For the Love of a Dog

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As a heathen, I don’t put my faith in Master Plans or the ‘will’ of invisible, sky-dwelling deities. But I must admit that sometimes, through whatever circumstance you choose to call it, we find exactly who we need in this life.

She was a lost little dog, running the streets collarless and dirty, taken in temporarily by one of my wife’s co-workers. You should understand – my wife, Julie, having been raised a ‘cat’ person, was never really at ease around canines. She says she always felt as if they were eyeing her jugular vein. But when that co-worker brought this piss-and-vinegar-laden Jack Russell into the office, it promptly plopped down under my wife’s desk, looked up at her with those mischievous brown eyes, and just like that we had us a dog.

rileyFast-forward ten years and we are sitting in a veterinarian’s exam room, being told that kidney failure is the reason for this somewhat sudden onset of lethargy and lack of appetite. No whining, no complaints, even as her body was poisoning itself. But at 16, there was probably no hope of effective treatment, either. And just like that, we are discussing euthanasia.

In the interim, however, we all lived the life of Riley.

That we become so attached to these beasts is an odd thing. In our case, she was the one who held sway over our decision regarding the biggest purchase of our lives. When we moved to Colorado seven years ago, we were under a tight deadline and so were rushing all over town with the realtor looking at properties. Nothing had appealed to us until we stepped through the door of the house we eventually bought. Julie turned to the side, admired the expansive window seat in the front room and simply said, “Riley would love that.” Where do we sign?

Dogs can be demanding, loud, messy and even destructive. As for Riley, she routinely engaged the vacuum cleaner in mortal combat (at least when she was younger) despite our howled protestations. And Julie’s prediction about the window seat couldn’t have been more accurate. It offered the perfect view of her domain – like Mufasa, she ruled over everything the light touched, or at least she thought she did. Interlopers were not tolerated, to be sent on their way with a fusillade of frenzied canine invectives, so living next door to a dog groomer meant plenty of interrupted phone conversations and TV shows.

And she shed like nothing I have ever beheld in all my days. If you came to my house, it was a given that you would leave coated in white hair. No matter how many times I vacuum-jousted or how many lint rollers I burned through, she always won that battle. How she had any fur left on her body was a complete mystery.

buddiesMy son was another convert. Like Julie, he was also wary around dogs as he was growing up. But in Riley he found what was for him most likely the perfect pet – a young man’s best friend if ever there was one.

And yet, the circle of life plays no favorites. And the inevitable end we know is coming still sucks the wind from us when it arrives. There is a scene in the movie As Good as it Gets, where Jack Nicholson chides himself for getting emotional “over a dog.” It does seem foolish, with all that’s going on in the world at the moment, to let such an insignificant thing as the passing of an animal affect us so deeply. But with me working from the house for the last several years, she had been my constant companion. So it only seemed right to repay her unflagging loyalty in kind, to stay with her as she breathed her last and the light drained from those cloudy but still mischievous eyes, to see that she not die among strangers.

It has only been a few days, so I still look for her on her perch in the window seat or curled in her bed in the TV room, snoring softly. And in that moment when I realize she’s gone, the sadness is quickly pushed aside by the memories of that lost little dog that found her way to us.

It is the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: goodbye. – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

 

 

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The Good Earth and the Bad Seed

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With every wilted planting, the words of Gene Shepherd come to mind. I could never be sure but I thought that I heard the sound of ‘Taps’ being played, gently.

Labor Day weekend is always kind of a benchmark for my gardening efforts. If there is still some green clinging to the stem this late in the game, then I have truly accomplished something. On the other hand…

This time the bell tolled for a veteran cinquefoil, and an Asiatic Lilly in its rookie season. May they be at peace. So far no word on which of my neighbors won the betting pool.

plant tabs

A couple years ago I started saving those little plastic information tabs that came in the pots, figuring – in a rare acknowledgment of my vast ignorance – they might actually help with the nurturing process. Unfortunately, the only real purpose they serve is to assist with IDing the corpse.

