Video: Driving across the Yukon River

Jeff headed out of town for a few days this afternoon, but first we had a nice lunch out, and then drove across the frozen river!

It was a gorgeous Groundhog Day today. Clear sky, -25C, and lovely sun. I actually had sun shining on my computer screen for the first time in months.

(If you can’t see the video, click here!)

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Changing, adapting, and still, sometimes tears

It’s been a month of change, sadness, and tears.

In way, losing Monty has been easier than losing Winger and Surf, but only because I know what to expect this time. When they died, I had no idea how life was ever going to continue without them, and I think half the grief was the fear of the unknown. I held on way too long last time, trying so hard to remember every single detail of them, terrified to forget a thing, until I realized that not letting go was preventing me from living.

This time I had all of his toys and stuff put away within 24 hours, and gave the house a good cleaning. This prevented all the “look at that toy, he loves that toy, it is sitting right here because  Monty dropped it here, and now he is gone, and why is he gone, how can he have just been right here playing with this toy, and now he is gone, but his toy is still here” thoughts.

Both of us still hear him at times, a whine at the door, a bark from the yard. The snow packed paths he made around the yard are filling in with snow. I no longer find dog hair in my dinner. No one pounces on food bits when they fall on the floor. I have no reason to go outside before bed, and to look at the sky, and the stars, and the northern lights.

The long list of reasons why I didn’t want a dog after this one have been overshadowed by our grief and loneliness. When his breeders mentioned they’ll be having puppies in the next year or so, Jeff immediately said yes and seemingly thinks about it non-stop.

I realized I’ve been trying to busy my brain since Monty was diagnosed. I haven’t had games on my phone in years, but after he was diagnosed I installed a couple seemingly brainless matching puzzles, Candy Crush like, games that keep me occupied enough while tv is on that I don’t have any extra brain capacity to think too much about our loss. Sometimes the darkness of the night between going to bed and falling asleep, when my phone is away, and Jeff is asleep, holds too much sadness, and I would do anything to have him back for just one more night, curled up at the end of our bed.

But there are things to look forward to, and life has to on. In a little over a week we’re both volunteering for the Yukon Quest, the 1,000 mile dog sled race that has a 36 hour lay over here. We’ve got a couple overnight shifts at the check-in point, a couple shifts at the vet shack, and even a shift serving up food. It’s going to be a fun few days!

I’ve also just booked my next trip for work. At the beginning of April, I’m going to Ireland!! My job has been full of change lately too. I’ve switched teams and roles, and will be going to meet with my new team in Dublin, Ireland for a week. I’m now doing support for people using the Jetpack plugin on their self-hosted WordPress sites. It is really challenging, with a steep learning curve. I’m really enjoying the new challenge, and I’m using many of my hosting, programming, troubleshooting skills that were getting dusty. I’m leaving behind my work enforcing Terms of Service for WordPress.com for the 16 months or so. It was a role I enjoyed, defending free speech, pushing back on lawyers and governments from around the world who wanted to sensor material we host, while also eliminating spam and illegal material. That meant I spent time every day looking and reading the worst the internet has to offer: crime scene photos, porn of all kinds (including child), text full of hatred and abuse, photos and videos of beheadings, terrorist threats in all sorts of languages, animal abuse, images of dead and mutilated adults, children, and babies, death threats, and other gore. I feel like I had some sort of defense mechanism built in to deal with it, and once I switched to my new team and was away from it, I was suddenly overly sensitive to violence and violent imagery for a couple weeks, no doubt some sort of delayed reaction to the horror.

That is the wonderful thing about my job, we can change it up from time to time, and carve out a new role for ourselves and our skills, finding new ways to support our users. We’re all different. Some people prefer the comfort of continuing to work at a role they’ve mastered, while I always prefer to have a challenge so I’m constantly learning new things.

And I’m going to Ireland :)

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Saturday on the Dempster

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Looking north around km 30 (estimated).

We took a drive up the Dempster Highway a bit yesterday afternoon. It was just after a few days of light fluffy snow, and the trees were all freshly covered.

The Dempster was closed further north, at Eagle Plains, so there was no traffic at all. There was no wind, no noise, no colour, and it was gorgeous.

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Artsy fartsy shot

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I love how much snow can gather in these trees.

Jeff wanted to get out of town to shoot his new gun. It is a big bullet gun we’ll use for bear self-protection should a grizzly ever try to tickle our toes when camping.

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We brought our snow shoes, but didn’t end up hiking. Just driving around, stopping to look at stuff, taking photos, scouting for signs of live with the binoculars.

Even in the frozen sub-arctic, which doesn’t thaw all winter, there is often water still moving. It builds up from seeps and can sometime risk the road. If you notice here, there are poles on the left. These mark the culverts, and the roads department will hook up a generator to thaw a line through the culvert to allow some of the water to drain.

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Here are a few pictures from the lookout just north of the Tombstone Park Interpretive Centre that we always stop at:20160123-DSC_0012

It was so quiet and still here. I wish you could experience it!20160123-DSC_0014

It must have been really windy here earlier, because in some places the snow had blown away and the ground was bare.
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Not today though, everything was covered in a really thick, coarse frost. All of the ground, road, rocks, trees. It was really neat. It wasn’t too cold, -13C or so.

