Search Results for: best dog

Best Dog on the Planet

The two resident catahoulas in a gentle snow like that which fell off and on today.

The two resident catahoulas in a gentle snow like that which fell off and on today.

Yesterday must have been bring your dog to town day. I saw at least a dozen dogs in cars while I was running errands in two towns, from a tiny white fluff ball to a fawn-colored great dane, with a range in between including an Australian shepherd and van with two Bernese mountain dogs. I myself had two catahoulas in the car with me.

When we set off this morning they both started barking and jumping back and forth as we started down the county road. On one side a construction crew was clearing junipers to straighten our landmark right-angle curve, and on the other side three border collies coursed the field. By the time I took the next curve a quarter mile on, I’d started yelling too, and decided it was a bad idea to bring the dogs with me. They don’t usually get that excited so soon on a trip in this direction. I couldn’t bear the thought of their frenzy all the way to town. I turned around to take them home.

People are sometimes put off by Stellar's vocal exuberance...

People are sometimes put off by Stellar’s vocal exuberance…

...but his putting up with his occasional barking is a small price to pay for the delight of his companionship.

…but putting up with his occasional barking is a small price to pay for the delight of his companionship.

They settled right down. I knew they wanted to go, and I wanted their company. My frustration changed direction, too, and I turned around again with a brainstorm. I’ve never run them on this road for fear of fast traffic, but I often do on others, the dead-end lane across the canyon, empty roads with good visibility across the country. It felt reckless but I took the chance. I could see far enough both directions to give them a good sprint, and I knew that would reset them for the rest of the trip.

I stopped and let them out between the road crew and the neighbors’ dogs, hit the gas, and looked in the rearview mirror. They took off after me, Raven snapping at Stellar as he raced for the car. They caught up and ran beside my window for awhile; around the curve I lost sight of them and slowed, then they pulled up on my right on the soft shoulder. A few more yards and I stopped to call them in. Stellar lay down on the back seat and Raven sat in front looking perfectly satisfied, and on we drove to town.

I was so glad I took them. I let them out again on the track up to the shooting range in the ‘dobies, where Raven crisscrossed the hardpan scouting prairie dog holes and Stellar loped along in front of the car. In town I stopped by the bistro for a latté, then drove the few blocks to town park. There they ran in the grass while I drank my coffee under the beautiful giant trees, bare spring twigs whistling in the strong wind. And then I ran my errands for a couple of hours. Having them along turned a chore into a relaxed outing. I slowed down and enjoyed every step of the way.

Stellar calmly regards the world through The Mothership window.

Stellar calmly regards the world through The Mothership window.

When we travel across country in The Mothership we have a routine. We stop early and often to stretch our legs, and though they’re usually leashed, at least once a day I try to find a place they can run. Sometimes it’s a mile of empty dirt road, sometimes a fenced cemetery; sometimes on the parkways and backroads we travel there’s a pull-off with a long empty field. They’ve gotten used to this. It’s no wonder they get jumpy in the car.

I realized today that I’ve missed taking my dogs to town. I haven’t often taken this particular pair of dogs with me in the car, largely because of their shenanigans. Either one alone stays calm, but together they always start banging around and Stellar eventually starts barking. This began when he was a puppy and I was irrigating fields across the canyon every day. I’d load up the shovel and the dogs, head up the driveway, and turn south on the dirt road. Five minutes later I’d release them on the lane and they’d run after me until I parked, and then they’d fly through the fields as I walked to the water.

Stellar leaping over gated pipe while I irrigate the field.

Stellar leaping over gated pipe while I irrigate the field.

I could always tell I was close when I saw their feet send water splashing. They’d take a long drink, Raven would lie down in the ditch, and then they’d play while I moved water. Within a few days of starting this routine, Stellar would stick his head out the window and start barking as soon as we made that left turn. He wouldn’t stop until the car did. Neighbors mentioned they always knew when we were on our way to the fields.

We haven’t irrigated in five years, but Stellar still barks any time we turn left. Stellar is the finest, sweetest, most agreeable dog ever on the whole planet; he has only this one annoying trait. Whether he’s happy to see a guest at the gate or go for a drive in the car, or he senses I am preparing to take them out in the woods, or Tom arrives in the UPS truck bearing a package and some dog cookies, Stellar simply cannot contain his excitement.

His barking subsides, usually fairly quickly, except in the car. (He can bark for eight miles straight in Virginia, from Auntie’s lane to the parking lot at the bay.) Over the years, rather than subject myself to the decibels, I guess I’ve adapted by only taking them with me when I need to, and not just for fun. But it was fun today, after I came up with the simple solution of running the bark out of him before, well, before embarking.

I have never let them run up or down the driveway because it is so often full of mule deer, and I knew the can of worms I’d be opening if I tried it even once. Also, for years there were emus in pens along the length of it, and I couldn’t risk that distraction. But now the last of the emus have gone. Maybe I’ll try them on the driveway next time it’s Take Your Dog to Town Day. Also, I plan to irrigate again this summer, so watch out, neighbors! The catahoula train is coming!

 

THE FLEETING WONDROUS LIFE OF STELLAR THE STAR DOG SO FAR

AN INCOMPLETE PICTOGRAPHY

The first day I met Stellar he was two weeks old.

The first day I met Stellar he was two weeks old.

