As Old Trees Fall, New Life Begins

Once so thick only a snake or rabbit could squeeze between the trees and shrubs, the wooded property beside mine fell prey to bulldozers in June 2022. In 12 days, it went from heavily forested to bare land, exposing my house and leaving robins, garter snakes, and white-tailed rabbits to find other homes. The new owner plans to build a house and eventually plant some new non-native trees.

For every tree that fell, I ached. It was a life ending. At the same time, I marveled at the increasing view of the sky and the sunset, of the moon and stars. I felt a warm comfort that my new neighbors arrived just a few days after I told God how worried I was about aging alone in my isolated house and put my future in His hands. Instead of being hidden away where no one could hear me if I called for help, I can now be seen by anyone coming down my street. When I walk on my deck now, instead of a wall of trees, I see my neighbors’ houses and all the way to the next road. I am exposed. No more naked hot-tubbing. When I wander out in my nightgown, people can see me. It’s a trade-off. The animals are adapting, and so will I. After all, someone cleared my property back in 1967 to build my house, and someone razed the orchards to build the neighborhood where I grew up. It’s what happens.

Yesterday, a big truck took the bulldozers away. The workers were gone. No more noise. In this lull before construction on the new neighbors’ house begins, Annie and I walked the cleared property, adding our footprints to the tracks of the heavy equipment. We found remnants of past lives: beer and soda bottles, pieces of shingles, a bit of rope, a flat football. We found the lid that blew off my compost bin in a storm years ago. We found a garter snake curled in the leaves that remain on my side of the property line. A gray and white bird I had never seen before sang from a tree in my yard, and a turkey vulture circled lazily in the warm air.

There was a particular alder tree I had asked the neighbor to save. No, he said. It has to go. The trunk remains, reddish gold. I counted the rings. About 35. It was a young tree, but as the neighbor said and as I could see from the fallen branches, it was rotten inside and would not have stood much longer. Its sister tree on my side of the property line reaches slim and leafy into the June sky. A yellow warbler darts between branches. So be it. Life is a book with many chapters. You can’t know the whole story unless you turn the page.

I still startle at the sight when I drive into my neighborhood. I will miss the blackberries I picked and baked into cobblers and muffins in past years. I will miss the rabbit that snuck out of the bushes for brief visits, but I also love the late-day sun that pours into parts of my house that have ever seen the sun before. Life goes on.

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Dizzy Dog Returns to South Beach

Nothing like sleeping in your own bed (or near it) after a long stay in the hospital

Annie is home. On Friday, when I saw her pulling the vet worker along the sidewalk, I knew my old friend was too stubborn to die yet. She walks like a drunken sailor, leaning left. I have to walk with her, grabbing her “Help ‘em Up” harness whenever she starts to tilt. She falls a lot, runs into things. She has a bloody bedsore on her elbow and shaved patches here and there from IVs and blood tests. She spent a week with a catheter because she could not stand to pee, and that caused a urinary tract infection. But she’s home and getting stronger every day.

Vestibular Disease, a sort of doggy vertigo, knocked her flat on Christmas Day. (Read about it in the Dec. 28 post) She spent the next two weeks at the Willamette Veterinary Hospital in Corvallis, 55 miles from here. Due to COVID, I could not go inside with her. I could only sit in my car in the parking lot with all the other pet people. I finally got to see her last Wednesday after waiting five hours for the busy staff to bring her out for a socially distanced visit. I cried a lot that day. (Read more about that at my Childless by Marriage blog.)

As she barrels cockeyed toward the step down into the den, I race to catch her, reminding her that a only few days ago, she couldn’t stand, and walking was only a dream. Two weeks ago, she couldn’t eat, drink or urinate. But now she’s eating, drinking, taking her pills, doing her “business” and wanting to take our usual hikes.

Saturday, I took her out front, intending to walk maybe two houses down, but she led me two blocks to where Birch and 98th streets meet and refused to turn around when I insisted we had done enough. She took offense when I grabbed the handles of her harness and forced her away from her favorite mud puddles. “No,” I said. She stared at me as if to ask, “Why? And why can’t I just go out my doggy door into the big back yard by myself?” “Because you’ll fall and hurt yourself.” But I’ll be taking off the harness and opening the gate soon. Thank God.

