Not Pets

I’ve had upwards of 20 dogs and they haven’t been pets. They’ve been friends, hiking pals, teachers, and, in the case of Polar Bear Yeti T. Bear, something to hug. I don’t have photos of all of them. There was Truffle, Molly, Maggie a Girl of the Streets, Paddy, Aschi, Xiao, Zorkie, Lupo, Ariel, Persephone Pitbull, Lily, Jasmine, Dusty, Cody, Big Puppy, Reina, Mindy, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog and a handful of rescued and rehomed dogs.

Deep Snow

The snow is deep here in Heaven and it’s GREAT. I didn’t buy skis, my new snow shoes have shark’s teeth on the bottom and they scare me. But we remain undaunted and yesterday we headed out to the golf course to smell things and look for tracks.

The San Juan Nordic Club has groomed beautiful trails and, as it was Sunday, people were using them. It was wonderful to see — and it made me envious. Anyone who was outside yesterday really WANTS to be outside. Dusty made two new friends — a friendly neighbor opened his arms and let Dusty run to him, and one of the skiers — a really amazing ski-skater — stopped and asked if he could meet my dogs. They were all about it.

The tracks for cross-country skiing are really nice — there is a wide one for the skaters, lines for the people like me who just glide, and then a packed part to the right of all this for walkers. In snow over a foot deep it’s nice to have something a little more solid under foot. I love that they do that. It’s kind and respectful and protects their ski tracks from the kinds of postholes idiots like me drop into the snow with every step.

So far this winter I have fallen three times and gotten up three times, twice in deep snow. That was one of my biggest fears thinking of winter sports. Every time it was nothing. “I fell, so what,” not even that much thought or dread went through my mind. When you think of being mobile, you don’t think of falling, but it’s part of the equation. Anyone who moves around risks being attacked unaware by inanimate objects that are out to get them. It’s vital to be able to recover from a fall without fear. Just pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start all over again. Yesterday we walked a mile and a half through this deep snow. It was hard work, but fun. Dusty was suffering by bedtime, though.

But I’m getting skis. This is insane.

P.S. The photo is from three days ago. We’ve had more snow since then. 🙂

Homegoing

“Home” isn’t a place any more, well, other than my house. There was a moment when I realized that I am a snail and home is a thing I carry with me all the time. Even now — in what I believe will be my last house — I feel like a tenant and I’ve been slow to unpack.

When I moved back to Colorado, I learned something about what home means to me by what I chose to put in the rented van I drove over the mountains.

I packed a box of art supplies, another of winter clothes (because, coming from San Diego in October, I would need them), my dad’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and my three dogs. Were those things — and animals — “home?” The animals, definitely.

My goal as a young person was to be “at home in the world” rather than tied to a place. I’m not sure I managed that. If “home” is a feeling, well, I’m home when I’m outside with my dogs experiencing whatever happens to be going on when we arrive.

Nature is not “out there.” It’s right here all the time. In my case, it’s literally a block away in winter. Now that the crepitus of arthritis has been diminished through surgery (I still have it in my left knee), my days are centered around the time when we can go out and see what’s happened in REAL reality while we were sleeping.

We humans with our towns and cities have just carved out little bastions of human safety in the midst of it. All animals do this for themselves one way or another, and all of them are destructive to some extent though I don’t think they regard nature as a foe or friend. I think they get it in ways we humans have forgotten. I like it very much when I’m out there and have to adapt to something I cannot negotiate with like cold, rattlesnakes, heat, whatever. For me there’s liberty in that depth of reality.

I hope this summer to have even more chances to go home. It’s a little difficult now without a 4WD car, but that’s OK. I’m making plans.



