Friday, May 25, 2007

Sadie Joins the Firm

From 9/07/94
Sadie, a chic Dalmatian,
moved into my house two
weeks ago.
Sadie doesn't whine, groan
and slobber on my shoes,
which the basset who lived at
my house for 12 years did.
And she doesn't argue about
what we watch on television,
which the basset did.
She has long legs. She runs
like a zephyr and leaps like a
gazelle, which the basset
didn't.
Sadie barely trots, however,
while I jog. She smiles and
holds her head inches from
my knobby knees. Her
shoulder brushes my leg. This
fearlessness comes from her
unique carriage-dog heritage,
but I'll explain that later.
More importantly, unlike
the basset who hated fishing
_ he'd howl to go home be
fore I could wet a line _
Sadie fishes long and intently.
Well, we've fished once,
and she loved it. Sadie rode in
the back seat without one
whine or slobber all the way
to the isolated boat launch
area on the Snake River
above Little Goose Dam.
As I rigged the fly-rod with
a fast-sinking line and a black
woolly bugger, she snuffled
among the weeds around the
car. Then she followed me to
the water's edge and sat
patiently two feet away while
I cast for bass. She tilted her
head and perked up her ears
when I spoke.
When I laid a 50-foot cast
onto the water and bragged,
her shoulder muscles rippled
with excitement. Then, when
I hooked a steelhead smolt
and it jumped and splashed,
she danced on her toes.
After I fumbled with the
10-inch fish to release it, she
turned a quizzical gaze
toward me. Then she flung
herself into water up to her
chest and searched for the
fish. She pawed the water and
overturned submerged rocks
to peer underneath.
And when I caught and re
leased a second 10-inch smolt
30 minutes later, she gasped
and redoubled her efforts.
She tipped one shiny rock and
bit at it.
Wow! What more could I
ask?
Actually, when I first met
Sadie at my daughter Andrea
Gascon's house, I didn't know
much about Dalmatians. Oh,
sure, they'd been in movies,
and they rode fire trucks. But
I'd never actually spoken to or
touched a Dalmatian.
And when Sadie first spot
ted me, her lithe, muscular
body froze. Her brown eyes
bored into me. She raised her
hackles and woofed.
Almost immediately,
though, she relented. She
brushed against my leg and
licked my hand.
In addition, already a year
old, she had most of her
shots. She'd been spayed. She
had papers, if we wanted
them.
And she would cost noth
ing.
Free!
Spouse Darlene and I could
take her on a trial basis. If we
didn't get along, we could re
turn her. What a deal. Imposs
ible to refuse.
So we took her home.
For a trial?
Ha.
We knew better. When
you're to the point of taking a
dog home for a trial, well,
you're hooked.
Nevertheless, we came to
this moment of transition with
severe reservations. We'd
lived with the basset for more
than 12 years, so we under
stood what it means to have a
dog move bag and baggage
into your life. You adjust to
feeding, doctoring, washing,
walking, training, /{ad infi
nitum/}.
Furthermore, we'd had no
dogs around the house for
nearly three months. It felt
WONDERFUL. Hardly any
slobbers on the floor. Fewer
ticks. Fewer moans and
groans. Less arguing about
what we watch on television.
Yet, Sadie needed a new
home. She seemed so pleas
ant, so bright and happy.
She'd welcome me home for
lunch. She'd bounce around
and lick my hand. She
wouldn't drool on my shoe.
So, as I said, she moved in
and immediately wanted to
kill Oscar, the longtime cat of
the house. We nearly faltered.
But we didn't, and Oscar took
fewer than three days to get
fed up and charge a horrified,
yipping Sadie, who crashed
into a tree getting away.
With the Sadie-Oscar crises
resolved, I read about
Dalmatians in the 17th edition
of ``The Complete Dog Book,''
by the American Kennel Club,
from the public library. I'm
impressed. Sadie has the po
tential to be anything she
wants to be.
