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Thursday, December 30, 2021

My Beautiful Boy Has Gone to Be with My Beautiful Girl

My beautiful boy


He is gone, my beautiful boy, the dog with issues we adopted last December; the dog who quickly fell in love with me and the dog I soon after came to love; the dog who gradually fell in love with David, too, and the dog David eventually couldn’t help loving back. He wasn’t suffering (he loved his life, which made it all the harder for us to end it), but he has gone to join our Sarah, leaving us behind. 

He was good-looking, smart, physically healthy, playful, energetic, and he became -- with us -- affectionate, downright snuggly. In our year together, he learned about manners and obedience and play and love. He seemed grateful. And he was joyful! Once he figured it out, he was thrilled to have a family and a home! But tragically, he could not overcome the impulse to bite, which may have been a result of past mistreatment … or a necessity of dog-eat-dog survival picked up while he was a stray … or some awful genetic kink. We’ll never know. But every so often his Mr. Hyde personality would appear in a terrifying snarl, and he would strike like a cobra. That had pretty much stopped when it was only the three of us together, but….


“Maybe if you were younger, you’d have had more patience –” began one otherwise sympathetic recipient of the sad news. 


No. We have more patience now than we ever had when we were younger, and little Peasy had the benefit of over a century and a half of combined wisdom acquired by his dog parents. Other than temporary time-outs and occasional sharp words (the latter bursting from us in the fright of the moment rather than carried out as “discipline”), all his training was positive in nature. He got focused training. He had attention, lessons, exercise, play, and home comforts. He learned so much! And, as I say, we loved him, he knew we loved him, and he loved us in return – all of us loving each other more and more with each passing week. 


So I don’t fault any of the three of us. We humans were patient and loving and consistent, and he, the dog, was willing and eager. He was not a bad boy. He just couldn’t control the bad feelings when they came on him. Who knows where they originated? It doesn’t matter.


When I posted about Peasy on this blog during his year with us, I mentioned that he had “issues,” made reference to the “Mr. Hyde” side of his personality, even his “cobra strikes,” but I never came right out and said anything directly about biting. Except when those lightning-flash incidents occurred, he was sweet and obedient and affectionate, so we hoped he would gradually feel secure and that it would stop happening. But over the summer and fall he bit two friends and one relative, despite our precautions. He snapped at me but only drew blood once, while David he bit seriously three times, and the last time (back in Michigan) struck us as a deal-breaker, because we could give no situational excuse for it. We made arrangements. But the day before his life was scheduled to end, we backed out. Just couldn’t do it....


But. Dangerous. Frightening. An untenable situation. And deep, deep heartbreak.


Do online searches for “heartbreak +dog,” and almost all the results you’ll see have to do with dogs dying of illness, trauma, or old age. When I finally came upon the term “reactive dog” and the possibility of clicker training, I fell on it eagerly, more optimistic and confident than desperate. This was despite what I’d been told by a woman who provides kennel space and the necessities of life to unadoptable dogs, at least one of them a dog even she can’t touch after having it in her care for years. She warned me flat-out (and this was a long conversation; she wasn’t just giving an uninformed opinion) that I would never be able to trust Peasy not to bite. 


“Do you understand? You’ll never be able to trust him.” 


I still thought we could do it. How could we not try? We were aware of certain trigger situations and could work on those. But the otherwise unpredictability of other cobra strikes made it impossible to work on general desensitizing of our basically good, sweet dog. He would have to be desensitized to each individual separately, one at a time, and each individual would have to live in our household, and still it would take months, as it had with us. Not feasible.


So we kept him away from people. If we were dining outdoors with friends, he was on the porch; if we were on the porch, he was outdoors; when our little great-grandchildren visited for an evening, he spent the evening in my car. That's how we got through our Michigan summer.


