Spring ain't here yet, but it's on the way

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Unless you’ve spent the last week safely tucked out of the way in one of the lower corners of the United States, you’ve undoubtedly been enjoying the current massive dome of Arctic air. We’re in southeast Oklahoma, not all that far from Louisiana, and it made it this far south and farther still. Man, it’s has been cold.

Last night, at around 2:30, just as it was getting down to 14 degrees, Roo woke up from a dream. Maybe she was dreaming about the bone she didn’t eat the night before, because she located it and went to work on it. She was too exhausted, though, and rather than risk letting it lie around inside the camper where, who knows, I might steal it, she picked it up and came over to where I was sitting, next to the door, with a big grin and a wagging tail.

“You’re kidding,” I said. “You want to go outside?” This had never happened before. Not once. Roo doesn’t take chances on going outside at night any more than absolutely necessary.

She kept grinning and wagging at me. But what could I do? Her eyes were so bright and happy. Of course, opening the door meant that the cold would instantly blast into the camper. It would take half an hour to warm up again, but I did it.

“You really want to go outside? It’s freezing out there.”

She hopped up and down on her front legs and grinned at me some more. I opened the door, she ran out and I got the door closed as fast as I could and watched her out the window.

First Roo put the bone down and took a look around. She took a seat, as if to appreciate the scenery and the breeze. Then she flung herself on the grass and rolled around, stopping only once or twice with her belly up, I suppose to cool it off. She rolled back onto her side and stretched herself out as far as she could, front paws straight ahead of her, back paws behind, her back arched. She let that go and took a nice, deep breath.

There’s a lake so narrow here that if you didn’t know it was a lake you’d mistake it for a small river, and on the other side there are a bunch of coyotes who occasionally lose their collective minds and all start yipping and howling at once. The cold was probably keeping them on their toes, and they began to make a racket. Well, of course Roo took this personally and started to bark at them as loud as she could. No one else is camped here — after all you have to be a world-class idiot to camp in this kind of weather — so it didn’t matter that Roo was making so much noise.

It must have worked, because the coyotes shut up. Roo seemed a little surprised at her own effectiveness. She nosed around a little more at a leisurely pace, but then the cold hit her, suddenly and all at once, and she came trotting back to the camper.

Now, one of the odd things about Roo is that she almost never goes through a door without reconsidering whether she actually wants to. She likes to stand there and look around and wonder whether she’s really prepared. This couldn’t be tolerated now. The cold was terrible and the wind was blowing right at the door. Any hesitation on Roo’s part and we would be doomed to hours of unbearable cold.

I swung the door open. Roo turned her head from the crack of the door to the prairie and the coyotes beyond. She noted the mooing of distant cows and wondered when the next Kansas City & Southern coal train was going to come rumbling.

“ROO! GET IN HERE!” I said.

She looked the other way, lowering her head to see beneath the door sill. Perhaps she was ensuring that no ice mouses were trying to hide under the camper. Maybe she was wondering why it was she never lay down under the camper for shade from the hot sun.

“ROO!”

She looked back in the direction of the coyotes. I slammed the door shut and looked at her out the window. Now that the door was closed, she wanted to come in again. Knowing that she was just going to start looking around again I had to jump out and chase her in.

Naturally, she thought she deserved a cookie for her unprecedented display of courage in the face of the night. I agreed and raised her a jerky.

It was a cold night.

 

The dog days of winter

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When you live in a tiny camper, weather is one of the worst problems. The main problem for me is the impossibility of maintaining a steady temperature. It’s always too cold or too hot, swinging from one to the other every few minutes. It’s a function of the small space.

But for Roo, the weather creates all sorts of other problems. When it thunders, you might as well be outside. When heavy winds blow and make the camper buffet, that spooks her. When it rains hard, it’s like being inside a snare drum, and that gets to her, too. And in the last year or so she’s lost her taste for going out in the rain, which makes no sense for a dog who regularly swims when it’s 35 degrees, which means that sometimes she’s stuck inside with nothing to do. Nothing is worse than boredom, and there’s nothing I can give her to keep her entertained. I tried one of those $22 Himalayan yak cheese chews, but she won’t touch it, so that was 22 bucks out the window. She enjoys chewing the tops of water bottles, but that doesn’t last long.

So, sometimes, she’s just plain stuck.

A very, very bad day in Ratland

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I probably shouldn’t post this. I wouldn’t, except that Roo was so proud of herself over the success of her most recent killing spree that I had to, because if she was editing this instead of starring in it, that’s what she’d want. Of course, the truth is, as much as I joke about the carnage — the poor victims collectively known as mouses — I try to dissuade her. Anytime she starts getting close to a kill I try to distract her, or walk away, forcing her to come after me. But sometimes there’s no stopping her. She’s a born predator, and when she knows she’s going to win you couldn’t stop her with a hydrogen bomb test. It’s not as if she does it purely for sport, though she enjoys it as much as any fox or wolf who subsists on mouses does (as many of them do). She has every intention of eating her kills. She buries them and checks on them from time to time to see how they’re cooking.

