Saturday, April 30, 2011


     This is a tribute to our dog, Dusty, now deceased.  She started life out as Kip's companion until he left for college and then she became mine.
     Anyone who labels an animal as 'dumb' obviously doesn't spend much time around animals.  This is illustrated regularly in the news.  Today's feature was a little dog who opened four doors to get into a bathtub filled with water to save herself from a house fire while her people were out.  She survived with just a little soot on her fur.
     Then there is the little gray parrot who alerted her person to the toddler that the girl was babysitting.  The baby was choking on a tidbit and the girl was in another room.  The parrot called to her with the words, "Mama, baby, help!"  The baby was rescued. The parrot had never uttered this before ever.
     Our Katie Bug dog, also now deceased, used to play hide-and-seek with our son Kip many years ago.  They played the game over and over and over.  About ten years later, another pet owner filmed his dog doing the very same thing and won $10,000 on Funniest Home Videos.
     But this story is about Dusty, a.k.a. Pooh Bear.  She was a Border Collie/German Shepherd mix and a very smart, loving little friend.  One hot, still August night at about 2 a.m., Dusty began barking relentlessly at our back door.  
     I woke up and got out of bed to check on her.  The first thing that I noticed was a heavy wood smoke smell in the air.  Our power was out, but  I became aware of an unearthly orange glow surrounding everything. I ran to the front of the house and was greeted with a sight that I hope we never witness again:  a roaring, plunging wall of flames quickly spreading across the ridge top, completely engulfing the tall Ponderosa pine trees.
     After waking my husband and my brother who was visiting, we began gathering our animals with plans to evacuate.  Hooking a horse trailer up in total darkness, as well as loading our cats in carriers when we couldn't even see the cage door, was more than just a challenge, it was a nightmare.  Not only could we hear the roaring, we could feel the heat of the fire replacing the early morning cool.  Ashes and dead spiders rained down over everything.
     In all the chaos, one of us had the mind to pray.  We got together and asked God for help.  Shortly afterward, a light wind arose and began blowing up the ridge.  It sent the fire in the opposite direction, creating a 'safety zone' between us and the raging flames.  God is good and we are grateful for His ever-present care.
     From that point, we placed lawn chairs in the front yard and watched the show, and it was a good one.  It required five different departments, fire fighters and a helicopter with a bucket to extinguish. (The helicopter scooped water from the pond in front of our house, so we had quite a few guest spectators, too.)
    Next time a little dog won't stop barking, it's very possible that she has something very important to tell someone.  Maybe even, "Forest Fire...FOREST FIRE...ForEST fire....forest FIRE....FOREST FIRE!!"
    Thank you, Dusty.  We love you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kitty Chronicles Volume One

     Science assures us that no two snowflakes are alike.  Owning cats has taught us that no two cats are alike.  Cats are as different as people.  One wakes up cranky, mettlesome and combative and the other joyful, enthusiastic and ready to eat.  I will let you guess who rolls who as we fill the cat food dish first thing in the morning.
     A trip to the vet also embraces three different approaches for three different personalities.  Our little Princess, "Miss Prefect", steps willingly into her kitty carrier without a fuss.  Bootsie cat, our outdoor kitty, doesn't fight, but makes his opinion obvious as soon as the cage door clicks shut.  However, caging Spiffy, the fat boy, requires stealth and cunning.  I hide the cat carrier in the laundry room, door open and carry him walking backwards into the room so he can't see it.  I turn and quickly shove him through the carrier door.  He is clever enough to hook his hind feet over the edge of the door, dragging the entire cage across the top of the washing machine as I attempt to shove him inside.  Only when the cage hits the far wall of the laundry room and cannot slide any further can I get the leverage to plunge his entire mass into the carrier.  Then it is a race to extract my arm before he can thrust a body part back through the crack.
      Once at the vet, the process unfolds in reverse order.  Princess steps willingly from the carrier and purrs through her exam.  She accepts her vaccinations sweetly and sits quietly on the scale when weighed.  She is the prefect weight for her size and age.  Our vet always comments on what a sweet little cat she is.  She seems to delight in hearing the compliment.  She goes back into the carrier as kindly as she came out.
      Bootsie is a little reluctant.  In fact, he poops in the carrier as soon as he hears the vet.  He allows the vet to exam him, vaccinate him and weigh him with some hesitance, but still cooperates.  Our vet always finds organic matter on Bootsie's backside (he's a highly motivated mouser), and always yells to his assistant:  "Medicine for tapeworms, please."  Then he cleans Bootsie's carrier so it won't stink up the veterinary office.  And Bootsie is done.
      Spiffy always goes last.  I have to drag him from the carrier with as much struggle as I shove him in.  Again, he hooks his hind feet on the cage door and scoots the carrier along until the vet grabs it with a free hand.  I pin him to the exam table with both hands while the vet also pins his other end down and administers a flurry of shots,  exam, and finally weighing.  Spiffy clocked in at 17 pounds this visit.  And again, my vet encourages me to put him on a diet.  As we make preparations to leave, Spiffy is quite willing to scramble back into the carrier.
      We travel back home in a cacophony of purring, muttering and complaining.  And, yes, one last "contribution" to the vet in Bootsie's cage.  We are done for one more year.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Our Angel in Blue Berry Stains

