I’ve had upwards of 20 dogs and they haven’t been pets. They’ve been friends, hiking pals, teachers, and, in the case of Polar Bear Yeti T. Bear, something to hug. I don’t have photos of all of them. There was Truffle, Molly, Maggie a Girl of the Streets, Paddy, Aschi, Xiao, Zorkie, Lupo, Ariel, Persephone Pitbull, Lily, Jasmine, Dusty, Cody, Big Puppy, Reina, Mindy, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog and a handful of rescued and rehomed dogs.
The snow is deep here in Heaven and it’s GREAT. I didn’t buy skis, my new snow shoes have shark’s teeth on the bottom and they scare me. But we remain undaunted and yesterday we headed out to the golf course to smell things and look for tracks.
The San Juan Nordic Club has groomed beautiful trails and, as it was Sunday, people were using them. It was wonderful to see — and it made me envious. Anyone who was outside yesterday really WANTS to be outside. Dusty made two new friends — a friendly neighbor opened his arms and let Dusty run to him, and one of the skiers — a really amazing ski-skater — stopped and asked if he could meet my dogs. They were all about it.
The tracks for cross-country skiing are really nice — there is a wide one for the skaters, lines for the people like me who just glide, and then a packed part to the right of all this for walkers. In snow over a foot deep it’s nice to have something a little more solid under foot. I love that they do that. It’s kind and respectful and protects their ski tracks from the kinds of postholes idiots like me drop into the snow with every step.
So far this winter I have fallen three times and gotten up three times, twice in deep snow. That was one of my biggest fears thinking of winter sports. Every time it was nothing. “I fell, so what,” not even that much thought or dread went through my mind. When you think of being mobile, you don’t think of falling, but it’s part of the equation. Anyone who moves around risks being attacked unaware by inanimate objects that are out to get them. It’s vital to be able to recover from a fall without fear. Just pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start all over again. Yesterday we walked a mile and a half through this deep snow. It was hard work, but fun. Dusty was suffering by bedtime, though.
But I’m getting skis. This is insane.
P.S. The photo is from three days ago. We’ve had more snow since then. 🙂
Over Christmas people were always asking me if I were going to be alone. Being alone doesn’t always mean being lonely, and, anyway, I wasn’t alone. 🙂
There are three in my family. It’s true that two of us are dogs. But…
Yesterday I went to the vet to get Dusty’s meds. There was a small old dog, (small meaning 40 pounds) black, white and tan, lying on the floor behind her person. Her person looked French He was short, light and Gallic, salt-and-pepper hair, slightly receding hairline, about fifty-five with sad brown eyes. The few lines on his face and the turn of his mouth said, “I’m worried.” He gave his dog a treat from the treat jar and waited for Maureen, the receptionist, to be able to get him in to see the doctor. Maureen was all alone on the front desk of this busy vet and contending with a persnickety computer. The person ahead of me was picking up antibiotics for her sheep.
As Maureen went to fill the bottle of pills for me, I went over to see the dog. She reminded me a lot of Mindy. I could tell she was quite old.
“Is this your friend?” I said to the man.
“We’re penpals.” Ah, he was funny.
“You write each other?”
He just grinned.
I petted her and asked her age. I learned she was 17. “What a sweet girl.” I scratched her ear.
“She has an infection on her foot.”
“I see that,” I said. Her right front foot was pink and inflamed. “She’s a wonderful beast,” I told the man. “What a sweet being. Old dogs just have a kind of wisdom.”
He nodded. His eyes filled with tears.
“Is she an Aussie mix?”
“Patterdale terrier,” he answered. I had not heard of that breed before.
Meanwhile, Dusty’s prescription was filled. Maureen said, “How about $72?”
I said, “I like that ‘how about’,” and smiled. I handed her my ATM card then thought better of it and gave her a credit card. “I might want to eat.”
I don’t know what happened next with “Jacques” and his dog. In his eyes the whole time we were interacting was very deep love for his dog and dread about what the doctor might say. No 17 year old dog has a long life ahead of them. I knew “Jacques” knew what I know, that I wasn’t alone for Christmas. All three of my immediate family was together.
I drove home hoping that all would go well for Jacques and his sweet dog and hoping, also, that afterward — because it will come — he will find another. ❤
I always thought the Buddha was kind of precious saying, “desire creates suffering” but damn. He was right. After four days of very frigid weather, today the temperature warmed up to the 20s (-3C), and Bear and I finally got to take a long snowy walk. What a walk!