According to the AKC, the
Dalmatian has, over the
centuries, ``been a dog of war,
a sentinel on the borders of
Dalmatia and Croatia ... a
draught (draft or pulling) dog
and a shepherd.'' It has been
``a bird dog, a trail hound, a
retriever, and a pack dog for
boar and stag hunting.'' It is
well known for ``heroic per
formances'' in firefighting
situations. A ``retentive mem
ory'' distinguishes Dalmatians
as circus and stage per
formers.
And the AKC says the
Dalmatian ranks ``as the orig
inal, one and only, coaching
(or carriage) dog.'' This heri
tage may go ``back to an en
graving of a spotted dog fol
lowing an Egyptian chariot.''
Other centuries-old evidence
apparently reveals ``the
Dalmatian with ears entirely
cropped away and padlocked
brass collar plying his natural
trade as follower and guard
ian of the horse-drawn ve
hicle.''
That's why Sadie trots close
when I run. It's in her genes,
unless she's simply moving
me out of her path. Either
way, Sadie thrives on ``road
work.'' With ``speed and en
durance, she has the heart to
run gaily until the journey's
end'' no matter the distance.
The Dalmatian is quiet, an
``ideal guard dog, distinguish
ing nicely between barking
for fun or with a purpose,''
according to the AKC. It is
courteous with ``approved
visitors'' but has a highly de
veloped ``protective instinct''
and the ``courage to defend.''
It is ``extremely hardy'' and
``suited to any climate.''
Dalmatians are also neat and
clean and require a minimum
of care.
Heck, Sadie may be the
perfect dog. And with my ex
pert teaching _ I've also
checked out and read 86
pages of ``Training Your Dog''
by John Rogerson _ her out
door skills will improve with
leaps and bounds.
She'll soon dive into thorny
thickets after pheasants.
She'll pin them down until I
get the ol' blunderbuss ready.
And she'll graciously fetch
any pheasant, duck or chukar
that I happen to knock down.
Then she'll learn to balance
the canoe while I cast for
trout; to carry the tent and the
food when we go backpack
ing; to stand guard at night
and scare away porcupines
and skunks; to go skijoring at
the drop of a mitten, that is, to
pull me on cross-country skis
for miles over mountain trails;
and to read and to discuss
Ruth Rendell mystery novels.
And when we acquire our
new golden, two-horse char
iot, we'll both be chic driving
to work: me in an alabaster
toga and Sadie with cropped
ears and gleaming, padlocked
brass collar. She'll trot fear
lessly between the dappled
stallions and haughtily ignore
their slashing hooves _ as
her ancestors apparently did.
While I work, the elegant
and ferocious Sadie will stand
guard while my chariot
awaits. I'll probably never get
another parking ticket.

Juniper Dunes, North Entrance

Sand shifted beneath my
boots. Sweat dribbled down
my forehead into one eye and
twisted my face into a grim
ace.
I wiped the eye with a
finger behind my glasses. I
huffed down a bucket of air
and puffed it out, huff-puff,
huff-puff, etc.
Climbing an 800-foot-tall
sand dune in the Juniper
Dunes Wilderness on a bright,
90-plus afternoon compares
with an afternoon walk in the
park as plucking out whiskers
one at a time with clam-shell
tweezers compares with get
ting a barbershop shave.
One demands attention.
The other doesn't. That's my
guess, anyway.
The particular 800-foot
dune mentioned above,
spread thick with shiny ruby-
red sand dock halfway up the
slope, slanted steeper than
the normal 35 degrees or so.
That's when piled-up grains
of sand answer the call of
gravity.
I've never heard it, but with
dry sand and a big slide, a
bellowing sound occurs, often
called ``singing sand.''
I paused, leaned back and
peered upwards through a
tight squint. The top 20 feet of
naked sand seemed to lean
over me, defying gravity.
The leaning ridge reminded
me of a snow ledge ready to
become an avalanche.
I'm no Chicken Little
exactly, but my attention
piqued, and I scooted out of
its potential path. Who needs
a sand slide, singing or not.
Despite the heat, and the
attention demanded by the
terrain, a trip to the Juniper
Dunes Wilderness area IS
worth the effort, especially at
the north entrance.