     The blessings of living in paradise exclude having our grandkids close.  So it is a very special occasion when they come to visit, and even more so when they stay for awhile.
      Our eldest granddaughter, Mattie Kate, at the age of four established a summer ritual of one week with Grandma and Grandpa.  Normal life halts for seven days, and our schedule is dictated by our tiny, creative but slightly demanding recreation coordinator.
      From breakfast to bedtime, she has it all planned.  Well, almost.  The blueberry pancakes were the only exception.  My job was to make the pancakes.  Mattie's job was to pick the blueberries.
      She marched outdoors with a bucket and great enthusiasm.  She returned a short while later, blueberry stains everywhere on her hands and clothing.
      "I'm done, Gwan'ma."
      "OK, put your bucket up here."
      The bucket is empty.
      "Where are the berries for our pancakes?"
      "They're all gone."  Burp.
       "All of them?"
       "Yup."   Burp.
       "But there aren't any in your bucket."
        "Nope."   Burp.
         "You ate ALL the blueberries?"
        She nods her head 'yes', grins big and burps one last time.
        Good thing that our little recreation coordinator likes raspberries on her pancakes, too.
        At Grandma and Grandpa's house, our Mattie learned to call in the deer.  She makes a baby deer type noise that truly brings the does running.  I worry just what else is coming.
        At Grandma and Grandpa's house, Mattie learned to drive a fork lift.  We haven't shared that with mom and dad, yet.
        At Grandma and Grandpa's house, little Mattie has ice cream every night with her dinner.  Another secret that mom and dad don't really need to know.
        During a thunderstorm one evening, all three of us sat out on the porch swing on our front deck and watched the thunder and lightning.  We explained to her that thunder is just God talking to us out loud, and some days He has a lot to tell us.
        Mattie sat sandwiched between us and thought about it.  After awhile, she turned her head and buried her face in my shoulder.  She yawned and then said, "OK, God.  I'm tired now."
        We love our visits with our little granddaughter.  And we planted two more blueberry bushes so Miss Mattie Kate does not run out of berries this time.  We have just enough time to set up the trampoline, inflate the swimming pool and wipe down the patio table and chairs.  We want everything to her liking.  After all, it's tough business coordinating the family activities for an entire week.
       And, we've have a full year to recover. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Fine Art of Foraging

