Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Own Desert Places

A few days ago LC and I went for a drive on BLM land behind the house.
Atomic City is a tiny speck in the desert.  Little more than a grain of sand in the Snake River Plain.  Located in a 70 mile wide bowl that is surrounded in every direction by mountains.
It takes all of 60 seconds to drive from our house in Atomic City to the edge of town.  
Beyond the edge of town is that vast expanse of nothingness.
Only it's not really nothingness.
Just like the endless seeming-emptiness of BLM outside Cody, if you look - really look - there is much to see.
On this particular day (one more cool and sunny fall day), LC and I headed down the flat dirt and gravel road, with no particular destination or agenda in mind.
Just to........move........explore........quietly be with each other in the safety of each others' company.
When I look at the picture above I see a lot of things.
The dry and sun scorched earth.  All the grasses are now brown.  So are the sage brushes that were blooming bright green with bright yellow flowers only a few weeks ago but which are now dormant for the year.
In the background of the picture I see the Table Top butte that we explored last month:
In the foreground I see a small rocky hill - one of a series of seven that we did not know about but quickly found not long after leaving the house.
The sheer vastness of the land makes height and distance deceiving, and as we approached the series of small hills thought little about them.
Up close they were hundreds of feet high, each one separated by a few hundred feet.
And we spent a long time exploring this unexpected series of rises before continuing further.
Finally I see the sky.
When I look at some of my desert pictures the sky always seems to stand out for me.  It speaks to me in ways that I don't understand and contains secrets that I also don't understand.
But it is compelling and it is beautiful...............
We stay to ourselves most of the time in Atomic City.
Actually, most people who live there stay to themselves most of the time.
But people stop and talk when they see us outside, and we do the same when we see them, and everyone is friendly and helpful.
Many have been surprisingly successful in their lives - INL (Secret Squirrel Lab) workers, a renowned chef who owned restaurants both in Idaho and Utah, a California transplant who is still closing up his life there and will soon be here full-time and who installed sound systems into the homes of entertainment stars, others.
No-one had mentioned this series of rocky hills, and so they caught us off guard.
Only 10 minutes from the house we stopped the truck in the middle of the dusty and sandy trail we had been slowly driving, and climbed out curious to see what we had found.
A view of the mountain chain to our west.
They say that there are enough of these dirt roads throughout this area that we could reach Aberdeen, Craters of the Moon, Arco, all without every hitting pavement.
I've looked at the Google maps and I believe them...............
This entire part of the country is filled with lava rock.
Endless amounts of scorched black, quickly cooled and air pocket filled lava rock.
The contrast of jet black rock and brown, dried sage brush was pleasing to me and I snapped a number of quick pictures before moving on to the first hill............ 
Looking south(ish) at the mountains that were still covered in mist.
Somewhere in the mist was the town of Blackfoot, but you can still see occasional hints of farms close to town.
Heading south from Atomic City the first 15 miles towards Blackfoot is nothing but what you see in pictures likes these.  Sage and rock and desert grasses and total emptiness.
For the next 10 miles you find yourself surrounded on both sides of the highway by very huge farms that grow hay and potatoes and cattle and other cash crops.
The last five miles before reaching town are increasing numbers of homes and light industrial businesses............ 
Looking north towards Arco............. 
West towards Cedar Butte and the taller Big Southern Butte.
LC and I have committed to walk Big Butte early in November.
The weather will be cool, the rattlesnakes will be gone, and both of us will have mustered enough courage to be able to tackle the five mile trek up to the top.
But as we stood on top of one of the seven small hills on this day and looked over towards the two buttes, we suddenly decided on a goal for this trip after all.
From where we were standing we could see trees on Cedar Butte and wanted to explore it more closely.
Right after having a good look around the hills we were currently surrounded by............ 
One of the Twin Buttes............
Can you see what I mean about the sky?
I don't know if the sky is truly different in this region of the country, or if it is a perceptual observation that is influenced by the emptiness and flatness of so much of the land, or what exactly causes that.
Or if it's just me.
I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is something about the sky that enthralls me............ 
Cedar Butte in front.  Big Butte in back.
We ended up hiking much of Cedar Butte during this same trip.
From where we stood looking at it, Cedar Butte didn't look like it would be very interesting or very demanding, but we were wrong on both counts.
It looks NOTHING up close like it looks from a distance (a blog for another day).
But we decided while standing on the rocky hills to go see it.  Because there were trees.  We had heard that there were elk and deer.  We would go see what we could find.............
LC at the top of one of the seven hills...........
Twin Buttes..............
If you click on this picture it will enlarge. 
Barely visible (in the center of the picture) is Atomic City..............
A closer look at the porous rock that completely filled this area............
I have noticed this plant all over the desert and all over town during the past few months.
It grows in large clumps just like these, is a combination of light green and white in summer, turns purple and white in early fall, and then fades into beige (as does the entire world around us) in late fall.
I like it very much but have no idea what it is...............
Satisfied after exploring each of the hills, and with a goal now to explore Cedar Butte, LC and I headed back to the truck.
I don't know how we missed it the first time, but close the truck on the way back, I stopped for a few moments to take pictures of these animal bones.
A common sight in Wyoming.  A less-common but still regular sight in the desert in Idaho............

