Tag Archives: cat

Why We Have Pets

Anyone who reads raincoastwanderings knows that Porter and Penny, our pet cat and rabbit are prominent characters in our life. No boat is too small, no car ride too long to prevent us from dragging them up and down the Pacific Northwest and to places no sane person would try to bring a rabbit cage. We do this, because to us, they’re as much a part of the family as we are. With all the inconsistencies and upheaval that our wanderlust driven lives create, they have become our anchor, stabilizing. Wherever we are is home. It wouldn’t be the same without them, there personalities, and the mystified looks of border guards and ferry passages exclaiming, “you have a rabbit?”
For me, this philosophy originated in my youth. We didn’t have cats or rabbits. We were dog people. Golden Retriever people to be precise. I learned to stand by pulling myself up on the hair of our dog Niki. She would stand patiently as I pulled out chunks of hair and tried to balance on wobbling legs. When I was about nine we got another retriever. We named him Buddy after Air Bud fame and he became my shadow. Sleeping on my bed, pulling me on my scooter, and catching the pancakes we balanced on his nose.
As sad as it was when Niki finally passed away peacefully in her sleep at 13, Buddy was the first real loss in my life I was old enough to comprehend and feel. Being far away and unable to say goodbye made it even harder. Between my tears, grief, and frustration, the concept of owning pets felt so pointless. I was angry that my dog had been taken after less than ten years. Why pour all this love and emotional attachment into something that you’ll outlive by decades?
Because when the garage door opened when I got home and there was no rusty red blur streaking from under the growing crack, I realized it was no longer a home. It was too empty, too quiet, too easy to walk across the backyard without the fear of tripping on tennis balls. Because Buddy had brought out the best I had. Unconditional love, acceptance, trust, a never-ending cauldron of joy. So with heavy hearts, we got another one. We never stopped missing Buddy, but we couldn’t stand a house without a dog.
We got a puppy. A rescue from a shelter a few miles north. We named him Jake though I can’t recall how we chose his name. I write all this because Jake passed away last night in my mother’s arms after fighting gallantly against Lymphoma for five months.
It’s not fair. It’s cruel. It’s a broken world. Jake was the unofficial third son. My brother and I nicknamed him Buster after the Arrested Development character. And in some ways he was Buster. He was a mama’s boy with two older brothers, and would go into fits of sorrow whenever Mom left the room. But you couldn’t deny his heart, his enthusiasm, and the patience that made him a wonderful service dog at Providence hospital. It was at the hospital that he shined brightest, touching the lives of countless sick and hurting people. He was everything you wanted your dog to be. And after seven years that went far too fast, there’s that painful emptiness in the Cannamore house again.
Why? We know we have to say goodbye before they do. There will be a last time I hold Penny in my arms, a final scratch behind Porter’s ears. There will be pain, there will be tears, there will be a hole in our life. But it’s better to recognize the hole than to walk around for the rest of my life pretending its not there.
The last thing Mom is thinking about today is another dog. It’s time to remember Jake. His bark, his irrational fear of heating grates, and those long gangly limbs that took up Dad’s side of the bed. But when the time comes to make the house a home again, there will be four more furry legs with floppy ears and golden fur. Armed with tennis balls and love. Rest soundly little brother. I’ll miss you.

