Sad Bear of the Muddy Paws

“What Bear? No, I know that’s not three inches. Teddy told you WHAT? You know Fred. Remember last year Fred told us that the beaver by Mr. Martinez’ house was as big as a bear? Fred exaggerates. Anyway, I don’t know what weather forecast he’d heard or seen that said we’d get 12 inches. Maybe for Wolf Creek. No, Bear. Wolf Creek is a real place. No, I didn’t believe Fred, but, you know, I hoped. Yeah, he did say that. He did say ‘Albuquerque low’. I know that can mean we get a LOT of snow, but Bear, there’s never a guarantee.”

“Things have to be just right. We live in a desert valley. What? A desert is a place where there isn’t much rain or snow. Here’s how it works. There’s a VERY HIGH narrow mountain range to our east that has a southward curve there at the pass. That’s the Sangre de Cristos. To the west there is an IMMENSE and high mountain range, the San Juans. The San Juans scrape the precipitation out of the clouds that come west. The Sangres curve to the south down there and scrape the clouds that come up from the south. Storms that come from the north? Yeah, there are a lot of those, well the mountains to the north where all the ski areas are? They scrape the snow out of the clouds heading south. It’s got to be a very wet fast moving storm for us to get anything. I’ve learned that. At first, like you, I was disappointed, but I think, in the long run it might be for the best. I’m not spring chicken and the sun really helps me keep the heat bill down.”

“I know, I know, we want to keep the golf course closed. Listen, Bear, before you were born, we got a HUGE snowfall in May. It was wonderful. Dusty, Mindy and — WAIT! No! You’re right! You were here. Wow. Time flies!!! Bullet still lived on that corner and he got loose. That’s true, Bear. You have to take the good with the bad but I still don’t like those big holes in the yard and vacuuming all the time. I know it’s good for you, but seriously. But what I’m trying to say is we could get more snow. No, sweet Bear, as my mom used to say, “Don’t get your hopes up.” Let’s stay cool, and avoid that circular suffering of the weather forecast, hope, realization, disappointment. I love you, too, Bear. You want this rawhide pencil?”

Walk in the Snow with Bear

It remains cold, below freezing, so the snow — though not freshly fallen — still powdery and perfect. I wanted to take the skis out again, but if a person can’t be fair to her dogs, what’s the point of her entire existence? (“Bear, stop putting words in my mouth!”)

Walking in snow a few inches above the ankle is a little difficult, especially when the snow doesn’t compress beneath your foot, but I was totally up to it. It was gloriously beautiful to be back out in the big empty, in the snow, with my big white dog (“I’ve waited a long time Martha!”), beneath the December sky that matches the blue and white of the mountains — the boundary between them marked by the jagged peaks of the Sangre de Cristos reaching into the watercolor-soft blue and white cloudy sky.

Bear likes to lean against me when I’m having a “moment.” I think she knows what’s going on with me. I think she understands perfectly that when I stare off to the horizon that it’s similar to me stopping and waiting as long as she needs to get the entire gist of a message. Sometimes she pulls — her messages seem, often, to carry a sense of urgency (ha ha). This is the biggest challenge. I don’t want to be pulled off balance right now. The messages I get from the sky and the mountains are quiet, reassuring affirmations of my place in the universe.

Bear found hundreds of tracks to, uh, track. Mule deer, certainly, and moose (it seems) as well as a nice patch of fox urine to roll in. She stopped to leave behind a message for her friend the fox should he pass again. My and my friend’s ski tracks rested unmolested. We only walked a mile because my foot is still not 100% and since I want nothing more than to keep skiing, I’m not going to risk anything. And, it happens, skiing is easier than walking.

The scene, this day after the solstice, was right out of John Greenleaf Whittier’s Snowbound, a long meditative poem on winter and my grandfather used to read it to my mom and her sisters and brothers every Christmas. It’s very lovely, evoking all the nostalgia and love of Christmas time, yearning for the past, endless love for those who are now only memories for us, whose stories and lives we carry around in our own lives — for good or ill or both.

