Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Pack

As always for me, one of the great pleasures of spending time in Idaho is the intimate interaction with the animals (specifically the horses and dogs, of course). Here are some of the charming/humorous/annoying things I experienced with the canine group this time around.

First of all, Spackle was very healthy, unlike last fall when we thought he was dying. This was a relief and a pleasure. He is, of course, a simple soul—happy to fetch, happy to swim, happy to go for walks in the woods (where he keeps running back along the trail to make sure I'm following and everything is in order), and happy to go on the rides when I've planned for a gentle one that won't tax 9-year-old bionic hips—with the one exception being when Ian was still at Jerome Creek with me, in which case Spackle took careful stock of the situation— one horse and three dog companions already for me, no one for Ian—and elected to stay behind. He ate horseshit, but, unfortunately they all do.

Second, Hoover. Hoover, of course, is absolutely in his element. It's the cutest thing in the world to see him actually worn out at the end of a day—completely sound asleep, eyes scrunched closed, paws all together in puppy fetal, occasionally issuing muted grrrs and yips, his paws fluttering, as he relives the joys of the day—chasing deer and ground squirrels and wrestling with Sadie, leaping in and out of mud puddles and creeks, smelling the richest, most amazing smorgasbord of organic smells, and extra food at the end of the day because he's run a thousand miles. Judging from the scrapes and punctures we can see, if Hoover were hairless he'd be a solid mass of scars by now. Looking at my own self here just now, if I weren't wearing clothes on our excursions, I probably would be a mess, too. I currently have a healing scratch on my neck, several on my feet and hands, a bruise on the top of my right thigh, and a giant bruise (about five inches long) on the inside of my left knee. Like mother, like dog.

Third, Sadie. Not being a Lab, but instead being an Australian Shepherd, Sadie is interested in observing situations and, rather than blindly following orders for what may or may not end up being a tasty treat (which she may or may not deign to take even if it is), making decisions for herself—with a certain gravitas, a direct, calculating stare, and, perhaps, eventual compliance if she feels that either 1) the treat would be good AND she would like it or 2) it's not worth arguing about with a mere human. She has to take medication for incontinence, poor thing, and of course recognized immediately a couple years ago that the "liver-flavored dog-friendly" taste of the pill does not mask the fact that it's not food (the Labs, of course, drool over it and jostle each other to take it from my hand). For the first evening, Ian fed the dogs and, not seeing instructions to the contrary, merely put her ¼ pill in with her dinner. She ignored it as she daintily ate her kibble piece by piece—the Labs slavering around her, having all hoovered down their meals in seconds—and it was the one thing left in the bowl at the end. Before Tessa could muscle her way in, Ian snatched up the pill. He thought for a minute, then went and found some bacon grease to dip it in. THAT was very exciting—no hesitation on Sadie's part as she opened her mouth and took the pill . . . and sucked off the bacon grease and spit out the medicine. Ian remembered the Pill Pockets we had brought for Spackle, though—vile, oily-slimy, stinky gelatinous things—stuffed the now-disintegrating ¼ pill into the bottom of one, and held it out to her. Bingo. Sucked down, no hesitation. Take that, Sadie! Outsmarted! She is also very cute, and very sweet, though, and was the first dog (of three; the other two stayed on the ground) up on the picnic table with me when I went out to sunbathe one day, stretched out against my bare side, tickling me with her long hair.

Fourth, Tessa. Tessa met us as we drove into the yard, barking loudly and hysterically, of course, and who could blame her—aside from a morning feeding and letting out, and an evening feeding and putting in, she hadn't seen any humans for two days. And she is the guard. And she is the one who barks all the time, anyway. I rolled down my window and called out "HI TESSA!" and her face and barks immediately changed, from businesslike and warning to ecstatic and relieved. A friend! Someone to take care of things! Even compared to Spackle, Tessa has the best facial expressions. She is very clear about joy, contrition, disappointment, and ingratiating-ness. If you're having a bad time of it (as I occasionally have been since Tessa has arrived at Jerome Creek), she, of all the dogs, is the one who first comes over to rest her head on your knee and stare up into your eyes in mute sympathy. She also still eats anything remotely resembling food, and as quickly as possible before she is discovered—from places you had no idea she could reach. She therefore appears to be a pretty big, lumbering dog (even her ear flaps are plush), but she's quite athletic and is the first in any car at the first sign of an outing.

