Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: He was the best dog on the planet.

Bonding

Bonding
The author of Mark's Work with Ellie Mae

Guess who's coming for dinner

Guess who's coming for dinner
Blue heron, sitting on the dock of our pond

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
Air-borne bees

BFF's forever

BFF's forever
Margie and Ellie Mae

Tomatoes and peppers are us.

Tomatoes and peppers are us.
Spicy salsa with roasted peppers, here at HappyDay Farms

Much love, John-Bryan

Much love, John-Bryan
Eric at 26 on the left, and John-Bryan in January of 1973.

Halloween fun

Halloween fun
SmallBoy and Dancing Girl

Our house

Our house
The snow season approaches...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Saturday, December 16, 2017

"How Many Tickets, Please?"

“Name something you did as a kid that is no longer possible to do,” read the meme on social media, the other day. I guess this probably has nothing to do with physical capabilities, because there isn’t enough ink or paper to list them all, so I will go with the “drive-in movie theater” experience.

A family could pop up a grocery bag of buttered popcorn, pile into the station wagon and mosey on over to the local drive-in, to catch “How the West Was Won.” Depending on the establishment, patrons either paid by the carload, or bought individual tickets to get in.
My first car

I have ridden in the trunk of a car to gain entrance to drive-in theaters; I have driven my brother Noel and his then-girlfriend, Sharon, into a drive-in, while they were in the trunk. I have sat up on the roof of a ’64 Ford van in 107 degree heat, in Weed, California, and watched a movie (“The Magic Christian”), while consuming vast quantities of beer.

Finally, together with my then-girl friend, Nancy, I have fallen asleep while at a drive-in, and awakened in the wee hours, only to discover that the car wouldn’t start. The culprit was my ’64 Chevy Nova, rocking a small-block 283, which had been “bored-out” to a 301.

It had a Holley 4-barrel carburetor, with a float valve made for sticking. As inconvenient as it sounds, what used to happen was that this valve would become stuck, causing the carburetor to fill up with too much gasoline, which would then overflow.

I had just enough knowledge to be able to troubleshoot and attempt a repair job, but not the experience to be able to see it through. When the carb acted up, flooding was the technical term, the only thing I usually could do was wait.
Brian, letting his beard
"hang in there."

So Nancy and I woke up, I tried to start up the Nova, but it wouldn’t. Sure enough, within seconds the inside of the car reeked of gasoline. I stumbled over to a pay-phone, and called my big brother Brian, to see if he could come bail me out. Brian alternated between staying at the house on Fellowship Street, in La Puente, and out at his apartment in LA, where he attended Loyola of Marymount University. 

He was understandably groggy. After explaining the situation from the beginning to end, he asked if I could repeat it. I did so, after which he said, “Fine. I can come and pick you guys up. Just answer me one question: Where am I now?”

True story, though it may have been Brian’s way of letting me know that 3AM in the morning is not specifically the best time for this kind of favor. Meanwhile, partly out of boredom and partly out of frustration, I “tinkered” with that carburetor while waiting for Brian. 

I had no flashlight but the [empty] theater parking lot was kept lit by random lights atop high poles, needed to facilitate hundreds of cars entering and exiting a venue which by definition only functioned after dark.** Let’s be clear about one thing: Tinkering is loosely defined as messing with something that defied being understood.

In this case it translated into taking a crescent wrench, encasing it in a engine rag, and tapping on the side of the carb to see if I could “unstick” that float valve. To my utter astonishment, either what I did produced results, or more likely, what I did came after matters had been resting long enough to allow the flooding to recede. The car fired right up.
Nancy, Mark and Pauline

Bottom line? When poor Brian rolled in at whatever time it was, Nancy and I were sitting in a car with its engine idling, while the heater kept our feet snug and warm. Had I been thinking, I would have gotten the car started, warmed it up and then shut it back off again.

At least Brian need never have known that he made the rescue attempt in vain. Nancy could have driven me back the next day in her little white VW Bug, and no one would have been the wiser.

As it was, I could not help but marvel at the memory of Brian asking me, where he was at. Growing up, my father would frequently ask me, particularly after a shot of bourbon (strictly “for medicinal purposes, you understand”), “Mark, do you know where you’re at?” Naturally, I would reply, “I’m right here, Papa.”

