Thankful for Shoes

Bear and I took a walk, not really news, but…

Last night my annoying health app gave me this information. It’s part of the fall warning system built into the Apple Watch. I hate this information because for the life of me I haven’t been able to figure out any way to improve my “walking steadiness.” I last fell on September 26. A few weeks later, I got my new shoes, and here’s the story:

I seriously NEVER thought shoes would make that much difference. I was already wearing really good hiking/walking shoes, not flip-flops or something like that, but expensive shoes made by an excellent Italian boot manufacturer, Asolo. They’re great. Supportive, water-proof everything anyone would want, but something about them has been — apparently — wrong FOR ME. I have NO idea what, but now that I’m not wearing them, I feel it. I didn’t know I was struggling. I just thought I was old and worn out and so on and so forth. I’m still 70 but..

Most of the time this past month or so I’ve worn the slip ons (featured photo) but I also bought legit boots/shoes that I wore in the snow. They were also great, wonderful, amazing, comfortable.

Seriously, it never occurred to me that just shoes would make such an incredible difference. I’m walking 3 mph and change, enjoying it a million times more, walking farther. I feel like a new person — or the person I remember being.

The North Star

Serious blues all day. The demonstrations remind me so much of China’s cultural revolution which went on almost ten years carrying massive destruction in its wake. 

The day cooled off enough to walk Bear (as she informed me) so we headed out to the high school. I heard the kids yell at me, but I couldn’t see from where. Bear got to collect all of her messages and we did the obedience training she loves to practice and seldom performs otherwise. 

As we walked, everyone waved from their cars like I am Miss America. It brought tears to my eyes. People wave anyway, but not with that much enthusiasm in normal times. “Oh! It’s the white haired lady with the white dog! She’s out! She’s fine! She’s walking where she’s supposed to in June! Yay! Yay!” Seriously. 

On our return, I saw two hawks playing with two ravens on the wind. There was no aggression at all. It really seemed like they were having fun, but I don’t know. A peregrine falcon is hanging out in one of the tall aspen trees on my block. I hear him often, but I haven’t seen him yet. 

The kids were waiting outside and I thought, seeing them, that yeah, Black lives matter, but so does mine and so do theirs and so does the life of my small town, and I can’t help anyone anywhere. “Brighten the corner where you live,” went through my mind. Hawks, people waving, ravens, kids, Bear, clouds and a breeze at 5 o’clock? I’m just lucky. And I’m grateful. And I’m sorry everything is such a mess, but I don’t think I’m making it worse.

We stopped to talk with the kids until the mosquitoes got annoying.

The little boy wants to get up at midnight and “make shapes with the stars.” He likes Orion’s Belt. I said, “I think Orion is up now. It’s easier to see that constellation in winter, but you can see The Big Dipper tonight.”

“What does it look like?”

I couldn’t draw a picture. I showed him where to look relative to a tree on the golf course (north of his house) and explained it looks like a pan. Four stars make the pan and three make the handle. I poked the air to show him where.

“If you find it, you have found the North Star, and if you have found the North Star and you’re lost at sea, you can find your way home again.” Suddenly that struck me as a metaphor.

“Wow. I never knew that much about it before,” he said in wonderment.

How people become — and remain — teachers.

As we left, I said, “It was really nice to see you guys.”

“It was nice to see you, too.”

So Bear and I are home, healed once again by Heaven.

Walk in the Snow with Bear

It remains cold, below freezing, so the snow — though not freshly fallen — still powdery and perfect. I wanted to take the skis out again, but if a person can’t be fair to her dogs, what’s the point of her entire existence? (“Bear, stop putting words in my mouth!”)

Walking in snow a few inches above the ankle is a little difficult, especially when the snow doesn’t compress beneath your foot, but I was totally up to it. It was gloriously beautiful to be back out in the big empty, in the snow, with my big white dog (“I’ve waited a long time Martha!”), beneath the December sky that matches the blue and white of the mountains — the boundary between them marked by the jagged peaks of the Sangre de Cristos reaching into the watercolor-soft blue and white cloudy sky.

Bear likes to lean against me when I’m having a “moment.” I think she knows what’s going on with me. I think she understands perfectly that when I stare off to the horizon that it’s similar to me stopping and waiting as long as she needs to get the entire gist of a message. Sometimes she pulls — her messages seem, often, to carry a sense of urgency (ha ha). This is the biggest challenge. I don’t want to be pulled off balance right now. The messages I get from the sky and the mountains are quiet, reassuring affirmations of my place in the universe.

