Nolagirl said she was sending a package, but she didn’t tell me what was in in it.
After traveling from southern Arizona to northern New Mexico, the package must have sat behind the counter of the mail room for at least a week before I was able to get there during business hours to pick it up. I was glad to finally have it in my possession.
Nolagirl had told me there were goodies for The Man in the package too, so I didn’t open it as soon as I picked it up. I threw it in the back seat of the truck, knowing we’d open it together once I returned home from work.
After work, I carried the package into the trailer. I told The Man that Nolagirl had sent us treats. We were both excited to discover what was inside the cardboard box.
I put the box on the floor while I removed my muddy shoes.
As soon as the box was on the floor, Jerico the dog was on it. He put his nose directly on the box and gave it some mighty sniffs. He was really excited to discover what was inside.
Is there food in there? The Man and I asked each other.
Jerico likes food. He enjoys eating, but he’s not what I would call food motivated. Food is not the driving force in his life. Sure, he gets excited by a bit of cheese or a canned fish treat, but he’s not a do-anything-for-food kind of dog. He has kibble in his bowl all the time, and he eats when he’s hungry, but he doesn’t overeat. He stays slim despite being allowed to eat whenever he wants.
The Man and I were skeptical that Jerico would be so enthusiastic about food that might be in the box. Maybe he’d act this way if there were meat in the box…but Nolagirl knew The Man and I are vegetarians. I doubted she would have sent us meat.
I got my shoes off and grabbed a pair of scissors to cut open the tape holding the flaps closed. Jerico continued to express interest in the box even after I lifted it from the floor.
I sliced into the tape, then pulled the flaps apart. I saw a small package of pistachios (which The Man and I shared right away), half a pound of Camilla brand red kidney beans, a box of granola bars, a box of breakfast cookies…and three blue rubber balls intended for playing racquetball.
While Jerico may not be motivated by food, he is certainly motivated by playing ball. Playing ball is Jerico’s most favorite thing in the whole world, the driving force in his life, and when he plays ball, the ball he plays with is a blue one intended for racquetball use. He was thrilled when I pulled those balls from the box and let him have one.
I was impressed that Jerico had sniffed out those balls through the cardboard box. What really amazed me, however, was that the particular smell that told him his favorite type of balls was in the box was still intact after Nolagirl touched them to put them in the box, after the box traveled from Nolagirl’s house to a post office to my mail room to our house, after the box sat in the mail room for more than a week, and after the box sat in the truck for hours while I was at work. All dogs have a keen sense of smell, but Jerico’s nose is something special.
Jerico is a hound dog. He’s part beagle, the vet said when The Man brought him in for his first checkup after being found as a puppy. You might not see the beagle in him at first glance, but when he throws his head back and starts barking loudly, his beagle heritage is apparent. He’s a beagle and he has a lot to say. He’s a beagle and he’s got quite a sniffer.
I don’t know if Jerico could sniff our a lost child or a fugitive from a law, but he proved he can sniff out a blue racquetball, even one he’s never touched.
…IRAD is a day meant to celebrate all animals, specifically raccoons, that, while being an important part of their ecosystem, are misunderstood and considered “pests” or “nuisance animals” to local peoples.
In recognition of this special day for raccoons, I share with you a personal raccoon story from the summer of 2018.
The Man was up early getting ready for work. I had a cold and the day before I’d told the other clerk at the Mercantile that I’d be taking the day off. I planned to stay in bed all day and let the cold pass.
The Man opened the door to my van and stuck his head in. Did you leave the kitchen container out last night? he asked me.
I don’t know, I mumbled, still groggy. If it’s still out there, then yes, I guess I left it.
The raccoons got into it. Everything’s contaminated, he said.
The raccoons! Dammit! I’d been picking up that container every night for the last few weeks and putting it into my van so as not to attract critters, but I’d forgotten to move it the night before and the raccoons had gotten into our kitchen supplies.
Typically I only had pots and pans and utensils in the tub, but recently I’d gotten lazy and tossed food in there too. That’s what the raccoons had come for. They’d spread half a bag of brown rice across the table the tub sat on, and they’d broken open the bag of falafel powder. They’d only sampled these items, but since we didn’t want to eat anything the coons had touched, this food was now trash. What they had eaten were the almonds my sibling had sent in a care package. The bag the almonds had come in had been left on the outskirts of our camp, and there was not a nut to be found in the area.
The Man said he’d woken up around 11pm; he wasn’t sure why. He grabbed his headlamp and shined it toward our outdoor kitchen area and saw a couple of raccoons up on the table ransacking the tub. He figured it was too late to stop the creatures, so he went back to sleep.
Because The Man had to go to work, guess who spent the morning of her sick day using hot, soapy water to wash everything that had possibly been touched by coons? I was none too happy, but I didn’t forget the tub outside again.
The final raccoon raid during our time on the mountain was more of an appearance than an actual raid. We were still awake when the raccoons came down from the trees that night. I don’t remember why I left my van. Maybe I got out to see why The Man was yelling and the dog barking. In any case, I was soon yelling too, telling the raccoons to go way! and to go home! Surprise: my yelling didn’t work. Those raccoons weren’t going anywhere they didn’t want to go.
