Celebrating Five Years with Bear

Five years ago yesterday Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog came to live with me, Dusty (RIP) and Mindy (RIP). I had a lot of doubts about this adoption but Marilyn of Serendipity had had experience with Great Pyrenees (at the time, I thought Bear was a pyrenees/husky mix). She encouraged me not to hesitate, that Pyrenees were gentle, loving low-energy dogs and it would be great (if I wanted to live with a big hairy beast who would ultimately weigh 100 pounds). 🙂

My big fear was that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a puppy. I was then (and remain) mildly ashamed of growing older and having to contend with worn out body parts, knees, hips and the like. You know. I’d been an avid trail runner until I was 53 when my first hip had gone too far south for me to ignore it. Life then became a process of discovering what had happened to me and getting it fixed. After that, though I was supposed to be back to 100%, I never was again. And, as I said, I was and remain, vaguely ashamed of this.

I brought Bear home for a few hours as a “test drive”. She instantly made friends with Mindy, my sweet, elderly Aussie. Dusty was clearly disposed to tolerate her but not necessarily to LIKE her. He was still mourning his Siberian husky sister/mom, Lily, whom I’d had to put down four months earlier.

Bear — observing what they did — peed and pooped outside. Everything about this dog indicated she wanted to be here. I had to take her back to the shelter that day, but I took a deep breath and put down a $50 deposit claiming her as my dog. I brought her home soon after.

As I got to know Bear I saw I didn’t have a pet. I had something else. I love Siberian huskies because they are so independent, but their exercise needs were way beyond my abilities. Bear is at least as independent as a husky, but unlike huskies, she wants to get things right and please her human in a spirit of cooperation and tolerance. While Bear is an autonomous being, she’s one who instinctively cooperates, very different from a husky.

I also learned that she is an Akbash dog, a livestock guardian dog originally from Turkey, that can have blue eyes. They are similar to Pyrenees in their job, but as a dog breed they have longer legs and are generally more slender having, as part of their ancestry (3000 years ago) “wind hound” and “sight hound” — something like grey hound or Afghan dog. Bear “only” weighs 75 pounds.

As I researched livestock guardian dogs I was soon in awe of their role in the world. That Bear was going to be an old woman’s pet and not wandering the Big Empty protecting goats and sheep from bears and coyotes seemed a little unfair to Bear. Several months after she came to live with me, I got to see a couple of those dogs out in the middle of nowhere with a large herd of sheep. That image evolved into a Christmas card.

In my research I learned they needed to be carefully socialized, so from the time she was a puppy, I got her out there where people are. The only time I see her livestock guardian dog behavior is when there are other dogs. Since the time we were charged by a cattle dog, and Bear felt (she was probably right) she had to defend me and Dusty. When she’s leashed, other dogs are NOT to be born. Off leash, it’s another story, or if the other dog is introduced properly. She didn’t hurt the cattle dog, but he has never charged us again.

I also learned that while the Akbash dog (and the Pyrenees) can be fierce, fast and strong, they are very low energy.

So, to celebrate what I view as Bear’s “gotcha'” day we went to the Refuge in the early evening. We’ve had rain for five days and it was just a JOY to get out. The sky was magnificent, the air was fresh, the sky was washed clean.

Maybe best of all, soon after I arrived, I saw cranes. They are beginning to make their way back to their winter home, Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. You can imagine my heart lit up at the sight and sound of these wonderful birds. “It won’t be long now, Bear,” I said. She just smelled some poop.


The Bear Report

Just took Bear to the vet to learn why she is limping. She has reduced muscle mass in her shoulders, and the doc thinks she might have a couple of compressed vertebrae in her neck, a common problem in giant breed dogs. The symptoms appear as the dog ages.

It’s a depressing reality that a giant breed dog at 5 years old is older than a normal dog at 5 years old. Bear now has pain meds, and we don’t have to do anything different than we do anyway. Otherwise Bear is in very good condition and was loved on by everyone. 

Some of the people at the vet have known Bear since she was a puppy and were very glad to see her (me too, I think). 

Sonnet 64:

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-ras’d
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

It was weird at the vet. I’m obviously 70ish and not absolutely normal walking. One of the techs asked me how I could handle such a big dog. I was flummoxed. I’ve had big dogs as long as I’ve had dogs. Bear is always aware of me, even if she pulls ahead, she stops and looks back. She’s pulled me down ONCE in her whole life and that’s because I didn’t let go when I should have when a dog was charging her and barking at her (on leash). I thought about people and their dogs. When Bear and I walk, we walk together. We’re both engaged in something that makes each of us happy individually but is enriched because we’re together. It’s been like that for me with all my dogs, but Bear most of all.

