Tag Archives: Dogs

Tutu and Roger (Special Edition Long Blog)

My name is Roger. I’m two years old. I’m a big, shiny black dog.

P1000895

The last time I hung out for days and days with Tutu I was just a 3 month old pup. Tutu lived in Olalla, Washington then and had a gnarly little beagle pup named Arly, just a month younger than me.

We had some great times, Arly and me, while my humans, the Bride and Groom, vacationed in Hawaii. So much has gone down since then.

I’m, like, a teenager now. I live in Seattle. I know stuff. Like the cat next door, Oscar, smells so good and interesting and my # 1 favorite treat is his poop. I know that the Bride is called Molly and the Groom is called Ben, or sometimes the Captain, and that Tutu is Molly’s mom.

I know that Molly is going to have a pup, and that Ben has been gone for days and days fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska, for salmon, which is my favorite treat of all time.

I’m thinking these things as I lick pork juices from a dish Tutu just set down on the kitchen floor for me. Molly is still at work, but Tutu has been here with me for days and days. Pork juices and ham bits and licking the cookie batter bowl, these are my #1 favorite treats.

All treats are my #1 favorite treats.

*   *   *

Roger lies next to the couch, managing to touch both Molly and me.

My eldest daughter and I navigate hers and Ben’s treks to each other and to this baby, due July 8, right in the middle of the salmon fishing season, with our yellow notepads of to-do lists, our cellphones with the numbers of doulas and doctors, and even a contraction app.

Ben caught a whopping 15,000 pounds of salmon yesterday.

Today is July 4. Fireworks are banned because it’s been so hot and dry, but we can still hear an occasional explosion. We light a blue candle on the mantle for continued good fishing luck. Ben has a great crew who can handle the boat after he leaves, but he’d sure like to make “costs,” which is 70,000 pounds. He is thrilled – since they caught next to nothing up in Naknek at the start of the season, and took a risk boating all the way down to Ugashik (U-gash-ik) (I’m slowly learning the names of these Native Alaskan towns) , which adds precious hours to his return should Molly start labor. They both know Ben probably won’t get here to Seattle for the birth, but both want him to arrive as soon as possible afterward.

“So, Tutu,” Molly says from across our nesting table. “Let’s make a pact.”

Molly has started calling me Tutu, Hawaiian for grandmother. I’ve just lived in Puna, Hawaii a year, but I love it and have no plans to move any time soon. I’m honored to be called Tutu.

“Okay,” I say and pet Roger with my toe.

“Remember yesterday when you asked me if I really wanted to hold off on labor so Ben could get more fishing in?”

“I remember,” I say. “I wanted to know what to really wish for because, to tell you the truth of it, my heart wishes are potent and more often than not come true.”

“And I asked you how the Bearded One was doing on his own for a week now, with his back so recently whacked out?”

“Yes.” Roger licks my toes. I wonder where Molly is going with this.

“Well,” she says, looking straight into my eyes, “this isn’t about either of them, this having a baby, and we should stop asking each other about them.”

“We’re protecting them, imagining wishes to catch more fish or to have me back in Hawaii asap, and both our guys are okay,” I say.

“Yep.”

“How’d you get so smart?” I say and smile. She guffaws and I wipe the dripping sweat from my face, neck, back and chest. It’s record hot and dry out, but these are supercharged, hot flashes of age, the moment in time.

*   *   *

I’m stayin’ on the bed, oh please, let me stay here on this big ‘ol king-sized bed, those pops and bangs and whistles outside are scarin’ me, you hear them, too, don’t you?

“Okay, Roo,” Molly says, and lets me stay. She’s under the covers – I’m not allowed, but it’s too hot anyway.

“Hiiii,” she says, using the voice she uses for Ben. Ben comes to Molly this way every night, I know, because I listen every night, although not always from the bed.

“I’m Hot and Pregnant,” she says, and then she laughs her big laugh, the one I’ve heard come out of Tutu, too. HAHAHAHA! “Nice to meet you, Hungry and Tired,” she says. Then, “Eighteen thousand pounds!”

I wag my bushy black tail. I’d like to stay and lick Molly’s happy face, but it’s my dogly duty to split my time between Molly and Tutu, who sleeps in the guest room across from the stairway. Tutu’s got a crinkly package of dried apricots by her bed and has been known to pop one to me on occasion.

Dried apricots are my #1 favorite treat.

*   *   *

I walk Roger by the church every day, his green plastic doggie poop bag tied to the leash. Molly and Ben live on a boulevard with a wide park down the middle. It used to be a trolley track back in 1913, when most of the houses were built, including Molly and Ben’s. At one end of the boulevard, on the corner, is a classy old brick Presbyterian church with arches and green mosaic inlay, and that’s where Roger and I turn.

So it felt strange to walk down the boulevard to the church on Sunday morning not only because I was going to church for the first time in two decades, but also because Roger wasn’t with me, sniffing the parched grass.

The intern of the Presbyterian minister who baptized Molly years ago is now the minister of this church in Molly’s neighborhood, a lovely coincidence I learned of 2-1/2 years ago when Molly and Ben first moved into this dream neighborhood with sidewalks (at least my dream back in the 1980s).

When I was seventeen and living in Houston, Texas, I became an elder in the Presbyterian Church. I envisioned myself becoming a medical missionary in Alaska,

not a middle school teacher and then a children’s book author in Seattle, Washington, which is what happened. Nor did I imagine that my mother and father (Dad died in 1985) and sister would follow me here and help raise Molly and her two siblings before and after my divorce and remarriage.

This two-week trip – maybe three if the baby doesn’t come by the due date – has been a time trip down a rabbit hole for me, visiting old friends from every decade of the 35 years I lived in the Seattle area.

I wave to Lydia, Molly’s friendly and spry next door neighbor, who is the same age as my mother. 82. Yesterday, Lydia told me that she still has hot flashes. This helps me cope, for some reason.

