Monday, June 21, 2021

MY LITTLE DOG TOO

… a true-to-life rescue story…

 

On a recent Sunday, we were the humans of a second dog for about 45 minutes.  Because he was a stray who, like our lab-mix Edward, sorta found us, I named our new dog “Too.”

         California’s State Route 175 heads east from US 101 at Hopland.  It alternately winds through foothills and races across fertile valleys of vineyard and ranchland.  Were it not for a 17-mile stretch of crumbling, twisty pavement over the Mayacamas, it might be considered a shortcut to somewhere.  Just shy of those mountains, the Sanal Valley is home to the industrial strength Ray’s Station Winery.  175 shoots a straight line across this valley’s floor and travelers pick up the pace from around 30 miles per hour to above 65.  

         That Sunday morning, we were powering up along the stretch when our eyes were distracted by a tiny tan and white dot cris-crossing the pavement near the winery.  We slowed, as did an on-comer.  Drawing near, we found the wandering dot was a tiny dog – perhaps a chihuahua-terrier mix of some sort – darting here and there, into and out of the traffic lanes, likely confused but surely in danger.

         “Oh, we need to stop!” Candi said.

         “No, we need to keep going,” I replied, knowing we had somewhere to be at some specific time.

         “It’ll get run over!”

         “Keep going!”

         “I can’t live with that.”

         Candi pulled into a wide spot and idled the Subaru under a spreading oak.

         Reluctantly – because I know how these things have ended up in the past (apologies to Edward) – I hopped out and while crossing the highway, palmsed down approaching vehicles to encourage them to slow.

         I positioned myself between the little dog and the pavement.  He warily scurried about on the dirt shoulder.  At times, I could approach and lightly scratch his head but was viciously snapped at if I attempted to scoop him up or slip my finger under his tiny red collar.  No tags dangled from that collar but the collar told me he belonged to someone.  With each of my futile attempts at capture, he would gyrate away.  A couple of sport bikes whistled by, then an F-150.  I knew couldn’t let the dog make it back to the road.


Not the real dog, but he looked a lot like this one...

         “Grab Edward’s leash!” I hollered across the highway.  Edward, by now, knew something was up.  He was peering out the side window of the Sube witnessing in horror, I’m sure, that his humans were about to violate the first commandment: that being thou shalt have no other dogs before me.  (Apologies to Moses.)

         Candi snapped the leash around the red collar – couldn’t seem to match the clip to the collar’s D-ring – but the little guy apparently didn’t cotton to such constriction.  He rolled over on his back and kicked and snapped at us from the dust.  We retrieved a towel from the car and tried to wrap him up, but he didn’t particularly want to be wrapped up.  Finally, we fashioned a bit of a noose by looping the leash through the leash’s loop on its people end and slipped the thing over the little guy’s head.  Tightening it no further than simply secure, the miniscule critter suddenly relaxed.  Five minutes of soft murmurs and gentle rubs on the head and then belly, and the little guy was ours.  

         With a cell tower in sight, I placed a call to Mendocino County Animal Control.  Closed on Sunday.  This seemed as outrageous as a dump being closed on Thanksgiving. (Apologies to Arlo Guthrie.) But my call was patched through to sheriff’s dispatch.  Explaining the circumstance, the dispatcher, once learning that the locale was a state highway, forwarded my call to the CHP.  Upon finding that we’d already secured the animal and it was no longer a potential hazard, the CHP rerouted my call to Animal Control.  Nowhere was where we were going and there was somewhere we were supposed to be.

         Apparently, the dog was now ours.  Placing hands on each side of his heaving ribcage, Candi carried him across the road at arm’s length and placed him in the footwell of the Sube’s passenger seat.  He’d calmed appreciably by this time.  Perhaps it was trust.  Perhaps he knew he was no longer in danger.  Maybe he thought he was going home.  Our home.

         Candi was pleased.  The puppy was pleased.  Grudgingly, I was pleased.  Edward, however, was not.  What other commandments do my humans choose to so willingly ignore?

 

 

Now what?  We couldn’t take him with us, and we couldn’t leave him there.  

         The little guy must have been a local.  The red collar told us so.  That, and he was too cute and too compliant to be a pup someone would abandon by the side of a state highway.  Well, most someones.  The little guy was a charmer.  In the footwell he was quiet and no longer feeling the need to nip or cower.  At one point I could swear a heard the slightest chihuahua-sized sigh of contentment as he settled against Candi’s feet.

