Happiness is a Warm Puppy

I had promised my friend Rachel two months ago that when it came time to let her current litter of Scottish deerhound puppies go to their new homes, I would come to Arizona for the big send off. I bought my ticket to Tucson cheap but life has been hectic lately, between the pressures of work and the constant buzzing of the chainsaws at home—we’re five weeks into major tree trimming and repairs of a seriously neglected irrigation system.  By the end of last week, I had serious qualms about leaving for the weekend, and I expressed them to my good friend and traveling companion Robin who had also had some second thoughts.  In the end, we both concluded that it might be good to get away, and so with promises to one another that NEITHER of us was taking a puppy home, we embarked.  Some promises are harder to keep than others.

Rachel lives in the far southeastern corner of Arizona, where a triangle of towns including Sierra Vista, Bisbee and Tombstone serve up a little piece of the old West.  Fort Huachuca, anchoring the western end of the triangle, is a living history museum.  There, General Nelson Miles fought off Geronimo in 1886.  In 1913, the fort became the base for the famous “Buffalo Soldiers” of the tenth Cavalry Unit, comprised entirely of African Americans.  Later, and to this day, the base has become a center of strategic command and military intelligence.  Needless to say, the area is not easy to get to, which makes it remarkable that prospective puppy owners made the long trek by car from Colorado, New Mexico, and California to claim their prizes.  Some of us, including Robin and me, were there just to visit,  to help educate new owners on the ins and outs of this rather quirky breed, and let’s face it—to smell the puppy breath.

What is it about a puppy that can melt the heart of a full grown man?  Is it the remembrance of boyhood hours spent in the company of a scruffy dog, walking back roads while kicking a can, and trailing a stick behind?  Is it the potential fulfillment of a primordial urge to hunt—to “bring home the bacon” by partnering with a sentient being who is fleeter of foot and keener of eye and nose and ear? Is it that need to nurture which is largely suppressed in our culture where it is not “manly” to be kind, and sensitive?  I forgot to take my camera last weekend, but my cell phone is now full of pictures of happy new owners, their faces shining wet with kisses, and arms filled with awkward deerhound pups whose feet were nearly as big as their heads—puppies who will indeed make their owners feel like “The Laird of the Manor.”  After they are through destroying the living room couch and shredding the oriental carpets.

Despite my insistence that I am not in the market for another dog, I found myself under the spell of the runt of the litter, a little girl with a blue collar and a kinked tail.  She was feisty, that one—seeking attention from and bestowing kisses upon the gathered humans, yet fierce in mock battle with her brothers—a future Queen for sure.  I was happy to be flying home, because if I had driven the temptation to put her in the car might have overwhelmed my good judgment.  Still, I could not help feel a twinge of regret when Rachel called me today to say that the couple from New Mexico were so pleased with their male puppy that they were coming back for Little Blue Girl.  Good choice on their part—I am quite certain that despite the tail she will knock ‘em dead in the ring and on the field.  For me, there will be another puppy, another day.  Count on it.

“Buy a pup and your money will buy love, unflinching.”  Rudyard Kipling

The Road Warrior

Those who know me know that I am no stranger to traffic school.  My last session, in January, had to do with a disagreement with a camera perched on top of a traffic signal on my way home from work.  I said, “The light was yellow.”  Unfortunately the camera disagreed.  Bad news, good news—that self same camera, while capturing an image of me in my big red Suburban perfectly, did not capture the cell phone held up to my left ear.  I paid my dues and did my time, and I did not cheat on the test.

 

And so it was no surprise today, after only three hours on the road out of Cedar City, Utah headed towards Las Vegas, when I saw the flashing blue and white lights behind me, signaling me to pull over.   I was six hundred miles into a nine hundred and seventy mile road trip transporting my father, and his Volvo, back from Colorado to San Diego.  The officer said, “Ma’am, do you know how fast you were going?”  I said, “I don’t know Officer, I think about 80?”  He replied, “No ma’am.  I clocked you at ninety miles an hour.”  My father, in the passenger seat, piped up helpfully, “I thought you were going a little fast when you passed him.”  When I passed him? Thanks, Dad.  The officer looked at him, still a bit pale three months after open heart surgery at nearly 88, then at the heat shimmering up from the road and sighed.  He said, “The speed limit in Nevada is 75.  But I’m not going to give you a ticket today.”  Since he had K9 Corps emblazoned on his uniform, I felt compelled to chat him up about his dog.  He waved me on my way.

 

Between helping my daughter drive from Texas to Boston Memorial Day weekend, and now traveling from Colorado back to California, I figure I will have passed through seventeen states in three weeks—not bad for an old road warrior.  It’s hard to stop and smell the flowers when you’re driving 500 miles a day.  But last night, at a truck stop near Moab, Utah, I captured a perfect western sunset through the lens of an iPhone, the twin rain shelters over the pumps framing the darkened silhouette of the convenience store behind them.  I was reminded of taking this same route nearly seven years ago with my then sixteen-year-old son.  As we headed east from St. George on his first trip through the West, my son said to me, “Mom, now I see why this country is worth fighting for.”   He was right.  I think I’ll just slow down.