Roger greets me at the front door, licks the lotion from my legs. I see Molly is still in her favorite spot on the living room couch, exactly where I left her. But now she’s visiting with her younger sister Annie, aka the Nurse, who hops up from Ben’s big leather chair and gives me a hug. She’s stopped by, she says, to see for herself how Molly is doing. Which is that the Braxton Hicks contractions have picked up since Molly mentioned them to Ben last night, and are continuing to get harder. But that can go on for days.

“So how was it?” Molly asks

“I enjoyed it,” I say. “Not a lot of Jesus talk, which was good. Lovely women, a good man singer in the pew behind me, and a poignant communion. Want to hear a cool thing from the sermon?”

Both daughters look at me. Just last week we three attended a Navaho Blessing Way ceremony at Ben’s mother’s house,

where a dozen or so women chanted and recited our individual blessings and gifted Molly symbolic beads and then showered her with rose petals. That was good spirituality, not churchy spirituality, but they indulge me.

Roger looks at me and seems to know I’m setting up a story. He goes to sit next to Ben’s chair.

“So there’s a plane crash and 20 people are stranded in the wilderness, 20 miles from the closest town. The people are given a list of 10 items, 5 of which they can choose to have, but all 20 people have to agree. The items are an ax, a map, a compass, a lighter, a bottle of brandy, and five other things I can’t remember.

“Anyway, the question the people realize they have to answer is,Would you stay, or would you go? Think about it. Would you, along with 19 other people, stay and dig in and wait to be rescued, or would you, with those same 19 people, strike out for the town?”

“Oh my god, Mom,” Annie says. “There are so many other factors.”

“Not in this story,” I say. “The point is that you don’t know what gear you’ll need until you know your project. The sermon was titled, ‘Back to the Beginning.’”

Daughters and dog alike stare at me. “I’d stay,” I say. “I like to dig in.”

Neither daughter commits. The story is unsatisfying to them, I can tell. But Roger comes over and licks my hand.

*  *   *

I would stay with Tutu. I love her, the way she talks, the things she pants about.

*   *   *

Roger always lets me go down the stairs first in the morning, which I appreciate.

P1000894

Molly stays in her room to talk on her phone, her first Monday morning not dressing for work. “Who are these little people, Erin?” I hear, and know she’s talking to her best friend from childhood, whose baby is due next month.

I turn off the front porch light which burns all night –

my off-grid Hawaii electricity mind notices these things, electricity is so expensive back home – and head for the kitchen and a bit of ham from the fridge for Roger.

I make Mango Maui tea and think about the Bearded One. We talk every day. His back is much better, he says, and Tom and our son, His Majesty, are working on new kitchen windows, a tile countertop and a new sink, hoping to finish before I return. He’s surviving quite well on the frozen spaghetti casserole and burritos I left for him. I still can’t completely take in the marvel of living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and calling Seattle any time, or Ben working in Bristol Bay, on the edge of the Bering Sea, talking with Molly from the tiny village of Egegik. Or last night, from his boat, after catching 27,000 pounds in 10 hours.  His new all-time record.

 

Molly has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, Tuesday the 7th, a day before her due date.

The big question this morning is, “Should she let the doctor strip her membranes?” The doctor asked at the appointment last week, and Molly had said no. Even though she is very tired of being pregnant in this bizarre heat. I’ve told her that all three of my babies came the day after a doctor’s appointment, at which this cervical scraping occurred.

When she comes downstairs, we don’t talk about it, though. We talk about the shopping for curtain blackout fabric she wants to do, and I talk about visiting with an old friend who’s coming at 10. And we plan to leave here together tonight for her dad’s 64th birthday party at 6:15. I’m invited, too. It’ll be good to see Bill.

* *   *

It’s the middle of the night and I am dead out at Molly’s feet, my favorite place, when suddenly Molly is talking. “You’re WHAT?!” she says. I creep across the bedspread, smell Ben’s joyful voice.

Molly says, “So why are you coming home?”

Why is she barking? A human mystery. She barks some more, and then gives in. He made more than costs, his goal.

She hangs up and sighs deeply. “Why did I fight him on this, Roger? Am I crazy? He’ll be home tomorrow night.”

I move in closer for the last hours of my last night alone with my favorite person.

*  *   *

It’s 8am and I move Roger and his food and water dish outside to the back porch and meet Molly on the front porch to go to the doctor. She drives and we discuss Ben’s return tonight.

“I fought him hard, Mom,” she says to me as we both watch traffic. “I must sound like such a bitch.”

“You don’t sound like a bitch, and besides, even if you did, you have every reason.”

She smiles a little, and we move on.

I’ve driven the route to the hospital already and know where to park and everything, but I prefer for her to drive. Seattle is a big, fast city.

 

“Where is he now?”

“Hopefully in Egegik.”

“The doctor is going to ask about striping your membranes, you know.”

“I’ll tell her Ben is on the way,” Molly says, furrowing her brow, “but I don’t think I want to hurry the birth. He’s not here, yet.”

Molly has a massage scheduled for this afternoon, and I’m going to cook my brains out. Ham and scalloped potatoes, a rhubarb pie and cookies.

We park in the immense concrete garage on level Alligator. By the time we are waiting in the actual doctor’s office, Molly has tracked Ben down at the fish processing office in Egegik. “Should I let her strip the membranes?”

“What did he say?” I ask when she hangs up.

“Not yet! is what he said.”

So we both shriek with hilarity when the doctor, a young woman who looks a lot like PeeWee Herman, and who both Ben and Molly love, strips them without even asking! “Ouch!” says Molly. “Say hi to Ben for me,” says the doctor.

*   *   *

Ben is home! I lick him all the way home from the airport. Besides salmon, I smell four different boats, a helicopter, and two different airplanes on him. His beard is long and especially tasty.

Molly made him throw his smelly fish shoes into the garbage, not even offering them to me. Tutu has been cooking all day, so I’m a bit full, anyway. Ben eats two plates of ham and scalloped potatoes with ketchup and hot sauce. I lay at his smelly feet. Molly eats a big piece of rhubarb pie and rubs her belly. “It’s tightening up again,” she says. Tutu has saved the cookie bowl for me to lick clean. Life is good.

