Another Training Walk with Teddy

The new Halti setup wasn’t great at first, but after I reprimanded Teddy, he was ready to surrender and found it was no big deal. The lighter leash and connector were good, too, but strange for me. I’m really NOT used to NOT feeling a dog at the end of a leather lead. This one is a type of climbing rope with what I would call an “ornamental” carabiner as a clip. Ornamental in that no climber would use it as a life-saving or life-preserving climbing tool. It’s good for this, though.

He’s (as is his breed) a very observant dog. He’s seen me walk back to the car placing my hand on Bear’s back or her head. I realized today he’s trying to make that happen with him. The problem is he’s too little. He keeps kind of jumping up to reach my hand which is annoying and, for me, confusing.

I was trying to figure out what he was after, and it hit me. Given the impossibility of my walking with my hand on his back or head, I just stopped every 20 steps or so, had him sit, and petted him. That’s good for him and for training. By the time we were on the last leg of the return, he was walking perfectly at heel like it was the most natural thing in the world. I’m sure he doesn’t realize how absolutely great that would be for him down the road and how it could enhance his social life.

Two cars went by. Teddy was pretty good — a lot better than with the old non-Halti system.

This transformation isn’t going to happen overnight, but I’m glad we have commenced it.

Thought I’d Write About Dogs for a Change

Yesterday was day three of the Teddy T. Dog Transformation Workshop in which Teddy is made over from the land-demon from hell into a responsive, well-adjusted, adorable little guy who doesn’t try to kill his human.

Not that Teddy tried to kill me but a little melodrama doesn’t hurt a blog post that will inevitably be like many others I’ve written.

We had a great walk, again, with minimal fighting of the Halti. I realized that the connection between the leash and the Halti was heavy for such a little dog and when we got home I set up a new system using a lighter leash with a different connector. It worked. I also began training Teddy to put his nose into the Halti. He’s getting it.

On our walk, Teddy was great. It felt as if there was nothing on the end of the leash. When I got home I gave some thought to Teddy vs. Bear. First, dogs don’t really mature “intellectually” until they’re 3 years old or so. Teddy is just 4. Bear did most of the early doghood education. She house trained him and taught him the routine of Casa di Martha. But there is no way she could teach him how to walk on a leash safely with me.

Dogs like Bear are famous for their intuition. Training Bear was no work at all. She picked up most things from Dusty T. Dog who was very well-trained. Besides my work with him, during the six weeks I rehabbed from my first hip surgery (2007) he stayed with a professional trainer where he learned, among other things, to walk at heel without a leash.

Beyond that, Bear can sense what’s going on with me. It’s pretty amazing but true. The livestock these dogs are bred to protect aren’t “teaching” the dogs anything. The dogs are learning from each other if there are more than one and from the livestock themselves. Most of the time they aren’t even near “their” human. Bear learned to walk with me from walks with Dusty (who didn’t need a leash) and from me. I understand that Bear wasn’t bred to be a house dog. I get who she is, and I’m happy to stand there while she smells things, and she’s happy to stand there while I stare into the Big Empty thinking about how strange and beautiful it is. I think it would be a pretty maddening walk for others to share, even a little dog.

There’s not much snow left out there for me to crunch my way through. As my little dog walked beside me (!!!!) I thought of snow and crunch and how we learn words. There are words like “crunch” that always bring up the moment I learned the word and the activity that goes with it. My brother and I walked to school every day. One day my dad asked me (maybe I was in 2nd grade) “Hey MAK, I used to walk to school too. I love the way the snow crunched when I walked. Do you notice that?”

I was bewildered. To me “crunch” required something different from snow. Cellophane paper crunched, for that matter, paper crunched when you balled it up, or hard candy crunched between your teeth, or potato chips were crunchy. Snow??? But my dad was right most of the time. I said, “When it freezes on top?”

“No, honey, fresh snow. Bill Kelly (his best friend) and I used to walk across Pioneer Park (Billings, MT) to school and the snow crunched. Listen sometime, OK?”

The requirements for snow crunch? Fresh, dry snow has the best crunch of all. But every time it happens, I have this conversation with my dad. I was taught to notice that.

