Category Archives: Life on Life’s Terms

bird shot

drab day and woodpecker silhouette about all I couild shoot

I have made the decision to stay away from even possible sources of CoVid transmission on the advice of my good doctor.

He is right. Lifelong respiratory vulnerability is an open invitation for an infection. And being superannuated reduces the strength of the immune fresponse: a second reason to keep away. So I do it.

It is the right thing to do. If I get it, ipso facto I will have exposed others. Maybe even people I know and care for, although most of them are also my age or somewhat younger and staying put at home. But the nobility of it all has faded into….silence filled with the noise of troublesome thoughts and frustrations.

When we lived on the ridge on the side of the mountain in South Asheville, I could deal with cabin fever just by going outside. And if that didn’t work, I could watch Bruno and Zora and then after they died, Kaiser and Titan play.

(First row, third picture: me with Bruno and Zora at the Biltmore Estate. I would exercise them off lead==they were very obedient–and in the cooler weather, I wore a blue baseball cap with a German Shepherd insignia on it, a blue jacket with a Michigan patch on the front, khaki pants, and leather boots. People would gather to see the dogs do their routines and then ask us for directions. They though I was Security…. Second row, first two pictures TItan chasing or hovering, Kaiser leading Titan in chase or lolllygagging on the ground for more play–Titan really never got the lolllygagging.)

People places and things to visit and see — lots in the course of my life’s wandering journey. Lots of gratitude.

Bottom line, however, has been lifelong: antsy, bored, restless? Get out the camera and see what you can shoot and do better than the last time. that has led to Photos libraries of so many digital shots I’m embarrassed to name the number. The point is: taking pictures is, has been and always will be me.

The trouble is, off the mountain, in .8 acres rather than 6, in really unimaginative house a bit less than half the size of the mountain house, (it was all we couid get) is very practical for us and Roxy and Lutz, but quite sleep-inducing .

Rosy and Lutz: are partners but not much for playing together. Still each can havea big day and then they nap together.

Just less to see and do. Life on its terms: accept it and adapt.

OK. Maybe I can get some shots of that woodpecker who hammers away out in the trees around us.

I’ve been trying since April of 2017 — he or she makes a large racket but no image! It got to the place where I was sure, absolutely certain, that he knew I was down there with a camera and bigtime zoom lens. And just to spite me, he would always peck his tree caves on the other side of the tree from me.

Until two weeks ago, that is. It seems his arrogant self confidence got the better of him and he came out, onto the top of a couple trees on the neighbor’s lot, maybe 100 yards from me as the crow flies. And he came out into silhouette, perched on the top of one of those trees and even somewhat with his back to me. As if he were saying, come on, here I am, just see if you can get a good shot of me. I am, after all, very much worth it.

The shot at the top of the page is the result, the sad result. It was (yet another) foggy, soggy, misty greysky day. So my results, even with a good deal of photoshopping in Photos, did not get any better than this:

this was my first clue that I had here the very elusive, large and interesting pileated woodpecker, a male one. Note the red cap — clue #1 one, and the somewhat rectangular holes–clue #2: only the pileated ones make holes that shape. And this one is slim, not plump: a male.

I was happy I got that shot and that it could be improved so much — that one came from an almost black and white silhouette. I had a bit of my passion back, but it is addictive: I wanted something better, more interesting, more colorful, more revealing of this boy’s character.

In the meantime, I began to realize that if I want interesting bird shots from .8 acres and little flexibililty about shooting position, I’d have to find ways to make them come to me. And I have some ideas.

Two weeks later I was taking it easy (from what?) in the am with mly absolutely necessary cup of Aldi Coffee Store, when N out on the front porch called out, “he’s back”. I dashed out in bath robe and iPhone… and jhere he was. It was a clear, dry, blue sky and The Boy was showing off from the top of that same tree. His royal Aves Highness had bestowed his presence upon us once more!

It was a big risk, but I dashed back into the house to get the Canon with the Zoom Lens. To my utter surprise, he was still there, surveying his kingdom from his highwire throne:

Still just at the edge of my lens’ focus ability and a bit less sharp than I’d hoped, but I’ll take it.

When your photo quarry won’t move and it just a ibit too far away and you have very little position flex, then there are only so many pictures I at least can conjure up. So I wound up just watching, feeling a bit dissatisfied that I could not get any other more interesting shots,

And then he took off, hell bent for leather iln the air, headed to his next pecking place.

My lens is a sports lens basically. It is made for action shots and the Canon has a program for that. And I was using it for shots because it is not as persnickety about light as some other settings. So I aimed the camera by dead reckoning, line of sight guesstimate at where I thought he might be as he rocketed out of sight. But I expected not to have caught him at all, the odds were against me.

Oh well.

Later in the morning I was down here on the iMac, downloading the pix from the am into Photos. Boo. Nothing but blue sky and green leaves with lots of shadow.

But wait a minute. In those two shots there, the two before him against the blue sky came out with him as a blur in the heavens–what is that dark shadow? Lets try some adjustments in Photo…

Wow. How grateful for having lucked out and gotten those two shots. They made my day. He is beautiful. And beauty is so utterly consoling. Mr Canon: what a good job! the Gods were with us. Still just a tad indistinct but again, I’ll take it.

Now that’s the sort of bird shot I like. Maybe I have been looking to shoot the birds in all the wrong places. Mr Pileated Woodpecker is telling me that the richness of nature does not end just because my yard is smaller. Keep on doing your ‘tog stuff, Mr G!.

Who are we then?

Living today is often like finding out that I am in a real On The Beach–the last US submarine after the nuclear war has dropped me off on some formerly bustling sunbathing, volleyball playing, eating and drinking and beautiful body showing beach. The hissing of the silence is unnerving — did I hear a voice? was that a person just on the edge of my view? Now there’s just an empty everywhere, with traffic lights silently choreographing yellow-red-green-yellow-red… for traffic that no longer exists.

Where has the US of my father gone? How can something as bad as this be so quiet?

A while back a poem was making the rounds of blogs by the medieval German poet, Walther von der Vogelweide. Someone must have figured out my background and love for German Literature because without warning of any kind, links to it found their way here to Pane in the Tale.

It is a moving poem about losses in old age: Owê war sind verswunden, alliu mîniu jâr… Oh woe where have all my years disappeared to….. And indeed it does very eloquently express the woe and loss that the collapse of contact by outliving friends has caused.

  1. an older cousin, one of crucial importance to me in my youth mostly, and who has always occupied a bright place in my consciousness: gone. How can he be gone? It cannot be but is.
  2. the friend who died and who via a medium, who has no idea who I am, told his wife, tell Greg I miss our morning phone calls! He cannot be gone, he is too important.
  3. add Muffy, JJ, Steve, Butch, my first five German Shepherd companions,
  4. my parents, my uncles:
1944, late spring. That’s me riding on the back of that beloved uncle. Yes, the1st Lt. , who directed his field artillery unit in the Hürtgen Forest and would not talk about it

.

  1. my uncles who fought in World War Two. Wait a minute, didn’t I just the other day see the one who loved to play with me arrive in his summer khakis by train in downtown Detroit amidst a crowd erupting in tumultuous volcanic welcomes?

If it ended there, then OK Walther, you get the ring on the merry go round.

Today, however, it does not end there..

How can Trump stand where FDR stood, yes stood crippled, in the nation which came from far behind in 12/7/1941 to wind up last man standing at the end of WW2? How to adjust to the open and unhealing wound from the cutting bully behavior where civility and diplomacy always came to reside as mission critical competencies for 240 years?

