Welcome to My Neighborhood

The good news is that my neighbor, the little, old Hispanic guy who “goes walking” with a cane made it safely back from his 36 mile round trip walk to Alamosa. I saw him yesterday in his summer outfit (flannel shirt replaced by t-shirt) walking on my street. Seeing him reminded me of all the very interesting neighbors I’ve had in my life, one of whom LOVED to be driven — but only if you said, “Mr. Saysak, you want a ride in my new car?” If it wasn’t a new car, he wasn’t interested. The bright spot is that it didn’t have to really BE a new car; you just had to SAY it was. Mr. Saysak had dementia and was always taking off for his dream destination — Heidi’s restaurant which was about 9 miles from where we lived. Once I picked him up about a block away from that restaurant, but that’s another saga…

In his pre-dementia life he’d been a butcher and had a shop not far from our houses back in the 1950s and 60s when City Heights in San Diego was a quiet neighborhood. Sometimes Mr. Saysak would leave post-it notes on the neighbor’s doors referring to grocery orders, but the day my dog Maggie died I found a very strange and beautiful note. It said, “I have come like the prophets of old to say that I have gone because I have been found to be good and kind to all people.” I completely believe that message was from my beautiful golden dog.

One day Mr. Saysak saw a couple of kids trying to break into my house. He ran across the street and chased them off. There was really no one like him. When he died, his beautiful wife was both sad and relieved. I sent her flowers and a few days later went over with banana bread. She sat on her sofa with her hand on the flowers. I was stunned when she said, “No one ever sent me flowers before.” A couple of years later I gave her a ride to get her hair done. When I went to pick her up, she had a bowl of blooming paper whites for me. Mr. Saysak called her “my wild Irish rose.”

In Descanso I had an interesting neighbor, an Indian from a tribe north of Flagstaff. He never told me which. He had been in the Navy which is how he ended up in Southern California. He was wounded in Vietnam and, by the time I knew him, he was in a wheel chair. He had a beautiful big dog — a McKenzie Mountain Dog — who was strong enough to get him back up if he and his wheel chair fell over. He was an amazing dog. The Indian made jewelry, boxes and things made from leather and sold them in front of the general store in Descanso (this was California in the 2000s, folks, not the old west). I loved to hang out and talk to him and, of course, visit with the dog.

Over time, that amazing, beautiful and heroic dog died, and the Indian did not get another one. He did get a motorized wheelchair. That chair set him free to “travel” which bugged his kids because they liked knowing where he was. He carried a bag filled with milk bones for all the dogs he might meet on his way. He came to my house every day to visit the dogs who would go to the fence as soon as they heard the hum of his wheelchair. He especially loved Dusty T. Dog. It was a sad day for all of us when he went to join his McKenzie Mountain Dog. There is no official breed recognition for that dog but he looked like an immense husky and maybe McKenzie River Husky is his “real” name.

Here my neighbors are generally less colorful. Casey was the one really colorful neighbor — literally colorful because his mom made him wear a bright orange hunting jacket so he’d be safe on his daily walk to DQ and other points in the neighborhood. Casey was a severely autistic man probably in his early 40s. Casey had definite ideas about things; he was a little severe but likeable. He lived with his mother, and when his mother died, he had to move somewhere else. He had a border collie when I first moved here. He loved that dog and walked her in the park every day. When his dog died, he adopted my Aussie, Mindy. He came to see her twice a day, carefully letting himself into the front yard and closing the gate behind him. I let her into the front yard every afternoon to meet with her “boyfriend.” There was no way I could ever convince Casey that Mindy wasn’t a collie.

Everyone in town knew Casey. He was arrested once for staging a hold up at a local supermarket — the gun was a squirt pistol. The cops still hauled him to Del Norte where the jail is. Once, not long after I came to Monte Vista, I was having dinner at a local restaurant with my friends from Colorado Springs. We were listening to a local singer perform. Casey walked up to the stage and took a seat on a stool. When the song was over, he whispered in the singer’s ear. The singer nodded. Casey pulled his stool closer to the singer. The singer strummed a chord on his guitar, and broke into “Rocky Mountain High” which is, of course, Colorado’s state song. Casey joined him and they sang their hearts out. The people I was sitting with sang, too, because Lois and Michael CAN sing. My job when there is singing is that of appreciator, and I did well and appreciated deeply, with tears in my eyes over the beauty of the moment.

