Winter is Coming. For Realsies.

When Shiva and I embarked upon our rainy walk this evening this is what we saw:

wpid-wp-1407550117778.jpegAll complaint of water-logged sandals seemed but a distant memory when confronted with such traumatic morbidity. It seems not weeks ago, six to be precise, when the leaves first graced us with their presence. They have already begun to wither and die. For that’s all it is, according to my PH. Leaves don’t change colour, or anything so romantic, they die. In Edmonton, they die sooner than anywhere else in the world.wpid-wp-1407550095361.jpeg

There is no trickery involved in these pictures. They were taken an hour ago with my phone. I wish I could say I was joking. I wish this was some sort of disturbing prank. There is nothing funny about autumn on the eighth of August. I may never laugh again.

wpid-wp-1407550083620.jpeg

The photos above don’t even show the worst of it. I couldn’t bear to take any more. It is too horrifying, too gruesome. You should not be subjected to such an atrocity.

How do people live here? This is all I can ask.

The last winter was one of the harshest of my recent experience. It began in early October and didn’t cease until May. The only thing that got me through was the certainty that it would indeed end, that one day summer would arrive and I could go outside again without fear of losing my fingers. I wasn’t wrong. The season did change. It would almost have been better if it hadn’t. To be so brief is almost inhumane. Winter is coming, sooner than I can bear.

All I can do is luxuriate in what is left. Go outside as much as possible before the temperatures drop to cruel levels. If you happen to live in a warmer climate below the fifty-third parallel, I implore you. Enjoy the summer! Relish its heat and its greenery! Though it may feel too warm to bear at times, remember me and be grateful.

This is the risk I take

A mere ten days in to this 100 Days Project and I feel like I have run a marathon. I have gone from elation at the start of something new to feelings of uselessness, stubbornness, and ultimately insecurity. I will see this through. It’s one hundred words. Even I can manage that. What I am not certain of is what my mental state will look like by the end.

I need to start carrying my camera with me on walks again. Somehow I got out of the habit and my stash is getting low. I’ve never been a skilled photographer and am too lazy to learn. In spite of this, even the most dull picture of my dog can inspire a couple of sentences.

wpid-wp-1405992650489.jpeg

Not that there is such a thing as a dull photo of Shiva. I mean, really.

I’ve been reading about writing again, which is at once motivating and depressing. This article from the Atlantic encapsulates this for me. One writer will say how hard the craft is and then the next will tell me that I am a fool for thinking I could ever learn to be better. Writing prompts are a challenge. I am always disappointed with my results. It might be because I take them at their word instead of seeking my interpretation. Giving myself more space to experiment sounds like a solid concept in theory. It’s just too bad none of it is worth the time it took me to type.

This is what this project is all about, I can’t forget. 100 Days of slogging through in the hope of saying something worthwhile amidst all the rambled mash. It is to teach myself how to say what I mean, how to match the words on the page with the circling thoughts inside. It is possible at the end I will be no further ahead than I am now. This is the risk I take.

Edmontoniversary: #YEG Ain’t so bad

Today marks one full year since I made the trip from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Edmonton, Alberta. While I can’t deny that a part of me still hankers for the sight of the Atlantic and the sound of Maritime accents, this prairie city isn’t as bad as I expected.

wpid-wp-1405298485428.jpeg

It helps that we live in one of the most liberal neighbourhoods of this ultra-conservative province. Both our MLA and our MP are women and members of the NDP Party, something that is unheard of in any other region. Just last night I saw an eight-year-old woman gardening in her underwear, right across the street from two young girls in princess dresses selling lemonade. The streets are covered in thick, old trees that have likely been here at least as long as the homes. Mill Creek Ravine is a decent venue for dog walking, if filled with people who flout the rules. We are within walking distance of a fantastic farmer’s market and organic grocery store, and I can walk to and from work on a nice day. Life could be a lot worse.

