The Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race is a famous race held each year between Anchorage and Nome, Alaska. However the Iditarod is more than a race. It is over one thousand miles of cold and wind and snow and ice. It is days and nights where sleep deprivation causes hallucinations that can be worse than the most terrible nightmare. But above all it is an endurance test of a person and a team of dogs. Woodsong is, in part, a day-by-day account of Paulsen's running the Iditarod. Although Paulsen finished forty-second in a field of seventy-three mushers on his first try, this is not a book about competing in a race. It is the story of a man learning about himself, his dogs, and the wilderness; and it is the story of how the man changed from being a hunter to becoming a student of his dogs and the wild creatures in the woods.
The first part of Woodsong consists of Paulsen's reflections and is written as a series of brief vignettes rather than a chronological narrative. Paulsen relates some of his experiences living in northern Minnesota, running a trap line to help support his wife Ruth and their son, and traveling through the snow behind his sled dogs. Trying to explain how his attitude toward nature was changed by the things that he observed, he describes some of his encounters with wild animals and the woods. There is the fawn who waded up to his canoe; the deer who escaped from the timber wolves by leaping past his circle of sled dogs to stand, winded, by his fire; the ghost that turned out to be a six-foot-high rotten stump; and the deer that was frozen solid, upright beside the trail. But most of all there are the dogs. It was the dogs who taught him the most and who were his companions on the Iditarod. In the second part of the book, Paulsen presents a day-by-day account of the seventeen days that he spent running the Iditarod. However, this is not really a story of the race itself, but rather a chronological narrative of his thoughts, actions, and interactions with his dogs. It is a journey of self-discovery just as Woodsong itself is a grown man's coming-of-age story.