A walk-through dog wash would be perfect. One at my back door that washes, brushes and dries my dogs. In minutes they’re done. With a magic dog cleanser that rushes To their skin, lifts the dust, with a smell dogs like (And I like too). Once a day would be enough. When night falls, or after a muddy hike When fur is wet, their paws dirty and rough. Instead of this I must groom them myself, Brush in hand, unwilling pup at my feet. I could have smaller dogs, the size of elves, even a shedless dog, curly-haired and sweet. As fate and love would have it, their furry filaments are my burden to curry.
This is a Shakespearean sonnet, more or less. 14 lines, ababcdcdefefgg. Iambic pentameter (10 syllable lines with the stress on every other syllable, but I’m not a fetishist about that). The final six lines are supposed to set up a situation established by or counter to the first 8 lines. I’m not big on rules, though, other than the rhyme and syllable thing. I’m writing sonnets as a mental challenge, mostly, but once in a while one might be good. I started writing sonnets when I realized I just don’t have much more to say in one of my customary blog posts at the moment.
Still, I don’t know if Shakespeare (or anyone) before me has written a sonnet to dog hair. We might be witnessing a moment (low or high, you judge) in literary history.
I have a great vet, although he sold the practice to a couple of younger vets and is only “vetting” part time. Teddy and I were lucky and Dr. Crawford was our vet today. He is the vet who came to my house to put down Dusty. He was Bear’s first vet and Teddy’s first vet. From the very beginning, he made a very big and positive impression on me because he loves animals, is soft-spoken, thoughtful and kind. Here on my living room floor as we prepared Dusty to go to the Enchanted Forest, we talked about euthanizing dogs and he said, “You must love this dog very much,” he said, “I made a big mistake with my old dog last year. I just couldn’t let him go. He suffered because of that.”
I did love Dusty very much. I loved him so much that I (usually) cheerfully accommodated his behavior problems that stemmed from his having been pushed out of a truck on the freeway, kicked and left for dead as a puppy. When I adopted Dusty from a shelter in Bonita, CA, when he was 4 months old they said, “He’s not adoptable,” but Dusty really did want to be my dog. Dusty was complicated, but he loved Dr. Crawford. When Dr. Crawford knelt down on the floor and lifted Dusty’s leg to put in the catheter, Dusty sighed in relief. Dr. Crawford also put down my last husky and he did it with tenderness and understanding of THIS woman who did NOT want to let that dog go.
So, today, Teddy and I got lucky.
I spent more time at the vet’s today than I’ve spent in any public place since the pandemic started. I wore my mask and stayed away from other people as much as possible. It’s frustrating because I LIKE the people who work at my vets and I’ve known them 7 years now. But there it was… I’ve learned that people recognize me partly by my smile and now no one can see it.
Dr. Crawford took Teddy back to rectify what he either did not do last week or that Teddy had undone. Dr. Crawford wasn’t sure. I get that. All our brains are addled right now. As I waited, a little kitty who lives at the vet came to play with me then sit beside me and purr while I scratched her ears. Before we left, she kissed Teddy on the nose inside his cone.
When Dr. Crawford came back with Teddy, he sat down beside me, physically closer than anyone has been except the kids hugging me in the alley, and looked me in the eyes. “You have the sweetest dog there,” he said. “He’s a wonderful dog. Congratulations.” Then he told me that Teddy will wear the cone for two weeks and we go back next week to have the dressings changed, a week later to have the staples taken out.
It felt very strange to be so physically close to someone, to look into their eyes and spend the time it took to hear the whole message. It’s only been a year, well, nearly a year, it felt longer as we spoke to each other.
Since then I’ve been thinking about what it was like BEFORE. I purposely have not done that, but marched stoically forward to some other time (whatever that will be). I thought of summer walks in the evening and talking to all the neighbors. I thought of houseguests and spontaneous laughter in any random place, the grocery store, wherever. I don’t know.
My “group” is scheduled to be getting vaccinated on February 8. So far here in the back of beyond the vaccinations have gone pretty well. So, by March I should be good to go (which is what I imagined all along). I don’t think I like wearing a mask. The kitty did something this morning that awakened me to that. She reached for my mask with her little paw and tried to pull it down. I guess we will still be wearing them, though.