I don’t know that it’s about controlling a dog as much as understanding the dog. Teddy is learning, but he has a way to go. Still, he’s only a year old. It takes time to know your dog.

My theory of dog training is you teach your dog what he/she needs to know to be safe in the world of people and otherwise, you just cooperate. Bear was really beautifully behaved at the vet. I don’t know. Everyone thinks their dog is extraordinary, but I think Bear might be objectively extraordinary. These dogs are bred to be calm and aware of their environment at all times. That’s translated for me into a dog that’s almost a friend as much as a pet.

Three More Months, a Petrarchan sonnet

Freezing temps, the sky silver with snow,
Airborne crystalline promises shimmer.
In the morning light, minute spectra glimmer.
I leash my big white dog and off we go.
Hoar frost on the bare trees’ smallest branches
breaks free and falls on my dog and me.
As we walk beneath the cottonwood trees
Across the snowy field, the fresh snow crunches.
The parallel tracks of Nordic skis shadow
Our path through the brown and golden tones,
Blue shadows, the angled light of winter noon.
Ahead, Mt. Blanca, covered with snow.
I stop, rest my hand on my dog’s warm back, she
leans against my leg, savoring our gelid paradise.


I haven’t tried this since high school. My sophomore English teacher said that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to learn to write sonnets so I would learn the discipline involved in the effective use of language. I wrote a bunch back then. They really are not easy and I don’t know if he was right nor not, but this was fun. 🙂


Quotidian Update 7,002,639.1.a

Bear hurt her right leg. I think her paw, but I’m not sure. Friday she was limping for real and didn’t want to move much. I tried to explain that we needed to ice it and she should keep it elevated, but my explanation never penetrated for some reason. She categorically refused to do what I advised, and, instead, just laid around on the floor. It was better the next day, and the next, and the next, but she still doesn’t want to put her full weight on it. Still, she’s running around the yard with Teddy and acting pretty normal, so… I’ve asked her to explain what happened so I could make a good decision about taking her to the vet, but no. Completely uncooperative.

I thought she might change her mind when she saw that I was putting Teddy into the car meaning we were going to the Refuge yesterday, but no. She was disappointed. She knew it was her turn. I explained that until she can walk normally on that paw I’m not taking her for a walk. I reiterated my advice about R.I.C.E. and she just gave me a blank stare with those blue eyes and went back to chewing her rawhide.

Dogs can be so intractable.

In other news, the Refuge is in mid-summer mode. Stuff is blooming like crazy. The bees are taking advantage of huge, fragrant banks of yellow clover, so fragrant the air is filled with their sweet, spicy scent. There are also at least two types of milkweed blooming right now.

The little geese are nearly full grown. There are only 3 remaining from the original 5, suggesting that a couple of the little goslings were food for a predator. In March, there were three goose couples setting up housekeeping. Then, in May, there were broken eggs on the road. Two of the couples are long gone, having lost their little families.

Everything out there is present and accounted for. Plenty of red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds and what I thought might be the Colorado State Bird — the Lark Bunting — actually is.

The Rio Grande Wildlife Area — where I have taken my dogs most of my time here in Monte Vista — will reopen in two weeks. It closes between late February and mid-July every year to allow waterbirds to nest and raise their young. Until this year I didn’t appreciate that though the dates are “set in stone” and the same every year, they are not arbitrary. I’ve seen the whole cycle of goose courtship and breeding. Nature is a clock. As much as I like the wildlife area, I’m not sure I’ll be going back until winter. If hundreds of cattle are grazing there again this year, it won’t be much fun. I don’t mind the cows, but it’s not a lot of fun navigating around hundreds — if not thousands — of cow-paddies.


“See, Martha?”

An hour and a half ago, Bear let me know what time it was. I had no desire to argue with her because a cool north wind was blowing through the Valley. It was a good time for us to seek Refuge.

Bear and I each wear mosquito repellant bandanas which, when the wind is blowing, aren’t really necessary, but it’s undeniable that we look cool.

