Red Dog, Red Dog, Red Dog

Writing every day doesn’t get easier, and to be honest I don’t get around to it when I’m busy, or upset, or tired, or frustrated, or traveling, or distracted, or busy. Some days I try to write and wind up making lists of the things I can hear that are distracting me, and these lists include mowers and trucks and robins and crows and titmice. I had a bad case of writer’s block for about thirty years, so my default is not writing.   
Giving myself a weekly deadline means I have a deadline, so I feel bad when Wednesday slips by and I haven’t posted to this blog. The past few weeks my solution has been to go digging in the archives, and I’ve found a couple of old things I wrote, revised them, and been pleased with the result.
This is a long way of saying I came up dry this week.
Errands in the city meant I had to stay an extra day, too, so instead of having Tuesday to moan and squint and thumb through old writing, I hung out in the city, counted my blisters, ordered take-out, creeped on people on LinkedIn, watched TV, and spent too much time on Twitter. When I got back to the farm, there was no food, so I had to run to the store before riding, and then there was riding, and after that the dogs needed to be walked, and it was looking, as we headed out, like I’d be putting off the moaning and squinting until nightfall, when there was supposed to be a good showing of Perseids.
As I let the dogs out the door to go circumnavigate the property, Schwartz made his usual dash for freedom. Our shorthand for this is to call, “Black dog!” Our red dogs come one, two, red dog, red dog, and then, sometimes, the black cat jogging along, right after. He’s not an outside cat, but he likes to have an adventure. I got the door closed just in time.
Out on the walk it was business as usual: Captain running ahead, and Cherry not taking any more steps than necessary. I take “Your DailyCaptain” pictures and stick them on Instagram fairly often; all I have to do is crouch down with my phone ready and Captain will usually come running for me. Yesterday, Cherry came right away, but Captain was looking at something in the bushes and I had to call him. He came, eventually, and as I snapped away, in the non-optimal light, it seemed something was coming with him.
Cherry (right) is a photo-bomber
It was a buck, with thin, velvety antlers. He really seemed to want to keep chasing Captain.
 

Third Red Dog

I missed young, wild turkeys flying over my head this spring, not because I didn’t have my phone in my hand, but because I stood agog and amazed, watching their fluffy, unfeathered bodies flapping just above my head.  I guess those pictures would have been blurry, too, as most of these turned out to be.  
Changes his mind about joining us

 

Captain: “Come Back!”


“Nope.”

Gomzilla vs. The Captain and Schwartz

Hamster’s Note: This is a story for children and related persons who enjoy stories about cats and dogs and made up monsters. The story includes no cuss words. There are opportunities for listeners to make quiet and loud noise. Readers will find brief fighting (with consequences), but no characters are eaten or killed.

Gomzilla vs. The Captain and Schwartz

Long ago, there were the three Persons of Pewter: Peter Pewter, Petra Pewter, and Persona Pewter. They took their spaceship, the Emptaprys, to the Far Away Planet, and faced a one-eyed dragon.

The Three Persons of Pewter
The one-eyed dragon thought Peter, Petra and Persona looked very crunchy in their pewter armor, and went off to find some marshmallow trees.


But Gomzilla, who lived on the Far Away Planet, and was first cousin to a much larger, more famous and more destructive monster, noticed that no one was guarding the space ship, the Emptaprys. So, she stole it and travelled back to the Planet Earth, where two pets live. The pets are known as The Captain and Schwartz.

Both The Captain (the dog) and Schwartz (the cat) like to take naps, and that is what they were doing when the sky turned red and the spaceship Emptaprys landed nearby. Out from the spaceship lumbered tiny Gomzilla (you can make lumbering noises now).

Now, even though The Captain is a silly dog and sometimes tries to run through screen doors because he didn’t notice they weren’t open, this time he did notice Gomzilla lumbering around the house.
Sniff! Sniff!