A while back I sent a query to an agent in New York pitching Martin of Gfenn. In my pitch was something to the effect that Martin was just an ordinary guy who ended up with leprosy and had to make something of his life and talent anyway. Something like that. The agent wrote back, “We are not interested in ordinary people. We are interested in extraordinary people.” That proved two things to me; 1) he didn’t know what made a person extraordinary, 2) he was the wrong agent for my book. The world is filled with extraordinary people. I don’t believe there ARE any “ordinary” people. How many little, old Hispanic men who need a cane walk 36 miles round trip to get a hamburger at McDonalds?

Featured photo: The Glorious Bean Field of 2023

XVI — Ravens and Hawks

Mission Trailed

“What’re they doing?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t look like a road. Those cuts seem random.”


“Remember those flags we were seeing all winter? Here’s one. ‘RT 173-24’.”

“Weird. Wonder what it means.”

“I don’t know.”

“Look. It’s here.”

“This is the worst place. They don’t even know, do they? They don’t know what’s in this canyon.”

“Well, if it’s a road, it can’t go here. This is granite.”

“Have you ever heard of dynamite?”

“Then the road really will go here.”

“Why here, do you think?”

“This is the end of Mission Trails Park. Miramar starts just a little further on.”

“I thought all of this was the park.”


“Well, let’s go home.”

“Look, in the dead tree. That mourning dove, all in shadow, except for that one glowing spot where the sun is shining on her chest. Last December I was standing right here. The hawk was chased by the raven. He landed right where that dove is perched. He didn’t move when I passed; he just looked at me with golden eyes.”

“How many times have you seen him?”

“I don’t know. Almost every time I’ve been here, he’s been here. How many miles did we figure I put on those Raichles in the last two years?”


“So I guess 2500 miles of times. Once, I was up ahead, in the oak grove. It was in the winter, just before the Gulf War started. I’d stopped to give the dogs water. We sat beneath the trees. I ate an apple. The ravens came. They were everywhere!”

“How many?”

“Maybe a dozen! It was like a Hitchcock film. They circled down, lower and lower, cawing. The dogs were frightened. They refused to drink and flattened their bellies to the earth.”

“Were you afraid?”

“I didn’t know what to do. I was fascinated, and I thought if I got up to go, I would threaten the birds, but I couldn’t stay. I leashed the dogs so they wouldn’t get any crazy ideas of chasing the ravens.”


“I started up the trail. I noticed the ravens were leaving.”

“That must have been what they wanted.”

“Yeah, it seemed like it, but that wasn’t it at all. After I went about 20 yards, I looked back. The ravens were tiny black spots high in the sky. Above me were two hawks, flying low. They had chased the ravens away.”

“Were they protecting you?”

“I can’t say that was their intention, but that was the result. I gave the dogs water and this time they drank. The hawks flew low over us. I could see their feathers. When the dogs were done drinking, I got up to move on. The hawks circled higher, but stayed above me for two miles or more.”

The two walked back in silence. The crude, shapeless scrapes violating the hillsides into a road stretched into the distance, portending a future that would make this moment a flicker in a different world.

The graders came in. The Good X and I went around pulling out stakes every weekend in imitation of the “Monkey Wrench Gang” but it didn’t make any difference. Following the indefatigable laws of human progress, the road was built, the bridges were built, the traffic came through. I avoided driving on that road unless I had no choice. Let me tell you, my boycott made as much difference as my monkey-wrenching. 🤣

Looking down at the road cut from the top of North Fortuna Mountain

One good thing about the bridges is that they were shelter from the rain. One afternoon Lupo (a dog I got in 1994) and I went out for a ramble. It started to rain, and, for a while it was great. Among the things we saw — or I saw — was a rainbow above a hill in Spring Canyon. A hawk flew under the arc of the rainbow while I was watching. Later in that adventure the sky opened up. Lupo and I made a run for the bridge where we met three mountain bikers. All of us were laughing — maybe even Lupo was laughing. We were all very wet, very muddy and very happy.

