Chemikillz…really?

I’m writing this in response to an article that keeps arriving in my inbox or on my Facebook feed lately.  I think I even ticked a few people off when I responded on Facebook. The think is, I don’t care if you want to take all sorts of bogus crap that the natural news advocates are selling on their pages, but when you start feeding that stuff to your horses, I feel like I have to say something about using common sense.

The article is a blog post written by Joe Camp about using Diatomaceous Earth as “natural” worm control.  Now I have nothing against Joe Camp, in fact, I enjoy reading most of what he has written.  It’s just that there are some logical fallacies in this article that sent up some red flags in my mind.  There’s definitely more to write about than I can do justice to in a couple of Facebook comments.

Flag #1:  The appeal to nature fallacy.  This one goes something like this: If something is natural, it must be good for you.  Well, cyanide and arsenic are both natural compounds, but I wouldn’t argue that they are good for you.  Poisonous mushrooms and rattlesnakes are also natural.  Anything that claims to be good simply because it is natural is suspect here.  You have to have a better reason than “it’s natural.”

Flag #2: The flipside of the appeal to nature fallacy is the all chemicals are bad fallacy.  This one gets almost laughable as you see internet memes where some pundit explains how all chemicals are bad and you should never have any of them in your diet.  Umm… isn’t everything made of chemicals?  Yeah, you’d starve.  You have to remember that it is the dose that makes the poison.  Where I live, the water in the valley is radioactive.  People got a bit freaked out about that a few years back, but you have to realize that we are talking ppb–that’s parts per billion!  Nobody glows when you turn off the lights. Again, if you make a claim that something is bad because “chemicals,” you are going to have to do better.

Bottom line here:  Not all natural substances are good for you.  Not all chemicals are bad.

Flag #3: The Miracle Cure for Everything fallacy.  After telling us about how Diatomaceous Earth kills worms, Camp goes on to quote an article telling us about all of the positive health benefits of DE in humans.  I counted no less than 17 conditions that DE will alleviate or cure!  Sounds too good to be true! Oh…wait…

Flag #4: The anecdote fallacy. It works for me, therefore you should do it. To be fair, this isn’t Camp’s fallacy, it is the fallacy of everyone reading his blog that says “Camp says it works for him, so I’ll go ahead and do it.”

And if all your friends were jumping off of cliffs? Oh wait… I hang around teenagers too much!

Irony #1: Camp’s introductory paragraph states that people were telling him to worm up to once every 6 weeks.  I don’t know if he asked a vet or looked up worming schedules on the AAEP website, but a cursory search of latest worming practices on Google shows that this is false.  The latest wisdom is that we should conduct fecal egg counts and only worm when absolutely necessary–the same exact practice Camp has adopted only minus the use of DE. This is probably the real reason that his horses are doing so well.  In some countries in Europe, you can’t even purchase wormer for your horse until you can show a fecal count over a certain limit.  This is to help reduce resistance to the worming compounds.

Irony #2: Have you ever read the story about how Ivermectin was developed?  It seems that a researchers were looking into “folk” cures to see if there might be merit in any of them.  Of course, most folk cures worked because the patient was either going to die or get better anyway.  If the patient got better, they kept using the cure whether or not it was really doing any good.  Some of those old cures really did have merit, though, and researchers often find new treatments by combing through old ideas to see what might work. Anyway, the researchers found a macrocyclic lactone that is produced naturally in soil by Streptomyces Avromitilis.  They named it avermectin.  Wait just a cotton pickin’ minute!  A chemikillz that’s natural?? The world may implode!

But what about DE? Food grade DE is generally recognized as safe.  It is used as a filtering compound for many different foods.  I have read several articles about it and talked to some vets about it and decided that it wasn’t for me.  I have included a link to an article in Equus magazine where a vet states that no studies have actually shown DE to be effective against worms.  Another article that I read said that it was probably not effective as a feed through control against fly eggs in the manure but I can’t find that article to use as a reference.  It is supposed to be more effective sprinkled on manure piles, but I couldn’t find any reliable references to support this either.

Actually, the fact that there is a dearth of scientific references supporting the use of DE in pretty much any context is another red flag for me. I actually did a google search on “DE will kill you,” just to see what would pop up and I still got mostly natural websites espousing the benefits of DE.  Why don’t I buy it?  Because they are all saying, “it does this. It does that.” But nobody is providing any evidence or even explanations for how what they are claiming could be true.  “It’s abrasive,” seems to be the party line.  Um… yeah… so is sand paper, but I’m not eating that or feeding it to my horses either.

In fact, other than a few references to “blood in stool,” on a few message boards, (These were quickly written off as not possibly coming from eating an abrasive substance, so most likely hemeroids–don’t bother visiting a doctor for that silliness), the only danger I could find is that you certainly don’t want to accidentally inhale it.  It’ll really mess up your lungs (but not your digestive system!).  I spend a lot of time thinking about feed management to prevent sand colic.  The last thing I’m planning to do is feed my horses (or myself) what amounts to finely ground sand!

My personal takeaway is this: I’ve been doing the exact same program as Camp except without the DE for years and it is working for me (except I have the vet do the FECs for me).  Nobody seems to be conducting or publishing actual, well designed studies on the effects of DE on worm or fly control.  Everybody just uses it because everybody else says it works. The vets I have talked to don’t have a very high opinion of it. I choose to trust veterinarians. They went to school for a long time. They know a lot more than I do. Most of them keep up with new methods and research. I’m going to let common sense rule on this one.

References:

http://equusmagazine.com/article/diatomaceous-earth-dewormer-15880

http://web.stanford.edu/group/parasites/ParaSites2005/Ivermectin/History.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3043740/

 

It was perfect!

I just finished up the perfect liberty session with Max.  Perfect?  You say… really?

Okay, it was pretty short—only about 15 minutes.  And it wasn’t very fancy either—in fact, it was kind of ugly.  We’re not exactly ready for Cavalia.  So how could I even consider calling it perfect?  What does it take for me to qualify a liberty session as perfect anyway?

Simple really… a decision.

You see, our liberty has never really been all that good.  Somewhere along the line, somebody told Max that his ancestors were wild.  Combine that with his innately pushy nature and he got to thinking:

“I don’t want to do this!  Wait! I can just run away and be free!”

Oh, he would stick to me just fine and even do some nice liberty moves if I had him in a round pen.  That would be a solid round pen.  My round pen isn’t very solid.  Yep, he figured out he could just run through the cheap tape if he wanted to.

It started out innocently enough.  One day as I had him trotting around me in a circle.  I asked him to come in and he didn’t.  Instead, he sped up to a canter and just kept going.  All my feeble attempts to put pressure on his hindquarters just caused him to speed up more, so I thought, “fine, speed up, go faster,” and drove him on until he wanted to slow down.  He eventually slowed down, but he didn’t come in.  He had made a decision to not be with me and he wasn’t planning to change his mind anytime soon.

So how do you go about changing a horse’s mind?  Yeah, yeah, yeah… make the wrong thing hard, blah, blah, blah,… got it.  But liberty is different.  At liberty, the horse always has the option of saying no and enforcing that by leaving.  And horses aren’t dumb.  If they can figure out the difference between a solid fence and cheap tape, they can certainly figure out that leaving town is a viable option.  They might even decide it’s  a fun hobby!  There is no way to make a horse want to be with you.  You need to change his mind.  You need to help him decide that he actually does want to be with you.

This is one of the things I love about liberty.  It isn’t just about giving cue A and getting action B from the horse.  Liberty is about trust and obedience and respect and the quality of your relationship with the horse, and the hard, honest-to-god, maybe-you-don’t-want-to-know-it truth about the quality of your relationship with the horse.  When your horse makes the decision to get out of town, the relationship is broken.

It’s been a long slow process, but the breaking out of the round pen has turned out to be the best thing that could happen to us. It’s easy to fool yourself that you are “doing liberty” when you have a horse circling you in the round pen, but the truth is that you’re not.  You are using the fence as a crutch to maintain the circle—the horse isn’t doing it on his own.  In essence, you are sending the horse out on the circle where he has the choice of staying hooked on or basically ignoring you, staring out the window like a kid in algebra class.  If you’re lucky, when you ask him back in, he will hook back on and come in to you.

So I had the choice of building a solid round pen and never leaving it or figuring out how to fix things.  When Max had his epiphany and realized that he could run through the tape that defines my round pen, it made me back up and really think about all of the various pieces we needed to work on to fix things.  There were the obvious fixes I needed to work on, such as obedience, and the nebulous relationshipy factors, such as actuallly wanting to spend time with a human instead of other horses.

We’ve been working on our liberty for awhile and slowly but surely, I’m seeing progress.  It has gotten to where I can do liberty with him in the “pasture.” That’s the 10 acre area I use as a turn out.  I’ve gotten him to circle me at the walk and the trot and while our circles are more amorphous blobish than circlish, he does them and doesn’t leave everytime like he used to, and I’m not relying on a fence.

Which leads us to this particular liberty session.  I didn’t have much time before dark, so I stuffed my pockets with treats and thought we’ll just go for a liberty walk outside all of the fences, and stuff him with treats for about 15 minutes.  It started well.  We did some squeeze against the fence and some yielding of hindquarters and forequarters.  Then we walked over to my balance beam and I asked him to put a hoof up on it.  Which he sort of did.  And then it occurred to him… “I could leave.”

So off he dashed.

His MO on these occasions is to run flat out up the hill around the outside of the turnout fence up to the ridge where he can be as close to the girls as possible and, not coincidentally, as far from me.  Only he didn’t this time.  Maybe it was just too much work to run up that stinking hill or maybe it occurred to him that he just wasn’t feeling the get-out-of-town thing like he used to.  He stopped at the corner of the fence and stood thinking about heading up the hill, but undecided.

I had followed, but now it became a strange sort of dance between us—part catching game, part courtship.  I’d call to him “Come on Max!” then wait.  Then a leeetle bit of pressure—not enough to send him off, just enough to make him keep thinking about me.  Then I’d walk away and wait again.  He could face me, but he couldn’t take a step towards me.  A couple of times, he walked off in some other direction, and I just tried to maintain my presence without putting too much pressure on him.  He wasn’t coming to me, but he wasn’t heading up the hill either!

