Tag Archive | dogs

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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Good Neighbors

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Grateful the Ecofan on top of the woodstove is working again…

Speaking of thanking things, I am so grateful to my little Ecofan that sits on top of the woodstove and pushes hot air through the house, using only the temperature differential between incoming air and the heat underneath it to power itself. It quit working about a week ago, and I fussed with it a little, talked to it some, looked up repair options on Youtube, and suddenly it started working again last night. I have been thanking it out loud when it’s blowing every time I add wood to the stove.

Another thing Marie Kondo did for me was validate my tendency to speak to everything. I’ve been chatting with houseplants all my life. If everything has some sort of spirit, it’s not crazy to speak to everything. I do it all the time, but almost never in front of anyone else. It’s one reason I live alone except for non-verbal animals. I feel really good about thanking the Ecofan.

I’m grateful for everything in my life, including the fact of where I live. Not only is it beautiful, it isn’t 50 degrees below zero tonight. It hasn’t been much below zero for twenty years. This winter, just a couple of nights in negative single digits. When I first moved here, there were multiple nights each winter in minus double digits, several each year of 20 or more below. When I lived in northeastern Utah in an 1880s two-room log cabin, we had five nights in a row around 40 below. I’d get the temperature up into the 90s and pack the woodstove before I went to bed. When I woke, it was 50 inside. I’m grateful I no longer have to work that hard to stay warm. I feel for those who do.

So while others in our great, big country struggle to survive this polar vortex spill caused by ‘global warming,’ or as I prefer to call it, Climate Chaos, I sit here at my desk cozy and content, appreciating where and among whom I live.

Even if I don’t agree with my neighbors about some things, there are a couple of things we all seem to have in common: We care about the landscape in which we dwell. We have some reverence for place, no matter how differently we manifest it. And we care about each others’ animals, feeding one another’s cats or filling birdfeeders when someone’s away, catching cows or horses that stray. The other day I went to water a friend’s plants and spooked a flock of rosy finches.

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Audubon has a fascinating map feature that shows how the range of gray-crowned rosy finches, listed as Climate Endangered, has diminished between 2000 and now. I’ve heard about these birds, increasingly uncommon winter residents in western Colorado, but never seen one until this flock last week. It was thrilling! An unintended benefit of being neighborly.

Another Life v. Death dilemma entered my life this week. A guy called, I recognized his name as a long-time local family who are outfitters. He said a mountain lion had gotten into his herd of horses down in the Smith Fork, and might have killed one of them. “Once they’ve done something like that they’ll do it again,” he explained. He wanted permission to track the lion across my property. I said, reluctantly, ok. I suspected he was exaggerating the alleged lion attack. But what else could I have done?

I said, “I would prefer that you don’t kill it on my property.” He had no reply. We hung up. My land is a recognized wildlife sanctuary. I can’t give just anyone permission to kill on it. But if livestock is at stake, and people are courteous enough to ask permission, I can’t very well say no. That is the unwritten code of where I live: We are neighborly. We try to help out each other. I have seen these guys putting chains on their tires and taking them off at the top of the field in the canyon where their horses are right now. They work hard. They are attentive to their animals. Their way is not mine, but I don’t begrudge them.

The next day, I ran into one of them. They were searching for two hunting dogs they’d lost track of whilst tracking. I called James that evening, and said “I’ll sleep better tonight knowing they’re home warm and safe, but if they’re not I’ll keep looking out for them.” They had been found, they were fine. I was relieved. He was grateful that I’d asked. Ultimately, they did not find the lion, but they did get all their hounds back. It was a good outcome, as far as I’m concerned.

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Later that day we ran into a traffic jam on our way to Delta.

