Tag Archive | dogs

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.

Best Dog on the Planet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stellar calmly regards the world through The Mothership window.

Stellar calmly regards the world through The Mothership window.

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

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

Stellar leaping over gated pipe while I irrigate the field.

Stellar leaping over gated pipe while I irrigate the field.

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

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

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

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

 

THE FLEETING WONDROUS LIFE OF STELLAR THE STAR DOG SO FAR

AN INCOMPLETE PICTOGRAPHY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pond was a surprising new experience.

The pond was a surprising new experience.

The canyon a trifle perplexing at first.

The canyon a trifle perplexing at first.

But he learned something new every day.

He learned something new every day.

His big sister taught him how to dig.

His big sister taught him how to dig.

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

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

He grew almost as big as his sister...

Stellar grew almost as big as his sister…

...and then he grew bigger.

…and then he grew bigger.

He mastered the canyon.

He mastered the canyon…

...and the art of being a houseguest.

…and the art of being a polite houseguest.

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

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

He learned to fly.

He learned to fly.

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

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

...or their species.

…or their species.

He grew into a very handsome dog...

He grew into a very handsome dog…

...who keeps an eye on everything.

…who keeps an eye on everything.

He can make himself very small...

He can make himself very small…

...or he can be very tall.

…or he can be very tall.

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

He’s happy when he’s awake…

...and when he's sleeping.

…and when he’s sleeping.

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

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

The past six years with Stellar? Priceless.

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

May we celebrate at least as many more together.

May we celebrate at least as many more together.

 

Warmer Days

Suddenly this week the pond has thawed, revealing goldfish still thriving underneath. Amy the Fish still lives! She and her three surviving cohorts are at least four, maybe five years old, and have filled the pond with their progeny.

Suddenly this week the pond has thawed, revealing goldfish still thriving underneath. Amy the Fish still lives! She and her three surviving cohorts are at least four, maybe five years old, and have filled the pond with their progeny.

A few rays of sunlight through the darkling clouds, a wedge of blue sky behind wispies. We’ve all been grateful for the precipitation that’s come this winter, both here and in the high country. It bodes well for our next growing season. But I think I speak for everyone when I say Welcome! to the first glimpse of our mother star in what seems like at least a month.

Elk browse the junipers and winterfat right outside the yard fence.

Elk browse the junipers and winterfat right outside the yard fence.

Ice Canyon freezes and melts with this oddly fluctuating winter.

Ice Canyon freezes and melts with this oddly fluctuating winter.

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Today I walked all the way to the canyon by myself, with the dogs of course,  and with ski poles, for the first time in two weeks. Yesterday I walked there with a friend, and the day before took the dogs halfway. At the beginning of the week I tried, and could only make it a few steps past the gate, but I let the dogs run loose in the woods for awhile because they desperately needed the exercise.

My next try, on Friday, I walked through slush to the first chair, the dogs so good they wouldn’t go farther without me. To get them more exercise I continued a few steps on, but still they stuck with me better than average. A few steps more, I rounded the first corner downhill and found the kindness and compassion banner, strips of cotton, ribbon and paint made by a friend long ago, that had hung at the house for fifteen years until it was faded, bedraggled; I finally hung it in a tree in the woods last year. Whether nibbled by elk or shredded by weather it now lay in tatters on the ground, just the top few inches still intact. I brought it home and lay it in the compost bin, ashes to ashes.

The next day, when my friend showed up to walk, she brought a rainbow streamer, an accidental replacement, which we hung on the same twig where the banner gave up the ghost. It’s the little things that make my day.

The next day, when my friend showed up to walk, she brought a rainbow streamer, an accidental replacement, which we hung on the same twig where the banner gave up the ghost. It’s the little things that make my day.

Two weeks ago I woke up dizzy. After several dark days where I could barely open my eyes or leave the bed, I saw a few doctors, took a few supplements, and it began to improve incrementally after a week. Apparently it’s a virus that comes around every few years, and several others in the community are suffering with it as well. If you’re ever inclined to hurl a curse at someone, wishing them dizzy would be a wicked one.

Friday night, two other friends generously hosted a Love-In for Valentine’s Day, which went over well with a bunch of us both with and without sweethearts. It was a great equalizer and the party was full of love, warm red decor, and delicious food. Old friends were reunited, new friends were made. One couple even brought flowers for our hair. A day that began in dark separation concluded in bright togetherness.

So many of them do.

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Gordon grazes at the hors d'oeuvres table.

Gordon grazes at the hors d’oeuvres table.

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