Nothing rhymes with orange.

Hunting season opened this weekend.

My view on hunting, like my opinion of organized religion, has changed mightily over the years.   It’s not that I’m a strict vegetarian who shuns the consumption of meat.  Or that I think hunting is barbaric.  Rather, it’s the callous entitlement permeating the ranks of hunters that has me dreading the season.

I don’t have it in me to kill an animal.  I could never take aim at a living creature and purposefully pull the trigger.  But I don’t begrudge others the right to do so.  In fact, the man who shares my bed has hunted his entire life.  He fills our freezer with deer, and when he’s lucky elk, each year.  I don’t hunt with him now, but I did when we were dating.  I’d bundle up and head with him into dark and frigid November mornings.   Moving slowly and quietly, we traversed the Montana backcountry – his eyes scanning hillsides and draws for ungulates, my lips silently praying that we would not encounter an animal.  He cradled his rifle; I carried my lunch.

Then as now, I cheered for the underdog and in my mind, innocent and unarmed animals count as such.  Yet I knew, as we silently stepped over fallen logs and skirted rotten stumps, that if a shot promised to be true, this man would not hesitate.  He would kill the deer or the elk, and as he reveled in his success, I would surely cry.  I would avert my eyes from the kill, struggle for control, and then blink through the tears I knew I would be unable to stop.  My shoulders would heave, my nose would drip and my heart would crack into a million shards of hurt.   

Witnessing an animal in pain produces in me a pathos that squeezes my soul so tightly that the only salve offering a hint of relief is the passage of time.  Lots of time.

My pre-marriage hunting forays were uneventful.  Nothing was killed.  The underdog won, the man complained about his empty freezer and I ate my lunch.

We live, now, in the middle of prime hunting country.  Throughout the year, I’m lucky to see big game critters out my kitchen window.  We often cross paths with elk and moose as we hike the hills and cycle the old logging roads.  I’ve learned to recognize the musty smell of large game animals and to identify scat.  Rainy days promise fresh prints, a discernable sign of those who share their rural enclave with us.

So it is a feeling of resigned dread that precedes hunting season.  The invasion of the orange-clad is inevitable.  While I welcome the handful of ethical hunters, those who respect the land and its inhabitants and who will take a shot only when they know it will be true, I’ve seen too many who embody the other end of the spectrum.  These people will invade this rural valley.  They will trespass on private land, toss beer cans along logging roads, squat and leave their mess unburied, dump carcass waste near neighbors’ homes, and take ignorant shots, wounding animals who will wander off, untracked, to suffer a private agony.

Safety dawgs.

During the season I will continue to hike familiar routes with my dogs, and because I fear the idiot who might think they are elk, the dogs will wear orange.  When we hear the occasional boom of a .30-06, the dogs will gather closely around my knees, circling nervously and looking up at me for assurance.  I will close my eyes and picture the underdog, browsing quietly and contentedly until the crack of the bullet exploded from the rifle.  I will hope the hunter missed by a mile, giving the animal time to dissolve into the trees and to live in this beautiful mountain valley for another day.

Posted in October 2010 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How I suffer.

Pity me, a recent victim of our faltering economy. Read articles lamenting our nation’s near ten percent unemployment rate, and picture me hollow-eyed and weeping as a bitter winter storm rages outside the window. A waif I am, blown about by the blustery winds of discontent, struggling to find a handhold of meaning in my jobless life.

My ski route.

Or, envy me.

My position was eliminated during the apex of the holiday season, a Christmas present the likes of which I’d never before received. In the weeks since then, I’ve easily adapted to a slow-paced lifestyle that is completely removed from the Maelstrom that is the workaday world. My new daily rhythm is unhurried, my inner music joyful. There are no alarm clocks, no conference calls, no reports and no obligations around which I must plan my life. My tomorrows flow blissfully one into another and my calendar is unencumbered. Completely. Empty.

Finally, time is plentiful.

When they learn of my current jobfree status, people inevitably ask, “So, what do you DO all day?”

To which I answer, “A whole lotta nothing.”

And I mean it. I wake when my body feels rested. I read the entire morning newspaper. I shuffle around the house with a mug of coffee. I cook a hot breakfast. Everyday. I stoop to pet my hairy Labs, and then I take the time to roll on the carpet and wrestle with them. I bundle up, head outside and let February envelop me. I strap on cross country skis and meander through the hills,  re-stamping my trails after overnight snow storms.  I read books, watch Ellen on TV and experiment with new recipes.  When I’m tired, I sprawl on the couch under an old patchwork quilt and take a nap. Maybe even a long nap.

