Category Archives: Animals! Animals! Animals!

The Best Dog Park Ever & a Little Free Library

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The Man and I were in Santa Fe, and Jerico the dog had been spending a lot of time in the van.

Jerico’s a puller when he’s on his leash, so he’s not much fun to walk with. His leash is attached to a harness instead of a collar so he doesn’t choke himself with his pulling, but still, The Man has to keep an iron grip on the leash so Jerico doesn’t drag him around.

One day we put Jerico on his leash after we ate our lunch, and we walked with him around The Plaza. Jerico enjoyed being outside and meeting other dogs, but it was embarrassing when he ducked under the ropes cordoning off the lawn and took a giant dump on the lush, green grass. Also? It wasn’t much fun for The Man to feel as if he were risking having his arm pulled out of its socket while Jerico tried to go his own way.

The next morning, after The Man had his coffee, I reminded him that we’d talked about taking Jerico to the dog park. We decided to do it, to let Jerico have some special doggie fun.

As I drove us to the park, The Man told me it was the biggest, the coolest dog park he had ever seen.

How cool could it be? I wondered. Aren’t dog parks just a patch of grass where dogs get to run around off leash? A big patch of grass would make a better dog park than would a small patch of grass, but a big patch of grass is still just a patch of grass.

However, I was surprised and pleased when I saw the Frank Ortiz dog park.

First of all, it’s huge. According to the City of Santa Fe website (http://www.santafenm.gov/district_1_parks), the dog park consists of 135 acres.

Secondly, the Frank Ortiz Dog Park is not just a big patch of grass. The 135 acres consists mostly of natural terrain. Juniper trees dot the sandy, rocky land. Trails criss-cross the area and while there are a few benches scattered around and a large, flat, empty area good for playing fetch, most of the park is the way nature made it.

(Are you wondering–as I was–who the heck is Frank Ortiz? I couldn’t find much information about him, but according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mayors_of_Santa_Fe,_New_Mexico, he was the mayor of Santa Fe from 1948 to 1952.)

We were at the park around eight in the morning, and it wasn’t very crowded. Of course, the park is so big, dozens–maybe hundreds–of dogs could be running around, and the place wouldn’t feel crowded.

The Man strapped on Jerico’s harness so he could grab the dog and pick him up like a suitcase if a fight occurred. Jerico might not start a fight, but he’d get into a scrap if another canine tried to boss him around. Once he was harnessed, Jerico was let loose to run around and sniff and scratch around in the dirt.

Usually, when The Man and I are on a nature walk and the dog’s off-leash, Jerico stays several paces behind us. During those times, The Man and I periodically turn around and call Jerico to catch up with us. Less frequently, he’ll run ahead of us and stop, then look back as if pleading for us to catch up with him.

On the day at the dog park, The Man and I had turned around a couple of times and urged Jerico on. We were plodding up a hill when Jerico shot past us, crested the hill, and disappeared over the top. The Man called him, but Jerico didn’t stop.

Come on, Honey, The Man said to me. We have to run.

I’m not running, I told him. I’ll meet you on the other side.

The Man jogged off while I continued up the hill. At the top, I found The Man snapping the leash onto the rings on Jerico’s harness.

Oh, the shame, I told Jerico, of having to wear a leash in the dog park.

We continued to walk around, and Jerico successfully made friends with other canines. One lady started talking to me and The Man while her dog and ours sniffed rumps.

Does your dog run away? she asked.

We admitted he did.

Mine used to run away too, she told us. But then one day I hid behind a tree. She looked around for me like she was worried, so then I came out from behind the tree. I told her no more running away from me, and she never did again. You have to treat them like little kids.

After we walked away from the woman, we decided Jerico probably wouldn’t even notice if we hid behind a tree while he was fleeing the scene. We thought we shouldn’t experiment with the woman’s technique to curb runaway dogs.

We walked around another ten or fifteen minutes, then let Jerico off the leash again. He behaved at first but then decided to ignore The Man when he called. It was back on the leash for the headstrong Jerico.

We went back to the van and loaded up.

I want to stop at the information board, I told The Man. I thought it might offer, well, information about the park or at least some sort to photo opportunity for a picture to go with this post. Alas, the only information was a couple of flyers announcing lost dogs and a couple of signs giving the name of the park and park rules. However, next to the non-information board, there was a Little Free Library. Yippie!