I wanted to discourage them from hanging around our campsite. I picked up a fairly big pinecone and pitched it at the raccoon on the ground. I didn’t want to hurt it. Heck, I didn’t think I had any chance of hitting it. I typically can’t hit the broad side of a barn, as they say. I thought the pinecone would fall to the ground near the raccoon and startle the creature, causing it to scurry away. None of those things happened. I tossed the pinecone and somehow managed to hit the raccoon in the side. I was stunned and immediately sorry. However, the coon did not scurry away. In fact, it barely moved. It simply turned its head and looked at me like What?
Oh my god! I called to The Man, then explained how I’d hit the raccoon with a pinecone and it wasn’t in the least bit scared.
Lock yourself in your van! The Man called out from inside his vehicle, and I did.
We’d left nothing out there for them to damage, so thankfully there was no raccoon mess to clean up in the morning.
Later when I marveled at the raccoon that hadn’t run away when smacked by a pinecone, The Man said, Those guys don’t care. They’re the original gangsters. They were born wearing masks.
The Man says Jerico the dog has suffered from acid reflux
since he was a puppy. I don’t remember the first time I woke up in the night to
find Jerico swallowing rapidly and repeatedly, but this situation became a
running theme in our lives. When the swallowing began, a hunt for grass was on.
Jerico would eat the grass (with gusto, obsessively) and eventually puke it up.
The puking seemed to settle his stomach and let him rest.
Finding grass was no problem if we were camped near a river
or a meadow, but it was harder to come by if we were in a desert. I remember
once waking up in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Santa Fe, NM at 4am to the sound of
the swallowing dog. The parking lot landscape did not include nonnative grass
growing like a lawn (Good for you, Santa Fe Wal-Mart!), so there was nothing
for Jerico to eat to induce vomiting. We had to drive off into the dark to find
another business (a school, actually) that did landscape with grass.
I worried about Jerico eating grass, especially from an area
where it might have been sprayed with chemicals. Who knew what sort of
pesticides grass in or around a parking lot might be subjected to? Even if the
grass wasn’t sprayed with poisons, was it safe for Jerico to eat so much of it?
The Man maintained that dogs naturally eat grass, and since eating grass was
the only thing that made Jerico feel better, it was ok for him to do so.
The Man experimented with other remedies. I drove to a
supermarket late one night to buy a bottle of Pepto-Bismol to cure Jerico’s ills.
The Man poured a dose of the pink stuff down Jerico’s gullet, and it did seem
to relieve his stomach woes. Baking soda dissolved in water seemed to work even
better. Of course, Jerico didn’t enjoy having anything poured down his throat,
so we often had a dried crust (either pink or white, depending on the remedy)
on the floor on the morning after one of his attacks.
If no humans were around when an attack happened and Jerico
couldn’t get to grass, he would eat anything he thought might help. Unfortunately,
what his dog brain thought might help never did. Once I left a long, thin strip
of sheet hanging in the bathroom of the fifth wheel. (I was sure I’d find a use
for it eventually.) The Man came home to
find Jerico had eaten it (then puked it back up) in a fit of acid reflux.
Another time when we went on a hike that lasted waaay longer than we thought it
would, Jerico chewed the portion of the plastic garbage bag that hung over the
edge of the trash can. Luckily, he puked that up too. The Man lived in fear
that Jerico would eat a plastic grocery store bag (or something equally
dangerous) if he were to have an attack while we were away. Jerico didn’t stay
home alone much.
We tried planting grass near the fifth wheel in the Sonoran Desert. I bought special organic “cat grass,” and The Man planted it, but it didn’t grow. I think it might have done better in a planter instead of going directly into the ground.
In retrospect, I see how Jerico’s bouts of acid reflux were
getting more frequent. The Man must have recognized it too, even if only on a
subconscious level. He did some research on diet and acid reflux and found that
beef can exacerbate the condition. Jerico didn’t know it, but he’d had his last
can of wet dogfood as a treat. He did get canned mackerel sometimes, when The
Man could find a brand with no added salt or oil. The Man also switched Jerico
to a dry food with salmon as the first ingredient. Jerico’s stomach seemed to
do better for a while.
We’d gone into town early one day to take showers and do other errands. When I went to the parking lot after my shower, I saw The Man pulling the truck behind the building. I met him in the back where he’d let Jerico out to eat grass. I knew this meant Jerico was suffering from an attack. Throughout our day, we had to stop several times to let Jerico out to eat more grass. No matter how much he ate, it didn’t seem to help.
At home, he was no better. He kept trying to find something,
anything he could eat to help relieve his discomfort. Unfortunately, there was
no grass growing anywhere on our property. Finally, The Man (who was working to
get our solar power system up and running) asked me to drive Jerico somewhere
with grass he could eat. I ended up
driving about three miles before I found some actual grass growing.
I parked the truck on the edge of the road, and Jerico and I crept through the barbed wire fence to get to the patches of deep green grass. I felt like the father of the unborn Rapunzel stealing arugula from the witch to satisfy his wife’s cravings, but what else could I do? I didn’t want to send Jerico to the other side of the fence alone. What if he saw a rabbit and bolted? What if a coyote or a half-wild dog came along and wanted to fight? I felt safer trespassing with him.
