My dog wants to play with everyone and everything. Last Fall, she came across a mouse on the Copper River Flats. Before I could do anything, she was tossing the poor creature into the air.
Leave it! I yelled, racing toward her but by the time I got to them, the poor little rodent had died of shock and Oona was tapping it the way cats bat prey with their paws as if trying to revive it so that their play might resume.
Something similar must have happened when she met her first porcupine between some of the logs that make up the expansive jam at the bottom of Finlay’s Reach at Shames.
My previous mutt, Pawsome, and my sled dog, Chimo, before her, had both attempted to devour the first porcupines they’d met. Both returned with their muzzles bristling with quills, and both had cost me a few hundred dollars to be de-quilled by Dr. Elorza. Fortunately, on their next encounters with the prickly rodents, neither dog sought vengeance, choosing instead to keep their distance and bark viciously.
The quills in Oona’s chest and forelegs betray the fact that she must have attempted to play with the porky. Thanks to her poodle-like curls, the quills in her chest didn’t penetrate enabling me to pluck them off like burrs. The four on her fore legs have penetrated fur and skin. I gently grip her collar and take out my Leatherman and open it to reveal the pliers. When their nose touches the quill, she flinches. After a quick turn and yank, there are three quills left. I wait a little while before extricating each one.
To help her forget the ordeal, I grab a stick and pitch it out into the Skeena. Oona is only one-third Labrador Retriever, but she swims as strongly as any lab I’ve seen swim, and the force to fetch is strong in her. She bounds into the river and swims directly toward the spot where the stick landed. Thanks to the current, it’s no longer there, of course. It take only a few seconds of looking around before she realizes it’s downstream. She swims in that direction. The moment she spots the stick, she accelerates, doubling her speed, almost climbing out of the water, then – snap – she has it in her jaws and is chugging toward shore.
When she’s back on the beach, I have another stick waiting, which I throw when she’s dropped the first. And, so it goes until she no longer brings the stick directly to my feet, indicating that she’s eager to take a breather. At this point, I pick up my rod and wade in up to my knees. Within an hour, I’ve killed two bright little pink salmon and involuntarily released several others.
When I get home, I text my protege, Conner Taylor.
– Pink fishing is good. u wanna go.
– hey sorry I lost my contacts. I’ve been meaning to get a hold of u about fishing!!! I would love to go.
The next day Conner, Oona, and I are back at Shames. Connor’s had some experience catching trout with a fly rod. Fishing for Pink Salmon with the same tackle is a good way to learn how to handle larger fish. Fishing the Skeena in the summer is also safer since the fishing is done in the shallows and without waders.
Soon after he gets his casting rhythm, Conner hooks a fish. By lunchtime, we have our limits. Since he has the bigger backpack, I give him the privilege of packing three of the fish.
As we’re making our way across the cobbled side channel toward the Shames, a bear ambles leisurely out of the woods a hundred metres or so down the channel.
Check it out, I say.
And there’s another one, says Conner, pointing to another black bear that has improbably emerged from the bush well below its cousin and has begun to swim the Shames.
Oona spots the first bruin and is after it like she’s been shot from a cannon. Surprisingly, she doesn’t bark. The bear turns with a start, sees a creature the same hue as her hurtling toward it and scrambles back from whence it came. I whistle loudly. Oona veers to her left and lopes back to Connor and me. By the time she’s returned, the second bear is crawling ashore. She notices the second bear and bolts toward it too, leaping into the water and paddling to the same bank as the shocked bruin.
It’s a repeat performance. I whistle. The bear disappears into the brush. I whistle, louder this time to compensate for the distance. Oona turns and trots back.
Good girl! I tell her.
I guess she gets a passing grade in black bear 101, I tell Connor.
But, on the way back, I wonder what would have happened if we’d encountered a sow and a cub.