Tag Archive | dogs

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.

 

Raven Review

Even as a puppy Raven liked to lie on her back. She's in the top right corner of the litter.

Even as a puppy Raven liked to lie on her back. She’s in the top right corner of the litter.

I can’t help myself. After almost losing Raven on New Year’s Eve, I’ve pored over hundreds of images of her from the past eight and a half years, her life flashing before my eyes. It was hard but I’ve selected these few to share with you who cared during her ordeal. She is just a dog, I know that, but her little life is so entwined with mine. One day she will die, and I’ll be too heartbroken then to do this, so here is Raven’s life in review, thus far, An Incomplete Pictography.

Raven at a couple of weeks old.

Raven at a couple of weeks old.

This was the first photo I saw of Raven. Chris emailed me a shot of her holding each puppy so that I could choose which one I wanted. They were all cute; when I saw this one it was love at first sight. "THIS ONE!" I wrote back, "I WANT THIS ONE!" How could I have wanted any other?

This was the first photo I saw of Raven. Chris emailed me a shot of her holding each puppy so that I could choose which one I wanted. They were all cute; when I saw this one it was love at first sight. “THIS ONE!” I wrote back, “I WANT THIS ONE!” How could I have wanted any other?

Raven resting on the day she arrived at my house. Chris flew her across the country and I picked them up in Denver in mid-July, 2006. She was six weeks old.

Raven resting on the day she arrived at my house. Chris flew her across the country and I picked them up in Denver in mid-July, 2006. She was six weeks old.

Raven's first hike to the canyon, with Mocha and Mr. Brick.

Raven’s first hike to the canyon, with Mocha and Mr. Brick.

One night shortly after she arrived I suddenly couldn't find her. I panicked a little; she was so small! Found her shortly, asleep in the laundry basket.

One night shortly after she arrived I suddenly couldn’t find her. I panicked a little; she was so small! I looked everywhere, and finally found her in the laundry room, asleep in the laundry basket.

She loved to be near her grumpy uncle, who wouldn't give her the time of day for awhile.

She loved to be near her grumpy uncle, who wouldn’t give her the time of day for awhile.

Sitting pretty for cookies, with Mocha and Brick.

Sitting pretty for cookies, with Mocha and Brick.

Brick was skeptical of her when she first tried to get him to play with her.

Brick was skeptical of her when she first tried to get him to play with her.

But she persisted and won him over in the end.

But she persisted and won him over in the end.

Raven pensive.

Raven rarely pensive.

Baby's first bee sting.

Baby’s first bee sting.

Eventually the grumpy uncle would let her do whatever she wanted with him.

Eventually the grumpy uncle would let her do whatever she wanted with him.

Taking Mr. Brick for a walk.

Taking Mr. Brick for a walk.

Growing up.

Growing up.

Falling down.

Falling down, sound asleep.

Raven's first snow.

Raven’s first snow.

Raven and Rocky meet for the first time, at Rocky's first home. He was almost a year old, she was about three.

Raven and Rocky meet for the first time, at Rocky’s first home. He was almost a year old, she was about three.

Raven sharing the chair with Little Doctor Vincent.

Raven sharing the chair with Little Doctor Vincent.

Raven plays with her daddy, Sundog, while her mother Feather looks on. They are a close knit family even years after being separated by half a continent. She is always so excited when we visit them in Florida, or they come to see us here.

Raven plays with her daddy, Sundog, while her mother Feather looks on. They are a close knit family even years after being separated by half a continent. She is always so excited when we visit them in Florida, or they come to see us here. Sadly, Sundog met his demise last year after living a life of legend.

Raven meets her baby brother Stellar at Dog World in Florida, and immediately begins to lick him all over.

Raven meets her baby brother Stellar at Dog World in Florida, and immediately begins to lick him all over.

At home in Colorado, she teaches him all he needs to know, from finding antlers to digging holes.

At home in Colorado, she teaches him all he needs to know, from finding antlers to digging holes.