I let him eat to his heart’s (stomach’s) content, then
loaded him back into the truck. I hoped it was safe to take him home now.
At home he continued to swallow excessively. His stomach
still hurt. He wanted more grass.
The Man mixed up some baking soda with water and poured the
concoction down Jerico’s throat. We tried to keep the pup calm while we gave
the remedy time to work. He was obviously uncomfortable and wanted to pace.
I wonder if dogs can
have Zantac, The Man muttered, reaching for the phone to ask Google.
Turns out dogs can have Zantac. I got in the truck and made a trek to town to get the medication. Nearly two hours later, I got home with my precious cargo. The Man cut on of the tablets in half and pushed it down Jerico’s throat. We again tried to keep him calm, and this time after about half an hour, the medication actually worked. We were all able to get some rest that night.
About a week later, Jerico was at it again. We got home from
another day of errands. Jerico jumped from the truck and started eating from clumps
of grass The Man had recently transplanted. Thus began 18 hours of hell.
First he ate more grass than I’d ever seen him ingest. He
literally ate the newly transplanted grass to death.
When we brought him inside, he stayed in front of the door
and paced. When we let him go outside again, he headed straight to the grass
and started chomping on it again. This pattern was repeated throughout the
At a quarter to six, the Man gave Jerico half a Zantac.
Again, we tried to keep him calm while the medication did its magic. He never
calmed down. He continued to swallow and pace. The medicine did no magic.
Around six o’clock, The Man wondered if we should make an
emergency visit to a vet. He called the after-hours number of one of the
veterinary offices in town. He didn’t specifically say his dog was in an
emergency situation, so the woman who answered the phone made an appointment
for us to go in the next day.
The only thing other than eating grass that seemed to ease
Jerico’s distress was going outside and walking. We weren’t sure if he was
soothed by the distraction of the change of scenery or the motion of movement
or by the fact that he was in an upright position (or some combination of the
three factors), but he was calmer when we took him outside. We spent a lot of
time that evening taking Jerico outside, thinking (hoping, praying) he was
better, taking him inside, then realizing he wasn’t better at all.
At ten o’clock The Man decided to give Jerico another half a Zantac. I was afraid it was too soon to give him more, but The Man said obviously the first dose hadn’t done anything to solve the problem. He thought a second dose might make things better for Jerico so we could all get some sleep.
The second dose of Zantac did not allow anyone to get any
sleep. Jerico continued to move around and swallow. When we took him outside
for the last pee of the night, he headed directly to the transplanted clumps of
grass and tried to eat some more.
Around midnight I had Jerico on his leash, walking with him
around our property when he barfed up a wad of grass that had the approximate
look (size, shape, color) of an unshucked cob of corn. Gross! The grass had
come back up, but that didn’t solve the problem.
We continued to walk around past 1am, when I grew too tired
to stand. Jerico and I went into the trailer and got in the bed with The Man
who’d had the pleasure or an hour of sleep.
Jerico never settled down, never stopped swallowing. I got a
few hours of fitful sleep, but Jerico’s distress kept me from resting. Around
5am I took him outside again. Sunrise seemed to bring him some relief, although
he was by no means well. We were glad he had an appointment with a vet for that
day. None of us wanted to spend another night like the one we’d just had.
We arrived at the appointment right on time. Everyone
working at the office was friendly and kind. We were brought into an exam room
with a vet tech; the doctor came in shortly after. The Man explained everything
that had been happening, and the doctor agreed with the diagnosis of acid
reflux. He recommended The Man give Jerico 10 mg of Prilosec every day as a
What about eating
grass? I asked the vet.
He said grass is really hard on a dog’s throat, mouth, and
stomach and we should keep Jerico from eating it if we could.
After nearly two weeks on Prilosec and the special food we
bought at the vet’s office, Jerico hadn’t had a single episode. He hadn’t tried
to eat grass even once, and he only swallowed in a normal manner. I was glad he
was feeling better, and I was glad we were all able to get some sleep.
National Dog Day celebrates all breeds, pure and mixed and serves to help galvanize the public to recognize the number of dogs that need to be rescued each year, either from public shelters, rescues and pure breed rescues. National Dog Day honors family dogs and dogs that work selflessly to save lives, keep us safe and bring comfort.
In honor of National Dog Day, I’m sharing a story about a cute little pup I witnessed repeatedly escaping from his master on a slow day of trying to sell jewelry and shiny rocks.
I was trying to sell my jewelry and shiny rocks at an
outdoor market near a tourist attraction, but there hadn’t been much interest
in my merchandise. Some days are like that. Even with plenty of visitors
milling about and lots of beautiful items on my table, I wasn’t selling much.
I had a lot of time to watch the tourists on that overcast
and chilly day. People watching has always been one of my favorite activities,
and I was enjoying seeing everyone come and go.
Quite a ways down the road that runs through the area where the market is held, I saw a small, fluffy white dog that seemed to be on its own. It was standing on the edge between where the road becomes the parking area. The dog stood there calmly, apparently surveying the scene, but I worried about how close it was to moving traffic. In my experience, tourists are often lacking in observational skills, and I was afraid a driver would not notice the little dog and run it down. Just as I was about to get out of my chair and walk over to the dog, it turned around and walked back between parked cars. Disaster averted.