Lupo and Molly at Mission Trails. Lupo was a prince among dogs.

One awesomely cool and serendipitous post script…

It took a while for the road to be built and longer still for it to open. There were some long pauses, such as when fossils of prehistoric horses were discovered during the digging of the roadbed on the west side, just at the base of North Fortuna Mountain.

One December evening in 1993, I took some friends up to a solstice circle I had found on South Fortuna Mountain. They wanted to stay there, and they had their own car, so Molly and I headed down the silent mountain in ocean mist and dim moonlight. We stopped a couple of times to take everything in. That was my first night hike and after that?

The next morning the new segment of Highway 52 opened. In the following years I often thought about that, how the fates had led me there to savor that last silent night. 

On the matter of boots. Within two years, I had worn out the Raichle Eigers. In 1991, I got the best boots I’ve ever owned, Merrell Wilderness Legends. The soles were stitched to the tops (Norwegian Welt construction) and in our lives together, I resoled them 3 times. I had to say “goodbye” to them in 1997 when they could not be resoled any more.

Here they are at Zion Natl. Park.
Here they are in Zürich when I had to tell them goodbye. The laces for these boots are supposed to be blue, but when I couldn’t replace the broken laces with blue ones, I got red ones.

“Thank you for reading all this! I hope you enjoyed it.”
Yours truly,
❤️ The woman pictured below and her much beloved dog, Molly ❤️

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’ve shared them here, and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

There are more stories about hiking with dogs in my book, My Everest. The little book with these stories is titled The Beginning of Everything. I saw that the hikes and dogs in those stories were, for me, the beginning of everything. I want to say, “I don’t have words to describe how I feel about my experiences with dogs in nature” but I clearly have a LOT of words for that. The bottom line? It’s been the best thing in my life and that’s saying a LOT.

XV — People Gotta’ Get from Here to There, Dammit!

Mission Trails



“Is your dog friendly?”

“Oh yeah. She loves children. Your kids can pet her.”

“Nice evening.”

“Sure is.”

“Did you see any deer?”

“Just tracks.”

“I haven’t seen deer up here since three years ago.”

“I saw some last December, there on that hill.”

“Well, that’s good. It’s good to know they’re still here. Who knows what will happen when the road comes through.”

“What road?”

“Oh, they’re joining up with the 52.”


“Back there someplace. Near the boundary with Miramar.”


“Well, they’ve had it the works for ten years or more.”


“To ease the traffic on Mission Gorge. Of course, what’s the point? Those people in Tierra Santa keep voting down the bridge, so they’ll never get Jackson Drive through.”

“What if this road is built?”

“It’s being built. Go on down to Santee. You can see how they’re doing it.”

“They’ll be building it all winter? They’re going to have equipment here all winter?”

“Yep. They don’t want to have those workmen walking around here now with snakes all over the place.”

Boring factual background: The “52” was a highway that ended up going from Santee — a burb east of San Diego to La Jolla, by the ocean. The western part had existed for a long time and until the eastern suburbs started to grow, I don’t think anyone thought it would need to be longer. But those suburbs DID grow, and so the 52 “had” to extend WAAAAY out there.

Tierra Santa was a comparatively new community just west of Mission Trails. People in that community did NOT want the traffic going through their community. I don’t know what deals were brokered to make that happen.

When Mission Trails became a park, and I began working with the board, I learned how deals like this work. There was another place where a different major road was supposed to cross the landscape from north to south. It was never built. That turned out to be part of the deal. Another part of the deal was a “mitigation area” where the highway department had to pay for returning a damaged part of this landscape back to its original state. In my stint on the board, I learned that deals like these are complicated and take years to finalize.

The road also had to provide significant animal crossings which were, of course, under bridges. Because of the mitigation agreement, the bridges had to be built a certain way to provide for the happy prowling of ungulates, canids, bobcats, and mountain lions. Part of the mitigation was a long section of a new (to me) canyon, Spring Canyon. It was a beautiful canyon and I got to know it well.

