Dozer, the bulldog

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


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

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. 


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.

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
We do, however, have our first consultation with and the force behind it, Nancy, this coming Sunday morning, purely coincidentally, I might add. 


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.
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...

Saturday, December 2, 2017

"Howdy, Doody!"

Our introduction to Ellie Mae at the Humane Society for Inland Mendocino County, was an exciting event for all, especially Ellie Mae. There were two women behind the counter; one was Adri who had been communicating with Gluten-Free Mama, and the other was taking care of all the foot traffic. Both were answering phone calls.
The Humane Society for Inland Mendocino County
The Black Mouth Cur is a well-muscled rugged herding, hunting and all around utility/work dog, whose coat comes in a number of colors and shades.

What can I say? In our excitement GF Mama and I had been unable to wait. The first day that we could possibly pick up Ellie was Saturday, one week ago today. We had already been on hold for about five days, so when the big day came around, we were in the parking lot at 11:00, when they first opened the doors.

We still managed to wait another three full minutes, before sauntering into the office. There seemed an inordinately large number of cars in the sprawling parking lot. When we announced our mission, there was a calm sense of jubilation, as in what a cool way to start off the day. 

The name “cur” is a descriptive term for a general, short-haired, drop-eared, farm and ranch working dog. Black Mouth Curs are primarily herding dogs able to hunt big or small game, but they are also suitable as family dogs.  The BMC has a lifespan of 12-18  years.

Also starting off the day were several other folks who drifted through the door in those opening ten minutes. First off was a homeless man seeking to leave a dog he had acquired in his travels. He was earnest, his story, I imagine, must have an all-too-frequent occurrence, and he was urged to follow through with his attempt to get the lost dog into the system. He was sent to the county animal shelter in Ukiah.

A woman brought a huge cellophane-encased basket of fruit and other assorted seasonal goodness, and placed it on the counter to the left of where we were situated. I got the impression it was something to be auctioned off at a fund-raiser for the shelter. It was quite beautiful.
Our Ellie Mae

Black Mouth Curs are great family dogs. They are very social dogs if trained properly. The BMC is an “extremely smart” breed who by nature need to bond a few weeks with their owner/trainer before training can begin. They are also very sensitive dogs that are very attuned to their master’s voice and should never be yelled at in anger or spanked.

I was filling out the four-page application for the adoption, a task that took no more than ten minutes, and one that I was fully prepared to do, having already glanced at it on-line. 

Two high school girls came in at this time also, volunteers signing in to work with the residents of the shelter. At some point during the middle of this, shelter-worker Dan brought Ellie Mae in and after a minute, gave the short leash to GF Mama, while I filled out the application. He explained to her that Ellie was "shy" around men, and that he had been working with her, specifically to iron out some of that shy behavior.
This is a Black Mouth Cur, as per Wikipedia

BMC’s make good family dogs as long as they have access to at least an acre of yard and can access it throughout the day. This dog will not be happy spending the day on the couch alone. They are very social dogs and need a human companion and daily routines where they are allowed to sprint.

Ellie Mae was just as her photos had depicted her, and she was understandably over-stimulated. GF Mama hung on for dear life as I finished up business. Maggie had told us that the fee would be $175.00 for everything, but GF Mama and I decided that $300.00 was more like it. There was a great deal of effort on the part of Maggie to sort through all of the available options, to hook us up with an ideal choice.

The net result was that we floated out the front door, with an animated dog who must have sensed that there was a good reason for being joyous. She kept us grounded. The ride home was challenging because Ellie wanted to join us in the front seat, and GF Mama had all she could do to contain her to the back seat.

These are not couch dogs and must have access to several hours of exercise daily to avoid anxiety and depression. The BMC was bred as a homestead dog that would protect its home and family from intruders. This means that a well-bred BMC is territorial. Most BMC’s off their turf work well with other dogs, hunting or herding stock, but on their family property will chase those same dogs away. Their turf can be viewed by the dog as the family’s home, land, truck or sometimes proximity to “their person.”

As we were nearing home, I mentioned to GF Mama that the first thing I was going to do was take Ellie around the yard on her leash after her long car trip. Ah, the best laid plans need to be carried out, in order to be successful. 

