“Isn’t it? Honestly, life — lives — an endless opportunity to observe absurdity.”
“Poor old guy, Lamont. He’s just scared.”
“One needs a little sangfroid in times like this. Remember the Ice Age? Here today, gone tomorrow. Scary times, but I don’t remember going to the store wearing a face mask and gloves.”
“Lamont, as I recall in the Ice Age YOU were the store.”
“Not all the time, Dude. You were the store plenty of times yourself Mr. Salmon-who-DIDN’T-get-away.”
“A salmon has a short lifespan at best, Lamont. I’ve made peace with the whole thing. Why can’t you let the woolly mammoth thing go? So what do you think of this ‘boomer-remover’ thing going around?”
“Just a bunch of dumb kids trying to look on the bright side. Is the museum closed like everything else?”
“Oh yeah. No Smilodon suit for the foreseeable future. Did you see the videos of the Governator teaching people to wash their hands, feeding carrots to farm animals in his kitchen and riding his bike on Venice Beach?”
“There’s a silver lining to everything. You going out later? As far as I know the ocean is safe, well, sharks, but you know.”
Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them an unusual perspective on life, the universe and everything. If you enjoyed this, search “Lamont and Dude” and you can read a LOT more of this kind of absurdity.
My dogs have created a dog paradise, a playground out of the yard just outside my back door which isn’t actually in back, but on the side. It opens from the laundry room and kitchen. There was a pretty lawn out there when I moved here, but then, you know, BEAR. Akbash dogs are major diggers. They are large, their feet immense, and they are passionate about holes. I suppose when they’re working dogs they need holes to sleep in, hide in, or just dig. Lots of canids dig holes, and Akbash dogs are a primitive breed, thousands of years old without any non-digging designer dog DNA contributions.
Some of the holes she’s dug are major feets (ha ha) of dog engineering. A couple of them are the result of Bear’s lifetime of effort.
This means my house is ALWAYS dirty. I have to seriously (and hopelessly) clean the kitchen and living room daily because of the dust. One of the things I like about snow (shall I count the ways?) is that the dust is allowed to relax for a while.
Since it appears I’m going to have a lot of distraction-less time for the nonce (love that word) I’m going to try to contend with this. I haven’t figured out a solution other than a plentitude of fences. It’s a small space, I don’t know.
Bear and Teddy have a kind of a “track” they run around a flower bed and my patio table and chairs (which are covered with a tarp). I’m thinking of making it into a legit track along the lines of one of the trails at the refuge.
And then fencing around the part I’d like for me and planting grass there (again). It might keep down the dust. As it is, I can’t even use my yard.
I have a couple of raised beds I’m also planning to “raze” since (basically) I don’t enjoy gardening all that much and the growing season is so short.
I’d love to hear anyone’s ideas. I don’t have money, but I do have time and slightly more than a modicum of physical strength.
In honor of St. Paddy’s Day, I give you The Pogues
Bear and I headed out yesterday afternoon once the wind whipped up (god forbid we go when the wind ISN’T blowing!) to the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge for our semi-daily (Teddy gets his turn on other days) constitutional and to evaluate the condition of the surrounding mountains. It’s been a week since the Crane Festival and, though it was Sunday, I expected fewer people. Plus, you know, virus…
I was wrong. NOTHING scares away the Crane Tourist. There were easily a half-a-dozen cars.
Bear and I have kind of figured out a route for us when there are people there. We take a little path made for walkers — 1/2 mile through scrub along a little wetlands. In this spot a couple of weeks ago I heard meadowlarks. Because of the wind, most little birds are hunkered down, so it was quiet in there yesterday.
Then, I caught sight of a raptor and stopped to watch a red tail hawk battle the wind. Even when they are doing that, they seem to be having a good time. He was flying into the wind, his wings pulled. He flew over us then (hope hope hope) and went on. “Nothing there, that selfish human has her dog leashed.” We emerged at the other end of the pathway to see a young couple picnicking by their flat tire. They waved. They were not your typical Crane Tourist though they did have a Subaru. Subaru is the car of choice for Crane Tourists.