In late spring of 1992, after the Good X had moved out, I hurt my left knee — an ACL tear that, because I had no insurance, was treated “conservatively” rather than surgically. Grrrrrr…. The immediate upshot was I was not allowed to hike for 3 months. The long-term upshot is that I have a fucked up knee. I spent half of those three months in a knee brace and walked with crutches. When those six weeks were over, my “doctor” cleared me to walk cautiously BUT I was allowed to ride a bike. I get that a bike is low-impact exercise and easy on knees, but I got a mountain bike. One bright spot of that period of my life was learning how fun THAT is. Because of my knee, I absolutely refused to fall. Spring Canyon became my favorite place to ride, and I never fell. 🙂 The only bad thing about mountain biking was that the dogs couldn’t come along.

No nettles in Mission Trails but plenty of poison oak.

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s. There is one more story remaining. I may post it later today, who knows. 😀

The News of the Day

We’ve had rain for part of almost every day for the past two weeks. Wonderful. The last year this happened was 2019 which was also the BEST Langlauf year so maybe this year???

I’ve been out almost every day with one dog or the other. This morning Bear and I took off for what felt like a hot and humid walk (though very serene and beautiful). It was uncharacteristically calm, but no Deer Flies (thank you powers that are in charge of all this) and one large Dragon Fly (thank you again).

Bear and I followed coyote tracks for 1/2 mile and saw where he/she had robbed a duck nest or a coot nest leaving a little sign saying, “Coyotes need to eat too!” I don’t argue with that. If it had been a coot nest, the mother coot would have let one of its young starve, anyway. I’m not questioning the inscrutable and perfect workings of nature.

There was a young man out there running — never see that, so it was very cool. If I could, I’d run there, too.

In Social Media diet news, I’m maintaining it. I like it. I’m starting to see the changes in me. They are interesting — last night I was reading and I heard — and then listened to! — rain hitting the fiberglass cover of the roof that shades a walkway by the back door. For a moment I didn’t realize what it was, then I did. And I thought, “Wow. This is something I’d go to Facebook and post about. I’d post, ‘it’s raining!’ but I wouldn’t listen to it.” THAT is exactly IT. Today out with Bear I took photos which I’ve also tried NOT to do since I started this thing, but it was such a different kind of day that I couldn’t resist.

I thought about what it was like going out with dogs before cell phones. It was more dangerous, absolutely. I thought of my first cell phone (2002? or so) and how it didn’t have a camera or anything. It was good to have that and I realized that right away even though I resisted getting a cell phone for a long time.

I also turned off the tracking app on my Apple Watch. I realized that — while it’s kind of cool — it also distracts me from the moment in which I’m living. Have I burned all the active calories I have “committed” to burning? Have I walked far enough? Ridden the bike-to-nowhere “far” enough? Am I going to get this month’s “award”? When I started using the app I already didn’t like this stuff but it kind of got its little hooks in me and then, soon after the Facebook break I realized that I felt like I was “answering” to my watch. It wasn’t helping me; it was making me feel pressured to achieve “goals” that I didn’t set for myself or even really care about. I thought of human psychology — that for some people that might be really great, but for me it was somehow offensive. I began feeling that way after my last cold when my watch was telling me that (after two weeks of being really sick) I could rebuild from my “losses” in 11 weeks. I think I even said to it, “Fuck you.”

I am also sleeping better now that I’m not reading what passes for “news.” Over this period of 3? 4? Weeks I’ve looked at the news (online, CNN) three times. I am not missing much.

I can’t say I’ve achieved much in this interval. I’ve done an interview with the director of the Rio Grande County Museum for Colorado Central Magazine and written it up. I’ve continued with the story I found in the folder. Because of the weather, I’ve put off some of the yard work I had planned. This break was never about achieving anything; it is more about regaining perspective and peace of mind.

So far so good. Here is the Refuge today.

There is a yellow headed blackbird, three Canada geese, and what appears to be a solstice circle. My guess (which has yet to be tested) is that the white stone marks the location of the sun setting on the summer solstice. I hope I remember to check that out. It’s not a big circle, just 4 feet or so in diameter. No idea who made it.

