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WALKING WISDOM WITH YOUOne of the best parts of writing my latest book Walking Wisdom was reflecting on someof my fondest memories with my dogs, my infant son, and my father. Early on, to triggersome of my own recollections, I started seeking stories and anecdotes from people online.Almost from the moment I tweeted the solicit, I was getting bombarded with responses. Itwas fantastic and exciting. People had stories, both triumphant and tragic, and pictures,goofy and cuddly that they wanted to share.But there was a problem. I hadn’t quite thought through my plan. When people askedwhere they could send their stories, pictures, poems, and press clippings (yes – thereseemed to be a lot of local news stories about heroic dogs!), I didn’t have an answer. Ihad nowhere to direct them.Soon schedules and due dates, re-drafts and pub plans totally consumed me and I losttrack of that idea to get your stories because I was trying to make sense of my own. Thatis, until now. And this time, there’s an actual plan in place and a platform to welcomeyou to.When people ask me, I tell them that my book is about the beings most important in ourlives and the most precious, poignant, insightful, and irreverent lessons they teach us. Ihope you’ll read it, but more importantly I hope you’ll share some of your own storiesand insights, anecdotes and enlightenments so we all can learn from and laugh with oneanother. That’s where real wisdom resides.So, without further adieu…bring it on!Gotham Chopra
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Duke of Windsor, The Worst Name For The Greatest Dog By: Kathleen FitzgeraldLet the record show: This is not a photo of my childhooddog, Duke of Windsor.Duke refused to pose for photographs. He was too busysniffing his own butt and rummaging through suburbantrashcans for that ... but when we’d catch him, he alwaysgave this exact “terrified squirrel” look:
I think Jay Z said it best with, “I got 99 problems but abich(on) ain’t one.” Duke was a purebred bichon frise butnot the brightest bulb in the discount store lamp. In fact,we’re pretty sure that he was part of an overbreeding ringand mildly retarded as a result.Luckily, the little guy’s abundance of cutenesscompensated for his idiocy. Every week, he managed todart past my Mom as she opened the front door and rundown the street. While “making a bolt for it” is a classicdog move, my furry Steven Hawking sucked at it. Withoutfail, Duke would get “lost” midway down our cul-de-sacand start running in circles like the anti-Lassie.I once joked that the guy was too dumb to hate anything(the aroma of his own butt included), but as I grew andwatched him respond to family crises, I realized that Dukewas smart about the important things. When I fell seriouslyill during freshman year of high school, Duke sat with mefor months, delicately placing his snout where it hurt mostas if to say that everything would be okay. When myyounger brother started getting college acceptance lettersdelivered, Duke skipped out to the mailbox with him andsat patiently while Sean nervously read the verdicts. Hewagged his tail at stressful situations, licked away tears,and never hurt anyone … something that the rest of uscouldn’t pretend to claim.
During my sophomore year of college, I flew to Romefor a semester studying abroad. Stressed until the lastminute, I threw my overpacked suitcases into our hip 1992Previa van (it was 2004) and worked through a mentalcheck list. As I looked back into the utility room to doublecheck that I’d grabbed everything, I saw Duke wagging histail goodbye.Duke died from cancer less than three months later.Looking back, it’s clear that Duke seemed sick even then;but we never suspected anything since his tail wagging andnuzzling kept pace. In the end, this was the greatest lessonthat I ever learned from our tiny, trash diving dog:“People will forget what you said, people will forgetwhat you did, but people will never forget how youmade them feel.”Duke made us feel something good every day.
The Syntax of Submissionwww.disasteronheels.comYou should know that last week my parents finally got thegrandchild theyve been waiting for. Theres anew cuddly object of affection in the house who is keepingmy parents up all night, and his name is Wilson.Wilson is some kind of gourmet dog--a golden poo, or adoodlecocker. Im not sure exactly, but I do knowthat my parents spent months on a waiting list to adopt thisminiature, hypoallergenic home-wrecker.Last night my sister and I received the following email:Dear Daughters,I thought I should send along the proper vocabulary to usewith Wilson before your next visit. Consistencyis everything and perhaps if I had practiced that principlethat with you both things might have turned outdifferently."Leave it"-- applies to untying shoelaces, pulling at therugs, taking things off tabletops, chewing shoes,eating the newspaper, emptying the wastebaskets, etc. Thisis to be said in a firm, no nonsense tone ofvoice.“ComeWilson” –this is used to get him out of the street, toget him into the house, to distract him fromdigging up the perennials, etc. Tone of voice is upbeat,excited, as in it is an exciting thing for him to dowhat you are asking. He gets a treat for this.“Go Potty”— I know, he doesn’t actually sit on the toilet,
but this term if better than “do-business”, “gopee”, “go poopy”, etc. The latter two require understandingof the difference between pee and poop, andfrankly I don’t give a damn as long as it isn’t done in thehouse. Tone of voice somewhat urgent here, likeyou don’t have all day to wait. Gets a treat every time, evenwhen he fakes it.“Sit" — an essential command to keep him from runningaway when you try to grab him. Always gets atreat for this.“No bite”—applies to nearly everything that comes withinhis range of sight right now, so master thiscommand before you set foot in the door. This includesyour hands, elbows, clothing, your bedding, allfurniture legs, rugs, and anything not tied down. Tone ofvoice here is sharp, quick, authoritative.I was also told that Wilson will be starting puppykindergarten next week. I can only assume this isbecause my mother senses hes on the verge of masteringall of her pedestrian commands, and that hisactive brain is hungry for more. My hope is that puppykindergarten will teach him the fundamentals thatwill give him the leg-up on an Ivy League canineeducation, where he will crack under the pressure, loseseveral years to pot, and eventually find himself and start avolunteer program to service displacedsquirrels.My mom also shared her plans to bring Wilson into Fetch(one of three local pet stores, but the one with themost caché) in the hopes that they will want to feature him
in some of their promotional materials. (Weonce had a golden retriever who, on one serendipitousmorning run, was "scouted" by L.L. Beanphotographers in the midst of a photo shoot. Our poochmade the catalog, catapulting its owners into aglorious anonymous fame, now immortalized in the full-page parka ad that hangs on our refrigerator.)When I asked for a photo of this prodigy puppy withstriking good looks who is cunning enough to "fakeit" for treats, she sent me this:I took one look at this doggy Baby Bjorn and I knew mymother had completely lost her mind. I washorrified until I realized that somehow, in his puppy-geniusway, Wilson has managed to hit "snooze" on
my mothers grandparental biological clock. To which Ireply in a calm, authoritative tone: "Sit,Mother...Stay."