Bear found hundreds of tracks to, uh, track. Mule deer, certainly, and moose (it seems) as well as a nice patch of fox urine to roll in. She stopped to leave behind a message for her friend the fox should he pass again. My and my friend’s ski tracks rested unmolested. We only walked a mile because my foot is still not 100% and since I want nothing more than to keep skiing, I’m not going to risk anything. And, it happens, skiing is easier than walking.

The scene, this day after the solstice, was right out of John Greenleaf Whittier’s Snowbound, a long meditative poem on winter and my grandfather used to read it to my mom and her sisters and brothers every Christmas. It’s very lovely, evoking all the nostalgia and love of Christmas time, yearning for the past, endless love for those who are now only memories for us, whose stories and lives we carry around in our own lives — for good or ill or both.

The ending of the poem is exactly what I felt today, looking out at the rough snowy line of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the barren trees, the short, December light, my precious Bear leaning against my legs, my feet buried in snow. I felt grateful (again) to be in the San Luis Valley. I thought of the amazing woman I met yesterday at a Christmas concert and the equally amazing woman with whom I went. I looked at my friend’s ski tracks and remembered how much fun we had two days ago. I felt gratitude — again — to all the influences of my life that magically brought me where I am supposed to be.

The traveller owns the grateful sense 
Of sweetness near, he knows not whence, 
And, pausing, takes with forehead bare 
The benediction of the air.

If you’d like to read the whole poem, here it is. Snowbound: A Winter Idyll by John Greenleaf Whittier

Not Just Words

I spent my productive years immersed in language. I taught English as a Second Language and college and university writing and business communication. All this happened in San Diego.

I have also studied languages. I’m pretty proficient in two other than my native language — Spanish and Italian — and I can manage travel in a third, German. I studied Homeric Greek, and I was once fluent enough in Mandarin to live a year in China. Use it or lose it, but I can still tell when the English subtitles in a Chinese movie are off. I prefer the “direct method” or “total immersion” for learning languages, and Rosetta Stone was great for studying German.

I spent a lot of time in discussions about language and arguments (yes!) about what language actually is during the years in which I taught English as a Second Language. My contention — based on my experience — is that language is a tool for communication that doesn’t have to be all that precise in order to work. The contention of my linguistically trained colleagues was that language is grammar.

I think both of us were right, but I still think I’m more right. I had many students who were so intimidated by their mistakes that they wouldn’t even try speaking English out in the real world of hot blond girls, cute surfer guys, margaritas, and the beach — everything they’d come to California FOR. It was sad. The hot blond girls would’ve thought the guys’ accents were sexy and their mistakes would’ve been a way for them to make contact. The cute boys would’ve been enchanted by the “shy” Japanese girls, but never the twain did meet.

Language is not just words between sentient beings. Whenever I go out to langlauf, I meet the snow via the bottoms of my skis. The whole time I’m listening to the snow and feeling it so that I can move through it safely. It’s very expressive. We haven’t had a real snow fall since January, so the snow is also no longer, really, snow. It’s been frozen and melted and packed down and covered with an inch of fresh stuff now and again. It’s been skied on by skiers other than me, skiers with different techniques than mine. So, when I put my skis down and step into them, the first couple of “steps” are a polite introduction, “Hi Snow. How are you?” Quite literally.

So far it has responded with, “Hi Martha! You’re here! Yay!”

Most of all — in any language — is meaning. I thought of that yesterday after my walk with Bear which ended in an exchange right out of a children’s book. There’s a new family in the hood and they have two very cute little kids, around 5 or 6. They’re very friendly with amazing social skills, already adept at the local favorite activity of “visiting.”

I talked to them yesterday on my walk with Bear. It went like this…

“Hi Bear!” they yelled from their yard. Bear and I were walking in the street. The alley is now pure mud.

“She can’t talk,” I said.

“Why?” asked the little girl.

“She’s a dog. Wait. Bear, sit.” Bear sat and I lifted her paw and made her wave. The little girl waved back.

“What are you two doing today?” asked the little boy. 

“We took a walk.” I said. I have a pulled muscle and didn’t want to go to their yard for a visit because it would involve tromping through snow and being pulled by Bear. But… “Do you want to say Hi to Bear?” I asked, hoping they didn’t, but I knew better. The kids jumped up and down. 


