Chilly Dog

Mindy T. Dog is one of those long-haired dogs my grandma would describe as “messy.”  My grandma always had one — a cocker mix of some kind — whose fur was curly, fine and copious, matted easily and could actually be a danger to them. This spring Mindy has had mats everywhere.

dogs 1

Bear, my friend’s dog, Coda, and Mindy pre-clip, Dusty in the Background

Mindy T. Dog was clipped for the first time on Tuesday. The groomer — Muddy Paws Dog Grooming — is a country groomer with a pen of sheep in the back yard, a small stall for horses, a hutch for rabbits, her own 4-H kids and a sweet little shed fitted up to groom dogs. None of the fancy-schmancy urban dog grooming paraphernalia of the city. The shed is perfectly set up for the work she does. Four crates to hold the dogs who are waiting, a high table for the dogs who are being groomed,  and a big horse trough for a bath tub. Everything is shiny, comfortable and dog friendly. I was astonished when my Australian shepherd from the burbs of San Diego reacted strongly to the sounds of the sheep bleating outside.

“Mindy,” I said, “you have instinct!”

There were two lambs, one of which had been adopted by the groomer’s daughter because its mom rejected it. ❤

When I went back to get Mindy, the groomer and her daughter had fallen in love with her. “She helped us!” said the groomer.

“She has a magical quality,” I said. “Mindy makes people happy. I don’t know how.”

“She was so easy to work with!”

The freshly denuded Mindy beamed at me from a fluffy face. She’d had a good time.

“She liked our treats!” The groomer cooks dog cookies.

“Great,” I said, not revealing that there has yet to be a treat made Mindy did not like. I was sent home with two small sample bags for Dusty and Bear.

Unfortunately for Mindy T. Dog it was the coldest day we’ve had in weeks, and there she was, naked to the world. When I got home I called my neighbor who knits and crochets to see if she had knit or crocheted a dog sweater lately, but no luck. There’s a sweater on the way — a good thing as snow is predicted to blanket the ground Saturday and temps are supposed to drop to 19 degrees. Winter DOESN’T let go easily in the San Luis Valley.

Meanwhile, Mindy is now proudly wearing my Dead Kennedys T-shirt.

Mindy D

When Dogs Get Avid

Overall, my dogs are pretty calm. But they have their passions. Bear, as everyone knows, avidly loves snow. Mindy loves food. Dusty T. Dog loves me. Right now we’re visiting my friend in Colorado Springs who also has three dogs — two of them equal one Dusty. It seems like I brought up a herd of small horses to hang out with her dogs.  All six of them bark with passionate avidity at the mailman and the trash man and anyone who walks by with dogs.

Dog Avidness is pretty avid and can be scary. It can be accompanied with bared teeth and loud barks. Bear is currently perched on the highest spot in the living room watching for enemies outside.

All six of these guys are avid about rawhide chews, running out the dog-door at my friend’s house, and playing with each other.

Dusty’s Harmonious Memories

When I had a bunch of Siberian huskies they, naturally, loves to howl at the right times. They knew when those times were. A siren, coyotes in the distance, Eminem (yeah, truly), and once the Evil X. The thing is, they find a pitch and they all howl in harmony.

Lily and Cheyenne

Cheyenne T. Wolf (front) Lily T. Wolf (back)

Dusty T. Dog really wanted to be like his husky sisters/moms and from the time he was a puppy, he tried to howl with them. He did pretty good for a dog of undetermined parentage but certainly not husky.

Sometimes now I’ll play a video of huskies howling, or wolves, and sometimes I’ll just hit a howl pitch, and Dusty will tip back his head, make a “howl” mouth and do his best. We howl together for old times sake, saying “We remember you!” to our huskies in Husky Heaven.

This is Cheyenney T. Wolf’s favorite howl along song by Eminem.

River, Wind, Frogs and Birds

The first time I saw the Rio Grande I thought it was a road. I was staying in South Fork, a mountain town west of here, during the transition month between arriving in Colorado and finding a house to live in. I looked down from the field where I walked my dogs every day and saw an asphalt gray ribbon, as wide as a car lane, winding through the golf course below. I didn’t realize it wasn’t a road until 3 am one Sunday morning when Lily T. Wolf needed to go out. There were no trucks on the highway; the night was silent and I heard the river.

When daylight came we were, of course, out again and in the morning light the “road” was no longer gray but silvery blue. At that moment, it became my river.

This afternoon, Bear and I went out to the slough. The Rio Grande is now the highest I’ve seen it, and the channels that run through the slough are also deep and fast. Today all I heard on our walk was wind, the river, some frogs, red-wing blackbirds, and an annoyed goose. To me it’s really something to hike along a trail, listening to a river.