       Foraging has been an honorable activity for centuries.  Many species, including man, have existed on foraging alone; a contract with independence, a rite of passage, a culture in itself. 
      My little dog, Gypsy, has put a black eye on the good name of scavenging.  You could call her a herbivore/carnivore/junkavore, or possibly even a thief.
      Our walks together are peppered with the sounds of 'yum, yum, yum' and 'smack, smack, smack' as she picks tidbits of dubious origin from every unlikely source possible.  All are consumed with great relish.
      I feed her.  I really do.  But her dog food is never as tasty as what she forages in the woods and on the roadside.  And she is euphoric if we happen upon a deer carcass of any size or condition.  If it is really smelly, all the better.  She rolls in it first.  Such a happy day!
      If we are on our way home, she will haul her treasure with us.  Her tail held high, nose in the air, the 'dead thing' firmly gripped in her mouth, she prances down the trail behind me.  Occasionally, she will trip over it and roll down the hill and the 'dead thing' will become caught up in the underbrush.  I try to look sad for her sake, but I am really pleased.  I won't have to clean another pile of yuk-yuk off our lawn.
      One morning we found a freshly killed deer beside the pond, only a short distance from the house.  It's throat had been ripped out and it was disemboweled, but otherwise showed no sign of having been fed upon.  The killer must have struck in the morning and was frightened off as Rudy left for work.  I didn't want a predator returning later so close to home.
      Gypsy was delighted with the prospect of fresh venison so close, and so much of it.  We returned home and grabbed the wheelbarrow with the intention of disposing of the carcass.  She was ecstatic.  Her eyes were alight with expectation.  She bounced beside me with each step.  When I loaded the deer into the wheelbarrow and turned back toward home, she began doing cartwheels.
       "Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy!  Mom, this is so kind of you, and it is all mine. MINE, MINE, MINE!"  She was now bouncing three feet in the air with each step and stealing excited peaks into the wheelbarrow.
       "This is a wonderful day and that deer is ALL MINE!"  Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce : a very happy little dog.
       "Be careful over that bump, Mom.  We don't want to spill my deer in the mud!"  Bounce, skip, hop, cartwheel, bounce, bounce, bounce.
       As we wheeled into the driveway and headed toward the house, she darted ahead of me to guide us through the gate into the yard,  and her face was radiant.
      I neared the garage, but instead of turning toward the gate into the yard, I turned to the garbage cans.  My animated little dog deflated slowly.  She stood by the gate, shock and horror in her eyes, and then followed by incredulous despair.  With her tail now drooping and her enthusiasm crushed, she was a picture of despondancy.
      I stuffed the deer in a garbage can, secured the lid down tight and put the wheelbarrow back.  My Gypsy dog continued to stand by the gate.  Her shock had been replaced by gloom.
     "I will NEVER understand people." 

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Throne of God

      (From the book of Revelation 4:5-11 and the book of Ezekiel 1:4-28)  Storm winds whip through dark, ominous, billowing clouds, illuminated by brilliant flashes of lightning, and resonating with monstrous, ear-splitting cracks of thunder.
      At the center sits a magnificent throne glowing with fire and blinding light and flashes of lightning.  Creatures with many eyes and faces and wheels and wings surround the throne.  Seven lamp stands burning with fire are darting among the creatures.
      Twenty-four elders sit on twenty-four lesser thrones, bedecked in white robes and crowns, circled around the throne.  A rainbow of glowing colors hangs about the throne and reaches into the storm cloud.  A luminous sea of crystal fills the expanse below.  And all around, angels; myriads and myriads of angelic beings fill the heavens.  Thrilling, lofty melodies permeate everywhere and everything. 
      But on the throne, high and lifted up, a figure of a man, radiant, glowing with fire, alight with the shimmer of precious stones, His chest a gleaming breast plate,  and His hair white as wool.  And around Him, the elders, the creatures, the angels constantly fall down in worship.
       So holy, so royal, so magnificent, so untouchable.
       And yet, in the book of Hebrews 4:14 - "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the Throne of Grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
       In totters Roxanne.  I am so glad to have been invited to the party.  I am ecstatic!  I prance around the elders and maybe twirl to see if my new white robe has any volume.  I munch on my cookie - of course God has served refreshments - and it is divine!  
       The elders are friendly and I chat with a number of them.  The angels are gigantic and their wings make the sound of rushing water, but still, they take time to answer my questions.
       I help myself to another cookie while admiring the creatures with many faces and wheels and wings.  "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty."  Their praise is continual.
       Below my feet a spectacular expanse of shining crystal reflects my image.  "Look.  The mark, the 'taw', on my forehead!"  I push my hair behind my ears and look closer.  I love it here!
       I settle my attention on my King, my Papa, who is so regal on His magnificent, expansive throne.  Light emanates from Him from every angle and flashes above Him.  The sparkle of precious gems dance continuously.  He is intoxicating!  He smiles at me.
      I fall to my knees and bow my head.  "Who am I that You even allow me to approach You?"  And yet He does.  I am welcome here.  Even with cookie crumbs on my face - I am welcome here.  And more than welcome, I am loved.
      I get to my feet and spin a number of circles in pure joy.  My lovely gown of white billows around my legs.  I want to stay here forever!
      But then I notice an open door with an exit sign.  I stop dancing and look to my Papa with question.
      "It's not you time yet," He says.  His voice is low and gentle.
       I really, REALLY, do not want to leave here.
       "You have to share ME with your neighbors."
       I'd rather stay.  Besides, what do I have to share that anyone would want to hear?
       "You have seen and heard and tasted.  Tell them about that."
       So, my dear friends, please listen with both ears:  There is a MOST WONDERFUL party awaiting us all, but you can get in only by invitation.  And here it is:
       John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life."
       Jeremiah 31:3b -.....I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness."
       Romans 3:23 - (But) all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
       Romans 6:23 - For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
       Hebrews 9:22b - ....all things are cleansed with blood and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. 
      1 Corinthians 15:3-4 - ....Christ died for our sins...He was buried...and He rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
      John 1:12 - But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, all those who believe in His name.
      1 John 5:13 who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
       Now, please excuse me.  I have to practice my dancing.  I have some big celebrating just around the corner. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Noises in the Night

