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.


Among wolves in the world there was Ariel. Ariel was a rescue in San Diego. When I first saw her she was depressed, emaciated and appeared to be a skinny short-haired dog. She had one blue eye and one golden and blue eye, like a marble. She had recently had puppies. I didn’t know her story but she came home with me. She grew into a very furry Siberian husky but she wasn’t a husky. After I’d had her for almost a decade, one of my vets was checking her teeth and saw that she was part wolf, clearly a very small part wolf, but part wolf. He was the vet who worked with the wolf rescue up in the Cuyamaca Mountains outside San Diego.

Ariel — being husky and low content wolf and very likely having lived life on the streets as a stray — was a very strange “dog.”

Ariel was never like the other dogs and the other dogs didn’t like her. Over time she bonded to me with a ridiculous fervor that surpassed “loyal dog.” She was intelligent, independent and fierce. If she got out of my yard in the hood she would not let anyone come down our street. It was her absolute duty to protect me and our “den” from anything that could hurt us, particularly when I was gone to school. After a while she understood she only needed to protect the house, and she would climb the six foot back fence and spend the day on the front porch waiting for me. I got a few notes from the Post Office telling me, “Your dog has blocked the street again. Confine her or we will send animal control.” A friend came over one weekend and we Ariel-proofed the fence.

Then, I came home one evening from school to find she’d killed one of my cats and was guarding it to give it to me when I got home. My other dogs were avoiding a whole side of my house. When she heard me, she howled. I went to the side yard to find her with my dead cat, Ariel’s tail wagging proudly

Hiking with her was incredible. She loved snow even MORE than I do or even Bear does and we would hike, ski, and run for hours in the Friendly Mountains. We had so much fun together. Once we were resting and I was having lunch at a natural spring that lay on a small fault line between the Laguna and Cuyamaca Mountains. It was a popular mountain biking spot. I had my back to a hillside and Ariel was in the spring cooling off. A guy on a mountain bike came to the top of that hill (behind me) saw Ariel and crashed. I stood up so he could see me. He said, “My God, is that a wolf?” By then Ariel had gone up to say “Hi!” to the guy. Among other differences, wolves are likely to be larger than Ariel was. She was 65 pounds.

She died from a rattlesnake bite to the eye. I was eviscerated.

Wolves are canids, but not exactly dogs as we humans experience dogs. A book I had long ago Animal People had a chapter about a man who rescued wolf-dogs and wolves people had “domesticated”. He said, “People look at wolf communities and are impressed at how peaceful and cooperative wolves are with each other. But it’s because every wolf knows that every other wolf carries the equivalent of a 48 magnum between its jaws.” When I read that — long before the evil days of “good guys with guns” — I thought, “That’s true.” When my dogs decided that Ariel was not to be borne, it took two of them to take her down, and even then, they failed. From then on, they just stayed away from her. Living with Ariel was complicated.

When the film Never Cry Wolf came out people wanted wolves which was really insane. Farley Mowat was looking at wolves from the OUTSIDE to find out what they DID, how they lived, how they hunted, what their communities were like. He wasn’t making pets of them or romanticizing them — much. A little? Humans do that.

I kind of get that. As a species we humans “appropriate” things. For years I dreamed of mountain lions and then for more years I tried to see one. In fact, in my life, I’ve seen (outside of zoos) two. One was in a tiny cage in a store in Tijuana. That was when the dreams started. My REAL mountain lion was almost twenty years later hiking with Ariel in the Friendly Mountains. In my mind, mountain lions belong to me. That’s being human. In truth, mountain lions belong to themselves and can be dangerous to be around. That I don’t find them so is irresponsible, naive and romantic. Coyotes as well. I have hiked around and with (??) coyotes so often and for so many years that I became habituated to them as, to some extent, they did with me and my dogs. But that doesn’t make them friendly.

For me the question isn’t whether wolves belong in the landscape, but whether I do. I don’t, which is why I live in town.

So, wolves. Someone yesterday asked about the effect of reintroduced wolves to the west, and I said I’d look for stuff. The best story, of course, is the return of wolves to Yellowstone Park where no one is trying to raise cattle or sheep and nature tourism is the big draw. In reality, no one knew what effect wolves would have on the environment, and it’s been amazing. You can see the story here, an upbeat five minute video I love, from National Geographic:

Wolves of Yellowstone

The story illustrates the complexity of natural systems, something we don’t think about enough, maybe. For a while I was a volunteer at the California Wolf Center in Julian, California. Mostly I wrote articles and press releases and visited the wolves. After Ariel died, I was curious about these animals. They are huge. You think Bear is big? Wolves are bigger. These wolves were habituated to people, most rescued from people who thought they could have a “pet” wolf. Uh, no…

Most important to remember is that yes, there is wolf DNA in most domestic dogs, but the dog breed that’s been found to have the MOST wolf DNA is this one. Apparently, if you find you want a wolf, get a Yorkshire Terrier.

