Despite the fact that the TeamCholvis just ate a dozen eggs and gooshed the extra into the seat cushions this morning I will admit that three dogs aren’t too trying now that we are stationary. Feeding, peeing, pooping, and exiting a vehicle multiple times a day drained TeamHuman. Leash 1, leash 2, leash 3…where’s leash 3…come back here…wait…wait…oh, there it is…clip…OKAY…12 paws hit the ground attached to three strings and a human. The human ducks and twirls and, to date, has not gone down. Occasionally a dog is loose. Maybe the hand didn’t quite have a hold or maybe the dog was never attached. Cue the gutteral command to STAY. Cars are almost always whizzing by when we get in and out. Adrenaline floods my body. The dogs always, so far, stop. I capture the loose mutt and we proceed to walk. Usually we split them between us. Burt takes Elvis and maybe another. I almost always deal with Olive. She’s fussy. When one human must do the job alone it’s ergonomically uncomfortable to walk all three. Elvis must be dragged, the others pull. I try to channel my inner neutral balance between the sixty pound in each hand. The key is to transfer the pullers to the dog that needs pulling without throwing out your own back.
Happily the life threatening dog comfort walk is less frequent now that we are in our summer work spot. There is ample property for some free ranging. There is a yard. There are leashed walks that do not involved a vehicle. Cars are few and far between. Now if we take a leash walk I get Olive and Burt takes Elvis and Chava. Burt is the master trainer for heeling. After the pups have released some energy they might get free time in the woods. Chava and Olive are getting better at their off-leash heeling. Recall is only a problem for Elvis. He is deaf, stubborn, demented. I am always amazed at how much our older dogs teach the younger dogs. Elvis taught Olive, Olive is teaching Chava. But it cuts both good and bad. Chava has noticed Elvis getting away with all kinds of transgressions and has tried to follow the Elvis mentoring plan. Elvis won’t come, sit or wait for food so why should I? As my mom used to say: Because I said so. After a week of it Chava seems back on track with following us not Elvis.
So after a rough couple of weeks where we learned this Chava was stuck with us, that he might have ringworm, that he was growing so fast and eating so much and needed to be walked six times a day and once at night we’ve finally reached the spot where it’s only a little more energy to manage him. And he’s a good dog. And he doesn’t have ringworm.
Our weekend was spent at my favorite summer jamboree. Every June the Simms brothers host a pile of musicians on their ranch near Helena and all we have to do is play, play, play. The Simms and their team of friendly helpers give us food and love in return. This year did not disappoint. First off Mike Simms shared with me how he is deeply into the Gypsy Carpenters’ blog. He started reading from post #1 and is somewhere in year two. That’s a lot of embarrassing material to be dredged up. Burt and I think Mike might know our past better than we do. It’s always a thrill to talk with a reading fan. I think there are 6 now.
Then I got to share my recent bigotry blowout story in person with Mike and a couple others. It felt good to get that off my chest. And then we played music and left all that other BS behind for a few days. It helps that our phones don’t work up in the mountains. My friend KaL came to walk me and Olive and Chava on Saturday. We caught up on all things dog and some not-dog. I miss KaL. We used to run millions of miles together. Now we walk a couple of miles a year. Next year should be better.
After our sore hands and fingers and brains gave up we headed to Helena for showers and tool collection. Today I am writing from Jardine, MT. Look it up. Grizzly central. We’ll be hear all summer. Stay tuned for more pictures with my fantastic birthday camera and tales of walking in bear country with the dogs.
Recently I was sitting in an out patient surgical center in Helena, Montana minding my own business while waiting for a friend who needed a ride home. Scattered around the room were copies of Montana Senior News a magazine aimed at Montana’s rapidly aging population. I immediately noticed the cover photo was of Linda Gryczan a woman I happen to know and hold in high esteem. Linda was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that struck down Montana’s deviant sexual misconduct statute. While Montana’s law on gay sex was struck down a long time ago it is still legal to discriminate in all things on sexual orientation and gender identity in Montana. So LGBTQ people are no longer felons but they can be denied jobs, housing, and services. In fact, when Burt and I had some troublesome tenants that happened to be gay we were advised to use their gayness to remove them from our property. We were so offended by this thought we did the opposite and let them stay until the lease expired despite missed payments and property damage. The problem wasn’t their gayness. They were volatile young men. We knew nobody wanted to rent to a pair of teenage boys so we worked with them until the end.