My desire for more money and X-country skis and (yeah, maybe, this, too, YOUTH), all that had made me unhappy, vanished in what I saw and learned.
Walking in 8 inches of snow isn’t easy, but it’s fun. We headed across the golf course out to the big empty. Wildlife don’t know the difference between the two, so, besides the snow (which Bear and I love) there were all these smells, “ordurves”, urine sprays, scent markings on the bottom of trees, and TRACKS. Humans have ONE gift on the hunt and that’s height. Bear has, for a dog, very good vision, but I’m taller. Still she gets to experience a lot of things I don’t. I think I’m glad.
And then I saw “my” deer. The two does, running across the empty alfalfa field. They stopped when they saw me. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something running, more like floating, on the snow. I knew who that was. It was “my” fox. I haven’t seen him in two years. HE was why my deer were running.
The does leapt over the fence. The fox ran in another direction, not liking seeing me and Bear. You never know with that guy. Sometimes he’s curious, sometimes he’s not. The deer stopped running and walked a few yards toward me. We looked at each other. I let them know I was very happy to see them again (did they understand?). I wondered where the buck, the other doe and the yearling were, but I couldn’t ask. After we acknowledged each other, they went into the willows to browse.
On my way back I saw two x-country skiers trying out the newly groomed trails. One was a really good skate-skier. The other was a guy struggling. It’s a sport you have be pretty stoical to enjoy when you’re just starting out. You have to like the possibilities because it’s a little awkward to learn. I hated it the first time I tried it in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. It was hell. But, a few years later at Devil’s Thumb Ranch near Winter Park, I took lessons and it turned out to be one of three sports I’ve tried in which I had a natural ability. It’s so nice to get a break like that.
I waved at they skier. He came over to say “Hi,” and I asked him if he were having a good time. He just said, “Well, it’s a nice day.” Colorado speak for, “Hell no.”
I just smiled and said, “Keep enjoying yourself.”
“Oh yeah,” he said and struggled off.
Unlike him, I was having a good time, and it occurred to me that I’d rather walk through the snow with Bear than X-country ski. I thought of all the places we could walk in the back country, and I realized that my new winter sport is…
1/10 the cost of X-country skis and MORE versatile for going into the snow with my big white dog. I don’t need new boots. I have poles and it’s something I’ve never really done. An adventure.
Njal was less guest and more invader, though he depended on my hospitality.
The problem with Njal is that he was a mouse, a rodent, vermin. He arrived shortly after the suicidal and dependable phalanx of autumn house-mouses, destructive, dirty, easy to bait and kill. But Njal was different. Smaller. More reckless (or curious? or, even, affectionate?). That he HUNG OUT ON THE SOFA with me was unsupportable, creepy and adorable. What do you do with a mouse like Njal?
Njal was a field mouse, no bigger than my thumb. He was used to evading predators, hell-bent on surviving. He didn’t need much to survive on, either. A random invisible dusting of protein powder was all he needed. A fragment of popcorn was Thanksgiving dinner to him. He changed the way I kept house. No more food scraps in the trash can. They now all go into the freezer then out to the trash…
I really wanted him OUT of my house, but after a month or so, I named him. Njal, for one of the greatest figures in Icelandic sagas, Burnt Njal. My little mouse was a viking, living here with hostile forces (probably sleeping with Bear at night when he wasn’t hunting for cracker crumbs).
I learned to live with Njal because he was clearly NOT leaving. We established boundaries, and he stayed here a long time, not exactly a guest, not exactly not a guest.
Ultimately, Neal was an hors d’oeuvres for my friend’s Australian shepherd, Reina when she, her human, and her pal, Bailey, came to visit. I observed Reina hunting, but said nothing. Her human had developed a soft-spot for Njal. When I was sure Reina had done the deed, I told him. My friend said, “I’m sorry. You’ll miss him.”
But I found it a fitting end for such a brave being.
And, he was wrong. I don’t miss Njal. For all his charms, it’s disgusting living with a mouse — even a Viking mouse. In time, another mouse attempted an invasion, but I had prepared the house with ultrasonic “Mouse Discouragers” (you gotta’ love Chinglish. Whether the devices work or not, it’s fun imagining a discouraged mouse) and he left. He was not Njal, just the usual house-mouse. Sooner or later I would have trapped him.
