Social Connection

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.

Damned virus.

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. ❤

…The Moccasins and Other Things

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

Animal Nature? Human Nature?

“No, Teddy. No. Bad dog!”

“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.

The Faithful Dog and the Undaunted Garden

Teddy T. Dog is the kind of dog you see in paintings, sleeping on the floor by the tired farmer after a hard day’s work. In those paintings, his name is “Shep.” And the name of the painting is “Faithful Friend.” The farmer has his workboots off and his feet up on a low footstool and there’s a hole in one sock. He doesn’t even own slippers, but if he did, Shep would have brought them. The farmer smokes a pipe and the smoke curls above his head. “Shep” is asleep with one eye open just in case the farmer needs help. Shep’s even willing to keep that flock of hens in line if asked, and, though he’d rather not mess with that rooster (almost lost his eye that time), he will if he the farmer asks.

Yesterday we went — all three of us — out to the slough, well, that was our destination, but when we got where we I wanted to go, it looked like a little “afternoon delight” was taking place in the parking area. I was young once. Just because they built Village Seven over those places in Colorado Springs doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten. SO… we turned around and went to the lake. The lake has advantages, anyway, notably a big wide road all around it. Teddy is low to the ground and sticks his nose in everything.

When we arrived, a car was moving very slowly in our direction. I waited to see what the story was. It was an elderly couple walking their young dog. The dog ran on the road beside the driver. I’ve heard of this, but I never saw it before. When they passed, I hitched up my “team” and we took a walk. An eagle flew in front of us, descending from one of the tall cottonwood trees beside the lake.

Summer is tired. It’s got to be exhausting here, with barely six weeks to do everything, summer pushes furiously through its necessary tasks.

My Australian pumpkin is the best plant in my garden. I poked a seed in the dirt, not thinking anything would grow. My neighbor — from whom I got the seeds — grew them last year, and they didn’t mature fully before she had to pick them. He needs more sun, more time and a more spacious spot to grow, but he doesn’t care. He’s doing it anyway. Although signs point to an early winter, I hope we don’t get a real frost for another month so at least he has a chance to bloom.

But, judging from the fact that the large ungulates are already down here on the valley floor, I think we might have an early winter. Good for me, bad for the volunteer tomatoes that first showed their heads only a week ago. I have named them “Optimism.”

My garden has had a hard time this year, and for a while I was disappointed, but now I think it’s a valiant little place. Everything is doing its best, trying very hard to put out something good and useful before it’s too late.

I relate to that.

The Teddy Update

Teddy has been with us for six weeks and is coming into his own with his unique little personality. Actually, it’s a large personality, but a wonderful one. He loves learning — he’s learned to fetch. He is beginning to understand he needs to sit when he meets someone. He’s learning not to react to barking dogs on our walks. He has a great memory. When we meet people on our walks he remembers the houses and he looks for them just after one encounter. Yesterday I took him to meet a little girl who lives down the street — not Michelle, but another kid who loves dogs. They met. At her house there is a 4 foot wood fence in front so Teddy had to jump up to get meet her. As we passed her house today, he jumped up on that fence looking for her.

The bright side of the sore shoulder is that I have to walk each of them alone so Bear gets her long, slow rambles which I also love because I just love being with her, and Teddy gets trained.

He and Bear are really opposites. Bear doesn’t do anything to please me; that’s not one of her motives at all which is, I think, why it upsets her so much if I get angry at her. She has no idea why and she will never have any idea why. From the very first night she lived here I understood that she was exceptionally independent and far more likely to cooperate than learn tricks. Considering her breed, she’s happy and extremely well behaved, doesn’t mind living in a small house with a small yard. But she must guard, she must bark when she feels a need (not that often), she must have a fairly set routine. She has never had an “accident” (Teddy and every other dog in my life has) and has never really done anything wrong. She babysits Teddy every morning (he’s still a puppy) while I sleep until a human hour, then takes a break after breakfast. She KNOWS she’s babysitting and she does not let him bother me. She has taught him a lot, like not to eat the stuffing out of toys, where to pee and poop, where it’s OK to dig holes and where it’s not. Teddy, on the other hand, gets very happy when he has done something that garners praise and will work as hard for “Good boy!” as for a treat.