At this point I suppose an argument could be made that I’m nothing more than a serial killer, the Hannibal Lecter of horticulture. It seems a fairly apt assessment. Thankfully, no one from the Enquirer is going through my ‘yard waste’ bin or I would most certainly be up on charges. And thus far the hush money being paid to my trash hauler has ensured that the evidence will never see the light of day.

dead aspen

Oh, and I nearly forgot – my crowning achievement. The aspen tree next to the house. Its leaves will chatter happily outside my office window no more, as it appears I have sent it to that great forest in the sky.

I think I’m going to need a bigger yard waste bin.

 

Lame of Thrones

Can a dragon jump a shark?

From Damon to Dugan

HBO’s Game of Thrones may well be the biggest success television has ever seen. It has reigned supreme as a pinnacle of storytelling and a wonderful subversion of well-defined tropes and cliches, and has served as a shining example of how to construct a powerful narrative with meaningful characters…

And then the last three seasons happened. This is where I’ll give fair warning: I will be discussing events from the most recent episode of Game of Thrones (the season 7 finale), so continue at your own risk, for the night is dark, and full of spoilers.

Jon SnowPhoto courtesy of  thesun.co.uk

Let me set the record straight before you sharpen your pitchforks and come for my head: I still very much enjoy HBO’s epic fantasy, but with their deviation from their rock solid source material, the show’s cracks have become more and more apparent as the seasons go on. From…

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Totality and the Aftermath

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“…everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.” Pink Floyd

The problem with living only a few hours from a total eclipse is that you feel obligated to go see the damned thing. The media trumpet the event like it will rival the parting of the Red Sea, never to return in our lifetimes (or at least for the next seven years), so for it all to be going down just 150 miles north puts a lot of undue pressure on a person.

The thing is, I’ve not been witness to many of humankind’s bigger moments. I was a zygote during Woodstock (okay, I was 12), and the one time I showed up for a shuttle launch it got scrubbed. I have no stories about shooting up backstage with the Rolling Stones or pulling Hemingway from the path of rampaging cattle on the streets of Pamplona. There was that time Richard Nixon came to give a speech at my high school in the days before Watergate. As a member of the band I sat in the stands behind the podium and carry with me many fond memories of the back of the president’s head. So #Eclipse2017 seemed like a perfect ‘bucketlist’ opportunity.

Still, while I’m probably more astronomically nerdish than most, there’s a lot to consider. How bad will traffic be? Can I find a place to park? Will I get my money back if it’s cloudy? What if I can’t hold my breath long enough in the porta-potties? Will I go blind because I waited so long I had to buy knockoff glasses from that guy on craigslist? Will the werewolves speak English?

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All is forgotten, though, once the moon eases fully across the face of the sun, and totality is upon us. An eerie darkness falls on the low hills of eastern Wyoming as a cheer goes up from the crowd of nearly one hundred-thousand gathered at the airport in Glendo – a tiny farm town (population 204 on a normal day) in the bullseye of the big event. The ridiculous cardboard viewing glasses are tossed aside and all bask in the wonder of the black orb overhead, ringed by the dancing strands of the solar corona. Stars are suddenly visible in the half-night. This is what we came for.

But it’s over in two and a half minutes. And as soon as the first rays of sunshine peek from behind the moon’s trailing edge, the rush for the exits is on. Actually, exit. There is only one. Gridlock is immediate and all-encompassing as the parking lot goes from zero to Thunderdome in a matter of seconds. Thousands of cars that had moments earlier been parked in neat double rows now jockey for position as they funnel down to a single line, to be then funneled onto to a single road that is the only outlet for two other massive fields similarly choked with vehicles as well as those spilling from the nearby state park viewing areas. A scenario that is being repeated across the state, with the ultimate goal of funneling nearly a million people onto the single freeway where southbound traffic is already stacked up as far as the eye can see.