In other news, I was going to post a video of wolves howling. I opened Youtube, found the video, the wolves started howling, I joined because I like to howl, it brings back my huskies and suddenly to my immense surprise, Teddy joined in. I recorded it, but unfortunately I can’t share it. If I figure out how, I will.

Then and Now

January is named for this two-faced guy, Janus, the god of comings and goings, of doors, gateways, transitions. It’s why our New Year is January 1 and maybe why we have this thing about summing up and making resolutions. I don’t do the resolutions thing, but the summing up seems to have come to my mind unbidden. Between us, I haven’t enjoyed this year much. In fact, it’s one of two years in my life I am most happy to say good-bye to.

That says a lot… 🤣

I’m no longer naive enough to think that turning the page on 2022 will lead to big changes. I wasn’t that naive back in 1979, either. That New Year’s Eve some friends came over with champagne, we all got drunk and toasted to the end of the year. I didn’t know it until the next morning, but I had strep throat (so appropriate). I woke up with daggers in my throat. I also woke up to find a man in my apartment making breakfast.

It was benign enough. I knew this man (he was a young attorney where I worked). We’d gone out a few times, but I didn’t like him. He thought he was being romantic making me waffles and champagne on the first day of the New Year. I thought he was intruding. And I don’t like waffles. Still, I guess champagne in a flute with a strawberry at the bottom is supposed to be romantic, but that wasn’t — isn’t — my style. I don’t know how he got in. Probably he knocked on the door of the manager (lived downstairs) whom he had met, and the manager let him in.

It was the 70s and THAT guy (the manager) had been up all night with his friends doing lines of coke. I know this because he phoned me at one point during the evening asking if I wanted to come down and join them. I didn’t like cocaine, so I said no. Anyway, I’m sure that guy had never GONE to bed and probably liked EVERYONE at that point.

Any-hoo, I thanked the breakfast man for his sweet idea, told him I was sick, and threw him out. A year or so later, he married one of my friends from college. And, as I said to a young friend (40) recently, every old person is incognito.

As for 2022, I’ve been trying to look at the bright side of life in the past year, but it’s been a little challenging. The whole year has been one crisis after another, but I will spare us all my litany of woe — the worst, for me, has been long Covid.

All this means it’s time to count my blessings, in no particular order other than one and two are really the most important things to me. As of right now —

  1. I can walk and I can see.
  2. Survival should never be undervalued. So far so good.
  3. I live in a place of natural beauty with much within my reach.
  4. My dogs and I are mostly healthy and happy. We love and support each other in our fashion, according to our abilities and lights. Bi-species families are actually pretty cool.
  5. I’ve published three articles in a magazine that I respect, like, and to which I subscribe. My dream of being a journalist seems finally to have come true, which means it’s never too late to fulfill SOME of our dreams.
  6. I did two amazing paintings this year.
  7. I put together a book of poems and read from it. It was fun and the listeners enjoyed themselves.
  8. For the most part, I’m doing OK financially and have everything I need.
  9. In spite of the misery of long Covid, most of my mental abilities have mostly returned for the most part (ha ha), or I’ve forgotten about them. Either way, it’s all good.
  10. I have wonderful friends — many of whom I met in this neighborhood that spans the globe. Really, how amazing is that?

THE bright side of New Years Eve, 1979, was that 1979 could never come back, a fact to which my friends and I toasted at midnight. I was 27.

As 2022 passed into the history books, I didn’t stay up till midnight to toast anything. If I had I would have toasted the end of 2022, the impossibility of its return, and the hope for a better 2023.

Hope — all by itself — deserves a toast. That and snow is in the forecast. I haven’t told Bear. I don’t want to get her hopes up.

The wall calendar is already in the recycling bin in the kitchen. They can recycle the paper; not the year. I also thought of a conversation I had with my brother once. I said, “I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. I just patch things up and hold them together.”

He said, “You can do that? Wow!” He wasn’t joking.