Maybe 10 or 15 minutes later I looked up from the bracelet I’d
started making and saw the same little white fluffy dog much closer to me (only
two vendors over) sitting in the middle of the roadway. I looked around for
someone rushing over to scoop up and scold the dog, but no one seemed to be
missing it. Was the dog out there alone?
Again, just as I was about to get out of my chair and
approach the dog, it was no longer in danger. The fellow who’d been shopping
with the vendor two tables down from me strode out into the road and picked up
the pup and carried it to safety. Then he made a big production of snapping a
leash onto the dog’s collar. If he had a leash, why had he hesitated to use it
with a dog he must have known was a wanderer? Life is full of mysteries, but it
seems to me that a wandering dog should certainly be leashed in a parking lot
full of distracted drivers.
The fellow and his dog passed my table without a glance. It
was that kind of day.
Not five minutes later, I looked up from my work again and
saw the same little dog trotting across the road, making a beeline for some
bikers taking a break. His leash trailed behind him.
His person was at another vendor’s table, seemingly so caught up in shopping that he couldn’t be bothered to hold onto his dog’s leash. Perhaps the dog was a master escape artist and his person could do little to keep him where he didn’t want to be. The truth of the matter is that I don’t know the whole story, and I shouldn’t judge. When the guy crossed the road to retrieve the doggie yet again, I wanted to run over and tell him he didn’t deserve such a cute dog, but I didn’t. I stayed in my chair and hoped he’d keep the little dog out of harm’s way.
The Man and I and Jerico the dog took my New Mexico State Parks Pass and went camping at Bluewater Lake State Park between Gallup and Grants, New Mexico. We were staying in the Canyonside Campground near the trailhead for the Canyonside Trail.
As you may have guessed from the name of the campground and the trail, we were camped on the side of a canyon. Specifically, we were camped above the canyon, but trees and vegetation blocked the view of Bluewater Creek down below. It was easy to forget the land dropped dropped dropped right across from where the van was parked.
It was late September, late in the camping season, so we had the campground loop mostly to ourselves. Some folks in a popup camper were in the area when we arrived on Saturday, but they left late the next day. An elderly couple camped catacorner and across the road from the site we had chosen, but they moved to a spot with a shade cover in a different part of the park after a couple of days when the weather forecast called for rain.
Because the area was underpopulated, The Man felt comfortable throwing the ball for Jerico. He threw the ball away from other campers and kept it pretty close to home.
As I’ve written before, Jerico loves to play ball. He loves for us to pet him, he loves Rachael Ray dog food and any sort of yummy treat, but most of all, he loves to play ball. In the last year, it has become possible to throw the ball enough to wear Jerico out. After fifteen to twenty minutes of chasing and retrieving the ball (depending on the temperature outside) he has to lie down and rest, but in another fifteen or twenty minutes, he’s raring to chase and retrieve the ball again.
The Man has thrown the ball for Jerico for countless hours in the last seven or so years. He’s usually very careful to never throw the ball anywhere dangerous because Jerico doesn’t have the sense to stay away from danger. All Jerico cares about is the ball. Jerico focuses entirely on the ball. He doesn’t think about where the ball is going or the relative safety or danger of going after it. Once the ball is thrown, he simply takes off after it.
The Man is usually very careful about where he throws the ball, but this day something went wrong. Whether he was distracted and didn’t think about where he was aiming the ball or if the ball bounced and went off in the wrong direction, I don’t know. Suddenly I heard The Man yelling No! and Stay!
I’m sure you’ve guessed what happened. The ball went toward the canyon and Jerico was not going to hesitate to follow it. Luckily, The Man intervened in time and kept Jerico from blindly giving chase.
The Man put Jerico in the van and searched the area around the drop off in hopes of finding the ball stopped by a large rock or fallen tree branch. No such luck. The ball was gone. No doubt it had rolled and bounced its way down to the canyon floor.
Jerico was not happy about the loss of his ball. He looked at The Man expectantly and barked.
In the past, when the Man was done playing, he sometimes took the ball away from Jerico and put it out of his reach. I think that’s what Jerico thought had happened. He settled down after about ten minutes of barking and expectant looks. However, later in the day, he got more insistent inhis looks and barks. We knew the signs. He was ready to chase the ball again.
The Man usually travels with a supply of the blue racquetballs Jerico likes to chase. (Of course, Jerico will chase and retrieve any ball, but the racquetballs are light enough for him to bounce off his nose and catch in midair.) The Man looked all over the van and couldn’t find a single blue racquetball. He realized he’d left the extras in his van which we’d stored in a friend’s backyard over 300 miles away.
Jerico grew more insistent. He really wanted to play ball.
Look dude, The Man said to him, we’re not going 30 miles to Wal-Mart just to get balls.
Jerico obviously didn’t understand.
We had to keep a close eye on the dog. He kept trying to go near the drop off to sniff around. He’s part beagle, so I have no doubt he could have picked up its scent. We were still concerned he would jump off the cliff fof the ball with no concern for his safety.