As Gomzilla drew closer, The Captain gave her a big sniff (you can make sniffing noises now).  

The Captain likes almost everything and almost everybody, and a small monster with green scales and sharp teeth seemed annoying and a little boring, so he went to sleep without being bothered (you can make snoring noises now).

Gomzilla was surprised that The Captain didn’t want to stay and fight or run away.
But The Captain was not the only pet Gomzilla would meet that day. Gomzilla turned around and there was a fluffy, black beast!
Now, Schwartz knew he was just a cat, but Gomzilla was from a Far Away Planet where there are no cats.

Gomzilla thought Schwartz would be a better beast to sneak up on, so she began to sneak  (you can make sneaking noises now).
Sneak! Sneak!

And, fast as lightning, Schwartz was ready to fight! (If you are careful, you can make fighting noises now, but no actual fighting because you don’t want to miss the end of the story.)
Fight! Fight!

Gomzilla narrowly missed being bitten, and fell over.

She was very far from her home on the Far Away Planet, and fighting with beasts wasn’t very much fun any more. Gomzilla felt sad.

Gomzilla is sad.
Schwartz gave Gomzilla a bandage, and Gomzilla said thank you, and began to feel better.
Sometimes, you need help with a bandage.

And they decided to be friends.



The end




Dog Diarrhea

Cherry would like you to think that she isn’t crate-trained, so she stands and looks at you, fawn-eyed and faux-sad when you put her food dish in her kennel. “Please,” her eyes plead, “Won’t you hold me on your lap, feed me by the spoonful, and let me sleep on your bed?” Captain thinks everything is wonderful, including dinner, dinner in his crate, treats in his crate, going in his crate, jumping on your bed, putting his butt on your pillows, going for a walk outside, eating grass, eating deer manure, lying in the sun, seeing dogs he knows, and meeting dogs he doesn’t know. Ok, I’ll stop. I could bore even the most dog-loving person with the list of what Captain loves.
Now that Cherry’s an old, sugar-faced dog, I sometimes find her in the morning with a single nugget of poo, pressed into her orthopedic pad, and baked firm from her body heat overnight.  I would always rather clean the pad cover than the carpet (or my own bed).
Except for diarrhea, Captain’s more of a barf-in-the kennel type than a mysterious nugget-o-poo dog. There’s a point where the grass must come up, according to Captain’s digestive tract. Diarrhea, when it happens, is infrequent, but memorable. And it appears overnight, as it did last time.

It was a savory smell, like someone was reheating beef stew. It might have been the soup-stock from the roast chicken the night before, back on the stove, but, then again, it wasn’t quite a chicken smell. The way smells carry can be strange and hard to predict; for example, I can smell from upstairs if the door to the basement is ajar, but I’ll miss the acrid evidence of my kids burning toast in the kitchen. Sounds, too, move, or don’t, in ways I can’t totally explain in this house. I can scream for someone upstairs and they won’t hear me at all, but if someone goes pee in the bathroom next to the office, I can hear every drip and drop. When a crow walks across the roof I can hear it, but I can’t hear a car on the driveway.

I came down to find the houseguest already at work; she was officially “working from home,” a moderately amusing concept for me, a chronically underemployed person. Only her dog greeted me and my friend called out, ”Oh, I had to put your dogs back in their kennels. Captain had diarrhea all over his kennel and Cherry’s. I wiped him off, but I had to put them back because I didn’t know what to do.”

Good morning.

I sent my dogs outside to begin the cleanup, and all three dashed out. The guest was new to being allowed off leash and I didn’t want today to be the day she really tested her new freedom, galloping off into the woods forever, but I had a huge mess to deal with.

I stripped the covers off the dog beds and put them in the wash, and put the beds themselves out in the sun. I was already pretty sure I’d gotten diarrhea on my arms. The wire kennels themselves were going to need hosing, so I had to take the pile of stuff that had accumulated on top of the kennels since the last time I had had to do this and put it someplace else. Picture me, in my jammies, chucking packages of wire and zip ties into any available toolbox drawer and throwing a stack of empty boxes into the garage without waiting to see where they landed. Do you have a vision of mania yet?

