These are my pals — Teddy Bear T. Dog (little guy) and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog (“Yeti” gives it away, I think). They are dogs. I’ve always hung out a lot with my dogs but I feel a bit more “together” with these two as a result of the necessities of the past year.
Dogs are very good at “together.” Recently another dog visited — Frosty — and he soon found his way to be together with Teddy and Bear. (My house is not as ugly as it looks in this photo)
He came together with his person who discovered a lot about Frosty. Until their visit he thought his dog was a pain in the butt but learning how well his dog traveled, how much his dog enjoyed it, how well his dog fit in with other dogs, and seeing that there are dogs worse on a leash than his own (Teddy was a little nuts on our mutual walk), my friend has realized Frosty is a prince among dogs — and he is.
It’s no secret that I like dogs. I like being together with them. I don’t have many photos of me together with all my dogs over the years. We didn’t have camera phones and most of the time when I was out being together with my dogs, we were the only beings in the wide world. Here are some of the few photos of some of the great dogs I’ve been together with.
“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.
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…
It’s a cool rainy day here in the Back of Beyond so Bear and I headed out early to the Big Empty. It was fantastic. Cold. Windy. Rainy. The next best thing to snow. The air was soft and humid. There were more birds than I’ve seen out there since the cranes left. Bear was so happy to be cold she actually wagged her tail and ran a bit which is a challenge for me but hey, I rose to the challenge (somewhat).
I stopped and watched swallows flying inches above an irrigation canal, catching insects. I noticed that there are now grebes in the pond with the geese and a wider variety of ducks. I even got a half-way decent shot of a yellow-headed black bird.
Paradisal, even to the wind blasting my head on the way back. A friendly couple Bear and I have welcomed several other times drove by in their old Subaru and we waved in COVID-19 style passionate recognition of mutual humanity, and then…
Two words I’ve heard for years and never fully understood — entitled and exceptional. Today I got it. Bear had jumped up in Bella and I’d fastened her leash to the carabiner that keeps her from jumping out and AWAY!!!! As I got into the driver’s seat, I saw an SUV pull in with a little U-Haul trailer behind it. A fat blond woman got out. She watched me and I got the impression she needed help. When I pulled around I stopped and said, “Are you OK?”
“Oh yeah, I’m fine. I’m just going to let my dog run.” I saw a large dog in the back seat of her car.
I’m sure she saw my face change from helpful friendliness to something resembling, “No you fucking don’t you whore.”
“Just around here,” she said. “I’ve done it before.”
I thought to myself, “Martha, you have no authority here.” I just said, “You don’t want to get yelled at.” The rangers DO live there but they’re NEVER out.
I drove away thinking, “Sweet cheeks, there is a LARGE SIGN saying dogs are allowed but must be leashed. It asks us to clean up after our dogs. It’s very clear. That is because this is a WILDLIFE REFUGE. That means it’s a refuge for wildlife, all the birds all the animals the rabbits the snakes the deer, the coyotes, the elk, the foxes, and whatever else wants to live here. It is not a fucking dog park. There are dozens of places within a few miles of here where you could let your dog run and shit. You don’t have the RIGHT to do what you’re doing, and I KNOW (now that I know about you) that you don’t clean up after your dog. And, if anyone ever needed to put a leash on a dog and take a walk with it, it’s you.”
I am pretty unhappy. I keep my dogs leashed for good reason. Bear will roam and doesn’t take kindly to other dogs unless properly introduced. Teddy is young and excitable. I NEED places to walk with them where I won’t encounter unleashed dogs. Beyond my own (selfish) needs, the birds and animals need a refuge from us. Humans are so selfish with the world without understanding it, without understanding that they DON’T understand it.
Wednesday was the little boy’s — Connor’s — birthday. He’s 7. His mom texted me yesterday to see if I wanted some birthday cake. I knew they were on their way down the alley by Bear’s and Teddy’s happy barks along the lilac hedge. Michelle had a tennis ball for Teddy. The little boy brought his favorite birthday present to show me.
We stayed out in the front yard talking (virus), all the while Michelle asking, in various synonymous sentences, if she could see the dogs and me answering, “You won’t like it.” At one point Michelle stood beside me in her “grown lady” hat, her pretty dress and her gold, glittery Uggs, blowing the floss from the dandelions. I was struck by the beauty of that image and thought, “It’s never a big thing.”
Finally Connor said, “Can we see your house?” I didn’t mind, but there’s this virus thing… I looked at their mom.
“They’re used to ‘no’.” I knew that. I never knew two kids so willing to roll with that little word.
