Back in Our Mexican Home

The biznaga are in bloom. Barrel cactus
The biznaga are in bloom. Barrel cactus

A week ago we pulled up to our Baja property. Every year when we pull in there’s a bit of post-Odile PTSD combined with the happiness of being home. All summer we wonder if our plants are getting enough water. We wonder if the rains washed something away. We wonder how the neighborhood kids spent their time. We arrived this year to an abundance of growth on most of our plants, new and old, and only two fatalities. A pair of Palo de Arco plants didn’t make it but they are also the easiest to replace and the fastest growing. Their nearest sisters will quickly overtake their vacant spots. The six Palo Blanco trees we put in were only 4″ tall five months ago and all of them survived. One has at least ten times more vegetation than when we left. It was a remarkably successful growing season. Our gardener, Vikki, and Mother Nature did a superb job applying water and weeding. VIkki was rewarded with her usual pay, a pile of used clothes to sell or share, and a few new solar gadget to use when the power goes out. Baja’s power grid is failing and they experienced a number of blackouts this summer. Our new home will be solar.

The kids all look good too. After a 2 hour crisis where I could not find the new clothes I had promised them we are all back in good standing. I jest. Despite the lost clothes they were thrilled to see us. When the new clothes were found they were thrilled to see the new clothes. New tights and tees and socks and underwear all around. It kills me to see how happy they are to get socks and underwear. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I like new panties and fun socks too.

It’s hot but like my granny said, “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humidity.” But she never said ain’t. Grandmas was correct. It’s sweaty. Thanks to my year of hot flashes I’m not too perturbed. In fact, I can hardly tell if I’m having hot flashes now. I’m just always sticky and a bit uncomfortable everywhere I go. It may sound terrible but there is an upside. I’m mostly sleeping through my night sweats. Burt and I have a theory that I’m always in a pool of seat so I don’t notice a new surge. In spite of the sweat Burt has our power and water running. We’ve been to La Paz to start the process to extend our visas. We’ve played Bridge. I’ve been to yoga. Mexican life is resuming as normal.

The dogs are all well and the yard has lightened our care taking load. Chava is proving himself to be completely without fear or sense in the ocean. He swims into the break and just takes waves on the noggin. The other day he was caught inside and Burt had to go to him and spin him around back towards shore. I think Chava would’ve kept trying to get outside the breakers until he sank. He’s going to wear a bright yellow life jack from now on so we can see him. Surfing lessons are coming soon.

Happy Halloween. Photos of all the kids in the costumes I brought them will be up soon. Also, it’s Dia de Muertos time. Remember your lost loved ones. They are here visiting this week.

Furry ones cannot get organized for a family picture. Elvis has his own agenda at all times.
Furry ones cannot get organized for a family picture. Elvis has his own agenda at all times.
Biznaga's are tasty to eat. They are endangered because of that feature.
Biznaga’s are tasty to eat. They are endangered because of that feature.
Eel skeleton
Eel skeleton.  A special addition to my collection.
Agave
Agave
Spa day for Olive.
Spa day for Olive.
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Training hike

That blue dot is my location overlooking the confluence of he Yellowstone River and Bear Creek.
That blue dot is my location overlooking the confluence of he Yellowstone River and Bear Creek.

Burt went off on his annual backpack in Yellowstone with his lifelong buddy and I stayed home with the canine troop this weekend. It was a wet and cold time for all parties. The gNash furnace died last year and so now we use a Mr. Heater Buddy, a portable propane heater. Buddy is not a very reliable friend. He gives off an hour of heat and then the super sensitive oxygen monitor cuts off the burn. Day one was in the low thirties and I had only an hour of heat at bedtime and an hour in the morning. I stayed warm with dog sleeping companions and a steady stream of cooking.

Day two Sue and I met up for an afternoon hike during a gap in the rain. We had a glorious walk across the plateau west of Daley Lake. That evening me and the dogs piled into bed together again and kept our spirits up with rumors of a break in the rain the next day.

Today the reprieve showed up around 11:00 AM. I ate some egg salad and gathered everyone up for a hike. Before Burt left I joked I was going to stay warm boiling one egg at a time, all day long. It was almost that bad but it was tea, spaghetti, toast…and eggs. The day’s hike was also suggested by Burt before he left. He thought I should follow the trail off Jardine Road down to the confluence of Bear Creek and the Yellowstone River. His idea was that the trail passes through wide open country and I should be able to see any bears from a long distance. The down side is it is a hike into a hole. A deep hole.

