Stories From Our House

Rojo and Morgan

After Rojo died, age 36, I had a Cedar box made to put some of his things in. On Morgan's last visit here she and I went through my 'Rojo box'. 'Why you have this B?' 'Because Rojo was my horse and I loved him very much'. 'Why you have this B?' Same question, same answer, 'I loved him very much'. As I sorted through mementos of our lives and bits and pieces from other People's lives and shared with Morgan, the question never changed - 'Why you have that B?'. Finally near the bottom of the box I spotted the one thing I knew she would not be content to leave: Rojo's almost new deep purple, both Morgan and my's favorite colour, halter and lead rope. They've been in that Cedar box, preserved and protected for many, many years but still look new. The question changed but the answer did not. 'Can I have that B?' 'No honey'. 'Why B?' 'Because they were Rojo's and I loved him very much.' Very gently she returned them to the box . . . even though they are purple.

Half an hour later she curled up on the couch beside me for another of our 'talks'. 'B?' 'Yes honey?' Very quietly, 'I miss Sonny'.

Isn't it funny how love is contagious.
Atani and her Baby.

Atani has a ‘baby’ who lives in our truck. She loves that baby. Every time we get in the car she grabs her by the arm, bounces her around, bathes her and then inevitably sets her on the front seat console. I’m not sure if that’s so Baby can see where she is going, or to kibitz on my driving. But unless I move her every couple of minutes, that’s where ‘Baby’ rides.

If we go through a drive through, Baby is immediately set upon that same console so she is first in line for French fries, Atani’s favorite treat. If we are stopped somewhere, Baby gets picked up and held up by an arm, presumably, again, so she can see out.
A couple of months ago driving through one of Henderson’s busiest intersections, I noticed Atani’s head in the side mirror, hanging out the window, breeze in her face and then in the next instant there was Baby, also hanging out the window. I did the worst possible thing – I yelled. Atani was so startled she dropped Baby dead center of that same intersection. She was instantly distraught, pacing back and forth on the back seat whining, eyes glued to poor Baby. You know I parked the truck on the corner in a parking lot, then played Chicken with cars and a city bus to get Baby back. When I got back to the truck with a dirty but otherwise uninjured Baby, I threw her through the open window and scolded Atani thoroughly. She didn’t care, I don’t think she even heard me. She was checking Baby from stem to stern, washing on the oily spots. She’s not held Baby out the window since.

Last week, we met up with Atani’s ‘Grandma’ in a local store parking lot. After the usual excitement, Grandma picked up Baby off the back seat and started to walk away with her. Atani was panicked, eyes wide, heart in mouth. She loves her Grandma, but that was her Baby she was leaving with! Her relief was palpable when Grandma turned around and handed Baby back.

The picture of that little Rat holding its Teddy Bear flashes me back to that moment every time I see it. Atani and her Baby are like that. If you reallllly need it, you can borrow her Baby, but only for a minute. She’s just too dear to part with for any longer than that, no matter who you are.
June 19, 2012
Bonwhin
Bon is one of only three meat eaters I have had over the years. She will occasionally take a piece of chicken, run off with it and eat it. Her real love is eggs – over easy. Cook them too much and she pushes the plate back at you. Get them right and she cleans that plate.

I like to take semi healthy snacks to work with me; a banana, crackers and cheese, things along those lines. Ritz has come out with a new treat, wheat crackers, about 4 inches long and 2 inches wide, with cheese. Rather than try them for the first time at work, I decided to have one as a bedtime snack. Of course Bonwhin and Owl heard the rustling of the wrapper and came running. Not expecting much more than a lick for a taste, I set the cracker, cheese up, down in front of them. Owl sniffed it and curled up his nose in a ‘you’ve got to be kidding!’ but Bonwhin took a lick, and then another, and then grabbed the whole darn thing before I had a chance to think let alone react and down the hall she ran! “Hey! Wait a minute!’ Too late, my snack was long gone.

Later I retrieved the cracker, devoid of cheese.

It’s a good thing one of us likes them!
February 27, 2012
I have known my friend Gina for a very long time. I have watched her grow from a young city girl who wouldn’t eat anything not purchased in a grocery store to an ardent lover of the Great Outdoors. I have known her through many changes and challenges and always admired her, even when I was smiling at her behind my hand.

Gina has known me back to the time of the Doberman Pinschers. I won’t say she’s afraid of dogs, but I will say she has a very healthy respect for them and would prefers to like them from a distance. Dobermans have that effect on a lot of people, not just Gina. Just about everyone will admit they are beautiful, but the biggest majority of that same group expects to be eaten alive if they get close. Gina falls into that group.