 

img_5342Another highlight of the week was finding a new home for a sweet old cat. Which reminds me, people have asked for a Rosie the Dog update: It’s a long story, but Rosie is in a foster home in Ridgway where she gets to live in the house, and cross-country ski almost every day. She is available for permanent adoption through the Second Chance Humane Society. You can meet her here if you haven’t already:

Bringing Rosie into my life generated a big awakening. Her joyful, loving energy lifted my spirits immensely, just as my latest round of PT has strengthened and toned my body. The result has been an enlivening perspective on making the best of what already is in my life, and relinquishing all that I must in order to live mindfully within my limitations.

The biggest gift Rosie gave me was the realization that I was taking my own precious animals for granted. Despite having all along a painful awareness of the shortness and mystery of each of their lives, I wasn’t putting into practice that awareness. With four of them, and my limited energy and physical constraints, I wasn’t spending enough time loving each of them, one on one, eye to eye, heart to heart. Since the kittens came, the two old dogs have loyally done whatever I’ve asked of them, patiently savoring any morsel of my undivided attention as gratefully as they do the tiniest last bites they wait for at the end of every meal. 

Since Rosie left six weeks ago, I’ve engaged more with each dog and cat, and even had a session last week with an animal communicator. It was amazing and exhilarating. The understanding and bond with all of my animals is stronger, in both directions. The cats are both more affectionate, and coming on more and longer walks with me and the dogs. Raven has stopped licking her groins obsessively, and is much more relaxed. Stellar is even happier than he’s always been, and said he likes the pumpkin on his food.

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The cats are especially grateful that sweet Rosie has found a new place to live on her journey to a real home. Now they can walk with us through the woods or up the driveway, and come through the mudroom unchallenged. Ojo has stopped biting me, and started purring again.

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We haven’t been to the canyon since we snowshoed out there on New Year’s Day, taking our walks up the driveway instead. And there have been plenty of days this month when we didn’t even do that! We’re all getting lazy in our old age. Or maybe just more particular about what weather we want to go out and play in.

And then there are days like these: The sky remained cloudless all day. Late sun sliding below the ridge, lighting snowbanks, treebark, mountaintops, cats’ eyes, dogs’ fur, deep bright cold gold.

Air warmed to almost freezing from nine overnight. We went outside late morning. Dogs and deer have carved trails intersecting with paths I’ve shoveled, and I could get around the yard a little more for rounds. Under some trees ground has warmed enough to melt snow. It’s time to think about pruning some shrubs while they’re free of leaves. Dormant buds already pulse with life on fruit trees. I hear a chainsaw.

Stellar and I walk into the woods next door as neighbor Ken stops his saw. He’s clearing a dead tree for Paul’s firewood. He offers me a chair, a beautiful round from the dead juniper, and is happy for the break. We chat about this winter, the marvelous snow, our miracle girl next door, recent bobcats and mountain lions in the neighborhood. Paul pulls up in his 4-wheeler to collect the wood, and we catch up for a few minutes, while Ken plows him a track to the tree pieces. Stellar and I leave them to their wood work, and head happily home to our own.

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He really does want to help.

 

 

Grammar Gripe

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I can’t do it any longer. I can’t not say anything. I don’t want to offend people, or sabotage their world views, or judge them. I just want to enjoy being a living incarnation of the magnanimous force that created this universe and keeps it in eternal unfathomable motion. I just want to be a good person.

My dear friend gave me a shirt last year that says, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” I am. Even though sometimes the rules are ridiculous, like punctuation inside or outside of quotation marks. I can’t help myself. It’s the one thing I can do. It’s the one thing that I love. I learned grammar like a fish to water, and therefore, I can play with it. As a writer, I can play with grammar.

But you? You news writer for NBC who wrote for Miguel Almaguer to say, “Downloaded more than a hundred million times, prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”

Prosecutors were NOT downloaded more than a hundred million times.

Yet that is is actually, in fact, what Miguel said, with his grammar. There is no dispute about it, if you agree with the laws of English grammar: the prosecutor was not downloaded more than a hundred million times, The Weather Channel app was. That sentence, if you want to be educated about it, should read, “Prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App, downloaded more than a hundred million times,  was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”

Now, how hard is that to understand? You should have learned that in sixth grade, NBC writer.