In more interesting news, two mountain lions have been sighted out at the wildlife areas where I used to walk the dogs and where, last summer, I happened on some mountain lion scat on the path along the river. From a mountain lion perspective it’s like a cafeteria, a conduit from here to there with food. My guess is that the lions are a mom and a year-old cub as, otherwise, they tend to live solitary lives. I loved taking the dogs there, but in 2020 they became places where people would let their dogs run, meaning Bear, Teddy and I weren’t going there any more. To combat this, Colorado Fish and Wildlife made the wildlife areas permitted places. I immediately bought a fishing license, but I’d discovered the Refuge. When Bear and I were out at the wildlife area this past August, it was clearly much less traveled — and so, mountain lion scat. I was happy to see it, but, as it was fresh, I explained to Bear that we were having a short walk. We turned around.

Here’s Bear and the river that day — the scat is about 15 feet in front of Bear, near that patch of grass in the middle of the trail. I thought briefly of photographing it, but there are a lot smarter things to do than leaning over fresh mountain lion scat for a photo op…

Part of the wildlife area is open country, OK for walking the dogs even with lions. The featured photo is from that path, the Rio Grande in January. I like mountain lions very much, but along the river there are too many trees.

Voice of the Angel

Just because my hip doesn’t need surgery doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It’s frustrating but the good thing is walking makes it feel better. SO…Bear and I managed our escape alone together yesterday before the rain started. Clouds were coming at us from three directions so things were looking good. The deer flies have mostly gone, and we were greeted by a little mayfly who landed on my glasses. Dragonflies everywhere. As we neared the cottonwood trees (there are only a few) a hawk took flight from one of them. We stopped. He flew back and up where he had been. I am not sure but I think he had food up there. I took a few more steps hoping to see him in the tree, but he was dedicated to maintaining his privacy and flew off across the field. I saw he was a Red Tail Hawk and saluted him.

I heard thunder rumbling and we turned around. It was pretty far away but still. The clouds were very dark. It was promising a gulley washer somewhere. We would hit it on our way home, and Bella would get a good wash.

I saw a Refuge trucks parked by one of the information signs they have for bird tourists, the one that introduces them to the yellow-headed blackbird. I’m always hesitant to pass people because they might have a hidden dog or agenda, but I didn’t need to be. A guy was working on the sign. We said “Hi!” and I asked if he’d like to meet my dog. He wanted to so we crossed the road. Bear liked him. He looked to be a guy who might’ve been tossed hard by a large animal at some point. That’s a common possibility down here where kids start to rodeo at a young age. He had bright blue eyes, tanned skin, creased from working outside. I opened with, “Looks like the crowds are gone.” I meant the birders clamoring to see the Yellow Rail. He was putting up a new barrier to keep birds from pooping on the sign, an exercise he thought was both funny and futile.

“It was crazy here for a week or so. The cranes will be here soon. A month?”

“About,” I said. “I’ll be glad to see them.”

“They can be very annoying.”

I thought about how if I worked out there I might find them annoying, too. They’re big. They poop. They make a LOT of noise. He told me a story about how 40 cranes died in a sudden gust of wind, tangled in electrical wires. “They’re serious about that. It was out on the 7 mile.” (I live where the streets have no names) “The sheriff and everyone, Parks and Wildlife, everyone was out there counting, them, GPSing them, making sure they’d got them all. They’re serious about this.”

I didn’t know what I would do if I saw a dead crane. My love for those birds is a little crazy, but I arrived in 2014 at the same time the cranes did in October. I feel a kind of connection to their flight. BUT — mainly they’ve been a “gateway drug” to the Refuge, the Valley landscape, mobility, birds I never knew and a lot more. We talked about crane tourists.

“Bear likes them. She likes saying hello.”

“Yeah, people go crazy for those cranes. They come from all over the world. England, France…

“China!” I thought about the amazing coincidence of meeting being from Beijing the day before I was going to read from my China book at the museum.

“They used to have the bus tours, but now I guess people drive to a parking lot and the biologist speaks. You ever notice how they all drive Subarus?”

They do. Most of them drive Subarus. I laughed. “I liked the buses. They were great. It’s fun to see what happens to a bunch of adults on a school bus.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said, “of course if they can get up the steps.” I laughed inside at that, not sure that either of us could get up the steps of the school bus. “I think they’re going to have the kid’s crane festival this year. I love that. They have us mow that section there,” and he pointed. “They set things up so the kids find nests and all kinds of stuff. I love that.”