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces between stars -- on stars where no human race is. I have it in me so much nearer home to scare myself with my own desert places...........Robert Frost


Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Sweet Girl Jamie

Last week - on October 16 - we put Jamie down.
Put her down.
That sounds so clean and neat and antiseptic, doesn't it?
We put her down.  Put her to sleep.  Euthanized her.
There are so many different ways to say it that make it easy to keep our hands clean.
But the reality is that on the 16th of October I signed papers that gave the vet permission to kill my dog...............

I have posted the picture of me and Jamie at the top of this page before.
It was taken around 2007 at Bull Mountain in North Georgia.
It was taken on a cold and very damp weekend I think in November or December of that year.
There was a hike/bike navigation training going on that weekend for members of the adventure racing club that I belonged to.
There were probably 20 teams (which would mean about 50 people or so) traipsing around in the woods looking for little orange orienteering flags on foot and on bike, and I was up there to train with a new potential team-mate.
That was the weekend I taco'd my bike - totally bending the front wheel in half when I biked down a gnarly, rock and root filled (and totally leaf covered) semi-trail, hit a leaf covered log with my front wheel, taco'd the wheel and then proceeded to endo over the handlebars and land unceremoniously on my ass in a bed of leaves on the back side of the log.
My guy and my sweet girl had spent the day keeping the fire going in camp, much to the appreciation of all racers who were wet and freezing cold by the time they came in.
After changing into warmer and drier clothes I walked over to greet my girl.
LC snapped this picture without me knowing and it has been my favorite of the two of us ever since that day...............

I always stayed away from dogs.
My parents were the kind of people who would dump dogs off in the country when they got tired of them, or when the dogs became too unmanageable.
I still remember them leaving a dog in the country and I watched through the back window as we drove away.
That dog ran as fast as she could down the middle of the road, desperate to catch us.
I watched her running until we finally drove out of site.............

My youngest son Chris loved, loved, loved dogs and had begged me for years to get a dog when we lived in Canada.
Finally (as we were preparing to move from Canada to the US) I promised him that when we got to Tennessee we would get a dog.
Chris had a paper route in Canada, and after telling him that he could have a dog, he saved every single penny of his paper route money.
When I suggested that he spend a little of his saved money his reply was always the same "No........it's for my puppy".
Even when I told him that we were going to save a dog and get one from an animal shelter and it would not cost very much money, my little boy would still not spend any of his money.
As I walked into the Animal Shelter in Hendersonville TN I looked back at my then-husband and silently worded "I don't want a dog I don't want a dog".
Chris wandered through the shelter and looked over the animals whose owners had abandoned them, and we walked out with a tiny little dark red, shaking and scared to death part Irish Setter and part something else.
Chris named her Roxy.
She was too young to be alone.  Too young to be without her mother.  Even too young to have been weaned yet.
But Chris immediately loved her.
A few days later we found out that she had parvo, and we paid the money to make her well...............

A couple of years later we had moved into the country, and one freezing cold January day a happy-go-lucky, healthy, bouncing, dancing and prancing dog of about five months old came wandering into our yard.
She was red, had a completely black muzzle, and some kind of funky, curly tail.
I was busy with work, with adventure racing training, with farming, with raising boys, with trying to forget how unhappy my marriage was.
I looked at my boys and told them "Don't feed her and don't give her water - she'll go on."
Every day for the next five or six days I would come home from work, pull into the driveway behind the house, climb out of my truck and surprisingly see a happy dog bounding out from behind one barn or another to greet me.
When she was excited she would jump four-footed like Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh cartoons.
I don't know whether or not she was eating goat food and drinking water from the animals troughs, or whether the boys were subversively feeding her behind my back, but she wouldn't "go on".
After about a week of her hanging around I looked out the window one evening and saw her on the back porch.
Chris had the habit of throwing his Vanderbilt jacket down on the porch and as I quietly watched her from inside the house I saw that she had bundled the jacket into a pillow and was laying on it.
And my resolve - that had been whittled down one section at a time over the previous week - completely dissolved in that moment.
In that one moment this young pup, who was all alone in the world, and yet who was also unendingly sweet and happy and lovable, melted my heart.
The next morning I looked out the window again and pup was licking ice of the concrete back porch.
 Leaving a bowl of water and a bowl of food for her, I left for work having (without telling the boys) decided that if she was still at the house when I came home that afternoon, we would keep her.
She was there.  Came bounding out from behind one of the barns.  Tigger-pup bounced over to greet me.  I reached down to pet her for the very first time, and told the boys that evening that we could keep her.
It seems that she had decided that WE were her new family now, and wasn't going to take no for an answer.
The next day I took her to the vet to ensure that she was healthy, before taking her into the house and introducing her to Roxy.
On the way to the vet she threw up all over the back seat of my car.
The vet told us that judging from her teeth the pup was about five months old.
He also told us that since she had a black tongue she was also likely part Chow.
She was what we already thought she was - a healthy dog - and I made an appointment to have her spade.
On the way home she threw up again all over the back seat and floor of my car, and me and my oldest boy Sean (who had come to the vet with me) wondered how there could have been anything left in her stomach after that first time.
Roxy met the new pup and immediately walked upstairs to Chris' bedroom, and stayed in seclusion for days, only coming downstairs to go outside briefly and to eat.
Very quickly I named the new dog Jamie (after the female character of a TV comedy I was watching entitled Mad About You).
Also very quickly I realized that Jamie was an alpha dog.  
She loved and was gentle around people, but definitely wanted to be Top Dog.
She and Roxy duked it out briefly and when it was all said and done, Jamie was indeed Top Dog.
It was a trait that she possessed her entire life...............