I dragged the kennels out to the patio only to discover that the hose had been moved from the side of our house to the spigot by the upper horse paddock. There is an ongoing Hose Borrowing War on the property, since a good, unpunctured hose is always in short supply at the horse barn down the hill. I had the choice of moving the hose or moving the kennels, but concluded that the liquefied dog diarrhea water that was going to be coming from the kennels was acceptable on the driveway (where we drive) and not acceptable on the patio (where we eat). So, I moved the kennels one at a time to the driveway, and this was the point where I am pretty sure I got dog diarrhea on my pajama pants. The guest dog bore witness, and correctly surmised that I was not to be messed with, and asked me to please, please let her in the house so she could be with her much-less-deranged owner.

The sprayer nozzle was nowhere to be found—another casualty of the Hose Borrowing War–so I had to do the hosing “I have no nozzle, but I’ve got a thumb” style, which works great for everyone in the world with well-functioning thumb joints. I am not among those with healthy, well-functioning thumb joints. I collected some preliminary data on my materials science research: big, gooey chunks of dog diarrhea are water-soluble, while dried-on smears of dog-diarrhea are more solid than epoxy.

In my growing irritation, I capped my geyser of profanity to call the dogs. They were not coming. What dog would? They probably thought I was ready to kill them.

I went to the door. Last night’s chicken stock was still sitting on the porch; it had been cold last night, but now the sun was warming the pot. I picked it up; I had a new mission! Diarrhea momentarily forgotten, I had soup to rescue. I let myself in.

Captain had been keeping out of reach, but saw his chance to get back inside (where the nice woman was quietly working) and away from the outside (where the other, terrifying woman was cussing and had a hose). He tore into the house, top speed, hitting me in the back of the knees and himself in the head on the soup pot. In the time-expanding magic of a moment of crisis, my mind filled with the image of me tripping and falling, the soup, carcass, pot, limp and overcooked vegetables, and pot lid flying into the house in a wave of savory slime. But I managed to take that soup-saving giant step and regain my footing. The energy of not falling was translated into the mightiest of mighty yells.
Damn that dog! Running into the house, still covered in now-dried, epoxy strong diarrhea. The roar coming from me had the power to stop a bad dog in his tracks, backed by the rage of a lazy housekeeper, not interested in shampooing the fucking rugs, amplified by wet pajama legs from the splash back of the cold hose. There was still dog diarrhea on my arms. It was a fierce, “FUCK!” full voice, the syllable drawn out as long and as loud as I could. And then, both syllables of, “CAPTAIN!”

My houseguest rose quickly and silently from her chair, turning towards me and fumbling her phone. Her eyes were wide. She was on a work call.

