The War on Christmas

I didn’t believe this was real. After saying, on Twitter, that I didn’t believe the War on Christmas COULD be real, I learned a lot. Maybe it’s an urban thing or a Southern thing, but there’s no war here in the Back-of-Beyond. It makes me very sad that people would believe what Fox and Offal say and weaponize something that is, intrinsically, so good. So, here is my stance on Christmas and religion in general.

There is, IMO, nothing more personal than an individual’s faith. I grew up in a church that stressed that each of us develop a relationship with a “personal savior.” I took that on face value. Of course, back in the day, I called that entity “Jesus” but it turned out that Jesus was just a way to say that which I still can’t say, don’t have words for. Moses and the bush? One of the funniest things I’ve ever read yet profound — “What’s your name?”

I am. That’s all you need to know.”

“Yeah, but what’s your NAME??? Those guys down there are not going to believe a thing I tell them without a footnote and a source.”

That bush was very wise. It knew that when you start naming God, you get wars. Oooops. I named him. My bad.

My town is in a very red part of Colorado, still the holiday banner across my street (a national highway) says, “Happy Holidays.” It goes up a few days before Thanksgiving and is meant to comprise ALL the wintery holidays. It faces west so anyone entering Monte Vista from that direction is greeted in this inclusive and gentle way. Most of the time this time of year people wish each other Merry Christmas, but often I hear “Happy Holidays.” I see no war on Christmas or anything else. The opposite.

Just now, as I was walking home from the golf course with Teddy, a delivery man leaned out of the open window of his van and said, with his whole heart and whole soul, “Merry Christmas!” and he waved. He wasn’t starting a fight. He was giving me the best he has on this day, Christmas Eve.

But, apparently, in some places, Merry Christmas is uttered as a provocation. I have thought about that. It seems that half of provocation is the willingness to be provoked. I think this is a war we — each of us — can choose not to fight.

As for me — Christmas begins at the beginning of December when my friend Lois comes to visit for all the holiday markets in the valley. This year I had the opportunity to read from the China book. That turned out to be a wonderful thing. I teeter through the month — bad days and good — but usually good. It’s impossible NOT to reflect on the past if you’re 67 years old and live by yourself. Impossible not to remember Christmases you shared with family that you loved and can never see again. I learned some time back just to surrender to whatever emotional rollercoaster shows up. That stragedy has proven to be a great way to live through the holidays. Every day for the past two weeks some lovely thing has happened as a result of my just being receptive and looking at it not only from the actual perspective, but also the metaphorical.

Yesterday, I took the skis to the golf course (I drive because the skis are awkward to carry and no one can walk in those boots). When I got out of Bella I saw a guy approaching that I know, Fred. Dusty loved Fred and Fred loved Dusty. Whenever we met, I let Dusty loose and he ran to Fred as if Fred were the realization of all Dusty’s dreams. I told Fred I’d lost Dusty this past year.

“He was a great dog,” said Fred. “Whenever he saw me, he hugged me.”

It’s true and Dusty didn’t hug anyone else. We shared some Dusty stories, reminisced about their first meeting on the golf course. Dusty was barking his head off, scary, at Fred. I said, “Do you like dogs?” Fred said he did, if they were friendly. Dusty didn’t seem friendly, but Fred held his ground while I let Dusty go. Fred spread his arms in welcome and Dusty ran some 50 yards and hugged Fred who hugged him back. Now Dusty was big. If he stood on his hind legs (which seldom happened) he was taller than I am, over five feet.

Fred and I remembered the first big snow last winter, in January, and how we were out there post-holing and Dusty almost knocked Fred over because the snow was so deep. Telling Fred about Dusty, I felt like the circle of Dusty’s life was now completely closed. It was a kind of memorial for my barky black dog that I still miss.

We talked about how we never see anyone else outside walking in the snow.

“What’s wrong with everybody?” I said. We laughed because, honestly, it’s kind of nasty out there. Today is the first day in two weeks the temperature has gotten up to freezing.