She has known me through Navaire’s coming and going. Navaire being about 65 pounds of half Malamute was very quiet, he had no bark. If you strayed across the line of common sense or reached towards one of his ferrets, there was no warning. No lowering of head, no tucking of tail or ears, he simply had you. Gina knew and thought he was pretty too.

Gina has known me through the Tonka years. Tonka was half Auss, half Rott, and a loaded gun. Whereas I would let people whom Navaire had accepted pet him, no one was ever allowed near Tonka. He was
accepting of family members only, with few exceptions, and whereas Navaire was subtle, Tonka was in your face – 5 seconds before you were within his reach. If you were quick you might escape. If you were smart, you never got close. Eighty to ninety pounds of hell bent on doing more than harm, and the teeth, snarls, and furious barking were enough to convince even an insane person Hell was precisely where he came from. A loaded gun. Gina thought he was pretty too.

For a year now Gina has been hearing about the new kid, Atani. She’s seen an occasional picture and agrees with just about everyone Atani was a cute kid. Today she met her and is convinced she’s a very pretty girl. She’s just about the right size, medium, smaller than the others (I didn’t have the heart to tell her the pup weighs nigh on 60 pounds), friendly (one of my biggest complaints), will take cookies with the most gentile of manners, and not at all bashful about making new friends. To that end, the two of them spent a good 30 minutes playing ball this morning. Gina would throw, Atani would run with break neck determination after the only thing she’s aggressive towards, bringing that ball back. Gotta do it, gotta do it, gotta do it! She impressed G with her speed, agility and her expressiveness. Oh yes, Atani virtually talks with all the facial expressions she is capable of and she and Gina had several, lengthy conversations.

Finally the time came for all of us to go in, there were chores to be done. While I tinkered, Gina sat in the middle of my living room floor. Atani stood at the edge of the kitchen waiting. Waiting for permission to barrel into the living room and into Gina’s lap. I watched the two of them for a few minutes being aware of G’s reserve around dogs and knowing as soon as I allowed, Atani was going to mow her down trying to fit into her lap. As soon as I was reasonably sure there’d be no harm done, I motioned to Atani. Berrrrrrrrroooooommmm!

Gina laughed, and giggled and was smothered in puppy love. I have the pictures to prove it.

December 15, 2011
Smokey

Smokey was dropped off at one of our vet clinics with her cagemate Bandit and a note asking for someone to take care of them. It said they’d be 5 years old in October, and that was all it said about Smoke. As we know ferrets are sensitive creatures and they don’t take abandonment well. Bandit was dangerously ill and I suppose the two circumstances could have accounted for Smokey’s attitude issues.

We have a 2 week quarantine that every new ferret has to go through. That doesn’t mean I can’t go in, they just can’t come out which fit just fine as far as Smokey was concerned. She wanted nothing to do with me. If I put my hand in the cage, she bit me. If I scooped poop, she bit me. When I changed food and water, you got it! She bit me. But when I reached for Bandit it was all out war. Some thing tells me Smokey must have spent a good part of her life taking care of the smaller, fragile Bandy. A change in tactics was called for.

Instead of dodging her when I needed in her cage, I started opening the door and immediately picking her up. Lo and behold the biting stopped. Or almost. It’s been five months now and she still wants to bite if I do something she disapproves of. And there’s generally no telling what might displease her before hand. But there’s a big difference between wanting to bite and actually doing it. Most times now she just nudges me away from what ever it is I’m doing that’s annoying her.

Smoke is a smart little girl. It took her next to no time to learn when the microwave goes ‘ding’ soup is on. When the sick kids are due for their 3-hour feedings, if you roll over on your side and look pathetic, you can get soup too. She learned if she comes when she’s called, there’s soup for that. In fact there’s a whole list of things if done properly will get a girl her own bowl.

Heart breakingly Smokin’ and I lost our beloved Bandy 8 days ago. Because of her new friends Lovey and Ena, Smoke will be okay, she won’t have to suffer the over whelming grief of suddenly being alone. We’ll both miss BandyAnn terribly, but the rest of our ferret family will pull us through.

Lovey, a member of Smoke's group, has become diabetic. That means two shots a day and blood tests every other day. Needless to say she is getting a little needle shy. Worse, I suspect the insulin initially makes her feels at least whoosey, at worse it makes her feel sick, because after her shots she tries to go into hiding for an hour. I try to break up when and where she gets her shots so she doesn’t associate any one thing with them other than me telling her ‘shot’.