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My contribution to Christmas Dinner was peach pie. 

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I pulled whole peaches from the deep freeze and microwaved them for two 30 second hits, mixing them up between, rolling the bottom peaches to the top, letting the top peaches slide down the inside of the bowl. 

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Peels and pits to the side for compost. Their skins really do slip right off, and they practically break in half. Still partially frozen but juicy, they’re so small I can put them in the pie shell in halves, pit-side down, round shining essentially fresh peach halves.

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I did bake the bottom crust first. Having finally figured out to add a little more water at this altitude right off the bat, and mix fast but not too much. 

My friend’s husband Steve was right: you have to use your hands; a pastry cutter won’t result in the right size butter inclusions. You need tiny, uniform pockets of butter (or butter/lard) to make the pastry flaky. That’s science. I don’t get it exactly but I’m beginning to experience it, and I believe experience is what makes a pastry chef, or anyone, an expert at something, whether they can explain the physics of it or not.

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A nearly perfect peach pie: enough peaches to fill and round the pie plate, mixed with some sugar (not too much), and a palm-full of tapioca, stirred, and left to sit. Crusts mixed, chilled, and rolled; the bottom crust baked for around ten minutes with parchment paper weighted with beans; filled, topped, and baked, like, forever.

I think my new oven is not quite calibrated for my altitude. I think ten minutes at 450 degrees would be ideal. Then filled and quickly covered, crimped, and replaced in the oven for another ten minutes. Then, the book says, bake at 350 for 45 to 50 minutes. 50 minutes came and went, another ten, another ten, it took forever to even start to brown. Once the peach juice bubbled up inside the edge I took it out of the oven. Mmmmmm, the aroma.

Pastry baking science aside, how hard is it to comprehend that United States President Donald Trump flat out lied? He promised during his campaign, and was elected on the promise that, Mexico would pay for the wall.

It infuriates me that people, whatever their alliance, are not outraged, are not bombarding their Senators with phone calls and emails, exclaiming that this Shutdown is not good for America, and that Trump promised Mexico, NOT WE, would pay for any wall. He lied to you!

If every one of the nearly one million Federal workers who are working without pay, or not working without pay, would call their Senators and tell them whether or not they favor this Trump Shutdown, maybe, he says, for years, I bet that Congress would hear a whole lot more NOs than they would YESs. Every one of these people, whether they support or oppose Trump, counts on the income, purpose, and dignity of their job with the Federal Government. Trump does not speak for them. They speak for themselves.

This is a broken promise masquerading as some other closet monster. It’s monsters all the way down. The squirrelly (no offense to squirrels) course that this person’s chicanery and abuse takes is exceptionally skillful. The guy is a magnificent manipulator. And I’ve come to know some damned skillful manipulators through the years, even as recently as last summer.

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Thanksgiving’s pie was apple/plum, both from last year’s harvest, in the freezer. I figured out the crust mixing physics that time, but not the cooking science, so it had soggy bottom, ick. Also, the apples were undercooked, too al dente for my taste. Otherwise, a good mix of cinnamon, sugar, tart apple, and more tart, but less of, plum, just a layer on the top.

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Sorry friends, I didn’t ask your permission. But you kind of have to assume, knowing me, you might show up here one day. I love this picture. It expresses to me the ultimate in community. When I moved here almost 27 years ago, I could never have imagined how lucky I would become, how grateful for so much in my life. Every day that I wake up, I thank my lucky stars. For waking up at all, for the day ahead in this place, for community at ever-deepening levels.