Of our three foundational rights, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, life and liberty are cracked and happiness come to mean selfishness, greed. Was Jefferson wrong? Are we finally unworthy of the happiness derived from participation in the governance of ourselves?

Am I deluded in thinking myself a worthy member of a democratic state by expressing my opinions publicly? It would appear that 40% of our population thinks that we really need someone as President who “shakes things up, a disruptor”. How can we believe in that part of us who thought this country to be a unique experiment in equality–who felt that we were part of that?

How can we have the continued sense of safety and stability when the President has failed to catalyze a response of any positive sort to the largest physical threat humanity has experienced ever?

It is not just the failures that reduce us. His attacks which lame and dismanantle our democratic, republican institutions violate our trust in our President, and by easy extension, the political system and public values which put this incompetent world-hater into George Washingtons chair. We relied on those institutions. We invested ourselves, our trust, our expectations, our treasure, our safety in them.

Who are we then that this nation, which we thought was there for us, no longer is? How can we ever again think ourselves proud agents of an admired, successful state? After all, we elected him, not “they”. Who he is was as plain as the nose on your face or his perpetual sneering scowl.

Yet he won the Electoral College nod. Whatever currents of dysfunction and destruction carried him into office, they are ours now to stop in November and then, with the ardor of racing for survival, to correct .

And now the reports about fewer food choices begin to trickle in. It was predictable that food plants might have to close during lockdowns. It was predictable that we would need them open to eat. It was predictable that the one agency which could act across state lines, the Federal Government, would need to and could help keep it going till we could go back to work.

And who should have led that charge to protect food production, which never happened? That’s him, our DT, in the scowl shots above. What was he doing when the food reports came in? Dithering in temper tantrums about whether to hold briefings or not. He decided not to – -and could not keep that resolve for three days.

Who we are is in part a function of what level of needs we are working to satisfy — enter Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We have just had the rugs of self actualization, esteem, love and belonging as US citizens, and safety as people who need to eat yanked right out from under us.

This is not whining self pity. God does not like that: . It is not the poor-me’s. It is grieving the loss of the props of democracy and safe participation. . I am being pushed into protective thinking, pushed under by the waves of disorder as the river of consciousness is suddenly channeled over very stony rapids.

How then can I say that graphically?

Jump forward in time a few centuries in German-speaking Europe to the the 30 Years War (1618-1648) and Andreas Gryphius. In the horrid meat grinding, pestilent 30 years of war, he has to ask: was sind wir Menschen doch? – – well what are we humans then?

Menschliches Elende

Human Misery

Was sind wir Menschen doch!

What are we humans then!

ein Wohnhaus grimmer Schmerzen

a home for ferocious kicks,

ein Ball des falschen Glücks

a ball of false luck

ein Irrlicht dieser Zeit

a fen-fire of this time

ein Schauplatz herber Angst

a theater of tart worry

besetzt mit scharfem Leid

cast with bitter burnt lime,

ein bald verschmelzter Schnee

a snow soon melted away

und argebrannte Kerzen.

and burnt out candle sticks.

——-

Das Leben fleucht davon

Life is whisked away

wie ein Geschwätz und Scherzen

like idle chatter or some jest.

Die vor uns abgelegt

Who before us have laid down

des schwachen Leibes Kleid

the frail body’s cloak—

und in das Totenbuch

and in the obituary

der großen Sterblichkeit

of the great Croak

längst eingeschrieben sind,

long since had been registered:

sind uns aus Sinn und Herzen.

gone from mind and breast.

——-

Gleich wie ein eitel Traum

Just like a vain-hoped dream

leicht aus der Acht hinfällt

easily fades to black

und wie ein Strom verschleußt

and rushes onward like a stream

den keine Macht aufhält

which no power can hold back,

so muß auch unser Nam, Lob,

thus must our name, praise

Ehr und Ruhm verschwinden.

honor and glory disappear.

——-

Was itzund Athem holt

Whatever now draws breath

muß mit der Luft entfliehn

must expire with the air exhaled.

Was nach uns kommen wird

Whatever will come after us

wird uns ins Grab nachziehn

will pull us back into the grave’s jail.

Was sag’ ich? Wir vergehen

What am I saying? We fade away

wie Rauch vor starkem Wind.

like smoke before strong wind.

Who are we then? We are Americans who need to affirm all that Gryphius says, rid ourselves of the Trump Pestilence, and remember always: AMERICAN ends in I CAN.

___________________________________

NOTES:

Gryphius (born Greif) close witness of 30 Years War (1618-1648 much fought on German soil) plus plague, famine; ca. 67% of German population died during that time

Left strong impressions: Witness to burning and pillaging of town of Freystadt 1August 1632

Many of his images are events he saw and used also metaphorically-and can be read as metaphors for our time as well

Death was personal experience, not abstract: left his mood somewhat melancholic

Driven from hometown by war, made self an orphan but acquired excellent classical education

One of earliest poets to write in German instead of Latin

Must successful dramatist in German from 1616 to 18th century

Well educated man, named poet laureate by his wealthy patron; one of most important poets of German Baroque, improver of German as language of poetry

Time of political, social, economic upheaval & unbridled, seldom neither active nor almost active violence as status quo in certain of German principalities of Central Europe

Famous image of omnipresence of war: das vom Blut fette Schwert–the sword grown fat on blood

Asteroid 496 named Gryphia after him

THe lone (Old) plowguy rides again

Wear life like a loose suit of clothing

anonymous

Lost in the theater of the mind: catastrophe

Well the suit must have shrunk because it feels all too tight these days.

  • CoVid19 Knocking at our doors, and I fit the fatality profile a bit more exactly than I would like
  • Facing the fact of mortality — much more up close and personal this time around (but really: been there, done that already a couple times_
  • A man who has no concept of Presidential leadership and is derailing a bit more every time he tries to speak effectively
  • Senators and supporters who astoundingly still think the Emperor really doesn’t even need new clothes
  • The same man and Senators who increasingly raise the emergency alarm bell concern: have they been bought by some foreign, unfriendly potentate?
  • Deaths of friends,
  • Concerns about family , other older friends and the danger to them from CoVId19
  • Complete mishandling by so many ( but not Smerkonish, not Dr Faust at Harvard, not Dr Fauci of CDC) of the other CoVid19 virus, panic–
  • worn out from holding tight on rollercoaster with a lot more roll than coast
  • not up to snuff in staying in the moment and stopping the core of the concern, Thinking.

A couple days ago, I finally involuntarily just shut down.  Flat out, boom: all engines off. For some time I just sat in the recliner and stared back and forth from carpet, tp the wall, to the Apple TV’s moving screensaver of the Arctic, and Santa Monica,and moving across the Pacific towards the US West Coast: numb.

Then it struck me that numb is not all that bad. in fact it was half way to good. I could escape the whirling mind if I did what Eckhart Tolle teaches: get aware of surroundings, appreciate, feel a warm comfort grow along wothj anticipatory awareness, and drop out of or just dismiss the persistent, troublesome Thinking..

I tried — again and again. I had to switch off thoughts over and over again, but I kept at it for a bit. I had heard the Dalai Lama say that he and all spiritually skillful people have all the same emotions that the rest of us do, but they let go of them faster. So I should try. And I’d heard and seen Ram Dass say: don’t work on the thoughts, let ’em go, just let ’em go. So I did — over and over.

Escape via Stopping the Gold Rush

It did not take long before I was starting to flog myself with unkind Thoughts about how I could not stop my unkind Thought Out of nowhere, i recalled that .I’d read a couple of Goethes poems so often that I stopped counting (Auf dem See, Wandrers Nachrtlied II aka Ein Gleiches), and. just loved them without really knowing why.. And as the icebergs slowly moved towards me on the Visio screen, it hit me: they took me to a place of being in the present, floating on the imagery that locked me into awareness in a present moment and thus restored union with nature — of appreciative attending to those word pictures and not entranced by the golden lure of thinking I can think it all out. Alone.

