Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Mighty Finn McCool

Calhoun's Canons for April 26, 2015

In his beginning, was his end.  Alpha.  Omega.

The Mighty Finn McCool arrived in a cat carrier.  A puppy small enough to fit easily in your lap, all elbows and stick-legs. His mother had died giving birth at the racetrack in Tijuana, and the puppies had been thrown in a cage to die.  But volunteer angels from the Greyhound Adoption Center in La Mesa swooped in to save and nurse them back to health.

And so he arrived here 11 years ago to confront a dog-busy household filled with Basenjis and the late, great Archibald McDog, whose clumsy social graces towards puppies was to rudely poke them in the tummy with his nose.  Finn's gentle sweetness precluded confrontation so he would hide in the nasturtiums and soon his soft, gentle nature befuddled Archie into proper Big Brother manners.  The Basenjis, of course, dismissed him out of hand as some kind of small alien species beneath their interest.

He thrived and grew.  And grew.  Until he was towering over everyone, a stilt-legged dog who greeted strangers on the street by doing a happy little dance, convinced that this person had come a long, long way just to see him. He was also a leaner against legs, his politely insistent snooter searching for an ear-scratch. Born with a sweetness, he was a true gentleman in all things, convinced the entire world was an oyster that daily gave him pearls of joy;  A morning hug and head rub, a daily walk to visit and slowly, carefully, inspect, inhale, savor each previously peed-upon bush and shrub and twig along the route as if they were the aromas from the finest wines. All of it delighted him.

As did racing runs with Archie at the dog park where, in many ways, our story begins and ends.  It was there that his blinding speed and juvenile awkwardness in controlling those long legs sent him into a slide that slammed him into the leg of the kiosk.  With a sickening thunk, he went down, his fate sealed.  I loaded everyone into the car and raced for Coast Veterinary clinic to find Dr. Stephens waiting and the diagnosis of a bad leg break was rendered.  Like race-horses, bad breaks in large dogs with tall, tall legs is very often an ultimate death sentence.  But since he was so young and healthy, Dr. Stevens and I decided to go for broke. Dr. Sykes, the local dog orthopedic surgeon was called in and together they put in the steel plate and gave him his leg and life back.

Recovery took weeks of confinement, careful rehab work, endless guided potty-calls, but somehow Finn knew he had to endure all this patiently if he were ever to run free again.  And so we forged a deep bond and understanding: He had my heart and I had his back. We were in this together, whatever it was.

And so his life was restored to him.  A reboot. A ten year gift to us both. 

But all love stories end and for Finn that came with age-related hind leg nerve damage that made one leg fail and made getting up and about difficult.  Anti-inflamatories helped until a few days ago when he stumble, went down hard and was unable to move.  We got him to the vet and, as fate would have it, Dr. Stephens was on duty.  Once again, we tried a Hail Mary pass -- hospitalization with IV prednisone, a treatment worth a try since prednisone can often make magic happen.  But in this case, magic was impossible.  Dr. Stephens discovered a re-break in the old plated, repaired leg. The old fatal injury had returned.

I was able to get quickly to the office to say goodbye as Dr. Stephens, the doctor who gave Finn his second life ten years ago, was there again to gently help him out of it.  Beginnings.  Endings.  Alpha.  Omega.

I will bury Finn's ashes under the brave little apple tree.  The first of its delicate, pale blooms are open now, giving me the promise of another spring.  And once again, there will be another ghost in my garden.  This one with tall legs, a happy soul, and all my heart. 


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Garden Folly: The Drought Version

Due to the drought, the CSD has put all of us Los Ososians on a water budget. So, here’s the experiment and the challenge:  Grow some green beans on a budget of 50 gallons of water per day per person per household, that includes indoor and outdoor water use.  Can it be done?  I have no idea.  But I will try. That’s the folly of it.


To prepare, there’s the water-thrifty dishpans at the ready.


And the rinse-water slop bucket standing by. (You would be amazed how quickly that rinse water adds up, no matter how quickly you turn the faucet off in between rinses.)


And, one of the biggest water wasters of all – a bathroom sink far away from the hot water heater.  At least a gallon down the drain before the water’s warm enough to splash on your face.


Last and by by no means least, the good old shower water capture buckets. (Well over a gallon there.)
Plus, of course, big garbage cans under the gutters to capture whatever bit of rain happens to arrive.