It’s really the livestock guardian dog (Bear) and the herding dog (Teddy) team here in this sheepless house. Both of them are very affectionate to me and even to each other. They are just nice dogs. ❤

My yard is a mess but I guess it could be fixed… Not this year, though. 😦

I’ve been so lucky — I was born into this world wanting a dog. It took 35 years before I had one of my own. I have had the chance to live with some very incredible beings, like Bear and Teddy. I know living with dogs might not be everyone’s life dream, but apparently it’s been one of mine.

Teddy Report and Quotidian Update 91.23.vii

All the typing I’ve been doing over the past few months working on the China book combined with walking two semi-intractable dogs, has inflamed my shoulder joint. Don’t worry, I’m not typing in my usual place. Apparently my chair is too low for the table and my arms have been in a position that would (and did) eventually cause irritation to my shoulder joint — bursitis, it seems.

It’s really painful and has interrupted my sleep and fucked with my mood. I devised a clever ice pack made of a baggy with ice in it wrapped in a bandana and tied around my shoulder that’s worked well. But yesterday I went a step farther and got a real ice pack that wraps around my body with stuff you freeze. It’s pretty hard to keep the bandana in place.

It all started from teaching, from years of reaching to write on the board. For the past 15 years it’s come and gone — all the screwing (ha ha) I did building furniture when I moved here made it flare up. Painting ceilings before I moved made it flare up.

I got a leash for Bear that I can wear around my waist — I see potential problems, but it has handles, too. If it’s good it will be great as it is a little fanny pack (there goes my entire coolness factor right down the drain) so if I see kids selling lemonade I might have a quarter to buy some.

Teddy has learned to fetch and recognizes the ball we use for fetch from his other toys if I put them all in a pile. He brings me the right one. I’m thinking of hiring a tutor to help him prep for the SATs.

So if my posts for the next nonce are brief and cranky, that’s why.

Teddy Bear Day Three

It looks like Teddy will be staying and I’m very happy about it. This morning I got up and put them all outside, shut the back door and went to bed. When I got up for “reals,” it was clear they’d all be playing hard. I was very happy. I got Teddy as a playmate for Bear. At first Bear’s nose was out of joint and she sulked in the back yard

I got to see them play this afternoon — it’s pretty funny to watch a giant breed livestock guardian dog play with a small mini-Aussie puppy. First they chase each other, then they wrestle. Teddy needs to be neutered, and it’s obvious in his play strategy which starts with him humping Bear, Bear walking away and laughing in his face. There’s no way he can dominate her.

I think dog play is good for dogs. It develops good manners in puppies, entertains them and makes them tired. I’ve felt bad that Bear has had no playmate since she moved here. Dusty also appears to want to play, but he’s bad at it. I also noticed he is protective of the puppy which astonishes and pleases me.

They get very dirty in the yard they’ve customized which is OK. It’s a chance for me to teach Teddy to like getting his face washed.

This afternoon, we took our third walk and practiced “stop/sit” commands again. Teddy met the kids at the end of the block, and that was great. We haven’t seen them in a while so Bear and I were also happy to find them outside. They loved Teddy but in their eyes NOTHING compares to Bear.

Teddy is younger than I first thought which is fine. Someone already did the hard work of housebreaking a male dog (thank you unknown person) and I just have to teach him good manners in the house and with people. He has Australian shepherd nature which means he’s loyal to his person. I went out to get the mail and found he’d climbed up on one thing that would allow him to look outside to watch what I was doing — the coffee table. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t be angry. I just have to teach him that’s not OK and an easy way to do that is to put barriers there.

I’d say so far we’re happy he’s here. Bear has her hiding place from him, his from her and Dusty has the potential to be VERY assertive (which I want to avoid), but so far it’s just been a very clear, “No!” when Teddy trespasses Dusty’s space.