And then he headed towards me!  As soon as he did, I turned and walked away.  At which point he stopped again.  We repeated this process several times.  He would take two steps, then stop as soon as I turned away and took the pressure off.  He was mentally stuck.  He was trying to make up his mind, but it was hard.   Everything he stood for when he met me, every fiber of his being was about escaping pressure, being in charge, running away.  Finally, he succeeded.  He made the decision to head in with me and keep his legs moving.

And that is why I call it the perfect liberty session.  He finally made a decision to be with me.  Oh, I’m not fooling myself into thinking that he will be perfect from now on, but we passed through some sort of door during that session and now we both know what is possible.

 

TBT–the saga continues…

Here is part two of the lightning story:  October 4, 2011 at 4:26pm

There just doesn’t seem to be an end to this story!  At least not yet.

You might recall that I left the house with all breakers off and headed to Reno to the Tara and Trevor clinic.  (A few people have asked for my notes on this which I will post if I ever write them.  I have begun to fill out an outline with what I can remember, but if I don’t get to it, pretty soon I’m going to be thinking “now what did I do last weekend?”)  As for the power, I was naively assuming at this point that I had “fixed” the problem by ordering new circuit boards for the inverter and that all would be well once they were installed.

Anyway, poor David returned from his camping trip on Sunday and when he got into cell phone range, he receive about 6 messages from me about what had happened.  He called me and we came up with a plan.  I was going to stop by his parents on the way home and pick the Honda generator up from him, then go home and he would walk me through switching the big back-up generator over to power the house without involving the inverter over the phone (he stayed in town that night).  If that didn’t work, we would use the Honda generator to run the fridge.  It was a good plan.  We just didn’t count on Murphy.

All went according to plan in that I picked up the generator and drove home.  After that?  Not so good.  Of course, the first priority was to put the horse away and give her about 50 cookies for being so good.  Then I unhitched the trailer and drove up to the house and called David to get the show on the road.  Once he explained where the generator bypass was, it was so obvious to me that I couldn’t believe I missed it in the first place.  So now…  how to start the generator?  Normally, you would tell the “mate” to start it, but that requires a working inverter.  So I try the manual switch and… nothing—dead.

And you have to understand that all this is happening to the tune of a running conversation with David on the cell phone:

“Nothing happened.”

“What?”

“Are you sure you didn’t disconnect the switch when you hooked up the mate?”

“I don’t think so…  I don’t remember!  Ugh!  Now what?  Okay, take the side panel off the generator and try the red switch.”

“Where’s the side panel?  Oh, now I see it.  Okay, I see the switch.”

“You switch it to manual start.”

“I did that, nothing happened.”

“Really?”

“Nothing happened.”

“Why didn’t anything happen?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“There should be red lights.”

“There are no red lights.”

“There are no red lights?”

“There are no red lights.”

“Why aren’t there any red lights?”

“Why are you asking me?”

It went on like this—ad nauseum.  We finally decided the generator battery was dead and to use the Honda generator to charge up the battery on the Kohler generator.  This was about the point where I lost it.  I remember yelling something to the effect that I could have stopped at David’s parents house and take a real shower, but noooooo…, I drove home assuming that we would have some kind of power and now I was going to have to take a shower out of a jug of water, again!

And David said “What are you talking about?  Is the water pump broken?”  To which I snarkily replied that the water pump requires power and we don’t have power and some other choice statements, I’m sure.  To which he replied (and I can’t believe he wasn’t yelling back at this point, but I’m sure he was just savoring the moment) “It’s a DC pump.  It goes straight to the battery.”  He’s a genius really.

So I would hook up the Honda and go take a shower, then deal with dinner.   (And it’s like 9 o’clock at this point).   So I went to get the Honda out of the back of the truck.  And it was gone…

The thing is, that I worry about somebody stealing the Honda out of the back of the truck.  On a trip, we lock it in—we’re that paranoid.  I had stopped at Raley’s on the way home, but I checked to see that it hadn’t been stolen, I guess on the theory that I would be able to spot the thief and chase them down in the parking lot?  Anyway, it was in there, sitting up against the cab at that point.  So it fell out.  But when?  And where?

I said “Holy (bad word)!  It’s gone!”  To David.  This was followed up by some very bad words (well, mostly one very bad word repeated a lot,) as I looked around with my flashlight, hoping (I guess) that some evil pixies had stolen it out of the back of the truck and placed it just out of sight in the dark.  Then I leaped in the truck, hung up on David and drove off like a maniac with my brights blazing looking for it.  What is the shortest amount of time known to man?  The time between when your Honda generator falls out of your truck and someone else comes along and says “Oh, look!  A Honda generator!” and takes off with it.  This was what was running through my mind as I careened down the dirt road.

I was also thinking about how–if it had fallen out–I would have run over it with the horse trailer and the windows were down and you think I would have heard it but maybe it fell out and rolled down the hill and OMG what if it fell out when I made the turn off the highway, there is no way it will still be there by now.  But no, about three quarters of a mile down the drive—there it was—just sitting there, upright even, like a lost child at the mall waiting for its mommy to show up.  Silly generator!  I was so relieved, I just tossed it in the bed and drove back up to the house with it before even assessing the damage.  As I drove back, I remembered hearing a strange crunching sound on the way up the driveway and looking back wondering what it was.  Oh, that’s what it sounds like when you run over a generator—who knew?

Although I couldn’t have driven right over the top of it because the horse trailer would have made a huge whump (and I’m pretty sure I would have noticed that!), it does have some pretty good tire marks on it.  The exhaust housing was crunched so I took it off and the side panel is a little bit skewed now.  But, what the heck!  It started on the second pull!  I must write Honda a letter.  So… plugged in the Kohler, searched three outbuildings with my teeny flashlight to find the really long extension cord.  Ran that through the kitchen window.  Pulled out the fridge and plugged that in.

Then I took a deep breath, braced myself and… opened the freezer.  And everything was still frozen!  There was a bag of peas in the door that felt a little soft, but I was amazed that all of the meat—even the ice cubes in the tray—was (were) still frozen.  It had been over 48 hours!  So I’ve written off most of the fridge stuff, but at least we didn’t lose anything in the freezer.   At this point, I noticed that the light in the fridge came on.  Well of course, it is hooked up to the generator.  And the cogs in my mind sloooowly began to turn.   And fiiiiinally it occurred to me.  If I put the fridge on a power strip, I can also plug in an electric light!  I felt very civilized as I ate my dinner by the light of a desk lamp at 10 pm after my shower (such a genius, that man.)

I ran the generator most of the night, and after feeding in the morning, went to start the big generator.  And it was dead…  The cogs turned a little faster this time.  Well, duh!  The Kohler is located about 15 linear feet from where the lightening hit the garage roof—it’s probably fried also.  Note to self—next time locate your back-up power farther away from your main source of power.   This time, there were red lights.  Later I e-mailed the error code to David.  He translated—control board is fried!

Did I mention you can see the spot on the garage roof where the lightening hit?  It looks like someone got up there with a pick and took one good swing at the roof.  You would think there would be a smoking hole, but there is just one tiny arc mark on the head of an exposed roofing nail and a bunch of rumpled shingles to mark where this huge, terrifying looking bolt of lightening struck it.  Odd…

So we are living on power from a Honda generator (that was run over by a horse trailer) and an extension cord with a plug strip running through the kitchen window right now.  David plans to try to wire the Honda into the main breaker panel for the house tonight.  That way, we may even be able to do laundry and I can curl my hair in the bathroom instead of in the kitchen standing next to the fridge.  The new boards for the Inverter should arrive tomorrow.  The jury is still out on the control board for the Kohler.  And it occurs to us that we may only have just begun to assess the damage.  We won’t know what else is fried until we get the inverter back up, but David commented that one of the charge controllers seems to have “gone a bit wonky.”  I really MUST remember to write a letter to Honda after this is over…

 

TBT–What killed the solar power?

Some of you might remember this.  It happened October, 1st 2010.  I’ll post the rest of the story next Thursday.  The tense may seem goofy because I was writing it that night but I’m not going to bother fixing it up.

There a lot of things that can mess around with a solar power system.  The obvious ones are things like cloudy days and snow and such.  And then your batteries can go bad.  That happened to us last year, but we never actually lost all power.  Batteries take time to die—you have time to replace them.  (They are insanely expensive to replace, but that’s another story.)  But the question is:  what can absolutely kill your solar power system?  And when I say kill, I mean dead…instantly…maybe permanently…

Friday at the end of the school day, we looked to the south to see a large dark thunder cell pounding the Walker River Canyon.  Karen said “Will it come up from the south and hit your house?”

And I said “They usually come in from the west.”  I know, I know—famous last words!

I raced home because I knew there was a window open on the truck I had left at home.  As I drove, I could see that I was racing the cell.  It was moving north and I could see the rain falling out of it.  I could also see I was going to lose the race.

About 2 miles from the house, a huge bolt of lightening struck about half a mile from where I was driving.   After that, there was some amazing sheet lightening that shot across the sky and struck in about three places at the same time.  It was raining by this time, but not heavily yet and I was worrying about fires open truck windows and trying to look for smoke.  Finally there was one last big bolt.  I wasn’t looking right at our house when it hit, so I wasn’t sure, but I remember thinking “holy cow—I think that just hit our house!”

Well, it didn’t hit the house as it turned out—it hit the garage… where the solar system is.  I worried all the way up the driveway that it might have hit the panels, but thank God it didn’t.I walked into the house to find…surprise!…no power.  David, naturally, was off camping and out of cell phone range until Sunday.  I tried the standard sort of turning off the breakers, then turning them back on, but no magic fix there.  So I called neighbor Bob down the hill to ask if he knew what to do after a lightening strike, but he had no idea.  He told me to call another neighbor, Murl, who had been hit by lightening and has the same power system we do.   So I called Murl, but he said he was hit by lightening before he put in his power system.

However, Murl did suggest I call Outback who is the maker of our power system. They are on the west coast and should still be open.  I waited on hold for about 10 minutes, but finally a nice lady came on.   She walked me through using a meter to test the voltage, telling her what red lights were flashing where and plugging and unplugging things.  The verdict is that the solar panels are still supplying power to the batteries, but the inverter isn’t sending it to the house.  So I gave the nice lady my credit card number and she will ship new circuit boards for the inverter first thing Monday morning.

In the meantime, we have no power.  We can no longer brag about not having power outages.  The gloat gods must have gotten us there.  We’ll probably lose all of the food in the fridge since David took off with the one generator I could use to run it.  I’m hoping the stuff in the freezer will make it a couple of days.

About 20 minutes after the cell left us, it started a fire in Smith Valley that is still burning as I write this.