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The temperature fluctuates significantly. It was -23 less than 50 kilometres north of here.

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We couldn’t quite get into the sunshine. As you know, Dawson City is in the shade for 2 months in the winter, so we don’t see it much. We kept driving north until we could get into the sun. We found it at Two Moose Lake.

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Two Moose Lake

I tried taking some photos right into the sun.
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Looking north towards Eagle Plains, across the open tundra.

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There aren’t many caribou tracks here anymore. We saw no animals at all, but there are always tons of tracks. Likely rabbit, and fox. Some moose. Perhaps a caribou.20160123-DSC_0066

At some point, the highway was open again at Eagle Plains and we met several big, loaded transports headed north with fuel, and goods, for Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, and all small communities between.

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Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Yesterday we drove Monty’s body down to Whitehorse, our capital city, so he could be cremated. I’m pretty emotionally exhausted, so for now, let’s focus on some other cute animals.

We decided to spend two nights in Whitehorse, rather than driving right back in time for the weekend.

We visited the Yukon Wildlife Preserve today. We visited it when we were first in the Yukon, and wanted to see what it was like in the winter. If anything, it was busier, and we saw more of the animals! It is a really remarkable place, now owned by the territorial government. The animals are all from the Yukon and have huge fields. It doesn’t feel like a zoo, more of a big farm. The animals are a mixture of animals that have been born and bred here, and others that were injured or abandoned.

Here are some of my best pics of the day:

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Elk

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Two elks

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Snowy owl. I couldn’t get a great photo due to the fencing. This owl came to the rehab after being found injured, and despite having healed, she isn’t able to fly, so she is now a permanent resident.

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This bald eagle has also healed his broken wing, but he still can’t fly and will be able to live out his years here.

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Woodland bison

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Mule deer

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Mule deers playing

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It was pretty neat to watch them tussling with their antlers.

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This older one barely opened his eyes while the young bucks wrestled ahead of him.

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Moose

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Adult male moose. Lost only half his antlers so far.

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Stone sheep

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Mountain goat

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Another mountain goat

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These horns are sharp. Where the sheep bang their heads and horns, these goat will actually skewer each other in their sides so the adult males are separated during mating season.

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Two male caribou

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The mother lynx and her daughter were chasing each other around and then the young one ran up the tree! It was incredible to watch!

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The branch it was on was so small. Look at the size of her feet!

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She actually lay down on the branch for awhile.

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This arctic fox was the CUTEST thing.

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Hello!

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*Yawn*

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Red fox sleeping on a hill

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A second arctic fox!

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Caribou

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Female caribou

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Antler from the Preserve’s largest male caribou that fell off this winter.

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Snowshoe hare

Didn’t get any great photos of the muskoxen. They were the shyest today. Afterwards we went for a nice long soak at the Takhini Hot Springs.

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Monty’s gone

It seems like it happened so fast, so quickly he was gone. I’m left all torn up, in shock, in tears.

It hasn’t even been a month since Monty was diagnosed with Lymphoma, but I knew the first day I felt the first big lump in his chest and neck that he didn’t have long. Somehow I just knew.

He had been losing weight quickly. Still had a ferocious appetite, but had the runs all week, like his food was just going right through him. He had a really lethargic day on the weekend and we got pretty worried, but bounced back with a walk around the neighbourhood.

He’s been coughing a bit, and slow with his food. He was snoring when he wasn’t even asleep, and panting.

At lunch today I gave him a milkbone, and then he was making a crazy repetitive smacking sound with his mouth and was pacing relentlessly. I opened his mouth to check and took out a big ball of dense food on the back of his tongue. He just couldn’t swallow it.

I took him for a walk this afternoon and he was suddenly so weak and slow that we only walked from the gate in the back of our fence, through the back alley to around the end of the block and around to our front door. He had enough. He was beside or behind me the entire way. Just last night we had a great walk and he was doing so well!

But he didn’t come to the kitchen quickly when my iPhone alarm went off for his dinner and prednisone dose tonight. When he realized I was setting down his bowl of food, he came to eat, but he couldn’t eat. He couldn’t swallow it. Then he just stood there, a little panicked maybe, he didn’t want to move. We got him into the living room where he rested for a bit, but then stood again. Thinking there must still be food in his throat that was choking him, I did the finger sweep and felt it. Something big, tumour perhaps, in his throat. The reason he couldn’t swallow.

We knew it was time. We just didn’t want to know. It was already after-hours, but Jeff was able to get our local vet here on the phone and he agreed to see us. We hadn’t met our vet before, because he was out of town in December when we rushed Monty to the vet in Whitehorse.

John, the vet, is a really nice man. So caring and thoughtful. He said Monty’s neck was so swollen and he could hear the cancer in his lungs when he was breathing so loudly. Monty was really not himself, just standing in one place, not wanting to move, hunched a bit, and trembling.

John gave us all the time we needed, to hug and love him as he left us. He didn’t really want to go, though, and after being diagnosed as gone, he came back for awhile. Not in distress, and still asleep, but it was just like Monty to be a bit stubborn. I don’t think he was ready to leave any more than we were ready to say good-bye.