At this point, the cranes are hanging out by a pond about 1/2 mile from the refuge entrance. Cars passed Bear and me — we always step off the dirt road and turn to face the cars. We wave, passengers and drivers wave. They drive on to where they see the other cars parked and we keep walking.
The wind was blowing from the south, hard, and obscured the sound of the cranes. I know there are thousands in that field around the pond. We get closer to the parked cars (a crowd, four) and I see the Crane Tourists with their binoculars and long camera lenses. I can imagine the wonderment on their faces as they watch the cranes dance. I love it.
I’m walking further and faster, but it still hurts. I try to extend my reach without causing myself pain. I’m at the point where I can walk two miles without pain, or much pain. I have a very high pain threshold, and I’m sure it’s why I have sustained so many injuries over the years. My body can yell at me, “WTF???? I’m WARNING you!!” and I just say, “Huh?” and keep going. I’m trying to be smarter. I need this vehicle for the foreseeable future and a future without walking? That may happen. I don’t know. But not NOW.
We reached our turning-around point and, though I want to keep going, I don’t.
I saw a man walking toward me. NO one walks here except me. How strange is this? He was another Baby Boomer (Crane Tourists tend to be Baby Boomers). He was a little shy of Bear, but they made friends and we chatted through the wind at a distance of 6 feet. He and his wife live in Boulder. He said that it’s expensive but there’s good hiking and good yoga. He said he liked it down here and he listed off all the birds he and his wife have seen at the Refuge and at Homelake. We talked about the natural beauty of Colorado and how our job is to fight for it and to enjoy it.
At one point hundreds of cranes took flight in the distance. The guy from Boulder openly expressed his delight, “That’s it! That’s what we’re here for!” meaning why he and his wife had driven down from Boulder. That expression of delight is pretty much the point of the whole thing, life, the universe and everything. Crane Tourists.
“Look for an eagle,” I said. The cranes’ mass flight which thrills us so much is usually a response to a predator nearby, most often an eagle hoping for an easy meal. Sure enough, there it was, flying off toward the south, disappointed, hungry.
Bear and I continued on our way, watching the light changing over the San Juans, cloud shadows moving over the greening chamisa. I saw two killdeer — my first. They’re lovely.
Bear and I punched out, another shift as the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge Welcoming Committee behind us.
When I got into Bella and turned on the radio, it played this song. It seemed to describe my life perfectly. I mean, seriously? Who ever knows? I thanked the fates, again, that the wind blew me here, to Heaven. ❤
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
In my thirties — when I went through my Dostoevsky period — that quotation would have taken my breath. I would have questioned what I was doing, spun into a life-examining journal writing frenzy about it. I think, in fact, I did that, over that very quotation.
But now, my children (ha ha) I’m not the same person. I KNOW what I lived for and it’s the same thing I’m living for now.
Long ago, back in Denver, during another presidential election, I worked hard for an independent candidate. I wrote speeches, TV ads, organized events. It was fun and I believed in him. He didn’t win, but his campaign garnered 10% of the vote in Colorado. One of the events I planned was an expensive fund-raising dinner at an elegant Indian restaurant called, appropriately, The Bombay. Entertainment for that evening was a popular Denver jazz band featuring a fantastic saxophone player named Tom. It was an elegant and successful evening.
Back then I was well on my way to being a ‘mover and a shaker’ in Denver, and I knew Tom pretty well.
Time passed — two and a half years. I went to China, and I came back. Four months after the return, I was emotionally evacuated. I was homesick for China. I had also realized that my husband didn’t like me. I’d come back to the states because he was sick and I shouldn’t have. My beautiful dream was over and I was left with a bad marriage.
