Tag Archives: dog

Images of Thankfulness

We hosted my parents and grandma and Rosie’s parents at our house for Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful day. Enough sentiment to make it memorable, enough relaxation to make it enjoyable.

Perhaps the best thing about Thanksgiving weekend is that you get the holiday out of the way right off. Once all the dishes were done, we had a long weekend of well-deserved rest and play.

On Friday, I had a couple free hours in the afternoon so I drove over to our nearest park and took Lola for a wander in the woods.

On Saturday, we went a-Christmas tree cutting with Rosie’s clan. The three families met in Stillwater and then headed across the St. Croix to find a tree.

Rosie and I got our tree tied on first and hit the road back to her parents’ for dinner. En route, we decided to swing by the Arcola High Bridge to see the sun set over the valley.

As we were driving away, the moon was suddenly hanging over the tree tops, as big as I’ve ever seen it.

I was out catching up to tomorrow, or was I caught up in the past?
These days it’s hard to tell what’s out in front from what’s behind.
But, oh God, it’s unforgettable and unpredictable the way our chemicals collide.

- Cloud Cult

Finally, on Sunday, we went for a hike with Rainier and B (and Lola and their dog Quercus). They were leading us to new parks and it was a good wander around the northwest part of the metro area. Our primary destination was closed for a special deer hunt that day and that day only, so we improvised and found a state forest where we could walk some fire roads and trails through the pines.

Perhaps my favorite part of the walk was through a stand of red pines planted 50 years ago. The thick carpet of red needles on the path and the wind in the high canopy created a strange peaceful effect. A crow’s caw some distance away echoed carried through the woods.

I got myself a new look,
(Something gave me another chance to see).
Each time, each time I will try to do better.
Right now, right now is where I guess I belong.

Pulled my fist from my mouth.
I beat myself for a quarter century.
Remind, remind that it’s bigger than me.
Dissolve, dissolve into evergreens.

- ibid.

The cold started to set in over the course of the weekend. Winter is looming awfully long right now, and November has been dim and darkening, the skies have been gray, the wind raw, the land impartial and unmoving.

But there are lessons in all of it, and I’ve survived every other winter I’ve attempted, and already the cold is feeling more comfortable.

The persistence of light

The last of it is going now. The dark is coming so early, the leaves are falling or fallen. There is no more time for short-sleeves or sandals, no more chances for swimming.

Winter’s inevitability is dominant and more important imaginable. The length of the season ahead is best not considered, the brevity of the daylight is ominous enough.

The autumn sunsets are beautiful though. They come too early, but are red and orange and gold, the sky united with the earth. That last hour of the day is a time for quiet, when the beauty is striking but its fate is known to one-and-all. It seems that anyone out in it admires it and tries to breathe in the last rays of the sun.

Last night I left work as the sun was only a few degrees above the horizon. I maneuvered rush hour traffic as quick as I could so I would have enough light when I got home to take Lola to the park for a bit. There aren’t many days left when we will be able to do that.

When I got home, I changed quickly and we walked the couple blocks to the park, which is just a rarely-used soccer field. I brought the Chuckit and some water for her and threw the tennis ball over and over for her to chase down. The dusk hour was cool and quiet.

For being a retriever, Lola is sometimes easily-distracted from the task at hand. For the first 15 minutes, she occasionally got distracted by some smell in the grass on her way back to me and would drop the ball — forgetting about it entirely — and follow her nose. I eventually would have to walk out, retrieve the ball myself, and then regain her interest in the game.

As I concentrated on trying to convince her to actually bring the ball back to me every time, I forgot about pretty much everything else. I had felt inexplicably anxious and a little stressed by the end of the work day and had a slight headache. But in the middle of the big field, with no other people around, and just the frustrations of my poorly-trained dog to contend with, I felt happy and relaxed and the headache dissolved into the cool evening air.

After a while, Lola started to bring the ball back consistently. My mistake had probably been to not give her a chance to run around and “patrol the perimeter” as she likes to do on arriving somewhere. Once she had investigated all the smells and eaten some grass, she focused on the game and she got a good workout sprinting out after the ball and loping back to me with it proudly clutched in her mouth.

We walked home in the last gray light and I was happy that I had been able to use the dwindling daylight. This season is so powerfully defined by what it is, and what it is not, and what it will be.

River of all my years, steps 8 – 18

Last week: River of all my years (steps 1-7)

Step 8: Ascend.

Friday afternoon we drive north out of the city for an hour and then east from Hinckley along rolling hills with state park on the south side of the road, rocky cattle pastures or fallow fields on the north side, small creeks and rivers occasionally flowing under bridges.

We drop down a long, straight hill on the highway and cross the St. Croix and into Wisconsin. A fleeting glimpse of the river: clean water and rock. Lots of rock. Looks stunning and wild.

