Private Idaho

It started out as one of the most eery and quiet July Fourths I’ve experienced.

Several years ago, my town banned fireworks. Didn’t stop many for a while, but seems that there’s been some enforcement in the past few years, so the holiday is typically pretty quiet at my house these days. Even the neighbors with kids, who used to at least have sparklers, don’t do that anymore. I think they actually go out of town now on all major holidays as I never hear or see them during holidays. And the “party house” up the street must have sent the last kid off because even that place has been quiet of late.

The parents must still drink a lot though. I regularly hear the clinking of numerous bottles going into the recycle bin. Or maybe I was wrong all along and it was the parents and not the kids? Hmmmm.

It’s so dry here that I halfway joke about spontaneous combustion. Only halfway. Seriously, I’d be terrified if anyone was shooting off fireworks. My lawn would explode.

I actually like fireworks. The professional kind. I like to “oooh” and “ahhh” with everyone else. In fact, I find synchronized ooohing and ahhhing hysterically funny and soothing all at the same time. Such a shared human experience.

These days though, I make sure I’m home on July Fourth because I have scared dogs.

It all started with Sylvie.

Sylvie was a somewhat nervous dog. For the most part, she didn’t have much reason for fear and in general was a pretty happy girl. Then I moved to SoFla. That’s South Florida. Land of afternoon thunderstorms nearly every summer day. Land of hurricanes and tropical storms. I’m not a big fan of the latter either, and luckily during my time there only experienced a couple of tropical storms and one very weak baby hurricane. In fact, Sylvie was able to catch squirrels for the first time in her life during that hurricane and one tropical storm. I think that turned a potentially negative experience into a miraculously cool one for her. So, interesting scientific fact here, squirrels hydroplane in standing water, making it much more difficult to cut across, say, a lawn and up a tree. That lack of traction enables a fairly fast dog to actually grab ahold of a squirrel and violently shake its body until its neck is broken. That in turn leads the dog, who has been trying to catch a squirrel its entire life up until that point, to drop the dead squirrel in complete disbelief.

Thunderstorms in SoFla are loud and violent. But at least they move out pretty quickly. Didn’t help Sylvie. She started heading for the safest spot in the house – under my clunky huge work desk. Until the end of her life, that spot remained the safest and was her “go to” place whenever anything upset her.

Today, I’m blessed with not one, but two noise-phobic dogs.

Brady has been noise-phobic since I’ve had him and Youke, after careful observation of Brady over the past few years, has figured Brady is on to something and has also decided he too is scared of thunderstorms, fireworks and gunshots. In all truth, Youke has shown a tendency to be sound sensitive since I had him as a puppy, but I did all the right things and cajoled him out of any nervousness. But it was there all along.

Jasmine should’ve been a hunting dog or a police dog. Blowing up shit, either by Mother Nature or by dumbass humans, doesn’t bother her in the least. She’ll get a bit concerned as to why the boys are cowering or want to turn back on a trail, but the concern doesn’t last too long, especially if there’s a critter scent ahead.

Cross my fingers, Camm so far is also nonplussed. She’s a very perceptive dog, so she becomes a bit more distressed over the boys’ fear, but the actual noise itself doesn’t worry her. But, because she’s a border collie, I worry that I’ll soon enough have three noise sensitive dogs.

This July Fourth, I was able to sleep in thanks in large part to a fun match at a friend’s house the day before that I took all four dogs too. It was too hot to do much, but they all got to do some playing around and I got to hang out with nice people. The heat seems to make doing anything more tiring for the dogs, so while it really wasn’t a lot, it was apparently enough to take the edge off for them.

Because I’d done not only to the fun match, but had met up that evening with another friend, I was ready for some Private Idaho time. The agenda called for sipping coffee, reading, doing some writing, intense napping and then maybe taking the dogs out for a bit before the evening festivities started. I wasn’t worried really about fireworks during the day, but the town does a professional show and the location is about 2.5 miles from my house.

JaYoBaCa were all too happy for Private Idaho time. While I read outside for a while, they napped inside. When I brought my book inside, they were all too happy to gather around the couch and nap. All that quiet led to my own nap.

Sometimes the problem with daytime napping is that it gets surreal. I find I often sleep harder during a daytime nap than at night. Maybe it’s the shorter duration and the REM sleep, which often leads to bizarre dreams. Not sure, but I awoke to the kind of intense quiet in which the only sound is that of the sun frying the atmosphere. Seriously, I didn’t even hear any insects buzzing about.

I covet my time alone, but even that kind of quiet was a bit weird.

After I roused myself, I decided the plan of action would be to take the dogs on a walk and then maybe for a swim. My thinking was that after some physical activity, I’d give them some bennies – code name for Benadryl, to help them relax a bit during the fireworks show and to help them sleep afterwards when the occasional dipshit decided to celebrate with a personal firework or two late into the night.

Sometimes, I don’t have the best laid-out plans.

The walk turned out to be a bit stressful. Somehow, in my own Private Idaho where things were quiet and peaceful, I’d forgotten that the rest of the world, even at 7:30 pm, would be likely shooting off celebratory cannon shots in recognition of our rights to freedom and dumbassery. Brady heard one cannon-like shot, got all white-eyed and dropped his ball. Never a good sign when the ball is forgotten. I quickly leashed him up since he was starting to exhibit a wide-eyed stare and desire to head off in a safe direction. Since I couldn’t be assured that we’d agree on which direction was safe, I opted for the leash. Youke kept looking at me and asking if going on a walk was really such a good idea. Camm got worried about her brothers and opted to walk very close to them.

Thus began our funeral walk. I seriously did not know until yesterday just how slowly three dogs could walk. At least Jasmine walked ahead most of the time. The three border collies gathered in formation around me and proceeded to keep my pace as slow as possible, or to trip me. Because clearly walking that slowly doesn’t make you a target for anything. Or maybe it was a preview for 10 years from now.

There was a break thankfully in the slow death march. Youke decided he was really hot and dashed off into a ditch filled with water. Except it wasn’t. It was filled with slimy mud.

I took one look at Youke’s mud-caked body and decided that despite how miserable the outing was turning out to be, I still had to take them swimming.

We proceeded onward, covering roughly two miles in an hour when ordinarily we’d cover that distance in at least half the time, all the while me trying to convince the border collies that we could walk faster. I don’t think my swear words helped with the convincing. The only time we stretched out at a decent pace was when the dogs saw the car. Brady acted as if he’d just met up with a long-lost friend.

The second part of the evening was probably not my brightest idea.

I couldn’t fathom Youke sleeping in my bed with that mud caked to himself and I haven’t replaced my warped and broken hose yet. So off to Lake Sammamish we went.

Somehow, I figured that at 8:45 pm the party would’ve ended and people would be flocking to area fireworks shows and the park would be quiet.

Ah, no.

Dumbstruck, I entered the park and saw a huge crowd. A more sensible person would’ve admitted defeat and headed home.

Instead, I calculated that the dogs would be at least a little tired from the walk and we could head to an area of the park where I was sure they’d be okay to take a swim. But first, we had to navigate the crowd.

My dogs are assholes about walking on leash at the best of times. I freely admit I don’t really work on leash walking as a skill, which makes me a probable asshole. I freely admit I really should. I freely admit the situation is amplified when all four of them are on leash at the same time.

Thus, after clipping on the leashes and untangling them at least five times before I could even walk away from the car, I was dragged by the collective force of four bodies weighing an average of 40 pounds apiece in a random direction.

Know how to look especially not cool? Being dragged about by four panting excited beasts who all want to go off in different directions.

After a few muttered swear words, most involving “fuckers” in some form or another, I managed to collect the dogs into a reasonably collected group and headed for the path that would take us to a secluded spot.

