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Written by Garnet McPherson

My Unexpected Mentor - Traveling in wild county always teaches you something not only about the world we live in but about our relationship to that world and cialis bought in canada most importantly about ourselves. I have been fortunate enough to have spent a few years surrounded by nature and I have never stopped thinking of myself  as a student of "Life On Planet Earth".

When I was in early 20s,I worked as a photographer in Algonquin Park. When I first got there,  I lived in a tent with my new puppy Yawny. Yawny doin his thingHe was a cross between a golden lab and a collie and he loved every chance he had to herd sheep, cattle or kids or to dive, swim and play for hours in the water.   The fact is we both loved water and I am sure that is one of the reasons that he became my best friend.

He was my constant companion, where ever I went in the park, he went with me.  He was a mischievous, but totally enthusiastic friend to have along on my adventures whether by trail or canoe.  He started off as just a golden fluff ball with four big paws, a wagging tail, and a smile that could melt your heart
.Often you could find him yawning or napping while he waited for me.   His self-appointed job each day was to follow me around like a shadow and get in my way every time I knelt down to photograph a wildflower or a mushroom or some other wonderful creation of nature. When he was teething he would gnaw on my ankles, my boots, my tripod and click here cialis 20mg lowest price a little too often for my liking, the subject of my photograph.   Anything that was under two feet from the ground and he could stick in his mouth was fair game.  So I soon learned to play fetch with a stick so that he would gladly carry a stick in his mouth instead of items that I needed to do my job.

When he was still just a pup we started out camping on Mew Lake.  At night it was very common for black bears to come wondering along the shore checking out campsites looking for any food left behind by campers. We could almost count on visiting bear each night at our campsite.  So each night, I would bear proof my food pack by hanging it from a tall branch in a tree. I would take Yawny into the tent with me, and he would cuddle up throughout the night. 
Yawny Naps
 But if a black bear came by during the night Yawny would smell or hear it long before I would and he would wake me up with a puppy’s version of ferocious growling and barking.  The bears,on the other hand, would be focused on their hunt for garbage and would generally ignore him.  My only concern was that if Yawny ever got out of the tent and the bear was hungry enough, he might choose Yawny for supper.   However, I found black bears generally like to avoid confrontation.  So they went on their way into the night looking for more easy pickings.  After a few tense moments, the dog and I would fall back asleep and genuine levitra online confidence wake in the morning to the songs of birds, and the sun peeking over the horizon and into the forest. 
The dog and I would start our morning by walkingdown to the water's edge and washing dad's face and having a drink.     We then collected kindling for the morning fire.  Yawny would love to play tug-of-war with the bits of wood I was picking up for the fire.  However, we managed to collect enough to set a fire for breakfast. Once the fire was going strong,I would make Yawny his breakfast, and put a pot on the fire for tea.  The breakfast I would make would often consist of banick and dried cereal.  At this point I would often prepare a lunch for both Yawny and I and pack it into the knapsack that would be going with us.  In between all the preparations for the day, Yawny kept my constant game of fetch going around the campsite.  Whether it was a ball, a stick, or the shirt I was about to put on, it mattered not.  To him, it was all the same.  The game was on and I knew it would last until he would drop to the ground for one of his power naps.

 Yawny basically grew up following me around Algonquin Park as we hiked and paddled through the wilderness.  Once I had our food and my cameras packed, and all the gear that we might need during the day it was off for a daily adventure.  Yawny's greatest challenge was to keep up with dad.  Once I had my goal for the day in mind, I kept up an intense pace. 
As a photographer I considered myself more visually aware than most people and I prided myself on not just seeing details but feeling and hearing the environment around me as I carefully padded my way along a trail.  However it did not take me long to realize that Yawny was not only as inquisitive as I was but he would notice things that I did not. It was then that I became aware of just how much better a dog’s hearing and sense of smell is than human beings. 
Yawny on the Trail At DawnHe would tilt his head and curl an ear when he heard something new or unusual in the distance.  He would reach up with his nose into the air when he got a whiff of something interesting in the breeze. More often than not if I followed his gaze sure enough we would find another resident of the forest making its way through the landscape.  He became my early warning system that there was wildlife approaching along our path.