Even when he outweighs her by thirty percent she continues to groom him like he's her baby, always thoroughly licking his ears.

Even when he outweighs her by thirty percent she continues to groom him like he’s her baby, always thoroughly licking his ears.

Rope tug.

Rope tug.

Stick tug.

Stick tug.

A meditative moment.

A meditative moment.

At the rim.

At the rim. Is she not ridiculously adorable?

Romping in the snow.

Romping in the snow.

Après Bone Burying.

Après Bone Burying.

Little Miss Chiff. Mischief.

You can trust me. Really.

Deep in the Big Snow a few years ago.

Deep in the Big Snow a few years ago.

A week before the Thistle Episode, still and always on her back.

A week before the Thistle Episode, still and always on her back.

Three weeks after her extraordinary surgery, she is perfectly fine in her own mind; though in an apparently unrelated incident, two days after she got her stitches out, she started pissing blood. It lasted all evening, one red pee after another. I rushed her back to Doc, who suggested after analyzing the urine that she must have suffered some trauma to her bladder. “You’re more worried about this than I am,” he said, and sent us home with some Vitamin K and a request for another urine sample this week. By bedtime that night the urgency had tapered off, and by morning there was only a faint pink tinge. A few hours later she was perfectly okay. It’s a long, unlikely story, but I think he was right.

We continue to take three walks a day, the silver lining in the Thistle Episode. First thing in the morning and just before sunset we go up the driveway; she is still on-leash for these and probably always will be, because she will chase the deer. In between, we walk to the canyon rim. The past two days she’s been off-leash for these walks but it makes me nervous. She seems to think the sole purpose of our going for a walk is so that she can find forbidden things to put in her mouth; nose to the ground she searches out deer poop, old bones, anything rank. So far I’ve been able to keep her close enough to keep shit out of her mouth, but not sure how long that good behavior will last. I’ve ordered a soft nylon muzzle to try out, so I can let her run free without the worry of what she’ll eat next. Not sure if either of us will be able to tolerate that. But right now the thought of her running off and chowing down on an old deer skull or femur bone is just too much for me. I’m sure I’ll eventually relax about it.

Another silver lining is that I’ve added some elements to the dietary regimen of both dogs, after consulting with the holistic vet an hour away. Both doctors concurred that she probably wasn’t drinking enough water in general, and that likely contributed to her intestinal impaction. So now I add a full cup of water to their food twice a day, and additionally once a day I add a little flavoring to an extra sixteen ounces of water to be sure they’re drinking enough; a little chicken stock, or tuna water, or half teaspoon of cat food, and they lap it right up. I’m also adding a couple of tablespoons of canned pumpkin to their breakfast to give them more fiber, and they get a midnight snack just before bed, a handful of little biscuits or a quarter cup of food. I had noticed they were both making mouth noises early in the morning, licking licking, as if they had a bit of reflux. Dr. Betty suggested the bedtime snack would keep their stomachs busy overnight, and sure enough there’s no more morning mouth noises or tummy rumblings; they sleep soundly til it’s time to get up. And so do I!

The Road to Recovery

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Hurtin’ Puppy on a morning walk. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has inquired about Raven’s situation in the past couple of days. She’s eating, drinking, and peeing, her attitude is practically back to normal, and she’s still in a lot of pain. This morning she returned to the vet for a successful enema followed by a laxative. He said, “I’m not surprised. I know there are more seeds in there. I couldn’t cut her intestine every few inches. I got what I could, and the rest is moving through.”

He likened it to when the irrigation water is turned on in the spring. All the debris that’s accumulated in the ditches gets washed down til it forms an obstruction. “In the ditch you can just go scoop it out. Then more comes down and you scoop it out again. With intestines, well…” He smiles and shrugs, “You can’t do that.”

All other signs being good, he sent her home with the prescription to take her for a fifteen minute walk every hour for the rest of the afternoon. We’ve done two, one up the driveway and one through the woods. Stellar is delighted with all this going out, and runs loose happily exploring. He is the one dog I’ve ever had that I know I can call off the deer. This morning we flushed half a dozen from the woods along the driveway and he just stood and watched them bounce across the drive and over the fence. Raven, feeling better, would have been after them. As it was she watched with interest, another good sign.