On the Lake
And I draw in fresh sustenance, 
New blood from the untrammeled world:
How gracious and generous is nature, 
Who holds me to her bosom!
The wave sways our boat 
To the rhythm of the oars,
And mountains, nebulously reaching for heaven,
Meet our course.
Eye of mine, why are you downcast?
Golden dreams, have you returned?
Away dream, golden though you are:
Here, too, there are love and life.
A thousand hovering stars twinkle on the wave,
Soft mists drink the towering horizon around us, 
The morning breeze flutters over the shaded bay,
And the lake reflects the ripening fruit. 
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) , written 1775
 .Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), 1775
Elena Blackthorne 
United StatesWASeattle
http://www.editred.com/Uploads/st_92043_Translation_of_Auf_dem_See

Follow the word images so that you can escape that maelstrom, yuour thinking. Imagine that: a Ph D, that quintessential example of the power of rational. thinking, has led me to a place of no thinking at all! An irony? perhaps, but in the end, a gift And as I was being in the moment, something passed an idea into the warm comfort:  what about those winter times back up on the mountain– shift your focus to something that you like. Be grateful and express that – -convincingly for once.

Was someone or something watching me secretly? I had just finished reviewing many of the wintertime pictures I had taken in our mountain home between 1998 and 2017, when we moved..  

Out of the Water and Down the Ski Slope

 Heavens, how we miss our home. We put our backs and our souls into it — it looking so confidently and, for us, welcomingly down the ridge, oveer the edge and out into the cove far belowl What a treasure it gave us in living the  Blue Ridge mountain life.

HOME -a color shot in winter

Today, we are in a small home that is functional and right sized for us and Roxy and Lutz, our two German Shepherds (#s 6 and p7 since 2001 when Bruno came to us). This house fits our ages, but our hearts ache for the beauty, adventure, peaceful coexistence with nature — of almost 20 years.  It was and will always be home for both of us.

A wonder and also a fright at times was winter on the Ridge. It drew out of us special efforts, at times more courage than we really wanted to summon up, and for me, advengture in service. And that is because winter brought me, The Old Plowguy, outdoors on this:

Me on my Yamaha 660 Grizzly ATV with 5’ steel snow plow blade

For most of my years there, the Grizzly and I plowed the snow off our 1.6 miles of asphalt and gravel. Sometimes I did another stretch of about ½ mile (guess) on a second stretch of rough gravel road.

Plowing uphill just below our drive. Road was 12 feet wide–mostly. Here: most dangerous stretch, called Ski Slope, outside edge hard to find under snow. So you plow from the middle ot.

Over the years, the exhaustion of several hours muscling around 800 pounds of Grizzly and blade wore thin. Sometimes it was admittedlly dangerous. I plowed when the first snow fell at temperatures just above freezing, in order minimize the inevitable re-freeze ice pack forming under the second fall. If you were out and about on that day, you had to be back coming up the mountain by 3 PM. Otherwise, you would be trying to drive on an uphill icerink under slippery snow.

Meanwhile, I would be out there dodging those who thought that they could handle uphill icerinks in rear axle drive cars. Their cars would be found either stuck in the inside ditch, off on a turnout patch, or just abandoned all the way down by the mailboxes. I gave lots of folks an interesting ride going up the icerink on the atv. Griz never needed chains, but my passengers did not know that. I think they found the ride invigorating at least.

I found it tiring. The atv with blade is front heavy and in total weighed about 800 pounds. That means that the atv could easily become dangerous with the blade down, under power that is just a teen big too fast and without that sense for what the snow would permit that only experience could impart . Too much gas, too much speed, not having figured out where to dump the plowed load safely and all of a sudden the atv becomes a pendulum attached to the pinned down blade. That is 600+ lbs swinging across an icy road that is max 12 feet wide. And swinging towards a sheer drop of lots of vertical feet. You could easily wind up down that slope and have the atv come down on top of you.

It was hard work that took skill and experience. I would come home soaked through the underclothes and into the snowmobile suit I wore. And at temperatures sometimes near zero. Then the next day out I would go again to plow it all over again, but this time pushing a good depth of snow off of the thin ice underneath.

Somegtimes the first of the double snowfalls would start at dusk. So, avoiding the accumulation of two snowfalls occasionally meant nighttime plowing with no lights except the two and (later on) an led light bar on the front of the Grizzly.

NIghttine plowing, at the bottom about to plow another lane a mile, all uphill

That was what led me , Griz’s to our nighttime near catastrophic, amazing victory over mountain and weather.

To roll the tape back a bit first: The Grizzly was a wonderful machine. I got it out of self defense and used it with great pride and joy, When we first moved up on that ridge, there were no neighbors at all anywhere near at all. You have to understand: we moved from New Jersey where one neighbor’s house was almost close enough to touch, the other housed a guy who thought it really cool to run the truck engine he was building — right: building — outdoors at 7AM . Two houses away was the fire station, where rhe guys thought is just hunky-dory to sound the alarm at 3 am fire or not. And then there was the collection of unwanted large items. If you wanted to lose something, you just put it on the curb in front of your house and the five finger discount folks came by at night while you were either asleep or distracted by the fire siren and took it. There was no such thing as no neighbors nowhere to be seen or heard where we had lived in Joisey.

It all changed so fast. One day we were sleeping our last night in a Civil War house in Joisey: —one we liked despite all the intrusion of our all too up close and personal neighborhood. Two nights and some hundreds of miles later, we were trying to sleep in our new house up on the ridge at about 3000 feet. No friends, no dogs in the house, no way out in bad weather and lots of hints of Unseen Things in the woods just outside our windows.

OK, so we were no heroes. It was an adventure but also scary at times, occasionally ridiculously so. LIke seeing at night the two red eyes peering into our solarium from outside and not going away no matter what we did. We knew what the dangers in Joisey were, but here, in the woods, at night, there could be Things Unknown. And for nights on end we sat up scared stiff at the two red eyes staring, staring, boring in on use from the woods maybe 15 feet from our bedroom on the main floor..

We finally threw in the towel and moved the bedroom to upstairs. But there they were, thjose two red eyes had followed us and knew where we were higding out. What if now it could get in while we were upstairs asleep? That may have been when I cast off my Northeastern liberal refusal to have weapons in the house and bought a 12 gauge shotgun with buckshot at WalMart. And for what? It turned out that the red eyes were lights from the breaking glass sound detector we had ADT install on moving in. They were reflecting off the inside of the solarium windows which we could see from the main floor or upstairs.

After all, in Joisey, They could be coming to break in. Right? When we told the off duty Sheriff Deputy, who checked on our house after closing but before we moved in, that we had an alarm system installed (No Deutsche Schaeferhund dogs yet at that time), I thought he would have a heart attack laughing. And over time it was very clear: where we were and with the steep, narrow old logging road we had, having al alarm system was as useful an addition as a life saver vest would be for a fish.

There’s a lot more stories where that came from, but I digress – -which by the way I do very well. Back onto the trail here.

Ol’ Griz Saves Ol’ Greg

We moved into our house in December. Not too long after that, In our very first Blue Ridge winter, we had our first Blue Ridge snow and sleet storm. It started later in the afternoon and kept on coming and coming. We could see it filiing up the abojut 450 feet of our drive, from the windows of the library room over the garage.