From “Here’s Where the Arctic’s Wildlife Will Make Its Last Stand,” National Geographic, January 2018 PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN
Walking in the snow with a dog who loves snow is a kind of transcendental thing, particularly if you love snow, too. Only a couple times in the lives of my Siberian huskies was I able to share that with them, and Lily was the ONLY one who got to experience real nordic cold and a legit snowstorm. Otherwise, if it snowed in the mountains where I lived in California, a rare event but it happened, we were OUT in it as soon as it was possible.
Now I don’t have a Siberian husky, but I have Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog. She and I took our first REAL winter walk of the year this afternoon. It was a balmy 17 F (- 8 C). We took off across the golf course (who’s surprised?) and out into the big empty.
I didn’t expect to see the deer. They really are gone. One of the property owners north of the golf course is now shooting at geese and if I were one of my deer (highly intelligent deer, by the way) I wouldn’t hang around. On our return, the scent in the air was a mixture of gunpowder and piñon. Bear did not like the smell, but the sound of the shots didn’t seem to bother her.
I’d forgotten the exquisite pleasure of walking in the cold on a still, sunny day with the best companion I could ever ask for. It was really perfect.
Snow is in the forecast but here in Heaven, between two rain shadows, it’s always iffy. We will be VERY happy if it arrives because then my dog’s camouflage will work.
Meanwhile she’s waiting patiently. Long walks help combat the yearning.
We had a long walk yesterday with lots of amazing smells mostly of the two dogs and their people who were out in the wildlife refuge when we arrived. Bear walked in every patch of snow that still remained from whenever that was a long time ago that snow fell. The one big patch under the cottonwood trees gave her a place to roll around.
That’s pretty much the Bear report for this part of the world. I imagine later on today we’ll go try to find what little bits of it still remain in cold north hollows and maybe see how our deer are faring.
Sometimes you go out for a walk only because your big white dog is yammering at you from the back yard yelling, “Human! It’s time! It’s time!” You agree, it is time, but the winds are gusting at 40 mph (64 kph) and it’s not all that warm. Not all that cold, either, but combine the wind with the 36 F (2 C) degree temps and it’s not Key West.
So you put on your fancy new wool and fleece mid-layer and your ultra-light semi-puffy jacket. You grab your new Buff, because, dammit, the wind in your face walking north isn’t going to be fun OR healthy. Your little fleece hat is in the pocket of your ultra-light jacket.
Things go OK until you get out in the open and you and your dog are blasted sideways, but you walked to school uphill both ways (actually, it’s true…) in the snow in Nebraska as a kid and this is NOTHING.
The wind has scoured the air and the clouds are low, bringing the sky within reach. Only a couple of undaunted ravens attempt to surf this wind. Un-trapped dead leaves dance past your feet. The patches of snow have not so much melted as evaporated.
You hope to see “your” herd of deer. You regret saying to them that you’re not friends. You’ve thought about it in the meantime and you think you might be. You hope you’ll see them, but the usual place is a mile straight into the wind the whole way. It doesn’t sound at all like fun, so you turn, resolving to take a Bear walk which is slow, rambling, lacking direction but revelatory of animal visits to your dog, anyway.
The fierce wind blocks out all sounds except the cry of a surprised raven. You stop while Bear does a thorough examination of the ground around a cottonwood. You look toward the train cars to see if your deer are anywhere around, but they aren’t. The walk continues when suddenly you notice someone has tagged the tank cars with the word, “Wild.” You love it.
You go on with no destination, stopping often for your dog to examine the ground. The sun has gone behind a small cloud, and the wind and light have brought a mountain close. The world has emptied of humanity and nothing remains but you and your dog, the immense Wild! beyond the train cars, the light and the mountain. In the strange solitude of this “ordinary” walk, you remember what you love and that it loves you.
I’m trying to figure out why I’m so depressed, and I’m hoping there is an external cause, like maybe it’s just the holidays. If there is no external cause, that sucks. Time will tell.
I honestly have never liked Christmas. I’ve tried to like it. I’ve liked aspects of it. I have had some really nice Christmases in my life with beloved family and friends and even alone. I loved my Christmases in Zürich with my Swiss family. I loved my Christmases with my Montana aunts. I loved a very special Christmas when my stepson, Ben, and his wife, Sandi, brought German Christmas (Sandi is German) to my house in the mountains of CA on Christmas Eve. We took a hike in the afternoon to decorate a pine tree with bird seed. Sandi didn’t. know it had snowed in the mountains and that was the best Christmas present she could have gotten. That night we exchanged gifts and opened presents — that was the tradition in my family as well. With my family mostly gone at that point, I’d never expected to participate in that custom again. I could (and maybe should?) write a long list of happy Christmas memories. Maybe that would fix this, but I doubt it.