Stephens / “My Uncle Doesn’t Speak English” - 2 A few minutes later the kettle whistles. “Really, you don’t have to get up,” I tell him as Ihead back into the kitchen. He pauses in a sitting position when he catches the word ‘stay,’ but Ididn’t say it with any conviction, so he gets up and follows me back into the kitchen. I warm thecup with a splash of boiling water. He sniffs the corner next to the oven. I say, “Your supper dishhasn’t been there in five years!” He looks up, wags his tail, giving the oven a good whack andknocking off several potholders in the process, then sits down. He stares at me and yawns,making a whiny sound. I pat his head as I reach for a tea bag. “I’ll turn it off in a minute.” Hehates it when the kettle whistles too long, but I like rapidly boiling water to hit the tea bag. I pourthe water and turn off the kettle. Satisfied, he reclines in front of the counter where I keep thesugar bowl. I fix a lovely cup of tea. “You know, Uncle Sherman? This coffee-centric society is reallymissing the boat.” We walk side by side back into the office. This time, I sit down in the sunnyspot. “You go sit at the computer and finish debugging that code.” Sherman finds this veryfunny. He wags and gives me a big wet slurp across the face (he’s got kind of a big tongue for aGerman wirehaired pointer) and sits down so that his face is inches from mine. So there we are. I’m sitting cross-legged. He’s sitting doggy style. He thumps his tail; I’mpleased that the roof isn’t dislodged. He yawns with the whiny sound. He does this when he’s alittle frustrated. He gets up and walks back and forth. I have the only warm place. He walks overto the little couch opposite the desk. He looks over his shoulder at me, then climbs up on thecouch. He knows that he’s not officially allowed on the couch unless he’s invited. He settlesdown, but without a harumph. He peers at me expecting me to give the ‘off’ command. I don’t.I’ve got the sunny spot, after all. “Why don’t you speak English?” I ask him. He lifts his head, cocks it a bit to the side,looking very serious. I nearly expect an answer. I get one: He puts his head back down and letsout a ‘harumph,‘ stretching out a bit. I look around the room from Sherman’s point of view. Theceiling fan is dusty – he doesn’t care. There’s dog hair accumulating in a little pile over on thetile floor – he’s probably proud of that. On the couch, he rolls over on his back. He looks reallysilly like that. Those long legs sticking straight up, his ears flopping behind him.
Stephens / “My Uncle Doesn’t Speak English” - 3 In a flash, he flips off the couch and runs to the glass door. He looks back at me and whinesin excitement. I don’t budge. He runs over to me and then back to the door. An obvious barkingopportunity has occurred. He sits next to the door, ears perked with a look of concern and then heleans back his head and howls. A long, beautiful, deep-throated howl. This is what he does whenhe hears a siren. I listen to my uncle sing and eventually I hear the siren, too. I think I know why Uncle Sherman doesn’t speak English. If I could howl like that Iwouldn’t either. I wander around my world, a big bearded dog at my side, and realize thatknowing a language means I have to listen to people complain. I get bills in the mail that I canread. The company I work for sends annoying memos and I have to respond. But most of thegreat things in life don’t involve language, my daughter’s smile, a nice cup of tea, the thrill of asiren in the distance, a chance to chase a squirrel, a nap in a sunny spot or a fine sick on anautumn day. If Uncle Sherman could speak English, he wouldn’t just yawn and make that whiny soundwhen he’s frustrated. He wouldn’t just give a tail thump in response to, well, damn neareverything. If my Uncle could talk it would be an undogly burden. He’d have to pay attentionand offer something other than a big wet glorch across the face when I ask him tough questionslike “Why do you fart when I’m about to fall asleep?” or “Why do people blow each other up?” I get up and go back to the computer. Uncle Sherman comes over and sits next to me. Hemakes a little sound that means “Stop debugging software and rub my chest.” I ask him, “Do youwant to speak English?” He gives me a big wet glorch across the face.
THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY BY LAURA NOVAK Harry…was a leg guy. That way he had of sinking into the down comforter on those foggy San Francisco nightsand burrowing deeply between my legs, searching for warmth on three sides. No matter which way Iturned, Harry was there, lying on top of me, beside me, possessing me. I sported a primo pair of gams inthose days and the fact that this roguish red head would attack my husband’s feet if he got between usalways gave me a perverse chuckle. Harry, the leg lover. That is the way I would like to remember him. Ifit were only that simple.
Those were the waning days of the go-go 80’s in randy San Francisco. The earthquake brought myapartment building in the Marina down around my head. Mark, my then fiancé, rescued me, movingwhat little I could salvage into his bachelor bungalow above Ghirardelli Square.It was all about love in those days; aerobics and dinner à deux after work, weekend hikes in Marin,food shopping in North Beach. Like most young couples, our lives were charged with sex and secondrun films, with nary a thought to a complicated future.Fast forward twelve years when our six-year-old son, Max, poked me awake one morning beforedawn, unable to defeat jet lag from the previous night’s flight from Boston where we had beenvisiting family. Groggily, Max crawled under a blanket in the TV room while I rummaged through abox of videos in search of one to occupy him. I came upon an ancient relic marked “Mama, Harryand Sally.” This was the family of cats we rescued after the earthquake. It was a curious choice for atape to watch now because Harry had shockingly deteriorated during our weeks back east. It wouldtake the veterinarian another day to make a house call and terminal diagnosis. I must have sensedimpending doom as I pulled the video from its sleeve.“You look like a girl!” Max remarked as the video began. I leaned in closer, stunned at the sight ofmyself: nubile and thin, manicured with tousled curls wearing Mark’s nightshirt. In breathy tones Idirected Mark to pan the room, zoom in on Harry Cat and his sister, Sally, pull back to show MamaKitty nursing them.
“Why is dad’s beard so dark?” Max asked, sitting upright as if to better understand this encodedversion of his parents.How was I to explain to this child who had ransomed our hearts and enriched our souls that dad’sbeard was so dark because we had countless mornings to loll about and videotape three cats for 90uninterrupted minutes. Because we didn’t yet know what it was to have an intensely sick childundergo multiple surgeries, to not sleep for four consecutive years and feel our marriage worn to anub. Because back then, the world was our oyster, like the barbecued ones we’d slurp up in TomalesBay on weekends while playing footsie and drinking champagne.“We were so young then,” was all I said, kissing the back of Max’s head.Harry died peacefully three days later. Mark and I wrapped him in his favorite blanket and shared theonly quiet time with him we had known in years. Before the vet gave the final shot, we kissed ourfirst boy while he purred and we promised him a vast garden of lavender in Heaven. Harry’s heartceased beating beneath my hand, his fur inert for the first time since Max engulfed our lives.For days thereafter, I would sit in the garden just before dinner, the time Harry would habitually slinkhome from his daily bender, and I would provoke myself into inconsolable paroxysms of grief.One night, while packing for a business trip, Mark said, “I think Harry’s death is calling upsomething deeper for you. Maybe it represents the end of something else?” I knew he was right, yetdidn’t have the heart to remind Mark of the videotape, of just the two of us at the height of the rut,idle and carefree, not yet contemplating a child and not fearing the death of a child.
