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Weekly Column

2/04/18:  Some Decisions Affect Everyone  

Numbing cold and snow helped Joe and me decide to ‘up sticks’ again, just months after last Thanksgiving, when we’d driven down to Pensacola to spend that holiday in relative warmth. Now we were once again fleeing to Florida. At 3 a.m. Wednesday we piled into our elderly low-milage GMC van, with eager Bryn the first one in. She recognized the signs that another adventure was beginning. Bryn loves watching the ever-changing scenery from those big windows. (Very occasionally she’ll see a dog’s head hanging out of a passing car’s window, ears flapping, eyes shut, nose working vigorously to sort out grazing cattle sniffs.) 

13 hours later we rested at a La Quinta Inn just south of Nashville (thus avoiding the next morning’s into-the-city traffic jam), and were off again on Thursday by 8 a.m. 
At 5:30 p.m., Panama City Beach, and our hotel, were just minutes away. 

Hey!! This particular terrain was familiar! 

“Dee, remember that great dog park that was part of a large recreational area? Wasn’t it right along this highway?” 

Yes! And within one minute we saw its entrance and turned into the park, delighted that Bryn could stretch her legs. Checking into our hotel could wait a bit longer... 

A funny thing: as soon as we moved through the big gates leading to the baseball/soccer fields- and eventually to the dog park area, she stood, vibrating. She knew this winding road! 

And sure enough, there was the bark park- empty now, as it was dusk. But who cared? She rocketed round and round its spacious interior, gleefully leaping into and out of the huge sandpit. 
Eventually she paused, panting, eyes shining. 
This place is good, Boss! 

After catching her breath she moved around more methodically, catching up on the news. 

Then a red SUV drove up. Hooray! Company! Bryn dashed to the fence to greet the visitors. 

A small, slim young woman sat in her car for a few minutes, thinking. Finally she got out and let her dog into the park. He was a big, sleek mix of black boxer and hound possessing lots of rakish charm. Bryn and he immediately began playing catch-me-if-you-can and wrestling. 
Watching them, she spoke. “I’m glad there’s just your dog, for now. They’re having fun, aren’t they? Towser needs this. It’s been a while since we’ve been here.” 

I smiled and moved closer. There was something arresting- even wary- about her manner. This very pretty woman was tense, but determined, I thought. 

Her eyes met mine, noting my puzzlement, and suddenly her story poured out. 

“I brought him here two weeks ago to play with the other dogs. There were lots- maybe 15- -but then- suddenly, a big golden retriever/collie mix charged me, clawing my face and snarling horribly!” She paused, thinking back. 

“I’m so glad I had a coat on: it protected my arms...” 

I saw healing claw marks marring her smooth, blemish-free face. 

“I was so shocked, and so scared! The attack came out of nowhere. That enraged dog was trying to kill me! Lots of other people ran over to pull it off: it took every bit of strength they had. Its owner was horrified, and deeply apologetic, and he took it away. I was incredibly lucky to escape with scratches. I couldn’t stop trembling for a long time. 

“The story gets worse. The man arrived at his home, got the food bowl ready, and again, with no warning, his dog murderously attacked him! He somehow managed to wrestle it off, but he’d been bitten multiple times. He chained it to his truck’s bed and rushed to a vet, who found that the animal was in the terminal stage of Rabies, which had rendered it insane. The owner immediately drove to a hospital, where they did a complete exam, stitched him up, and began treatment for that lethal disease. 

His rabid dog was mercifully put down that day.” 

Her eyes stared into the distance. 

“Luckily I saw the news and realized I was likely infected, too, so I went right to the hospital, where they examined me thoroughly and immediately gave me the vaccine. If I hadn’t read the papers or watched the local news on TV I would have died a horrible death. I still wonder if the people who helped me were injured, too. I hope they’re all right: they saved me!” 

She looked away, reliving the nightmare, but there were no tears. This woman was tough. She’d come back here, determined not to let the experience wreak her dog’s happiness, or forever taint her natural optimism. 
She was courageously revisiting a place where her world had almost ended. 
I voiced my admiration. 

She shrugged, offering a tiny smile. (Spontaneous laughter would take time to revive. But it would return. She was that sort of person.) 

“Can’t look back. I just want to get on with life. This was a rare event, and it’s over with. Besides, Towser loves it here.” 

Raising her coat collar up around her neck she shuddered. “Oh, it’s getting dark and colder; time to go.” 
Towser came willingly. 
Just before shutting the gate, she paused, thought for a while, and, with head bowed, told me one more thing in a quiet voice. 

“...Turns out that his four-year-old dog had never seen a veterinarian. Not one time. He’d had no rabies shots. No immunizations of any kind. No monthly pills for heartworm. Nothing. 

“How can people be like that? The guy loved his dog, but he thought immunizations for rabies, heartworm and other killers were risky! I know parents of young children who would agree with that thinking. They won’t immunize their kids.” 

She shook her head. 

“Incredible. What appalling ignorance! His cherished pet died from a horrible, preventable disease, and he and I could have, too. All those other innocent playing dogs were potential victims, as well...” 

I saw that thousand-yard stare again. 

She waved goodbye and they left. 

As Joe and I buckled up, a large, new bone-shaped RED sign wired to the fence caught our attention. Black words declared:  

            ‘ANIMAL BITE REPORTING IS REQUIRED BY LAW. 
             For all non-emergency dog bites please call the 
             Panama City Beach Police (Number given) 
             It is important that the person(s) bitten and the owner of the 
             dog(s) remain at the dog park until PCPD arrives.’ 

There are rules posted for dog owners who visit bark parks: the list is long, the writing small. 
One like THIS, using BIG, bold letters, should stand out.

1/28/18: A Former Junkie’s Report- and Update  

A few years ago I found myself reading/viewing media ‘information’ simply to have something interesting to think about and look at. Much of it was depressing- in a fascinating way. 

I found myself immersed in news about surface-to-air missiles and the reality of nuclear bombs falling into the hands of unstable governments; state-sponsored genocides; dirty bomb threats directed at the US, and the rants of a mad dictator who continues to ignore his starving people. I absorbed stories about awful human beings doing terrible things to other human beings. I anguished about countries that were falling apart. I worried about terrifying diseases in Africa, for which there are no cures. And killer pandemic flu strains that threatened all of us. 
I was pummeled by the antics of inane, potentially dangerous establishment politicians. 

