Harry goofing around

Harry is our Alaskan Husky. We think.

I mean, its quite obvious he is mostly a husky but there could be something else in there.

Something that makes him wary of people and shy around boisterous children.

Something that causes him to be stand-offish or run back into the dog kennel when there are loud noises or strange situations.

Something that makes him bend his head and move in the most unusual of canine ways.

Something that allows him to harmonize with the wolves who used to freely run the forest behind our house.

Like, maybe he’s got a bit of wolf in him?


maybe just a little bit of wolf?

Whatever he is, he is part of our family thanks to a telephone call from one of the technicians at vet school at the very end of third year. I had the truck packed, the cats in their crates and was just about to embark on the 8 hour journey back to Bismarck when I answered the phone.

“Tanya…. its Robyn. Harry is scheduled to be euthanized at 11 o’clock this morning…”

I paused for a second.

“Can you change that to a neuter?”

“YES, YES, I’ll do everything I can. Give us until about 1 o’clock and you can come get him!”

All of the technicians and third year students knew Harry and 3 other dogs because they were our Medical Exercise dogs.

Which means we practiced on them.


Harry and Mummy hiking the mountains of Montana

Not surgeries or painful things but generally every joint site was shaved and they all had circles on bare skin patches where allergy testing was done. 

You can certainly have your opinions on live-animal labs and I’m not saying it was ideal. These Med Ex dogs had it a lot better than some of the animals used for study purposes. We could choose to be conscientious observers and not handle particular animals for particular learning purposes. Lets just say the only hands-on lab I skipped was the chicken one where things didn’t end well for the chickens.

The Med Ex dogs did serve us all well, though. It is one thing to read about hitting a pulsating vein on a moving, fuzzy, warm target versus a plastic model.

I wouldn’t want to say to my first few clients, “yeah, I should be able to do this… I read about it a few times.”


Our beautiful boy

How on Earth could I justify leaving Harry to be put to sleep after he gave us a year of his veins, his joints, his skin, his retinae, his ears, and pretty much every other body part you can imagine?

These Med Ex dogs were generally culled sled dogs… meaning their sled dog breeders didn’t want them. The school was somehow connected with some northern Canadian sled dog peeps and at the beginning of 3rd year, every year, a few students would head to the Greyhound station (how ironic) and wait for whatever and whoever to be unloaded in kennels.

Harry was one of ours that year.

The idea was that, out of 72 students, 4 would fall in love with the dogs and they would all be adopted out and live with their student owners, even by Christmas.

Lightning was lucky. So was Thelma. But Harry?

Not so much.


Harry in his favorite environment- the Montana winterscape

It certainly wasn’t his looks. Harry is a gorgeous Husky with perky ears, kind eyes and a stunning, full coat.

It was more his… quirks.

His unwillingness to be house-trained.

His incessant “woo woo’s” that can be deafening when he really wants to get your attention.

And his spinning.

Harry most likely was tethered at his sled dog kennel, which isn’t a bad thing. The dogs can get in and out of the dog boxes, on top of the boxes, and can run in full circles in their pen area.

Some huskies, like Harry, can be a bit neurotic about it and they will only spin in one direction.

In Harry’s case, its to the left.



Taking a break from circling

It doesn’t matter if he is walking on a leash or squatting to take a poop, the boy has to circle to his left while doing it.

He even runs around the house to the left.

Once. Once he spun one circle to the right when he first moved to Montana. I figured he was trying to unwind but as soon as he did it he stopped and looked so terribly confused that I was relieved when he went back to pulling Louies.

He may not be a very good house dog but he’s an excellent hiking and snow-shoeing companion.


Snow shoeing with the dogs- Harry loves wintertime!

He will follow little UB off on trails when UB needs some extra protection and he often will hike immediately behind me.

I always feel safe when he’s there. I don’t know if he’s doing it to watch me or herd me or if he just needs to know where I am.

If Casey isn’t around then he’s up for some individual loving.


Harry getting some 1 on 1 loving from Dad

He will slowly walk up to us and close his eyes at half-mast as he leans in for some scritches and kisses.

These times with our old friend are pretty magical.

In the winter his warm coat is so nice to lean into and he looks at us with such loving, dewey eyes that our hearts just melt.


Private cuddles with Mummy

Its a special feeling knowing that this maybe-part-wolf has allowed himself to be cuddly and sweet with us.

Its a strange feeling when he is howling with his brethren in the backcountry.

We don’t hear them much anymore but for the first several years I would hear Harry harmonizing with an incredible howl as he faced the forest.

Casey sits there and says ‘woof’ once or twice.