Snow Days

The kids looked forward to them like they were more special than Christmas Day, and in all the years we lived in Seattle it seems like we never had more than one or two, but snow days are snow days, eagerly watched for the night before, groaned over when the night’s accumulation only yielded a late start at school. The snow day is not loved by adults, certainly not by anyone who must get to work and can’t just phone it in.
 Snow days for some adults are like fretful days spent at home when a child is sick and a sitter can’t be found. Snow days are when the office building is being fumigated for rats, or when there’s an acquisition rumor, or the boss quits abruptly, or the project is cancelled, but, in any case, all the meetings are rescheduled and no one is getting anything done. Snow days are the whole day taken off work for a teacher conference that lasted twenty unproductive minutes and won’t lead to the kid being one bit happier or more adjusted to the school.
Some people seem to know just what to do on a grown-up snow day. They hit the gym, or the spa, or do some sort of whiskey tasting or a day-long iPhone photography seminar. Or, they get new tires, or clean out the garage, or completely reorganize their sewing room, with enough time leftover to can a dozen jars of bourbon roasted-cranberry relish. Some people live like they’re waiting for a snow day, and they know just how they’ll spend it.
Before it began snowing in earnest (we were awaiting Juno), I took the dogs out for the counterclockwise tour of the property. There was thick ice under the current top layer of snow, and the top layer wasn’t quite deep enough for snowshoes, so I went out in snow boots and took a pole. The dogs went fast; they just don’t mind as much as I do the scrambling and slipping. I fell on my ass, once.
We came upon a dead fox that made me sad. Who kills a fox? A bobcat? Bear? Coyotes? Old age? Lover’s quarrel? Turf war? Was it poisoned by neighbors? Should I freeze it and take it to the vet for an autopsy? We’ve been watching a fox all year. We could see it hunting along the bushes. Crouching, pouncing. The cat liked to watch it. The dogs hated the fox, and barked their angriest intruder alerts when it trotted across the upper field in the late morning sunshine. Was this that fox?
By the morning the storm had come, and we’d been promised as much as two feet of snow. I awoke to the bright whiteness of daylight without sunshine. The snow was falling, hard, but the flakes were tiny, light, and seemed determined to stay in the air and never land. Outside the windows facing east and west the snow flew by, horizontally, soundless. It gave me the impression of motion, the way that snow would look from a speeding car. Except we were in the house, and the house wasn’t whizzing along at 26 mph. The dissonance, the mismatch of perceived motion to sensed stillness made me feel a little sick.
 

Following on snowshoes

Later that day, we timed our walk to catch the end of the day and the falling snow. The young dog took off at a run while I struggled with the straps. I enjoy everything about snowshoeing except putting them on; I’m beginning to think I should strap my snow boots into them and leave them strapped in. Out on the property, I have to walk behind my husband, and he is faster and fitter and has longer legs. The old dog will follow closely behind me in the snow if I’m alone, but with my husband here she fills the space between us.
Towards the end of my parents’ marriage they took a last trip to Europe. My mother came back with a week’s worth of Kodak Ektachrome slides mostly featuring my father from about 30 feet behind; she couldn’t keep up and he wouldn’t wait. In a few years, my father moved on to a new career, and a new wife and kid. My mother moved on to a new career, and a new husband and step-kids. While I follow my husband I wonder what he is moving on to. I stop him and ask him to slow down. He is happy to. The dog gallops off to join the other dog.
We passed the dead fox. It was a simple lump, covered completely in snow. The dogs quietly sniffed it again, and moved on.

A letter to the mouse that died in my kitchen last night

Dear Mouse,
You’ve probably been living in the basement your whole life, and today wasn’t even too cold. The cat, Schwartz, was feeling lively and caught you. I didn’t even know about you until I heard your peeps and squeaks by the back door.  Were you injured at that point, or just protesting?
Anyway, my first error was calling the dogs. It was an impulse. They found you with Schwartz and started the mad chase into the bathroom and around the toilet. That was me, the one screaming. Why I screamed I can’t say. I had pet rodents as a kid: mice, a hamster, a gerbil, a rat. I picked them up and carried them around. They were my pets. Sometimes they got loose and I had to catch them and put them back. I didn’t scream then. I must have been a better person then, somehow. Well, it wasn’t a little screaming. Sorry about the screaming.
Captain was the next one to pick you up and carry you around. He was the one who got you wet, I think. But when I shouted at him he dropped you and then Cherry snatched you up. She isn’t the quickest dog in the house, owing to her age, but tonight she was the deadliest.
You died quickly, mouse, and Cherry guarded you for a long time. She was very proud of what she’d done, and wouldn’t let anyone look at you or smell you or take you. She didn’t seem interested in eating you, which I would have let her do as the one who did the deed. Somehow, to my mind that seemed fair. Cherry appeared a little confused by the situation. Instinct ruled when she caught you and when she dispatched you, but after that she wasn’t sure. She growled at Schwartz, even, and she never growls at Schwartz.
There was no question of burying you since it’s nothing but ice outside right now. Maybe we could have left you out for the coyotes or the foxes, but where should one leave such an offering? Alas, you went into the trash.
You left a family behind, I’m sure. Schwartz is down there waiting for the next one of you. This is how it is with cats and mice. He keeps his cool, crouching quietly behind the boxes. He knows your habits, and makes a plan. Y’all don’t live very long, do you, mice? Between the hardships of weather and finding food, and then the cat or the foxes and hawks outside, life for you must be harsh and brief. I haven’t had it easy lately either, what with all the injustice in the world.  But I have a warm house, and food, and with any luck I shouldn’t have to watch predators capture and eat my children.