But first we had to face down a pack of pre-teen girls.

The girls were gathered on a bridge we had to cross to get to the path. I saw them as I was untangling the dogs for the 92nd time. They also saw me and the dogs. As pre-teen girls are prone to do, they gathered into a formation themselves and uttered “puppies!”

Clearly, they were ready to assault us with their own oohs and ahhs and outstretched hands, clenching and unclenching in anticipation of petting.

Brady was into this. His eyes lit up and he started getting all wiggly and pulling harder to get to the pack of young humans, ready to immerse himself in their adoration.

Camm, not so much. Young humans, especially high-pitched screaming girls, frighten the crap out of Camm. Camm, when frightened, starts barking, and it’s not a friendly bark.

I asked the girls if we could get by them please. They seemed willing enough at first, although it became apparent some were still going to try to sneak in some petting, But Camm’s barks grew sharper and she started bouncing up and down, which easily persuaded the girls to move aside and let us pass. Brady was very disappointed.

At least we got to the water finally. The trip down the narrow path wasn’t without more untangling, more muttered “fuckers” and more pulling off interesting smells among the weeds.

It was all worth it though when I got out the balls and threw them in the water. Even the fact that across the lake a condo complex was putting on its own fireworks show, didn’t deter JaYoBaCa from their fun. Water and balls trumped fireworks, at least for a while.

After we played for a while and everyone was sopping wet, including me, got all four leashed up again for the walk back down the path. A homeless man who’d been watching us, and the free fireworks shown across the way, commented as the dogs walked by and said hello to him that I’d have tired dogs now. I laughingly replied that was the whole idea and wished him a good evening.

At least on the way back there were no packs of little girls to contend with.

Fed the dogs when we got back and popped them their bennies just before the big show in town started at 10:15-sh. A repeat of Diane Sawyer’s interview with Caitlin Jenner was on and I decided it was as good as anything else on television to turn up a bit loudly to drown out the outside noise while I fixed myself a tuna fish sandwich.

Just another July Fourth in my own Private Idaho.

Dry and Delicate

Nope, this isn’t a post about a feminine hygiene product.

It was 87 degrees Fahrenheit at 3 pm today when I got back with the dogs from an outdoors adventure. And although that in and of itself is absurd for this time of year in the Pacific Northwest, what is more absurd is that today was supposed to be one of the cooler days of the week.

Since the temperatures here actually tend to peak a bit later in the day, I’m sure it was another 90+ degrees. Un-freaking-real. I’ve lived here since 2001 and cannot recall it being this hot, ever, this early. In fact, the local television news stations confirmed tonight that it’s been the hottest June on record, with the average exceeding 78 degrees. That’s pretty wild considering how many Junes I recall shivering and debating about turning on the heat in the house. Just the fact that I watched the 6 pm news tonight is a testament to the heat. Usually I’m out with the dogs doing something. Too motherfucking hot, so instead I laid, very still, on the couch. Of course, it’s actually pretty hard to get cooled down when there’s a dog draped across your legs.

The uber scary thing here right now isn’t really the heat. It’s the dry. Everything is like tinder. Although I really have no lawn to speak of, what grass I do have turned into hay weeks ago. The dogs that like to roll in the grass do their thing enthusiastically as ever, but emerge looking like they just visited Uncle Buck’s Hee Haw Country Zoo. Okay, no such place, but maybe I’ll consider the name for my place given how overrun with stupid bunny rabbits and ground-nesting birds my place is. Even the deer walk casually across my property. It’s like all the critters know I could care less about landscaping and that my dogs are inept hunters.

Today’s adventure involved shade in the woods, with some open stretches of grass in full sunlight. The sunlit stretches actually weren’t bad thanks to a breeze – although that’s also a recipe for disaster when it comes to fires. JaYoBaCa seemed to still think it would be a good idea to play ball on those open stretches. I allowed it a little, but they wisely listened when I informed them that we were “on a break” after a few throws. One of the many phrases they know. Jasmine and Brady immediately cease and desist, but Youke and Camm always come back five seconds later to see if I really meant it. Interestingly, today, no one turned back to question if that’s really what I meant to say.

Luckily, we did find that one of the water holes is still a water hole. A bit more mud, but still the mud to water ratio is decent enough for a cooling swim. Sadly, and I’ll cruelly admit, hysterically, one of the water holes completely dried up. All four dogs raced ahead – because they map out everything and know where all the trendy and cool water places are. I found all four of them standing in a dried out hole in the earth, staring disbelieving at me, as if it was totally my fault that the Pacific Northwest has turned into an Africa-like sub-continent.

We found this though.

June303 Bad picture quality as I only had my not-smart phone on me.

Sometimes in the winter this culvert will have a pool of water in it. Guess the dogs were hoping there’d be water there. Alas, not so much.

Youke seemed to think it did provide some respite from the sun though. It’s hard to be a mostly black dog sometimes.

June302 That’s desperation right there.

Youke then remembered a hidden water hole deep in the brush and soaked himself.

I refer to Youke as my delicate dessert flower. Probably because he’s the only dog I’ve ever raised from a puppy, I worry about him a lot. As in near constantly.

Someone chided me once when we started agility training after he’d passed his first year birthday about treating him as if he was so delicate. After all, I was informed,  his ancestors were bred to work big tough cattle. Okay, I thought, he’s only one-quarter heeler.

Truthfully, Youke is a tough guy. But his body is delicate and breakable. He just doesn’t seem to fully realize that. Sure, if there’s a bear in the woods or a bigger Great Dane-sized dog, he wisely seem to know his own size. But when it comes to tests of endurance or getting to something he really wants, i.e. A BALL, he knows no limits.

I’ve watched as Youke races Brady in what is very clearly some kind of macho man test of who is the faster dog on land and as he races Brady in the water to retrieve a ball. Brady easily beats him on the latter test if he remembers to employ his superman launching skills to get into the water first. Not sure why Youke hasn’t mastered that skill. It’s fascinating that most of the competition seems to be between him and Brady. Clearly a guy thing. But then again, Jasmine is like a mother-big sister-dog god and Camm makes it very clear to anyone that absolutely no one is to even try to beat her at doing anything. The boys pay serious heed to those instructions. Jasmine, sometimes not so much.

Took Youke to the vet yesterday for his annual check-up and to Mr. Bob for a massage. I’m a little, okay, a lot, concerned about him. But then I always am. When Youke is feeling good, his movements are beautiful and fluid. This weekend, despite the higher temperatures, he seemed to feel good and ran fluidly in agility competition. But two weeks ago, he seemed stiff and his leg hitch was back. Mr. Bob had a good point. Youke is now seven and that’s middle age in dog years. Or something like that, because middle age isn’t 40 anymore right? Of course, Youke is following the genetic marvel that is Jasmine.

Jasmine is nearly 12. If she was a human, she’d be that enviable type like Christie Brinkley, rocking a bikini and showing off sculpted abs and a defined, non-sagging butt.

After talking with the vet, seems a preventive anti-inflammatory before a big adventure and a follow up later in the evening might be in order.

Visits to Mr. Bob may too need to become more than the occasional or when it seems like he’s broken. Youke, who’d only seen Mr. Bob one time before in his life, went immediately into the special massage room when we arrived yesterday and plopped himself down on Mr. Bob’s massage mattress. Given that Youke is usually a bit reserved and suspicious of strangers being so intimate with him, it was apparent from his full body stretch, closed eyes and relaxed face that he was enjoying the experience.

Youke seemed fine today, moving beautifully with no stiffness and no hitch in his get-along. I suspect my delicate boy just sometimes suffers for his lack of attention to his limits.