Cleo barks every now and then and then looks at Casey, as if to say, “What the heck are they saying to each other?”


More cuddles in the mountains with Harry

Adding to the fact he is ‘different’, Harry is the only one who got caught in a leg-hold trap that was set illegally too close to our home a couple of winters ago.

It belonged to a neighbor who seemed to feel pretty bad about it.

I didn’t make a big deal about it because I got my big boy home. Casey, Cleo and UB all told me something was up, barking at me and then running to the trees… then racing back to bark at me some more and running to the trees again…and again… I was splitting wood when I finally realized they were trying to tell me something. And Harry wasn’t there.

Hiking in snow past my knees I called to Harry and he called back. He called me to him.

I found him lying still (thank goodness) with his forelimb caught in a trap.

My stomach fell.

We’re lovers, not fighters and I don’t know the first thing about traps. I don’t, personally think much of trapping and I think hunting would be more fair if you gave the deer a gun but its Montana and I don’t make waves unless I have to.


Harry, Cleo and Mummy… hiking again

The only neighbors who were home rapidly came to Harry’s rescue (thank-you Sharon and Randy!) and our good boy didn’t struggle or resist at any time. He didn’t break anything and he has no lasting wounds. Luckily the other dogs alerted me and luckily we found him. Or, he told me where to find him.

Harry is getting older like the rest of us on the Fyfe Farm.

His knees aren’t so great but then neither are his Dad’s. Alistair has to have his torn medial meniscus taken care of next week.

I think we are privileged that this wolf-dog with strange mannerisms and a loud, non-stop WOO WOO that begins the minute he sees us and his circles to the left and his shedding and his inability to live indoors and his affection for Casey even though Casey mows him over half the time chooses to stay with us. Even with relatives so close by.

I worry hunters will think he’s a wolf. That’s difficult stuff to talk about in these parts. So Harry wears bright collars and thankfully doesn’t stray.

It was lucky for Harry when Robyn called me that morning before I left Saskatoon.

I think we are even luckier to be able to share his world…. and his Woo Woo’s.


Harry having a bit of a chuckle with Dad in the sunshine


A Neighborly View


Making hay

I had the opportunity to revisit what being neighborly is all about again on my most recent trip back to Bismarck.

I’ve had to go back twice within the space of 4 weeks to have 2 crowns created and then placed. One trip was by car. The other was by plane.


the Bismarck herd

My seat-mate on the United flight out of Missoula was an interesting guy. Initially, I didn’t talk with him, preferring to stick my nose in my Sudoku book and read all about Jane Goodall in the in-flight magazine. Also, his travelling companion had THAT child on her lap.

You know the one.

The 2 year old who screams in the gate area. Then screams as they board the plane. Don’t forget the wailing during takeoff and then the incessant screaming during most of the flight.

It seemed best to let ‘Keith’ help his sister with all of that.

But then the screaming turned into mild burbling and the plane began its initial descent.

I started laughing, which Keith noticed.

“I’m laughing because the last time I was on a United flight headed for Denver we hit some massive turbulence and the drunk lady next to me woke up screaming and grabbing at me,” I said.

And so began a very neighborly discussion.

Keith, it turned out, is an intelligent guy. He studies corn and ways to make stronger crops grow in different climates and soils. He lives in Iowa (go figure) and travels all over to study and share what he learns about corn.

Then we talked corn sex.

Which was interesting. Weird, but interesting.

I blushed when I saw our corn rows in Bismarck… knowing about male parts and all…


ND garden corn… the male parts aren’t showing

Part of my timing on that trip back was also to help Alistair with the hay.

We generally purchase large round bales to feed the horses but we also have a small 5 acre field that we put up ourselves.


some of the gang

Haymaking is both science and art.

I knew nothing of this having grown up in an ice rink, living in cities most of my life but I have come to respect the knowledge, patience, timing and work that goes into making good hay.


good hay on the ground, nice and dry

You watch the weather report for days, knowing you need 4 or 5 days in a row without rain.

You check moisture in the mornings and humidity in the afternoon because you only want dry hay heating up in your hay barn and you don’t want mold.

You cut the hay, letting it lay in parallel long rows of pale green with the occasional fleck of purple alfalfa peeking through.

You check for stems, you twist to see when it breaks and you curse at the rodent mounds that bung up your swather.

When the stars align, its time to bale.


Alistair. Baling.

Our new neighbor was eager to get on the baling bandwagon this year. They have just moved in this summer and he fully admits he knows nothing about farming but he’s super keen to learn. We told him how the neighbors on his other side all share the equipment and the labor with us- its what we have all done since 1998 and many hands make for light work.