Chris and Dave gave him to me but I had to wait a few more weeks to pick him up.

Chris and Dave gave him to me but I had to wait a few weeks to pick him up.

When he was five weeks old we visited Dog World again, and stayed until he was old enough to come home with us. This is the first day Raven met her little brother. Literally. Same parents, different litters.

When he was five weeks old we visited Dog World again, and stayed until he was old enough to come home with us. This is the first day Raven met her little brother. Literally. Same parents, different litters.

Little Stellar the Star Dog finds his new home in western Colorado quite different than his old home in Florida.

Little Stellar the Star Dog finds his new home in western Colorado quite different than his old home in Florida.

Different in so many ways! We arrived home in March 2008 and Stellar saw his first snow right about this time six years ago.

Different in so many ways! We arrived home in March 2008 and Stellar saw his first snow right about this time six years ago.

The pond was a surprising new experience.

The pond was a surprising new experience.

The canyon a trifle perplexing at first.

The canyon a trifle perplexing at first.

But he learned something new every day.

He learned something new every day.

His big sister taught him how to dig.

His big sister taught him how to dig.

Stellar's grumpy uncle Mr. Brick was nine when Stellar came to live with us, and died of cancer just seven months later.

And his grumpy uncle Mr. Brick taught him to hang out. Brick was nine when Stellar came to live with us, and died of cancer just seven months later.

He grew almost as big as his sister...

Stellar grew almost as big as his sister…

...and then he grew bigger.

…and then he grew bigger.

He mastered the canyon.

He mastered the canyon…

...and the art of being a houseguest.

…and the art of being a polite houseguest.

He fell in with the wrong crowd. Oh, wait. That's Pamela just sharing her beer with him.

He fell in with the wrong crowd. Oh, wait. That’s Pamela just sharing her beer with him.

He learned to fly.

He learned to fly.

He's always made friends easily, no matter what their size.

He’s always made friends easily, no matter what their size…

...or their species.

…or their species.

He grew into a very handsome dog...

He grew into a very handsome dog…

...who keeps an eye on everything.

…who keeps an eye on everything.

He can make himself very small...

He can make himself very small…

...or he can be very tall.

…or he can be very tall.

He's happy when he's awake...

He’s happy when he’s awake…

...and when he's sleeping.

…and when he’s sleeping.

Sometimes Stellar drools, but that's okay. Again, a small price to pay for the pleasure.

Sometimes Stellar drools, but that’s okay. Another small price to pay for the pleasure.

The past six years with Stellar? Priceless.

And the past six years with Stellar? Fleeting. Priceless.

May we celebrate at least as many more together.

May we celebrate at least as many more together.

 

Dogs on the Furniture

 

57168444387__1F98477E-7666-4419-B5FB-16E46818F7D5My living room looks so lovely without those two huge dog beds in it.

I’ve moved them outside for the morning while I vacuum and rearrange furniture to accommodate a new chair, my first ever grown-up recliner. Last year I bought a fairly expensive couch, hoping that I could recline on that and fulfill two needs with one piece of furniture, but it hasn’t worked out. Degeneration in my spine demands that I finally shell out for a real recliner with manual adjustments. Not electric, since I’m off the grid and can’t add another phantom load to the household power draw. Also, I hear the Colonel’s voice in my head: It’s just one more thing to go wrong.

So, I imagine that in a few years, when my precious dogs give up the furry ghost, there will be one and only one silver lining: My living room looks so lovely without those huge dog beds in it. Meanwhile, they’re outside (the dogs and the beds) basking in the one purely sunny day we’re expected to have all week, while I ready the house for what will no doubt become everybody’s favorite chair, despite my best efforts to keep it to myself.

Speaking of dogs on the furniture, Rosie has found her forever home, in a family with two children who especially wanted a rescue dog. Finally, she is home safe, and I got tingly and teary when I saw the pictures just this morning. Rosie flying after something a child threw, Rosie sleeping on her bed with her new little girl stretched out next to her, Rosie kissing her new children, and this one. Here she snuggles between her two children on the couch. I can’t imagine a happier ending! Or beginning, for Rosie the Dog.

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I can still feel the love from this very special dog when I remember cuddling with her, her soft snout, her firm smooth body wiggling happily, her expressive eyes.

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A six-inch snowfall last week drifted more than two feet in the driveway. So thankful for good neighbors Ken and Joe who both plowed with their tractors.

 

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Houseplants and potted herbs in the sunroom belie the snow blanket outside.

We are forecast to receive 3″-10″ of snow in the next five days, down, thankfully, from the 6″-18″ predicted yesterday. While grateful for the bountiful moisture, I was dreading that much shoveling: the front door to the front gate, the back door to the back gate, compost pile, generator; a network of paths I’ve kept sort of clear all winter, furrows in the surrounding foot of snow, little trails we all use, the dogs, the deer, and I. When feeling extra energetic last month, I shoveled a path from the compost to the pond and back up to the house, and that has stayed worn down by the dogs and deer alone. So funny how even the deer prefer a shoveled path through crusty deep snow.

Despite continuing snowfall and cold temperatures, more and more birds each day are singing and chattering in the trees. Finches, ring-necked doves, piñon jays; last week a juniper titmouse and a nuthatch vied for the hole in the tortoise tree, while another nuthatch and three finches flitted around watching the contest. Redtails, ravens, and bald eagles are circling and perching. Spring is on the way. I can almost feel those crocuses starting to sprout underground.

