Doggie Paddle

Masha by the river at Wild Bear Lodge

Doggie Paddle

Who would ever have thought that the great white north, land of snow, ice and endless frozen tundra, could get so excruciatingly and relentlessly hot? As I write this I am stripped to the waist, sweltering in the shade, with two fans whirling above my head and the dogs strewn across the floor nearby like two limp rags.

The temperature, which has been inching up for weeks, is right now holding at 35 degrees Celsius, with 37 degrees somewhere in the forecast. Kristin, doubtless informed by some sixth sense that warned her of the approaching heat, packed up some two weeks ago and headed for the cooler climes of Scandinavia.

A true Estonian, whose optimal operating temperature is well below freezing, she is not genetically adapted to deal with intense heat and her thermo-regulation is little better than that of our suffering canines. Even she has been caught out, though, as she tells me that in London there are emergency protocols on the tube and signs urging people to take water with them wherever they go. Not a happy traveler.

As for me, hiding out in Nelson right now as I wait for the heat wave to subside, my days have turned upside down. My afternoon bike rides now take place well into the evening, the twice-daily doggie walks have become twice-nightly walks, and in the afternoon I keep as far from the sunlight as possible.

There has been one positive development, however, to come out of this Afghan-style summer. I have made an unlikely but happy discovery: Masha  (the female partner of our two-dog-family-unit) can swim. Not only that, but she is something of a natural.

At the age of seven with a chin full of greying hair and dodgy hips, she’ll never be the Michael Phelps of the dog world. She also makes odd, slightly panicky, little chirrups as she kicks her way through the water. But she is graceful enough. And her delight, as she has finally found something that she can do that her far beefier brother can’t, is more than evident. As her little furry head ploughs through the current, I swear that her lips have a certain insouciant curl to them – the closest thing I have ever seen to doggie schadenfreude.

For poor old Karu, a landlubber of a dog if ever there was one, this new discovery is, of course, far from a happy one. Terrified of the water, he stands on the shore and yelps, barks, growls and howls, his face a picture of anguish. When Masha finally heads jauntily to shore, he charges at her, snarling and impatient to re-establish dominance. But there is no disguising the fact that she has pulled a fast one on her more powerful but dull-witted litter-mate.

Not every aspect of these new aquatic explorations has been painless. Masha is far too fickle a dog to swim of her own accord and she demands encouragement, gentle coaxing and copious amounts of praise. All this must be delivered waterside, as it were.

When she does finally kick off from the land, she heads straight for the most stable looking object she can find and that, invariably, is me. As her flailing claws come slashing through the water, I try and dodge and weave away from her but often without success.

But if the dogs are suffering in this heat, pity the bears. Even better insulated and with even loss opportunities to lose heat, they will be up in the high country seeking out the rare wallows and pools and shaded patches of melting snow. It’s going to be several more weeks before they begin to head down to our valley to search out the spawning salmon that arrive at the end of August.

I have spent much of the last two weeks in Nelson, attending to admin, meeting lawyers and officials and doing a dozen other things needed to keep a small business running. But tomorrow Kristin and I head back to our little valley and the ranch and start the long preparation for our autumn season, due to begin this year on Sept 8th.

We are almost completely full, but if anyone fancies a last minute impulse holiday, I still have two excellent spots available in October, when it should be far cooler than now. Next spring, we are planning to revamp the ranch. For that reason we will not be offering our usual early summer bear-viewing. But we are already taking bookings for Autumn 2014 and the spots are beginning to fill.

In the meantime, wherever you are, enjoy the heat wave. Before you know it the temperatures will be dropping, the autumn will be upon us, and Masha’s swimming career will go on hold for another year.