B: From the philosophical to the practical, tell us how you taught Willow to ride in the canoe, and how she occupied her time while she was in it.
KH: We didn’t actually teach her. Even to this day, she’s a little bit nervous in the boat, but she had a vested interest in staying with us, and as the trip went on, she settled down. All of us did, really. We’d been on a few day trips together but none of that was any benefit when we set out to “find” Farley. The routine with Willow was that she would hop aboard as we were leaving shore, then try to get as close to the front as possible—sometimes hilariously so. She’d have all four paws on the tiny front deck and be balancing precariously on the gunnels of the boat, leaning as far forward as possible. Then we’d find a more workable location for her, usually atop the load amidships. If there were waves, she’d get excited, leaning over the edge of the canoe and snapping at the water. She’d also snap at flies and mosquitoes; when bumblebees came by, she’d badger them, then go flying off the boat—she’d fall in, not purposefully jump in. We discovered that she’s a pretty amazing swimmer. Sometimes, when we were in appropriate areas—on public land and when birds weren’t nesting on the shoreline— we’d put her onshore for a bit of a run. She’d lope along, glancing back at us and watching us come down the river. Then she’d choose a good spot and swim out to us, and I’d haul her back onboard.
B: What would you say was the most challenging aspect of the trip? KH: Managing Willow and Zev. They’d be clambering around—he’d be stepping on her or she’d be stepping on him. Sometimes all Leanne and I wanted was just some peace and quiet, but that wasn’t usually an option. The bugs were another challenge. When the flies got bad, we couldn’t do much for Willow. Some of the travel arrangements were also an issue. For the maritime section— 30 hours from one land mass to the next—we lucked upon a perfect guy who was willing to take us on board. He was a total dog lover and didn’t object to having Willow on his ship, or to the accommodations we felt she needed. We made little bouquets of spruce branches and grass and left them in out-of-the way places so Willow would have something familiar to go on if she needed to.
B: Were you surprised by anything that Willow did?
KH: One thing that particularly impressed me was the role Willow assumed as Zev’s guardian. We didn’t train her to do that, she just took it upon herself. For example, on occasion, Leanne and I had to portage the canoe past rapids; we’d put Zev down in the safest place we could find, and Willow, of her own free will, would park herself right alongside him. They were never out of our sight, but we were sometimes many hundreds of meters away, and that was bear country. Willow’s a Border Collie crossed with a livestock guardian dog, so she has some of those guarding attributes along with her herding instinct.
B: Did having Willow along enhance the trip in other ways?
KH: Dogs really enrich the experience of these sorts of trips. Besides companionship, which is high on the list, their senses are much wilder and more acute than our own. They’re able to alert us to things we wouldn’t otherwise see, smell or hear. Willow was also a great early-warning system. One night, we were inside the tent and heard Willow growling. I looked outside and there was a black bear rooting through our stuff. We chased him off before he got into our food. Since we were about six weeks from our next cache of supplies, it would’ve been pretty serious if he’d cleaned us out.
B: How would you compare the Y2Y experience and this trip?
KH: Y2Y was completely different, partly because I was on foot most of the time rather than in a boat, but largely because I was usually alone with Webster. Those quiet, pensive moments that we all kind of imagine happen in the wilderness are rare with a two-year-old around. You find your mind drifting for half a second and then you’re pulled up by an emergency. On the Y2Y trip, I felt like I could go deep. On this expedition, I had a few of those moments, but they were infrequent.