XIV — Time’s Museum


In the canyon, ghosts of ancient Indians grind dreaming acorns on timeless stone morteros, ghosts and grandsons of ghosts, the granddaughters of ghosts, pounding the yucca to fibers, stretched across the water, woven into baskets, sandals. The memory songs are sung, the fires built, the rain caught in the stone-carved cisterns, the soft invisible footfall past rattlesnakes. 

She approached past the fading blossoms of the lilac, the green grass, now tall, no longer the surprising short lawn of early spring. From the beginning, her heart beat fast and cold. The dogs barked ahead of her, surprising a man sunbathing on a rock. They went ahead. The big snake was there, in front, stretched in the middle of the trail, his sand-red body warming, moving slowly beneath the feet of the running dog. “I will lie quietly beneath this foreign coyote.”

A quick inhalation. A scream. “Stay. Cody, Molly, come!”

The big dog danced over the head of the snake who looked up, hissed, and rattled a slumbrous, half-hearted rattle. The dog barked. The snake lifted its head, lulled out of its apathy. 

She turned and ran, the dogs followed. 

All over California, wherever there are oak groves (almost everywhere) and rocks (almost everywhere), a person can find morteros where the various Indian tribes ground acorns into meal. Mission Trails has two prominent sites. There are several in an area that’s been named “The Grasslands” where there is one large flat patch of gneiss or a gneiss flat patch of stone. There are more in the place I named the Indian Kitchen in Oak Canyon where there is a seasonal stream, only a few yards south of a large oak grove. The Indian Kitchen is along a small fissure. The morteros were dog water bowls. 🐾❤️

Kelly O’Dog, my golden retriever, drinking from a mortero in the Indian Kitchen. Molly is looking off somewhere thinking profound Molly thoughts or watching a lizard. Hard to say.

The first morteros I ever saw were on the way up to the Hale Telescope on Mt. Palomar. The juxtaposition of THAT with the grinding holes was a little mind-blowing.

The Indians who lived (live) in San Diego County in the “olden days” wandered from the sea to the desert, an annual migration for food and warmth. Their primary food source (acorns) grew all across their range. Their shelters and containers were made of willow branches. In my time working with Mission Trails Regional Park, I got to work with some of the leaders of the Kumeyyaay tribe to whom this land “belonged” before the Spanish. If you’re interested, here’s a good film.

The snake in this story didn’t strike. I think he was offering Cody a kind of Rattlesnake Avoidance Training. It didn’t work. I realize NOW that observing all these snakes was teaching me a little something, though.

It seems that when I wrote this Cody the First had come to live with us. He was a very good dog — German Shepherd and??? — but somehow I never fully bonded with him even though we did a lot of fun things together. I liked rollerblading on Fr. Junipero Serra Trail (two miles of paved road with little traffic) and Cody the First was a great companion for that. Thinking about it now, I think it’s because he became my dog shortly before my marriage broke up. He was supposed to have been the Good X’s dog, but…

I had him for only a couple of years. He died from something like 16 snake bites from baby rattlers. He was bizarrely attracted to rattlesnakes and ran into a nest. I now think he could smell them and the smell attracted him. The day he got bit, he was leashed, but pulled furiously away.

The snake in this story was a red diamondback taking a nap, maybe following lunch. They are beautiful and, as a fellow hiker and I agreed, they are very mellow. The snake in the Onward Christian Soldiers Story was also a red diamondback. Rattlesnakes are really NOT interested in putting their venom into something they can’t eat. That’s one thing that makes baby rattlers so dangerous. They don’t KNOW anything. Other rattlesnakes were not as “chill.” The Southern Pacific Diamondback Rattlesnake and the Speckled Rattlesnake are more venomous and more “aggressive” — or defensive?

Reading these stories — which are so rattlesnake centered — I wonder what I was trying to work out and whether I worked through whatever that was. In time, I more-or-less accepted them, but when I wrote this?

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

XIII — Summit, Continued, AND More Wild Dogs


Dusk. He tips the beer back and takes a swallow. The parking lot is emptying. “Well, Lucky, we better go on along home.” The big white dog barks. “Who is it? Well, hi there Maggie. Hi there, you.”


“Where’d you go?”

“Up there.”

“On the ridge?”