We decide on the ‘play it cool’ approach and avoid the mayhem, having some lunch while what we assume will be the worst of it subsides. Our first tactical error, as “the worst of it” will actually continue, statewide, for most of the day.

After about an hour, we pack up and head into the fray, inching along with everyone else toward the main road that will take us back into town and out to the freeway entrance ramp maybe a mile away. But what’s this? When we finally get to the road, someone is standing in the intersection waving all the vehicles in the opposite direction – not south into town (which is, of course, at a standstill), but north to points unknown. Like sheep, we comply. Tactical error number two. After two-and-a-half hours we have gone 14 miles in the wrong direction and now face the unappealing choice of getting back on the freeway to inch our way 14 miles back to where we came (and then beyond) or take our chances in the wilds of eastern Wyoming.

We choose the wilds – tactical error number three.

It turns out paved roads are something of a novelty across the high prairie of the Equality State. And we are not the only ones who have smartphones and are desperate for an alternate route out of this post-eclipse hell.

There are 83 miles of absolutely nothing between the towns of Torrington and Cheyenne. And one road. Have you ever seen an 83 mile long conga line? Moving at 10 miles an hour? Nuff said.

So here are a few tips for those planning to catch the 2024 eclipse. Do some breathing exercises beforehand to condition yourself for the porta-potties, bring plenty of treats for the werewolves, and pray that flying cars finally arrive.

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Oh, and get a new cellphone, ’cause a Galaxy s3 just ain’t up to the task.

To Sin by Silence…

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Image credit: smithsonianmag.com

Perhaps it’s time to stop calling ours ‘the Greatest Country in the World.’ The phrase has always made me a little uneasy, and now more than ever it rings quite hollow. For the most part, America is a perfectly lovely place, the Land of Opportunity and all that. But we appear to be straining at the seams of late. And what’s showing through isn’t pretty.

“We are determined to take our country back.” So said former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke in the midst of the mayhem in Charlottesville this past weekend. Apparently, a fair number of white Christians feel the same way, that “their” country is not just slipping away, but has been outright snatched from them. What they don’t realize is, it was never really theirs to begin with. Granted, they’ve been driving the bus for the last 240 years thanks to their sheer numbers, but they’ve simply been keeping the seats warm. Hey, it’s been a good run, they’ve had their way for a long time, but change is coming whether they want it or not. A harsh reality with which they are struggling mightily.

There is another phrase often used to describe this country – the Great Melting Pot. I suppose if the hate-mongers had their way, we’d get rid of that one, too. Better send someone out to the Statue of Liberty while you’re at it and scrape that “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” nonsense from her base, or better yet, just dismantle her altogether. Time to hang a ‘Go home’ sign on the golden door. The experiment is over. Words like ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ are no longer acceptable. Tribalism is the new black.

I’ve never been one to wrap myself too tightly in the flag and, quite frankly, I am leery of those who do. I guess you could call me a ‘globalist’ if you require a label. So that makes me an enemy of these sad, frightened and ever so angry ‘white warriors.’ Your anger is duly noted. Your hatred, though, is mystifying. Like every Anglo, African, Asian, Latino or Indian (and all those I missed) living here, my ancestors came from somewhere else. Yes, this is my country, but only so much as it is everyone else’s, too.

As for the pointy hoods, the shields, the Nazi salutes – if those are indicative of your ‘supremacy,’ I’ll pass, thanks. In truth, it would be comical if not for the fact that you all take yourselves so bloody seriously. And it leaves me to wonder once again, are we really the best thing that four-and-a-half billion years of evolution can come up with?

So save the platitudes about how great this country is – we just abdicated that title. Maybe we’ll get it back when we start to embrace the words of John Lennon rather than Adolph Hitler.