Of course, things like tumbling 20 feet off a narrow bridge ledge into a creek below because he couldn’t keep his balance as proficiently as Jasmine – who had jumped to the top of the bridge like a gazelle and perched on the ledge with perfect and precarious balance – don’t help.

The Best Dog


Why is it that I never see how much white there is on her face until I see a photograph?

I’m not ready to have the discussion with Jasmine yet, but it’s close enough that I do sometimes think that I’ll have to have it sooner than later. I think I had it with Sylvie when she was 12. The discussion varies as much as the dog it’s with, but for Sylvie and I it was a promise to live to 16. She was fairly healthy and it seemed like a pretty simple thing to ask. In return, I asked that she let me know when it was time and when she ready and I’d honor her wish without a fight. It worked out well for both us.

This happened yesterday.


Jasmine earned her third championship title in an agility venue. Since her “registered” name in Canine Performance Events (CPE) is Jasmine K. Vitch, her official title is something like: Jasmine K. Vitch, CT-ATCH 3.

I’m all about a simple catchy name that sounds good when it’s yelled, be that for an emergency recall or as an abrupt warning to ward off the naughty. I abhor fancy breeder type names that are a pretentious 15 syllables or that take up more than two lines. However, I decided many years ago when signing up for CPE registration numbers for competition that I’d play off that dog-fancy crap and play off my dogs’ nicknames.

Jasmine apparently has other fancy titles given the certificates that randomly appear in the mail, but since I don’t really pay much attention to that stuff and never track anything but the basics, I don’t really recall what they are. As you might guess, I also think it’s ridiculous to follow a dog’s name with all the fancy alphabet letters.

It’s not as if the dogs care at all. Although, I suspect Jasmine did kinda enjoy getting to do a silly run around the agility ring with me waving the huge ribbon and carrying a pole (yup, when you win something big you get not only a fabulous pretty-colored ribbon, but a decorated jump pole too). I can’t speak for all dogs, but for Jasmine, I think just running around for no real reason and not being specifically pointed toward an obstacle was reason enough for a celebration.

005 Hard to believe she’s accomplished this three times. While I’m sorta amazed, she’s bored with it already.

004 That black spot is dried blood from a scrape under her eye she got from chasing a critter last week at 1 am on a potty outing. That is much more fun to do than ‘gility.

Which is why this weekend will be Jasmine’s last weekend of official competition. Yup, I’m retiring Jasmine.

I haven’t really made a big deal out of it and I’m not sad about it. At least not really.

I’m a little sad that the end of an era has come and that a change is happening. But I’m very happy with the decision that I’ve made for us both and know that Jasmine will be thrilled. Since the best part of ‘gility for Jasmine has always been visiting with people and bossing around her siblings, she’ll still get to ride along on occasion and keep things in line.

I decided shortly after I started competing in agility with Jasmine that when the time came, I would retire her when she was still on top and still in good condition. Jasmine is now almost 12 and one of the fittest dogs I know. No exaggeration – she’s in better condition now than when she was two years old. A lifetime of playing and chasing critters will do that. And eating good stuff, along with the occasional cupcake.

This is no recrimination on anyone else. When it comes to their dogs, people can be very defensive and righteous. I’m no better.

I just made a decision quite some time ago that I didn’t want to cajole a decrepit dog around an obstacle course. I love that Jasmine obtained her third big title by jumping the same jump height she started with. Jasmine also actually made the decision phenomenally easy by not finding doing dog agility nearly as much fun as I do.

Jasmine has always done agility to humour me.

I think she liked it well enough when we first started out. But probably by the second year of doing it, I ruined it for her.

I first heard about dog agility about 20 years ago. I’d met a woman with a Siberian Husky at a deserted cemetery that served as the de facto dog park at the time in the city I was living in. She admired my recently acquired husky mix Sylvie, and encouraged me to give it a try. I was intrigued, but felt I didn’t have the time to explore a hobby like that, although it stayed in the back of my mind for years. I eventually moved to another city on the eastern seaboard that had a dog park with agility equipment in it. Like any fool with an athletic dog, I encouraged Sylvie to take an a-frame and jump 30 inches high with no thought or training. I think I got her to jump through the tire once, but never again. Probably it being set at something like 40 inches above the ground had something to do with that.

When Jasmine came into my life, I discovered I had a crazy smart athletic dog that needed some kind of outlet for her energy. Obedience work and trick training were fun, but eventually became boring for us both. Enter agility.

I never intended to compete. I suppose many people say this. I enjoyed our weekly classes and the occasional homework and reveled in the fact that Jasmine was the most focused dog in class. I distinctly remember a woman who is now a friend substituting for the usual instructor and asking me why I wasn’t competing with Jasmine and encouraging me to do so. I’ll write another time about that first agility trial, but an addiction was launched that weekend. For me. Jasmine was more of a nervous wreck than I was, something I did not immediately realize and wish now I had. That nervousness and dislike of the pressure so often involved in a performance sport, especially from a stupid new handler, colored agility for her.

Some other time I’ll write about the first year of competition and how I became a textbook case of everything not to do. It’ll be long and wordy and perhaps heartfelt and educational. Jasmine would probably put it more succinctly – the time my human became all weird and pushy and not very much fun.

Eventually, Jasmine and I re-trained and came to a working truce when it came to agility. I learned to laugh and that it is truly a game only and to enjoy those off course moments. Jasmine learned she could just continue being Jasmine.

We’ve had a lot of cool things, funny things and embarrassing things happen along the way. And the entire time, Jasmine humoured or humbled me.

  • Being eliminated for “eliminating” (pooping) in the ring
  • Walking, not running, through weaves
  • Walking a tunnelers course
  • Trotting a tunnelers course countless times before seeing the wisdom of not doing a tunnelers course with Jasmine
  • Watching the look of disdain on Jasmine’s face when I thought doing a hoopers course would be fun for her
  • Watching the look of dismay and disdain on Jasmine’s face upon encountering a barrel in a NADAC course
  • Seeing the look of amazement on Jasmine’s face countless times as I tried to convince her a course went a different way than she thought it must
  • Seeing the look of amazement on a snookers course about a tunnel entry and then the look of pride when she emerged from taking the other entrance because clearly i was being stupid – the judge saw that look too and admitted his course was stupid
  • Going to CPE Nationals and seeing my non-distance dog up until that time get the gamble discrimination that only 30% of the dogs competing got
  • Watching Jasmine very deliberately nail a distance course at the elite level in a trial I substituted her in because her brother was hurt – and it was 90+ degrees outside and she was hot
  • Seeing Jasmine occasionally forget to be slow and deliberate through a course and actually show off that she’s got speed
  • Watching Jasmine sight her favorite people at trials and pull me toward them so she could jump on them and lick them
  • Seeing Jasmine scan a crowd of people at an event, looking for someone she knew or just to make a new friend
  • Seeing the look on Jasmine’s face the first few times she ran a tighter, twistier CPE course and knowing she liked it far more than a flat out speedier NADAC course, especially boring ones comprised of all jumps, or hoops, or tunnels
  • Watching Jasmine’s eyes brighten when she realized I realized I needed to stop making annoying clapping sounds, stop making exhalations of defeat and was doling out the canned food for every single run, no matter what happened
  • Running back to the car after a run and allowing Jasmine to loudly and exuberantly tell Youke how incredibly awesome she was and then to wrestle with him
  • The time Jasmine got her first CT-ATCH and I didn’t even know it until the day after the trial when I added up points

Those are just a few of the many memories I have from Jasmine’s agility career, which was not so much a career as it was a way to train me to be a better human. Thanks Jasmine for being my first agility dog and so much more. You are truly the best dog.


Echoes of Twee

I just don’t understand ground-nesting birds. Small birds face enough hurdles to survival as it is.