     Living a stone's throw from the wilderness has both benefits and surprises.  For one, we don't listen to traffic or sirens or people noise as we drift off to sleep.
     Instead, the night is alive with a thousand little bull frog voices, an army of crickets, and usually an owl or two.  We've been awakened by coyotes traveling from one side of the canyon to the other - they are extremely vocal about it.  We think that we've heard wolves howling, too, but it's also possibly our neighbor Paula's basset hound.
     The bull elk love to sound off just before day light during the rut.  The Canadian geese find sunrise the optimal time to fly from the creek to the pond, which always involves much fanfare and honking.
     One distant neighbor, Jason, has an old mule that visits the mule herd of another distant neighbor, Dan.  It's always on a Thursday night, and I believe, Grandma's bridge party night.  She leaves the front gate open until she returns.  So the old mule patters by our house, an unmistakable slow and steady 1-2-3-4 beat on the asphalt.  We can phone Jason without having actually seen the old mule.  And yes, Grandma was out playing cards.
     The canyon wall is full of cougars that love a little drama here, too.  A person who has never heard a cougar scream, a mating ritual, is in for a unique opportunity.  It's something between the squealing of car tires and a woman screaming.  It's not a good time to be lying in bed reading a scary story.  The dogs don't leave their dog houses to bark, either.
      One dark and stormy night, in lightning and thunder, and without our power, but with just the screen door between us and the outdoors, a cougar killed a baby deer a short distance from our bedroom.  A little deer will make a high-pitched wail, a bleat like a lamb when in distress.  This poor little thing began bawling and wailing and continued for a solid ten minutes.  We could do nothing.  We found his remains the next morning.
       But, the hands-down, award-winning, raise-the-dead champion noise maker is our own cat Spiffy.  It is his opinion that Bootsie, the outdoor cat, has no business sitting outside the sliding glass door at bedtime as Rudy and I read our books.  Spiffy puffs himself up, begins jumping in the air and banging against the glass, all while yowling at the top of his lungs.  Bootsie just sits and watches him with an amused smirk.
      "Just open the door, kid, just open the door."
      We don't allow this raucous performance to continue long.  Rudy's choice of management is a well-placed pillow thrown at the height of Spiffy's jump in the air.  I prefer several magazines, a book and the Kleenex box.  Sometimes it takes all the objects thrown at rapid succession.  A squirt gun will work, too.
      And all the while, Bootsie sits outside watching, his smile growing wider.  "I can't wait until you throw that cream puff outdoors!"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Hiking Club