Shopping holds no allure for me, but in the days following Harry’s death, I began searchingdesperately for a garden talisman, a ceramic way to grasp and hold time. I packed Max in the car anddrove to every nursery imaginable. Over hills, through the tunnel, weaving through traffic, snifflingand dabbing my eyes until Max finally stated: “This grief thing is driving me nuts.”“Please, just help me find one nice thing for Harry?” I asked meekly, suspecting Mark was right, thatI was really in pursuit of innocence forever gone. At each stop we pondered rust silhouettes of kittensprancing after butterflies and garish stone cats set in unattractive positions.“There’s another great nursery down San Pablo,” I pitched to Max, promising a new Hardy Boy’sbook and his favorite taqueria if he’d just hang in there with me.“What about this green gazing ball?” Max said at our final stop. “It’s the color of Harry’s eyes.”I tentatively circled the reflective garden sphere. Whose hips were those anyway? I wondered, takenaback at my spheroid image. The dancer’s legs Harry loved so innocently where disguised in wide-legged Capri’s and my belly bulged no matter which way I turned. The truth was now evidentthrough a new lens and I could finally mourn the parts of ourselves we had sacrificed in order to keepMax – and our marriage – alive. The miraculous journey we embarked upon from those love-sweptyears had taken its toll. No regrets, just a poignancy I barely recognized.We purchased a wind chime of Indian bells and turquoise beads, strung with a metallic cat holding afish and mouse and hung it by a bench in the front yard. We brought Mama and Sally out to the
garden and stood together as a family – worn, but intact - in Harry’s late afternoon sunshine. Max sprinkled catnip underneath the chimes, while the pet sitter read an Indian prayer and lit sage leaves to lift the words to Heaven. We then untied a cluster of three balloons – an orange tiger striped, a yellow smile face and, my choice, a red heart – and kissed them. On the count of three, we let go. The hot colors dotted the flawless, azure sky, floating toward infinity. As we turned to go inside, I gazed upward a final time and noticed the heart lagged far behind, the last to disappear. Laura Novak has worked every which way in the news business, from being awarded The DavidJayne Fellowship at ABC News London, to reporting for The New York Times from San Francisco. Her firstnovel is set in Berkeley and she is at work on a mystery series. You can also find her on Twitter@LaNovakAuthor. (Harry & Sally Novak circa 1990) Copyright: Laura A. Novak 2010
A Long Walk with a Short Dog Along a Lost Coast By Whimsical Doggo There is a place on the northern California coastline that is so steep and so unstable and so rainy that no one has ever attempted to build a highway there. It is one of the most lightly populated parts of the state that isn’t desert or mountaintop. Even as the state’s population climbs toward the forty million mark, no one seriously suggests that the State Department of Transportation attempt to punch a road through the area -‐ the cost of doing so would be prohibitive and few people would live there even if they had vehicle access to it. The beauty of this situation is that, as is often the case with hostile environments, it has become a protected wilderness area, a state park. As such, it is the one place where one can backpack along the California coastline and legally camp on its beaches. And dogs are allowed there, too. I broached the subject of the “Lost Coast,” as it is known among hikers, to my little rat terrier mix, Higgons. Would he be interested in a three-‐day stroll through a very wild
and crazy place? He stared back at me. I had overlooked the fact that he doesn’t speak English. Never has. Higgons’ philosophy in life, I should point out, coils around a certain bristly assertiveness. As a terrier, he plunges through life with the understanding that he doesn’t need to establish much that hasn’t already been demonstrated as true already. He also holds by the wisdom that he doesn’t have to complicate life by contemplating it much. Maybe Aristotle was the human version of a terrier, since it was Aristotle from whom we obtained the expression, “It is what it is.” Certainly Higgons lives the most Aristotelian of existences. If he did speak English, he might have said, “I dunno.” The decision was all mine, so I packed dog chow along with the usual freeze-‐dried human chow, and pointed the car toward Shelter Cove and the south end of the Lost Coast walk. I had decided to walk from south to north so as to keep the sun out of my eyes, which is my usual habit when hiking in the Northern Hemisphere. Most hikers walk this route from north to south (as to why, we would find out in about two and a half days), so we met southbound hikers frequently. Many of them had dogs, and the people with dogs had: put improvised or
specialized booties on their dog’s paws, bandaged their paws, or were even forced to carry their dogs. I was warned time and again that the way ahead would abrade Higg’s delicate paws well before we reached the Mattole River twenty-‐four miles later. “At least he’s a little guy,” one fellow wheezed as he set his Labrador retriever down for a moment of respite. A luxury that this hike had afforded both of us was that there was no need for a leash. Between the rowdy Pacific and the steep cliffs, keeping track of Higgons (and Higgons keeping track of me) was literally very straightforward. If he did speak English, he might have said, “I know exactly where you are. Cool.” An extra factor of difficulty we would face was that sometimes, like twice a day, high tides would inhibit the progress of all travelers who weren’t seabirds or fish, so we had to carry a tide table in addition to our usual gear. Certainly, our perspectives on this trip would diverge. While I craved the long views, the salt air, the cacophonous waves, and the high cliffs, Higgons sought upright objects on which to urinate. We had different priorities, but Higg’s abiding obsession with urinating on almost anything vertical (which, when one is walking along a steep coastline, is a lot), was perhaps better served.
Asked to comment on this, Higgons might have said, “Just checking my pee-‐mail, guys.” Of course, we both understood that we had not embarked on a cakewalk. Rocky beaches, sea lions, rogue waves, poison oak, bears, and raccoons all lurked along the trail, and given Higg’s predilection to territoriality, whether he owned the territory or not, the opportunities for harm (to us) were rife. What neither of us had factored into the trip planning was Higg’s total disregard for the passage of time. Again, this was the Aristotelian in him. The human half of our entourage strode forth, tide table and walking stick in hand. The canine half of our party lowered his sharp little nose to the sand and began inhaling. I wanted to camp somewhere north of Buck Creek. Higg’s idea of an ideal campsite was wherever he was right now. He had the urgency of limpet. If he deigned to discuss this with me, he might have said, “Hey, check this out: bear shit!” Combining the warnings of the southbound hikers with Higg’s tendency towards inertia, I decided that I needed a method of hastening the little guy over grumpy terrain at a reasonable pace. Faced with our first field of tire-‐sized boulders at the north end of Black Sands Beach, we took a
break (well, I took a break. Higgons kept sniffing the ground). Rummaging in my pack for some appropriate technology, I discovered a spare belt, an old T-‐shirt, and, an oddity at sea level, a crampon strap. Ten minutes later, Higgons was slung, like a seventeen-‐pound baby, across my narrow writer’s chest, and we commenced up and over the boulder field. I had stripped away some of his dignity, but I had preserved his paws and we were making better headway against the eventual setting of the sun. Assessing the situation, Higgons might have said, “Is this really necessary?” Using this new arrangement whenever we encountered rough ground, sea lions colonies, or patches of poison oak, Higgons and I reached an absolutely stunning campsite -‐ quaint waterfall trickling down a glistening cliff face, dry mound of flat rock above the tideline, gorgeous kelp beds just offshore -‐ by four in the afternoon. I laid out a few simple items (No tent. The satellite reports were for zero chance of rain over the next five days), fed the two of us, wrote in the journal for a bit, crawled into the sleeping bag, attached a spool of clothesline to Higg’s harness, and fell asleep at 10:58 PM. At 11:13 PM, I awoke to the treble yell of Higg’s battle cry. Coming to my senses groggily, I slapped out at the
dwindling coil of clothesline, and missed the last yard of it as it paid out behind my speeding mongrel shooting into the darkness. “Higg-‐ONS!” I yelled, “Get back here!” Strangely enough, he trotted right back. Docile. Subdued. Apologetic. Redolent of skunk. If he did speak English, he might have said, “Perimeter secured, sir. Cough-‐cough!” Our beautiful campsite came with a contingent of roosting cormorants raining fish bones down on us from the bluff just behind us. Evidently skunks came out at night and ate the cormorants’ piscine leftovers. Which brings us to the availability of food in the area, which is to say that there is a lot of it. Whether it drifts in from the ocean, grows on the rain-‐soaked hills, or wanders out of the forest, the region simply drips with nutrition. When the Sinkyone people were the climax community of what would eventually become California, the Lost Coast was the most populous part of it. And now the Lost Coast is arguably the least populous. Higg and I blame the skunks. Now that he had a facefull of skunk juice, Higgons sought