Now you need to understand: I grew up in Michigan. Snow? So what! Walk miles back and forth to school in blizzards, deliver a Detroit newspaper from a one speed Roadmaster bike in the wintertime dark, in ice storms, in snow storms: the paperboy always delivered. And it was an article of growing manliness that you delivered never dismounting, never missing a porch throwing the rolled up papers. And I shoveled out our home drive and walks. So: I could shovel with the best of them, I had my monster snow thrower which I”d brought from NJ, I had the right gloves and winter clothes. Ice, sleet, freezing rain, fog on ice, snow? No problem, you can take the boy out of Michigan, but you cannot take the Michigan out of the boy. Yep, I know snow, can handle snow.

Except that in MIchigan the boy knew snow that was much more on relatively level land, the boy relied for any help on the neighbors all over the place. I was not used to dealing with snow on ice on slopes so steep that even some pro-plowers would not come up to help us out. And God, being the ever aware instructor that He She They is/are, made sure I got the right tools for mountains, a powerful awd atv with locking differential, and then learned fast how to use it. By the time we moved, I modeestly say with full confidence, I knew it all about atvs on snow. The boy had added to his snow management repertoire..

The library windows over the garage, from which we could watch ice and snow accumulate where we had to drive.
Driveway at the top.
half a mile up, where the road is narrower and rougher, you park down at the end of your drive near my plowed lane, if you wanted to get down and join the traffic you can hear 1000+ feet below.

As I watched the ice-sleet-snow stuff cascade down onto our very long gravel drive, that knot of fear began to tie up my guts. The slush was piling up on the drive and would turn to ice overnight. And I had no way to remove it: my showthrower brought from New Jersey was very heavy, unwieldy on slopes, and would have simply slid down the drive and over the edge just across from the apron of our drive several hundred feet down a sharp incline. And no way could I have shoveled any of it away.

This was apparently God’s first immersion course lesson in mountain life. As a friend once said, if you just can’t live any more with a chainsaw in one hand and your atv keys in the other, it’s time to move off the mountain. I was just learning that you had to do that.

Next morning our drive had 3 inches of ice on it. Three inches of frozen slush,– that much, I’d never seen before. How on earth were we going to be able to get out? Our supplies would soon dwindle away and, Oh my Gawd, WE WILL STARVE UP HERE AND NOBODY WILL KNOW IT !

I wish I could find pictures I am almost certain I had taken. Living up there brought endless and unexpected just great photo ops: that camera had very quickly almost attached itself to me as a new appendage. Which was just fine by me and has bought me wonders of gratitude now.

Long story short, across the cove, which was several thousand yards away from us, mostly nearly straight down from the outside edge of the road at the bottom of our very long gravel drive, Bob B who was building a log house a stretch up the mountain from us. Bob had an atv with a plow. I had heard him buzzing alonmg down on the road. He had established himself as The Lone Plowguy for our scattered, “gently sloping” (real estate-ese for steep inclines) community.

So, holding onto trees and frozen tall vegetation, I’d managed to get down to the road without falling. After waiting for a long time and freezing my you-know-what off, I saw him and hailed him for help. He’d been plowing a bit where the ice was not that thick but his atv would not handle that drive. Someone had in the meanitme hired a guy on a backhoe with a blade to scrape uphill…. After ;more frozen waiting, we got in touch with him when he came up our way and asked for his help plowing me out. He said no. He could not plow that but with the forks on the backhoe bucket,he could rip up the drive to let the chunks then melt over time. So he ripped up the drive surface in to large ice chunks and the pushed them over the side.

No charge. Mountain folks, real mountain folks, help each other –they are a very cooperative clan of highly individual, skilled, economical and just wonderfully friendly folks. All they ask is that you be willing to listen for a half hour after you greet them with Hey Billy, how’r yew? I came to value that immensely.

No charge that is except for paying another guy a lot to come up and regrade the whole drive.

So right then and there I decided, I was going to have an atv at least as powerful as Bobs, and then split up the road for plowing with him. I got the atv all right, — actually more powerful than Bob’s, but Bob would not share plow duty. He wanted the Lone Plowguy role for himself. He moved away however very shortly and that’s how I and the Grizzly became The Lone Plowguy. And came to feel just like he did about sharing the plowing on My Mountain Road.

The big test for the Plowguy and his old pal, Griz, came one evening some years later, in a two stage snow+ice+sleet storm. The weather guys had reported the Lone Plowguys Nightmare: wet semi freezing heavy snow with sleet and some ice coming down in buckets, starting at about 5 pm and going till about 9. And then starting up again in the morning with colder air and snow, a number of inches.

If that froze at night and then got covered in the morning with newfallen snow, we were cooked. Under that white blanket would be an icerink on a narrow, downhill slope. Not even chains would get you down. And we had had our fill of Florida residents who thought, no problem, I’ll just stoke up the Sequoia, hop in with my coffee traveler, and lope on down to the road which I know will be clear. Snow and ice? No problem, we will “adjust” –was how they put it the first time they tried it.

It did not happen twice unless they were unusually stubborn and had had their brains fried by too much sun and too many Pina Coladas,.

I had gotten real tired of getting either a cell call or having some snow covered Floridian knock on my door, after having trudged up the Ski Slope and up our drive, in deep snow, to ask me to stoke up mmy Sequoia or the griz and help him get his Sequoia out of the ditch halfway down thje ski slope. Because they had no idea at all how to shift the Sequoia into all wheel drive that could back that SUV backwards up a greased telephone pole. And ofcourse always blocking the road. Always before I’d had a chance to plow it despite my frantic pleas to wait till I let them know the road was plowed (also because packed tire tracks are hard to plow up without ripping up the road itself).. And always seemingly at some inconvenieent hour.t.

So at 4 PM I began donning the long johns, the insulated undershirt, the snowmobile suit, the cloth inside helmet head cover, the snowmobile gloves, the yellow goggles for evening, and the tall insulated rubberized boots that kept the feet from freezing sitting on the metal runners of Griz. It was a lot of work, and then I trudged out of the house, across the yard in deep snow, and down the flagstone path in deep snow to the unheated shed where Griz awaited –sweating like a dray horse on a hot day even before putting the key into the Grizzlys off and on switch..

You checked Griz all over: were the bolts on the plow tight? the contacts on the electric motor that pivoted the plow snug and still waterproofed? How about the winch rope that attached the 3,000 pound lift weight rated winch to the hundred pound steel 5 foot snow blade? Was the tank full and did I have extra gas, a shovel, some gravel, a rope with clamps, an engineeers hammer and steel spikes, a winch rope repair kit, my coffee traveler, and an extra set of keys? Was the bluetooth headset inside my helmet working to call Nancy if I slid into the ditch? If I slid over the edge, I woild not have to worry to call because 800 pounds of atv wouild tumble onto me as we fell and, well, you can guess the rest.

It always took Griz a long time to start. The shed was not heated and Griz’ oil was often like molasses in January. It seemed that he always decided to start just when I was about to kick him and give up. I think the profanily gave that extra needed spark.

Well all of the above transpired on that fateful evening. I have to admit, I’d never before plowed the whole road in the dark with snow and sleet falling. Nonetheless, I got down our drive and just plowed a lane through the near freezing slush, down the ski slope part of the road down to R’s house, cleared the left hand turn so that it would be less to push coming back up, and , went down that slope to tke hairpin turnaround, and from there, now on asphalt. down the hill — plowing all the way, with occasional turns to the left to push the snowmound I had accumulated in front over the drop off. I once calculated that Griz and I moved of tons of snow in a typical plowing episode.