It’s a sweet time, this interlude of solace. Here in my rural Montana valley, the winter skies shrouded with gray and my neighbors distant, I’m savoring the days. Like a long, slow exhale.

Posted in February 2010 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pick me! Pick me!

It took me all of five minutes to fuhggedabout the previous eight years. 

When the company CEO breezed into my office, shut the door and delivered what he called “bad news,” I bit my lip hard so I wouldn’t break into a smile as wide as a Kansas wheat field.  Due to the changing needs of the firm, Mr. CEO explained, my position was no longer needed. 

This wasn’t bombshell news by any means.  I’d spent the past year employing the George Castanza method of productivity (act busy/frazzled even though you aren’t).  Since the firm wasn’t rolling out any new IT initiatives, I didn’t have much to do.  In fact, I didn’t have anything to do.  But nobody knew this.  I put on an act that would’ve made George proud.  Dazzling even myself, I lived my sham for over a year. 

The people I worked with are not idiots and I knew that my position would end.  Nevertheless, I continued my theatrics, all the while remaining the same gregarious and eager-to-help professional that the entire firm loved.   Canning me would be slightly uncomfortable for the Board of Directors, but certainly not impossible.  Because I was a convivial employee, I knew they’d treat me kindly.

So I faked both surprise and dismay, accepted the CEO’s hatchet work with professional courtesy and gave his hand a firm, goodbye shake.  He popped out of his seat and disappeared down the hall.  My emotional breakdown would be ugly.

When he was out of sight I closed the office door, let out a big goofy smile, and silently mouthed, “Oh my GOD!!”  

This was an absolute dream come true!

Somehow, the universe had aligned perfectly and given me the ultimate escape route.  While my “job” was fine and I truly had no major complaints, I’d been dreaming of change for the past year.  But the nice paycheck and ample employee benefits held me hostage.  Nobody in her right mind would simply up and quit a perfectly good job – definitely not in this economy.   

Nothing shy of a swift kick in the keaster would propel me out the corporate door.  And certainly I’d done my best to provide a large target.  Now, finally, the universe had found its mark – and provided a nice bundle of unemployment benefits to boot. 

Could life get any better?

Before he fled my office, the CEO had gently explained that I could select my last day of work – there was no hurry.  He’d given me one month of severance pay, allowing me to leisurely put my files in order, clean my office and tidy my electronic trail. 

Surely I’d want to gather my personal effects and “collect myself.”

Take your time, he offered. 

I’d been quietly and methodically preparing for this last day.  I’d been slowly taking my personal items home, one at a time, not drawing any undue attention from my coworkers.  I’d wiped my computer clean of all personal correspondence and I had a thumb drive ready for any last-minute downloads.  My work files were organized and correctly stored.

I looked around my office.  There was simply nothing to do. 

I placed a few sundry items in my briefcase and slipped into my jacket.  As I closed my office door, I was keenly aware that I was doing this for the last time.  I understood that this was the last walk down the hall.  The final trek down three flights of stairs.  I heard the fat lady sing and her voice was beautiful.  I exited the backdoor to the building and emerged into bright, mid-morning sunshine.  I felt like a kid starting summer vacation.

I was now an official unemployment statistic.

 And I couldn’t stop smiling.

Posted in December 2009 | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Naughty, not nice.

Over the weekend, we hauled out the holiday box from the storage area beneath the staircase.  I rifled through our collection of aged and tacky trinkets that, when properly placed, give our home a shabby yet festive flair.  I am loath to purchase funky and updated holiday décor because 1) we live in the middle of nowhere and rarely have visitors and 2) I am in the process of updating my opinion of Christmas.   

Nonetheless, we decorated the house and put up the tree in the family room downstairs.  In the winter months, this area is our hang-out zone.  The woodstove, which blazes constantly once the weather turns cold, and the ultra-comfy couch constitute a one-two punch that simply can’t be ignored when it comes to doing lots of nothing.  When the wind drives snow into the inside corners of our windows, we descend to this cozy room to stare blankly at the TV and to take delicious weekend naps.  It’s also where we display our typically small and spindly Christmas tree.

Our backyard Christmas card.

Since we live in Montana, surrounded by US Forest Service land, we have millions of acres of potential holiday trees begging for the ax.  Years ago, we’d strap on cross country skis and spend hours hunting for the perfect tree.  Nowadays, we figure that most any tree will suffice as long as it fits into its designated spot.  That spot demands a short tree, and it’s a universally accepted fact that a short tree will have wimpy branches unable to hold heavy ornaments.   Thus, we’ve adopted a lights-only approach for our Christmas tree.   