I was no different from Teddy. I had to be told things. I responded to what I was told and, clearly, remembered it. Bear, on the other hand? She seems to have been born knowing almost everything.

In other news, the sweet aroma of linseed oil again fills the house. I started a painting yesterday. I haven’t done anything in there (studio) since early last summer. When I got Covid in late June, and then long Covid, I couldn’t hold an idea or image in my mind long enough to imagine how to paint it. It was actually worse than that; I couldn’t imagine even how I would paint something. BUT the cloudy, foggy, gray, lightless day out there last week seems to be where I’m starting.




And Yet ANOTHER Walk With Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog

It’s alleged that the cranes will come earlier this year because of a lack of food down there at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. If they do, they’ll be here a while as there is no open ground at their next stop. In advance of the influx of Crane Tourists and the 40th Anniversary Crane Festival of Song and Story, Bear and I headed out for a walk yesterday even though the wind blowing from the southwest did not demur, but blasted like a MOFO. It was blowing so hard it seemed to suck my breath away, but probably it was just blowing at me so hard I couldn’t exhale. I’ve been out there in heavy winds before, but yesterday was a little different.

As I fought the wind, I thought “Chinook.” My friend in Wyoming could use a wind like that with her sheep out in deep snow. The situation is dire. Deep snow has covered the ground so the sheeps’ usual winter grazing is inaccessible and food — for the sheep, the dogs and the men caring for them — has had to be trucked in. The road is dangerous in winter and there have been numerous wrecks. You can read about it on her blog, Ladder Ranch.

“The warm wind kept blowing
…like a low chant from the land
or like the flurry of far wings…
lapping up the snow…
until the whole body of earth
lay brown and breathing
except for the topknots of buttes
and, away and away,
the high float of mountains…
Chinook…
Promise of Spring.”

A.B. Guthrie, Jr., from These Thousand Hills.

As happens, when we turned around with our backs to the wind, the day felt completely different. Bear found a patch of snow with some appealing scents to roll in. I studied the light changing on distant Mt. Herard. The wind was blowing snow over the Sand Dunes at the base of the mountain. I tried a photograph (featured photo), but the phone does not really have a powerful telephoto lens so it looks like a paint by number painting but you might get the idea.

As I photographed Mt. Herard I saw my reflection in my phone screen. I very very very seldom take selfies because I prefer the illusion to the reality of my appearance, but yesterday it was just too funny.

Bear is pretty well trained, but we’re doing a refresher course. Taking each dog out separately means Bear doesn’t get half a walk; she gets the whole thing to herself. I’m helping her understand that so she’s not in a rush to get to the scents. I don’t know if she understands the theory behind this, but it doesn’t matter. Theories might be for humans. For Bear the reality is we aren’t in a hurry any more because no over-enthusiastic, passionate, little land demon is pulling us. She’s getting it. I realized that yesterday when she stopped in front of me, leaned against me, and wouldn’t move. “OK Bear. We really do have all day.” I swear, she sighed.

I have had a couple of happy blips in my life as an artist. Last week a man in Tennessee did the research needed to find me. He’d bought notecards from my defunct Etsy shop two years ago and wanted more. Yesterday I learned that Colorado Central Magazine wants to run my painting of the Cranes on a Windy Day with the article instead of the photos I submitted from the festival’s media kit. 😊

Windbreak

On this cold windy day, the blowing snow
Fills our foot prints. Ice lace in the tire
Tracks. With her nose to the ground, my dog, slow,
Reads world history in the scents of prior
Animals. The wind stops and starts in blasts.
I tuck my chin more deeply into my scarf,
and feel glad for gloves. Snow showers fly fast
Past the mountains’ face; cold beauty, winter’s heart.
Tired of the fight, I turn back and see,
On the snowy road, shadows, light then dimmed,
Moving clouds. I stop in a suddenly
Different day with my back to the wind,
“This is beautiful,” I tell my dog who
Rolls in the snow and eats some rabbit poop.