“It’s great here on the Valley floor,” he said. “It never warms up. The snow stays.” Both he and I think that’s a good thing. Then Fred said, “What are you doing for Christmas, going to family?”

I said I didn’t have a family anymore, or, rather, that I did, but I’m at the point in life when I can choose my family. “I have a great family, but we’re not related to each other.” I laughed.

“Thats the way to do it,” said Fred. But I could see he felt sorry for me. Fred’s Italian and, you know, la famiglia is everything. “You mean your parents and all your siblings are gone?”

“Yep.” Then I decided to tell him a little about my brother and how, after he died, many of his friends and I became acquainted and some are now family to me.

“Some people wouldn’t see it that way.”

“Yeah, well, I lost my dad when I was 20. I’ve had a long time to get used to it.” I laughed.

“And you’re happy.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Why not?”

“Lot’s of people wouldn’t be.”

“I miss my family,” I said, “But I’m glad for the times we had. They were precious. Anyway, how could I not be happy with those mountains,” I motioned toward the Sangres, “this sky, the snow, living here?”

“Lots of people can’t be happy.”

Somewhere down the road of my life I had decided that happiness is a choice, just like, for me, believing in “it who shall not be named (aka God)” is a choice. I chose that, too. I’m happy with anyone’s celebration. I’ve learned that people seem to need something when the days are at their shortest. I understand that I’m a little different in that for me this is the BEST time of year, dark and cold.

We talked a little more, he wanted me to remind him what I did before I moved here, then he said, “Merry Christmas!” whole-heartedly, warmly, sincerely.

“Merry Christmas to you, too!” I said, equally heart-filled. Is it possible to MEAN that without being a Christian? Absolutely. Its meaning is, simply, “I wish you all the good things, peace, joy, love and beauty.” Because that is what that little baby in the manger symbolizes, what we all hope for whatever faith or non-faith we follow.

Dusty and I in the Laguna Mountains of Southern California, Christmas 2012

SO, from Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog, Teddy Bear T. Dog and I…

Merry Christmas!

Heaven is a Garage?

Last night I dreamed I hadn’t seen Dusty T. Dog in a few days, and I was worried about him. I looked every where. I finally found him in a garage with my affectionate, long-haired, long-ago tabby cat, Triffid, and my sweet black and white husky, Jasmine. I’m not sure Dusty was going to stay there. Maybe that’s Heaven’s anteroom or maybe animal Heaven is a garage.

Anyway, he seemed fine and Jasmine — Jammie — was there with him. When he was a puppy, Jasmine was the one who took care of him most of the time. My cat, Triffid, lived all his life among big dogs. Dusty looked a little hesitant in the dream until he saw me. He loped over to me, and I scratched his ears and snuggled his neck. I said, “I love you, boy. I’m glad you’re OK.”

And I woke up.

I guess I miss my dog.

I don’t know what happens when people (dogs?) die
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It’s like a song playing right in my ear
That I can’t sing
I can’t help listening… Jackson Browne

Dusty T. Dog’s Memorial Service

Yesterday I had to have Dusty T. Dog put to sleep. He had a stroke — I witnessed it — and having experienced this with other dogs, I knew I wasn’t going to let Dusty have another. It wasn’t a difficult decision.

My favorite vet appeared at my house with his veterinarian truck — think a 2019 version of All Creatures Great and Small. When I called them at 1:00 he was out somewhere in the country doing James Herriot type things. I had to wait two hours, but I just put the China book on Kindle using new software. It was a good distraction.

By then Dusty had improved, but still couldn’t easily get up or stand steadily on his feet. Dusty loved this vet and tried to demonstrate happiness to see him at our house, but couldn’t really. Dr. Crawford greeted Dusty with a hearty, “Hello, handsome,” and scratched his ears. He did a thorough exam and except for not being able to stand and appearing confused, Dusty seemed fine. “All his vitals are good, but he’s not right, is he. What happened? “

I described it.

“He’s suffered what we call TIA in humans. He’ll improve, but there’s every chance he’ll have another.”

I said, “I don’t want Dusty to go through another day like this.”

“You must really love this dog,” said my vet.