Did you leave behind hopes and dreams, unfulfilled? Will your family sigh over your promises unkept? Are they dividing your possessions as I write this, or do they not yet know? Will they be left wondering whatever happened to you? Maybe they heard the screams. I’m still sorry about the screams.

Vizsla, with mouse

Dear Dogs, or, Why I Forgot to Feed You This Morning,

I got up and got going, you know, feeling ready to tackle the problem that had emerged last night, but when I let you out and found the driveway impassably icy, I got sidetracked. I know I don’t need to tell you how I felt about it because you know everything about how everyone feels, including the cat, even though you might never have the first clue about why anyone feels the way they do. You knew I was worried, and my concern was about getting down the driveway today, given the ice and the scary trip I had doing it yesterday. I got on the phone and spoke to three or four people, trying to figure out what was the best way to proceed, given the sanding that was already done yesterday.
So, then, I got busy figuring out if a dinner could be made with the ingredients in the house. We have had leftovers at least three of the last four nights and though you eat the same thing at every meal, you know I can’t do that. I unearthed a forgotten bag of stew meet in the freezer and just enough carrots in the fridge, and embarked upon the making of beef stew for beef pot pie. I fed the sourdough and stole some to start the sourdough biscuit and also started a bit of fresh soup stock from the bones I also found in the deep freeze. You know how I like to cook when I’m worried! 

Next, I went to moan over the problem that emerged last night: my sewing machine. It had stopped working so suddenly, causing all that evening’s woe and heartache and anger. I retraced my mental checklist of threading and settings and power-cord possibilities and found this morning that, lo, and behold! I had overlooked something when the machine stopped sewing last night, and it was a simple cord, unplugged, dangling impishly near but not in the socket where it should have been plugged. And, so, after returning the phone calls and texts about the driveway and the continuing some steps of the cooking process and eating my breakfast, of course, and then being able to finish not only the sewing project I had been working on when I was interrupted yesterday but also to get that much closer to finishing the audiobook I’m close to the end of, I got distracted.
Dogs on snow

The walk was pretty good, wasn’t it? With the property quiet and no one else around, we made the perimeter in record time, counter-clockwise, which is my favorite way to go, and yours. When I sat down at the end to look at the fuzzy buds on the tree and generally take in a mild moment of winter, it wasn’t because I was upset or even pensive, it was an impulse, it is ten degrees warmer today than it’s been in a while, but I guess I don’t have to tell you that either.
Anyway, when I got back in and took off my mittens and your jackets and my hat and scarf and boots and jacket and hung up your leashes and put the mittens and scarf and hat back in the basket and changed out of my long underwear and waterproof pants and put on my corduroys and realized your kennels were still standing open with your food bowls on top, it was then that I realized you hadn’t gotten any breakfast at all, even though it was already three o’clock.
So, I would like to apologize for being distracted and pre-occupied, about the kind of  stupid people-problems that go way beyond icy driveways and ,“do we have a dinner plan?” and into, “what are we doing with our life?” and, “how the Sam Hell did we end up here?!” and, “what are we going to do about that?!”
I love you, dogs. You are good dogs, and mostly obedient, and you’ve done nothing to deserve having to wait so many hours for your breakfast. Dinner will be soon, and you may not even want it, now that your tummies are full.
You could come and whine at me, next time, if I forget. That would be ok.
P.S. I finished the book and it was very good in the end, even if it had that sort of modern dissipating-smoke ending rather than an aha!-ending. It was a fine book.