So, that’s grammar and the president’s lies out of the way. Back to the allegation that TWC, our go-to weather source (and admittedly a drama queen of a station), has been illegally stealing our private information. “The app deceptively collected, shared, and profited from private location data of millions of consumers….” Miguel went on. Then he introduced the LA City Attorney, who said:

‘Think how Orwellian it is to have a third party you never had contact with know where you’ve gone for a therapist, for a date, for what you did last night…’

“Banking on TWC brand, the Weather Company, owned by IBM, operates the app… which manipulated users into turning on location tracking, using valuable personal data, for commercial gain.” Owned by IBM? Why should this be surprising? We’ve all signed those agreements we never read. We’ve all been complicit in so many ways in the prostitution of our privacy.

I’m sick of it, I tell you, sick of it. All of it. It is all I can do to get out of bed in the morning some days. But there is so much to live for, so much to get out of bed for, that I can sometimes set aside the incessant enervation of our species’ chatter, to enjoy the day.

Today, “another bluebird day across the state,” said Colorado Public Radio. It was spectacular. Blinding in its perfection. Every second with eyes open was a calendar photo. And the minutes and hours or portions of hours spent indoors with friends, or alone, were succulent every second. I could not be a more lucky human being.

IMG_5246.jpgSo much I don’t have, yet so much more that I do. Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day.

 

 

 

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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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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And the Sun Shines Again

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Raven on leash restriction for a few weeks after her annual New Year’s veterinary emergency, and happy Stellar bounding up the driveway on a rare sunny break between snowstorms.

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Most days looked like this when we all walked up the driveway, two dogs, two cats, and me.

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The garden in winter. Lots of shoveling.

It’s been a pretty good month, despite various personal, climatological, and political frustrations. Raven’s annual New Year’s veterinary emergency wasn’t too bad or too expensive, just ripped the annular ligament, separating her little toe on her front foot, and nothing to be done about it but time and rest. Lots of health challenges for me, but all turned out well, including my new bionic eyes, two cataract surgeries in the past three weeks. I can see the dirt and dust bunnies in the house so much better, and also the wrinkles on this almost-60 face. But also, read the computer and see the mountains without glasses. How white the snow is!

Things look brighter than ever this morning, and that’s partly due to the new eyes and partly because the sun is full on shining for the second day in a row. That’s only the fifth time so far this year we’ve had any sunshine, which poses challenges for anyone living off the grid on solar power. I was sick over my birthday and all my festivities got cancelled; but Dawn dropped off cake with candles and designer cupcakes along with a magnificent puzzle, Cynthia dropped off homemade ice-cream cake, and Kristian brought lunch and genuine pound cake. Deb had me up for dinner later that week and gave me Godiva truffles, and Suzi left bacon and sausage gift-wrapped in my freezer. So it was a great birthday after all.

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My own private birthday party.

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Van Gogh’s flower trio on loan from Karen, to make my enforced quarantine bearable.

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While friends across the country marched in cities large and small, I provided pussyhats to some of the women from our valley who went to Denver. This photo from my goddaughter Melody in DC.

Girlfriends wore the pussyhats I knitted to the Women’s March in Denver, and the spectacular turnout in support of “women’s rights are human rights” in large and small cities across the globe kept tears of joy and hope streaming for two full days. Last night I used some of the Christmas money Uncle Charles sent to order a new Liberty puzzle, On the Ngare Ndare River, one I’ve been unable to get out of my head since last puzzle season. Then I got reacquainted with my literary crush of last January, David Foster Wallace, reading a gift from John, the philosophical treatise All Things Shining, which devotes Chapter Two to discussion of Wallace’s genius.

I’ve taken in small bites reports of the disaster in DC that is our new president, presciently predicted twenty years ago in Wallace’s masterpiece Infinite Jest. But the fear, anger, and helplessness swirling through me and many who love this planet and revere all life on it took root in my subconscious. I’m told it’s tedious to tell people your dreams, so I’ve served last night’s up another place. When I awoke this morning to the warm bodies of dogs, and the black cat nuzzling my armpit, it took awhile to get enough air, but each gulp was a little epiphany.