With afib I try to avoid hikes into holes. The advantage to an uphill start is if I run into trouble I can always turn around and head down. If I have an afib attack and the only way home is up, I could be in a bit of trouble. Funny thing about how the world is laid out but most hikes start up hill. At least in the places we hang. So I weighed bears and holes and decided to take my chance with the hole.  A also decided to give super-Elvis a chance to show the world he’s still tough. It all worked out great. No weird heart beats and Elvis made it up down without incident. We did 1500′ in 4.5 miles in about 2.5 hours. And more wonderful weather. I’m feeling hopeful that I can make it up to the Goshutes bird viewing area. That’s 2000′ in 2 miles up to 10,000′. It will be tough. Here’s the stuff we saw.

Burt is back safe and sound. They stayed warm and dry on their three day camp.

The three musketeers and my shadow.
The three musketeers and my shadow.
Snake skin near the trail
Snake skin near the trail
Rock flake.
Rock flake.
Earwig
Earwig
Jaw erosion on this old elk.
Jaw erosion on this old elk.
Worn teeth and jaw erosion.
Worn teeth and jaw erosion.
Looking into Yellowstone
Looking into Yellowstone
Looking down Bear Creek.
Looking down Bear Creek.

 

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Grizzlies on my trail

The hills around Jardine are prime grizzly country but this summer there’s been hardly a sign these giant beasts that live amongst us. Bears are on the increase all over western Montana and with that there are more reports of bear/human contact. Nearly every walk beyond the confines of our yard I strap on the orange and black canister of bear spray. I admit on a couple of occasions I have absentmindedly left it at home and it always made me queasy when I realized it was just me and the small dogs if we had a chance encounter with Bruno. The bear thoughts were there on every walk despite only one scat and two footprints for scores of hikes. I had those dreadfully lovely feelings of wanting to see a bear but only far away or from in the car. I’d started to feel like I wasn’t getting the full Yellowstone experience if I didn’t see at least one fuzzy butt running away from me before we left.

Proper self-defense requires physical skills and mental preparation. Even though I no longer actively participate in a martial art or self-defense training I still frequently think of the things I’ve learned. Many skills are hard wired like riding a bike. Knee to groin, fist to face…those will come out without thought. I also had the privilege of some hand gun training from a federal law enforcement instructor when I ran in law enforcement circles. For a few years I practiced drawing, aiming, shooting even though I never owned or carried a hand gun. Gun safety when there are guns around is important and so I was given the knowledge. So pepper spray…as a fairly knowledgeable person on these matters it always troubled me that we’re just supposed to pick up a can of spray and know how to use it properly. Since I couldn’t spray without wasting my expensive gas and, most likely, causing myself great physical discomfort (I have been hit by both a leaky canister and a ditz with mace in a restaurant, so I know) the only way to prepare was read and visualize. So I did and do. Remove safety. Wait until the bear is very close. Fire. I practiced removing the safety. It’s tricky with my arthritic fingers. My friend Sue had the chance to practice at one of MT FWP’s training seminars. Faux charging bear and all. I watched the video. That bear moves fast. She told me she learned this helpful hint: Aim for the feet because the gas rises. Also bring soap to clean yourself up afterwards. Because you will get it on you. I’m not going to carry soap. I’ll suffer. Of course, before any of this you want to try to avoid meeting a bear and failing that try to scare the bear away.

Yesterday Burt decided to walk with me. We’ve only shared a handful of walks this summer. Burt’s been very busy working. So it was unusual to have him and Elvis along. Normally it’s just me and the Chalive. The three of us alone are no good at making peremptory noise to give bears the chance to leave and Burt added to the equation is no better. When Burt and I hike we are usually a quarter mile apart. And Burt talks everywhere but on a walk. He’s a creeper in the forest. We try to talk but we just can’t sustain it. We’re natural hunters. So there we were: Olive and Chava twenty feet ahead of me, Burt and Elvis a few hundred yards behind. We were only 10 minutes from the trail head, 15 minutes from the gNash. The trail is a persistent but not steep uphill cut into a steep hillside. The land drops away on one side and the other side is a steep upwards slope. Passing other travelers (horses, anyone?) can be awkward because there’s little land to move. Generally there are no other travelers. It’s very quiet up here.

