Author Chris Czajkowski sits in front of her computer in her home at Ginty Creek. Out one window, she can see the mountains, socked in by cloud. Out the other, she can see the pond which had finally filled up after the dry summer.
Somewhere outside, Czajkowski’s red-furred dog Harry is playing. And inside, sitting in front of her stove, is Badger, a large Burmese Mountain Dog, Labrador, Shepherd and Collie cross.
Badger might seem an unusual name for a dog — perhaps Reno, the name he was born with, would seem more appropriate. But as Badger told the red-head eight years ago when Harry first joined Czjakowski’s pack, Czjakowski thought Badger seemed to suit him better.
Don’t believe that Badger told Harry about his name? Why, just read Harry’s new book: Harry: A Wilderness Dog Saga.
Together with Badger, Harry tells the stories of Czajkowski’s dogs since the first dog she had with her in the B.C. wilderness, Lonesome, died. It’s a light book that blends the fictional account of a dog’s feelings and thoughts with the facts of Czajkowski’s remote life in the mountains.
Originally, the idea of a book written by her dog came from the desire to look at life from a different perspective.
“City people don’t realize there’s another point of view of life, but my whole life has been geared towards the fact that there is another point of view,” she told The Reporter in a recent interview. “So it seemed quite natural for me to try and look at it from a dog’s point of view.
“I’ve always been a student of animal behaviour and how it relates to human behaviour. And also the story is a little bit of a dig about human society and what they accept as normal, and really isn’t necessarily that normal in the larger scheme of things,” said Czajkowski.
That’s when she wrote Lonesome: Memoirs of a Wilderness Dog. The book was published in October 2004, and it went on to become one of Czajkowski’s most popular works.
With Harry’s book, Czajkowski revisited her life through a dog’s eyes. She said it “seemed like a natural thing to do.”
“Both of my current dogs, especially Harry is a very personable dog,” she said. “I thought, well he would be the good person to tell the story.”
Of course, Harry tells the story a little differently in the book.
As I turned around in my own spot ready to have a bit of a doze, I remembered how Badger had called Lonesome “a very smart dog.” Well, I was the smartest dog I knew, and I figured that I was at least as clever as she was. I vowed that I would I learn the human code and read her Book. And hard upon the heels of that thought was this one: if I could read her Book, there was no reason why I couldn’t also write my own!
Throughout the story, readers meet Czajkowski’s dogs from over the years: Badger of course, a man-shy mutt who was rescued from the Salmon Arm SPCA; Harry, the personable and energetic narrator; Nahanni, a pure-white husky with a bad temperament; Taya, a former sled dog with round, large ears; Sport, a boneheaded but strong Labrador; Max, a massive dog who hated car rides; Ginger, a red husky who ended up a dog killer; Bucky, an aloof dog who loved fruit and vegetables; and Raffi, a large mutt who inhaled his food.
Throughout the book, interwoven with stories of fire evacuations, book tours, cabin building and long hikes, the chorus of dogs offer subtle critiques of Czajakowski’s lifestyle.
One, which Harry and Badger comment on often, is Czajkowski’s need for Stuff.
“Chris spends half her life messing with Stuff. It always seems to make her so cranky.”
“You’re right, there.” Badgers voice was muffled by his fur. “The more Stuff she gets, the crankier she becomes.”
“If she hates it so much,” I said, voicing something that had been bothering me for quite a while, “why on earth does she have it?”
“Who knows,” Badger muttered.
The other critique, which was more prevalent in Lonesome, is her need to live away from other people.
“They also realize that I live maybe a little bit differently than all of the humans that maybe they’ve met in their lives,” said Czajkowski. “Lonesome couldn’t understand why I lived away from people, because she loved people.”
When asked why she wanted to live away from other people, up in B.C.’s wild mountains, she answered, “Well, just because I want to.” She laughed. “Why do you live the way you live?
In the book, her answer is a little more poetic.
“It’s hard to describe why being alone in a place like this brings me so much joy,” she said as we lay with heads on paws beside her, tired after running around on the rocks all day. “It is as if my soul is free. I can encompass the whole enormous space around me, right to the most distant peaks, and at the same time feel connected to the wiry, scruffy vegetation and coarse rocks by my feet. It all has a kind of vibrant energy that I simply cannot put into words. People often say I live ‘remotely.’ I may be remote from cities, but I am close to this gorgeous and relatively untouched world that has been my backyard for twenty-three years. How many city folk can enjoy such a perfect comingling of spirit?”
“Do you know what she’s talking about?” I muttered to Badger.
“Humph,” he said, which meant he didn’t know either.
On Wednesday, Oct. 18, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Czajkowski and her two tale-telling dogs will be coming to the Cloverdale Library to discuss Harry’s book. She’ll be bringing copies of most of her books, as well as a slideshow that she’s hoping will include photos of this year’s forest fires.
And of course, there will be a meet and greet with the real authors: golden-haired Harry and curmudgeonly Badger.
Czajkowski hasn’t taken dogs on book tours for quite a few years — this will be the first time Harry and Badger take their place in the tour — mainly because “it’s extremely hard work to have dogs and do a book tour at the same time,” she said.
“But I figured that, as they are stars of the book, I’m going to try and bring them along,” she said.
Cjazkowski hopes that readers will understand the message of Harry’s book — the need to look after the environment, and a realization of “how ridiculous some of our ideas about what we have to do in society are,” she said.