Close Encounter of the Fur Kind

I know the dogs hadn’t — between them — hatched a nefarious plot that would have gone against their self-interest. I know that but here I am this morning walking slowly through the house, waiting for the paracetamol (Tylenol) to kick in. For a few moments yesterday out at the Refuge I lay flat on my face, glasses thrown a short distance away, wondering how I was going to get up on the slick snowy road.

Luckily, I wasn’t alone but, on the other hand, if I’d been alone, I never would have fallen.

There was a moment when I regretted having socialized Bear so well to like people and Teddy? Never mind Mr. Throw Himself Through a Glass Door to see people — specifically the UPS man.

There is a couple we’ve run into a few times out there — Sharon and Tom — that we like very much. I’ve never had any challenges controlling the dogs in their company before, but yesterday? I think the problem was that they were preceded on the road by a car — and Teddy wants to chase all cars. And they were stuck at home for two days. So they were filled with piss and vinegar. In their eagerness to greet friends, Teddy leapt forward and pulled me down. It wouldn’t have happened at all if I’d been paying attention, but I wasn’t.

I let go of the leashes, asked our friends to hold the dogs, and Tom helped me up. OH well. And then, of course, the dogs returned to me as if “See, Martha! We found our friends!”

I’m not hurt, just a little banged up.

Once I was upright again, we had a great conversation. Last time we met I told them about the article I was writing about the Crane Festival. As we talked, I thought about how the are the ONLY people I ever run into when I’m out there walking. They are the only people who walk out there, too, except one of the people who lives there. I thought about that and about what we talk about. Invariably our conversations turn to what we have seen. Last time we met they had seen the elk herd — about 400 elk — and heard their feet hit the ground as they ran across the fields. Yesterday they asked about the article. I told them they were in it, but I hadn’t used their names. I said I felt weird — but what I felt was the immensity and silence of that place, and all the people who have witnessed it over the millennia, none of them are named. I might have my name on the article, but as a wanderer out there, I am nameless. I told them I wrote about how when we meet up we talk about what we’ve seen to, maybe, the only other people in the world who are out there with no agenda. I told them where they would find the magazine when it comes out.

So, for a while at leash (ha ha), I won’t be walking Bear and Teddy together. I’m also thinking that Teddy is going to get a head collar like that Bear wears. I used one with him when he first came to live with me, but he hated it. Now I’m wondering how much I care whether he hates it or not.

Quotedium Update 81.9.3i.x

The dogs and I have been out in the Big Empty enjoying the snow that’s on the ground. I learned today that most of Colorado is covered with snow and that the snow pack in the mountains is 134% of normal. That doesn’t mean it’s the end of the drought, but it’s a good sign. Snow is falling right now. Little flakes, gray sky, pure January aesthetic.

We went out Friday while the snow was falling. I didn’t know until I got out of town that it wasn’t just snow. Fog! Beautiful, adding to the silence and mystery. The snow was wet and on the warm side. The light was flat and the Refuge was beautiful in a way I hadn’t experienced before. It reminded me of the under-painting of the big crane painting and gave me the thought of actually painting THAT. There was no sign of life beyond the slow low flight of a Northern Harrier in front of me.

We walked our walk, the dogs each having its turn at the side off the road where the good stuff is. Bear’s and Teddy’s feet accumulated snow balls, but both of them are happy to have me pull them out. The featured photo is the end of that snowstorm.

Saturday I woke up to find the fog had lingered, leaving its beautiful mark on the tops of the trees, but dipping low enough to regale my lilac bush.

Yesterday we were out again. The sun was shining, and the walk was beautiful. Enough people had driven on the road that there were nice tracks for me. I don’t mind walking through the snow at all, but when Teddy is pulling one way and Bear the other it’s a little less fun. Not a lot less fun, just a little less fun. By yesterday, the snow had crystalized over night, so it didn’t stick to the dogs’ paws.

On our return, a truck stopped. Turned out it was some people I haven’t seen in four years! but like very much so we caught up, laughed, chuckled, and enjoyed the moment. It’s an interesting phenomenon how that place, as solitary as it is, often results in my having a great conversation with someone. I guess it’s kind of a funnel. Anyone who’s out there is probably someone I want to talk to and who wants to talk to me.

