Monday, August 31, 2015

Whelp, I guess it's Fall!


Here are some photos of the girls and their paws:

Starbuck's got lots and lots of paws:

How sweet is Autumn?

Sometimes I feel like her face is giving me diabetes:

Monday, August 24, 2015

One last summer hurrah

Last weekend, DL and I decided to take a long weekend so I could see for the first time the 135-mile Denali Highway. Before the Parks Highway, which is today the main thoroughfare between Fairbanks and Anchorage, was built, the mostly unpaved, rutted, and washboarded Denali Highway was the only way for tourists to get to Denali. It was opened in 1957, after the advent of cars with a reasonably long range. So, unlike the much older Richardson Highway, which originated as a wagon road and thus required frequent guest houses, road houses, and places to stay, the Denali has... great views interspersed with a whole lotta nothin.

We started our trip by rousing the ladies off the couch:

And by heading down the Richardson Highway to Paxson Lake. I had only visited to let the girls pee and drink water before. Thought I'd like to stay there for a night. The campground is owned and maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, which maintains cushy campgrounds with potable water, well-lit, clean, and well-ventilated outhouses, and volunteer camp hosts who are usually bored and lonely and pounce on you for a chat.

When Autumn and Linden were younger, I used to have to tie them up at campgrounds as they'd grow bored and take off on self-guided tours. No longer. Starbuck never wanders off either, despite her relative youth:

The lingonberries were ripe, so I picked a bunch of 'em for our morning oatmeal. California dried apricots from a care package from BT rounded out breakfast:

The girls each found their own spot from which to observe proceedings:

The Denali Highway was... scenic and hypnotic. Almost every lake or pond had a big beaver lodge:

Storms rolled in and out, but fortunately we didn't get rained on:

We passed a very few official lodges. The subsistence hunt had already opened, so there were quite a few hunters, standing around with their binoculars, scanning for caribou. Most of them had already set up what I took to be less-than-scenic, but serviceable campgrounds, mostly in gravel pits and shoulders right off the highway. A few privately-owned spots offered some slightly more sheltered camp spots and presumably coffee. I liked that this one had a human lodge right next to a beaver lodge:

At some point, we crossed the Susitna River:

Early that evening, even after a late morning start that included sleeping in until 9 and taking the girls for a leisurely walk after packing up camp, we found that we were already at our next camp site, at Brushkana Creek. Across the creek, we could see an old cabin that was in the process of being washed into it:


The next morning, we realized that we'd hit the Parks Highway and the Civilized World very quickly, so we again started our morning with a long walk. Autumn rallied and covered the 5 miles with no wobbliness. Starbuck visited the "day use" enclosure, which featured a brick-lined fire pit and a view to the creek:

A few hours into our drive, we stopped at this pond for lunch, which featured a rather intimidating view of the Alaska Range:

And this lovely one of Denali:

Starbuck held out her paw for me to hold, so I asked DL to take a photo so I could pretend that a historic agreement between Man and Wolf was taking place in the view of Denali. However, Starbuck looks so meek, it looks more like I am coercing her into reluctant agreement, like selling me the island of Manhattan for two Milk Bones:

Three of my favorite things: DL, sammiches, and Alaskan views:

When we got home, Starbuck found an old rawhide and immediately resumed her position on the couch:

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Reality of Aging Huskies, Part Whatever

Autumn and I are learning how to live with her new condition. I'm trying to accept it as merely a new weft in the fabric of our lives. Sometimes Autumn lies down in the middle of a walk, recovers, and continues to hike 4-6 miles. Sometimes she lies down, won't get up again, and needs to be carried home. Sometimes she declines even to head out with us, walking to the top of the driveway, then turning around and walking home of her own volition. I continue our run with just Starbuck and Linden those times. I'm glad she is learning to judge her own abilities and is unlikely to leave me stranded, although I have neighbors lined up ready to give us a ride home, if need be. People have reached out with compassion and patience.

I'm a bit at a loss as to how I allow myself to feel. I don't feel as if I have the right to complain. To have two beloved dogs live with such a high quality of life until past 16 is an incredible, almost unbelievable blessing. On the other hand, it still hurts. It answers for me, in crisp black and white, a question I've been noodling over for several years. Several years ago, I mentioned in passing to my mom that I had cut my finger chopping veggies for dinner. She was horrified, to what seemed to me a level that was out of scale to the minor cut. She said, "Be more careful!" I replied, "I *am* careful, but sometimes shit just happens." She replied, "No, if you are *really* careful, you can avoid cutting yourself. For example, when you are tired, don't cook. Order takeout." The differences in our perspectives of risk management astonished me. Is it really possible, I wondered, to live a 100% pain-free existence? Now I know the answer: nope. Even if you find the World's Most Perfect Dog, and she lives an enchanted life, beloved by her musher from the day she was born, and then given to you, and you give each other every happiness and support that two generous, but intelligent hearts can give each other, she can and will still break your heart one day.

I can't rail against the injustice, because God has been more than generous to us, giving us far more than most dogs and humans have together. Tonight I am having friends over for dinner, and looking forward to meeting their several month-old baby. They had another baby, who was stillborn at 8 months old. He had a name. They loved him and held his tiny, still body and took photos. They honored him. And they never got to meet him. They are wonderful parents, both to their living daughter and to their son's memory. Even if I were one of them, I'd know it'd be illogical to rail against the injustice of losing a beloved son. Because fate is indifferent and hands out blessings and cruelties to good people and bad people alike. How much less of a right do I have to complain as we approach the end of the life of a beloved, long-lived, indulged dog?