         Across the road from the Ray’s Station Winery lay a farm or cattle ranch that likely dated back to the nineteenth century.  Not having given way to wine grapes, the fencing and distant barns said livestock.  They also suggested that whoever lived there might know where this little chi-terrier gentleman belonged.  As we wended along the gravel road between the snaking fences, I reached down into and rubbed the little guy’s head.  Craning his wanting neck toward my departing fingers, he seemed to say, “Please, sir.  I’d like some more.”  (Apologies to ‘Oliver’.)

         “What if there’s nobody here?  What if they don’t know the owner?”  Candi asked as we bumped along. “What if…”

         “I guess we’ll have a second dog.  I already know what to name him.”

         The parallel fence line widened as we approached a dusty complex of barns, outbuildings and corrals.  As we drove up, two men were heading out in an aging burgundy red Dodge pickup.  I suspected they didn’t get a lot of visitors out this way.  

         Lowering my window, I held up a hand.  “We found a little dog wandering about on the highway just now.”

         The driver looked at Edward.  “That one?”

         “No.”  Candi lifted the chihuahua and whatever-happened-to-be-on-the-block-that-day mix from the footwell.  “Do you know if he belongs to anyone around here? We’re on our way to somewhere and we really can’t or shouldn’t keep him.  Called the shelter but they were closed.”

         By this time, the rancher who’d been driving had stepped out of his Dodge.  Candi held up the rascal.  The rancher looked at the dog.  I suspect they made eye contact: man-to-dog, dog-to-man eye contact.

         The man considered, but only for a moment.  “I have two dogs already.  I don’t think having a third one would much matter.”

         He gently took up the dog, grasping him by his now-not-heaving sides.  

Not the real lap, either, but what does it matter?

         “Look,” I said.  “If you can’t find the owner or it somehow doesn’t work out, here’s my card.  E-mail me and I’ll come pick him up and take him to the shelter when they’re open.”

         Tucking the little guy under one arm, he took my card and nodded.  “This will be no problem…”

         “But if it is…”

         He nodded again as we turned and headed back toward the highway.

 

 

Once returned to route 175 Candi asked, “you said you had a name for him already.  What was it?”

         “Too,” I said, and I explained why.  Candi seemed to nod.  “Plus," I added, "when we go to the vet, the vet can refer to him as 'Your little dog, Too'.”  (Apologies to the Wicked Witch of the West and to Margaret Hamilton who owns that role on film and who uttered that iconic line.)

         After thirty-five years of marriage, my loving wife had long since grown more than a bit weary of my wit.  Presently, we began to consider the principal differences between dogs and humans:  

…Dogs are loyal.  

…Dogs are inherently trusting and true.  

…Dogs are protective and their love is unconditional.

         We agreed on these and quite a few others including: “A dog would never abandon their human by the side of the road.”

         Five miles up the hill, I was half-hoping the rancher would not contact me.

         Days later, the other half is still hoping he will.

 

© 2021

Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

ASHES TO ASHES

 

…another visit to Simpson Camp…

 

A lucky person finds his or her special Eden.  In my case, it is a place where the only sounds are of soughing pines and the occasional cry of a hawk, where the passing air is fragrant and fresh, where views stretch from my feet to forever, where memories are rich and fulfilling, where decades dissolve each time I visit.

 

Click on any photo to expand 'em all.


The old sheep camp near Mendocino Pass is that place for me.

 

In the 60s, our family met up with the sheep man’s clan for long weekends in the lost high country of the Coast Range.


 

An easily forgotten Jeep road wound away from the forest highway climbing to the top of a ridge that overlooked a sweeping glade and a distant stand of firs.




Mom and Ellie cooked on an abandoned Wedgewood.

 



When it came time to allow Mom her rest last year, this would be the place.  We left her shillelagh – a hickory walking stick she'd purchased when visiting Ireland – under a fallen log on the off chance her spirit might want to hike over to the Yolla Bollys and catch up with Dad who’d had a twenty-five year head start.

 

Scanning up the meadow to the top of the ridge, a copse of oaks stood “like a Greek Chorus,” Dad had said all those many years before.

