Little Saw-Tooth 🐾

‘I’m your friend, Okay. And as your friend, I gotta be honest with you. I don’t care about you or your problems.’

~Chloe the Cat
The Secret Life of Pets

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We adopted a tabby kitten from a friend in Polar River, NWT (where we lived in 1993 and I wrote about here: North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River (age 27) ❄️  She was a tiny cat, but she was mighty. We named her Sahtu after the region by that name in the Arctic, but, perhaps we should have called her SAW-TOOTH, as one of my nephews would call her.

We were living in Inuvik then and in the midnight sun of the summer, insects grow freakishly large.  Sahtu learned to hunt by catching the massive dragonflies in mid-flight. She would jump up and grab them in her two front paws. Then… she would eat them, turning her sweet head to one side and crunch as she used her chewing teeth to devour her catch.

tabby and dragonfly

The first night she was with us, she slept on the fridge. She was tiny and she had never seen two big dogs before. Within a matter of days, however, she was completely in charge of the dogs.  We had an old couch that the three of them would share.  Sahtu would put her two dainty paws on Delta

Delta or on Grizzly and she would knead their abdomens.  She would sometimes receive a nice big lick but never a growl. The odd time, not wanting her attentions, Delta or Grizz would quietly get up and vacate the couch to her. The dogs just loved her. They were ten times bigger, and could kill her with one powerful shake, or one lazy bite, but they were mush in her green-eyed gaze.

We moved to Toronto after that, all five of us, and had this great three-story brick house at Birchmount and The Danforth.  I am fond of saying that we were in the North Beaches, but those who know Toronto, know we were actually in Scarborough. (This hilarious story happened while we were living there: A Buttertart and a Kiss 😘 (31) ) There was a large, leafy shotgun fenced-in yard that the dogs would run the length of to chase their nemeses: SQUIRRELS, barking all the way.  Never, of course, catching them.  GrizzlyThey should have recruited tiny Sahtu.  She could catch anything.  When Dean was studying and inevitably scrunching waste paper into balls, Sahtu would come a-running, the first time was out of curiosity at this new sound, the scrunching sound. Then Dean tossed the ball of paper high into the air and Sahtu executed a four foot high jump and twist to catch that ball of paper. After that, it became a game to her and a marvel to see.  She had one lithe, muscular little body.

We had a little window over the kitchen sink that we would leave open for her to come and go.  She was a happy little cat. We would put a bowl of food in a cupboard and we quickly taught her how to open the cupboard door.  In she would go to eat in peace. Her food remained safe from the dogs.

The next year we moved to Virginia. Sahtu would come walking and hiking with us sometimes. My friend Nancy and her girls found it quite remarkable. We would be hiking through the woods and Sahtu would be following behind. We had a little bell on her which helped us keep track of her.  Her cool feline presence added to the experience of hiking in the woods.  (While we were living in Virginia, our son came along and this story ensued: Prune Juice & Pregnancy (age 33) 😳 and Locked Up in D.C. 🔐 )

This one time, after we moved back from Virginia, to Milton, Ontario, we were living in an apartment out on highway 25 in the countryside.  Going away for a few days, with our little guy, Leo and the two dogs, we decided to leave Sahtu the cat with the young guy who lived in the apartment beneath us.  We told him that if he left the low door window open, Sahtu could come and go and to simply keep her food and water full. After our weekend away, we returned to find what looked like blood and guts everywhere in the large front entryway and on the walls up to about four feet high.   We found Buddy and asked what had happened, fearing the worst.

Eyes bulging out of his head to emphasis his words, he goes, ‘Man, that cat of yours is some kind of mean and cruel hunter.’

‘What do ya mean?  Little Sahtu?’ we asked, in harmony.

Still with the overly wide eyes, Buddy says, ‘Well, she may be tiny but she is deadly!  She caught a rabbit, bigger than her, and she jumped through the door window with it in her jaws! When I came out here it was half dead jumping around trying  to escape her and it was bleeding EVERYWHERE.  I had to get my hockey stick to kill it and put it out of it’s misery’.  I am quite certain that Buddy had no idea what he was getting into upon agreeing to ‘watch’ Sahtu.

tabby cat posingAnother time, after we moved into our new house, we needed to have some electrical work done.  My eldest brother Matt came over to do the work. Downstairs we had this huge basement which had a workroom at one end, which was unfinished with an open ceiling and a utility room at the other end, which also was unfinished with an open ceiling.  From time to time, we would notice little Sahtu going up into the space between the ceiling and the main floor.  She would often start in one end and come out the other, having done her rounds, looking at us as if to say, ‘Okay, my duty is done.  Everyone can rest easy now.’