There is a cluster of juniper trunks outside my kitchen window with a particularly dense canopy. I noticed something dark flicking and twitching high up in the branches several times last week, like a magpie or jay tail. Maybe magpies building a new nest? Finally I remembered while I was outside to go look. I stood in the center of the trunks which open out basket-like from a central base. I leaned back against one stave after another, circling the inside and searching the canopy for any sign of a nest. Nothing.

Suddenly, scrabbling behind me, and up into the top shoots Topaz. Aha. The next day, I did see magpies working on their nest in the juniper out the bathroom window. Such fun to spy on them!

IMG_5778Preparing for the coming storm, I’ve started a 642 piece puzzle which promises to provide pleasure for many days. I love how some of the whimsy pieces overlap with their depictions, like the fallow deer, fox, giraffe, and elephant below. Thanks, Norma, for sending this one to your sister, and Pamela for sharing it! Easily shaping up to be one of my favorites. IMG_5776IMG_5774IMG_5773IMG_5775

As I write, the dogs announce the truck from Lily and Rose backing up to the gate, right on schedule. This family-owned store in Delta sells quality fine furnishings, and will give you extra stuffing any time if you want to plump up any part of your chair. In short order, the new chair is in place, dogs and dog beds back inside, and I am reclining in luxury.

Though chaos and misery born of despots, climate change, ignorance, and greed swirl around the globe, all is right with my little world. My life today is one of the lucky ones: sunshine and firewood, a grilled cheese and sauerkraut sandwich, happy dogs and cats, a new chair, friends on the radio, flowers in the house and waiting patiently under snow. Some days I am more keenly aware that I or someone I love could die without a moment’s notice. So in this moment, I wallow in gratitude for many blessings.

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Rosie the Dog

IMG_4076I cannot believe that it’s been almost two months since I posted. All the apples and tomatoes are harvested and processed, the fall garden chores are done, colors on the trees are gone, and we got our first snow yesterday, a whopping half an inch. It’s been so cold it’s still on the ground. I’ve been crazy busy working on several projects, not the least of which has been Rosie the Dog.

Rosie the Person and I were driving to town in her car. We were ranting about the Kavanaugh confirmation, and feeling helpless in the face of the corrupt, greedy regime in charge of our great country, which has always been great. There slogging alongside the road was a white dog, all skin and bones, and clearly in heat. “We have to pick her up!” I cried, and Rosie pulled over without a second thought. The dog jumped right in the car and curled up on the back seat. We went on to our engagement in town, and I dialed the vet right away.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to take her in, and after two hours of making calls, neither was there space at any local shelter or foster facility. I bought a leash and some flea shampoo, and on our way home we stopped by Doc Gallob’s, who was kind enough to check her out for any potential threat to my dogs. Besides being emaciated there appeared to be nothing seriously wrong with her. He estimated she is around a year old. We swung by Rosie’s house to pick up a crate, and set it up in my mudroom. As day cooled to dusk we stood outside soaping and rinsing the emaciated little pup.

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In the car after we picked her up, and below, a few days later basking in the sun.

IMG_3831I fed her half a cup at a time every couple of hours that night so she didn’t gorge and vomit. Freezing rain came after dark. The next day, Rosie and I drove her down to Delta to check out a place that said they might be able to take her in a few days. It was already clear to me that this dog was very sensitive and smart. The place did not look adequate. I committed to fostering her until we could find her the perfect home.

Mama Gallob called her Dobie, since that’s where we found her, in the dobies. I tried that, and Dobby like the house elf because it’s a cute name. I tried Pearl because she’s white. I tried a few other names out on her that first full day she lived here, and she did not respond to any. Then, I called her Rosie. She looked straight into my eyes and wagged her whip tail. (Her tail, it turned out, had gotten frostbite and she’s lost the very tip of it.)

IMG_4052The Delta County Humane Society foster mom, Carol, told me to feed her one cup every hour until she left some food in the bowl. That took about a week. At the time I spoke with Carol, she had seventeen puppies and four mamas in her kennel. I asked Carol how she manages to do it. She waved her arm at the kennels: “This is how. I don’t let them in the house. If I let them in the house, forget it.”

I spoke with a neighbor who fosters dogs and asked how she manages not to get attached. “You decide how many animals you can provide optimal care for.” I am topped out at two dogs and two cats, financially, emotionally, and in terms of time. So I decided that I would keep her til she was healthy and ready for a new home, and then let her go. It becomes harder every day to think of saying goodbye, but she does not have the life here that she deserves.

She deserves to live in a house and sleep on a couch and cuddle with a person any time she wants to; she deserves to have a person throw sticks and balls for her for an hour at a time, and run or bike with her up a mountain. She deserves to sleep by the warm fire, or in bed with someone, or under the desk. Here, she lives in the mudroom.

IMG_4610She’s got a large crate filled with beds and blankets, and she’s got her stuffed alligator. She has free time in the mudroom but prefers to stay in the crate even when she can be out of it. We had a mild fall until a week ago, so I was able to latch the screen door and shut the bottom half of the Dutch door to the house, and let her have plenty of time in the sunshine.