In the general chaos that accompanies us whenever we first roll onto the mountain, I spaced out my intention as all three of us spilled into the kitchen, GF Mama and I dumping armloads of packages on the kitchen floor, as I unhooked Ellie’s leash.

Why DID I do that?

She blitzed as well as any linebacker in any league, down into our spacious bedroom, and dropped her rear end to the rug. Can you say, “Howdy, Doody?” I know you can, especially when you can see the evidence in front of you and you know it was 100% avoidable. 

The BMC is genetically very athletic and eager to please. Given proper guidance and training, a BMC can excel in just about any activity you could imagine. They can herd animals, track or trail game, pull weights, run in a coursing event, work as a Search and Rescue dog, or anything else a smart, athletic dog that wants to please its master can do.
Ellie at the shelter, wagging that tail!

As an aside, that accident has been the one and only transgression of its nature during the first week, and is certainly one which must be blamed on me. 

For the first two days, I took Ellie Mae outside on the leash every hour or two, as she “marked” all over our two-acre-or-so fenced-in-yard, and it became clear she would not soil in the house again. I posted a couple of days ago, and had the funniest/coolest thing happen.

A person named Rhonda, not a friend of mine on f/b (a friend of the Humane Society I assume, since the piece was shared on that wall) commented not once, but twice, that my photos of Ellie Mae bore a striking resemblance to a breed known as the Black Mouth Cur. She urged me to check it out.

Once I had googled the BMC and picked myself off of the floor, I conveyed the information to GF Mama. She was not surprised. She had been repeating over and over that Ellie Mae was smart.

Check it out, though. If we were to have sat down and charted out the qualities in a dog we wanted, besides female, mid-sized and a pleasant disposition, we would have chosen the dog described in Wikipedia as a Black Mouth Cur.

Mind you, we don’t care one way or the other whether it is actually the case; we only know that every facet of this amazing addition to our household conforms to the breed described in italics throughout this piece. She has established a bond with me that rivals any I have encountered with another dog.

We spent nine years intoning that Dozer was totally useless as a farm dog, but highly entertaining. Now we have a dog who is highly useful as a farm dog, and is proving to be an affectionate, desperate-to-please buddy. She will not replace Dozer, but she will more than fill in that aching void in our hearts, left there when our bulldog fled. 

We feel as though we have won the lottery.
WHO are you calling useless?

Next: Stalag Dreizehn

Friday, December 1, 2017

Still Spinning-After All These Years

As glamorous events go, my marriage to Gluten-Free Mama came and went, my army fatigue jacket possibly symbolizing how crucial glamor is to me in my life. OK, you got me. I did switch into something more appropriate in terms of garments, before sashaying into Judge James Luther’s chambers, speaking of glamorous, to exchange vows.

Gluten-Free Mama and HeadSodBuster,
around the same time period
My brother Noel and his wife Olga stood up for us, along with a three-month-old little HeadSodBuster, ensconced in his front-pack-cocoon on my chest. Judge Luther, his demeanor warm and inviting, his personality low-key and accommodating, presided over our nuptials with alacrity, the entire process taking no more than five minutes.

We dined sumptuously at the Palace (when you frequent such an establishment, you are allowed to leave off the “Hotel” part), with Noel and Olga, and then ventured forth into the Ukiah area, shopping for both groceries and the upcoming Holidays. 

We picked up a simple kitchen table, the one I am currently word-processing on, (I finally stopped writing “typing on”), from the old Monkey Wards Outlet. Sigh. Another one bites the dust.

We returned to the Palace for a delectable dinner, during which lil HeadSodBuster slept like the angel he is. GF Mama recalls relishing an order of locally-grown lamb chops, and afterwards, we retired to our room without having to leave the premises.

This in Ukiah. 

The following morning, Old Paint, laden to the point of laboring coming back up Oil Well Hill on The 101, suddenly emitted an alarming noise, sounding like a 727 trying to land on the roof of the old bus. And then there was silence. Deathly quiet was suddenly far more alarming than the noise. This could not be good.

