Chapter 3: Canadian Soil (continued from My Canadian Eyesight)
I am not going to share pictures of this, but over my four years abroad, I had discovered a Bohemian that was living inside me … and I had the attire, the long hair (yes) and the beard to prove it. Honestly, in the moment, it felt right … but looking back, I have to ask what was I thinking? Truthfully, it was about an open and honest rebellion, against a world that I thought wanted to define me; it was my opportunity to say I didn’t care and I was going to be me. It was about my finding my voice.
Finding the voice I can accept; indeed, I can celebrate this part of my past. But voice aside, the décor needed updating. Finding meaningful employment and a Canadian extension of my career wasn’t easy – and it wasn’t easier looking like I had walked off the beatnik circuit. So after a few unsuccessful job interviews, the ponytail eventually became a souvenir, and one I still possess … and reminder of a part of me that I still hold dear, but which isn’t labeled on my exterior.
There were plenty of adjustments to be made all around, not the least of which was living with my in-laws and, to be fair, it was no small adjustment for them either. But having lived four years of hyper-independence, four years of living 10,000 km from any family, to a life of living under someone else’s roof and within 10 metres of family, it was an adjustment, to say the least.
The goal in returning was to see if there was a fit in this country for us and, assuming there was, establishing a career trajectory in some direction. With this accomplished, we’d take our overseas savings and compound them with what we could save in Canada to make a down-payment on a house and start a life, independent again. I’ll grant you, though, it took a while to come to all these decisions and to gain this awareness: we didn’t even have work yet. And it was a big adjustment to accept this.
But Ben also had adjustments to make ….
More than 12 months into our life, Ben still hadn’t soiled our house (again) and that continued into Canada. Indeed, Ben had so-well learned the lesson that peeing and pooping were functions of going for a walk and being on-leash that he saw the yard as an extension of his living room. It actually took effort to get him to pee in the backyard … which the in-laws were on the one hand thankful for because, not being dog or even pet people, they were worried that Ben was going to kill their manicured lawn. However, the drudgery of walking him every time he needed to pee wasn’t much fun either, so they relented to new training (Ben, not them – ok, them too) and eventually Ben got comfortable peeing in the “back-forty” of the yard and on bushes and trees and the flower beds. And the lawn survived.
Ben’s coat was another point of adjustment. Looking at him today and a week before he gets his spring haircut, you’d think he was born with collie or something in him. But at 18 months of age, Ben still hadn’t discovered his adult coat. Why, I am not sure. I conjectured, however, that it was in part due to the malnourishment of his formative few months and in part owing to the relatively mild winter of Warsaw – as biting and bone chilling were the moist Baltic winds the blew across the flat landscape of the country to deliver winter to Warsaw, it never got stupidly cold like it does in most parts of Canada at some point during the season. Nothing about Poland had prepared this dog for a Canadian or Calgarian winter. And in Ben’s first winter, his coat was really all guard hair – and the soft, warm under coat that he now possesses was still a few years away from developing.
With the first full-on cold snap, we knew Ben needed help and Andrea’s Mom stepped into the rescue. She examined dog jackets at a pet store and deemed she could make something for Ben. The first prototype was from grey sweatshirt material and after a few adjustments, we jointly designed and she cut and sewed another for him out of a dark blue fleece which was both beautiful on him … and a magnet for his shedding fur. However, it was enough to give him comfort through the worst of the Calgary winter and, in time, he’d largely outgrow the need for a coat – that is until we ended up in Yellowknife, but that story comes later.
But Ben did adjust and as his pack grew, so did his heart and capacity to love. In the evenings, he still would start the night on the bed with Andrea and I and cuddle before falling asleep at our feet. However, beyond the need for contact, there is in Ben a huge vigilant need as well. He needed to know where his whole pack was at all times and so, like some canine surveyor, he would triangulate the shortest distance between his two packs and find a spot in the middle where he could watch both and during the night, and he’d wander from our bed to the hallway and keep an eye on their closed bedroom door, making sure they were alright and hadn’t left. And in further testament to his ability to adjust, Ben would whine, as he had on the first night we had him, at our door if it was closed and he was on either side of it and not able to get in or out; but he respected that when the in-law’s door was closed, he couldn’t go in. And when we were out, visiting friends at night, he’d wait at the front door for us to return; but when we were away on vacation, for example, he continued to sleep outside the in-laws door without whine or bark … something he never accepted from us.