I walked down to the King Soopers nearest our Capitol Hill Apartment to buy stuff for supper. It had begun to snow. Outside the store a man in a wheelchair was playing the saxophone for tips. I got closer and saw it was Tom. I sat down on a bench to talk to him.
“Where you been, lady?” he asked.
“China. I went to China to teach.”
“Yeah.” How did I ask the question without hurting Tom? Finally, “What happened?”
“Oh, babe, you won’t believe it. I got the flu.”
Tom chuckled at the amazement in my voice. “I know. It don’t make sense. It attacked my spine. I was flat on my back, for six months, paralyzed. They said I’d never walk or play the saxophone again, but, a man gotta’ eat and a man’s gotta’ play, right?”
My heart was in my throat.
“I could live without walking, but, honey, I wasn’t living without my sax.” He gently pressed the keys and levers on the shining instrument. I knew how he felt about it. It was both his livelihood and his life.
Just then a young woman I’d worked with some years before approached the door. “Martha? My god! It’s been forever!!! What are you doing these days?”
Tom looked at me and saw I was about to cry. I was but at this moment I don’t know exactly why. There were plenty of reasons in that cold early-winter Denver moment.
Tom answered. “She’s livin’. She’s jus’ livin’. That’s all any of us do and if you think otherwise, you’re wrong.”
After that, I knew the goal of my life was to live. To live for life itself. It’s not so easy, either.
Here in Heaven I have been known (or would have been if anyone had known) to be all by myself for weeks at a time. My ordinary life is only randomly social. An average day consists of getting up, making coffee, making a smoothie, feeding the dogs, drinking coffee and writing my blog, then cleaning up after the dogs, random chores (shopping, post office, whatever), OR work on a project, lunch, walking a dog or two and/or riding the bike to nowhere, back to the project (or while I was judging books, reading), supper, a movie and bed. It sounds kind of boring, maybe, but the project is a very consuming thing and walking the dogs means a sojourn into the Big Empty one way or another. If there are people in it AT ALL it’s most often by accident. Welcome accident, usually, but as I’m not a “joiner” it’s, overall, a pretty isolated life.
I’m aware of the liabilities.
I also know not everyone could be happy with a life like this, but as I wrote to a blogging pal a few days ago, this is, to me “the reward” for teaching 10,000 students to write, for all those years of enforced and often intense interpersonal contact.
The thing is, a lot of us here in the Back of Beyond live like this. I don’t think people can stand it if they’re not fundamentally introverts. But…when we see someone we like, we’re very happy. My trek through the Craft and Nature Fair at the Crane Festival garnered me some big hugs from people I like a LOT but don’t see often. We might live a few blocks away from each other, but we might, also, live miles and miles apart. An event like that brings everyone to one place.
There was great sharing of news, showing of photos, discussion of how Dusty T. Dog influenced a friend’s decision to finally get a dog. For me, the whole event was hugging, talking, a locally grown potato, baked with butter and sour cream, and Raptors.
Yesterday I headed into the Big City to buy groceries. No one was doing this.
There haven’t been any (known) cases of the virus here in the San Luis Valley. And, if people are “self-isolating” I don’t think we’ll even notice. 😉
“We aren’t even in spring yet. That’s a couple weeks away.”
“A couple of WEEKS???”
“Yeah. Thank goodness.”
“I want SUMMER!!!!”
“I don’t think you’re in charge, EJ.”
EJ. Elizabeth Jane.
“I’m going outside. I’m sure there’s some green grass somewhere.”
“You can go to the back yard, but come in when I call you.”
Outside, EJ began a systematic study of the grass. Starting at the fence, she walked down to the alley, back up to the house, down to the alley, back to the house, each time a foot or two further inside the yard. When her mother called her for supper, she’d only finished half the yard and the sun was going down.
“EJ!!! Elizabeth Jane!!! Come in. Your dad is home, supper’s on the table.”
Yesterday with Bear at the Wildlife Refuge I had the opportunity to speak to an older couple who’d decided to wander a little trail. The head collar on Bear looks to the uninitiated like a muzzle. They hesitated. “Is she friendly?”