A Worthy Excuse

The sun finally glides below the outstretched tendrils of stand of spruce trees that line the yard, casting our house abruptly into twilight. A twilight that arrives at 8:00. Down the hall the washer growls and snarls as it tosses salt soaked wool and polyester in preparation for tomorrow.
On the edge of the couch I crouch, hunched over a laptop, back bent strangely as the muscles still struggle to loosen after digging into the seat of my kayak. The beer’s helping though as I take a sip, squint through my sun fatigued eyes, and type furiously.
Deadlines are never fun. What I really wanted to do was submit to the waterfall of hot water that Brittney was reveling in at that very moment. But the paper I’d snagged off the freelance website was basically done, good enough in fact.
The laptop snaps closed decisively and Porter raises his head a quarter of an inch, fully attuned to the room’s shifting energy. He shoots an optimistic look towards the sliding door and his playground beyond. A land of voles and dogs on what he hoped were reinforced tethers.
“And coyotes.” I remind him as I slip through the door and slide it shut behind me.     Too apathetic to even shoot me a steely eyed glare with his glacial eyes, he drops his head back to the edge of the couch, tail twitching indignantly.
In Gustavus virtually everything is within two miles and the Pathfinder sits neglected in the dandelion infested gravel driveway. A pair of easter green bikes lay haphazardly placed on the small concrete slab we’ve taken to calling a porch. 
    Brittney’s chain falls off reliably every half mile while the ring that holds my handlebars has been replaced by duct tape, the hand grips pointing down towards the ground, leaving me to grasp the very center of the handles like some lost and befuddled Lance Armstrong. But it moves when you peddle and the grocery store with our version of “lightening fast” internet isn’t far away.
How ironic, that in a few months, we’d be on an island in which we comprise two-thirds of the population and we’d be luxuriating in fiber optic cable internet. Granted, indoor plumbing and hot running water will have gone the way of the amish, but Netflix would be but a click away.
While here, in the crux of civilization, population 360, you had to bike a mile to reach a connection that would load your gmail sometime between now and sunrise.
The gravel road is inundated with dust. Even rain forests can have droughts, we just measure them in days instead of weeks and months while the salmon swim in holding patterns waiting for the rivers to rise and open the doorway home.
I glide through the stopsign at the lone intersection as the clock strikes nine and glance over my shoulder. Saturday night and the only restaurant in town was shutting down, another wild weekend. I look back ahead and hear my breaks squeak. Unbeknownst to me. My twilight cycle is not solitary.
A high patch of grass sits fifty yards ahead on the road’s left bank, a comma between two gravel driveways. Settled in the middle is a Gustavus lawn mower. The moose glances up nonchalantly, its mouth moving in the hypnotizing manner of ungulates, somehow horizontal and vertical simultaneously. At my sudden stop she takes an uncertain step towards me.
If she wants the road it’s all hers and I slide my bike to the left and onto the drive, opening up an avenue up the road or across toward the wooded ditch on the far side. She considers her options for a moment longer, and with an air of completely deserved entitlement begins to saunter across the road for the ditch, her hooves echoing on the concrete.
I watch her slow gait away, wishing she could stay longer instead of conceding to the higher powers of the willow on the far side that demanded her attention. Never breaking stride she vanishes into the wooded ditch, deceptively hidden from view like a magician’s illusion.
Hoping back aboard the bike I peddle past, she’s completely invisible, but this is not a stealthy phantom and her heavy footfalls let loose the crash and crack of brush cracking and bending to her will.
The yard in front of the store is thankfully moose free and I open the laptop to finish the days work, my mind already in a lava hot shower, steam billowing like campfire smoke.
“Here’s the assignment,” I scribble fast, “hope it works for you. Had to wait for a moose to clear the road before I could send it off.”
I smile at the beautiful inconveniences of my eden and hit the send button as the moose crashes through ditch 100 feet away.

Escape From Hanson Island

For a week the weather services proclaimed that Wednesday, April 15th would be calm, clear, and peaceful. It would be a fitting and tranquil journey from the lab to Alert Bay, a promising start to what would be a week long expedition that would eventually lead to Gustavus, Alaska. On Tuesday night I checked the weather one final time, more out of sentimentalism than anything else, and saw Johnstone Strait caked in red. “30 knot southeasterly winds,” it boldly proclaimed. I rolled my eyes and glanced out the window, the cedar boughs were fluttering in a benign and apathetic way, I shut the curtains and crawled under the covers.

The next morning we awoke to the windows rattling, though the rain showed merciful restraint. We packed and began to debate tersely the best strategy for placing a bulky rabbit cage, a squirming cat, and countless bags and boxes unto the deck of a pitching boat.

An hour later the June Cove pulled around the corner, bobbing in the churning bathtub that was Blackfish Sound. We threw our belongings unceremoniously aboard with rabbit and cat perched atop the pile, and watched the lab fade from view. In the stress and rush to load the boat before the waves could put it on the rocks, there was little time for nostalgia and farewells. Instead of casting a final look at the lab deck, where I had been bombarded by sun, rain, and a rotating cast of marine life, I diligently jabbed a long two by four into the rocks as the bow of the boat slowly turned toward open water.