“That’s far. When did you get here?”

“3:00. What time is it?”


“It’s great up there.”

“I haven’t been up there in a while. Did you go to the wires?”

“I went to the top. It was wonderful. I could see forever, no houses, nothing, just chaparral.”

“Lucky you can git here so early.”

“I know.” 

“You want a beer?”

“Naw. I have to go home. I’m dirty and it’s getting cold. This poor dog.” She pointed at Truffle. “It was tough sledding for her.”


“She doesn’t like to go down hills, see. Her center of gravity is in her chest. I think she thinks she’s just gonna’ go down in somersaults.”

The hill down the fire road from the top of Fortuna is very steep. Along it are power lines. It was a lot of fun to run down, and I ran down it many many times in ensuing years. Ask me how that worked out for me long term… 🤣

Once coming down that road, my three dogs, the Good X, and I were stopped in our tracks by five coyotes. I held the dogs and the coyotes just looked at us for a few minutes before ambling up the canyon. We continued and turned into the side of the canyon the coyotes had just left. A woman was hiking along saw my dogs and said, “Well, THAT explains all these footprints!” But it didn’t. The coyotes had made the tracks, splashing in the stream. That’s when I realized we probably have no idea what’s going on.

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

XII — Summit

Fortuna Mountain — Hawks

“Come on!”

Pant, pant, pant. 

“Truffle, Maggie! Look. This waterfall! I bet water cascades down this in winter. Come on. You want a drink? Before we climb it? Watch for snakes. Here. Good, huh? I’ll have some too. Come on. You ready? You ready? Let’s go! Up. OH ROCK! How great! Where, put my foot here, here, here — I feel like flight — like a Dharma Bum! Up, up, up, the sun is flaming at the top. Let’s go dogs. No, Truffle, don’t follow me. You don’t want to mess with these rocks, there are easier ways, better dog ways. This is a silly people way. Watch ahead of my hands. Now what? Foot, there, down — oh shit! Now I’m falling — god, if I put out of my hand, I’ll probably break my arm, my heart, beating, beating, my head. Now this is stupid. Time really does stop! What if I get hurt? Who’s going to call an ambulance? Who’s going to know? The dogs? I’m on the mountain’s terms. I’m OK, dogs. I’m OK. Let’s go. This time I PAY ATTENTION. I bet in the spring this place is covered with shooting stars! Through this mess. I hate this part, bang, bang, bang on the ground with the stick. The breeze, finally. Let’s go come on dogs, all the way! I’ll give you a drink once we’re up there. This is good, this is hard, but it’s good, look, everywhere! Feel the wind! What’s the top? Bang, bang, bang the ground. What? A rabbit? Be careful, Truffle. Such a place — wow! Out there! Wow! I can see real mountains! Up. Up. Up. A hawk! Look at YOU!

I caught this morning, morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple — dawn — drawn Falcon, in his riding of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing in his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing like a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird!” *

Come on Maggie. Climb up here. He has a baby! Incredible! He’s teaching it to avoid ravens! He dives for it; if the baby evades the dive, the big bird lifts it on a wave of air from its wing; if it fails? The big bird bites it! Look at that baby! He seems to be in love with the sky! The sun is getting low. Come on. Down the road. I know it’s hard, Truffle. It’s steep, but you can do it — MAGGIE! Stay out of the bushes! Stay here — oh look at the sycamore trees! They seem lit! And the field! It’s glowing! What? What’s that? Louder. Again. What do you mean, “What will happen can’t be stopped: what won’t happen can’t be forced.

At this point in the file folder — after everything had seemed more-or-less in chronological order — I realized things WEREN’T in chronological order. The young woman writing this (aka me half a life ago) was doing something else, trying to write the kind of “order” that we all actually live. We go through life, always forward, one step at a time, but our minds are all over the place. Her dog’s death was ever-present in her mind, and on hikes she would ruminate about what happened. In this story, she’s hiking somewhere but remembering the first time she hiked up Fortuna Mountain. That day she had Truffle and Maggie. Why no Molly? No idea and she wasn’t telling.