When LC was driving across country on the way to Alaska (he in his loaded-down truck and his brother Gary driving my loaded-down truck) they stopped for a few days at Gary's home in Minnesota, to rest and regroup before continuing on.
Garys' dog was named Minnie (a dog about the size of Jamie), and upon entering the house Jamie immediately proceeded to take Minnie's toys and lay in Minnie's bed.
Even though Jamie did not play with toys nor sleep in a dog bed...............

Before going to Sitka for a much-needed vacation while living and working in Juneau, my supervisor at the time offered to take care of Jamie for the week.
My supervisor had a larger dog in the home, and before heading for Sitka I took Jamie for a visit, just to see how the two dogs would get along.  All seemed well.
By the end of my first day out of town my supervisor called me to tell me that she had put Jamie into doggie-daycare.  She had broken up three fights over the course of that one day.............

While staying in M&M's cabin in Tennessee (while waiting for dead-beat renters to vacate our house at the end of that month) we all decided to go to the local fair.
M&M's dog Sadie - and our dog Jamie - had spent a good deal of time together and seemed to get along very well together.  And so we three humans got the bright idea to leave the dogs together while we were at the fair.
They would be good company for each other.
Or so we thought.
We hadn't even pulled out of the driveway before we heard the fight start.
We had no doubt that it our Jamie that had started it...................

A couple of years after Jamie came into our lives I was working out in the back yard and heard a noise behind me.
I turned and watched as a very large dark-red dog came limping up the driveway.
As I walked over to her I could see every bone in her body and see that she had open sores all over her body.
Even as thin and injured as she was, she was still a big dog, and I struggled to pick her up.
I walked over to the covered porch we had in back of the house but when I tried to sit her down on the porch she cried out in pain.
Leaving her standing unsteadily by the porch I rushed inside the house, on a mission to find as many old blankets as I could round up.
Rushing back outside the dog was gone.
I frantically searched for her, instinctively knowing that she would not make it much longer.
I truthfully did not think that she had more than a day or so left to live at that point.
When I saw her crossing the back yard and heading for a break in the fence that would lead her to the neighbor's field, I ran after her, scooped her back up into my arms and brought her back to the porch.
When I finally layed her down on the blankets on the porch I took a good look at her and began to cry.
I had never personally seen a dog that was in such poor condition.
I don't know what had happened to her, or how long she had been out there by herself, but my heart broke for this big, beautiful red dog.
I gave her food and water, and tied her to a post on the porch.
She needed to see a vet but I didn't think that she was strong enough to travel.
A week later we finally did take her and found out that she had heart worms.
For the next few months we kept her tied to the porch post, while she gained weight, healed her injuries and eliminated the heart worms.
She turned into a huge, healthy, wonderful and beautiful dog that I named Casey.
When Casey was finally healthy she and Jamie only fought once.  Jamie was out of her league and Top Dog became Middle Dog.
A few years later when my sons had both left home and I had divorced my second husband, I bought a house in town.
I bought a house with a fully fenced yard with intentions of bringing one dog with me.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn't take all three dogs with me.  
I now lived in town.  I was working full time - mostly regular hours but sometimes not and sometimes long hours.  I was training full time for adventure racing.  I had neither the time nor emotional energy to take all of our dogs and so I told my ex-husband that I wanted Roxy because she was the most docile of the three and because she was Chris' dog.
He told me no and I didn't have the energy for one more fight, and so I took Jamie because my ex-husband had never liked her.............. 

I had always liked Jamie but we were not tightly bonded when we first moved into our house in town together.
Without the distractions of chaotic life in a chaotic home, the two of us became very close very quickly.
I still remember painting the den not long after we moved in together, and James following me around the room wanting to stay close because she was afraid of a storm.
Remember sitting on the kitchen floor together as I discovered that she loved grapes, and me handing them to her one at her time and her gently taking them from my hand.
Of watching her discover that one of her favorite things was straddling the arm of the couch in the living room for hours on end and looking out the front windows as the world went by.
Learning that she loved to chase squirrels and cats and birds in the back yard.
Learning that she was very territorial, and barked so loud that it echoed in the hardwood-floor living room as people and dogs walked by.  That she hated anyone wearing the brown UPS uniform.
Hesitant to take her for drives because she had thrown up the few times we had driven together...........

I had met LC by the time Jamie and I moved into the house together.
Over the course of the next few months LC began to visit the house (first occasionally and then frequently), as Jamie and I continued to bond, and as Jamie and LC continued to get to know each other better.
And as LC and I continued to get to know each other better................
Jamie with Gary in Minnesota..............

