A meeting of the moms


My dogs Chico and Annie were born at a home down Thiel Creek Road just past where the road forks, one way going uphill through fields of Scotch broom, wild blackberries and a rainbow of wildflowers, the other meandering downhill along the creek, bounded by ferns and fir trees. Usually we walk the upper path. It’s sunny and not so steep, but yesterday I took Chico down the lower path.

I hadn’t planned to take him to his birthplace. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember the house. He and Annie were only eight weeks old, 9 and 8 pounds of scared puppy, when Fred and I put them in the car and took them home that rainy April day last year. We had never had any contact with that family since then, and I don’t even remember their names.

But this time, the woman came driving by with one of her daughters. She recognized me and the dog and stopped to talk. “He looks just like his mother,” she said. Really, I thought, gazing at my dog. Perhaps. The mother dog, a Staffordshire bull terrier, was rounder and more mottled black and tan while Chico, half Lab, is primarily black. However, this summer his fur is lightening up, with more brown showing every day. And those eyes, those huge chocolate eyes, are unmistakable. Chico’s taller than his mom was, like a woman’s teenage son.

“Is he fixed?” the woman asked.

“Oh yeah,” I said, thinking about how my brother-and-sister pets were already humping each other at four months and I was relieved to have them neutered before Annie wound up pregnant.

The woman drove on after that. Later I wondered if she had thought maybe Chico would be a good stud for breeding. No way. Two crazy dogs is enough.

Having gone that far and been sighted by the human mother, we walked toward the house. We were still a couple hundred yards away when I heard a dog barking like crazy from the garage. I was sure it was Chico’s mother. While he didn’t recognize the blue house, he did react to the voice, head cocked, ears up. “Mom?” He didn’t bark back, but I could see he was puzzled.

I felt bad for the dogs, separated for life. “He’s okay,” I called out to the hidden mother dog. “Big and healthy. I’ll take good care of him. I’m so sorry.” And we turned and headed back up the hill.

It was a long walk home. We collapsed on the cool lawn, Chico leaning all his 64 pounds on me as I pet his soft brown-black head. “You’re such a good boy,” I said, wrapping my arms around him and hugging him tight.

Chico takes a ride


My black dog Chico has taken to jumping the fence. Every time I turn around, he’s on the other side while Annie, who’s shorter, is still on this side. If he could jump out, he could jump in, right? Apparently not. Until I coax him through the gate, he rustles through brush and trees and vines so thick a garter snake would have trouble moving around. I see him leaping, his tongue hanging out, his eyes glowing with excitement.

I have arranged for a large dog run to be constructed so the pups can’t escape and I can leave them without worrying about it.

Meanwhile, I guess I have a road buddy, especially on days when it’s just too nice to lock the dogs in the laundry room. I took Chico with me to visit my husband at Graceland yesterday. Chic’s a good rider. He sat in that passenger seat like a human being, watching the road, getting a little queasy on the turns, but holding it together. Yes, I know he should be in a crate, but he and Annie have chewed the fronts off their crates, so I don’t think I could attach a door anymore.

At Graceland, resident dog Lucy was not thrilled, especially when Chico greeted Grace with full-frontal enthusiasm. Lucy was growling, Chico was pulling hard on the leash, and Grace was feeling bumps rise on her cheek from an allergic reaction. “Oh my gosh, I have to take a shower,” she said, running off with pawprints on her white jacket. Oops. I never met anybody so allergic.

Fred was glad to see his buddy. They spent a long time snuggling and we three walked down the road past where the pavement ends high above the trees and the ocean. Chico did his practice sit-stays and down-stays just fine, and I got mud all over my dress boots. It was a lot chillier up on the hill; in fact, it had snowed that morning, so we turned back toward Graceland, where Lucy still stood guard. No way Chico was going in the house. I put him in the car, fully expecting him to chew up the seats, the grocery bags, the tissues, the headrests, something, but he sat up behind the steering wheel like an old man waiting for his wife at the grocery store. What a dog. No damage, just nose prints on the window. My car has finally been dog-initiated.

Fred and I watched him out the window as juncos and one robin mobbed the bird feeder and Rick and Lee tried to repair Lee’s car, which got dented up when he spun out on the corkscrew road up the hill. It was a short visit. A few hugs from the hubby, and I had to take my buddy home. Chico rode the whole way in his seat. After a while, he lay his head against the back of the seat with a look that said, “I’m so tired.”