I took inventory of the water birds — the ducks — mom, dad and ducklings — were all in a row, more or less…

The duck family. Hazy today from fires to the southwest and blowing dust. We couldn’t see the mountains to the east. A milkweed plant is blooming in the foreground.

And on the other side of the road, the geese and their teenage goslings were swimming in a pond more sheltered that the one the ducks enjoyed.

The yellow headed blackbird who has been so defensive of something has abandoned his watch which could mean the eggs have hatched and the babies have flown or that something happened. I’m going to believe the first because he’s been good company and fascinating to watch for the past month or so.

It was just a glorious, cool, windy afternoon with a dramatic sky. Bear and I were in Heaven. Then, on the way back I noticed a car and became a little wary. I never know if there’s a dog. But it was something else, and very sweet. A solitary woman was reading all the informative signs. Finally she stopped and parked and took the little nature walk around the small swamp. She had a camera with her. From time to time she stopped to take a photo or read an informative sign. I felt very happy seeing her because I knew she was learning something new about that wonderful place and I knew a lot of birds were down in there.

I think I saw the Colorado state bird for the first time — I’m not sure, but it doesn’t seem impossible. It’s a nondescript little sparrow called the Lark Bunting. The male is black and white during mating season and brown during the rest of the year. This reminds me of guys who pretended to like what I liked until we became a couple and then they never did my stuff with me again. Like the Good X who pretended to like skiing, but once we were together, he just liked going to used car lots to drive old cars and going to the swap meet… 😉

There was a lot more carnivore scat than I’ve seen lately. Some of it, I’m sure, from the two wandering farm dogs. One pile looked like bear, but I don’t see that there’s much for bears to eat. I’m pretty sure we’ve seen badger scat, coyote and possibly bobcat scat. Bear’s poop inventory is probably more accurate than my guesses.

Bear’s Notion of Time

“No, Bear. It won’t almost be winter. It will be the beginning of summer.”

“You mean summer hasn’t even started yet?”

“I’m sorry.”

“So what’s so good about it?”

“After tomorrow, the days will start getting shorter, and instead of heading north, the sun will appear to go south.”

“I don’t understand anything you said, Martha.”

“It means we’ll be going in the direction of winter instead of going in the direction of summer.”

“How do you know this?”

“It’s on the calendar. It’s how humans know what day it is.”

“Wow. I really don’t understand that.”

“Humans have all these systems to keep track of time so they know when to do something and can make plans for the future.”


“Tomorrow, next month, next year.”

“Sometimes you say ‘tomorrow’ to me. That means ‘no.'”

“‘Tomorrow doesn’t mean ‘no’. It means not right now.”

“I thought ‘later’ meant that.”

“Later does mean that. It’s two words we have to express time in the future.”

“Words are confusing aren’t they, human.”

“Yes, they are very confusing. But you tell time. I can know what time it is by what you do, Bear. You know when I will feed you. You know all the various times when you can expect to go on a walk. You know when I usually wake up. You are a very strict dog about those things.”

“That’s so I know you’re all right. If everything happens when it’s supposed to, I know things are all right and I don’t have to go kill something. It’s not about time. It’s about keeping you and Teddy safe from harm.”

“Oh Bear.”


Redwing Blackbirds v. Ravens

Bear and I headed out for a walk yesterday on a cool-ish, breezy morning. News no journalist reports…

The longest lenticular cloud I’ve ever seen stretched over Mt. Blanca. Unfortunately I was driving during the best parts. Cloud building is dynamic, so I wasn’t able to get a photo until the best part was over. A cold front is coming in, pushing out a warm front. That warm air on the ground and the cold air from the front had a fight in the sky. I watched several fluffy clouds stretch out and layer under the heavier, higher, cold air.

There were scenes of sorrow, too. A couple of broken duck eggs. Coyotes? Or what I saw in the sky, a raven assault team. There were three getting no end of shit from a large team of red wing blackbirds. I watched the show. The ravens feinted, dived, swooped, soared and inevitably surrendered and landed on the ground. As long as they were flying, they were harassed.

I thought of how we’re programed to cheer on the little birds, but ravens have to eat, too. I was reminded — again — how cleanly impersonal is nature. It’s all kill or be killed. I thought immediately of the virus. It’s just doing its thing. The raven is several times the size of a redwing blackbird, but it doesn’t want to get hurt. I watched several of these battles yesterday and not ONCE did the raven attempt an attack on any of the redwing blackbirds. It simply tried to get away. Hmmmmm….