I had told both of the boys not to feed human food to the dogs, and of course they had ignored me completely.
Within just a short time of LC and Jamie meeting each other my dog learned who would (and who wouldn't) give her "bites".
This picture was taken in Juneau as Jamie sits patiently waiting for whatever LC "accidentally" drops down to my dog.
Over the years my dog developed a cast-iron stomach.
Aside from tomatoes and pickles (unless they had salad dressing on them) there wasn't much else that she wouldn't eat.
We eventually decided that if we didn't have Jamie we would really miss not having a garbage disposal.
For all the knowledge that people food was not good for dogs, it never seemed to hurt her and it was an important way that she and LC bonded with each other.
They had it down to a science - LC didn't like crusts on bread and as he absently tore apart his sandwich Jamie would be there to catch the unwanted parts, always catching them in mid-air like some kind of trained seal.
She was amazing.  She never ever missed.
Until the day she missed............

I spent a little over five months alone up in Juneau, before LC and Jamie finally joined me.
A few months before I went to Alaska we took Jamie to North Georgia again for one more nav training.
We had left very early in the morning, and as we drove in the dark through winding, secondary paved roads my sweet girl was sitting in the front seat of the truck with us.
About an hour from our destination Jamie leaned over to LC as he was driving, and promptly threw up in his lap.
We pulled the truck over, cleaned up the mess and LC as best we could and continued on.
Again, she leaned over to LC and threw up in his lap, and again we pulled the truck over to clean up the mess.
Knowing that, LC and I were very very worried about how Jamie would fare on the trip across country.
My biggest fear was death from dehydration.
My second biggest fear was her getting away from LC and getting lost, at some unknown rest stop, in some unknown state.
Neither of those things happened.
After all the worry about our sweet girl - that we both now dearly loved - she made the trip from Tennessee to Alaska just fine....................

Ever since Jamie had come to live with me (and then us) in town, she had slept on the couch in the living room at night.
During the trip across country to Alaska that all changed.
Gary and LC and Jamie were in a hotel room one night during the trip and Gary asked LC if Jamie could hop onto the bed with him.
As Gary said "she needs love right now - her whole world has changed and she doesn't understand what's happening".
From that day forward Jamie slept on the bed with her humans................

The presence of Jamie in bed with us over these years has been a combination of both annoying and comforting. 
The closeness of her sleeping beside me in Alaska (in that physically and emotionally cold environment) was something I quickly learned to cherish dearly.
I hung onto the warmth and goodness of a dog, when there seemed like very little else to hold onto.
I clung to her goodness and sweetness because at times there seemed to be so little goodness in the world I had moved into, and that was located so far across the country from everything I knew.
Through the next few years the sleeping bond grew between us.
When it was time for LC to take a nap, she was right there with him.  As we joked "watching his back".
When I took a nap, my sweet, furry girl was right there with me.  Watching MY back.
And as we wandered from state to state in a seemingly unending condition of perpetual motion for a few years, when we all lay down together the warmth of the three of us together kept us strong.
The pack was sleeping together.
And that felt safe.
It was a good feeling - even when Jamie would start the night curled up in a tight ball at the end of the bed by my feet, and by morning she had stretched completely out and was now taking up more than half the bed.
Which was often.
Napping with her boy, when he visited us in Alaska................

Jamie and LC on the outskirts of Haines Alaska............

The picture above was taken at a road-side rest stop just outside of Haines.
We had driven to the border of Canada........just because..........and on the way back stopped to take pictures of the mountains surrounding the rest stop.
This woman and her son were at the rest stop.  We all talked and we ended up sharing a meal with strangers.
They were VERY strange people but the brief stop was a nice break in the middle of a busy day of exploring.
James and Chris in bed at the cabin we rented for the long weekend..............

Because Jamie so regularly got car sick, and because we had a very large fenced back yard at the house in Tennessee, and because I knew a young man who would house-sit and dog-sit for us whenever we went out of town, I didn't go on regular walks with Jamie until she arrived in Juneau.
We didn't have a fenced yard up there.
There were so many wonderful places and wonderful trails to hike up there, and so we began to take James everywhere we went.
If we went for a short walk she came with us.  If we went for a short drive she came with us.  If we went for picnics or to the beach or to sit at a shelter at a park, she went with us.
We never had to worry about water (there was always plenty in Juneau) or her getting overheated (it rarely got hot there) and we all began to bond in a new way.
I soon learned that Jamie LOVED to walk trails, to cross streams, to climb under or over downed trees, to just EXPLORE.
I loved it.  LC loved it.  And so did our girl.
While we were in Juneau we walked endless miles on endless trails together.
It was in Juneau that LC informally christened her Point Dog, because she always wanted to be out front.
Whenever she slowed to investigate something along the trail she would always quickly run to the front of the pack again.  Walking point.
We walked to glaciers.  We walked to waterfalls.  We walked in sun and rain and ice and lots and lots of snow.
Walking and exploring and discovering our world together.
Jamie was game for anything.  Would go anywhere.  Would follow us anywhere.
She loved us and we loved her, and we all knew it and viewed our world in that context..............