“Very friendly. She loves people.” The man had a walking stick, the woman stayed behind him. Bear sat. At the right moment Bear walked calmly to the man who instantly fell in love with her. We talked dogs, dog breeds and family. They were from Texas and, I later saw, had a sticker on their car that indicated to me their politics. It’s usually impossible to know where Crane Tourists are from. They tend to drive large, clean SUVs with Colorado plates. I’m sure a lot of them are rented in Denver.
“What beautiful eyes!” said the man. “Look at them, honey.”
Then we talked about the Bernese dog. Their son had had one, and it had reached the end of its life at 6.
“They don’t live long,” I said. “And Bernese are such wonderful dogs. None of these giant breed dogs have long lives.”
“Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it. About what’s really important,” said the man scratching Bear’s ears. There is nothing like the Big Empty and its spectacular sky to make people philosophical.
It was a gorgeous March day, not warm, not cold and, strangely enough, not windy (???). Clouds floated above, enough to keep the light soft and the trail shaded, saving everyone from the powerful sunshine of the San Luis Valley. Lucky for all of these people who’d come to see the cranes.
At one spot, a small group of cranes was gathered around a pond about fifty feet from the dirt road. A clutch of SUVs had parked, and people were out with long-lenses and binoculars. Bear and I stayed back because she’d want to meet everyone and we’d gone most of our distance. A few cars passed us; drivers waved. One car had stickers that clearly delineated the politics of the people in the car. “Coexist” “Sanders for President.” I watched them pull over behind the Texans. The tall Texan with the walking stick pointed out the cranes. The driver of the “Coexist” car patted him on the shoulder in thanks. I heard laughter.
Just then a big SUV passed with Alaska plates and I wondered, “Why would you drive all the way here for what you have at home?” But as they were retired people, it occurred to me that maybe they’d wintered in Texas, as my Montana relatives had done, and were following the cranes north.
Bear and I turned around. She walked leaning against me, my hand on her shoulders until a magpie caught her eye. She stopped. She watches birds. She regarded him, perched on a three-foot tall low willow tree and the magpie regarded her in return. As I waited, I thought that maybe all we need to bring the people in this country together are Sandhill Cranes, mountains, a beautiful day and a blue-eyed, big white dog.
Cuyamaca Mountain east of San Diego is 7000 feet/2100 meters and is snow covered for part of the winter. My second ex and I had lived in San Diego not even a year. We had a VW camper van which was great in snow, so we piled in our back country skis and headed to the mountain. We’d never been there, but one thing about California is that trails are marked. It’s also a bad thing, in a way, but this isn’t that post.
We headed up the mountain trail. It goes straight up for a while then winds around the mountain for a view of the city 30 miles distant and the ocean beyond.
The snow was wetish but nice, about a foot deep, heavy enough to hold our skis, but soft enough to ski. As we went around a curve, I saw fresh cougar tracks in the snow. It was the second time I’d seen them. The first was outside of Red Lodge, MT, when we were skiing in the Beartooth foothills. My ex insisted that we turn around. We hadn’t skied very far, and I was disappointed. I thought the cougar knew we were there, had run for cougar-cover, and we would be fine. A little argument ensued. Strangely, I would have gone ahead, no matter what happened.
It was an interesting thing to learn.