DSC07879

This doesn’t mean I am turning into an Albertan. There are a lot of things about the provincial culture which will never sit right with me. Edmonton may be more easygoing than Calgary, with a greater appreciation for art and alternative lifestyles, yet it still supports a lot of activities of which I will never be in favour. It is a bit hard to justify, I admit. We moved here because this is where the money is and we’ve made a lot of headway in paying off our debts. After 12 months all of our bills are paid and we feel like we have some breathing room for the first time in a while. For that reason, I owe this city a lot, even if I don’t like from where the wealth has come.

wpid-wp-1405298539614.jpeg

The weather is nothing to recommend it either, I can’t deny. The winters are endless and the summers feel like a bluff of nature. In a way, that makes them more precious. The biggest problem is packing in everything we wish to do in such a short time. From the numerous food festivals and wooded campgrounds nearby, I am worried we aren’t going to savour enough of it before the snow returns. Before we moved here, I took things like green grass and soft leaves for granted. Never will I make that mistake again. Every warm day is to be embraced.

Five year plan, is what we tell ourselves. Four more to go. As a stopping place on our journey to somewhere more in keeping with our goals and dreams? Edmonton, city of yellow and orange fire hydrants, will do.

Portland Can Have ‘Em: Keeping Edmonton a Secret

If you have been keeping up with Go Pet Friendly’s Annual Tournament, you’ll have seen that Edmonton was booted during round three. At first, I was pretty bitter about it. Portland, Oregon may seem brilliant with all its craft breweries and its gigantic bookstores and its Voodoo doughnuts, but that doesn’t mean it is pet-friendly. Dogs can’t drink beer or eat doughnuts and I am positive most of them can’t read.

Note the handy poop bag dispenser. This is a National Park that welcomes dogs with open arms. It was stocked even in the winter.

Note the handy poop bag dispenser. This is a National Park that welcomes dogs with open arms. It was stocked even in the winter.

In my opinion, the amount of rain the western U.S. city receives each day should be reason enough to stay away. Walking in a downpour is not fun, no matter how beautiful the riverside park might be. I know this from personal experience. I used to live in Halifax.

Can we go back inside now? Rain sucks.

Can we go back inside now? Rain sucks.

Edmonton has just as many off leash parks as Portland and an even bigger riverside forest, both of which one can enjoy in full sunshine almost 365 days a year. How does that not make it more pet friendly?

I am honestly asking because I am still confused by this.

But, I am not bitter. In fact, now that I have had a few days to gain perspective, I am relieved. Portland can keep its bragging rights. It suits me fine if all of the pet lovers of the world see it as some sort of canine Mecca. It means we will have all of this to ourselves:

Taken at Elk Island National Park, less than 30 minutes away from our home in Edmonton

Taken at Elk Island National Park, less than 30 minutes away from our home in Edmonton

No, looking at it now, I am thrilled Edmonton will remain a secret. I want everyone to keep thinking it is a frozen wasteland where none but the truly brave venture. The fewer people who visit, the more we can enjoy a peaceful hike on a Sunday afternoon, unaccosted by hordes of tourists. Places like Portland and Carmel are so jam-packed full of people during the summer months that Edmonton is almost serene in comparison. For that reason alone, it is a much happier place for Shiva and I. Crowds just give us hives.

We didn't run into a single person on this hike. That makes us happy.

We didn’t run into a single person on this hike. That makes us happy.

Heck, what do I care if people would rather stay on the other side of the border? In Edmonton, our pets are well-cultured. In order to preserve this, it is probably best to keep the riff raff away. They’ll never know just how much fun we Edmontonians can be, never get to experience the spirit of a true Edmonton festival – as Canada’s reigning festival city, we know how to have a good time – and they’ll never know how amazing it is to take in a performance of a symphony orchestra with their dogs by their sides.

We also have a wicked sense of humour*

We also have a wicked sense of humour*

As far as I am concerned, I’d rather avoid the publicity a win in Go Pet Friendly’s contest would bring. Save that for the more common jet-setting locales like Vancouver and Key West. Edmonton prefers to move quietly along, enjoying its diverse food trucks, its beautiful garden paths, and its very own restaurant for dogs.** I like that the employees in my favourite high-quality, regionally-owned pet stores have more than enough time to answer my questions and I never have to wait in line. What a shame it would be if these places were taken over by visitors. How horrifying if the invasion of foreign dogs meant some of the pet friendly spaces were taken away.

