Strange things are done in the midnight sun, and when you’ve lived in the North for a few years, you don’t really question these things.
The darkness gets to people in subtle ways and folks behave oddly from time to time. Sometimes, however, you do raise your eyebrows a little.
One memorably strange moment took place a few years ago. I was walking my dog along the Yukon River in Dawson City, when I ran into my friend, Tammy, walking her dog.
It was early March and the daylight was returning, but the temperature hovered stubbornly in the minus 30s. Tammy walks her dog about as regularly as I walk mine, which is often – three or four times a day.
In the winter you learn to recognize people by their winter costumes. I knew it was Tammy by her dog. Her face was hidden by her “mad trapper” fur hat, which came down to her eyes, and a scarf wrapped around her face up to the hat, leaving a small slit from which she could view the frozen world.
She breathed through the scarf, which had a thick layer of frost from her exhalation. She also had on a big, black down jacket, large mittens, four layers of underwear (she volunteered that information, I didn’t figure it out by observation), several pair of socks and insulated boots.
I’m sure I was equally unrecognizable, except by the familiarity of my dog and my winter costume.
Her husky, Ruby, was on a leash and wearing dog booties. Ruby growled fiercely at my overly-friendly chocolate Labrador retriever, Tuktu. It was Ruby’s way of saying,”Hello Tuktu. Don’t get too close to me or Tammy, or I’ll have to kill you. But I do let you get closer to either of us than any other dog.”
It’s as friendly as Ruby ever gets to anyone but Tammy or her husband, Poncho. So Tuktu and I consider ourselves lucky.
Ruby is a veteran northern dog who walks with a noticeable limp from a severely broken leg. That leg required several operations and a few metal pins to put it back together.
She broke it while defending Tammy’s yard from a dog that was oblivious to Ruby’s rules. The errant hound escaped from an idling truck and was chasing a cat through Ruby’s yard when Ruby gave chase to the intruder.
Forgetting she was attached, she caught her front leg in a loop of chain. Her body weight hit the end of the chain as she ran at full speed, and her leg snapped under the force.
After she suffered with the broken leg for a week, it was decided that she needed more medical expertise than was available here. She had to be air-evacuated to a specialist in Vancouver, and spent several months recuperating from surgery.
Apparently, she tried to make a good impression on the vet and the city folks, because I don’t think she showed her grumpy side at all while she recovered, becoming a favourite at the vet clinic.
It might have been because neither Tammy nor Poncho was there, so no one needed defending.
Ruby doesn’t ask for sympathy, and doesn’t consider herself any less capable of defending herself or Tammy because of an old war injury. I wouldn’t say it mellowed her out, either.
As we walked along, I noticed Tammy was carrying something different in her winter gear. It was some white, electronic device tucked into the crook of her arm. My curiosity couldn’t keep me from asking what it was.
“Oh,” she said nonchalantly, “it’s my waterproof radio I use in the shower.”
I could see she wasn’t in the shower, so I awaited further explanation.
“I was listening to Coronation Street. I hate to miss it.”
“Oh,” I replied, noncommittally.
“Yeah,” she continued, “for some reason my shower radio picks up the television signal really clearly and I knew Coronation Street was on, so I brought the radio to catch up on what has happened since last week’s episode.”
“Well, that’s pretty cool,” I replied, although my brain, slightly numb from the temperatures, was having trouble comprehending the whole TV signal coming through the radio thing.
“Don’t let me keep you from the episode,” I said, thinking she may have been missing an important death, gay relationship or surprise pregnancy.
“Oh, it’s over,” Tammy said. “It ended just as I saw you.”
A distinct growl from Ruby interrupted the weird human conversation.
Ruby lifted her upper lip menacingly as Tuktu edged closer than she thought prudent, wagging his tail all the while.
I would say she was reminding him about the invisible boundary line around us, which is only crossed when we receive the right signals to do so.