*   *   *

“Let them sleep all morning,” I whisper to Roger, who is in my room when I wake up. Molly and Ben seem to be sleeping in, their door is closed. Ben doesn’t sleep a lot during fishing season anyway, but he had been up for 36 hours and was running on adrenaline.

I’m making tea when Molly appears in the kitchen. “Good morning!” I say.

“Ben is so tired,” she says.

“He looks great,” I say.

“Yeah,” she agrees, “he could wash his hair and shave, though.”

She starts the coffee pot and then leaves to go sit on the couch and make some phone calls. Roger escorts her.

I putter a few minutes, and then hear Molly calling from the living room. “Mom! I either just peed my pants or my water broke!” She hobbles into the kitchen, laughing and dripping.

“What time is it?” I say and rush to start my log. “8:30am, July 8.”

Molly wipes down her legs with a dish towel. “Oh my god,” she says.

“How do you feel?”

“Fine,” she says. “I slept great.”

She is concerned about wetting the couch, so I follow her into the living room with another dish towel and soak up the two spots. “No biggie,” I say.

“I’m cramping a bit now,” she says and leans on the arm of the couch.

“You’re going to have a baby today!” I say, giddy. I look at Roger who is looking at Molly, who is not noticing him at all.

“I’m going to get Ben up,” she says, and I say, “Okay, 8:40, Ben up. I’m going to write that down.”

The next thing I hear is Molly’s big laugh from upstairs. HAHAHAHA!

“What?” I sing out.

It’s Ben’s happy voice now. “Molly is such a rule follower. It makes sense the baby would come on the due date.”

I love that they are laughing together.

*   *   *

Not even Tutu remembers me. She runs up and down the stairs. Ben is on the phone with special numbers Tutu brings him, and Molly sits on the toilet without shutting the door. I’m not allowed in the bathroom, even though my water bowl is right there by the door. Tutu finally pats me on the head. I feel her nerves. She is sweating.

*   *   *

“It seems to be happening quickly,” Molly says to Ben from the toilet. She tells him she wants to talk with the doula while he washes his hair and shaves, that she doesn’t like seeing his hair so weird.

He says, “I haven’t seen a mirror or a bathroom for a month,” laughs and starts shaving.

Then Molly is talking to the doula. “Eat, rest, take a shower, take a bath.” Molly repeats the doula’s advice, hangs up and starts the contraction app. I watch her double over. Seems like at least a minute to me. When the hard cramp or mild contraction is over, she pushes the stop button.

“Can I get you anything?” I ask from the hallway outside the bathroom. It’s 9:18.

“Rhubarb pie,” she says. “In about half an hour. Downstairs.”

Ben finishes shaving, calls his mom and sister, then checks his computer in his office next to the bathroom. When he returns, he says, “The Chinese stock market crashed this morning. Wall Street just shut down. United Airlines cancelled all flights.” Oh great. Civilization is crashing today. I hope Hawaiian Airlines is still flying.

“It’s only going to get worse,” Molly says from the toilet. I don’t think she heard Ben. It’s 9:46. She gets up and leans over the bathtub now. She punches the start button and groans loudly.

Roger crouches by the stairs. “Come on, Roger Sweetie,” I say, heading downstairs. “Let’s put you outside.”

*   *   *

Here I am in my backyard with a nice big piece of ham in my bowl, which I eat, but my heart’s not really into it. I can still hear Molly groaning through the open bathroom window.

*   *   *

Downstairs, I call the Bearded One, then Bill (who calls everyone on that side of the family), then my sister (who calls our mom and brother). The message: Molly is in labor, the doula has been called. Ben is here leaning over the bathtub with Molly.

I cut a piece of pie and carry it up the stairs.

“She’s throwing up,” Ben says to me from the bathroom, looking concerned. No more need for pie. “Should we go to the hospital now?” he asks.

“I don’t think so,” I say. “Not until the doula gets here, anyway. Molly says she wants to labor at home.” It’s 10:30 and Molly howls through another contraction. Ben hunches next to her and says, “Breathe, baby. Remember, keep breathing.”

“Show me!” Molly cries out. “I don’t understand the words. Show me!”

Ben breathes out loud, in and out, in and out, fast, panting. Molly follows his lead and they ride the wave together.

“Okay,” she says, meaning the contraction is over and he is supposed to push the stop button on the contraction app. He does, but Molly needs to hear that he’s done it. “Tell me!” she cries out.

And he does. Every contraction after that for the next half hour, he faithfully shows and then tells.

I fetch the book with possible laboring positions and Ben helps Molly get into them. Breathing loudly for her as he does.

I run a warm bath and Molly sinks into the water. Then I breathe with her as Ben calls the doula again. He says the contractions are every 3-4 minutes now, and a minute long, but they haven’t been this way for an hour yet. Which is the guideline for heading to the hospital.

First labors are notoriously long, but it’s 11:15 and Ben reminds the doula that Molly has a very high pain tolerance. The doula says she is on her way.

I let the doula in an hour later, she works with Molly on the bed as Molly screams through multiple big contractions, and then at 1:00, Molly lets out a gut-wrenching groan that the doula recognizes as significant. “It’s time to go!” she says.

Ben is more than ready. Molly tells me to put towels on her car seat and get her hospital bag from the stairs. “Where’s Roger?” she says.

“He’s outside,” I say. “He’s fine.”

I can’t remember if I shut the door on the way out, but Ben says never mind, and I put Molly’s bag in the car. Then I just stand there. In the street. Molly is in the car. Ben is going to drive. The doula has already left.

“Get in,” Ben says to me. “Aren’t you coming?”

I draw a blank. Am I going? Somehow my job seems done. And I’m not needed there. The garbage needs to go out tonight, the plants need watering. And Roger. But I do seem to have my purse with me. “Okay,” I say. “Yes. I’m coming, too.”

All the way to the hospital, I breath with Molly. Hard and fast. I think about how Ben and I are a good team.