I took Autumn and Linden to a doggie physical therapist last week. I wondered if she could unlock the mystery of Autumn's episodes of paralysis. She could not, but she did offer some relief for the general old-lady pains of both of them, suggesting a regimen of pain killers, continuing their glucosamine pills, and adding another joint supplement, Adequan. Adequan is polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, a different building block of cartilage from glucosamine chondroitin. It's a drug that is injected twice a week during the loading dose period, so she sent us home with the drug and some disposable syringes. I read the literature it came with, and it has proven quite effective in restoring joint mobility in 35 limbs suffering degenerative joint disease, in 24 dogs. Additionally, toxicity tests were performed on 32 beagles, who were divided into 4 groups of 8 and administered either saline, 1X, 3X, or 10X the recommended dosage. At the end of the test, all 32 beagles were euthanized, and necropsies were performed to evaluate the effects. I think about those 32 beagles. Why did 32 beagles die so that Autumn and Linden could have a slightly more comfortable old age?

I guess all I can say is that in this world, pain and suffering are meted out as randomly as blessings, and into every life falls a bit of both, and neither side is 100% avoidable. When I think about how my life has unfolded so far, I feel I have had the most impossible luck, living a life that is really far richer and better than I deserve. And yet here I sit, on the threshold of an intense grief that I know is coming sooner and sooner. The thing about dogs is that even if they have the bestest life and the best of everything, it still always ends with heartache, and that's the way it is and there's not a damned thing you can do about it. There are no more magic pills that our excellent vet can give us to make it all go away.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A great year for lingonberries!

Lingonberries are called cranberries here. But anyway, Wow! Check 'em out!

M, the ladies, and I went to pick them after DL and I spotted them on a trail walk a few days prior. I was trying to be patient as they are supposed to be sweeter after the first frost, but everything's been ripening so early this year that I decided to go get 'em.

It seems that under the forest canopy, things ripen later. There were still raspberries along the forest trail, even though they are gone from my yard:

And these purple flowers still looked fresh!

Compare it against the fading fireweed in my yard:

Look at this tiny thing!

And now... some miscellaneous couchal photos!

So comfy on her pillow!

Starbuckaroo paws!

Starbuck, the Amazing Boneless Husky, takes the shape of the couch.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A blade of grass

You ask for a poem.
I offer you a blade of grass.
You say it is not good enough.
You ask for a poem.

I say this blade of grass will do.
It has dressed itself in frost,
It is more immediate
Than any image of my making.

You say it is not a poem,
It is a blade of grass and grass
Is not quite good enough.
I offer you a blade of grass.

You are indignant.
You say it is too easy to offer grass.
It is absurd.
Anyone can offer a blade of grass.

You ask for a poem.
And so I write you a tragedy about
How a blade of grass
Becomes more and more difficult to offer,

And about how as you grow older
A blade of grass
Becomes more difficult to accept.

– Brian Patten

Monday, August 17, 2015


Hot off the Minor News presses, y'all!:

Man in bear costumes harasses bears in Alaska

My favorite quotes from this absolute jewel of an article:

"Authorities want to talk to a man who donned a fairly realistic bear costume - head and all - and wore it when harassing a bear and two sows trying to feed on pink salmon in an Alaska river."

"It wasn't immediately known what the man was trying to accomplish."

"'This is not the first time we've encountered a man in a bear suit,' [Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan] Peters said."



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The first whiffs of fall are in the air

Monday morning, we woke up to a gray drizzle. The thermometer read 50F/10C. Highbush cranberries and dwarf dogwood were shining through the dank:

As I started our morning run, Autumn wobbled to a stop within ten minutes. Then she laid down. I'm taking this in stride now that it's become our new normal. I waited ten minutes, and she got up and we proceeded to our walk. However, this time she flopped down a second time, five minutes later. Starbuck and Linden were tugging at the leashes and anxious to go on, so I carried Autumn home, laid her on the couch, and ran our loop with just the other two. My heart was heavy. But when we got home, Autumn got up to greet us and seemed to have recovered somewhat. But I called my office and told them I'd work from home for the day.

Half an hour later, it occurred to me that Autumn hadn't peed or pooped really, so I leashed her up and took her for a solo walk. She was perky and happy. I remembered when it was just she and I, getting to know ourselves and each other as we built new lives, I in a new state and she in a new retirement. I was amazed at her beauty and her sweet temperament, as well as her near-instantaneous devotion to me. We'd go for long walks as we explored our new home. Autumn and me, and me and Autumn. I was so lost in thought that I hadn't noticed we were keeping up quite a clip and did our two-mile "short loop" in under half an hour. I thought she seemed to have made a fine recovery. While we were out, Linden and Starbuck must have called the Frito Factory and told them not to have the bus pick them up since I was staying home. I must say, I need not have... they spent the day mostly ignoring me while I worked, with an occasional annoyed sigh when I went to pet one or the other. I decided to annoy them further and take selfies with them.

Autumn selfie!

Linden selfie!

Starbuck selfie!

Sitting in the cabin instead of the insulated, citified office really brought home that fall was in the air. I lit the first fire of the season in the wood stove. And the fireweed has mostly gone to fluffy seed. Here is a photo of the same flower I photographed on July 15:

I'll need to pick my annual supply of rose hips soon:

Here are some more marginally dignified photos of Starbuck:

Starbuck and her paw paws:

Starbuck looking sorta serious:

Starbuck and her velvety soft schnozzle nozzle: