Teddy and I headed out to the Big Empty on the spur of the moment because I had a theory that it would be cool at the Refuge, and the wind would be blowing. I was right. I do know my world. Fantastic skies the whole time. I don’t know anywhere where you would find — in one 45 minute walk — a variety of cloud formations like I saw today. I’m sure such a place exists, but where? Mongolia? Montana, certainly. Canada’s wide open spaces? I would add Iceland, but Iceland hates me. Fuck you, Iceland. 😉
The goslings of the two geese families have grown, and some of the babies didn’t make it. There are feathers in the carnivore scat along the road which probably explains that. The “little” ones now look like small versions of their parents. The Yellow-headed Blackbird who appeared so tame the other day behaved similarly today and I now think he’s guarding his nest. It should be up off the ground, but even so since it seems they build their nests in reeds, it would not be very high. He’s vigilant but very chill about his guardian job. I kept Teddy from testing the bird’s patience, though. I’ve studied that bird at length at this point and he has a sharp little beak.
I also decided that my Indian name shall henceforth be, “She Who Walks in Bad Weather with Dogs.”
Changing it to; “She Who Walks with Dogs under Wild Skies.”
“Many are the stories in the naked city.” Same with the naked Big Empty. Today temperatures remained almost Bear comfortable meaning that The Big Empty was comfortable at midday, my favorite time to go out. At that time of day, my brain goes on walkabout, and all I can really do is physical stuff. It’s not the prettiest time of day or even the most interesting, but you know… I took Teddy as it was his turn.
I love nature for nine million reasons including my conviction that it loves me. “Come on,” it says. “You know you want to.”
Midday is a good time to watch raptors and the other birds at the Refuge are pretty active then, too. It’s not the time of day to see mammals. Coyotes and cougars are crepuscular (great word, isn’t it!) and Teddy pointed out a lot of carnivore scat today. Whose? Farm dogs? Coyote? No idea. It will be easier for me to tell when it’s dried out and the contents revealed.
Today I saw two hawks. The Harris Hawk flew low about 50 yards in front of us and when I caught up to the spot where his flight had passed the road I saw he’d dropped his lunch. My best guess is that he’d grabbed the mouse, taken flight and something came up behind him. It could have been one of the Red Tail hawks I see often.
Later, towards the end of the walk, just passing the marsh with the small walking loop around it, I heard a sudden commotion among the Red-winged and Yellow-headed blackbirds who call it home. I looked over at the racket and saw the male Red-tail hawk was flying low over the marsh causing the blackbirds to send up the alarm.
At one point in our walk, Teddy (who’s only about 18 inches tall at his highest point) ducked. I saw a small black and white duck flying low over the trail in front of us where Teddy was walking. Cracked me up that Teddy literally DUCKED (c’mon, laugh, you know you want to). I don’t know what the duck was; possibly a Coot.
There were people out there today, too. An elderly couple sat at a picnic table then took off each in their own cars. As he passed Teddy and me, the man rolled down his window, “Isn’t this great?”
“Yeah. It’s not hot, it’s beautiful.”
“Right? And the goddamned wind isn’t blow 60 mph. Have fun!” He waved.
“Have a great day,” I said, still feeling that COVID-19/we’re all isolated tug at my heart (and eyes)
Early in the walk, I had noticed a strange looking plant that was hit by frost last night. What could it be? I saw more of them as I went along, and figured it out.
Here’s the thing about nature. Even if you walk the same 1 1/2 or 2 miles on the same road every single day, and you THINK you see things you’ve seen before, you really haven’t seen anything before. I had never seen milkweed in its “baby” stage before, but I’ve “known” milkweed since I was a toddler. Now I can look forward to the beautiful flowers, the arrival of Monarch Butterflies and all that comes with this amazing plant.
The familiar things — Canada geese, for example — anchor you. They’re like old friends at a party full of strangers. Then you get more comfortable at the party, more curious about the strangers and you see more. I’ve only seen Northern Harrier hawks twice (to know it).
The yellow-headed blackbird is found all over the U.S. EXCEPT in the part of California where I lived so long and hiked so much. Wetlands? I’ve never spent time in this landscape.
The sky tells me we will get rain in a couple of days. Weather.com agrees with the sky.
Free to study Nature’s mysteries, He breathes in the divine; His spirit grounded in Truth, Sure of himself, he casts off all restraint. Wide sweep the winds of Heaven, Grey loom the distant hills, And with true strength is Creation spread before him; He beckons sun, moon and stars, And washes his feet in the stream where rises the sun.
The kids came over today with a beautiful present for me — a planter they had made and painted me for Mother’s Day. That was awesome but what was REALLY awesome was Michelle.
When she met the dogs in my house last week, she was terrified and panicked. It was bad. Bear went into major livestock guardian dog to try to comfort her which just made it worse since Bear’s way of comforting a scared little animal is to get on top of them. And Teddy was apeshit because of the chaos. Michelle loves them, but they terrify her.
Last week, Bear “wrote” Michelle a letter and explained about herself to the little girl. “Bear” also explained to Michelle that Teddy is still basically a puppy and very excited all the time about everything. Today Michelle wanted to come in and see the dogs again and try everything Bear told her in her letter.
Again, she was terrified. I sat down on the sofa with her and wrapped her in my arms. I was amazed that instantly she relaxed. Bear relaxed, too. Little by little, Michelle was ready to try again. She even stood up and got a toy for Teddy. She sat back on the sofa with me. That is when Bear saw that Michelle was scared of Teddy. Bear put herself between Michelle and Teddy and didn’t move. I told Michelle what Bear was doing and she understood that it would make it easier for her to interact with Teddy if Bear were between them. I told Michelle how great she was doing, told Bear what a good dog she was and told Teddy he was a good boy when he sat or went down on command. I told Michelle to tell them, too. She learned that Bear would rather have pats than cookies.
It was really, really cool. When she left she apologized for being afraid. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a brave kid in my whole life.
The box is really beautiful and they were so proud of it. There are good paintings of Teddy, Bear, me and one of their kitties. There are GREAT color combinations. Rumor has it that the orange glows in the dark. I’ll check that tonight.
“Nope. I’m not going to spend time trying to catch her when I have another perfectly good dog who DOES want to go, right?”
“Yay! Yay! Yay! I’m going to sit here and you put my harness on, OK?”
“Good boy, Teddy.”
“Bye Bear! Bye Bear! Can’t we take her? She’s looking at us through the fence.”
“That’s her thing, Teddy. She has free will. She chose not to come.”
“Up, puppy. You do that so good, Teddy.”
“I know, Martha. I’m the shit when it comes to getting in the car. Is that a good song, Martha?”
“Yeah, it’s a good song.”
“Why don’t you sing?”
“I can’t sing this one.” (Truth is, only Teddy thinks I can sing ANYTHING.)
We arrive, park, get out of Bella. I take my handy-dandy poop bag for my little guy just in case and we take off.
“Martha, there is all kinds of NEW POOP everywhere! Martha, my geese are out of control. Wait, there’s more! More geese!”
I look and there are goslings.
“Stop, Teddy,” I say and take a zoomed in photo of tiny birds. OH well.
We go on and then, suddenly, beside the trail…
“MARTHA! MARTHA! MARTHA!!!”
“No Teddy. You have to leave that alone. That little guy has enough enemies already.”
“What IS it? What is that miraculous beast? I WANT it!!!”
“Cottontail rabbit, Teddy.”
“Probably somewhere in your ancestral memory.”
There are other signs of spring in the Big Empty now. The trees…
Look, more poop. And more. I’m going to taste this one.”
“Don’t eat that shit, Teddy.” I laugh to myself. Here in the Big Empty who’s going to laugh with me?”
“Martha, listen. There’s that sound you like.”
“Hang on little dude. I’m going to try to take her picture.”
“Are you going to stop here?”
“Yeah. Maybe we’ll get lucky and see the osprey or the hawks again.” I sit down on a rock. In fact, this walk has been slow and painful. Various parts of my body hurt from wielding the pick-axe. I’m no spring chicken. But, you know, it’s just one foot in front of the other and there is NO race. I don’t mind at all because walking is better than NOT walking. Left, right, left, right, left right. No one is here. No one is judging me. Just this little guy who stops periodically to jump up on me for a hug. He thinks I’m great.
While I’m sitting on “my” rock, a pair of ravens flies over, surfing the wind. Teddy climbs up into my lap as much as he can. I think of the thousands of times I’ve sat on a rock somewhere in the turn around or half-way point of a hike and a beloved dog has sat beside me or laid its head on my lap while I watched birds. “What’s better than this?” I think from my “lofty” promontory of roughly 28 inches. “A great dog and ravens playing on the wind.”
On the way home (the walk back was easier and less painful than the way out which is why it’s better to walk) I hear a good old song that I LOVE and that I can sing. Nothing deep, no Rocky Mountain High or anything, but Teddy was happy, licked my hand (probably thought I was in pain) and snuggled beside me.
Teddy and I headed out to the Big Empty hoping that today it would indeed BE empty. Yesterday Bear and I went and found PEOPLE! And one small group and an OFF LEASH yellow lab! and THEN, hoping to have a chance in another spot, two farm dogs out having an adventure. They were incredibly cute, but Bear went apeshit IN the car. So…
We returned to the abandoned golf course, the road to which is barricaded, and parked beside the tennis court which has caution tape across the gates.
Bear LOVES the golf course, as do I, but after a month or more in the Big Empty, it seemed a little, uh, small and urban. And wrong. Much as I like having access to it, the place should have golfers on it. The sprinklers were going, the greens were beautiful, everything was saying, “Golf on me!” 😦
We headed out past the driving range (pasture) to the dirt road and farms. At the end of this dirt road is a farm and this farm has a very large mare, dark brown with a star on her forehead. She’s beautiful and she loves me and Bear. I don’t know why. I’ve never been within touching range of her though dozens of times I’ve wanted to be. I’ve even carried apples in my pocket for her, but I hesitated. Then the owner of the farm put a gate up to close the road. It’s often left open (it was yesterday) but still. For all I know it’s because people were bothering the horse.
Whenever the horse sees us she runs to the very edge of her “yard” — something more than a paddock, something less than a pasture. Her “run” is actually a beautiful dance. She runs all around her yard, tossing her head and bucking, then, she comes to the edge of the fence closest to Bear and me. We are probably 100 yards away. I have told her that I love her and Bear loves to see her, too.
Yesterday, however, she got out of her yard and into the pasture. I never even investigated it before to see it if were fenced. It was clear to me what she was doing. She was trying to get to us. She’s not quite a Percheron but definitely not a quarter horse. She’s not built like a thoroughbred. I have NO idea what she is except very large. As she ran, she tossed her head. I thought, “That horse wants to follow me home.”
I don’t know all that much about horses, but I do know two things. One, they like to be with other animals. Brownie, the horse that lived next door to me in Descanso, CA, made a herd for himself out of Dusty, Lily and, of course, me. I know a horse’s herd doesn’t have to be another horse. Second, I know that horses are incredibly empathetic, and I believe they read minds. I’m SURE that horse knows I like her A LOT and would love to make a herd with her. She’s always alone. I’ve only seen her with a person once. She also recognizes that Bear is a chill dog who’d get along with her fine.
Anyway, I could see she could get out. I turned and walked away resolutely and fast. No other way to communicate with her, really. I didn’t turn around, but I kept listening for hooves on the dirt road.
Today at the Big Empty there was nary a soul for a good reason. It’s a very chilly day (snowing in northern parts of the state) and the wind is blowing like a MF. Teddy and I took off and enjoyed ourselves anyway, though, between us, I’ve had more fun. When you’re walking against the wind, your dog insists on hiding behind you (smart dog), and you have 3/4 of a mile to go, well, it’s almost like walking uphill both ways to school, barefoot, in the snow.
Practicing social distancing with Teddy is very different from social distancing with Bear. I imagine some of it is that I haven’t even been walking with Teddy for a year yet so we don’t know each other to the same degree.
Teddy is so small (to me). Only 25 pounds and maybe 14 inches tall at his shoulders. He’s a bundle of energy, curiosity and affection. From time to time in his exploration (leashed) he seems to feel, “I must now love Martha!” and he’ll jump up on me for a hug. To my surprise and joy, he is learning NOT to jump on me in the house. I think he is making a distinction.
One thing my life with dogs has taught me is that you get to know your dog best by going out “hunting” with them.
Teddy is a fun little guy who is just as determined as Bear to pursue his education in mammal and avian scatology with a specialization in Canadian goose scat.
There is more coyote scat than there has been and much less elk. I have a different perspective on all this poop, not having to smell it to identify it, but I think my dogs might have more data such as when it was placed on the trail and the diet of the corresponding animal.
The cranes are all gone and now the magic lies in birdsongs. The video is kind of lame, but the sound is absolutely beautiful. Western meadowlarks. Oh and the little guy… ❤
In this photo, if you have a very good eye, you can see a magpie.
When I took the photo, was drawn to the laciness of the aspen branches against the blue sky, but then I saw the magpie. The magpie was fluffing his feathers and calling out, “Would someone PLEASE share a nest with me for the love of God?” This is reminiscent of a scene in Fellini’s Amarcord.
I’m alone a lot, mostly by choice. I have friends I value very much, but less need than some other people for social contact. The Internet — this blog and Facebook — are pretty good at supplying me a lot of what I need. I like writing and I imagine in a perfect world I’d write and people would write back, but… I’m a legit introvert and too much, too concentrated, social interaction and I’m exhausted.
But I need some and, even for me, this isolation thing is a little difficult. I miss the occasional adventures I have with my friends/neighbors — Elizabeth and Karen. I miss Lois’ visits from the Springs and the chance to go up there myself, or to Denver to see other friends. I miss talking to the kids and letting them “walk” the dogs. I even miss random chats at the supermarket, sometimes with strangers, sometimes running into people I know. However, I realized that what I DO get now, what I can GIVE right now, has an intensity and authenticity borne of our mutual knowledge that we’re all in a fucked up situation. Great article here in The Washington Post.
Today Teddy and I headed out to the Big Empty to practice Extreme Social Distancing. On our way, we passed the kids who came running to the fence. I stopped Bella.
“What are you guys doing?”
“I was playing. Where are you going?” asked the little boy.
“Out to the Refuge to see if there are any birds.”
“Can you come out of the car so we can see Teddy?” asked the little girl.
“I can’t. Not until this stupid virus is over.”
Their faces fell but they understood, and nodded. “I miss you guys a lot and I love you a lot,” I said.
“Us too,” they said, in unison.
When Teddy and I arrived at the Refuge it appeared to be empty except for, in the distance, trucks belonging to the wildlife guys/young women. The cranes were very active. I think they are preparing to head north soon because there is more flying high in their crane vertices. I watched several of these moments. I sat down on a rock for a while to watch them take off, rise, and circle into the breeze of a pure blue sky, soaring, higher, higher, higher.
When they stopped, I got up, turned around and found they’d left a gift for me.