It isn’t easy to say good-bye and just walk away when you live in the frozen subarctic in January though. Think about it. You can’t really just dig a hole here when everything is frozen, nor can you expect your vet clinic to take care of arrangements, when there isn’t a vet clinic. The vet’s office is just an area in the back of his own house. So Monty came home with us. Locally, our only option for his body is disposal at the landfill, and neither of us are keen on that option. So we’ll be driving him this week down to Whitehorse, to a pet crematorium.

When you lose a pet, especially after a period of sickness, where you are caring for them so intensely, you are always conscious of where they are, with a sense of how they are doing, and if they are awake or asleep. When that loved one is suddenly gone, but you still know he’s lying nearby, well, its a tough mind buster. Before going to bed tonight, Jeff went outside to check on him, where he’s bundled up in blankets the back of the truck, maybe even to make sure he was still gone and didn’t need us. It’s a lot to wrap your head around.

Awwww Monty, it’s so shitty that you are gone. At 10, you were still so agile, so limber, and active. We should have had years still to go, years of more walks, adventures, and rides in the truck. Cancer took you so fast.

We had a rough start, Monty and I. He was my first puppy, who I brought home right after losing my first two golden retrievers back to back. I was grieving so hard, and he was nothing like the gentle senior giants I had just lost. I feel like we didn’t bond for years. He hated grooming, where my other two would let me brush them and cut their nails while they slept on their back. He never once wanted to cuddle or snuggle, and never once fell asleep on my lap like everyone said a puppy would. He was an independent dog. He made me so frustrated and I cried so many tears in his first year. I’d let him out in the yard at night before bed, and he’d do his business, and then he’d just stand in the back corner of the yard and would refuse to come in. If I tried to go after him and grab him, he’d run away. I had to attach a super long rope to his collar so I’d be able to catch him. If I forgot that, I’d sit waiting on the outdoor steps in the dark, silently crying, wishing he’d just come inside. This standoff would never end until I’d bribe him with the “cookie” word to get him to come inside, which I continued to do, until this very day on which he died. He’d do anything for a cookie.

Monty was never really just my dog. He’s always belonged to both of us. Jeff and his chocolate lab were always around, and then moved in with us within Monty’s first year. I remember we went through an awful frustrating phase where Monty would poop an enormous pile of poop on the carpet every night when he was just a year or so old. It was incredibly frustrating and draining (and stinky) and confusing. We couldn’t seem to prevent it with a crate or taking him out.  As it turned out, he just couldn’t handle that supposedly premium healthy food we were giving him. Once we figured that out, and long after he earned the Monty Poopster nickname, we were all happier.

He was an awesome dog. So good. Never did much wrong, and wasn’t ever destructive. He was a winter puppy and I remember taking him out in the snow and cold every 20 minutes to house break him. I loved him, but I felt like we weren’t connecting the same way as I did with my two other dogs that I adopted as adults. I drove me wild that he wouldn’t let me cut his nails, which surely made it worse. He was an incredible learner and would have gone so far in obedience and agility, but I just didn’t have my heart in dog competitions anymore. I did show him, in conformation, and even got his Canadian Championship title! After the grief of losing my first goldens though, I had this philosophy that our dogs just will never live long enough, so I should let him do whatever he wanted. He self soothed himself as a puppy by suckling stuffed animals and I didn’t have the heart to take his toys away, so he did that for the rest of his life.

He was a kleenex lover, and stole them to eat every chance he got, he’d even stick his nose in my sweatshirt front pocket to take out a tissue to eat. He was a loud singer/whiner. What I thought was just puppy noises, he did for the rest of his life, loudly singing away with a toy in his mouth when we got home, or if he heard someone else talking to us on a Facetime or work chat. If he didn’t have a toy in his mouth, he’d smile and show all of his teeth in an awkward, growly  looking grin.

I don’t think he snuggled once until he was about 6 years old. When he first would come up to cuddle for a bit on my legs on the couch, it was amazing! He was always an ear lobe nibbler though. Always Jeff’s. He’d get up on Jeff on the arm chair, or pin him down in bed, and nibble on one ear, and then move Jeff’s chin the other way with his snout, and nibble on the other ear. So funny! Just like my first dogs, he made a snoring sound, when he wanted your attention, and if he wasn’t sleeping, he’d want your hands to be petting him.

As he aged, we finally got closer and closer. When I had surgery a few years ago and had to spend 8 weeks housebound, it was just Monty and I and really got in sync with each other. And more so, when I started working from home.

It was so hard to come in the door tonight without him. He’s everywhere in this small rental house. His fur is everywhere, his stuffed toys, and beds, and bowls. and leashes. His stuffed bunny toy was still lying on our bed from where he left it this morning. We have three full bags of his expensive food that we bought in bulk when we were in the city. We have bags of rawhides, and boxes of milkbones. It just feels so fast, and so sudden. I think we’re both feeling a little lost.

Here is a gallery of some photos I’ve shared of Monty here on my blog over the years.

I love you my sweet angel.