Dogs Aren’t Human, Thank Goodness…

Yesterday the little guy and I got to go out just us. “Just us” was a promise when I was a kid that meant my little brother wasn’t going along wherever it was we were going. “C’mon little guy. Let’s go. Bear won’t come, if I know her.”

And I know her. Teddy was effervescent, rapturous, overjoyed to be going out “just us.”

It was overcast and warm. Soon after we got out of the car, I heard Sandhill Cranes. They’re returning. The larger pond had geese. In just the couple of days since I was there last, and the San Juans had small patches of gold where the aspen had turned. Nature is such a precise clock. Just at the moment the sun is at a certain point in relation to our latitude all this happens. Temperature is irrelevant. I know humans have noted this since forever, but it still amazes me, surprises me.

A friend who loves dogs is writing a dog book. Someone took gentle issue with her referring to her dogs as “girls” and “boys,” calling it anthropomorphization. I get that. I’ve heard it my relationship to my dogs, and I even get mildly irked by some things some people do with their animals — like dressing them up in human clothes. A dog is a dog is a dog, right? Yeah, but…

Between the human and the dog is something else. I’ve thought about that, too. Long ago my mom told me my dogs were child replacements. They never were and aren’t. Because she wanted children so much, I guess she assumed every woman would feel the same way even her recalcitrant daughter who didn’t want (and ultimately couldn’t have) children. “No they’re not, mom. They’re dogs.”

“But do you need to have so many? You’re just lonely and feel empty because you don’t have a family.”

I wasn’t lonely and I didn’t feel empty. The dogs were allies, friends, accomplices. They liked to do what I liked to do, and, after hours in the classroom and teachers’ meetings, coming home to friendly, sympathetic NON-human beings who didn’t talk and wanted to take a hike? What could be better! As for companionship? They’re not called “companion animals” for any other reason than that they are companion animals.

A lot of people walk their dogs past my house to the park two blocks away. There’s a man who walks his Yorkie past my house to the park. Yorkies are tiny little beasties with big brains and hearts. That dog is 100% pure dog to this man, his friend and ally. The dog is the man’s reason or excuse to get away from home, from routine, and walk around the park. Both of them were obviously happy being together. A young woman — a nurse — runs with her Labrador a couple times a week. The dog is filled with energetic joy, a lot more than the woman is, the dog is duty, which doesn’t mean the woman doesn’t love him, she does, but they are not partners. Another woman, who volunteers at the rescue, and who alerted me to Teddy needing a person, walks her son’s Airedale (a rescue) who ended up with her and whatever other dog she might be fostering. She walks them out at the cemetery so they have peace and some privacy from unleashed dogs. Her dogs are both duty and love, but the walk is meditation, an excuse (and a way) to find solitude.

Every human/dog relationship is unique, and the relationships between humans and their dogs vary as much as the humans and the dogs. For me? For one, they are freedom. A woman hiking alone is vulnerable. A woman hiking with a couple of big dogs is free. I love nature, but I know that my ability to perceive my surroundings is limited by my busy brain, my expectations, my limited senses. My dogs expand my senses and, over the years, have taught me a lot about being out there. Never mind the effervescence of their rapture when they realized we were going to be “running up that hill.”

They are also social magic. My dogs are/have all been beautiful and friendly; people want to meet them. All the times Bear has met a child, and the child has melted in wonderment at Bear’s mythical beauty and gentleness? Imagine being a 3 year old girl, filled with fairy tales, looking into Bear’s blue eyes? Bear will let them kiss her — and they do. I wouldn’t miss that for anything. Or the time the 6th graders up in the Laguna Mountains (6th grade camp) met Jasmine, my black and white husky? One little girl said in an amazed voice, “It’s Balto!!” Or coming home to my Aunt Jo’s house in Billings, and finding Uncle Hank sleeping on the living room floor, back-to-back, with my big husky male, Cody? The little kids up the alley used to put snow in their freezer for Bear to have in the summer. Watching the eyes of a depressed friend change to joy when Teddy climbs up on his lap and gives him kisses? Visiting my Aunt Martha in Denver when she had a cat. I had brought Molly, my Malamute/Aussie. My aunt and I went out, a little worried about leaving the dog and cat together. When we came home? Amiga, the cat, was lying on my bed with one leg and paw hanging over the bed, touching Molly who was sleeping on the floor beside her. One of my Aunt Martha’s last memories — and as she had dementia it was kind of important — was of a little white dog who came to visit the nursing home.

