Saturday, December 30, 2006

Am I Lucky, or What?

Today was a typical, but overwhelmingly wonderful, day. We set off on a standard, average walk with our dogs. But in this part of the world, standard and average means the most remarkable scenery coupled with solitude and tranquility.

We put our two dogs in the car and headed for one of the many nearby picturesque mountain lakes we have to choose from. Lucky, right? A ten minute drive and we're there. We helped our old guy out of the car, put leashes on both and set off down the trail. The old one walked about fifty yards or so through the woods, smelling the air and the leaves and sticks, peeing on a few rocks and enjoying looking around. He tired out pretty quickly, but kept going strong until we could tell it would be difficult for him to make it back, so we turned him around and guided him back to the car for nap while we took the younger dog for a frolic along the lake. Pretty average so far, wouldn't you agree?

Except that the lake is a huge, glacier-formed beauty surrounded by pine-covered hills, which lead to craggy mountains capped with snow and ice. The only human on the water today was a single, quiet, surface-skimming kayaker. No speedboats, no jet skis, no noise. The trail is situated between the lake and a mountain of sandstone boulders on top of rock on top of more layers of sandstone all covered with a dense forest of Western red cedar, pine, alder and maple. Waves of sword ferns cascade down the mountain, bright green against the darker green cedar. Even more green explodes before us as furry moss climbs the hill, blanketing limbs, blanketing tree trunks, blanketing rocks.

Walking down the trail, we heard water flowing fast down the mountain, and held our breath in anticipation. And just a few steps later, there it was: a picture book waterfall, a "next to the word waterfall in the dictionary" waterfall. Not real wide at the top where it starts falling in white foam, then it hits a pool and rests before it falls another fifty feet or so, where it ends in a bubbly little creek, strewn with rocks, limbs, boulders, that slow down the flow a bit but it won't be stopped because of gravity and force and so much water melting, draining from the glacier source a distant mountain away it comes down, down, down, settles and turns under the wooden bridge and out to the lake.

And I'm standing on the bridge, lost in my thoughts, watching the water flow, listening to the rush, while he is throwing sticks out into the lake for the young energetic dog to swim out, scoop up, and bring back, over and over. And all is lovely in my world today.

But there's more. Another waterfall and then another. Three waterfalls, the lake, the mountains, the trees, the boulders. Someone has stacked three or four groups of rocks on the shore, perfectly, precariously balanced. Our pup runs around them, picking her way carefully without disturbing a single one. We let her run, swim, jump, while we walk for a few miles altogether.

Then the tummies start rumbling and the idea of pizza and beer is too irresistible for words. Off to a favorite spot on the side of the road that leads to the big mountain, twenty or thirty minutes away; this is farther than we usually drive, so it's a rare treat. As I'm riding, I'm looking out the window and I see something large and black flying along the river. I watch the bald eagle fly with us for about a half mile, casing the riverbank for salmon carcasses. He's in for a treat, too. But he looks so much more elegant in his pursuit.

He doesn't know the joy of hand-brewed beer, though, and there is nothing better to top this day off than the IPA we slurped and swallowed. It is worth walking thirty miles for, if necessary. I have been on summer hikes when only the idea of this IPA sustained us. And the pizza? Divine.

Yet I think of millions of people on the planet, living in squalor, living in slums, in cities far too over-crowded, never able to escape their surroundings for a day, an hour. Millions of people who will never see a waterfall like I saw today. Never see the lake, the mountains, the moss that I wanted to etch onto my memory because it is all so unbelievable beautiful. Who will never know the joy of walking along a lake trail on an average, normal day and see the beauty I saw today. And I know I am lucky. So fortunate to have been born in this country, with this skin and the privilege that comes with it. I'm lucky and I don't know what to do with it except to try to appreciate and to protect what comes my way.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Road to the Rainbow Bridge is Paved with Poop

I have a very old dog. He had back surgery several months ago to repair a herniated disk and he's not back to full strength; he has quite a bit of trouble walking. So today we took him to a doggie spa with an underwater treadmill so he could get some exercise while being supported by the water. Amazing! He seemed to enjoy it and it was a kick to watch the underwater video and see his back legs moving again almost normally. We're hoping that a few sessions a week will strengthen his legs and improve his quality of life. He's almost thirteen, and some might question our decisions, but as his neurosurgeon said before he performed the surgery, "Just because he's old and paralyzed doesn't mean he should be put down." We agreed. Seven months later, he's still here and, more importantly, still happy.