The first time Jamie came face to face with waves was while we were walking on the beach near the Boy Scout Trail about 25 miles outside of Juneau.
It was a warm and very sunny day not long after my guy and my pup had arrived in Alaska, and I was relishing exploring our new world in the north with them, as opposed to alone as I had done for many months.
We hiked the long trail from the parking area to the beach and as I headed towards the water my dog began to balk.
She was a Tennessee dog.  A pup that hadn't seen much of the world to that point, and certainly a pup that had never seen waves.
She was scared, dug her feet firmly into the sand and refused to move any closer to that scary moving water that she knew nothing about.
Talking to her, reassuring her, encouraging her - nothing worked.
And so I gently but firmly forced the issue until eventually we were both standing a few inches in the water and my sweet girl discovered that the water and the waves would not hurt her.
As we continued walking along the beach on that day Jamie surprised both of her people when she ran towards the water and bit at the waves.
Wave after wave rushed into shore and Jamie chased after each one, biting at it and trying to catch it.
It was hilarious to watch her play and dance and chase after waves, and LC and I watched her and laughed at the sight of her.
She was an adult dog who suddenly and unexpectedly had turned into a puppy again and it was good to see.
After that first time, whenever we came across the large waves of the ocean or small waves of a fast moving stream - and whether it was in Alaska or Wyoming or Tennessee (or somewhere in between) - we watched the transformation of our dog from adult to adventurous pup...............

I had tied Jamie off to a rock near the water's edge (in a narrow inlet not far from the house we rented in Juneau) while I explored and snapped pictures and while LC fished.
My dog howled in defiant protest the entire time..............

It wasn't often that we left her behind though.
Typically Jamie was right beside us, during every moment of every trip we took..............

Licking something off a plate on the floor.
We always left a "last bite" for Jamie on our plates.
Whenever we ate at a restaurant we always got a to-go box for the last bite of egg or pancake or toast or burger.
I couldn't begin to count how many times over the years that LC walked out of a restaurant with a small Styrofoam box of left-overs for James, or a piece of burger wrapped in a napkin.
She knew we would.  Because we always did.
James always looked as us expectantly when we got back to the truck, and by the time I had strapped into my seat belt she was done with whatever treat LC had brought her.
Not long after we first arrived in Cody, LC and I left Jamie in the truck while we went to the Irma Hotel downtown for what we had heard was an excellent prime rib buffet.
The food was great and we ate too much, and before we left the restaurant LC asked for a to-go box.
We had a lot of left overs - scraps for Jamie and large pieces of roast beef and steak all thrown together in the box that we intended to sort out when we got back to the extended stay cottage we were renting when we first arrived in that beautiful tourist town.
We didn't head immediately back to the cottage though.  I don't remember where, but we had to make one more stop and as we climbed out of the truck I placed the Styrofoam container on the floorboard of my seat.
By the time we got back to the truck the container lid was open, all of the roast beef and steak was gone and there were only a few greasy remnants of Jamie-scraps decorating the floorboard in the front of the truck.
Our pup ate well that day.................

Not very long after LC and Jamie arrived in Juneau we left our pup at the house while we ran a few quick errands in town.
The house that I had rented for us was located 20 miles outside of Juneau in a rural part of the region known simply as "Out the Road".
The house was a wonderful log structure that could only be accessed after climbing 20 or so rock steps, and was an eclectic and rustic story-and-a-half structure.
In the small living room we had a couch placed up against the back wall, and behind the couch was a large window that opened outwards and that led to a partial tin roof.
The drop-down from the partial roof to the ground below was about 25 feet.
We had left Jamie inside the house and had left the window partially open while we ran errands in town.
A few hours later we arrived home to find that the heavy and huge wooden door (that prevented bears from wandering onto the front porch and breaking into the house and that we kept closed and locked at night) was tied shut.
We had left it open.
Untying the rope, we opened the bear door and found Jamie sitting on the front porch.
On the bench that surrounded the porch, we found a note.
The note was from one of our neighbors who informed us that he had found Jamie wandering on the dirt roads close to the house, had recognized her and brought her home, and then had tied the door shut so that she would not escape again before we returned home.
He found her running on the roads?? How could that be??
We had our answer as soon as we walked into the house.
The window had a large sill and on that sill I kept pictures of the boys.
All of the pictures were now lying on the floor and the window (that we thought we had locked in place partially open) was now wide open.
There was only one explanation - that our dog had climbed up onto the couch, climbed through the window, climbed onto the partial roof and jumped the 25 feet down to the ground.
My first reaction was relief that Jamie had not been injured during her break for freedom.
My second was to admonish both of us for not making sure that the window was truly locked in place.
And my final reaction was "Holy Cow!  That's like something you would see in a freakin' Lassie movie!!"...........

