The Writer's Pet: Trina Moyles and Lookout

Trina Moyles on her canine friend and protector, Holly, and her latest book, Lookout: Love, Solitude, and Searching for Wildfire in the Boreal Forest.

Writer Trina Moyles sits on the dried grass with her dog, Holly. The Writer's Pet and Lookout

No. 14 in the series The Writer's Pet by Zazie Todd PhD.


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Trina Moyles is a writer and Lookout Observer who spends her summers perched up a tower watching the boreal forest in Alberta for wildfires, with only her dog Holly for company. In Lookout: Love, Solitude, and Searching for Wildfire in the Boreal Forest Moyles writes of finding herself in the wilderness and her increasing awareness of the effects of climate change on the forest.

Eva Holland, author of Nerve, says “Trina Moyles has written a beautiful, closely observed love letter to the boreal forest and the wilderness of northern Canada at a time when it is threatened by unprecedented change. But Lookout is more than that: it's also a powerful, unforgettable story about the ways that solitude in nature can break us down, and then put us back together again.”

Moyles told me all about Holly, and her book.

Cover of Lookout by Trina Moyles

 

What is your pet’s name? 

Holly (the Fire Tower Dog)

Type of pet?

Husky-shepherd-lab-mix

What do you love most about her? 

I love Holly’s nature. She’s her own person, I can say. She has these little quirks, like this hilarious hip wiggle and playful “Aroooo!” when she’s coming to greet you. Her husky tail has a language of its own. She loves people, she’s incredibly trusting – she often helps me make new friends! And yet, Holly is a wild girl. She grew up semi-wild, a former rescue pup. She’s a good bush dog: observant, a keen hunter, and calm in the presence of predators. It’s ironic because I got her because “I wanted a dog with a mean bark”, but Holly rarely barks and there isn’t a mean bone in her body. Instead, she tells me things with her body language: perked ears, hair lifted on her back, which means: something is out there. I love and trust her instincts. Holly is much more than a pet – she’s my protector, my conduit to the wild, a comrade, a friend.

Portrait of Holly, the "fire tower dog", best friend to Trina Moyles, author of Lookout
Holly. All photos: Trina Moyles.


What makes Holly happy?
 

Holly loves being “off-leash”, following the scent trails of wildlife, hunting for mice and voles, sniffing out antler sheds, and rolling in elk spray. She loves to doze so close to the wood stove that sometimes I worry she’ll melt her fur off. At the fire tower, she knows that the sound of helicopter means her friends (firefighting crews) are coming to dote on her – and sometimes share their lunch with her. I swear she thinks that helicopters are just pick-up trucks. The girl loves to joy ride, we’ve road-tripped across Canada twice together. After a fun adventure, she loves a comfy place to rest, get ample pats and cuddles, snooze, snore, and dream of chasing rabbits.


"I trust Holly with my life, and I know she feels the same."


Does Holly help or hinder your writing? In what way? 

Holly is a very good writing companion. Having her in my life has helped me build the kind of structure and boundaries that are necessary for writing – especially book writing – and balancing work with self-care. Holly’s needs aren’t so different from my own. Regular food, sleep, exercise, affection. She’s also proven to be highly adaptive to travel and adjusting to new writing and living environments. We are fairly nomadic in the winter months, our “off season” from the fire tower life, but Holly is my home. She’s my grounding force. Also, what I’ve observed about Holly’s nature, her instinctive way in the world, her receptivity and desire for love, inspires my writing. Holly is devoted to observation through scent, sound, taste, instinct. She’s helped me slow down and pay attention to the present moment. She’s also taught me a great deal about self-love and acceptance, the importance of play, and trying not to take life so seriously. 

Dog Holly in the helicopter, and Trina Moyles and the female pilot ready to go. The Writer's Pet on Lookout.


Tell me about your book

Lookout is a memoir about my experiences working as a lookout observer at a remote, fly-in fire tower in the boreal forest of northern Alberta. Lookouts are the first line of defence in the detection of wildfires in Alberta. From April to September, I climb a 100-foot fire tower and watch for smoke from wildfires burning out of control, day after day, without break. The job requires me to live alone in a cabin, ration food and water, and communicate over a two-way radio. Lookout is a story about transformation through isolation and solitude, overcoming fear, and rediscovering oneself in the wider ecosystem – it’s a love story, of sorts, of learning to love myself and forgive the events that shaped my past, of bonding with a semi-wild dog named Holly, of being tested by extreme weather and dramatic encounters with wildlife. Lookout offers an eyewitness account of the increasingly precarious nature of wildfires in Canada’s northern forests. It’s also about forging unlikely friendships with a unique community of individuals – lookouts, firefighters, pilots – who help to detect and manage wildfires to keep people safe.

