Trailing exhaust, cars rumble down the streets, speeding up, changing lanes and slowing down. On the sidewalks, people weave around each other like so many streams of busy ants. Colourful posters, signs, shop window displays – so much choice. Buy this, pay later, then work to buy more. Always more, faster, bigger. Used from bush life to soak up everything that I can notice, the overload of impressions swirls around inside my head, a nauseating soup of sounds, sights and smells. It’s all too much. How I hate town trips.
The trick is to tune out, of course, and after a day or two I can do it again like everybody. We’re such an adaptable species; too adaptable. Traffic becomes a mere blur, I ignore the multitude of smells, sounds, shapes and colours, and walk purposefully, concentrating on my mission to buy supplies. My grudging annual contribution to the welfare of the economy, to the depletion of natural resources.
I’m rushing through it more than usual, driven not only by the need to be done with it as soon as possible so I can escape back into the bush. I’m also hurrying to get to the one item on my shopping list that I really care about: picking up a puppy.
Four little mutts are left when I get there, legs and tails only under marginal control, to say nothing of other bodily functions. I sit and play with the pups, trying to let go of the ghost Leshi, our old dog. It would be idiotic to look for a replacement, a four-footed GPS with bear control functions, never mind the world’s sweetest temperament. I don’t want a replacement anyway. It’s her I want, her I can’t have anymore except in my dreams and memories.
What we really need is a completely new addition to the family, a dog with its very own talents and unavoidable exasperating traits. After handling all of the wriggling puppies and finding myself largely ignored by the two females and constantly pawed by one of the males, I settle for the middle-of-the-road guy: a mass of matted fur over washboard ribs, not too pushy but apparently quite eager to please.
I wonder what he thinks as I’m driving down the highway with him, towards his future. In his short life, he’s never encountered a world without cars, without roads, without thousands of people and dogs. In exchange, he’ll get to take plenty of boat trips, the occasional plane and snowmobile ride and learn to navigate on game trails. No danger of getting run over, but there’ll be porcupines, moose, bears and wolves. Vet care will be iffy, limited to times of dire need, just like dental and medical care for us. I’m curious what our other dogs will think of their new pack member.
We recuperate with friends for a day before catching a floatplane home. It gives me a chance to clean up the puppy’s sticky, urine-stained fur and sort through the jerry cans, propane bottles and boxes of groceries that have to come in on this flight. As always, there seems to an insane amount of stuff to go into the plane. And then, during the flight, it never fails to magically shrink so that by the time the pilot taxies towards our cabin and we unload, it’s a deplorably small pile of supplies, dwarfed by the vast surroundings. All that effort and money – and then just this? Amazing how much things can be shrunk by landscape.
The patchwork of green forest, pale blue beaver ponds and squiggles of game trails unrolls underneath the plane, on and on, as if roads and settlements didn’t exist. Whitehorse feels like light years away. The puppy in my lap finds air travel no worse than car travel, it seems. His main interest is getting to the cardboard boxes that are stacked behind me and pushing into my shoulder. I pull him back down and try to distract him with finger and paw games. We’re almost there.
Finally, our low-slung cabin comes into view. One low circle over it and then we’re heading down to the lake, its water rushing up to meet the floats. The plane slows ever more as we taxi towards shore where the miracle of shrunken cargo will take place once again. This is it, little dog – welcome home to your new life.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.