So we went to see them. Bear jumped on the fence, happy, but that always startles them. They stood back about 18 inches and we visited about things. The boy had a stick.

“Is Bear the kind of dog that likes to fetch?” he asked. 

“No. She likes to lean on me and visit you and meet people and go for walks. That’s about it.” 

The kids had actually been throwing the stick in their yard and fetching it, pretending they had a dog. 

“We have a kitty,” said the little girl.

“What kind?”

Much inarticulate language coming forward. The little girl has a speech impediment. I nodded seriously, as if I understood. “I had kitty once. He was little, gray and fluffy and he had only half a mustache.” I pointed to my upper lip to show them where Reggie’s mustache had been.

“That’s funny,” said the little girl.

“It was.”

“Our old cat died and some others just went away.”

“Cats do that,” I said philosophically.

“You’re right. They do,” said the little boy.

Then Bear got distracted and I said, “I guess Bear’s done visiting.”

“OK. Bye Bear!” 

“See you next time, guys!” I said, as we walked away.

They waved until they couldn’t see us any more.

A LOT was communicated in those five minutes that was never spoken in words.

Walking Martha

Bear’s Bliss fell last night, so today Bear and I went tracking ungulates on the golf course. Moose, elk and deer.

When it snows, I can SEE what Bear smells. We get to be a team. I see footprints and , where snow has blown against a cottonwood, even urine splashes on trees.

There are a lot of low leaves on the elm and cottonwood trees between the second and fourth holes so we started there. If there had been no tracks, we’d have left the golf course and wandered out into the fields beyond the driving range where, often, we find fox, raccoon and deer tracks and sometimes animals. But we were lucky.

Tracks and tracks and tracks. Rabbit, squirrel, domestic cat and

Moose??? Elk??? Whitetail Deer???

My personal jury is out on that one. I’ve seen moose tracks on the golf course before, but these seemed a little small, though the right shape. Whitetail deer, possibly. They are around here, too.

Bear caught scent after scent. It was nice for me because I could look ahead and see where she was going. When there’s no snow, I might be yanked in a random direction — random to me.

Once we’d exhausted the tracks, and Bear had several chances to roll in the snow, it was time to check messages. On the map that’s the straight line at the bottom, on E. Prospect Avenue, right in front of Monte Vista High School. Many people walk past there with their dogs, and Bear has many messages to collect — and leave.

My dog walks me, and I love it. It’s never a brisk walk, but Bear is a constant reminder to stop and smell the elk urine.

P.S. Yes, my golf course looks like a glue gun

Big(ish) Day

There are so many people now out walking at “our” slough that it’s kind of no fun, especially if Dusty is along. He has to bark at other dogs (which he’d love to play with) and people, especially if he hasn’t met them and he’s on leash. He’s 12. This is not behavior that’s going to change.

A couple of days ago the slough was crowded. We kept going off trail (which I don’t like to do — “off trail” is for animals who have their own trails) so Dusty wouldn’t see people and dogs. I did find a really beautiful game trail with myriad tracks and felt guilty for adding ours. 😦 People can destroy a trail almost as fast as cattle or sheep. Ultimately our trail WOULD intersect with people so I called out to the couple who were just beginning their walk, and were between me and the car, “Do you like dogs?”


I unleashed Dusty who’s super friendly off leash. I said, “He’ll bark, and he’ll charge you, but he’s friendly.” Thank goodness he looks more lab than dobie. He ran barking over to the people who were calm around him and patted him. Then they met Bear. And me. I ended up saying, “Thank you.”

“What for?”

“Oh, being nice to Dusty. It’s hard having to hide him all the time.” The people looked at me like, “Why would you do that?” But I’ve seen Dusty scare people.

Today we got there and we were alone. We hit the little trail (a 1 mile loop) and I hauled ass. I walked that thing in 15 minutes. For the past couple of years, it’s been taking me 34 minutes to walk a mile. The cortisone shot continues to perform its magic. As we were leaving, I saw a young woman with two dogs, both of which we “know.” A golden retriever and an elderly bassett whom we’ve “dog sat” when his male human took off and left him in the shade of the cottonwoods one summer afternoon. We ducked off the main trail and went to the car, Dusty barking madly in recognition but which sounded like blood lust.

As we reached the car, the other people were arriving. The people we met the other day pulled in and, seeing me, waved.