Eyes twinkling, he would nod appreciatively, as if to say, “Well, there are worse things in life than a young man who knows where he is at.”

Drive-in theaters are gone now, long since having been outdated by the onset of technology. It seems inconceivable to me, that this was once a prevalent form of entertainment in our culture, and that the modern theater-goer will never get to experience this thrill. 
Mark at 19

Not only did we get to see a top-shelf film, but we got the added kick of getting over on the system, by sneaking in, hidden in the trunk of a car. I will admit, it was even better when I managed to avoid lying on-and crushing-a tube of axel grease while in the trunk. It wasn’t that bad. I guess.

But hey, I saved $1.65, the average price of a movie ticket in 1971, while ruining a ten-dollar pair of pants.

Fun memories, those.


** I would be remiss if I did not mention that on weekends, these drive-in theaters became “swap meets” or “flea markets,” but they still began when it was pitch black.

Friday, December 15, 2017

On the Other Paw

This is the sixth in a series of posts on our little rescue dog, Ellie Mae. 

Ellie Mae still flinches if I bring a hand too quickly in the vicinity of her face to pet her, an indication that she has had reason in the past to fear being struck. The ironic thing about disciplining a dog, is that you get far more mileage out of a disapproving tone of voice, than you ever would out of a cuff to the side of the head.

There is a formula for success in bonding with a dog, that is foolproof: Time + attention + love = a dog who is loyal, appreciative and unconditionally accepting of you. Time need not mean actively engaging with your dog, so much as being able to share a space without issue.
If I am word-processing, Ellie Mae is curled up on a bed beside me. If I am moving twenty wheelbarrows of topsoil, to cover my mammoth compost pile one final time, before soaking it down and putting it to bed for the winter, then Ellie is in the immediate vicinity.

Though Ellie Mae continues to exhibit an inordinate interest in the fifteen chickens we keep, I have decided that to only tend them when Ellie is in the house, is counter to the farm philosophy that mandates that everyone get along. Ellie Mae may not like the three cats, and she may like the chickens far too much for my level of comfort, but she is going to have to adapt.
Halfway there...

With that thought in mind, I set out to do a quick cleanup of the girls’ quarters, something I endeavor to do every ten days or so. The wheelbarrow of straw, manure and dirt goes onto the aforementioned humus pile, atop the recently deposited 200-plus dead tomato plants, to help form next spring’s compost.

Ellie Mae displays her herding origins by wanting to roll in the manure. Rather than get annoyed with her for doing what comes instinctively, I revel in the fact that this is a genuine farm dog, a work dog, a four-legged colleague who is willing to do anything that needs being done.

Therefore, I cover the load from the chicken yard with a layer of topsoil, before tarping it, and Ellie Mae is none the wiser. It is up to me to remove the problem, rather than expecting Ellie Mae to ignore what comes naturally. Besides, if we’re going to quibble here, I will gently point out that Dozer’s way of handling the presence of the chicken delicacies, was to eat them, if I was not quick to cover them up.

Dogs. They can be so uncivilized.

On the other paw, dogs can be taught manners. Before I entered the chickens' outside yard, I checked to make sure our little hound was nowhere in the vicinity. Securing the door from the inside, I went to work. Within a minute, Ellie Mae was at the door to the enclosure; I knew this because the chickens were streaming past me to the inner sanctum of their luxury suite.

“Back,” I instructed Ellie Mae, knowing that the command “back” is not on the list of basic commands, forwarded to me by Nancy at Well-mannered Mutts, an outfit that helps the participating dog owner, instill a modicum of civility into his dog.
Whereas those eyes melt my heart,
those scars make me wonder. Sharp fence wire?
Ellie cocked her head to one side, opened and shut her jaws as though yawning, extended a paw for a handshake, though I was still inside the enclosure and then turned around and retreated twenty feet to the driveway.

The first time we ever had Ellie Mae “load up” into the back seat of the little Subaru we drive, when we obtained her from the Humane Society, she was so amped that she kept trying to join us in the front seat. Out of necessity, Gluten-Free Mama used the single word "Back!" and what strength she could spare, to restrain Ellie from showing how happy she was to see us.

Being the quick study that she is, by the third time we had her load up, we only had to instruct her “back” twice, on the roundtrip to Ukiah. When I was decorating the living room with fir, I had it strewn all over the floor. A single “back” had Ellie Mae out of the arena. I was dazzled.
The unseasonal heat has Ellie Mae lounging on the
front deck, as is only fitting and proper.