She’s bored. Just like when I left her at the kennel while I traveled, she has returned more stubborn than ever and doesn’t want to follow my commands to sit, stay, or “leave it.” She no longer waits for me to say grace before meals. When I go to take her out, she inevitably parks herself on the backside of the door so I can’t open it without forcibly moving her out of the way. Then she shoots out the door so fast I can barely keep her from falling. Slow down, slow down, I say.

What lovely problems to have. For two weeks, constantly waiting for phone calls from the hospital, I didn’t know if Annie would survive. I kept waiting for a vet to tell me it was time to say goodbye. Now here she is sprawled on her pillow looking like . . . Annie. 

I have been sleeping on the sofa next to her bed so I can hear her when she gets up. I tried sleeping in my own bed the first night, but I worried too much. Without my hearing aids, I would be unaware of what was going on in the other room. Why not bring her bed into my room? Annie is more stubborn than I am. She wants to sleep where she wants to sleep. I don’t mind. With the fireplace going, it’s like we’re on a camping trip.

She’s not cured but well enough to want to do her usual stuff again. It’s a miracle. Most old dogs who get Vestibular Disease recover in a few days. If they don’t, well, it’s not good. Annie was in the hospital for two weeks, most of them not standing or walking at all. It was starting to look grim. Annie is old, 13 next month. I know she won’t live forever. But I have hope now that she will live long enough to give me more gray hairs. And joy. So much joy. 

The rest of the world is going batshit nuts, but today in the world of Annie and Sue, things are pretty good. Thank you, friends for all the well wishes and prayers. It truly means a lot.  

It was a Dizzy Dog 2020 Christmas

How do I begin to tell this story when I don’t know how it ends?

Scene: Christmas afternoon. My friend Pat and I have finished our takeout dinner from the Drift Inn. We’re talking. She’s sitting on the sofa and I’m on the loveseat. Between us sprawls my big yellow dog, Annie, who has shared our feast and seems delighted to have both of her favorite people here.

The phone rings. I jump up. It’s my aunt calling from Santa Clara, California. Like Pat and I, she is a widow. Her kids live nearby, but thanks to COVID, she is spending the holiday alone with homemade chicken soup. As we’re talking, Annie goes to get off the loveseat and falls, her legs giving out under her. My heart stops. She gets up, falls again. Trying to get to the back door, she rises and falls repeatedly, finally makes it outside. I see her trying to go to the bathroom and falling. I have to get off the phone.

What follows is a nightmare. It’s raining hard. It’s almost dark. Annie keeps trying to walk and falling down. I don’t know what to do. I call the local vet’s office. This being Christmas, they’re closed. I can go to Corvallis, 55 miles away, or Springfield, a hundred miles away. I don’t like to drive the mountain roads in the dark, but this is my Annie, my life companion now that Fred is gone. I will do anything for her. I call Corvallis and tell them we’re coming. Now it’s completely dark. When I go back out, I find Annie huddled in the muddy space between the patio and the garden shed. I squeeze in, but she won’t move. I can’t lift her and I don’t want to drag her. We’re both soaked.

I can’t get her into the car alone. My friend Pat has vertigo and back issues and can’t help. I call my neighbors, Pat and Paula, and they come. They can’t lift Annie either. I bring out her big blue blanket and they wrap her like a burrito. Gradually we get her to the gate and into the Honda Element.

6:30 p.m. White-knuckle drive to Corvallis. The 24-hour vet is in a dark industrial area. Because of COVID, pet owners must sit in the parking lot while their pets are cared for. Young aides take Annie away on a gurney, and I sit for four hours, rain sheeting down my windows.

1:15 a.m. Christmas is over. They bring Annie out and lift her into the car. The doctor and I, masked, stand in the rain as she shares her diagnosis. Annie has severe arthritis and this thing I’d never heard of: Vestibular Disease, which looks like a stroke, but it’s a type of vertigo. She is dizzy, nauseated and leaning hard to the left. She doesn’t know which way is up. But it will pass in a few days, they say.