The grounds outside Muttart Gardens are beautiful, calm, and pet friendly. I'd like to keep them that way.

The grounds outside Muttart Gardens are beautiful, calm, and pet friendly. I’d like to keep them that way.

Thank you, to those people out there who recognized how pet-loving Canada’s most northern metropolis is. My appreciation for your support in the vote is sincere. You helped us not only beat out West Hollywood and Tuscon, but also Toronto and Montreal. Here in Alberta, we consider that a victory of epic proportions.

But my thanks must go to those who voted for Portland as well. You helped keep Edmonton a lovely secret. Every time I stroll along the river without meeting another dog, I will remember you and be grateful.

Of course, my real gratitude must go to Go Pet Friendly for running such an entertaining tournament. The competition is wicked and I can’t wait to see who ends up the final winner! Make sure to keep voting!

*Thanks for reminding me about this, Back Alley Soapbox! Best prank ever. 

**Thanks, Jessie, for telling me about this place in your comment!

Sentimental Sunday: Remembering Lucy

I am not able to come up with the right words to acknowledge the life of one special, silly girl. Lucy, or Lu Lu, was a funny, nutty little dog whom I feel so lucky to have met. Certainly, I have never seen her match. A border collie/corgi mix, Lu Lu Bug was the best – and the worst – of both genealogies. She was all spirit and a mile wide.

Lucy

Lucy had the good fortune to live with the parents of my best friend. I wish I’d had a camera back then as her puppy years were some of the most ridiculous I have ever witnessed. From the beginning she was trouble, but it was impossible to scold. Energetic, opinionated, and OCD to the hilt, she had her family cracking up at every turn. Though I have not seen her for years, the stories my friend told me through email and in conversation always made me smile. Lucy’s tempestuous relationship with Gandalf, a gorgeous long-haired grey tabby with a Napoleon complex, was hilarious. They fit the precise stereotype of cat vs. dog. They were a viral video waiting to happen.

Lucy and bow

No matter how much time we have with our beloved friends, it is never enough. Lucy, despite her wilful nature, did not have it easy from the start. Health was never to be on her side. Not that you’d guess it by the way she encountered each day, always with a kick, always with a punch. Lu Lu held nothing back. It was with a tremendous sadness that her family said goodbye after ten entertaining and love-filled years. I learned of the news with sorrow all my own.

Lu Lu Bug

Shiva never got to meet Lucy and I am sure that was for the best. Shiva is too unfettered and Lucy needed to be the boss; the two would not have been friends. I knew her before I knew my maniac mutt. Her adventures in house-training and loose-leash walking taught me a lot. It was because of Lucy that I was attracted to the wildness I saw in Shiva’s eyes that rainy Saturday. It was because of Lucy I knew a puppy was too much for me to handle. If not for her, I may have brought home a baby border collie of my own. Or maybe I wouldn’t have brought home a dog at all.

We’ll never know.

She was an unusual girl, our Lu Lu. I wish I’d gotten to know her better. I wish I’d gotten to see her again. She will not be forgotten.

Edmonton: The City of Pet Lovers

Edmonton? You ask. Isn’t it in Canada? Isn’t it cold there for nine months of the year? Who wants to go there? The short answers to these questions are: yes, well… yes, and YOU want to go. Or you will, once you have finished reading this post. Once I am through with you, you will not only rush to cast your vote for the largest city north of the 53rd parallel in Go Pet Friendly’s Annual Tournament, you will also be rushing your dog to the car to make the drive up here.

Does this really look like the land of ice and snow?

Does this really look like the land of ice and snow?

Not too long ago, I would have shared your disbelief. Edmonton is in Alberta – despite spending 15 years of my life here, the prairie province is not my favourite place. I envisioned a lot of sky and a lot of brown grass and not much else. As you can see from the picture above, this vision was very wrong.

