The Frigate

I’m reading a beautiful book, The Desert and the Sown by Gertrude Bell. She was a fascinating woman, most notably (for me) she was an archeologist. This book is her journal about her travels in Syria and Palestine and was originally published in 1907. I want to be her when I grow up. 

Her journey — as she relates it — is captivating and mildly incomprehensible. I recently traveled (with her) to spend some nights at Krak des Chevaliers. A crusader castle I came to “know” through T. E. Lawrence’ thesis Crusader Castles and the research I did on the Crusades for my book, Savior.

Krak des Chevaliers

After wandering with this incredible woman for a couple hundred pages, it was a relief to reach a place I “knew.” Not that I really care all that much, but a little grounding is nice. She is welcomed by the resident political leader and housed in a beautiful room in one of the towers. After the formalities are completed, she’s able to retire to her room. She is soon visited by the man’s wife and a Christian woman who speaks English. Gertrude Bell spoke fluent Arabic which sets both her hostesses at ease. Dinner is brought in for the women to share. Then, “When dinner was over we returned to my room, a brazier full of charcoal was brought in, together with hubble-bubbles (hubbly-bubbly) for the ladies, we settled ourselves for an evening talk.”

And I’m thinking, “This long-ago British archeologist whom I admire is sitting with Arab women and a hubble-bubble in a tower of the Krak des Chevaliers.” Hubble-bubble is a hookah. 

When I started this life journey — I consider it to have begun not when I was born, but when I was ten — I had a lot of dreams of traveling the whole world and getting to know the people in it. I didn’t appreciate then how big the world is or how many people there are. I didn’t even seriously consider languages. Then that other reality I didn’t know about — money. And, as we grow up and experience life, we are ourselves transformed. That 10-year-old girl is still me but with a little more knowledge. She also wanted a dog and we know how that turned out. 😉

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria were the location of my 10-year-old girl dreams because of David Lean’s film, Lawrence of Arabia which I loved beyond logic. “I am going to be T. E. Lawrence when I grow up.” Yep. I said that. It was my first fixation. I went so far as to go to school wearing a sheet on my head… From Lawrence’s book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I learned some Arabic, along with customs and history. In China, many of my closest friends were Chinese Muslims from the Turkic part of China, and, oddly enough, I learned a little bit more Arabic in Guangzhou along with MORE customs, greetings, and their significance. 

Back in the US, teaching at the international school, I taught many Arabs — employees of Saudi Airlines, various Middle Eastern governments, some teachers, and some businessmen. My affinity — sympathy? — must have been obvious because pretty soon the Good X and I were invited to dinner at my students’ homes. In San Diego, far far far away from a castle in Syria, I shared dinners very like the one Gertrude Bell described. 

I imagined Gertrude Bell sitting on the floor and the women passing the pipe between them, smoking tobacco mixed with apricots. I know that sweet aroma and how lovely the custom is. I could imagine being in that tower room in Krak des Chevaliers. In my experience, the hubble-bubble was passed in a mixed, family group, and the women didn’t join. It’s OK. I didn’t want to, but the hospitality was the same. 

Reading about the dinner and the hubble-bubble, I saw that, in a way, my dreams came true. Teaching international students for 15 years, the whole world came through my classrooms. I got to spend time with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, the Emirates, Yemen, Qatar, Kuwait, and Egypt. 

But to have been Gertrude Bell? To travel on horseback through the Middle East with various guides and protectors so long ago? Before oil, before the current boundary lines, before the ambient continuing horror? Wow. The complexity of political relationships she writes about — and navigates — is beyond my understanding. But…every time she stops beside the road or enters a home she is welcomed with coffee. I understand that…

For years I wore around my neck a tiny, golden dallah, a coffee pot, given me by Salem who jokingly called himself the Epic Legendary Hero. He was a brilliant, hilarious minister from Kuwait who spent two years in the US and got an advanced degree in business. I appreciated Arabic coffee in itself and in the ritual so much that it got to be kind of a joke, but the sweet kind of joke that you love. When Salem gave me the golden dallah he was returning to Kuwait for good. 