The water deepened and waves broke over the bow, foam and white caps littering the ocean. Paul peers through the blurred windshield as we hit the crest of a wave and slide down, the screech of nails emanates from Penny the rabbits cage as she slides back and forth. Completely unperturbed, she continuously tries to stand on her hind legs as the boat rolls, dead set on glancing out the window.

Paul glances over at where I stand, staring out the window into the crashing waves, willing the boat forward. He catches my eye and grins, “the escape from Hanson Island!” he shouts and the tension breaks.

Perhaps it was best like this. No tears, no long, lingering hugs. Leaving Hanson Island is removing a band aid, it’s best to just rip it off. Thirty minutes later we reached the relative peace of the dock, the first of four boat rides behind us. Again there would be no lingering as Paul needed to rush back to the lab before the tide ebbed too far, exposing the June Cove to a night of gale force winds.

And just like that, it was done. We stood where we had eight months ago, with an overstuffed Nissan Pathfinder and a pair of pets staring confusedly out the window while the wind buffeted us.

To our immense relief, our reliable Pathfinder sputtered, coughed, and after several heart stopping seconds, roared to life and we wove along the shoreline to Paul and Helena’s home for the night.

We curled up in the lap of luxury. Hot baths, ice cream, cold beer, electric heat, baseball, it may as well have been the Ritz Carlton hotel for all we cared. But it was hard not glance out the massive windows down Johnstone Strait as the light slowly faded, the outline of Hanson Island still visible and know that it would be months before we were forced to contend with the beautiful inconveniences that only life on an island can bring.

Perhaps the weirdest moment came when we finally crawled into bed. The room was as silent as a tomb and it was completely unsettling. For months we’d been passively listening through the night as the hydrophones reported the sounds of the ocean. The rushing water of a gale, the crackle of a dragging hydrophone, the low pitched growl of a tug, the whistles of dolphins, and the call of an orca that sent you flying from the covers. Now it was all gone, the silence leaving a strange ringing in our ears.

When the East Wind Blows

I’m used to the cold, you kind of have to be if you lived in Alaska your whole life. Anything above 80 degrees shuts my body down, but the cold has never bothered me. After enduring two winters in Fairbanks and dragging my partly frozen carcass through 40 below weather to class, I’d never really considered anything else as, “cold.” I figured this winter would be more of the same. Sure, the weather would dip below freezing occasionally, or as the people of Fairbanks know it as; “September,” but between blankets, thick socks, and the fire I figured it wouldn’t be that bad. I even began to tell people back home that I was looking forward to a warm winter for once. Three days ago the wind shifted to the east and the clouds vanished, leaving us with brilliant blue skies, and a 15-knot gust on a direct flight from the frigid B.C. interior. The mercury began to plummet, and we began to shiver.

Forty below isn’t so bad when you have a heated, sixty-five degree classroom or dorm to duck into that can go from frozen to toasty with a simple turn of a dial. If we want to be warm, we were going to have to work for it. Our big downstairs windows don’t discriminate, letting the view and cold air in while sucking out the fire’s precious heat. We we’ve been chopping wood and kindling, hunched over the chopping block until our lower backs go numb, and scour the beach for bark. The bark from the fir tree comes off in slabs, some as small as your hand, some as big as your torso. Nothing burns hotter than a few dry slabs of bark, capable of sending the mercury skyrocketing ten degrees in an hour if you stack the wood just right.

And through it all, the world outside looks beautiful and cloudless. Just like a glorious sunny day in August, the sapphire and baby blues of the ocean and sky contrasting with the rich greens of the islands. Except of course stepping onto the deck now takes your breath away for a whole different reason. Perhaps the animals feel the change too. The humpbacks have suddenly started to filter out, leaving us with just a couple of sightings a day as opposed to dozens just a week ago. Even the sea lions don’t seem impervious as there’s been far fewer of them huddled on the rocks, though it’s hard to imagine that the water could be much warmer.

At night Brittney, the cat, and myself have huddled beneath a pair of comforters, keeping the draft away and the heat in. None of us are quite ready though, to share our bed with a rabbit that seems to use the bathroom once every thirty minutes. It is the frustrating thing about ensuring your pets comfort, you can never be sure if they’re too hot or too cold. Our solution to keeping the rabbit thawed has been tedious; involving climbing out of bed every hour and half to stoke the fire and add more wood to keep the temperature at a humane level. It’s not a bad routine, if I could just convince my groggy head to turn off the alarm and get up instead of just completing step one.