I love Little Free Libraries. This one at the Frank Ortiz Dog Park is only the second one I’ve visited in person. (You can read about my first visit to a Little Free Library here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/10/26/little-free-library-los-gatos-edition/.) I was enamored with the concept of Little Free Libraries long before I visited one. I love both books and gift economies; Little Free Libraries combine both of these loves.

According to what was painted on the side of the library, this one was constructed by the SFCC Youth Build group. According to an October 2015 post on the YouthBuild USA Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/YouthBuildUSA/posts/10153055926341610),

Students from Youthbuild at Santa Fe Community College [were] building mini libraries to install around Santa Fe, NM. Their work will add to the growing list of Little Free Library exchanges currently in 50 states and 70 countries!

Skinwalkers (A Leaphorn and Chee Novel)
As soon as I saw the Little Free Library, I started rooting around in the van hoping to find the Tony Hillerman novel I’d recently finished reading so I could donate it. Success came between the wall and the food of the bed, and I happily placed the novel among the other free-to-new-home books.

I didn’t find any books I was excited to read in the Little Free Library, but The Man took a couple. I wasn’t really even looking for free books because I currently have plenty of reading material. My pleasure came in spontaneously finding a Little Free Library and being able to leave a book I hope another reader will enjoy.

The entrance to the parking lot of the Frank Ortiz Dog Park is on the southwest side of Camino de las Crucitas at Buckman Road.

I took the photos in this post, with the exception of the cover of Skinwalkers. That’s an Amazon Associates link.

 

 

 

 

Wild, Wild Horses

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I’d always wanted to see the wild horses living on the Colorado side of the San Luis Valley. I’d made the trek from Taos, NM to San Luis, CO (and beyond) on NM Hwy 522/CO Hwy 159 several times, but I’d never seen a single wild horse. The only indication of them were the yellow roadside signs proclaiming “open range” and a silhouette of a horse letting drivers know it wasn’t cows they needed to be concerned with.

The Man and I had been staying at our friend’s place 40 miles north of Taos for a few days when we decided to make a quick trip to San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado. It had been cold the last two nights, and the sky was overcast when we hit the road, but no rain or snow was falling.

We passed into Colorado and hadn’t been in the state long when there they were! There was a small herd (six or eight individuals) of wild horses on the road and on its shoulder.

Oh Baby! We’re so lucky! I exclaimed to the man. I’ve always wanted to see the wild horses, but this is my first time!

Pull over so we can take pictures, The Man implored.

There are a lot of reason I love The Man. He is a kind, caring person who makes me laugh. He is patient with my moodiness and terrible driving. He’s smart, enjoys reading, and encourages my creative endeavors. Also? He likes to stop and take photos of interesting roadside attractions as much as I do.

I carefully maneuvered the van to the shoulder of the road. The horses moved nervously, and the ones in the middle of the road shuffled to the side. It was good they’d moved because a little sports car came flying by way too fast right about then. From the opposite direction, a large pickup pulling a 5th wheel slowed to a crawl so as not to spook the horses. Some people got a clue, and some people don’t.

According to the Fence Post website (http://www.thefencepost.com/news/hidden-treasure-of-costillia-county/),

At the far southern end of the San Luis Valley in…is the hidden treasure of a thriving herd of mustangs.

These horses are not pure mustangs but are more closely related than the wild horses of the managed areas of Colorado.

The bands of horses in Costillia County date back 400 years and are not protected by the Bureau of Land Management, so they are not subjected to culling and rescue operations. These horses still roam on original Spanish land grants dating back to the 1600s and not on BLM land. The open range bordering the Rio Grande River and the vast plains and mesas of the San Luis Valley provide 60,000 acres of natural habitat for wild mustangs to move freely in and to thrive.

Once I could see no other cars on the highway, I slowly moved the van closer to the horses until I could see they were getting nervous. I turned off the engine. and The Man got out to take his photos. When he returned, it was my turn.

I walked slowly toward the horses, trying not to spook them. I didn’t want them to trot off before I could get even one photo, but I also didn’t want to upset them with my presence. After all, I was the interloper.

The horses were big, stunningly beautiful creatures, mostly brown, but with black tails and manes. They were such a joy to see, walking freely through their world.

The photos I got of the wild horses are not great. I wish the camera on my phone took better photos. I wish the lighting had been better. I wish I could have gotten closer to the horses or that my camera did a better job of zooming in. However, overall, I was pleased to get any photos at all.