The physical therapy vet said that while most people want to do right by their pets, there are lines some people will not cross. Helping a one-hundred-pound dog stand up, holding his butt as he climbs the stairs, picking up his poop and cleaning him after he drags his butt through it are not the most pleasant tasks one could engage in. Still, I never imagined that I had a choice in the matter. When I adopted him, I took on the responsibility for his care through the rest of his life, whatever that may look like.

Apparently many pet "owners" (these people would consider themselves owners, not caregivers, companions, or mommies and daddies) decide they don't have to be there for their dogs and cats when they pass a certain point, mostly, when they become incontinent, meaning they can't make it out the door before the turds start dropping or the pee starts flowing. Also meaning if you need me to clean your butt, you're out of here.

These people suck. They will put an animal to death rather than expending a little (or a lot of) energy and time to help them along. If you are one of them, listen up. There are products out there to help make this part of your animal's life a little easier on you. Buy them. Use them. Slings, pee pads, wipes, even doggie diapers are available if you can't deal with a little poop on your Persians. As you might imagine, there is a ton of information on the Internet about old pets. Informing and educating yourself is part of being a pet caretaker.

I also don't think there is a price tag on my dog. Credit cards are made for emergencies, and that includes back surgeries and physical therepy sessions, and whatever else he needs. When you get a young dog, buy some health insurance so you don't have to look at him or her some day and say, "sorry, I can't afford this, bye." Some people who don't hesitate to put a $4000 plasma tv in their living rooms wouldn't dream of spending a couple grand to keep their dog around for five or six or ten more years.

Or if money is not the problem, would you then kill a gentle, loyal creature just to save you some inconvenience? Would you be able to look him or her in the eye, knowing why you're putting them down, as they look at you, thinking you're doing what they need you to do?

My dogs are extremely important to me. I've had three in my life, all as an adult. I never had one as a kid. I shaped my own feelings about what is right and how animals should be treated. My first one lived to be fifteen and a half. As a large dog, that means she was 106 when she died. One hundred and six! She was deaf, couldn't stand up without help, and didn't realize when she had pooped in her bed, but none of that impacted her living. She was alert and happy until the day she died.

I still think of her nearly every day, after two years without her. It's hard not to when there are two dogs that look like her still living in my house, along with many photos and reminders and oh, yeah, that urn of her ashes on the bookshelf. I've not been able to do anything with them, and I don't know if I ever will. I know she's gone and these are just ashes. I know they're not her. But I haven't felt a need to throw them or spread them or bury them. I know I'm not keeping her around by keeping them in my house and I don't think she's waiting for me on some multi-colored bridge somewhere this side of heaven. She's gone and I still miss her. If I've been drinking wine, I will get weepy about her. Can't help it. I'll do it again when it's the next old guy's time to go. And he'll let me know when that time comes, just like she did.

Until then, we clean up after him. We help him up the stairs. We stand him up when he can't do it himself. And we take him to physical therapy a few times a week. Someday, someone will have to do it for me. If he could, he would. Someday someone will have to do it for you, too. If you have an old dog, do yourself a favor and keep him around as long as you can. The rewards are beyond measure. And you know they would do it for you. Now go give Sam, Max, Buddy or Molly a hug. Tell them it's from Claire.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Local News: Woman Dismembered by Boyfriend; Holiday Stress; CIA in Your Neighborhood?

Recently, a woman in a nearby town was killed by her boyfriend, who has a black belt in martial arts and an affinity for edged weapons, according to the police spokesman. This leads them to believe she was dismembered. She's (was) thirty-three. This is all I know of her. The police won't say whether they found her body, but they did find a number of disturbing items. What is more disturbing than a dismembered body?

An acquaintance remarked he had to attend a funeral yesterday. The deceased was the husband of an employee. He had been ill and when she got home from work, he was dead on the floor. And so close to Christmas! But wait--there's more! Her first husband dropped dead on Easter Sunday. Holidays on Ice.

Our neighbors thought we worked for a certain secret government agency because a) we moved here from Virginia and b) we didn't have jobs when we arrived. Thus, we were qualified to be secret agents. Do secret agents eat Thanksgiving dinner on the floor because their furniture is being held hostage by the moving company? I think not. Don't their powerful connections make telephone calls and arrange covert rescue operations?

Large dogs and fat cats are the best.