I became an avid ‘information’ junkie mired in a dangerous world. 

Each morning I drank in the latest natural disasters with my coffee. There was so much Bad News filling the TV and my computer (a marvelous tool I’d apparently weaponized- against myself) that I became more and more depressed and angry. 
One day I opened the computer and printed out the day’s Drudge Report, Fox, CNN and other alphabet news outlets, hunting for substantive news. Then I blacked out all stupid, horrible, sad, ridiculous or prurient stories- and those that were 
none ombusiness (i.e.- what Patrick Swayze’s dying words were, or watching/reading about an athlete who beat his wife unconscious in an elevator). 
(Good God! I’d become a voyeur.) 
90% of the offerings were rubbish- or N.O.M.B. 
About 10% was actual ‘news.’ 

Years ago, TV news was offered for 30-60 minutes daily. Then the ‘powers-that-be’ switched to 24/7 news. 
BUT. There were not nearly enough substantive, fact-filled reports to fill 24 hours of every day. So info-hungry journalists began to introduce ‘filler’ material - sensational things- about who had eaten someone, or been eaten (by crocs, for example): about bigwigs coping with painful kidney stones or prostates: about disconnected souls who had stored their dead mother/aunt/pet in the broom closet or bedroom for years, about dogs frozen to death on their chains. ...and on and on. 
Worse, reporters began shaping news reports with their descriptive adjective word choices, thus subtly, gradually shaping public opinion. Fascinated viewers like me absorbed prurient or embarrassing photos or read gossip. Everyone alive- or dead- was fair game, such as singer/dancers with ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ or even gassed Middle East women and children. The Holy Grail? To expand readership. 
Never mind ‘mind rot.’ 
Good taste’s ‘red line’ has been tossed overboard. 

Take TV ads, for instance. People moan about their hemorrhoids; men fret over drooping fifth appendages; women are victims of toenail fungus, psoriasis or vaginitis. Shingles and cold sore sufferers groan; overactive bladders pull their owners around in crowded bowling alleys and smiling ‘loaded’ pink lower bowels tiptoe daintily through fine restaurants. These sorts of ads, repeated over and over and over, saturate a brain. (Which is exactly the goal.) Today, absolutely nothing is off-limits. 

(Remember that appealing ad for a breakfast cereal featuring a delightful child-actor called Mikey, way back when?) 

Positive news sells. It does. But the media makes sure it always has an awful beginning- a California bear or puppy severely burned in a wildfire is saved and suffering less in a veterinary hospital because of painkillers, and though crippled, would eventually be placed in a zoo, or adopted. A child with terminal cancer is awarded a trip to Disney World... 
I’d hold stories like these close to my heart. But they chipped away at my emotional reserve bit by bit. 

More and more bad news registered less and less on my emotional scale, until daily ingestion had dialed down this human being’s sensitivity/revulsion meter to nearly Zero. 
I knew this because I would watch cartoon bowels moving, or view or read about unthinkable atrocities or incredibly bad political moves- and my meter wouldn’t even twitch. 

I noted two facts: 

1.   Inevitably, Terrible things were happening every day somewhere, that I didn’t need to know. 
2.   Though I couldn’t fix the problems I was seeing and reading about, I. Was. Absorbing. Them. 

Exposure to the soul-killing avalanche of life’s seamy side was obliterating the few reasoned images or comments that managed to surface. 

SO wanted to be happier- and feel cleaner. 
Was this possible? 

I scribbled the name of the worst culprit. 
Me. 
There was only one thing to do to save myself: 
I quit. ‘Cold Turkey.’ 

Television and computer ‘newspapers’- including Drudge, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, CBS and all the other ‘information’ networks (and papers like the Wall Street Journal and NYT) were eliminated for one trial year. I’d use my computer to write articles, check the weather, email dear friends, read science, watch and listen to music on YouTube, watch TED and research questions about anything that interested me. 
Then I’d see. 

I spent the first unplugged weeks deeply anxious, desperate for input and occasionally tearful. I needed my fix! What if I was missing something??? 
And then, I realized that some things WERE missing!! Helplessness. Despair. Deep sadness. Unfocused Rage. 

Gradually, oh so gradually, I began to feel- lighter- for their absence. 
I felt cleaner. 

My husband kept me informed about national and world events in a general way. 
After few weeks my depression and anxiety lessened. But- there were times I was sooo tempted to go back. 

Staying clean- and un-manipulated- was going to be hard

Deeper change took much longer. 

Exactly a year later, in January of 2017, I switched on a TV. And was shocked. SHOCKED- to find myself knee-deep in the same muck I did not need to know, and could never make better. Rapes. Murders. Molestations. The torture of animals and children. Lies. Endless international horrors and disasters. Oh, and a tiny smattering of useable information. This time, I was repelled, exactly as I would have been thirty years ago. 

I had successfully revived my sensitivity button. 

To invite rot into my kitchen every fresh, unsullied morning is now unthinkable. 
My mental health has hugely improved. Unplugged for two years I’ve slowly relearned our world’s more familiar everyday realities, bumps, little flops and triumphs. I’ve relaxed into a better appreciation of children, who view the world with fresh, optimistic eyes. I’m learning to adopt Bryn-dog’s philosophy of living for now and loving the moment. I go outside, even in really snowy weather, to play and explore. I have more time to think, and I’ve noticed a bounce in my step. 

We recently returned two dusty TV connector boxes to Spectrum. One had been connected to a tiny TV that sits in the basement in front of the treadmill (which I’m quite happy to run on while listening to a story); another came from the living room’s flat screen TV that we now use most evenings to enjoy programs featuring classic films, science, history and travel documentaries we can view free, or rent for two bucks from Amazon and Netflix. 
Only one connector box is left, attached to a very small, out-of-sight TV that will keep us informed during a national emergency. 
We won’t use it otherwise. 