As I was leaving the vet’s, a tall and very handsome young farmer came in with his little girl. They were getting big bottles of medicine for their cows. He wasn’t wearing a mask. He smiled at me with all the interest, radiance and even love a human face can show. I have no idea why other than he was just a truly happy man. I liked it.
During this time I’ve seen the full faces of my neighbors, Elizabeth, Bob and Karen, my mailman, the kids. That has really been it. I feel a little right now like Miranda in The Tempest having seen human beings other than her father, Prospero, and Caliban, their “monster” slave, for the first time. “O brave new world that has such people in it.”
Teddy is 100% accountable for taking off his bandage, pulling out his stitches, and leaving one of his TWO wounds open. No way around it. It’s Teddy’s fault that I’m up at 6 am so I’ll be able to call the vet at 7:30. And Teddy will be 100% accountable for having to wear a cone (and the vet it accountable for not giving him one in the first place). He’s also accountable for being the drain of my stimulus funds. And I am 100% accountable for not having first aid stuff around the house. TOTALLY my bad on that. And God is accountable for FINALLY sending snow just when it would be nice not to have to worry about Teddy’s foot getting wet but it’s OK, God. We all like the snow and it was fun watching Teddy spinning around in the yard yesterday harassing the squirrel high in the alder tree.
So here I am. Up and doing chores a good (I hope they’re good) two hours before usual. And accountability really just means “Who do we blame for THIS mess?”
But in good news, I woke up this morning at 4 am SURE it was Saturday, and I’d only have a narrow 3 hour window to take Teddy to the vet, but it’s only Friday. I’m accountable for not knowing what day it is… Yay COVID. I hope someone writes a science fiction story about the COVID time warp.
I don’t know if it’s the effect of the last four years of 45 + the virus, but I find I don’t have the same “nerve stamina” I used to have. I wonder if all of us aren’t just a little more edgy than we would be in “normal” times. I think this has all been very wearing but, at the same time, life is just wearing which is, I guess, only to be expected. Truly every calm moment stolen from the chaos and stress is something to savor. I think that’s one reason I like the Refuge so much. Very very very often it is totally silent — or as close to that as any place can get with a road in the distance. Sometimes I head out with the dogs and after 1/2 mile I just stand there and soak in the silence, cushioned in the knowledge that right then, and right there, all I have to do is stand still and savor it. For however long that is, nothing is going to happen.
The Good X’ mom had four kids and sometimes she would just go sit in the tree-filled, shady VERY back of their large yard. All the kids knew that she just needed some quiet and they had to leave her alone. With all the noise in our world that’s just not easy to do and how often do we realize we need to do that? I used to get up at 4:30 so I could have an hour of peace before the noise of driving and teaching and driving and teaching.
Meanwhile, Teddy is on the floor behind me. His wound wrapped in a paper towel, fastened with packing tape. Over that is one of those little grippy socks they give you in the hospital, taped with packing tape. Yeah, duct tape works better, but it’s hard to get off. He’s wearing a t-shirt which MIGHT (though it’s doubtful) keep him from worrying about his foot. When I go to the vet, I’m going to ask for a cone and some bandaging material. I’ll also ask if can wrap the wound so his foot is free. That way he can go outside and play. There’s no way to keep it dry otherwise. I’m still not going to stores, so… I did try explaining to Teddy that it’s healing and another week will make a big difference, but Bear interrupted saying, “We don’t understand that ‘week’ ‘day’ thing you are always talking about.”
Australian shepherds are known for being passionate, wild-at-heart and driven — and, by and large, happy dogs. Teddy is all those things. He’s a sweet, loving little guy and I love him to pieces. But…like all Aussies and all young dogs, he has his “glitches.”
One of them got him into trouble yesterday and gave me something to do with that stimulus money (ha ha).
Until yesterday, my front door was a French door. It is the original door for this 96 year old house and the panes of glass are/were not tempered glass like you find in such doors today. My sofa is against the wall and at a 90 degree angle to the door. There are about 6 feet between the door and the arm of the sofa.