He explained the procedure — which I’m either unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective — familiar with. I said, “It’s OK. I know. I’ve had nearly 30 dogs.”


“Yeah. I like dogs.”

“A little bit, I’d say. So now you’ll just have one dog?” He knows Bear.

“No. I got a mini-Aussie a couple of weeks ago.”

“How do they do together?”

“They play all the time.”

“Thirty dogs?”

“Yeah, I always wanted a dog but my parents wouldn’t let me. When I was 35 I got my own house and realized I could finally have a dog.”

“You made up for lost time.”

“You have to seize the day,” I said, thinking of all the dogs I’d been privileged to love and put down when the time came. Dr. Crawford and I talked a bit about that, too, how the procedure for which we were prepping Dusty would have been humane for some people we’d loved.

Dusty went to the Enchanted Forest peacefully where he is now playing with his Siberian husky sisters that he loved so much. Lily was waiting for him, or, anyway, that’s how I choose to look at it. I miss him. We were together for fourteen years through all kinds of changes in life.

After I’d cleaned up the house I took Bear and Teddy for a walk and on the way back, we got to talk to the little girl, Michelle. She saw us and was so excited that she would get to see Bear and Teddy and talk to me. It’s amazing to be such an important event in a little girl’s life, humbling and a great honor.

“Teddy’s so cute,” she said.

“Yeah, he’s a good dog. Are you thirsty, Teddy?” I asked him. He was panting. “He can’t really talk.”


“Well, he’s a dog. I have to watch what he does to know what he wants to tell me.”

“Oh. Where’s Dusty? Was he bad?” I get from that that she and her brother get time-outs or lose privileges when they’re “bad.”

She only got to meet Dusty once, and she liked him a lot. That was only this past Monday. It just happened that I was walking Dusty alone, and it was easy to bring him to their fence to meet.

I don’t lie to kids. “Dusty is dead, Michelle. He died today.”

“What happened to him?”

“He had a stroke.”

“Oh. C’mere Teddy.”

“I have take these guys home for a drink of water.”

“OK.” So I walked along their fence (chain link, 3 feet) and Michelle walked beside me then, took off to run to the gate beside the alley, behind what was once a chicken house. When I arrived there she had the gate open and was ready. “Bye! See you next time!!!” Waving at us with all her heart.

I thought that was a pretty good memorial service for Dusty T. Dog


Today Bear is very tired and sad. She spent all of her life so far with Dusty T. Dog and they were friends. Because of her breed, its sensitivity to the feelings of the creatures around her and being unsettled by change, I think it might take her a while to return to the “real” Bear. Teddy is a puppy who only knew Dusty for 2 1/2 weeks.

I’m looking at my empty coffee cup and for the first time in many, many years I won’t put it on the floor for my big, black dog to lick the cream from the sides.

Morning Chat with Dusty T. Dog

“But I’m not bold, Human.”

“Not true, Dusty. You’re VERY bold.”

“No. I’m scared all the time. That’s why I’m so barky and aggressive.”

“I know that, Dusty. But if you weren’t scared, you wouldn’t need to be bold. Bear’s not bold. She’s friendly and fierce, but she’s never afraid. Fear makes you bold. You have to overcome that and it takes courage, boldness. You know what Hemingway said.”

“No. How would I know what Hemingway said? I’m a dog. I’d rather be like Bear and just get pets.”

“You do that, Dusty. You’ve gotten really good at it.”

“But I have to bark like a, like a, what’s the rating on your blog, Human?”

“‘R’ for language, I think.”

“OK. Well, I have to bark like a mother…”

“A hound from Hell, Dusty, let’s just go with that.”

“That sounds good. But I’m not a ‘hound from hell’. You know that, right?”

“I know that.”

“Where did you go with my sister yesterday when you left me behind?”

“We went on a long walk. We couldn’t take you because we went too far for you.”

“It sucks getting old, doesn’t it, Martha?”

“Yeah, Dusty, but the alternative isn’t great, either.”

“I’m VERY old for a big dog. The vet said so. Is it true?”