 



The 'chorus' still stood in 2020.

 



From the vantage point of this little grove, on a clear day, you can see the fog hugging the Pacific coast forty miles to the west and the crest of the Sierra 90-plus miles east.  Eden indeed. Accompanied by my granddaughter and my nephew, I drove a stake into the ground in that stand of oaks. Eye contact with the two told me they knew why.

 

 

 Then, on August 16, 2020, all hell literally broke loose.  The word ‘literally’ is often misused – not in this case.

 

Source: CalFire


Folks at CalFire suggested that the August Complex fire started as a result of lightning strikes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if investigators ultimately found that the devil himself had slipped out of a fissure somewhere in eastern Glenn County and exhaled his damnable, fiery breath over 1,032,000 acres of mountain and range land.  Large areas of the Yolla Bolly and Yuki Wilderness would be burned.  And my little Eden lay smack in the middle of the largest wildfire California had ever experienced.

 

 

On a Monday in April 2021, we decided to revisit Simpson Camp, see what survived and maybe grab Mom’s stick.  Here’s what we found.  


Turnoff to Simpson Camp – May 2020:


 

Turnoff to Simpson Camp – April 2021:

 



View up the glade – May 2020:

 



View down the glade – April 2021:

 



Simpson Camp kitchen – circa 1966:

 



Simpson Camp kitchen – April 2021:

 



Ash from Mom’s hickory shillelagh:

 



The fire roared through the treetops and turned the grasses and skunk cabbage and understory to ash… 

 



…revealing artifacts (read: refuse) from earlier days…

 



…including a church-keyed Coors can…

 



… and a remnant of the old Wedgewood.

 



The trek up the hill would prove melancholy.  The beauty of my Eden was gone.




 

 

Or was it?  At the top of the hill, that copse of oaks was in the process of budding out.  And a little white fir had joined the chorus.

 



Taking a closer look…

 



Simpson Camp’s rebirth may be slow, and it may be painful but I’m thinking I’ll be close by to monitor things.

 

© 2021

Church of the Open Road Press

 

 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

COMFORT COOKING

 A brief Church of the Open Road remembrance…

 

Last night, I was preparing spaghetti carbonara and thinking of my late pal Bob.  Bob liked Coors Lite and Rush Limbaugh, but for those indiscretions I could forgive him.  Bob let me help him cook.

 

Working a split shift, Bob’s job was to open up the little school where he was the custodian.  He’d clean classrooms and toilets, mop up spills and the occasional vomit, mow the playing field, trim the trees, shovel the snow, freshen the paint, befriend the dispossessed kid and lock up again at night.  His hours were seven to eleven and two to six.  He rarely went home at lunch, because often times, he’d serve lunch and chat with students as they ate outside under a giant oak.  Sometimes, he’d even cook lunch – not for the kids, for the staff.

 

His Italian roots were not well buried.  On a regular basis, the little electric stove in the break room would bubble with his scratch marinara or buttery garlic sauce.  Occasionally, although I served as the little school’s principal, Bob would haul me in to sous chef for him, directing me in dicing onions or shucking clams. Just as teachers filed in at noon, his pasta achieved al dente and clams or meatballs were ready to be ladled on top.  Garlic bread was there for the sopping.  All that was missing was an appropriate Primitivo or Dolcetto.

 

Bob’s Italian lunches were comfort foods for us all.  As our country entered the Gulf War, Bob cooked.  If a student lost a mom or dad, Bob cooked.  When my tenure was coming to a rather rocky end, Bob cooked. The engaging aromas of a loving Italian kitchen helped pacify the angst brought about by any tumultuous news of the day.  

 


In the aftermath of last week’s insurrection and the assault on the capitol, I prepared this simple spaghetti carbonara, let its fragrance fill the house and reminisced about my late pal Bob.   I’d long ago learned that the difference between a janitor and a custodian is that while a janitor is charged with mopping and cleaning, a custodian, by definition, is one who “cares for.” 

 

As I cooked last night, I wondered if there was – anywhere – a Bob who might serve as the custodian of our democracy.



© 2021

Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, December 26, 2020

2020: THE CHURCH OF THE OPEN ROAD’S YEAR IN REVIEW

  

…as random and crazy as the year departing was, 

expect little or no order herewith…

 


We’ll start with Edward’s annual first-week-in-January “Polar Bear” swim in Lake Sonoma (with the best stick ever)…

 


 

Our area would again be visited by fire this year…

 

 


…and circumstances curtailed a bit of travel, but I did revisit some favored roads.