So I picked up the magazine and started to read the article about the history of gay rights in Montana and specifically how elder LGBTQ folk in Montana have no protections when it comes to discrimination in end of life scenarios. Nursing homes can bar them or prevent couples from living together. Ignorant, hateful staff may treat someone poorly and it might be just fine with management. While I knew we as a society had a long way to go to make everyone feel safe and welcome and valued I had never thought of the heart piercing details some people must face on a day to day basis at the most vulnerable time in their lives. The article was written by another person I know, Aaron Parrett and Nan Parrett took the photos of the people that shared their stories and concerns. It is a really nice piece that discusses how far we’ve come and what remains to be done. It even mentions that most Montanans have a live and let live attitude and are uninterested in making sexual orientation an issue. I basked in the glow of the article being prominently featured and scattered on every table in the waiting room. There was an inkling of hope. You can read it here.
A few minutes later I was playing Bridge on my phone and I heard a couple come in and sit with their backs to me. The waiting room was about 10′ by 10′ with seats for 12 or so people. There were three other people in the room. I was seated furthest from the door. The couple comes in and starts bashing democrats and libtards loudly enough that anyone could hear. I ignored them. I didn’t even look up. Montana is Trump country. Not a surprise to run into people holding these views but kind of odd that they’d be speaking so loudly and negatively in a small public space. Then the man said: They even had a parade last week downtown with their flags and nobody cares…The woman says: You see them everywhere…The man replies: A bunch of them women were camped out at the campground last weekend all in the SAME campsite. Sharing tents. I looked up expecting to see some gnarled old timers and was appalled to see a heterosexual couple of about my age or younger spewing this vile hate loud enough for the whole room to hear. I said: You shouldn’t share your homophobia in public. The man says: I’m not homophobic. I say, sweetly: sounds like you are. Meanwhile I was thinking and they call us snowflakes. These two were undone by a magazine cover. Silence.
The silence was profound and there was a frisson of fear. The three uninvolved people looked like they wanted to turn invisible. Then the woman mutters: I just don’t understand why they need special rights. I stood up and yelled: Shut the FUCK up. Not my finest retort. I moved to get support from the front desk and discovered the receptionist had stepped away. I turned to face the couple. They were between me and the door. The man was leering and grinning. They were enjoying this. I realized I was in danger of assault. I was going to assault him. I exited the building and called the Surgicenter to let them know I was waiting outside since I know longer felt safe in their waiting room. For forty minutes I paced and basically freaked out. Here I was white and straight and I was getting only a taste of the fear millions live with everyday of their lives. I presumed I knew as a woman, and I do to an extent but this was horrifying. I was completely unprepared to feel their demeaning gaze and hear their vile, ignorant words.
In some ways I felt ashamed that I lost my temper. And in other ways it’s nice to just explode. I wish I’d continued to politely ask them to keep their views to themselves. I’ve confronted bullies at work and other places. I’ve had many men try and some succeed to intimidate me. I feel very much at risk as a female in our society. I do not feel equal. I do not feel heard. And yet I have so many advantages since I am white and educated and tall and bold. Eventually a staff member came out and found me. She’d heard what happened and apologized and thanked me for speaking up. I’m optimistic that next time I’ll be a bit gentler when I tell bigots to shut their pie holes. It takes practice. These situations happen when least expected.
I share this story not to garner praise or support. I share it so maybe you will practice and imagine and find the courage to say something, anything. We must drive hate back into hiding. We can do it.
Many, many miles have passed under our truck this last week. We pulled out of Jack’s driveway on Monday and headed east towards Logan, Utah. We stopped and visited Great Basin National Park before landing in the yard of Burt’s friends from the year he experimented with college. But first the poop-tastrophe of 2019.