I pushed loads of wet snow carefully over and down the outside road edge, often very near 90 degree straight down to the cove. Yes, cautiously, to be sure, but also confidently as I had done it all so often before. The lights on the atv to my infinite relief really lit up the road well.

I went down to the mailboxes –turnd around and stopped to take the dusk picture of the single lane you saw abo ve.

And then started pushing the heavy load in short bursts uphill and again off to the side. Griz was lifting, pivoting and lowering that blade like a champ..

At the top of the rise coming up from the mail boxes, on the left, was a friend’s house, He had a very steep and angled drive which was hard to shovel off by hand. He’d also had abdominal surgery and I knew that he would not be able to cleaf that off at all. He and his wife were also German Shepherd dog people — as were we, they also were owned by a couple of those great dogs. So I thought, what the hell, I’ll just take a moment and scrape it off for him.

At the top of his drive, where I’d first gone to get a bit of gravity help to plow down the sides, I raised my blade to back up and there was a loud WHACK noise and the blade slammed down hard onto the asphalt.

At first, belileve it or not, I was embarrassed and hoped that nobody would come out and ask, what’s wrong? I had no idea. The Lone Plowguy is, by definition, always in charge, always prepared, always cool calm and collected. That must have been another Lone Plowguy. The only thoughts in my mind were: what the hell just happened and how can I finesse this in front of my admiring crowds (none of which were out there of course)?

A quick inspection showed that the winch rope had snapped,and backlashed its frayed, wound cold steel lines into a Gordian knot inside the winch housing.. Now why peojple call that wound steel cable a rope I will never know. I sure could not tie it together like rope. I do know that men like that term and that it is especially a favorite of men who pronounce [asphalt’] as “ash-fault”, and with just a little bit of arrogant authority. Anyway, in a panic to see if I could repair it, I found that I had all the repair tools I would need, but none of the right cable clamps. Moreover, my cell was not reaching home from there, so I could not get a ride and leave Griz on trhe road to –do what with tomorrow: the damned blade was down, the cable snarled on he winch, and the socalled wintry mix was coming down harder. And really, was I going to remove my gloves in freezing sleet to try to unwind gnarled steel winch cable (take that ash-fault snobs) inside a still installed winch housing? Was I nuts?

Slowly it dawned on me with a bit of a combined chill and thrill: I would have to drive up 1.6 miles of road, ascending somewhere near 1000 feet, pushing through very weighty and unwieldy semi-frozen snow and ice mounds i’d left along the inside of the road coming down, on ice that had formed under rhe slush, on Griz without his ice chains and with 100lbs of blade locked onto the ground uphill in front of me. I was scared stiff that at some point the pushback from the accumulating onto the pinned down blade would cause me on the Griz to pendulum and slide backwards over the outside edge of the road.

Griz was about to show me his mettle or at best, I’d have a very long walk back home without a flashlight on ice.

I locked the differenrtial, put griz inro gear and shoved the throttle, as WW2 fighter pilots said about going into war speed in emergencies, “balls to the wall.”, (plastic balls atop the two engine throttles all the way to the firewall — sorry alpha males and imaginaative females, but it had no physiological meaning),

All I can say is: wow. Old Griz did not even-grunt in pain.! My boy just dug his rubber claws into the pavement, leaned up into the slope, and wrestled, punched, pushed and slammed the snow all over the place all the way to rhe garage door at home and in record time. After about one minute riding with complete trust in Griz, I just leaned into the incline with him and we had just a unmatchable victory adventure up that dark little narrow old logging road, riding in complete harmonious mutual control.

Man did I love it: the Lone Plowguy Rode Again! It never got better than on that night.

In all this story telling, however, I have missed one part of my life with the Griz: the sense of thrill going up and down the slopes on a bright, cold morning, slopes in such pristine, clean, white blankets of snow. I wished old Griz could ferry me and my cameras but leave no tracks:the newfallen snow is so utterly soothingly beautiful.

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Up to the top

Hail, from the Victors

Well there you are, now a sort of digital Tonto to my equally digital Lone Plowguy. But you know, as I’ve been immersed in writing this, figuring out how to get video into a block but mostly closely examining my pictrures and videos to see where I want them to fit in this narrative, there has been very little thought angst about the maelstrom of maladies swirling around us these days. Mostly I feel–have emotion–and it is the emotion we call gratitude, although I guess there is thought there too. Do I care? No. It is just great relief. Thanks for reading my sharing.

Carpe Diem and Memento Mori

I walk with Roxy each day in the local municipal Cemetery.

It started out because anywhere else, our self absorbed fellow citizens walk with their dogs off leash.. And the do it wherever they please. I suspect that many of them really get a kick out of scoffing at the leash laws right in front of all the signs that say, All dogs on leash all the time.

It is tempting to skewer that behavior with the long thorns of acidic sarcasm and wicked wit. Let me just dismiss that path by saying that we are merely seeing another manifestation of the heads in the sand, I’m entitled Unites States of Narcissism. It is our culture now.

i was struck by the quiet in the cemetery. Expecting to be put off by being around dead people, I was surprised. No smell of rot. No hands reaching up out of the grave to grab Roxy and pull her, screaming, back down undergroud. No apparitions being exhaled like thin smoke by the grave. Not a thing from Hollywood at all. Just quiet and grey stones in varying stages of wear stuck at tottering angles, like uneven teeth in an old man’s mouth, On brown grass. Gothic trees reaching with concentration camp limbs silently to something we cannot see, lording their powerful shadowed presences over us lesser mortals.

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Nancy had found this place after having been frightened by dogs off lead while walking Roxy also. She had urged me to go, but I was reluctant. Why?

We had made a memorial to our three beloved German Shepherds Zora, Bruno and Kaiser. All three died in our house on the mountain with us right by their sides. I took to heart what Butch, our deceased Schutzhund trainer had said was his moral commitment to his GSDs: he would make certain that the last thing any one of them saw on this earth was his loving face. Amen. Me too.

We had found a cross shaped piece of wood, the day after Bruno died, on a spot in the woods where he loved to lie. More than coincidence, random chance?  I stained it, found rocks and spray painted them gold, and made a little memorial mound on that spot. I loved to go there, sit on the bench I’d made of cinderblocks and boards, remember them while loving the beauty of the woods and feeling, still achingly sorrowful for their absence, grateful for their lives.

On the last night we were in that house, a really perfect cool clear night on last March 29-30, we took the urns with their ashes, and spread them in our woods memorial chapel.  I read a farewell passage and prayer we had written for the occasion. We did the same at all their favorite outdoor spots.

That was supposed to have tied off the loose ends of grief. It did not. It did not because it was aimed,ever so subtly, at relieving me, at least, of my grieving for them — which I still am doing and most likely will do until the day when I die too. I had not gotten the message.

The cemetery is not colorful, and the plastic flowers or wilted real ones just emphasize by contrast the grey, colorless ness of a whole bunch of old and new graves. It is clear to me that there will always be loose ends, that I could well be one of those headstones one day, and at 76, not too far off.   My memorial spot back up on the mountain– well, it was not an acceptance of life on life’s terms.  And that was a well meant mistake, an act of American pretend.  It was a way to hang on.  You cannot hang onto anything gone from this world, it’s like trying to grab and hold a chunk of The Present.

What’s left? For me what’s left is the realization that this life, which seems so hard and sturdy with its atoms and molecules and thumbs that hurt when hit with my hammer, is just an illusion.  When you cannot stop the show and cannot hold onto the present, how can it be otherwise?  A glorious, beautiful, super ultra high definition movie which we crate as we act out our roles.    A moving feast.  What a theater, what a chance to grow!