I’m hoping for four inches or a little more of snow. I will take the Langlauf skis to the Refuge — or the golf course — if that happens. The snow that’s there now will be a very nice base for fresh powder. It’s slightly packed and will have had the chance to crystalize a few times.

I have no projects hanging fire other than reading books for the contest. At the moment I’m between shipments. They come twice during the winter and the second shipment will come next month which is not that far away. I have electronic submissions to read right now.

and yet ANOTHER Snowy Walk with Bear

Very beautiful day yesterday. The snow fell off and on all day but only got as deep as my ankles. I shoveled the walks then sequestered Bear and headed to the Refuge.

The road was treacherous. I have consciously avoided winter roads since I moved here. It isn’t difficult since we have more sunny days than gray, and most winters have been dry. At first it felt a little sketchy. Bella is a jeep but she doesn’t have the best tires for snow/ice. I soon relaxed into the experience and enjoyed it.

It is a little strange to think that most of my winter driving experience was in Montana driving my aunts around the winter-slick roads in Billings in their cars. Front wheel drive and studded tires, but if the snow was deep? Everyone stayed home until the plows came out. As I drove, I felt strangely nostalgic for Billings’ winter roads and my bundled up aunts.

I always wondered WHY my aunts wanted me to drive. It had been DECADES since I’d driven on winter roads, but there I was. San Diego driver. I had learned to drive in those conditions so it wasn’t long before I was fine.

“You’re doing good, honey,” my Aunt Jo would say.

Before Bear and I left the Refuge yesterday, a very amazing snowplow came up the main road. It had a front blade, and pulled a heavy trailer that had another blade, this one pointing toward the side of the road. The plow system was immense and fun to watch. It gave us an easier ride home, though still slick.

Bear and I had, again, untrammeled snow and tracks — fox or coyote, but my money is on fox. The snow was soft and the tracks were a little filled. A male Northern Harrier passed low in front of me and then moved on.

Northern Harrier in the tree…


Bear had the time of her life investigating the mischief made by other animals since the last time we were there.

“Very interesting, Martha!”

The sky to the south was so dark that the shadows of the trees were on the “wrong” side. The storm came from the southwest. To the north the sky was bright with a band of clear turquoise on the horizon.

You can see the effects of the odd light in the photo below. I’m facing east. The sun was desperately trying to shine through dark clouds over my right shoulder. The tree’s shadows would — normally — point in the opposite direction. This can’t be painted. It’s a photo that needs words, a phenomenon maybe unique in my life.


In a place like the Refuge where there is nothing overtly dramatic to look at, a person who goes there often, like I do, is going to notice ambience and detail. It is really not the same place twice.

The day before yesterday I saw a beautiful, huge, pale tan feather. I wanted to pick it up, but as we were just starting out, I couldn’t. I planned to get it on the way back, but the wind and a couple passing cars had blown it away. I thought about that later. Moments of beauty are just like that feather or a harrier’s low, slow flight.

Being Old

I have a bunch of Facebook friends who are kids with whom I went to high school. We’re all 71 (some of us 72) this year. Some of them are troubled by the “invisibility” of old age. Personally I hate the “OK Boomer” thing, but I also think anyone who comes out with that is probably an asshole and I don’t want to know them anyway. As for invisibility? When I had to walk with a cane (in my fifties) I was REALLY invisible. For true invisibility, try being crippled.

I told one of the young (40 year old) people in my life that every old person is incognito. Whoever we are, we are dressed in the anonymous apparel of age, and all old people look the same.

The challenge of being incognito is that our “self” has to cruise around in a body that doesn’t want to do all the things it once did, and we are forced into identifying with something more enduring than physical prowess. That’s a drag and a blessing. My dad was dead at 45, my brother at 56, so I’m all about being 71 years old.

I don’t feel invisible. If someone disrespects me, that’s on them, not me.

For my birthday I got a new, short-sleeved t-shirt. I’m happy about that because I won’t have to wear my Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant” t-shirt to get my annual old person’s flu shot this coming October. It’s always a little weird for people there at the public health event when I show up in Sex Pistols t-shirt with the cover art from “Pretty Vacant.”