People out here talk in stories and that is how I grew up. I learned that’s not how everyone holds a conversation and that many people expect stories to GO somewhere. My stories don’t always go somewhere and neither do the stories of the people around me now. I think it’s something about the rural west (and maybe other rural places?) where people have time and less interpersonal contact than in crowded cities. Stories ARE what we share. Often pointless stories that exist for their own sake.

As we talked, I watched an osprey and a Harris Hawk and thought, “The good times are on their way,” meaning fall and winter.

“Do you know Terry Something?” he asked

“No,” I say. Everyone here of a certain age knows the people his his/her generation. My town has one elementary, one middle, and one high school.

“Well, I was out here cleaning brush from this trail. ‘Course it’s pretty overgrown now, the chico…” “Chico” is the local word for greasewood. He was describing Bear’s and Teddy’s favorite trail — a short loop called the Meadowlark Trail. “It was so overgrown, couldn’t hardly find the trail. I got to the picnic table. I didn’t even know there was a picnic table! It was broken down, a mess. Well, Terry went door-to-door to raise money for materials and he built a new one.”

“I know him. I didn’t know his name. I met him and his wife out here. They were having lunch, and they told me about the table.” I thought for a minute, “You know people in the Valley aren’t that good at introducing themselves. I’m Martha Kennedy.” We shook hands. “I’ve seen him and his wife out here a lot. Really nice people.”

We talked a bit about the last Crane Festival which didn’t really happen and how the Refuge didn’t even have a display. “Terry was out there, though,” said my new friend. “With his wood working and carvings. He’s a good whittler.”

“They’re great people,” I said. “They have a dog who’s not dog friendly, and neither is Bear. We’ve talked about it and now if they see us heading toward my car, they wait until I get my dogs in the car before they keep going. It’s amazing.” I didn’t mention that their dog rides untethered in the back of their pick-up and we are ALL afraid he’ll jump out when he sees my dogs. That doesn’t diminish their consideration of me.

“I didn’t know that. I hope he’s OK. I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“I think the last time I saw them was May. I’m out here almost every day.”

“I know. I’ve seen you.”

I kind of laughed. “Well, you know.” I stopped. “For a while I was feeling sorry for myself. I used to run trails in the mountains but now, I can’t. But it’s OK. Now I can come here to hike and I see so much. If this is hiking.”

“It’s hiking. You’re here and you’re walking.”

The angel had spoken.

Featured photo: The yellow band is a barley field. The bright yellow is sunflowers growing around and in the field. That’s pizazz!

Beautiful, Unexpected Adventure

Looking at the news for the last few days, specifically the FBI executing a search warrant on Old 45’s basement, a phrase — some idiom from my childhood — waved and flapped through my mind, “It’ll all come out in the wash.” Maybe it’s about to.

In more personal news yesterday I took Bear for her rabies shot. “My” vets have both, apparently, retired. That’s OK. They were around my age but I really liked them. The practice was bought a couple years ago by some young women vets and they immediately set about girly-fying the place appropriate to a vet clinic but also to young women of their generation. I miss the old vibe but change is the nature of things.

The first time I went to the vet was with Mindy 8 years ago. I was still staying in a cabin up in South Fork. The vet examined Mindy (a guy who is now about to be the new County Commissioner) and explained that her legs were not the same length and it caused pressure on her hips. Well, I know THAT story. I was instantly impressed. Anyway, to get to the present moment, Bear and I walked in and there were kitties on leashes. A young German shepherd, leashed, and a puppy. A black and white short-haired puppy with it’s very large person. Bear was very happy to meet the puppy — Bambi. In fact, she was more chill with the other dogs in there than I’ve ever seen her.

Debbie, the practice manager said, “You and Bear are all checked in, Martha.”

I’m not the new kid any more.

Lots of new people at my vets. A kid from UNC interning as a tech. A new vet who’s 12 years old. She examined Bear and asked, “What do you use her for?”

Yeah, dogs like Bear are usually employed. I told her Bear’s story and she looked very sad at the thought of a puppy being tied up at a gas station and rescued by the sheriff, but such is life. “So, she never had a job. I’m her job.”

“Well, she’s lucky to have you.”

12 year olds at their first real job are often pretty nervous and many people go into the vet field because they’re not people people. My heart went out to that young woman. She’ll get it. Some young people think we “boomers” are “against” them. I’m not. While I feel more comfortable around the two old guy vets, I’m happy that this girl has entered the field. I want her to do well. Yesterday I learned of a kid who just got hired to teach high school math; I almost wept. “Yay, guy,” I thought, “young teacher the brave and good.”