She “sits” on command, “comes” on command and is getting better at the others on the list. Ellie Mae is so appreciative, her gratitude flows freely from her eyes, which express her new lease on life with 20/20 vision. Her early tendency to want to be on the prowl, continuously poking her nose into every nook and cranny, has ceased.

Some of it was due to her new surroundings, but part of it was due to habit. A dog which finds a variety of ways to get into trouble, has too much unattended time on her paws. A dog who spends most of her time in the company of her human, has no reason to prowl. She is happy, fulfilled, and ready to get up and do it again the next day.

Especially if there is something to roll in on the humus pile.
I swear. It was only once. I thought they were, well, never mind.




Thursday, December 14, 2017

Finger-Licking Dog Treats

If there is one thing for certain, it is that nothing is certain when it comes to creating the annual menu for Christmas Day Dinner, with a capital “D.” Christmas Eve dinner, on the other hand, is a no-brainer: pizza. Always was; always will be. There is never any argument about that. 
One of the wise men is obviously posing for
the camera.
It has been suggested that it is remotely possible that I am still suffering residual effects from being served liver one Christmas Eve, on Fellowship Street, growing up. Feeling as though I had been personally betrayed, it was almost enough to derail Christmas for me.

The Big Day, however, is not as simple as pizza. Last year I wrote about our menu choice, in a piece entitled “Saurbraten.” It was a tribute to the German side of the family, to take a nice cut of beef, and spend three days marinading it, before roasting and serving it on Christmas Day. It was out of this world.  http://markyswrite.blogspot.com/2016/12/sauerbraten.html

This year I ran paella (pie-ay-ya) up the flagpole, to see if I could get a salute out of Gluten-Free Mama. Paella is a Spanish dish, in which chicken, chorizo sausage, shrimp and prosciutto (Italian ham) are combined with rice and other ingredients, to create a savory concoction that is scrumptious. 

When it comes right down to it, you can combine any ingredients you want. We have pulled this dish off in the past, but GF Mama nixed it for this year, saying, “There’s no way we can get up to Eureka before Christmas to get fresh shrimp.”

Oh.

Saurbraten being marinaded
Possibly because the Thanksgiving Day feast is so fresh in our minds, an almost-entirely-farm-produced event, sentiment seems to be leaning in that direction. There is additional impetus now that we have the fruits of our two pigs, nestled securely in freezers here on-farm.

My ongoing goal has been to raise turkeys, since we are already in the chicken business, and we have the fenced-in orchard. In early spring I would acquire a dozen from Meadow at the feed store in the ‘Ville, and process six of them at about ten or twelve weeks. I would let the rest go until the fall, when I would then be able to count on a market for fresh, organically grown turkeys.

We would also be able to have one on Christmas Day.

I was busily composing a piece of writing in my head, one day last week, when it occurred to me to broach one more possible menu idea, to Herself. 

“How about if we do a finger-food kind of menu, like we used to do on the night we decorated the tree?” Included would have probably been stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, little weenies in barbecue sauce, carrots, celery, black and green olives, various types of chips with guacamole, spicy chicken wings, you get the idea...

I was drawn to this menu idea for several reasons. First, it would be, well, a first; second, it would be less structured, and therefore, hopefully, more light and breezy. The prevailing philosophy would be to just keep laying out simple dishes all day long, with everyone grazing as the mood strikes.

Third, I might tend to think it would tone down the inclination to overeat. If you have access to a constant flow of seasonal delicacies, all day, I would view it more as a taste-testing venture. A wise man paces himself.

A gigantic bowl of yeast popcorn would accent the event, and the veggies/deviled eggs could be prepared in advance and just put out as needed. The items being served hot could be trumpeted from the rafters, but otherwise, if you snooze, you lose.

There will be a jigsaw puzzle going, most likely the Dickensian Village one, there will either be Christmas music or a film on, and hopefully, we can get a little game of bridge on the line. It’s been a minute or two since the boys and I have played bridge.

Regardless of the menu, the dinner will be vastly surpassing excellent.

We have the house decorated now, except for one small, but important item, and that is a stocking for our newest addition to the household: Ellie Mae, sleeping even as I write, exactly where she crashed ten hours ago.