I’ve known for the last couple of weeks that there was likely a nest in the yard when Jasmine pounced on something about two weeks ago and a very upset bird began vocalizing profusely. I just figured she’d destroyed it and I silently thanked the stars that I wouldn’t have to rescue another Twiddledee and Twiddledum.* Then this weekend, Youke seemed to uncover something in the same spot. Youke isn’t much of a hunter and quickly left the spot, but Jasmine and Camm nosed right in and scruffed their snouts around in the ground cover for a while. At that point, I realized there was either an old nest there or maybe a nest with eggs in it.

Again, I figured that all that nosiness from the dogs meant the nest and/or any eggs in it was destroyed. I watched closely to see if they’d picked up any eggs and were enjoying a Rocky-style meal, but surprisingly, at least to me, I couldn’t see that they’d found any eggs. So I went back to my assumption that the nest was done, boosted by the angry vocalizations of the bird piping away higher up in the brush.

This morning, Jasmine casually went back to the same spot, but only after doing her usual rounds of the yard. Then she walked away. Youke looked at the spot, but seemed uninterested, as did Brady.

Camm, being the curious little thing that she is, decided to visit it a bit more, which piqued Jasmine’s interest again.

I watched as they both rooted around the spot where I now gathered the nest to be.The birds were vocalizing again, but didn’t seem as upset as a couple of days ago. I stood and watched Jasmine and Camm for a while, again thinking that maybe they were looking for eggs.

Jasmine walked away again. Camm, though, stayed and seemed pretty intent. Still her pawing at the ground seemed gentle with whatever it was she’d found.

Waking up a bit more, I realized maybe there were eggs still in the nest, so I walked over and bent down to take a closer look. I saw what might be a single egg, but it was unbroken despite the dogs.

Camm was still gently pawing about and sticking her nose into the ground.

And I saw it. A gaping, bleating little baby bird mouth. The nest was very much active and there was at least one baby bird in it.

I called my fearless hunters to me and we went to another area of the yard.**

I praised Camm for being so gentle and not harming the baby bird, all the while hoping that was actually true. She started getting all wiggly and then starting hugging me – her signature move. I then asked her if she was proud of herself for making a birdie friend. I guess the answer was yes, because she started zooming about the yard, periodically stopping to hug me with her happy grin on her face.

I really hope the baby bird makes it, but I also hope the mother bird picks a different place next year to nest. I don’t want to be an accessory to murder.

* On Memorial Day weekend of 2010, Jasmine found a bird’s nest in the brush at the back of the yard. Being my one and only fearless hunter, she pounced on it and found four baby birds. One was killed instantly. She tentatively brought me the remainders of the nest. She may be fierce, but she does have a conscience. Being the sap that I am, I was immediately horrified and wondered what I could do. I remembered that we really shouldn’t mess with wildlife and placed the nest back in the brush as best as I could to let the mother deal with it. I then proceeded to check every 30 minutes on the nest. By mid-afternoon, it looked like things were not going well, so I opted to bring the nest inside and try to rescue the baby birds. This is typical. I had zilch for knowledge regarding the care and feeding of baby birds, didn’t even have a clue as to the species except that they were maybe sparrows of some sort, but insist that I have superhuman powers.

A third baby bird died pretty quickly, passing away a few hours later. Two survived. They became Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

At the time I had Jasmine and Youke and Sylvie, my by-then ancient husky mix. Sylvie was disgusted that birds were brought into the house and pretty much ignored them. Sylvie had a lot of rules. They were inconsistent and only she really understood them, but that’s another story for another time. Jasmine and Youke – especially Youke – were incredibly excited about the new housemates. The cat, being a cat, pretended she wasn’t impressed and intrigued.

It became apparent pretty quickly that Tweedledum was what one could call developmentally delayed. I never knew what it was. Perhaps he was harmed somehow when Jasmine discovered the nest. Whatever it was, Tweedledum grew very slowly and didn’t thrive, unlike Tweedledee. Tweedledum survived a week or so. I found his delicate, not-quite-right deceased body one morning when I went to check on the birds. Tweedledee seemed very distraught and was screaming loudly. Or maybe he was just hungry.

By then, Tweedledee, who was thriving, had luxury accommodations in a bird cage I’d purchased especially for him, a stick perch I’d fashioned for him, a little grass nest and other things I thought seemed bird-like. As a singleton, Twee – as that was now his name – got fat and fluffy on his regular meals of what I’d researched a bay sparrow should eat.

Twee hung out in my office with me and got a lot of attention from Youke. Youke was beyond fascinated. If allowed, he’d have stared at Twee for hours on end. As it was, he’d stare so long and intensely that it looked as if his eyes would cross with his nose pressed up within a half-inch of Twee’s abode. He’d get whipped up in a frenzy when Twee would flap around in his cage or when I’d bring Twee out for a visit on my desk. Youke quickly learned Twee’s name and perked up whenever I mentioned the bird’s name.

Twee lived with us for several months. However, a sparrow isn’t meant to be a pet and I figured that as part of Twee’s rehabilitation, he should have outdoors time and hear the song of his people. I also thought he should practice his flying. At first, flying was in the house. The dogs were quite concerned about that, as was the cat. I limited Twee’s flying to the office and then only when the door was closed and no dogs or cats were present.

Eventually, I had Twee mostly outdoors on the deck and left his cage door open. Twee, would flit about, but mostly he stayed close and would either return to his cage or allow me to catch him and bring him in for the night.

By then, it was early July. I have no idea of the time frame for a bird, but it seemed that Twee should soon be finding his way in the world and not be so friendly with dogs that liked to stare at him. I was also growing concerned as it appeared Twee had a bit of a hitch with one of his legs. He could fly fine, but one of his legs seemed a bit deformed. Still, I was determined Twee should be a sparrow.

As the month progressed, Twee took to taking day trips. I’d check on him and would call his name “twee, twee” in my most sparrow-like impersonation. Youke quickly picked up on this and would scan the yard and sky for Twee when I called for him, often leading me right to Twee.

Finally, the day came. I had to let Twee go. I left his cage door open as usual in the morning and checked on him several times as he flitted about on the deck and in the yard, but didn’t insist he come back. That continued for a few days. I’d hear his call – by then I’d honed in on his distinctive voice – and I heard with joy other sparrows with similar voices call. I still left him some food, but he seemed to ignore it. I’d call “twee, twee” and Youke and I would look for him.

It was all very Disney-esque. But I’m not delusional. Within a week I couldn’t track Twee down anymore, despite Youke’s helpfulness. Youke would helpfully point toward a sparrow in a bush when I called, but his questioning look would tell me it wasn’t our Twee.

For months, through the fall and even into the next spring and summer, I’d sometimes go into the yard and call “twee, twee.” I’d get replies from other birds, but never from the actual Twee. There was one moment the following summer when a sparrow perched on one of my rhododendrons and sat there calling to me in what seemed like Twee’s special voice. Was it? I couldn’t be sure.

I want to believe Twee made it, but the realist in me is pretty convinced Twee died in the end. Still, I cling sometimes to that Disney picture in my head. And to this day, Youke still searches the skies when I call “twee, twee.”

** Jasmine is my only true killer. Jasmine’s tally now includes numerous moles and mice, several bunnies, a chipmunk and a pheasant. Keeps missing those pesky squirrels though. I’m not counting the baby bird as that seems to have been more of an accident. Surprisingly though, I’ve been able to easily call Jasmine off a racoon and a couple of possums, as well as a skunk (thank you jesus). I’m pretty sure she thinks she should have been deployed as a bear dog, and deer and elk are a sport. As in it’s super fun to flush them out, but being true to herself, it’s far to much effort to really chase them.

The borderline and border collies though are terrible hunters. Brady appears convinced he’d like to be a big-time hunter, but truthfully, his efforts suck. Not for lack of trying though. Camm just doesn’t have the attention span for any prolonged hunting efforts.