Step 9: Stage.

We arrive at the canoe rental place that will give us a shuttle about an hour early so we stand around by the cars waiting for our ride. When he gets there, we load the trailer with our canoes and our gear and then follow him a few miles upriver where we leave our cars at our planned take-out.

In the van we drive north and east, twisting and turning, each road turned onto narrow and bumpier than the last.

He deposits us at the county campground at the river’s headwaters around 6 p.m. We are tired and hungry and suddenly alone with two canoes, two dogs, a pile of gear and not much of a clue.

Tents up. Fire started. Dinner prepared. Steaks pan-fried, pan bread made over the coals. Hamm’s and red wine out of a cardboard box.

Then, a while around the fire. Suggestion: S’mores with Nutella. Do it. Wonderful. More than wonderful. (Hat tip: Rainier.)

Young people show up at the site next to us. Then, more show up. They pull their cars up so they can listen to the stereo. They yell. They walk back and forth past our site. Their horny Boxer puppy, sans collar or leash, keeps running over to harass our dogs. They are slow to come retrieve him. This is all tolerable. What comes later is not.

We wait until almost 11:00 until there is absolutely no light left in the western sky. Then we go down to the dam and walk a ways across it away from the campground lights and look up at the stars. Amazing.

Back at camp we’re all ready for bed. Tired from the travel and wanting to get plenty of sleep so we’ll be rested for the next day.

Step 10: Do not sleep.

We lay there for hours listening to the same top 40 song played over and over on the car stereo, to every word spoken by the drunks. Hear talk of throwing beer bottles at any cop who dare show up. Hear someone talk about going back to his car to get his pistols. Hear guy get put in Full Nelson and punch a girl trying to get out of it. People come and go and come and go and come and go. And that same shitty music plays all night.

I feel justified in being a wimp and not wanting to go over and say something.

At 2 or 3 a.m. B and I go over and say something. There are just a few people left around their fire. B says “shut that off” and a snotty girl looks at one of the guys sitting there like “do I have to listen to this loser?” and he nods and she goes and shuts it off. I say “we’re just trying to sleep” and we turn and walk back to our tents.

Cops come later and take away whoever is still there.

Step 11: Awake.

It is a beautiful morning and none of us rested. But we’re awake by 7:30, knowing there’s no point in trying to sleep any longer. We figure on a much quieter campsite tonight, all alone on the river somewhere.

Coffee and tea and oatmeal for breakfast. Breaking down camp goes pretty quick and soon we are standing by the water just below the dam with a pile of gear, two canoes, two dogs, and not much of a clue of what we’re in for.

Step 12: Embark.

The dogs don’t have much canoe experience. Almost none actually. We paddle away from the landing with the ladies in the bow facing backwards to hold onto the dogs in the front compartments.


There is a short and wide lake below the dam where the river starts. We paddle across it and as soon as it narrows into the river proper we scrape bedrock.

We are soon out of the canoes and dragging them. For the first time. I grab the bow and study the water ahead, trying to see where there might be enough to float our vessel.

Sometimes I spot it, sometimes I don’t. I drag the canoe over bedrock, boulders, gravel and sand.

At intervals there is enough water for a few hundred yards and we paddle leisurely, wondering if maybe it was just that first little bit below the dam that was bad.

It wasn’t.

We plod along. I quietly look around every bend for the first campsite marked on the map that will tell us we’ve made two miles. It is a long time coming.

There is a long set of Class I rapids with a short bit that might count as Class II at the bottom. As B and Rainier line their canoe down, Rosie and I decide to shoot it. We let Lola out so she can catch up with the others and we head down into it. As we pass them in mid-set, Lola sees us and decides to follow. The memory of barely maneuvering through a tight gap between two boulders and looking back to see her do the same is forever burned in my memory.

Below the rapids we see the campsite we’ve been waiting to see. It’s lunchtime and we take a much-needed break. We aren’t making the progress we need to be making to make the 24 miles we’ve committed to with our cars waiting for us downstream. I feel the first twinge of “what have I gotten us into?”

The optimism of the whole crew rules the day though. Maybe it’ll get better. We don’t linger long after lunch, but are back in the canoes with full bellies and the belief that there can only be more water the further downstream we get.

Step 13: “Oh my god.”

So is the final straw announced. Rosie in the bow with Lola says it and I hear something unpleasant in her voice.

She can’t describe what’s wrong with Lola but it’s enough for all of us to head directly for shore and leap out. When I get to the bow I see my dog’s whole face puffing up, especially around her eyes and mouth.

I don’t know what to do.

We take an almost-melted ice pack out of our cooler and I hold it over her eyes. Rosie digs through the first aid kit, Rainier finds some anti-itch wipes that the dog doesn’t seem to like. We are all standing around in an especially mucky spot of water. Lola’s face is swelling more every minute.