comfort, preferably in my sleeping bag. I shivered into some clothes, started some water heating over the mini-‐stove, and went about the business of washing skunk propellant out of a dog’s face at midnight. I found myself fantasizing about an emergency helicopter drop of enzyme-‐based skunk odor remover. As a friend of mine once said, “Skunk incidents are always inconvenient. They never happen in the early afternoon.” Higgons might have said, “That squirrel violated the Geneva convention. He was using chemical weapons.” So much for a good night’s sleep. Smelling and feeling something other than our best, Higgons and I set forth on Day Two. At least one of us would have liked to have slept in, but for once smells were motivating me more than they were motivating Higgons. And we had only paced off the first eight of our twenty-‐four miles (Well, I paced off eight miles. I think Higgons had walked no more than three and three-‐quarters). If we moved steadily, we might be able to reach Punta Gorda, some ten miles north of us, before the late afternoon tide came in -‐ a worthwhile goal. But the beautiful surroundings were also treacherous. This was anything but a placid walk along a sandy beach. Almost nothing was smooth or easy. Every step was either up or down, and a good many of them were also lateral,
with short beaches giving way to long, tall talus piles that stretched down into lashing surf and jagged tide pools. I now proceeded with two walking sticks in my hands, one a driftwood pole and one an old fishing rod that had retired from its day job, and my dog was dangling from my pack straps. Higgons would have liked to have explored everything, but we only had enough kibble for four days, and I needed to get back to work in the big city. A lunch stop inspection of the map showed that we had only progressed as far as a place called Big Flat, sitting at the foot of King Peak, whose summit is less than a mile inland, and, at 4,088 feet above sea level, is one of the steepest coastal escarpments in the world. Higgons wanted to urinate on the very top of King Peak; he might have said, “After giant redwood trees, King Peak is the Holy Fire Hydrant of pissing,” but I had more pedestrian aspirations. I loaded him back into his T-‐shirt howdah and clambered up the next pile of seaside stones. We saved King Peak for some other time. Punta Gorda awaited us. Swaying in his sling, Higgons grunted with disapproval from time to time, but the progress we made over ruddy poison oak patches and then through a surprisingly deep (considering that it was late summer) Randall Creek, made his disgruntlement worth it. The chilly threat of water dancing just beneath his seat in business class did not impress Higgons favorably.
He might have said, “Have you thought about simply turning about and walking back to Shelter Cove?” We were theoretically past the midpoint of the Lost Coast Trail, but the sun had run out of patience with us, as had the moon, which began to tug gently on the eastern edge of the Pacific, and wet, tired, and thirsty, we pushed on toward an area known as Spanish Ridge. On the map, the beaches north of Spanish Ridge were labeled “Trail Impassable During High Tide,” and it was my desire, if not Higg’s, to clear the “impassable” beach before we made our second camp. For speed’s sake, I relegated Higgons to his mobile hammock. Not long thereafter, as we approached Cooksie Creek, we were surprised to hear a woman’s voice call out “Awww... How cute! Ooh, do I smell skunk?” To which Higgons might have replied, “I’m not ‘cute.’ I’m ‘dashing’. And you needn’t worry about any skunks. I have secured the perimeter.” We stopped, briefly, to converse with a young couple camped on a rocky overlook next to the creek. They were walking south, and had elected to get past the rising tide and then end their day here. “That area north of here is danged windy,” the young man said, “she’s a sandblaster. If you’re walking north, you’re
guaranteed to get it in the face, sorry to say.” We expressed interest in getting much of the impassable sandblaster over and done with that afternoon. “Good luck!” they both said, as we hurried down through the massive boulders towards the way north. And Higgons might have said, “Luck is for the poorly prepared.” A long, flat beach greeted us as we dropped down from the rocks. Higgons struggled to be let down onto the sand, and I was in a mood to let him do so -‐ lightening my load by one-‐third had a definite appeal. And perhaps by now he had come around to the notion that making tracks toward a specific destination wasn’t such a bad idea. Just then, a set of waves shot up the beach, which was rather narrow, and slapped at the base of the cliff. The tide, heretofore not a factor in our journey, was in. Higgons might have said, “How are you at walking on water? Surf, no less?” Defeated, we retreated back up into the boulders astride Cooksie Creek and made camp. Wading into a dangerous tide in diminishing light didn’t strike either of us as prudent. For once, we were unified in our goal. Punta
Gorda would have to wait. I found myself fantasizing about a helicopter delivery of a chantrelle-‐and-‐Gruyere pizza. There was no repeat performance by either Higgons or skunks that second night, and both of us slept deeply. We could also agree on the wisdom of rest. When we woke the next morning, one of us checked the tide chart (and the tide, you betcha’), fixed a speedy breakfast, and set us out onto what we now thought of as Impassable Beach. Almost immediately, despite the early hour, heavy winds came at us from the north, so the sun stayed out of my eyes but the wind, and its accompanying sand, did not. Higgons and I were beginning to understand why the bulk of the Lost Coast hikers had walked in the other direction. We both sighed, Higgons clambered into his cotton cockpit, and we (or rather I) leaned into the wind. What if the treadmill in your local fitness club came with a set of mechanical demons who would grab at your ankles as you tried to stride off into your cardio workout? And what if that treadmill stretched all the way to the horizon? Finally, what if other, nastier, automated demons fired a leaf blower filled with sand into your face? Well, probably you would choose to be a scrawny terrier who could curl up in a shelter raised out of the bulk of the sandblasting. At least, I like to think that Higgons
appreciated his circumstances. A second T-‐shirt pulled over my head with a couple of eyeholes torn in it for my sunglasses improved the situation, but did not obviate the fact that I had to walk through all this stuff for no short while. Glancing at my watch every hour or so would reveal that actually only three or four minutes had passed -‐ this was the absolute corollary to the axiom “time flies when you’re having fun.” Higg groaned in sympathy and burrowed deeper into his T-‐shirt divan chair. If he wanted to say something, Higgons might have said, “Good luck with the wind and the sand.” Eventually, a tiny, man-‐made object began to wink at us in the distance. It looked like a damaged paper cup set upside down on the beach, but was, in fact, the Punta Gorda (“Fat Point,” if this has been nagging you) lighthouse, an old ruin, but now a useful and semi-‐encouraging landmark along the Lost Coast Trail. It made us feel just a little less “lost.” But it stubbornly refused to draw any nearer to us. Somehow, the wind that was pushing us to the south was also simultaneously moving the lighthouse farther north. After an eternity of struggling into the wind, the lighthouse remained the size of a paper cup, perhaps now it was one of those paper cups that your dentist offers you prior to spitting. It was maddening, unless you were a small brown dog who had been rocked to sleep by now.
Hikers deal with this kind of challenge by hypnotizing themselves, in a way. Lower your head, set a rhythm, don’t stop to whine, don’t look at your watch, don’t look at the sun, don’t look up at your far off objective, just trudge. And eventually you almost break your nose on the side of an abandoned lighthouse. Higgons and I heaved ourselves inside the lighthouse and out of the sandstorm. I set him down to sniff around and leave a pee-‐mail or two, we drank some water, ate a small snack, looked at each other, sighed, and returned to the beefy breeze sweeping down the coastline. Higgons might have said, “Just a few more miles of this crap. We’ll laugh about it later.” Soon, however, the route turned more toward true north, and the wind, if not abating, at least had the courtesy to cease pounding directly into our faces, choosing instead to shear across our bodies in an annoying fashion. I set Higgons back on the shingled beach and we continued on our way. More southbound hikers, several who said encouraging things about how close we were to the northern terminus of the Lost Coast walk, and, of greater importance to us, the parking lot and the potential for a ride back to our car -‐ Higgons, you might have already guessed, is a most beguiling hitchhiker.