Dec. 26, 2:30 a.m. At home, Annie is still crashing and falling. She refuses to move past the doorway. We spend what’s left of the night in the living room lit by Christmas lights. Toward dawn, Annie begins to whine, moan and occasionally shriek. She can’t get up at all. She refuses food, water, and pills. It’s Saturday and the local vet is still closed. I call the vet in Corvallis. She says if things don’t improve, bring her back in.

2:30 p.m. Pat and I are sitting in my car outside the vet’s office again. We are not alone. Many dog and cat owners are doing the same thing. The techs run back and forth to transport animals and get forms signed. Annie is going to stay in the hospital this time, but we’re waiting for paperwork, to talk to the doctor, to pay. It begins to rain and blow again. Pat and I chat, read, eat the snacks we brought. On my phone, we watch part of the Zoom Mass we’re missing and sing along. It gets dark. Finally, we talk to the doctor, arrange for payment, and drive home. It’s not raining this time, but the oncoming headlights are blinding. When I get home, where there is no Annie, I fall apart. Pat holds me while I cry.

I spend Sunday on my own, take a solo walk, do chores, take a cake to my helpful neighbors and hug their big Lab, Harley. As with a human in the hospital in these COVID times, I can’t visit Annie. I can only wait for the doctors to call.

Monday morning: Annie is being moved out of the ICU. She is eating and drinking, but she still can’t stand up. Her neurological symptoms have not improved. Most dogs get better in a few days or a few weeks. Some don’t.

As I try to work, I keep thinking I hear Annie walking around or shaking her tags. I think I’ll see her in the doorway or on the loveseat. The quiet is deafening.

I don’t know what the future holds. I do know that my Facebook post on Annie’s situation has drawn 121 comments, and they’re still coming in. Annie has more fans than I do, and that’s fine with me. Please pray for us both. Thank you to everyone who has shown me so much love these last few days. Kudos to the Willamette Veterinary Hospital. Although farther than I’d like to drive, I do believe they’re giving her the best possible care.

Have you heard of Vestibular Disease? People can get it, too. In fact, my friend Pat has been suffering from vertigo for quite a while. I accused her of giving it to Annie. She was not amused.

Click here for some information on the condition.

Here’s a good video about it.

What the dog expects

Winter has arrived, no matter what the calendar says. It’s raining hard here on the Oregon coast, with snow expected tonight. School kids are hoping for an extra day off while their parents are hoping the snow never comes. Friends from farther north are already sending their snow pictures on Facebook. For me, if it snows right now, when I don’t have anywhere to go, that would be nice. I’ll take pictures, too.

Meanwhile, I have been writing poems for the Poem a Day challenge sponsored by Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides site. For the most part this has been really fun. Robert sends out a prompt each morning, and we make it into a poem. This poem is based on the prompt to write a poem about an agreement.

My dog and I have this agreement:
When I sit on her couch, she will sit on me.
She will stretch out on her back,
paws in the air, head in my lap,
so I can pet her belly forever.
Whatever else I’m doing,
my right hand must stroke her fur.
I must not move, even if she snores
or whimpers in her running dreams.
If my legs go numb, too bad.
If the telephone rings, it rings.
If night falls and I am hungry,
I cannot disturb the dog.
I must love the dog no matter what
as she snuggles in my lap.
This is our agreement.
It suits us both quite well.

Dog attack spoils our fun

As we got out of the car at the dog park on Sunday, I could see a brown and white dog eagerly watching us from inside the enclosure. Annie spotted her right away and seemed to want to play with her, too. The dog was jumping up and down, reminding me of Chico, the hyperactive dog I had to give away. This dog was female, about Annie’s age and size, with extended nipples as if she has had a litter or two. She had a pit bull face. That didn’t bother me; my dogs are half pit bull, too.

I had only gotten Annie through the first gate when this other dog, Reina, joined us in the space between the gates. The dogs sniffed each other and seemed all right. But as soon as we got inside, the dogs went nuts and started fighting. I tried to pull Annie away, but the other dog kept advancing. Suddenly I felt pain and screamed. Reina had torn a big hunk out of my black pants and left a four-inch-long scrape and bruise on my inner thigh. She was still attacking my dog. “Get your dog!” I hollered to the owners, a young couple who were just sitting on a log doing nothing.

