrance of nature that I felt as an eight year old boy, sitting by a campfire in Michigan’s forest, and, I’m still in awe and wonder of God’s magnificent creation.

I believe its a hunger and thirst for us all.

Of course, it’s a rare desire for anyone to pursue it at the extent that I have.

However, this creation of nature that surrounds us in everyday life, this gift from God, is for everyone to see, and feel and be awestruck like an eight year old kid, alone, in the dark of night, sitting by a lonely campfire deep in a Michigan’s forest.

Profound Insignificance

March 20th 2021

The landscape is strangely void of wildlife.  Usually there are red foxes running about and pouncing on lemmings hiding under the snow, or they might be stalking ptarmigan roosting in willow.  Or you might see a lone wolf wandering by, but always, you will see large flocks of ptarmigan fly overhead and descend on willows beside the frozen rivers and streams.

So far, I’ve seen one ptarmigan.  Its wings sounded like a faint and lonely heartbeat as it passed overhead.

Similarly, to other wildlife species, the ptarmigan population rises and falls every ten years or so.  And following the down cycle of ptarmigan, red foxes and birds of prey that include ptarmigan in their diets, have also fallen in numbers.

I often view nature and its events in relation with life. Sometimes nature’s lessons are quite profound to me.  I have found that small and seemingly insignificant things in life are sometimes most important.  Like the ptarmigan, one wouldn’t think their decline in population would drastically affect an ecosystem…

Now, it’s July 20th, 2021, and as I’m inside our home, copying my notes from this past winter’s journal and reflecting on what I had written several months earlier, the malamutes are singing a very pleasant and harmonious tune. Outside my window are two swallows darting back and forth over the pond. And every few minutes, trout leap vibrantly out of the glassy calm water with the morning sun highlighting their rainbow-colored skins.

Meanwhile swarms of mosquitoes are buzzing about by the screen window. Even though I hate these pests that torture us and the malamutes and other animals, however similarly to ptarmigan, they are the foundation of an ecosystem in the boreal forest regions. Unlike ptarmigan however, that are a beautiful white plumaged grouse that is pleasant to the eyes and to be around, the mosquito is the ugliest and most annoying, cussed and cursed, hated and despised vicious thing on earth.

Yet, without them, trout will starve and swallows would probably be extinct. 

When we view nature through a clear lens we realize that it has a clever way of teaching us about life.

During our lives, there are hardships, some that are mere annoyances like the mosquito, and some are heartbreaking, excruciating painful and devastating.  These hardships are foundations of growth and nourishment.  They are part of life’s “ecosystem”.

Simply, they are building blocks of strength and character. 

Along with strength and character come virtues of humility, meekness, charity, love and kindness.

Nowadays, I have noticed, in our twisted society where it’s a race to be rich and famous, and where people assert themselves on others, or “step” on them to get what they want, consider these virtues of strength to be weaknesses. 

It’s unfortunate how our society has changed. The truth is; people of strength and character are self-assured and haven’t any desire or need to assert themselves on others. They are very capable of going without everything they want, tolerating pain and suffering, sorrows, indignations and criticisms from others.

Basically, they are tough as hell.

They can deal with whatever life throws at them. Additionally, it has been found through psychological studies that people who silently deal with hardships are happier people.

Just remember how our Lord Jesus reacted when he was mocked, tortured and crucified; perfect strength. 

The Lone Trail

The trail lies deep and narrow in the powdery snow. From a distance it looks like a lazy line drawn across the white.

It twists and turns around willow brush, across wide sweeping valleys and over gentle hills until it disappears on the horizon.

It’s a bitter-sweet trail that is cussed and cursed, blessed and cherished.

It’s a lone trail that is never seen by others. Mostly though, it’s a silent trail except for the crackling sounds of my breath in the cold crisp air and the crunching snow under my snowshoes as I walk in rhythm to my heartbeat.

But it’s not just an ordinary Trail. It’s the signature on the landscape of an Arctic traveler and a dogteam doing what they we were born to do. -Joe G Henderson

The Cheerful Warrior’s Heart

When you’re on an expedition, alone, miles and miles away from civilization, no chance ever to be rescued if you screw-up, you have to accept the fact that life is a journey, a very mysterious journey, and is absolutely and positively not a destiny.

In life, similarly to an Arctic expedition, we are going to experience everyday ups-and-downs, heartbreaks, tragedies, pain, suffering and fear.

However, these are the ingredients and flavors that when stirred together, allowed to simmer with time, lots of time, the result will bring you strength, humility and kindness of heart.

So the next time you feel beat-up, defeated, devastated and in sorrow, just look at your malamute. And if you don’t have a malamute, barrow one. You may find they posses these characteristics. That’s the reason we call them our beloved cheerful warriors.

Our Founding Fathers

There is no greater love, honor and courage then the sacrifices that our founding fathers and men and women of the armed services have given to us.

Where would we be if our 56 founders kept silent and our men and women of armed services did not defend us against our past and present enemies?

The 4th of July is a day of celebration for the USA. It’s the day we commemorate our founding fathers who had the courage to sign the Declaration of Independence.

However, when our founding founders signed the Declaration of Independence they didn’t celebrate.

They knew that they would immediately be hunted, tortured, imprisoned or killed for signing it.

They had everything to lose and nothing to gain except the hope that some day, in the future, our citizens would be free.

Most of them lived comfortable lives before they made their sacrifices for us. They had families with children, farms and nearly half of them were lawyers or justices. They wrote:

“For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

The two key words in this statement is “Divine providence”.

Our founding fathers knew they were guided to do the Lord’s will regardless the punishments they would face by the British military.

Those men understood the divine rewards would be greater than any earthly comforts they could ever have.

Our founding fathers had the type of courage and strength that only the Lord cam provide.

The Hard Fought Trail

“The darkness of suffering has entombed me but my soul is lifted by the fire’s bright flames that are illuminating my comrades by my side.

Their loyalty, love and adoration for me rejuvenates my spirit. Even though the trail has been a hard-fought battle, I know in my heart with relished gladness, I will have the strength to continue and give my malamutes the opportunity to do what they love and are born to do.

I also realize that this battle is only one page of my life and there are many more pages and chapters to be lived that will bring me joy.

Inserts from my journal in the upcoming book

Endless Strength

When a dog discovers that his strength has a limit he will accept this limit as the peak of his strength.

If he does not know his limit, and has never discovered it, then he will reach deep within himself and exhibit feats of strength beyond human comprehension and accomplish what some have said is impossible. – Joe G Henderson

One Being

“When I travel with my team we are one being, one cohesive unit that works and lives together.

Neither they nor I will survive without the other. My relationship with the dogs is humanlike. They are like family, brothers, sisters and friends who I have gotten to know, discovering their unique personalities, weaknesses, quirks and strengths.

I don’t look at them as beasts of burdens and they don’t look at me as their master. They relate to me like a friend whom they love and adore and want to please.

They will do anything that they know pleases me. But I will never take advantage of their inherent desire to please. If I do, then I will lose their trust and we will fail miserably.”

-Joe G Henderson