And now for the folly, sparked by a growing tip from Sunset Magazine: bury gallon plastic pots in the earth, fill with pebbles or wood chips.  Plant your green beans  (or squash or tomatoes) next to the buried pot.  Pour your saved household water into the pot.  The water will leak out of the bottom, a good 8-9” down in the soil, thereby avoiding topsoil evaporation.  It also creates  a deeper water source and thereby forces the green beans roots to go deeper for their moisture. 


At least that’s the theory.  And I’m going to see if it’ll work.  Last year, I inadvertently discovered that I could  pretty effectively “dry land” farm tomatoes by keeping them starved for water.  Instead of too many leaves from too much water, I ended up with bedraggled leaves and tons of very, very sweet little cherry tomatoes. We’ll see if that happy accident will work as well this year. I hope so since Zuri had so much fun last year waiting for her green beans.
Waiting for the Beans, 9-14-14  bean pole, zuri, 003

 Stay tuned. And, if you have any bright ideas you're using in your house to meet our community-wide 50-gallon challenge, do share your ideas here.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Archibald McDog

Calhoun's Cannons for April 11, 2015

He had no brakes.  Full of wild enthusiasms, he ran at everything full tilt.  Two speeds: Zero and Oh, No!  Nothing in between. Bang his food dish and in a split second he would ramp himself up into panting Full Crazy.  Pick up the leash and he was at the door, engine roaring.  Nothing by halves.

He had no manners, either.  And didn't speak or understand "Dog" very well, which made every social encounter with other dogs fraught with peril.  His blundering approach to a new dog was to rush up into their face and bark or poke at them in a clueless attempt at engaging in play.  Naturally, they reacted with a warning growl, but instead of backing off and minding his manners, he took that as a threat and moved in to bully them.  Bad move, since Archie was, at heart, a big, clueless weenie and even though the new dog would put him in his place for his rudeness, he never learned.  It was all Boo-Hoo, Poor Me. Wash, rinse, repeat. 

And it was always wash, rinse, repeat with him because he had some kind of profound short term memory disorder.  Alzheimer Dog, I used to call him. "Sit," I'd tell him.  "Huh?" he'd reply.  He wasn't dumb.  In fact, he was a very smart dog.  I suspect that his intense focus on the moment just erased every previous moment.  For him there was no past, it was all just a series of disconnected Now's.  Which made living with him exasperating.  Training classes simply went in one ear and out the other.  "Sit. Stay."  "What? Oh, look, a squirrel!" Hopeless.  

I stumbled on him at Animal Services some 15-plus years ago.  He was a skinny, black-masked feral-looking brindle dog, a lurcher of dubious pedigree.  A greyhound with somebody else's ears, I called him.  As he grew older, the German Shepherd in him overtook the greyhound as he grew heavier and filled out.  In most cases,  a greyhound/shepherd mix can produce a great dog if you get the sweet gentle temperament of the greyhound and the smarts and inherent obedience of the Shepherd.  Unfortunately, you can also end up with Archie, in which you get the worst of both of those breeds -- the world-erasing,  laser-focus ("I can't hear you, La-La-La") of a greyhound on the hunt who has spotted and locked on his quarry, combined with the Nazi bully-boy herding temperament of the German Shepherd. In short, Archie was a pain in the butt who kept my eyes rolling for years. "ArchEEE! Jeeze!' became the metronomic music in the house.

No manners, no brakes, an unreliable temperament, stubborn and hard-headed.  We had issues, he and I, but for all that he had a big soft heart and in all things meant well in his bungling fashion. And he lived a long, long time, a very strong, remarkably healthy dog. When his hind legs became too weak for walks, he was still up for a totter to the car for a ride to the dog park.  And when that became too much to manage, with a little help in getting up, he'd still insist on carrying on as usual. It was a heart-breaking lesson in courage to see him single-mindedly shambling all the way to the back yard to do his business.  It did not matter to him that his legs didn't work right.  They worked well enough and he kept going forward because that was the only way. Until it wasn't and his body just got too weak and tired to go on. When that happened, he let me know it was time for him to go.

His ashes now join all the other ghost dogs in the garden where he once lazed in the sun, noodling and nosing around the lavender bushes, looking for lizards.  I have no doubt his incorrigible spirit is somewhere, causing trouble.  He was a bad dog.

And I loved him.   


Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sunday’s Blessing


The little apple tree was a folly in the face of time and the vagaries of weather.  Leafless, skinny, it sat in it’s little plot of dirt through the cold winter and come spring, grudgingly gave out a few leaves.  Somehow it weathered the drought summer with me carefully monitoring the soil and judiciously applying scarce water.  Then another winter, a screwy winter with no winter and little rain giving anyone hope. 
And then, on a quiet spring morning, this delicate gift arrives.