“OK, but only the living room. I don’t want to give everything away. You need stuff to look forward to.” They only heard “OK.” The rest was for their mom. I have learned, over the years, the value in saying stuff that doesn’t make sense to kids but communicates to adults. Mom laughed. Maybe I learned that skill from my own parents.
“I’m going to let the dogs in. They will be VERY VERY VERY excited. You have to sit down and be very quiet and calm.”
It was a start, anyway. They both sat down. I went to the back door. The dogs raced in, knowing already WHO was in our house. OH BOY!!!
The kids never believe me that the dogs are WAY to exuberant for them, but yesterday they learned. Teddy’s joie de vivre (Aussie puppy) is too much for most people. But he is learning to sit to get pets. Bear — as a livestock guardian dog — reacts to the nervousness and fear in people she loves by wanting to climb on them to make them safe. So, because Michelle was afraid, Bear thought she had to go to work, making it worse. Really how many little girls in pretty dresses want a big dog who weighs more than they do to jump up on the sofa with them? It was kind of a circus. I got dog cookies and the kids managed to get Bear to go “Down!” And Teddy even managed once or twice. “Will work for cookies.”
Their mom — who grew up here near the Refuge — recognized immediately what I had painted years before I moved here in the painting below. “That’s the valley!” she said. “That’s the exact view from my grandma’s window! I guess you were meant to be here.”
When the dogs had calmed down, and the moment was over, there was much hugging. I know all about the virus but sometimes you have to weigh mortality against the spontaneous affection of children.
I’m going to have Bear write the little girl a letter and explain how dogs behave differently than cats.
I have a couple of pumpkin plants. Not Aussie pumpkins, anonymous pumpkin plants my friend Elizabeth was given. The other day, while they were sunbathing, Teddy ate the leaves.
Where I live, pumpkins don’t have much chance for a full life, full in the sense of complete, not rich with experiences. We cannot safely plant anything outside until June 1 and we can have a heavy frost in early September. But, these guys are already on their way so maybe they’ll make it. They’ve already shown the indomitable spirit of pumpkins. In spite of having been maimed and, in one case, de-potted they stick their mangled solar collectors into the light as if no rapacious Australian shepherd had chomped them into tiny broken umbrellas.
Everywhere I’ve lived — until moving here to Heaven — it was illegal to plant a vegetable garden in the front yard of one’s house. I always wondered WHO enforced that law and WHY, but I suspect it was enforced by hostile neighbors and was related to the reality that veggies are often fertilized by manure which (to some people) stinks. Also, vegetable gardens are clearly functional and not necessarily aesthetic, but seriously. A plant is a plant and a plant that provides food should be a high-priority plant.
I remember reading articles about this, including one about a woman who had an amazing (and aesthetically beautiful) vegetable garden in her front yard. She resisted law enforcement which ultimately gave her no quarter and came with a little tractor and tore out her garden.
Taking the pumpkins out to the front yard (instead of the backyard and the avaricious maw of Teddy Bear T. Dog) for their daily sunbath yesterday I thought, “I wonder if there’s a stupid law like that here?” I did get a warning last year for an egregious branch from a noxious elm tree that was intruding on the egress and ingress of my neighbors through the alley. There is a certain amount of herbage enforcement in this small farming town.
SO…I posted on Facebook asking for an answer for that question. Looks like I can plant my pumpkins in the front yard. What’s more, my neighbors think the question, “Does Monte Vista have a law against planting vegetables in the front yard?” borders on the absurd, like, “Are you kidding?”
One of my friends — who lives halfway between my house and the Refuge — gave me a line of laughing yellow heads and said I could plant them on her farm if I came out and took care of them.
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.
Ambient water vapor is a very rare thing out here in the Back of Beyond. Daytime humidity normally registers in the single digits. But, in the winter we have freezing fog, usually in the more humid hours of the night and pretty often we get to wake up to an enchanted world. Those mornings also bring ice crystals in the air, shimmering rainbows, suspended for fleeting moments as they drift down to the snow, tiny spectra on the ground.
The four seasons are equally split, and real winter is probably 3 months away. I haven’t broken the news to Bear, but considering that I have a broken foot, it’s a good thing for me.
Otherwise — Bear missed me while I was up at points north and has been near me every minute since they came home. Lori, the woman who owns the kennel, put my dogs in the kennel next to the grooming area. There’s a window that opens onto that kennel so Lori could pet them, and I’m sure they got LOTS of attention. Teddy seems a little hesitant and downcast, like, “You left me!” As someone abandoned him not all that long ago, I understand. He has to learn that I might leave him with Lori at the kennel, but I will come back.