Up over more solid ground, we now veered away from the ocean and toward the weirdly appealing glint of windshields in the distance. Onto an old dirt road, across a small footbridge, then we ambled into the parking lot. Higgons graciously accepted a bowl of water, I hooked his leash onto his harness, and we arranged ourselves at the exit to the parking lot with a hand-‐lettered cardboard sign that read, “Shelter Cove.” As a small brown dog of limited imagination and limitless character, Higgons constantly puts me in mind of the old Elwood P. Dowd line about, “In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.” Higgons, please note, is unhesitatingly pleasant. If he did speak English, Higgons might say, “I don’t talk, and I’m a lot happier than you are.” -‐-‐-‐-‐-‐ Whimsical Doggo lives and writes in various places, such as Wellington, New Zealand, but most of the time he works in San Francisco. He is the author of the forthcoming humor memoir, A Yank in Godzone: Special Times for a Newcomer in New Zealand. Higgons sleeps under Whimsical’s desk to this day. And he still doesn’t speak English.
7 Lessons My Grand-Dogger Taught Me About Aging Cheng 1 Creative Commons
7 Lessons My Grand-Dogger Taught Me About AgingJed Diamond, Ph.D. has been a health-care professional for the last 45 years.He is the author of 9 books, including Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places,Male Menopause, The Irritable Male Syndrome, and Mr. Mean: Saving YourRelationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome . He offers counseling to men,women, and couples in his office in California or by phone with people throughoutthe U.S. and around the world. To receive a Free E-book on Men’s Health and afree subscription to Jed’s e-newsletter go to www.MenAlive.com. If you enjoy myarticles, please subscribe. I write to everyone who joins my Scribd team. Raider was my Grand-dogger, which is an unusual and complicatedrelationship, so let me explain. Shortly after my wife, Carlin, and I moved fromthe “Big City” to the country, our god-daughter, Antonia bought the property nextto ours and built her own yurt. To keep her company she brought her dogRaider. When she arrived, Raider was a playful pup. Over the years, shematured into a playful and fun-loving adult, got old, and finally died at age 15. Carlin and I enjoyed the wild animals that lived in and around our property—deer, bobcats, bears, mountain lions, and a host of other characters. Unlikemost of our neighbors, we decided not to have dogs, which would scare away thewild life. We put up with the bears knocking down our fences periodically to getat our fruit trees and we enjoyed getting glimpses of the other animals. However, we enjoyed “baby-sitting” for Raider when Antonia wanted to getaway for a few days and we became grandparents to this very special being.She became our grand-dogger. Over the years I learned a lot from Raider.Since she passed away last year, I’ve been thinking about her more often. Hereare some of the lessons she has taught me about aging. 1. Don’t worry. Everyone gets older. I often find myself worrying about getting older. I notice new aches and painsand watch my sex drive go up and down like a roller-coaster. Performance of allkinds is more difficult and I worry about losing everything. Raider, on the other hand, does not seem to worry about aging. She clearlynotices that she is getting on in years, but “hey,” she seems to say, “that’s justlife, nothing to worry about.”
2. When you can, play like a youngster. When you can’t, relax in the sun. I used to play all the time. I loved sports and got great pleasure out of a hotand heavy game of basketball, football, or baseball. I can still play, but it makesme mad that I can’t play like I used to play. I often feel slow, fat, and clumsy. Raider spends a lot more time relaxing in the sun. I try to get her to walk andchase balls like she used to do so often. But lately, she just wants to sleep a lot.I must say, she looks very content and doesn’t seem to chastise herself for herlack of “game.” But, out of the blue, on some days she seems like a pup again. She boundsaround, races through the forest. I can’t keep up with her. Where does she getthat energy? Who knows? But when it’s there, it’s there. When its not, whocares? 3. Kisses and touches are forever. OK, I admit it, as I’ve gotten older, I seem to need to be touched and kissedmore often. Sometimes I feel like a little kid chasing my wife around, wagging mytail, hoping for a pat on the head. She thinks I want sex (OK, I usually do), butwhat I really want is to be touched, kissed, and appreciated. But, I feel a littlefoolish. Should I really be this needy at age 66? Raider has no such problem. She snuggles up for touches anytime,anywhere. She kisses my hands and anything else she can wrap her tonguearound. She understands that we never outgrow the need to be touched andkissed. 4. There’s no shame in asking for help. As I’ve gotten older, there are things I can’t do by myself. I need help splittingwood and hefting equipment into my car to get fixed in town. There are ahundred things, big and small, that I could use help with. But I have troubleasking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve strained my back because I insistedI could do it myself. “Hey, I’m not that old. I can do this. No sweat,” I would sayto myself, just before I scream obscenities when the pain grabs me. Raider has no problem asking for help. When her hips were giving out andshe needed help getting into the car, she would look over her shoulder and giveme that look. “I could use a hand here. Could you give me a boost?” No shameat all. Help is expected and appreciated.
5. There’s no reason to get irritable, aging is a privilege. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten grumpier, more grouchy, and irritable. Littleand big things bother me more. There are days that it seems that everyone isout to make my life more stressful. “Do you really have to get on my very lastnerve?” I fight aging and the infirmities it brings. I’ve even written a book calledThe Irritable Male Syndrome. Raider does not fight aging. I’ve never seen her get irritable (though I’m sureshe has her days). She lives every day, every minute, right here and right now.“Hey, look, I’m alive. I have another day to see the sunshine.” She doesn’tcomplain. She doesn’t bitch. She doesn’t moan (OK she does moan now andagain, but she’s either moaning out of pleasure or when something really hurts). 6. Whenever possible, go for a walk in nature with a friend. I grew up in big cities. I was born in New York, raised in Los Angeles, andspent most of my adult life in and around San Francisco. A walk in natureusually meant a quick ten minute race through a park. When I was diagnosedwith a rare adrenal tumor (adrenal, adrenaline, slow down, I get it), we moved toWillits, a small town in Northern California, and bought a house on 22 acres ofland. For a city kid, everything about living in the country scared me. I worriedabout bugs, bears, and birds (yes, really! I still had visions of Hitchcock’s birdsattacking me out of the blue). Raider taught me the joys of walking in nature. She was never afraid and shegave me the courage to get out see the world. The biologist, Paul Shepard, saidthere is something unhealthy about being surrounded by things made byhumans. He said, it’s a kind of intra-species incest, and produces “geneticgoofies.” When Raider and I take walks around here, 95% of everything we see, hear,and touch; are nature made, not man made. Believe me, Raider will neverbecome a “genetic goofy” and every day she teaches me to be the kind of manwho is comfortable in nature. 7. In the beginning and in the end, it’s all about love. In the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to forget about what is truly important.I think a lot about earning enough money to pay the bills. I wonder about thestate of the world and whether global warming is going to melt all the icebergs,change the climate, and make living on Earth more and more challenging foreveryone. I’m concerned about “peak everything,” as author Richard Heinberg
describes the peaking of fossil fuels, the loss of bio-diversity, and decreasingwater and food supplies. I sense that Raider is also aware of the changes going on with theenvironment, but she doesn’t worry about them. She is much more attuned tonature than I will ever be and her ecological footprint is light and playful, eventhough she’s got 4 compared to my 2. She came into the world full of love, expressed it throughout her life, and keptit flowing as she got older. Raider taught me that love is really all that lasts and itwill last forever. She was, is, and always will be my hero. I miss her a lot. I willdo my best to age as gracefully as she did and love right up to the end and as farbeyond as memories last.