Fifth and Sixth, Dusty and Kalluk. These dogs belong to G&N, and theoretically were supposed to stay at their house, but Dusty (the girl) would frequently come down to hang out with all of us. I would go up to let them out of their barn and feed them in the morning, give them each a treat and tell them to stay home, and leave. Thirty minutes later, Dusty would arrive on our porch. I couldn't blame her. Ian and I took the five dogs for a hike up the mountain one day in our car, and Dusty was thrilled to be a part of the pack. Several days later, after Ian was gone, Dusty came down one morning, and then after a bit of time, disappeared. I assumed she'd gone home, although it hadn't happened before. At any rate, I didn't think too much about it. Several hours later I went with my inlaws out to start collecting horses for a ride. "Why'd you put Dusty in your car?" asked my father-in-law. "What?" I replied, then looked at my car. Sure enough, there was Dusty, in the back, standing at attention, waiting for the next AWESOME thing to happen. She had managed to jump and scrabble her way up the side of my car and in through one of the mostly-open back windows. From her experience, that was the place to be for some fun, and she was not about to miss out.

On the other hand, Kalluk never came down. After a couple days, I started to feel bad for him and so on several occasions all dogs went up to the top of the lonely mountain and we all went for a hike in his woods. He was a big sweetie and always very happy to see us, but seemed to have a sense of his responsibilities that Dusty didn't share. One evening, Ian and I were late getting up to feed him and put him in (Dusty was with us, of course), and it was almost dark when we arrived at the top of the hill. He was nowhere to be seen. "Kalluk! KALLUK! LUKEY!!" I yelled, and "WOOF!" came from the woods. A moment later, there he was wagging and milling about me, pleased to get his dinner and go to bed. None of the other dogs have ever told me they're coming. I was completely charmed.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lost and Found

Ian started out driving when we went to Jerome Creek together two weeks ago. I had been continuing my stressful, anxious times, even though April, my month of rest, had ended and May was in full swing, and so I was quite happy to ride (and occasionally point out errors in the way Ian was operating the car). At the Hatton Creek Rest Area at the junction of 26 and 395, I considered taking my own keys with me while I went to piddle and Ian went to piddle the dogs, but before I got to digging too deeply in my purse, I decided that was a ridiculous idea. We were going to be at most 100 yards apart; if I finished before the dogs, I could just go to meet them.

At K&A's, we mostly used their little Nissan farm pickup because we were mostly driving hay and dogs up and down a mountain, and so I didn't again think of my keys until the end of the first week, when we took Ian to the airport between Pullman and Moscow. As he was packing up and we (and his parents, who had arrived that afternoon to spend the weekend with me) were collecting ourselves for the journey into town, it gradually turned out that my keys were nowhere to be found, at least in a timely fashion. No matter; Ian used his and drove us to dinner and the airport.

There was a brief moment of thankful relief in the airport as Ian and I remembered, just before he passed through security, that I really needed those keys of his to get all the rest of us back home.

Over the next several days I looked through all the bags I'd brought (something like 24,006); I dug multiple times under the seats in the car; I looked over and under every surface in the farmhouse. I even found a number for the regional authority which oversaw Hatton Creek Rest Area and called them, just in case I had, in fact, taken my own keys for our 100-yard separation and then left them dangling in the restroom stall. Nothing.

In the last few days of the trip, I retraced my steps through the eastern Palouse, but no one had found keys. And here's the thing: it's a HUGE ring of keys. I look like a jailer when I'm carrying them around. They should've been very hard to misplace. I decided I'd find them when I packed up everything to go.

Well, of course I didn't. I had the additional challenge in packing up to collect everything Ian had left when he flew out: he was only taking a carry-on, and so lots of things were left around the house where he'd last used them—an accordion; an ergonomic keyboard rubber-banded to a sort of lap desk Ian had sawed; a pair of Vibram Five Fingers—gathering dust and doghair and becoming so much a part of the general scene of the place that I feared I'd simply overlook them. Nevertheless, even on heightened awareness, nothing keylike appeared.