Gertrude Bell quotes a 10th-century poet that I had never heard of, Al-Mutanabbi. It’s a verse in which, Gertrude Bell writes, “…the poet puts from him the joys of youth”

Here goes: 

“I have longed for age to still the tumult in my brain, 
and why should I repine when my prayer is fulfilled? 
We have renounced desire save for the spear points, 
Neither do we dally, except with them. 
The most exalted seat in the world is the saddle of a swift horse, 
And the best companion for all time is a book.”

I’ve thought a lot about the difference between the striving years, the holding up the sky years, and these years that I’m now having the good luck to live. I’ve begun a lot of things at “this late date” — I could never “be” an artist before. I could never “do” journalism before. I moved here without knowing anyone and made a life. Maybe those things are the equivalent of Al-Mutanabbi’s “spear points.” I’m no less curious about things than I was when I was 10, but I have a better handle on geography. 

The stereotypes surrounding “old age” have never been wholly true. Reading this bit of a poem written more than a thousand years ago, I thought of how literature opened a larger world to me than time, money, a profession, and destiny (spelled d-o-g-s) allowed. And I thought of how my friend Lois — who’s in her sixties — bought a beautiful horse last year, a horse she helped train and loves with all her heart. ❤️ 

There is no Frigate like a Book 

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the human soul

Emily Dickinson

The prompt for today is “Chautauqua” — And I wrote about that here! Chatauqua

P.S. A movie was made about Gertrude Bell not that long ago. It stars Nicole Kidman. I found it unwatchable.

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. 😀

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.

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

VIII — Perspective

Born Again

“Onward, Christian Soldiers! Marching as to war! With the Cross of Jesus, going on before.”
Fifteen college boys.

“Dogs, look! Oh, no. Let’s hurry. Maybe we can beat them to the top.”

Running, running, the group comes closer, closer, closer, singing, louder, louder, her heart beating faster, faster, too fast, too dry. “Damn! Why are they here? There’s a whole world for them, such a little space for me! Come on, we can do it, Molly, Truffle.”

Running, running, running, marching, closer, closer, Bibles held against the chests of the boys like Mao’s Little Red Book. They don’t look down, they don’t look around, they don’t see morning sun backlighting the froth of seeded weed heads, the cool, damp places beneath the stones where small green things grow, where snakes linger.

“Wait, dogs! Wait. It’s a big one. Damn. What should I do? If I don’t tell those boys, they’ll step on it. If I tell them, I’ll have to wait here and I want to go up, ahead, away. Sit, girls. He’s still sleepy. They’ll walk right on him. They’re walking blind. DAMN!!!”

“Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to…”

“Hey, wait a minute. STOP. There’s a big rattler in the trail four feet in front of you.”


“A rattlesnake. In front of you. I don’t want you to step on it. It’s still kind of sleepy.”


“Not two steps from here.”

“Oh! I see it! Man, he’s big! Give me that rock,” the leader called to his buddy.

“Before you kill it, I want to see it,” said another boy. “I’ve never seen a rattlesnake.” 

“Where’s the rock? That’s perfect. Yeah. OK, that does it. Let’s go. Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War, with the Cross (the rocks? the sticks?) of Jesus marching on before.”

The woman looked down at the broken, bleeding, dying snake. “Look at you, look at you. There was no need. I never meant them to kill you. They come, they march, they sing, they pray, but they are blind. Damn, damn, damn, damn them.”

“Hey down there! Come on! It’s safe now!”

The “woman” felt it was far from safe.

The mythology in the book those boys were carrying made snakes the embodiment of evil. And the boys? Ignorant and arrogant. I was prepared to move the snake with the long stick I hiked with, but I didn’t get the chance. I just wanted the boys to stay back until I could do that. Truffle and Molly were sitting, patiently, some distance away. They got it, but the boys didn’t. I went back down the trail — well, actually straight down the hill. I heard shouting and beating, sticks and rocks and then a whoop of victory. Victory over a sleeping snake. All this in less than 5 minutes.