I doubt I will ever completely get used to life here. Honestly, in my California life, that would probably never have happened. The people would probably not have been happy to meet Dusty or to see me a second time.

But the big(ish) news is that the ONLY thing holding me back has been my hip. I am now convinced that it hasn’t been right for a long time, it’s just that last fall it started demanding attention through pain. I’ve walked awkwardly for a while. My walk today showed me that all the work and “training” I’ve done has actually made a pretty strong and fit little old lady, and I HAVE made progress. A 15 minute walking mile is decent, and I’m very happy with it. Sure, it’s not 6 mph (the average speed of my former self) but I’m not running even the slightest bit. For me, walking was always a form of transportation, but 2 miles an hour? That’s just grueling. If you add pain to it, it’s Sisyphean, truly. I did it (and would continue doing it) but it was really as if I were pushing a giant rock (my body) up a mountain through the force of my will and imperfect abilities.

I will begin physical therapy next week and sometime later, in April, I’ll set the date for surgery. I was dreading it, fearful of it, but now I understand all that dread was related to the experiences I had last time AND the demoralization of a couple years of diminishing abilities and increasing pain. We humans are complex little things and can be as inscrutable to ourselves as we are to others.


Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog’s Scientific Method

Bear loves snow and we haven’t gotten any to speak of since October 9. Crazy? Yeah. It’s very dry here in Heaven, so dry that they haven’t covered the greens on the golf course.

In fact, they’re watering the greens.

Yesterday we took a small jaunt out into the gorgeous December light and I saw “drifts” of white stuff where snow should be. I told Bear, “When we come back, I have something nice for you, but right now, let’s GO!!!!”

Walking hurts at first and then gets better. I got a new cane yesterday and I’m eager to “try ‘er out” but the UPS hadn’t come when we took our walk, so I used my old trekking pole. It works fine.

So we walk into the dry pasture that is the driving range and we walked on the dusty dirt road beyond.

We tried to see “our” horses, but tank trucks being stored on the train tracks blocked our view. There’s a big dark bay mare who now comes to her fence to greet us — she’s still almost 1/4 mile away in a fenced pasture across the tracks, but it’s pretty clear to me she’s LIKE to say hello. Dusty and Bear now automatically stop at the Horse Viewing Area and they did yesterday. “Sorry, guys,” I say, peering as hard as my dogs do trying to see through the tank cars.

Bear has steadily checked her messages and some of them seem to have been very interesting and quite long. She left one. I don’t know who for; I don’t know which correspondent merits her pee, but he/she must be something.

We go back a different way and cross the golf course. Earlier, an anarchistic golfer had disobeyed the large sign, “Golf Course Closed. No Play or Practice” and was buzzing around from hole to hole on a golf cart, but now he was gone. We crossed the golf course, past the small grove of tall spruce, and headed toward what I think is hole 6 (don’t know for sure). There in the shade of the small hill below the green — and on the green itself — was something large, white and gleaming in the sun.

“I dunno’, Bear,” I said. “Maybe.” I was hoping it was a little melted, a little slushy. She caught the scent of the ice and moved quickly toward it. She experimented. She started with a theory, “This is snow? Maybe. Maybe not.” She threw herself down on the hard crust. She dug her nose into it, hoping that it was just a crust, and maybe, maybe, maybe? It had happened before, an icy crust like this and then SNOW below.

She took a few bites. No, well, maybe over here… She got up and moved to a sunnier patch. Smart dog. She’s learned a lot about how snow behaves during her short life. She flopped down a bit more gingerly and rolled. It really wasn’t better, maybe a little. She sighed, maybe thinking, “It’s what I have. Better make the best of it.” She dug, rolled, bit the snow, and rolled some more.

When she was finished she came to me and leaned, ice crystals melting quickly on her fur. I am pretty sure she was saying, “Thanks, human. You did the best you could.”

And we went home. Here’s the video 🙂

Dusty’s De-Cloaking Device

It is now hunting season out here in the Wild West, and on our walks, Dusty T. Dog wears his hunting vest. Most of the year, Dusty looks like a moving shadow, but between now and March next year, Dusty will have heightened visibility — day or night. This vest has reflective strips so if we were EVER to go out walking in the dark where there are headlights, Dusty would shine.

He also wears a little LED light on his leash for that purpose. It’s great because it lights up the ground where we’re walking.


It’s been said that Dusty is not the brightest dog on the planet, but I think that depends on the time of year.