You reach that gate through
a section of pasture on the
Juniper Dunes Ranch. It's
accessable only during
March, April and May.
So, as May threatened to
slip away, I left home at 11:03
a.m. one day last week. I
stopped twice along
Blackman Ridge Road to snap
horned lark photos.
Sadie the Dalmatian stayed
home, so cattle in the parking
area corrals barely glanced
my way. By 1:03 p.m. I signed
in at the wilderness gate.
It's possible to leave the
gate, climb a short distance
(30-40 yards?) to a path off to
the left (south) and avoid
some of the really steep early
dunes.
My strategy, however, since
few trails exist, involves walk
ing more or less in a straight
line, dunes and all.
At the gate I attached my
GPS unit to my upper left arm
with a velcro strap. It plots a
line on a map as I walk, so I
can track my route (with di
rection, moving time, stop
ping time and distance).
A compass would suffice,
but the GPS gives more infor
mation, so I carry it. If I don't
forget it.
Actually, on a clear day, a
hiker may climb a tall dune
and see the Juniper Dunes
Ranch.
With the GPS in place, I
climbed the first dune and
angled to the right
(southwest).
The largest number of
250-300-year-old juniper trees
cluster in that direction. I
stopped often to photograph
flowers, interesting patterns
in the sand (created by wind-
blown grasses), animal tracks
(including those left by mice
and Morman crickets) and
scenic views.
Once a lizard skittered be
neath a sage bush. I wanted it
to be a horned toad, but it
wasn't. It bobbed up and
down on the sand among a
maze of sage bush branches
and leaves.
I switched the camera to
manual focus and snapped
several photos. For no appar
ent reason, other than my
presence, the lizard leaped
from the sand and clung to a
branch. I snapped a final
photo and left.
I've seen deer, porcupines
and coyotes among the dunes
(along with deer hunters and
illegal motor bikers) there,
but the lizard and Mormon
crickets were the main
critters I saw last week.
As usual, time rushed by.
On the north or west side of
the dunes, hidden from the
light breeze, the heat
pounded me. On the ridges,
however, the breeze felt cool
against my damp nylon shirt.
I swigged from the
100-ounce CamelBack water
bag as I walked. It contained
ice cubes, so the water tasted,
well, like that fabled elixir.
After 2 hours, 38 minutes, I
dropped the daypack and
cameras beneath a aromatic
juniper. Sweat soaked the
back of the bag and my back.
The breeze felt cool as I sat on
the ground in the shade.
I sipped ice water and
munched two PowerBars.
The GPS said I'd walked
1.74 miles, moving for 1 hour,
45 minutes and stopping for
53 minutes. I'd made a
squiggly path in the sand.
Before I started again, I
took off my boots, pulled up
my socks and retied my laces,
a bit tighter than before, to
give my feet better support on
the shifting sand.
I slipped into the daypack
and camera bag and headed
east. After a few hundred
yards, I turned north.
My energy flagged a bit,
and I chose routes around
dunes when possible. I
paused for a few photos of
scenes and bugs on flowers.
At the gate I checked the
GPS. I'd covered 3.97 miles,
walking for 2 hours, 44 min
utes and stopping for 58:37
minutes.
I'd turned the GPS off when
I sat beneath the juniper tree.
I drove slowly past the Juni
per Dunes Ranch to keep the
dust down and show appreci
ation for the owners' toler
ance of visitors.
And I was in no hurry. I
could drive the 75 miles or so
home in less than two hours,
so I would probably be in time
to wrangle a bowl of soup
before bedtime.

Within sight of Walla Walla

A stay-at-home outdoors
Walla Walla weekend proves
that you don't have to drive
half a day to find scenic
beauty and wildlife.
A drive of less than 40 miles
over two days does the trick.
And you get to sleep in your
own bed.
So, I slept in on the first day
off before I rode my bike
along Mill Creek and around
Bennington Lake. I swooped
over the unpaved trails and
roller-coaster hills, sharp
turns and exciting ruts, or
ditches, a foot wide and a foot
deep.
``Exciting,'' if you hit one,
that is, you could crush a rim
and catapult over the handle
bars to land on your punkin'. I
hit a top speed of 24 mph and
covered 14.6 miles in one-
hour, 39 minutes.