Ellie Mae has paid zero attention to tree, decorations, Nativity set and lights, though it’s possible that the dog treats I keep in my pocket have something to do with that.

Jack Nicholson had it right in “As Good As it Gets,” when he fed Vern a steady diet of little bacon treats. Mama didn’t raise no dummies so I cooked Ellie Mae up some bacon, and that was all it took.

Who needs Christmas tree ornaments, when you can have bacon?

One for Ellie Mae, one for me, one for Ellie Mae...


BACON!?! AS A TREAT?
"Humph. Is nothing sacred? I never got bacon...


  


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Oh, Christmas Tree!

If there is a more cherished memory than going up the road a good stretch, and topping a fir to use as a Christmas tree, I can’t flag it down. All of the years I taught in the local school district, our family had a ritual in place for that last work day before the break began, that would rival any other: Christmas tree hunting.

Regardless of which day of the week the break began, it was always a total of sixteen days: two work weeks with three weekends mixed in. The last day of school was always a minimum day, which meant we would be back up on the mountain no later than three, and then the fun would begin.

We would load all five of us into the old ’72 Chevy half-ton, and drive up between five and seven miles from our spot, where we would have our choice of native firs, none of them particularly attractive, compared to the perfect replicas you get on the Christmas tree lots in town. 

No, our trees were not specifically labeled “Charlie Brown Specials,” but make no mistake, there was simply nowhere near enough light filtering down through the forrest of firs, to allow the little dudes on the bottom to get fat and sassy.

Nonetheless, a fir is legitimate, even if it is sparse and especially if it is ten feet tall. Lest you think my tree a couple of feet too tall, creating some awkwardness, allow me to assure you the room into which the tree was going, had ten foot high ceilings. 

Who's high?

Upon our return from the annual tree adventure, Gluten-Free Mama would complete the assembling of our Yule Tree feast, which consisted of finger-foods. That way, we could munch our way through a steady parade of seasonal delicacies, while decorating the tree. As if eating and decorating the tree were not enough, we would have a film going at the same time, along the lines of “Home Alone.”
The entire ensemble kicked off not only the Holiday Season itself, in our household, but those sixteen glorious days off. Not being on the grid included having no television reception, whatsoever, so we relied on our trusty VHS machine.

Over at the big house, Mama had accumulated quite an expansive collection of Holiday fare, and we used to go check out an assortment of favorites, to be viewed, returned and exchanged for more. It was a nice system.

The year I blew out my left ACL on Friday, December 13th, we ended up making the journey up The Bell in a heavy snowfall. Our two-wheel-drive truck was chained-up, of course, or else we would never have had the traction to make it up to the Christmas tree “farm,” but it was still an adventure for the ages.

I was on crutches, there were already a few inches of the white stuff on the road when we started out, and we were going up the ridge. The snow was rapidly piling up. Two-wheel-drive, even with chains, is only good until you hit six inches or so, and even at that the road had better be broken already.

And just when we thought we had it nailed, logistics reared an ugly head: Pray tell, exactly how do you know what any of the trees really looks like, when all you can see is mushroom-topped mounds of marshmallow cream?

Or how about the year we headed back up an iced-over Bell Springs Road, in eighteen-degree-weather, with a howling wind? Why we were not chained-up is beyond me, but just past Orange-Marker Road, while rounding a bend, the rear of the Chevy kept on a chooglin’ on off the road. There we were, perpendicular to The Bell, nose pointing outward, with no chance of going anywhere without a tow-chain.

Was I worried about the truck? Let’s take stock: GF Mama, six-year-old SmallBoy, eight-year-old Ben-Jam-In, nine-year-old HeadSodBuster and I, were stranded on an ice-encrusted road four miles from home. The wind was swirling, the temperature was in the teens, and the youngest of the three boys was still young enough that after a short ways, I carried him piggyback. 

What truck would that be?

As we straggled along, out of nowhere Corky was coming up on us, driving a fearless four-wheel-driven truck, and easing up alongside. 

“You folks need to pile in before you freeze to death,” he hollered, and no one argued. Normally, he would have turned left on Green-Gate Road, but insisted on delivering us to the front doorstep of The Big House. 
I took this photo yesterday, from SmallBoy's spot.
You can see the Big House in the distance.

We were so frozen that I dared not have him take us home to a freezing house. We defrosted at Mama’s and never considered leaving until the next day. 