I tend to think that anthropomorphizing dogs might be a grave insult to the species. But calling them “boys” and “girls”? No. That explains the relationship and identifies their gender. What kind of person calls their dog, “it”?

Potato Festival and THEN…

Yesterday was a hugely busy day for three people who pretty much got no sleep the night before. Morning took us to the San Luis Valley Potato Festival of Song and Story. It was fun. For me the amazing thing was being recognized by people who’d come to hear me read at various times over the last few years. That’s something I never expected. We talked to lots of people. Lois had her sweet dog, Satchmo, so we got to experience dog meetings as well. Lois and Adriano celebrated with free baked potatoes but I don’t really like potatoes so I saved them seats under the cover of the picnic area.

After that, we came home and I think we took naps. I did, anyway, then we headed out again for scenic (it actually is) Del Norte. From there we took a short road trip north a few miles to Elephant Rocks. I hadn’t been there but had long wanted to go. I want to go back when it’s cold, so we made plans for December. Most of the Elephant Rock photos are courtesy of Lois.

Then we went to Three Barrels Brewery and Pizza and had, uh, pizza. On the way home we saw an amazing phenomenon: a Lenticular Cloud building above a thunderhead. It was the meeting of fall and summer.

Back at home, Lois and I leashed dogs (I got Bear) and we headed out to the Refuge for a sunset walk and it was spectacular. Pictures are worth a thousand words and in this case, maybe more, even, than that.

THEN on the way home from the Refuge, Lois spied a herd of elk grazing in the pasture, another sign of fall.

Teddy had a challenge adjusting to Satchmo whom he really didn’t know, and spent the early interval attempting to herd Satchmo somewhere. But Teddy remembered Frosty well from staying at his house last year, and they were glad to see each other. It didn’t take long for them all to be pals. Here they are, a lot like the Three Stooges… Hmmm…

Teddy, Satchmo and Frosty. Teddy is winking. No one knows why.

My friend Adriano really loves Teddy, so Teddy got all the pats, snuggles and kissing opportunity he could ever want. Satchmo is a very low-key, friendly, easy-going, perceptive, sweet dog. One of the coolest things he ever did was, long ago, 2014, when Lily, Dusty, Mindy and I were visiting Lois, blind and deaf Lily got trapped under a patio chair and couldn’t find her way out. Satchmo came and got me. After that he stayed near Lily during our stay. And Frosty? One of the sweetest dogs ever to walk the planet.

Bear was pretty over it yesterday and spent a lot of time deep in her masterpiece (hole).

“I’m over it.”

But, after she got her walk last evening, she was much more social. I enjoyed having my friends here very, very, very much 🙂

Trivia (?) The San Luis Valley expects to harvest 1.6 billion pounds of potatoes this year. Mexico is now a big market for our potatoes, bigger than Idaho, because we’re a LOT closer to Mexico than is Idaho.

Mid-Autumn Festival (Almost)

Bleary-eyed and confused, woke up this morning and realized that — OH NO — what? Well, the bleary-eyed and confused part is right. Company coming today sometime and a trip to the store in the meantime and I don’t even know if I ordered anything edible! This post-Covid brain is easily taxed.

I’m going to remember 2019 as the Golden Age of Lost Innocence and Retained Brain.

Last evening, to our surprise, the wind came up and the clouds came over. By now you know what that presages. Four hot days in a row, one small escape, hardly right, is it? I looked at Bear, Bear looked at me. I went to the kitchen and closed to door, preventing her escape, and leashed her. Teddy had it all figured out, of course, as always. Assembled the appropriate fardels and we were out the door. Dusk fell a little early. Clouds and smoke from distant wildfires obscured the mountains, but the sky above was a kind of veiled blue. As we approached the Refuge, I saw the moon was rising golden behind the thin clouds.

“Wow,” I thought as any sane person would (breathe a sigh of relief) and pulled in, parked, and got the dogs out as fast as I could. I didn’t want to miss this. It was too great. And…

Mid-Autumn Festival. OK, it’s not until tomorrow, formally, but clouds and rain are forecast for Saturday evening. Carpe Noctem!