So, when Matt was having trouble telling a complex funny story while also pulling wire from the workroom to the utility room, he was getting frustrated because the wire just wouldn’t go through.  His story came to a halt.  I said, ‘Wait a minute.  Maybe Sahtu can pull the wire.’  So Dean ran to get her little metal bowl full of kibble and added a bit of fresh  and fragrant roast beef. I tied a light-weight piece of cord onto her collar. We then put her up to the opening in the workroom ceiling and…in she went.  Quickly, quickly, Dean, Matt and I then clambered through the rec room to the other open-ceiling room where we shook her food bowl, making the distinct sound that she knew and loved — we often shook her food bowl to entice her to come inside the house. Within a couple of moments  guess who’s green eyes we could see coming? Little Sahtu.  Matt was very impressed and for a few moments we tossed around the idea of putting little Sahtu on the payroll and hiring her out to pull wire at other jobs.

Another testament to her hunting prowess was the time our old Army friend, Nee asked if we could bring her along to his cottage in Haliburton because it had become infested with mice.  ‘Absolutely!’  We arrived at the cottage, in tandem with Nee.  Just as he was unlocking the cottage door, I said, ‘Let’s put Little Sahtu inside first and see what happens.’

‘Really?’ Nee asked, skeptical. ‘Okay.’

We opened the door a crack and put Little Sahtu inside.

A split second later she came out with a wriggling mouse in her jaws and promptly ATE it, head first.  All but the tail and the gizzard.  Such a delicate little thing.  All night long she battled the infestation in that cottage.  There were minor crashes and thumps and bumps as she became the scourge of the Haliburton mice.

Koshlong

A few years later, we sadly lost our Little Sahtu.  We aren’t absolutely sure, and we never found her body or any other evidence, but there was a massive bald eagle scoping her out as she herself hunted in a field.

The circle of life sucks sometimes.

We miss her.

(Cat photos courtesy of google images)

 

~Like what you’re reading? Leave a comment, a like or a follow.  Cheers. ~M

North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River (age 27) ❄️

In 1993 we spent a year in a Northern Community. We had many good times but, there were at least three tragedies while we were there…

In early July 1993 we rolled into Polar River, just north of the Sixty-sixth parallel in the North West Territories.  We had been driving for several hot and dusty days on the road across Canada, from Newfoundland to Alberta and then straight North.  We passed through Whitehorse and Dawson City, Yukon and then a full day up the gravel Dempster Highway, two hours beyond the Arctic Circle.  We had driven in tandem for a week, driving ‘Betsy’ our ’76 VW Van and our tiny Chevrolet Sprint we fondly called ‘Puny’. Unfortunately, Betsy didn’t survive the trip.  Her engine blew in Whitehorse and, on a deadline to get to the job, we sold her body to a small Franco mechanic with the longest, most gorgeous ringlet hair we had ever seen.  His hair was way down his back and pure ringlets.  He saw me admiring it and said with a lop-sided grin: ‘the ladees, estee, they love my hairs, they are curly, non?’  I just wanted to touch it to verify that it was real. While in Whitehorse, we ate at a restaurant that is still there today: Sam N Andy’s. Interestingly and coincidentally, there is a very real chance we were served by my very good friend, Daisy, who lives and works in our current Nova Scotia town.  One day, decades later, Daisy and I came upon this nugget of truth while reminiscing about our Northern days.

Anyway, Dean had accepted a one-year contract position as Recreation Director for a tiny northern community of 150 First Nations Gwich’in people and roughly ten whites living in about 25 houses  built on pilings that were anchored into the permafrost.  There was a general store, an all levels school, a gym, two churches, a health centre and a community office on a hill overlooking the confluence of two icy rivers.  The setting was incredibly beautiful.  It felt like the final frontier.

The first thing we did was attend a community feast.  But, to call it a feast was a bit of a stretch.  It was simply hot dogs, pop and chips, but, we were so pleased to finally be there and soon to be on a payroll again, after more than a year, that we were all smiles and best intentions. The local children took our hands and tugged us along.  ‘How long will you be here?’ Charlie asked. They don’t mince words, I thought.  They also were intrigued with our little black lab puppy, ‘Dempster’ whom we had on a bright blue leash and matching collar.  Full of questions: ‘Why is he on leash?  Does he bite?  Why does he have a name? Do you feed him fish?  Will he be chained outside?’  And, of course questions directed at me like: ‘Is there a baby in your belly? Where are your children?’ These questions were telling.