We still had our Christmas tree party that year, but just not on the original date it was scheduled.

This year, not having a vehicle any longer, Gluten-Free Mama asked that nice HeadSodBuster to pick us up a tree from town. When I tried to reimburse him for it, he would have none of it. I must admit it feels good.

I don’t miss going up the road for our tree because it is not an experience that can be duplicated. Oh, sure, we could get a tree and do the finger feast, but it’s not the same. I don’t want it to be, because I want the boys to be able to establish their own traditions. 

“Memories, they can’t be boughten, they can’t be won at carnivals for free,” sang John Prine.

I agree, and what’s more, they can’t be duplicated. You can make new memories, but you can’t “paint a “Starry Night” again, as Joni Mitchell sang, in reference to being hounded to play a certain song during a live performance.
GF Mama has been grooming the house for Christmas for a week now, at a most leisurely pace, with me doing the typical man-stuff, including paying a lot of attention to a certain jig-saw puzzle, which captivates me every few years.

I have also devoted a great deal of time and attention to Ellie Mae, our sweetheart of a hound, so that she does not have the energy or inclination, to be curious about the new tree. 

Without warning, it suddenly appeared in a remote corner of the dining room, formerly relegated to Ellie Mae as a timeout spot, for the exceptionally rare instances when this tactic was deemed necessary.

Ah ha! Maybe that explains why Ellie Mae leaves the tree alone: guilt by association.






  





Monday, December 11, 2017

The DH (Designated Human)

This is the fifth in a series of posts on Ellie Mae, a sweetheart of a dog who is rapidly filling that void in our home and our hearts, with the unscheduled departure of Dozer the bulldog. 

Even the cosmos is cooperating with the adapting of our recently acquired Ellie Mae, to her new surroundings. The weather has been idyllic these past couple of weeks, from the perspective of those who like balmy pleasant days, and nights that remind one of summer. Four years ago this week, we had frigid temperatures here on the mountain, bottoming out every night somewhere in the teens.

The line from the spring froze, of course, and did not thaw for two weeks. GF Mama and I bailed out to Willits, back in the time period when we had our little Pine Street Motel.
Breathe on it and it will hit 70 degrees,
and it's only 11:45 in the morning.
These days the thermometer is hitting 70 sunny degrees during the day, and staying in the fifties at night. Say what? I can hear the folks from the ‘Ville screaming, “It was 22 degrees down here last night. Where do you get 'in the fifties?'”

It’s that old inversion principle, where the days are warm and the nights chilly, so the cold air sinks to the valley floors and forces the warm air upwards.

Having the weather be so pleasant allows me a great deal of flexibility when it comes to permitting Ellie Mae the freedom and opportunity to do her sprints, day or night. This facet of her exercise is the first thing I noticed (OK, fixated on), when we first introduced her to her new home, because it is so extreme.

She tears back and forth across the expansive yard, as though chasing a deer, a couple of squirrels, and just for good measure, a wild boar. She races frantically, as though she has been confined for the last 23 hours of the day, and this is the 24th. 
It's a dog's life...

Seriously? An hour ago, I heard her barking in response to Emma the dog, up the driveway a stretch. I hollered, “Ellie Mae, come!” and was gratified to see her jets kick in, and then the after-burners, as she hurtled towards me, the five front steps, the ten feet of decking, and the wide-open kitchen door. She leaped the steps without touching them, landing gracefully on the front deck, where she took one bound before hitting the 20-foot-long kitchen. 

There was no braking system ever devised, through nature or by Man, which could have allowed Ellie to accomplish what she set out to do in the amount of space provided. Desperately, she went into a tail-first slide as perfectly executed as any that Hunter Pence could have pulled off on the baseball diamond.

Ellie slid from halfway into the kitchen, until the far side, where she ground sheepishly to a halt, stylishly reclined on her left side, so that she faced me, while locking eyes. 

Safe! 

Scrambling to her feet, she hustled over and “sat” in front of me, as if to say, “Well, you said to come!” And of course, Nancy would be appalled. Ellie Mae must learn to enter the house-or pass through any door-as a properly-trained young dog ought to, without endangering the life and safety of her designated human. Wait. A DH, just like in baseball? 

