Sauntering in Bearadise

One conversation at the table during the fancy dinner was about what we did during the ogreish cold of winter here in the Bark-of-Beyond. People argue other’s personal preferences and call it conversation. We all know that. Someone asked me what I liked to do in winter, and when I said “Go outside,” it caused a minor ruckus. Voices were raised in protest, but I stuck to my guns, “I love the cold. I’m out in it whenever I can.” I added that I loved it in May when people started reappearing, and that helped a little. When winter arrived yesterday, Bear and I didn’t hesitate. We know what we love.

The snow wasn’t deep, just a few inches, and the day wasn’t exactly cold, but cold enough not to melt the snow in a flash of San Luis Valley sunlight. No surprise that we were alone out there, except for two geese and one poor hungry Harris hawk. As I watched him flying low over the snowy world I thought that raptors’ great energy-saving efficiency in flight is an evolutionary feature of not getting to eat often and having to fly far to find food. They must get enough or they wouldn’t stick around, but not more than that.

We took Bear’s favorite trail, a path built around a pond that often overflows in spring. For me, it was wonderful because I could see what Bear smells. A fox had been hunting earlier that morning. Kangaroo rats and deer mice left their furtive traces. If snow is a transient catalog of events (it is), it was earlier yesterday morning, around the same time the fox was after them. Bear was fascinated by the fox — and has been even when I couldn’t see any evidence of his passing. But now I know what appeals to her so much. At one point it looked like the story went sideways for some little creature and the fox got breakfast.

We finished that small loop (1/3 mile) and continued on the main road. Bear found even more wonders — including the snow itself — and a couple of times nearly pulled me into a shallow ditch. I wish I didn’t have to leash her, but I do. First, it’s the rule at the Refuge; second, she would roam. It’s part of the nature of her breed. She’d come back sooner or later. I’m even sure she’d come all the way HOME if she got loose, but she’s my Bear, and when I adopted her I promised her I would keep her safe. Dogs like her who are employed and working with sheep stay with their sheep, but that was not to be Bear’s destiny. I try to give her at least SOME of that life, and, since she’s always been here with me, I don’t think she knows the difference.

She finally found something worth rolling in and made a snow angel.

As we walked, a squall formed over the Refuge and, lucky for us with our perverse idea of fun, it snowed. We just stood there for a while and savored it. Last year we had ONE snowstorm and it was in January. This really felt too good to be true. Where snow is concerned I learned in Southern California to seize the day. Good training for this desert valley. Some winters we get a LOT of snow; some winters next to none. We have rain shadows in all directions. The BEST direction for snow to actually reach us is from the south or southwest and that’s what brought this storm. This is what the first snow looks like falling on the natural landscape of the San Luis Valley. All the plants are perfectly designed to capture moisture.

Bear and I were pretty bushed when we got home after a couple hours out there.

I sometimes feel as if Bear thinks I GAVE her the snow, but it is definitely a bond between us. Teddy is OK with it, but Bear truly loves it. She’s out in the yard right now taking a nap in it. This is what she did last night, snoring softly and smiling in her sleep.

Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog’s Gotcha Day Party

It’s a cool, rainy day here in the back of beyond, and, about 10 am this morning a certain giant breed white dog poked her head around the doorway from the kitchen with a face that said, “Well???” I persuaded her to come to me, I grabbed her collar, put her leash on and started walking around the house with her preparing to head out for the Big Empty. It is Bear’s “Gotcha’ Day”, the 7th anniversary of her coming to live with me. It deserved recognition — and on Bear’s terms. I’m not the person who dresses up her dogs and puts hats on them and gives them cake. 🙂

We all got into Bella and headed out only to find a lot (meaning 5) cars out there, dispersed all along the road, birders looking for the elusive Yellow Rail. I realized I would have to park at the entrance so I drove all the way around the Refuge loop. Approaching us were two people on foot — a very tall man and a very short little lady. I recognized them from some earlier encounter when I’d had to squint to be sure it wasn’t just a regular size guy and a big dog. On that encounter, they met the dogs and we had a great conversation. I was happy to see them and I’m pretty sure Teddy recognized them through the window.