We glided-oh, so smoothly-to a stop about three hundred feet south of The Sleepy Hollow RV Park of Willits, there at the bottom of The Hill.

“What now?” 

“Me hitchhiking into town?” I asked tentatively, realizing that meant leaving her and a three-month-old on the side of the highway, with the weather hovering around the freezing mark. Gotta love country living.

“Do we have a choice?”

Old Paint was just not equipped to get a message any farther than the sound of his horn, these not being the days of smart phones and texting. As it was I got picked up by a dude in a Pontiac Bonneville, the size of a destroyer, with hair like that of Joe Cocker.

I could barely see his face, from my angle in the front passenger seat, for the billowy curls sprawling outwards in tumultuous fashion. As I tried to pin down the fragrance permeating the interior of the ship, Dude whipped out his- [Editor’s note: STOP!] Not to worry, he drew out his little glass pipe, stuffed to the gils with hashish.

Now I was no stranger to hashish, but under the current circumstances, rocking a hash pipe and trying to navigate the churning waters of hitchhiking on the highway, was just a bad mix. So there I was, pipe in hand, but unwilling to jeopardize the feelings of my rescuer.

I  know. I’ll take a big mouthful of smoke, to be polite, but I won’t inhale it.

Well, that was the plan, anyway.

Dude was an intriguing driver. His technique of weaving back and forth from the slow lane to the fast lane, was breath-taking. And then, just for comparison’s sake, why not? Shall we try the shoulder for a while?

It took about eleven minutes to travel the fourteen miles to the ‘Ville, where I staggered down the gangplank of the vessel, and disembarked at the ‘Ron. I had quickly spotted neighbor Rex across the parking lot, and knew he was good for the ride.
"All aboard whose goin' aboard!"

We were back on the mountain within an hour, leaving Old Paint and all of its contents on the side of the road. There was no way to lock the old boy up, so we just trusted to luck.

I never could figure out why folks were not naturally drawn to the calico-colored (OD green, primer red, with the words “The End” spray-painted in black on the back engine-cover) hippie van, on the side of The 101, but somehow we dodged a bullet and nothing was disturbed.

And that’s the story of our getting hitched. As for HeadSodBuster being three months along, I gotta be blunt. GF Mama and I were dating for five days before we started sharing quarters. When the littlest sodbuster came along, neither of us felt that a marriage should be automatically forthcoming. 

When the time seemed right, we woke up one morning and set the date for the next day, pending the availability of our two witnesses. 

As Herself put it this morning, “We’ve had our ups and downs and our runarounds, and we’re still together.”

I’m still spinning but from love, the greatest power of all.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Ellie Mae or May Not

Let’s get one thing established up front: Ellie Mae is a jewel of a dog and she has already claimed a chunk of our hearts. To continue the metaphor, more precisely, Ellie Mae is a diamond but like all diamonds, she has a few rough edges.

Allow me to introduce myself: I am the jeweler.

Speaking for Gluten-Free Mama and myself, we did not enter into this rescue-dog business lightly. Dogs end up in shelters for a multitude of reasons, and there is no way to definitively know a dog’s personal history. We were not expecting a perfect little fur-baby out of the deal; if that is what we were seeking, we would have just bought a stuffed animal, and propped it up on the bed.

No, we were thinking of the shelters, and the folks who volunteer for them, but mostly we were thinking about disposable dogs. I am not being mean. I know that to make the decision to give up a dog must be painful. It would be for anybody. However, circumstances sometimes dictate that for financial or logistical reasons, the extreme course of leaving a dog at a shelter, must be done for the good of the animal.

I am retired to the extent that I do not clock in, and have no boss. Of course I work on the farm as many hours as my old self can still manage, but my point is that I have the time and the inclination to take on a hobby, one that when done correctly can pay huge dividends.

We have said all along that we were not trying to replace Dozer, the bulldog. I kept insisting that we were merely folks who like to have dogs around, and that we were not particular as to what kind of dog. But I finally pinned it down yesterday, when I was reviewing progress with Ellie Mae: We are simply trying to fill a void.