Actually, we had talked about finding him another home out in Arizona after the very first bad bite, even before we returned to Michigan for the summer, but I was unwilling to “surrender” him to a shelter or a “rescue” organization, giving up any say over what strangers might adopt him, how long it might take for anyone to want him at all (he’d been in the pound in Graham County for almost four months before I came along), and what might happen to him in the meantime and with more strangers. Other people might not be as understanding and patient as we were and might try, as did one young Arizona trainer I tried early on, the tough love, “show-him-who’s-boss” approach, which generally serves to reinforce all the worst fears of a reactive dog. Even if not harshly corrected (or worse, outright abused), he would be traumatized all over again by going from a loving home to another institutional incarceration or to strangers. I couldn’t do that to him then, in Arizona, and I certainly couldn’t do it later, in Michigan, after bonding with him more and more deeply. Not to mention the fact that it would hardly be fair to expose new owners to the risks he posed.


We took him to an interview with a special trainer in Michigan, postponing our departure for Arizona for the good of our dog. This highly credentialed, lovely woman was understanding and patient but not exactly encouraging. She did, however, suggest the possibility of anti-anxiety medications, and we jumped on that hope. She and our vet conferred. Peasy started on meds, and he came west with us, after all, back to his Arizona beginnings…. 

little Pea in Cochise County

One situation that had been bad from the beginning was that whenever we dropped something on the floor and reached to get it, he would lunge and bite. With the meds (and time, during which his trust in us increased), that trigger ceased to be one. We could drop things all over the house and pick them up with no inappropriate behavior from Peasy. Not that we ever completely relaxed our guard, but the improvement was noteworthy. And during our evening pack time, he was more relaxed and snuggly all the time. 

But as cuddly and kissy and loving and appreciative as he was with us – more so every day -- he was still nervous with other people. It even seemed, paradoxically, that the more he relaxed and the closer he bonded with us, the more eager he was to “protect” us from other people, seeing them as threats to us. “He loves us too much,” the Artist said sadly, even as he and Peasy were cuddling on the bed. 


Because Peasy’s besotted love for us was irresistible, as was his enthusiasm for our most ordinary routines. "Where's your lion? That's right! That’s your lion!” He learned his "lamb" in a single day. He had the most exuberant nature!


But it was inevitable that sooner or later another bad bite was going to occur. Luckily for us, the person bitten, fond of us and even (for some weird reason, believe it or not) fond of our crazy dog, did not threaten to sue, but she did talk to me frankly about the danger our dog presented. “What if it had been a child?” 

An exception to his general people-phobia was my hiking and dog-walking partner. He seemed fine with her. -- But who knew when some misperception might set him off?


We brought him home for the first time on December 10, 2020, and on December 29, 2021, the three of us took our last ride together. He was always happy to go for a ride -- anywhere, just to be with us -- and if we left him for 10 minutes, when we came back to the car, he was a bundle of wiggles and kisses. He jumped eagerly into the back seat every chance he got.

"I'll go anywhere with you!"

I had given him his usual anti-anxiety pill early in the morning and gave him four more after our morning run and then two more in the car, because -- why not? I figured that if he became sleepy or drowsy before we reached the dreaded destination, so much the better. He sat up and looked out the window for about half the trip, then lay down on the seat but never did close his eyes. Every time one of us looked back at him, he was looking at us.

“You want to be with him?” we were asked at the vet clinic. Of course! We did not want our boy to feel abandoned or panicked or fearful. And Peasy's leave-taking went smoothly and peacefully. We held him and stroked him and told him what a good dog he was. And he was a good dog – as good as he could be!


“Look at it this way. We gave him the best year of his life,” the Artist said.


More than that: we gave him a life!


Loving his life

Peasy’s didn’t have the 17 years that Nikki had (14 with us after her early years, shrouded like Peasy’s youth in mystery), and he didn’t have the 13 years Sarah had, in the bookstore and on our travels, from puppyhood to gentle old age. But it was a good, happy, love-filled life. And he certainly wasn’t lined up for any such rosy fate when we found him! Odds were about a million to one of that happening.


Oh, my sweet, sweet boy! It hurts me so much that no one outside our home will ever know what a good, darling little boy you got to be with us! Plenty of people thought we were crazy to adopt and keep him at all, given the constraints he put on our social life. And if others believed in the good qualities I’ve described, they’ll think surely we must not have tried hard enough to rehabilitate him. In other words, to some people our dog was a monster, and to others we are the monsters.


“I can’t stand sad dog stories!” 