I met a very lovely old old kitty on her last few days of life and her wonderful person. The kitty was skin and bones. Her skin so fragile it was splitting. “She has liver cancer,” said the woman. “She’s 14. I think I should put her down — I know I should — I just can’t stand to say good-bye yet.” The lady was a remarkable older woman wearing shorts, a leopard print top, gold earrings and embellished sandals. When we were in the vet’s office, standing behind the woman and her kitty, Bear had pulled the leash, trying to reach the kitty to take care of it. She’d startled the woman by touching the lady’s bare leg with her cold nose. “Oooh! OH! Hello,” she said turning to see Bear. Bear nudged the kitty’s tail. I took Bear to the car.

I met a German shepherd puppy belonging to another intern. I talked to the puppy while Debbie — the practice manager — took my credit card. The puppy, as usual with dogs, gave me its undivided attention. “He’s amazing,” I said to its owner. “Very smart puppy. Oh well,” I said. “I just love dogs.”

“That’s obvious,” said Debbie handing me my receipt.

The manager of the Vet clinic is one of the first people I knew here. We had hip surgery and did PT at the same time. We were very happy to see each other. It feels like there’s a kind of awakening (in me? in everyone?) “Oh, you’re still here. I’m so glad to see you again.” Fuck their politics. I’ll vote my vote. And I’ve had Covid and all my shots, so???

After all that I decided to reward Bear if I could. My hip hurt like hell yesterday (I overdid it Weds and Thurs) but I wanted to take a walk if we could find a good trail. Because they’re close to the vet, I turned toward the lake and the wildlife area where we used to walk all the time. I headed down the road and saw that all the parking areas were empty. Waaaaaa-HOOOO! I pulled into the spot that leads to a walk by the river. The trail was open but overgrown. The sign makes a point — in red — that without the proper permits the area was closed. Well, I have the proper permits. I was so happy to see that sign. I quit going out there because people were abusing the trails and the area, turning loose their dogs, spending the night out there were there were no facilities, etc. Yay Colorado Parks and Wildlife! Plus, the permits help support the wildlife areas.

Bear immediately noticed scents and was more driven to explore them than I’d seen her in a while, but I figured it was a place we hadn’t visited in 2 1/2 years. Bear sniffed, left scent, sniffed, left scent. I walked up and down hills in no pain trying to figure out “What’s up with that?” meaning my leg. We finally got to the river and I was so happy to see it again. Then, I looked at something that had caught Bear’s eye (meaning nose).

Mountain lion scat. Pretty fresh. Thrilling.

I looked at my partner and thought, “Well, this is as good as it gets without seeing the lion.” I looked around for tracks, but it is a mostly grassy trail and what isn’t grassy is packed pretty solid. Even though I’m alone out there, I’m not alone. Bear was bred to defend her “herd” against animals like mountain lions. Lions are shy animals, generally don’t like dogs and can smell them. I talk to my dogs when I’m in a place like that and never hike in a wild place in silence. I have hiked for decades in mountain lion country and I’m glad they are there. The greatest day of my life was August 4, 2004, about 6 pm, when I finally saw a cougar. If you’re interested in the story, you can read it here.

A Little Redemption…

A little voice said, “Martha, go out there. Go out to Heaven RIGHT NOW!” That little voice, of course, was canine telepathy. Mosts of the time I listen and I think there is MORE to those little voices than dogs.

As we were on our way, I watched a golden eagle hunt above a pasture and when we arrived, a Northern Harrier took to the air in front of me. He was a very, very beautiful hawk. I’ve learned this evening that the males are white; the female rufus or reddish-brown so I might not have identified females or confused them with other hawks. Binoculars are a challenge for me as my hands are full of dog leashes almost every time I’m out there. The birds have to be familiar or come close for me to identify them. While this hawk apparently is pretty common all over America, I didn’t see him until I moved here.

A little later I watched a red-tailed hawk evading some small bird parents protecting their nest. I’m always amazed at the small birds — could have been anything from a blackbird to a sparrow to a marsh wren, no way for me to know as they were up quite high — protecting their young against a predator so many times larger. Today’s red-tail finally evaded them by flying low (thank you!) then soaring very high until he was a dark speck in the clouds.