Anyway, yesterday she dug up a rat and killed the poor thing. Normally, as soon as she kills someone, she picks it up and takes it away to bury it, but this time, she flung it into the air and immediately darted back into the massive pit she’d excavated to unearth him, scrambled some more and then pulled out a second rat and killed that one. Then she took that rat over to the other one and picked them both up. This was the first time I ever saw Roo carry two things at once. I always thought the mathematics or logistics of a multiple carry were too much for her, but she did it without a second thought. She was so proud of herself that she carried the two of them around for ten minutes before interring them in a joint grave.

So, even though I hate to see it, I knew that for her it was one of her crowning achievements as a huntress. It put her in the best mood she’s been in for weeks for the rest of the day, until late at night, when the wear and tear on her arms and shoulders from the gargantuan effort of all the digging it took caught up with her. She was so sore that she spent the rest of the night letting out the occasional groan and waking me up to commiserate with her, which, after the second or third time, I refused to keep doing.

She slept until two in the afternoon, and then, back in her bright mood, wanted to head back to that rat den. I told her to forget it. Better to quit while she was ahead. Instead I loaded her in the car to take her farther away, to a place where I knew the pickings were slim.

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A sunny day in Oklahoma

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Just a pretty picture of Junior trying to disguise herself as a squirrel in Oklahoma. The weather here has been oscillating from 15 degrees one minute to 70 the next. Thunder and floods one minute, snow and windstorms the next. Today was sunny, perfect for considering tree climbing as an alternative squirrel hunting technique. We are both, as you can probably tell, losing our minds.

Executive Time

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As the walls close in on the administration, every backbiting liar, weasel and cheat in it is leaking everything they can get their paws on to the press more than ever, in the hopes of later being able to claim to only having been on the job to try to protect the nation from a would-be tyrant. One such despicable leaker just provided this image of the boss’ typical activities during Executive Time. Though it pained the editorial staff of The Dog in the Clouds to grant anonymity to the leaker, the sensitive nature of the disclosure obliged this rare exception to the standards you’ve come to expect from Your Home for Yellow Dog Journalism™.

Good Ol' Roo

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Lately I’ve been getting emails from Roo’s old vet in North Carolina reminding me that it’s time for her Senior Wellness Exam. The email goes over the importance of making sure than an old dog like Roo be thoroughly inspected, and if that vet had any idea of the course Roo’s life has taken, as the Queen of The Forests, Jungles, Deserts, Mountains, Wildernesses, Seas, Lakes, Rivers, Streams, Brooks, Ponds, Puddles and Ditches, the vet would probably recommend an extensive refurbishment along the lines of what you’d do if you found a rusty old Model A with its fenders shot off in 1937 in the barn and decided to get it running again.

A vet’s idea of marketing old-age services to Roo K. Beker

A vet’s idea of marketing old-age services to Roo K. Beker

The picture the vet sent of some poor dog looking miserable on the floor of the office was probably meant to inspire immediate action. But that dog looks nothing like the senior Señorita Roo.

It’s true, though, that Roo is slowing down. It’s been hard to figure out sometimes whether age is catching up with her or she’s bothered by other things. Sometimes, for example, she hears gunshots (the worst time was right around Christmas, when everybody gets new guns and a load of giftwrapped ammunition and blows through it all as fast as possible), and that makes her reluctant to go outside for a whole day. When that happens, I don’t know if she’s upset or not feeling well. Same thing with thunderstorms. A terrible storm came through recently, dropping the temperature from 72 degrees at two in the morning to 11 degrees, and when that cold front blew through it was terrible. Roo didn’t want to go out for three days.

Only a few months ago, Roo still wanted to go for four-mile hikes. Now I have to limit her to an hour at a time. Anything more than that seems to beat her up. The main problem is that her favorite thing to do — digging mouses up — hurts her. I suppose she’s getting some arthritis. She can dig for a short time, but when she loses her mind and tries to really excavate, she limps. It’s presenting a challenge, because in the heat of the moment, she doesn’t realize that she’s getting hurt and it’s one hell of a job to get her to stop. And she can’t jump up on the bed any more. And sometimes she asks for help getting in the car, which is really saying something, because she hates being given a boost like that. When she asks for help she’s embarrassed and wags with her tail low and her ears way back.

I’ve never had a dog who made it this far. Roo is only my second dog, and Orville died when he was six-and-a-half — a year younger than Roo is now. So I’m not experienced in the ways of dogs when it comes to aging.

One thing that’s new about Roo is that she has developed a taste for taking an evening walk in the streets of a town to anywhere else. That started up in Brunswick, Maine. Here, in east Oklahoma, it’s a much more difficult proposition because the only town big enough to take a walk in within 30 miles is Poteau, and as soon as you get off the two blocks of Main Street there are dogs fenced in every yard and you’ve got to run a gauntlet of dozens of them barking and snarling like madmen, which leads to the occupants of the houses coming out and yelling at them and it’s unpleasant. But it’s the only way. Otherwise it’s hard to get Roo to go out at night, and if her last walk is around four or five in the afternoon, that means she doesn’t get out until she rolls out of bed around noon. It can’t be good for her, even if it doesn’t seem to make her uncomfortable. At the moment we have the luxury of a campground all to ourselves, which means Roo is more willing to go out for a last look at night because she is free to charge out of the camper and give the cows and coyotes across the lake a few barks, and that way she remembers her courage and feels all right.