At the feast, we met Allie, the daughter of the former old Chief Henry.  Allie was quite articulate and confident.  She told us of her recent huge adventure, trekking in Nepal. Little did we know then that we would be trekking in Nepal the following year, thanks to the seed planted by Allie at this little feast.

The Chief of Polar River, Gwen, was dysfunctional, mostly ineffective, extremely high maintenance and neurotic.  She expected Dean to be at the gym facility seven days a week, twenty-four hours per day. He was hired to do a job and she wanted him working non-stop.  Poor Dean, who is overly kind, was exhausted by her neediness in a couple of weeks. The gym, thankfully, was a very nice facility, a couple of minutes walk from our apartment, and was perched on the edge of the forest which was millions of acres of wilderness.  It was a state of the art building with a huge gym and fully stocked kitchen as well as Dean’s new office. Equipment galore: new, mats, rackets, nets.  New cross-country skis and new canoes came later when Dean applied for and received a grant for them, as well as money to hire an instructor to come up and teach canoeing. The instructor was this funny young guy from Manitoba.  He would exclaim, ‘I can’t believe I am being paid to teach the natives how to canoe’.

One of the main weekly events at the gym was the Wednesday night BINGO. Here was my husband with over seven years of higher education and a former Army Captain, calling BINGO once per week.  It was comical, if a little sad.  It was a big event and it came with big winnings.  Hundreds of dollars were won each week.  I hung out in the kitchen, offering burgers and pop for sale, the proceeds going into the gym coffers. Dean was mandated to teach one of the local women how to run the gym facility and how to manage the budget and maintenance.  This young woman had four young children and a husband who played around on her.  Consequently, she wasn’t fully available.  Life in Polar River was both gritty and frustrating.  Like the day when one of the young kids who were always at the gym (free babysitting) told Dean, ‘I don’t have to listen to YOU, White Man’.  That child was about seven years old.

The first tragic thing to happen to us that year occurred on a gorgeous evening a month after we arrived.  I had been walking our lab puppy Dempster who was scampering ahead of me over the beaten-earth pathways. I was just skipping along and watching bemusedly as he chased a rodent under a house.  That was the last time I saw him alive. He didn’t come out from under the house… that I knew of.  I was calling and whistling. Nothing.  Then, a dirty blue pick-up drove up.  A young Gwich’in man, Billy, rolled down his window and with a smoke in his mouth said, ‘Your dog’s dead’.  And drove off. I ran down to the gravel road beneath the hill where I was standing, hoping it was a cruel joke, and this is what I saw:  My precious black lab puppy lying on his side with a growing pool of blood around his puppy head.  I began to cry bitterly, hugging myself and bending at the waist in my grief, one hand over my mouth.  Suddenly, I was feeling overwhelmingly betrayed by this new place.  How could this happen to me? How could he be so cruel? Looking back a quarter of century, I realize that I was dealing with culture shock and home-sickness, being so new in a very foreign place, albeit still in Canada. The killing of our puppy didn’t mean much to young Billy because in his culture, they didn’t keep dogs as pets the way we do in the South. Someone went and fetched Dean and he came and wrapped his strong arms around me consoling me. Someone picked up Dempster in an old blanket and we drove down the Water Lake Road and Dean buried him while I sat in the car, still too upset to move, still in mild shock.  A few days later, on a sunny afternoon, a nice local man brought us a very cute puppy from his new litter. Our new puppy had pointy ears and muzzle.  He was fuzzy black and white, wolfish looking and stunk of fish – the only kind of food he knew.  We called him Delta, after the River Delta where he was born.

Dean worked away at his position and I picked up some work, just finding odd things to do that no one else would.  I made pots of soup and trays of sandwiches for Band Meetings.  I took people to the big town of Inuvik for shopping and medical appointments.  I typed minutes to various meetings.  Then I was offered a full-time position in the Community Office doing payroll, payables and receivables.  Later, I picked up the part-time position of Medical Centre Coordinator.  There was this beautiful Medical Centre equipped with two examination rooms, incredible instruments and medications and a locked cupboard of narcotics. There was also a small apartment meant for a visiting doctor or nurse.