By the next morning, Jerico was being a huge pain in the neck. He would look at us and bark, toss his head, and prance around. We knew what he wanted, but had not way of giving it to him. The barking just went on and on.
I guess we’re going to have to go to Wal-Mart, The Man grumbled.
We had some things to do at the public library in Grants, then The man and I had a lunch date at the local Pizza Hut. It was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived at Wal-Mart. We made a beeline to the sporting goods department, only to find there wasn’t a single racquetball to be found. There wasn’t even an empty space on the shelf where racquetballs should have been.
The Man said we’d have to get tennis ball, but we couldn’t find any of those either.
The Man went to the nearby toy department and asked for help, but the associate he brought back to sporting goods with him couldn’t find racquet or tennis balls either. She shrugged, said she was new, and wandered back to the boxes of toys she’d been unpacking.
Another worker we cornered said to look for tennis balls in the pet department. We found some there, which we purchased, but we wondered where the tennis and racquetball players of Grants get their balls.
Once back at our camp at the state park, The man pulled out one of the new especially-for-dog tennis balls out of the package and played a game of fetch with Jerico. You can bet he was super careful to throw the ball well away from the canyon.
It was our very first evening at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM, using our brand new New Mexico State Parks annual camping passes. On our way to the shower house, I saw a cat sitting on a rock just outside the campground.
Is that a cat? I asked, pointing, and The Man confirmed that it was.
It must belong to a camper, I said. My friend Coyote Sue travels with her cat who is allowed to leave the RV and explore the area, so I assumed the cat I saw was a traveling pet.
The Man said he thought the cat had once been a pet who had gotten away from its people and now lived wild in the park.
I didn’t give the cat much thought until we got back to our campsite and The Man suggested we put away the dishes, pots, and utensils we’d left out to dry after washing up after dinner. He said he didn’t want critters scampering over our clean dishware, and he mentioned the cat. I was still convinced the cat belonged to someone camping, so I didn’t think we needed to worry about it sullying our cooking gear. I did think we might need to be concerned about mice or raccoons, so I helped put things away.
We hung out in my van until the sun set, then The Man went off to his minivan to go to bed. He muttered something about the cat as he was getting into his rig, but I didn’t know what he was talking about until i went outside to brush my teeth. From out of the darkness, I heard not just a dainty meow, but loud feline moaning. The cat was close and it was loud. Its call sounded something like this: mmmmROWRrrrr! Of course, it didn’t make this sound once, but several times in succession.mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr!
I looked around on our campsite and out in the darkness saw two glowing green eyes. The situation freaked me out. This cat sound was creepy, and the creature was close. What if it were rabid? What if it decided to attack me? I took a step toward the eyes to find out if the cat would move, and it dashed deeper into the darkness. I felt better when the cat showed fear, but I wasn’t pleased when it continued to moan just out of my sight. I stood in the doorway of my van and brushed my teeth really quick. I was glad when my teeth were clean, and I could go inside the van and shut the door behind me.
In the morning we found no sign of the cat. There was no indication it had climbed up on our picnic table or tried to gain access to our cooler or any of our kitchen tubs. We didn’t see or hear the cat at all during the day, but shortly after dark we heard it again. mmmmROWRrrrr!mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr!
We thought it was checking our area for food scraps or begging for a handout. The Man thought other campers probably fed it. Between meeting our own needs and caring for Jerico the dog, we had just about all the responsibilities we could handle. Neither of us suggested we try to take in a stray cat.
The cat must have been discouraged by our lack of food offerings, or maybe it was opposed to the three dogs (and their people) that camped next door to us for nearly a week. In any case, it didn’t come around every night. We heard it a few nights during our two-week stay, but it was not a permanent fixture in our area.
The weather was awful on our last night at Rockhound State Park. The wind blew relentlessly all day, and by three o’clock in the afternoon (before we could even begin to prepare dinner), snow began to fall. Around 5pm, The Man braved the elements to cook four grilled cheese sandwiches on our Coleman stove that sat on the picnic table. I was grateful to have something rather than nothing in my belly, but it wasn’t the dinner I’d been hoping for. I wasn’t happy with the cold or the snow, and I was glad to settle down under my blankets when The Man said he was ready to go to his own bed.
Just like the narrator in “The Night Before Christmas,” I had settled down for “for a long winter’s nap” when something disturbed my slumber. I don’t know what time it was when The Man threw open my van’s side door, but i was in a deep sleep when it happened. His voice woke me right up when he asked loudly, Are you ok?
I sat up, was blinded by the light of his headlamp, and asked, What’s happening?
He continued to ask if I was ok. I’m sure my eyes were huge with surprise and confusion.
Once I stopped asking him what was happening, I began to assure him I was ok. Why did he think something was wrong?
He said he’d heard me making strange noises. He said he though I was having a heart attack or otherwise dying.
I was dreaming, I told him as I woke up a little more and remembered. My dream wasn’t scary, so I don’t think I would have been screaming or making other noises of distress. I wondered what kind of noises I could have been making that were loud enough for him to hear but not loud enough to wake me up.