In a minute, the dogs stopped fighting and started acting like they wanted to play. I let Annie go. They ran together a bit. Annie stopped to poop, the other dog thumped her on the butt with her paws, and they ran some more. Okay. But still, my pants, my leg . . .

Another woman arrived with a smaller white dog. Again, the jumping, the sniffing, and the attack. Reina grabbed the little guy around the throat and didn’t want to let go. Again, the owners did nothing. Annie had gone off on her own, exploring other sections of the dog park, but as the other dogs started to relax, she approached them and I followed. Closer up, I could see the white dog had blood on its neck. “Hey, she drew blood,” I said.


Another woman drove up, this time with two small dogs. I put Annie’s leash back on. There was Reina, jumping at the gate again. The woman asked me if the dogs were safe. Yes and no, I said, holding my pup tightly. I pointed Reina out, showed the damage to my pants and my leg and said I was taking my dog out of there.

Which I did. The other woman left, too.

Annie and I walked around the nearby college where I peeked in all the dark windows, seeing tables, desks, a piano, boxes, long hallways. We were both kind of shaky. I could feel the cool air blowing through the hole in my pants and the red scratch beneath. I wanted to get fresh clothes and put some antibiotic ointment on the wound.
I was so angry, and I still am. Reina is a beautiful dog, but I keep thinking about Chico and how dangerous he became and how much I miss him. You can’t let an aggressive dog attack other dogs and their owners. If it does, you owe them a big apology, at the least. Those two never even said they were sorry. An apology and maybe even an offer to replace my pants (which were old, but I liked them and had to throw them away) would be in order.

Whether you have a pit bull or a chihuahua, if you can’t trust it 100 percent, don’t let it loose in the dog park–or any other public place. Nothing horrible happened this time, but when a dog draws blood, it is not okay. Don’t spoil it for those of us who just want to have fun on a Sunday afternoon.

Where There’s Water . . .

I should have known. Wetlands means wet feet. Annie and I visited the new Beaver Creek State Natural Area just south of Newport, OR, today. It’s a beautiful state park, all new and shiny, smelling of fresh-cut wood and grass. Trails padded with grass and wood chips lead upward to great vistas and downward though the rushes toward the creek.

We headed south on a pleasant trail. When we passed an opening to the creek, I pulled Annie back, saying, “Oh no. We’re not getting wet today.” As the grass rose around us, I gazed at miles of waving grasses and distant hills in varying shades of purple, gray and tan. Just as I was wishing for the 10th time that I had brought my camera, the ground gave way beneath my feet. Sploosh! Annie and I were in mud up to her belly and my calves. We walked on a little ways, hoping the ground would firm up, but it didn’t. Sploosh, sploosh, sploosh. We turned back.

Off the side of the trail where the ground is solid, there’s a plastic dock, accessed by a plywood bridge. If Annie waded in there, she could get clean, I thought. She was thirsty, already drinking the murky water. I stepped onto the dock, felt it rocking dangerously and decided I was better off sitting down. Meanwhile, Annie leaned over the edge, drinking. I relaxed in the warm breeze. Ahh.

Suddenly, splash! My pup, who just discovered two weeks ago that she could swim and who has thrown herself into every puddle since then, jumped in. It was deep. She tried desperately to climb back onto the dock but couldn’t get a grip on the plastic surface. She panicked, desperately splashing, her nails slipping off the dock. Still holding her leash, I struggled to guide her over to the shallow side, willing to jump in if I had to. Just when it looked as if she might drown, she finally paddled around the dock to the shore. She shook a few times and pulled me toward the car. She’s traumatized, I thought. But then she saw another trail. She headed right for the water. “We’re wet enough,” I said.

And so, with NPR’s “Fresh Air” providing commentary in the background, we drove home, utterly soaked. Every now and then, we turned to grin at each other. Another adventure survived.

Moral: This is a great park. You can hike, kayak, canoe, or simply enjoy wide open spaces from the many benches scattered around. Take Highway 101 to Oregon’s Milepost 149 and turn east. The turnoff and the parking lot by the visitors’ center are well-marked. If you don’t want wet feet, watch your step. If you want to see it all, wear tall boots and carry towels. Lots of towels. Don’t forget the camera.

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