We finally got on the road to walk. It was — for July — a beautiful morning. Overcast, slight breeze, temps in the 60s (17c — Bella is all about metric temps). We strolled.

As we approached the small grove of cottonwoods, the couple was near enough that I pulled us off the trail to prepare the dogs. They approached with big smiles. Bear and Teddy were eager to say “Hi!” There was much greeting and patting of dogs and “They remember you!” followed by “We sure remember them. What wonderful dogs.” You’d have thought they were Bear’s and Teddy’s best friends EVER. They were great with Teddy who can be TOO happy. To keep him from jumping up, they each leaned down to greet him. I loved that. I said, “I just wish I could get them to like people,” and everyone laughed. We talked about our earlier meeting, and the beauty of the morning, and agreed that a morning like the one we had today was a real gift and we each went our ways until “Next time.”

My dogs love people. It’s Teddy’s nature, and, having read that livestock guardian dogs need socializing with people if they’re going to be town dogs, I spent a lot of time with Bear when she was a puppy getting her used to meeting people.

I had brought Bear home to meet my dogs — Dusty and Mindy — the then resident dogs a couple weeks earlier. Once the two week waiting period was over and she came home to stay, Dusty and Mindy were very happy to have her. On that day Dusty howled with a siren for the first time since Lily T. Wolf — Dusty’s great love — had died four months earlier. That’s when I knew it was going to be great having this big white dog living here. Over the five years Bear and Dusty lived together, Bear taught Dusty to play. Dusty T. Dog was a serious kind of fellow, but Bear wasn’t having it. It was wonderful to see that barky black dog open up to the puppy.

Seven years is mature for giant breed dogs, but I’m hoping the fact that Bear is not large for her breed and that she’s had good care and love her whole life will help her stay with us a long time more.

We had a lovely time at Bear’s party and she got a little tuna for supper. My hip continues to improve and it was wonderful to be OUT. The featured photo is Bear and Dusty T. Dog the day she came home. Here she is with Mindy on that day. Mindy looks a little unsure. 🤣


I’m a sucker for blue eyes. As a kid I was surrounded by them — my mom’s eyes were changeable blue/gray and my dad’s the color of snow shadows. I was very surprised when I learned that most people in the world don’t have them. I don’t have them and neither did my brother. We both have/had green eyes.

This is pure personal taste, I think. They’re just pretty. I fell in love (lust?) with the Good X based partly on his blue eyes and some of the things he said. I fell for the Evil X (ewww) partly because of HIS blue eyes. Maybe we all have inexplicable soft spots in our brains for certain physical traits.

I’ve had 6 3/4 blue-eyed dogs. You’re worried about the 3/4? Ariel had one golden eye and one blue eye. Mathilda had a 1/2 blue eye.

Ariel and Mathilda

Seeing Bear’s blue eyes looking out of a Facebook post a few months after Lily died pulled me to the shelter where, when she looked at me from inside the cage, I was sold. They seemed to be Lily’s eyes looking out at me from the face of a white puppy.

One day I was walking Bear and we met a little girl — maybe four years old — with her mom. Bear is so big and so white, soft and fluffy. She looks like a mythological beast. The little girl reached for her, then looked at Bear’s eyes and then at me, “Why are her eyes white?” It was a little Hispanic girl who lived and grew up in an eye-color world the opposite of the one in which I grew up. I asked Bear to sit. The little girl and Bear were pretty much eye-to-eye.

“Look harder,” I said. “What color are they?”

“Ooh! They’re blue!” She reached out for Bear who just sat quietly while the little girl stroked her head.

The mom — who’d been a little worried, I’m sure — and I smiled at each other. It was a beautiful tableau of discovery.


Bear and I headed out on this beautiful afternoon for a saunter. The leaves on the mountains are continuing their magical transformation to gold. The air was cool; the sky covered by low, fluffy clouds. Seldom does the sky here in the Big Empty feel so close. The light changed continually. It was perfect.

As we were walking back to Bella, a brand new Hyundai stopped. The driver rolled down his window and Bear jumped up to say “Hi!” which the vast (meaning everyone but this guy) majority of crane tourists encourage and enjoy and which the man did not like at all. Good grief! She could scratch the paint! I apologized and lifted Bear’s feet from the car thinking the guy’s priorities were messed up. Then he said, “Have you seen anything?”