Not involved with social media, the internet’s daily disaster reports, or my iphone’s various info apps doesn’t mean I’ve retired into an elderly Lala Land. I like to ride motorcycles and romp with my dog; I read history, horticulture and medicine, study and try to sing lovely classical and popular music well, and I keep my critical thinking skills honed. A vigorous, reasoned debate about current issues is always fun. 

know what I need to know, with Dirt, Disinformation and its constant companion, Despair, routinely hosed away

Life feels so Good!

1/21/18: A Sub-Zero Invasion 

During this winter’s exceptionally cold weather, a friend of ours was staying with us at our elderly (1872) little brick farmhouse outside Saginaw, which sits next to open fields and woodlands. He looked up from his reading, feeling observed. There, on the carpet, a teeny mouse looked up at him. It sported amazing kangaroo-like legs and a very long tail with a tufted tip. The creature couldn’t weigh much more than an ounce or two. When our friend moved slightly, it took fright and disappeared. Hoping for crumbs dropped from our crackers and cheese it would return when we humans had retired to our beds. 

Les knew what sort it was, immediately. “Ha- you’re harboring a type of field mouse inside these walls, out of the lethal cold.” 
A week later it appeared again in the same room, and so I got a good look at it. Wow! I’d never seen such big hind legs. 

Curious, I did some research. We were accommodating a common woodland jumping mouse. 
The creature can jump and leap up to 9-10 feet! 

I was (naively) astonished that it could have found a way in. I’d had every brick on the elderly exterior re-mortared, and cracks around every brick sealed before repainting. Furthermore, I’d walked around the house last fall with a box of Brillo pads to seal any other possible tiny entrances that enterprising mice might exploit. I plugged perhaps six more thread-thin ones. Most of them were higher up- at eye height and didn’t go all the way inside. Our home was surely secure. 

Not so. 

Uh-oh, thought I. There is never ONE mouse. I’d look for evidence. 
So, the next morning I shifted the living room furniture and, using our powerful shop vac, got down on my knees to vacuum where the couch and upholstered chairs had been. Teeny poop, that looked like black rice, hugged the walls. 
Yup. This was a favored trail...It had come up through the heating vent. I also found lots and lots of what looked like white rice under the sofa. How was that possible? I didn’t store rice. 

On a hunch, I opened the sofa bed to find lots of prickly field seeds – and other seeds that were prettily colored- - Prettily colored??? I clapped my head with my hands. OH NO! That mouse had scampered up the stairs to BB Birdie’s room to steal her dropped seeds, and store them between the sofa’s steel bed poles. And, right at the sofa’s upholstered corner, bits of stuffing had been removed. 
RATS!  Those little beasts were surely using the filler for their nests. Liberty House was mouse heaven! 

Lisa and her birdie had moved to Vermont almost two months ago, and I hadn’t been living here for some time...so, emboldened mice had moved in. I raced up to the tiny bedroom where BB Birdie had lived, and looked carefully around. There, in the empty closet, was Sir Mouse’s main larder. Pyramid-piles of colorful seed were heaped on the plank floor next to the walls. He’s slipped into the tiny space at the door’s bottom to store his food out of sight. And, of course, mouse droppings were there, too. 
We ordered humane traps, which arrived within 36 hours, but not one mouse fell for the delectable sniff of Jiff. Mice know about traps, and besides, there were large bird food caches to dine on. 
Another thing that put me off: Joe suggested we find a nice cage with tiny mesh and keep the mice we caught inside it fed and watered until it got warmer, and he could drop them off somewhere wild. No Way! That was taking ‘humane’ too far. There weren’t cages built that way. We’d have to construct it. Again, no way I’d mother mice for months.) 

Word reached the rest of the field mice. Suddenly, with temps remaining well below zero, we found ourselves besieged. Multiple relatives had joined their scout! They made excited noises all night long. 

Defeated, we rang Best Pest Control, a Bay City firm, and the guy came right over. “I hear you about your house being freshly sealed last summer by professional contractors, starting at five feet below the ground- and then checked by you this past fall, using Brillo Pads. But just to be sure, let’s tour the perimeter. Oh, and by the way, mice will also enter through the front door when you do. Believe it.” 

I donned my thick winter coat, pulled on my boots and mittens, and the two of us waded into snow heaped next to the house. He bent down to peer closely at hidden areas. He pointed. “There.” I saw a tiny crack stuffed with a bit of Brillo pad, which had been flattened by mousy feet, creating a padded trail. When he pried out the Brillo pad I saw that the slit now led all the way inside. 
(But when I’d done the sealing, there’d been no entrance. That crack had been, at most, a meager shelter from the wind.) 
The man cut off a small hunk of paper-thin copper mesh from a roll that flashed a brilliant burnt gold color in the morning light. 

“Brillo pads won’t last past one season. This copper mesh, though, will be effective forever. I repeat: forever. Once you jam it in a space, that space is forever inaccessible.” 

He pushed it in and used a very tiny screwdriver to make sure it was seated well. We found seven extremely tiny new entrances. All were permanently mesh-sealed. 

“Mice will find a way in using their sharp incisors and claws to gnaw away tiny time-weakened barriers. That’s what happened here. They gnawed through the ‘dead end’...and entered the basement.” 

He pointed out powdery brick and mortar atop the snow that looked fresh. I had missed this obvious sign. 

Then he went downstairs into our Michigan basement, pleased that I had not cleaned the mouse poop from the big empty cupboards lining the stone walls. 
“I need to observe their favorite trails. Do you see the evidence along the cupboard walls and up into the timbers above?  Now I can lay these chunks of bait where mice actually are. 
Wait three or four days to vacuum down here. Wear a mask to make sure you aren’t breathing in the dust and droppings. The population has exploded, responding to your home’s safety from our very cold weather. But, within a week, any mice that enter and eat this bait will dry up and mummify. Most eat and go outside, as usual, to drink the snow, and so they’ll die outside. The rest wither and dry up in the walls. Dried rodents emit no smell. In any case, soon you won’t have a problem anymore.” 