The Three of Us

Over Christmas people were always asking me if I were going to be alone. Being alone doesn’t always mean being lonely, and, anyway, I wasn’t alone. 🙂

There are three in my family. It’s true that two of us are dogs. But…

Yesterday I went to the vet to get Dusty’s meds. There was a small old dog, (small meaning 40 pounds) black, white and tan, lying on the floor behind her person. Her person looked French He was short, light and Gallic, salt-and-pepper hair, slightly receding hairline, about fifty-five with sad brown eyes. The few lines on his face and the turn of his mouth said, “I’m worried.” He gave his dog a treat from the treat jar and waited for Maureen, the receptionist, to be able to get him in to see the doctor. Maureen was all alone on the front desk of this busy vet and contending with a persnickety computer. The person ahead of me was picking up antibiotics for her sheep.

As Maureen went to fill the bottle of pills for me, I went over to see the dog. She reminded me a lot of Mindy. I could tell she was quite old.

“Is this your friend?” I said to the man.

“We’re penpals.” Ah, he was funny.

“You write each other?”

He just grinned.

I petted her and asked her age. I learned she was 17. “What a sweet girl.” I scratched her ear.

“She has an infection on her foot.”

“I see that,” I said. Her right front foot was pink and inflamed. “She’s a wonderful beast,” I told the man. “What a sweet being. Old dogs just have a kind of wisdom.”

He nodded. His eyes filled with tears.

“Is she an Aussie mix?”

“Patterdale terrier,” he answered. I had not heard of that breed before.

Meanwhile, Dusty’s prescription was filled. Maureen said, “How about $72?”

I said, “I like that ‘how about’,” and smiled. I handed her my ATM card then thought better of it and gave her a credit card. “I might want to eat.”

I don’t know what happened next with “Jacques” and his dog. In his eyes the whole time we were interacting was very deep love for his dog and dread about what the doctor might say. No 17 year old dog has a long life ahead of them. I knew “Jacques” knew what I know, that I wasn’t alone for Christmas. All three of my immediate family was together.

I drove home hoping that all would go well for Jacques and his sweet dog and hoping, also, that afterward — because it will come — he will find another. ❤

Resolution and Wonder

I always thought the Buddha was kind of precious saying, “desire creates suffering” but damn. He was right. After four days of very frigid weather, today the temperature warmed up to the 20s (-3C), and Bear and I finally got to take a long snowy walk. What a walk!

My desire for more money and X-country skis and (yeah, maybe, this, too, YOUTH), all that had made me unhappy, vanished in what I saw and learned.

Walking in 8 inches of snow isn’t easy, but it’s fun. We headed across the golf course out to the big empty. Wildlife don’t know the difference between the two, so, besides the snow (which Bear and I love) there were all these smells, “ordurves”, urine sprays, scent markings on the bottom of trees, and TRACKS. Humans have ONE gift on the hunt and that’s height. Bear has, for a dog, very good vision, but I’m taller. Still she gets to experience a lot of things I don’t. I think I’m glad.

And then I saw “my” deer. The two does, running across the empty alfalfa field. They stopped when they saw me. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something running, more like floating, on the snow. I knew who that was. It was “my” fox. I haven’t seen him in two years. HE was why my deer were running.

My fox a couple years ago in the snow and mist


The does leapt over the fence. The fox ran in another direction, not liking seeing me and Bear. You never know with that guy. Sometimes he’s curious, sometimes he’s not. The deer stopped running and walked a few yards toward me. We looked at each other. I let them know I was very happy to see them again (did they understand?). I wondered where the buck, the other doe and the yearling were, but I couldn’t ask. After we acknowledged each other, they went into the willows to browse.

On my way back I saw two x-country skiers trying out the newly groomed trails. One was a really good skate-skier. The other was a guy struggling. It’s a sport you have be pretty stoical to enjoy when you’re just starting out. You have to like the possibilities because it’s a little awkward to learn. I hated it the first time I tried it in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. It was hell. But, a few years later at Devil’s Thumb Ranch near Winter Park, I took lessons and it turned out to be one of three sports I’ve tried in which I had a natural ability. It’s so nice to get a break like that.

I waved at they skier. He came over to say “Hi,” and I asked him if he were having a good time. He just said, “Well, it’s a nice day.” Colorado speak for, “Hell no.”