So many people have said that to me over the years in my bookstore, and Peasy’s story is a heartbreaker, for sure. But if we’d never brought him into our lives? If he’d continued to languish, unloved, in that concrete-floored cell where we found him? That was no life! With us, he had adventures, running free with me in Arizona and Michigan. He had dog friends in Arizona, and in Michigan and Arizona both he was woven into the fabric of our household, from morning dog-and-dad time on the bed, to dog-and-mom play and running and desert rambles with friends, to evening pack-time with the three of us together.


So mine is a sad story and a happy story, and even as my heart has broken over and over, is still breaking, and will ache for a long time to come, I do not regret for one minute bringing little Pea into our lives to love, sharing joy and love and happiness with that goofy little guy. He was a gift life gave us, and we were the gift life gave him. And when his end came, he was not abandoned or traumatized, and he had no reason to be frightened, because we were right there with him. It was the least we could do for our boy, who tried so hard to be the best dog he could be.

It was a rainy morning. Dark clouds on our way up to and through the mountains. Now and then, scraps of rainbows. Several on our way north to Thatcher, and a complete one on our way home without him.  Peasy's rainbow. Let me think that. I miss him so much.

I will always love you, my boy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Gift or Grind: It’s All in the Receiving

Although I do it every day, grinding coffee beans is not a "grind" at all!


When I was (belatedly) in graduate school at the University of Illinois, there was a wonderful coffee shop west of the main campus called the Daily Grind. “See you at the Grind,” we might say to a friend. “Oh, I was at the Grind.” Etc. Socializing did take place there, but usually only in the late afternoon. Earlier in the day, regardless of the number of people sitting at any given table, most heads were bent over books and notebooks, everyone reading and underlining and scribbling away. All of us regularly spent hours studying at home (some people until after midnight; my own preference was to get up at 4 or 5 a.m.), and there was no end to studying, but when we needed the comforting presence of others, the Grind was more help than distraction, so much so that when I think of my graduate school days, much of my nostalgia centers on the Daily Grind. You wouldn’t think that from the name alone, would you? 


This morning, the beginning of the day of the winter solstice, I was beset by all kinds of feelings, but I woke from dreams with a single thought: “We’re alive. We won’t always be alive.” It was not a new thought, not shocking or frightening. It didn’t even have a lot of feeling attached to it. Just truth. We’re alive. We won’t always be alive. The feelings came later, quite a jumble of them, when I looked at Facebook and saw a friend’s memory of her late son, then another friend’s memory of her late mother. May their memories be blessings to those left behind, I thought, and a third friend came to mind, one who is (as we all are, but she is close to the end and aware of it) in the process of dying, even as Christmas comes near. Our beautiful friend, so full of life and laughter!

Full moon, morning before solstice

solstice moon

On laundromat morning, I don’t get up any earlier than usual, but I certainly get dressed and ready to go to town earlier. As the pack made its way from ghost town to “civilization,” the full moon of the previous morning was fading on its right-hand curve, and, as always, I thought of Ahmed (another departed friend), who taught me to distinguish waxing moon from waning moon with the words ‘premier’ and ‘dernier.’ It is the curves of the miniscule ‘p’ and ‘d’ that hold the clue. So this morning’s no-longer full moon is beginning to wane, although the solstice means that our days now begin to lengthen again toward spring.


But before we were on the road, there was already Peasy.

the corner I share with Peasy

Peasy has half a dozen stuffed animals, which I try to keep corralled in my little book corner so we won’t be tripping over them everywhere in the small cabin, so when I told him this morning, “Go get your lion,” he first ran to the corner where most of his toys were gathered. But the lion wasn’t there, and he ran back to find it in the Artist’s corner. Has he learned the word ‘lion’ -- or is it simply that the lion, as the only toy still retaining (so far) its squeaker, is more fun than the other toys, his most valuable possession? Squeak, squeak, squeak! Joyously, proudly, he ran back and forth with his lion!