Two days later Bryn and I walked around our property. She stopped suddenly by our fence, froze into a point, and looked down. Cocking her head she listened intently, crouched, then soared high and fell straight down, exactly as a fox does when hunting rodents in the wild! A shocked mouse immediately flipped over and dashed into a snow-tunnel, leaving her confused. When I scrapped away the hardened 6-inch-deep snow with a spade, its hole was easily exposed. Mice had been burrowing through the deeper snow to reach their underground burrows on the other side of the fence. That field hadn’t been planted in decades and was probably crammed with mice. As the weather had become far too cold, even down deep into the ground, if they tried to hibernate they would never wake up. So, they’d moved in with us. 

A week after the treatment our home showed no signs of mice. No poop. No noises. Nothing. (Joe found one desiccated mouse at the bottom of an old bucket, but that was it.) 

I am certainly sympathetic to their plight. The little creatures are simply trying to survive. I hated having to kill them. But not to address this rapid invasion sensibly would be irresponsible, and even dangerous. Mice carry fleas and cause disease. They often gnaw power lines (TV, fridge, computer, and electric wires inside walls) and get into human food stores. In fact, they already had. A five-pound bag of white rice, set inside an under-counter kitchen cabinet with NO holes in back, and no way in, save by its door, which is rarely opened, had still been penetrated. 
Piles of white rice were scattered all over the living room and were almost impossible to see, as the carpet is also white. I only noticed when, on my knees, I’d used the shop vac’s hose for close work. I was shocked at the quantity of rice and confused as to where it had come from- until I remembered that cabinet. 

Drastic measures had to be taken. 

Brutal cold created a situation that had gotten out of hand in record time, I mused. Next autumn, though, I’ll ring Best Pest early, and have them thoroughly inspect our home’s exterior once again for potential weaknesses. 

Prevention is the best cure.

1/14/18: Lake Michigan’s Power- And Secrets  

Bryn-dog and I love to walk along the shore of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, even in winter. There are so many different ‘water colors’ -slate gray, black, vivid blue, pale aqua, emerald green, brown, clean frothy white- that trying to capture them all on canvas must give painters fits. 

This huge lake breathes in and out; some years its beaches extend to huge distances. Other years, shorelines vanish. I’ve witnessed both extremes multiple times. 

Occasionally we’ve seen unusual things, like a drowned deer floating in deeper water next to the Clinch Harbor Marina, or a very large fish leaping high. Sometimes human-made items wave lazily to me just beneath its surface. Last year I managed to retrieve a once- lovely, rather expensive waterlogged, monstrously heavy king-sized comforter. I dried it out in the garage for months, then laboriously shook out mountains of sand. A close inspection revealed six 4-inch-long slash marks –perhaps from a propeller or knife. The fabric around the cuts was too compromised to fix. 

I’ve found small wads of bundled money, too, resting on the lake’s sandy bottom. One time there was nearly $40. 

The word ‘Michigan’ means ‘Great Water.’ It’s the only Great Lake whose border isn’t shared with a foreign country. 307 miles long and 118 miles wide, with 1,640 miles of shoreline, this glacier-created freshwater wonder is the sixth largest on earth and boasts the world’s largest freshwater dune system. It’s the only place on earth that Petoskey stones (fossilized coral) – are found, and then, only in northern Michigan. 

I was amazed to learn that its nearly 1000-foot-deep water changes, or refreshes itself, every 100 years or so. And there is a very small tidal effect that occurs, unnoticed. 

As pilots, Joe and I flew over America from coast to coast many times, noting that much of our great country is blanketed by thick forests and gigantic plains, most of them nearly empty of people. Villages, towns and cities, though, can always be found close to any body of fresh water. (12 million people, mostly in Chicago and Milwaukee, live along Lake Michigan’s shoreline.) 

Water is an irresistible draw. 

This immense lake contains many unnerving mysteries, too. 

A few stand out for me. 

Over a campfire when I was a girl, a family friend told me about a big schooner that set out to deliver a cargo of logs to Chicago in 1891. It was a routine run. But the ship, its captain and all seven crewmembers never arrived at the port. Frantic searchers found precisely nothing. Not a stick. 

And in 1993, right here in Traverse City, I remember a shocking incident that occurred on July 3, the day before the Blue Angels Air Show for The National Cherry Festival. An older Russian jet trainer (a MIG L-39), flown by an expert pilot, took off from Cherry Capital Airport with one passenger, a flight instructor for the Northern Michigan College (NMC) Flight School. The MIG’s pilot wanted to review the part he would play in the airshow by flying over the area where he’d be performing. It was a lovely day. Routine radar contact was maintained- until the jet, on its way back to the airport from far out over the lake, neared the South Fox Island area., where it suddenly disappeared from the radar screen. Not one clue was found. No debris. No aviation gas on the water- no flotsam. Nothing. 

To this day, despite repeated attempts to locate it, the lake has yielded precisely nothing. 

In April of 1937, a big ship had successfully navigated through some of Lake Michigan’s very deep water, where ice floes had been spotted. Finally, having skillfully dodged the danger, Captain Donner turned the bridge over to his first mate and retired to his quarters to grab a nap. When a seaman went to the captain’s quarters a couple of hours later to notify him that they would soon be approaching port, the captain didn’t answer his knocks or repeated calls. Finally, sailors broke down the locked door. The captain was gone. No trace of him was ever found. 

And in 1950 the worst aviation disaster ever to occur in the US at that time happened over Lake Michigan. A fully loaded commercial airliner from the east coast was bound for Milwaukee. The big plane vanished soon after passing over the town of Benton Harbor to fly above Lake Michigan’s huge aspect. No distress signal was sent. There was nothing to indicate a problem had arisen. 

The plane, and every soul aboard, had simply disappeared. 

I suppose there could come a day when the enigmatic Big Water’s depths, still almost as inaccessible as the moon, are penetrated. Lingering mysteries could well be sorted satisfactorily. So far, though, our lake continues to withhold all knowledge of its deepest secrets.

1/07/18: Memories... 

This winter, with its bouts of subzero temps, offers much more time to reflect on my long life. The summer of 1967 -50 years ago- still shines. 

I was finishing my graduate studies (at The University of Michigan) and had a celebratory dream- to travel abroad. To that end I waited tables, cleaned houses, painted silly slogans on 50 white toilet seats and sold them to the fraternities and sororities that lined Washtenaw Ave. Stuff like ‘Pop, pop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is,’ ‘Moose poop is purple,’ ‘The pause that refreshes,’ ‘This way out,’ etc., a novelty that went over big. After two years I’d saved $1800 – a decent amount of money, then- and so, flew to Europe in late May to explore it for three months. 