 

 


The coast has replaced the Sierra as our go-to place for beauty and reflection…

 

 


…any time of the year…

 

 


…with all manner of creatures…

 

 


…and hidden little Edens.

 

 


 

We bid farewell to Romeo…

 

 


…a classic BMW that deserved better than to be gathering dust in the garage… 

 

 


…and Mom found permanent rest in this favored place.  (Photo circa 1967)

 

 


 

A ‘chase car’ trip to Central Oregon afforded us this view of Shasta…

 

 


                                                   

…a week on the Metolius River…

 

 


…a visit to McKenzie Pass…

 

 


…and a loop down the Oregon Coast.

 


 

 

Random additional images include:  Sunset at Bandon, Oregon…

 

 


…a perfunctory derelict truck…

 

 


…a nice new-to-me section of pavement…

 

 


…and “OH! NO!”

 

 


 

Best book among the many read this year?  Dr. Lepore (Closed circuit to folks at the WSJ: A woman with a PhD is a doctor) offers a readable 400-plus year history of the United States reminding us that we do have ideals, but we don’t always stand up for ‘em the way we say we do. Witness the past few years.  (Allow about a month to finish it, but well worth the effort).

 


 

Shots of the year as judged by our panel of expert (yes: ‘expert’ is singular.)


5th Runner Up: representing too little time with Grandkids in the real world this year:

 

 


4th Runner Up: because we want them grandkids never to miss critters like this:

 


3rd Runner Up: Coastal School (or fire?) Bell.

 

 


2nd Runner Up: Dusk in Upper Lake, California.

 

 


Shot of the Year: Thomas Kincade-esque Cabin across the Metolius.

 

 


Here’s hoping for a more conducive 2021 – (more conducive for damned-near everything.)

 

© 2020

Church of the Open Road Press

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

FOREST ROADS AND FIRE TRAILS

 …the urge to explore continues…

 

After calisthenics we were told to jog from the old gym out to Warner Street, tag the fence and run back.  “That’d be about a half a mile,” Coach McDonald said.  I didn’t much care for jogging – still don’t – but did enjoy the run back.  Over the roof line of


Chico High’s gymnasium I could see the foothills and the mountains where the Sierra and the Cascade met.  Feather River country.  In the fall, those far away hills were streaked with the color of changing leaves.  In the winter, cloaked with snow.  Spring would bring a greenness that highlighted the roads scratched through the forests and meadows and into the high country.  Roads I so wanted to explore.

 

A seven horsepower Honda Trail 90 served as the Golden Hind I’d use to discover the world in my geographical back yard.  Endless summer days were spent putt-putting along forest highways and fire roads in the Plumas and Lassen National forests.  Each day I’d turn at a junction just to see where the dirt track led, and when darkness gathered, I’d make note of the routes I hadn’t opted for and promised to do them next time, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.

 

Fifty years have passed since those days jogging back to the old gym and mind-wandering about the adventure of an unexplored forest road.  But the fantasy still exists.  

 

No longer living in Chico – we’ve enjoyed several interim addresses – now I find myself in a small berg in California’s Alexander Valley toward the northern reach of the Russian River.  Looking across to the hills, I can easily see routes and trails carved into the chemise and woodlands of the Mayacamas east of town.  Standing in the driveway after having picked up the morning paper, my gaze toward the rising sun transports me back to those high school days when I wondered, “Where does that one go?”

 

 

A paved route called the Hopland Grade traverses the Mayacamas north of us.  We’ve driven it several times.  Like a carnival ride at Disneyland, several signs warn that

if your vehicle is longer than this length, you are prohibited from the route.  Hopland Grade is windy, steep and not quick.  Great fun on a Ducati Monster, not so much on or in anything else.  Near the base of the mountains we choose an intersection with the primitive The Old Toll Road.  Winding along the east side of the Sanal Valley, past industrial strength wine vineyards, the crumbly asphalt soon snakes into the hills, over and back over a seasonal creek, and through stands of black and live oak and madrone. 