Peasy with lion, taking a break from running and squeaking

No morning is ever a “grind” to Peasy! He doesn’t care that one morning is pretty much like another. To him, each one is a gift. Another day! He’s alive! He’s with us! Life is fantastic! His enthusiasm is boundless and infectious, and we can’t help laughing and feeling grateful ourselves – for each other, for this crazy dog, for another day of life.

another glorious desert sunrise

Originally I had it in mind to write about grinding and milling – various methods from stones to mechanics – but really, do you want to read about that? Somehow I doubt it. You are basking in memories of Hanukkah or celebrating the winter solstice and/or looking forward to Christmas and a new year. And just maybe you have sadness, too, because someone you love is no longer with you or soon will not be. Turn, turn, turn – the seasons and the years. "Everything is temporary!" (my favorite line from the movie "Moonstruck"), I remind myself.

death in the desert (as everywhere)

Is life pointless because it is limited and ends, always, in death? Some people think so. Yet when it comes to gold and silver and diamonds and such, their value lies in their relative scarcity. For each of us, with one precious life to live, what could be more valuable?

All around us, even here in the desert, we are surrounded by life. I should say, by life and death, all mixed up. The earth teems with life and death, as do our days. Would you be a pioneer on another planet, given the opportunity? Not I. The way I see it, our species grew up on this planet and has adapted to it -- and tried to adapt it to ourselves, sometimes with disastrous results, but that is not part of my thought for today. Today I’m thinking only of what a gift our brief tenure is in this wonderful adventure. Not a single human being or even the minds of all human beings who ever lived, all those minds together, could ever have dreamed up such a vast, complex, incredibly fascinating set of wonders! 

So whether you give gifts or not or send holiday cards or not or bake cookies or light candles or have a decorated tree or do none of those things, I wish you joy in and of your life. Our future together -- as friends, as a species -- is, as our individual futures are, always uncertain, but if you are reading these words you are alive right now, and while we cannot hope to be joyful every moment we’re alive, intermittent joy is a recurring gift, n’est-ce pas? And gracious receiving can be as important as generous giving, I do believe. So if you possibly can, take a leaf from Peasy's book.

And Merry Christmas!!!


happy dog!!!

Books read since last listed (and who knows if I’ll squeeze in any more before year’s end?):


169. Sisman, Robyn. Weekend in Paris (fiction)

170. Wizenburg, Molly. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table (nonfiction) 

171. Duncklee, John. Coyotes I Have Known (nonfiction)

172. Palka, Kurt. The Hour of the Fox (fiction)

173. Hudson, Virginia Cary. Flapdoodle, Trust & Obey (???)

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

We Really “Go to Town!”

A rare cloudy day in southeast Arizona

And it’s a rare day that we don’t go to town -- “town” for us, Willcox, only fourteen official miles from our winter ghost town digs in Dos Cabezas, though I think of it as fifteen miles, since we don’t do a lot on the outskirts. Well, other than stop at “the ponds,”  as we call them (Twin Lakes is the official name), to look for sandhill cranes or take the unpaved back road in to look for horses or stop at the animal shelter, where I hope to be volunteering when my background check is completed. 


Sometimes we even take a much longer detour, just for the pleasure of the wilder scenery closer to the mountains. 

But either way, the 14-15 miles to town are never boring. Every day, every hour of the day, the scene is different, light and clouds making magic in the sky. It occurs to me that perhaps the clouds are so captivating here in the West not only because the sky is wide and uninterrupted by either forests or skyscrapers but also because the clouds look so soft, in contrast to the dry desert full of prickly plants and the sharp rocks of the mountains. 

Hawks are a daily sight on the way to town, as are cattle. We don’t see horses every time (although I look for them every single time), and it’s exciting to sight a deer or coyote or javelina. The little deer below stood stock-still in the middle of the highway after its companion bounded across, and we stopped, also, gazing into its eyes before it wisely moved off the road. 

Another day, after a good night’s rain, we saw a young javelina drinking rainwater from the indentations of the rumble strip on the edge of the highway. 


The outskirts of Willcox are not, I’m happy to tell you, miles of malls and fast food joints. In fact, I usually refer to the area outside the city limits on the Dos Cabezas side affectionately as “man’s world.” There are well drilling businesses, body shops, sand and gravel and fertilizer dealers, stock watering tanks for sale, etc. To me, all this says that Willcox is a real place, where people work real jobs. One has a very different impression coming into town from one of the expressway exits (though only one of those has a couple of fast food outlets), and I feel sorry for and a bit impatient with people who think they have “seen Willcox” because they’ve stopped for gas just off the expressway. My particular favorite stop before we cross the railroad tracks from the Dos Cabezas side is the feed store. The eastmost expressway exit would bring you into town past the Willcox Livestock Auction, though, and that’s wonderful, also.