One of the channels in the slough

A Walk with Bear Alone

Most of the time I take Dusty and Bear on walks together, but once in a while I just take Bear. As Dusty is in his 11th year, there’s every chance that a time will come when it will be just Bear and me on the trails. I don’t want that to be strange for her, and, for a while, she was afraid to get into the car if Dusty weren’t there.

As someone once said, when you walk with people, the people are the focus of the journey. When you walk alone, nature is the companion. Walking with Bear has all the benefits of a solitary ramble, but I have a responsive and protective companion. Our walks are often leisurely and meandering. We stop to listen to and watch birds, hear the frogs in the vernal ponds, take in the changes in the landscape that is now very familiar to us.

Bear loves these walks. Her “livestock guardian dog” mentality clicks into full alert status, and she stays very close to me instead of going to the end of her leash to explore. Because she’s mellow and doesn’t bark, I’m more relaxed knowing that if we meet another dog or people, there won’t be the bone-chilling Doberman Dusty bark (of friendship, but still…)

We just came back from just this kind of walk. We saw robins and bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, Canadian geese and an egret. The shadowless white sky of high clouds shone soft light on the slowly greening Chamisa. My hikes in California taught me how to look at an “ordinary” place and I’ve come to like them best. My big white dog and I strolled along the path, feeling the wind, happy to be out there beside the river and between the ranges of snowy mountains.

There’s a stone monument/picnic area where we stop at the end of a walk. There I pet my dogs and enjoy the moment. I sat down on “our” stone bench, and Bear and I watched a robin hunt. A pair of blue birds joined her hopping on the ground.

A young man who had been fishing in the slough came toward us and Bear became alert. “I have a ridiculously friendly dog here,” I said.

“That’s good,” said the man, walking so he avoided Bear.

“What do you catch in there?” I asked.

“I was hoping to catch some browns and rainbows, but the river is too low. It’s higher in Del Norte.”

“I think they’re irrigating,” I said, “Last week the river was four times that high at least. Well, good luck somewhere else, man,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said and headed toward his truck.

Now as you read those words, you cannot hear him, but to me his voice was music. There is a Spanish accent in northern New Mexico and in this valley that stirs home-strings in my heart. He spoke in that tone, with that inflection.

“Bear, you want to go home?” I asked the big dog who straddled my knee, her version of sitting on my lap. She didn’t seem to care much. I guess she was fine just like that.

Don’t Mess With the First 30 Minutes…

Each morning Dusty T. Dog and I join in a silent chorus of, “There’s nothing quite as lovely as coffee in the morning.” Once he, Mindy and Bear have been outside, have breakfasted, my breakfast (a smoothie) is made and the coffee is done, we sit down, check email (nothing), check Facebook (nothing), open the prompt, and I (probably) write my post, while he waits for me to finish my coffee. Dusty loves the last bit in the bottom of my cup. I use cream in my coffee. Who wouldn’t like it?

Meanwhile, Bear demonstrates (passionately) her understanding of the rewards that come with the command “Down!” so that she can have (another) little rawhide chew. I no longer even say, “Down!” She’s also learning to talk which is making me think there was a husky in the woodpile after all. Mindy finishes her chew and wants to go to the front yard to greet the neighbors on their morning constitutionals.

This is our ritual and we cling to it tenaciously wherever we go. After our coffee and rawhide we’re up for almost anything.

Dusty’s Territorial Pissings

I have my territory. I make sure every morning that its boundary is reinforced by my Magical Territory Defining Urine. Especially the fence because Joan, the cattle-dog, lives on the other side of the fence and if I don’t let her know every morning and several times afterwards until night, she might penetrate the territorial boundary and all order in the universe would be upended.

Then there are other territories and I share them with many other canines with their humans and creatures such as Pungent, Solitary Red Brother with a Sense of Humor (fox), Goofball Howling Pack Brother (coyote), Wandering Large Animal with a Family (elk), Graceful Furtive Leaping Creature With Yummy Poop (deer) and Large Scary Predatory Mammals (cougar and bear) as well as some other creatures such as Masked Short Rolling Catlike Thing (raccoon) whose scent I find near our territory, too.

My favorite of these is the Land of the Eastern Smells by the River. When we arrive at the Land of the Eastern Smells by the River, I leave my messages using Magical Territory Defining Urine several times at the beginning. Then, once my presence has been made known, I am free to explore, leaving Magical Territory Defining Urine only where necessary, for example, were another canine has left an unfamiliar scent. Possibly that canine is hostile and I need to let it know that this is a shared territory.

Once I met two of the canines who sometimes visit the Land of the Eastern Smells by the River. They were familiar to me from their scent, but their human was afraid I would hurt them because they were smaller. It’s very difficult for a canine to express himself fully to a human through scent, but if I could, that human would have known I knew his canines by their scent ,and I was happy to meet them.