Hawks have their predators, too, sometimes human. Long ago I found myself driving with two baby redtails on my arm, safely covered by my cowboy hat. Some idiot had caught them somehow and put them in a cardboard box under his car while he went off and did whatever. The boys I hung out with — the BMX boys — found the box and were sure I would know what to do. Not knowing what had happened to put them on the ground, I didn’t know what to do. I just thought of the local wildlife rescue with whom we worked at Mission Trails Regional Park. SO… the boys and I very carefully drove the birds to the emergency vet hoping he’d have somewhere safe for them until the local wildlife rescue (Project Wildlife) could intervene. Of course, we took shit from the vet for having the birds at all, but by then, having hung out with a bunch of rough looking teenage boys for a while, I expected we’d get shit anywhere we went. Mikey, the youngest, 12, tried to explain to the doctor who wasn’t interested. The vet was surprised when I told him who to call.

Here’s what I saw during the walk, and, toward the end, the wind got cold and wet and we were pelted with graupel. I have chosen to understand THAT as a promise for a better winter next year. ❄️

However fucked up our world gets (and it blows me away the potential it has for that, potential it too often realizes) I just have to get out there to remember that none of us is really in charge.

Sources for Northern Harrier photos: https://www.birdzilla.com/birds/northern-harrier/multimedia.html, https://www.featheredphotography.com/blog/2013/11/03/a-menacing-look-from-a-male-northern-harrier/, https://tonystakes.com

You Can’t Drive Around with a Tiger in Your Car

I’m no singer — wait, that’s not true. I like to sing. I sing in the car when Teddy and I are going to the Refuge, or by myself in the car (or even my house!) if a song comes on the radio I like. I sing when I ride the Bike to Nowhere. I even sing with Pavarotti and Zucchero (Miserere). My voice isn’t bad, but I can’t stay on key, or as they say, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”

One of my friends — Michael Dunn — is a musician, band leader, band member from a long time ago. He and my friend Lois are both talented musicians, and, in better days, performed around Colorado Springs with their friends and other amazing musicians. It was always fun to drive up to watch them perform but…

I have sung with Michael, usually in the morning while everyone else was asleep (or faking it for their own survival). We sang Roger Miller songs together. Michael helped me stay on key and/or he didn’t care. I don’t know but one day when I said, “I don’t sing with other people,” Michael objected strenuously. “You sing with me!”

I was in choir in middle school. My teacher had been part of Fred Waring’s choir. Her big thing was the Christmas choir and we practiced for the entire fall for that. Then, in spring, we had to do our solos. My first year (6th grade) I performed (ha ha ha) my favorite song, “I Ride an Old Paint.” She stopped me in the middle and said, “There’s more to life than cowboy music.” Well, yeah, but I love that song. The following year I “performed” something from Mary Poppins I don’t remember what. She was pleased.

In high school l tried out for choir, but when I sang my “thirds,” the director said, “Don’t come back.”

It’s OK. Every performance needs an audience. But I love singing Roger Miller songs with Michael. I completely understand how it is a wonderful thing to sing with other people in harmony. Roger Miller songs don’t demand a high level of harmony so I’m capable of it. The other “people” I loved to sing with were my Siberian Huskies, and, by extension, the coyotes. The feeling we shared after a good howl is beyond words, but I would call it a kind of transcendent love.

Singing is a joyful thing even in moments of mourning. It brings other people closer to us without any annoying talk (Sorry. There are times when talking is off target). There’s a beautiful passage in Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire that sums it up for me. It’s in his chapter titled “Water.” If you don’t know the book, it’s about his time as a ranger in the desert, at Arches National Monument back in the day. He writes about the feeling of joy and relief animals feel after a long drought or after a long winter finally thaws. The geographical feature is vernal pools. The actors are frogs.

“Why do they sing? What do they have to sing about? Somewhat apart from one another, separated by roughly equal distances, facing outward from the water, they clank and croak all through the night with tireless perseverance. To human ears their music has a bleak, dismal, tragic quality, dirge like rather than jubilant. It may nevertheless be the case that these small beings are singing not only to claim their stake in the pond, not only to attract a mate, but also out of spontaneous love and joy, a contrapuntal choral celebration of the coolness and wetness after weeks of desert fire, for love of their own existence, however brief it may be, and for joy in the common life.”

Has joy any survival value in the operations of evolution? I suspect that it does. I suspect that the morose and fearful are doomed too quick extinction. Where there is no joy there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless. Therefore, the frogs, the toads, keep on singing even though we know, if they don’t, that the sound of their uproar must surely be luring all the snakes and ringtail cats and kit foxes and coyotes and great horned owls toward the scene of their happiness.” Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

I’ll continue singing semi-privately for the peace of my neighbors and the good of humanity. We have to accept our limitations because you can’t roller-skate in a buffalo herd.