Of Fools and Gold

coronado

Image credit: abebooks.com

It all started with a book, Coronado’s Children, that recounted (alleged) tales of forgotten treasures in the wilds of west Texas. I first came across it at an early age – maybe eight or nine. And I was immediately hooked, poring over old road maps, drawing anally-precise little Xs on the most likely locations of the concealed bullion and mislaid bags of stolen bank loot. From the sound of it, these riches were stashed in every hollow tree stump and under every rock pile in the region. So I began to scrimp and save, buying a cheap metal detector a few years later. Mail order, no less. I may have wet myself when it finally arrived; bright red control box and coil, a pair of adjustable dials to fine-tune for precise depths and metals (coins, nuggets, ingots), the detection meter with its bouncing needle – it was like a Geiger counter on steroids. I hurriedly popped a nine volt battery in and ran to the backyard.

But my glittering dream soon lost its luster, as every beep issued by my new toy turned out to be a bottle cap or rusty nail rather than the lost gold of the Incas as I envisioned. And I cursed the gods who saw fit to strand me in Michigan, a place seldom frequented by pirates or stagecoach robbers looking to hide their ill-gotten fortunes. I was convinced that if I could just get myself, my map and my electronic marvel to El Paso, then, like Ginger Rogers, I’d be singing “We’re In the Money.”

The metal detector is long since gone, and my one trip to west Texas was little more than a drive-through, though it did make me realize that there would be ample hiding places for a cache of cash in those miles of deserted, scrub-covered hills.

And now, along comes Forrest Fenn. A self-proclaimed collector and adventurer, he (allegedly) squirreled away a box of gold, gems and other trinkets somewhere amongst the rugged spires of the American west. And to help narrow the search, he’s woven a handful of cryptic clues to its whereabouts into several stanzas of mangled verse published in a book called The Thrill of the Hunt.

Nonsensical rhyme aside, this is the sort of thing I have waited for since those days in suburban Detroit, slowly sweeping that metal detector to and fro, listening for a telltale chirp in the headphones that would send me to my knees, garden trowel at the ready, giddy with anticipation over the bonanza I was about to unearth.

It would appear I am not alone. The story has been featured by The Today Show, Newsweek and NPR among others, sending hoards of modern-day children of Coronado into the hills looking for the prize, as many as 65,000 by one estimation. Fenn claims he did this to get people off the couch and outdoors again, so on that point he appears to have nailed it. But now the body count is starting to climb. A 54-year old from Colorado, by all accounts a ‘regular’ on the trail of Fenn’s treasure, disappeared in January of last year while poking around in the hills near Santa Fe, New Mexico. His remains were found several months later near the banks of the Rio Grande. Then another treasure-seeker’s corpse was plucked from the same river earlier this summer, and just recently a third turned up in the Arkansas River. Yes, they were all adults and yes, they died in pursuit of something they loved, but I also think it’s worth noting that Indiana Jones didn’t do his own stunts.

I doubt any of this is what Fenn, now in his eighties, ever expected. And before he decides to call off the hunt to avoid legal repercussions – by simply revealing the location of the gold, one would assume – I’ve decided to go have a look for myself. In fact, I already did.

It’s something I’ve considered ever since first catching wind of it a few years ago. Still, after scrutinizing terrain on Google Earth (stretching from northern New Mexico to the Canadian border) and convincing myself of possible locations, I didn’t head out with shovel in hand because, well, it’s not what grownups do. “I’m on a treasure hunt,” seems a foolish response when people ask what I’m up to these days. Especially considering my time might be better spent looking for a job.

Yet all the while, that excited kid digging for Spanish doubloons in the backyard has been asking, “What the hell are you waiting for?” Then my wife flew back to Michigan to be with family for the Memorial Day weekend, and suddenly I had several days all to myself. A quick calculation revealed that the odds of locating Fenn’s chest in roughly 300,000 square miles of wilderness were still slightly better than – at my age – finding employment, and my ‘search zone’ was only four hours from DIA, so…

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Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s tallest

Okay, now I’ve come clean. Yes, that was the reason for my brief trip to New Mexico a few weeks back. But rather than singing like Ginger Rogers, my efforts prompted more of a Yukon-Cornelius-after-licking-his-pickaxe reaction – nothin’! Nothin’, that is, except for some pleasant hiking in the shadow of Wheeler Peak, a star-filled night and a camp meal fit for a king.