On the way home along
Mill Creek, I saw two families
of Canada geese, one with
two adults and three goslings
and one with two adults and
at least a dozen goslings.
And I saw dozens of stay-at-
home folks enjoying shaded,
colorful Pioneer Park.
So I stowed the bike and,
without showering or chang
ing clothes, took my wife
Darlene, Sadie the Dalmatian
and the camera for a ride.
We drove 1.5 miles to see
the geese. We walked along
the stream for 100 yards and
watched adult geese and a
stream of little ones swim up
stream in single file. Almost.
When they came to a weir,
the adults hopped to the top.
The goslings, with mere
stubs for wings, hesitated
then swam back and forth
unwilling to face the chal
lenge.
I watched until my camera
arm ached.
Sadie grumbled. She
waddled to the truck and
back. She stood grumbling
behind me. She made a sec
ond trip to the truck and back.
All the time, the goslings
swam back and forth before
the weir, and the adults
walked along the top, keeping
pace with them. They made
three trips from one side of
the stream to the other, three
times coming within 10 feet of
me before turning back.
Once an adult slipped down
the weir to join the goslings.
The adult swam slowly up to
the weir again and, as to dem
onstrate how its done,
climbed to the top. No little
one followed.
After an hour, the squad of
goslings _ I counted 15 of
them _ swam again to my
side of the stream. Nearly at
my feet, three of them left the
water and stumbled across
the stones to a low, dry sec
tion of the weir.
As hovering parents
watched, they scrambled onto
the weir. Alas, the other 12
turned back.
And I gave up. Surely, they
would all eventually find a
way up the weir. Surely?
We drove another mile-plus
to the Mill Creek Project
Office, and a rooster pheasant
paraded past us on the grass.
On the way home, we
stopped at Pioneer Park, with
it colorful dogwood and laurel
blossoms, and watched famil
ies picnic and kids play on the
covered wagon. We watched a
peacock in the aviary.
So, that was the first day of
an Outdoors in Walla Walla
Weekend. And I drove fewer
than four miles.
Early (7:30 a.m.) on the sec
ond day, we drove into the
Blue Mountain foothills on
Government Mountain Road.
It circles around to connect
with Kendall Skyline Road,
according to my map.
From there we could return
to Walla Walla on Tiger Can
yon and Mill Creek roads.
So I figured.
Well, Government Moun
tain Road climbs steadily.
Within minutes, two
scraggly does clattered into
the road, up the bank and
stood in the field above us.
We counted nine deer within
five minutes.
In another few minutes, we
could see across the valley.
Haze obscured details to
some degree, but we could
see from the airport to Milton-
Freewater, and to the wind
turbines on the distant hill
sides.
Despite the frequent ``No
Trespassing'' signs, we
stopped several times to take
in the view and to let Sadie
sniff around the balsamroot.
Eventually, about 20 miles
from home, we came to a
100-yard snowdrift with two-
foot-deep ruts. I stopped.
``We shouldn't have any
trouble,'' I said, keeping to
myself that I'd taken the
shovel out of the truck two
days earlier.
``Maybe,'' Darlene said.
``You ifdonf have a shovel,
right?''
She's been here before, I
thought, and grunted.
I slipped the 4-wheel drive
lever into low-low and we
putted through drift and past
a pond alive with frog croaks.
Then after another deep-
rutted drift, a deadfall
blocked the road.
We'd driven 22 miles. I
made half-a-dozen moves for
ward and back to turn on the
two-track road. after passing
the first drift again, I stopped.
``Let's walk back to the
pond and look for frogs,'' I
said.
We spent half an hour at
the pond with hundreds of
apparently invisible frogs
harmonizing for us.
Finally, I saw two frogs, one
with a little one on its back,
suspended in the clear water.
Then, with the valley below,
we drove directly into the
wide panorama on Saddle
Mountain Road to Pikes Peak
Road.
Not a bad way to brush
with the great outdoors and
put fewer than 40 miles on the
truck. Not bad at all.