We are six or seven miles from the next landing. I remember exalting in the remoteness of this stretch while planning the trip. Our cars are another 15 or 20 miles by road from that landing.

I don’t know what to do.

Step 14: Move.

We have no choice. We have no plan. We get back in the canoes and B and Rainier tell us to just go, don’t wait for them. So we do.

Rosie in the bow holds her hat over Lola’s face to keep the sun off her and I paddle. It isn’t long before we hit bottom. I lunge out of the stern and shove the canoe over gravel toward deeper water. Back in and I’m paddling as hard as I can.

I do this for hours and miles and hours. The dog’s whole head swells up to twice its normal size, she is unrecognizable. For a time her eyes are swollen shut. She drifts off to sleep in the bow.

I leap in and out of the canoe, either pushing or pulling it over rocks and gravel. I slip and fall once on the slimy rocks. It is not graceful. Rosie paddles when she can but mostly she attends to our puppy.

We reach a stretch where the river is deep for at least a mile or two as it winds through a broad valley. It is truly beautiful. Like a garden. Perhaps the shallow stuff is behind us. It never goes straight though, rather just twisting and turning over a sandy bottom.

I feel fear and love in their purest forms. I am unfamiliar with the intensity, nothing else matters.

Step 15: Don’t stop.

She must have been attacked by hornets, we theorize. Later I hear how some labs will find ground hornets and attack their nests. Or maybe it was the horseflies. Who knows.

I don’t now remember much about those miles and hours. It seemed an impossibly long time and distance. I didn’t know what I was racing for, but all I could think was that we had seen it go from a few swollen spots to her whole head, where would it stop? What if she started having trouble breathing? What if she fell asleep and wouldn’t wake up? What then?

And I felt helpless and paddling and pushing myself was the only thing I could do.

We reach the old Coppermine Dam and find the water too low to even consider shooting it. So I yank our gear out of the canoe and run it over the portage, then back and we let the dog out and she seems halfway normal except for her abnormal appearance and she runs right over with us as we lug the canoe over and then I get the gear back in and then Rosie and Lola and I shove off again.

The river is speckled with rocks jutting above the surface. A maze. And that’s just the visible stuff. It’s the ever-changing bottom that kills me. As the sun drops lower on the water, the glare gets worse and it’s impossible to even guess where the floatable channel might be.

We nose into a campsite a ways downstream to see if she’ll drink. She is fast asleep and doesn’t awake when we bump shore. There is the briefest but longest moment as she is unresponsive to Rosie’s nudging, but then she comes out of her deep slumber and jumps out of the canoe.

The stop at the campsite is a dark memory now. I was exhausted and simply did not know what to do. I felt sick about leaving Rainier and B upstream. What if something had happened to them? There was nobody coming down behind them to help. And what was I going to do when we got to that landing anyway?

Lola drinks a little water and we rest a minute and decide against waiting for our partners. A plan starts to take shape in our minds: get to the landing, I’ll hitchhike down to the car and then get back to the landing where we can load up and hopefully our friends will join us shortly after that and we can give them a ride to their car and then get our dog somewhere where something can be done for her.

Step 16: Push.

We shoot a long stretch of riffles that we actually manage to float most of, bumping off rocks (“It doesn’t have to be pretty, we just have to get down it”) and glancing sideways off one so badly that I see the gunwale dive toward the surface, almost catching the water, and Rosie and Lola are almost thrown from the bow, but we recover.

It goes on for a long time. The river is still beautiful. White pines and rock and whitetail deer drinking in the shallows and melting into the woods at our approach without ever lifting their tails in alarm.

It’s hard to believe, but the landing does eventually appear. I first notice some powerlines over the river around the next bend. Then I catch sight of the bridge itself and we shoot one last little ledge and across a pool and are there.

I am exhausted. I have nothing left. Rosie too. We pull the gear from the canoe and then pull it up onto the grass and I walk right up to the road to catch that ride downriver.

Step 17: Thumb.

And I stand there.

For 10 minutes. 15 minutes. It is hot on the side of that lonely road, the heat coming up off the asphalt. And not a car goes by. Then two do, but they’re going the wrong way and give my quizzical or uncaring glances.

Then a car does come over the hill toward me and I stick my thumb out way too early, feeling a little silly, and they put the brakes on a hundred yards up the road and slow down so gradually toward me I can’t tell if they’re actually slowing.

But they do and they roll down their window and I give them a confused explanation and there seems to be no question that they’ll give me a ride, they’re heading that way anyway. They are a middle-aged couple heading back to the Twin Cities after spending some time at their land up in these parts.

In the car I catch the occasional whiff of booze. It’s not strong and he’s holding his lane just fine. We see very few other cars. Just the broad expanses and long distances of northwest Wisconsin. He tells me more than once that he wouldn’t have left his wife up there alone with all the Indians around here.