P.S. As I played this song, Teddy let me know he LOVES it.

P.P.S. The featured photo is the late, great, Jazz Beau’s Rent Party [my friends Lois Maxwell, vocals, Michael Dunn acoustic guitar (rear right facing), Dan Davidson (bass) and Erik Nelson on guitar 😦 ]

Trip to the Vet

Yesterday I took Teddy to the vet for his customary shots. I had a few strange experiences. One, I have asthma and, in fall, it tends to kick off around 4:30 in the afternoon. Teddy’s appointment was 4:45 right at the golden hour. As soon as I walked into the clinic I had a coughing attack. I said, “I’m not sick. I have asthma. I’ll put my mask on so I don’t scare anyone.”

Debbie, the office manager, whom I’ve known since I moved here, who had hip surgery when I did, who did PT at the same time and place, said, “No, Martha, don’t. That will make it even harder for you to breathe.”

A nice older lady from Texas (they moved here in numbers last year) with a little Dachsund/Chihuahua shaking on her lap said, “No, honey. Don’t do that. You need to breathe. It’s OK. I used to have asthma but thankfully, it went away as I got older.”

“Mine hit me when I was 60,” I said, breathing, finally, wishing I had my inhaler.

I sat down with Teddy, who just wanted to go see everyone, and waited. My turn came, and I was ushered into a little room by a young woman. The vet — Kayla — a young woman who bought the practice a couple years ago — came in and checked over Teddy. “He’s perfect,” she said. “Perfect weight, perfect teeth, everything.” They joked about his determined drive to kiss everyone, “He’d French me if I let him.” One tall girl caught Teddy in her arms as he leaped off the examining table. “He’d go home with you!” said the vet.

“OK,” I said. “There are a lot of dogs out there who’d like to live with me.”

“Really? You’d let him go?” asked the vet.

“No. I think my other dog would miss him a lot. My other dog is an Akbash.”

“Right!” said the vet. “You’re the lady with the Akbash. We don’t seem many of those.” So we talked about Bear. The assistants in the room had never heard of that breed. Anyway, they’ll see her when she goes in for her shots.

When we were finished, we went back to the lobby. There was my favorite vet, Dr. Crawford, the one who took care of Teddy’s leg this past March after Teddy lost in a fight with the glass in my front door, the one who has put down my dogs. After he did the surgery on Teddy’s foot, he came out to explain what he’d done, he cradled Teddy in his arms like a baby. When he saw Teddy, instead of crouching down for Teddy to run to him, he just said, “No, buddy, no happy right now.” Later I saw why.

I took Teddy out to the car, so I could pay the bill in peace and I saw, in the dog pee area, a beautiful, young red merle Aussie and her people. The Aussie was vomiting into a bag. “Shit,” I thought hoping it wasn’t the worst but knowing if it were Parvo, Dr. Crawford would be able to help as well as anyone could. It didn’t seem all that likely as the Aussie wasn’t a puppy, but parvo doesn’t just hit puppies.

When I came back in to pay, the Aussie and its people followed, thinking the Aussie couldn’t vomit more, but she did. When the dog stopped, they put it on the scales. “She’s a little overweight,” said her person. I heard this in the corner of my ear as I paid my bill, words of irrelevancy as a flag of hope.

The vet came in from outside where he’d been looking for the Aussie. He’d come in to fill a syringe and had gone out another door, expecting to see the dog in the dog pee area. He looked intently at me. He sees hundreds of people and their sick and dying animals, and I know from my own experience that sick dogs make him very very sad. He met me at 10 pm one night on the off chance that Bear had bloat. SHE had been vomiting. “I have to charge you for an emergency, Martha.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s OK. I love this dog.”

“She’s pretty special,” he’d answered, Bear was leaning against him and he was scratching her ears.

Yesterday, as we passed, he reached for my shoulder as he hurried to the Aussie.

Driving to the vet, I’d seen the moon hovering just above Mt. Blanca. When I left, there was an amazing sunset. I sent up some good thoughts for that poor dog and her people, but I don’t think they could be in better hands.