Walking through the woods in almost a foot of snow was more exhausting for me than I thought it would be. I started out on the cross-country trail, and one boot or another kept slipping off the side of the ski tracks. Not to mention wrecking the track. So we struck off into the trees, aiming for more shallow snow, but still I wish I’d had on snowshoes. The next walk, in about half an hour, I’ll try with skis on, and see how we both do; if she doesn’t tangle with the skis and I don’t tangle with the leash I’ll call it good. Stellar, I know, will be thrilled.

 

That she had no fever this morning, and is engaged and responsive to everything, pleased Doc. “It’s going well,” he reassured me as we left. “We’re on the road.”

 

Raven and Thistle

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In recent weeks, Raven has brought home a couple of decaying deer skulls and a nice big antler. I let them chew on antlers for a little while before I confiscate them, I think it’s good for their teeth and their jaw muscles. Chewing on elk legs and antlers saved the life of the old Knobby-headed dog years ago, when he was suffering from a weird disease that left his jaw muscles so slack he couldn’t close his mouth. Dr. Susan gave him some prednisone or something that gave him a little strength, and all those elk legs that someone had dumped at the fence line gave him incentive to try harder, and build up more. He lasted another eight years, even surviving three episodes of gastric torsion.

Which may be what has little Raven in surgery this morning, though I think it’s more likely that she has a piece of skull or antler lodged in her small intestine. Poor girl was up every half hour all night, trudging out into eight inches of snow in minus one degree, and trembling most of the time she was inside, stretched against my legs. I knew something was very wrong, but I hoped it would pass. Something similar happened last week but only lasted about three hours, and she was fine the next day. When morning rolled around I called Doc, who said bring her in right away.

The drive was beautiful, once I got the car up the driveway. Hoarfrost covered every twig and bud on all the deciduous trees, the shrubs, the willows along fences. A dark fog blanket lay flat over the river, with Grand Mesa sparkling beyond. I took the back road to avoid the fog, and it was surprisingly clear of ice and snow once I dropped down from town a hundred feet or so. If I hadn’t been on an ambulance run I would have taken a lot of pictures, with that early morning light catching every facet of the ice crystals coating the vegetation and floating through the air, mountains all around frosted with sugar.

Raven sat patiently in the seat beside me, calm but clearly uncomfortable. Doc gave her a sedative and let me wait with her til it took effect, then let me come back, don an apron, and sit with her while he x-rayed her gut. She had a large fecal mass deep in her small intestine, up against her spine, blocked by something he could not discern. Maybe a twist, he said, he had one in just yesterday. Maybe something else. Any minute now I can call and find out.

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I have had a pathological fear of leaving a pet at the vet for as long as I can remember. Even for getting “tutored,” much less for an emergency. Driving home this morning after tucking her into a cage, I could really feel it, and its origin. When I was nine, my mom and I took my very first cat to the vet, and she never came home. Or she came home dead the next morning, and my dad had already nailed her into a nice pine box with her favorite blanket by the time I woke up, after praying myself to sleep. I have long known that this was my first falling out with God, but only this morning recognized it as the source of that phobia. Which you would think I’d have figured out sooner. I’m grateful that in recent years I’ve learned how to manage the panic, and this morning was able to stay calm, come home, shovel snow, stack wood, all without obsessing over her imminent death. Though of course it occurred to me frequently throughout the morning, I didn’t make myself sick with worry.

I knew she was in the best hands, and whatever the obstruction she had brought it on herself doing something she loved, she had had a great life, and I had spent the whole of last night patiently loving her through her distress. If it was her time there was no help for it.

But it wasn’t her time! They called at the asterisks. She can come home at four o’clock.

“Do you have a bird feeder?” asked Christy.

“Uh-oh,” I said. “Yes.” She’s been grazing under both bird feeders for years. Sometimes I find a poop that is practically pure thistle seed, but it’s never stopped her before.