However, there was another, more serious reason to avoid the home of North America’s largest mall. Not too long ago, Edmonton’s by-laws contained a nasty little feature, anathema to all true dog-lovers: B.S.L.

Shiva and BenchYeah… Not good. Though pit bull type dogs were never disallowed within city limits, before October 17, 2012 they were considered a “restricted breed” and had to be muzzled in public, along with a whole bunch of other ridiculous regulations. When these laws were in place, there was no way I would have considered moving here with Shiva. It was just too big of a risk.

But all this changed in the fall of 2012. After years of campaigning by a supportive and dog-loving community, Edmonton City Council voted to abolish all legislation specific to certain breeds or appearance of breeds. The animal control by-laws are now much more reasonable and fair and welcome dogs of all shapes, sizes, and heads. I consider this a huge point in the city’s favour. After all, it was the community that made this happen. The people and organizations who made it clear they did not support such discriminatory laws. If the movement hadn’t been so strong and so logical, the council would never have voted to chuck the laws out. This tells me Edmonton is a city with its priorities straight.

Edmonton may be known as the City of Champions but I think it should be known as the City that Loves its Pets.

There are dogs everywhere in this city, you never know when you are going to see one

There are dogs everywhere in this city, you never know when you are going to see one

Here is an even better example of dog love:

Shiva is a bit of a bratface. She can be a bit obnoxious on a leash, especially when encountering strangers who stare her down or other dogs who do the same. Despite this, despite her trying to leap on the backs of neighbourhood joggers, I have yet to face a negative reaction to her behaviour. The people here seem to understand that dogs are dogs and sometimes they do rude things. No one has yelled at me for Shiva urinating on a bush on public property – which happened several times in Halifax  – and when Shiva loses her cool at the end of her leash, the other dog owners often apologize to me.

Now that is class.

Is that not enough to send you voting? It looks like I am going to have to get to the quick and the dirty.

Wild Earth1. Edmonton is home to many wonderful patios that welcome dogs with open arms. This local bakery several blocks up from our house is just one example. In warmer weather, just several days ago in fact, the brick path is covered in tables and chairs where dogs are invited to join their handlers in a freshly-baked lunch. The counter has a basket of dog cookies by the till and the staff members are so friendly, one of them even agreed to watch Shiva while my PH nipped inside for a coffee. She also didn’t hesitate to sneak our puppy a cinnamon twist while they waited. How is that for service?

2. Dog parks. Edmonton has 41 off leash spaces within city limits. 41! I mean, really, you’ll never run out of options, no matter where you are.

3. Edmonton’s Downtown Farmer’s Market moves outside from late spring to mid-fall and is completely pet friendly. One of my favourite things to do during the warmer months is browse for yummy local snacks while breed-spotting at the market.

015

4. Edmonton is within driving distance of six – six! – of Canada’s gorgeous National Parks, all of which are pet friendly. From Jasper to Elk Island to Waterton Lakes, there is no shortage of extravagant scenery or mountain trails to explore with your canine pal.

So this photo was taken in the Crowsnest Pass, still in Alberta, still only a drive from Edmonton

So this photo was taken in the Crowsnest Pass, still in Alberta, still only a drive from Edmonton, still stunning

5. Sure, yeah, Edmonton gets snow. You know what it doesn’t get? Rain. Since we moved here in July, I think it has rained about five times. And I don’t mean five days, five times. This includes a light sprinkle overnight. Most dogs love rolling in the white stuff. Very few dogs love a drenching downpour.

Heck, I took this picture tonight at around 7:30 and the sun was only starting to decline

Heck, I took this picture tonight at around 7:30 and the sun was only starting to decline

6. Being further north than most other cities in North America, Edmonton benefits from extra hours of sunlight in the spring time. In mid-June, the sun rises before five am and starts to set long after ten o’clock at night. This is a whole lot of extra dog walking time. 

7. Edmonton is home to some very nice hotels. Many of them are pet friendly. When we first moved here, we had yet to arrange a permanent place to live. Though our current home was found in short order, the hotel staff at a very comfortable chain downtown were more than accommodating. It was just what my PH needed after his long drive across the country. They smiled every time we walked in the door and never batted an eye when Shiva barked at fellow guests. I am so grateful they gave us a place to rest while we got our bearings. Shiva and The Cat enjoyed it too.