Just because a thing in nature is potentially dangerous to us doesn’t make it evil or malicious. It means its interests might come in conflict with ours. It doesn’t mean it does not have an equal right to pursue its interests. It means we should be aware.

Rattlesnakes turned out to be a major part of my apprenticeship. More than a decade later, when I no longer lived in the hood, but lived in the mountains east of San Diego, my apprenticeship continued. After losing two dogs — Lupo and Ariel — to rattlers that were hiding in gopher holes in my yard, I had to find a solution to this. I didn’t want to lose my two new dogs, Lily and Jasmine, or any other dogs who might come into my life.

My yard was a snake food supermarket. There were mice, gophers, lizards, frogs, and ground squirrels, AND there were rattlers and gopher snakes. There was NO WAY — living out in the country as I did — that I could possibly get rid of the snake food. The dogs had to learn that snakes were dangerous and had to be avoided.

There was a guy at the time who offered Rattlesnake Avoidance Training. A big Irishman — Patrick Callaghan (RIP) — from a California town where, it was conceivable to me, snakes outnumbered people. He had devised a training method to teach dogs to avoid snakes. I signed up Lily and Jasmine, and out we went to a hunt club not far from Descanso.

I was driving a red 2002 Ford Ranger with a topper. I was told to bring in one dog at a time, so I brought out Jasmine first as the more mellow of the two Siberian Huskies. Here’s how it worked — a review from a website from the time:

Patrick holds a rare license from the Department of Fish and Game for handling the snakes. The rattlesnakes are either muzzled or defanged for the training session. The snakes are rotated through the sessions so that they do not become stressed or tired out. The approach is safe and humane for both the dog and the rattlesnake.

The training appears simple at first glance. A handler leads the dog into the presence of the rattlesnake. Patrick uses a remote training collar to administer a low level aversive stimulus (shock) when the dog becomes aware of the presence of the snake.

Avoidance response stimulation is administered for each of the three senses – sight, sound, and smell. After the visual and auditory recognition experience, the dog is presented down wind to a concealed snake whose rattle is taped so that it cannot rattle. This experience isolates the sense of smell for the dog. Snakes give off a strong and pungent odor that a dog can recognize from some distance. Again, the aversive stimlus is administered so that the dog associates it with the smell of a rattlesnake.

Does this procedure sound simple? It is actually extremely complex. Patrick explains that every dog is different, and the size and amount of reinforcement must be administered according to each dog’s unique make up to be effective. Patrick is able to read every nuance of the dog’s breathing, posture and body language as the dog approaches the snake. It is important that the negative stimulation be tied specifically to the presence of the snake and not to other factors in the environment. Some dogs will require multiple experiences of approaching and leaving the snake to get the conditioning


After the third snake, the dogs were let loose. Well, you don’t let huskies loose as there is no way to know WHERE they would go, so I positioned myself so Jasmine would HAVE to pass me. I caught her and put her in the truck. I brought out Lily.

Both dogs did great. The next spring, I took them back for a refresher. At that time, I was driving a Scion with a hatchback, not the red truck any more. Again I started with Jasmine. After the third snake, she ran faster than I imagined she could run, and not toward me, but to a red truck parked in the parking lot. She tried to get in, too, much to the surprise of the driver and the golden retriever in the back. 🤣🐾❤️

The side benefit of this training is that dogs will then alert their human to the presence of rattlesnakes.

A few years later, after Jasmine had gone to the Enchanted Forest, I realized that there was a large snake in my yard, hopefully a gopher snake (bull snake) not another rattler. I was confident that my dogs would avoid the rattlesnakes, but Siberian Huskies are hunters. Lily — who had the prey drive of a hungry Sabre Toothed Tiger — caught the enormous snake. She didn’t let me near enough to identify it. She held it high in the air and ran around the yard with her trophy. It seemed that from what looked like a narrow, pointed tail, she’d caught a gopher snake. A shame. Gopher snakes were my allies in diminishing the number of ambient vermin.