I was thinking, “Everything. There’s all kinds of everything around here.” I thought of another tourist a while back who, when I asked if he were looking for cranes, said, “I’m happy to see anything.” I also thought the paint on a car is meaningless compared to experiencing a joyful, friendly, giant-breed white dog jumping up to meet you. We might try not to be judgmental, but I think we fail a lot at it. I fail constantly.

“You mean cranes?” I said.


“It’s not the best time of day, but they’re around.” I told him and his wife where I thought they were most likely to be (near the barley fields). We chatted for a bit and I seriously plugged the wonders of the Crane Festival in the spring, and explained that while there are a lot of people, most of them like the tours in the school busses because they are sure they’ll see something and they get a wildlife biologist riding along to show and tell. I explained that crane tourists are not like other people, that they’re interested in cranes and very kind and respectful. They got the idea that coming back in spring might be a good idea. They only live 3 hours away so they could do that. Then I explained that there’s more crane activity at dawn and sunset. His wife chimed in with quite a bit more warmth and charm. It was a pleasant, pretty typical, conversation with crane tourists.

We went on our way and here came an old guy (my age) on a bicycle. “Hey, he said, “you dyed your hair to match your dog!” I laughed. He commented rapturously about the “perfect day” and I heartily agreed.

And this is what we saw (along with a Harris hawk and young bald eagle hunting).

Yet ANOTHER Post about Bear

Six years ago today I saw my shaggy bestie in real life for the first time. I saw her on Facebook the day before and Brandi, the young woman who worked at the local shelter, had texted me, “Martha! This is your dog!” or something to that effect.

I wasn’t sure. I had two dogs and was thinking maybe I didn’t need a dog who was likely to grow to be very large. “Do I need a 100 pound dog?” I asked myself. I asked people through this blog, too, and got good advice from people who had owned what this pretty puppy was supposed to grow into — that is Great Pyrenees. The shelter thought she was a mix because of the blue eyes and they really did look like they eyes of my beautiful Lily T. Wolf, the Siberian husky I’d had to put to sleep the previous March. She was 17 years old. ❤

So, I met her. She was in a cage apart because she was on “hold” in case someone came to claim her. I walked toward her. She walked calmly toward the fencing of her cage. We made eye contact. She sat. She looked at me as if she knew me and I brought her home to see how she’d do with Dusty and Mindy when I was free to adopt her.

Now she’s six years old, and these big dogs don’t have long lifespans. Thinking of that this morning it made me realize — again — how much courage it takes to love something, but what a loss if we don’t.

In other news, I have a new book project. No illustrations, just designing a book. I’m looking forward to starting. I decided that while I believe that a handshake is enough to seal a deal, I should grow up and execute a contract. I’m working on that today. It’s a sweet project, the kind that historians love, a book that an old sheep rancher published on his own hook some 30 years ago which now a small, local museum wants to republish.

The way I feel for “the west” is mysterious. My mom could have been a better mom, but she left me with some real treasures, one of them an interest in, knowledge of, and love for this world. I was thinking this morning that though I’m no farmer and no rancher, I’m definitely an appreciator. Farmers and ranchers need fans, too.

Saturday Services in the Big Empty

Beautiful day in the neighborhood. Bear really believes I make the snow. She came inside this morning soaking wet, snow on her back, and leaned against me relentlessly to show her gratitude. Cold, humid, patchy fog, snow showers, occasional graupel, a light breeze.

Bear and I attended holy services at the Big Empty and got to hear a special choir recital of redwing blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, meadowlarks, Canada geese and various ducks. You can see “my” two geese in this little video, the two who make their nest in this very vulnerable location.

We had a little discussion with these two geese who were a lot closer to us than they appear in this video. They really wanted the road. We finally persuaded them to take off. I didn’t see anything that they might have been guarding, but they were very very very vocal. There was nothing, no pond, nesting site or any other geese friendly site around. I don’t think the goslings have been born yet, but who knows. I wasn’t going to discuss it with them. If they didn’t want to leave Bear and I would have turned around. Geese protecting something are not especially friendly (ha ha)

That was the best service we’ve attended in a long time and we’re both very happy.