You were in your van and you heard me making noises while I was in my van? I asked him. He said yes, which seemed unlikely to me, but I didn’t want to argue. I only wanted to go back to sleep. I assured him I was fine, and he went back to his minivan, leaving me to snuggle under my blankets once again.
In the morning light, The Man admitted that maybe it wasn’t me he had heard in the night. Maybe it was the cat he’d heard.
It didn’t sound like the cat normally sounds, he explained. Maybe the cat was upset about the weather, The Man conjectured. Maybe the cat was vocally protesting the cold and the snow. I thought a protesting feline was a likely cause of noise loud enough to disturb The Man while he inside his van. I doubted he would be able to hear any noise less than screaming coming from my van when he was inside his.
We packed up our gear and loaded both vans that morning. By afternoon, we were at a new state park where no half-wild felines caterwauled in the night.
Several years ago, I stayed in an Airbnb rental for about three weeks while working a temp job. The job paid well enough that I could afford to stay somewhere other than my van, which was good because the city in the Southwest where I was working was already getting hot in April. In the Airbnb, I could sleep in cool comfort, shower as often as I wanted, and cook in a real kitchen.
At $16 per night, the Airbnb was cheaper than even one of the meth motels downtown. The rate was inexpensive because the homeowners lived in the house too, and I shared a bathroom with the family’s teenage son. Basically, I rented a room in the family home, but all the payments were handled through the Airbnb website.
The family members were friendly and kind. I suspect they were Mormon. The father/husband worked from home. The mother/wife had a job outside the home in the medical field. The daughter of the family had gone off to college, and I slept in her old room. The teenage son was in high school, and he cleaned up after himself in our shared bathroom. The family had a guest room they also rented out via Airbnb. It had a private bath, so it cost more. A couple of short-term renters stayed in that room during my time in the house.
The family I rented from did their own cleaning when guests left. I saw the mom hauling laundry out of the room with the private bath and into the room off the kitchen that housed the washer and dryer. Of course, they could have hired an Airbnb turnaround cleaning service to save them time and hassle.
The other member of the family was a fluffy white dog. He was on the large end of the small dog spectrum; I would guess he weighed about 20 pounds. I don’t remember his name, so let’s just call him Fido.
Fido was a friendly and curious dog. He may have barked at me a bit when I first arrived, but as soon as the father/husband told him I was ok, Fido accepted me. He followed me into my room and sniffed around, then went about his life elsewhere in the house. When I’d come home from work, he’d be at the front door, checking out who was there. He’d greet me with a wagging tail, and I’d greet him with a few kind words and some petting. Our relationship was friendly, but not close.
One evening during the last week of my stay, I came out of my room after work and passed through the living room on my way to the kitchen. The father/husband was sitting on the couch. He stopped me and told me Fido had had a seizure earlier that day. The dog seemed to be fine now, the father/husband said, and he had an appointment with the vet in the next couple of days. The father/husband wanted to warn me so I wouldn’t be surprised or freaked out if I witnessed Fido having another seizure. I thanked him for telling me, then expressed my concern for Fido and my hope for his quick recovery. I’d known other dogs who were prone to seizures and took medication to control the situation. I hoped medication would help Fido too.
Over the next couple of days, Fido had more seizures, although I never witnessed one. When I did see him, he seemed ok, tail wagging and happy. Then one afternoon, I came home from work, and the father/husband told me that Fido had passed away. I offered my condolences and talked about what a nice dog Fido had been. I said I was sure the family would miss him.
The father/husband was somber. Yes, Fido had been a good dog, he agreed. Then he seemed to perk up a bit. They were already looking for a new dog, he told me.
I tried to hide my surprise. Well, that was fast, I thought, but kept my mouth shut and tried to keep my expression neutral. It wasn’t my place to judge how these strangers handled the loss of their loved one.
After a day or two, the father/husband told me they’d been looking online at dogs ready for adoption. They’d found one that seemed to be a good match, and the family would be able to meet it soon. He hoped the new dog would be living with them shortly.
I expressed general positivity–Oh that would be nice, or something along those lines. Again, I knew it was not my place to judge how other people grieved (or didn’t), but damn! Poor little Fido hadn’t been dead a week and already his family was working fast to line up a replacement. I wondered why they were in such a rush to get another dog in the house. I also wondered (uncharitably, I know) if one of the spouses died suddenly if the survivor would remarry in a matter of a few short months. I’m not saying don’t ever get another dog, but maybe give yourself some time to mourn, people. Of course, I kept all these thoughts to myself, as I was just a stranger renting a room after all.
My job ended, and I left before I could meet Fido’s replacement.
The Man and I arrived at Bluewater Lake State Park late on a Saturday morning. We were going to stay there for a while using my New Mexico State Parks Pass.
We drove through all the campground loops looking for the right spot for us. We were disappointed to see most sites did not have any shade covers. Although it was late September and the temperatures were mild, we didn’t want the sun beating down on us for hours a day.
We finally found a suitable site in the Canyonside Campground. While there was no metal shade cover on the site, a tree growing next to the picnic table offered some relief from the afternoon sun. Unfortunately, an older couple was already camped on the site next door.