There are two feed stores and two grocery stores, two drugstores (one in the larger grocery store) and two barber shops, and a couple of thrift shops. There are maybe three banks, plus a credit union, although the bank I use (because it’s also in Traverse City,  Michigan) no longer has an open lobby but only an ATM. (For service from live human beings, it’s necessary to drive north to Safford in Graham County.) There are a couple of bars, but we haven’t been in either of them. Several wine-tasting rooms, but again, we have not imbibed. We have been to the Rex Allen Museum, and I recommend it highly! Naturally, there are motels, restaurants, and gas stations, as well as RV parks, but since we are not simply passing through but living here, more important to us are the laundromat, the library, and the post office.

"Cowboy starch" a regional specialty

There are a couple of large, well-stocked hardware stores and a little local hospital with ambulance or, if necessary, helicopter service to Tucson.


Last year there was an important addition to the town (and to our town visits) in the form of a new coffee house. On sunny, warm days we enjoy sitting out on the wide front porch, and when the wind turns cools it’s cozy inside. People meet to play chess, and there are shelves of books (to which we have contributed), where “Take one, leave one” is the policy. There is a little fish tank and, at present, a Christmas tree. Some very elaborate coffee drinks are available, though I get no fancier than a latte (just the flavor of coffee, thanks, no syrup added) or a double espresso, and there are cupcakes, “apple bites," and what I can’t help calling (in my mind, if nowhere else) pain au chocolat. –which reminds me that there is also a new bakery in town, and I need to try that soon!

Willcox has a movie theatre, and we’ve seen some great shows there in past years. Right now I’m watching the marquee on a daily basis, eager for an evening show that would let us out into the magic of holiday lights strung on the trees of Railroad Park.

In short, the town of Willcox is a lot like Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery in the fictional Lake Woebegone: if they don’t have what you want, you probably didn’t need it in the first place. Because believe me, I've left out quite a bit.


Books Read Since Last Listed


164. King, Thomas. A Matter of Malice: A DreadfulWater Mystery (fiction)

165. Thody, Philip & Howard Read. Introducing Sartre (nonfiction)

166. Samuels, Solomon K. A Life in Three Acts: My Journey From Wartime Burma to America (nonfiction)

167. Zweig, Stefan. The World of Yesterday (nonfiction)

168. Taylor, Rosemary. Ghost Town Bonanza (fiction)


To write an autobiography, it helps to have had an interesting life. Whatever the events of your life, however, telling your story in an interesting, readable manner is essential, and while bogus autobiographies and memoirs appear from time to time, the best are the stories honestly told by writers modest about their successes and not afraid to reveal their weaknesses. 

Is it more than coincidence that a good friend’s husband, Solomon K. Samuels, and a famous 20th-century author, Stefan Zweig, both saw their lives as divided into three parts? Samuels calls his book A Life in Three Acts, and Zweig’s working title for the story of his life, published posthumously, was Three Lives. In both cases, I thought it would take me a long time to get through these life stories, but in both cases, again, I sped through the chapters, thoroughly engrossed. There are personal achievements, as well as the horrors of war, in both books. The resolutions are very different. But both books are well worth reading, and I recommend them highly.



Peasy Tales (Briefly)


The dog without a tail, the dog with issues, our little Peasy, continues to enjoy life in Cochise County, Arizona, with his seasonally retired human folks and his neighborhood pack friends. 

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Yes, We Have No Saguaro


Soaptree yucca

My title today may give a chuckle to the few who remember the old song about bananas. I did not see the original cartoon when it came out in 1930 (not that long in the tooth!), but it replayed on 1950s television and was still amusing then. All of which has nothing to do with plants of the high desert, my topic of the day -- .