And laughter.

And shared sweat and a common purpose to get the hay from our lands into our barns to feed our horses.


the ND herd going for a run

New Neighbor’s wife was away but he said he’d be there at 1:30 to help. He said he’s like a machine once he gets going on a task and that he wouldn’t eat or drink until the job was done.

So, 1:30 the next day we got our jeans and sunblock on and Alistair started turning the parallel rows into neat rectangular bundles of dried nutrition. It hadn’t seen a speck of rain. It is good hay.


One of many loads

I started loading up the trailer by myself because, as it turned out, New Neighbor locked himself out of his house and had to drive all the way back into town for his spare keys.

By the time he got back, the other neighbor had spotted us and joined the team.

Howard is a lifetime farmer who has helped us with our hay just about every year. Alistair helps him, too and we share equipment and labor and that’s just how it is done.

There is nothing like seeing a truck and trailer pull into your field when you are baling. Even if only one man jumps out, it creates within you the happiest of feelings, knowing one more set of hands is there.


being neighborly

We got into the peaceful routine of lifting, stacking, driving and unloading only to stack again in our hot, dusty barns.

New Neighbor was sort of getting the hang of it.

Sort of.

He whined a bit that Alistair had the easy job of driving the tractor, pulling the baler.

I didn’t tell him that Alistair would have a kink in his neck for 2 days from watching behind him and that he would cough up dust for about a week afterwards.

I didn’t tell him how much our Ford tractor cost, or how fiddly the baler is when he whined some more seeing Howard take a turn.


Random bale by the road

New Neighbor was no machine.

“I don’t know how old you guys are, but I’m really feeling being 30 years old,”  he announced during one of his many sit-down-on-the-bales-and-guzzle-water-that-I-brought-catching-his-breath-breaks.

“I’m 55 and I’m feeling it,” Alistair said.

“I’m 41 and I’m doing okay,” I offered.


waiting to be picked up

I mean, you are and you aren’t okay.

There are moments when you wonder what a heart attack really feels like.

Moments when you think you kind of might want to die, actually.

But you keep going and you hop out of the truck and you lift another bale while Howard takes a moment to organize and stack what is already on the trailer.

Howard didn’t bother telling New Neighbor that he was in his mid-60s.

Granted, the guys usually let me drive the air conditioned trucks because I am a bit of a little girl but I still got out and hauled bales and stacked and sometimes I just had the windows open because I felt bad the guys didn’t have AC.


Pretty girl…

Farming is tough work and its usually done on hot, dry days. But you just suck it up and do it.

Because its your land and they’re your horses and its free feed that you don’t have to buy and it hasn’t been rained on and, damnit, it needs to get done.


Pretty mouths to feed.

We did New Neighbor’s field first and then we started on our field.

Howard’s wife joined the team when she got home from work. She brought lemonade because she’s done this with all of us since 1998 and she is a good woman.

We reminisced about when their daughters and my stepkids and the original neighbors in New Neighbor’s house would all show up with water jugs and bale hooks and goggles and same-old-farm-shirts and gloves and work ethic and we would work each other’s fields for hours and days.

We talked about how the kids are all doing now and how Kathy is looking forward to retirement.


Happy to smile, even when we’re working our butts off

We stacked. Sweat beaded on our bodies. We unloaded.

We didn’t finish our own field that evening but got going on it in the cool of the morning the next day.


Early morning before it gets too hot.

New Neighbor had to go to Fargo so it was just Alistair and I.

Howard desperately wanted to help but it was his one day of the week he watches his 18-month old grand-daughter.

He still came over so we could meet the adorable little girl who looks so much like her mother it made my heart break.

Howard’s daughter died a few weeks after she gave birth to the little one, which was the one thing nobody talked about.

It didn’t seem neighborly.


watching our neighbor

Tears mixed with sweat as I watched this tough farmer and his grand-daughter walk back to his farm in the warm morning sunshine.

There were a lot of unspoken memories shared as we heaved hay bales onto trailers and stacked them high into the barns.

Because that’s how it is on the farm and every year its the same thing.

Even if everything is different.

And we are lucky to have good neighbors, even the keener who struggled to keep up.


the view down Friendship Trail

Our driveway is honestly called Friendship Trail.

We didn’t name it that.

We were the first New Neighbors on the block way back when.

And so, after two long hot days our barn is once again full of sweet smelling hay and we’ve reconnected with our neighbors and Alistair’s arms were dragging on the ground and we feel good but tired after such hard work.


My view of my husband for 2 days

Meaningful work.

To quote the Rankin Family, ‘the hay… the hay is finally in.’


a good exhaustion