Once the tree is hauled home, propped upright in its stand, draped in lights — and all the errant needles are sucked up by my voracious Dyson vacuum — the Christmas pig assumes his traditional position beneath the boughs.

The Christmas pig was gift from my Midwestern parents who have a knack for purchasing items that scream, “I drink cheap BEER !”  The pig is of the same ilk as the iconic Billy Bass, a plastic mechanical fish mounted on a plaque that sashays its tail fin and sings the catchy ditty Take Me to the River. In his heyday, Billy Bass was ubiquitous and adorned every paneled and red carpeted Midwestern rec room, and every workman’s tavern.  Thanks to my generous parents, Billy Bass lurks beneath our staircase in the same storage area that houses our holiday chotchkes.

The Christmas pig is a plush porcine, about two feet tall, soft and cuddly with a matching holiday scarf and stocking hat.  He’s cute and he’s festive, and until he was attacked and maimed by one of the dogs, he used to sing a delightful “oink” rendition of Jingle Bells.  Since the day of the attack, he’s been a silent pig.  From where the sun now stands, he will sing no more forever.
Our old dog, Krueger, was tormented by the pig and it was she who destroyed his electronic singing gear was a decisive chomp.  We have two young dogs now who are reintroduced to the pig each holiday season.  Gunny, our tall gangly chocolate lab, doesn’t seem to mind the pig.  When the pig reclaims his spot beneath the tree, Gunny gives him a cursory sniff and then goes on her merry way.   But Sadie is another story.  Sweet Sadie, our endearing black pocket lab who is nothing but love incarnate, quite simply HATES the pig.  She can’t walk past him without nosing, nudging and eventually knocking him over.  When we witness this undeserved bullying, we hurry to the pig’s rescue.

Inevitably, though, while we’re at work pig mayhem commences.  In my mind’s eye, I can envision the carnage:

It’s midmorning and I see Sadie yawning, groaning and stretching from her luxurious position atop our bed.  Sadie rolls over into Gunny who has likewise commandeered the bed, and Gunny’s tail whaps the down comforter.  The big chocolate dawg lifts her head and sniffs Sadie.

“Whattup?”  Gunny asks.

Sadie gives Gunny a deceptively sweet look, and a tentative face-lick.

“Nothin’,” Sadie replies. 

A black paw pokes a brown tail.  A brown paw pokes back.  A black mouth nibbles on a brown lip.  Tails wag.  Growling ensues.  White teeth flash.

Game on.

Sadie surely flees the bed first, performing a controlled butt-tuck run around the main floor of the house.  She scoots around the dining room table and behind the couch, hopping over lamp cords and around end tables with astounding agility.  Sadie is small and her athletic body is efficient;  no movement is wasted. 

With wry amusement, Gunny observes Sadie, but doesn’t move.  Yet.

Sadie’s mad dash around the furniture ends with a final leap back atop the bed.

That last jump is a powerful tease and Gunny’s reserve is gone.  She joins in the mayhem, unfolding her long limbs and clambering off the bed to pursue Sadie.  The big dog galumphs through the small house and the two delight in raucous fun.  

I sit 40 miles away behind my office desk, and picture this scene with amazing clarity.  I know these dogs.  I know their penchants, their circadian rhythms, their preferred nap locations, their favorite toys and their antics.  I know who is naughty and who is nice.  I know who prefers a tennis ball and who prefers a stick.  I know which dog likes a tangy sauce and which will inhale the errant olive that falls from the countertop.  One eats grass and one doesn’t.  One produces a single pile of poop and one leaves a trail of turds.   One chases sticks tossed into the river and one pursues skipping stones.  I know these dogs and I can imagine so surely how they while away a day spent alone that when I walk into the house after my workday commute, nothing surprises me.  Nothing.
This day, I returned from work, greeted the dogs and scanned the upstairs to determine who did what during my absence.  Nothing was amiss.  All holiday decorations were intact and unmolested.  I dropped my briefcase, hung up my coat and trotted downstairs to toss some logs into the woodstove.  I passed the Christmas tree and stopped.  One Christmas pig was gone.  I pivoted on my heels to a complete view of the family room.

The pig had been mutilated.  His fiberfill stuffing had been pulled out from a hole ripped into his armpit.  His stocking hat lay against the dogs’ waterbowl.  His scarf was ridiculously stretched, covered in spit and tossed in a corner.  The pig himself, empty of any guts and now simply plush skin, was smashed against a wall.  And, in the middle of the carpet — what’s this dark nugget?  An errant dog poop?  No…that’s a pig eye torn from the pig face.