A reprieve lays insight, with clouds and rain returning in just a couple of days and with them, slightly warmer temperatures. I never thought I’d be happy to see the clouds and rain again, especially after our soggy October. I’ll miss the view with the spotted white capped mountains perched on the mainland to the east a fantastic sight, especially in the evening as the sun sets. But I’ll be relieved to no longer stress about potential frozen water lines, hypothermic bunnies, and habitually numb toes. From now on, Alaska will never feel quite as cold, as long as I have a house with whistling heater vents to come home to.

An Unexpected Hiking Partner

The wind howls and the waves charge, crashing against the shoreline, shooting up the steep edges of the cove before slowly draining back into the ocean, preparing for another attempt. But a quarter mile away in the woods, the sounds are muffled, the wind denied entrance by the protective arms of the trees. The only evidence of the winds raging up and down Blackney Pass is the rustle and swaying of the treetops towering high above. And the three of us yes, three, myself, Brittney, and Porter the cat tromp deeper into the forest. Away from the wind and waves and into the serenity that only the forest can give.

It had been Brittney’s idea originally. After all, the massive windows of our cabin overlooked the ocean and the forest, and poor Porter had been desperate to step outside and meet the squirrels and birds for himself. We’d tried the same thing two summers ago when Brittney was a kayak guide in Gustavus, and Porter had, after earning her trust, vanished without a trace for five stressful days. He was found just two streets over, hunkered down in somebodies wood shed. We decided he had a crummy sense of direction. But it now seemed unfair to be surrounded by this untouched land and confine him to the cabin every day, so she started to take him outside. And something funny happened, he started to follow her, like a dog would follow you when you go hiking. And just like that we had the most peculiar and unlikely hiking buddy imaginable. A nine pound cat willing to hop over logs, scale massive glacial erratics, and bound through the velvety club moss like he’d been doing it his whole life.

Just a mile beyond the ocean, the sounds of the storm vanish completely. The temperature rises, and it’s tempting to just collapse into the downy soft moss and stare up into the trees forever. The forest has been allowed to grow for so long, unhindered by logging that the undergrowth completely disappears, the shrubs unable to gain a foothold thanks to the selfish fir and cedar above, devouring the sunlight.

The whole land used to be like this. The forests of Cracroft, Vancouver Island, and the Broughton Archipelago sported massive trees and a maze of trails beneath leaving passage for man and cougar, deer and bear. Hanson Island was spared, thanks to the collective effort of many, and I whispered a word of thanks as I climb over a fallen log, tiny hemlocks growing stubbornly on it’s trunk, yearning to be like their idols above. There is something refreshing and healing about these old forests.

While the ocean is constantly ebbing, flooding, and crashing against the land, the forest is nearly always still. The ocean changes suddenly, sometimes without warning. The forest is gradual, methodical, in no hurry at all. Secrets fall to the bottom of the sea, vanishing from sight as they plummet downward. The forest is an open book, its stories and tales remaining visible for centuries. They are the ying and yang of ecosystems, and yet they compliment each other perfectly with forests protecting salmon streams. The trees are rewarded by the precious nutrients the salmon return with and give back to the forest as their bodies decay. A perfect thank you gift for guarding their stream.

A massive cedar tree lays on its side, stretching for dozens of feet in each direction. Even in death you can still picture how proud it must have been in life, towering over the island, looking out over Blackfish Sound like a sentinel. You can almost hear the final crack and crash it made as it finally surrendered to gravity and plummeted to the moss below, the impact echoing in your ears. Decay has set in, and the bark peals away in my hands, falling through my fingers like sand. But on the trunk sit more tiny hemlocks, taking advantage of the light now penetrating the canopy. As the cedar falls, it ensures more life will follow, clearing a hole for the sun, allowing the saplings to grow. The next generation of the old growth forest.

Porter sees none of this, he just weaves through the hemlocks, meandering to the end of the cedar and with a nimble leap, lands on the moss below, his big blue eyes darting everywhere, ears orientating to every crack and whisper of the wind. The wind howls above us again, this time with more force, and the trees sway ominously, the forest suddenly full of creaking as trunks rub against each other. I feel the first rain drop fall down the back of my neck. The wind gusts again as we head for home. Even the forest isn’t impervious to forty knot winds.