I didn't pick these particular pictures of Jamie for any particular reason.
I simply scanned through many of the 700-and-some blog posts I have written to this point and posted some of the ones I found.
But as I look at this picture (and some of the others I found during my too-quick search for pictures of my girl) I am struck by just how many times she sat with us and looked out over a beautiful, beautiful place.
Looking out over Gastineau Channel outside of Juneau after hiking a trail.  Looking out over the Carter Mountain Range after hiking the trails and hills on BLM land behind our house in Cody.  Looking out over Tims Ford Lake after driving to a boat ramp in Tennessee not far from the house.  Looking out over a huge valley after hiking a trail up on the mountain in Sewanee Tennessee.  
So many places.  So many hills and mountains and beaches and forests and rivers and trails.
So many adventures.
I wondered sometimes over the years whether Jamie would have been better off living with another family.  A settled family.  A family that wouldn't keep dragging her all over the country and that wouldn't keep settling her into new homes only to move her again too-quickly.
I always felt guilty about that.
But when I look at these pictures I know that she was a happy dog.
She loved adventures.
Loved any combination of those magic words drive-walk-go.
And she loved us.
The unconditional and unwavering love that she felt for us (and that we felt for her) tells me that we were all meant to be together.
I always sensed in Jamie that as long as her two people were with her, she was OK..............

I had an uncomfortable feeling about the first vet I took Jamie to right after I had decided that she had adopted us as her new family and wasn't going to leave.
Not that he would hurt her.  Just that he was a goober who did not have a true love for or rapport with animals.
That initial gut reaction was the cause of me searching out another vet in Tennessee for routine animal care for our first one, then two, then three dogs.
He was the one who told me that Jamie was part Chow (because of her black tongue) and part something else.
For years I took him at his word.
And then one day LC and I were with Jamie at the balloon festival in Cody Wyoming, and a woman came over to us and asked if Jamie was a Shikoku Inu dog.
A what?
Neither of us had ever heard of the breed, and that is because they are not common in the United States.
Looking up the breed when we got home we learned that it was a Japanese breed and Shikoku Inu is the mid-sized cousin to the smaller Shiba Inu and the larger Akita.
We Googled pictures and she looked very much like the red version of those in the pictures.
When we researched Shikokus we learned more about their personality traits - bred for hunting, athletic, quiet indoors, devoted to their humans, don't get along well with other dogs, unreliable off leash, loving and loyal.
Her eyes were not as sharp as those in most of the pictures we found.  
However, the rest of her physical features (and almost all of the personality features) fit Jamie to a T.
But this breed of dog was not common in the United States.
What were the chances that a five month old Shikoku Inu would show up on my doorstep in rural Tennessee?
I didn't know.
I wouldn't have thought very good.
But after that one interaction in Cody, and after the research we did, both LC and I stopped thinking of Jamie as a part-Chow and began to think of her as a Shikoku.
Maybe she was part Chow.  Maybe she was part Shikoku.  Maybe she was part who-knows-what.
What I DO know is that I always thought she was a beautiful girl.............

Playing in the snow in Shoshone National Forest outside of Cody..............

A couple of years ago LC was watching a pet food commercial on TV and laughing at the term "pet parents" that the announcer was using.
I looked at him, smiled and gently and reminded him that we called ourselves Momma and Daddy when talking to Jamie.
And I called her Baby and Baby Girl very often.
Pet parents indeed.
Taken on a very cold and windy walk up into the high BLM hills behind our house.
Carter Mountain in the background............... 

Whenever we went for a drive we would open the back window for Jamie.
Whether it was hot outside and we wished that we could keep all the windows closed so that the air conditioner could work more efficiently, or whether it was cold outside and we wished that we could keep all the windows closed so that the heater could work more efficiently.
Because one of Jamie's favorite things to do during trips would be to sniff out the window and learn what she could about an area through her nose.
For some reason she would drop both her ears to the side of her head when she sniffed, and then lift her head and ears back up as she processed information.
Rinse and repeat.
It was her nose that always first told her that she was close to home.
And then she would look through the front window of the truck to confirm what she already knew, and begin her excited barking.
We always had doggie-snot on that window.............

Chasing after squirrels in the backyard of our house in Tennessee.
I could not even count how many times Jamie traumatized squirrels that were running along the telephone lines that passed over the yard, or across the privacy fence, or around the large tree trunks of the maples we had in the back yard.
So many times she had them scared to death and running frantically in all directions.
She loved to scare them into a run and we loved to watch her (and them).
Once our hairy girl scared a cat up into a tree.  It sat in the tree for hours until LC finally grabbed the ladder, climbed up and rescued the stupid thing.
Another time she killed a rabbit in the yard and kept walking up to the porch with it in her mouth, very much wanting to bring her treasure into the house.
No Jamie.  Broken hearted dog unsure what to do with her kill.  Carry it up to the porch.  Jamie no.  Broken hearted again.
After repeating this same routine over and over, LC and I decided to just leave her alone outside in the back yard  for a couple of hours, thinking that she would either eat it or bury it in the yard with the untold number of bones she had already buried under every tree and bush we had.
A couple of hours later (and with dead bunny no longer in sight) we allowed our girl back in the house.
Two days later I was taking a nap in the bedroom and LC was watching TV in the den.
He suddenly heard a thud in the living room, followed by the sound of toe nails scooting across the hard wood floor, and then another thud.
Curious he walked into the living room and there was Jamie.  Standing over the dead rabbit.
At some point over the previous couple of days our mutt had brought her dead rabbit into the house and buried it in the couch.  The thuds and running were the sounds of her flinging the rabbit around the room and then chasing after it.
Reliving the kill................