So: Memento mori–remember that I too must die.  And I’ve discovered that in doing that, I find much much more of rich joy in that ephemeral elusive thing we call the present.  Heavens, today is a great day to die on!  I now know that native American wisdom to be a statement of gratitude for reality, not a morbid preoccupation with Holllywood’s contorted view of death and dying.

Thank heavens for my cemetery walks.  I have my beloved Roxy with me, sometimes my dear, patient, loving and long suffering Nancy —  and being there above ground provesI’ve got one more day on which to enjoy the abundance of God’s earth. Carpe diem and memento mori.

Can I help you, sweetie?

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I am by most counts 76 years old. Not that it pleases me much. But I’m fed up with ageism.  It’s everywhere, like a fungus among us.
  • The doc says not to worry abut X YZ because, uh, well uh, ahem! – you know, at your age you might ..uh well-uh you know what i mean, right? As we grow older certain things do not work-as well, you know what I mean? Right?
  • The bored and distracted cashier at the grocery store assumes im already-a demented, doddering, simpering, half blind , weak old nincompoop who cannot find or then carry his own  groceries and so says: here let me carry them to your car SWEETIE/HONEY/etc.  I decline as politely as they were when offering.
  • It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy being waited on.  No.  I decline because of  the packer’s behavior:  either s/he is, my  age or ojder and  looks like s/he is about to topple over just by himself — or because being young and strong, the packer has a look of blind+deaf+dumb indifference that says you cannot breach this wall in a thousand years oh boring old person.
  • There is no winning.  They want us whitecaps to lose their oomph.  Maybe when we are vital and aged ,it upsets some teenage universal order.  Who knows?  It does not matter.  When I declinebecausee of these reasons,  these slobber-mpommies inevitably come back with;     are  you sure DARLINGs
  • I get the same bs from some nurses, waitresses, bank tellers, Wendy’s order takers, secretaries vendors eyc ad nauseam.
They mean well but they dont know!
Sure the body chsnges over the years.  Just ask my pants. But so does the wisdom  of been-there,  done-that. Its simple and I demonstrated it this.   morning with our 1’ foot of snow. You just work fast so that your body is  done before your slow, turtle like brain knows it has hapoened.  Take a peek:
 And the next little floozie who calls me HONEY/SWEETHEART/DARLIN’ etc better watch out.  My slow brain might think she’s asking for a quickie — I might take her up on it, and she won’t ever again think we HONEY+SWEETIE+DARLIN’S  are slow, plodding slug like creatures incapable of our own little interpersonal explosions. She wont know what hit her ( neither will I but it will be fast there isn’t much to be quick about any more..) Or I can just tell her off:  Cut out the talking down to me (can’t say condescending:  it is above the 4th grade reading level — our just peachy national reading level average – -the tweet level of comprehension) HONEYLAMB, its rude, pushy and presumptuous. Need to know how to spell presumptuous?  Finally I could just watch as she laughs herself to death after I take her up on the presumed flirt.
One way or the other, it would be fondly to be hoped that SWEETIE/HONEY/DARLIN’ won’t ever mean the same thing again.
At least thats my own sweetie fantasy.  Going back for my mid morning nap.
 Now what was my name again, sweetie?
)😜😇

Titan-o-man, so grand: farewell our friend

I keep beating myself up with self-recriminations.  Why didn’t I read the signals clearly and get help for Titanoman earlier?

It began after we gave him a bit too little food with his morning Augmentin on Wednesday.  He walking into another space from his bowls and vomited.  He repeated vomiting until it was dry heaves in the vet’s office in the early afternoon. An exam, more blood drawn and a hypothesis:  his stomach was upset by the powerful anti-biotic.

But he needed to calm things down so that he could continue the Augmentin, the supplement which protects the liver, the prednisone and if he had any pain, the combo of Tramadol and Gabapentin.  He needed all that to keep the lymphoma at bay and keep his blood count normal.  He needed all that with this his third chemo protocol, the “rescue” chemotherapy, to give him maybe another two to six months, outside, to live.

And on Wednesday he refused to take any medications or eat any food after the regurgitation spasms.  He had been given a shot of Cerenia and it helped with nausea, but something else was going on: not eating and hobbling on the left rear leg.  The vet said take him home and let’s see if the Augmentin’s absence and the anti nausea med does the trick.

It didn’t.

By mid afternoon he was having troubles getting up and walking.  We were at wits’ end about what to do until we found that our former vet here in our new hometown offered home care!  Unbelievable.  Nobody offers home care any more as a routine part of a medical or vet medical practice.  But she does. And she did.

He verdict was:  probably his spine.  Lets give him Gabapentin by mouth, Prednisocw by mouth, more Cerenia and then morphine just to be sure.  And if he cannot or will not get up after the morphine wears off around 11 PM, then tomorrow we will have to end his agony and life:  euthanasia.

His morphine rest was restless.  He really did not sleep, he just vegetated and began panting in earnest.   OK, that could just be sensitivity to morphine. We will know after 11 PM what the score is.  (Come on buddy, you can do it, God, come on, don’t let this wonderful friend down, don’t make Nancy suffer what I suffered when you couldn’t help us save Kaiser from hermangiosarcoma that windy night out on our deck April 2 last year. Please, please, please…)

He stood by himself twice between 11 PM and 3 am today.  By 3 am he could not stand unless we hoisted him in the Help ‘Em Up Harness which Bruno had and which the vet and vet tech had helped us get onto him. Otherwise he was struggling with episodes of heavy paying and open mouth breathing while on his side in the hall, struggling to try to move himself, failing back into exhaustion and not getting up.


(Come on bud, you can do this!  You just need a little rest and you’ll rebound.  After all your blood tests just 5 days ago were all totally normal and your lymph nodes all right sized.  If you’d only just eat a little, just drink a little more water.  Should we try to get you to an Emergency Vet?  Don’t know if we can lift you into the back of the car.  But I think you want to be in the car, which is your safe haven and favorite place. Right?  How abou some sign of agreement? But if I get you into the car, am I doing this just so that I’ll feel better or is it really going to serve you?  I’m so rightly strung that I think I;ll bust.)

At 3 we realize that we need help, even if it is for a euthanasia. (Large, hard lump in my throat, nerves screaming, mind whirling, fatigue pushing me hard but not overtaking me). The Emergency Vet Hospital 15 minutes away says get him here. We haul and hoist him into the Outback “trunk” area on top of an old, soft deep comforter.  He smiles  the car is one of his homes.  He is safe.  By 4:30 we are there.

This loss is especially hard for Nancy: Titan was one of the greatest loves of her life. She and he were, are and always will be one. that is a once in a lifetime inimitable gift. Precisely that, however, insures that she will feel even more sharply the aching emptiness of the hole beside snd inside herself where he used to be, while the healing process of grief takes its course.

As for me, as I write I am quietly rehearsing my habitual though basec on his being nesrby: “come here bud, lets play tug the ball”. In that very instant Inrealize with a feeling of almost nauseating bottomless falling, that his physical being cannot do that any more.

Then I’m knocked down by the very big disaster for me, on older fellow who found his only effective cure for lifelong very severe ADHD in the companionship not just of dogs, but especially and powerfully with trained GSDs. The big knock down is realization.that for the first time in 17 years there is no GSD awaiting us at home when we return is daunting. It ties up my gut in fear.

Ut at least helping him with his dying we got right in the end. We are so very very glad that he died while in the hospital; we took him there because we could not handle his struggle by ourselves. And we wanted him and his body to be treated with the utmost care and dignity.