January Walk in the Big Empty with Ungulates

Bear and I took a Bear Ramble out to the Refuge and were rewarded by getting to see about a dozen happy ungulates trying to figure out if we were a threat or not. Apparently they couldn’t be sure, so we also got to watch them sproing off in a Mule Deer ballet.

Not much snow, but Bear and I have taken an extremely enlightened, Zen perspective and are enjoying what we have, which is a lot, and, at least, it’s cold. There are a lot of stories everywhere, most of which I cannot read but Bear can.


We heard ice breaking apart on one of the shallower ponds. Beautiful walk and inspiring company. Really a balm to the spirit. ❤

Talking to Bear about her Masterwork

“What’s this, Bear?”

“My project. I’ve been working on it all my life.”

“Would you call it your life’s work?”

“Life’s work?”

“You know, your Magnum Opus. Your great achievement?”

“It’s just a hole, but I work on it every day. A good hole like this one needs a lot of maintenance and constant refinement.”

“I see it is kind of a double hole.”


“Is there a special reason for that?”


“What do you do in this hole?”

“You see it’s in a shady spot so sometimes I sleep here. Sometimes I hide from Martha. I use it every day to ambush Teddy Bear T. Dog, my buddy and sidekick. He’s so dumb. I can hide here, and he’ll run right by me a hundred times a day, and he’ll still be surprised when I jump out. It’s a riot.”

“Do you have other holes?”

“Yes. I have many other holes. I have a hole beside the fence there, under the hanging bird bath. I like to sleep there when the weather is hot. It’s where the snow is, but not now. I have a couple of hobby holes here and there.”

“How does Martha feel about all these holes all over her yard?”

“We’re a team! She fills them in so I can dig them again!”

“You’re not mad when she fills in your holes?”

“Of course not! I love it. She understands perfectly that, except for the hole by the fence and this hole, that Holes come, holes go. You can dig a hole and, the next day you want to dig a new hole, and you fill the old hole with the dirt from the old hole. Happens all the time.”

“Do you have plans for any new holes?”

“If I feel like digging, I dig. If I don’t, I don’t. I don’t plan. How can a dog ‘plan’ a hole? Everything depends on the condition of the dirt and the way I feel. Sometimes I might want to dig a hole but I can’t even get a paw in the ground, even with big paws like mine.”

The Bear Report

Just took Bear to the vet to learn why she is limping. She has reduced muscle mass in her shoulders, and the doc thinks she might have a couple of compressed vertebrae in her neck, a common problem in giant breed dogs. The symptoms appear as the dog ages.

It’s a depressing reality that a giant breed dog at 5 years old is older than a normal dog at 5 years old. Bear now has pain meds, and we don’t have to do anything different than we do anyway. Otherwise Bear is in very good condition and was loved on by everyone. 

Some of the people at the vet have known Bear since she was a puppy and were very glad to see her (me too, I think). 

Sonnet 64:

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-ras’d
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

It was weird at the vet. I’m obviously 70ish and not absolutely normal walking. One of the techs asked me how I could handle such a big dog. I was flummoxed. I’ve had big dogs as long as I’ve had dogs. Bear is always aware of me, even if she pulls ahead, she stops and looks back. She’s pulled me down ONCE in her whole life and that’s because I didn’t let go when I should have when a dog was charging her and barking at her (on leash). I thought about people and their dogs. When Bear and I walk, we walk together. We’re both engaged in something that makes each of us happy individually but is enriched because we’re together. It’s been like that for me with all my dogs, but Bear most of all.

I don’t know that it’s about controlling a dog as much as understanding the dog. Teddy is learning, but he has a way to go. Still, he’s only a year old. It takes time to know your dog.

My theory of dog training is you teach your dog what he/she needs to know to be safe in the world of people and otherwise, you just cooperate. Bear was really beautifully behaved at the vet. I don’t know. Everyone thinks their dog is extraordinary, but I think Bear might be objectively extraordinary. These dogs are bred to be calm and aware of their environment at all times. That’s translated for me into a dog that’s almost a friend as much as a pet.