I’ve literally seen bunnies hop right in Youke’s path and he ignores them, or looks to me and seems to ask if he should do anything. He’s mildly interested in squirrels, but seems confused by mice. If I have a ball in my hand, I’m pretty sure a tasty tenderloin steak could drop from the sky and Youke would ignore it.

It’s Five O’Clock. Somewhere.


Youke: I’m hungry. Can you feed me now?

Me: Youke, you’re always hungry.

Youke: I know. But I didn’t get fed this morning and I’m really hungry right now.

Me: Youke, it’s only five o’clock. That’s really kinda early to eat.

Youke: But I did the agility for you today and everything! I’m starving!

Meanwhile, I notice three other hopeful faces listening in and awaiting the outcome of this conversation.

Me: Okay. I guess I can feed you now, even though it’s super early for food. (Big sigh.)

JaYoBaCa race into the kitchen and assume their positions.

I am a horribly mean and stingy human. To make matters worse, my poor dogs don’t even have a set feeding time.

Let me explain this.

Growing up, we never had a set schedule. Eventually, when everyone starting attending school, we had a sort-of schedule. But since myself and the majority of my siblings were “home-schooled,” for many years prior to regular public school attendance, there was no schedule but that of my mother’s own whim. That part in quotation marks and last part of the sentence seem to infer that she was a flake or a bad parent. Neither is true, but that’s a story for another day.

I eventually stumbled upon the knowledge that all of my friends were being fed their suppers between 4 pm and 6 pm, with the preferred time between 4:30 and 5:30. This made sense. For them. It was after all a former mill town and there were still a lot of people that farmed or used to farm. However, this made no sense to my mother, whose preferred time for supper was anywhere between 7 pm and 9 pm. Dinner at 10 pm on a summer night was not unheard of, especially after a fun, adventuresome day at the beach.

My mother was an excellent cook. However, like many with a brilliant gift, there were times when she was creatively constrained or just plain burned out. There were also times when she was nose-deep into a book and had to finish the chapter – or the next five chapters – before she could think about dinner preparation. She was after all trying to feed five, then seven of us. We were lucky. For the most part, we ate extremely well, despite being extremely money-challenged. Still, there were plenty of times where it was soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Because of her marvelous skills, the grilled cheese sandwiches were awesome. Sadly, for many years we advised her we preferred Campbell’s chicken soup over her own homemade soup. I discovered accidentally too after telling a neighbor kid about our sometimes suppers of plain cereal or of eggs, toast and bacon, that it wasn’t exactly traditional among my peers. It was only when I became an adult that I found out one normally has breakfast for a late-night dinner after a night of drunken debauchery. Or if in the proximity of a Denny’s restaurant.

My mother was also fond of sometimes bringing us to the local frozen custard stand and telling us we were going out for dinner.

I see now I was well prepared for life as a single woman.

I have no children to pass along this unfettered way of life to, therefore, I practice this haphazard, some might say, unkind feeding methodology upon my dogs.

I’ve heard the horror stories about dogs waking up their people in order to be fed at 6 am on a weekend morning, or the dogs that don’t understand the strange North American human tradition of time changes in the spring and fall. I know numerous people whose dogs become extremely upset if they’re traveling and have not been fed by a certain time. I’ve vowed not to have those dogs.

And because dogs are not wolves, and are in fact, scavengers, I made the completely cruel decision some time ago that two square a day is not always a necessity. And, guess what prey diet followers? Wolves don’t eat regularly either.

What it really comes down to is that I sometimes lead a rather chaotic life, do not live by a set schedule, am easily bored by a regular routine, rarely eat three regular meals a day and sometimes enjoy ice cream for dinner. Therefore, my dogs don’t have a set time in the mornings or evenings for meals, nor do they always get a certain prescribed amount of of food per meal.

I vary the amount fed by activity level and by judging belly pudge or lack thereof. Really, someone should do that for me.

I rarely feed the dogs the morning of a competition, with the premise being that they’ll be getting umpteen treats throughout the day as rewards for good behavior. In fact, sometimes on competition weekends they receive super special things like meatballs, steak, grilled chicken, jerky, or Jasmine’s personal favorite, canned wet dog food – the more gravy, the better. Depending upon the amount of competition and the in-between runs play activities, they may get a whopping meal that night, or only a half-cup of kibble.

In the summers, when the days are long and we can be out for adventures until 8 pm or later, JaYoBaCa get fed when we get home. Sometimes that’s at 10 pm or much later.

Poor Youke. Despite having such a schedule-dissing human, he insists upon some kind of regularity. The other three are much more free-flowing in their thinking. Or at least they’re not as demanding. Youke can’t tell time, but he knows my tells. He knows that when I go downstairs for the first time in the morning it’s to grind and prepare coffee, so no need for him to rush out of bed. The second time I go downstairs though is to pour water over the beans and since the magical caffeine concoction has to sit for a few minutes, that time can best be served by feeding dogs. The whistle of the kettle used to be a better indicator, but Youke quickly figured out it was the second trip downstairs that was the real tell after the kettle’s whistler broke. So it really doesn’t matter if we’ve arisen at 6 am or 8:30 am. The important part is those trips up and down the stairs. He also knows he and the rest of his tribe get their dollop of cream after I pour my coffee. Since waiting for me to take these actions is annoying for Youke and gets him stressed out with anticipation, he prefers to lounge upstairs on the bed until he hears the refrigerator door open. Once he hears that noise, he races to his chosen spot to be served his special cream dollop. Once that happens, he can relax and resume his intense schedule of lounging.

This weekend was a tad bit stressful for schedule-loving Youke. He only got a half cup of food on Saturday morning. Something about having a stuffed frozen kong later in the morning. He got that, so life was pretty good, and he got to avoid an agility practice. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not nearly as much fun as a ball is or things like swimming and hiking. When I came back in the afternoon with Brady and Camm, he was able to relax for a while on the couch, catching up on some much needed sleep from his heavy activity load with his momentarily unencumbered-by-employment human.

Life was still pretty good when I left in the early evening because he and the rest of the gang all got a stuffed frozen kong. Practically unheard of to get two on one day! But then I didn’t come back home until well after midnight.

I received the usual happy greeting from JaYoBaCa, but after cooing and grinning at me, Youke gave me an imploring look that very clearly communicated he was going to be fed, no matter what time it was. I fulfilled that request, which made everyone else pretty happy too, but it was late, so not the usual dosage.

Then I had the nerve to skip this morning’s breakfast. Youke, remember that part about how you ate super late last night? I’m sure Youke initially thought it was just going to be a late lazy morning, with brunch being served a bit later, but I loaded him up with Brady and Camm for another agility practice. He was pretty happy about getting some cheese and mostly a lot of ball for his efforts. Still, a spotty dude cannot live by ball alone, hence the conversation at 5 pm about being fed.

In Youke’s world, it’s pretty much food o’clock somewhere, all the time.




Although my favorite time of year to hike is in the fall, just when it starts to get cooler and damper in these parts, I do love wandering about in June. Not only are the skies often the bluest they get and clear, but the salmonberries come out.

I love salmonberries. I especially love them right now when they are jewel-like in appearance and dance along the edges of the woods.

I used to hike with, and date, a guy that disliked salmonberries and could never understand my love of them. Guess how that turned out?

So hiking and wandering takes a bit longer this time of year. Too many stops for tasty salmonberries. I can usually tell which ones will taste good, but not always. And I’ve learned from experience to always look them over carefully before popping them in my mouth. Bugs and worms also like salmonberries.

You know who else likes salmonberries? Bears. Bears adore them. It seems I’m pretty much guaranteed a bear sighting in June. Nearly every year for the past eight, I’ve spotted at least one bear during June gorging itself on tasty berries.