I rounded a curve in the trail with the Chalive and heard some gentle rustling. There’s a lot of gentle rustling up here. Juncos and ground squirrels are the norm. Not yesterday. Just ahead and slightly above me, maybe 40 to 50 feet away was a great grizzly. A superb grizzled silvery sow was right before my eyes. The dogs didn’t see her but she saw them and she saw me. And then I saw her two yearling cubs. Yearlings are nearly as big as mom this time of year. I was face to face with three big bears. I was relieved to see the cubs were on the same side of the trail as momma bear. We were not caught in the most dangerous situation between mom and cubs. As the sow turned to look over her shoulder to see where her cubs were I began yelling and that canister of spray was in my hand with the safety off aimed right at her. I did not pull the trigger. I knew she was too far away and that she would likely flee.  She turned her ginormous moon face back at me and gave me a good bye glance and headed up hill with the kids on her ass. It was so steep they hardly got a start before the dogs realized they were there. With the bears’ sudden movements Olive and Chava caught on and took off in pursuit. I switched from yelling from BEAR BEAR BEAR BEAR to NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. And I thought why did Burt have to tell me about dogs turning bears around and leading them back to their screaming owners? What was going to happen?

Burt quickly arrived and I was still screaming. The bears had just ducked over a small flattish area above our heads. The threesome was heading in the direction we had come. Olive and Chava were just reaching the spot where the bears had disappeared from view. Would it be an ambush? Was this the moment the bears would turn and come back our way? Now Burt and I were both yelling NONONONONONO. The dynamic duo stopped at the edge. There was a dramatic pause and then they came back to us with no bears in tow. What changed their minds? Was momma on the other side of the lip glaring at them? Or was the hill too steep and they too lazy? They aren’t talking.

With the bears headed towards town we decided to continue our walk only now we walked as a compact noisy quintet. I sang songs loudly and poorly. If the volume didn’t ward off the bears the missed notes would. While I was not scared during the face-off, the walk home through the area where we knew the bears to be was nerve wracking. I jumped out of my skin when a junco flew out of some grass at my feet. In fact, nearly 24 hours later, Olive scared me just by rearranging herself on the bed as I write this. No walk today. I’m telling myself it’s because its 40 and raining.

It was thrilling to see the bears. I can leave this area satisfied. It was also thrilling to remove the canister and have that safety off without a conscious thought. Be prepared. And, no, there are no pictures. All eyes were on the bears. All hands were on the weapon.

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We live in a KENNEL

Mad marmot
Mad marmot

Somebody called recently and asked how summer was going. All I could say was dogs. Burt nailed it when he said, “we live in a kennel.” The Olvis was an 8 year masterpiece. No squabbles, high compliance rate, no teething. Cholvis. Chava plus Olvis is an entirely different universe. Olive is a bitch. Elvis is doing things he hasn’t done in years. Chava is determined to eat everything. Berries off of bushes, cigarette butts, all excrement, anything plastic. I found my ear plugs in his poop. I regularly go online for therapeutic readings on how to deal with a teenage dog. Chava is 7 months old and this is exactly when most puppies are given up for behavioral problems. It’s literally a full-time job to raise a healthy, happy puppy. Best advice so far: Never leave them unattended. All activities come with Chava attached. Leaving a curious puppy to his own devices results in destruction and heartbreak. If Chava can’t come it’s the crate. So far it’s all minor stuff but the list is endless and mysterious. We lost some apples. They turned up in Chava’s bear like poop. $20 of heirloom tomatoes? Eaten in 5 minutes. I caught him before he swallowed the paring knife he stole from the counter. Burt’s crocs remain mostly unmolested.

With every outing requiring a minimum of one and up to three dog companions certain activities have been entirely curtailed. I have not birded in a month. Music weekends have been spent with Chava lashed to our chairs. They say this phase will pass and pass quickly since Chava is a small dog. He’s holding steady at under 50 pounds. Maybe even under 40 pounds. I can still pick him up. Meanwhile I’ll keep reading dog therapy articles.