Until that early November day she had hiked up ONE mountain — Kwaapaay. For some reason that afternoon when she pulled into the parking lot at Old Mission Dam she felt ready to tackle a new trail, a higher hill. She ended up going straight up a dry waterfall., bushwhacking. She fell at one point and caught herself, only scratching her hand. Meanwhile Maggie, whose existence exemplified “joie de vivre“, ran madly through the overgrown brush chasing scents.

Once the young woman was on her feet, the three went on their way. She felt happily impelled to keep climbing and ended up on top of Fortuna Mountain. From there are views in all directions, and back then a lot of the country was still virgin chaparral. Luckily, Mission Trails DID become officially a park and it acquired a lot of the land around it so people in San Diego can still see the REAL Southern California if they want to.

She didn’t come down the way she’d gone up. All the trails were obvious from the top and she went down a fire road. In later days she often wondered if that was the day Maggie had been bitten so that was on her mind as she took the hike that led to this bit of story. The reality is she never figured out when Maggie had been bitten, but the message she got,”What will happen can’t be stopped, what won’t happen can’t be forced,” quieted her mind. She realized she’d probably never know, and it didn’t matter. Knowing wouldn’t change anything.

Even today she remembers a thought she had as she headed up the waterfall. She had looked down at Truffle and Maggie and thought that her dogs were young and they’d be able to have great hikes like that for a long time. She stops herself now from thinking that because we don’t know. Jim Morrison was right. The future IS uncertain, etc..

Our ties are both permanent and impermanent, accurate and mistaken, concrete and illusory. Thirty years after this hike, Bear leans against my leg, and Teddy licks the remaining cream and coffee from my cup, every moment so very precious.

View from the top of Fortuna Mountain looking back at the trail. The trail goes to South Fortuna Mountain where there was a solstice circle. In the middle distance is Kwaapaay and then Cowles Mountain.

*Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Windhover”

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

XI – Mom

Easter Sunday

“You call that a snake stick? You could beat an army with that.”


“I use a dandelion digger.”


“You should get a dandelion digger. How far do you plan to go?”

“Oh, an hour.”

“I can’t walk that long. I’ll sit here and wait for you.”

“You don’t mind, mom?”


“OK. We’ll see you in an hour.”

They followed the trail along the stream. The dogs splashed in the water. 

The old woman sat on the bright green grass of the hillside which, in August, had been burned brown and barren with drought. Now the whole world was washed and reborn. Flowers bloomed one on top of the other, amazed at their own being. The sun dipped quickly, it was March. The two turned back before they wanted.
Truffle was the first to notice the woman who watched the direction her child had taken away from her. She stood on the hillside, a pale shape against the glowing green grass, the sun behind her, lighting her hair.
“Go find Helen, Truffle. Go get Helen!”

The dog ran ahead, dragging her leash.

My mom only visited the Good X and me in San Diego three times. She didn’t like the dogs much, but she did like Truffle who was calm and strangely humorous — something I can’t explain. My mom thought house dogs should be small and manageable, not the giant, hairy beings we lived with. She didn’t understand much about me or my life, but there she was. She was crazy about the Good X.

The snake stick debate continued at home. My mom had the idea that a long-handled dandelion digger would allow her to kill a snake by stabbing it behind the head. Maybe that would work. My theory was that a long hiking stick would make it possible for me to warn the snakes ahead of time that I was on my way so I wouldn’t have to see them at all, and, if I did, a long enough stick would make it possible to move them away. Her dandelion digger was only about 3 feet long. My stick was about five feet long. I’d learned by then not to get into a dispute with my mom because it would end with, “Well, Martha Ann, I guess you know everything.” And, of course, I do. 🤣

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.


X — Denoument

Montana Answers

“Yeah, our dogs used to get bit by rattlers. You never knew ’til the dog got sick. I’d say to my dad, ‘What’s wrong with the dog?’ Dad’d say, ‘Oh, he’s just been snakebit.’ Sometimes the dogs’d make it; sometimes not.”

“What happened then?” she asked her uncle. He’d grown up on a ranch west of Billings, Montana.

“Oh, they’d swell all up, here, around the neck. They’d be real sick for a day or two, maybe bleed from the nose, seizures. They’d make it or we’d shoot ‘em. It all depended how much venom they got.”