Teddy uses the arm of the sofa as a launching pad when someone leaves something on my porch. Yesterday he launched himself at the door and broke a pane. He cut off a dew claw from his left from paw. Blood was everywhere and he was terrified. He brought his little foot to me in the kitchen as if he were saying, “You have to fix this Martha. It hurts.” I grabbed some paper towels and held them against his little foot to stop the bleeding at least enough to see what happened. Called the vet, “Bring him right in, but you’ll have to leave him.”
“That’s fine.” Got to my wonderful vet and saw people I haven’t seen in nearly a year. That was nice. Teddy went back to a kennel and I came home and called my friend Elizabeth to see if her husband, Bob, could help me measure the door way. I thought I’d have to get a new door but Bob is a very resourceful, skilled and smart guy and he immediately came up with a solution. Replace the glass with Masonite. He immediately went to work. Bear was very happy to see him because she thinks he’s great.
When I went back to get Teddy, there were the most amazing clouds over the Sangre de Cristos. I learned later that recent snow storms (grrrrrr….) have almost brought the annual snowfall level up to break the drought.
The tech at the vet said she wanted to keep Teddy and apologized to me for thinking Teddy was a girl. “He’s just so sweet! We all want to keep him!” I handed over the leash, but she didn’t take it. What’s up with that?
I brought Teddy home and let him sleep in my room until 2 when he felt better and wanted to get back to life as usual with Bear in the living room.
“The first fall of snow is not only an event, but it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found?” J.B. Priestley
Many of my dogs have been snow dogs — mostly Siberian Huskies, but Molly was an Australian Shepherd/Malamute mix. She was my first “snow dog,” and she was very special. I think many dog owners have experienced life with an extraordinary dog, and Molly was just such a one.
Around Valentine’s Day in 1989, I found her in a big cardboard box with her brothers and sisters at the El Cajon swap meet. Her mom was a Malamute. The people were very eager to get rid of the pups. It appeared that they’d hoped to breed Malamutes, but a licentious Aussie had gotten to her first. The pups were free, somewhere around 8 weeks old.
It was, for me, love at first sight. Molly was patterned like a blue merle Aussie. Her eyes were brown and she had a little pink heart shape on her nose. She was born without a tail — just a little flap of fur where a tail would have been. I hadn’t thought of having two dogs, but Truffle had recently been spayed and maybe she would look at Molly as her own pup.
The very first day — that very afternoon — I took her to the Laguna Mountains with Truffle, hiking. She was far too small for that, but it gave me my first glimpse into her amazing mind. Tiny as she was, when she got hot and tired, she found a shady place and dug with her little feet until she found cool, damp earth and she laid down, flat on her belly, and looked up at me.
I became very familiar with that look. It said, ”Surely you know better than this?”
And she smiled.
I ended up carrying her out, realizing how dumb — and inadvertently cruel — I had been.
Her nickname became ”Smiler” for the way she had of curling back her lips when she was overjoyed happy to see the people she loved. With no tail to wag, she had to do something.
Molly didn’t bark; she “woo-woo”ed. She went to puppy school and dropped out. Once she felt she’d mastered a skill such as “sit” or “down” she just went to sleep. She did take the final exam and passed with flying colors. Throughout her life, she never walked well on a leash; neither of the breeds in her ancestry was exactly what you’d call ”submissive.”
When tested with sheep, she showed no interest in herding, but she would keep my niece and her little friends in one corner of the backyard when she was tired of playing with them. Molly had intelligence and will, and, from her, I learned how a human and a dog can be partners, friends, equals. That particular balance became my goal in my relationship with all the dogs in my life.
We lived together for nearly fifteen years. They were tumultuous years in my life, but Molly stayed the course with her particular fierce and light-hearted sense of how things should be.
Most of all, we wanted to be together ALL THE TIME. We loved each other fiercely.
One March afternoon in 2000 I was at work and heard the news that more than 20 inches of snow had fallen in the Laguna Mountains and was expected to continue — at a slower rate — all night.
I wanted to ski, but I’d gotten rid of my skis in the GREAT PURGE when the Good X moved out. I found, to my great surprise, that there was a place in San Diego where I could rent X-country skis. I called and said, “I need skis, boots, and poles, whatever, for a woman 5’2” 160 pounds, 7.5 shoes. Can I come and get them this afternoon?”
“Yeah, sure. You know where we are?”