When we get to Riverside they go off to use the can and I leap into our car, then drive very fast back the way I just came.

We are just tying the canoe down on top of the car when we hear B and Rainier’s dog Quercus barking upriver. I have never been so happy to hear his barking. We watch them shoot the last little set like a couple of pros and coast into the landing, all of us wearing big smiles for the first time in a while. Lola is looking a little better already and we’ve all made it off the river safe and sound.

There’s not much more to the story. On our way home we pick up some Benadryl and give it to Lola with peanut butter and she sleeps for the whole drive. We get a hold of our vet and he tells us that was the right thing to do. Less than 24 hours later, Lola looked just like her old self.

Step 18: Lament.

So the trip wasn’t the trip I had planned and not at all what anyone had expected. And though for quite a bit of that time as I fought the river I didn’t know if I could ever see it the same way, ever love it the same way, maybe ever want to paddle it again, now I see that perhaps we had to be acquainted in such a way. Perhaps I’d given it love without the proper amount of respect.

We way over-committed ourselves trying to do 24 miles. I don’t know what I was thinking. And with such questionable water conditions, we would have been far better off doing a day trip so our canoes wouldn’t have been so burdened with gear. We woud have floated over a lot more, and pulling and pushing them wouldn’t have been so difficult.

And I would have brought Benadryl.

Nonetheless, I’m already back to feeling like the St. Croix might be not be so bad. At least, it’s ambivalent, as all the great forces are. And I’m also slowly convincing myself that it wasn’t all my fault. And that trying to canoe the whole thing isn’t a bad idea, but I think I’ll wait until the peak of high water next spring to try the next leg.

Nosce Te Ipsum

And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.

- A River Runs through It, Norman Maclean

I have often thought to myself that life is a nothing more and nothing less than a quest for understanding. To understand the world, the people we love, and ourselves.

Understanding does not usually come easily. It seems that the more we understand someone, the more we are able to love them, but the more we love them, the more we also realize there is to understand. It is truly enough to fill a lifetime.

The same goes for ourselves. It seems incongruous, to know thyself should not be such a struggle. But it is.

In the utter stillness of our house late at night, I lay on the floor with Lola before bed and I know she feels cooped up in here, even when she goes outside she’s on a leash far more than she’s not. 

And then I stand on a wooded trail, the dog standing in the snow 25 yards ahead, paused from her running to and fro, white breath billowing, her whiskers frozen, and I see in her a joy so pure it blinds me even more than the midday sun on the clean snow.

And then, all at once, I see all of it in myself. The frustration of confinement, the joy of freedom.

Under The Knife

Lola side profileLola is going into surgery as I write this. Having suffered from “happy tail” since we got her in November, our dog is now having at least half her tail amputated today.

“Happy tail” is a common problem: happy dogs like Lola who have long tails wag those tails very hard when they’re excited. For example, when we get home from work. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of hard surfaces in the world and her tail hits those surfaces so hard and so much that she cuts the tip of her tail.

So put a bandage on it, right? Unfortunately, that just doesn’t do it. Believe me, we’ve tried a lot of things during the past two months. Even with wads of cotton wrapped around the end of her tail, she could still break open the wound with a good enough whack on a wall. And when she didn’t break it open, confined as it was, the tail got infected. And, even if we had gotten it to heal, she probably would have just re-injured it again very soon.

So, off with her tail. I have a feeling we will probably miss it more than she will. Who knows.

Like I said, “happy tail” is a common problem. Vets see it all the time. In doing some Internet research, we found many people who said that dealing with it was the messiest, most troublesome medical issue they’d ever had with their dog. Dog owners were saying they had to keep their dogs in their crates 24 hours a day except for potty breaks for a month. That just wasn’t something we wanted to subject Lola too, so we’ve gone the other route.

Lola was confused this morning when she didn’t get breakfast or even a drink of water. When we pick her up this afternoon she’ll have no idea where her tail went, why she feels so funny or basically, what the hell just happened to her.

As an addendum, the good people at St. Francis Assisi Animal Rescue are very graciously covering the expense of the surgery, this being a pre-existing condition. Their desire to have healthy dogs and happy owners shines through in all our dealings with them.

[tags]dog, happy tail[/tags]

Caught On Film

My friend Scott not only recently started blogging, but he even posted some wonderful dog photos that he took at a little mini dogfest we had at his and his new wife Laura’s house on Saturday night. He somehow managed to get a few of Lola while she was looking at the camera… No small feat.

I have no idea where he’s going to take the blog, but it should be interesting… if a little weird. Because that’s Scott. So far it includes everything from biking and bar-building. All of it complemented by his skilled photography (Scott also does weddings, and he does them well).