At that time we lived across the street from Balboa Park which is the home of the San Diego Zoo. We always got a membership and we loved the shows. One of my favorites was “Animals of North America” which included a mountain lion whose best friend was a golden retriever. The zoo often put big cats used for shows with golden retrievers when the cats were kittens and the dogs were puppies. They grew up together. The golden retriever was good at making friends with the cat, gave the cat a playmate, and helped the zoo accomplish the kind of relative domestication they needed for the educational programs. The first time I saw this, I got tears in my eyes. I’m sappy. At that time I did not yet have a dog of my own. I didn’t even know I wanted one…
The cougar came out with the golden. They were clearly buddies. They jumped up onto their platforms, got treats. The zoo keeper gave a talk about the importance of mountain lions in the wild (what else would she do?) and then showed us the mountain lion’s attributes — giant teeth and claws — and discussed his diet and behavior. She explained that humans were not his preferred prey and briefly touched on safe hiking in lion country which was really all around us. Having scared everyone into respecting the big cat, she then scratched his ears. The cougar leaned against her chest and she hugged him, still scratching his ears. She said, “The mountain lion is the only feline, other than your kitties at home, that does this…” She held the microphone to his throat…
The show also showed us common raptors — retail (red tail, you stupid autocorrect) hawk, golden eagle, kestrel, turkey vulture — then a wolf, a coyote and a bear. All but the raptors had a golden retriever companion. Of all the amazing shows at the zoo, I liked “Animals of North America” the best.
I brought Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog home from the shelter when she was four months old. I was apprehensive about adopting a young large dog, but I got lots of encouragement from blogging pals and 3D pals who’d had Great Pyrenees dogs themselves. Marilyn of Serendipity in particular was very encouraging telling me I’d have a big friend who’d lean against me. I did research on them and learned that they are low energy dogs.
I’d seen two at work at a farm near Del Norte and they were impressive dogs. They shared their duties with two llamas who took the day shift. My friend and I arrived at the farm at the moment the shifts were changed. The llamas went into the pen with the goats, and the Pyrenees went to sleep in the shade by a barn.
Even after seeing this, I didn’t fully appreciate the nature of a livestock guardian dog, but the moment I brought Bear home, I began my education.
When I adopted her, I thought Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog was a mix of Pyrenees and Husky because of her blue eyes. Later I learned that she is an Akbash, an ancient breed from Turkey. Like the Great Pyrenees, the Akbash is also a giant breed white dog, but one that can have blue eyes (considered a fault). Akbash and Pyrenees are bred to do the same job, live with and guard sheep, one of the planet’s dumbest and most easily upset mammals (other than humans). They are equally effective guarding one of the planet’s smartest and most, uh, capricious animals, the goat.
Generally the Akbash is more slender and long-legged than the Pyrenees, a more graceful and less cumbersome breed (not that I find the Great Pyrenees “cumbersome” and neither would a bear). The Akbash and the Pyrenees are both undaunted, courageous, fast and able to protect their fleecy charges from bears, cougars, wolves and coyotes. ❤
So here’s Bear. She set about making friends with Mindy and Dusty, the dogs who were already here. Mindy, my exceedingly sweet elderly Australian shepherd, was ready immediately to love Bear. Dusty, a dobie/Lab mix, wasn’t sure. He’d recently had his heart broken when his remaining Siberian husky sister/mother, Lily, had died at age 17. Dusty had known Lily all his life and loved her more than anyone, even me.
Bear observed Dusty and Mindy and did what they did. She was house-broken in four hours, almost without my teaching, and never made a “mistake” in the house. She never went for their food, deferred to Dusty if he wanted hers (that happened only once) and generally did everything she could to fit in and get along. She showed no signs of being the “wild thing” that huskies are. Having owned (or been a roommate to?) six huskies, I found it bewildering that this puppy was so completely calm.
Bed time approached and I began the formerly always easy task of enticing a new dog in and out of their new crate. Bear wasn’t having it. Mindy went in and out; Dusty went in and out; but Bear, no. No way. I was exasperated. I took her to my room so that if she needed out, I’d know. She wasn’t having that, either. Finally, I wanted to sleep more than I wanted to train this puppy. I put her in the living room with Dusty and Mindy. When I got up at 4 to let her out, I found her sound asleep on the floor, back-to-back with Dusty T. Dog.
I felt as if the words, “You have to trust me. I was bred to take care of things, not mess them up” hung in the air over Bear like a cartoon balloon.