We were walking on trails in Tennessee when these pictures were taken.
The trails had been welcoming and flat and interesting, but when we arrived at our destination (which was a huge rock table top that dropped off precariously into a huge expanse of nothingness) LC and I took turns exploring while one of us stayed back with James.
Watching LC closely as he wandered around a rock bluff that dropped down hundreds of feet into a valley far below us............... 

And then waiting patiently for my return............

We began to see small changes in Jamie not long after we returned to Wyoming.
Her endurance slowly began to wane, and the hikes that we had taken gradually began to transition from long hikes to shorter hikes to multiple short walks each day.
Her back legs began to shake.  Occasionally at first and then more frequently.
She began to have more difficulty jumping up into the truck and more often began to need a boost from us.
Her dreams became more violent, and she would shake while she slept.
A few weeks before we left Wyoming to make our move to Idaho we took Jamie to the vet for annual shots and a routine physical, and the vet told us that for an older dog she was in very good shape.............

Within just a few weeks of arriving in Idaho our dog was sick for the very first time in her life.
I blogged about her illness and for a time we were worried about her.
Had she had an allergic reaction to all the dust and weed eating we had done early on, when the lawn hadn't been mowed in so long and the summer heat had almost killed the grass?
With a dry and warm nose, dehydration, lethargy we were intensely worried that not only was she very sick, but that our actions (and her exposure to them) had inadvertently contributed to her illness.
Blood tests came back fine and we never did get a definite diagnosis from the vet.
Pills made her throw up.
A second trip to the vet a few days later, a shot to settle her stomach and an IV to deal with the dehydration and we walked out of the vet with a dog whose temperature had decreased and a dog who was again eager to travel, eat, drink, wander.
Only.........she couldn't wander very far.
She and I left for walks and returned very quickly. 
Legs got weaker until she was no longer able to jump up into the truck at all, and we had to lift her.
She was no longer able to jump onto the bed.  We placed a trunk at the end of the bed and our sweet girl used it as a stepping stool to climb up into bed with us.
Inexplicably our 13 year old girl - who had never in her life eaten things she shouldn't - began to eat rocks, sticks, deer droppings. began to lick dirt.
Wondering if she was missing something in her diet we bought canned dog food to supplement her normal dry dog food diet.
She would eat the canned food and leave the dry dog food.
LC began to think that her vision was beginning to deteriorate.
I knew that her hearing was beginning to go.
After knowing and loving this dog for so many years I can't begin to describe how worrisome it was to sit five feet away from her and call her name to no avail.
I called her name again - a little louder.  Nothing.
I shouted her name and she heard me.  She lifted her head and looked around for me, only she looked in the opposite direction from where I was sitting.....................

When we went to Salmon in September for LC's VA appointments we wandered along many trails in the time between appointments.
In total we must have walked a couple of miles and she seemed to do just fine.
Loving the walk as enthusiastically as she had done so many times on so many trails in so many states over so many years.
For one day she was our pup again...............

By the time we were on our way home from Bonners Ferry I knew what I didn't want to know.
As we slowly wandered around on the grass at a rest stop in Montana I looked at LC and told him what I thought.
"When we get home we need to dig a hole in the back yard".
LC looked at me and didn't say a word.
"I don't think she's going to be around much longer.  If she dies over the winter the ground will be frozen and we won't be able to bury her".
He still didn't say a word.
We didn't speak about it again but we didn't need to.
He heard my words and I saw and read his face, and we had said all we needed to say..............

We had begun to notice it during our visit to see Chris in Bonners Ferry and the day after we returned to Atomic City were convinced that Jamie's rapid and shallow breathing and racing heart, and her complete lack of energy was more than her just being tired from a long trip.
The next day she was worse, and by that night LC and I had decided that if she was still alive by the following morning, we would take her to the vet.
We tried to help our beautiful girl up onto the bed but she did not want our help and walked out of the bedroom.
A few minutes after we had settled down for the night, LC and I listened to Jamie scramble her tired and sick body up onto the bed, where she curled up beside our feet.
Both LC and I sat up and stroked and spoke softly to our pup, and then we all slept soundly together as we had done so many times before.
The next morning Jamie was on the floor in the living room.  LC tried to take her outside to pee and she could barely stand.
I quickly got dressed.  
We were headed to the vet in Blackfoot.
We had decided that Jamie would sit on my lap during the trip.
I climbed into the truck and waited for LC to turn out the lights in the house and when I heard LC yelling my name I turned to look back at the house.
LC had Jamie in his arms and needed me to come open the screen door for him.
Jamie was awake throughout the trip to the vet and sat unmoving on my lap during the 30 minute drive to town.
I held her tightly, gently stroking her face and back.  Deeply worried.
Maybe it was just a respiratory condition.  Maybe that was it.  Maybe she would be OK.  Maybe.
Maybe she would be OK...............