While we strategically manage the mouth of destruction we also face the normal rebellion of a teen. Chava sits. It just takes a staring contest and 2 to 3 minutes for him to execute. He can heel. As long as there are no sentient beings within his view shed. Same with come. Chava comes like a champ. As long as Elvis isn’t telling him to ignore us. Elvis can’t hear or see so he ignores all commands. Chava has noticed. Now Olive is noticing that Elvis and Chava are ignoring us. We’re fighting a mini-insurrection, a mutiny, if you will, of the canine crew. Dog therapy? Clamp down and reiterate all house rules at all times. Random sit and stay patrol. No food without performance. It’s all very exhausting after years of well mannered pooches. But both and Burt and I are united in the face of this challange. We cannot have obnoxious, ill-mannered dogs and live this lifestyle. Safety and sanity demand compliance. I’m hopeful that fall will find boot camp tapering off to just the chaos of life with 5 individuals.

And so now you know where I’ve been. It’s also kind of boring.

Burt
Burt
Theme of the era
Theme of the era
Dogs are everywhere.
Dogs are everywhere.
Blue Agave for our Baja counters.
Blue Agave for our Baja counters.
Music
Music
Giant silk moth caterpillar. It eats up to 85,000x its body weight in under two months on its way to moth conversion.
Giant silk moth caterpillar. It eats up to 85,000x its body weight in under two months on its way to moth conversion.
Dog. This guy is showing signs of not being an idiot or an ass.
Dog. This guy is showing signs of not being an idiot or an ass.
Olive is the top dog.
Olive is the top dog.
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On the Move

Bison bathing in dust.
Bison bathing in dust.

The kennel our three dogs let us share with them is on the move. We are out of work while the electrician and insulators get down to business. If those subs finish before we head south fo rthe winter we’ll move back to Jardine to advance the project but we will not finish. Our clients had a case of mission creep and the job was too big for us to do in one season so they’ll be on their own to get it done over the winter. Day one a couple months back Burt said, “I can’t do it all. I’ll get you started or we can leave.” They opted for us to get them started. So it’s framed and we are on the road.

First up was three days on the Beartooth Plateau. We are all suitably worn out by our high elevation hiking, fishing, and bird seeking. Olive and her puny heart did very well. Elvis managed a 5 mile day. Chava was a poop finding, dead animal eating machine. Free on the range and all he did was eat whatever he found. It came out as fast as it went in. One day we observed 8 defecations. I have to wonder how many we missed. He also seems to have grown a few more inches over night. His teen rage is subsiding. He recalled on command and is dropping food is we catch him in time. Yesterday I got him to expel a maggot filled rodent the size of a NYC rat. Chava is even considering heeling. He thinks about it but after about ten steps he rejects the idea. Soon, Chava, soon.

Today we’ve landed in Columbus for the fiddler’s weekend. We’ll head over to Town Pump for showers soon and then settle in for five days of tunes. We’re on the banks of the Yellowstone, under the cottonwoods. Swing on in and join us if you’re in the area.

Trying out the fish eye on the camera.
Trying out the fish eye on the camera.
Beartooth Plateau
Beartooth Plateau
White crowned sparrow.
White crowned sparrow.
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sTuCk in the MuD

Calle sin nombre
Calle sin nombre

Up here in the mountains we’re experiencing a microclimate of cool weather and copious rain. It’s buggy but nice. Yesterday we pulled in from a trip to the BozOne for plumbing supplies and sushi and a movie and as Burt attempted to position us into our spot under a tree we got stuck. The good news is were in a safe spot and sort of level. Bad news is: How and when are we getting out of this? I’m in the passive school. It will dry eventually. Burt is gearing up for an active response. I need a place to hide. If your wondering why we pulled the trailer to Bozeman for errands, there’s a three part answer. Elvis, Olive, Chava. It’s easier to drag the trailer and spend the night than try and keep the dogs safe and us unindicted in the truck cab. We live in a kennel and it goes where we go.

Check out the road sign above. A few times a week we wander the surrounding forest service roads and the other evening we found ourselves at the same address we use in Mexico. Calle sin nombre. The street with no name.

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Three dogs are easier when we are stationary.

Every nice roll in the grass is interrupted.
Every nice roll in the grass is interrupted.

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.

Remember Seinfeld? Here comes Newman.
Remember Seinfeld? Here comes Newman.
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