“She was packed full of that black thistle seed, just solid. About a foot long.”

“What’s the prognosis now?”

“She can come home and eat and drink and be a normal dog. You’ll need to clean up under that feeder, and she can’t go outside unsupervised for awhile.”

I teared up. “Thank God.”

And I did. As I do every day for my two beautiful, happy, healthy dogs.

Raven will be exactly eight-and-a-half in two days. This morning, across the continent, her brother got in a fight with their younger half-brother and both those boys are full of holes. But still alive. Such short, intense lives our beloved dogs lead, with danger at every turn, predictable or unforeseen.

Raven flew across the country to come to me when she was six weeks old. Her birth mama, not Feather but Feather’s girl Chris, brought her in a soft carrying case under the seat. She was the cutest thing I had ever seen, a little speckled ball of wiggles. Driving over the mountains from the airport with Chris and Raven, we stopped in Idaho Springs for a late breakfast at a restaurant called Jiggy’s. I don’t know who Jiggy is or was, probably an old gold miner. When we got back in the van after eating, I gathered her wiggly self up and said “There’s my little Jiggy!” And so her respectable full (and secret) name of Ravenfeather Sundogdottir became Jiggy Raven, just like that.

The first time we took her on a walk, the big catahoulas, Mr. Brick and Mocha, ran off out the gate into the woods and Chris and I walked across the clearing behind them. Raven sat at the gate and watched us until we stopped and turned back toward her.

“Come on, Jiggy, come!” I called, and she jiggled her roly-poly body along the path through shrubs of winterfat and rabbitbrush to join us. She is of a mischievous nature like her father Sundog was, and was forever finding trouble even at that tender age. The first time I had occasion to scold her, a week or two into our relationship, she rolled over onto her back and wiggled. She’d been sleeping on her back since the first day, and she was so cute, so cute… well, so cute that forever afterward that coping strategy worked supremely well for her. Whenever she got in trouble she rolled over, I bent over and rubbed her tummy and laughed, and that was the end of it.

Jiggy Raven has led a full and happy life, with the exception of getting spayed. I let her go through one heat so her hormones could help her mature, and I wish I’d let her go through two. But she was a real handful during the first one, even climbing the six-foot pen fence to run loose a few times. She may have wanted puppies but I didn’t. So I had her spayed, at the same vet where she waits for me now, and she has been terrified every time she’s had to go back there for the past seven years. She was deeply traumatized by getting spayed. Not many dogs are noticeably the worse for the procedure, but she was.

She became instantly snappish and spooky, glaring at me when I’d bend to pet her. And that precious tummy that had been my favorite place to give her lovies was off-limits for over a year. I simply couldn’t touch her there without her jumping out of her skin and smashing her head into my face. Once she adjusted a little better to her new way of being, I slowly desensitized her, and eventually was able to rub her tummy again.

Sunbathing last summer.

Sunbathing last summer.

Après ski two days ago.

Après ski two days ago.

I realized pretty quickly after the spay job that the only thing Raven wanted in the whole world was a puppy of her own. I can’t say how I knew that, but I did, with searing clarity. And so, fortunately, about six months later a baby brother was born in Florida, and shortly after that we were on our way south and east to meet him. Having Stellar to lick and play with and tend to gradually restored her sweet nature. She became a devoted mother to him the moment she met him. He was two weeks old.

Raven and Stellar on her first day as his surrogate mother.

Raven and Stellar on her first day as his surrogate mother.

She watched and sniffed him through the fence. Their mother Feather finally invited her into the puppy pen when he was five weeks old. Raven was still pretty bouncy, and pranced over to the chair where I held Stellar and Feather supervised. As Raven approached Stellar with her nose aquiver, Feather suddenly snapped her head and shut her mouth over Raven’s mouth. Gently, with the single intent of setting the limit on how Raven was to be with Stellar. Raven understood. She sniffed him, touched him lightly with her nose, licked him tentatively. Feather lay back down. From that moment, Raven was the other mother to the two giant pups in that litter, following them around, licking them clean, lying down and letting them climb and chew all over her. Feather had a babysitter, and could finally take a nap alone after five weeks of incessant mothering.