Jamie had a fever.
They had done blood tests just a couple of months before, so the plan was to take some x-rays and do a white blood count to try and figure out why she had a fever.
The vet only got as far as the x-rays before calling us back into the office.
As we walked into the office I looked at my sweet and very sick girl who was unmoving but watchful, and who was lying on a table beside a young female x-ray tech.
I leaned down and kissed my girl on top of her furry head the way I had done a thousand times over the years.
And then I turned my attention to the vet and the x-ray that was lighted on a screen behind me.
I saw it.  The huge white mass in her stomach.  My first thought was that she had cancer.
Standing beside LC I looked at the vet and said "OK......what did you find?"
He pointed to three things in the x-ray.
The first was.........I don't remember exactly what but I think her trachea.......that was supposed to be completely straight but had a slight bend to it and he thought that she had something caught in it.
He said that it was a little concerning but not terribly concerning.
The second thing he pointed to was a large shadow in her lower stomach that he thought was fluid.
The third thing was the large white area.  
It wasn't cancer.  She had eaten a huge mass of things she should not have eaten that was now part of her stomach.
There was a screw in there.  A pile of rocks.  A whole lot of other stuff that the vet could not identify.
I turned my back on the vet and looked over at my dog.
Unmoving, Jamie was watching me and I walked over to her, kneeled down on the tile floor in front of her and kissed her between the eyes.
"Baby...........What did you do?"................

If Jamie did not have surgery she would absolutely die.  Likely from malnutrition because her stomach would not be able to absorb the nutrients she needed to survive.
Due to her age and her current condition, if she had surgery she might not survive the anesthesia.  If she survived the anesthesia she might not survive the surgery.  If she survived the anesthesia and surgery, her recovery would be very slow and painful.
We asked how much the surgery would cost and he told us.  It was not cheap.
LC and I asked to have time alone to talk about all of this.
As soon as we walked into an adjoining office I turned towards LC and immediately began to cry.
We both held each other and both cried.
And that's all we did for a long time.
Eventually an office person came into our room to discuss the financial aspects of the surgery and payment plans.
We cried some more.
What was the right thing to do?????
LC walked out to talk to the vet again.  I was crying and desperately trying to stop and desperately trying to think straight.  Desperately but unsuccessfully.
I couldn't go through this.
Not after Sean.  Not after Sean.  
No.  No.  NO!!
Not after Sean.
LC came back into the office again and through tears I tried desperately to put all the information we had been told into some kind of order in my mind that made sense.
She was old.  She was sick.  She may not survive the surgery.  If she survived the surgery it would be a long and painful recovery.  If she recovered, whatever had happened to her to make her eat a pile of.........crap.........would still be there.  Her hearing was going.  Her vision was going.  Her endurance was going.
But she was my girl.  I loved her.
I looked at LC - crying and fighting back the same panic I had felt only 18 months ago.
"I don't know what to do.  I don't know what to do.  I can't MAKE that decision!  I can't.  I CAN'T!!!!"
I fell into his arms crying uncontrollably.
LC grabbed the forms on the table beside me.
"Karin I can't put you through this.  We're getting the surgery".
Without meaning to LC's words momentarily pulled me back from the abyss of despair, and a glimmer (albeit a small one) of rational thought began to see the light of day.
"This isn't about me.  It's about Jamie"...............

We went around and around and around, cried more and then went around again.
Eventually we decided that we couldn't put Jamie through surgery.
We walked into the room where Jamie lay on a table.
Underneath her was a brown blanket.
The x-ray tech (who had stayed with Jamie for the hour we had been holding each other and crying together in another room) handed me a paper to sign that gave the vet permission to kill our girl.
LC abruptly said "Don't sign that paper yet" and stormed out of the room.
I looked down as Jamie and moved closer to her, gently hugged her neck and kissed her time and time again on top of her head.  "I love you baby girl.  I love you baby girl.  I love you baby girl".
As I hugged my dog I looked up at the tech.
"It's the right thing to do.  Right?"
The poor girl was young and was fighting back tears and wordlessly nodded her head.
"I just lost my son".
"I know..............I'm so sorry".
LC had gone to talk to the vet one more time.
What the vet had told him in that last conversation was that surgery was the best thing if we wanted to keep Jamie with us for a while longer, but if we wanted to do what was best for her it was best to let her go.  That if she survived all of the trauma of surgery and recovery we would be bringing her back in to him again very soon.
Her kidneys would begin to fail.  Or something else would begin to fail.
It was the right thing to do.
I signed the papers.
They gave her the drugs.
I held her in my arms and talked quietly to my dog telling her that she was a good girl, and that I loved her very much.
"You're a good girl.  You're SUCH a good girl.  Momma loves you baby"
I love you baby.
She died quickly.  And quietly.  And painlessly.  And she knew that she was loved............

The vet wrapped her in the blanket and carried her out to the truck.
We took our dog home and buried her in the back yard.
LC spent the next couple of days making her a headstone and we both cried together for days................

So how does a dog make the transition from being a stranger that one day unexpectedly shows up on your doorstep in the middle of winter and refuses to leave, to becoming a beloved and cherished member of your family for so many many years?
How does that transition happen?
It happens when a dog shares in all of the same experiences that family members share as they walk through life together.
It happens by sharing meals and sharing beds.  By sharing the good times and by sharing the bad.  By humans and their dog gradually learning about each other and accepting each other and coming to understand each other. 
It happens when strangers eventually learn to irrevocably and unconditionally trust and love each other
Trusted Friend and Loyal Companion.
My Jamie................