The Colfax Chevron didn't have them.

Hatton Creek, even with a personal stop, didn't have them.

Blustery's didn't have them.

And, home again, and everything unpacked and put away and the car scoured again (well, not in a way that made it clean at all), there was still no sign of them. Our safe has a double lock system—the combination, and a round key. I usually just use the combination, but when we're going away, I usually lock the key lock as well. FORTUNATELY, I hadn't done that this time. I have one key for the safe, on my key chain; the other I gave to my brother for safe keeping (ha ha) when we "moved to New Zealand" a few years ago, and it's long gone. Anyway, I was able to retrieve the information about the safe which I store in the safe and order new keys (not a bad idea anyway), and everything else was pretty replaceable, so I stopped worrying about it too much.

I've recently been rereading the five books in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, and there are all sorts of coincidences taking place all the time for Arthur Dent. People and things turning up when and where they're least expected, and that's what happened to me.

I opened the door to our linen closet this morning, to change the sheets on our bed, and there, just inside, lying in a big obvious heap, were my keys. Now, there was absolutely no reason I would've needed to be in the linen closet the day we left for Jerome Creek, or, indeed, any days just before.

Obviously eddies in the space-time continuum. Who knows what he was doing with my keys.

Addendum: two notes about giving a safe key to my brother--the joke was a pun on safe. To really take advantage of my opportunity for bad jokes, I should've written "safe keyping". It was not a dig at my brother who, in fact, spurred by this entry, went in search and found the second key that I gave him years ago. So now I'll have four.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Home Again

Home safe after a GLORIOUS last ride. Bareback on Shadow, the air hazy but light, cool but not cold, all four dogs in attendance, MS and Snickers also delighting, gallops and brush-popping and I felt like a part of my horse. Heaven.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Weather-Enforced Rest

Yesterday was the longest ride I've been on here, coming in at just over 4 hours and around 11 miles. The ride I intended for friend MS and me to take was probably only about 3 hours and maybe 8 miles, which still would've been longish . . . but would've involved many fewer unbelievably steep climbs up unknown clearcuts and also many fewer precipitous descents through abundant and scratchy conifers and thick underbrush in a desperate bid for something—anything—familiar (well done the mares!), so that we could return home and have (eventually, after a scheduled pick-up of G&N in Moscow) wine and hot food for dinner, instead of having to hope for a few leftover grubs in a bear-mangled, rotted, fallen tree.

I had my GPS on during the entire ride, tracking our course, and when I realized that I had NO IDEA where I was, I tried to look at it for information on where we should go. It's a somewhat rudimentary app, however, and doesn't actually include a map on it when it's mapping—you only get the map when you upload the file to your computer back in the safety (assuming you reach it) of your home—and so the best I could do was look at the line it was drawing and draw the conclusion that I somehow needed to figure out how to go south and slightly east, to connect up the more or less featureless circle growing on my screen.

We could've gone back, of course, the way we came, but it was a long and brutal hill we'd climbed, and we'd been on the road for almost three hours. Going back would guarantee that we would in no way even approach being on time to pick up G&N. I voted to go forward, and MS pointed out that the sun doesn't lie. Even if the polarity of the Earth's magnetic field had switched while we were out in the wilderness, that didn't change the location of home vis รก vis our location—and since it was early afternoon and sunny, we could easily judge which direction we needed to go.

Hence the long, perilous descent down to what I now believe to be Boulder Creek, along a trail that may have been a game trail, and may have only been my mind's desperate creation of a game trail. It was not in any way a trail meant for human heads seven feet off the ground. Frankly, I'm amazed and not a little disappointed that my face isn't lacerated almost beyond recognition—that's certainly what I felt was happening. Once, a stiff young deciduous bush slashed me hard enough across the neck that I feared decapitation. At another point, MS actually got forced off her horse by a particularly acute combination of cliffside and pugilist branch, and only her skill in yoga allowed her to release her foot, caught perilously in the stirrup. That was really the only crisis point of our trip, however uncomfortable the bushwacking, because there was enough room for Snickers to drag MS if she had so wished, and instead of only bouncing along the ground and possibly getting a hoof in the face, MS just might have gotten her neck broken.