Last week, Roo’s arms were bothering her so badly that I had to help her get into the car. Even the step up to the camper was painful for her. Then she got sick on top of that for a couple of days. She’s fine now, but it made me feel worse than ever about her living in this camper. It seems like it might be a too hard a place to live for a dog who always needed a place to hide out. Maybe now that she’s getting older, she needs that more. I don’t know.

But, as you can see in the pictures of her above, she looks happy and healthy. Really, it’d be better for me not to have to hike as much as she used to, because it’s more of a beating than I can take, either.

I guess we’re getting old together. I don’t care about my getting old, but the whole damn show goes by much too fast where a good dog is concerned.

Death and taxes

Where I draw the line with hitchhikers is when they’re shirtless and sweaty. I’m too much of a neat freak to deal with bodily fluids. But, short of that, I always pick them up.

The other night it was so cold that when I realized I had to go to the store, Roo refused to come along for the ride. She would have come if she wasn’t spooked by the high winds. So I hurried.

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The only place open was the Walmart. At the entrance an old man with a cardboard sign that had VET written on it was panhandling the exiting cars. I’d never seen a panhandler here before. Most small towns don’t tolerate them. I bought him a couple of fleece blankets and a roasted chicken and stopped to give the bags and my last six bucks to him on the way out.

“Thanks,” he said. He looked in the bag. “Oh, one of those chickens.”

“You’re not planning on sleeping outside tonight are you?” I said.

“Oh, no, no,” he said. “There’s a place down there by the McDonald’s.”

“Man, that’s a hell of a walk from here. How about a ride?”

He loaded his bags in the back seat and climbed in. In the heated car he slid his black ball cap back on his head — it had Vietnam Veteran embroidered in gold on the front — and held a hand out to shake.

“Dan,” he said.

“Brian. You don’t sound like you’re from around here.”

“Oh, no. I’m just passing through. I’m going to Mena tomorrow.”

“Whatdya got going on down there?”

“Some friends of mine put the rodeo on there. I do the flag handling. I used to do some rodeo clowning, but now I just handle the flags.”

“Ouch. Rodeo clowning. Those guys take a beating, don’t they?

“Can take one. I never did, though.”

I asked him where he was from and he said Washington state.

“Long way from home,” I said.

“You too, by the sound of it.” Neither of us had the local accent. Dan’s and mine were nearly identical, unaccented northern ones.

“Yup. Me, too. I’m from New York originally.”

“Oh, New York. They’re tax crazy there. Personal income tax rate can clock in at nine percent.”

“Well,” I said. “I haven’t lived there in a long time.”

“Washington hasn’t got any income taxes, but they get you on the sales tax. Montana’s getting nearly as bad. Not as bad as California. Thirteen point eight percent there. What did they expect? Everybody’s getting out. They go to Washington. So now Washington’s planning some sort of way to hit them with a tax. I’ve just about had it.”

“Death and taxes,” I said. All I know about taxes is that one day the IRS is going to send a SWAT team to take care of mine, since I’m not at the billionaire level at which I can opt out of paying any. That and the fact that you can’t turn on the radio anywhere in the United States without listening to advertisements about tax companies waiting to negotiate a way out of your unpaid taxes with the IRS.

“Death and taxes,” he said. “I never understood that. Death isn’t cruel. But taxes are. Taxes are just a way for the state to torture the people.”

We drove in silence for a minute or so until we came to the Black Angus Motel. It was the sort of place that Roo and I had stayed in on many occasions, the kind of place with sagging mattresses, chipping paint and stained carpet all hiding behind one of those paper toilet seat wrappers that have Sanitized  printed on them. It was the kind of place that first made me think about upgrading to a trailer. He got out and thanked me again for the chicken. He left the fleece blankets. He didn’t need them and they were too bulk for his bags. They were one a couple of bucks apiece and I left the receipt for them in the chicken bag, so I couldn’t return them. We shook again.

Roo was glad to see me. She didn’t get up, because I always made a point of not making a big deal out of greetings, out of a firm belief that all that does is encourage a dog to get separation anxiety, and, that being the one form of anxiety that didn’t come as original equipment on Roo, I never wanted to risk developing it. She smiled and thumped her tail on the floor a lot, though. And wanted to smell my hands. She always wants to smell my hands to see what I’ve scavenged in food stores. Knowing nothing about the machinations of a money economy. She is unconcerned with taxes. Death she understands, but in the way of dogs, a way that is different, and probably much wiser, than that of fearful humans. She figures I’m pretty good at finding food and she certainly wonders why she isn’t allowed to accompany on the foraging expeditions. You can see it in her expression every time she has to wait in the car. So, as soon as I return, she always smells my hands to see what I scored. 

She smelled the chicken right away and gave me a serious look.

“Sorry, Bearface,” I said. 

I took out the package of marrow bones that was the reason for the trip and showed it to her. And that was good enough for her.