Longtime friends and readers know I have had many involuntary and surprising contacts with poop. Literal shit storms have followed me around since I was a wastewater treatment plant technician in 1984. All previous shit shows are now relegated to second tier events. That time to groover exploded and coated my chest with a brown air-brushed patina of feces? Not worth mentioning. The time the other groover exploded at the car wash when I was trying to illegally flush the contents? Ho hum. Olive rolling in human feces? Which time? Never mind. The shit coated bathroom behind the bus stop? The emergency evacuations in bushes, buckets, pants? The porno movie in Ecuador playing while I held the ‘door’ to the toilet shut and dumped? I could write a book and all would pale in comparison to the latest event. And yet it was so fast and stunning it’s hardly worth telling.
One great advantage to traveling with your home attached to your truck is there is always a bathroom when you need it, assuming you can pull over. Last week I had a sudden need for the bathroom. Burt dutifully pulled over at the top of the pass coming out of California. Nevada spread below and a icy alpine lake was by our side. The elevation was substantially greater than where we had just spent the last three nights. We were five to six thousand feet higher that we had been at Burt’s dad’s house. It was gorgeous. I grabbed the key and dashed to the gNash. It wasn’t your normal urgent situation. It was a passing that required time and relaxation. I must have gotten dehydrated and, remember, I have that devious redundant and twisted colon. Think ungulates. Burt popped by to check on me and reported he’d seen a mountain quail. Dammit. A lifer bird and I was sitting on the throne. What could be worse?
Finally my work was done. RV life requires a degree of sanitary involvement that most of us would rather avoid. Since the toilet uses very little water you must turn and face your masterpiece and make sure it reaches its final destination. You depress the flush pedal firmly and quickly to try and induce a vacuum effect. If the poop is stalled extra effort is required. Some people use a pot of water to try and flush. A brave few grab a wad of TP and give it a nudge. The less brave or more health conscious use a tool we have named The Poop Stick. Poop sticks are disposable. when your poop is stuck you go get a stick, use it as needed, and discard. The result is that while it is very convenient to have a toilet with you at all times it comes with a price.
So there I was…Finally relieved of my burden. I turned and watched. Foot to lever. Firm and quick and BOOM. Instead of going down, or at least politely remaining stuck, it all exploded and flew skyward and hit me square in the face. Urine gravy with poop meatballs. My mouth was open. The word surprised is meaningless. I felt assaulted in the strangest way. Shock. Terror. Disgust. I heard a sound come out of me that I had never heard before. I was wailing and laughing and yelling. Burt came running WITH the dogs. Chava very helpfully ate the meatballs. I screamed at Burt to leave as I wailed that I needed help. Floor, ceiling, walls, and me were dripping in urine and a week’s worth of festering septage on top of what I had placed in the bowl. I started spitting and stripping while I kept wailing and chuckling. Burt left with the dogs. I mopped and cried and laughed. There was shit and pee in my hair. My glasses had saved my eyeballs. A long while later I came out of the gNash in fresh clothes but carried the knowledge that I was not clean. I could not wash hair without a shower. On the up side, the dogs were eager to hang out with me as we drove down into Nevada. Eau de Poo is a canine favorite. Urine has a lingering taste, too.
All day long I felt if I was slipping into some kind of dis-associative state. I veered between maniacal laughing and angry mutterings regarding the closest shower. I ate and drank but still imagined pee. We shopped at Trader Joe’s and Costco and I passed an entire day in a bipolar state of panic and hilarity. The shock of the blast was so profound that I found myself wondering how people emotionally survive bombings and other sudden violence. Something so minor as a toilet malfunction was bringing deep thoughts.
Of course we presumed the disaster was caused by the rapid change in elevation but we were wrong. The toilet is vented and had never exploded before. The real cause was a blocked vent. This became clear when the toilet exploded several more times over the next two days. Subsequent explosions were far less catastrophic because we had learned to gingerly press the flush pedal to let the tank off-gas. Still pee was on our seat and I took some mean hearted comfort in Burt getting hit. The persistent problem created a new sense of panic. I was ready to scrap the whole house but we hatched a plan on how to clear the vent. It was a muti-step and iterative plan but luck was on our side. The vent cleared as mysteriously as it clogged.