Go figure.
And that ear!
I'm trying to train mine to do the same...
The big news is that Gluten-Free Mama and I took Ellie Mae down to the complex in Ukiah, to have the Pro from Dover, Nancy, give her a look-see. During the hour-long consultation, we filled Nancy in on how Ellie was adapting, while she assessed the progress Ellie Mae has already made.

We have been working with seven basic commands of, sit, come, stay, place, off, down, and Leave it. The last is one that we had already implemented before we got The List, so we decided to keep matters the way they were. 

Nancy seemed pleased with what she saw, and towards the end of our session, she asked if we thought Ellie might respond well to walking up an inclined ramp, and then down the other side. She used little treats to entice Ellie Mae, and found that Ellie was more than up to both the treats and the task(s). Our Ellie may be a candidate for agility training!

The bottom line is that Ellie Mae was deemed an excellent candidate for the obedience classes being offered in Willits, beginning in January. Meanwhile, Gluten-Free Mama and I will continue to work with the basic commands.

In this way we can use the classes for the dual purpose of not only training her to do as we ask, but to get her accustomed to being around other dogs without going into her act.

AGILITY TRAINING?!?
Hand me a dog treat and I'll show you agility...






Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"Blah, Blah; Woof, Woof..."

This is the fourth in a series about Ellie Mae, a sweet, affectionate Black Mouth Cur, who has adopted us as her new family, from her luxury suite at the Humane Society for Inland Mendocino County.

Are we getting along yet?

Living on a farm as we do, there is a multitude of critters with which Ellie Mae, the dog, must learn to get along. Ellie Mae joined Gluten-Free Mama and me twelve days ago, from the Humane Society of Inland Mendocino County, and has been adapting nicely.
The evidence: Those aren't Dozer the bulldog's
scratches.
We do, however, have our first consultation with skellydogs.com and the force behind it, Nancy, this coming Sunday morning, purely coincidentally, I might add. 

Ahem. 

What I asked of that nice Nancy was a private consultation, because, well, we could not afford to wait until group classes were available, in January. More specifically, Ellie Mae could not afford to wait. 

She is what might be described as impetuous, bless her Houdini-like skills, and we need to instill a basic command set. As much as Ellie Mae, I needed to participate in the process, simply because I never have. I have raised many pups, but have never gained possession of a three-year-old. 

Even Dozer, the recently departed English Bulldog, came permanently into our hearts and home from SmallBoy, after already spending a fair amount of time with us as a pup. This included his first month in June of ’08, when the Mendocino Lightning Complex struck, and CalFire had SmallBoy in its iron grip.

This coming Sunday is the first day we could schedule something, following the two-week quarantine that Ellie Mae had to undergo, to ensure that she did not bring any diseases with her from the shelter that could infect other dogs. Of course, this did not apply to Emma or Margie, dogs who already live on-farm. 

As I explained to them, “Whatcha gonna do? She’s family, now.”

Nancy immediately sent us a copy of the basic commands she would like Ellie Mae to become familiar with, and GF Mama and I went right to work. Necessity is the mother of invention, and we need Ellie Mae to fit in because she is not the only quadruped on the premises. 

After I clarified for her what a quadruped was, Ellie Mae was good to go.

Our philosophy is that there is plenty of room for everyone, and if you can’t get along, then you are the odd dog out. Besides farm dogs Emma and Margie, our menagerie includes the three cats that live with GF Mama and me, and the five farm cats that live a football field’s length up the driveway from us.
I'm sure detention will work; after all,
it always did with middle schoolers.
Cough.
 
There are rabbits up at HeadSodBuster and BossLady’s spot, as well as a fenced-in chicken complex, but the only time Ellie Mae encounters this venue, she is on the end of my leash. Having just relocated our two pigs from their quarters, to a couple of chest freezers here on-farm, our critter force is slightly reduced.

There are fifteen chickens, whose dwelling and exercise complex are within the two-acre fenced-in yard that Ellie Mae calls hers. Though Ellie is apt to swing past their abode each chance she gets, once again, the key to success is to build an enclosure that is impenetrable by any four-legged or winged critters.

So far we have seen bobcats, foxes, skunks and ravens doing their best to gain entrance to said menu, and they have been rebuffed. The bear, on the other hand, simply went right through the fence and into the complex, ripped the little door off its hinges, reached in…and got nothing because his arm is only so long.