THE ONLY EXERCISE PROGRAM YOU’LL EVER NEED!

I just got back from the Buck Brannaman four day workout. Trust me, if you do this workout, your legs will never be the same. I’m certain MY legs may never be the same! But seriously–if you want to see dramatic results in only four days, you should be excited to hear about this program!

Buck has a diabolical piece of exercise equipment called a horse and an even more diabolical exercise called the short serpentine, plus a host of other supporting exercises that will pump you up, break you down and have you swimsuit ready–in JUST FOUR DAYS!  I know I’M ready for a week at the beach with some sort of umbrella adorned rum drink anyway!

Note: You must plan ahead for this workout as you must bring your equipment with you. You may obtain your exercise equipment at any nearby stable or anywhere else horses are sold. Horses can be very expensive to purchase, but these would be gym quality horses. Here’s the best part! You don’t need expensive gym quality equipment to participate in the Buck Brannaman four day exercise challenge! Any old horse will do! You can often purchase one off of Craig’s List or out of the local paper very cheaply. You may even be able to get one for free if you ask around. If you aren’t certain what type of horse to purchase, get one that says “experienced rider only” as these horses will ensure a much more thorough workout experience.

You will also need to bring a bridle with a snaffle bit as this will add an arm component to give you that total body workout you’re looking for.  A saddle is a helpful piece of equipment but not entirely necessary. However a saddle can help ensure proper body placement during all workout exercises.  All exercises MUST be performed while sitting on top of the horse’s back. If you doubt your ability to maintain proper position throughout the workout, be sure to purchase a saddle with a “horn.”  This feature will aid you in maintaining the most beneficial position for these exercises and as an added bonus can also be used to create a little extra upper body burn, especially in those flabby arm muscles you are always trying to tone!  You might also raise your heartrate!

If you’ve never tried the Buck Brannaman workout, you might try to acquire a more “forward” horse.  This will make it easier to concentrate on learning the correct movements in each exercise without overly tiring out your legs.  I would suggest an off the track thoroughbred or perhaps an endurance arabian.  If you’d really like to maximize your workout, however, you should find a horse that is “not too forward” or even “dull.”  A nice Appaloosa or Draft horse should work well here.  You can also create your own “dull” horse if you have time before the clinic.  Simply ride the horse for several days prior to the clinic constantly using you legs until the horse will completely ignore them.  Don’t worry about “ruining” the horse.  You will fix the horse at the clinic–all while toning your body!

So what can you expect from four days of the Buck Brannaman workout?

On day one, you will learn some of the basic moves. This will probably include the short serpentine and the open serpentine.  It is important to work on the correct form in these movements in order to get the most from these exercises.  In the short serpentine, you should keep the shoulders down, stomach in, outside leg forward and inside leg back (or, wait, is that the other way around?), keep your reins short, pelvis in position one, hips and lower back neutral, twist at the waist and keep your chin up. Your head should be in line with your spine at all times except when it shouldn’t. Your horse should also be in proper form, so be sure he is bending 90 degrees, weight on the haunches, reaching with the inside front leg, all four legs moving evenly, head and neck soft when changing the bend and tail following the circle.  It’s simple, really!

If you feel like you are having a difficult time with this exercise, you are probably doing it right!  You are allowed to stop and ask Buck for help, but he will generally have one of two responses:  Either you need to use one leg more or you need to use both legs more.  So give this a try whenever you feel like you are bogging down. Also you probably need to have the horse bend his neck more.  This works your upper body.  If you are doing this exercise correctly, you should feel the burn pretty quickly.  You will feel this exercise working in your gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and gluteus imaginarius.  Also your quad muscles, hip flexors, calf muscles, shin muscles, foot muscles, adductors, abductors, inductors, and reductors should all be “feeling the burn.”  If your legs are shaking after 30 seconds of this exercise, congratulations–this tells you that you have maximized the calorie burn.  You should keep it up until Buck tells you to move on to the next exercise or you pass out from the pain and fall off the horse–whichever comes first.

Over the next few days, you will add more varied exercises to your routine.  Soon, you will link these exercises together to create the perfect circuit training routine!  The best part is that you get to choose how you mix up these exercises, so if the short serpentine is kicking your butt, move on to getting a soft feel for awhile.  This will allow for that all important muscle recovery between periods of intensity.  Sure, some of the exercises seem a little touchy-feely, but even those are adding to your overall fitness.  The secret is in the movement of the horse!  Yes, Buck Brannaman has finally revealed this little known fitness secret that was previously known by only a handful of top trainers!  The horse is the perfect exercise machine because even when you are “just” walking and trotting, the physical action of maintaining proper position (remember folks, you want to remain on TOP of the horse’s back) is giving you a comprehensive workout that is guaranteed to hit every major and minor muscle group.

Remember, the Buck Brannaman workout clinic is an intensive experience that will take place over four days, but the fitness benefits will continue well after the clinic experience. During the clinic, you will be riding several hours each day, but nobody has that kind of time to spend at the gym every day.  That’s okay!  You can fit in an effective total body workout in anywhere between 15 minutes and one hour using Buck Brannaman’s proven workout routine.  But wait, there’s more! You can also send your metabolism through the roof cleaning stalls, hauling bags of feed and moving bales of hay.  The possibilites are endless!

So if you haven’t yet experienced this HIGH INTENSITY TOTAL BODY EXPERIENCE, you should sign up for the nearest Buck Brannaman clinic RIGHT NOW!

Signs and portents

That little voice inside my head just won’t shut up.

You know the one.

It says “Do you think this is a good idea?…  Because I don’t think this is such a good idea…”

It’s been going on like that non-stop ever since I signed up to ride with Buck Brannaman again.

I wasn’t going to ride in this clinic.  The classes that were offered were Horsemanship 1 and 2.  I knew the upper limit on H1 would be 30 riders and I really didn’t want to be in an arena with 29 other random molecules all bouncing off of fences and each other until they manage to reach critical clinical mass and create horsemanship clinic nuclear fission.  That’s just not my idea of fun.  But I was a little intimidated by the idea of riding in the H2 class.  Then about 3 weeks ago, the stars all aligned and the angels sang a chorus of “Laaaaaaaaa…” and they changed the H2 class to H1 advancing.  I took it as a sign from God.  I mailed my check that day.

Yet even as I wrote the check, the little voice was saying, “I don’t think this is such a good idea, do you?”

I keep telling it to shut up, but it keeps making some very valid points.

Point one is that I’m in lousy shape and so is Max.  I simply haven’t been riding enough this spring.  I have no really good excuse for that, just a lot of vague not-feeling-wells and bad-weathers and other-projects and going-sailing-this-weekends.  If I’d realized I was going to sign up, I would have at least done some more long trotting, but it is what it is.

Still, I had three weeks right?  So the first week was spring break—hours and hours to ride.  Well, not exactly…  First two days we had a sailing event.  We returned from that Sunday night.  I played with Max on the ground Monday morning, and then drove down to Mom’s for the next two days.  You can’t just weasel out of the obligatory Mom visit.  Not even for Buck Brannaman.

“Are you SURE this is a good idea?”

Wednesday night I drove home.  Thursday morning played with the horse until the vet showed up to do Coggins, shots, etc…   And I still have Friday, Saturday and Sunday to ride little voice!  Ha!  Only Friday morning, the horse couldn’t turn his head in either direction because of the shots.  We played on the ground some until I gave up in disgust and put him away.  Saturday I gave him a gram of bute and the day off.  Sunday I gave him a gram of bute and the day off.

Shut up little voice.

Monday I was finally able to ride.  In fact I rode most of the week.  The week culminated in a mini-clinic on Sunday afternoon at the same facility the big clinic will be at with the clinic coordinator Karyn Shirley.  If you want to ride with someone in the Reno area who can explain what Buck really said at the clinic, she’s the go-to person.  I thought I knew how to do the short serpentine after riding with Buck.  Karyn set me straight on that one.  I plan to take some lessons with her this summer.  I think that will really help maximize my clinic dollars to knowledge value.  Otherwise, I’m just assuming I know what Buck meant during the clinic at which I have already proven to be horribly unreliable.

Anyway, the mini-clinic went really well and now I know what the facility is like and Max has shown me where all of the dragons are lurking.  My torn hamstring has informed me that it will quit for good if I don’t take care of it on the short serpentines and since I want to be able to ride with Buck for four whole days, not just one, I plan on humoring it.  Now I know how long it takes to get there and now I know how long it takes to get home if you blow a tire out on your horse trailer on the new 580 causeway coming out of Reno.

Yeah, that wasn’t good.

I was probably going 50 or 55 at the time because it was so windy up there.  The sign had said “use caution.”  I was using caution.  Then I felt this little tug on the truck.  Nothing big—could have been a gust of wind.  But the little voice was saying “that didn’t feel right,” and I had to agree.  I glanced in the side view mirror and saw something in the lane behind me.  I couldn’t believe I had run over something without even seeing it, so I pulled over right away.  That’s when I saw the shredded tire on the horse trailer.  I hadn’t run over something—the thing in the lane was the tread of the tire that had been ripped off the wheel.  The sidewalls were still hanging on the rim.  Ugh!

Image

Fortunately, it was the back tire.  The front tire was intact and the axels on the horse trailer are close enough together that the front tire was holding the back one off of the ground.  All I had to do was change the tire and be on my way.  All I had to do was get out there on the driver’s side of my trailer next to traffic with cars zooming past at a jillion miles an hour and…  Ugh!

But I have to thank the designers of the new causeway.  Apparently, they were expecting a LOT of accidents when they drew up their plans.  There are pull outs spaced about every quarter mile and they are wide enough to give you enough room to change a tire on the driver’s side with cars zooming past at a jillion miles an hour and not feel like you are going to die instantly unless somebody does something really, really, stupid.

So I prayed that no one would do anything really, really stupid and changed the tire.  I was about 30 seconds from finishing when some nice guy pulled over to “help.”  He laughed and said “I’m not really being much help am I?”

That’s okay, at least he bothered.

And then the voice started in:

“It’s a sign from God!  This clinic is a bad idea!”

I’m not listening…

Monday morning I was out in the grey half-light of dawn unloading everything from the horse trailer.  Monday afternoon after work, I dropped it off at Schwab.

“You’re leaving your horse trailer at Les Schwab for two days?  It’s going to get stolen!”

Now you’re just being ridiculous.