The ending of the poem is exactly what I felt today, looking out at the rough snowy line of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the barren trees, the short, December light, my precious Bear leaning against my legs, my feet buried in snow. I felt grateful (again) to be in the San Luis Valley. I thought of the amazing woman I met yesterday at a Christmas concert and the equally amazing woman with whom I went. I looked at my friend’s ski tracks and remembered how much fun we had two days ago. I felt gratitude — again — to all the influences of my life that magically brought me where I am supposed to be.

The traveller owns the grateful sense 
Of sweetness near, he knows not whence, 
And, pausing, takes with forehead bare 
The benediction of the air.

If you’d like to read the whole poem, here it is. Snowbound: A Winter Idyll by John Greenleaf Whittier

Today I Walked My Dog

A major storm is going to hit Sunday. What this means is — ahead of the storm — warm temps and wind, so, unable to “bear” it any more (ha ha) I surrendered to the pleading eyes of my big white dog. We assayed forth — our fourth walk into the big empty since I hurt my foot at the end of September and my second without a cane.

I like my cane/trekking poles. It (they) add stability and take pressure off my (fucked up) knees, but using one makes it hard to handle a leashed dog, and Bear must be leashed.

Days like today are among my favorite. Last time we were out — Tuesday this week — I carefully walked only a mile. I was afraid of over-doing it, but I also had a hard time stopping. It was so beautiful that I wanted to go and go and go and go but…

Today we went and went and went, hoping to see the small herd of deer that was hanging around last year. No sign of them this year, not even the tracks of my deers. I was sorry. They were a wonderful thing to visit every day, but we did hear the cry of a fox. It was too windy for birds, just one lone sparrow struggling against the wind.

But the light on a wind-washed day like this one, ahhh…. Bear found many patches of soft snow to roll in. She discovered many scents to examine and left messages of her own. We’ve missed these moments of intense camaraderie over the nearly 3 months since our last real walk. And the best walks are winter walks, anyway. The best thing about days like this one is most people don’t like walking in the wind. I love it.

My foot started hurting — nothing major, nothing unbearable — but enough to be irritating, a warning, “Turn around.” We did.

When I checked the software I run on my phone to keep track of walks I was pleased. Bear and I stop A LOT. She has to smell things and I have to look at the changing light on the mountain ranges, especially with storms swirling around like today. We walked 46 minute miles, but the uninterrupted time was a respectable (to me) 9 minute mile. I think walking with me would be maddening for normal people, but since I believe my dog deserves a dog walk meaning ample opportunity for her to do Bear things, I’m OK with a slow ramble. It’s not like there’s anywhere to go anyway. We are already there. ❤

…The Moccasins and Other Things

Here’s what I came up with for the museum about my mom’s moccasins. They are made of deer hide, not thick and not warm, kind of like leather gloves for the feet, but (and I’ve worn them) very comfortable. 🙂


These beautiful moccasins with wild rose beadwork were made for Helen Tibbs Beall when she was teaching at the elementary school in Crow Agency, in South Central Montana, not far from Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. The woman who made them was Florence Real-Bird, the mother of one of Helen’s students and Helen’s friend.. 

Helen was born on a farm near Hardin, Montana in 1920. She had nine siblings, three brothers and six sisters. She was the eighth child of Sherman Beall and Emma Harriet Tibbs who settled in Belfry, Montana in 1914. Helen was baptized in the Little Bighorn River by Reverend Chester A. (Chet) Bentley who spent most of his life as a minister to the Crow Indians at the Crow Baptist Mission. 

Helen attended what was then the Normal School of Eastern Montana State College. Her teacher training consisted of a year of coursework, a year of teaching, a year of coursework, a year of teaching and so on until she graduated. 

Her first school was Warman School, a one room school on Warman Creek between Crow Agency and Fort Smith. Helen ended her teaching duties on the Crow Reservation at the elementary school at Crow Agency. She graduated with her teaching credential in 1947. 