My guess is that if the bear had wanted to get into the ten-by-ten wooden structure badly enough, he would simply have ripped it apart, but he must have been on a mission that did not include our chickens. Ellie Mae was more successful; she at least got a mouthful of feathers.

Stupid me.

Even writing this makes me cringe, but it just goes to show that whereas Ellie Mae likes to try everything once, kind of like being down at Disneyland, I have to wait to see what she does next, in order to adjust.

Ellie Mae tests, I adjust, she adapts and eventually the two of us merge into one lane.
Sad looks will get you nowhere...

What I have going for me is Dog Psychology 101, in which Gluten-Free Mama has a PHD; you may call me Grasshopper. I know that the one thing that will win out over all, is that bond between Every-Dog and her trainer, because when firmly in place, the dog will do anything to please.

When the bond is firmly in place, the sound of the trainer’s voice praising her, becomes more desirable even than a dog treat. Considering Ellie Mae came to us weight-challenged, her ribs clearly outlined against her tawny fur, this is saying a great deal.

I will cop to talking to Ellie Mae, incessantly. I explain why chasing the chickens, scaring the bejabbers out of them, and attempting to have an early dinner, is decidedly unacceptable behavior. The other thing I do is get out The List and mentally jot down, # 17: "Do not tend the chickens unless Ellie Mae is in the house.”

Then I remember what happened yesterday, while I was out cleaning the mammoth chest refrigerator, and left Ellie Mae in the house-by herself. I was discarding that which had been left behind by the departed farm crew, and scrubbing the fridge out, including adding a liberal dose of baking soda to freshen matters up a bit.

Since I was not inside the house, I do not know in what order things progressed, but when I returned after ten minutes, I found that the paper towel dispenser had indeed dispensed: about fifteen feet of almost-new towels strewn out across the kitchen floor. I ventured carefully into the the dining room.
Fine. Whatever. Sigh....

I found that the curtain hanging on the back door had been yanked down, and that the framed photo of the kids up on Blue Rock was knocked off the window sill and onto the floor, as well as the framed photo of the red-tail. Additionally, a stack of photographs was spilled onto the floor, and there were SCRATCHES on the wall. I guarantee you that Dozer the Bulldog could not jump that high.

Finally, in the laundry room, well, never mind.

You get the idea. I like to think of it as Ellie Mae being impetuous, but it led to an awesome teaching moment.

I really was kind of stunned, not having seen this side of Ellie as of yet. I walked slowly around assessing all of the “damage” without comment. Ellie accompanied me. When we returned to the paper towels, I sighed deeply and began to roll them back up.

I will confess to softly emitting a howl, like that you always hear in movies, long and haunting, and oh, so sad.

After I did so, I patiently explained what it was I had been doing outside, and why it was not OK for her to go around blah, blah, woof, woof, and we got it all straightened out. What I did not do to Ellie Mae is yell at her. I did not even raise my voice. I spoke slowly and firmly, in a low gravelly voice, and one which drips acid so heavily, Ellie recognizes that she had better stay out of its way. 

I would never-could never-strike my dog. Heck, Gluten-Free Mama and I raised three sons, born within a 38-month period, without spanking, so this is a cake-walk in comparison.
Ellie Mae and Emma

Ellie followed me around until everything was returned to normal, about three minutes’ time, and then I went and removed the big dog-bed that Emma the Great Dane uses when visiting, and tucked it behind the couch.

I took Ellie’s own little bed and put it up high, and then grabbed a dog-bed not being used by any dog, and placed it in a lonely corner of the dining room. I added a not-her-dish of cold water, and made Ellie take a time-out. I had to patiently ask her to take her spot more times than I might have thought, but once settled, after three false bolts-for-freedom, she remained for the prescribed fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, I sat in my spot in the other room within eyesight, and monitored her detention, er, time-out. Sorry about that. Old habits die hard, you know. 

Besides, I didn’t ask her to work on her homework, or even read something, so it IS different.

Next: Margie and Ellie Mae
Maybe bulldogs can't inflict scratches on the redwood surface,
but wabbits can...




Monday, December 4, 2017

Stalag 13

There’s a new kid on the block and her name is Ellie, Ellie Mae. Gluten-Free Mama and I swooped her from the Humane Society of Inland Mendocino County, one week and two days ago. She came to us with a rep: Ellie Mae is sweet, people friendly and…an escape artist! 
Sleeps with a perpetual smile...