There are many amazing scents at the Land of the Eastern Smells by the River, so I like going there very much. Here is one of the things I smelled and showed my human:


My other territory is the Land of the Northern Scents by the Burned Farmhouse, but we only go there once in a while because there are often humans with big metal sticks walking around. My human usually doesn’t go there unless there is Bear’s Magic White Ice covering the ground..

We canines have many kinds of territory, but the most important territory is that we share with our humans. Our territory, which I share with Bear and Mindy, houses my human whom I love more than anything in the world. This is our Sacred Territory and unless our human says it’s all right, no one can come here.


It’s getting to be that time of year and I have to think about rattlesnakes and thinking about them means watching for them. I’ve seen hundreds of them on trails I’ve hiked in California, but I never learned to like them.

Reading trail guides that say, “We live here too!” showing a picture of a rattlesnake, my heart strings are not pulled by that cry for tolerance. I don’t believe in killing them. I understand the good they do, but as I’ve lost three dogs to rattlesnake bites I’m pretty sure snakes do not share my point of view.

After I lost Ariel to snakebite (In my YARD) I signed up Jasmine and Lily for Rattlesnake Avoidance Classes. That worked great. When we went back the next year for a refresher, Jasmine remembered it so well that when she heard a snake, she ran to a red pickup truck and tried to jump up in the back. I no longer had a red pickup truck and that one belonged to someone else. I caught her and put her in my car.

Neither Dusty nor Bear has had this training and I would like them to have it. It doesn’t only potentially save a dog, it teaches them how to alert their person.

Meanwhile, I’m teaching Bear to keep her head up and to stay near me on a trail. I believe she’s smart enough to learn the difference between summer and winter trails. Dusty already gets it.

And maybe this is not a Colorado problem, but if I were a snake I would definitely live in all the places I’ve hiked or walked so far except the road to the high school.

Here’s a story of some of my happier snake encounters…

Morning Instinct

This morning — because I didn’t want to wake up when the dogs did — Bear instinctively destroyed a former bathroom rug that had been doing late-life duty as a mud collector.

“Instinct tells me that if I finally shred this, she will get up and feed us.” That had to have been the message she was getting from her canine language center, “Tear up rug = Let me out. I have to pee.”

“I don’t see the logic,” Dusty must have answered (telepathically). “She can’t even see you and how is tearing up a rug going to open the back door?”

“Whatever, Bear. She’ll get up. She always does. I’ll just do a body slam against her bedroom door to be sure,” said Mindy, less telepathically.

“Maybe we could wrestle. If that doesn’t work, I’ll get my squeaky ball,” Bear threw herself down on the floor.

Meanwhile, I was dreaming that I was on an amazing long hike along the eastern side of a volcanic cone that looked like Mt. Shasta. The dogs were with me, but after the long — I mean 100 miles or so — trek, and I was home again, only Mindy had returned with me. So there I was in my dream, completing some kind of art project and once in a while yelling out the window, “Dusty! Bear!

When Dusty appeared, he acted like he’d done something wrong. In my dream I said, not telepathically, “You’re a good boy, Dusty. I missed you! Where’s Bear?”

Some woman — no one I know — was trying to get me to go for lunch but I said, “I dunno. If Dusty is here, Bear can’t be far behind.” But I wasn’t sure of that.

Out in the real world (the living room) Mindy rearranged herself forcefully against my door; Bear woofed instinctively at the prey (the rug) she had reduced to maroon filaments attached to bits of rubber; Dusty waited faithfully knowing that soon I would get up, I would let them out, I would make my coffee, I would feed them breakfast.

Ode to Changing Seasons

Poets loves nature, not always REAL nature, but the idealized, “spiritual” human projection of nature. That’s OK, but I was thinking what it would be like to write a romantic nature poem about the OTHER side, not the dark side, but the unpoetic side (the dark side being, often, excessively poetic). So here’s an impromptu poem to the rhythm of the seasons.

February Melt

My fingers are cracked from cold mountain air
There’s mud on my boots and splits in my hair
The dogs try to dig in the still frozen ground
They don’t get far, those miserable hounds.

The dry leaves of fall protect tender shoots
The truly brave plants, their undaunted roots (<== sorry about the personification)
I forgot what I planted that windy fall day
I hope they come up, that’s all I can say.

The dog poop of winter litters the trail
I dodge it adeptly, I hope without fail.
My big white dog rolls in small patches of snow
Each day it melts more, we both watch it go.

This is not to say that winter is done,
That won’t occur till the last frost has gone.
At this altitude, summer comes late,
And as I like winter, I’m willing to wait.

The simple fact is, it could snow any time,
Bringing more hoarfrost, even some rime.
More shoveling of driveways, walks and the like
But maybe today, I’ll go ride my bike.