***

Remembering how spooky and traumatized she was after getting spayed, I can only extrapolate how terrible she feels after this major abdominal surgery. She lies trembling on the opened-out futon, quaking with pain. I’ve taken off her cone for awhile because I’m confident that as long as I am watching her, and she is in this much pain, she will not try to lick her wound. Every now and then she opens her eyes and looks at me; at first, from inside the cone, alert yet completely still. Now, from her trembling recumbency, even more aware. I think she understands that she’s been given a reprieve. At the very least she’s more comfortable. From lying as if dead, barely moving her breath so tight, she is now releasing into the safety of being home, warm, stretched out on a giant cushion, and in excruciating pain.

Here’s what they had to do: cut open her belly, that precious tummy already once sundered; get through to her small intestine (I imagine this included temporarily removing most of her organs); lift out the swollen tube and find the downstream end of the enormous long blockage; slice it lengthwise for a few inches; and massage the tube of saturated, solid thistle seed down and out through the slice, rinsing and making sure not a single seed escaped into her abdomen. Then of course stitching it all up inside and out.

“It took quite awhile,” said Christy, “to work out all that thistle seed.”

They speak matter-of-factly. They see things all the time that would rotate my mind.

“Another six to twelve hours, said Doc, “and there wouldn’t have been a dog to worry about. I’d have gone in and that would have been that.”

It’s touch and go for the next 72 hours. If her intestine is going to die and leak, or swell and burst, that’s when it will happen; more specifically in the 48-72 hour window. If she vomits, if she won’t eat or drink, won’t move, or won’t pee and poo, it’s an urgent return to the office for even more drastic surgery: removing a section of intestine, installing a drain, and probably days or weeks of hospital stay.

“A lot of it’s attitude,” said Doc. “If she weren’t alert and looking around, she wouldn’t be going home now. If she develops a high fever, if she won’t get up and move, she needs to come back right away.”

She’s a tough little dog from a tough line. I think she’ll be fine. I think they don’t give her a pain pill because the pain will keep her still. I’m giving her a Rescue Remedy/Arnica blend of drops every hour or two til bedtime, and will continue for a few days, gradually increasing the interval between doses. Just feeling her trembling instinctively makes me want to somehow ease her pain, though I know that letting her quiver and sleep it off is the best thing. I grossly underrated the severity of her condition earlier today, before seeing her and hearing the details of the surgery, the gravity of remaining risks.

As we lay our heads down on this last night of the old year, I double my thanks for all that it gave us, and pray for a healthier year ahead. My foremost resolution is to get rid of the thistle feeder. Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night._MG_0332

Last Day to Order Bee Calendars, among other things

Just a friendly reminder, if anyone wants bee calendars I’ll be placing the final order tomorrow night. Email subscribers have pointed out that there is no order form in the email version of the blog; to fill out the form you’ll need to click the link to go directly to dukkaqueen.com, and follow the post to the bottom of the page. I’ll get the final tally tomorrow night and your calendars will begin buzzing their ways to you!

Everlasting snapdragons kept budding and blooming through the first snow, the second snow... Finally, after some six degree nights, they have wilted.

Everlasting snapdragons kept budding and blooming through the first snow, the second snow… Finally, after some six degree nights, they have wilted.

Ice Canyon putting on ice. We've only had a couple of one-inch snows so far, but the snow has stayed on the ground with nights dipping into the teens and days barely up to freezing, for the most part. The roller coaster has slid to a stop, and now there's time to breathe into winter hibernation.

Ice Canyon putting on ice. We’ve only had a couple of one-inch snows so far, but the snow has stayed on the ground with nights dipping into the teens and days barely up to freezing, for the most part. The roller coaster has slid to a stop, and now there’s time to breathe into winter hibernation.