The closer it gets, the more I wish I could escape to a non-Christmas place. I’ve tried this year to just sample the meaningful things that have come my way — and I’ve enjoyed them — but it still seems to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on.
When I was a kid, Christmas was happy if we went away. Otherwise, it was often horrible and maybe that’s why I dread it. One year (when I really really really really wanted a long flannel nightgown like the girls wore in Little Women) I bugged my mom about it (as kids do). Suddenly my mom said, “You only think about yourself. You never think about other people. Come here.” She grabbed my wrist rather brutally, sat me down hard in front of the Christmas tree and opened my presents. I kept my eyes closed, but really? I was 8.
Usually I’ve gone away, but this year there is no money for that — $700 for car insurance, $400 for new tires, $150 for car registration all due in the last two months on top of a year that was filled with lots of expenses.
Any-hoo, in other somewhat less self-indulgent news, I made a Christmas ornament for a tree that a family puts up downtown in memory of their family members who have died. They write the family member’s names on ornaments and invite others to do the same. I lost my last two aunts in the last year. A dear friend of mine lost her two sons in a car crash 5 years ago and the lawsuit has (thankfully) just recently come to an end. Her son and his wife (who also died in the crash) were good friends of mine. Out of that disaster I “got” his mom who’s a very inspiring person, a fine artist, and a kind and vibrant soul who’s lived an adventurous life. I love her very much. My friend Lois always misses her mom and then there’s my brother about whom I have intensely mixed feelings but he’s still my bro. I decided to make a star and write their names on the points.
The dogs and I got in the car, drove the star down to the tree and then we went for a walk at the slough. Because Dusty is somewhat stove up, we couldn’t go far so we went to the place where I run into the Icky Man. He wasn’t there. We walked fast because I expected him to show up any time, but we were lucky. As we were driving away from the spot — already on the road — his truck passed us. Perfect timing and a great Christmas present since Dusty and Bear really had a lot of messages to read and leave.
My pals and I go outside to play every day. Yesterday Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog and I went out and played for a long time. It was a magical clear beautiful enchanting calm-wind day. My pal is a great playmate. She always wants to play and when we get to the playground, she knows just exactly what she’s supposed to do. She’s supposed to smell things and roll in the snow. She’s also supposed to pull suddenly on the leash when a very fresh scent hits her nose, but she’s never supposed to pull me down. When I stop to enjoy the scenery, she is supposed to lean against me and I’m not supposed to move away so fast that she loses her balance. When we near the end of our play time, and I say, “OK, Bear, let’s go home,” she’s supposed to walk peacefully beside me while I rest my hand on her back.
I’ve been playing in this way all my life. It’s amazing what can happen when you go out to the playground. Lately, in one of our playgrounds, we’ve had the pleasure of watching a small herd of whitetail deer watch us. Among them is a very large buck who vigilantly cares for his wives and children. He’s a little scary, actually, and I’m glad we’re never very close.
What I’ve learned over all my years of playing outside is that there is always some reward (though play itself is reward enough), a destination (in terms of destiny).
I always see something. Sometimes it’s light on the trees. Sometimes Kris Kristofferson’s face in the clouds (seriously and it was weird). Sometimes a rainbow. Sometimes hawks hunting low over the chamisa or desert broom. Sometimes bald eagles in the trees. Sometimes deer, elk or some other large ungulate. Sometimes a wild cat, a fox or coyote. Sometimes a friendly person. Sometimes the litany of night written in the dust. Sometimes an amazing bird. Yesterday my reward was a Great Blue Heron.
I thought of a poem by Jack Kerouac the moment the heron revealed himself by leaping into the air, taking flight.
Kerouac was kind of a Buddhist. For a while he was a happy person, too. During this time he wrote/recorded some lovely stuff. My favorite is The Dharma Bums. Anyway for a while I had a bunch of CDs of Kerouac reading his work and some of his interviews on TV in the 50s.
In one of his poems he says, “Like kissing my kitten in the belly, the sweetness of the reward that we’ll get. This I know.”
And it’s true.