“Yep, you are, Dusty, but you’re in great shape.”

“Probably my morning coffee. Did you see anything good on your walk?”

“Yeah. There were lots of cranes off in the distance.”

“Did you see them? I know you like seeing them.”

“No, but they were noisy, cooing and purring softly. Then they got VERY loud. I looked up and there was an eagle circling above them. I watched for a while, but it didn’t seem that the eagle thought his chances were great.”

“Do you think the eagle got some dinner?”

“I hope so. Eagles get hungry, too. Then when we were walking on the ditch bank there were robins and bluebirds. Oh and a redwing blackbird.”

“I wish I could have been there.”

“Me too, Dusty. I’ll figure out a way for you to go that isn’t so far, OK?”

“I love you, Human.”

“I love you, Sweet Boy.”

The Outer Frail

Lily was fifteen years old when she came to Colorado from Southern California in mid-September, 2014, in a Dodge minivan with her person — the captain — and her two sidekicks, Dusty and Mindy. It was a journey fraught with dangers — like the time when, all by herself, she got out of the mini-van at the rest-stop on the Planet Mars (El Centro). Fortunately the captain of the minivan saw her and jumped out to rescue her from the two friendly but bewildered Martians who were looking at her in puzzlement; “How did a Siberian husky arrive on Mars, alone?”


Lily on Mars (El Centro rest stop), this time with life support

Lily was blind and nearly deaf. Her hips were tired from a lifetime of hikes and hunts. But when she got to Colorado, she found her power-place. Outside the small cabin in South Fork, Lily’s first Colorado home, there was a field with a trail beside the river. Never in her life had Lily experienced such wonderful smells or the coolness of the evening breeze. She woke up the minivan captain every morning at first light to go out and hunt. Some nights Lily smelled bear and coyote on the wind as she licked it with her tongue.


Lily of the Field

After a while, the captain packed everything and they went to their house in a small town. The yard was covered with soft green grass, which felt so much better to Lily than had the hot dirt and foxtails at their old place in California.

Lily spent as much time as she could outside, especially at night, because it was cold and clear. If she’d been able to see, and had the inclination to look up (but being a Siberian husky it wasn’t very likely) she would have seen more stars than she’d seen in her whole life. She liked being part of a pack and Dusty and Mindy were good and loyal pack mates. Then she met another dog named Shoe when the captain’s friend, L, came to visit. Shoe instantly recognized Lily’s advanced age, her frailness and her heroic nature. Lily and Shoe exchanged stories, and they were friends from then on.

Lily Shoe and Mindy


At Christmas time, Lily went to visit the pack in Colorado Springs and had a very happy Christmas with treats, turkey, giblets, a dog door, cool evenings and lots of love. Though there were young dogs in the pack, they recognized Lily’s advanced age — now 16 — her wisdom, humor and frailty and they were considerate and playful at the same time. Lily was happy. One of them, Satchmo, the youngest of all, kept an eye on Lily at all times and one night when Lily got herself stuck under a patio chair (she was blind, remember) Satchmo sent up an alarm and the captain went out and freed Lily. (In the photo below, he is lying with his back against Lily)

Christmas with the pack

Christmas Morning, 2014

Life was uneventful for a month or two until, in February, there was the first real snow of the year. Lily was in Siberian husky Heaven and spent hours walking back and forth in the snow in the yard.


Pulling the Dogsled of Dreams

Then, in March, Lily began having nightmares and she woke up every night screaming and crying. The captain couldn’t comfort her and neither could Dusty who stayed with her all the time. After a while, it was clear to the captain that Lily’s mind and spirit had become frail and that Lily was suffering. They got into the car and this time the captain came home alone. Dusty and Mindy read the story in the scent on the captain’s clothes.

Dusty missed Lily very, very much and so did the captain, but there was no way to bring her back. After a while, the captain began looking for a new dog, a young dog, to keep Dusty company. She found one at the local shelter who looked at her with Lily’s blue eyes. The dog had been born around the same time as Lily died, so the captain thought, “That’s my dog,” and she was right.