Although the voice could be right.   In my oftentimes sit-com life, that’s exactly what would happen.  Schwab would call me up “Um…  Did you take your horse trailer home?  Cause it’s not here anymore.”

After dropping the horse trailer off to be Schwabified and/or stolen I went home and went to bed.  Did I mention that our prom was Saturday night?  Did I mention that I got to bed at 2am Sunday?  Or that I got up at 7 so I could get to the mini-clinic?  Or that I got to bed late Sunday because I was busy changing a flat on the 580 causeway?

“It’s a sign from God!  This clinic is a bad idea!  You’re too tired!  You’re going to get sick!”

Did I mention that one of my students was diagnosed with strep last week?  Monday night, I took two benedryl and enough vitamin C to kill a Rhino and hoped that between sleep and the placebo effect I could beat off any possible infection that might be brewing.

And did I mention my gall bladder?  Pretty sure that’s on its way to the big medical waste container in the sky.  Or maybe it’s my kidney or pancreas or liver.  Maybe it’s just my back…  I’m scheduled for an ultrasound.  I scheduled that for AFTER the Buck clinic.  I tell people I’m on the 30 day gall bladder diet.  No, it won’t cure my gall bladder in 30 days.  My gall bladder has to last 30 days.  Once school is out, it can behave as badly as it wants.

“This is a bad idea.  You’re going to have a gall bladder attack while riding and next thing you know, you’ll be writhing on the ground in agony in the middle of a Buck Brannaman clinic.  Won’t that be embarrassing!”

Sometimes you just have to put your hands over your ears and yell “lalalalalala… I can’t hear you!”

So I made a chiropractic appointment.  I have a great chiropractor.  We call him the Witch Doctor.  I told him that everything hurts and my gall bladder is misbehaving and he did his voodoo thing, most of which involved poking, prodding, thumping, squeezing and smushing most or all of my internal organs.  I got to thinking that maybe it isn’t a good idea to have your chiropractor squeezing your gall bladder and kidneys two days before a Buck Brannaman clinic, but that’s what you get when you pay the big bucks.

I figure that either:

A. I’ll feel better

B. I’ll feel the same

C. I’ll feel worse

Two out of three ain’t bad!

And then there’s my left foot.  I have a neuroma the size of a cantaloupe in there and I could barely keep it in the stirrup when riding, much less walk around looking cool and calm like I would prefer to look at any clinic.  Instead, I was hopping around dramatically like a one legged stork.  So this is how much I want to ride with Buck.  I willingly submitted to a cortisone shot last Friday so that I might be able to keep my foot in the stirrup and walk like a cool, non-limping, person at least for the duration of the clinic.

And I got my horse trailer back last night.  It wasn’t stolen after all.  The wheel bearings are packed, the brakes are checked and the tires are new or mostly new and I have not one, but TWO spare tires (I always carry two for the horse trailer).

So I’ve managed to shut the little voice up for now.  There’s still time, though.  I haven’t made it to the clinic yet.  I’m sure it will wake me up at midnight spinning all sorts of new disastrous scenarios.

I don’t want to hear it.

 

 

Sometimes you don’t want to go where you really want to go…

It was decision time.  There we were, sailing up Hale Passage, the wind, the waves and the tides all conspiring to sweep us out into the Strait of Georgia.  Which was exactly what we wanted.  What we wanted was to sail out across the Strait of Georgia to Sucia Island where we would presumably tie up to a mooring or dock and celebrate the first night of our big sailing adventure in idyllic splendor.  Except that we had one small problem…

Our outboard motor had just died—expired might be a better word.  This was not a simple honey-why-don’t-you-try-the-choke-this-time kind of a problem.

I suppose it might seem odd to the non-sailorish type to have your “sailing adventure” crippled by the lack of a motor, but there it is, the sordid truth: you can sail all you want when there is wind, but when there is no wind—and there is often no wind in the San Juan Islands—you need a motor.  You might also need a motor when there is too much wind to put any sails up.  And it is certainly a handy piece of equipment to possess when trying to maneuver in and out of harbors and marinas especially when dodging giant ferries, fishing trawlers and multiple other boaters.  So you can see why we were a tad concerned.

We had set out that morning from Bellingham, Washington after over 20 hours of driving punctuated only briefly by 5 hours of sleep in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Klamath Falls, Oregon and multiple food and potty stops for us and the dog.  We had negotiated interminable rush hour traffic in Portland, Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle.  All of this was followed by the final insult: the detour around the collapsed bridge over the Skagit River in Burlington, which was quite possibly the most badly marked detour I have ever attempted to follow.  Thank goodness for smart phones and Google Maps!   David navigated and I managed to pull it off with only one illegal lane change and no visible damage to boat or truck.

All of the delays put us into Bellingham much later than we had planned.  And we still had to make the obligatory trip to Wal-Mart, Home Depot and a grocery store before launching to buy all of the bits and bobs we had remembered on the way that were vitally essential to setting out on our trip and that we had completely managed to overlook in our initial preparations.  Somehow, we navigated all of these hazards and even managed to find a restaurant still open for a quick bite at 9 o’clock, but by the time we arrived at the marina it was far too late to even think about launching and we were far too tired to bother.  Instead, we crawled aboard the boat on its trailer and listened to the 1000 car freight trains rumble past the parking lot as slowly and as noisily as possible all night long.

We were finally able to rig the boat and launch Friday morning.  I left David to get things shipshape while I washed the salt water off of the truck and trailer and parked them in the long-term lot and walked the dog one last time.  When I arrived at the boat, David said he had to go up and get some hose clamps and hose for the outboard motor from the nearby marine supply store.  It always amazes me that we can watch a TV mystery and pick out the murderer in the first 10 minutes because of some stupid tip off and yet we never, ever, seem capable of spotting the foreshadowing of doom in our own lives.

But David procured the necessary parts in short order and oblivious to danger, we set out into a strong headwind and powerful chop.  It was so rough that the dog buried herself deep in the V-birth and refused to move even as I attempted to strap a life jacket on her.  We hoisted sails quickly “because the motor was running a bit rough” and we still didn’t hear the dum…dum…dum… in the soundtrack.  At one point, David looked back to notice that our American Flag had blown off of the backstay.   We probably should have turned back right then.  In the movie version, the camera would have zoomed in ominously on the empty backstay and the soundtrack would develop a decidedly menacing sound all meant to inform the viewer that we were as good as wearing red shirts on the Enterprise.  In our movie, we just sailed blithely on.

And it was a good sail.  The dog notwithstanding, it is exciting to beat to windward.  That’s when the boat heels over and you take spray over the bow and your sunglasses become worthless and you smile a lot.  Once I got over the initial jitters of finding myself pounding through the chop headed for who knows what adventure, I was really enjoying it.

We sailed out across Bellingham Bay, over the bar and into Hale Passage, which takes you between the mainland and Lummi Island and out to the Straight of Georgia.  That’s where the wind began to drop off some.  It was about one o’clock by then and we weren’t sure how long it was going to take us to make it to Sucia Island, so we decided to fire up the motor and motor-sail up the passage to speed things up a bit.  Only the motor was still running rough.  This might bother normal people, but this motor had run rough pretty much since we acquired it.  We had taken it in multiple times to be worked on and most of the “fixes” generally lasted one trip out of the harbor—if we were lucky.  I kept joking that it was possessed by evil demons and that we would be as well off hiring a priest to perform an exorcism as we were after multiple “repairs.”  We kept threatening to buy a new outboard, but we had yet to find ourselves angry enough or desperate enough to overcome the price tag. I was getting used to seeing David pull the cowling off and begin fiddling with the motor mid trip, so it didn’t concern me too much when he began working on it.  Mentally, I was calculating how many times he was going to have to do so during our upcoming week of sailing when I heard a loud snap and David said some very bad words.  Somehow, during the fiddling process, a brass fitting in the carburetor had snapped.

So now we weighed our options.  We could continue on our merry way with no outboard and hope that somehow, by some miracle, we could make our way to a port—without a motor and very likely in fickle wind conditions—where we could somehow and by some miracle effect repairs or purchase a new outboard.  Or we could turn around and head back to Bellingham where we knew there was a marine supply store within walking distance of the harbor with possibly the most complete collection of bits and parts for boats that we had ever seen.

We turned around.

Now, before you go typing any smarmy platitudes in the comment section about how we made the “smart” decision or the “wise” decision, let me tell you we made the only decision possible.  To have continued on for a week of “sailing” in the San Juans in that particular boat without a motor would have been insanely stupid (a lesson which would be pounded blatantly home less than two hours later) and while we can be stupid at times, we are not insane.

And I know this is where the story should end, but not so fast—literally!  We had been sailing north on a beam reach which means the wind is coming at a 90 degree angle over the port (left) side of the boat, so that when we turned around, we were still sailing on a beam reach, only now with the wind on the starboard (right) side, headed south.  We were moving along quite smartly approaching the red buoy marking shoal waters off of Portage Island.  This had been the last “mark” we passed on the way out.  Now we would be reeling them in in reverse order—first the red buoy, then the point off Portage Island, then over the bar leading into Bellingham Harbor (giving the buoy marking the rocks off Eliza Island plenty of room), past the anchored barge, then the red buoy off Post Point, then on to the marina where we would whip out our trusty credit card and purchase a new outboard motor.  Or so we thought.

And the red buoy was there.  It was right there!  Only that’s when the wind chose to die.  It didn’t die suddenly, though.  At first it toyed with us like a cat playing with an ill-fated mouse.

“Over here!” It would cry, ruffling the water temptingly.

And we’d follow the ruffles and gain a little way on our buoy until the wind would laugh and die off again, only to ruffle a new spot that was…just…over…there… And then we’d watch the buoy recede as the tide began sweeping us north up Hale Passage in the direction we desperately wanted to go, but just as desperately needed to avoid.  And this, children, is what we call irony!

So we came up with the brilliant idea that we could somehow, you know, wire the broken fitting back together.

Only, that didn’t work.

As we watched the red buoy grow smaller and smaller, we finally became really desperate and decided to try to run the outboard with David simply holding the fitting together.  Only David couldn’t hold the fitting together and start the outboard at the same time.  So he held the fitting together inside the carburetor while I stood behind him and pulled the string to start the engine for all it was worth, and it worked!—sort of…  He could only hold it together for so long before his fingers cramped and he would have to let go.  So we travelled in spurts.  We kept trying to improve the system so that he could hold things together longer but we could only ever get so far at a crack.  Every time we would stop for David to rest his fingers and to brainstorm better ideas, the tide would continue its inexorable attempts to push us in the wrong direction.