The dogs continue their vigilance on daily walks to the canyon, monitoring wildlife, scenting the bucks in rut, the lions laying low.

The dogs continue their vigilance on daily walks to the canyon, monitoring wildlife, scenting the bucks in rut, the lions laying low.

Just enough snow last week to build a Rocky-sized snowman. He had so much fun and was so proud when we finished!

Just enough snow last week to build a Rocky-sized snowman. He had so much fun and was so proud when we finished!

Cynthia's sensational sesame-semolina bread.

Cynthia’s sensational sesame-semolina bread.

Earlier this month, I had a few last yellow Brandywine tomatoes that Chris and Rosie had let me pick from their drooping vines. The plants were so thick with foliage that some of the fruits in the center of the cluster had survived a hard frost. All I wanted was one last tomato sandwich. I texted up the hill to see if Cynthia wanted to trade a couple of tomatoes for two slices of her delicious bread that we’d had at Halloween.

That bread was all gone, she said, but she was baking right then, and would bring me some shortly. Around two that afternoon she arrived with a precious bread round, warm and fragrant right from the oven, in a tin she was returning. I worked the rest of the afternoon, savoring the aroma, thinking from time to time about the delicious sandwich I’d have when I quit for the day. After four or five hours, I turned off the computer, and went into the kitchen to prepare my delectable repast. The last tomato sandwich of the season! I’d been salivating all afternoon.

I took the bread out of the tin and set it on the cutting board. Then decided I’d better go pee before getting the sandwich all ready to eat. So I did that, and washed my hands, and returned to the kitchen in about two minutes. The perfect loaf of bread was gone. Disappeared. Two minutes. Vanished. Not a crumb anywhere. I looked in the microwave, thinking well maybe I had stuck it in there automatically to keep the bad dog from snagging it. Alas! I had not. It was nowhere. And there was a skulking girl catahoula in the living room, and also a slightly anxious boy dog. GRRRR! I knew who had scarfed it down in one gulp. Just the one bad dog, Raven.

I tossed her out into the cold and made her stay there a full twenty minutes, while I railed and raged about my lost dinner. It surprised me how angry I got, and mostly at her. Though I knew deep down it was my fault for leaving the bread out. Usually I take precautions with food, conscientiously putting it in a box or in the microwave or out of reach on the windowsill. But the one time all year I drop my guard, and she steals the gift bread, made special for me, special for that last tomato sandwich… Such a blow! A real first-world problem, though. I could laugh at myself and at her after a short while. And when Cynthia heard of the mishap, (as in, got my text saying I am going to fucking kill Raven!), she offered immediately to bake me another. The next evening, all was well: fresh bread, last tomato, plenty of mayonnaise, and the forgiven dog on my lap afterwards. These little disappointments, tempered by the gifts and grace of good friends and the overriding sweetness of sneaky animals. Life is always in flux.

Bad Dog forgiven, sitting on my lap.

Bad Dog forgiven, sitting on my lap.

I have it on good authority that Jigsaw Puzzle Season officially started on Thanksgiving Day, but I got the jump on game season when I found this mystery card game while cleaning the mudroom.

I have it on good authority that Jigsaw Puzzle Season officially started on Thanksgiving Day, but I got the jump on game season when I found this mystery card game while cleaning the mudroom.

Speaking of flux, I found this card game out of the blue while rearranging some furniture, and that led to a whole ‘nother string of lessons about life, or maybe just a series of delightful reminders about how the rules are always changing, and the means, and the goals. I’ve felt especially up in the air these last few days as I await a doctor visit tomorrow morning. This past year has been fraught with several physical challenges, from a dislocated clavicle to plantar fasciitis, to the lingering effects of a dizzy virus. All these pale in comparison to the news that may come tomorrow. I try not to think about it; everything can change in an instant all the time, a lion attack in the woods, a rockfall on the highway, a maniac at the movies, stroke, aneurism, pneumonia; why worry about a biopsy before you get the result?

Maybe the only thing that will be different will be a new lease on life, and renewed commitment to be grateful every living moment of every day.