Dusty’s Bewildering Morning Moment

“I’m alone with her. Just me and my human. Oh joy!”

“Hi Dusty Boy, my sweet old boy.”

“Where is everyone? I’m so bewildered. Well, best not to look a gift human in the mouth. I think I’ll put my head on her knee. Oh, she’s scratching my ears and saying nice things to me.”

“Sweet Dusty T.”

“Oh dog, however this happened, I don’t care but IT’S THE BEST. I love my human. I’m so  lucky she found me. I’m going to get closer to her.”

“You’re such a good barky boy, Dusty.”

“Oh she’s scratching the other ear. Uh-oh, I smell Bear.”

“Good morning, Bear!”

“I don’t care. This time Bear isn’t going to push me to one side. Not this morning.”

Dusty T. Dog Meets New People and a Little Boy

Dusty is a strange dog. I was told he would be when I adopted him at the Bonita Animal Shelter. They told me he couldn’t be a pet; he was too traumatized to become socialized. He would be dangerous. He would grow up to be a big dog — 80 pounds — a Dobie/Lab mix.

I’ll agree that when he’s barking and running along the front fence with his hackles up, he’s scary. Back in Descanso I had neighbors who filed a complaint — but when the animal control officer came out to see if my dog was dangerous (or, as the neighbors had alleged, that I was “hoarding” dogs and not removing “fecal matter” from “the premises”  — I had 3 on 1/4 acre, a 100 square foot dog run, a fenced yard and my dogs come in and out of the house as they pleased — and, at that moment, I was performing my daily ritual of “removing fecal matter from the premises”) the animal control officer found a nervous — but friendly — young neutered male dog. “This is dog paradise,” he said. “Dusty here (the officer was scratching Dusty’s ears and Dusty was leaning against the officer’s leg) is a pup. He’ll calm down. Your yard is securely fenced. Seems to me your neighbors might have an axe to grind. There are people like that everywhere, even out here in the country.”  The fact is, my neighbor had tried to provoke Dusty into biting him…

Still, I don’t like Dusty’s exaggerated protective behavior, but I love Dusty. To help him (and me) I invested in professional training for him and that made a real difference in his happiness. All of this was eight years ago.

Now that Dusty has a “little sister” (” ” because 1) she’s not his sister, 2) she’s not little) he has been helping me teach her  to walk on a leash and to respond promptly to other important commands. At first, he wasn’t sure about her. He wasn’t always very nice to her, but now, after miles and miles of leash walks and nights sharing the living room floor, he clearly loves her. He’s also becoming a better dog.

A few evenings ago we were on our walk and a little boy (three? four?) on a bike saw us. “Can I pet your dogs?”

“Sure!” The little boy waited for his parents, and I made the dogs sit calmly on the grass. When the parents came out the little boy said, “She said I can pet her dogs. Can I?”


They all came over to me, gently and calmly, even the little boy. I thought “What a cool family!” I said, “Dusty will bark and he’s scary, but he is actually a sweet and friendly dog. He just thinks he has to do that.”

“That’s OK.”

“Bear here, she’s a puppy. She knows not to jump up, but…”

“That’s OK.”

“That’s a big puppy! How old is she?”

“Seven months.”

“She’s going to be a big dog.” That amuses me whenever I hear it because Bear is already a big dog…

Bear, of course, went right to the little boy and Dusty barked fiercely. The mom looked a little nervous, but she believed I had Dusty under control (I did). Dusty began to mellow. The mom petted him and then the dad (the little boy and Bear were focused on each other). Dusty was so happy to have people pay attention to him and pet him, AND he really liked the people. When the man began to straighten up after petting the dogs, Dusty jumped up gently and gave the man a kiss. That’s not the most common gesture in Dusty’s repertoire. I said, “He kissed you. It’s gross, but it’s special.”

“I know,” said the man. “Good boy, Dusty.” ❤

I’m proud of Dusty T. Dog and all the progress he’s made from being a scared, anti-social pup to being the dog he is today — and you CAN teach old dogs new tricks if you have faith in them.