Soon after marrying, Helen and her husband, William B. Kennedy, moved to Denver where Bill attended the University of Denver, earning a Masters Degree in Mathematics. Helen continued to teach in the Englewood, Colorado school district until the birth of her daughter in 1952.

More news like stuff…

My injured foot is a lot better, but not quite well. I injured it on September 20, but reinjured it on October 24 so I don’t know exactly if I should be measuring its recovering from September or October, but I guess it’s really up to my foot… I’m still wearing a brace, still using a cane when I walk the dogs, still walking awkwardly, but it doesn’t hurt unless I stand on it too long, and even then it’s not the searing pain it was at the beginning.

Bear and Teddy have adjusted to not getting daily walks. I think that’s a good thing. Bear and I have been out a few times — last time to Shriver/Wright on a blustery gray perfect November day. We both had a wonderful time. From Bear’s perspective there were a lot of new and fascinating things to smell. From my perspective the snow flurries and cold breeze were refreshing. We were happy to be out there together. I learned my lesson about walking them together, for now… Mostly they play in the yard like two hellions — Teddy essentially FLIES when he starts chasing Bear around. Bear doesn’t move much at all. She just lets him go nuts then ambushes him when she feels like it. They like to roughhouse in the living room and I should mind, but I don’t. I just clean it every day…

That’s the news from the Back of Beyond for Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Animal Nature? Human Nature?

“No, Teddy. No. Bad dog!”

“I’m sorry I ate Bear’s food, Martha,” says the mini-Aussie after being punished for purloining a bowl of food that was meant for Bear a giant breed dog, his big sister, his friend. And Bear? Thinks she’s being punished, too. She comes toward me, her right lip curled in her particular facial expression of submission.

“It’s all-right, Bear, but if you don’t guard your dish, Teddy WILL eat it and he doesn’t need it.” She dips her head. Until she senses that happiness is restored between Teddy and me, she won’t relax. She also knows I’m not really angry. It’s about disciplining the puppy.

I feed her and she eats. Teddy stares at her bowl, completely unfazed by his recent “negative experience.” He’ll eat Bear’s food again if he gets the chance.

Dogs and food. One of my huskies was killed over the crust of a ham sandwich that fell on the kitchen floor. It happened in seconds. My year old Labrador retriever knocked out Cheyenne’s canine tooth and slit open her throat. It was the saddest interval in my years of living with dogs. Another sad event happened over food, too. Reina, my Aussie some time back, got in a fight with Lily, another husky, while I was teaching. I came home to a Lily who needed surgery and a Reina who was sorry, but had to be rehomed. She lives with a friend of mine, and she’s STILL sorry, and I still love her. Bear is neither of those dogs. She will GIVE Teddy her food.

Dogs act out in a moment. Perceived scarcity can set them off. “She has what I don’t.” “There’s only ONE crust of a ham sandwich. I’ll starve if I don’t eat it.” Humans are no different. I see the great divide in this country as being based on one group reacting against what they perceive as scarcity.

I know we’re not supposed to ascribe human motives to animals, but from my point of view, we’re animals and ascribing emotion-based motives to us or to them is likely to be correct.

Bear is NOT going to fight Teddy for food. She WOULD fight an enemy to protect him (and me). My huskies preferred not to fight, but they could be pushed and if they were pushed, there were two levels. One was a simple dominance thing that looked bad but never led to serious injuries.

My male husky — Cody O’Dog — was extremely intelligent and fierce in this way. He couldn’t abide Dusty (a male dog who was “there first”) and he never liked or trusted the Evil X. He and Dusty had a few tussles and they each came away with bites on the back legs, nothing serious. As for what he would have done to the Evil X? I don’t know but it might have been ugly.

The next level for dogs is fighting to the death, and no one expected a Labrador retriever to be a killer — but she was. Everyone would have expected my husky/wolf hybrid to have an amped up level of ferocity — and she did. She was a murderous beast. But, other than her breeding, she’d also been used a breeding bitch, had known hunger and her loyalty to me was absolute, intense. She hated it when I was not there and would act out. She never made friends with her “pack mates.” I was her pack, her whole world.