Well as previously noted, Smoke has probably spent her whole life taking care of and protecting someone else, and it’s warped her a little bit. And she is a very smart little girl. Unbeknownst to me, she has observed Lovey’s ups and downs, the shots, the special soup, everything. With Bandy no longer around, she has turned her attention to Lovey.

This afternoon I walked into their bedroom, shot in hand, looking for Lovey. I found her curled up with Smokin’. I should have known, but I missed it. I bent down and stroked Lovey’s outstretched form to gently wake her. Once an eye came open I said the hated word, ‘shot’, and started her injection. I got the needle in but that was as far as I got before Smoke had me.
“You no do that Momma. She no like it.”

In sixteen years of taking in ferrets damaged in one form or another you might think the degree of their dedication would no longer surprise or amaze me, but it still does. Six months ago Smokey didn’t know Lovey and today she is willing to fight me if that’s what is necessary to protect her. The depth of emotion these People are capable of is phenomenal. We humans could learn a thing or two from them.
December 05, 2011
Providence and there is no such thing as ferret proof

I'm not a consistent prayer. More of a conversationalist with the powers than actual prayer, but when I do, its guaranteed to be a biggy. We're not talking about impossibilities like world peace, the end of disease, etc, we're talking doable but tough. Such was the case for four, long, frantic hours early this morning.

Let's recap a bit. I have four, yep four, sick ferrets at my house which need meds and a special diet every 4 hours, and one needs shots twice a day. Wait, there's more. One of my foster houses has a pair of ollllllllllllld ladies in the same shape and on the weekends there is only limited care available at their home. So two days a week, four this week, I have to go up once or twice a day, check on the old girls and give them their shots, poke and prod them to make sure they are slowly but surely recovering. So I'm kind of stretching trying to keep things covered. Saps my concentration, leaves me a bit emotional.

Enter Owl. Owl is my own card carrying terrorist. I swear he has Al Queda on speed dial and knows Ben Laudin personally. If there's gonna be trouble at my house, he's gonna be in the thick of it. High is his favorite thing. Climb, jump, fly I think, he needs to get to the top of things and then tries to figure out how to use that advantage to go just a little further up.

After 15 or so years, and hundreds of dollars, our backyard is ferret resistant. Take note: I have been saying for the same number, or more, of years there is NO such thing as ferret proof, only resistant. But there are major halogen lights out there that turn night into day, the fence is tall, sturdy and built into the ground so when the weather is nice, day or night, the ferrets are permitted to go out. My entire kitchen wall is glass door so keeping an eye on them is not usually a problem. Usually. Owl. Hmmmm.

At 2 am this morning Moose asked if he could go outside while I fixed his medicine. Moose is the ferret here who is getting shots twice a day so I was a little surprised and quite pleased that he felt good enough to want out. The sound of dishes clanking brought the rest of his group, Bonwhin and the trouble makin' kid, Owl, into the kitchen and then out the door right behind Moose. The sound of the microwave heating their dinner brought the three of them back in. Dinner served and eaten, Bon and Moose found cozy sleep spots under various pieces of furniture. Owl went back outside. I sat down to watch and wait for him to come back in. When he didn't pop right back in, I went looking for him. I went from peeking outside to full blown search mode in less than 5 minutes. Owl never fails to come when called and he never fails to put himself to bed in his own bed in his own room right after dinner. He had failed in all three and I couldn't find him.

If you have ferrets for any length of time this is going to happen to you. The ferret who always does this or that, who always sleeps in the exact same spot is gonna change, is gonna move. You will tear your house apart, up end furniture, empty drawers, check the dishwasher, refrigerator and washing machine. When that fails you will search with the squeaky toy in your hand all the places they can't be, then around the outside of your yard, your block and the next two blocks over. And nine and a half times out of ten, when you go back inside, tears in eyes, prayers not just in your heart but on your lips, that trouble makin' kid is gonna be sitting there looking at you wondering what else you're gonna fix to eat and when. Nine and a half times out of ten. I know this. I teach people this, not with just their ferrets, but their cats and dogs too. Nine and a half times out of ten. But two and a half hours have gone by and I can't find Owl. My own personal terrorist who despite his penchant for causing trouble is so totally predictable. He always comes when called and he always puts himself back to bed and I can't find him. I keep telling myself nine and a half out of ten. He is here, somewhere. But I have searched the house floor to ceiling literally inch by inch. I have moved cages he couldn't possibly have and pulled all the furniture away from the walls. I have put my hand in every bed, in every closet, on every chair and checked every towel and blanket. No Owl. Worse, he is not coming to his name, he is not coming to the squeaky toy nor the sound of his favorite toy, the vacuum cleaner. My search and destroy ferret, Sugar, who hates everything with four legs, hasn't found him either. I have gone over the yard inch by inch from 3 foot high to underground. No Owl. The prayer has been in my heart for two of those 2 and a half hours, and now it is on my lips - please protect my baby. Please protect my baby.