“Not really.” He gave me directions. I made my plans known to my bosses (who were also colleagues) that I would not be at school/work the next day, and that I would call in sick. I explained that I was going skiing with my dog. There in San Diego County I was going to have a “snow day.”
“Isn’t that dangerous? To ski alone like that in the back-country?”
A common question in my life. I knew people — friends — who did really dangerous things. I was just going to the nearby mountains to X-country ski with my best friend who happened to be a dog. In the Laguna Mountains, there was zero chance of an avalanche. There really was NOTHING dangerous about it unless I fell and broke something. I believed (on some level) that Molly was perfectly capable of rescuing me and driving home.
I walked in the shop and the guy behind the counter — the owner — looked up and said, “5’2” 160?”
“Here you go. Try on the boots.”
The boots were fine.
I was on fire with excitement. I was rapturous. I had not X-country skied in YEARS, almost a DECADE. I couldn’t wait. I was going skiing. Snow!!!! The next morning Molly and I were on the road loud music blasting out of the CD player.
I planned to park at the Meadows Information Station on the Sunrise Highway. I hoped the road wasn’t closed. I didn’t have chains. I figured if the road were closed I’d park where I could and just ski up the road with my dog on a leash, but on that holy day, we got lucky. Waaa—HOOO!
I had no plan, no route. I was just going to ski. I knew the snow would be great. Some of the best X-country skiing in my life was in Southern California, dense snow, receptive to skis, easy to break trail, easy to turn, and fast on hills.
I buckled on Molly’s pack so she could carry our water and granola bars, and we were off across the meadow and then down, down to Laguna Pond.
About 50 feet above Laguna Pond the season changed to spring. The warmer air, coming from the ocean, laden with water, was here soft mist bending to the cool surface of the pond on its way to higher, colder elevations where it would turn to snow. In those mountains, the Lagunas, the seasons are often inches from each other. I have stood on a trail on the northeast side of the Lagunas, over the desert, arms outstretched, one hand in a winter storm and the other in sunshine, the climate created by the rain shadow.
I turned and we skied back up to winter then down again to spring, and up and then, having enjoyed the phenomenon enough, I returned to winter to stay. There we climbed hills and skied down, and the snow fell. On the top of one hill above the meadow, Molly jumped up and landed on her back. She rolled around, making angels in the deep snow. I stepped out of my skis and got down beside her to made an angel of my own. When I finished, I looked over at my blissful, wet, snowy dog and saw her…
“Australians, Bear. People in Patagonia where we were going if Trump had been re-elected.”
“Patagonia. Down there. There IS a Southern Hemisphere.”
Women who talk to their dogs end up with conversations like that. Yep, up here in the Back of Beyond Colorado summer is far from our minds. And whether summer is fun or not? It’s not our favorite. You can ask the skiers. Ski areas are beginning to open, cautiously, and with many rules. The one with the most snow so far is the one just an hour away from me. So, while the Australians and others are having fun in the sun, Coloradans will be trying to find open areas to ski.
These geographical niceties are beyond Bear’s comprehension so I never burden her with them. I’ve thought of taking them up with Teddy — who is more imaginative — but considering that in 10 minutes with me in the front yard yesterday, Teddy found the one small and nearly invisible hole in the fence, through which my neighbor’s little kitty comes to visit, I think he should maybe be tutoring me on geography…
I wonder what will remain of my brain at the point in which we are all vaccinated and wandering around out there doing all the stuff we did before. I wonder how that will be. I wonder if we’ll think, “Wow. I missed this?” I wonder if we’ll even dare bitch about being stuck in traffic as we drive a long distance to see our families. I wonder who we will be. I’m afraid I’m permanently altered. I’ve always been more interested in dogs than in people but I think I may have crossed a line… “Teddy, what do you think?”
“Just give me that coffee cup, Martha.”
“But I’m not finished.”
“Oh, OK. I’ll wait, patiently staring at you from down here on the cold floor.”
Teddy isn’t any fun to walk, and it’s my fault. I’ve worked with him — sit, stay, heel — and he does all of that perfectly at the place where I trained him, but anywhere else? He’s good at “sit.” Good at “wait.” Good at “stay.” But heel? Forget it. Anywhere but the high school parking lot, Teddy is motivated by more important demands than the needs of the little lady at the other end of the leash. I use a halter that is designed to prevent pulling but I wonder if the designer ever tried it. I wish he’d let me use a head collar on him, but no way. The ONLY dog I’ve ever had who refused that, but I think it might be because he’s so low to the ground that the head collar really doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.