That conversation with my uncle told me what had killed my dog Maggie. The city vets in San Diego wouldn’t expect a dog to be snakebit, but here in rural Colorado every vet would expect that. Now there’s a rattlesnake venom vaccine. I don’t know how good it is — even vets have given me mixed reviews. I guess its one main advantage is that it slows the progression of the venom so a person has a longer to get the dog help. I also understand that the antivenin has to be matched to the exactly type of rattlesnake.

I was out pretty early this morning with Bear. As we walked I passed a dead garter snake. I had probably run over it. I felt bad for a moment then thought, “Hungry birds.” A raven flew overhead. Later we passed a living garter snake. Bear is no longer interested in them, and I’m glad of that.

I thought of all the snakes I saw back in the day. Most often it was one of the three kinds of rattlesnakes that lived there — but sometimes king snakes — the yellow and black California Kingsnake and the rare and elusive Laguna Mountain Kingsnake with his red, black and yellow/white stripes. Gopher Snakes were always nice to see as were my favorites, the Desert Rosy Boas. Ring-necked snakes are small and beautiful. I guess it was lucky that I have no real aversion to snakes though a snake on a trail will make me scream. Even the skinny little garter snakes I see out at the Refuge.

Rattlesnakes will never be my favorite critters, but I learned about them. Most useful is that they are territorial, and I could expect to see one in certain places along the way. As much as I truly miss my little house in Descanso, CA, I don’t miss living in a place where there could be rattlesnakes in my yard.

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

In other news, Tu Fu, Lao She, and Pearl Buck — the Scarlet Emperor Beans — and now Li Ho!!! have emerged and I am very happy to see them. I recently read an artlcle about genetically modified — what does the O stand for? — anyway GMOs. The writer is a farmer and he explained that all seeds are genetically modified just by being grown and harvested. It’s true. I look at my beans, see who is busy pollinating them, and (to me) it appears pretty random. The writer explained the obvious, that hybridization is genetic modification, and people have been doing that as long as they’ve farmed, even unwittingly, just by harvesting what grows. He said that using the seeds that come from the previous year’s crops isn’t such a great idea and that buying new seeds every season will give a better yield. He gave a litany of reasons all of which made perfect sense. But every year my beans (so far) have been very very happy to grow from the seeds of the previous summer. Maybe his assessment doesn’t hold for a handful of beans grown by a lady in a 4 x 8 garden but it should be even MORE true when there aren’t many plants. This is the sixth generation from the TWO seeds I planted from a packet that was a year old. Anyway I will give them my best. They are wonderful beings. Or beans.

Lao She

IX – Wild Dogs


“Listen! Coyotes!”
“Have you heard it before?”
“No. Never.”
Against purple hills, the sun low behind them, invisible wild dogs howled a song which — among other messages — said, “The park is closed. The people are gone. We are free.”

Even back then, there were gates on Father Junipero Serra Trail (road) that went through Mission Trails. The gates only kept cars from driving through. Bikes and foot travelers weren’t blocked out. They opened from sunrise to sunset. In summer, the best time for me to go up there was late, late, late in the afternoon so I was often leaving at sunset. I parked outside the park so my car wouldn’t be locked inside.

In my early Colorado life, the timing of a hike had been different — start early in the morning so the mountains would warm up through the day, and a person could be home (or camped) before the thunderstorms began. In the coastal chaparral it was, for me, the opposite. Start out at 5 pm so the day cooled as I warmed up.

It was wonderful because — as I was near the end of my hikes — the crepuscular creatures (isn’t “crepuscular” a cool word?) were emerging. One afternoon Molly and I were walking through a wash. A barn owl flew beside us for a while, watching me. We briefly made eye contact which was, whoa…unforgettable.

At the time I first heard coyotes, I hadn’t seen any — yet. Coyotes would become an important and lovely part of my apprenticeship and this love story, but that was in the future.

Coyote, ink drawing, 1996

I’ve heard coyotes only once or twice since I moved back to Colorado. They’re around, but I’m no longer often out at that magical, petillant moment when they send their yips and howls into the sky.

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.