This is real. This bed, this house, this glass of water; these animals, those mountains out the window, this breathing feeling body, this breath. And this breath. These neighbors, this snow-covered yard, this wonderful life. Despite the nightmare, and because of it, I climbed out of bed this morning with more energy and joy than I have had in a long time.

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Stellar is nine years old today. My new eyes allow me to see the white hairs showing up in the fur around his big brown eyes. He is such a remarkable animal; each year that he lives is a tremendous gift. Nine is getting up there for such a big dog, well over half his life expectancy. We haven’t gotten out much this month, with all the snow, the cold (minus five yesterday morning, but also the head cold I had for two weeks), the eye surgeries. I promised him a big walk today, so after coffee (mine) and breakfast (theirs) I strapped on snowshoes and took the dogs on a long ramble to the canyon.

Cottontail and jackrabbit tracks criss-crossed elk and deer prints through the sagebrush. The red fox left a tell-tale trail across the snow. Juniper limbs bent to the ground under heavy snow. The dogs bounded and punched through while I crunched along the top of the crust. At the canyon a redtail hawk soared from the top of a piñon snag. A few songbirds called through the crisp air. When I reached the bench I sat in splendid silence for a long while, feet resting in the built-in footstool of upright snowshoes.

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A brilliant day full of gratitude and hope for all the gifts of this year so far.

Il pleure dans mon coeur

Red rock cliffs along the Colorado River from our campsite.

Red rock cliffs along the Colorado River from our campsite.

This weekend I camped with a couple of friends, three dogs, and a cat. In some alternate universe it might have been ordinary. Deb and I set off on a long and rich two day adventure three hours away, with my two dogs and diabetic cat and her little dog in the Mothership. We took the turnoff for Cisco, a ghost town in far eastern Utah where river runners take out from Westwater Canyon, the first whitewater stretch on the Colorado River in Utah.

We drove down my favorite highway in the country, Utah 128 along the Colorado River, red rocks, peach rocks, desert varnish, glowing in the rich afternoon light below gathering storm clouds. The muddy river flowed beside us as we drove, and collared lizards basked on boulders beside screaming orange globemallow and yellow prince’s plume, their turquoise scales gleaming in the desert sun.

We met and set up camp with another friend who chanced to be there too, on her way for a rendezvous with her oldest dearest friends. We laughed and talked and caught up, drank wine, laughed some more. Our first morning I drove ahead to secure a campsite in town, and they decided to hike Fisher Towers, a stunning landmark across the road from where we spent the night at Hittle Bottom, a BLM campground on the river.

Fisher Towers from our campsite.

Fisher Towers from our campsite.

Several worries had nagged at me. The few days before I set off on any trip unsettle me. I get keyed up. The diabetic cat, the little dog, would that work out in the same small van? The temperature, the weather, would they cooperate with our plan? Would some random tragedy (and here I thought of several specific potential disasters that could) unravel our vacation? No nameless faceless fears for me, mine are all too graphic. Though some underlying anxiety pervades me these days, and I wonder, is it actually increasing or is it simply that my awareness of it grows? Who knows, but I have my suspicions.

And so I found myself driving alone down Utah 128; the red rocks, the river, the winding road itself never fail to soothe me. If it weren’t so bloody hot in summer I would live here. I hummed along the river’s edge through redrock canyons, desert varnish streaking cliffs with iron and manganese oxide, clouds building into tiny thunderstorms on far horizons, walking rains stalking cliffs and canyons, shifting light casting shadows in layers, highlighting first one stunning rock formation then another, quenching rains drenching, cleansing my worries away.

By the time I reached Moab and cellphone reception resumed, I found no loathsome emergency messages, I found the perfect campsite (given the parameters of a commercial RV park), I could breathe. I exhaled, I breathed in, exhaled again. It always takes me a day or two of camping to relax (to let go of the quotidian stressors of my complicated life, to accept the uncertainties of the unpredictable world at large, to forget my seemingly endless responsibilities of managing a household, a livelihood, securing a future) to settle into the immediate impermanence that is the adventure of a road trip.