Its daybreak and I search the yard one more time before I sit down to start making up lost fliers. I have already talked to any neighbors who are up for two blocks in all directions, the newspaper delivery person and a couple of kids on the way to school, but my heart believes he is still here some where. Please protect my baby. Again I go through the yard he shouldn't be able to get out of. I lift the weighted cover off the above ground jacuzzi he shouldn't be able to reach let alone lift. Please protect my baby. I recheck the wood pile they all love to play in I have already flooded with the hose 3 times. I move the extra planters, look under the wheel barrow, lift, shift and move everything in the yard one more time, fighting the despair I feel welling. Please....... I almost walk past the open 55-gallon drum, a metal barrel nearly four foot tall, that I use as a burning barrel. I emptied it several months back and it is sitting up right, top open. Slippery, metal sides, almost 4 foot high with no purchase for paw or claw. I reach past it to move the wheelbarrow one more time and in doing so glance inside the barrel. Owl? Owl? Owl! Oh please - OWL! And he looks up, covered in ash, cold and a little frightened, but otherwise - safe.

Thank you for protecting my baby. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

See? There is no such thing as ferret proof. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

February 8, 2011

Sugar is very particular about her food. There are two she prefers, but she really likes her Turkey. So does Marvin. It's expensive and we're running low so it's not sitting out just anywhere.

Sugar's the only caged ferret in the house. She hates all things with 4 legs and will fight not just to prove a point, but to do damage, thus a cage. Marvin and Tonka came to be exceptions to that rule, but that's another story. Her cage is elevated about 3 ft in the air to prevent anyone from accidentally having a nose pierced or a paw crunched. She is allowed free run of the house from about 4 am until I get up some time in the late afternoon so she gets plenty of time to play and get some exercise. The rest of the ferrets are safely asleep in bedrooms she is fenced out of, the puppy, Atani, goes to bed with me, and Marvin and Sugar have an understanding - of sorts. Each morning after she gets up, I clean her cage; scoop the box, wash the water bowl, fill the food bowls and vacuum the whole place. Every day.

The last three days an hour or so after I vacuum, there have been crumbs around the turkey food bowl I some how missed. I don't know how, they are very conspicuous, but, hey, there they are, I must have missed them. Tonight, after my little beamed up episode, I was back at the computer sitting on the floor for Sugar's convenience when movement in the corner caught my eye. I turned to see what it was, hoping I wasn't about to take another trip, and it was Marvin, inside Sugar's cage, stealing her food, leaving the trail of crumbs.

Guess I was getting it clean after all.
Hallowed Ground

My sister asked me what I’d like for my birthday. Hmmmmm.

I floated in my Jacuzzi watching the stars and listening to the breeze sing my favorite song as it passed through the pines in the yard. The Jacuzzi is a place of peace for me. It eases the pain in body and soul and brings peace when my mind is troubled. I profess it’s the hot water and I, a Pisces, a water sign with heavy water influences all through my natal chart, gravitate to my home element – water. One of my best friends, only slightly more orthodox than I, insists it’s the difference in water pressure and barometric pressure along with increased blood circulation from the warmth. Men!

I contemplate what it is my heart might most desire that might also be attainable.

I spend a lot of time battling death and illness on two different fronts. When I was a child I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that has taken more than a few swipes at my life. I have walked up to Death’s door, raised my hand to knock, and thought, “Na, not yet” and made my way back. Making that trip changes the way you see life. But even though I view the illness as an old competitor, an entity in and of itself that shares this home we call a body, I rarely contemplate the what ifs. No, the life and death that challenges me and I fight the most is not my own; its for some of Mother Nature’s innocents, but that’s another story.

As I lay looking up and the stars and feeling the pressures of the past couple of weeks melting slowly away I thought what could I want? Peace. The equinox is coming up. It would be nice to be out some where quiet, safe, sacred, to light the candles and commune with all that is Holy.