Our crepuscular walk wasn’t very long — 1/2 mile, but WOW. A black-crowned night heron in flight, more birdsong than I’ve heard in my life, an owl in the distance and this beautiful Moon as golden as the chamisa. My first Mid-Autumn Festival was in China, and I try to keep it somehow every year. It’s a celebration/remembrance of distant friends. 💛

Moonlight shining through the window
Makes me wonder if there is frost on the ground
I look up and see the moon
Looking down I miss my hometown

Li Bai

The moon remained bright and visible, unclouded, until we turned around. It was as if the sky and valley said, “Here, Martha, something for you to think about.”

On the way home, Mohammed’s Radio played the song the valley gave me as I drove home from seeing an ortho in Salida a few years ago. It was before my most recent hip surgery. The doc was abysmal and meaningless, “One of your legs is shorter than the other! I can’t fix that!” was about all he had to say along with, “I can’t read your X-rays,” as if it were my fault that his computer system couldn’t open the DVD my doc sent up with me. Driving home, I felt so disheartened, a little frightened of hip surgery, and unsure about everything. It is a song I never liked, but as I dropped down from the top of Poncha Pass into the Valley, it was as if I’d never heard it before.

When I heard that song that day, I understood something about this place where I came to live 8 years ago (September 20, 2014). It wasn’t only that I felt I belonged here; the valley thought so, too. The valley is like a person to me, maybe it’s my family, too, along with Bear and Teddy.

Last night the salient lines were:

“When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part
When darkness comes…”

It’s been a tough summer, but what a wonder I got from that short and beautiful evening walk. Thank you, Heaven.

Love Story

Once upon a time, long long ago, I lived in San Diego, not all that far (compared to now!) from the ocean. I was also a part-time (very part-time) mom, and, in summer I had the “task” of taking the kids to the beach. The deal was they came to school with me, payment for which was a Happy Meal, and after school we packed the cooler and chairs and headed to La Jolla Shores. Sometimes their dad would get off early and come with us; other times he met us there. It was a perfect beach for that because it had a large grassy area for throwing a frisbee, concrete picnic tables where we could set our Hibachi, nice showers so we could shower when we came out of the water and go home clean. (A LOT easier on me than making them take a shower at home.) We body-surfed or whatever they were up to at whatever stage of their lives.

There is a kelp forest down there and we thought it was hilarious to yell “Kelp! Kelp!” But now I don’t think it’s all that funny. Kind of funny, but not very funny.

For a couple of years my niece joined the summer “custody” thing, and I’d tow around three kids and buy three Happy Meals. The oldest of the two boys, and I didn’t get along very well — I’m not sure it was me; I think he resented his dad leaving his mom, but because I was there I got the flak. When he was old enough, he stopped coming in summers. Then I had a little girl and Ben, the younger of the Good X’s sons. It was good because it meant the beach drill lasted a little longer.

I thought about all this the other night and it seemed like it was a dream, reasonably because it wasn’t many years and within those years, not many weeks. My thoughts about it were combined with a beautiful memory of a moment. When the Good X and I split up, the younger son — then 15 or 16 — came to visit me. We were hiking at Mission Trails together. He’s a brilliant, gentle, unique, imaginative, intense, sweet, shy… In reality, there are no adjectives for Ben. Ben is and always has been and always will be Ben. He is truly not like anyone else.

“Martha, I just want to know one thing.”

“OK, Ben. Anything.”

“Because you and my dad are splitting up doesn’t mean we have to split up, does it?”

“No, Ben.”

“OK.”

Ben is nearly 50??? How?? Oh, wait…

We’ve experienced so much together — as a “family” of four and as two grown up friends. He now has a great wife and two beautiful kids. Getting there was a long and interesting journey for him — a story that’s not mine to tell, but I can tell this. When he and his wife were heading from California to their new home in the midwest, they stopped to have lunch with me at the little cafe in Descanso CA. We ate, talked about plans, finished our meal and knew we were about to say good-bye. He and his wife are both well over six feet tall. I barely clear 5. Sandi hugged me and got in the car to give us a moment. Ben and I stood looking at each other. Then he bent down and put his arms around me. “I love you, Martha.”

“I love you too, Ben.”

Knowing we might not see each other again, we had to say it. ❤️

Featured photo: Ben and Molly

“I’m a REAL Dog!” “I know, Teddy.”

Teddy is the smallest dog I’ve ever had. He’s incredibly cute, very fluffy, very affectionate, even cuddly, and, in a way, is more like a toy to me than a dog. Dogs are large animals who weigh at least twice Teddy’s weight of 30 pounds/13kg. He doesn’t run; he flies. He moves around on little feet — Bear’s feet are as big as my hands which is normal for my dog reality. Teddy likes to jump up on my bed when I put on my socks, and when he’s there, he looks like a large stuffed animal.

My vet calls him, “Mr. Happy.” Perfect.

But he’s not a toy. He’s very much a living, breathing canine with intelligence and a soul. It’s been interesting getting to know him. Most of my dogs have been accomplices and partners. Teddy is, too, but differently. I’d like to say he’s loyal but I don’t know that for sure; it’s never been tested. He loves all the people in the world. He likes chasing cars which is OK as long as he’s in my fenced yard and the cars are going up and down the alley. When we return from a walk, though, he waits in the garage for me to finish up after he and Bear are liberated and we come to the house together. Bear lets him drink first.

He spends most of every day in the house with me. At night? Bear comes in and Teddy goes out, as if they’ve arranged to take shifts. At 9 o’clock everyone comes in and they go to bed. I didn’t teach them that.

I started doing exercises to help repair my hip. The first day? Impossible and not because of my hip, but because I couldn’t quit laughing. My “spotters,” “coaches,” or “trainers” were no help at all. The featured photo is Teddy on top of me while I try to do clamshells. This is Bear who’s very worried because I’m supposed to be on the Sainted Bike to Nowhere — which you can see behind her — not on the guest bed doing clamshells.

Domestic Archeology

Yesterday I spent a little time trying to clean the garage, not just a haul things out and haul things back, but actually getting rid of things that don’t need to exist any more in their — well, now, former — form. I settled on dealing with the letters my mom had saved, those I’d written her from college and from my first apartment in Boulder. I have learned better than to get into reading them, but of course, I read a few. I was also struck by the NUMBER of letters, especially considering that I went home (Colorado Springs) from college (Denver) almost every weekend. I’m sure I called home, too, but not often because, in those days long distance calls weren’t free (not like they really are now…). The few I read? Most of them said things like, “Would somebody please write me?” Yep. Especially my first year in college I hated being there and I hated that empty mailbox.


So there I was yesterday, shredding a whole stack of letters from an 18 year old trying to put a good face on things and knowing there was nothing good there. I saved the one letter I’d written to my dad. I’m sure there were more, but I only found one.

As sometimes happens when a person does personal archeology like that, things that they couldn’t possibly have understood in their personal Pliocene era make sense in their personal Holocene era. I saw the situation at home with new eyes, or old ones. In the letters I read were the normal concerns of an 18 year old mixed in with fears for my family. I saw that I could not possibly have understood my mom’s concerns. I also saw how consuming these events were back in the Pliocene era — problems with roommates, exams, bronchitis — while they are just small bubbles in the continuum of life.

I’m also pondering moving away from the SLV, not today or tomorrow, but at some point in the next few years, so this “archeology” could prove useful when I rent that U-Haul. 🤣

Wings, Complete Story

“Go outside and find something to do.”
“But…”
“NOW!!!”

Lulu and her little brother, Hugo, went out the kitchen door that led to the garage and from there to the back yard. There in the garage was the great wonder — a refrigerator box that their parents had left out for trash day. They dragged it out the back door and looked at the slight rise at the back of their yard. Then they looked at the refrigerator box. They felt the November wind push their cheeks back toward their ears, and looked again at the refrigerator box. Yep. Wings. They set to breaking the box apart. Before long it was one flat piece of corrugated cardboard. 

“We have to get some scissors,” said Lulu, thoughtfully. 

Hugo got up from the cardboard and ran into the house. He came out with scissors. Mom’s sewing scissors. “Not those scissors, Hugo. Mom’ll kill you.”

“It’s just this one time.”
Lulu shrugged. Hugo would get away with it if anyone would. 
“I’m not touching them, and YOU tell her YOU took them.”
“I will.”
Soon they’d fashioned two sets of wings from the refrigerator box. 
“Go put them back,” said Lulu, seeing the scissors on the grass.
“You do it.” 

There were no buttons in existence that Hugo wouldn’t push. Lulu picked up the scissors and tried to sneak into the house with them, but as fate would have it, Mom was in the kitchen peeling potatoes. 

“We told you…what’s in your hand? Are those my sewing scissors?”

“They are, mom.” Lulu hung her head.
“Don’t you KNOW better than that?”
“I do.” Lulu didn’t DARE look up.
“Can you explain this to me? Look at me when I’m talking to you!”
“We’re making airplanes so we could fly. We needed to cut the refrigerator box so we could both have wings.” 
“Look at me.” Mom was mad. “What have I told you about my sewing scissors.”
“Never to touch them.”
“And?”
“We touched them.”
YOU CUT CARDBOARD WITH THEM!!! Did you take them outside?”
“No. Hugo came in and got them.”
“Well that is neither here nor there.” Mom sighed. “Go to your room.”
Lulu thought it WAS “here AND there.” She’d brought them back in and faced this music while Hugo, the one who’d taken them, was getting off scot free. Lulu knew SHE would not have taken them. “But Mom. I didn’t take them. Hugo took them.”
“Nobody likes a snitch. I told you to go to your room.”

Lulu felt like she got off easy. 

It wasn’t long until she heard her mother calling Hugo into the house. “And put that cardboard in the garage where you found it!”

The kitchen door to the garage opened and Hugo came in.
“Hi Mom.”
“Hugo, honey, did you take my sewing scissors out of the drawer?”
Hugo hung his head. Mom wasn’t completely blinded by her golden child, and she recognized guilt.
“Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever do that,” she said sternly. “I need those scissors for sewing. They were expensive and money doesn’t grow on trees.”
“Where’s Lulu?”
“I sent her to her room.”
“We were building airplanes. We were going to fly.”
“Go get your sister,” said Mom who’d never been all THAT angry.

She looked out the window over the sink. She closed her eyes and saw another blond-haired little boy and a dark-haired little girl in braids. They stood on the lip of the small hill in a different back yard. With only one big piece of cardboard between them they had to take turns.

The little boy was smaller than his sister. A moment came when he took off running down the slope, and caught a gust at exactly the right time, exactly the right angle. His sneakered feet lifted two or three inches off the ground. It was only a matter of seconds but long enough.

He flew.

Mom wiped a tear from her eye.

“Mom?”
“OK, kids. Take THESE scissors and go build your planes. Next time, ASK. I hate kids sneaking around behind my back. And NEVER EVER EVER take my sewing scissors for ANY purpose at all EVER.”

A Moment in Time

Fifty-odd years ago I would have been at Black Forest Baptist Assembly (BFBA) north of Colorado Springs with a group of kids. It was a “primitive camp” which meant we slept in tents (army barracks style tents), used an outhouse, and cooked breakfast over a campfire. I loved that job a lot and did it for two summers. My first summer I did this ONE camp. The next summer I took a full-time “job” as a CIT (Counselor in Training) and lived at BFBA for two months and counseled three junior high camps.

The job ended when my mom drove up one day from Colorado Springs and told me I had to come home. She was putting my dad in a nursing home, and I had to help. I packed up my stuff, said goodbye to everyone (thankfully, I wasn’t counseling a camp at that point, just doing dishes and stuff) and went “home.” Dad was duly installed exactly where he should have been long before, and I began the preparation to return to college in September.

Thinking back, I don’t think my mom expected me to say, “OK,” pack my stuff, and get into the car, but that’s what I did. One reason I had (in her words) “Moved out,” was because she and I fought all the time. I didn’t like it, she didn’t like it, but we couldn’t stop. I was struggling to live my life and she was struggling to live hers. I was completely unaware of the substance abuse backstory in her life — well, our lives since it affected me, too. I wouldn’t even KNOW that part of our story until some twenty years later when my mom was in the hospital and her doctor told me.

That was an enormous shock and lesson for me. Behind every face, even the most familiar to us, even our own, lies a mystery, a self and a struggle.

As for Black Forest Baptist Assembly, I imagine that the field and hill in the photo are now under somebody’s house.



Motivation?

The photo below showed up yesterday. The Good X — whom I was dating at the time — took it in July 1982 behind my mom’s condo in Denver. I’d already taken the teaching job in China, so that was happening. I was determined to be a teacher.