I just smiled and said, “Keep enjoying yourself.”

“Oh yeah,” he said and struggled off.

Unlike him, I was having a good time, and it occurred to me that I’d rather walk through the snow with Bear than X-country ski. I thought of all the places we could walk in the back country, and I realized that my new winter sport is…

1/10 the cost of X-country skis and MORE versatile for going into the snow with my big white dog. I don’t need new boots. I have poles and it’s something I’ve never really done. An adventure.

The Most Amazing Photo (of Dogs I Love)

All the Dogs that Look Like Lily T. Wolf ❤

From “Here’s Where the Arctic’s Wildlife Will Make Its Last Stand,” National Geographic, January 2018 PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

Lily T. Wolf in her first and only REAL snow storm, March 2015


Walking in the snow with a dog who loves snow is a kind of transcendental thing, particularly if you love snow, too. Only a couple times in the lives of my Siberian huskies was I able to share that with them, and Lily was the ONLY one who got to experience real nordic cold and a legit snowstorm. Otherwise, if it snowed in the mountains where I lived in California, a rare event but it happened, we were OUT in it as soon as it was possible.

Now I don’t have a Siberian husky, but I have Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog. She and I took our first REAL winter walk of the year this afternoon. It was a balmy 17 F (- 8 C). We took off across the golf course (who’s surprised?) and out into the big empty.

I didn’t expect to see the deer. They really are gone. One of the property owners north of the golf course is now shooting at geese and if I were one of my deer (highly intelligent deer, by the way) I wouldn’t hang around. On our return, the scent in the air was a mixture of gunpowder and piñon. Bear did not like the smell, but the sound of the shots didn’t seem to bother her.

I’d forgotten the exquisite pleasure of walking in the cold on a still, sunny day with the best companion I could ever ask for. It was really perfect.

Bear and me looking toward the place where “our” deer should be, Bear leaning against my legs to keep me safe from danger. ❤

The Bear Report

Snow is in the forecast but here in Heaven, between two rain shadows, it’s always iffy. We will be VERY happy if it arrives because then my dog’s camouflage will work.

Meanwhile she’s waiting patiently. Long walks help combat the yearning.

“The deer are over there, Martha.”

And toys…

Bear in the morning with her new toy.
In the evening after a long walk, with her new toy.

We had a long walk yesterday with lots of amazing smells mostly of the two dogs and their people who were out in the wildlife refuge when we arrived. Bear walked in every patch of snow that still remained from whenever that was a long time ago that snow fell. The one big patch under the cottonwood trees gave her a place to roll around.

That’s pretty much the Bear report for this part of the world. I imagine later on today we’ll go try to find what little bits of it still remain in cold north hollows and maybe see how our deer are faring.

Wind

Sometimes you go out for a walk only because your big white dog is yammering at you from the back yard yelling, “Human! It’s time! It’s time!” You agree, it is time, but the winds are gusting at 40 mph (64 kph) and it’s not all that warm. Not all that cold, either, but combine the wind with the 36 F (2 C) degree temps and it’s not Key West.

So you put on your fancy new wool and fleece mid-layer and your ultra-light semi-puffy jacket. You grab your new Buff, because, dammit, the wind in your face walking north isn’t going to be fun OR healthy. Your little fleece hat is in the pocket of your ultra-light jacket.

Things go OK until you get out in the open and you and your dog are blasted sideways, but you walked to school uphill both ways (actually, it’s true…) in the snow in Nebraska as a kid and this is NOTHING.

The wind has scoured the air and the clouds are low, bringing the sky within reach. Only a couple of undaunted ravens attempt to surf this wind. Un-trapped dead leaves dance past your feet. The patches of snow have not so much melted as evaporated.