Doesn’t matter. I take him out anyway, and while I quickly tire of his pulling me, he has a WONDERFUL time. It’s not all about me, anyway. Yesterday, after I worked on the crane painting for a while, I took Teddy out to the Refuge. Though the time change is annoying and a little uncomfortable, I really do like the early end of afternoon. It means when I head out at my favorite time, the light is already getting good.
It was a beautiful day. The clouds were doing their “Wow, let’s just see what kind of pretty things we can do up here, OK? We have no work to do,” thing, the air was fresh, there was little wind and yeah.
There were thousands of Sandhill Cranes. There were also people. A couple was walking slowly toward Teddy and me so I stopped to the side of the road and studied them to see what they were up to. There were two possibilities. They could have been going to the car nearest them and in front of me, or the car behind me about 1/2 block. Because the cranes kept doing cool things, the couple wasn’t moving very fast. Finally I called out.
“Do you want to meet a friendly little poorly trained dog who will jump up on you and love you to pieces?”
“YES! What’s his name?”
I held Teddy as the people approached. “Just wait, little guy. They’re coming to meet you.” “His name is Teddy. My other dog is named Polar Bear and this is Teddy Bear.”
“Hi Teddy, it’s nice to meet you!” I let Teddy go to the couple and he gave both of them big loves.
We chatted a bit about the cranes that were flying all around us. I love crane conversations. Everyone loves the cranes and a look of wonderment shines in their eyes. They always tell me what they saw and this couple had seen a large group take to the air “…just south of here.”
“I love them,” said the woman. “Their sound is so soothing.”
It is. It’s a beautiful sound between a song and a purr. Whenever I hear it, I look up, look around, try to the source. Yesterday a large group began circling higher and higher, a behavior I’ve learned means, “Sayonara, sweet heart. We’re heading out!” Though their beautiful white/gray forms spun ever and ever higher, smaller and smaller, their calls drifted to me through the lucid day as if the birds were right beside me. The refuge can be that silent. The air that clear.
Well, here I am almost 2 hours earlier than normal because there was a draconian thunderstorm at 5:30 am. Thunderstorms are hard on Bear because she is afraid of thunder AND she feels she has to protect me. For Bear, that’s Gordian knot. I was fine until the power went off. If you’ve lived through a California wildfire, you might also be traumatized when the power goes off. To me it means, “Things are majorly fucked and you’d better get out.” Then there’s added terror of “what if I can’t make coffee?” When the power comes on, it’s “Thank you Whomever,” and the added gratitude for first world problems like scared dogs and no coffee.
Yesterday Teddy and I took off for the river, a shady trail I like in summer, but can only walk from July 15 to March 1. Last time I was there it was February. It’s in a wildlife area and, this year, Colorado is requiring a hunting or fishing license for people who use these areas just for walking. I bought my fishing license a while back. The Rio Grande is very low. I saw a gold finch catching bugs above the river and a hawk took flight in front of me. Otherwise, it was a path between immense cottonwoods and the tired undergrowth of the end of summer. I told Teddy I like the Refuge better. I like being able to SEE. That might be part of why I like winter when the trees are bare.
In other news, a few months ago I bought a book for the kids, a book of “general knowledge.” It’s really cool with beautiful pictures and little flaps you lift to learn more. Around 5 o’clock I took it to their house because school starts tomorrow, and I wanted to make a big deal out of it.
They loved it. C helped me walk Bear to the end of the fence and Bear and I finished our walk. On the way back, the kids were waiting. We all went into the alley so M could keep working on her “courage” merit badge. There’s not really a badge, but one of the statements in the book Bear and Teddy — wrote for her is, “Smart people are brave. They get to pet and hug us.” She was a little scared as always, but Bear sat calmly and before long, all was well.
Their world is really small right now so even the alley behind their house is a kind of adventure. C has all kinds of questions about the house behind theirs — the blue house I came to Monte Vista to see so long ago. Then he noticed something unusual in the alley. “What is that?”
“Pottery, I think,” I said.