It was a safer world then, for an independent young woman. 

My backpack contained one long sleeved wash-and-air-dry dress (one wore dresses or skirts then, especially in Europe), undies, socks, a spare pair of comfy trainers, a foldout raincoat, a sweater, a toothbrush, a roll of toilet paper, and a hairbrush. Oh-and a much-thumbed, thick Michelin paperback guidebook crammed with advice, regional descriptions and detailed maps. 

A money belt holding my passport and travelers checks never left my waist. 

I included a slim knife that slid into a sheath attached to my arm. 

It would come in handy in France. 

Paris was absolutely crammed with gorgeous medieval buildings. In Notre Dame Cathedral a kind old French-born priest who spoke English with a British accent happily answered my awed questions and even showed me rarely viewed rooms. Tourists wouldn’t show up until mid-June, so he had more personal time. I learned so much! 

Every morning for two weeks I left my cheap, clean garret, with its lumpy single bed and tiny window, to walk the winding cobblestone lanes to the patisserie about two blocks away for my breakfast- a croissant and French coffee. (That fresh food and delicious brew defined ‘excellent’ for years afterward.) 

By the way, in almost every Paris café dogs lay quietly, dozing next to, or under, their owners’ chairs while they ate. No one made a fuss. It was normal. 

Most eating/drinking places had little tables outside where I enjoyed a glass of wine and a meal in the cool of the evening. (Vincent Van Gogh captured one of these picturesque cafes; it is so very beautiful.) 

One evening I finished my simple cafe meal about 9 o’clock, and made my way toward the hotel when I felt- watched. Three twenty-something men I’d passed a bit ago were coming up behind me, making suggestive comments in French, their hands moving, their laughter too intense and high. They’d been drinking, I thought, and picked up my pace. But they did, too. Well, thought I, do the totally unexpected thing....Veering into a feebly lighted close I took out my knife, dropped my right arm into a relaxed, non-threatening position, held my knife behind my back with the other, and waited. They rounded the corner and made straight for me, commenting that the stupid tourist had made a big mistake going in there... 

They stopped suddenly fifteen feet away then, noting how still I stood, totally relaxed, maybe armed, but they couldn’t be sure in the semi-darkness. What might that other hand hold? I looked straight at them and made a very small gesture that said-‘come close, and see what happens.’ 

This behavior stymied them. They gabbled and flung their arms about, deciding how to respond, so I yawned, projecting a trace of impatience and boredom. 

(A male friend had advised this approach: Project quiet confidence, and quiet menace. The Polar opposite of what was expected. To attack me was one thing. My casual invitation for them to sample what I had to offer was quite another. Its- peculiarity- made them wary, and very uncomfortable.) 

One finally shrugged and said, pseudo-sadly in broken English- “No love?” I didn’t honor that face-saving query with an audible response, but remained relaxed and dead still, keeping eye contact. Laughing (nervously, I thought), they backed away then, to walk unsteadily back down the ancient lane to the bar where I’d seen them first, probably to order another round of drinks and discuss crazy, unpredictable foreign women. 

I continued on my way at a reasonable pace, never running. 

Prey runs. 

Only in my room did I breathe again. 

This incident was the single time that summer I had to deal with a potential problem. 

I left Paris two days later for Amsterdam, having walked a hundred miles through the heart of The City of Lights, drinking in every wonderful thing. 

I would return in the early 1970s with my husband, to enjoy its glories again.

12/31/17: The Weather Outside is Frightful...  

Bryn and I began our walk around our snowy block at 6 a.m. last Tuesday. Soon the fearsome cold began to seep through my long underwear, snug turtleneck and thick Guernsey sweater. I wore a very long down coat, which soon began to feel inadequate. The arctic temperature was even insinuating itself into my thermal socks and fur-lined, cleat-soled snow boots! 

Bryn, who is normally delighted about winter, couldn’t cope with this sort of cold- 9 degrees. Just one minute after locating the perfect spot to do her business she suddenly stopped dead in 4 inches of snow, raised one hind paw high and looked at me, confused. Then, she lifted a front paw. Curled it. Fell over. Righted herself clumsily to stand rooted to the snow-covered earth while holding that hind paw high again. My God. Bryn was beginning to freeze! We’d been outside for less than five minutes. 

I strode over and removed a snowball nestled between her pads. But, ten seconds later, as she walked beside me, she was again unable to continue. The other front paw went up. She stared at it, licked it once, and waited, in obvious distress. 

Paws don’t work, Boss... 

This was killer weather. My dog was literally stopped cold! I quickly cleaned each paw again, shortened her leash to ‘heel’ length- and said, “let's go!”  We ran the half-block back home. She stumbled once, her legs rapidly growing too cold to operate in a coordinated fashion. 

Inside, I removed her thick fleece jacket and brought her into the kitchen to thaw. She collapsed into her basket by the fire and I massaged each limb until she warmed. A bit later she walked unsteadily to her bowl of water, to drink. 

My nose and cheeks were really red. I couldn’t seem to stop shivering.  “Well, my girl,” I mused, “you’ve been flirting with frostbite.” Jeez, Louise! 

I dug out thick Velcro-strapped doggy snow boots we’d purchased last year but hadn’t used. After Bryn had rested for an hour I put them on. The boots’ undersides had raised rubber bumps to help her navigate without slipping. Understanding their function, she made no objection. Once outside she soon stopped ‘prancing’ and began to walk more normally. After a much more comfortable stroll she finished her business. I collected her donation (which, by the way, had frozen solid within seconds) and we made our way back home without incident, after perhaps ten minutes outside. 

I’d worn a balaclava this time; my face was grateful. 

Then Joe and I got an amazing text. Our younger daughter, Lisa, who’d been on her way to Vermont, had been forced to stop just south of Erie on Christmas Day evening, as the intense snowfall had made travel on I-90 impossible. The expressway, in fact, had vanished. Fortunately, she and BB Birdie, her budgie, secured a room at the Quality Inn. They woke to 46 inches of snow, which soon rose to over 60 + inches. Their car had nearly vanished. 