dempster highwayOne day,  I was out walking when someone ran up to me saying that little Suzy had been mauled by a dog.  This was the second tragic thing to go down.  I ran as fast I could to find her laying just out of reach of a big, mean Husky that was chained in the backyard of someone’s house.  She was bleeding profusely from the many open wounds in her legs.  I screamed at anyone to go get Dean and to call an ambulance to come from the neighbouring larger community, Pierson, which was an hour away.  I prayed, spoke calmly to her and pressed rags on her wounds until Dean rolled up in our vehicle.  To this day, I do not know where her parents, friends or relatives were even though we were in the middle of town.  She was eight. We drove as fast as we could toward the Pierson Health Centre and the ambulance met us halfway. We transferred little Suzy into the ambulance and then followed it.  She was put on the medical table and her ripped clothing was removed and as I watched the doctor poured hydrogen peroxide into her open wounds. She was laying on her belly  repeating, ‘Owieeeee! Owieeeee!’   It occurred to me that this little girl was no stranger to pain. She received several hundred stitches to close her wounds.  A year later, after returning from Nepal, I would find myself managing the medical clinic in Inuvik and working for that same doctor that stitched her wounds.

As Recreation Director, Dean had a major event to plan and carry out:  the Spring Carnival which included many different competitions including snowmobile races and dogsled races.  He spent days planning and coordinating this major event which would attract many visitors from out of town, and which had several thousand dollars in prize money. Very early on the day of the big event, we were still in bed sleeping when the phone rang.   I picked it up: ‘Hello?’

‘Jordy’s dead’, said a voice.

Click.

Holy shit.  ‘Dean!’ I screamed,  ‘Get up!  Jordy’s dead.’  We spent the next several hours sorting out Jordy’s body at his house.  The RCMP came from Pierson and asked me all manner of lame questions. It was pretty obvious, if you had a nose, to detect  how he died.  The poor tortured soul smelled like a distillery mixed with a chemical waste plant. He died sitting up on his couch.  Next, we took his body by truck to the medical centre and laid it out on one of the beds. I had to stay at the medical centre until the coffin guy from Inuvik showed up.  Also,  two of Jordy’s female relatives came in to clean up his body in preparation for burial.  Despite the tragedy, it was an astoundingly beautiful sunny spring day and snow was melting rapidly.  I was happy that Dean would have a successful carnival because of it, but the warmth wasn’t doing anything for Jordy’s body odor issue. For a while I talked to the coffin guy and his wife on the deck at the medical centre (there was no being inside with good ole Jordy). The funny thing about the entrepreneurial coffin guy was that he was an ER nurse.

When we finally left Polar River in July of 1994, we were happy to go – we had big plans to go travelling, but, we had many mixed feelings about the North. Yes, the Gwich’in of Polar River had hired us, but, did we really have any business nosing our way into a tiny First Nations community, for a year? Did we do any good at all, or did we just cause surreptitious upset, undermining and questioning of the old ways?  I really don’t know for sure but, I think that the people of Polar River could most likely run their own gym (especially now that Dean had taught his protege), their own BINGO nights, their own health centre and do their own payroll, if push came to shove.  I think that maybe they had this idea that we Southerners knew more and could organize better but, we were left feeling that it would be best for them to leave our Southern ways and instead, get back to a more traditional way of life.  We had spent some time with the Old Chief Henry.  He would come to our apartment door and want a cup of tea. He told us many stories of the old days and spending time on the trap line, drying fish and getting caribou for the whole community, going by dog sled over the snow.  The traditional jobs that would be carried out by the women and the young men. How the children would play, tumbling and were cherished and spoiled by their Elders.  Traditional feasts and celebrations.  His eyes would glisten with the memories behind them.  I was in awe of this man who had lead his people for over three decades.  If I had a wish for the Northern Peoples it would be to go back to those ways and to embrace them once again, even if just little by little.

Perhaps that is impossible, but, I’m gonna wish it anyway.

Exiting the Arctic ☃️

Having lived three years above the Arctic Circle, Dean’s acceptance into a post-grad program in Toronto sees us driving South on Boxing Day 1996…

On boxing day of 1996 we packed up our tiny little three cylinder Chevrolet Sprint hatchback aptly named Puny, put our two big northern dogs in the backseat (Delta and Grizzly), and started our 7000 km, eight day trip south west to Toronto.  Dean was enrolled in the very expensive nine month intensive Information Technology program at a downtown Toronto school called Information Technology Institute (iti).  We had spent three years above the Arctic Circle living in Arctic Red River first and then Inuvik after that.  We had had good employment and a great group of friends but, it was time to move on and start something new.

As we rolled out of Inuvik on the Dempster Highway, in the dead and dark of winter and -35 Celsius, we were not unaware of the risk of travel for the first 800 kms of this road trip south to Dawson City Yukon with just one gas station at Eagle Plains, about half way.  The moonlight shone above us and lighted the way over North America’s most northerly and remote highway, which in fact is actually a gravel road.  It was a good omen, I thought, that moon.  It was sure to be a fine trip with a moon like that shining above us and leading us on.