Bears aren’t the only critters that enjoy eating salmonberries.


Youke and Camm love them. Jasmine and Brady will eat them too on occasion, but they don’t beg for them like Youke and Camm do.

Those two are like little baby birds. Rushing over, eyes eager with anticipation and instant sits in front of me for a berry. Sometimes it gets downright obnoxious, pushing on the backs of my legs or pleading with extra large eyes just as I’m about to plop an especially ripe and tasty large one into my own mouth. I sorta get the stress parent birds must have over feeding those gaping crying baby birds.

Youke is worse. He literally runs to me if he spots I’ve fallen behind and am in the bushes picking berries. It’s just hard to get a shot of that while trying to both pick a berry, give it to your dog and take a photo. Camm was fairly cooperative though.

It was a beautiful day for a walkabout and berry eating.


Hot Pants

Yeah – so if you thought I’d be posting a picture of me in hot pants – not so much. Those days are over. Unless it’s on a beach where people don’t know me. Although I will freely admit to rocking that look here in the comfort of my own private Idaho, which is comprised of my deck or the back edge of my lawn, and looking pretty damn fine doing it. I know this because I’ve looked at my reflection in the window walking by. I choose to ignore the Buddha belly part.

I actually was hot wearing long pants this weekend where temperatures soared into the mid to upper 80s. Hot as in sweaty. Not hot in an All-That kinda way. However, the alternative of running dog agility in shorts or in the uber more trendy alternative of a skort is not an option for me. That would expose my legs.

If I’m vain about anything, beside my enormous smartassedness that is, it is my legs. That was before I got dogs though. Specifically, that was before I got Brady.

I’ve never cared that I have enormous matching scars on my knees from a pre-laser micro-surgery time where surgeons took great delight in cutting open human flesh, flaying it open to do medieval torture, like putting screws into the growing parts of young pubescent girls, then closing the slices with sutures than could be measured in inches rather than millimeters. And then to repeat much the same, sans the inserting of screws because those had to be then removed, a mere year later due to the rapid growth spurt of the aforementioned pubescent female person. Those scars remind me of dear deceased Dr. Marcotte with his strange pedophilistic admiration of my 12-year old body. However, those scars are exactly the reason why I would not allow Dr. Marcotte and his far more sadistic orthopedic surgeon colleague to perform back surgery on me. I much preferred Dr. Marcotte’s soft admiring eyes goggling my nearly naked teenage body – naturally to monitor the curvature of my spine and to assure it got no worse – a few times a year.

Um, so back to Brady.

Brady is not a tolerant dog.

Many years ago – and I rue the days I said it – I used to say, even out loud and to many people – that I was so very glad I did not have a dog that barked at me when running agility.

The universe has an odd way of working sometimes. It’s called karma and karma is a bitch, beaotches!

Fast forward to training Brady. As Brady’s training progressed, there came a point in time where Brady’s learning curve clearly surpassed my own. In retrospect, he was paying attention to our instructor much better than I was. I guess this makes sense; he’s a border collie and I am only a human.

As Brady’s confidence grew, he began to “correct” me when I made mistakes. In the beginning, he was lenient. A bark here or there, a swerve into me with a bark. Typically, fairly gentle and in practice, only when I made grievous errors.

I can’t properly remember the first time he nipped me during competition. I do remember the first time he drew blood.

Now, before all the pack leaders of this world draw up in horror and start berating me for not being more dominant, please know this happens a lot in agility. We just don’t like to openly talk about it. It’s like a super secret special club you kinda don’t really want to belong to. Therefore, we don’t. We do whisper sometimes. Yes, that’s probably us in the corner conferring quietly as we compare battle wounds and discuss the best techniques to ward off teeth.

And we totally pretend we didn’t see anything happen when it happens to a fellow competitor. Actually, many of us have become very, very good at not only fending off the incoming nip, but also at covering the offense.

I have a personal “Curt Schilling” moment when after some poor handling move I made, Brady came in at me and got in a solid bite (okay, we had moved beyond nips at that point) to my lower calf. Did I flinch? Of course not, I walked off that agility field, head held high, smiling like a beauty queen, my horrid asshole dog prancing at my side (“I showed her not to do that dumbass move again!”), while the blood flowed into my sock. I know this because as soon as I got back to my vehicle and had thrown asshole dog in it, I pulled up my pants leg and hoped I had remembered band-aids.

I dearly love Brady. But he is the most unforgiving instructor. I make a poor handling choice and he runs at me screaming and with mouth wide open. This is why I hear Aerosmith songs in my head at start lines with Brady. Brady is Steven Tyler, minus the spandex.

Brady has made me a much better handler. Still not perfect, but things have improved a lot in the past 18 months. Now we have an agreement that he will be a bit more tolerant of my errors and I will not walk him off the course for being a jerk.

Then I started Camm.

Like Brady, and so unlike the extremely forgiving Jasmine and Youke, Camm isn’t very tolerant of handling mistakes on course. So despite the fact that I think I’m a better handler than I was a few years back, I’m far from perfect and Camm needs information at the speed of light.

Great, I finally get a handle of the need for speedy information to Brady and I get a dog that needs it even faster. It’s just a  lot for a slow human to process.

Unlike Brady, Camm prefers to deliver her punctuation points for my poor choices at my hands or wrists. Until a month ago. A month ago, she delivered her supreme dissatisfaction with something I’d done with a chomp to my leg. Luckily for all concerned, it was while we were working in a practice ring and not during the actual competition. Judges do not look favorably on this kind of behavior. But this time, instead of being horrified that my sweet dog that has nurtured me through the death of my mother and the loss of a job, and chewed the snot out of hundreds of tear-soaked tissues, did this horrible thing, I reacted instantaneously.

I whipped around and faced Camm down, put my finger in her face, grabbed her and marched her, and I do mean march, back to the car. She’s wasn’t thrown in, but there was none of the usually coos and cuddles. I then refused to acknowledge her existence for the next hour. This is a devastating punishment for Camm.

Needless to say, no nasty cheap-shots since and any other attempts to nip have been, well, nipped.

All of which is to say, that although I wore long black pants to run agility this past weekend, I came home with all body parts intact and unmarked.

This still doesn’t mean I’m donning a skort any time soon. For one, is anyone but myself aware that when one bends over to remove the leash from their dog at the start line that there’s often a great deal of southern exposure? Sorry realtors of the world, sometimes southern exposure is not such a good thing.

Um, so this started out as a post about Cammi Pants and how super awesome she is right now. Seems to have ridden off on a bit of a tangent. So if you’re still with me on this ….

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Tiger Mtn


I became acquainted with Tiger Mountain in the first year I moved to Washington State and have had a long enduring love affair, now entering its 15th year. That love has not been without its ups and downs.

I think my first visit was the summer after I’d moved here. I recall my ex and I were looking for something to do and somehow we stumbled across a description of a trail called the bus trial, Back then, there was actually an old decrepit rotting bus just off the trial, hence the name. Not sure if it’s still there as it’s been many years since I walked along that trail. The last time I was there, I don’t recall seeing it.

The second time I can recall going to Tiger Mountain was in the winter, a year after I moved to the area. I think I was taking some vacation time around Christmas and took my husky mix Sylvie to explore. It was that trip that I became hooked. I became a regular with Sylvie, exploring the trails and letting my feet carry me in whatever direction seemed interesting. I became bold and randomly took trails, wondering where they went and eventually discovered how they intersected and looped up with other trails.

To this day, I’ve never looked at a map of the trail system at Tiger Mountain.