Usually we wouldn’t camp so close to other people, especially when there were plenty of empty spaces throughout the park. However, we’d been through all the developed camping areas, and the site with the tree was the best spot we found in regards to shade, flatness, and proximity to restrooms, so we took it.
The folks next door had a popup camper set up on the asphalt parking spur. Our van was on our site’s asphalt parking spur. We parked with our side doors facing our picnic table. Basically our van had its back to the site next door, offering us and our neighbors some privacy.
Early Sunday afternoon, the people next door were still there but where obviously packing up. The Man and I took Jerico the dog for a walk. We went to a lookout area and saw the dam and the lake. It was a beautiful day.
When we got back to our campsite, Jerico made a beeline to a large rock just off the asphalt in front of the van.The rock was definitely on our campsite, and I’d leaned my two folding tables against it when I’d taken them out of the van to give us a little more elbow room. Why in the world would the dog be interested in that rock?
I’ll tell you why: a hamburger. An unwrapped, homemade 3/4 of a hamburger complete with bun was lying on the ground right up against the side of that rock. Jerico was immediately trying to munch it down. While The Man does sometimes give Jerico small bites of people food, he doesn’t let the pup ground score items of unknown origin.
We ushered Jerico away from the burger, picked it up and deposited in the trash, all the while wondering where it had come from. It certainly hadn’t been there the night before, so it hadn’t been left behind by the last people who camped on the site. I would have seen it when I leaned the tables against the rock, and had the hamburger been there the entire time, Lord knows Jerico would have tried to get at it at some point in the last 24 hours.
Someone came onto our campsite while we were gone and put that hamburger there, I whispered to The Man.
Who would do that? he asked. And why?
He suggested maybe someone was eating the hamburger while walking on the road that looped through the camping area. The person had enough of the hamburger and instead of carrying it back to their own camp or depositing it in one of the nearby trashcans, the person randomly tossed the hamburger and it landed next to the rock on our site.
This idea was no less absurd than the thought of someone tiptoeing onto our site while we were away and gently placing 3/4 of a hamburger next to the rock. In the first place, who’s going to toss a large portion of a hamburger into a camping area, even it it’s mostly empty? Secondly there was another campsite between us and the road. The hypothetical person munching a hamburger while walking through the campground would have to be a champion in hamburger distance tossing to have gotten that hamburger across the vacant campsite and onto ours. Of course, the person would also have to be a champion in hamburger precision tossing to get it so close to that rock. The hamburger was lying there so neatly when Jerico found it, the buns still lined up precisely. That burger had been placed, not tossed.
This led us back to the question of who would do such a thing. I cast a suspicious eye on the couple in the popup camper. Was the hamburger some sort of weird retaliation for parking next to them when so much of the campground was empty? Of course, I didn’t walk over and question them–I’m much too Southern for such a thing.
Let’s suppose someone did carefully place the remains of the hamburger next to the rock. Who does such a thing and why? If they had a leftover hamburger and thought it would be a nice treat for Jerico, why not come over and offer it? I don’t think it’s a good idea to give food to dogs (or kids) without getting approval from the responsible adult first. What if the dog (or kid) can’t have certain foods because of allergies or other health concerns? What if the responsible adult doesn’t think it’s a good idea to let the dog (or kid) eat food provided by strangers?
If someone wanted to give the remains of the burger to Jerico but had to get if off their campsite immediately, while we were away, why not put it on a napkin or paper plate and leave it with a note on our picnic table? Why leave a well-meant offering on the ground beside a rock?
Some people would say I’m making much ado about nothing, but this is the sort of little mystery my mind keeps going back to. Who did it? Why? Why did this seem like a good idea to someone? Was it an accident or on purpose? Why on our campsite? Was it some kind of prank? Was it a harmless gesture or did someone have nefarious intentions?
I have no hope of learning the truth. I’ll take these questions to my grave.
I was alone in my van, driving up from Babylon after two nights, a full day, and a morning in the heat. I was tired because the heat had kept me from getting good rest. It was early afternoon, full daylight, and although my van is a lumbering beast, I was making good time up the mountain.
Most of the road was well-lit by the sun, but where tree branches hung over the asphalt, shadows darkened the edge of the road. With my sunglasses on, it was sometimes difficult to see what was lurking in those shadows.
Crews were out felling hazard trees. The tree cutting had been going on for almost two months, and still there were dead and dying trees for the crews to take down. I slowed to a crawl when I saw workers on the side of the road and obeyed the signs demanding “slow” or “stop.”
I’m generally a cautious driver, and I tend to be even more careful on mountain roads. However, I almost had big trouble that afternoon.
I was taking a curve, and the road immediately ahead of me was deep in shadows. I was maybe going a little faster than I should have been. Maybe I had looked off to my left, or maybe I was daydreaming a little. I don’t remember what I was doing before I realized something was lurking in the shadows, but I do remember the panic and fear I felt when I realized something was out there.
It was a calf, and it bolted. Instinct caused me to swerve into the other lane to miss hitting it. At first I didn’t think I had swerved fa r enough, and I worried I might hit the calf with the back of my van. Then I saw the calf running in the direction I was going and knew it was ok. I stayed in the wrong lane long enough to bypass the calf, then swung the van back into my lane.