Big Gunny knew the gig was up.  Her ears were down and she cowered behind me.  Surely this massacre wasn’t her doing.  It was the other dog, the angelically sweet mutt with the coal black nose.  My eyes rested on Sadie.  A smile covered her entire mug and her tail was wagging at warp speed.  She didn’t care one bit that the Christmas pig was no more.  Didn’t bug her at all. 

“So what?” she seemed to say.  “Who needs a pig?”

I gathered the fiberfill and re-stuffed the pig.  I washed his stocking hat and scarf, so they wouldn’t be stiff with dried dog saliva.  I sewed up the gaping armpit hole and re-attached the eye.  I propped the pig back into place.  He’s been through battle, and he looks like it, too.  But it wouldn’t be Christmas without the Christmas pig.

I have a beautiful, hand-carved wooden nativity scene that my sister-in-law bought for me in Germany.  Little baby Jesus nestles sweetly in his manger, and can be repositioned in Mary’s lap.  The nativity is placed on a low coffee table.  During her first Christmas with us and while she was home alone, a very young Gunny gently stuck out her lizard tongue and with surgical precision, plucked Jesus from his manger…without moving any of the other nativity figures.  She then chewed Jesus enough to turn him into a clump of wood, and spit him out onto the carpet – which is where I found him when I returned from work. 

Jesus is as deformed as the Christmas pig, and while you can still recognize the pig as being a pig – Jesus isn’t so lucky.

Posted in December 2009 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And then there were two.

My old yellow lab turned 15 over the summer, and died a few weeks later.  We’re now a 2-dog family, and the household has a different rhythm.  It’s much more calm and quiet.

 Bessie didn’t go about the business of aging in a dignified way.  Nothing about my old girl was dignified.  She was stubborn and single-minded, deaf when it suited her and vocally insistent when it was chow time.  She had pongy breath and an arthritic gait. 

She also didn’t have a mean bone in her body and never looked for trouble with other dogs or with people.  With small children, she was surprisingly sweet and gentle, as though she was suddenly aware that her 70 pounds of bullish strength was almost inappropriate.  In the presence of these ankle-biters, she restrained her exuberance and stepped about them carefully.  At such times, she was an elephant in a tutu…larger than life yet temporarily dainty.

 Bessie came to us when she was six, the victim of a divorce and a disrupted household that no longer had time for her.  She’d been well trained and loved while it was convenient.

 Her adjustment to our home took time.  We endured several weeks of heartbreaking separation anxiety.  She wanted her old family, the comfort of familiar surroundings and the many cookies and snacks we offered couldn’t change that.  Gradually, though, Bessie became our dog and an unflappable member of our pack.  She willingly licked dinner plates (we have a dishwasher, OK?) and trotted with us through the mountains.  She happily rode in the old Bronco when we went exploring, and she slid effortlessly through the water in our small pond.

 Our dogs have always been an unruly bunch and Bessie’s obvious training was a novelty to us.  She came when called, stayed off the furniture, kept all four paws on the ground, and lay down on the spot when asked to do so.  But we’re not so much into rules and good behavior in our home.  We live in a very rural area with ample elbow room, surrounded by millions of acres of public land.  Being unleashed isn’t a novelty for our pack, it’s a lifestyle. 

 Gradually, Bessie began to ignore commands.  If you called to her, she’d look at you and then look away, fixing her gaze on something in the distance, something much more interesting.  She’d lift her nose into the breeze, catch a scent of something deliciously putrid – and trot off in search of the prize.  Since her gradual non-compliance was mitigated by her sweetness, we didn’t much care.  We overlooked this new penchant to selectively ignore commands, finding this benign mutiny more endearing than annoying.  We surmised that her true personality was emerging now that she didn’t live under the pressure of constant obedience.  In fact, it really didn’t take long at all for her to completely eschew all learned commands and to let us know that nowadays, nobody was the boss of Bessie. 

 We simply shrugged our shoulders, figuring that acquiescing to her demands was easier than re-training our bull-headed lab.  So we appeased her with cookies. Lots of cookies. 

 Despite Bessie’s refusal to listen to us, she was a happy, stout gal with a perpetual canine smile on her lips.  (And be assured that dogs do smile.) She permitted a succession of younger dogs to chew on her legs and snout and tail, and she was good-natured when these mutts ran over the top of her during wild games of get the tennis ball.   And she showed solid leadership traits when she lead the younger mutts into the hills to find rotting deer carcasses.  These rancid snacks disgusted us, but even as we chased after Bess, deer entrails hanging from her chops, she seemed to be infused with so much sassy that despite our rage, we had to laugh. 