All’s well, for now. This could happen again. Despite my day or two of PTSD I’m already back staring at my shit and slamming the flusher as hard as I can hoping it goes down instead of up. Hope does not rise in this situation.
El Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Mártir is named for the guy gate keeping in heaven. For a long time (until just this minute) I thought it was some guy with a last name Mártir. Wrong. That’s just a tag on Saint Peter (rock of the church) reminding us he was martyred. Another big oops there. I might have known once but had forgotten he was killed for his beliefs. And this lack of knowledge strikes me as very, very odd. I was just in this guy’s basilica inside the Vatican. My research today, quick and dirty, revealed the church believes St. Peter was crucified head down on the every spot of the basilica’s altar. But details are sketchy and it sounds like early church politics played a role in Peter’s unseemly demise. I guess the church, like so many other things, chooses not to tell the stories that cast it in a bad light. Things like the stories that demonstrate these guys couldn’t agree even in the time of Christ on what Christ was teaching. Nothing has changed. We do know that early Dominican padres founded a mission at the south end of the mountain range and the mountain range and park take their names from that mission.
The park was formed in 1947. It’s home to Picacho del Diablo (the devil is always around) the highest peak in Baja at 10,157′. Numerous large avian species take advantage of the remote and rugged terrain. Both bald and golden eagles are known to frequent the area but most important are the California Condors. The condor reintroduction program has increased the total number of these mighty birds from 22 in 1982 to nearly 500 worldwide today. About half the birds remain in captivity for breeding purposes. Wild populations are not yet stable. This spot in Mexico has had less habitat loss and environmental degradation than US release locations. Consumption of both micro trash and lead ammunition are the greatest threat to individual survival. The birds in Mexico have successfully reproduced on their own.
Burt and I have seen these birds at three of their release sites and this was our second time spotting one in the Parque Nacional. Eight years ago we saw two. One flew over head on the ridge that divides the Baja peninsula, one side waters head to the Pacific Ocean and on the other they reach the Bay of California. The second bird was in the road trying to eat a red yogurt cap. I got out of the car and retrieved the cap. Think of that bird and those whales and fishes and sea life and pick up that micro-trash you see. It all flows downhill.
The gNash and Dodge are rolling uphill towards Montana and we’ve got a hanger-on. The usual Gypsy Carpenters crew minus Mimi (DEP, sweet kitty) plus foster puppy Chava are all festively packed in the king cab of our 18 year old Dodge and it’s got all the makings of a drunken party. There’s daily fights, spilled drinks, vomit, public scratching, and that’s just the dogs. Only Elvis and Burt are completely satisfied with their space. Nobody crowds them and gets away with it. Meanwhile Olive, Chava and I are jockeying all day, everyday to make do with what we can get. You’d think we’d swiftly work out a compact of who sits where when but noooo. Chava is growing faster than a kudzu in July so it’s a turf battle everyday. What worked before noon on Friday was no can do by Saturday night. Mood and climate also impact the degree of bodily contact allowed. Too hot? GTF off of me says Olive with a gap toothed crooked snarl. Too Cold? Climb up on my lap, there’s room for you both, says me. Just when everyone settles down somebody (me, Burt, or Chava) has to go to the bathroom and the proverbial pot is stirred again. And despite Chava knowing I am his boss he still treats me like a mom he can walk all over. Chava even tries to nurse on my forearms as he falls asleep. What a cutie-pie.
In the midst of the hourly land rush there have been countless bowls of spilled water and the aforementioned vomit and deafening barks in ears. Burt’s worried the floor boards are rusting from the constant moisture. I’m worried I’m growing mold on my perpetually wet bum. There are legs, teeth, and tongues everywhere and they have not figured out how to coordinate. Maybe that’s a good thing. Imagine them working together to thwart us. The mental and physical effort to keep two old dogs and one new puppy safe and satisfied is not 30% greater than the two dogs alone. I’d say the well trained but scarily growing puppy is a 100% increase in energy cost for Burt and me. He’s so fast and less solidly reliable to hold a stay or wait. By Monday morning he might weigh less than Olive but he will be stronger than Elvis and Olive combined. And he just eats and eats and eats. Which means he poops and poops and poops.