No one could come (like the morning hotel shift) or go anywhere, as all travel was forbidden. The current staff was trapped at the inn. Roads and highways were completely buried, as were cars, sometimes with people still inside them who urgently needed rescuing, said authorities. (Also, abandoned, buried cars made expressway plowing very tricky.) 

It could be days, they warned, before the snow stopped.  Sit tight in buildings. Ration food. Wait it out. Don’t try to walk to restaurants from hotels. No one would be there. Everything was closed. Wind, intense snow and deep drifts would kill- and bury- a wandering soul in minutes. 

This was the greatest amount of snow to fall in Erie in just a few hours, in recorded history. 

Every two hours Lisa went out to clear snow from her car as best she could, and start it up to shift it a few feet for plows.  Snow weight threatened to collapse home roofs, reported TV news. Batteries froze. But, thankfully, the hotel’s power stayed on. So BB and she were warm. Her iPhone, though, had no reception. We had to ring the hotel’s landline to be connected to her room. The 15 or so people stranded there made do with the hotel breakfast nook’s coffee, cold cereal and toast for two days. On the third morning, we rang to find she’d checked out. Hooray! 

She’d been marooned for three nights. But on Thursday she woke to find the snow had paused, allowing the plows, which had worked day and night, to open up at least one lane on vital roads and highways. Lisa managed to drive, slowly, steadily to Vermont, drop off BB at a bird sitter’s home in Montpelier, then carry on to Montreal to meet a dear friend. (It’s easy to bring BB into Canada, but driving the tiny creature out again would take reams of paperwork from the U.S. and lots of challenges by Canadian authorities that might last weeks.) This approach was much more sensible for the week she’d be in Canada. 

Winters require much more vigilance near lakes due to lake effect snow, caused by strong wind blowing over warmer water. But normal checks made by us didn’t predict what happened to our daughter. Even forecasters were caught off guard by the enormous snowfall amounts, and by the persistent, deadly temperature drops.  And-- 

I got a little cocky and therefore, invited trouble here, in Traverse City. Fortunately, home and its blessed warmth, were only a few steps away. 

Final thought, especially for seasoned citizens: invest in (inexpensive) snap-on boot cleats, which greatly help to keep one upright when walking pets in arctic snow and cold. 

Oh- and I made a firm New Year resolution; I’ll never let Bryn outside to do her business in the back garden unless I remain right there by the window, ignoring phone calls, etc., ready to let her in promptly. It’s easy to become distracted by events and forget she's out there. 

In this frightful weather, that error could be fatal.

12/24/17: Who's The Clever One? 

It was cold outside this late afternoon; the rain couldn’t make up its mind to stay rain, or morph into sleet and even snow- so it did all three. I waited for Bryn to do her business and didn’t really notice- or feel- the wet weather, as a thick wool cap, covered by my winter coat’s hood, kept me dry and snug. I strolled around thinking about chord progressions for some music I was working on... 

About ten minutes later we turned to go inside; Bryn picked up her pace, eager to eat her meal. I shed my boots, coat and sleet-crusted headgear and padded to the pantry. Kibbles and a treat were added to her bowl, and I set it in its place, next to fresh water. 

"OK, Bryn. Your dinner’s ready: a little surprise is in there, too...” 

Exactly then, things began to go weird. She stopped dead about ten feet away from her bowls, went into  ‘statue’ mode, and looked at me. Not a whisker moved. Not. A. Hair. 20 minutes went by! I sat six feet away, trying to concentrate on my music, but those lovely brown eyes never once wavered from my face. I could feel them. 

What was going on?? 

"Ah, silly Bryn, your dinner is just there. What’s with 'The Look?'” She finally blinked, but never once looked away. Thirty more minutes went by. I grew exasperated. “Bryn! Your dinner wants eating, for heaven’s sake!” Her tail moved just slightly, once. 

She continued to look at me. 

Really annoyed now, I pretended not to notice ‘The Gaze.’ But oh, it was hard. Those eyes do penetrate. And I was more than puzzled! She’d been absolutely motionless, now, for nearly an hour. I actually wondered if she was having a brain seizure. 

Wouldn’t it be easier to sit and stare? Why stand and stare? ArghhhMy brain was seizing! 

Just then, Joe came into the kitchen, having finished shoveling the porch and sidewalk. He patted statue-still Bryn- then commented in a surprised tone,Yuck! Got a towel? She’s really wet!” 

I sat bolt upright. My God. I hadn’t touched Bryn when we’d entered the house. If I’d felt her fleecy white coat I would immediately have fixed things in the usual way. 

She’d ‘statue-d’ in that one spot for over an hour, waiting for my realization that skipping a step wouldn’t do. 

The normal procedure goes like this: After coming in from wet weather I always fetch her towel, wipe her down thoroughly, then pop into the bathroom for the hair dryer. She chooses a place, then I kneel where she settles and blow-dry her coat, a process she loves. 

Only then does she happily eat her dinner. 

I jumped up and apologized. Bryn knows what an apology is. I might step on her paws, eliciting a startled yelp, but I instantly make things right. And I’m instantly forgiven. She did that again now, dismissing my faux pas, happy that life was making sense again. 

Chagrined, I went through the routine, towel-dried her, then used the hair dryer and finally combed her out (a ten-minute job in total), after which she trotted happily to her bowl, ate every scrap, drank deeply, asked me for a bully stick, and settled down to devour it. 

How easy it was to speak sharply her, I mused- to lose patience, to assume I’m the superior one. Then, when I discover it is I who is missing a microchip--- 

My enormously patient dog is training me well, but the way she goes about it can be unnerving. 

12/17/17: Snowy Musings 

Bryn and I wandered about our fenced, three-acre grounds in the dark of early morning two days ago, enjoying the snowstorm, which seemed to delight in disorienting me. I closed my eyes, turned around once, and lost all sense of which way was where. This blizzard, which has dropped five fluffy inches so far, has managed to blot out most visual markers. Bryn vanished, as her snow-white fleece blends perfectly with the environment. But her nose always knew precisely where I am. I could hear her rocketing around the house’s perimeter and grounds, fast as a fleeing deer. Bryn loves winter, even when it’s seven degrees above zero. The great poofs of dry powder she always creates during these ecstasy fits made for quarter-second glimpses of her position and speed, even in the dark. 