But finally, we managed to spurt ourselves over the bar and into Bellingham Bay proper where the tide was not quite so insistent.  We even got a little bit of a breeze and made some progress under sail…for a few tantalizing minutes anyway.  Then it died completely.  We tried a few more engine spurts, but by now, David was having real problems holding the fitting together with the result that we were spitting as much gas out of the engine and into the bay as we were using—not good!  (It had also occurred to us that we had created the perfect bomb with David at the epicenter.  All we needed was one spark and that movie might not end so well!)  We had to write the engine off completely at that point and think of other options.  Using our trusty GPS, we estimated that we were only two and a half miles from the marina at this point, but it was a long two and a half miles!

First, we called the harbormaster.  Was there someone who could tow us in?  We would be happy to pay.  The perky lady who answered the phone gave us a couple of numbers and we started there.  The first people we called weren’t even willing to come out because they were “just too darned busy.”  Okay…  The first fellow said since we were a sailboat, we should just sail in.  Really??  Cause we never thought of that!

Next we called BoatUS.  For the non-boaters, BoatUS is the AAA of boating.  Could they give us a tow?  This turned out to be a not-so-simple process, requiring a conference call between David, BoatUS, Vessel Assist and the cast of a Broadway musical–at least that’s how it sounded to me.  The nearest Vessel Assist turned out to be in Anacortes.  We had foolishly assumed there would be one in Bellingham.  So, it turned out we would have to pay for Vessel Assist to drive all the way from Anacortes (about 16 nautical miles), then tow us 2.5 miles to the marina, then drive all the way back.  The price estimate came out to about $750!  We could simply dive overboard, swim to shore and buy a new boat for that.  And our particular plan with BoatUS does not cover unlimited towing, so we were going to have to pony up more than half of that ourselves.  David thanked everybody politely and we went back to examining our options.

Next we called the Coast Guard.  Assuring them that we were in no way in any sort of danger and wouldn’t ever remotely even think of using their resources, we asked if they had any suggestions.  They said call Vessel Assist.  They may also have suggested calling the “just sail it in” guy.  I can’t remember.  Then they suggested we flag down a passing boat to tow us in.  We scanned the nearly empty bay, then looked at each other despairingly—also not-so-simple…

That’s when we started paddling.  I know some of you might ask why we didn’t think of that sooner.  Well, you know how much I love our boat because it is ballasted?  I believe I’ve mentioned this once or twice now.  See ballast would be…um…weight.  So while we had, indeed, thought of paddling; up to this point, we simply hadn’t been desperate enough to try to force all of that weight to get up and move using our own feeble physical strength.  It’s not like paddling a canoe or rowboat.  The deck of the boat is high enough off of the water that you really have to reach down to get the paddle to bite and the boat weighs almost 2000 pounds.   But we did seem to be out of other options and surprisingly, we actually began to make progress.  We were able to keep up a consistent pace of just under one knot.  We calculated that at this rate, we would make it back to the marina by 10 o’clock that night—assuming we could continue paddling at this pace for 2.5 hours.  Unless one of us had a heart attack first!

It was about that time that we saw two RIBs festooned with armed and armored men dashing across the bay.  We were amazed when they turned and dashed over to our location.  Had the Coast Guard had a change of heart?  It turned out that they hadn’t.  The guys in the RIBs had noticed us paddling and had come over to see that we were okay.  They hadn’t even spoken to whomever we talked to on the phone.  They were friendly and polite and yet ever so unhelpful.  I offered to fake a heart attack, but that would only have gotten me off the boat and then poor David would have had to paddle alone.   Soon they dashed off to look for mariners stupider than us who might be in real, actual danger.

So we were pretty much resigned to paddling until the wind came back up or until we were completely exhausted when we saw a fishing boat working its way back to the marina about a half a mile off.  We waved in a desperate and desultory fashion meant to convey that we would really like a tow, but would totally understand if they couldn’t or wouldn’t help us because that’s what we were getting used to.  We actually thought they hadn’t seen us and were chugging on their merry way when they miraculously began to describe a slow turn towards us.  They had seen us and were willing to give us a tow.  So we tossed them a line and were finally “rescued.”  The fellow driving the boat was great and didn’t tow us too fast or try to “crack the whip” with us just for a cheap laugh.  He must have been Uncle.  Grandpa minded the towline while Dad sat and cleaned up lingcod after beautiful lingcod while the kids watched in rapt attention.  They refused to take any money for gas and simply let go of the rope as we passed the guest dock and we coasted right in.

The punch line of this story is that when David walked into the outboard motor dealership the next day expecting to whip out the credit card and cringe while they rang up a new motor, he said “unless you happen to have a carburetor for a 1985 Yamaha…” and it turned out they did! In fact, they had several in stock because, as the girl at the counter put it “That’s a real work horse of an engine.  A lot of people around here are still using them.”

So for a tenth of the price of a new engine, he was able to replace the carburetor and we were able to set off again on our great sailing adventure, just one day late.  The motor ran great the whole time and our new American flag stayed firmly attached to the backstay!

What do you think THAT light means?

Why is it that so many of our boating trips seem take a dark turn into epic saga territory?  I’m thinking we might just need to change our names to Njorl and Sigrdrif.  Maybe not.  I might have to start writing my blogs in verse and I’m not sure I’m up for that.  We’ll just leave the rhyming to Longfellow and get on with the story.

I’ll do the Hollywood recap for those not familiar with the story.  We’re sailors.  We got a boat and named it Nighthawk.  Nighthawk is ballasted.  We got a new (used) truck last year to haul Nighthawk because Nighthawk is ballasted.  We’ve had quite a few fun adventures in the last year including losing a wheel off of the trailer, which wasn’t fun, but was an adventure.  There, now everyone’s up to speed.

Compared to all of our former boats, Nighthawk is a very different animal.  Not only is she ballasted, she has a little cabin and two people can actually sleep aboard her without having to go ashore and pitch a tent.  This has opened up whole new worlds of possibility for our sailing trips.  We have even slept aboard her in a campground, using her like Captain Ron’s Amazing Nautical RV.  We may look a little silly climbing aboard our boat resting very unnautically on its trailer to go to bed, but we make up for all silliness when we back our “RV” down the boat ramp and sail gracefully off across the water.

So we’ve had a few trips where we’ve slept on the boat overnight.  And last fall, we “conquered” sailing in San Fransisco Bay, something we had only done previously in “big” chartered boats.  (Admittedly, we need a much heartier complement of sails to stand up to the kind of wind the bay delivers, but we did all right with what we had and didn’t get knocked down or hit any other boats or ships or islands or anything else important.)  After we survived that day, it was a mere leap of logic for us to think we could possibly take our boat up to the San Juan and Gulf Islands, another place where we have chartered bigger boats in the past.

We’ve been scheming and planning for this for months now and poor David has run himself ragged installing bits and bobs on Nighthawk so that we can, hopefully, survive the San Juans.  There are so many different parts to this plan and so many places where something can go wrong, that covering every single contingency would be completely impossible.  So it was a relief to take a break from all of our preparations and head down to the “Delta Overnighter” with our sailing friends, the Potter Yachters.  Besides, this would be a good dry run for the longer trip coming up just a month away.

By Thursday, it was clear that there would be at least 20 small boats attending the cruise.  We would launch at B & W Marina, located right next to the Mokelumne River Bridge on Highway 12.  David and I got a little worried about parking places at the marina and decided to drive down after work Friday instead of Saturday morning.  After all, you can never tell what crazy delay might happen on the drive down…  He called the marina and they said it would be no problem for us to launch at 9 or 10 o’clock at night, so David and I met up in Gardnerville after work for our trip.

And everything was going fine until the check engine light came on.

It waited (naturally) until we were headed down the west slope of the Sierra in an area where there was no cell service and pretty much nothing around.  Why would the light just come on like that?  The truck was running fine…  And it kept running fine for maybe 10 minutes after the light came on, and then?… not so fine.   I was driving at the time and I stated, “It feels just like the old truck did when the injectors were clogged.”  (When will I learn not to say things like that!)  We were able to limp along because the grade was mostly downhill, so we managed to make it to a gas station that, thankfully, had a pay phone because there still wasn’t any cell service.

We tried all of the usual tricks to fix it:  Open the hood, stare at the engine, randomly wiggle hoses and tap on parts, and make faces at it, but nothing seemed to work.  David even went so far as to remove the air cleaner and bang on that some, but everybody knows the air cleaner is really just a practical joke installed by automakers in Detroit to make people think they might actually be able to fix the truck and to create income for all of the quick change oil places.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a hidden camera installed in there.

“Hey look, Bill, he’s taking off the air cleaner.”

“This ought to be good!”

The truck kept flashing signals at us that it was out of gas, but we knew it had three quarters of a tank.  So David kept looking for useless parts to remove while I borrowed a phone book from the convenience store operator and looked for local mechanics.  There were several who advertised “roadside assistance.”  I called the first one and he said “well, I could maybe get to it in a week…”  Oh, sure!  Doesn’t “I need roadside assistance” sort of imply that I am—you know—at the side of the road?  Right now?  Needing assistance?  I’ll just pull out my handy tent and sleep here for a week until you can come along and rescue me!  The next two didn’t even bother to answer.

David and I were very upset we were going to miss our weekend of sailing, but we knew it was time to call for a tow.  I got on the phone to a nice, perky operator at Boat USA.  I have to say, she displayed far more intelligence than the average AAA operator I have dealt with.  We worked out the details and she said she would call back.  I gave her the number of the pay phone and told her I’d call back in twenty minutes if I hadn’t heard from her since we weren’t exactly certain the pay phone would actually ring if she called.  And then I waited.  Suddenly, as I was standing there waiting, David drove by in the truck and honked and waved at me—huh?

Turns out that he thought maybe the truck had some problem with the gas tank so he opened it up and shook the truck to try to hear if there really was gas in there.   He could hear the gas, so he put the gas cap back on and restarted the truck.  For whatever reason, that fixed the problem.  So, off we drove (after thankfully cancelling the tow).  Our check engine light was still on, but the truck was behaving fine.  Once we had cell service, I checked out all of the possible GMC dealers in the area and we formed about 6 different contingency plans, but the bottom line was that we were going to launch the boat first if we could somehow make it as far as the marina, then deal with the truck.

