Saturday, 28 February 2015

Cold War Dogs (or: The Writing Retreat)

By Frances Reilly

A few months ago it came to the attention of some of the grad students within the department that some Ontario universities have offered their students completing theses and dissertations writers’ retreats. Rather than wallow in envy, looking to the cultured and advanced ways of the central provinces, I took it upon myself to enjoy my own retreat. This winter I extended my stay at my parents’ property in Northern Alberta with the intent of revising my dissertation about Cold War anxiety in Canada. The solitude of the farmhouse, the raw northern air, along with the occasional company of two humans and the comradeship of a geriatric pit-bull and a big nervous dog have allowed for results of some sort. 

Week One:

Given the clement winter weather and the abundance of snow, skiing and snowshoeing have become the primary method of relaxation and reflection amid revising.

(Standing in the figurative shadow of a defunct Pine Tree Line [not-so-early warning] radar station, I am pointing to the south, demonstrating how in the event of a Soviet attack in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the real Cold War would happen in the skies over Beaverlodge, Alberta.)

Week Two:

Revisions are fully underway – have changed dress accordingly. The pants are so comfortable that I’ve decided to stay on this retreat for a bit longer.

Week Three:

Continued progress and a renewed appetite for Scandinavian coffee. Have discovered that I am capable of giving the impression of having 5 o’clock shadow without having the ability to actually grow a beard.

Week Four:

Have noticed that the big nervous dog has become engaged in what can only be identified as a cold war with the dog across the street. Neighbour dog stands on our side of the road and barks at the house and our dog responds in kind from our side of the border. Geriatric pit-bull occasionally participates but as she’s deaf she finds little interest in the activity.

(left to right: Big nervous dog and Geriatric pit-bull)

Our big nervous dog has become frantic with the knowledge that under the cover of night, Neighbour dog trespasses and consumes the bird feed in the garden. Our dog has a deep growl and does a flamboyant show of hackles as she barks and snarls in defence of the driveway, although she rarely makes a move towards the enemy territory. Neighbour dog would likely not know how to respond if our dog came barrelling towards her. I have the feeling that she is equally nervous, if not more so.

The following day:

Have noticed that our dog is keeping close watch over Neighbour dog’s movements – both explicitly and covertly. Concealed surveillance includes watching for activity through the deck railings, or from behind one of the large May trees in the front yard. This afternoon, however, our dog has changed tactics and is going for the showy brand of surveillance and has gone so far as to fashion from the snow what I can only describe to be a surveillance turret at the end of a long trench.

She has been sitting there for hours waiting for Neighbour dog to make a move or sound. Neighbour dog, likely aware of our dog’s imposing bulk on the blinding white landscape, does not resurface.

Closer to the evening our dog has made a shallow foxhole in the garden closer to the house. I can only surmise that this is in case Neighbour dog’s eventual approach from the east takes place while our dog is otherwise occupied with the squirrel, approaching from the west.

Week 5:

The temperature has dropped. The barking is at a standstill. Neighbour dog is apparently under the impression that they are now friends – our dog glowers. Geriatric pit-bull is slightly supportive.
(Dogs remain intent on protecting their territory from possible invasion)

Week 6:

Tensions have increased as the neighbour dog has made her own trench in the snow on our property. Over the past few days it has increased in length. Our dog is getting more and more nervous, her show of dominance more dramatic, however its effectiveness is apparently growing thin as the neighbour dog gradually inches closer to the farm house.

Week 7:

Our dog has spent most of her time in the garage tinkering with old electric fencing equipment.
In the meantime, I am fairly certain that my project is basically complete.

(Evidence of my covert surveillance of dogs’ overt surveillance of dog across the street)