 Initially his puppy curiosity was overwhelming for him and he would enthusiastically interact with the animals we would encounter before I had a chance to get my photographs. But as we worked on his training I was able to ask him to sit or lay down beside me while I got my shots and eventually he got the message that Dad had to do his thing first and then he could investigate his new potential playmate.  Over time we got better at our team work and began to rely on each other’s strengths to get through each days adventures.

Yawny in canoeWhen it came to traveling by canoe one learns that keeping your load low in the canoe was the key to stability in all conditions. I was a little nervous bringing him into the canoe for the first time as he was generally a ball of enthusiasm that hardly ever stays still unless he absolutely had to. Well in a canoe one has to. The first time in a canoe he started to dart around to check it all out before we left the shore but I quickly asked him to lay down between the thwarts and he obliged.
Once he was lying in the bottom of the canoe with his head on the gunnels to enjoy the view we would leave shore and head out into the lake together.

From his perspective the deal seemed to be that if you lay or sit still, Dad and the canoe would take you on a new adventure to new aromas in the wind and new sights and sounds along the shores.  If he started to get up and move around Dad would stop paddling and the trip would come to a standstill.  He loved the adventure so much that it did not take long before he was a pro at canoe etiquette.  So eventually once he saw me reach for my paddle and life jacket he would be in the canoe and laying down in the middle in a matter of seconds, looking over his shoulder to see why I was taking so long to catch up to join him on another aquatic adventure.

I knew that I wanted to train Yawny to be a good sled dog come winter, so I sought some advice from an old Cree trapper and canoe builder friend of mine by the name of Clarence Boges.  He had taught me to build canoes, and make snow shoes and paddles. He had entertained me for many evenings with long tails of his past trails in life.  For that reason I trusted his opinion so I went to him because I knew he had kept sled dogs as a boy that had won races and lived long lives.  He shared with me the stories of his childhood and of the dogs he had trained.  As usual he was inspiring and I felt quite grateful for this elder’s friendship.  Through the summer Yawny was maturing as a puppy so following my friend’s guidance, I would put him in a harness and snapped it to a line attached to a large block of wood which he would drag around the camp for an hour or so each day.  It was not heavy enough to put a strain on him but heavy enough that he would have to lean into the harness to get around.  As he grew I would increase the size of the block of wood proportionately to his weight and strength.  
I could see the strength in his shoulders building as he did his work out each day.  It became a game between him and the block that he knew he would win.  As a result he was always happy to dawn his harness and he had the will and strength to lean into the harness when it came time to pull a load.  As Clarence had said to me “attitude is everything in a sled dog.”  Yawny had attitude in spades!

The thing Yawny loved the most was being in, on,under or by the water.  His webed feet made him a great swimmer and he moved effortlessly through the water to chase a stick or dive for a stone. So we always lived by the water and we both spent a lot of time getting wet and drying out by a fire.

In the fall we moved to a log cabin on Smoke Lake. It was cozy and warm compared to living in a tent but it was a long way from a road and we had to regularly carry all the supplies we needed to the cabin.  By this time Yawny was becoming a pretty big dog even though I still called him a puppy.
So, once every month or so, I would have to set out on a trek to the nearest town to get supplies for both of us. That would including several 40-pound bags of dog food and large bags of raw meat and bones that the butcher at the grocery store would set aside for me to supplement Yawny’s diet.  Yawny ate well for a dog and he grew into the large dog that matched the big paws he had as a puppy. 
 He was my best friend and buddy so once and a while I would spoil him.  I was in town once and dropped an ice cream cone on the side walk and he devoured it in two seconds flat and dawned a smile that lasted for hours. So every few months when we went to town we had a little ritual. I would treat him to a soft ice cream cone from the ice cream stand. He knew when we were approaching it as he would start to squeak and make excited noises as we approached and wag like there was not tomorrow as we waited for our order.  We would sit outside in the sun and enjoy out little treat from civilization before we packed the car for our trip back home. It seemed to me that after such a treat he had a smile on his face all the way back to the park.  When we got back to the landing on the lake I would pack the grub and other supplies into 80-pound canoe packs and start a series of trips back and forth to the cabin which would take the better part of the afternoon.