Getting photos of the horses was not the most important part of my day. The most important part of my day was seeing those majestic, free beasts in real life, out in the open, living their lives a few yards from me.

I took the photos of horses in this post.

Brave Dog

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Reggie was a big dog–part German Shepherd and, judging by the black spots on his tongue, part Chow–but he was a gentle beast. He was calm, hardly barked, didn’t jump. He did what he was told and was an all-around good dog sitting client.

Reggie’s great joy in life was going on walks. Most of the day he lounged around the house on one of his beds or in the sunshine in the side yard, but when it was time for our morning or evening walk, he got super excited. He’d do a sort of prancing dance with his front paws while looking at me with a glimmer of excitement in his otherwise placid brown eyes.

On our first walk together, I discovered the yards of the neighborhood were populated with barking, snarling, growling dogs who foamed at the mouth and leaped onto the fences keeping them in their yards and out of the streets. Reggie did nothing to engage these neighbor dogs. He didn’t bark or growl at them or try to move into their territory. If he pulled on the leash, it was to go to the opposite side of the street and away from the neighbor dogs. If he made any noises, they were more whimpers than barks. The other dogs seemed to distress him more than antagonize him.

One day I asked The Man if he and his dog Jerico wanted to go on a morning walk with me and Reggie. They did, so we took off together through the neighborhood.

Jerico is a good dog, but he’s not calm, and he’s not quiet. Part beagle, Jerico is a talker, a barker, a howler. He’s got a lot to say. He also pulls against his leash and zigzags back and forth in front of the person walking him.

Reggie was super excited to be out on a walk with his friend. There was a lot of prance dancing on Reggie’s part, and a lot of tangled leashes caused by the two dogs running around and cutting in front of and behind each other.

Jerico is not timid. Apparently, he’s not afraid to take on any dog who wants to fight. When we came upon the first group of barking, snarling, growling neighbor dogs, Jerico didn’t back down in the least. He certainly didn’t slink off to the opposite of the street and whimper. No way! Jerico joined the barking chorus, and he would have been right up on the fence engaging with the captives had The Man not held him back. I’ve known Jerico for a while, so his behavior didn’t surprise me.

It was Reggie who surprised me. Gone was the whimpering, timid dog I’d been walking for the last week. In his place was a brave, bold dog. Reggie didn’t try to run to the far side of the street. Instead, he stayed next to Jerico and even barked a little while looking over at the neighbor dogs.

I don’t know if Reggie was showing off for Jerico, showing Jerico that he too could be bold. Maybe he felt as if Jerico had his back, thus making it safe for him to be brave. I wish I understood what dogs think. In any case, Reggie was a whole new dog while his friend Jerico was by his side.

 

Another Horse

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Since I wrote about a horse yesterday, I thought I’d stick with the theme and write about a horse of a totally different kind I saw in Truth or Consequences, NM.

I was house and dog sitting in a neighborhood near the hospital. One morning while walking the dog, I went down a street I hadn’t explored before. I looked over and saw a horse…a metal horse.

The sculpture was located in a fenced area between two houses. The fenced area was more of an empty lot than a yard. The fence was of the hurrican variety, so the horse was entirely visible. While the gate was open, I didn’t go into the enclosed area. I thought that might be a little too much like trespassing. Thankfully, I was able to aim my camera up and over the fence so I could get an unobstructed view.

There was no plaque to go with the sculpture, nothing about the artist or the medium or the technique used to create this creature. Maybe it’s a piece of yard art like I sometimes see being sold in tourist towns. Even if it is “just” yard art, I still like it. I like the horse sculpture in general, but especially the mane and tail. I like the jauntily raised hoof and the three-dimensionality of the piece. This is not some flat cutout! This horse has heft.

One of my favorite parts of house and dog sitting is exploring new neighborhoods and discovering their character. I like the spirit this metal horse adds to its block.

I took the photos in this post.

Horse

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It was still early in the morning when we left Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area. We were on our way to New Mexico, ready to hit the road and experience the next part of our adventure.

I was driving the van, and we hadn’t gotten far from the recreation area when I looked to my left and saw a horse! I brought the van to a stop in the middle of the dirt road and pulled out my camera so I could take some photos of it.