Prickly pear


A friend back in northern Michigan asked about plants here in the high desert, speculating that we “don’t have cactus” here. Well, we have a lot of cholla (though not the full range of varieties), and there is prickly pear, too, more often on higher slopes than down on the range, and also here and there a squat barrel cactus, though these last are not as plentiful here as they are in the low desert. Along our Cochise County roadsides, soaptree yucca is ubiquitous, and down the road apiece from our ghost town are rocky foothills stuck all over like giant pincushions with sotol and century plant (the latter a kind of agave), as well as the striking ocotillo (more common around Benson and Bisbee than here in Dos Cabezas). During our first winter here, it took me a while to sort out yucca, agave, and sotol. But yes, we have no saguaro. That, along with "teddy bear" cholla, grows down in the lower elevation of Tucson, 100 miles away.


The life cycle of the century plant is interesting, though. It doesn’t really take 100 years to come into bloom (for the one and only time in its life), but it is a long wait. Meanwhile, however, the plant grows larger and larger, making a nice focal point for desert landscaping. 


When it reaches maturity, it sends up an immense, asparagus-like stalk (this plant and asparagus are in the same family), and after flowering the plant dies. 

Where did the stalks go?

But that is not the end. From the plant's seeds will come a new generation, while the impressive, sculptural dry stalk is favored by desert dwellers for a Christmas “tree.”

Also, along with cactus and other plants with spines, are many thorny deciduous plants, primarily (around Dos Cabezas) but not limited to the mesquites. One that looks a lot like a mesquite is in the same family (leguminacae, though some botanists break the family down further into subfamilies) but is a different genus. Mesquite genus is Prosopis, catclaw is Acacia. Even that can be confusing, however, as catclaw acacia or Gregg’s acacia, formerly Acacia greggii, now classified as Senegalia greggii, sometimes goes by the common name devilsclaw, but more often “devil’s claw” refers to a different plant altogether, Proboscidea arenaria, from (I kid you not) the unicorn-plant family! 

Chain of devil's claw (unicorn-plant family) pods

book showing flowers of that devil's claw

And this, as my friend Ellen would remind you, is why the Latin names of plants are so crucial to identification: What your grandmother in Ohio knew and taught you as “devil’s paintbrush” is not the “devil’s paintbrush” of the American Southwest. What I’ll remind you is that this is a reason for not relying on one plant guide but having access to several.

some of my printed resources

Back to those thorny shrubs --

mesquite leaves

catclaw acacia leaves

And back to identifying catclaw acacia. Its bipinnately compound leaves are much smaller than the leaves of mesquite, and its thorns are curved like a cat’s claws. Hence the name. Once you note the difference between the two shrubs, it’s obvious, even when they are growing all tangled up in each other, as they sometimes do. I found some catclaw pods the other day, too. They curve and twist, and while The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Plants, Western Region, authored by Elbert L. Little, calls them brown, the ones I gathered the other day are more reddish to my eye.

catclaw pods


Mr. Little is no fan of catclaw; nor are many hikers or others: “one of the most despised southwestern shrubs,” the Little-authored Audubon guide says of it. And yet, besides the region’s delicious catclaw honey and the plant’s useful hardwood (for fuel and tool-making), catclaw beans are a native food, ground when dry to make pinole, which now seems to be making a comeback as foodies rediscover ancient local foods. Interesting that another common name for catclaw acacia is wait-a-minute bush. Your shirt gets caught on a thorn, and you have to stop to free yourself. Get it? 


Whether thorns grab your clothes or you have, as I do, the perfect thorn-shedding jacket, it’s always worth stopping to look more closely at what the high desert has to offer. Coyote gourds are not considered edible (except by wildlife) but were used by Native Americans to make soap.

And here in December, when the morning sun comes through mesquite draped with dry vines of the summer’s vanished morning glories, don’t they look like strings of Christmas lights? Look at them with your imagination turned on.

Postscript 12/11/21: A friend's comment about this post being "comprehensive" made me think of all that I had left out -- and I'm not going to try to put everything here, but it seemed wrong to have left out the netleaf hackberry trees, so numerous in the wash and still holding onto their green leaves this December. Though when we first met (one January in maybe 2015?), I was not terribly impressed, I have since then become very fond of this species. Like a U.P. Finn, it has sisu