Once I was away from the calf, I thought about the way I had swerved the van into the other lane without even looking to see if another vehicle was there. Luckily there wasn’t a vehicle in that lane, but what if there had been? What if someone had been coming from the opposite direction and had plowed into me because they were traveling too fast to stop?
I silenced my worried thoughts. It wouldn’t do any good to work myself into a panic over something that was finished. Just be more careful, I reminded myself.
What really mystified me was why that calf was alone. The bovines in that area usually hung out in groups of half a dozen or more. I occasionally saw a grown cow alone, but never a baby. I think I would have seen a grown cow more easily in the shadows. I certainly would have been going slower had I seen a cluster of cows on the road or by its side. In any case, the baby’s mamma was not there doing her job, and she and I both nearly paid the price.
I listened to my own advice and was more careful the rest of the way back to my campground. I especially slowed down and took a good look any time my side of the road was cloaked in shadow.
To be honest, it wasn’t the first raccoon I’d ever seen in real life, but it was the first raccoon I’d seen on the mountain.
The other raccoons I’d seen had been spotted in Texas. On several occasions, raccoons tried to break into a house where I was staying, and one time while sitting on the back patio of a coffee shop in a major city, I saw a lumbering raccoon bigger than the biggest cat I’d ever laid eyes on. That sucker was huge. I guess everything really is bigger in Texas!
In the first three seasons I’d worked in campgrounds on the mountain, I’d never seen a raccoon, never heard one break into the garbage cans, never received a complaint from a camper who’d been the victim of raccoon crime. I’d occasionally wondered about the lack of raccoons, but since I knew about their persistence in the acquisition of food, I certainly didn’t wish for any of these critters in the campgrounds where I stayed.
During my second summer as a camp host, I’d asked my coworker about the lack of raccoons. He’d lived in the area for nearly 20 years, so he was my main source of information about local flora and fauna. He postulated that a lack of water kept the creatures off the top of the mountain. That seemed like a logical explanation to me, but the next year was wetter with still no sign of raccoons.
The raccoon made its appearance during the last week of July of my fourth season on the mountain. It first showed up in the campground where the Mercantile is located. Sandra the camp host told me on the night it arrived, it went from campsite to campsite, scavenging. On site #1, the raccoon stole a cheeseburger off the table while the camping family sat there eating dinner. It was certainly a bold creature!
The Man had come back to work a part-time maintenance job which required no dealing with money, paperwork, or the general public. Of course, Jerico the dog had come back with him. We were all staying at the group campground together. Maybe a week after the cheeseburger incident, the raccoon made an appearance on our campsite.
We’d been to civilization that day and come back with plenty of supplies. The Man had loaded all his food into his minivan but hadn’t yet put away a 15 pound bag of dog food which was leaning on a stump outside the van.
The Man had come over to my rig but left Jerico in his van. It had grown dark while we lay in my bed talking. Suddenly from the other van we heard Jerico start barking, and he didn’t stop. There were campers on the other end of the campground, and I thought one of them had approached our camp.
When Jerico started barking, The Man jumped out of my van and went over to his to see what the commotion was about. In less than a minute, he was hollering, Honey! Honey! Bring me my headlamp!
There’d been a raccoon out there, and now it was in the tree! Jerico had treed a ‘coon from inside the minivan! What a hound!
The raccoon was still moving up the tree when I got outside, so I threw a couple of pine cones at the tree for good measure.
Don’t hurt it! The Man said, but I had no intention (or ability) to hit it. I just wanted it to find the environment of our campsite inhospitable.
It might have rabies! The Man said, which was possible, but unlikely if it was content to slowly climb a tree. I heard a terrifying story on This American Life once about a woman attacked by a rabid raccoon and that motherfucker was aggressively going after the woman, not trying to take refuge in a tree. Our raccoon was obviously trying to practice avoidance.
With the light from my Luci lamp, I could just make out the raccoon’s glowing eyes high above the ground. With The Man’s bright headlamp, we could see the raccoon splayed out on a branch ten or twelve feet up. This one was much smaller than the lumbering beast I’d seen at the coffee shop in Texas.
The Man put the dog food in his van, and we made sure there was no food left outside to entice the raccoon. We all went to bed and didn’t hear from the raccoon again.
A couple of days later in the Mercantile, I heard about the further exploits of what must have been the same critter.
Two young men were in the Mercantile early on Sunday morning. They reported they’d seen a raccoon in the campground the night before. They’d actually seen the raccoon on their very own campsite. In fact, the raccoon had stolen a bag holding the swimsuit and towel belonging to one of the guys. It had been too dark to find the bag right after it was stolen, but he’d found it that morning in the bushes. The raccoon had ripped the bag trying to get to the contents. We joked about the raccoon being sad after it discovered that the bag it had just grabbed contained the worst snack ever.
I wondered aloud why, after three and a half seasons of seeing no raccoons, this one had suddenly appeared. The other young man said the raccoon must have been pushed out of its territory, and now had to find a new home. I suspect the young man was right. Maybe a wildfire had pushed the raccoon out, or maybe it reached maturity and had to leave the territory of its birth. I spent the rest of my time on the mountain doing my best to put food away so the raccoon wouldn’t try again to make my territory its territory.