The way I see this is that I’m just fucking lucky to be alive, to be (mostly) healthy, to be ambulatory, to live where I do where the compromise between my trashed knees and my adventurous spirit is easy to work out. I get to see Northern Harriers hunt and elk move slowly across my “empty” world. I get to talk to people who share my interests — true, there aren’t a lot of them, but there never have been. I have dogs who think our life together is as good as it gets, I’ve started two new careers in the past few years. That cliche that you’re “as old as you feel” is not true, but this is true:

‘T is not too late to seek a newer world. 
Push off, and sitting well in order smite 
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds 
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 
Of all the western stars, until I die. 
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: 
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, 
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. 

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 
We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred Lord Tennisball “Ulysses”

SO, when a kid in a car passes me at the Refuge, looks out of the backseat window at me and Bear, and says, “You and your dog match!” I’m honored.

Good News

It snowed — almost .75 of an inch which, as this winter is going, is pretty good. The dogs and I were out as soon as we could and were met by untrammeled snow, beautiful light and fascinating tracks.

Tracks I can’t identify — do you know?

Most of the snow is gone, but the important thing is we carped the diem and had a lovely time. Here’s the long view…

Mystery

Yesterday afternoon turned a little strange. Two days ago, as Bear and I were walking, a car approached us. I waved, the driver waved. The car went on and driver parked at a pull out. Bear and I kept going.

Today when Bear, Teddy and I were out, the car — a sedan — was still parked. I called the Refuge number and left a message. I felt a little lost about what to do. Anything could have happened. Worst case scenario, the driver killed herself. Best case scenario? A stolen car, a drug deal, someone picked her up, car abandoned. I knew one thing; I wasn’t going near the car.

Things like that happened a lot back when I lived in the hood in San Diego (City Heights) and before Mission Trails was a real park with rangers and people visiting. Back then, Mission Trails was a remote place frequented by Hells Angels, drug dealers, human coyotes bringing human contraband, prostitutes in mobile whorehouses. It was colorful, but a little sketchy…

Bear, Teddy and I walked our walk. On our return, I saw that someone was approaching the car, holding something shiny that caught the light. Weapon?

We got to Bella. I put the dogs inside, and I got in. From the drivers side rearview I could watch what happened. The person got into the car on the passenger side and was clearly examining it. Also, clearly, the car had been abandoned.

And don’t worry; we were not in any danger. We were far enough away. Visibility out there is at least 12 miles.

For a while on Monday, after I saw the sedan pull into the parking space, I watched to see who it might be. I’m always alert for dogs. I had to return that way. I saw a person there for a while, then I didn’t. I didn’t see the car drive away, but I thought I just missed it.

As Bear and I returned to Bella that day, I looked to see if anyone was in the parked sedan. It seemed the driver was taking a nap, with the seat reclined fully. It was strange but not THAT strange. I didn’t see a person, only the fully reclined seat.

I’ve been trying to figure it out. While Bear and I were there, the only other car to drive by was the family in the big SUV. I don’t think they picked up the driver of the sedan. If the person had taken off across country, I probably would have seen them.

This is the kind of thing that inspires mystery stories…

In other news (there really isn’t any) two things; I saw photos of the inside of an airport today and I realize that I don’t even know how to use the modern airport. Either I’d better get on a plane soon, or forget it. It’s not going to get any less futuristic. The last time I was in an airport was 2016. It made me think about how much my life has changed since 1) I moved here, 2) altered financial circumstances from when I was working, 3) Covid changed the world.

And, yesterday, Bear ran out of rawhide pencils. She figured (with her Bear Brain) that if she just went outside and came in ONE MORE TIME there would be an esculent rawhide pencil waiting for her. That’s dog cause and effect thinking.

The sky was great yesterday — in every direction there was something different going on. To the north, the sky was dark, dark, gray, flat clouds. To the east lenticular clouds in a blue sky built and fell apart. To the south — the featured photo. Small, snow laden clouds were pulled by the cold air about the San Juans where they dropped snow and moved on. That’s what’s going on in the photo. Above that cloud, a bright sun was shining.