(Once again this winter I’ve trimmed away her beard, leaving only close-cut fur, to prevent the rapid accumulation of ice and snowballs that would otherwise weigh down her eyelids and mouth, effectively blinding her and sealing her lips. I’ve even trimmed around and between her paws. Hard snow and ice balls will eventually accumulate there, but won’t prove debilitating as soon. 

That is, it might take ten minutes to cause distress, instead of one. Bryn’s unusual fleece coat takes on snow differently from normal coats.) 

Suddenly she intercepted an unusually slow, thin black squirrel trying to get to a nearby tree trunk and safety. After having made multiple enormous jumps through the deep snow he’d begun moving very much slower, and looked exhausted. Without thinking, Bryn scooped him up. The squirrel, her long body parked upside down between Bryn’s jaws, glared up at her; Bryn sat down suddenly, too surprised by her catch to move to Step Two. Instead, she peered at it, perplexed. Ten feet away I saw what might happen next and commanded, “LEAVE IT!” Glancing over at me her eyes registered surprise, but she obediently opened her jaws and dumped the shocked rodent into the deep white featherbed. Awkwardly righting himself he walked three feet to the trunk and ascended it with the last of his strength. Bryn still sat, watching him, thinking, her tongue polishing her whiskers, tasting the squirrel’s ‘after(the close)shave.’ 

He seemed uninjured. Bryn’s jaws are extremely powerful, but she possesses a soft retriever mouth. I think the little guy probably would have escaped even if I hadn’t yelled the command. Bryn, too surprised by the novelty, wouldn’t have applied killing pressure, I mused, remembering the furious, cheek-banging bumblebees she’d carried around at Sunnybank. Eventually she’d opened up and they’d staggered up and away, shedding a con-trail of saliva that flavored their pollen sacs... 

 One can never be absolutely sure where a bee and his loot have been, eh? 

**One more little tidbit- actually you could consider this offering as a wee holiday gift suggestion from yours truly- 

Experience excellent food, beautifully presented, at Reflect, part of Cambrian Suites, a hotel at 255 Munson Avenue in Traverse City. Wow. The dining room is small, bright and cheerful, and Chef Dan (who used to cook masterpieces for The Boathouse Restaurant on Mission Peninsula), and his staff do a superb job of making one’s dining experience memorable. If he’s ‘on’ he’ll come out to our table to personally deliver the dishes, and to make sure all is well. Joe and I treat ourselves when we wish to celebrate big and small triumphs. I absolutely love Chef Dan’s sauces, especially on, and as a bed for, his succulent salmon and pork chops. Believe me, he and the other chef are talented

Bon Appetite!

12/10/17: Travelin’ Stoics  

Our quick Thanksgiving trip down to Florida’s Panhandle has made some lasting memories. 

I-65 had fewer immense trucks (which travel the I-75 corridor in packs), and this route was a bit quicker, too. But still, big rigs (our nation’s lifeblood) were on the road, and too many cocky driver-darters as well, who didn’t care how very close they came to the cars and trucks they were gleefully darting around. This ‘devil-may-care’ behavior forced a couple of gasps out of us. 

Once, in Alabama, expressway traffic slowed to a dead stop, leaving everyone stranded in hilly terrain. We found ourselves marooned on a hilltop. For miles and miles in both directions idling cars and trucks sat in a ragged line, fuming. “Oh, NO,” we groaned. “We could be stuck here for hours!” 

No accidents (highlighted by flashing police lights) were evident. The view was terrific. 

Thirty minutes later the congestion simply - disappeared. 

Poof. 

We were open-mouthed. Grateful. 

The highway led straight to Pensacola Beach. Our GPS guided us right to our hotel. 

Florida was downright cold- 38 to 40 degrees- in the early mornings, but the sun did warm the flat land twenty-plus degrees by 10:00 a.m., to sweater-with-jacket weather.  Perfect for bike-hikes with Bryn. Paved trails wound through vast, wild areas of state parkland, usually adjacent to dog parks. Benches along the way provided a place to stop and wander around. The land rose and fell only slightly, and we noted how different the foliage was; more than once I fancied that we’d been transported to Jurassic Park. Palm trees, huge, moss-draped oaks, gigantic ferns, lush, flowering bushes, rotting logs, strange birdcalls and invisible insects’ rasping calls, as well as sudden darkening when the sun would scuttle behind thick clouds, contributed to the peculiar atmosphere. At times, civilization’s usual sounds seemed a distant memory... 

We enjoyed Pensacola Beach’s big, treed dog park, only 2 miles from our hotel, where Bryn would dash around, ironing out her travel kinks while taking in interesting plant and animal scents. 

Each morning a slim, elderly man and his 13-year-old dog motored there, too.  The fellow made it his business to walk the entire area, especially along the fence lines, to pick up stray dog poop. 

And, to search for one more thing... 

“I keep nimble, as well as keep the place clean. The job requires some agility. As I bend down, I loosen up. ‘Use it or lose it, you know.’ 

He looked at us thoughtfully. “Have you been introduced to traveling stones?” 

Smiling at our puzzlement he bent to pick up a flattish, palm-sized one, offering it to me. 

“I get a kick out of spotting them as I work. This new one, for example, has moved around the south. The tradition is to print the name of the state it’s in before it’s dropped off, usually at a dog park or rest stop along a fence line or by a tree. We have a Mississippi, Texas and Florida traveler that’s arrived here very recently. See?" 

The stone carried the three names in indelible marker. 

"And when there’s no room for another destination to be added, it’s ‘retired,’ maybe to a homeowner’s fish tank, or to his flower garden, to be pointed out to guests, who can speculate about its history. He pointed out the states’ names, painted on with different hands. I spotted a tiny happy face, too. 

“If you take it with you, add your state’s name with a color-permanent Magic Marker. Leave it at a Michigan dog park or rest stop. A tourist or trucker might well find it. Mind you, the stone might wait for years to be noticed. 