 As Bessie aged, her hearing went south and her substantial arthritis affected her knees and joints.  If the pack was going for an evening stroll and she didn’t feel up to it, she’d walk us to the edge of the property, find a place in the shade, and settle down to wait for our return.  We could see her slowing down and we truly knew our time with her was dwindling. 

 Bess was fragile that final season, and she whiled away her last months enjoying sweet summer breezes and cool green grass.  An hour napping in the shade of a giant Ponderosa pine was nothing but joy and contentment and it didn’t matter that her hourglass was running out of sand.  Her now was good; it was joyful. 

 Life without her is different and in many respects, easier.  We have two dogs that pay attention to us and are more focused on tennis balls than raiding the bird feeder.  They are athletic and healthy and don’t need a myriad of supplements to get them through the day.  But the pack has changed, of this there is no doubt. 

 Our Bessie has indeed left the room.

 Rest well, good girl.

Our Bessie

Posted in November 2009 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A rant on pants.

Pants and shirts.  I either have enough of one or the other, but for whatever reason my clothing karma  is never in sync. 

Some seasons, I have shirts and sweaters and vests galore.  Stripes and plaids and solids and patterns form a phantasmal kaleidoscope in my closet.  I have short and long sleeves, v-neck and scoop-neck, cardigan and pullover. 

When the tops are plentiful, the bottoms are pitiful.  I have nothing with which to cover my stout, Slovenian legs, and the few items I do have are either uncomfortable or unflattering.  At these times I stand before my open closet, a hangared shirt in hand, and stare hopelessly at the dearth of bottoms.  Please note:  there is neither skirt nor dress in my closet, and for this I offer no explanation or apology.  

In the quirky world of pants, my preference is for sweats and shorts.  I like loose, billowing bottoms with easy, elastic waists and lots of ball room.  I like to stretch and bend, but mainly I like to eat and for this I need pants with room. 

And because I like to eat and am a Slovenian, the bottom portion of my body is a solid trunk capable of withstanding strong winds.  While I am rather short, I am not (and let me be very clear about this) petite.  My legs are not the long and lithe appendages that hang loosely from the torsos of magazine models.  These women have legs that simply fold in half, one atop the other, high above the knee.  On the tall and thin among us, this cross-legged style appears annoyingly careless and jaunty.  

On me, it is difficult to hoist my legs into the official “lady” position and once there, they have the appearance of plump sausages forced to bend against their will. 

 Ages ago, my Slovenian ancestors wore sturdy and sensible shoes, work dresses and aprons, headscarves and when the winter wind turned bare legs pink, itchy, woolen stockings.  I like to think that back then, thin and shapely legs were cursed.  Spindly and weak, they would be unable to push wooden wheeled farm carts through the muddy fields of the Old Country.    

Today, in homage to my heritage, I spit on weedy legs for they serve no useful purpose. 

These are the stories and explanations I feed myself when I am unable to find pants that properly fit my unique proportions.  These tales resonate within not only because they are blatantly true, but also because my mother has fought the Battle of Unfortunately Sized Pants her entire life, and as I was raised with her explanations…they have now become mine.

Posted in November 2009 | Leave a comment

Dances with skunks.

Yesterday evening was a July jewel.  After dinner, we stepped outside to set sprinklers – our Buddha bellies stretched tight with tasty vittles.   We sauntered about, strategically placing sprinklers and hoses.  Overnight watering of our thirsty property is a constant summer regimen.  The Montana sun is high and dry during July, and moisture is fleeting.  Green grass can be difficult to maintain, but the thought of being surrounded by a dry, brittle and sun-baked lawn makes me shudder.  The day’s heat was finally dissipating, and early evening carried the crisp promise of excellent sleeping temperatures.  

The dogs twisted around our knees, a tumultuous blur of fur — the two younger ones prancing about and carrying green tennis balls, each taunting the other.  Old Bessie, who will turn 15 in a few days, found a shady spot and plopped down in the grass, content to enjoy the slight breeze.  Unable to hear anything shy of a sonic boom, she is nonetheless a happy old gal who waddles about on arthritic joints, soundly spoiled and wonderfully content. 

The irrigation in place and pumps operational, the rhythmic thwik thwik thwik of the circling sprinklers floated on the shoulders of the evening, a comforting sound that always brings to mind soft summer evenings now passed.  Arcs of water looped up from the hoses and down to the grass, and simply watching the water and mist fall through the air seemed to cool the evening.   The end of the day was near, the heat had broken, the pace had slowed.