RV parks are dicey at best when what you prefer is wilderness, solitude, above all space. Or maybe above all shade. I saw one with lots of trees and turned in. The cashier was friendly, spending time with each patron, smiling talking laughing, a beautiful girl of twenty or so and so full of light. I happily waited my turn as she helped Gerhard from Germany check in before me. She said she loved my hat, I said I stole it from a friend, we laughed. She sent me to the perfect spot, large enough for our van and two tents, plenty of shade.

Set up our second night in an RV park north of Moab, with plenty of shade...

Set up our second night in an RV park north of Moab, with plenty of shade…

...and just enough space. We made sure potential campers could see all three dogs, and this is surely one reason we had vacant sites around us.

…and just enough space. We made sure potential campers could see all three dogs, and this is surely one reason we had vacant sites around us.

The Mothership parked with awning extended, the friends arrived and pitched their tents. We ended up with two free spots before us and one behind, lots of space under the circumstances, and a view of the cliffs north of Moab, two shade trees, a fire circle, a picnic table. A fuse was blown in the camper. A minor wrench, I maintained my equilibrium. I walked back to the office for pliers, woefully absent from my toolbox.

Young Katie was walking towards me, clearly shaken. “Are you OK?” I asked. She looked at me, speechless, broken. “What’s the matter?” I reached for her. “I just learned,” she said, “that one of my older brothers hung himself.”

Well. What do you say? What do you do? I held her, she wept, she laid her head against my shoulder. She just found out, a sudden unexpected random life-changing tragedy had befallen her family. None of them will ever be the same. I gave her what comfort I could. She found me some pliers. Once my friend Tom said, “All you can do is practice compassion in the moment, wherever you are, whoever you’re with.”

I felt so keenly for her. How could she know how completely her life had changed? I hope I helped her in that moment. Back at the campsite I told my friends the story. Something dreadful had indeed happened, just not to me and mine. The girls and dogs were safe and well, the cat was fine. I pulled the fuse and found it fried.

In town we found a replacement, and then we drove up into Arches for the afternoon. Two of us had been there before and love it, for one of us it was a complete unknown. I couldn’t shake my sense of Katie’s loss and grief. She had been just minutes before a carefree girl happily doing her job on a beautiful day, and now her life was changed irrevocably. “I didn’t even know there was anything wrong,” she said, wiping her tears. So often we never do.

I have a real issue with suicide. On the one hand, I get it, on the other I can find no excuse. I gave her something to do, finding the pliers, and that maybe helped to ground her. She was self-contained and stoic, and returned to work in the office. Touched by her grief, not my own, I struggled to come back to our day.

As I drove, I had to breathe in that young woman’s suffering and breathe it out, let it go. I had done what I could for her. She needed to get home, be with friends and family. I breathed it in and breathed it out as we drove through the park. My friends’ enthusiasm for the scenery, the drive, the good time we were sharing, and the timeless spectacular landscape all drew me slowly back into our moment, so different now from hers.

Driving through Arches National Park.

Driving through Arches National Park.

Walking rains and shifting shadows added drama to the desert landscape, with the snowcapped LaSal mountains in the distance.

Walking rains and shifting shadows added drama to the desert landscape, with the snowcapped LaSal mountains in the distance.

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That night at the picnic table our talk turned to some of the sadder stories in our own lives, suicides of friends and family, abusers we had known and loved and left. We all turned in early to our respective beds, to read and ponder. In the morning overcast and rainy, we drank coffee around the small table in the Mothership, three dogs curled around us and the cat below the bed. Our friend, now dearer, went on her way, and Deb and I packed up the Mothership and came home. It was another good day. Il pleure dans mon coeur, Comme il pleut sur la ville. I know of no one who doesn’t suffer. Sharing our sorrows we sow the seeds of love.

Three tired dogs curled up on the Mothership bed in the rain.

Three tired dogs curled up on the Mothership bed in the rain.