He got a stick and pried it out “like a jack,” he said using the stick as a lever. He got the two pieces of pottery loose. They were glazed dark brown and had two circles and some lines on them. I believe they are ancient (meaning maybe 60 years old) sewer pipes but I didn’t say that. I showed him how they fit together and he was amazed. He wanted to know how it was made, so I explained it.
“Maybe there used to be a pottery place here.”
“Could be. This is a pretty old place.”
“I’m going to take some of that clay you gave us and press it on this and maybe I can find out what the letters are.” He’s 7.
“Perfect,” I said. “Let me know what you find out.
“If mom would let us, we could walk Bear all the way to your house,” he said. “I don’t know why she won’t let us.”
“She loves you,” I said. I thought of the absurdity. They could walk with me to my house but I’d have to walk them back home. It would be an infinite loop.
“Yeah,” he said. “Maybe she thinks someone would steal us like they tried to steal our trailer and they stole your wood. Do you think it’s the same people?”
“Could be.” In fact NOT having that faded cedar fencing is kind of a hardship to the furthering of my garden sign business.
I headed home on cloud 8 or maybe higher, thinking of that adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” But ME?
Then I thought of my first student ever. Ramon Hurtado who wanted to learn to read so he could read to his daughter. He came to the then-new Adult Education Tutorial Program. I’d never taught anyone. It was the summer before I started grad school. We started with the alphabet! He wanted what I had; literacy. Just like Ramon, these kids want what I have and it means a lot in our Covid circumscribed lives. They want the world.
Last night I watched a couple of speeches from the DNC. They were both good. Bernie Sanders’ had substance; Amy Klobuchar’s didn’t, but it wasn’t meant to. Michelle Obama? I watched, she’s a good speaker, but Bernie Sanders laid it all out.
I wasn’t interested in most of the stuff going on and I decided to come back when it was all over and watch some speakers on Youtube instead, even though I was mildly interested in how a political party would do a convention without doing a convention. I briefly remembered last year’s which I found a grotesque and offensive display. In any case, we’re where we are. I hope this convention succeeds in its goal of inspiring people to get out (or in) and vote. I’m glad Pelosi recalled the House to work on the postal crisis. But basically I’m very tired from living and breathing crises and politics for the past three+ years. I think a good government is one that doesn’t need the relentless attention of the people in the nation.
In other news, on Facebook, I got turned on to the Livestock Guardian Dog group, and it’s the first time I felt that phenomenon of being unable to tear myself away. People are posting their experiences, challenges and questions about their working LGDs — all breeds. Yesterday I decided to share Bear’s story since the only job she’s ever had is taking care of me which she’s awesome at. Not all livestock guardian dogs get to live on farms, but it’s a little unusual for them to be pets, not that I consider Bear to be a pet.
One thing that’s incredible about the group is the universal respect people have for these dogs.
In other news, the Etsy shop has had its first sale to someone I do not know. That’s pretty meaningful for an artist. Friends might buy my work at least partly because it’s connected to me — I do that, anyway. I don’t buy art I don’t like, but when its art done by someone I know whose friendship I value, I really want it. In my kitchen is a pastel drawing by my friend Wes that I got for $40 just because he needed groceries, but I also happened to love the piece. I still do, and now that Wes is dead (HIV) it is a whole world in its way. It’s a real treasure. But, selling to someone who doesn’t know you or care about you at all is another thing.
“I didn’t bring it in. Teddy did. But I plan to steal it.”
Now that the ground is soft and damp after several days of rain, Bear is digging again. This is good and bad. It means the meds are relieving the pain in her shoulder AND it means there are more holes out there, but I’d rather have her dig than be crippled up and in pain. As Tabby T. Cat (RIP) used to remind Dusty T. Dog (RIP) dogs bury bones. Lacking bones to chew, Bear buries her rawhide.
When the rawhides are the RIGHT texture, either she or Teddy brings them back inside to savor, deriving the maximum enjoyment. They are slimy, covered with dirt, and if they’re the rawhide pencil type of rawhide, unwound. The big ones, the stout flat ones, don’t usually make it back inside. I don’t know why.
I think they are a great metaphor for these days. Slimy, covered with dirt and unwound.
For those of you needing a Scarlet Emperor Bean update…