When we reached the creek—quite the tossing, splashing cataract at this time of year—MS suggested we follow it downstream, as that is what you do when you reach running water, because it comes out somewhere, and maybe we'll run into a town along the way, and so Shadow and I (occasionally following the lead of Dusty, who is familiar with these parts) forged a trail.

It is definitely at times like these that Shadow truly comes into her own—she knew where we were, she knew where we wanted to be, and she knew how to get there. She's rock-solid calm in the woods, allows me to help her check for the best routes around trees and bushes, but hesitates not at all to push through things and, before we knew it, we were on a clear, grassy Forest Service road, giddy and excited and joking about how much it would've sucked for me if MS had been killed by her horse.

Anyway, soon after reaching the Open Road, we arrived at a clearcut that I knew I knew, and then soon after that we were back on the Potlatch Road, and soon after that we were retracing our steps with a joyous gallop up the hill and over the trail K&A put in several years ago, the shortcut back to their house. We got everyone put away, briefly exercised, by swimming then in the pond, the two elderly labs who'd stayed at home, and made our way to Moscow in a fashion that allowed G&N just enough time to buy some groceries before we brought them back up here and served them a delicious homecoming dinner of putanesca. And wine.



Last night around 8pm, just before dinner, I went out into the pasture to bring the horses back in to their pens for the night. Usually they hang around down below in the evening, but this particular evening they were nowhere in sight. To collect them easily before our big ride earlier that day, I had left them in their pens, each with a flake of hay. The mares had worked hard for several hours after that, and Sikem had probably spent the hours in his pen bored and annoyed out of his mind (if one horse is left behind he or she is left in a pen), and so they had decided they were going to stay out. I began hiking up the hill to get them (about a 1-mile round trip) as a squall came over the hills just to the west of the farm, and suddenly I was out in a t-shirt, jeans, and my felt clogs, in a sleety, windy, hail-filled downpour. It was exhilarating, that's for sure, but completely fruitless as far as bringing in the horses. They ripped and snorted and galloped away, and I gave up and came home, assuming they would come and get their grain if they wanted it. And today, the weather has continued erratic—sunny one moment, hail the next, in five to ten minute intervals. No problem, Weather—we're happy to take it easy today.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saw My Chance and Lassoed It

G&N have these two horses, Strider and Palantir, who are young (maybe four and five), and have been trained, but haven't been ridden much, if at all, in the last couple years. I've had a secret hankering to try and ride these horses ever since they came to the neighborhood, in part because they remind me of my three-year-old quarter horse, Snappy, from my childhood, who was trained, and ridden, but still pretty young and exuberant (shall we say). And in part, I admit, because people who know better think they're probably unsafely wild and unpredictable at this point.

K&A don't ride these horses, they have three of their own of course; and G&N have an inhuman amount of work to do just to survive on their mountaintop, and so they don't really have time to ride them.

But they've been sitting there in the muddy front corner pasture, whinnying at the other horses and desperate to relieve their boredom with breakfast hay and dinner hay, and today I decided I would do it: I would ride one of them. I admit I poked around in G&N's shed to find the bridles, and I brought both down with me after letting the dogs out for the day.

I chose Palantir because he's slightly smaller and just has a friendlier demeanor—I've always felt that he likes me—caught him pretty easily with a carrot and the promise of something different, haltered him and led him out. He stood quite patiently tied to the fence outside on a long enough rope that he could graze; he let me curry and brush him, and he let me pick one hoof, then that was enough of that.

I took him up to the Garage Mahal to bridle, thinking that he'd better be standing over gravel if I was going to keep his attention, and decided there that I'd just put the bridle over the halter and not ever let him completely free, lest he skip away and I never catch him again. I was calm, he was wary, but after a dozen or so tries I got the bit in his mouth and the headstall over his ears, and we were good to go. I removed the halter lead rope from under the bridle, led him by the reins down to where I'd left my helmet and put it on, then stood him on the side of the driveway where I had a couple inches extra height to jump up to his back.

I leaned on him first, put some pressure on him, draped my arms over him, then jumped on. He was perfectly calm, and allowed me to ride him around the yard for the next ten minutes or so—just what I wanted!