P.P.S. Would you look at that? Here comes the sun.

Tracks

Two dogs, one chair
When The Graduate visits, the dogs greet him like they were waiting specifically for him since he was last at the farm. Maybe it was a week and maybe it was a month, but they bark and leap and lick and wiggle. When he is getting ready to leave, they watch him pack, their brows furrowed, their ears drooping down the back of their necks, their bodies curled into impossible knots of worry, their long legs sticking out at strange angles as they both try to be on the same wingback chair. They know.
After a year and a half of living at the farm, the dogs know the property. They know where the fox lives, where the latest deer carcass is, where the best corners for marking their territory are. I usually walk them in the afternoon, when it’s warmest. We walk the perimeter, a just-under-three kilometer route, with a hill. I take leashes, just in case, but generally let my dogs run ahead so they can be dogs.
We got snow last week, and then a day of rain followed by some cold nights.  The snow is no longer fresh, and it has an inch-thick frozen crust. Anywhere we have walked, our old tracks are icy from the compression.
Some days, we go counterclockwise, up the hill and then down, and around and up again. Other days, we go clockwise, down the hill and across and up and then down a ways. If the timing is right, I pick clockwise hoping to catch the beginning of sunset at the top of the hill. Dogs don’t care about sunsets.
Cherry is 12 now, and quite white in the face but still willing and interested in running. The icy snow has made it painful for her starting out some days this week; she seems to tiptoe around, her four feet clenched into teeny tiny paw-fists, her steps short and her back roached. She once stopped to complain, and I told her that her feet would be numb soon enough, and I was right.  She galloped ahead of me once she forgot to be upset about her cold paws. We are only ever out for a half an hour, an hour at the most. I make them wear jackets below 40F, and two layers below 20F. I am aware that she could wear boots, but if I buy dog boots I have to make the dog accept wearing dog boots.  Snow is temporary.
So we tough it out, and Cherry copes, staying on top of the snow and leaving only the tightest little prints in the surface of the unbroken snow.
Captain gallops along, full-throttle, his feet spread out wide. Those paws are webbed, for swimming, and make excellent snowshoes, and he’s so relaxed and happy outdoors that he slaps along the cold snow like it’s the best thing to run on. He loves to run on grass, too, of course, and on pavement, as well. He runs uphill and down, through the woods and over the trails, down the marked paths and the unmarked, diving into the bushes and emerging covered in ticks in all seasons except this one. Sometimes I find thorns stuck in him. He is so happy to be running outside, he just doesn’t care.
I pick my path with care. I stick mostly to the path of the day before, putting my steps not into the footsteps of yesterday because they don’t fit, end to end, or front to back. I’m constantly trying not to fall, looking for the best route, but I trust what I did yesterday; I didn’t fall yesterday, I can walk that path today. I fit my feet in the spaces between my tracks from before. Cherry picks her way around. In the iciest patches she walks behind me, in my footprints. Captain’s footfalls leave holes and after a day are great frozen paw prints, sunk down in the snow, like a marker of his impact. His prints are much bigger than his paws ever appear to be. He runs ahead and around and has to be called back.
The snow should all be gone tomorrow. We are expecting a front with warmer temperatures and lots of rain. There will be mud. Perhaps more snow will come again in another week.

Today, I had a Facebook message from an old friend who’d emailed last week and not heard back. My oldest friends use my oldest email, and I never remember to check it. It is always so full of junk (here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here), I avoid it. If she hadn’t used Facebook, I might not have known for another month. It’s not that I’m hiding; I’m just retracing my steps.