We got to the marina and set up the boat in the dark.  It was not nearly as bad as we thought because there was a street light near enough to sort-of see.  We were a little stressed about raising the mast because you couldn’t see the top of it in the dark, so if the forestay got tangled up with one of the shrouds, we weren’t going to know about it until we were in trouble.  But even that went fine, so I started the truck up to back down the boat ramp and noticed that now the check engine light wasn’t even on!  Silly truck!

We were all set to motor around the spit from the boat ramp to the guest dock.  All we had to do was park the truck and get the dog aboard.  She had been waiting all this time in the truck, so I took her out for a walk while David was getting everything shipshape, then we headed down the dock.  And that’s when we found out that we own Kaylee, the Incredible Non-Nautical Dog!  She was terrified of the motion of the dock as we walked.  The first time out, I had her off the leash and she made it about halfway to the boat before turning around and taking off.   I had to chase her down and put the leash on.  Even then, she made it clear that she didn’t want to be on that scary moving platform.  It was hard not to laugh at her as she slithered along with her legs out at an almost 90 degree angle and her belly scraping the dock.  I started calling her the lizard-dog.  But we got her on the boat and as soon as we got to the guest dock, she shot up into the v-berth and curled up into a little ball for the night.  David and I could sympathize—it was almost midnight!

The next morning, I spent a lot of time walking Kaylee up and down the docks trying to develop her sea legs (and to amuse myself, to be honest).  I also called our mechanic back home and asked about the truck.  Turns out that David reset something when he pulled the gas cap off and that is why the truck started running again.  He said we should try and drive it home and we made an appointment for the following week.  By then, we were pretty glad we had launched Friday night as the docks were getting busy.  Not only was our group there, it was simply a very busy Saturday morning at B & W.  The parking lot was filling up with small sailboats stepping masts, hanking on sails, and getting ready to launch.  They were all competing for dock space with various fishermen, water skiers and other recreational boaters.

By 9:30, we were all on the water weaving an intricate dance above the bridge.  Our leader, Jerry, finally decided we were all there and radioed the bridge tender to let us through.  Soon we could hear the bells ringing for traffic to stop.  The whole gaggle of boats made a dash towards the bridge as it began to turn and we were finally off.  It was a beautiful day and the wind was blowing perfectly.  We all hoisted sails and had a marvelous run down the Mokelumne River between the levees.  Right before it spills into the San Joaquin, the river makes a sweeping turn to the right.  With the change in direction, all of us began tacking back and forth in the narrow channel, trying to avoid collisions with each other, all of the motorboats, and the shore.  We felt sorry for the few large motor boats we saw trying to thread their way through the fleet as we all dodged and wove across their paths.  There’s a reason sailboats have the right of way, but normally, you try to be polite.  Still, in a tight situation like this, you sometimes just have to tack and hope the guy in the motorboat gets out of your way.

We were also trying not to run aground.  The eastern shore opens up into an area of shoals and tules and if you push a tack too far, you are likely to feel mud under your keel.  Every once in a while, we could see one of our companions spinning in an odd way rather than moving forward, indicating they had misjudged a bit.  The shoals get even worse as you reach the San Joaquin River.  Last year, we ran aground there and we didn’t really want to do that again.  The worst part is that when you head out into the San Joaquin, you can see the shipping channel markers and they look like they are right there, but first you have to make your way across the shoals.  A depth sounder is on the list of “things to do before the trip.”  Unfortunately, David hadn’t been able to do it yet.  Instead we had to trust the chart plotter on David’s tablet to give us our correct position and accurate information about the bottom.

Meanwhile, the wind just kept building and building.  We had a marvelous sail down the river until we reached our overnight destination—Spindrift Marina.  We descended upon their docks like a flock of starlings, but they had been forewarned and were ready for our group with plenty of dock space and the all important card keys for the bathrooms.  We had all made it except for the two members of the group who were sailing over from Rio Vista.  They had been checking in on the VHF, so we knew they were sailing up the San Joaquin and would soon join us.  The wife of one of our group members who doesn’t sail with him, thank you (because small boats are scary and unpredictable) had parked their motor home at the KOA campground across the road and this became the gathering point for the group.  We took Kaylee for a walk along the levee, then decided to head back out for more sailing.

By then, the wind had built even stronger and we had a fantastic sail, tacking our way down river.  Kaylee spent most of her time down below.  She would lie on one of the berths until the boat heeled farther than she liked or we hit a wake and then she would pop up like a startled rabbit with a very worried expression.  She only came on deck a few times.  Each time, I would put her life jacket on which she took as some new barbaric form of punishment and would slink immediately down below again.  Poor girl—I need to start having her wear it on walks at the house to get used to it.

After tacking almost all the way to Three Mile Slough, we turned around and headed back to the marina on a run.  That’s the payoff for all that work tacking, but it’s sort of like spending all day climbing a mountain only to ski down it in half an hour.  In no time, we were almost back, but as we headed for the channel through the tules, we saw our fearless leader, Jerry, headed out with some folks who had come by for an afternoon sail.  We couldn’t resist heading back out with them, matching them tack for tack.  The wind had gotten even stronger and as we hit 20 degrees of heel more often, Kaylee kept popping up and down like a hyperactive jack-in-the-box.  We decided we’d better sail a little more conservatively if we ever want our dog to learn to enjoy sailing, so we reefed the main (which reduces sail area) to make her more comfortable.  We finally headed back in after one of the best sails we’ve had in a long time.

When we got back in, it was almost dinner time.  Spindrift is a great marina because they have a restaurant right there across the levee.  I had just enough time to grab my card key and shower bag and get clean.  I could tell there are quite a few live-aboards at the marina because the shower had an interesting assortment of shampoos, conditioners and soaps.  I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the light to the shower area, but decided this might be best as there were probably microorganisms the size of trolls lurking back there and I didn’t want to see any of them!  And once again, I’d forgotten to pack a pair of shower shoes—ick!  I made a mental note to be sure these were in the bag before the San Juan trip.  Also the shower had only two temperature settings that I could discern:  sort-of-warm and sort-of-not-so-warm.  I was fine with that since I felt like my internal organs had been deep fat fried all day.  That’s one of the unintended consequences of being religious with the sunscreen—it keeps your skin from burning, but provides you with a sealent layer that cooks you internally.  Remind me to try it on the turkey next Thanksgiving.

One of our biggest fears never materialized.  We were afraid to leave Kaylee behind on the boat when we went to dinner after her sprees of destruction in our house.  But it turns out, Kaylee sees the boat as “the truck we drive on the water,” and had no problem being left behind.  David checked on her half way through the meal and she was happily snoozing away.

The trip back on Sunday was almost anticlimactic.  We all turned out at the restaurant for the $5.99 steak and eggs Sunday special, then afterwards held a skipper’s meeting at the marina.  Rather than dying down overnight, the wind had simply shifted and built even higher.  It was collectively decided that the smaller boats would motor and that we’d all meet up at a certain location before heading to the bridge to count heads and collect our wits.  David and I might have tried sailing the whole way if we had had better sails, but we sailed the first part under jib alone, then motored once we hit the Mokelumne.

It took us the better part of an hour to get all of the boats back out of the water on to their respective trailers.  If anything, the boat ramp was even crazier than it had been Saturday morning.   It was 2 or 3 by the time we were finally ready to travel.  Originally, we had planned to drive up to 50 or 80 in case the truck decided to act up again, but we were too tired and decided to chance it over 88.  We needn’t have worried.  The truck made it home fine.   Unfortunately, my words came back to haunt us and we had to replace the fuel injectors the following week.  So now it’s “The truck so nice, we bought it twice!”  Ugh.  We knew when we bought it that fuel injectors were going to be a possible weak point, but when I think of the things we could have done with that money, like buy Max, or replace my FourRunner (which is its own epic saga), or replace the windows in the house, or replace the horse trailer, or take a trip to Paris and Rome (okay, you know I’d replace the horse trailer before going to Paris) well it is kind of heartbreaking anyway.

Interestingly, I looked up Viking names for Kaylee on the internet and came up with Hollr, which means faithful.  I couldn’t find an old norse word for “nautical,”  I suspect because every Viking was expected to be nautical.  There was probably some derogatory term for a landlubber that the Vikings yelled out right before they lopped off your head, but I couldn’t find one, so Kaylee is safe for now.  By the time we got back to B & W, she was doing a lot better.  Of course, we never heeled on the way back since we were mostly motoring, but she did a lot better on the dock at the boat ramp, which was probably the least stable dock all weekend—she looks less like a lizard anyway.  I couldn’t find a Viking word for lizard either.

So “Skoal to the Northland!” and thus ends my tale.

 

Woman and Dog vs. Wild

It is a late March morning.  The days are finally getting light early enough for me to take the dog on a real walk again.  As I head out to feed horses, I see that we received a dusting of snow overnight and the sky is low and grey, promising more snow to come.  It is barely light enough to see without a flashlight but if I walk out the door now, I will have just enough time to feed horses and walk “around the block” before I have to leave for work.  It’s not snowing as I head out of the house, but as we arrive at the horse compound, I can hear the tinny “tic, tic, tic,” of flakes just beginning to hurl themselves against the galvanized horse shelters.  Just a few flakes…

But the flakes are getting heavier and falling more thickly as I finish feeding and Kaylee and I head out for our walk.  “Around the block” in our world includes most of our front parcel and the neighbor’s parcel below us—a little over a mile.  First we head north down the ridge above the horse corrals.  As I walk down the ridge, I have to bow my head and hold a hand up to protect my eyes because I’m not wearing a hat.  The snowflakes begin falling fast and furious, driven by a wind from the northwest, and whenever I remove my protective hand, I invariably take a snowflake to the eyeball—not a barrel of laughs at six in the morning.

Next, I turn left at the north property line and head west on the neighbor’s road.  Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of Kaylee in her morning rambles—right before the snowflake hits my eyeball.  I whistle at the turn to let her know I’ve changed course although she’s probably perfectly aware of my location at all times.  Heading west isn’t nearly as bad and I can search for the dog a little more carefully on this heading.  I finally spot her about 100 yards ahead of me crossing the road at a lope.  She’s not chasing anything, just looking for good smells, reading the stories of all of the denizens who travel our little patch of earth.  I scan the sagebrush for coyotes, but don’t spot any.  We have come out of the trees now and are at the high point of this leg.  I like this route because for most of the walk I can see far enough around me to spot the coyotes well in advance.