One fellow told me that his trucker friends often ‘salt’ one or two stones at favorite hotels’ dog-walk areas. Some that I’ve found have traveled through as many as ten states. This one’s relatively young; it’s collected only three.” 

“Wonderful,” I said, delighted. “How long do you suppose this tradition has been going on?” 

He thought a minute. “Well, much longer than I’ve been retired, I think. 40 years, maybe longer...Who knows? Maybe as long as there have been human travelers.” 

I pocketed the blue-yellow-red decorated traveler, with thanks. I’d add our state to its surface, perhaps in green. 

We left Florida refreshed by the major ‘sea change.’ Spontaneous bolts to elsewhere in this lovely country, done with minimum fuss and even less baggage, are great fun. It is a bit daring to ‘up sticks’ and go, but most forgotten items can be bought again. “The USA ain’t the backwoods,” Joe is fond of reminding me. 

(To prevent leaving important stuff behind I’ve attached a list of essentials to the fridge with a magnet. Reviewing it has saved me more than once. Trusting it, I can be inter-state mobile in 15 minutes.) 

A Michigan rest area now has two new residents; our Florida traveler, wearing a cheery green Michigan, and a flat, bare stone I’d found on our hotel’s Gulf of Mexico beach, which now sports a tiny daisy, plus our state’s name. 

Someday, someone ‘in the know’ might pocket one, or both, and smile.

12/03/17: A Feast- and a Misadventure...  

Thanksgiving in Florida? Without family? It seemed strange, but we’d make it fun. Happiness comes when one is flexible. 

So we piled into our van and drove straight to the bottom of the continent to Gulf Breeze, in Florida’s Panhandle, and settled into our inexpensive hotel, literally a few feet from the Gulf of Mexico’s calm water. The city’s name- Gulf Breeze- was evocative- a worm on the hook that lured us into pursuing a change of scene for a few days. 

The restaurant, The Grand Marlin was six minutes from our hotel, and right on the water at the base of the Gulf Bay Bridge. (We booked in from Saginaw, Michigan, by the way, and a good thing, too: there was just one place left. Imagine driving all that way, only to be turned away...) 

Our reservation was set at 11:15 a.m. That actually worked well. We eat one meal a day, and, in Central Standard Time, it was actually 12:15 EST, our normal meal time. It would take a while to peruse the menu, order and be served. We’d finish by 1:30 or so. 

Perfect. Neither of us wished to nudge our bodies into Central time, as we’d be down there only 3 days... 

A bit about this large, attractive building. Raised on huge steel/cement stilts, it hovered over the sunlit bay. When we walked up the stairs and entered the enormous main room, most tables, as well as the big semi circular bar, were filled. The ceiling was at least 30 feet high. There was no carpet. The noise level was, for us, too loud to be able to converse. 

But we were really lucky. Our waitress showed us to another room, up another level where a booth in a corner was ready, private and absolutely perfect. The bay was right there; the sky vast, the noise level insignificant. This ceiling was maybe nine feet high. 

And oh, the food! 

We ordered fresh ocean fish for our mains, but the starter, ($24) which we split, was memorable. It’s called Lobster Fingers. I rarely gush about food, but this dish was sublime. Three huge claws were sautéed, then rolled lightly in coconut flakes. Then a delicious remoulade sauce was set down under them. OMG. I’d drive back to Pensacola just to enjoy it again. 

By the way, it’s the most popular starter the restaurant offers. I give it five stars! 

Sated, we wandered back to our hotel, and napped, still tired from our long journey. 

But, people who eat wonderful meals that fog the senses and smooth the mind can be jerked back to the world by age-old rivalries played out for the billionth time... 

Bryn and Joe and I were strolling along the Beach area at about 5:00. The deepening gloom was rapidly descending into darkness. It was suddenly harder to discern where objects were. The lawn grass faded into sand so pure and fine it looked like white flour. Here and there on the beach lay scattered boulders, tall perennial decorative grasses, long, bleached logs, and large chunks of cement, left there, we thought, to retard erosion. And behind one chunk was a huge, bob-tail, deep grey cat, who was apparently surprised by Bryn’s soundless approach. The beast leaped high and bounded away into the dark. Bryn, leashless and content be close to us, woofed in surprise, and before we could grasp what was happening, she’d vanished too, into the night. 

Cat, Boss! I’ll find him! 

I saw a flick of white as she bounded away, then nothing. We called, -nothing. So we ran. Ran, ran along the shore and called, having no idea where she might have gone, or if we had crossed into private land...For what seemed ages we peered over, under, and around docks, reeds and boulders. We called her name, with Joe’s louder voice growing more desperate. By now, at 7:00, it was totally dark. My one good eye could make out almost nothing but flat, obsidian ocean and white sand. 

Then, Joe shouted back to me that he’d spotted her carefully picking her way back, guided by our calls. Wet and sandy to her knees, she looked contrite. Joe secured her using his belt; I sagged with relief! (She wore no collar because I’d just brushed her, and had forgotten to slip it back on. Wanting a gentle stroll around the quiet grounds we’d forgotten about Murphy’s Law, and hotel mousers...) 

Bryn had snagged some burs, twigs, and bits of seaweed, but was otherwise fine. 

The three of us carefully trekked back along the shoreline until we recognized our hotel. 

For the next two days that big cat would sun himself on a boulder right next to the lapping water just below our balcony. Bryn would sit up there unmoving, watching him, never blinking. The cat looked quietly out to sea, certainly feeling Bryn’s eyes on her, but utterly indifferent. This hotel was HER territory. She knew all about dogs. 

To Bryn, cats are still a baffling mystery. She’s never inspected one up close...Maybe someday. 

Though it was past 9:00 we decided to walk to the hotel’s very nice restaurant to enjoy two glasses of merlot. Pumpkins with cheery grins greeted guests. The air was salt-scented, and twinkling holiday lights made the black lawn sparkle as sprinklers scattered fine mists of water with gentle whooshes. Christmas music, barely discernable, seemed just the right touch. It seemed that lots of people had decided to celebrate Thanksgiving away from home. 

The best touch? Fireworks suddenly lit the sky over the bay; Pensacola was celebrating on this lovely, windless evening. What a splendid end to our first day!