You hope to see “your” herd of deer. You regret saying to them that you’re not friends. You’ve thought about it in the meantime and you think you might be. You hope you’ll see them, but the usual place is a mile straight into the wind the whole way. It doesn’t sound at all like fun, so you turn, resolving to take a Bear walk which is slow, rambling, lacking direction but revelatory of animal visits to your dog, anyway.

The fierce wind blocks out all sounds except the cry of a surprised raven. You stop while Bear does a thorough examination of the ground around a cottonwood. You look toward the train cars to see if your deer are anywhere around, but they aren’t. The walk continues when suddenly you notice someone has tagged the tank cars with the word, “Wild.” You love it.


You go on with no destination, stopping often for your dog to examine the ground. The sun has gone behind a small cloud, and the wind and light have brought a mountain close. The world has emptied of humanity and nothing remains but you and your dog, the immense Wild! beyond the train cars, the light and the mountain. In the strange solitude of this “ordinary” walk, you remember what you love and that it loves you.

Bridges…

I’m trying to figure out why I’m so depressed, and I’m hoping there is an external cause, like maybe it’s just the holidays. If there is no external cause, that sucks. Time will tell. 

I honestly have never liked Christmas. I’ve tried to like it. I’ve liked aspects of it. I have had some really nice Christmases in my life with beloved family and friends and even alone. I loved my Christmases in Zürich with my Swiss family. I loved my Christmases with my Montana aunts. I loved a very special Christmas when my stepson, Ben, and his wife, Sandi, brought German Christmas (Sandi is German) to my house in the mountains of CA on Christmas Eve. We took a hike in the afternoon to decorate a pine tree with bird seed. Sandi didn’t. know it had snowed in the mountains and that was the best Christmas present she could have gotten. That night we exchanged gifts and opened presents — that was the tradition in my family as well. With my family mostly gone at that point, I’d never expected to participate in that custom again. I could (and maybe should?) write a long list of happy Christmas memories. Maybe that would fix this, but I doubt it.

The closer it gets, the more I wish I could escape to a non-Christmas place. I’ve tried this year to just sample the meaningful things that have come my way — and I’ve enjoyed them — but it still seems to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on. 

When I was a kid, Christmas was happy if we went away. Otherwise, it was often horrible and maybe that’s why I dread it. One year (when I really really really really wanted a long flannel nightgown like the girls wore in Little Women) I bugged my mom about it (as kids do). Suddenly my mom said, “You only think about yourself. You never think about other people. Come here.” She grabbed my wrist rather brutally, sat me down hard in front of the Christmas tree and opened my presents. I kept my eyes closed, but really? I was 8. 

Usually I’ve gone away, but this year there is no money for that — $700 for car insurance, $400 for new tires, $150 for car registration all due in the last two months on top of a year that was filled with lots of expenses.

Any-hoo, in other somewhat less self-indulgent news, I made a Christmas ornament for a tree that a family puts up downtown in memory of their family members who have died. They write the family member’s names on ornaments and invite others to do the same. I lost my last two aunts in the last year. A dear friend of mine lost her two sons in a car crash 5 years ago and the lawsuit has (thankfully) just recently come to an end. Her son and his wife (who also died in the crash) were good friends of mine. Out of that disaster I “got” his mom who’s a very inspiring person, a fine artist, and a kind and vibrant soul who’s lived an adventurous life. I love her very much. My friend Lois always misses her mom and then there’s my brother about whom I have intensely mixed feelings but he’s still my bro. I decided to make a star and write their names on the points.

The dogs and I got in the car, drove the star down to the tree and then we went for a walk at the slough. Because Dusty is somewhat stove up, we couldn’t go far so we went to the place where I run into the Icky Man. He wasn’t there. We walked fast because I expected him to show up any time, but we were lucky. As we were driving away from the spot — already on the road — his truck passed us. Perfect timing and a great Christmas present since Dusty and Bear really had a lot of messages to read and leave. 


