She had a short tawny coat with a pinkish white patch running down her chest. An information sheet hanging on the netting of her pen labeled her a ‘bully breed’ best kept apart from other animals. Her name was Kip.
Her eyes shone as if sharing a morose inside joke with herself against the entire world and I loved her for it.
I paid $319 for her – leaving me with $250 left from my last pay cheque. I used the rest of the money to buy a big bag of Iams dog food in succulent roasted chicken flavor. Kip would be eating better than I would for the foreseeable future. I wasn’t sure what would happen when the bag ran out, but I figured that I would find a solution when the time came. I also bought a large canvas backpack, a tool set, and a tarp.
Then I went home and loaded the backpack with apples and beef jerky and bread, a journal, the tool set, the tarp, two blankets, some sanitary items, and three packs of cigarettes. I left the rest of my belongings to be disposed of. As Kip and I walked out the door, she gave a disdainful sniff at the life I was leaving behind. Her pink and black mottled tongue lolled out of her mouth as she grinned at me, eager to get on with our adventure.
We walked west.
Vancouver at that time of year was always ominous and gloomy. The sky was neither grey nor white. You could barely even call it a sky. It was a void hanging over the entire city, watching down without emotion as everyone struggled through the rain and the feeling of heaviness it brought. Kip and I trundled on, the bag of dog food hoisted upon one shoulder and the backpack slung over the other. When we reached Stanley Park, I stopped to let her drink from the duck pond and chase a few of the waterfowl.
I watched her, taking joy in her hunt and knowing that a better life was ahead of both of us.
Tourists snapped pictures of bathing turtles and dolphin statues. Of themselves standing beside towering trees dripping with rain. They wore t-shirts with killer whales on them that had “Vancouver, British Columbia” emblazoned across the bottom.
“Vancouver is a nice place to visit, but not to live,” my mother had always told me. It dawned on me that I would now have no way of contacting her. She would think I’d been abducted. Perhaps the year or so of sadness she would have would be preferable than a lifetime of worry over my financial well-being. Heaven knew I was sick of worrying for myself let alone imposing it upon everyone around me.
Kip nudged me behind the leg, making my knee buckle. She was eager to get on.
We continued through the park, beyond the aquarium and passed where all of the trains and buses led tours. Eventually the forest became denser and we stopped seeing other people wandering the trails. We were alone. Occasionally, a shoe would be seen poking through the hollowed stump of a tree. Or a snore could be heard from within a bramble of stacked branches. We were getting closer.
“Hey. You there.” A deep growling voice stopped us in our tracks. “This area is off limits. It’s protected.”
I spun around. A man of about forty was standing behind us. He held a gnarled wooden stick in one hand pierced with rusted nails. He had a yellow stained bandana tied around long greying brown hair. His eyes were tired looking and but had the dimly glowing colour of deep ochre.
“It isn’t though, is it?” I queried. “Not officially.” Kip stood at my side, alert.
“This place isn’t for the likes of you.” The man countered. “If you’ve lost your way, I’d suggest turning back and retracing your footsteps.”
“I haven’t lost my way. It’s just that. I suppose I haven’t found it yet,” I found myself saying.
He took a moment to digest this. “I see. You know, something like this,” a gesture at the surrounding woods, “takes proper consideration. You don’t just go gallivanting into the woods one day with a pup and hope that things will take care of themselves. You don’t just give up on the life you have and think that you’ll have a better go of it out on your own. Living like this isn’t for quitters. If it’s an easy life you want, I’d suggest going back and making a go of it wherever you’re from. This takes effort. Every day is a trial. This isn’t a retreat if that’s what you’re looking for. People don’t want us here. You fight for the space you live on every day and then fight to survive on top of that. This isn’t for you.” He gestured at my department store clothed self.
I stood staring at him in silence. The intention had been to be alone. To survive somewhere unnoticed. I would gather plants and herbs and make a small quaint home from old branches. I’d diminish my environmental footprint. I’d be away from the corporations and greed and money based egotism. From the endless feeling of rejection and not-quite-fitting-in with it all. However, I didn’t say any of this.
Instead, I said, “But I have nowhere else to go. And I don’t know what I’m doing back there.” My voice came out small and trembling. Kip whined in protest of my uncertainty.
After that, Kip and I stayed with the man in his hovel for two weeks. We studied which plants were safe to eat and how to dumpster dive and all of the expected lessons of living in a national park. But several times nightly, the man would bring up hypothetical scenarios of survival in the city. What measures could be taken to find enough income to pay for food and board there.
During that time, I developed two dreams. One in which my hair grew long and knotted with dirt. I’d be digging in the ground in an old tattered dress, Kip at my side ready to hunt rabbit and defend my hovel from intruders. The solitude was paradise. In the other dream, Kip and I lay curled on the couch. I had a movie on and was talking to my mother on the telephone and telling her about my new job, popping pieces of popcorn into the air for Kip to snap up.
One day I woke up to the last ribbon of the sunset slipping away into the distance like a train charging forward. The paths curled in every which way through the woods, forwards and back. My pants were damp against my thighs from the endless rainfall and I rubbed my hands together to keep warm. Kip leaned against my leg and I scratched her behind an ear, taking comfort in her partnership. It was time to begin.