I was happy when that phrase lodged in my cauliflower brain because Dozer was such an integral part of our lives, he dug his way into our minds and hearts. In leaving us, he left that hole. By definition Ellie Mae is destined to occupy a part of that void, and the more effort we put into her, and the longer we have her, the more that void starts to fill up.

[Editor’s note: long build-up…]

With that intro you may be gearing up for a tale about The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and nothing could be further from the truth. As I have steadfastly maintained, Ellie Mae is sweet, appreciative and so desperate to be good, it is tangible.

She has attached herself to me to the point that I cannot go out for a wheel-barrow of wood, or to let the chickens out, without her getting antsy at the front door. I took Dozer with me to do “sticks business” every time I ever went for wood. 

Throw the “stick” to Dozer-never see it again. 
We have a consultation with Skellydogs,
on December 10th, to get training started.
Meanwhile, we have our homework.

I want Ellie Mae to accompany when I go outside to work. Unfortunately, the first time I did that, the minute I got centered on stacking a load of wood, about two minutes, she disappeared. For ten minutes my heart was pounding, I was sweating in the 42 degree weather, and I was already trying to formulate an explanation for Maggie.

The lay of the land was such that it was impossible for me to consider going after her. Besides, what would I do if I actually caught up to her? So, because I could hear her down below, barking for a minute or two, I stood at the back fence and spoke in a normal voice, assuring her that she was a good dog, and she needed to come back.

So there I was facing out the bottom of my fenced yard, peering through oak trees for some trace of her, when she dashed up to me-from behind! She had come back into our “securely fenced” yard from somewhere out of my view, leaving me still uncertain of her mode of ingress and egress.

I mean, this fence is wild boar proof, and can keep Large Marge, SmallBoy’s sweetheart of a dog, inside. Emma the farm dog, however, is a different matter. Great Dane mixes tend to blaze their own trails.

Ellie Mae is skinny and wiry and is obviously an escape artist. Well, this may as well be Stalag Dreizehn (Stalag Thirteen), where the inmates come and go as they please. The thing about Ellie Mae is not that she wants to escape, because she is unhappy. No, she wants out because she wants to chase the deer, go after the rabbits and squirrels, and because, well, she has probably had a lot of experience roaming free.

She came to us with a warning sticker: This dog is a “born-free” kind of dog. 
Ellie Mae, lying beside GF Mama, as I type.

The great news is that she is at her best when we retire for bed in the evening, which you may think is me being sarcastic. As in, she is as good as gold when she is sleeping, and that is not where I am going. I just mean that when it’s lights out, she lies on the bed between GF Mama and me, and sleeps like an appreciative angel, especially since there are no sound effects. Dozer used to rock the 4 by 12 ceiling beams with his prodigious snoring. I am not exaggerating one bit.

Ellie Mae is quiet, does not drape herself over us, does not hog the blankets, and is content to just lie between us. If you are not a dog person, then you are obviously appalled; if you are a dog lover, then you know what a comfortable presence a cherished pet can be.

Next: Chew toys

Tuesday's "chew toy."

More appropriate chew toys, purchased Thursday in Ukiah.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Shooting Star

“John-Bryan loved and respected Pauline.” Brian James O’Neill

For 45 years I have thought of John-Bryan as my brother. Therefore, the fact that my brother loved and respected Pauline makes perfect sense. To know her was to love her. That being said, I was 7,000 miles away from Fellowship Street, in 1972, when John-Bryan arrived on the scene. 
Mama, on that trip to La Paz

Descriptions of events that occurred in La Puente, were conveyed to me while I was in the army through a finely-meshed filter, shielding me from the negative, while spotlighting the positive. Even if I were able to read through the lines of Mama’s bright, cheerful letters, I had too much on my own plate to fully comprehend, that 1972 was a particularly dreary year on Fellowship Street.

My father’s oldest brother, Tom, died just before I went into the service. I remember because I did not want to attend the funeral-desperately-and I appealed to Mama, who exonerated me from any obligation. It was nothing against Uncle Tom; I was afraid of a panic attack.