Shiva in hotel

8. This one may seem vain, but can I just say, Whyte Avenue in Edmonton is a wicked ego boost. All I have to do is walk down this happening busy street with Shiva by my side for five minutes and my confidence glimmers. Edmontonian hipsters cannot resist a dog. Every single person we pass either smiles in her direction or stops to gush over how cute and well-behaved she is. They don’t even need to pet her, they are willing to love her from a distance.

Whyte Ave makes me feel better about my life

Whyte Ave makes me feel better about my life

9. Edmonton is also the city of festivals, many of which are dog friendly. My favourite so far is Ice on Whyte, an annual ice carving festival within walking distance of our home. This is one event worth braving the cold with your mutt.

10. Edmonton has all the feel and action of a big city without the expensive price tag. Alberta has no provincial sales tax and Edmonton’s hotel, food, and beverage rates are notably lower than other major Canadian cities. If you want a cool place to go that won’t cost a fortune, Alberta’s capital is a great choice.

11. I’ve said it before but I know I need to say it again: Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley is the largest green space in North America, 22 times the size of Central Park in New York. All of this is dog friendly. I dare you to walk all 93 miles of trail space.

098

If you aren’t convinced yet that Edmonton is an amazing place to be a dog, then I guess there is nothing more I can say. This city has surprised me in its openness and its greenery. Even when covered in ice it is pretty dang gorgeous. I hope you’ll come visit one day. But more, I hope you’ll vote for my city in Go Pet Friendly’s Best City For Pet Traveler’s Tournament. 

Shiva would lick you for it.

Sentimental Sunday: Off Leash Freedom

mms_20140308_123702The hardest part of living where we do is the lack of safe, off leash areas within walking distance. In Halifax, Shiva was accustomed to running without restraint six days out of seven. We took our isolated forests for granted, never thinking that one day we’d be relegated to paths – or worse – residential sidewalks, for the majority of our adventures. Edmonton is a city filled with dog parks of numerous sizes and the largest continuous green space in North America. Once the trail system is connected by all seven municipalities along the North Saskatchewan River, the resulting 88 kilometres of park will be the largest in the world.

Too bad designated off leash areas don’t make up very much of this space.

I don’t want to whine. Shiva and I have it pretty good. The ravine is a beautiful place to walk in all seasons and there are numerous leash free zones within driving distance.

Too bad driving is my greatest fear in all of fearland. Getting over that will take a lifetime.

No doubt there are dogs who have it much worse. Some dogs who live in the inner city, for instance, may never know what it is like to scrawl up a cliff side or chase a porcupine up a tree. Running without a leash is a privilege, not a right. Shiva can be just as satisfied without it.

Can’t she?

mms_20140308_123712

I’d like to believe so. The part of me that is still grieving for the confidence I had before Shiva’s autumn injury, likes to think she can be just as happy if she never runs free again. However, the part of me that sees how much she has slowed down since our Halifax days worries just as much.

I have to face it. Shiva is not as fast as she used to be pre-injury and pre-Edmonton. She still looks good but I know her levels of physical fitness have declined. She grows tired much faster and she’d never be able to keep up with her old Vizsla agility pal any more. It makes me feel terrible, like I have failed her once again.

mms_20140308_123720A Shiva isn’t a Shiva unless she gets to run. Speed is something that has always defined her. She used to be the dog park fitness guru, the one who stirred all the other dogs into action. She is the instigator, the bratface, the tornado.

It isn’t that she isn’t still these things sometimes, her twister-like behaviour has not gone away even on our more relaxed strolls, but there is a noticeable change in her energy. It could be age, that’s true, but it isn’t that simple either.

Maybe it is okay if she isn’t the roadster she used to be. Our lifestyles have changed and she doesn’t seem to be suffering for it in any emotional sense. But I worry. I don’t miss the stress of handling a crazy demon but I do miss the fun. I can’t help but wonder if she misses it too.