Algonquin Park for those that don’t know it is over 3000 square miles of wild country criss crossed with thousands of lakes and rivers. It’s larger than many states south of the Canadian border.  It is a lovely place to be in any season and you cannot help but connect to our natural world by being there. No motor boats or skidoos were allowed in the park which makes it very peaceful and enhanced your sense of being in the wilderness.  However living in a park also meant we could not cut firewood.  So on top of supplies, we had to carry in all the fuel we used in the wood stove to heat the cabin and cook our food.  If one planned ahead in the fall for the wood one would need in the winter to come, one would stock up before the snow flew. That would mean trips outside the park to fetch a truck load of cord wood to bring back to the landing and several days of hauling wood by canoe or along a trail to stack by the cabin. If you did not plan ahead, or the winter was extra-long or cold you could run low on wood and have to bring it in by toboggan from a landing which was on the other side of the lake.  

Well Yawny’s first winter in the park we began to run low on wood at the cabin and as much as I like to think that it was and extra-long and cold winter it was probably because I had not planned ahead for enough wood to last the season.  
When we got supplies in the winter we would bring them in by toboggan with Yawny in his harness and me with a rope around my waist and a tump line around my forehead to pull the toboggan across the lake or along the trail which ever route was better packed and easier going.  Yawny turned out to be the great and enthusiastic shed dog I had hoped for and he worked hard pulling loads with me as a team. We usually managed to bring all our supplies to the cabin in one load on the toboggan and I think we were pretty proud of the fact that we could get the job done by working together.  However hauling a load of hard wood by toboggan was a whole other matter.  It did not look any bigger than a load of supplies but it was a whole lot heavier.  Being green horns at the task of hauling wood in the winter we loaded up our first toboggan load of wood like we would as if it was packed full of groceries and started out across the lake heading towards our cabin in the distance. 

stormWell it sure seemed heavier than the last load we remembered and we were having to stop and rest a lot more than ever before.  The weather was not co-operating either with a cold 50 km per hour face cutting head wind and now heavy snow had started and was blowing in our faces. Each 10 feet was starting to feel like 100.   In spite of the fact that I had packed the trail with my snow shoes on our way to the landing the trail through the snow was blowing in and I had to stop to break ice off my snow shoes and from between the pads of Yawny’s paws every few hundred feet. After about an hour of exhausting work my beard was caked in icicles and my face and lips were completely numb.  I was a determined stubborn Scot and we don’t give up easily even when we should. The going was getting tougher  and before long I noticed that even the ever enthusiastic, fur coated Yawny was giving me the “are you sure we have to do this now” look.  I could not agree more with him so with that we left the tail which I had packed and changed course toward the shoreline. It was now a cross wind which was easier on the face but the going was even harder breaking trail through the deep snow. We were both pushing as hard as we could to make head way and the 10 minutes it took, felt like an eternity.  Before long I spotted a point that stuck out into the lake I headed for its shelter.   In the lea of the point was a 10 foot drift of snow the curled around in an arc. It gave us an immediate break from the wind which had picked up by at least another 10 km per hour and for the first time since we left the landing we could stop to catch our breath.   

QuinzeeI pulled the toboggan into the curl and untied myself from the toboggan and bent down to take Yawny out of his harness and give a long hug to my strong and brave companion.  After a few minutes of recovery I started to dig a tunnel into the snow drift to make us a shelter. Yawny caught onto the plans in an instant and came into the tunnel with me to help to dig.  Before long between me carving out the snow cave and Yawny clearing the snow from the tunnel we had ourselves a six by four foot cave completely sheltered from the storm.  I found a flash light deep in one of my pockets and luckily it still had some battery life and was able to light up the little white cave we had created. I sculpted a flat spot for us to sleep on and poked a small hole through the ceiling for ventilation.

We had both spent a lot of energy getting this far so I found a few pieces of our home made jerky in one of my other pockets which I shared with the dog as I pondered how we would set up the cave for the night’s sleep.  I went out for my pack which was still lashed to the toboggan and brought it in to our snow cave.  In it I had a ground sheet, sleeping bag and a large plumber’s candle which I took with me in the truck whenever I traveled in the winter.  I spread the ground sheet out and covered it with the extra clothes I had in the pack and I put the sleeping bag in top of that. 