Ben turns into the hospital drop-off area at 1:15pm and hops out. The doula arrives just before us and is already running to Molly with a wheelchair. I move to the driver’s seat – my job now is to park the car – and I realize, to my horror, that the seat is too far back for me and I can’t find any lever to move it up. Ben and Molly are long gone, and I can’t even reach the car pedals!

I hop out of the car and stand before the line of various uniformed attendants and security people in front of the hospital doors. “Does anyone here know how to move a Subaru seat forward?” I call out.

A couple of men raise their hands, one runs over and finds the secret electronic switch for me, I thank him profusely and drive down and down to level DEER to park.

Sweat drips from my face in the elevator. People smile at me, even suspect who I am, a crazed grandmother trying to find Labor and Delivery.

Molly is on the delivery table, her legs up in the stirrups, six nurses in blue, our doula, and Ben surround her. It’s 1:30 and the woman doctor between Molly’s legs is telling Molly to push. She has been in labor just five hours and she’s completely dilated. The baby is coming.

I stand back where I can see everything and be out of the way. Molly notices me and waves me off to the side. I rush to the head of the bed near Ben, who Molly is hanging onto for dear life.

Ben is supposed to announce first if it is a boy or girl. He forgets, but it doesn’t matter because Molly makes that final terrible, beautiful push, the baby’s head comes out and the rest of the body follows fast and we could all see his little penis as he made his way up to Molly’s chest. 1:57pm.

Like a cooked shrimp, the baby turns from blue to pink as Molly and Ben kiss and kiss. The baby gazes at them. Cyrus is his name, after Molly’s great-grandfather.

Then Molly’s legs begin to shake and a nurse brings her a warm blanket.

Bill arrives. We hug each other and beam at the wonder of being grandparents.

Three hours later, Molly, Ben, and Cyrus are settled in a hospital room, Cyrus tightly swaddled in Ben’s arms. I declare my intent to depart to take care of Roger. The nurse suggests I take Cy’s little blue stocking hat, for Roger to smell.

Molly, Ben and Cy

*   *   *

“Roger,” Tutu says, “come here.”

She sits on the couch with a new toy in her hands. I stay on the floor.

“Molly had a baby boy today,” she says. “His name is Cyrus, and he has sent you this.”

Tutu holds out a cloth for me to sniff. Which I do. I sniff and sniff and the flesh on my nose tingles and drips with the scent. My eyes close and my mouth fills with moisture and I long to taste…

“No, It can’t be licked yet,” she says, “and never eaten. Baby Cy is your boy and he’ll be here tomorrow. In the meantime, you can smell his hat.”

Okay, Tutu. No teeth. Just smelling is good.

*   *   *

Roger sleeps on my bed with me. The next morning we get up together and do all the laundry, clean the bathroom, mop the kitchen floor, and vacuum. I know I’ll go home as scheduled the next day.

As I make Ben and Molly’s bed and fold clothes, I look at the map of Bristol Bay above their dresser. We have a map of the Big Island of Hawaii on our wall at home. The white pineapples are ready now, I think.

After all the work is done, Roger and I go downstairs and look at old photo albums from when Molly was born. Time loops over itself. Finally, at 7pm, they pull up to the house in the Subaru.

Then, Ben is sitting on the couch, in the same spot Molly’s water broke just the day before, with the swaddled Cy. “Roger,” he says, “meet Cy.”

Roger sniffs the baby politely. “Good dog,” says Ben.

Roger looks at me, and I understand. He’ll take it from here, but come back soon.

me, cyrus and roger

Advertisements

Staying Put

We are no longer the only pothole fillers on the road.  Travis the Dump Truck Driver, a new neighbor, used a machine with a heavy blade last weekend, even before the annual road scraping takes place, and fixed the potholes.

IMG_NEW

And then this weekend, the Road Manager and his daughter Susan topped off a few smaller ones further up the road with gravel that Travis delivered.

IMG_NEW

I watch Susan, backlit by the low winter sun.  It’s shining directly in our eyes and casting gigantic shadows behind us on the road.  I’m relieved, even elated.  It registers on my face as tears.

So much has changed here this year.  I started wearing glasses and I changed my last name.  Ruby our Golden Retriever is dead, 58 Cornish meat birds were eaten by weasels, and we lost 4 layers to raccoons.

Beloved neighbors have moved away, even though they still visit.  We see Momma Goose on the road, she who has flown to a new destination —

IMG_NEW

— migrated — and is just picking up her mail.  She hops out of her truck.

“Let me hold that pup!” she says and scoops Arly into her loving arms.  She misses us, and we miss her.  We hug, she promises to stop by soon, and we say good-bye.  Each small change has some ripple effect on anyone nearby.  But we’re not moving.  How do you change in place? I wonder.  Apparently just by staying put. Fifteen-pound Arly yanks me across the road.

IMG_NEW

Our daughter was married in August, and she and our son-in-law and their puppy Roger arrive on Saturday evening and stay the night. There is a fire in the woodstove, we eat leftovers, and the canine cousins, Arly and Roger, chase each other around the couch, wrestling and growling.

IMG_NEW

Roger got into some poop earlier in the holiday weekend, so our son-in-law bathed him in the only thing available, Old Spice body wash. IMG_NEW

I hug Roger and breathe in deeply.  Arly wriggles at my feet.

Arly and Roger 002

I think I’ll take a break from writing this blog for a few weeks.  Raise this pup.  More in the new year.  Love, Christi

IMG_NEW

Batman and Arly

Batman, age 5, has just been scratched on the chin by Arly the puppy and is near tears and speaks only in his tiniest voice.

IMG_NEW

He clings to his mom next to the new deck, even though Arly ran off into the yard.  He and Hansel, age 9, chew their peach fruit leathers as they listen to their sister Gretel, age 7, tell us about her very loose tooth.  Our old neighbors moved six months ago, but happily they still visit.  This time to meet Arly.  They’ve all grown.

“It’s been so long since I lost a tooth,” I say.  “Does it hurt?”

“No.”  Gretel smiles and shows her upper gum with all the tiny baby teeth now widely spread.  The front right is gone, and the left is barely hanging on.