Here’s Jasmine with a far more benign trophy; a ground squirrel and Lily on Garnet Peak. I put them here just because they were so beautiful, and I loved them so much. Jasmine died of cancer and Lily died of very old age, at 17, here in Colorado, where she got to experience one real Colorado snowstorm.

But many times before that, Descanso turned into a snow globe for my huskies (and me). It was never all rattlesnakes. Sometimes it was:

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.

VII — the Apprenticeship


It was December. The rain had ended and the valley was green. She looked down on it from the halfway point on the ridge, moved by its beauty, its softness. “God,” she spoke aloud, “why are you so beautiful?”

“So you would love me,” came the answer.

“I do love you.”

“You love me now. I’m green, I’m beautiful, but can you love me later, in my hot months when my ground is hard and my plants are dry and sear?”

“I can love you then.”

“Can you love me with my snakes, my tarantulas?”

“I can love your snakes.”

“Will you come?”

“I will come. I will not miss a day.”

“I will show you things.”

“You don’t need to bribe me. I know that you will show me things. You always do.”

“You will come?”

“Don’t doubt me.”

“Nor you me. This is the real thing. Can you understand it?”

“Not really. What you offer is beyond me, but I will try.”

That was it. I got my job description that December day. Then I went home and set up a pretty Christmas party with toothsome treats for the Good X and his Toastmaster group.

Yesterday afternoon, I was in the front yard raking. I hate yard work, but I do it. I filled four bags with dead leaves and grass, and I will probably fill two more. My street is noisy now with semi-trucks and motor homes. I had my phone in my pocket and I was listening to music. A couple of guys walked past — one heading east, one heading west. We exchanged friendly words. I plan to refresh the wildflower garden I started last year and plant another one soon, adding some iris as anchors.

As I raked, I thought about what happened AFTER this conversation with God. I hadn’t even meant to talk to God (when I write God what I imagine is the great unknowable mystery of the infinite. It’s just a lot easier to spell God). It was just an exclamation like, “God what a beautiful day,” or “Oh God, I spilled a whole gallon of milk.”

When I saw Kris Kristofferson in the mammatus clouds one afternoon, I understood how people got the idea that the Great Infinite Unknowable Mystery was a guy in the sky.

I was pretty shaken, honestly. I told a friend at work who said, “Don’t tell anyone. They’ll think you need to be locked up. That’s schizophrenia.”

It wasn’t schizophrenia. I don’t know what it was — my imagination? Likely, but I took it seriously. I didn’t realize that I had already served part of an apprenticeship. I’d gone blindly into it with no idea where I was going or what would happen. I only knew I’d promised not to run away. I had promised to love it.

Love is terrifying and dangerous. God (Nature?) spelled out the hazards pretty clearly that day, and over time I came to know them well, and more. I learned that two things were required of me in that love relationship. Courage and acceptance/faith. No one who is not afraid needs courage. Acceptance/faith? That’s just keeping your eyes open to the existent hazards so you can keep going.

My marriage was falling apart because there was no love. In time I saw that, holding up my marriage to the promises God made me that day, and what I had agreed to in agreeing to that love. In this apprenticeship, no one is ever a master.

Maybe the same is true of any real love.

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.

VI — More Boys

The Coyote Teeth Gang from City Heights

“You going up the mountain today?”
“Yeah. You want to come too?”
“Yeah. Me and Andre.”
“OK. We’ll go in an hour.”

“If I can get up as fast as you, then I’m fast, right?”
“You’re fast, Andre.”
“Where’s Jim and Danny?”
“I hear them but I don’t see them.”
“Let’s beat them.”
“All right!”