Things got so unbearably painful for him and us that night. We filled God’s inbox with prayers, petitions, even outright commands in less than civil language. With just an bour left for him, We achieved that at nearby Western Carolina Regional Animal and Emergency just in time.

We are so utterly grateful for the unconditional love he brought us — just as Bruno,Zora and Kaiser did. We are grateful to German Shepherd Rescue and Adoption of NC for having brought Titan and Kaiser to us. Our GSD companions have lined our lived for 18 years with safety, steadiness, solace and sweetly intelligent companionship.

Titan came to us on the 19th of April, 2013 via Connie from German Shepherd Rescue and Adoption, a group of some of the most loving and tough people I’ve ever known.  It takes a lot to have to face a dog whom some dead-souled human starved, intimidated, kicked in 3 ribs and knocked out a tooth while scarring his muzzle and psyche — all before dumping in the woods to die? Is that love exceeded anywhere?

That’s what happened to Titan and the context in which he had lived when I fist met him at GSRA’s Adoption Event in March, 2013 in Cary.

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We know who did it from what he feared when he came to us:  a slim person, wearing dark shoes or especially boots, jeans or especially cargo pants and a baseball cap,.  We think this person,  if such a lowlife can deserve the appellation of human implied in the word person, must have been a male:  titan was terrified of me, cowering, baring fangs, growling at first.  We think he was protected by a woman–he had no fear of any woman who is comfortable around him.  And in some way the back seat or utility area in the back ofd an SUV type vehicle was his safe haven:  even dying, one hour before his body gave out, you could see the realization and joy at being in the back of our Outback–regardless of going to his final vet visit.

He became noticeably more agitated at the vet hospital.  It was hard to draw blood because it was thickening inside his veins.  He began to breath with his mouth wide open, tongue hanging out, long, loose, pink in color but dry as a bone and oozing a sweet-rotten smelling green nd black gelatinous goo which had to be wiped from his lip:   dehydrated saliva.  He was alternately restless and almost senseless.

The vet was in a hurry to get his blood tested.  Maybe there was something that could still be done.

(My God, is he dying right before our eyes?  He isn’t even whimpering.  Don’t worry bud, we’ve got you covered, we won’t let you suffer :  dammitallanyway, the signs of all this were evident 5 hours ago at home, my God, my God, my God it was my need to keep him around and then to be his savior that made him suffer needlessly.)

I say that to Nancy.  She says remember we did not think we could lift him into the car. (Yeah, I forgot, it took us one hour to move him basically two car lengths with the Help ‘Em Up harness and then every ounce of strength we two oldsters could muster to heft him, feeling like a burlap potato sack filled with lead potatoes, into the rear.  Oh thank you God;, he looks so peaceful here.  He seems to be smiling, and the panting is far less severe.  He’s safe and we did it!)

The vet had sprinted with the blood to the testing area at about 5:15 am.  He’d given T an injection of painkiller to slow the stress on the heart and lungs.  Nancy was talking to him – T – and turned to do something at the counter in the exam room. I was sitting a bit away and behind where Nancy was standing.  The instant she turned away, he raised his head, looking for a split second up towards the corner ceiling in the room to his front and left.  He had not been able to raise his head or even react for hours now.  And now suddenly he sits up?

But that’s not even the  half of what I saw and cannot explain.

Just before Nancy had turned around, I had noticed that, lying there on his side, panting,  those deep, large brown eyes had begun to shine a glazedgolden brown .  Suddenly the great bear head raises up, just as if he were at home and had heard something outside that was not supposed to have been there:  high alert.  It was as if he’d seen something beyond that room.  But his alert was suddenly ecstatic.  We all know what our dog looks like when he is overjoyed to see someone he loves.  Those golden brown eyes the instant he showed his joy glowed molten gold.And then, the golden light just stopped and he slumped slowly, head first and neck curved, as he’d been doing when tired from exertion all night to his right.  My eyes went instantly to his abdomen:  the lifting and falling of life was gone.  He was dead.

I had seen something that we just do not get to see on this earth.  Please don’t ask me to prove it — you were not there, I was.  It overwhelmed me, I knew biblical awe in a flash, but my mind was kicking on my thoughts saying, tell her, tell her.  God I did not want to tell her that but I did.  She screamed for the vet — but more  for her loss, and he came running.  No heartbeat.  Just a very very handsome boy lying there, eyes open but with a gentle far away stare, those large black coal nugget eyes that always had had that polish and questioning look, were dull and blank..

I am editing this on October 23.  My oh my how that hole in my life still aches, how that empty hall still hangs dark with shadows of his suffering and last nights struggle.  I’d do anything to get him — and Kaiser, and bruno and Zora — back.  But I digress.

The blood tests showed that his kidneys had failed.  We were right in deciding not to do resuscitation.

So it would not have made one iota of difference whether we had gone there earlier or not.  He was on his way out all during those two days.  He was trying to tell us that by not eating.  He was trying to get, not to the hospital, but back into the car. At least just about his last experience was a 15  minute car ride.  He wanted to leave from his safe place.

Of course now we are enduing the wrenching and lurching agony of separation, parting with no debrief afterwards.  We are doing all the phases of grief.  But they say that the brain remains active for a period after the heart stops.  I am so utterly grateful that that night shift vet gave us 10 minutes with him and then promised dignified and caring treatment of his body.  Indeed when he came back, he sat down in front of T, told him how handsome he was, and  stroked his head, neck, legs and sides.  But in those 10 minutes, when I now believe his true eternal self had made those eyes glow and was still gently hanging on to this world, he heard, saw, felt and knew a love song enough to break the bonds of death itself.

The miracle was that we wound up doing it all just right.  Or more accurately: we were guided by him to take all the right actions at all the right times.

We are devoted to German Shepherds and after a pause to grieve and reorient ourselves, not only want to bring more into our lives.  We feel strongly that we must do that, that it is our lot in this life to provide a home and a good life for GSDs misunderstood as “aggressive”, rejected,  dumped, abandoned, beaten, starved and worst of all, ignored. We owe it to Bruno, Zora, Kaiser, Titan.  Having our hand out for them is our responsibility.

Thank God he chose Nancy for his earthly commitment.  Thank God that we had the honor and sublime joy of having been his companions for four years.  Thank God that we gave him in return the best life we could.  Thank you Titan for having given me just a quick glimpse of whatever it is that animates all life.  Thank God for Titan and German Shepherds.

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ALL I WANT

As usual, I awakened at 4::30 r this am to the alarm of my sciatica.

Wash, make bed, get dressed, come downstairs to have my warmed up yesterday’s Gevalia half French Roast  and half house blend decaf.  And of course hope that pounding on the microwave door will one more time knock the spring that operates the switch that causes the plate to go around while those magic energy waves warm up the coffee which the docs say I shouldn’t drink.  But I need a bit of a jump start these days, some help getting into the new day’s new levels of challenges.  I knew what awaited us and was trying fervently not to think about it.

I enter the kitchen area, and there is our Titan, everybody’s friend, the soul of gentleness, curled in his favorite corner of the kitchen, back against cabinet doors, and butt tucked into the corner.  He likes to have his back covered on two sides.  Maybe it was something he learned while surviving in the wild after his first owner abandoned him:  be able to see everything that’s coming at you.  

This morning I saw it right off the bat:  his GSD stare said to me as clearly as if it were on a billboard: :  I need your help.


Titan is never there in the kitchen when I get up.  He is Nancy’s Velcro dog.  He will  not leave her side voluntarily, ever unless there is someone or -thing he does not know on the house’s turf or there is something wrong with him.