Barring my own reality series on the Discovery Channel, I don’t plan to make a habit of this – there are too many other things still to accomplish. But should the opportunity arise now and then, I might just mosey into the mountains for a few days, sleep on the ground, revel in a cup of hot coffee as the sun comes up, and take in the scenery. And if I find that other treasure I’ve been dreaming of all these years, well, that will be like icing on the cake.

I’d Rather be Jousting

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Image credit: carolina.renfestinfo.com

Ah, summer is here. I know this not because the air conditioning is wreaking havoc with my electric bill or because my lawn is already charring around the edges, but rather due to the arrival of the season’s true harbinger. The Renaissance Festival has opened for business.

Time to renew old friendships with overly-expressive sorts dressed in peasant garb and brandishing swords and turkey drumsticks with equal abandon. Time to shell out twenty bucks a head to tromp around in the mud (at least you hope it’s mud) while these wanna-be actors – who last starred in their high school’s production of The Music Man – try to lure you into some medieval feat of strength by calling you things like “knave” and “wench” in a variety of mangled British accents that only Kevin Costner could love. But be sure and wait for the hottest, most humid day imaginable so the sweat will be dripping off both you and those whose job it is to transport you back to jolly old England in the age of non-existent sanitary facilities, not to mention that pesky Black Death. This way the experience will be enhanced when, by mid-afternoon, the scent of horse droppings, overwhelmed antiperspirant and festering mead will hang like an acrid pall over waft blithely throughout the proceedings.

A jester blocks your path, juggling bowling pins (as I recall, bowling was invented by the Visigoths, who brought it to England during the first Bronze Age, using the heads of their vanquished enemies as the ball) from behind a blindfold while admonishing anyone within earshot to clear a path lest they risk being struck by an errant toss. All are happy to comply. Close behind are the troubadours, strumming on lutes and singing songs that seem to bring them great joy (an assumption based on the fact that, though not a single word is discernible, they stop and laugh raucously after every few stanzas). An offer to join in on the merriment is dismissed with the wave of your half-eaten turkey leg.

(I’m neither an historian or dietician, but I find it astounding that humanity survived the period considering the only foodstuff available to the general populace appears to have been turkey drumsticks. In a related note, I’m equally surprised that turkeys survived, considering the extreme demand for their haunches.)

After a few hours of “authentically costumed” frivolity it’s time to find a bathroom. Thankfully, the organizers have not insisted on historical accuracy in this arena, but even so you nearly soil yourself before realizing that all the porta-johns have been cleverly disguised – in some cases as turrets, in others, trees, replete with arched doors through which you would expect the Keebler elf to walk. Of course the ‘tree’ you choose is occupied, and once you finally gain entry it looks as though the fair maiden who went before you used the last of the leaves. Such is the lot of those who stray too far from the castle.

Many attendees slip and slide through the muck with a look of bewildered disappointment on their faces as they come to realize that this is not so much Game of Thrones as it is Robin Hood: Men In Tights. Sadly, there will be no heads crushed like grapes or eviscerations by long blade, just irritatingly jovial fire-breathers, jugglers and jousters.

And, of course, an Artisan’s marketplace, where one can purchase an original 14th century WWE belt buckle, ye olde Chinese Finger Traps and walking staffs carved by King Henry the Eighth himself.

So once more, summer is awakened by the heralding trumpets of the Renaissance Festival. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano or the Lions falling short of the Super Bowl, this yearly ritual remains as timeless and steadfast as ever. Hurry in before they’re all out of turkey legs.