Wilderness Living with a Canine View

… A wind was blowing from the mountains, and the surface of the snow was swirling along like snakes, the way it often did on the lake. The moon was at just the right angle to light up the swirling snow, but not the ground beneath it. We marvelled at the strange sensation of having our feet glide through impenetrable darkness while we waded through these hissing, silver snakes.

–excerpt from Harry: A Wilderness Dog Saga by Chris Czajkowski

Alert: For the dog lovers out there!

Patient, boisterous, loyal and stubborn, every dog has a singular personality with a combination of unique traits; but there are certain qualities — like good with people, comfortable in the wild, can carry a pack — that are unconditionally required to join author Chris Czajkowski’s dog pack.

As a wilderness guide for almost 30 years, Czajkowski maintained a revolving duo of canines to support her extraordinary backcountry adventures. In her forthcoming semi-autobiographical book, Harry: A Wilderness Dog Saga, we are introduced to the dogs that supported her three-decade long guiding career and given the stories not only of their lives, but of Chris’ life through the dogs’ perspectives.

As a wilderness guide in a remote area of the Chilcotin region of British Columbia, Czajkowski depended on her dogs for safety, companionship and physical labour. In turn, these dogs were able to live a wildly free existence.

From encounters with porcupines, caribou, bears and wolves, to running and bushwhacking mountain paths and enjoying spring ice break or summer swims, it’s evident that Czajkowski’s dogs lived an incredible life. And so has Czajkowski.

While this is a story about dogs as told through the lovable perspective of her canines, the central character in every tale is the (real) author herself. Trailing her through a 30-year off-the-grid career, the dogs observe Czajkowski and her successes and misfortunes along the way. Through their canine interpretations we see her the years her small business expanded with new solar-powered cabins, and later got Internet(!); the years they were evacuated because the wildfires got too close and, over time, the many relationships she built with her seasonal community. Also evident: Czajkowski’s joy in the natural world, especially the wildflowers of the mountains (something the dogs never cease to be confused by).

The dogs, of course, are also the subject of those trials and tribulations at times. Injuries and illnesses are part of life, and living in remote areas amplifies their emergency. It’s particularly apparent in these times that Czajkowski’s relationship with her dogs is much more than pragmatic: they are her pack. Her trust in these animals is with dedicated respect and care.

True to how one may assume a dog’s perspective could be, Harry: A Wilderness Dog Saga is written with simple dialogue in a straightforward fashion. It’s an interesting choice to write a book through an animal’s view, and this one hits a lot of humourous notes in doing so. At times the canine intonations may be overly abundant, but dog lovers will adore those sentiments and the many quizzical anecdotes on human behaviour keep the tone light and playful. And that’s what Czajkowski’s novel does best: advocates for us to nakedly observe the wonder of the world, uninhibited by the noise of human conclusions.

With many seasons out in the wild, Chris Czajkowski’s story may inspire you to get out the door and blaze your own mountain trail. But until then, get away from the crowds in this secondhand (erm, …paw) account, and run free, even just for a few pages.

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