He was, understandably, eager to eat any grass he saw under his feet, so we kept mainly to the drive up the hill and the gravel in the yard, but he was responsive, didn't try to run away with me, and quite happily snuffled in my hair and neck after I called it a day and put him away (after, of course, ten minutes of just grazing on the new grass in the yard, at the end of a lead rope, no more pressure to behave).


Friday, May 14, 2010

That’s a Relief

Yesterday evening I was in the process of putting the horses into their pens for the night, after a long, glorious ride on Shadow, when a (spotless) white mini-SUV pulled over to the side of the Jerome Creek road at the head of the driveway a couple hundred yards away, and a woman's voice started cooing loudly at Palantir, who had gone rushing up to the fence.

"Oh what a sweet thing you are! Ooo, you are so cute and so wonderful! What a sweetie! What a cute thing!" and piercingly on in the still evening air.

Palantir was not being friendly; he was there demanding his dinner, which is usually delivered about that time in a small white (filthy) truck. I assumed the people in the car must be friends of K&A, or maybe even G&N since it was G&N's horse the woman was being so forward with; besides, I was in the middle of the somewhat delicate process of getting Sikem, without a halter, into his pen, and not Snickers's, where he would eat all her grain (just a nibble for each to entice them to do as I wished), and then getting Snickers into her pen without Sikem leaving his, and so on and so forth. The three horses are actually very well-behaved, and usually do exactly what I want them to do, although not ever without letting me know that they are much bigger and faster than me and are merely humoring me because they feel a bit sorry for me, slow, doltish two-legged beast that I am.

Shadow is the most flagrant about this. Yesterday before our ride, for example, the horses had been grazing about ½ mile away or more, up a steep hill at least a 10-minute panting, sweaty walk from the house. They do not come when called.

I had a small amount of grain in a metal can, and they know the sound. Often what I do is walk hike, panting, up to them, halter the one I want, use the lead rope to make rudimentary reins, jump on, and ride bareback back down to the yard. Shadow, however was having none of this. As soon as I was within about 30 feet of her, she lifted her head from her grazing, rallied Snickers and Sikem with a toss of her mane, and they all galloped down the hill and away. Yes . . . right where I wanted them to be . . . but definitely on their own terms. I trudged back down, still carrying the halter and the grain. I took the precaution of closing the gate to the upper pasture as I went through, just in case they attempted to run by me again, but Shadow was relatively easy to catch after this. I made the lead-rope reins anyway and rode her back over to the gate, opened it again for the other horses, and then we went on our way up to the Garage Mahal to tack up. All in all, preparation for a ride can take as long as the ride itself.

At any rate, Ian had come out of the house with Spackle and Tessa, who joined Sadie, Hoover and Dusty who had been with me, all five dogs barking their various barks at the unknown vehicle, and he went down and crossed the creek to see what they wanted.

"Hi!" said the woman brightly. "Can we talk to you for a little bit about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?" she asked, leaning out of the passenger window. "We're missionaries based in Potlatch."

"Well," said Ian, "We don't actually live here—a minister lives here, in fact, and we're just housesitting, and unfortunately I don't have time to talk right now—we have to get the animals in. Maybe you could come back another time," he suggested. "I'm sure the owners would be happy to have a discussion with you. (Sorry, K.) I'd take one of your cards, though," Ian finished, ever the polite one.

They handed over a card and asked permission to turn around in our yard, which Ian granted, assuming he'd put them off from any more proselytizing for the day. As they turned around in the yard, though, as soon as they reached hailing distance of me, just finishing latching gates, the woman leaned out her window again and called to me just as cheerfully as she had to Ian. "Can I interest you in any information about the Morman Church?" she asked brightly.

"No thank you, not at this time," I replied politely.

"Well, whenever you're ready, we're everywhere!" she exclaimed, exuding joy.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cartography Again

My fancy new Android phone comes with a GPS, and so we've recorded most of our walks and rides over the last couple days, and I intend to keep up the practice even after Ian leaves, tomorrow night. Sigh. I can't believe he has to go. Stupid work trip to Florida, of all places.