Missing Morgan by Hyla Molander With black Dumbo-sized ears and half his white whiskers missing, 12-week-old Morganlooked more like a rat than a tuxedo kitten. The animal shelter tech said, “They found him in a garbage can. Threw the poor kitty outwith the trash.” She squeezed the metal release latch, took a step back, and let me scoop himout of his cage. The entirety of his lackluster fur fit into my right hand, but as he shimmied hisway around my neck, through my long, brown hair, I knew he was mine.
“I haven’t stopped thinking about him all day.” So what if a malnourished pet was thelast thing I needed as a 19-year-old Florida State University writing major? So what if I hadn’tasked my two other roommates if I could adopt a cat? I signed the paperwork, shoved his bag of medications in my red leather purse, and tookhim home anyway. Captain Morgan seemed a fitting name, given that three of my best friends and I had alldecided that each of our new cats should be called by the various booze labels we consumed,though I never referred to him by anything other than “Morgan.” He entertained us by wrapping his sharp teeth around pencils and delivering them intoavailable shoes across the living room. “Good fetching, buddy.” He rolled on his back—all foursspread—to bask in tummy rubs. Morgan thought he was a dog. I’m sure of it. A dexterousfeline, he opened bedroom doors, kitchen drawers, and skillfully played soccer with the dried-up feces he occasionally heisted from his litter box. At night, after he licked his mostly black coat clean, he held my neck with his white-footed paws and purred like a helicopter. We slept as lovers—without the perverse animal sex. Morgan became my happiness gauge. When my first car—an Oldsmobile Calais—wasrear-ended into four other vehicles, chronic back pain introduced to me to depression, whichtold me to keep the lights low and my head under the covers.
“You’re too loud, Morgan. I need to get some sleep.” I tossed him onto the floor, nolonger wanting him in my bed. Some people claimed he sounded exactly like he was meowing“Hy-la,” but even that annoyed me. “Not now.” But Morgan never held a grudge. No, he still sat alongside me as I tapped at thekeyboard, attempting to reconcile my relationship with my dad through short stories. When medication and therapy finally lifted some of my physical and emotional pain,Morgan happily took his place again next to me in bed. “Sorry, little man, let’s give you somemore love.” *** Two years later, I started dating Erik, who immediately let Morgan kneed his clawsthrough his own black hair. “Ooh, is he hurting you?” Erik laughed. “It actually feels really good.” My previous boyfriend had wanted nothing to do with Morgan, but Erik took to himright away.Soon Erik and I were officially engaged. We were also officially sick of living in Florida. “You sure about this?” I asked Erik, as we packed our remaining clothes in massive UPSboxes. We’d already sold our furniture, dishes, and Erik’s red Honda CRX. “We’re together, so I’m sure.”
I’d never been with someone so sure of me. We were both 21, so we knew we couldeasily turn back around if we didn’t like California. My totaled Oldsmobile had been replaced by a silver, two-seater, RX7—which left uslittle room for anything other than Morgan’s litter box and some toiletries. We didn’t havemuch money, so expecting to pay extra for motels that allowed pets wasn’t an option. After we checked in to our first forty-dollar, cockroach-infested motel, we snuck back tothe car for Morgan. “You have to stay quiet,” I whispered. Then, when we were certain no onewas watching us, Erik and I gently tucked him inside a king-sized, grey pillowcase. Bent over the passenger seat, I peeked into the opening of the fabric. “You okay inthere?” Morgan’s light green eyes glowed back at me. “Meow.” Like a newborn baby curled upin his mommy’s sling, he submitted to the protection of the surrounding cotton. I smiled as Eriksauntered towards our room, carrying a bag of dirty laundry over his shoulder. The drive took five days—most of which Morgan quietly spent in my lap. But five days ofconfinement can make anyone crazy, so I couldn’t blame Morgan for bolting away from the carby the time we reached Texas. In a dark, sketchy parking lot, Erik and I squatted between beat-up old trucks until I captured our AWOL kitty. *** On Easter Sunday, 2003, Erik and I were seven months pregnant with our seconddaughter. Between my children’s photography business, Erik’s management position at
Industrial Light and Magic, and taking care of 17-month-old Tatiana, we made jokes about ourchaotic bliss. Even Morgan celebrated his California life by swatting the bubbles I blew for Tatiana inthe backyard. “Cat. Bub-bu,” Tatiana squealed, as her blonde curls flew up and down. But later that same day, there were no more squeals. As many times as I’ve replayed the event in my mind, I don’t remember where Morganwas when Erik slid down the kitchen counter and lay motionless on our white-tiled floor. Did hewitness the blood dripping down Erik’s mouth? Did he hear me scream “Pick up the damnphone” when 911 put me on hold? Did he scurry off for help when he saw Tatiana, still in hergreen high chair, watching her daddy’s cheeks turn blue? Does he see me now? Does Erik see me? One minute laughing; thirty-five minutes later, proclaimed dead. Heart attack. At 29 years old.
When I gave birth to Keira, Morgan let her grasp his full-grown whiskers with her tiny,flailing fingers, as he continued to do with Tatiana. They were his babies. He slept near them,kept guard over them. Mostly I withdrew from Morgan while I submersed in Post TraumaticStress therapy, but he licked the salty water off of my eyelids any chance he could get. Only six months after Erik’s death, as I struggled to adjust to my existence as a 30-year-old widow with two babies, Morgan’s health deteriorated. He stopped twisting doorknobs. Hestopped pouncing on stray mice. “Kidney failure. Weekly fluid injections,” the veterinarian said. “Best to put him to sleep.It’s his time.” But I hadn’t had enough time. I couldn’t do it. Instead, I wrapped him in my soft bluesweater, kissed him on his forehead, and let my friend take him to receive that fatal injection. I couldn’t hold Morgan—my beloved cat who had been with me through depression,love, anger, death, and birth—because I never got the chance to hold my Erik as he took his lastbreath. Copyright 2010 Hyla Molander
About Hyla Molander Widowed at 29, during her second pregnancy, Hyla Molander knew she had to make meaningout of her tragedy. She now does this through speaking engagements, writing for blogs and magazines,moderating a widowed forum on Facebook, and embracing each moment with her new husband andfour young children in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find Hyla’s writing in The Good Men Project Magazine, Writing Mamas, Life360, Scribd,Marin Magazine, and her own popular Drop Dead Life blog. Currently, she is working on her forthcoming memoir, Drop Dead Life: A Pregnant Widow’sHeartfelt and Often Comic Journey through Death, Birth, and Rebirth. www.hylamolander.com
I Didn’t Know But I Knew by David Lee NutterSome people do not believe in what I call “woo-woo stuff.”Neither did I until...It was mid summer 1986. I was driving from southernMichigan toward Detroit. Just cruising along in my car withnothing specific on my mind. I didn’t even have the radioturned on. Just the routine sounds of tires on asphalt and notanything else that I can recall.A strangeness began overcoming me in the form of what cannot be described as a form other than what it was becoming.As I drove along, the form began to become a “presence.” A“presence” that for a while had no explanationuntil I realized it was my dog. I was near Detroit, MI and thedog was at my home west of Denver, CO. The “presence”grew stronger. Stronger to a point that I reached over towardthe passenger seat to pet it ... or to just touch it. Whether Iphysically touched it I can not actually confirm. But I know itwas in the car with me. I can not deny that. As the“presence” grew in my knowing it was definitely present Ibegan to cry. I am not a man that tends to cry easily.Upon returning to where I was staying I called my wife. Wegreeted each other and I asked, “Did you have a good day?”She replied, “No, it has not been a good day.”Rather than asking her what was the matter I responded,“Pupup died, didn’t he?”Silence on the phone ... then “How did you know?”I answered, “I don’t know but I knew.”I told her about my experience earlier in the car. I told herthe approximate time that it happened.Her reply, “That was the very time she had taken the dog to
the vet and he was euthanized.”Someone later commented to me that Pupup surely musthave missed me and loved me enough to make that journeyat that time to be with me.