I haven’t picked up a feather for years. Long ago, I picked up every feather, loving, especially, to find hawk feathers. I adorned the inside of my truck, turning it into a mobile medicine bundle in which I burned white sage. But today I brought home the gift from the cranes. It’s a kind of company. ❤
Here’s what I came up with for the museum about my mom’s moccasins. They are made of deer hide, not thick and not warm, kind of like leather gloves for the feet, but (and I’ve worn them) very comfortable. 🙂
These beautiful moccasins with wild rose beadwork were made for Helen Tibbs Beall when she was teaching at the elementary school in Crow Agency, in South Central Montana, not far from Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. The woman who made them was Florence Real-Bird, the mother of one of Helen’s students and Helen’s friend..
Helen was born on a farm near Hardin, Montana in 1920. She had nine siblings, three brothers and six sisters. She was the eighth child of Sherman Beall and Emma Harriet Tibbs who settled in Belfry, Montana in 1914. Helen was baptized in the Little Bighorn River by Reverend Chester A. (Chet) Bentley who spent most of his life as a minister to the Crow Indians at the Crow Baptist Mission.
Helen attended what was then the Normal School of Eastern Montana State College. Her teacher training consisted of a year of coursework, a year of teaching, a year of coursework, a year of teaching and so on until she graduated.
Her first school was Warman School, a one room school on Warman Creek between Crow Agency and Fort Smith. Helen ended her teaching duties on the Crow Reservation at the elementary school at Crow Agency. She graduated with her teaching credential in 1947.
Soon after marrying, Helen and her husband, William B. Kennedy, moved to Denver where Bill attended the University of Denver, earning a Masters Degree in Mathematics. Helen continued to teach in the Englewood, Colorado school district until the birth of her daughter in 1952.
More news like stuff…
My injured foot is a lot better, but not quite well. I injured it on September 20, but reinjured it on October 24 so I don’t know exactly if I should be measuring its recovering from September or October, but I guess it’s really up to my foot… I’m still wearing a brace, still using a cane when I walk the dogs, still walking awkwardly, but it doesn’t hurt unless I stand on it too long, and even then it’s not the searing pain it was at the beginning.
Bear and Teddy have adjusted to not getting daily walks. I think that’s a good thing. Bear and I have been out a few times — last time to Shriver/Wright on a blustery gray perfect November day. We both had a wonderful time. From Bear’s perspective there were a lot of new and fascinating things to smell. From my perspective the snow flurries and cold breeze were refreshing. We were happy to be out there together. I learned my lesson about walking them together, for now… Mostly they play in the yard like two hellions — Teddy essentially FLIES when he starts chasing Bear around. Bear doesn’t move much at all. She just lets him go nuts then ambushes him when she feels like it. They like to roughhouse in the living room and I should mind, but I don’t. I just clean it every day…
That’s the news from the Back of Beyond for Tuesday, November 26, 2019
“I’m sorry I ate Bear’s food, Martha,” says the mini-Aussie after being punished for purloining a bowl of food that was meant for Bear a giant breed dog, his big sister, his friend. And Bear? Thinks she’s being punished, too. She comes toward me, her right lip curled in her particular facial expression of submission.
“It’s all-right, Bear, but if you don’t guard your dish, Teddy WILL eat it and he doesn’t need it.” She dips her head. Until she senses that happiness is restored between Teddy and me, she won’t relax. She also knows I’m not really angry. It’s about disciplining the puppy.
I feed her and she eats. Teddy stares at her bowl, completely unfazed by his recent “negative experience.” He’ll eat Bear’s food again if he gets the chance.
Dogs and food. One of my huskies was killed over the crust of a ham sandwich that fell on the kitchen floor. It happened in seconds. My year old Labrador retriever knocked out Cheyenne’s canine tooth and slit open her throat. It was the saddest interval in my years of living with dogs. Another sad event happened over food, too. Reina, my Aussie some time back, got in a fight with Lily, another husky, while I was teaching. I came home to a Lily who needed surgery and a Reina who was sorry, but had to be rehomed. She lives with a friend of mine, and she’s STILL sorry, and I still love her. Bear is neither of those dogs. She will GIVE Teddy her food.
