The Cluster

Everyone in New England (& many outside) knows about “The Cluster” & this was the 12th (I think?) year in a row I’ve gone. Yeesh! I’m getting old. πŸ˜‰ One thing is definitely for certain: I don’t remember many of our runs from the last 12 years. Not Q’s or NQ’s or bad calls, or what place we came in or what classes we won. What is lasting are the stories we tell year after year, adding new ones each November.

My first year of the Cluster I was about 12 years old. I was in the seventh grade, running my first sheltie Flame- likely still in Open. We were the masters of the Open standard class seeing as it took us over a year to get out of it ;). That was when the past generation was still around. When 30+ second jumpers runs were blazing fast & we’d do goofy dances at the table to make our friends on the sidelines laugh (looking at you, Carolyn). When every (rare) taped run was done on one of our big, bulky camcorders and ALWAYS started with a close up shot of our butts. (Good thing there was no YouTube then). When we’d sometimes miss our walk thrus but still be able to pull off a Q (Carolyn, I might be looking at you again). It was when the Cluster marked the “end” of the show season (unless you got in the Boston show) because yes, it used to end. When we all had matching jackets, and I had never felt cooler walking through the breed building. When we swarmed the Clean Run booth the first day it opened in order to get the newest pair of Ditas– the ones we waited all year for. When blind crosses usually happened accidentally, and otherwise weren’t “allowed”. The days when “European” moves were running sideways in the poles (looking at you, John) and ketschkers (a ketch- what?!) weren’t even thought of. Before anyone in our agility family had won a national event, or made World Team. We definitely dreamt it, though πŸ˜‰

“Don’t mind me, just picking dog poop off my new shoes with my oatmeal spoon!”

Years later, Nike was there running in novice, getting distracted in the poles and being VERY enthusiastic on the start line (ie, Nike grumbles/ howl-screams) and I had to really start running! Dinner at On The Border became an absolute must (with me drinking strawberry daiquiri- my aunt Mel being absolutely sure to emphasize the fact that they were VIRGIN daiquiri). Our own pre/post Thanksgiving dinner. We gathered around like the giant extended, (mostly) unrelated family we are, sharing laughs (complaints), stories and, of course lots of food. We were a little rowdy occasionally… doing things like dumping out salt shakers to send bottle messages to the other side of our 16 person table asking for our tab to be covered.Β  We still quote Judy Murphy from that night (“Pay for your own damn meal!”). We’d trek back over to our less than luxurious Red Roof room (right next to the stairs? How convenient!).

Glad I get to enjoy double Q-ritas now. WITH tequila πŸ˜‰

There have been lots of MACH runs, victory laps, cakes, and bars (and maybe a fake MACH one year… Whoops!). Sometimes the weather was warm enough to walk the top of the hill in between runs- which we may or may not rolled down once or twice in the better weather. Other years there were snow storms, hail storms, freezing rain and power outages. Smells of cougars/ mountain lions/ pumas lingered in the corner of the back rings. By day two, the dirt was coming out of our noses. Our feet and backs aching with too much time on concrete floors. We’d order pizza and sit ringside to watch the ISC classes– I’d study the courses, wanting so badly to some day compete. It might have been one of those years when I set my mind on getting to world team.

Last year was Bolt’s first Cluster & things were so different than they had been. This year was too. The ISC class is gone, dinner was much smaller, and four days of showing shrank to two for me. Some of our very good, long time friends weren’t there like they should have been. Their absence was felt. For us, it was Paulette’s in particular. The ISC class was replaced by an ISC match in her honor. The other three rings also dedicated to other lost friends, competitors and dogs. It was sort of an overwhelming experience. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry (again). Her picture was there all weekend, a reminder of how much has changed, but also as a reminder of why I’ve been working so hard. Her Bare Cove family was very well represented & I can imagine her beaming with pride.

Bolt & the collage made for Paulette.

Β Not sure how much will have changed by next year’s Cluster, but I know we will be there again- come dirt filled noses, pumas, snow & anything else thrown our way & I’ll be so thankful that our agility family will be there again too.

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