The grey curtain of snow this morning had cut visibility down to just a few hundred feet.   It is really coming down heavily now and beginning to accumulate on the ground.  I can feel it hitting the back of my head—guess I get to do my hair again when I get back to the house!  Our nearest downhill neighbor’s house is about three eighths of a mile away as the crow flies, but this morning, I can’t even tell there is a house there.  As I turn left at the end of this leg to head south along the property line I try to keep Kaylee close enough that I can see her.  She is mostly a black spot running along the hillside, but it is amazing how many hidden folds and large clumps of sagebrush there are capable of completely concealing one medium sized dog.

Finally, we make the last left turn to head east up our driveway.  This is the uphill leg leading back to the house.  I never made it up this stretch at a run even when I was running marathons.  Now I labor and puff my way up the road.  Kaylee always gets pretty far ahead of me, and today, she disappears into the trees in the wash.  As I reach the gate, which marks the beginning of our property, I see her standing on the road ahead of me staring off to the north.  I follow her gaze and see the grey shadow of a coyote perched on the far bank of the wash.  As I unlimber my rifle to take aim at her, she spins suddenly and vanishes into the concealing snow.  I pop off a shot anyway, reload, and head for her last known position to take up the chase.  But after wallowing my way across the wash and up the bluff, I never catch sight of her again so Kaylee and I head directly back to the house.

Oh, don’t be too shocked and concerned.  My rifle?  It’s an air rifle, a pellet gun more correctly—but to every 11 year old Ralphie out there, it’s a BB gun.  It’s not even a really nice BB gun, purchased for maybe $20 at most.  The best I can ever do is put someone’s eye out.  My intention in chasing the coyote down is not to injure or harm her, but to train her to stay off my property and leave my dog alone.  And amazingly, it seems to be working.

All this pretty much started right after we got the dog.  At first, I thought it was mere coincidence.  We would go for a walk and accidently run into a couple of coyotes.  After we “accidentally” ran into the coyotes a number of times, I finally realized that it was no coincidence.  They were thinking “Oh look!  Snacky dog!”  And they were waiting for us.

There are four of them in the pack I think.  The two I see most often I named Frick and Frack.  Frick and Frack are not afraid of people and once they’ve spotted their prey, will follow doggedly (pun intended) wherever we go.  They are probably the same coyotes that got my cats.  Then there are the invisibles.  I first saw Mr. Invisible on a day when the coyotes did not see me down cleaning the horse corrals.  All three were trotting east along David’s trail probably sniffing Kaylee’s tasty dog scent and scheming to “invite” her over for lunch.  Later, I saw Mr. Invisible from the house a few times trailing along with Frick and Frack as they tracked the scent trail we left on our walk.  And now I’m pretty sure there is a Mrs. Invisible, but that comes later in the story.

One day while I was riding the horse, we ran into them.  I saw them and Kaylee running through the trees above me on the bluff of the wash and pretty much freaked out.  I called Kaylee down to me and spent the rest of the ride keeping her close.  They followed us for about a mile, then met us on the way back down and followed us almost all the way home—very annoying.  I tried to get Max (the horse) to chase them, but Max wasn’t too enthused about it, while Kaylee thought chasing them sounded like a marvelous idea so I had to give that up.  A couple of days after that, they were waiting for us on our walk and followed so closely that I could throw rocks at them and almost hit them.   Anybody whose ever seen me throw rocks will know that’s gotta be pretty close!

That was the day I had had enough.  I e-mailed David at work and asked him to pick up some bird shot for the 22.  I figured that I could try to shoot close enough to scare them and if I accidentally got too close, birdshot would mostly sting, but not do any real damage.  David informed me that he would be bringing home a wrist rocket instead.  Huh?  Having never been an eleven-year-old boy, I had no idea that a wrist rocket is your basic slingshot.  I was picturing those little crossbow things the bad guys were using in The Road Warrior only somehow firing little RPG’s.  It kind of seemed like overkill to me, but finally David straightened me out.  I suspect he was just nostalgic for the days of childhood when he and his friends would go around shooting rocks at each other and anything else that seemed worthy of targeting.  He also brought home a box of pellets for the pellet gun.

I went on the Internet and googled “how do you get rid of coyotes?”  The ideas were pretty much in line with what I was thinking.  Most pages suggest using noise and shooting at the coyotes with paint ball guns or other non-lethal projectiles.  One interesting fact I found was that if you kill the coyotes, the alpha female will just begin producing new litters of pup to replace the ones you killed.  Because of this, it’s apparently almost impossible to wipe out the local coyote population. Personally, I just don’t see the point of killing them.   If it were possible to train them to leave me alone, I would rather do that.  If I started killing them, I would just have to deal with the next untrained generation.

So I spent a couple of days shooting driveway gravel at fence posts, clumps of sagebrush, trees, cargo containers and pretty much anything else that would stand still long enough. I got to where I could hit a target if it was large enough and not moving.  Now all I need are large, immobile coyotes!  And I saw no coyotes—naturally…  A few days later, though, I ran into a pair on the ridge as we began our walk and it was game on.  I don’t think I actually hit either of them, but I came close a few times.  One of them took off pretty quickly, but the other circled around as if to follow us on our walk so I went after it.  I pursued them very aggressively because the web pages had said that it wasn’t enough to just make them run away—you have to pursue them until they leave your territory.  So I kept shooting rocks and chasing even after they began to run away. Kaylee joined me in the chase and I finally realized that when she chases coyotes, it’s not to go off and meet them, but to chase them out of her territory also, so we were a team.

Pretty soon, I saw two coyotes disappearing over the lip of the wash almost 200 yards away at a dead run.  Kaylee rejoined me quite proud of herself and we headed back towards the house—I figured that was enough excitement for one morning.  We were working our way through the trees that fill the wash through our property when we encountered the invisibles.  So Kaylee and I had another fun chase until the invisibles high tailed it out of our territory.  At first, I thought that Frick and Frack had circled back around, but as I thought about it I realized there simply hadn’t been time for them to run all the way back up into the trees.  That’s when I decided there must be a Mrs. Invisible in the pack.

After that, I started carrying the pellet gun on every walk.  It is kind of heavy and annoying.  I felt a little silly walking around like Stewart Granger in King Solomon’s Mines (only he had better hair and a much bigger gun).  But I have discovered I’m much more accurate with the pellet gun at a longer distance than I am with the slingshot.  I can even hit the occasional T-post on purpose now.  After our big encounter, however, I didn’t see any coyotes for weeks.  They obviously got the message loud and clear.  In fact, my encounter in the snow was the first coyote sighting since I chased them off and I would say that the alacrity with which she scooted out of there only proves that this really was an accidental encounter.

Since then, we’ve chased off the occasional coyote.   We still make sure they “leave the territory” every time.   I’ve stopped living every 11 year old boy’s dream and walking around looking like Ramar of the Jungle, but I continued to carry the slingshot for a couple of months.   The other day, Kaylee was outside.  I looked out to check on her and spotted her trotting around collecting good scents out in the sagebrush when I spotted a coyote down below her on the hill.  She looked up and saw it about the same time.  I watched, wondering what would happen.  Kaylee began to trot in the general direction of the coyote until it spotted her (they were still about 200 feet apart).  Suddenly, the coyote dropped its head and ears, put its tail between its legs and slunk quickly away into the trees.  Kaylee stopped, satisfied that she had done her job.

 

We’ve gone to the dogs! Finally…

Nothing beats having a week off and STILL having to go into work everyday.  And the hell of it was that I couldn’t even sleep in and mosey in late in my sweats and flip-flops.  Why?  Well may you ask.  It all started when we got this dog.

You see, we are dog people.  Even my husband, who was dog deprived for a good portion of his childhood, is dog people.  We did not buy our first house because we wanted a house—we bought our first house because we wanted a dog.  And ever since we took possession of our new house, we’ve had a dog or two around.  Until a couple of years ago, that is.  We had two aging border collies and, knowing that the time was near; decided maybe after they went we would choose to be dog free for a while.  Dog ownership is great, but the logistics of having to feed and care for dogs make it difficult to just pick up and toodle off for a weekend in Death Valley or Yosemite.

And over the years, we have had some logistically interesting dogs.  Pockets, who was our first dog, was insanely loyal.  One time while out camping, David drove off on the motorcycle leaving Pockets in the tent at camp.  He told the other campers to let Pockets out after a little while and he would be fine.  Pockets, once freed, proceeded to track David down…12 miles…on his motorcycle…and found him.  This created a monster because he figured he could just track us down if he looked hard enough.  We couldn’t leave him with anyone when we went off on vacation because he would go off looking for us, but we finally did figure out that we could have David’s parents come over to the house and pick him up and take him home with them.  That way he didn’t feel the need to track us because we hadn’t “abandoned” him.

At one point, we even had a down-on-his-luck friend living with us.  Other people might think this was a little awkward, but it was great because he: a. did not eat our food; b. helped David fix things; and c. took care of the animals when we were on vacation.   In fact, we never charged him rent because; as you pet owners are already thinking to yourselves, it was more than worth the price for part c alone.  Unfortunately, our friend moved on and we now have to deal with our own animal travel logistics again.  So we thought we’d go dog free for a while.

Then we got hit by the quadruple whammy.  We lost both old dogs, the horse, and the old cat all within a 10 month time frame.  It was a rough patch for both of us and instead of being dog free for “several months,” it took us over two years to get back in the game.  At first, any dog we saw reminded us of our little lost Ringo and BC and we would dive head first into the vast pits of maudilinity that threatened to consume us.  Eventually though, we began to find ourselves afflicted with a strange sort of magnetism that sucked us over to any dog we happened to encounter.  We were like little kids who just wanted to pet the nice doggie.  We finally realized the “dog free interlude” was far past its expiration date when we went down to Mule Days last year.  We spent as much time during the parade and show ooohing and aaahing at the dogs people were walking around as we did looking at the mules.  When we started actually fantasizing sick and twisted plots to kidnap certain likely looking dogs, we knew it was time.

Fortunately, I have a neighbor who volunteers at the pound, so I asked her how to get in on the dog walking action.  The obvious danger with this strategy was that I might wind up bringing home half a dozen dogs on the first visit.  I needn’t have worried since most of the dogs at the pound turned out to be Pit Bulls or Pit Bull crosses.  I’m not saying Pit Bulls are not nice dogs, just that we are pretty confirmed Border Collie/cattle dog type people.  I can resist Pit Bulls.  Time turned out to by my other ally in this because (isn’t this the story of my life?) by the time I got the dog-walker training and was cleared to volunteer, I was back at work and had no time to walk dogs.  But I was able to sneak in a few days of walking here and there and my neighbor, alerted to our plight, kept me informed by e-mail whenever a likely dog came through.