And it’s all been worth it. We’ve taken our time and let puppy stretch his legs in new places. When we first got Olive we did the same thing. We visited the Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Mártir just like we did eight years ago with Olive. A condor even flew over head on Chava’s first hike, the steep 4 KM climb to the Mirador (lookout) where you can see the Bahia de California from the top of the mountains. Human year equivalent 90 year old Elvis waited in the gNash. We told him it was boring. He only ate a little bit of a window shade in retaliation.
Today finds us at Burt’s Father’s unibomber home in California. We lovingly call it this because it’s a 50s era mail order log cabin with no potable water and a hot water heater only turned on once a week for Jack’s shower. It’s a dark place. If and when I take a shower in the cool rust waters, the dribble hits me in my bellybutton. I tweak my back wetting my hair and I come out smelling like a can of nails left under a drain spout. Not worth the effort. I’ll wallow in my dog water stink and vomit a few days more.
After 4 years of working and playing (let’s be honest) with neighborhood kids we’ve had a drastic contraction in numbers. For a couple of years we had a steady eight to ten kids, mostly girls, show up for art and English and extracurricular activities. Sometimes the number would well to nearly twenty. More kids showed around parties and field tips or after rumors of gifts. Last year tension developed between two factions in the group. The tweeners (10-12 year olds) started picking on each other and lines formed between a group of kids in our immediate vicinity and a group of kids from further away. It was annoying to mediate between the two groups. This year I wondered what would happen. I really didn’t want to deal with a pack of boy crazy girls learning how to get their nasty on with each other. In Spanish.
It all started out pretty easily. The group of further away kids naturally stopped coming. They were older and had newer interests. They drifted off. No big deal. Now all I had was my immediate neighbors and a few ‘cometas’. Cometas are people that come occasionally to standing gigs. Like that woman you see in your yoga class three times a year. They streak by and get a little attention because they are so rarely seen. The group was reduced to essentially four kids, a pair of sister pairs. It seemed a little sad at first but it was so much more manageable. For an instant.
The eldest girl has been disruptive for three years. She has stolen. She has lied. She has inappropriately touched other kids. Even though she was now one of only four and they were next door neighbors she still couldn’t stay out of trouble. Now that she was 11 and we’d been working with her for more than 3 years I was starting to lose hope that we could get through to her in a positive way. Mid-winter she intentionally but secretly damaged a piece of art in our home. We had a meeting. A written agreement was drawn up. A contract on behavior. A chance to formalize the many second chances we’d already given this young girl. This girl is so smart, lovely, and troubled. She breaks our heart. We all (not just Burt and I) want to see her succeed but she can’t escape her negative behaviors.
Last week she orchestrated a scam where she convinced the other kids to tell me there was no school on a certain day and then get me to agree to do something fun with them. It was a brilliant and spontaneous lie. She said, “We don’t have school tomorrow.” The other kids merely backed her up. Two are so young I’m not sure they even knew they were lying. The next morning as I drove to yoga I noticed a bunch of kids going to school as usual. Uh oh. Well surely they parental units didn’t let the scam go through. I texted the neighbor that takes the gang to school and I asked her what was going down. She said, “Nobody showed up for their ride today. I was wondering why.” I knew why.
I got to the driver’s home and I told her the kids were ducking. So I went to one house and asked if the kid went to school. The mother told me her daughter had begged and cried to skip school so she could do something with me. Mom relented. Note, this kid didn’t lie to mom. I explained to the mother I would never knowingly schedule anything on a school day. The next home was the home of the criminal mastermind. I asked the grandma where the kids were. Grandma said, “There’s no school today.” I had to tell her that there was school and that her granddaughter had lied to her. From inside the house I hear the mother’s reaction as she realizes we’ve all been taken by the kid’s lie. Meanwhile the mastermind comes outside to great me, laughing at her success, and I in a fit of anger say, “You will never come to my house again. You’ve had all your chances. We had an agreement and you lied to me, your grandmother and your mother.” I gave a very dramatic but grammatically flawed speech on lying and the importance of school. I could here mom yelling inside. I feared a beating was coming. I left feeling sad for so many things. I was struck that her caretakers didn’t know the school schedule.