She goes outside every time I take my two dogs out, but sometimes she has to stay on the leash if there’s a cat outside too. The Dog People said she looks like she’s a pitbull/bird dog mix. You can see the possibility of both in her; or she could be some other mix. She raises a front paw like a pointer, she runs like the wind, and she growls like a pit.

When I brought her home I figured I could do whatever it took for a couple of weeks. She’s been here almost two months now. In that time, she’s settled in at a svelte 55 pounds, passed through what was almost certainly not her first heat, been spayed, and gotten all her shots. She has learned to come when she’s called, walk through the woods on a leash, and respond quickly to a barklike command when I want her to stop doing something like eating grass, or lunging after a deer. She’s very agreeable.

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She is great in the car, and from the beginning has loved to go for a ride anywhere.

She is also a little possessive, though she’s getting better: of her mudroom, her crate, her toys, her food, and any food I might have if there’s another dog around. She and Ojo the black cat have taken a dislike to each other, and she isn’t fond of Raven either. So there’s some animal juggling through the course of each day. She loves Stellar and wants to play with him; that may be because he was a great comfort to her when she was in heat, or it could be because he’s the best dog in the whole world. She loves every person she has ever met and greets everyone with a gleeful wiggle. I don’t know how she would be with children, or in a home with other animals.

I suspect that once she is settled into her forever home and feels secure and thoroughly loved, she will be less possessive and even more agreeable; I suspect that she could be taught to get along with a cat, and with another female dog, or with a family’s pack.

But I think even more strongly that she would be ideal as somebody’s one-and-only pet. She wants someone to bond with her the way I cannot do. I cannot love her as I’d like to and as she deserves. I’m married to two older dogs, from a line I’ve known for 30 years, whose lives I’ve held since infancy. And I’m married to two beautiful cats who rule the roost and take up lots of time. I’m just having a little affair with Rosie the Dog, and it’s got to end when her true love comes along. But not until then.

She will be an immensely gratifying dog for the right person, and a frustrating dog for the wrong person. She is very sensitive, smart, and eager to please; she can also get obsessed with something, as she did with Biko the tortoise. She learned where he lived when it was warm, and she jumps into the tortoise pen every chance she gets to see where he is. She doesn’t realize he is in the laundry room now, for winter.

Rosie is the kind of dog that will return the love she is given tenfold. She needs someone who will love her unconditionally no matter if she misbehaves and needs a little training; someone who is capable of communicating with and understanding her smart self. She needs someone who is looking for a best friend forever, and is willing to make a lifetime commitment.

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This afternoon at the top of the driveway.

The past few days, I’ve been teaching her to run alongside the car up the driveway like the catahoulas do. She has to stay on the leash because I’m pretty sure she’d take off after deer, and they’re everywhere. The first time she rode while I ran Stellar up the driveway she was obviously anxious. She thought I might be leaving him! But then she got comfortable watching him run, knowing we’d all come home together. On her first run she was a little confused about where to be, but by her second run she had it. She ran 20 mph up the quarter mile driveway, just flying through the field about six feet away from the car, slowing when I slowed.

 

Even though she doesn’t get much exercise here, she is still happy in the mudroom knowing I’m in the next room, or being with me and the other dogs in the yard, wandering around sniffing, chewing, chasing a stick or ball. She doesn’t like to give it up, though, when she’s got it, and has yet to learn to drop it. She has climbed both the 3′ yard fence and the 5′ dog pen fence, so she can’t be outside without supervision. However, after she climbed the yard fence at dusk, she came running when I called, and hopped back over into the yard. When she climbed the dog pen fence, she showed up wagging her tail at the back door. She wants most of all to be beside her person.

From the beginning, it has been a great practice in non-attachment to have this wonderful animal here and know that I can show her love but not hang onto her. She grows more attached to me each day, and I to her. The challenge is juggling compassion for her with knowing my own limits, and the limits of my household. We picked her up off the road because in a time of upheaval we can’t control, saving this dog was one thing we could do, one small being we could help when we otherwise sometimes feel so helpless.

Now she is ready to find her new home, and I am ready to let her go. I’ve inquired at Freedom Service Dogs in Denver, and they have a long list of requirements, some of which Rosie might be a little fuzzy on, but we may try to get her over the mountains to be evaluated to become a veteran’s service dog. I’m grateful for ideas of other placement services that might find her perfect person. Meanwhile, DCHS has put her profile up on Petfinder.com, and if you click on that you can watch a short video of Rosie the Dog in action.

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The Best of Us, the Worst

In which we enjoy a Baked Alaska (which rather resembles some sort of sea creature or astral event) 626 style during a singular lunch.

In which we enjoy a Baked Alaska (which rather resembles some sort of sea creature or astral event) 626-style during a singular lunch.

I drove some friends ninety miles to the big city today, to catch a train. They are on their way to pick up another friend in Denver, who’s just gotten off a ten-day kayak trip down the Gulf of Mexico. When we left, and when we were eating lunch, we hadn’t heard from her; her trip with three others occurred during the windy season, creating five to eight foot waves in the Gulf. We were all a little edgy underneath (and two of us more overtly) because she was supposed to be off the water two days ago. But we anyway enjoyed our lunch out at a fancy locovore restaurant, and I even ate a burger because I was assured it was locally and (essentially) organically-grown beef.