Yesterday I was talking with a friend who is looking for a job — a career. He’s a vet tech who’s been a manager at a vet clinic. He has a masters degree in comparative literature. It’s been challenging for him all this time to figure out a direction. Losing his job and the market going bonkers finally brought push to shove financially. While he doesn’t realize it, that has helped him a lot to clarify his priorities. Yesterday he had to weigh two potential opportunities — one in the vet field the other at a supermarket. I said, “I guess it boils down to whether you want to work with animals or work in a supermarket.” He truly, truly, truly couldn’t understand that statement. I think he was hung up on the word “want.”

Wanting one thing more than another didn’t figure in his decision. I tried to explain, but it didn’t make sense to him at all. Now he has a job and he chose it based on his values.

We’ve known each other almost 30 years, and never encountered that basic fundamental difference between us because we never had to. I tried explaining that I wanted to teach so badly that I left a decent job as a paralegal, sold everything, and went to China. At that point of time in Denver unless you had teaching experience, there were no jobs. To me the choice was clear; 1) get teaching experience, 2) have an adventure, 3) come home (maybe!) and get a job. That’s how it worked out, more-or-less. To DO what I wanted, I had to accept that I wouldn’t make much money. My business major students reminded me of this all the time. “Why should I listen to you? When I get out of here I’m going to make 3 times what you make.”

Of course the answer to that was, “Not until you learn what I have to teach you. Yeah, it’s a paradox, but there it is. I want to teach. You want to make money. It’s a win-win, now sit down and learn.” 🙂

We all live in the little shell of our own self, I guess, and look out from it at everyone assuming that they are seeing the same things we are, motivated by the same things we are, It’s not like that. There’s no “better” in this scenario; there is only different. I can’t count how many times I’ve been reminded of that (and forgotten it).

Oh man, I forgot “Pillow.” I’m sorry. No way to cushion that failure. 😦

Wandering Post about Life and Death (huh?)

The thing about everything is you have to know when to stop and yesterday I kept painting when I shouldn’t have. It’s OK. I will avail myself of a palette knife later on — maybe. Maybe not. It’s more about the experience at this point than the product. Usually I have no problem seeing the moment to pack up, but I was having so much fun.

I guess it’s that adage, “Don’t stay too long at the fair.” Looking up the phrase this morning, I learned it is a song, but wait! I already knew that… Out of the deep dark recesses of my universe Patti Page crawled out to sing this incredibly depressing little ditty. I could see the album cover sitting on the kitchen counter. I could hear adult voices discussing Patti Page and her physical deterioration. “Wonderful voice. Really too bad.”

Was THIS the album? Looks familiar. Yep these songs were on it, but where’s the song about staying too long at the fair?

I remembered asking mom? Dad? What it meant to “stay too long at the fair,” and they explained it somehow and my mom, at some point said, “It’s always good to leave a party when you’re having a good time.”

That made NO sense to me. How could you stay too long at the fair? Fairs are GREAT. The only fair I’d ever been to was the Mountain Empire Fair in Billings, and I didn’t get to eat cotton candy (“NO!”), but I did ride the ferris wheel and I got to see a LOT of animals, and it was AWESOME. And why would any one leave a fun party?

But it’s definitely possible to stay too long at the fair and my mom’s advice is right on.

I recently finished watching Grace and Frankie. There was a moment when I despaired of the direction of this show, but I paid $10 for the privilege of watching it on Netflix. Then, suddenly, in the midst of the absurdity and outright stupidity, BAM. Wow. The moral of the story — that we need each other — isn’t new, but it is still true. The silly meanderings that drive the storyline of Grace and Frankie to the conclusion are funny at times, but the conclusion hit me hard. In our lives, we don’t really have the option of NOT staying too long at the fair. We leave the fair whenever the universe has programmed us to leave the fair. Some of us leave the fair before it’s even opened for the day; others leave the fair/party when they’re having fun; others are lucky enough to leave the fair when they’re well and truly tired of the fair or have lost the capacity to enjoy it. Who knows? Most of us don’t.

So what about the fair? and the party? I don’t know. I do know that there’s a corner of my painting that is NOT what it needs to be. Or maybe it is. Time will tell.