There’s that “pack mentality” thing, and maybe dogs have such a mentality, but to differing degrees. Siberian huskies absolutely do NOT like living as only dogs, but Bear, an Akbash, a livestock guardian dog, is an essentially solitary being as are all her breed, bred to spend long periods of time out in the middle of nowhere watching sheep. She needs “alone time.” I think of the Basque sheepherders of Montana who, with their sheep-wagon and their dogs, also live months at a time in the high country without any other people around. Could everyone do that? Why am I here instead of in some big city?

I suspect we humans are also made up of different intrinsic “breeds.” No, I’m not making a pitch for eugenics. I just suspect that nature and nurture can work together to make a husky/wolf mix human or an opportunistic, loving, grateful little guy like Teddy or a gentle, humorous, protective being like Bear. Certain nationalities are renowned for certain traits — the little fighting Irishman? That was my dad and, uh, uh, uh…

Innate intelligence seems also to be a factor in this diversity. Bear is unlike any other dog I’ve owned. Her intelligence (part of her breeding as a livestock guardian dog) leads her to be gentle, very patient and “kind.” She shows enthusiasm and curiosity, but training her to do “tricks” (which Teddy thrives on) is a challenge. A trick I’ve taught them is to go “down” on the count of three. “One, two, three,” and Teddy goes down. Bear goes down on “One.” Not only does Teddy go down on “three,” he will not go down on “One, two, five” or “One, two, seven, twenty-three, forty-one, three.” It has to be “Three” in the right place. Teddy wants the treat but somewhere in his mind the procedure must be executed correctly. He’s a law and order guy except when it comes to filching food.

Meanwhile, Bear tries again and again (smirking inside?) or chills on the floor beside him, knowing a treat is coming sooner or later. Which dog is smarter? Bear is a lot more pragmatic. Teddy seems to have “book smarts.”

BUT…Bear has never known hunger. I think Teddy has. When I adopted him, he was skin and bones. He was found tied up in front of a 7-Eleven. How long had he been wandering? How long before someone caught him? His collar was too small — it could have been a while. When my friend Lois was walking him, he was always looking back, worried that I wasn’t there. Why?

Teddy fetches, puts the ball in my hand, and returns with it, prancing like a puppy. He loves it when the ball is difficult to retrieve so he can solve a problem and return to me with great pomp and circumstance. Meanwhile, Bear leans against me, a little jealous but basically knowing that Teddy’s tricks are irrelevant in the grand scheme of scaring off cougars and bears.

I think all this can be extrapolated to people. While dogs are dogs, and people are people, there’s the thread of animal nature weaving through all of us.

Chiens du Matin

The wily and intrepid Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog is guarding her breakfast. Not eating it. She’s far too intrepid for that. She’s guarding it. The workings of the brain of the livestock guardian dog are often beyond the comprehension of we mere mortals, even canine mortals such as Teddy Bear T. Dog who’s here with me as I try to write a blog post that’s even remotely interesting.

“I’m not going in there,” he says to me, telepathically. “You taught me ‘NO!’ Martha and I believe you. Even though there’s tuna on Bear’s breakfast, I’m not going near it because you said ‘NO!’ and she curled her lip that time. Anyway, you in your graciousness put tuna on mine, too, and I’m grateful.”

Meanwhile, he gets all the morning rawhide pencils.

The differences between these two are so fun. Yesterday I got to enjoy them fully. Bear and I rambled slowly around the slough. Bear caught scents, I caught vistas and we were happy. I came home, put Teddy into his harness, put a bag of treats in my pocket and we headed out for 20 minutes of training in the empty parking lot of the high school. Besides, “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “heel,” I’m teaching him to stay with me without being tightly leashed. For a puppy, concentrating on any one thing for any length of time is a huge challenge, but he’s getting it, even, sometimes to the point of walking at heel when he’s on a loose leash. It’s a little challenging with the leash fastened to his chest because it easily gets between his feet, but he’s a stalwart and intrepid little guy.

“What, Bear? You really aren’t hungry? OK. Do you want me to cover that and put it in the fridge?”