Check out my map, and look back every day or so to see what I've added!

By the way, JCR means "Jerome Creek Ride", and JCW means, not surprisingly, "Jerome Creek Walk."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

At the Circus

So far this trip to Idaho (we arrived Saturday evening around 6pm) has been just as beautiful as previous trips, but it's definitely been wetter (the ground, fortunately, not the air, so if you wear rubber boots for walking around and don't gallop too much in the sopping trails you're okay), and the animal care has been bumped up yet another notch from what I'm used to in the city. Everybody and their son is in Greece right now, on a ship sailing around the Dodecanese. By that I mean K&A, and their son Dr Jason and his wife and two teenagers, and my mom and Marsh, and G&N, who live up the Jerome Creek Road and would normally be my backup plan here at the Idaho ranch were anything to go wrong, but who have, instead, left me with 11 more animals to keep alive.

Several years ago, Mom and Marsh took a boat trip in France with K&A and four other of their friends; at that time, I had Mom's dog Loper with me as well as K&A's animals, but Loper's about 14 now and, while still full of life force and happy to be around, is deaf, walks like a self-animated puppet—i.e. as if his various parts are attached only by loosely-tied bits of string—and he's got a non-painful growth in his throat that makes his bark sound very like the cough of an old lady who had gotten her main sustenance for the past 3 decades from cigarettes and dry martinis, two olives.

Anyway, Loper is at home, being cared for by M&M's neighbors through the woods, who dote on him and give him treats as flagrantly as my mother does.

Nevertheless, I do have, with the 11 from G&N, 19 animals to take care of here, 21 if you count Ian and me, and we (well, at least me), as you know from reading I Thought I Was Done With This, need a lot.

The day begins between 7 and 7:30 with Ian jumping out of bed to feed our four dogs, while I take slightly more time to throw on my first outfit of the day: fleece pants, yesterday's shirt, a sweater and a knit cap. It's chilly here in the mornings. I then put on my rubber boots and let our three horses out of their pens and into their pasture for a day of grazing. This is the earliest in the season I've been here to take care of things, and it took me a bit of time to realize that the grass wasn't grazed down already; it hadn't begun to grow yet. In the last couple days, I've seen more and more green shoots coming up above last year's harsh yellow stalks.

I come back in and have a small latte, then jump in the old Nissan pickup to take care of G&N's animals. Their horses, who are young and somewhat wild, are down here for ease of care, in a small pen on the creek which is currently a churned up mud pit without graze of any sort. Every couple days I pull a 150 lb bale of hay into the back of the pickup and, morning and evening as I'm heading up to G&N's place to take care of the rest of their menagerie, I stop by and toss four flakes of hay over the fence. Strider and Palantir whinny and cavort and kick up mud on their way to the meal.

Up at G&N's, which is a true modern-day pioneer place at the top of a mountain at the end of a long road (i.e. off the grid), there are five young chickens still growing in a box with a heat lamp, until they're fully fledged, so they're mostly very easy to deal with (must take them out of their big box and clean it every 5 days or so but otherwise I just check to make sure they still have feed and water). There are evidently two cats; I haven't seen them, but the litter box gets filled quite extravagantly overnight, and at least once a day they clean out their food bowls; and there are two dogs, Dusty and Kalluk. I let them out in the morning and feed them, and put them in at night and feed them again. They're supposed to stay up at their place, but Dusty, the female, is more sociable and appears down here every morning about 30 minutes after I've driven away. I can hardly blame her. G&N, who haven't had a vacation in years and years, have been gone since the end of April. In the evenings, Ian and I load the back of the little pickup full of dogs (K&A's dog Sadie refuses to ride in the back with the other dogs; she sits behind the seats in the cab), and even homebody Kalluk gets some playtime before everything is battened down for the night.

We take a walk with all dogs in the late mornings as Ian's long lunch; on Sunday Ian and I rode together in the afternoon but since he's actually working from here this week, I ride alone in the afternoons now.

Yes, I wear my helmet.

Chickens. They really do race around and cluck frantically when you try to pick them up.

The home of the pioneers, and six dogs.

Farm Work.

Farm Fun!

Three labs in a truck.

Early Spring.