Yawny curled up on the bedding as soon as I had it laid out. I could hear the wind howling over the drift that was now our home away from home so I went back out through the tunnel and I stuck my snow shoes in the snow and built a little snow wall in front of the entrance to keep any shifting wind from blowing into our cave.  Then I went back in and lit the plumber’s candle on one side or our cozy snow shelter and took my wet mitts and mukluks off and set them by the candle so they could dry out during the night.   My wool socks were still relatively dry.  With that I shook up the bedding and we both climbed into the sleeping bag. Yawny seemed to cuddle up a little closer then normal so we kept each other warm through the night.

quinzeeWe were both so tired we were out as soon as our heads hit the ground and slept deeply into the night.  I woke once to adjust some bedding and noticed that the candle was no longer flickering and that  with the combination of our body heat, the candle and four feet of insulating snow above our heads the inside of the cave had warmed up considerably.    Off came my parka and Marino wool sweater so I would not over heat.  I took a tin cup in which I had carried the candle and melted some snow over the flame so we could have a little water.  Yawny was clearly tired too and only groaned a little at my moving about the cave.  He stuck his head out of the covers only enough that he could keep one eye on what I was doing and he went right back to sleep after I crawled back into the bag.  We slept like logs and I am pretty sure I dreamed of laying on a rock by the water in the warm summer sun.

In the morning we woke to dead silence.  The cave was warm and we were cosy under the covers. The candle had burned itself out but light filling the tunnel so I knew the sun was up. I  got out of the bedding and put on my clothes. It seems to get ever brighter as I crawled my way down the tunnel and towards the light.  During the night the wind had drifted in the end of the tunnel and sealed it with a light layer of snow.   The dawn sunlight was easily penetrating the translucent door the wind had crafted.   I pushed on the new snow door and it fell away as if by a breath revealing a wonderland of fresh snow lit by the bight morning sun.  As I stood up at the mouth of our tunnel and looked across the pristine landscape there was no sign of the howling wind from the night before. The sun was just cresting the white pines on the other side of the lake but it was so bright I could hardly look at it.  Yawny pushed his way out of the tunnel and between my legs and stood with me for a moment taking in the beautiful world that had been created by the storm. 
Yawny In WinterA moment later Yawny was dancing and playing in the snow drifts grabbing big mouthfuls of snow and jumping over the toboggan in leaps of joy and celebrative energy.  Even though I was sore from my lumpy sleep in the cave he brought a smile to my face and I his mood was definitely contagious.   Within a few minutes we were packed up and on our way back home and within 15 minutes we were standing on the front porch of the cabin.  I started bringing wood in and lit the fire for the morning teas and a hearty breakfast.  We both ate like we had not eaten for a week and then curled up for a mid-day nap in front of the fire.  As I started to drift off, I was filled with gratitude for having Yawny by my side. I was aware that his energy and enthusiasm fed every moment of every day.  In fact, he was probably largely responsible for our safe return to our cabin after our marathon trek across the lake the night before.  He was the best companion anyone could hope for and filled the many months I spent in the wild country with special kind of warm, good humor and joy.   

Living alone in the wild can be difficult for many people.  One has to face oneself in a way that can be most challenging.  It can be either very rewarding or devastating depending on the person.   Many who live such an isolated life get what the old timers called “cabin fever” where one starts to lose touch with reality and have some difficulty relating to others.   Well with Yawny at my side there was never any danger of that. He kept me in good spirit and found ways to entertain me even at times when I was down. The fact is he would not let a down time last for long.  If he caught a whiff of a depressing thought within a moment he would be licking my face and taunting me to play a game.  His perceptive abilities never ceased to amaze me and his loyal friendship changed my life forever. 

That would not be the first time that Yawny would save my life, (I will share those stories another time) but it would be the first time that I truly appreciated what an amazing partner he had become in my life.  I had spent a lot of time training Yawny, but over time I became present to the fact that Yawny in his own way was teaching me. He taught me to listen more carefully, to watch for movement in every landscape and to explore every opportunity to play or to learn something new.  He taught me about friendship and loyalty and team work. But most of all he taught me about being alive in the present and getting the most out of every moment life has to offer.

For this I will be eternally grateful to this man’s best friend…. YAWNY!

An excerpt from Garnet McPherson's latest book  “Earthwalk - The Pathway Home”
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