Well, Ellie Mae is that, of course, having escaped first of all from a home-life that left her ribs clearly outlined, and in need of nourishment not only for the body, but for the soul. Secondly, she escaped from the shelter after only twelve days, not to imply that the shelter is a bad place to be, but a dog belongs in a home just for her.

As far as being an escape artist, that is merely a logistical detail. If I am not smart enough to build a fence tight enough to successfully confine a 42-pound bowser, then maybe I need to reexamine my qualifications for owning a dog in the first place. Besides, the fence in question has long been in place and has proven more than adequate, thank you so much for inquiring.

Famous last words…

Despite the fact that this fence has proven impenetrable to wild boar, cattle and more deer than you can shake a stick at, Ellie Mae is a born-free dog, and scoffed at the concept that there is a fence she couldn't jump. There have been numerous escape attempts, in the early going, with two being successful. 

She is a master at her trade.

This may as well be Stalag Dreizehn (13), because it is no ordinary stockade and does not expect to house run-of-the-mill inmates: Ellie Mae is no common inmate. She has responded to a cascade of attention and affection in a predictable manner: The bond between me and Ellie Mae is welded securely into place; she wants nothing more than to please me. 
A mutually beneficial arrangement,
if ever there were one.

Therefore, she is not trying to escape Stalag 13 because she is unhappy. No, the reality is that Ellie needs to be exercised several hours per day, in a yard that is at least an acre in size, and that she has had much experience in her short life, escaping from the best of them.

Besides, she didn’t “jump” my fence-she is a tunneler.

My fenced-in-yard is pushing two acres, but it is only part of a twenty-acre parcel, over which Ellie Mae and I will spend much time traipsing. It is a quarter-mile up to the top of our driveway, alone, a destination we visit at least once a day.

Nothing is really flat, and there are bodacious oak trees inhabiting the same space, along with a couple of creek beds. The point is Ellie Mae has ample room in which to navigate; she is the fastest dog I have ever seen and that includes farm dog, Great Dane mix, Emma.

It’s not enough to have the property, however, if you do not have the time and inclination to adequately oversee, that the dog you rescued from the shelter gets sufficient exercise. Taking a rescue dog home when you do not intend to follow through with time and attention, is like writing a check for ten thousand dollars to the Humane Society for Inland Mendocino County, with insufficient funds.

Both sound like great successes, when they first crop up, but are ultimately empty gestures.
Hey! Who put this stupid plywood in the way?

After Ellie’s first escape, which took me completely by surprise, I had to bide my time. How did she escape? I had already examined the easily accessible portion of the fence, which was really about three-fourths of it, and was hoping to avoid the arduous task of clambering along the remainder of the perimeter, which traversed a rocky hillside.

It’s kind of fun for a 65-year-old codger, but not that much…

Instead, I waited until the next time I let her off the leash to romp, and then “raced” to follow her straight to the point where she went “under the wire.” While Ellie Mae was gallivanting in dog-paradise, barking up a storm just out of eyesight, I was scrambling to put up a roadblock on her Highway to Freedom. A chunk of discarded plywood out of the bone yard, a dozen or so sturdy rocks, and that exit was crudely-but effectively-blocked.

Additionally, the second time she escaped, I not only saw where she wriggled under the wire, but where she got back in (under the north gate). Therefore, I have now found and repaired three certain escape routes, and reinforced a fourth as well that looked mighty suspicious.
Ellie Mae is not trying to replace the bulldog as
an entertainer, I keep saying, is she?

Ellie Mae has been outside in the yard, off her leash, at least eight times since that second escape, and I think she has taken it for granted that escape is out of the question. So much of a dog’s life is routine-oriented, that if you can disrupt that routine, i.e. always trying to escape, you can break the habit.

Her habit was probably chasing deer, since the ever-present deer in the ‘hood seem to rock her world more so than other critters. At any given time, Ellie Mae may be within spitting distance of one or more deer, and she responds accordingly. 

Exit, stage left? Those days are gone forever...

Heck, she came to us with a case of Lyme’s, for which we give her medication each morning, so there is the best reason of all to keep her away from deer.

I just want a buddy to accompany me as I do my chores, and watch the San Francisco Giants with me, and how can Ellie Mae do that if she’s out chasing deer? 
Inspector Dozer: No dog-treat left unturned...