Hog wire and rotted-post fences trace the road’s edge. There’s even a point where a metal gate appears – one that if one passed through it, one would soon be hurtling over a cliff.  Pavement gone, the surface is graded to a certain extent, washboarded some and dotted with puddles from a two-nights ago late-autumn storm.  The Subaru takes this road is stride.  As did the Yamaha Super Tenere the other time I was up here.  But something makes me long for my old Trail 90.

 

The map tells us that atop the spine of the Mayacamas we’ll find Adobe Creek Road, and we do.  The trouble is that at the intersection with Old Toll, Adobe Creek is gated allowing access only to the rancher with the appropriate key – and Cal Fire folks, too, I assume these days.  I suspect the secured road is one I might see from my driveway, several crow-fly miles to the southwest.  We had hoped to head south and join up with Pine Mountain Road which loops back to the Alexander Valley, but that won’t be the case today – if ever.  Ahead a bit, Adobe Creek Road will take us north affording a view of Clear Lake to the east.  At several minor junctions, each fire road is gated and locked. I’m beginning to get the picture that, unlike in our national forests, a lot of these roads-begging-for-exploration are closed to lookie-loos like me.  In these lands of steep hills and dry brush, I can’t fathom what a landowner might be securing behind these barriers – cattle surely wouldn’t do well amongst these thickets and I’m sure there are easier places to grow pot now that it’s legal. 


 The map tells us that Adobe Creek Road traces the line between Mendocino and Lake counties, and that six or seven miles north, we’ll intersect with the Hopland Grade – which we would have had not another damned gate barred our way about three-quarters of a mile on.  Here, we course east on Highland Springs Road, a Lake County thoroughfare that winds down the lee side of the Mayacamas.  The trees are more sparse on this side of the summit and those that dot the hillsides are primarily blue or valley oak.   The road is wider and far less steep owing to the fact that the rains that tear away at these mountains are more prevalent on the other side.  

 

Twenty minutes further we arrive at a lovely – but rather primitive Lake County public park.  Centered on Highland Springs Reservoir is a rod and gun club, an extensive Frisbee golf set up, tons of picnic spots and a four-mile trail that winds up the canyon then circles around the lake.  Edward the lab-mix was ready for a walk and so were we.  Up the draw, the woods are silent, dark and deep and frost (though not Robert Frost) still glazes the mid-day ground in the shaded areas.  


Gray squirrels leap from branch to branch, taunting the dog, and a lovely pink and brown salamander wriggles across the trail barely escaping my footfall.  Tracking back to the lake, great egrets wade the shore waters, redwing blackbirds flitter amongst the rushes and osprey and red tails circle overhead.  Mallards and coots discuss the problems of their world as they paddle across the surface.  We wish we’d packed a lunch. Edward wishes we’d packed a Frisbee.

 

Our exploration of the enchanting back roads and dirt tracks seen from the house wasn’t exactly a bust as we learned a lot about the lay of the land.  Clement Salvatore, until recently an entertaining and insightful staple at Rider Magazine, shares that there are at least ten times as many miles of dirt road as there are paved this side of the hundredth meridian.  I wouldn’t disagree.  But many of those miles of roads are unobtainable because they cross privately held stretches of heaven.

 

Still, there is much to explore.  Perhaps again tomorrow?

 

 


There are times when I haven’t been out much on the big Yamaha that I think about a different – smaller, lighter two-wheeler.  My range of interest goes frothe adorable Vespa 300 HPE to the spartan Royal Enfield Himalayan to the newly re-issued Honda CT 125, a descendent of my old Trail 90.  Likewise, I sometimes think the Subaru Forester is a bit stodgy and wouldn’t I prefer a Mini Cooper Convertible or maybe a rugged Jeep Wrangler forgetting what a nightmare my 1990 Wrangler turned out to be.


But, for exploring the high and lost fire roads of Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake Counties, and for getting me safely (read: “at highway speed”) to and from those dirt roads, it’s tough to beat the two vehicles I have.  Dependable, economical, rugged and fairly comfortable, I recall that many times when I’ve answered the siren song of something more stylish, I’ve been disappointed with the result.  Reference here – along with that Jeep – my short-lived but gorgeous Triumph Thunderbird.

 

Then there’s this unavoidable positive: Both the Yamaha and the Subaru are paid for. 

 

 

© 2020

Church of the Open Road Press