We talked with glee about the gravitational wave news proving something about Einstein and two black holes colliding a billion years ago, and I crowed about my old friend who’d had a hand in it, and then we branched out to apocalyptic meteor and supernova scenarios. We talked a lot, indirectly and directly, about death, with great good humor. We talked about the worst aspects of human nature, and our better animal and spiritual aspects. In the back of our minds was What if she didn’t make it?

She did. She had a fabulous time, I found out later. In the meantime, we parted ways after lunch, and I began a long list of errands. When any of us go to Grand Junction, there is usually a long list of errands: the Liquor Barn which always has the best price on Bombay Sapphire, PetSmart for our dog and cat needs, Vitamin Cottage for the most economical organic groceries, Office Depot… things you can’t get out here in the rural West. I was obligated to attend a Board meeting this evening in another town, and I was trying to hurry through my errands to make it home in time to turn around and head out again.

Leaving PetSmart, at the traffic light by the Mall, I watched a motorcycle police officer pull into the intersection and stop his bike. He dismounted, and his bike tipped over almost knocking him down. He recovered and awkwardly struggled to right the bike, succeeding just as three more motorcycle cops drove past him, followed by a funeral procession. In that way that knowledge dawns on you, not like a bolt of lightning but with a steady sureness that only takes a few more seconds, I recognized what it was, and I began to cry.

Last week a 17-year-old boy, masked and lingering near two schools, shot Mesa County Deputy Derek Greer. The suspect was apprehended; the deputy didn’t die right away, and local news reported that he was being kept on life support in order to complete organ donations. That was the last I’d heard of it a few days ago. When I saw the hearse, the dozens of flashing-light vehicles, black buses, and vans following it, sorrow washed over me. Just so sad. Senseless. I sat there and cried and cried, and thought of that man’s family, and of the kid who’d killed him, and all the suffering rippling out from that singular moment when their lives collided.

I thought of my grandmother’s funeral in Tennessee many years ago. I’d never before seen this: As the small procession we rode in moved through the small town where she had lived for so many years, people stopped on the sidewalks and held their hats over their hearts; they pulled their cars over, got out, took off their hats. They had no idea who this funeral was for; my granny hadn’t lived there for over a decade. They were simply showing their respect for whomever it was, showing their shared comprehension of our mutual mortality.

Then I looked out my right side window, and an older man in the truck next to me was watching me. “It’s that officer,” I said. “I know,” he said. “So sad,” I said. “Yes,” he said. The patrol cars continued to emerge from the curve about half a mile away. The man asked me if I’d heard about the man who was struck by a car last fall, and told me all about it; it was his 58-year-old son, who is still recovering but might lose his leg. So sad. I wished fleetingly that I hadn’t opened myself to this conversation. I’d been immersed in the endless funeral procession, noting the counties heard from, meditating on the range of grief: first dozens of cars from Mesa County, then squad cars from all over the state, Ft. Collins, Parachute, Cedaredge, Adams, Garfield, Rifle, and more, even Moab, Utah.

The procession went on and on. Five minutes, ten, more. Fifty vehicles, seventy, more. A Delta County car (my deputy) pulled up to the motorcycle cop, who mounted and joined the procession. But still more cars came, now interspersed with regular drivers. Our light turned green. People behind us honked and yelled. But the couple of cars ahead of me and my neighbor stayed still and let the rest of the mourners pass before us. I cried again, at the grace these drivers showed. We were all anxious to get somewhere. We were all touched by what we were witnessing, and were in no hurry to interrupt this impressive, heartbreaking display of respect for a fallen officer.

Eventually the procession ended, the green arrow directed us to proceed, and we did. Not a quarter mile on at the next intersection I was startled by the broken siren of an emergency vehicle announcing itself, and to my left, coming down the road that leads from the interstate, was another procession of flashing-light vehicles as far back as I could see, another quarter mile at least. I drove home calmly in crazy traffic. In this vast and incomprehensible universe, I was moved to a sad and tranquil peace by what I had observed, the best of human nature that I’d become a tiny part of in a tiny way.

Community Radio

Among many other things today, I’m grateful for community radio. In particular at the moment, KVNF in Paonia. This evening, Cookin with Jazz was dj’d by The Hurricane, who put together a thoughtful retrospective on Charlie Watts. I learned more than I ever knew about The Rolling Stones’ drummer, and heard some wonderful music. It reminded me of the time I spent as a nomad, driving around the country camping in my Subaru wagon with my first catahoula.

We were camped in northern California among redwoods, cozied up in the back of the car, listening to KMUD out of Garberville. They were playing a Joni Mitchell retrospective. Something about the soft, moist night air, insect symphony blending with Joni’s songs, snuggled into my sleeping bag, cuddling that good dog… I’ll never forget it, deeply touched by the magic of radio. I was grateful for community radio then, and I’m still grateful thirty-two years later, tucked into my little mud hut in the juniper forest, crickets outside, Charlie Watts conversing softly over the airwaves, lying on a yoga mat on the floor beside my old best dog ever. Something very similar about these two far apart evenings, emotionally linked through the power of community public radio.

Thirteen Years of Companionship

Stellar on his second birthday walk this morning.

Today, I’m grateful for thirteen years with the best dog and best companion ever. I posted a pictorial timeline when he was six, including lots of puppy pictures, and concluded it with “May we celebrate at least as many more together.” My wish came true, my concerns for his health over the past few years notwithstanding. Truly, my whole day will be spent in joyful reflection on his long and happy life. It was fun to do a search here, and look back on pictures and stories about him over the past eight years.