Thinking about this, I felt tears well up. Everything is there, every answer to every question, every damned time.

And this ran through my mind:

Have you…
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
“Done things” just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
Have you seen God in His splendors, heard the text that nature renders?
(You’ll never hear it in the family pew)…

Robert Service, “The Call of the Wild

Now here’s a picture of Bear sleeping on my foot right now.


Hard to Beat a Sky Like This

Hot(ish) out here in the back-of-beyond but also windy and cloudy so, at Bear’s insistence, I headed out to the Big Empty. As long as the wind is blowing, I’m comfortable. The clouds drifted over us, and some were quite spectacular. In the distance, virga rained in the sky.

It was just nice to be out there with Bear. She alerted me to most of the scat along the road and stood with me in the wind, listening to the birds.

I have no great profound insight from our little ramble. I’m just glad we went, that it was cool enough for us, and that we were together.

Brave Little Girl

The kids came over today with a beautiful present for me — a planter they had made and painted me for Mother’s Day. That was awesome but what was REALLY awesome was Michelle.

When she met the dogs in my house last week, she was terrified and panicked. It was bad. Bear went into major livestock guardian dog to try to comfort her which just made it worse since Bear’s way of comforting a scared little animal is to get on top of them. And Teddy was apeshit because of the chaos. Michelle loves them, but they terrify her.

Last week, Bear “wrote” Michelle a letter and explained about herself to the little girl. “Bear” also explained to Michelle that Teddy is still basically a puppy and very excited all the time about everything. Today Michelle wanted to come in and see the dogs again and try everything Bear told her in her letter.

Again, she was terrified. I sat down on the sofa with her and wrapped her in my arms. I was amazed that instantly she relaxed. Bear relaxed, too. Little by little, Michelle was ready to try again. She even stood up and got a toy for Teddy. She sat back on the sofa with me. That is when Bear saw that Michelle was scared of Teddy. Bear put herself between Michelle and Teddy and didn’t move. I told Michelle what Bear was doing and she understood that it would make it easier for her to interact with Teddy if Bear were between them. I told Michelle how great she was doing, told Bear what a good dog she was and told Teddy he was a good boy when he sat or went down on command. I told Michelle to tell them, too. She learned that Bear would rather have pats than cookies.

It was really, really cool. When she left she apologized for being afraid. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a brave kid in my whole life.

The box is really beautiful and they were so proud of it. There are good paintings of Teddy, Bear, me and one of their kitties. There are GREAT color combinations. Rumor has it that the orange glows in the dark. I’ll check that tonight.


Back in AP English with Mrs. Zinn we read Greek Tragedies. We read Aristotle’s Poetics, too, so we understood the philosophical and critical background of these plays. I loved it. Then I learned that Aristotle had also written about comedy but the book had been lost. That led me to want to read some Greek comedies.

They’re low brow and ribald; full of lasciviousness and farts. The one I remember best (and that’s not well) is The Frogs by Aristophanes. It’s a parody of what Aristophanes thought was bad theater. But, I didn’t really understand what he was parodying, so I’m pretty sure the humor went over my head. Still, I can’t hear frogs without thinking of my (hopeless) attempts to understand the play.

It was a tempestuous day out at our Happy Place. The sky all around was demonstrating pretty much ALL of its tricks. There were small flurries of snow over the mountains, each moving rapidly toward then across the northern edge of the San Luis Valley. Fluffy clouds like kids draw hung around in the south-east quadrant, and the light changed rapidly over the Sangre de Cristos. Yesterday we had thunder-snow followed by thunder-graupel. It was great.

Bear and I got to welcome two cars today, one of which had a Siberian husky hanging it’s head out of the back window. It was a good day for hawks and I believe I have identified a mated pair of red-tails. A guy told me about them a month or so ago, but I hadn’t seen them until today. I love them. They were my companions on hikes in California all the time. I watched the male circle higher and higher and higher until he was a dot far up in the blue sky. His wife flew low over the grassy fields looking for lunch or dinner. It would seem they do not yet have eggs. I haven’t seen the nest. The man told me where it is, but I haven’t been that way yet.

It was soothing and comforting to be out there in the wind and the changing light. With temperatures forecast in the high 70s next week, we might begin our early-evening journeys.

Bear had a nice time. What interested her most, though, was the clump of grass on which Teddy urinated last Friday. Dogs.