     The little gray cat, Bootsie, knows the routine very well.  We feed him, my dog Gypsy, my horse Mocha, and then put birdseed in the feeder and under the lilacs.
      At this point, Bootsie plants himself on the front porch or by the gate.  He wants to go hiking with Gypsy and me.  I grab my sunglasses, my whistle and leave a note explaining my plans.  It doesn't help that Gypsy is bouncing by the front door, whining in joyful expectation.  They both know what happens next.
      I love sharing my hike with my little friends.  Gypsy dashes back and forth, tail wagging furiously, tongue pulsating from her mouth.  It is a good day and her pleasure is contagious.
      It is roughly one mile to the top of my hiking hill, but about a 2,000 foot climb.  Great exercise for a dog and her person, but a test of devotion for a little cat whose legs are less that nine inches long.
      Bootsie is devoted.  "Maw....maw.....maw.....MAW!  Wait for me!"
      He has unreasonable faith in his 'Maw'.  So what if that hawk is swooping closer and lower with each pass.  'Maw' will keep Bootsie safe.
      I run back 50-60 yards to rescue him from the hawk.  He falls across the toe of my boot, panting, and demands that we take a rest break.
      I have no choice but to indulge him.  Five minutes later, we are hiking again.
      "Maw.......maw......maw......MAW!  Wait for me!"
      He is playing with a pine cone under a large tree.  Or he is suspended over a potty hole.  Or he is just ten feet behind me and has his head turned sideways and is oblivious to my whereabouts.
      Rest break #49.
      If Bootsie begins showing signs of distress such as panting with his mouth open, stretched out on the ground or unconscious, I take pity and carry him.  This seems to happen with more and more frequency.  And he is quite happy to be carried whenever possible.  He is EXTREMELY  happy to be carried.  He purrs, he rubs his nose to my cheek, he kneads my shoulder.
      Somedays I purposely hike at a different hour to avoid him.  One time I locked him in the pet carrier to keep him home.
      He forgives me and goes back out with us at the very next opportunity.  He not only forgives me, but he sits at the sliding glass door every night at bedtime to watch us.  Mr. Hicks and I read books for about an hour before we turn out the lights.
      Bootsie sits outside our bedroom just beyond the glass door, looking up at us fondly.  His eyes say, "I'd really like to come inside."
      I've explained to him about the allergy to cats that I've developed, and that the other kitties will soon be joining him full time outside.
     It doesn't matter.
     He sits in the glass window gazing at us with fondness and devotion.  Most often, he is still there as we turn out the lights, and sometimes remains for a little while afterward, a little dark silhouette on our back deck.        
     His body language says it best.  "I love you, Maw."

Friday, April 8, 2011

Behind the Scenes of Paradise

      Paradise is living at the foot of a 500 foot cliff, hemmed in by a rambunctious creek on one side and luscious rolling hills on the other.
      Paradise is just enough 'wild' to expect a black bear in the bird feeder or the potential scramble from the path of a monster moose that has just given birth, and yet with a grocery store just ten miles down the road.
      Paradise is serene most of the time, but has seen its share of earthquakes and forest fires.  It also hides a horrible mystery in the depths of a lovely, tranquil pond guarded by an abandoned apple orchard.  This stately old pond once witnessed the violent murder of an entire family of newly-hatched baby ducks, picked off one by one as they swam behind their trusting parents.  The grotesque bull frogs that live here will never tell.
      A cliff in the backyard means that the possibility of developement is fairly slim.  Although with rising gas prices, a Wal-Mart close at hand is not a bad idea.  It would require a ski lift, however, to travel from isle "A" to isle "G".  And heaven help the shopper with butter fingers.  Pity to poor soul wiped out by a 20 pound sack of flour from 300 feet.  Neighborly relationships could be tested, not to mention the volume of lawsuits.  Let's axe that idea.
      Paradise welcomes the Candian geese, blue herons, quail, wild turkeys, black bear, salmon, moose, mobs of deer and elk, and yes, the wolves.  But, so far, the wolves have been reasonable as long as my dog and I keep our distance from the pack's 'dead thing'.  And since my little dog is a collector and connoisseur of 'dead things', we've had two encounters that could be described as stressful.  Moral of this story:  Little fat dogs who raid the wolves lunch box end up inside between the slices of bread.
      Paradise has also seen frequent power outages due to an antiquated power system.  It's easy to make lemon ade from lemons here in paradise.  Nothing is more welcome than being forced to spend the entire afternoon with a good book sitting in the shade of the cherry trees 'because you have to.'
      Paradise comes with a small black horse, a Border collie, and outdoor cat (the mouser), and two indoor cats (declawed).  But the indoor cats are transitioning to an outdoor lifestyle because, in middle age, I have developed an alergy to cats.  So Spiffy, the male indoor cat, is hiding under the bed today.  It is pouring down rain outside and Spiffy hates the rain. (He still has enough claws to get a solid grip on the underside of the bed.)  It will take a high-powered suction to remove him.
      There is trouble brewing in Paradise.......