We gathered the dogs and herded them across the dirt road and down to the creek for some lazy exploration.  The water flows sweetly in late July, falling over boulders and stumps and dancing in the shallows.  A small feeder rivulet empties into the main creek here and is Bessie’s favored spot for dallying.  The creek runs over a tight gravel bed which is easy on her ancient joints.  She eases into a deeper pool, the water cooling her tummy, and slowly pursues water skimmers scooting on the surface.

Bessie's happy place.

Meanwhile, the goofy teenage lab charges into the main current, clomping over river rocks with uncontrolled exuberance and bites at the splashing current.  Up to her shoulders in the flow, she turns expectantly and waits for us to toss rocks into the creek just beyond her reach.  Chasing the kerplunks, she eventually settles into the current, using it as a treadmill.  She will swim, going nowhere, until her lips chatter from river chill.

The little black lab is the one I have to watch.  A snooper with a chase-and-play mentality, she will quietly follow a scent until she’s out of sight.  Because we live in a complete ecosystem with wolves, mountain lions and other dog-eating carnivores, I prefer to know where the labs are at all times.  

The water skimmers skimmed, the treadmill continued to roll, and the snooper simply snooped.  We chatted about trivial things, explored the rocky shoreline and kept tabs on the dogs.  We searched for flat and smooth pebbles to zing side armed across the creek, seeing how many skips we could get from each toss.  We commented on the feathers and goose poop collected among the river rocks. 

I glanced up for the snooping dog, and spied her up on the elevated grassy bank, hopping excitedly near a bush.  My view of her was slightly obscured.

“She’s playing with something, “I commented.

Standing on my toes for a better look I spotted a bushy black and white tail sashaying from side to side, clearly brushing the snooper’s face.  She hopped toward the tail and then backed away, repeating this several times.

Oh, no. 

The snooper was dancing with Pepe Le Pew. 

We called and hollered, figuring the skunk had probably already lifted its tail and that we’d have to deal with one pongy dog.  We’d learned, from years of skunk-dog encounters that a beer and tomato juice bath simply produces a beer and tomato smelling dog.  We’d purchased commercial de-skunking products.  No good.  The best solution is the secret potion we found via Googling…a mixture of dish soap, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda.  A scrubbing with this concoction is nothing short of miraculous.

Surprisingly, the snooper came when called…bounding through the grass with a smile on her face and landing at our feet, tail waging and looking at us expectantly.  Skunk tang floated on the breeze. 

 Knowing we had to high-tail it out of there before the other two dogs discovered the skunk, we cajoled the mutts back up to the road and to the house.  Once home, I bent to give the snooper a sniff test.  Surprisingly, she was clean.  The skunk scent was on the breeze and not on the dog. 

Somehow, the snooper had evaded the spray. 

Dumb luck.  And I’ll take it anytime.

Posted in July 2009 | Tagged , , , , , ,

Falling at 0 mph.

I recently setup a Facebook account and reluctantly joined the expanding herd of social networkers.  This is big news for the likes of me. 

I have a cellphone, but it’s the cheapest one I could find…a pay-as-you-go setup used so rarely that when people ask for my number, all I can provide them is a blank stare.  My phone came with 600 minutes of air time, and nine months later I still have 537 minutes available.  I have neither desire nor use for a Blackberry.  And pagers are not allowed within my personal safety zone.  

I like being connected to the world, but on my terms only.  Should you call my home, I may not answer simply because I don’t want to.  As my sister says, “The phone is a convenience, not an obligation.”  

I digress. 

On Facebook, I’ve become reacquainted with friends from my long-ago past.  High school chums and college pals have friended me, and I’ve been perusing their personal information and photos.  I examine the snapshots that they’ve posted and I read their occasional messages and declarations.  While some of their life journeys pique my interest, the majority exist in what I consider a Melba toast world.  Familiar and comfortable and slightly enjoyable, their daily metronomes march to a ¾ beat.  There’s no syncopation.  No salsa. 

Few of these folks have recounted tales of adventures, and even fewer offer illuminating and insightful observations.  Their comments are banal platitudes of monotony that make me wince, roll my eyes and think that there, for the grace of the Great Pumpkin, go I.  It’s all about their children’s soccer games, fieldtrips and report cards.  I read about shopping for birthday parties and religion classes and all manner of minutia that rings in my ears like the mwa mwa mwa mwamwa of Charlie Brown’s teacher.  They live in the suburb of Bland. 