The lookout tower where writer Trina Moyles observes for wildfires. The Writer's Pet on Lookout.


Holly plays a major role in Lookout. How did she come into your life? 

Holly came into my life on a whim, only a week before flying out for my first season at the fire tower. It was like an arranged marriage: I wanted a temporary dog for protection at the tower, and she needed a temporary break from the farm she was living on because she wasn’t getting along with one of the other dogs. Initially, I planned on taking her back to the farm at the end of the fire season. Neither of us knew what we were in for. We boarded a helicopter and flew out to our new home in the bush. No roads led to the tower. The closest community was 30 km away through dense bush. Immersed in the wilderness, Holly was in her glory, while I was completely terrified. I was so afraid of getting mauled by a bear, or cougar, or going crazy from the extreme isolation. Holly helped me relax into our new environment and lifestyle, offering companionship, confidence to explore the bush, and comic relief with her hilarious quirks. The more I learned about Holly’s backstory – let’s just say, she has an imperfect past – the more I could relate to her. We are both kind of “anti-heroines” in Lookout. Holly is both “a saint and a wolf”. 


"It’s a love story, of sorts, of learning to love myself and forgive the events that shaped my past, of bonding with a semi-wild dog named Holly, of being tested by extreme weather and dramatic encounters with wildlife"


What does it mean to be a “Fire Tower Dog”?

The more I learn about dog behaviour and psychology, the more I realize how lucky I am to have Holly as a Fire Tower Dog. It is not an easy job! There is a romance associated with lookout life, of peace and solitude, but on the contrary: there are many, many stressors at the fire tower that many dogs (or humans) would not be able to tolerate or adapt to. “It is not a picnic,” my tower colleague often says.

For example, in peak wildfire season, I spend up to 12-hours straight in the fire tower. Holly, left to her own devices, sleeps loyally at the base of the tower. The first season was a bit difficult for her to adapt to, but now she knows: what goes up, must come down. When I climb down the tower, she greets me exuberantly with her trademark wiggle, wag, and Aroooo! Some days, firefighting crews come in helicopters to “man-up” at the tower, to be strategically closer to potential wildfires. The thundering noise of a helicopter, the winds caused by the rotor blades would alone send some dogs running into the bush, but Holly has learned to patiently sit and wait. I yell down from the tower “STAY!” It can be very dangerous, potentially fatal, for dogs to be around helicopters. She can hear the deaccelerating sound of the rotor blades, she’s learned when it’s safe to approach. As we get many unknown forestry visitors, I have to trust her with people, even when I’m up in the tower. She is incredibly welcoming to visitors. After five fire seasons, she is well-known and loved by firefighters, rangers, and pilots. 

Holly the dog looks out of the window on a car ride. The Writer's Pet: Trina Moyles and Lookout

Holly and I have also had many unexpected encounters with our wild, four legged neighbours: black bears, moose, wolves, and in our first summer together – a grizzly bear. Holly has excellent instinct. She doesn’t bark, or chase, which could be dangerous for us both. She stands ground by my side, waits, watches what the animal is doing. She always lets me decide: hold ground, or back off.

I trust Holly with my life, and I know she feels the same. That mutual trust at the tower is key to adapting to whatever curve ball the tower lifestyle throws at us, or whoever comes out of the bush at us. In one of our most memorable encounters, we stood metres away from a stunning black wolf. I still get shivers thinking of that wolf and her penetrating yellow eyes. 

I am both grateful to my dog, and proud of her, too. She is a working dog, in this sense, helping her human to stay healthy and fit, and keep vigilant for wildfires in the boreal.


Name your local/favourite independent bookstore that has your book for sale.

Glass Bookshop in Edmonton, AB.


Lookout: Love, Solitude, and Searching for Wildfire in the Boreal Forest is available in the Companion Animal Psychology Amazon store and at all good bookstores. 

Trina Moyles is a writer, author, and smoke spotter based in northern Alberta. She is the author of Lookout: Love, Solitude, and Searching for Wildfire in the Boreal Forest (2021) and Women Who Dig: Farming, Feminism, and the Fight to Feed the World (2018). Moyles’s writing has been widely published in The Walrus, The Globe and Mail, Alberta Views Magazine, Maisonneuve. In 2020, her essay Herd Memory won a Canadian National Magazine Award. Learn more at – www.trinamoyles.com 

Follow Trina Moyles on Instagram and Facebook.


See all of the featured authors in The Writer's Pet. If you're a traditionally published author and think your book would be a good fit for this series, see the guidelines for The Writer's Pet.



Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, a BC bestseller and winner of the Maxwell Medallion for best book (behaviour, health or general care) from the Dog Writers Association of America. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, and also writes a column for Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats.

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