Toppy at 2 months just after arriving at his new home.Picking ParentsMy name is Top although my humans sometimes call me Toppy which iskind of a childish name for an Alpha male like me. I have three sisters and abrother but have long since lost contact with them since we were all put upfor adoption at the tender age of two months.Adoption was an ordeal since the five of us were taken to a Pet Smart storein Gilroy, California where a variety of potential adoptive parents wereparaded before us. Each of the prospects hoping that one of us would decidethey would be ideal parents and somehow signal our interest and affection.As the smartest and most attractive of the litter I pretty much had my choiceof the humans that came in to look at us. Several potential parents lookedquite nice but had small children. That would not have been an idealsituation since I would have to compete for my parent’s affection. One ofthose couples seemed particularly interested in me so I had to nip at their
little boy. One nip and the boy started crying which was all it took toconvince them that I was a bit too active for their taste.Finally an older couple came in to look. I could see in their eyes that theywere affectionate and caring and would make ideal parents. Strangely thewoman immediately picked up one of my sisters and said to the man: “Ohlook how cute this one is. She’s just perfect.” Naturally my sister decidedthis was a good family for her and began licking the woman’s face. As shedid this I had a sickening feeling that this was a lost cause, the family that Ihad picked was instead going to take my sister home with them and I’d getstuck with another family. How unfair since, as I said, I’m clearly thesmartest and most attractive.Sensing that time was quickly running out I decided to make a move to tryand get attention and change the inevitable. I started whining andwhimpering as I gave the man the most pleading look imaginable. At first itdidn’t seem to work as the man was talking with the woman and seemed toignore me. Then when it was least expected fortune seemed to turn my way.I clearly heard the man say to the woman, “Are you sure you want afemale?” My little heart beat faster when I heard these words since it seemedthat all was not lost.Then I saw the woman nod her head and say, “Sure, why not?”“Why not?” I thought, “Can’t you see that I’m by far the best choice?”Despite my confidence in myself I was truly fearful that I was going to losethis battle until I heard the man say, “Let’s ask and see which is easier totrain, males or females.”The woman put my sister back in the crate next to me. Then I waitedanxiously as the man and woman walked over to the representative of theBorder Collie Rescue Team and engaged in a long conversation with her.Finally, they returned to the crate and the man reached down and picked meup in his hands and held his nose next to mine saying, “I like this cute littleguy.” I couldn’t control my tongue as it rapidly licked his face or my eyes asthe opened wide with joy.Then he handed me to the woman and I squealed with joy and licked herface profusely as I could sense her heart warming to the idea of sharing her
home with the cute little bundle of joy that was me. “Ok,” she said, “If thisis the one you want its ok with me.”On the way home they kept talking about ‘their decision’ and how they hadpicked me. Somehow it never occurred to them that I was the one who didthe picking and that they were my choice. Oh well, I suppose it’s best to letthem think they are the ones in charge.
Buddy Knows BestIn 2004 my sons were persistent in theirrequests for a dog. My family was Blessed byour dog Snuggles as I grew up and reminiscingInspired me to give finding a dog for my ownchildren consideration. I was feeling spreadthin so the thoughts of adding another familymember were generally fleeting. I asked Spiritto guide me on the subject.One day I kept feeling a strong urge to look atthe pet section of the newspaper. By the endof the day, we had a Heavenly new familymember, a peekapoo named Buddy. A youngcollege student was forced to find Buddy a newhome because Buddy howled pitifully when leftin the apartment bathroom while his masterattended work and classes, disturbing thepeace.Buddy fell into our familys routine withremarkable ease. He learned very quickly andwas given free reign when we were home andaway. Buddy must have experienced thetransition as an upgrade as evidenced by theabsence of pitiful howling.
The more we grew to know our Beloved furryfriend, the more we noticed his ability tocommunicate, even lessons of a Spiritualnature...Buddy has a small water bowl and a food dishwith two compartments. We would generallykeep a small amount of kibble in onecompartment of the food bowl and refresh hiswater and food regularly. Once in a while wewould fail to notice that Buddy needed a refillof food or water. Buddy soon learned toscratch the empty food or water bowl to let usknow what he needed. Clever doggy!Soon Buddy kicked it up a notch. I noticedBuddy scratching the empty compartment ofhis food bowl even when he had kibble andwater. Buddy did not want kibble or water. Hewanted treats. Buddy would look earnestlywhere the treats are stored or towards scrapsstill on the kitchen counter, then back at melike “Hook me up Mom!”. Clever doggy!More often than not, Buddys efforts wererewarded with a dog treat or a bit of tablescraps. The Spiritual lesson is this: Decidewhat you want, ask for it and keep scratchingaway at it. We have to decide what we want
and take action towards manifesting it toincreasingly expand Heaven in our lives. Buddyis a genius! : )
Everybody knows the famous story of a thirsty crow lookingfor water in a desert but it happened again in modern timeswhen a thirsty crow looking for water, found very little amountof water in a container so as per experience transferred to himfrom family, he brought some stones covered with sand to dropin the water and raise water level so he can drink the water butunfortunately he died because dry stones sucked all the waterin container and water never came up to serve the crow!Here are some lessons of self improvement derived from the story: 1. Never be a blind follower. 2. Solution may differ even though the problem is the same. 3. Be innovative and analytical even for a simple problem.20-04-2010Al-Ain
Sam By Shana Mahaffey In 1990, a bull terrier mix with a pirate s patch over her right eye, and aninky black wonder dog cape covering her white body, ran along a lonely roadoutside San Luis Obispo, California. A passerby rescued the running dog and broughther to the local animal shelter. And once there, she earned a reputation as anunfriendly dog, intimidating all those who passed by her kennel. But not my friendJohn who said, The first time I saw her, she stood straight and serious, her bodyforming an H. Rather than fearing this somber dog, John brought her home to hisgirlfriend Anne who lived in Santa Barbara, California. And so began a journey ofmy cherished friend, Sam, the dog who taught me how to face and overcome mygreatest fear. I first heard about Sam when Anne called me and said, I got a dog. Sufferingfrom a debilitating illness, Anne often had a tough time getting through the day. So when she uttered the words, dog, my immediate thought, which I kept to myself, was I hope this is one of those old, mellow, sleep all day, cat-like dogs, because Anne didn t have the energy for much more. Then I met Sam, the canine version of Eliza Doolittle. She had the will and the friendly, aim to please personality you only findin dogs, but she definitely needed some work. 1