“My father used to tie a string around my loose teeth and yank,” I say, shivering even though the low midday November sun covers the entire new deck.  “Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.”

IMG_NEW

“Oh oh oh,” says Gretel.  “The Castaway!”

Hansel’s big brown eyes light up.  “Oh, yeah!”

“I get to tell it!” says Gretel.

Hansel agrees, but paces the deck.  Even Batman is riveted and hopes desperately that Gretel can tell it right.  I watch as she mentally backs away to get the big picture.

She starts with the point.  “He had a real bad toothache and had to knock it out with a rock and an ice skate from a Fed Ex box!”

IMG_NEW

Hansel is pleased with her delivery, but he knows the story.  It’s a movie, apparently.

“A Fed Ex box?” I say, as lost as the castaway, but reveling in their sheer joy of sharing stories.

Batman says, still in his tiny, puppy-scratched voice, “He’s a Fed Ex Delivery Man.”

Gretel stares at her little brother then continues.  “His plane crashed in the ocean and he went to this island and lived all by himself — ”

IMG_NEW

” — EXCEPT for,” Hansel says, and Gretel tells him that isn’t the main story here, but lets him tell about the Castaway’s sole friend anyway — a salvaged volleyball named Wilson.

At this point Arly runs by with a rotting cornstalk in his mouth.

IMG_NEW

He likes to pull the silk out of the undeveloped ears which I planted too late so they are composting in the garden.

Arly in the corn 007

Arly’s grown an inch since yesterday, I think.  Batman eyes him suspiciously.

I turn to Hansel and Gretel and say, “Last year, you stood out in the corn patch and told us a corny joke.”  This is ancient history to them, but it is their history and it is such a fine joke, they are already laughing.  Batman was there but doesn’t remember.

“I get to tell it!” says Hansel.

Gretel agrees, but has to cover her mouth to keep from butting in.

“Why shouldn’t you tell secrets in a corn field?” says Hansel.  Batman stops chewing, baffled.  “Because the corn has ears!”

IMG_NEW

Everyone laughs, and Arly the beagle puppy prances up to the deck with the cornstalk.  We all remark on his cuteness.  His white fur and black spots and waving tail.  Batman stands tall, a twinkle in his eye, and says the punchline softly, “I like his ears.”

Arly in the corn 003

Beagles Who Need Beagles

Just like that, he swipes the napkin from my lap and races with sheer, urgent joy into the living room, flying like only a 9-week-old Beagle puppy dragster can.

IMG_NEW

The Bearded One and I are eating lunch in the midst of puppy chaos, and the very least of my concerns is a paper napkin — may it occupy him for a minute.  It doesn’t even make the growing list of puppy taboos, aka the Dogma.

“Would you like another?”  The Bearded One graciously hands me the napkin basket and I accept and dab it graciously to my lips, our universal skit of refined civilization out here in the sticks.

IMG_NEW

“Did you hear that?”  Now Arly is at the front door whining which, at this stage of life, could mean that he has to pee or poop.  Like any second.  But didn’t he just have a long, lavish pee outside for which he was lavishly praised?  Our perfect new puppy has pooped in the house every day since I told my daughter he hadn’t yet.

Arly in the living room 002

I put down my soup spoon and herd Arly across our tiny living room, past the pile of shredded napkin, to the back door and easier access to the yard.  I hold open the screen, but it’s raining and he hesitates.

IMG_NEW

“Come on.”  I step outside and circle to the other side of the door, but Arly’s still not buying it.  “Do you have to pee or not?”

“Garfield is yowling,” says the Bearded One from the kitchen table.  “Sounds like he’s upstairs.”

I can see the upstairs balcony deck, which is Garfield’s refuge these days — Arly isn’t allowed upstairs — and Garfield is not there.

“No, he’s not,” I say.  “Is he inside?”

The Bearded One wipes his mouth with his napkin, which is on the table and never in his lap, rises and scales the stairs to check.

IMG_NEW

Finally Arly steps outside and I shut the screen door after him.

“Not here!” the Bearded One shouts down to me from inside, upstairs.

IMG_NEW

“He must be in the cat condo then,” I yell from outside, downstairs.  The cat condo’s what we call the enclosed front porch.

The Bearded One comes back down the stairs to check.

IMG_NEW

From my perspective on the back deck, I see Garfield streak from the front deck and under the house.  “He’s coming around!” I call.  “Gar-field!”  Arly looks at me.  He’s forgotten why he is here and so have I.

I am here, I tell myself, because I want to live my life in the company of animals.  People who play with beagles are the luckiest beagles of all.

Suddenly Garfield climbs up the back stair railing and Arly and I both startle.

Arly and Garfield 004

I open the door and Garfield streaks in ahead of Arly, who barks.  I shut the door and join the Bearded One back at the lunch table, where he is just returning, readjusting the ice packs on his sacral, which was skronked after sleeping downstairs with Arly his first three nights here.

I unfold my new napkin.  Arly approaches, tail wagging.  Ready to go again.

“Ha, fool me once!” I say, and smoothe down my huge new bib.

IMG_NEW

Arly

I park in the short driveway in front of the wire gate at a farmlet much like ours.  It’s 1-1/2 hours southeast of us in the foothills of Mt. Rainier. Which is hidden in clouds as usual. The Bearded One and I are fifteen minutes early to pick up our new puppy.

IMG_NEW

Two tabby cats, the twins of our own Garfield, trot out from the house to meet us.  Yay!  Maybe the new puppy will get along with Garfield.

Soon a young ponytailed woman named Kayla comes out and greets us.  We follow her around to the back of the house where I see the chickens and horse pasture.  And there they are — 3 black, white, gray and brown 8-1/2 week old Beagle puppies, two girls and one boy.  We’re here for the boy, who looks just like he does in the Craigslist ad.

Snoopy on Craigslist

They call him Lucky because his momma, a 5-year-old Beagle who stands nearby, had a difficult delivery and Lucky came by C-Section.  Which was no doubt expensive and why I feel better about paying $350.  It’s a lot of money, but also pretty much normal based on the looking we’ve been doing.