“I’m happy, Martha.”
“I’m glad, Dusty T. <3”

Walking Update (and Product Plug)

Yesterday after I rode the Bike To Nowhere, Bear and I headed out for a ramble. I kind of wanted to see the horse that I call “My” horse because she’s so big and so friendly. She’s about a mile away, across the golf course, across the driving range, past where the burnt house once stood, beyond some pastures. You get the idea. When she sees me, she runs to the fence to get as close to me as she can. I wanted to go all the way to her paddock (which I cannot do with Dusty because of his barking) and maybe give her an apple. Dusty was pretty stove up after our last walk together and needed a day off.

So out we went, just Bear and me.

Cesar Milan is right in saying if you want to bond with your dog, walk with it. 

I have been walking and hiking with dogs since I got my first one, Truffleupagus of Song and Story, in 1987. For years and years walking with them in a wild place was always a suspension of normal human life. These were soul-lifting walks into a world where dog and human shared an experience that wasn’t all dog and wasn’t all human. I always felt it was one of the things that drew dogs and humans together eons ago. It’s hunting, it’s non-verbal communication, and neither dog nor human is in charge. It’s a partnership.

Not every dog I’ve lived with has been suited to this relationship. Dusty isn’t. He just likes to go for a walk. The huskies (most of them) were not. They were passionate about the Husky Agenda and didn’t notice the human beside them, except Ariel who was Husky with a smidgeon of wolf. She and I shared a very deep rapport on the trail. Molly was also great partner, though she did not share everything with me. I’ve sensed that Bear would be a great partner in this way, but, as long as I’ve had her, I haven’t been up to the partnership. I’d even begun to doubt if it was real. Maybe it was a fantasy I’d fabricated to explain having fun with my dogs on a trail.

But yesterday, it happened. All it took was for me to feel well enough that I was no longer conscious of my body. For a long time it hurt to walk. Then I was aware that it no longer hurt. I couldn’t focus on what was outside very easily.

Yesterday I never thought about how I walked. It was my first truly free day on a trail since late 2004/early 2005. Really. I didn’t know this was about to happen when I set out; I didn’t expect it.

I got to share it with my wonderful big white dog whose gifts are immense. We took off and there we were, confidently striding across the world toward the big empty.

She spotted the deer — a young buck calmly walking along the railroad track. Bear alerted me without barking or making any sound. She just let me know he was there. Not all dog breeds are gifted with great eyesight, but the Akbash is. They are a composite of breeds assembled hundreds maybe thousands of years ago in Turkey. One of their components is a Sight Hound, like an Afghan dog or Greyhound. Bear just stopped, stood still and watched. I immediately looked where my dog was looking, just as she had told me to

As soon as she knew I saw the deer, she was ready to go get him (with me) but she didn’t. She looked at me, “How are we going to do this, Human?”

I whispered, “Bear, sit.” She sat. “Just watch,” I whispered. She watched, rapt, ready. I’m sure she wondered when we were going to go get him, but she didn’t make a sound.

When he took off (calmly, slowly) by going under the train car, she stood as if she were saying, “Hey, Martha, what?” 

When I said, “You’re perfect, Bear,” and hugged her she understood. 

I can’t explain the connection clearly. I don’t think it’s a word thing, but I’m sure others have experienced it. You see it with working dogs all the time, Aussies and Border Collies working with their people to keep a flock of sheep in line. 

And now for the product plug…

Trying to combat the effects of cold air on my lungs, I’ve been heading out with a scarf wrapped around my mouth. OK, mostly, effective but it doesn’t stay put or tied or… Then Xenia, in Scotland, whose blog is Whippet Wisdom mentioned a thing called a “Buff” that she wears when it’s cold. I checked into this thing called “Buff” and bought one.

I just got back from a Dusty and Bear walk, heading north, which is always cold this time of year, walking in my own shade. I wore my new Buff today. It was GREAT. Because it can get to -20 F here, I got the extreme one, fleece on one side and microfiber on the other. It matches both my jackets which is pretty amazing since one is red and one is purple. It contorts into numerous functional shapes and the one I bought is made from two plastic bottles. I love it.