There was.   He had lost some urinary continence control.  Of course that got us to the vet lightning fast.  Two visits later we found out that X-rays pictures revealed an enlarged thumus gland.  That’s the gland that produces antibodies for puppies.  When the dog is adult, the gland withers, but leaves enough tissue for tumors to form.  And it could be lymphoma.  Hastily an appointment was made for this morning to see the vet oncologist about what this is and what if anything at all, can be done.  

The X-rays yesterday left him ground down to a nub of his usual frolicking, cuddling, clinging self.  We were going to do it all over again today…. And more bad news from today’s round of examinations  was the last thing we wanted to hear.

Yesterday I wrote about forbearance in this time of my world turned upside down.  I hope to keep that resolve in all matters for another 24 hours.  Forearance is one thing, the ongoing distress of the dawn of a US I don’t know or want to know is something else.
Still, the unprecedented developments in our political system have left us with our sense of safety shattered.  This is not about the why and wherefore of that.  We got there because we set the stage and wrote the play.  The current actors simply auditioned for the roles we created and were offered the job by enough of the audience to make the offer stick.  Forget about whether it was right, wrong, good or bad faith:  the props are gone and they are not about to come back without a fight.  And that means I, for one, and Nancy, for another, no longer can trust that our speech will be protected, that our healthcare will be affordable, that our national defense will protect us against cyber and terrorist attacks, that our economy which depends on stability and predictability in all those other factors will no longer work for anyone except the New American Aristrocracy which owns 99% of all we use and have and to which our new Leader belongs or wants to.

Abraham Maslow taught us that our behavior is driven by the needs of the moment, and the more basic the need, the more basic and protective our thinking and behavior.  We all have just been plummeted from the opportunity to be self fulfilling to the need to be self protecting.  I don’t need to say it will get worse, because this disaster is trouble enough by itself.  The security, tolerance and even handed governance of our state and federal institutions,  on which we built and relied all our lives,  is at very least in grave danger, enough so that it just can’t be counted on any more.

Losing an animal companion is an unequalled trauma for me.

And that or any other stress of life now must ride the crashing cultural whitecaps whipped up by the turbulence of the storm which has settled where the spin and the buck used to stop, our governments.  That violates a basic assumption of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address:  the foundation of our nation.  It releases an unrelenting, robust and totally arbitrary distress. 

Unfortunately even in times when my fundamental assumptions about this country are not in the line of fire, I cannot by myself feel sufficiently grounded and protected.  The trouble is, I am missing an  internal gyrocompass and bubble level, also the operational mental and emotional filters to manage the attack of stressors.  Consequently, or maybe instead, I work and have always had to work through very high levels of multi-factor lifelong, untreatable ADHD and a few of its troublesome spinoffs.  That means the work others do easily in a straight line, you do twice:  once is wandering swirls and the second time as editor.  Everything, such as this post for example, takes you twice as long as it does others.  And they don’t get it, neither do they care.  You are on our own:  distress.   All that whirling, circular attentativness means, de facto, that our emergency antennae must always be fully operational:  you’ve learned that you miss things and sometimes dangerously big things in the maelstrom.  Concern adds more distress.  Finally, restlessness operates like spraying water into a WW2 P47 Thunderbolt engine in a climbing dog fight:  it makes the maelstrom speed up in bursts.  You go past things you suspect are important but which you cannot really recognize in the blur.  

Distress is a default condition.  Or at least for me.  So I can ill afford to have another source added, about which i can do nothing.  But there it is:  deal with it.

Dealng wth it begins with thinking that I have a choice:  I can bemoan, even eloquently, the outrages of the slings and arrows of fortune or I can look for the sliver lining in the cloud.  For most of my life I’ve bemoaned very skillfully and all too well, keeping the focus on me, King Baby.  That did not lead to much peace of mind, our current cultural love affair with narcissism notwithstanding.  My spiritual gurus have taught me however that I always have the choice of attitude.  They want to carve into my mental concrete the notion that peace of mind, not control of outcomes, is the only viable goal of life in our woebegotten but wonderful world.  And that outcome can be obtained by me — I don’t know about you — through a lifetime discipline of self criticism, making amends for my wrongs, and  keeping myself spiritually fit so that I can be of maximum service to those around me — all those:  dogs, plants, insects, people, trees (read The Secret Life of Trees if you doubt it), all life in short.   One day at a time.

That’s the foundation, and I am grateful that living by those principles is a matter of progress, not perfection.  ,

I look back at 19 years living on the ridge in Western North Carolina, and know now that this in one respect was exactly the worst possible spot on earth for me, just me, to have moved to.  The sort of stimulation I need to manage the mental maelstrom of ADHD does not include watching the grass grow, or just sitting and watching the view of the mountains in the morning–picture below.  (I just love the pano option on the camera on my iPhone 6!). For most it is an experience that brings serenity.  For me it brings that also, but only until I start to get restless and feeling vulnerable, irritable and discontented.  I realized after a while that our two first German Shepherds, Bruno and Zora (2000-2013) filled in the empty blank.  For reasons I now can grasp, but eluded me for decades, from them alone so far I get grounding and secure.


I am so grateful for the gifts of being permitted to live with Titan, Kaiser, Bruno and Zora.  Restless?  Kaiser or Bruno would just show up at my side, lean on my leg, put his head onto my leg and look, with those sad inviting eyes soothing the whitecaps in my mind’s tempest.  And Kaiser and Bruno did that without ever having been asked, not verbally anyway.


Now only Titan is left, and he has a diagnosis of  death sentence:  lymphoma. 

Titan does for Nancy what Kaiser (above with head on my leg) did for me. I get almost nauseated by the thought of her losing that because I know only too well what trauma the loss of Kaiser was just 8 months ago.

I’ve accepted that this might be the defining of the path to the end of this life for Titan, but could be just another bump.  I’ve reminded myself that there is no point in suffering from wounds that have not happened and in all likelihood, probably won’t.  The thought came and went, but it left in its wake a dark puddle of doubt and anticipatory grieving.  The image of being without my personal service GSDs is daunting at least.

How to get out of that?  How to relieve the distress?  The only trick I know is to stop the suffering and start the servicing. I can get release from that dead end built into my life, my ego, only by doing something for others and if at all possible, not get found out.  That sounds like some great moral principle, some spiritual maturity that will make my soul glow in the dark.  It isn’t.  It is purely self protection:  I feel better that way.  I”ve learned that I’m not so much a thinking person, as I am a feeling person.  So I need to smooth out the path of change in expectations so that the bumps are bearable.  Being of service to someone else diverts my attention from myself, feels good in and of itself, perhaps is of use to someone and most of all gets me back into the stream of life.  If I do that, then the searing conflagration of torture becomes the purifying refiner’s fire.

So today is the day to help Titan on whatever path his journey must take.  Today is the day to find other opportunities to get beyond myself and be helpful –and I know what those opportunities are but choose not to name them.  If I get credit, then all it does is boost my ego.  The spiritual pollution of ego boosting — no matter what the PR folks calll it — it seems to me, is glutting the spiritual and moral marketplace in this world.  Poison by any other name will still corrode as well.  Anonymous or hidden service, on the other hand, is still all too rare a commodity.  At age 75 I have little desire to add to the oversupply of pollutants or poisons.  God’s world does not deserve that.

Brave words.    I love my German Shepherds with all my heart, mind and soul.  They and I, like Kaiser-Bruno-Zora-Titan and I, can be a winning team.  We can share respect, we can help each other.  And they teach me how to love and give me a lifetime of opportunities to practice it without once getting it wrong.

Thank heavens the Gods do not demand perfection, but just ask for progress in learning to love.  

That’s all this old, tired, and –today — unsteady man really wants.