IMG_NEW

I cuddle him against my chest all the way home.  He is a little pudgy because he was eating a lot of his sisters’ food as well as his own. His ears are velvet, his brown eyes impossibly engaging.

We briefly consider keeping the name Lucky, but decide on Arly, after the Bearded One’s paternal grandfather

IMG

who was an Oklahoma farmer and potash miner.

IMG_NEW

At home, we put Arly in the backyard and the goats run up the hill like a mountain lion has leaped the fence.  All five hens are up on their toes and close behind the goats.

IMG_NEW

Garfield is inside, in the kitchen.  We hope this goes well.

Right off, Arly walks toward Garfield and puppy barks a huge hello.  Garfield hisses.  This is just defensive.  He hisses again.  I try to comfort Garfield, but he slinks to the stairs and zips up to the lone refuge of the second bedroom.

Now it’s Monday afternoon and Arly’s fourth day here.  Garfield is not especially pleased with this new critter.  The Bearded One and I sit together in the sun watching Arly race from grass blade to twig to dirt hole to my shoe.

Arly 006

He bunny hops after Ruby’s old Kong ball.  His favorite toy, however, is also Garfield’s, the mouse-on-a-string-on-a-stick that the Bearded One made.  If they both use it, it’ll mingle their scents.

Mouse on a string on a stick 002

I bring Garfield outside to enjoy the sun, and he sits under the house on the lattice wall and sulks warily.  He watches Arly closely.  Sometimes they are only 4 or 5 feet apart.  This is good.  He is sticking around.

*   *   *

“Getting a puppy is like catching the flu,” says the Bearded One, exhausted and sore from three straight nights of “sleeping with” the new pup.  It’s only for the first 3 or 4 days.

IMG_NEW

“I thought you knew puppies,” I say, reminding him of his Alaska stories of raising and training sled dogs.  “Yes,” he says and grins, “I tried to warn you.”  We laugh.  He’s right, though.  I’m the one who wanted the little howler.

Getting a puppy reminds me of how much work babies are.  Everything else goes by the wayside.  I haven’t even marked out the last two days on the calendar.

IMG_NEW

The Bearded One and I are both bone-tired.  Tonight Arly sleeps alone.

*   *   *

Early that evening Arly is passed out beside the Bearded One in the man cave, watching a football game.

Keith and Arly and Seahawks 002

Garfield arises upstairs and stretches a huge cat stretch.  He pointedly catches my eye.  Watch this.  He saunters unconcerned down the stairs and turns into the den.  Light as a feather he leaps up onto the Bearded One’s leg, maybe a foot from Arly.  He stares calmly down at the sleeping pup, turns away oh-so-casually and hops back down to the floor.  Welcome to the farmlet.

Arly on Monday 003

Computer Dogs

The two puppies on the computer screen are both mutts, but Frankie,

Frankie puppy

the Bearded One says, is more of a mutt, which is good.  And even though Buddy

Buddy puppy

is a gorgeous black and white mutt, he may have more Husky and Border Collie in him than our daughter and her new husband really want.  These breeds both need tons of exercise and attention.

IMG_NEW

“She wants to know what ‘Heinz 57’ means,” I say and laugh as I read her response out loud and the Bearded One paces the floor behind me.  This is the first real interest in dogs I’ve seen from him since Ruby died.

“Also the phrase ‘A+ acclimation’ needs explaining.”  The Bearded One is the family dog expert, but he doesn’t ever type and is no fan of computers.  And he uses strange steak sauce metaphors in his advice.

Ruby’s been dead two months now, and we haven’t exactly rushed our way toward getting another dog yet.  Which is kind of surprising to me.  The B.O. is a dog guy, but I’m in more of a hurry to get a puppy than he is.  When we get another dog, it will be mainly his to train as I love dogs but Garfield is my main squeeze.

“Sorry,” he dictates in his lawyer voice, all business as I begin to type the response. “A+ acclimation means they’ve spent time with various humans and other puppies from a very early age.

IMG_NEW

Less growling at strange dogs. Less suspicious nature around strange kids in your house. We only know this about Buddy. It’s not a negative for Frankie, it’s just a positive for Buddy.”

The Bearded One wants to see the pups again before he continues.

Frankie is the Heinz 57, a seven-week-old lab, hound, and Australian Shepard mix.  He’s over in Yakima, a two-and-a-half hour drive, one of a litter of nine pups in a shelter foster home.  Buddy is a bit older, but he is local.  The newlyweds have applied for both puppies.  It’s surprisingly hard to get a good puppy.  They get snatched up instantly.

IMG_NEW

“‘Heinz 57’ means a large number of different breeds have worked their way over four or five generations into this one puppy,” he says.  “This is a big contrast to a pup whose genes contain nothing but one or two particular breeds over the last several decades. Certain breeds are famous for catching certain diseases. ‘Plain old mutts’ are generally more healthy.”

Outside the wind rustles the cedar next to the house and golden needles swirl down, carpeting the deck.

The Bearded One clears his throat.  “Buddy is so gorgeous he could be on a dog food sack,” he says and I type.

IMG_NEW

“Having Husky in his blood is like having Border Collie — actually a bit more challenging. The feet say he’ll be big. I wonder what his current age is?  All my instincts are good on Buddy. That doesn’t mean he’ll be an easy-going grown up.

IMG_NEW

“As per our phone talk, nobody in all of Alaska could tell what Husky pups were going to be desirable as grown-ups. If ‘easy-going’ is a high priority for you, Buddy having both Husky and Border Collie potential is a downside, but the Lab part is famous as a way to breed calm dogs. I like Buddy.

“Frankie is more puzzling to me. The upper jaw and how it fits into the skull are somehow disquieting. It makes me wonder about other breeds’ possible involvement. I like both the lab and the hound in his potential lineage, but there’s not much hound to see if it’s there. Nonetheless, of the two dogs, I’ve a sneaking suspicion this is the one I’d go for. This is a funky dog. The opposite of a pure bred. Where on Earth did such a tiny pup get that beard?”