The thing is, Bear is ALWAYS good within the realm of her breeding and understanding of me. When my wishes and her training conflict with her nature, though, I have no authority. A livestock guardian dog cooperates with her person until there is a threat or she perceives a threat — a barking dog, a barking person, a wild-beast (cat, raccoon, whatever) wandering the alley. Out in the big empty when we see ungulates, Bear is extraordinarily calm. She sits beside me and looks at them, watches them. That she makes these distinctions is really beautiful.
The one thing I cannot trust her to do is come back when she’s called if we’re out in the Big Empty. Her breed was not meant to live in a little house with an old lady and a yard. Their nature is to roam freely for miles and miles with their sheep or goats.
Bear THINKS that’s what we’re doing on a walk. She checks the environment for signs of change, animals who haven’t been there before or that are not where they’re supposed to be. Her mind holds an encyclopedia of information about each of the places in which we frequently walk. Taking her to a new place means she needs relative freedom to examine the territory and learn who and what make up that place consistently. This is how she learns what to expect so that next time, if something’s out of place, she can be on her guard. These animals recognize threats partly by noticing changes, so when I take her somewhere new — as I did when I decided to take her to walk at the Wildlife Refuge — she is eager to smell and inventory everything around us and she leaves copious markings of her own. It’s so interesting to me. Let’s say we walk a mile in one direction. On the way OUT Bear is 100% attentive to everything. We stop frequently so she can look around (well, me too) because Akbash dogs have, and use, keen vision. On our return, Bear walks close beside me, her discoveries completed, the inventory taken.
In a few days, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog will be five years old. She’s sitting here now, leaning against me. She’s just brought in a rawhide pencil that has been buried out in her minefield and she’s brushing her teeth. It would be enough that she’s a good dog, but she’s more than that. She’s a good friend that I can — literally — trust with my life.
The featured photo looks to be a blue-eyed Akbash at work. ❤
The Monte Vista Crane Festival has been going on all this weekend and I’ve had house guests — my friend Lois and her developmentally disabled (and awesome) son, Mark.
Yesterday morning we went out to look for the cranes. It was the first time I’ve experienced driving at the Wildlife Refuge with the tourists. It was interesting. Lots of immense rented SUVs. There were fewer cranes in the usual places, but it was a gorgeous day if you like warm air, clear skies and that sort of thing.
After that we went to the Craft and Nature Fair. Among the exhibits was a raptor rescue from Albuquerque. I was involved with an organization like that in San Diego and I was so happy to be so close to the birds again. I talked a long time with one of the women working there. It was an incredible, engaging conversation about teaching kids to love nature by exposing them to these amazing birds.
I love Mark so much, but it’s difficult sometimes to tolerate the reality that he cannot look forward to the consequences of his actions like “normal” people do. I love him for his own sake, but also for the sad fact that some of the things he does remind me how lucky I am to understand WHY you do this and not that.
Yesterday Mark set his shoe on the table. I yelled at him, “Get your shoe off the table! You don’t put shoes on the table!” In my mind’s eye, I saw where that shoe had been, walking around on dirt comprising ground cow dung, elk droppings, spit, urine from various ambulatory beings, godnose. You know, dirt.
He looked shocked — I’m not a person who yells at people, or dogs. Bear ran outside and didn’t want to come back in. Bear’s breed is just like that. Mark was chagrined. I felt weird. Lois and I had to cajole Bear back into the house, and Mark went back to listening to music.
I thought the rest of the night how our knowledge and understanding of how to live life builds incrementally in immeasurable particles. I thought of how important reasoning is in our ability to navigate life safely. It’s actually a pleasure to be able to think.
In the early evening we returned to the Refuge, this time to a more distant spot, a barley field that had been mowed to attract the cranes. There were three school buses of Crane Tourists, and thousands of cranes in the field. There was also the 360 degree spectacle which is sun set in the San Luis Valley.
Most photos were taken by my friend Lois. My photo is the cranes in the field.