Dogs act out in a moment. Perceived scarcity can set them off. “She has what I don’t.” “There’s only ONE crust of a ham sandwich. I’ll starve if I don’t eat it.” Humans are no different. I see the great divide in this country as being based on one group reacting against what they perceive as scarcity.
I know we’re not supposed to ascribe human motives to animals, but from my point of view, we’re animals and ascribing emotion-based motives to us or to them is likely to be correct.
Bear is NOT going to fight Teddy for food. She WOULD fight an enemy to protect him (and me). My huskies preferred not to fight, but they could be pushed and if they were pushed, there were two levels. One was a simple dominance thing that looked bad but never led to serious injuries.
My male husky — Cody O’Dog — was extremely intelligent and fierce in this way. He couldn’t abide Dusty (a male dog who was “there first”) and he never liked or trusted the Evil X. He and Dusty had a few tussles and they each came away with bites on the back legs, nothing serious. As for what he would have done to the Evil X? I don’t know but it might have been ugly.
The next level for dogs is fighting to the death, and no one expected a Labrador retriever to be a killer — but she was. Everyone would have expected my husky/wolf hybrid to have an amped up level of ferocity — and she did. She was a murderous beast. But, other than her breeding, she’d also been used a breeding bitch, had known hunger and her loyalty to me was absolute, intense. She hated it when I was not there and would act out. She never made friends with her “pack mates.” I was her pack, her whole world.
There’s that “pack mentality” thing, and maybe dogs have such a mentality, but to differing degrees. Siberian huskies absolutely do NOT like living as only dogs, but Bear, an Akbash, a livestock guardian dog, is an essentially solitary being as are all her breed, bred to spend long periods of time out in the middle of nowhere watching sheep. She needs “alone time.” I think of the Basque sheepherders of Montana who, with their sheep-wagon and their dogs, also live months at a time in the high country without any other people around. Could everyone do that? Why am I here instead of in some big city?
I suspect we humans are also made up of different intrinsic “breeds.” No, I’m not making a pitch for eugenics. I just suspect that nature and nurture can work together to make a husky/wolf mix human or an opportunistic, loving, grateful little guy like Teddy or a gentle, humorous, protective being like Bear. Certain nationalities are renowned for certain traits — the little fighting Irishman? That was my dad and, uh, uh, uh…
Innate intelligence seems also to be a factor in this diversity. Bear is unlike any other dog I’ve owned. Her intelligence (part of her breeding as a livestock guardian dog) leads her to be gentle, very patient and “kind.” She shows enthusiasm and curiosity, but training her to do “tricks” (which Teddy thrives on) is a challenge. A trick I’ve taught them is to go “down” on the count of three. “One, two, three,” and Teddy goes down. Bear goes down on “One.” Not only does Teddy go down on “three,” he will not go down on “One, two, five” or “One, two, seven, twenty-three, forty-one, three.” It has to be “Three” in the right place. Teddy wants the treat but somewhere in his mind the procedure must be executed correctly. He’s a law and order guy except when it comes to filching food.
Meanwhile, Bear tries again and again (smirking inside?) or chills on the floor beside him, knowing a treat is coming sooner or later. Which dog is smarter? Bear is a lot more pragmatic. Teddy seems to have “book smarts.”
BUT…Bear has never known hunger. I think Teddy has. When I adopted him, he was skin and bones. He was found tied up in front of a 7-Eleven. How long had he been wandering? How long before someone caught him? His collar was too small — it could have been a while. When my friend Lois was walking him, he was always looking back, worried that I wasn’t there. Why?
Teddy fetches, puts the ball in my hand, and returns with it, prancing like a puppy. He loves it when the ball is difficult to retrieve so he can solve a problem and return to me with great pomp and circumstance. Meanwhile, Bear leans against me, a little jealous but basically knowing that Teddy’s tricks are irrelevant in the grand scheme of scaring off cougars and bears.
I think all this can be extrapolated to people. While dogs are dogs, and people are people, there’s the thread of animal nature weaving through all of us.