IMG_NEW

I look closely at the picture of Frankie, and sure enough, he has quite a beard.  This observation makes me laugh, and for the first time, I see a dog twinkle in the Bearded One’s eye as he says, “P.S.  I’m getting all excited about this now.”

*   *   *

They adopted Frankie on Saturday, October 5, and renamed him Roger.

Roger 8 weeks

Ruby Slippers

IMG_NEW

She lies in the woods just 100 feet from the house, under the crook of a young cedar which branches from an old nurse log. I can see her vertebrae she’s so thin.  The lumps on the side of her neck are thick and growing.  Her stomach rumbles very loudly, almost without end.  She woofs out air to clear her lungs.  Everything is going at once.  Besides that, she’s calm and serene and deeply tired.

IMG_NEW

Two days ago Ruby entered this cave, after two weeks of not eating.  Yet still she breathes, and occasionally opens her brown eyes.  She’s an old dog and is dying and we are caring for her, but not trying to rescue her, and it’s hard. Planes rip across the dawn sky.  Coyotes scream in the night.  We visit often to stroke her bony head and rub her ears and paws.

*   *   *

“Where’s Ruby?” the Bearded One and I began to say to each other last week in greeting.  In the high weeds under the plum tree?  Behind the hut in the salal?  Under the house?

The Bearded One knows dogs.  He used to train sled dogs in Alaska, and he has had to put dogs down with a gun.

IMG_NEW

If Ruby shows signs of pain or distress, I’ve asked him — after he offered and after studying the euthanizing options — to take her into our woods just off the nature trail where we’ve already dug her grave next to her brother Jake and shoot her with his gun.  She adores the Bearded One.  He is her person.  This is her home, and there’s no place like it.  He has agreed to this.

But neither of us believes it will come to that.  She is too far gone.  “She’s trying to ride it out,” he tells me, and I get an image of her galloping into the sunset.  In fact, the one thing Ruby seemed to enjoy this last week, before instinct pulled her under the log, was lying in the sun.

IMG_NEW

*   *   *

Our daughter the nurse knows about dying from up close and knows how long it can take.  “She’s dying, but not dying fast enough,” she says.  I laugh at this raw truth and take a breath.  Dying is a process as consuming as marriage or divorce or graduation or any of life’s big transitions.

*   *   *

Saturday we helped our neighbor Brooklyn Man harvest his 53 meat chickens.

IMG_NEW

Weasels killed all of ours, 58 total, in just two hours in broad daylight on June 29, but Brooklyn Man escaped the weasels and he gave us 10 birds as a thank you for helping with the 6 hour harvest.

chix harvest 003

Momma Goose wasn’t there.  She’s in her own empty-nest transition to some new life and, fingers-crossed, a job with her brand new license driving truck.  Maybe a crane.

IMG_NEW

Their son, Jonah, was there, his new golden wedding band twinkling in the sun.  He got married two weeks ago.

Our oldest daughter gets married in two-and-a-half weeks and I have finished the 235 half-pint jars of 4-berry jam she’s giving all the guests.  The Bearded One has about 70 labels to go.

IMG_NEW

He also made the sign holders for the reception out of plum and alder and cedar cross-sections.  Earlier he finished the 9-foot arch under which she’ll take her vows.

*   *   *

My reoccurring college nightmare forever, which thankfully I have just once or twice a year, is the Bearded One refusing to marry me.  I beg and beg and he won’t do it.  And of course I had it last week, on Thursday.  I woke up crying.  Weddings bring it back.

“Will you marry me?” the Bearded One whispers in my ear in the kitchen that afternoon.

Tears spurt from my eyes and drench my eyelashes, then my glasses, then drip down my cheeks onto my lips.  I click my heels together and say “Yes, yes, yes.”  So what if we’re not in Kansas anymore.

IMG_NEW

*   *   *

Ruby died at about 6pm, August 6, 2013.

The Bearded One was with her at 5:30pm.  He held her close and sang her the Dogsology.  He put an ice cube to her parched lips.  We loved her and her litter mate Jake very very much.

 Born 2/23/2001 — Jake died November 17, 2009

IMG

The Dogsology

Ruby starts a nervous rhythmic licking in her bed, which is right next to the couch where I read.  Lick lick lick lick lick, her tongue shoots out like a snake.  Air licks.  Very loud.  She’s a mostly deaf twelve-year-old Golden Retriever and she can’t help starting these tics.  But she can stop.  I just have to catch her eye.

It’s early and she’s nowhere near ready to get up.  She usually stays in bed until the tens, and then when I’m cooking and the Bearded One is reading the newspaper, she peeks out from her bed under the stairs and rises.  It’s the same most every day — a ritual.  Front paws extended, she stretches, then the back legs.  Then she shakes.  “It’s Miss Ruby!” sings out the Bearded One.

But that’s still hours away.  Now she’s in a sleepy trance that I hope I can break without getting up, dang it.  Lick lick lick…

IMG_NEW

“Ruby!” I whisper-hiss, because the Bearded One and His Majesty are still sleeping, and then I start waving.  I know she can’t hear, but I say her name anyway.  I wave wildly.  Sign language is the way in, but her eyes are getting a little cloudy lately and movement really helps get her attention.

Most every morning, after the Bearded One officially greets Ruby, she wags her tail vigorously (she adores the Bearded One) and walks over to the couch where I now sit, and where we congregate for the singing of the ritual morning song.

Good Morning to You!
Good Morning to You!
We’re all in our places
With sun-shiney faces
And this is the waaaaaaaayyy
Ruby starts a new day.
Ahhhhh — MEN.
 
Both the Bearded One and I were raised in Protestant Christian churches where we all sang a prayer song called the Doxology, so, of course, we call this morning ceremony the Dogsology.

IMG_NEW

We pet Ruby vigorously as we sing.  It’s a love fest.

Garfield recognizes a good thing when he sees it and wants in.  He’s usually back in bed by ten, but he gets up and comes running.  It’s very rewarding.