But not tired enough. Within a half hour after arriving home, he was over the fence. A half hour after I let him back in the gate, he dashed out the front door when my friend Terry arrived to practice music. Do you know how hard it is to see a black dog in the dark? Unless you see their eyes glowing, they’re invisible. Fortunately, I heard my neighbor talking to someone and guessed where he’d gone. “Do you have an extra dog over there?” I called. Sure enough. Paula was barbecuing steaks, and Chico had decided to help. I dragged him home, but he was back over the fence again this morning.

I can’t wait till the fence builders return.

Christmas at Georgie’s

We ate Christmas dinner sitting side by side at a table overlooking the ocean at Georgie’s Beachside Grill in Newport, OR. After days of snow and ice, the air had warmed up enough that we just had rain. The sky offered an ever-changing show of white, blue and thunder-gray, and the sea, a froth of white and aquamarine, covered the entire beach. Living here, we often forget to look at the ocean so near our home, but we had plenty of time on Christmas. Until the food came, it was that or look at ourselves in the mirror on the far wall.

One might expect most people to be at home with their loved ones, opening presents, eating monstrous meals, everyone talking at once, but it was just the two of us, plus many other couples and family groups who decided not to cook. Our one expected guest, our son Michael, was still snowed in and couldn’t get here from Portland, and I decided it was not a holiday for me if I had to spend the day in the kitchen.

The “Grill” part of Georgie’s name is a misnomer. Located next to the Hallmark Hotel, it is an elegant restaurant with white tablecloths, crystal glasses, candles, staff in white shirts and black pants, soft music, the whole bit. For Christmas, one could have anything on the regular menu, but the specials were the best deal. For $18.95, we got plates loaded with turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy,sweet potatoes and green beans almondine, followed by our choice of a four-berry cobbler covered with vanilla bean ice cream or a chocolate lava cake. We walked out of there so full it hurt. We didn’t need another meal that day. We just nibbled on some of the many cookies and candies sent by loved ones.

While we were filling up on actual food, our dog Annie was eating half of her brother Chico’s red collar. We’re talking thick, heavy-duty stuff. Upon arriving home, we realized Chico was naked. I soon spotted half of his collar on the grass. Luckily it was the half with the buckle and tags. Poop-scooping over the next three days showed us where the other half went. Annie. It didn’t seem to bother her.

Enjoy the rest of the holidays, and, as I keep telling the dogs, “If it ain’t food, don’t eat it.”

Great Blue Heron on Thiel Creek Pond


Down the street and around the corner from our home in the Oregon coastal forest, we turn onto Thiel Creek Road, where just beyond the fire hydrant sits a pond no bigger than most swimming pools. The tree-shaded pond is dark, dotted with water spiders, newts, pine needles and an dead limb that fell last winter. Two pink blow-up floaters have run aground, shriveled hunks of plastic. I always wonder how deep the water is and imagine it is painfully cold. When I walk by at sunset, the pink of the sky reflects in the glassy water, and I am glad to live so close to this piece of nature.

On Wednesday, I was walking my dog Chico at lunchtime. It was a cool, clear November day, the air sweet and refreshing in my lungs. As we turned the corner, I heard a loud rustling and watched a great blue heron rise up in front of us, flying across the pond to perch on a tree, from which it sat watching us, tilting its head from side to side. Now, I am used to Stellar’s jays, robins, Oregon juncos and the occasional crow, but this huge and magnificent bird is a rare visitor whose wings seemed to reach from one side of the pond to the other. What a gift to see it even once.

It was still there when we came back. We walked through trees so tall I couldn’t see the tops of them. I took the dog through his training routine. Sit, stay, come, down, yes, I mean it, down. By the time we head home, he’s slowing down, starting to match his steps to mine. As we approached the pond, the heron rose up in front of us again. This time, it flew west toward the ocean. “Look, Chico, look,” I said, but the dog had his nose on the ground, sniffing the remnants of someone’s lunch.

Later, when I walked the other dog, Annie, all we saw was a squirrel, brown with a rusty chest, busily eating a pine cone. The squirrel ignored us, and Annie ignored the squirrel.

On our walks, we always see something. Maybe it’s a newt slowly crossing the road, a gopher snake, wooly bear caterpillars or the black ones that look like they wear two strings of jewels. We meet the dachshund who lives just past the pond or the limping man with two basset hounds. The flora changes with the seasons from the first trillium in early spring to wild daisies, cow parsnip, and Scotch broom so yellow it glows to the fall mushrooms that look like pancakes on sticks or the ones that hang out of the mud like jingles on a tambourine.

Thiel Creek Road is officially 98th Street now, and the creek is only visible here and there until we move farther east where the houses yield to forest and swamp, but every walk brings something new to see if we bother to look.