My sister JT further recalls, “1972 was one of those rough years…It started off badly with you leaving [January 10th] and escalated with… Grandpa’s death a couple of weeks later [January 27th]. There was also someone from State Steel ** whose name I can’t recall now-someone who was a positive in Robert’s life-who died in that same timeframe.”

JT continues, “Death was hovering over the house and I know that affected both Robert and Pauline. I was 18 in January of 1972…I didn’t yet know that the death of someone you loved could decimate you. There was a darkness and a silence that winter/spring and I think into the summer-the house felt relatively empty.”

Of course the house seemed empty: Eric and I were in Korea, while Noel and Brian got the apartment on Manchester Blvd, and attended Loyola Marymount University. Afterwards, Brian went down to Mexico to learn to speak Spanish. 
Papa, on that same trip to Lower California

In June came the long-planned trip down to La Paz, in Baja, California. Mama, Papa, Noel and Matt spent three weeks in the new Chevy Blazer. where things, indeed, blazed. As JT put it, “That trip led to great unhappiness but you can’t put your finger on the root of that unhappiness. Sure, Noel was excited about political/social change and I know there were harsh words exchanged between Papa and Noel. But I also think Papa was depressed and change was all around and he longed for life the way it used to be.”

Additionally, JT described taking brother Kevin to his first day of kindergarten, instead of Mama. She writes, “…I think Mama was tired. That I would take Kevin to school that day might [must?] have been helpful to her. I wonder if it was also a sadness thing. After all, he was her last child going off to school. Perhaps she wanted to escape that sadness  whereas I felt like a grownup in that role.”

Into this bleak world came John-Bryan: flamboyant, colorful in both appearance and language, vibrant, witty, charming and on a mission from God to better the lives of all he encountered. That he brightened Mama’s life is evident. 

My brother Brian observed the other day that John-Bryan had an excellent command of the English language, and I agree. In his own words, in a letter written to me dated December 5th, 1972, John-Bryan wrote,  
Eric and John-Bryan, sitting in LA Intl. Airport,
January of 1973, as Eric and I prepared to return to Korea.
     “I went up to La Puente last Tuesday and returned this past Saturday afternoon. It was a good time. I spent most of it, as I always do, in talking with your mum. It’s incredible that relationship. No one would understand how a 25-year-old guy could feel so close to a 50-year-old woman. Amerikan (sic) * society doesn’t understand a lot of things; it doesn’t try to. 

This is one very real example of that. I can imagine how people would be totally disbelieving if they knew the hours upon hours that your mum and I talk, discuss, relate, communicate. On levels that others cannot even imagine. Knowing a fair bit of what this society of ours is about, they would immediately assume that your mum and I have some mad love affair going. 

Well, in a way we do but it isn’t the type of physical encountering that those voyeurs would be sniggering about. It is a love affair: of the mind, of the spirit, of the soul. It’s an incredible closeness which transcends and makes unimportant any consideration such as age, sex and background.

At first, I approached your mum as someone who was important to me because she was the mother of the best friend I have. But very quickly she became more than that. She became someone I valued in her own right, on her own, for herself. It’s a safe thing to say that she never met anyone like me before. And that she’s never had the type of relationship she has with me before. 
John-Bryan and my brother, Brian, at
Robert's memorial, October of 1996

I can relate with her as totally, as openly, as candidly as I do with Eric or Brian.  And that is an awesome thing to witness, a beautiful thing to live. So most of my time was spent in the sewing room, talking and sharing, listening and offering, receiving and internalizing.”

John-Bryan, closeted from the reality of his being a gay man in 1972, cherished the acceptance and affection heaped upon him, and returned it tenfold, relishing the opportunity to get to know our entire family. He provided more than just a ray of sunshine for our family in a dark period; he provided a meteor shower of appreciation over the next 45 years, dashing in and out of our lives like a shooting star.

John-Bryan’s passing was unexpected and the flow of memories continues unabated. He enriched my life and the lives of many others, with whom he came into contact, and I will love and miss him forever.

  • I do not think this is a spelling mistake or a typo. I think JBD intended to convey the same sort of derision that I do, when I prattle on about Corporate ‘Merica.

** State Steel became Standum Steel, at some point in this timeframe.