I wrote that last paragraph after midnight, when I truly intended to devote the entire day to celebrating Stellar’s birthday, and also to gathering a timeline of more recent photos. The morning went as planned… and on our third walk of the day I filmed some clips, came home, and made a little movie of it. It was beautiful! I even had a professional soundtrack consultation lined up with KGMR, for whom I’ve been grateful for 22 years.

Then, and I’m grateful that this was the worst thing to happen in my little world today, iMovie threw a fit. “Stellar’s Third Birthday Walk” essentially vanished. After two hours building the movie, an hour troubleshooting on my own, and two hours on Apple support (for which I’m grateful), it was determined that the permanent fix will be to reset this new computer to factory settings after backing up all data, and start from scratch: recapitulating the past three weeks of laborious steps to get the old-to-new computer transfer to the point it was this morning, only this time, without the wrenches in the works. Sigh. I am so grateful for the equanimity that mindfulness practice has given me.

I didn’t let any of this ruin my day, or Stellar’s birthday. Through the whole of it, he continued to get his walks and treats and lovies, and he never knew the difference. He didn’t care in the first place. It was my trip to make his day special and make a movie and bake him a cake — to make his day special for me. The cake did get baked, late, and he enjoyed it. He’ll be nibbling on it for a couple of days.

His cake recipe this year came from Napa’s website. I modified the one cup carrots with half leftover riced cauliflower…
… and made frosting of half ricotta – half plain yogurt.

Now, after dinner, and cake, and a good rub all over, he rests sweetly snoring on his bed between me and the couch. Fire mellows in the woodstove. Breath pours in, shoulders release, body reevaluates its position, relaxes, settles. Meditation. The big day comes to a close with both of us replete, despite its turn toward “unexpected product behavior.”

That’s what Caleb called it: He sees it “a lot, but that’s because troubleshooting is my job. But the user rarely sees this, it’s very, very uncommon for this problem to arise.” I’m grateful I’m now able to ask, Why not me? with a shrug, a breath, a smile, a flexible shift in course and perspective. I’ll remake the movie tomorrow. I’m grateful that I discovered this rare computer malady three weeks into its life rather than months and many intricacies, passwords, and gigabytes later. It could have been worse.

Baby Stellar. For more puppy pictures, scroll to the bottom of this post.
Stellar at six.
Stellar at thirteen.

I’m grateful that Stellar woke up on his thirteenth birthday in good health and spirits, that I relaxed and patience allowed me to let the day unfold as it did instead of as I’d planned, and that aside from accomplishing little else, I paid my companion the attention he was due on his biggest birthday ever.

Wild Summer

 

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When guests come we always enjoy cocktails at the Black Canyon.

I’ve had company almost full-time for six weeks. It’s been wonderful to see so many beloved friends from across the divide and across the continent, and there have been lots of wild adventures.

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A picnic at Lost Lake with Kathy and Jean.

Wildlife-8088.jpgWhile Kathy was here, we saw a pair of courting coyotes at the Black Canyon, a big horn sheep and lamb in Colorado National Monument, and two nests of fledgling raptors. Our goal was to see a predator per day, and we very nearly made it.

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She hid her baby behind the sagebrush before we got our cameras on them. Beyond her, the Grand Valley and the Bookcliffs obscured by a raging dust storm.

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The successful redtail nest along the road to town, which fledges two or three hawklets each summer. Below, a pair of golden eaglets in their cliff nest just days before their first flight.

Eagles-7792.jpgBear-5592.jpgTwo weeks ago when Cindy was visiting, she spotted it first: There’s a critter down there, she said. When I first saw the long black tail I thought A black panther! A melanistic cougar… I grabbed the binoculars out of the ammo can beside the bench to identify what that dark blob was: a black bear napping in the canyon, head down, eyes closed, right arm stretched out. We must have been upwind because none of the three dogs noticed. It was uncanny, because she had just brought me a belated birthday present, the long-awaited bear puzzle: 

 

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But the grand prize of wildlife sightings, the one everyone who comes here hopes to see, eluded them all and came only to me.

I was behind the house, I can’t remember exactly where or what I was doing, when I heard Stellar make an ungodly strange noise, as though he were terribly hurt, or had his head stuck in something. It wasn’t a bark or a howl, or even something between the two; it was an all over the place moaning wail, up down and around. I dropped whatever I was doing and ran toward the sound, calling “Stellar, what’s happened?!”

He was outside the dog pen, as was Raven, with no apparent harm to either, but he was dancing in a weird way and looking inside the pen, and I followed his eyes just in time to see something brown jump over the fence at the back corner. Was it a deer? But it didn’t bound over, and besides they can’t get over that fence like they can the yard fence; we had a tragic episode a few years ago proving that.

It flowed over. Deep inside I knew. This all took about ten seconds as I continued moving toward the dogs. I stepped on past their shed to look over the back fence and saw it trot about fifteen feet beyond the pen, then stop, turn, and look back to where, by now, Raven stood in the corner of the pen barking at it. A beautiful mountain lion stood broadside to us, looking full-face at Raven, for all the world as if it were considering whether to go back and get her.