Tiger Mountain is where I saw my first bear in the wild, as well as my first cougar. I’ve seen coyotes, raccoons, possums, rats, owls, hawks, deer and various assortments of smaller critters. Notably, Tiger Mountain is also where I first learned that bears possess enormous paws with frighteningly long and powerful claws. I know this because I could not help by notice the bear’s gigantic paws and claws as it ran downhill by me 20 feet from the trail I was ascending with two of my dogs on a lovely mid-June late afternoon several years ago. That got my heart pumping.

I spent a lot of time exploring trails on Tiger when Jasmine was a crazy adolescent and followed suit with Youke as a puppy and as a less crazy adolescent than his sister had been. We hiked the infamous West Tiger 3 trail nearly every year, in heat and in sloppy rain that turned the trail in a slushy chute on the way down. But that trail is too well trekked and becomes especially obnoxious on weekends. So I prefer to wander the lesser, often overlooked routes.

That’s become more and more difficult in the last few years. I noticed more people on the trails around the time I got Brady. Due to his need for space from other dogs, I started going back to the lesser traveled paths, including trails that were so overgrown I had to crawl between brambles and try to secure my footing between puddles of mud and rocks. It was an area where I rarely saw another soul. But then something started happening. A new trail was built to bypass one of the twisty, steep animal tracks I was used to taking. I’d drive to Tiger Mountain with the intent of a short hike, but would see a handful of cars parked where before I’d see none or only one or two.

Eventually, I stopped frequenting Tiger as much. I’d still take an occasional romp usually close to dusk, and there were many times where I was out after dark, but the growing popularity made it not as much fun for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I love that people are into exploring the trails. But I cringed as I saw more trash and as I witnessed rude behavior, among people and their dogs. And, it simply became unpleasant. I freely admit that part of that lack of pleasure was the management that was required regarding my own dogs.

It was also around this time when Brady became seduced by the pleasures of the forest and would take off, only to show up well past my worrying point, panting exuberantly and tail wagging low, as if to say, “What’s wrong? I wasn’t gone that long and it was so fun!”

A hike on Tiger Mountain is also the one and only time Youke became lost. I blame Brady. We were on some lonely trail and I should’ve paid attention to my gut as soon as I saw Jasmine, Youke and Brady furiously air scenting. Suddenly, they were all off. Their usual reliable recalls were of no use and I found myself in a near panic when about 15 minutes later Brady came crashing through the brush to come sitting at my feet, tongue lolling to the side. About five minutes later, Jasmine came up the trail behind me. But where was Youke?

Long story short, and after yelling for him until my voice was hoarse and attempting to find him by turning not only back down the trail we came but also down an alternate trail that looped back up with the original, I headed back to my vehicle with the intent of putting Brady in the jeep and grabbing a flashlight and going back up with Jasmine. However, when I returned to the jeep, there was a slightly panicky Youke, waiting for us and clearly exhausted. I wasn’t crying when I thought he was lost. Panic never does any good in those situations. But I cried with relief when I saw him.

That day made a large impression. Youke may now occasionally charge off into the brush, but he never goes far and gives up the chase within short seconds, eagerly looking for me. Needless to say, I stepped up the recall training and rewarded heartily for some time after that. To this day, I also usually carry the highest reward on earth for three of the dogs – a ball.

Still, despite the many adventures and lovely times, Tiger was no longer a refuge. It was too crowded.

I pretty much abandoned going to Tiger for the past couple of years. The only time I’d go was in the winter, and even then maybe on one of the days that are infamous here in the Pacific Northwest – when the skies are dark grey and the mist is so heavy that it soaks you through within 10 minutes.

But although I left Tiger for a while, I still drove by often, shaking my head at the amount of cars parked on the road, especially on weekends, a clear indicator that the parking lot – not a small one – was full.

Today, I grabbed Jasmine and Youke, determined to explore again a favorite place. I opted to try for the option that is usually less traveled, thinking as well that a recently set-up homeless encampment might be a deterrent for many, despite it being a picture-perfect warm June Friday.

I felt marginally bad striding through the camp with Jasmine and Youke leashed to my sides, but wondering – not for the first time – why they chose there and justifying in my mind that i was far from trespassing as it’s state land and I own a state park pass (which i did not see on any of the vehicles which appear to belong to some of the members of the camp). Once we cleared the camp and where on the trail, I let the dogs off leash and off we went.

It was gorgeous. Sun dappled through the trees. The ferns are huge, lush and very green. The salmonberries are just starting to ripen, but as the area is well-shaded, it’ll be another week or so for them. The trail is well-worn, but due to the time of year, and probably less foot traffic in recent months due to the camp, is hedged in by the grasses and bushes that comprises the undergrowth of the forest. It was also incredibly peaceful. The only sounds were the sometimes jingle of Youke’s dog tag, Jasmine’s panting right on my heels and the occasional sound of my own footsteps. Of course there were birds singing and the gentle rustling of the forest, but that was more like quiet background music.

Both Jaz and Youke followed the trail, sandwiching me between them – Youke in front and Jasmine behind, as is the usual pattern – both of them relaxed and smiling. I don’t know if they felt it – I suspect they did – but it was akin to visiting an old friend. A friend that you know well and can be yourself with and that welcomes you with a smile no matter what your state of mind.

I was glad to be back. The walk today was short as it was more of an exploratory feel, but I vowed that I’ll come back more often to my old friend.



Spent a lovely quiet weekend doing not much of anything. Not doing much of anything is something that I excel at.

Full disclosure though – I did finally vacuum my house. Fuller disclosure – and some may wish to turn away now – I hadn’t vacuumed in about a month. Yes, I do have four dogs. Also, I have a cat. Disgusting, yes? Your wrinkled noise and pursed lips give you away.

During a phone conversation Friday with my youngest sister, I actually made this confession out loud about the lack of vacuuming. It was a surprisingly easy confession to make, mainly because she lives something like 3,000 miles away and could not verbally berate me while also throwing nasty looks my way. Also because it’s not like she ever picked up her room when she lived at home. Lastly, because she’s my little sister and sorta has to keep looking up to me, even as I give her good reasons not to.

Still, she voiced the expected response: “Ewwww!”

Admitted one’s problem is the first step toward fixing it, right?

Therefore, despite it being a lovely warm day, I tackled the vacuuming on Saturday. I won’t go into lengthy details about the over-sized dust bunnies I tackled, the copious amount of dog hair pulled up from the carpeting and furniture or the actual pebbles that got tracked into the house, along with twigs, bits of moss and other sundry organic bits of matter. I will tell you it took two and half vacuum bags. I don’t consider that bad. I fully expected it would take three.

Since that was a large step to take toward self-improvement, I opted to skip on floor scrubbing and bathroom cleansing and move right on to the reading outdoors portion of the day.

Immediately became immersed in a new book. I love that sensation of being drawn into a book within the first few pages. Ideally, I like when I became entangled in a story within the first paragraph or the first page – that is always some fine storytelling, but I’m equally satisfied when the words drawn me in within the first few pages or the first chapter. Always so disheartening when I cannot find a connection while in the first chapter. Sometimes the story may unfold a bit more slowly, but more often than not, if I cannot get drawn in from the start, the book is a dud.

Since this story was quite enchanting, despite the frequent use of French phrases and I don’t speak or read French, I forgot I’d been outside reading for an hour in the sun. JaYoBaCa were not a big help with this either. They were so exhausted from the adventures of late, they seemed perfectly content to just snooze inside. Windows were open in the house and the house stays pretty cool unless we get several days of 85+ degree weather. Perfect for dog napping. Once I realized that I was becoming sunburned, I joined them inside to read some more.