Boring Post about Dog Meds

For the last year or so Bear has begun exhibiting symptoms of arthritis, especially in her front legs (she LOVES to work on the big hole she began when she moved here). Summer, 2020, she got an exam and X-rays showing the development of arthritis in her front “elbow.” She got to take Carprofen which helped some, but she had definitely slowed down. She’s a giant breed dog and this is a thing in large dogs anyway. The other thing, giant breed dogs have shorter lifespans than do little dogs so when she turned six and this showed up I felt a twinge. I love this dog (who knew?) and the thought that she was already heading down the hill to her sofa days? No. NO!!!

A friend of mine is a vet tech with his own dog — Frosty — who was born with deformed hips. There’s been a surgical correction on one, but the other is a “wait and see,” thing. The vet my friend was working for recommended Myristol for Frosty, so my friend decided to try. He was surprised one evening when Frosty jumped up beside him on the sofa, Jumped is the operative word.

Frosty, who felt so much better, sent Bear a jar of Myristol as a gift. I’ve been giving it to her. It’s helping her. Yesterday she and Teddy were being driven (more) insane by the malevolent squirrel in the trees who has no scruples about sending my dogs to the loony bin (“Muahahaha”). Bear was leaping and spinning like a puppy — like Teddy who is airborne whenever possible.

Myristol contains: Cetyl Myristoleate Fatty Acid Complex (magic ingredient?), Glucosamine HCl, MSM, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Vitamin C, Zinc, Manganese, and Copper. Seeing Bear pirouette, I wondered about it for humans — so far the clinical trials are not very rigorous and though it’s available for humans, and I’d love to be out there dancing around the backyard — I need to know more before I give it a shot.

P.S. This is also effective on horses. 🙂

Later, I’ll Get to it Later

“Hey, Fred. Why is it you never finish anything you start?”

“I thought about that.”

(He THOUGHT about that???)

“Yeah, and?” I’m looking at ungrouted tile in a corner of our kitchen. It’s been that way for two years.

“Well, I like to know I always have something to do.”

The Good X was NOT like the other kids. Or not like me anyway. I hate unfinished projects hanging over my head which is either why I’m great or crap as a team player, I guess depending on who’s looking. 🙂

I used to ask my students, “How many of you put off your essays until the night before they’re due?”

Masses of hands reach for the sky.


Invariably they would say, “I do my best work under pressure.”

I answered, “If you always do your essays the night before they’re due, that doesn’t mean you do your BEST work under pressure. It means you ONLY work under pressure!”

Sometimes there was a lilt of laughter; usually not. “Tell you what. If you get your work done early, and show me, or take it to the writing tutorial center, you’ll get a better grade.”

Because no one ever understands anything anyone says, especially what the teacher says, most of them thought they’d get extra points for doing that, not that they would have feedback and the chance for revision before they turned in their paper for a grade.

Cracked me up. Students tend to think their teachers are out to get them, but students are out to get themselves. They are masterful self-saboteurs. Someone would always ask, “Can I revise it after you grade it? Isn’t that the same thing?” They just thought I was teaching them writing. Ha.

“No, dude, sorry.”

“Well, why not? It’s the same thing.”

“Uh, no. It’s not the same thing.”

“Well, yeah, it is. I write it, I turn it in, you help me with it and I revise it for a better grade. What difference does it make whether it’s before or on the day it’s due?”

“Here’s the difference. You bring it to me early, it’s the ONLY paper I have to look at and YOU get my undivided, unpressured attention and you inspire me to respect you for doing your work early. How’s that for benefits, dude?”

“Whatever. You’re the professor.” The charming resigned hostility of the 20 year old male who, out in the hall, would very likely mutter, “bitch.”

They were lucky I liked them all so much — I did! They were who they had to be for the moment in their lives…


I often wonder what the purpose of language is, anyway. Bear communicates to me in complete dog sentences with absolute clarity. There are three different ways to say, ‘I want a cookie.’ There is coming to where I am, looking at me and then moving her head toward the kitchen. If I ask, “Do you want a cookie?” by way of confirming that I understand she nods toward the kitchen again. Another is to ask to go out knowing that when she comes in, she’ll get a cookie — but only at night (she used to be reluctant to come back inside since livestock guardian dogs are nocturnal by nature and think they should guard during the night). Then there’s the moment when I KNOW she wants a cookie, but I offer her something else and she shakes her head. Sometimes I wonder when a completely NON-verbal animal can communicate relatively complicated things like this just with her head and eyes, and I do what she tells me, why didn’t my students see that procrastination bit them in the ass?

In the featured photo Teddy is saying, clearly,”Can I have your coffee cup?”