Where to go, where to go….

There are several places of power less than a day’s drive from me. Sedona is one of the most famous. There is a little known Temple about an hour north by freeway. There are virtually unknown places all around us, circles made from rock chippings by peoples gone long ago. None of them call to me.

I roll in the water to look around the dark yard surrounded by high walls and secured by locked gates making sure all is well and nothing’s amiss. Was that a sigh I heard in the trees? There only a few feet from me is the circle of white rock I drew by hand many years ago. The larger stones in it set to the points of the compass with a round center stone set in the middle so prayers can be said and a soul bared safely within.
A few feet further on a weather vane swings in the breeze. A tribute to the element of air. Closer to the house and surrounding the porch, flowers, trees and herbs planted in the Mother’s rich earth. Another testament. Next to them but a safe distance away, is the place where I build small fires at need. Often after one of my charges moves to the next life I will build a fire and send something that was special to us both to them in the flame that turns material things to ash to air and ever upwards. Water, Air, Earth and Fire. Very nearly Holy ground.

I look around a little more with a slightly different eye. Over there is buried my beloved Rikki who saw me through some of the hardest days of my life. Next to him silly, silly Ricsina. Beside her Freddy, another Doberman whose mission in life was to give love. Bagheera, a panther to her core. She used to baby sit my nephews when they were toddlers, coming to get me if they needed fed, changed or anything else. She would not countenance anyone raising a hand to the boys, for any reason, even play, and refused admittance to the room they slept in to anyone but me. Snookums, my beautiful white cat with glowing green eyes. She always knew I was sick before I did. She would sit and stare at me as long as it took to make me go to bed and stay there when she knew I needed it. Kahula, who never managed to become Snooks friend, but took up her mantle of caring for me when Snooks was gone.

Navaire – The Keeper of the Weyr. Beat the girl, empty the house, but don’t touch the ferret! Tonka, a wound not fully healed, Protector of the Weyr. If it was his don’t even look upon it, and we were all his. He would have given his life, taken a life, to protect anyone of us without a second thought.

Tobias whose heart belonged to others. Elsewhere, a stranger whose pain or name we never knew but who sought sanctuary in the honeysuckle and we laid to rest there long after passing.

Little graves. Dozens and dozens and dozens of the People who passed and passed through our hands, hearts and lives. Some lived long here, some we knew for but a few, brief, pain filled moments. All were loved. Most took pieces of me when they left, all taught me valued lessons.

Hallowed ground indeed. What place could be more sacred than a place so filled with love and sacrifice, dedication and loyalty? Here are held the symbols of the things I hold the most holy.

On the 20th of this month, when the Day and the Night, the Light and the Dark, share the worlds equally, there will be candles lit in my circle.

March 2011
04/25/2010 9:04 PM

So I'm up in the middle of my night doctorin' my old folks, half in bed and half out, about 2 minutes from being back asleep and all of a sudden...

Crash! Boom! Bang! Shatter! KaBam!!!

"I leapt from my wondering bed to see what's the matter" with some profanity involved, and before I was even to my bedroom door I knew. Very much profanity.

Over my stove hanging on my wall is a board mounted with serious screws, 5 of my cast iron pots, skillets and dutch oven hanging on it. Beneath them on the stove steaming eucalyptus away so Geeber and I can breathe is a full size crock pot simmering away - full. Next to it is about a half of dozen empty Mason jars patiently waiting for me to get a chair and put them up above the shelves in their boxes. Below that on the floor next to the stove is one case of campbells cream of chicken soup in cans. On top of that is one case of canned hairball cat food. Directly in front of those two cases is a medium sized crockery bowl full of water. It takes less than a heart beat for me to know what I am going to find. Verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry much profanity!

Marvin runs from no where past me as I'm entering the kitchen, I'm sure with his own set of profanities. Since Tonka's leaving he has decided he needs to be the protector. Not to be out done by her buddy, Sugar is close on his heels. Me, I'm trying to take in all the shattered glass, water ever where, pots and pans scattered and find enough cognizance to figure out how to handle a haz-mat spill of this size. Marvin and Sugar of course had to be locked down so they couldn't help busy bodies that they are.

All in all I got lucky. Verrrrry lucky. The crock pot simmering away with a potential oil slick to rival the Exxon Valdez didn't even crack. Marvin and Sugar were both asleep at the time of the incident and fortunately not getting a drink when all you know what broke or they could have been seriously damaged or even killed. None of the soup cans ruptured and only two of the cat food cans. We were very lucky.