It was on our Thanksgiving break that I met Stella.  I actually had a day free to go in and walk dogs and there was a cute Pit/Bulldog cross named Ria that I liked, and there was Stella.  My first thought on seeing her was that she is a McNabb or Border Collie/Queensland cross.  She is black with the white ruff speckled with black speckles and the black white mottling extends down her stomach and legs—definite cattle dog territory.  Of course, she heeled like a sled dog.  All of the pound puppies do.  I have this theory that it is because so many different people walk them and some let them pull while others don’t, so they just pull like sled dogs until they get a walker who makes them heel.  But she kind of tried to heel when I asked her to which is more than some of the dogs do.  She also had “that look.”  Border Collie people know whereof I speak.  So I kept thinking about Stella over the next week.

The following week, I had an appointment with “the dentist who never works.”  I have to take a full day off to see him whether it is a marathon torture session or a simple follow up because he is in the office (a 60 mile drive) for approximately 5 minutes on alternate Wednesdays if you’re lucky.  This was a simple follow up, so I went to walk dogs afterwards.  And I walked Stella again.  That Saturday, I took David in to meet Stella.  He fell for “the look” too, and after signing many, many forms and promising that we would hug her and pet her and love her and squeeze her…  no wait…  wrong story… we proudly walked out with OUR new dog.

We immediately agreed that we hated the name Stella and after a bit of good natured arguing, came up with Kayleigh—a good Scottish name to go along with her likely Border Collie heritage.  Only we decided to spell it Kaylee so that people wouldn’t have to bring up too much phlegm figuring out how to pronounce it.  How do you say that?  Kayleecchh…?  When I opened the truck door and said get in, she launched herself into the back seat as if to say “it’s about time!”  When we got home to our wild open sagebrush I crossed my fingers and let her off the leash and we haven’t needed it since except for trips to town.  I don’t know if she’s as insanely loyal as Pockets yet, but she made it patently obvious from the start that we were her new world.

Which was where our trouble started.  She was picked up as a stray, so we have no information on her background, but given how quickly she bonded to us I’d say there was someone out there she was very strongly bonded to.  I don’t know if it was getting lost and having that bond broken or spending 4 months in the pound with no clear “master” or if maybe she was this way to begin with, but she definitely suffers from severe separation anxiety.  We picked her up on a Saturday morning and spent the weekend having fun with our new dog.  Monday morning rolled around and I decided to leave her in the laundry room for the day while we both worked.  Our yard is good, but a determined dog could escape and I didn’t know how she’d be just loose in the house.  So I left her with toys and water and some treats and headed out for the day.  When I returned, it was to complete disaster.  Everything even remotely strewable was strewn.  My favorite fleece jacket had one arm chewed off.  Kaylee had ripped the molding strips from around the door and the fake window pane dividers off of the window.

And did Kaylee feel bad about it?  Dear God, the dog that met me was a completely different dog—frantic, penitent, manic and horribly ashamed of herself.  It was all I could do not to sit down and have a good cry with her right there.  But I managed to pretend that everything was okay and stay calm until she could calm down also.  After sending David pictures, I cleaned up the mess.  I still didn’t trust her in the yard and after what she did to the laundry room, wasn’t ready to let her have a crack at the rest of the house so I cleaned as much potential flotsam and jetsam out of the laundry room as I could find so that she would have “less to destroy.”  Haha!  The next day I came home to find that she had gotten into the furnace closet, pulled out the filters and destroyed them.  She had also begun chewing her way through the laundry room door into the house proper.

Both days, Kaylee greeted me with the same panic-striken look of fear mingled with shame.  “I’m so so sorry about the mess, but I was so afraid that you had left me forever and ever and ever and I’m so happy to see you and I’m so happy you came back because it was so lonely and scary abandoned in this frightening place without you to protect me all day long and now you’re finally back when I thought you were never coming back and did I mention I’m really, really sorry about the mess?”

I couldn’t leave her again.  She was rapidly reducing our laundry room to a scattered pile of atoms!  I knew if I gave her a crack at the rest of the house we were going to have to put rocking chairs on the porch and take up the banjo to explain the mess.  Fortunately it was December and I had also noticed that she seemed very at home in the truck.  So Kaylee began going to work with me every day.  And we began working on the separation anxiety.  Every day, I would get up, get ready, feed horses, walk the dog, then go through my “leaving” routine.  I would close all the doors, give her her treat ball, tell her to be a good girl and walk out the door to the car.  Then I would go back in the house and say “Come on Kaylee!”  And she and I would go to work.  At first, the interval of abandonment lasted no more than 30 seconds and even then, I would return to the same frantic dog that had greeted me after working all day.  But gradually, she began to understand that I was, indeed, going to return and she began to act calmer.

Amazingly, she was absolutely fine in a vehicle all day.  I would walk her on my prep period, but otherwise, she was alone.  Pockets spent a lot of time in the truck as a young dog when I was still shoeing horses, so I suspect she had led a similar life.  The truck, to her, was security.  And other than the separation anxiety, she was the best behaved and most well trained dog we have ever owned.  As time went on, I began to gradually increase the time I was gone until I was sitting in the car playing on the phone for several minutes before retrieving her and heading to work.

When Christmas break rolled around, I was planning to “work on the dog.”  I found out it’s kind of difficult to do any sort of abandonment training when you have family visiting and David home on vacation.  I was only able to leave her a couple of times right towards the end of Christmas break, but I figured she was doing so much better so let’s give it a try.

The first Monday after break, I left her in the house, presumably on the theory that she was ready; besides which, she had run out of things to destroy in the laundry room.  Bottom line?  She wasn’t ready!  That day, she tore all of the carpet out of the hallway and began chewing her way through the other side of the laundry room door.  She also attacked several of the miniblinds and destroyed a couple of them.  That one was tough to ignore, but I clamped my hand firmly over my mouth and jerked my head in a way that was supposed to indicate “let’s go for a walk,” and we walked until we were both okay and I could talk in a normal voice again.

So she kept going to work with me and I kept extending her morning interval until I reached the point where I was actually driving off down the driveway until I was out of sight, playing on the phone for 15 minutes, then driving back up the driveway to get the dog and go to work.  This led to some interesting encounters as the few other neighbors who live out there kept driving by and asking me if I was okay.  “I’m training my dog,” seemed like a kind of weird response, so I would just pretend to be on the phone.  I also discovered that there are very few places in our area that are actually out of sight of our house.  I wanted her to get used to me leaving her, but if she could sit and watch me out the window, that wasn’t exactly going to make her feel abandoned now was it?  But by the time our February break rolled around, I was ready to try for longer periods of time again.

Only I got sick.  This was no ordinary tickle of the throat, delicate snuffling into a tissue kind of sickness either.  This was down for the count, can barely crawl out of bed without hacking up a lung, need to stop and take a nap halfway to the kitchen because I’m so exhausted sickness!  But I was bound and determined to train the damn dog no matter how sick I was, so I dragged my sorry carcass out of bed at 5am each morning, hacked my way through pretending to get ready for work and drove off and abandoned the dog.  I actually went to work and did some filing for a few hours before heading home to “rescue” Kaylee and fall nearly comatose back into bed.

But by Wednesday, I simply couldn’t do it.  I got out of bed, pretended to get ready, then went back to bed—Kaylee’s training was going to have to wait at least one more day.  By Thursday, I was feeling even worse if that was humanly possible, so I combined feeling sorry for myself and dog training by heading into the clinic in Carson City.

Now anyone who lives 45 minutes from the nearest grocery store knows that you can’t just go into town to do one thing.  I don’t care if you have to hire someone to wheel your hospital bed around Costco (pausing by each sample table to administer a syringe of whatever goodies they are selling into your IV), you will inevitably have a list of 4000 items that you MUST not return home without.  Plus, I had to stop at Costco to pick up the supposedly life saving antibiotics prescribed by the clinic.  I was just thankful I didn’t have a list for Home Depot, but I did have to stop at Raleys and pick up the things I couldn’t buy at Costco.

And the clinic?  “Well…., you’ve only been sick six days and usually we don’t like to give antibiotics until it’s been seven days… but since you drove so far…”  Then they told me to get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids, and take lots of Mucinex—all of which I’d already been doing—lots.

But the end result was that Kaylee spent an entire day in the house and didn’t destroy anything.  I was ecstatic and croaked liberal praise in her general direction as I crawled back to bed to pass out!

It hasn’t been all sunshine and butterflies since then, but we’ve progressed to the point where she stays home in the yard all day now.  She’s never even attempted to escape from what I can tell.  She still carries an edge of hysteria in her daily greetings, but she has chosen to confine her destructive tendencies to merely tearing up the yard trying to get the lizard that just ran under the back porch.  Since our landscaping theme could be best described as “Weeds of Nevada,” this hasn’t really been a big deal.

At least filling in a hole is easier than figuring out what to do with the hallway.  But even that has its silver lining.  When Kaylee ripped up the carpet, we realized that there was actually linoleum under the carpet.  It needs some work since the people who built the house spattered paint over it (after all, they were going to put carpet over it), but with a little sprucing up, it will look nice and wear better than the cheap carpet anyway.  And when she ripped the molding strips from around the back door, Kaylee revealed that the gaps between door frame and house frame had never been properly sealed.  So we did her one better and ripped the molding strips from around the front door and found the same thing.  Now our front door doesn’t whistle during windstorms anymore.  We suspect Kaylee may have had a past life as an interior decorator and was just attempting to reveal the flaws in our house to us.

I still wonder about her past.  She is almost freakishly well behaved.  She does not beg to go with me in the morning even after of months of riding to work with me every day.  It’s as if she was used to being left behind and accepts it.  She is great with the horses and loves to surf on the center console and stare longingly at the herds of cattle we drive past in the valley.  She will chase the horses if they get crazy and run around, but will come back when called which is more than I could ever say about Ringo.  She mostly spends her roaming time chasing lizards, squirrels and rabbits.  Naturally, I encourage the squirrel chasing!

So I’m curious about her past because I can’t imagine how she ever got lost or how her previous owners didn’t tear apart heaven and earth trying to find her, but really I don’t want to know.  I don’t ever want to have to give her back.