I want to reach through cyberspace, grab their shoulders and shake.  They need a swig of Tabasco, a moment of  b-a-d, an instant of discomfort.  Smoke a joint.  Spend a day braless.  Visit Starbucks with bedhead.  Adding a snippet of discomfort or fear to the day provides rich contrast and creates the colorful tapesty of an exciting life.  People don’t march about this world fearlessly and in straight lines.  We lurch haltingly, staggering to retain our balance, trying the left fork and then reversing course to go right.  Along the way we laugh at our mistakes and relive our adventures.  It’s the unexpected that flavors our reality and allows us to triumph.

I remember years ago when I started cycling.  I dabbled a bit with sensible gear.  First I bought a used road bike.  Then I equipped both it and me.  A rear rack.  A trunk bag.  I learned to change a flat…first the front tire and then the rear.  I stepped into lycra bike shorts, first with underwear and then without.  Reluctantly, I adjusted to being seen in public wearing tight clothing.  Finally I transitioned from toe baskets to clipless bike pedals and shoes.  I worried about being caught in the pedals, unable to unclip fast enough to avert a hard fall. 

Friends told me I’d certainly topple several times, but that I’d be fine.  They warned me about the proverbial 0 mph fall.  A rite of cycling passage, they’d all had their share of such tumbles as they grew accustomed to being attached to their bikes.

On a quiet, paved back road that skirts a rural flank of Montana’s Clark Fork River, I learned that like a Weeble, I can wobble and get back up.  I was slowly adjusting to my new pedal/shoe combination and had yet to fall.  Riding slowly, I missed a fork in the road and maneuvered a sharp about-face.  A crack in the pavement, a tap on the brake, and I slowed too much to maintain my balance.  Going 0 mph, I fell.

It hurt a bit.  I picked up a few scratches.  But I was fine.  The fall was a risk…and when it finally came, I weathered it…learned a few things – and continued cycling.  Since then I’ve ridden thousands of miles and have always been clipped to my pedals.  I’ve fallen at times, and in fact – I fell this weekend.  

But the falls don’t scare me.  Risk is fun…it’s spicy and hot and it keeps me engaged. 

Forget the Melba toast.  I’ll take a 0 mph fall anytime.

Posted in June 2009

Perfecting the sham.

Lately I’ve been shamming my way through the work day. I’m reluctant to admit this, because I feel somewhat guilty for whiling away time at the computer doing a whole lotta nothing. On the other hand, I really don’t care.

And that’s what surprises me.

I used to be a recognized up-and comer, a bright and shiny star with the reputation as the go-to person. Like a new copper kettle, I was the standout among old and tired kitchen appliances. I took great pride in staying productive and busy, in accomplishing daily tasks and searching out projects that would streamline work flow and increase efficiencies. Constantly seeking challenges, I was a focused and motivated employee.

And now?

Now I don’t care so much about actually doing work as I do about appearing to do work. I’m a grand façade and I’ve perfected the art of looking engaged and productive. My primary focus at any point in the day is what time is it, and how much longer until I can go home.

At my desk, I monitor my e-mail inbox and reply expeditiously to messages. I return voicemail. I handle various tasks. But I’m not involved in any lengthy, long-range projects. I’m not championing any initiatives. Instead, I am actively planning my dinner menu and drafting grocery lists. I’m organizing my workouts and running my exercise regimens through on-line calculators that measure my caloric burns. I’m investigating cross-country bicycle routes, determining airfares and hotel costs. I read the daily political gossip and check Facebook for interesting posts.

And surprisingly, a day of shamming passes fairly quickly.  Pretty soon I’ve got an 8-hour day under my belt and I’m packing up, logging off and heading out.

I feel a tad bit penitent about essentially wasting a workday, but as I head for home and the city recedes in my rear-view mirror I think less and less about the past eight hours.   Driving west for a few dozen miles, I exit the interstate and reach the mouth of my rural enclave.  The workday has by now faded  and I’m savoring the slow drive along the creek. 

The bumpy, potholed pavement weaves like a drunk, now turning and then twisting until I’m dumped over the one-lane bridge onto a dirt road.  I turn here, and continue to the upper reaches of the valley where my small home perches atop a rise, hugged by huge pines and flanked by well-watered grass and overplanted flowerboxes.  Absolutely unassuming and undeniably welcoming, my home is comfortable and achingly cute.

I’d give up my sham-filled days if I didn’t need them to maintain my cozy and idyllic lifestyle.  If the Great Pumpkin, the Tooth Fairy or God himself would simply square up my mortgage, I’d be back to an honest life. 