Just to give some idea of our situation in the car.  We had huge Canada Goose parkas on. Large layered mittens, a toque each and Sorel boots rated to -60.  It being so bitingly cold outside, our little car could not keep up.  We just broke even for heat, which means, we were quite chilly for the first couple of days.  Few people had cell phones back then.  A friend in Inuvik had given us his cell phone in case we ran into an emergency.

Not long into the trip, we realized that our front windshield was frosting up, even though the fan and heat were turned on high.  It didn’t take much to figure out that the fan had stopped working.  Our focal point out the front of the car was rapidly diminishing.  I wanted to turn back and get it fixed.  Dean said no, we could do that in Dawson.  Just then Delta and Grizzly lunged into the front seat, their heads and shoulders anyway, because they had seen a heard of caribou moving methodically across the dim tundra.  Our wee vehicle was surrounded by their graceful presence. (Like the picture below, only dark outside).  We felt honoured to be in the midst of their serenity. Delta and Grizzly just wanted to give chase.  On we rolled.

caribou on highway, Dempster Highway, snow, winter
Dempster Highway, caribou crossing, late winter

We pulled into Dawson City Yukon and it was -45 degrees Celcius.  Nothing was open in town so we retreated to the corner of the highway and stayed in a motel there.  Carefully plugging in our car so that there would be every chance that it would start in the morning.  After a satisfying turkey dinner, hot shower and good night’s sleep we breakfasted and clambered back into Puny.  Dead.  Upon examination of the cord we found that someone had stepped on it (probably me) and with the cold, it had snapped.  Useless.  We would need a ‘cold start’ at $50. It worked and we rolled out of Dawson on square tires due to the extreme cold.  We were Whitehorse bound with the hopes of getting our heater fan fixed.  In Whitehorse, at Crappy (a Player family nickname for Canadian Tire) we were able to get it repaired.  The service department stayed open late for us and were very kind.

The most remarkable thing about the rest of the trip, which we were already aware of due to several cross-country drives, was the shear vastness and emptiness of our big beautiful country.  The Prairies were endless and so windy that Puny used twice as much fuel as usual. The Prairies in the winter had white-outs and dangerous snow drifts right across the highway. Dean, my Newfoundlander, is an amazing winter driver so I wasn’t too worried, really.

We finally pulled into Toronto seven days later.  Our friend was home and we crashed in with him.  He had found us an apartment right behind his on St. Clair.  Excitedly we went to look at it.  Sadly and disappointingly though, it was little more than a slum and was a serious firetrap. It just would not do.  We had stupidly paid the slum-landlord first and last month rent, from afar, sight unseen.  Bad idea.  When we met her she tried to tell us the place was fine: rotten wood floors, drafty old windows, old, dirty paint, crappy old kitchen and ancient wiring.  We told her we wanted our money back.  She and Dean were in the kitchen and  I was standing in the kitchen doorway.  She stamped her foot and said this is ridiculous and tried to get past me through the door.  I stood my ground and filling up the doorway space said not sweetly: Where do you think you’re going?  She turned around and filled out an ad for the apartment telling us that if it were to rent, we would get our money back.  Next, we called the fire marshal who declared the place a fire hazard.  We got our money back.

The next day we found a 2.5 story brick house with a great kitchen, hardwood floors, attic study and a fenced yard in the North Beaches at Birchmount and the Danforth.  It was ideal and cheaper at $900 a month.

Dean started his program and worked like a dog, ending in nine months as the Valedictorian of his class.  While he did his program, I decided to volunteer at my sister, Eva’s camp (see post: The Camp) as much as possible.  We ended up putting on a week-long boys’ camp which was a lot of work but truly successful and rewarding for everyone involved.  I also helped with small maintenance jobs, errands, painting and cleaning duties. It was a very good summer and it was so fun to be with my big sister and at the camp again.

In the fall we bought our first little house in Milton, Ontario upon the advice of a savvy Real Estate agent and Newfoundlander with an office in Campbellville.   Our side-split bungalow was on an older street with tall trees. Dean had gotten a job as a technology trainer and was traveling a lot.  While he did that, I fashioned a small apartment in our basement and rented it to a nice young couple. Next, there was an offer by Dean’s company for us to move to Virginia. We sold our house to the first people who walked through and off we went to Leesburg, Virginia.  Nine months later, Leo was born. We were over the moon until…but that’s another post.