I slowly stepped closer to the fence, Stellar quiet by my side, my heart pounding, my mouth hanging open. Don’t go back! I thought to the lion. Good girl! I thought to Raven. Time did stand still. I did not know what to do, but my head did not fill with that horrible static it does when I’m in a panic about some human unknown. It emptied of all but wonder.

I processed the fact that I couldn’t get a good picture of it with my phone, even if I could get the phone out fast enough, and so I stayed still, goggling at the scene, which was kind of a standoff: I looked from the lion to the barking dog, back and forth, flickering attention between the two, evaluating possibilities, considering whether to intervene with a yell, wondering where the cats were, and why it had jumped into the dog pen, and was everyone alright? Then I focused on the lion, breathing in my good fortune at seeing it, and then at realizing there was nothing in its mouth: The little cats were safe somewhere else.

It wasn’t a huge lion, but it wasn’t a yearling; maybe a two-or three-year old male, or a female of any age, and not the classic blond cougar we expect. It was redder at the back, with a dark shadow of black-tipped fur along its tail and haunches, lighter at the shoulders and head, with its face russet around the cheeks. It looked back and forth at us. As the energy among us calmed, I slowly reached in my pocket for the camera, and the lion turned and trotted off through the trees.

That whole thing took another ten seconds.

Stellar and I walked into the pen down to the corner where Raven still barked, Stellar as alert as could be, walking just under my fingertips. As he began barking I searched the sagebrush and junipers but there was no lingering hint of the lion. I checked the time: 5:08. I was expecting a call at 5:30 for virtual cocktails. Still catching my breath, I called the cats and brought dogs and cats in for their dinner, shaking just a little as I prepped their bowls, and then I made a good stiff drink.

This makes the sixth mountain lion I’ve seen since I moved to this land. I know there are plenty of them out there, and it’s one reason I love it here. But I’ve never seen one nearly this close to my house. Nor to me!

All kinds of thoughts, of course, ran through my head. I grabbed drink, chips, binoculars, phone and dogs, and went out to sit on the patio, where I simply looked around, feeling very much alive. I wondered if it was still nearby thinking about whyever it had gone into that pen and about the dogs who had chased it out.

I played back the images to lock them in: the glimpse of brown slithering over the tall fence, the long tail and then the lion stopping to look back at us, the rounded reddish cheeks, eye contact. Already it was fading. That kind of sight, we say it gets etched into our memory, but really it starts to fade the second it’s gone, and now I’m left with tissue paper stills of an extraordinary few seconds that pulsated with vitality.

The next evening, around the same time, I walked to the canyon as usual, armed only with walking sticks and two bouncing hounds. When I choose to put my life at risk, it is in this manner: to carry an iced martini in a blue-stemmed glass through a woods where lions prowl, to a canyon where bears and lions dwell, to sit still on a bench overlooking the edge. I count my blessings every day that I am able to live where the chance of being harmed by a wild animal is greater than the chance of being harmed by a feral human.

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My two best dogs ever in the whole history of the planet: Raven after a dust roll, and Stellar in a field of wildflowers up Leroux Creek just the other day.

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Morning Rounds, 7:30 p.m.

A sweet spring snow came down in fat round flakes, coating everything.

A sweet spring snow came down in fat round flakes, coating everything.

The tower beds are ready for planting, one half of the big third coming up garlic and the other half I don’t know, I’ll have to check the book; the second third calendula, the happy orange flower that blooms profusely. I didn’t want to cut them back at first, Katrina made me. “You’ll see,” she said, and she was right, as she so often is about these growing things. Calendula is prolific in this one patch and as long as it continues to self-sow I welcome it. And the third third, what did we choose to do with it? I don’t know. I’ll have to check the book. Thank god for keeping records. Planting time approaches.

Chris came and weed-whacked last year’s good grasses gone to seed so they can scatter and regrow, spread; and took to the ground some nasty bad grass. I guess the bad grass is not the worst thing in the world to cover some of this ground. There are things I’d far prefer, though, like the purple mustards that are moving in; I just need to keep the bad grass down. And afterwards, a sweet spring snow followed by a hint of rain. All the grass has grown inches in the few days since it was cut. The roller-coaster approaches the first crest. All I want to do is be outside and work in the garden, stay ahead of the weeds and the bad grass. My focus is consumed by the tasks ahead. And the Stardog stands on his head then lies on his back in the wet grass and wags his tail at me. He knows where my energy goes. He follows its direction and when it veers too far from him he comes nearby and does something unbearably cute.

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Just a handful of dried rosehips remain on the canes. Tiny green buds begin to peek out. Maybe I will increase my apricot crop this year threefold or fivefold, from two to six or ten, maybe even twenty, who knows. The tree so recently laden with fertile flowers flocked with honeybees is now a haggard brown. A few blossoms remain in every stage of opening from tight white ovals through barely open to full-on bloom. Maybe I’ll have a few apricots after all. Maybe we all will.

The almond blossoms appear to have been protected from the freeze.

The almond blossoms appear to have been protected from the freeze.

The almond on the other hand looks like most of its blooms have survived. There are a few brown, many wide open, many in bud and some wilting, perhaps from the natural course of things. Tiny green leaf buds emerge in shoots from the tips of all the twigs. The dormant winter apple buds begin to swell, and the first jonquil releases its paper shell. Hardy red tulips and royal purple pasqueflower bloom even after snow; these flowers bloom in sequence, ramping up. The forsythia didn’t suffer too much from the freeze, up against the west side of the house.