IMG_NEW

His Majesty, our 22-year-old son, he who is building a new back deck, likes to attend as well.  And this past weekend our daughter the nurse was here and she sang along and then said, “You guys are religious!”

The Bearded One and I both laughed at her word choice — we haven’t been any religion for decades and didn’t raise the kids in one.  We’re not religious, we’re just getting older, like Ruby, and appreciate a good ritual.

Ruby has finally spotted my wild waving and, in shock, has momentarily stopped licking.  We are almost there.

I point my index finger at her with authority.  “NO LICKING,” I whisper loudly.  I shake my finger and lead her to focus on my scowling face and register the seriousness of the issue.  I have her attention.  Now to connect it to the licking, or at least break the pattern.

She stares at me.  And licks.  I shake my finger.  She licks again.  And again.

Her huge ears are cocked up and she looks downright precious as she tries to figure it out.

I shake my finger and point at her tongue.  I scowl.  I send the message telepathically — NO LICKING.  YOU ARE DRIVING ME INSANE.

I love this dog.  She isn’t cuddly like her brother Jake was, but she is an endearing collector of gloves and shoes and chunks of wood, all of which she piles up in special spots around the back yard.  This week she carried one of the Bearded One’s flops out of the man cave den, back through the living room in plain sight of us in the kitchen, and out the screen door.  We were howling with laughter.

IMG_NEW

After dinner we found it near the sweet pea teepee, which I just fertilized with fish fertilizer, a smell that could rouse Jake from the grave to dig and roll in.  I’m sure Ruby noticed, but I’m equally sure she resisted the temptation.  She’s old and knows better.  Heck, she even knows she’s not allowed in any garden.  I’ll miss this when she’s gone and we have to train a new dog.

I hope that’s still a couple of years away.

Ruby 001

Dog Man

Living with a dog man for 15 years now, I’ve learned a few things about dog training.  But when two different neighbors called within 24 hours this week for advice — jumping up, digging, submissive peeing, and attacking a cat — they didn’t ask for me.  I don’t have the Bearded One’s gravitas.  Love and fear is the magic mix, and I get lost in a muddle between the two.  The dog man just wants to know the breed and the age.
  
Ruby is a well-trained dog by most reckonings i.e. she can be walked without a leash around other people and other dogs and get a passing grade.
There are no bad dogs, as Barbara Woodhouse used to say, but there are more difficult-to-train breeds.  Huskies and golden retrievers are a world apart.  Still, it’s an authoritarian relationship.  The dog must believe you mean business, that you will go drill sergeant on them if they foul up the maneuvers.  It’s very military.  Think of Sergeant Carter on the old 1960s TV series Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.  Love in formation.  Affection at attention.  Early training is all a game with lots of fun and treats.  Once they know the commands well, though, there’s a protocol.  They don’t have a choice.
 
Here’s what I’ve watched and learned about keeping them trained:
 
  • Say a dog’s name once.  It’s the pause afterward that they hear and it is powerful.  It creates anticipation which is 90% of the game.
  • Do not hit a dog, especially from above.  Only pop them under the chin to get their attention.  Holding their muzzle and compelling close eye contact is also potent.  The idea is never humiliation, but momentary attention.
  • Set the dog up to do the behavior you don’t want and catch them in the act.  Then make a big deal of it.  Race over to them, swell your chest up big and make them look you in the eye.  Make a scene.  This is the part I hate.  A sensitive, beloved visitor who once witnessed a disciplining scene when a dog ignored the “come” command — the Bearded One doesn’t care who is watching him go ballistic with a dog — was aghast and asked if that was really necessary.  Yes, I said sadly.  You must make a fool of yourself.  Intentional theatrics are the whole point; you can do the job once or a hundred times; once is better.  This is for enforcement, not early training.

The set-up works with cats, too. A variation, anyway. The hoop house plastic arrived, and we are contemplating a catastrophe for Garfield so he doesn’t climb and claw the plastic to shreds.

Hoop house plastic delivered: 24 ft x 55 ft, 40 pounds, $150

 
He will for sure if we don’t watch him closely, and when he reaches for it, we’ll guard-dog him with a horrible “iNNNNN!!!” nasal buzz that scares and irritates even me.  The Bearded One invented the sound to keep Garfield from following us on long walks in coyote country.  Works like a charm.
 
We’ll have to rig reminders ever so often.  Like with Ruby and the gardens.  This week I planted the seed potatoes, even though it’s still in the low 30s at night — this has been the coldest first half of April in recorded Puget Sound history — and Ruby loves the bone meal I added to the soil this year.  Potatoes like phosphate for their root development, not so much nitrogen, which is for leaves.

Ruby sniffs the bone meal as I plant the potatoes

The last scene we made with Ruby over the gardens was months ago, so I set up a little fence for a couple of days.  Sticks and flagging.

The reminder fencing around planted potatoes...and back up the hill are the goat barn and chicken coup.

Indiscriminate digging is another problem altogether, and just about unsolvable.  You have to fence-in precious places.  It’s not a problem with Goldens, fortunately.  The set-up technique works for jumping up problems, too, and to some extent attacking cats.  Ruby has had trouble with both in the past, but both of these problems have been solvable.

Submissive peeing is the toughest problem on the neighbors’ list.  It’s usually with one person, and I, unfortunately, have previously been that One with a family dog.  Every time I went to pick the kids up at their father’s house after the divorce, Pepper the Australian Shepard would pee in the entry.  I think Pepper was overwhelmed with confused feeling when he saw me — a dog of divorce — and months of one-on-one, I’m-here-for-you love would theoretically have been the only cure.  It was not to be.  Our younger Twenty Something daughter always had a towel nearby; she adored Pepper.

I will try to make up for all that mopping by taking excellent, loving care of her cat who will be summering here as she works as a nurse at the VA Hospital.  Any advice for welcoming a second kitty into the fold?

Ruby and Garfield

“How old is the dog?” the Bearded One asked the neighbor who called about their Labradoodle jumping up.  The answer, six months, made him laugh, and them relax.  No way could you expect a six-month- old pup to be trained yet, he explained and then added, “It’s a DOG, man!”