I ll admit my skepticism over the decision to keep a dog who barked toomuch, chewed everything in sight, didn t listen, and needed hours of exercise towear her out. But my uncertainty reversed itself when I saw how quickly Anne slove and attention, supplemented by the love and attention of her new, extendedfamily helped Sam transform her frenetic behavior into the intuitive, considerate,and affectionate dog I knew for almost ten years. Now don t get me wrong, Sam didn tturn into the Zen master who spent her days inmeditation. The turbo dog with a singularfocus on tennis balls, birds, and whose favoritedestination was the beach remained. In fact,Sam loved the beach so much it got to be thatnobody could say beach in her presencewithout igniting a frenzied reaction of barking,high jumping, tail chasing, scatteringeverything and anyone in the near vicinity. To avoid this, the codeword for beachbecame Sea. But Sam, figured that one out quickly, demonstrating her knowledgeby reenacting her Beach, did you say beach? performance. No matter the route, Sam always knew the way to the ocean. And when thefootpath or car went in that direction, she d go crazy. Upon arrival, the entire beachbecame her playground. She once chased a bird so far out to sea, a boat with anoutboard motor had to be dispatched to rescue her. Another time, on a mission tocatch a tennis ball, she knocked the wind out of me with a blindside as she shot 2
forward to snatch the flying ball in her jaws. But she was also the dog who ran like athief whenever her friends called out, Sammy! Who passed out slobbery kisses likecandy. Who welcomed you anytime, day or night, with a wagging tail and a friendlybark. So, what are a fall and a little shortness of breath for a friend like that? A couple of years after Sam moved in with Anne and became part of my life, I moved to New York City. Even though we saw each other far less frequently, Sam knew I was her friend, the cat lady, who took her for runs, shared my muffin, and who liked to be greeted the helicoptoring tail accompanied by a gleeful bark. And many years later when life found all three of us in the Bay Area, abridge separating me from Anne and Sam, our routine remained the same, just morefrequent. Not long after Anne and Sam moved to the Bay Area, Sam s health took adownward turn. When I saw her after a couple of weeks of battling her illness, Inoticed the toll of it had dimmed her black eye patch and wonder dog cape, but itdidn t diminish the twinkle in her eye or the mirth in her doggie smile. Thefollowing week, after many tests, the vet was ready to present the results. Annescheduled the visit to the vet for early evening so Sam s posse could all attend. Asshe lay on the cold metal table, Sam shifted her gaze back and forth between Anneand the rest of us, wiggling her tail as if to say, Don t worry, it will all right. A thick fear washed over the half dozen of us standing in the examining roomawaiting the prognosis. More people waited by the phone. When the vet entered, a 3
momentary flash of surprise cross his face as he squeezed into the room. All ofyou? he asked. Many yes s and nodding heads answered in response. Once he reached Sam, the vet turned to Anne. I don t remember his exactwords, but they were something along the lines of, It s not good . Sam has a largetumor on her heart. Some folks let out gasps. Those closest to Anne reached out to her as shereached out to Sam. I remember squeezing my toes to save off the pain thatprecedes tears. Someone, maybe Anne or another person who managed to find hervoice said, What can we do? We can do nothing, said the vet. Or we can operate, but when we get inthere if the tumor is too large, we would let her go on the table. So there we had it. Neither option offered any comfort. A lot of talking ensued and the only decision we made was to go get Sam sfavorite meal hamburger and go back to Anne and Sam s home and cook it forher. Even I, the staunch vegetarian, didn t object to this. Later after the hamburger had been cooked and devoured, we all sat in acircle in the living room while Sam flipped the switch on our collective mood, takingus from dark to light by running to and fro, wagging her tail, and occasionallybarking. And after she finished with this, Sam started passing out kisses. Now Sam loved to kiss her family and friends. And her kisses consisted of abig slobbery tongue wash all over the face. Nobody could doubt my love for Sam, butshe d only gotten in a few kisses over the years of our friendship, when she caughtme unaware. I didn t go for the wet tongue on the face and she very well knew it. 4
That night Sam walked the circle, planting big wet kisses on each face. Whenmy turn came, she sat down in front of me and gave me the Sam stare the regal,wise, you know you re going to let me so keep the protesting to a minimum look. Sheclicked her tongue signaling she was ready. I demurred. She clicked again. I held hergaze for a few seconds and noticed a change. Oh, all right, I said. Then I leaned forward and she slathered my face, bothsides, temple to jaw line, crossing my nose in between. If I close my eyes and clearmy mind, I can still feel the velvety roughness of her tongue passing across mycheeks. I wouldn t admit it at the time, and couldn t admit it for years later, but whenshe stared at me, what passed between us was an understanding that this was mylast chance for a kiss from her. After she d finished licking all the faces, Sam lay stretched on her side in themiddle of our circle, spent, her breathing fast and a bit labored. Before departing, Iremember gently placing my hand on her ribcage, hoping my touch would slow herbreathing, provide some comfort. I didn t have it in me to say goodbye. Early the next morning, I got the call from Anne. She didn t need to say it, thetears in her voice told me Sam had died. In between her tears, Anne managed to say,She just got up, went outside and died. In life, we all have the family we re born into and the family we choose. Whenthis family includes pets, its members are all the more fortunate, because animalsare sentient beings who s purpose is to enrich the lives of human beings and teachus lessons if we re willing to learn them. Rescue animals in particular have a specialpurpose because they hail from difficult beginnings. The lucky ones get to break out 5
and choose their path, their purpose, and the people they want to teach. It is safe tosay that Sam was one of the lucky ones, and even safer to say that we were theluckier for knowing her. Since childhood, I ve had what can only be described as an existential fear ofdeath. Sleep offered no respite, because I equated it with oblivion. I fought sleep likeI was fighting for my life every night leaving the light on so I d wake up, setting myalarm for two hour intervals so I could confirm I was still alive and conscious.Because of my own fears, I d always thought I understood what Sam was runningfrom all those years earlier when the passerby found her on that San Luis Obisporoad. After her last night, I realized that day Sam wasn t running from something,she was running to someone in particular, and by extension, many someones. Shewas running because she had a job to do, she had people to teach, people to heal. In my case Sam did her job by showing me that death is nothing to fear. Itdoesn t matter that you don t know what comes after, what matters is you face it onyour own terms. That you do not go quietly into that good night. You face your fatewith a bark and a wag. Focus on your friends and family the people you hold close.Make sure your last words and/or gesture is the one you want to leave them with.That it s unforgettable no matter how many years have passed. Her last night, Sam didn t cower. She stood tall, this time instead of a straightand serious H, she exuded a relaxed and playful demeanor. She fearlessly faced herfate with a bark and a wag, focusing on her friends and family, making sure her lastgesture to each of us was lasting. Even though I am a cat person, there are a fewdogs that have a special place in my heart Sam definitely has the biggest room in 6
the doghouse. She may be gone, but she s certainly not forgotten by the manypeople who knew and loved her. I thought about Sam s last night for several days afterward, trying to find themessage she wanted to convey in her last kiss. Then finally, late one night as myeyelids struggled to stay open while I read, I had a moment of clarity. I closed mybook and set it on the nightstand. Then I reached up and turned off the lamp. As Ishut my eyes for sleep, I whispered, Thank you, Sammy. 7
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