“Yeah, otherwise I have to stay here and guard it, and I’d rather be with you and Teddy in the living room.”

“OK, but it might be your dinner.”

“Or Teddy’s?”

Bear’s Official “Gotcha” Day

Every family has its special days, and four years ago today, I brought my Bear home from the shelter for real. It was the most painless puppy integration I remember, though Teddy has been easy, too. I wasn’t sure about having a giant breed dog, but Marilyn of Serendipity told me what that kind of dog is like and I was persuaded. Bear was four months old and already had the gentle wisdom of a livestock guardian dog. Her very first night, when dusk arrived, she went outside to guard. She gave Dusty time to get to know her and there was a magic day when, for the first time in his life Dusty played. Bear taught him how. She treated my old Aussie, Mindy, with gentleness and respect.

I have enjoyed getting to know her. She’s not the dog to do tricks or anything like that. She was born with great self-confidence and inherent knowledge of who she is. There are things she will never do — so she’s always leashed when we’re out and that’s OK with both of us. Teddy is already learning to stay with me without a leash.

I love her, but I also like her in the way you might like a human friend. We’ve shared so many experiences and feelings. Back when I was suffering from advanced osteoarthritis in my hip, before my surgery, it was Bear who helped me understand WHY I should persevere with an operation I’d already experienced (the other hip) and dreaded with all my heart. “Because I’m here,” she said one afternoon when I was really in despair. Pain fucks with our minds; never doubt it. Somehow Bear reminded me of my “job” which is to be her human, caring for her and loving her all her life. I was truly standing on a precipice and Bear pulled me back. ❤

When we go out and ramble in the snow we share the experience and, I think, enhance the experience of the other. Bear loves snow as much as I do and as soon as she smells it, she’s outside, letting me know our “bliss” is falling. She’s an amazing being. Her beauty attracts people when we take walks and little kids always have to meet her. She’s gentle and slow moving around them and while, generally, I wouldn’t let a little kid hug one of my dogs, I don’t worry about Bear. I am sure the little kids believe they’ve entered an enchanted fairytale world when they stand beside a gentle creature as large as they are. When the little kids at the end of my alley get to walk her, it’s as good as a parade.

So, to honor her day, we went out to the slough to walk, something we haven’t been able to do because the river pretty much covered the first parts of it. The trail hasn’t been mowed and the weeds are high. There were mosquitoes everywhere and flowers — that’s a good description of life, I think. We had a great time.

Getting Bear in 2015

Quotidian Update 19.2.a.iv

Yesterday, I didn’t get to the dermatologist because I got a stomach bug night before last and got no sleep, so, wasn’t really prepared for three hours on the road.

In spite of all that, yesterday ended beautifully in a long long long walk in a place we usually don’t get to visit except in the cold season. When I headed out with Bear in a chill, blustery, thundery wind, I saw there was no one at the golf course. Nary a car. Not a single golf cart. Nothing. No one. This meant we could walk through it out to the Big Empty. True, the Big Empty is never far, but it’s nice when we don’t have to drive AT ALL. Bear was happy and so was I. She signifies happiness by stopping for no reason and leaning against me and walking beside me so my hand rests on her back.

I came home, put Teddy into his fancy harness, and took him on a different golf course walk. It was his first time. I can’t imagine him in deep snow, but I suspect he can imagine himself there. He’s an undaunted little guy.

So, you are asking, why was no one on the golf course? Was it the thunder storm? What’s the story?

I learned that the country singer who’s headlining the Ski Hi Stampede, Randy Houser, had played golf there that morning. I guess everyone figured that was as good as it was going to get and left.

I slept in this morning dreaming about a wedding to a great love of my life (GLOML) that nearly happened. You know you’re tired when your brain sends you amazing dreams of impossible outcomes to keep you in bed. Had we moved forward with the GLOML’s idea that we have a family, it would have led (in his father’s actual words) to “A crucifixion.” But, dreams are something else entirely, and though I kept suggesting (in the dream) that it wasn’t such a great idea, his family and mine (and he and I) moved forward. At some point we were dressed as clowns. Fate’s marionettes, maybe. Most of the time we were in a labyrinthine European city (Genova, I think). I stayed asleep until 8:30 to see what would happen.