Rumors reached me that the girls were grounded. They weren’t seen for two days. I softened a bit and have agreed to meet with the troubled kid and talk with her about the road ahead. I’m pretty certain she won’t be welcome in my classes but I want her to know we can still be friends and can still talk. I worry about her but there’s nothing I can do by myself. She may learn to live another way or she may not. So far the lying and cheating and stealing are working for her.
It’s been over a week. The girl is still banned from classes and another has chosen not to come in solidarity. The two youngest are leaving their older sisters behind and coming to class on their own. I am so proud of them. Today we went to the beach. I think it’s important to remember I have been working with these two kids since they were four years old. In so many ways it was already too late for the older kids to trust me.
1. I endured an all day, every 2 hours glaucoma test. Pressure is rising but not too high. I can’t recommend this diagnostic approach.
2. Annual skin check. The dermo wants us to bathe every day and add moisture. I say no. I’m gonna stick with my less is more routine.
3. Our windows are almost all here. They showed up and put some in. We haven’t paid so don’t fret.
4. We’ve been singing twice a week in a professionally conducted choral. More later. It’s hard work.
5. Elvis required his own emergency vet visit. Nothing was found but he was so snippy he had to be sedated for the exam. Twenty-four hours of sleep fixed him.
6. The kid’s class blew up and reformed after the older kids lied to me. In a scam that nearly succeeded they told me they had no school last Friday so they could do something fun with me. Too bad I drove by the school and saw kids going to school. Then I had to go to their parents and tell them about the scam. The main instigator lied to her parents and drug her younger sister into it. And actually convinced them there was no school. Another kid didn’t lie but convinced her mother my class was better than school (it might be). I told that mother I would never let the kids skip school to do something with me. Awkward. I banned the oldest kid and main instigator. I put the next oldest kid into the penalty box and I let the youngest kids off the hook with a stern warning to not be lemmings. I’m not sure if the youngest kids even knew there was school. Their schedule can by confusing. In fact there is no school his Friday.
7. We played Bridge.
8. We went to the mountains.
9. I returned to yoga class.
10. We have a house concert/hootenanny this afternoon. So I skipped yoga to rest. I still need a lot of rest.
11. We depart in ten days. A destination filled June is planned.
Olive being Olive ate something and it nearly killed her again. Or was it stress? or a bad reaction to her vaccines. Whatever it was it caused Olive’s gut to blow up and her face to look sad and she was in pain. At 10 PM we rushed down to the vet and an x-ray revealed…now, you should be saying x-ray, 10 PM…I didn’t know there were x-rays in Pescadero, I didn’t know you could see a vet at 10PM…Yes!!! You can get x-rays in Pescadero. You can’t even get pet x-rays in Todos Santos. And our vet is available by text. She’d just seen Olive for her shots the day before so she knew it was a sudden change in health.
Back to the reveal. The x-rays revealed a huge heart in all the bad ways. Olive has a bad ticker. We’re in a chicken or the egg situation. The heart might have gone haywire due to pain. There was an underlying heart murmur that might have made everything worse. The stress of a new puppy or vaccines might have triggered something. For the second time in less than a year it looked like Olive might not make it. Ten days later and she’s almost normal and just like me she takes a heart medicine. She’s little bit less enthusiastic about jumping (me, too) but still very active. There are plans for an EKG. She’s on a diet and has already lost weight. We’re not certain she doesn’t have pain in her hind end or spine. She won’t say. She’s a bummer like that. That 10:00 visit cost $30 with x-ray and medicine.
Lorna and Janna spent winter Wednesday evening’s playing party Bridge with the Gypsy Carpenters. It was a lovely time. Now Lorna is leaving for the season and our game dissolved. Burt and I won last night with a score of +1 to their -1. Not much of a win, more of a draw. I’m sad because I’ll miss the Bridge but mostly because I’ll miss spending time with these two. They’re both great people and fun to hang with.
Lorna, on the right, is our Todos Santos club director. She mentored three of us through the club director’s test two weeks ago. The test was a drag but I think we passed. If we did pass we’ll have some needed back up for Lorna and the ability to offer sanctioned games when Lorna is gone.