While it’s always exciting (to me at least) to see an animal living its life while I’m driving by, seeing a horse near a highway is not exactly unusual. I’ve seen plenty of horses living their lives within view of a highway. Once on a road trip, my sibling and I saw so many horses over the course of 1,800 miles, we had a big discussion about how many horses have to be standing together to make a herd. We decided four horses are required to make a herd. Ansers.com (http://www.answers.com/Q/How_many_horses_make_a_herd?#slide=2) says it takes six horses to make a herd, but I’m going to stick with four.

The horse I saw on that January morning in Arizona was different from other horses I’d seen over the course of my life. For one thing, it was alone. Where was the rest of its herd? Did it live a solitary life? Was it a lonely horse?

Also? This horse wasn’t standing in a pasture or near a corral, and we were nowhere near a highway. This horse was standing in the middle of a desert next to a dirt road. Was this even a domesticated horse? Was this a wild desert pony?

The horse offered me no answers, shared no secrets. It simply stood there, looked at me, occasionally turned its head.

After taking several photos of the horse, I knew it was time to go, although I was none the wiser about its life.

I took the photos in this post.

Coyote in Our Camp

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Coyotes live in the southern Arizona desert. I know this because I’ve heard them in the evenings and early mornings yipping, yapping, and yes, howling. It has been their desert before it was mine, and I’m not afraid to share the area with them. I don’t have any little dogs to protect, and I haved no fears for my own safety, as I’ve never heard of a coyote attacking an adult human.

I do, however, expect coyotes to keep their distance. What do I have that a coyote might want? I seldom cook meat–maybe a little seafood now and then–so there are usually no enticing odors or bones lingering around my camp. It’s a big desert, the friend I share a campsite with says, and it’s true. I believe the coyote and I can coexist there without getting in each other’s way.

I was surprised to see the coyote(s) skulking near another friend’s camp as the sun sank in the late afternoon sky. We were eating boiled shrimp, it is true (this desert isn’t so very far from the sea), but the coyote(s) displayed quite a boldness to get so close to the camp. I suppose the smell of shrimp was too delicious to ignore

(I’m still not sure if we saw one or two coyotes moving around the outskirts of the camp. I never saw two together, and I was unable to distinguish any identifying features, so I may have only seen one coyote changing its location.)

The friend I was visiting does cook red meat often, so I suppose his camp beckons to the canines with a plethora of enticing aromas. He doesn’t feed them, and he makes sure his garbage can’t be broken into, but still the coyotes come.

My friend suspects other campers feed the coyote neighbors, which is never a good idea. If wild animals grow accustomed to eating handouts, they’re going to hang around where people are. If coyotes hang around campsites or homesteads, one of them might snack on a cat or a little dog. If a coyote kills a pet, people will call for a coyote hide. In the desert, coyotes and humans should keep a respectful distance from one another.

But at least one coyote was close the night of the shrimp boil, hoping for a handout or an opportunity to snatch a delicious morsel. We offered neither.

A couple mornings later, I got out of the van and walked toward my campmate’s rig. In my path was a large pile of feces.

Look at this! I called to my campmate, who strode over.

I think a coyote has been here!

Are we 100% sure that’s not from a human? my campmate asked.

I shot her a look. We’ve got big problems if a person’s coming onto our campsite to shit.

She got her camp shovel, and we bagged up the waste.

Why would a coyote be in our space? we wondered. Then I spotted the five-gallon bucket set next to the firepit. Yep, it was full of water. The coyote was probably passing through our site to drink from the fire safety bucket. We dumped the water and agreed to offer no more drinking opportunities.

I can’t remember if it was that very evening or a few days later, but soon after, I was sitting in the doorway of my van in the late afternoon. I was making a hat, but some movement in my peripheral vision caught my attention. I looked up, and there was a coyote sauntering through the camp. It was on a trajectory which would bring it past where the bucket of water had stood, straight to the area where a coyote had left a poop deposit.

I didn’t even consider what I should do. I just yelled.

Hey! I shouted in my sternest voice.

The coyote froze.

Get out of here! I yelled as meanly as I could. I would have liked to befriend the coyote, but I knew we belonged to two different worlds. It was better if we didn’t try to meet.

The coyote turned tail and ran off the way it had come.

About that time, my campmate came tumbling out of her rig.

Is everything ok? she wanted to know.

I explained I’d just chased away a coyote.

I heard you yell, she said, seeming a little dazed. She obviously hadn’t known just how big my mouth and loud my voice are.

I used to be in pep squad, I explained.

Apparently the voice I once used to cheer on the football team works just as well to chase off coyotes.