Jonquil buds in snow Monday are closer to opening today.

Jonquil buds in snow Monday are closer to opening today.

No time for a proper dog walk tonight, but I open the gate and let them run into the woods. I want to be a dog for whom going is its own reward. When I step out into the leech field full of winterfat, I can see the sunset. It just takes stepping out the east gate and I can see the glorious sunset to the west, peach and violet, light blue, and yellow-tinted white.

 

Stellar’s Last Days: a Stroke?

It was a beautiful morning. I’m grateful that Stellar and I got to enjoy a half-hour ramble off our usual trails, just for a change of pace. He’s doing really well considering he suffered some sort of neurological incident last weekend. You can tell by looking at his left eye, how both lids droop. It was just my best guess, until Karen asked Dr. Dave to check out this and a couple other pictures. His response was:

“The issue would appear to be a neurological one. The two most likely causes are stroke and a viral infection of the nerve supplying the eyelid. Other possibilities are a tumor near the nerve, or a traumatic incident to the nerve. Similar lesions in the brain can cause  signs as seen here. In any case palliative care is probably the treatment of choice as there are possibilities of recovery with no treatment.”

I am so grateful for the support and input from these friends, who despite such busy lives of their own took time to consider my concerns for my dear dog. I’m grateful for the bonds of community and friendship, that can lay dormant for a long time and wake when needed at a moment’s notice.

Meanwhile, we’re still contending with the hindquarter weakness, notably in his right leg, which tends to turn out and is often unable to straighten under him. But he’s a stoic, noble animal, and he keeps dragging himself up and out whenever I ask if he wants to go for a walk. Once he’s out the gate his nose takes over, and he joyfully sniffs his way through the woods, intermittently looking back for me and adjusting his course to mine. I’m grateful for his perseverance, his devoted companionship, and his unconditional love and acceptance.

I’m grateful for the beauty around me, whenever I take time to turn my attention to it. This evening, sun lighting the sprinkler caught my eye. Though the camera couldn’t quite capture the glitter of it.
I’m grateful for this and all the other trees I live among. I’m grateful for trees in general, and for all the new scientific insights and understandings currently arising about just how sentient and interconnected they are. As my heart breaks for all beings in the path of wildfires, I feel especially concerned for and attached to the idea of the giant sequoias now threatened by the Paradise Fire in Sequoia National Park. I’m grateful, though, that this little patch of trees where I live survived another day without burning up.

Obstacles in Stride

Morning smoke haze, the new normal in the gathering storm. Visually beautiful in its own way. One obstacle to joy can be an overarching awareness of the planet’s dire state; and yet, to me, that makes experiencing joy in all the tenuous elements of being alive all the more urgent.

An unforeseen obstacle on the path this morning threw me for a few seconds: wait, where’s the path? Did I get off the trail? No, just a down dead piñon tree. With equanimity, I stepped around it, knowing I’ll return and remove it when I have the right tools for the job, gloves and a rope. And maybe wait a bit til my hand is better. No hurry! Sometimes simply avoiding an obstacle for awhile is the wise choice.

I’m grateful for our long, leisurely walk this morning, a holiday stroll. Stellar is feeling good these days, which inspires him to bark for me in the morning and bounce on his front legs, eager for his walk; and makes him move faster, a bit too fast. His back feet trip over each other more when he’s feeling good, but he has strength to correct and doesn’t stumble as much as when he moves slower, when he’s weaker, and falls down. Fingers crossed for a long streak of this mobility and his obvious joy in his morning walks.

After a self-satisfied shelving of the first preserved jars, I turned my attention to today’s major obstacle, the plugged drain that is causing kitchen sink water to burble up from the sunroom pond drain. I was optimistic. I’d borrowed a drain snake, and started to work after morning coffee. I had the right tool for the job, which I’m always grateful for having, and a spirit of joyful effort.

Three hours later, I had seemingly cleared the clog, dismantled and thoroughly cleaned out all the pieces of undersink pipe, perhaps irrevocably kinked the snake, and managed one load of dishes, before the pond gurgled full again and I surrendered to whatever tomorrow brings: effective enzyme action, or a call to the plumber. I went on with the day, detouring around the obstacle after giving it my best shot, practicing patience, and grateful that it isn’t worse: the toilet and bathroom sink still drain, and the shower flows straight outside. Fresh water, for which I’m always grateful, still runs from the faucets, I’ve got a bucket to wash dishes in, and a yarden right outside the front door that will welcome the dishwater.

I served up a leftover burrito with chopped tomato and the last half of avocado, ate a late lunch outside on the patio, took Stellar for another stroll, and enjoyed the rest of my Labor Day holiday. I’m grateful for the mindfulness skills and practice that have enabled me to take obstacles in stride, with patience and equanimity, knowing these are not big deals in the grand scheme of things. Trees in the trail, clogs in the drain, smoke in the sky, and even Stellar’s lameness are all simply transient conditions, while gratitude, contentment, compassion and calm are states I can cultivate and come to depend upon.

Late in his full day of adventures, naps, dreams, and watchdog duties, Stellar’s stand resembled a half-sit, but that doesn’t dampen his lust for life as he sniffs the wind currents. I aspire to live like this dog, so completely present in each moment.