It’s cool when you have a dream that keeps you hooked, waiting for the ending, even when you know you’re just going to wake up.

Here’s the guy who gave me the golf course yesterday. Not my kind of music, even for country, but it’s still pretty good.

The Teddy Update

Teddy has been with us for six weeks and is coming into his own with his unique little personality. Actually, it’s a large personality, but a wonderful one. He loves learning — he’s learned to fetch. He is beginning to understand he needs to sit when he meets someone. He’s learning not to react to barking dogs on our walks. He has a great memory. When we meet people on our walks he remembers the houses and he looks for them just after one encounter. Yesterday I took him to meet a little girl who lives down the street — not Michelle, but another kid who loves dogs. They met. At her house there is a 4 foot wood fence in front so Teddy had to jump up to get meet her. As we passed her house today, he jumped up on that fence looking for her.

The bright side of the sore shoulder is that I have to walk each of them alone so Bear gets her long, slow rambles which I also love because I just love being with her, and Teddy gets trained.

He and Bear are really opposites. Bear doesn’t do anything to please me; that’s not one of her motives at all which is, I think, why it upsets her so much if I get angry at her. She has no idea why and she will never have any idea why. From the very first night she lived here I understood that she was exceptionally independent and far more likely to cooperate than learn tricks. Considering her breed, she’s happy and extremely well behaved, doesn’t mind living in a small house with a small yard. But she must guard, she must bark when she feels a need (not that often), she must have a fairly set routine. She has never had an “accident” (Teddy and every other dog in my life has) and has never really done anything wrong. She babysits Teddy every morning (he’s still a puppy) while I sleep until a human hour, then takes a break after breakfast. She KNOWS she’s babysitting and she does not let him bother me. She has taught him a lot, like not to eat the stuffing out of toys, where to pee and poop, where it’s OK to dig holes and where it’s not. Teddy, on the other hand, gets very happy when he has done something that garners praise and will work as hard for “Good boy!” as for a treat.

It’s really the livestock guardian dog (Bear) and the herding dog (Teddy) team here in this sheepless house. Both of them are very affectionate to me and even to each other. They are just nice dogs. ❤

My yard is a mess but I guess it could be fixed… Not this year, though. 😦

I’ve been so lucky — I was born into this world wanting a dog. It took 35 years before I had one of my own. I have had the chance to live with some very incredible beings, like Bear and Teddy. I know living with dogs might not be everyone’s life dream, but apparently it’s been one of mine.

Red and White Blues

The best discovery I’ve made in a long time is an Apple program that makes it a lot easier for me to make Kindle books. I have found that process tedious and boring, never mind not knowing if they work or not other than the various simulated eReaders offered me by Amazon’s publishing platform.

I’ve long had the theory that no one WANTS me to do that particular formatting task myself because people want me to HIRE them to do that for me. I’d love to, but I haven’t discovered buried treasure, well, there were three antique burlap potato sacks in my crawl space that were pretty cool. The name of the program is iBooks Author and maybe it’s been around for a while and I just didn’t know it.

Anyway, I’m now putting the trilogy of Savior, The Brothers Path and The Price together in one Kindle book. I can’t see putting them together in a paperback unless there is a market for door stops that I haven’t heard of.

Meanwhile, here we are at the 4th of July. Other than the random firecrackers being blown up in town, scaring Bear (and though through it all she feels she must protect me) I think it best to draw a veil of silence over the whole thing. I have a lot of opinions, substantial anger and even more substantial sorrow over the state of things in “my” country.

I’m telling my dog — and myself — it’s just one day and soon (maybe next Monday?) our wildlife area will be open to the public (and the black Angus herd that’s there now). Hopefully the shady trail by the river isn’t underwater, but I think it probably is. I can’t wait to see how things are going out there.

If you live in the US, have a safe 4th of July.