 

Coyote at the Bridge

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I’d been away from the Bridge for a while. When I left in late October, I planned to be back in time for Spring Break, but plans change. By December, I’d decided I wanted to spend the summer working as a camp host. By January I’d applied for several camp host positions. By April, I was on my way to California.

I decided to head back to New Mexico when my work season ended. If nothing else, I needed to say good-bye to friends who thought I would only be gone a few months when I left. Of course, once I was back, I couldn’t resist the siren’s song of making a few bucks at the Bridge. Soon I was unfolding my tables and setting out my wares.

Many aspects of life at the Bridge were unchanged. A dozen or more vendors vied for the tourist dollars. Vendors still fought among themselves but showed each other kindness as well. I continued to arrive early to get a good spot where I could attract the attentions of shoppers. Of course, the scenery was still beautiful; the rugged high desert landscape surrounded by snow-peaked mountains always makes me stop and take notice.

There were differences too. Although still officially fall when I arrived, days were cold. I soon wore a comical number of colorful layers in an attempt to stay warm. Days were shorter too. While in the summer we had until seven o’clock or later to catch the sunset visitors, in October and November, daylight was gone by 5pm. Also, the number of visitors must have been less than half of what we saw in the summer.

This photo shows the wild coyote in the vending area at the Bridge.

My favorite addition to the Bridge community was the coyote.

During the many nights and early mornings I’d spent at the Bridge, first while sleeping in a picnic pavilion and later in my van, I’d heard plenty of coyotes. Sometimes there’d be simple, predictable howling, but often I heard the yipping and yapping I anthropomorphized as “partying”–as in the coyotes are really partying tonight. While I knew the coyotes were relatively close because I could hear them, I never saw one. For all the noise they make, coyotes know how to be visibly discreet, so I was surprised to see one skulking around in the sage on the highway side of the fence, pretty close to where the vendors set up.

I was excited to see the coyote, but other vendors were blasé . They knew this coyote; it had been coming around for a while.

Some of the vendors left food our for it. Early in the morning, when there weren’t many people around and food was available, the coyote would come right into the vending area. That’s when I realized the coyote walked with a limp, which is probably why it hung around close to humans who were willing to leave it food.

By talking to other vendors, I pieced together the coyote’s story.

Sometime after I had left the previous fall, the coyote’s foot had been injured. I don’t remember anyone saying what exactly had happened, but whether by trap or by gun (or some other way entirely), the coyote’s foot had been seriously hurt, and it could barely walk, much less run. The vendors saw it limping around and one of them (a great friend to animals although often causing strife for humans) started leaving meat out for the coyote. Her offerings probably got it through the winter when it couldn’t hunt.

The vendor who told me the coyote’s story repeatedly referred to it as “she.” I wasn’t sure if he could tell the animal’s sex by its size or markings or if he’d been close enough to check out its genitals. While I certainly never saw testicles or a penis, I can’t say I got a definitive look. Maybe because of the months the coyote had been around, the vendor felt confident in what he had and hadn’t seen.

While the coyote certainly wasn’t fat, it was by no means skeletal. I’d expect a coyote that was only living on human handouts to be bony and weak. This coyote was lean, but seemed healthy. I think the coyote was hunting again and only supplementing its diet with what the vendors shared.

Although the coyote obviously limped, it moved around well. It was still quick. It wasn’t difficult to imagine it hunting, especially if it used cunning to get the job done.

I had mixed feeling about the coyote hanging out so close to the vendors. I typically think wild animals should stay wild and humans should stay uninvolved in the lives of wild animals. I worried about how close to the

I worried about the coyote crossing the road, as it is doing in this photo.

road the coyote came when it skulked around the vending area looking for food. I got really nervous when I saw it actually cross the highway. I worried about what might happen to the coyote if it did a perfectly normal coyote thing like snatch a little dog for a snack. Now that the coyote could take care of itself, it was better off leaving humans behind.

On the other hand, I was glad the vendor had fed it when it was injured and couldn’t hunt. I’m glad she saved the coyote’s life. I was grateful for the opportunity to see the animal up close too. Not everyone gets to see the beautiful independence of wild creatures. Even though the coyote was eating scraps left by humans, it wasn’t begging. One look at the coyote and I knew it belonged only to itself.

I haven’t been to the Bridge in over a year, so I don’t know if the coyote still visits with the vendors early in the mornings, but I think of it whenever I hear a coyote howl.

I took all of the photos in this post.