“Yeah. Hi you guys. What kept you?”
“Man, this is hard.”
“I told you.”
“Where’s Jim?”
“He’s looking for Molly.”
“Is she lost?”
“Yeah. She went after a rabbit.”
“That dog!”

“You made it!”
“Pretty hazy today, isn’t it?”
“I was up here last time. You could see the waves coming in at Ocean Beach.”
“Yeah, you could.”
“I haven’t seen that.”
“Remember that time, Jim, we were up here in winter and saw the top of San Jacinto covered with snow? It seemed so close you could touch it.”
“Does it snow up here?”
“No, not really. I was up here once and it was snowing. It turned to rain before it touched me, but I could see the snow in the sky.”
“I’ve never seen snow.”
“Well, if it snows we can go up to the Lagunas. We better head down. It’s almost sunset.”
“Race you, Martha.”
“You’re on, Andre.”

“We’re in a war, OK? We’re evading the enemy.”
“OK. I run down the hill like this even when I’m alone. I know it’s stupid, but it’s so fun!”

“What’s that?”
“A coyote skull.”
“What’s it doing in the tree?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it fell down the hill or maybe a bird dropped it.”
“I’m going to get it!”
“Leave it, Andre.”
“No, come on. There! Oh, I dropped it.”
The woman reached down and picked up the teeth from the ground and put them in her pocket.”
“Let’s wait for them. Here come Truffle and Molly.”
“Hi, dogs!”
“Martha, do you think I’m smart?”

“Yeah, Andre. You’ve got one of the best minds I know. You’re young, but you’re smart.”
“You mean it?”
“Sometimes I don’t feel so smart.”
“Everyone feels bad sometimes. Like now. I feel kind of lonely and out of it. I wish I could find people who appreciate me and like to do what I like to do.”
Andre, aged 12, moves closer to the woman sitting on the hillside in the fading light. “I appreciate you and I like to do everything you do.”
“Thanks, buddy. Here, Andre. You went to the top, right?”
“Three times.”
“Well, take this coyote tooth.”
“What should I do with it?”
“Clean it up, save it. I’ll give one to Danny, one to Jose, one to Israel. What do you think?
“Good idea! We’re the Coyote Teeth Gang.”
“When will you go to the mountain again?”
“Monday. You want to come?”
“Yeah. Me and Jose and Israel.”
“That sounds great. 9:00.”

The little boys ran up the trail, racing, screaming, yelling, the dogs following, wild, yelping, boy and dog joy.

Jose, a silent, thoughtful, handsome boy picked up stones and laid out his name, big enough for airplanes to read.

Andre was another neighborhood kid. He had a little sister who was also awesome. It was wonderful how much they all fell in love with going out to “climb the mountain.”

It wasn’t all love and joy with the kids. Andre, in particular, and his little sister, had a dark moment when their mom was arrested. I found Andre in my yard with a note pinned to his shirt asking me to take care of him and his sister until his mom could get in touch with his god-nose-where dad. So, I brought them in, fed them dinner and after a while a man showed up that the kids recognized as their father. His mom had been picked up for identity theft.

When we are separated a few “hoods” from situations like this we use terms like, “at risk kids.” When you are in the middle of a hood like that and living your life there, and attempting to hold it together like everyone else, you realize all of us are “at risk.” Stuff happened to me down the line, too, and my neighborhood held me up and helped me preserve my life.

Years and years later, Andre a tall grown up kid, a high school senior, came back to see Jim. By then Jim (the Good X) was long gone which was deeply disappointing for Andre. Andre was a little angry at me for not keeping the marriage together. I didn’t explain anything to him about what happened. It wasn’t his business and it would have been even more disillusioning than just not finding Jim. Jim had “let” (think Tom Sawyer and the fence) Andre, Israel and Jose help him build the back fence. They built a sturdy fence that lasted a long time.

Through all my experiences in the hood with random kids I came to see how much kids need adults. Back then the whole “It takes a village to raise a child” stuff came out. In a hood like that, it really did.

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.