Usually a move to the couch to read turns into a nap for me as well. Not saying this time it didn’t, but because the book is good, it did take another hour or so before that happened. There is something so peaceful about a warm day, insects buzzing and birds peeping outside, a book, and a dog cuddled up against your butt – that would be Youke, the best nap partner, ever – that is conducive to drifting off. Except I dreamt about vampires, killers, bloody corpses and people beating each other up. No doubt the after-effect of the movie I watched the night before.

So when Sunday dawned … okay, I suppose I can argue that 9 am is not exactly dawn.

So when Sunday came around, I opted for a day of completely doing nothing. Again, this was met without a whole lot of protest from JaYoBaCa. I train my dogs well. Be ready to go at a moment’s notice and go all out, but when it’s time to chill, it is time to nap.

I briefly considered all the more ambitious folks out there with their home improvement projects and trips to the big box home improvement stores, and scoffed. My idea of a weekend is NOT doing home improvement and certainly NOT spending money at a big box store.

See, I hate housework (the month between vacuum jobs should be evidence of that) and I’ve never cared about how my house looks. When I was a kid, I’d tell my mother I was going to the barn whenever she told me and my siblings we had to pitch in and help with housework. I’d actually bribe my brothers and take on their barn chores in exchange for them taking on my share of housework. I’d happily muck out every single stall in the barn instead of raising a hand to dust or plug in the vacuum cleaner.

I also don’t care about House Beautiful. As long as I have a roof over my head, appliances and a heating system that work, and a bed (and couch) that is comfortable, I don’t care that my lawn isn’t a picture of manicured perfection instead of a mix of overgrown grass and bare dirt patches, that my deck needs to be re-stained and that my sliding patio door doesn’t slide very well and goes out to a mess of dried up and sometimes too wet dead leaves instead of pretty flower boxes. I don’t really care that my overstuffed chair has stuffing coming out of it from some mysterious and obviously very violent dog attack from two years ago, because throw a cheap fleece-y blanket from Bartell’s Drug Store over it, perch a cat on top of that, and really, would anyone know? Yes, so the pictures that hang on the walls are sometimes askew because sometimes I indulge JaYoBaCa in a indoors game of tug or fetch, but I live here, not anyone that cares about such silly things.

All of this is to say that I cannot imagine wasting time shopping for and doing home improvement. It seems like a big conspiracy started by retailers that start with “H” and “L” during the housing boom. Perhaps it’s conceited on my part, but I refuse to be a lemming.

Instead, on Sunday I read, napped and played with dogs in the overgrown grass and dirt patches that serve as my lawn. Major highlight of the day – playing The Pine Cone Game with Youke. Youke is very fond of making up games and The Pine Cone Game is an old favorite. He finds a pine cone, tosses it to me and I am expected to toss it back to him. He bites the pine cone each time upon its return to him, thus making the pine cone smaller and smaller, less attractive, more slimy and eventually impossible to play with. The game is even better if I toss the pine cone in among other pine cones or in the long grass for Youke to figure out. I’ve never been able to trick him. The game is expected to continue ad infinitum, or until I grow bored and tell him we’re done.

This incredibly stimulating weekend led me to sleep until 10 am Monday. Egads! Even I was a tad embarrassed at that. And what in the world is wrong with the dogs that they would allow that to happen?

Even though I felt like a noodle, I vowed that today called for some kind of physical activity. Of course, it was raining and at least 15 degrees cooler today than over the weekend. Nevertheless, plunged forward without the benefit of coffee and off to the woods and fields we went.

Several hours later, soaking wet, but steaming from the breaks of sun trying to break though the cloud cover, and breathing deeply through my nose the sweet earthy, woodsy fresh air and captaining an invisible ship with my dog-mates in their designated positions across the bow and astern, I realized I wasn’t a limp noodle as much as I was al dente.

Secret Places with Girls


Sometimes it’s nice to take just a dog or two and meander.

Brady had an appointment with Kerry, his groomer, today and Youke is hurt, so took Jasmine and Camm with me to explore trails. Pretty sure Youke did something to his paw, although not clear what it is. Hopefully only a tweak of some sort. Gave him doggy aspirin when we got back from the beach yesterday and some more meds this morning. He seemed actually happy to stay home alone, with a frozen stuffed kong of course. And maybe the rest time worked, because he already was favoring the paw far less when we got home late this afternoon. Looks like rest for him for the next few days, then will reevaluate. It’s possible he stepped on something wrong on any of the various trail explorations and beach trips we’ve taken in the past week or so.

The thing about having four dogs and doing so much with all of them so often is that doing anything with any less than four feels easy. Almost like a vacation.

JaYoBaCa get along very well, but the dynamics are constantly shifting and moods and attitudes change daily. It’s like watching a soap opera on Telemundo. You can grasp the basic content, but the language is spoken so fast and just when you think you’ve figured out that Carlos is Maria’s brother, you find out that he’s her step-brother and that he hates her best friend, the maid Wanda, but Wanda has a secret crush on Roberto, who is married to Maria …. and, well, you get the picture. It can be exhausting.

Yesterday, Jasmine was driving me crazy with her barking and jostling of the others. One would think, at nearly 12 years of age and numerous adventures over the past two weeks, that maybe she’d tone it down a bit. Nope. That’s not Jasmine’s style. Still, she was finally pretty tuckered out last night after three hours at the beach and hikes over the past couple of days, so I figured I’d be taking just Camm today. Wrong. Jasmine raced downstairs to the garage entry, making it pretty clear she intended to be included.

Dropped Brady off and off I went with my girls.

Hiking with the girls is actually very relaxing. It’s like the exuberance of Camm’s youth almost cancels out Jasmine’s sometimes high, frenetic energy. Not sure what it is, but the two girl-dogs get along very well in these situations and are most relaxed with one another.

Today’s plan was to explore this trail I accidentally discovered a few months ago.

I stumbled across the trail in March while exploring a scrappy, rough area I frequent with the dogs. Because until recently I didn’t always have a lot of time to divvy up dogs during the weekdays and frequently like to take all four with me and because I don’t necessarily enjoy constant management concerning mine and others (human and canine), I have a general circumference of places within a reasonable driving distance that I go. Most of these places are not particularly pretty or scenic, but the general public aren’t usually out and about either and it allows me and the dogs to just relax and explore.

Anyway, I accidentally found The Secret Trail while following the dogs as they explored the various paths made by animals. The way to The Secret Trail is completely hidden and more so now since I found it in March. The remarkable thing about The Secret Trail in March was that once I followed the faint markings of an animal path, then up alongside a rock face and pack down the faint animal path, the trial opened up and shone before me like a gem. But that particular day I was out in the early evening and had an hour before dark would descend. Not a good time to explore some unknown trail in parts where I’d seen bears before and cougar scat.

So I filed it away to explore some other day.

Fast forward to today and finally, time to check that secret out.

001 Jasmine leads the way on the faint path made by woodland critters.


This is what the trail looks like in May. Pretty overgrown and barely discernible.

003 Camm thinks exploring new places is great fun.

We entered The Secret Trail. 004 Meandered for a while through the overgrown grass, and then came upon a split onto a more defined road.

006 Which way to go? Chose right, and then realized we’d made a loop back to a spot that I knew well. So, since we’d spent no where near the time I thought we’d spend exploring, opted to go left and onto another trail I’d never had time to explore before.

Clearly, we were being discouraged from checking this out. 008 Jasmine was not to be deterred and neither was I. I’ll confess, I was not as agile though.

Another meander down the trail and found out it also looped up to another trail previously known to us.

Jasmine and Camm were thankful for a water source. 010

So, off we went to another offshoot of a well traveled path. This one also pretty overgrown.

012 But sometimes, trails just dead end. And this one did, despite Jasmine’s and Camm’s best efforts to convince me that there were things to explore beyond that path.


Three hours of exploring later and we headed back.

And no, I can’t tell you where this trail is. It’s a secret.