Until then, viva la sham!

Posted in June 2009

A Fine and Glorious Mess

During the cool and soggy weekend, I darted between the rain showers to finish yard work and exercise the dogs.  The sun was able to shake free of clouds for limited periods and during those times I made sure I was either atop the mower, or sprawled in an Adirondack chair, face turned upward, soaking up my RDA of vitamin D. 

Sunday morning was moist and silent, with dark clouds shouldered against the mountains.  Feeling guilty because I hadn’t done anything even remotely physical during the weekend, I decided on a heart-pounding climb up McCormick Creek on the mountain bike.  I mentally marked my turn around point and figured that a few hours of low-gear pumping up a dirt road would count as a solid workout. 

I’d already had the dogs outside to exorcize their penned-up sassies and deflate the animal energy that builds overnight to a mid-morning apex.  They’d chased tennis balls, circled the property with noses to the ground, found special and perfect places to poop, and generally convinced themselves that yes, all overnight marauders had vacated the premises.  The world was safe; they were ready to nap. 

I was ready to ride. 

When I’m on the mountain bike, I ride commando.  My thinking is that there’s no traffic, so despite rocks, escarpments, logs and backcountry mayhem – I don’t need no stinkin’ helmet.  I also sweat ungodly and unnatural amounts and headgear is just plain hot.  Me no likey. 

Pedaling up McCormick Creek, the dirt road was damp but not quite muddy.  I pushed past my neighbor’s old gates, over the two rusted cattle guards and onto Forest Service land.  I continued up the creek, detouring around the abandoned gold mine and circling up and behind it to check a hidden clearing – a past party location for local teenagers.  Stepping off the bike to wander the meadow, I scanned the ground for errant bottles and cans.  The area was surprisingly clean – so I continued on my way, rolling along an overgrown trail that eventually dumped me into the upper reaches of the mining zone.  From here, I carefully pedaled over gopher holes and through tall weeds back down to McCormick Creek Road. 

I continued up the drainage, through the mist, climbing quietly in the stillness.  Sweat slid down my temples and dropped off my chin.  My hair was matted, my shirt soaked but I actually felt strong.  At a hairpin turn in the road, I slid off the saddle for a drink. 

 As my heart slowed, so did my thoughts.  I was embraced by utter stillness.  The gray mist softened the vibrant wildflower hues…the lupine and Indian paintbrush and glacier lilies and bear grass were understated in the flat light, complementing the grasses and bushes and pines.  The forest smelled alive and new.  I listened…an errant whir of an insect, the twitter of calling birds.  In the proverbial now, I relished the freshness of the moment.  What a gift, I knew, to live among these mountains and so near to this silence.  

Back on the bike, my climb continued, slowly rounding corners and breaking through the trees to the occasional valley overlook.  The Bitterroot Mountains were hidden today by the enveloping dampness, so my focus wasn’t on far vistas but instead on the pockets of reachable beauty that I was passing…the rain-soaked stumps, the emerging mushrooms, the critter prints left in the wet spoil. 

The rain began so gently and so slowly that I didn’t notice the change until I reached my turn-around spot:  a brief, level interlude where the road ceases climbing and starts a downward swoop that eventually crosses into the adjacent drainage.  The drops fell steadily now, and I wheeled the bike around for the grand downhill coast back to the house. 

 I picked up speed quickly, and the drops turned insistent and sharp.  I chilled, the combination of sweat, rain and cool temperatures stiffening my grip on the brakes and numbing the soles of my feet.  Slowing  to a gritty stop, I slipped into a wind breaker, shoved my useless sunglasses in my pocket and continued downward.  The road was now truly muddy, my tires kicking up roostertails of brown water that coated my legs and sprayed onto my face.  Shivering, I tapped the brakes as much to control my speed as to keep my numb hands operational.  Grit splashed into an eye, and squinting like a pirate, I continued to coast downhill. 

The last road section before the house is a rocky, bumpy mess that will rattle the fillings right out of your teeth.  The mud in this section was manageable, but by now I was coated in filth, shaking uncontrollably and absolutely drenched. 

Finally, I veered into the driveway, put the bike into the shed and stepped onto the deck.  I let the dogs out of the house, their tails slapping my bare legs like whips and their butts wriggling with pure delight.  There, in full view of whoever wanted to look, I stripped naked before heading into the house with my armful of filthy cycling clothes.  

It was a great ride.  A fine muddy mess of a time. 

I can’t wait to go again.

Posted in June 2009