Bottom line.......... I have a full size cast iron skillet and a medium size dutch oven looking for a home. I only use them, because they are so big for just me, once or twice a year. So if you would be interested, or know anyone interested, in giving them a good home, please let me know
Written while Brenda is on her first vacation in many years with her 8 ferrets, 1 dog (Tonka) and 1 cat (Marvin) in her camp trailer and pickup. They've traveled alone up threw the middle of Nevada to Northern Idaho and visited with my brothers, then into Montana and Wyoming where they saw Yellowstone for the first time. I'd like to share with you her letter to her family and friends.

Whoa! Its Monday night, and my last night in Yellowstone.
Wow, what I've seen........

I've seen hot 'springs', we'd call em seepps, in blues to rival any topaz. Fountains of minerals that used to flow water now bone dry.

I've seen incredibly beautiful waterfalls where I didn't even realize the land had dropped 50, 100 ft or more. Aspens in autum weyr(sorry, couldn't resist) of gold. Flowers in pinks, purples, blues, reds and yellows smaller than a dime and taller than me. Trees, just about every where.

I've tasted the acrid smell of sulfur where poison water - poison water! - has bubbled to the surface. Sometimes in the middle of a field, sometimes on the side of a hill, sometimes on the edge of a stream or under the road or in a lake.

I've seen entire 'police' departments dedicated to herding elk. Seen units roll code up to the steps of a hundred year old building to keep a cow and calf from going in for tea.
I've seen animals with no fear of humans and their contrivances. And some how this seems wrong, sad and something else I can't put my finger on but it troubles my soul deeply.

I've seen a Park Ranger in the middle of the night, on a car stop, standing next to a truck of hunters unloading a deer rifle and known he was probably alone, no back up to be had. Never have I felt the loss of my Kimber beside me more knowing I couldn't help even if it was needed. (Park regs won't let us carry weapons even in the vehicle).
I've heard the desperate bugle of 'wild' bull elks walking the treeline at dusk looking for that stray cow. I've used my truck to very cautiously herd buffalo off a highway so the compact cars trying to travel both directions but stopped cold could get through and me along with them..

I've laughed till I nearly cried at Tonka, who being spoiled by the gate attendants at the entrances to the Park with their overly generous cookie allotments, went into fits of depravations the first time we stopped and he didn't get one.

I've been to the Dragon's Lair, smelled the foul odor of his breath, seen the smoke from his fires emanating from his cave, watched the water roil at it's entrance and heard his inhospitable roars. (and JC, I took pictures of it for you!)

I saw a Moose! High up in the trees, walking from water back into the timber, her wet feet leaving tracks on the pavement. Tonka and I didn't rate even I second glance but we were thrilled.

A muskrat, no dummy setting up shop next to a hot spring where its sure to be warm. A red fox who was convinced he was bigger and faster than my truck and camper, until the brakes screamed, then he turned and blitz the other way! Chipmunks who were quite polite, excused themselves and jumped off the trail so Tonka and I pass. An Osprey, leaving a slow moving stream and perching in the tree I just drove by. No bears - thank you.

I have missed the wolves and sadly for me, the otters. I would like to have said hi to the water weasels and asked their opinion of things.

I have survived two 'white out' snow storms, both on the same night as I was trying to make my way home. Never has an hour seemed any longer, or a minute felt so fraught with danger.

To know there is mountain on one side, emptiness on the other, and probably some fool coming from in front or in back who hasn't slowed down.

I have marveled at Mother Nature's beauty, stood in awe of the immensity of this single volcano it takes me nearly a day to traverse. I have felt the subtle threat of its heart beating and seen the ominance and lethality there. I have read the stories of explorers and scientists whose yearning to know and understand has led them to horrible, painful deaths at its hands. This is a beautiful place full of wonders, but it abides neither fool nor carelessness. It reaches out with hidden fist and deals death and pain with no warning.

It's an incredible place. I am glad I came.
Tonka and  . . . .

In the Before Time, what? You don't know about the Before Time? Then you need to read our story "Fate". Not a believer? Before this story ends you will be. Any way, in the Before Time . . .

After the meeting told of before, several of the spirits waited unobtrusively about seeking a chance to talk together privately. They had matters to discuss they wished to protect the Girl from. There were many of the People at that first meeting who had neither spoken nor made their presence known but had paid close attention none the less. Many of us are tied together by bonds from Before but we do not remember those ties in this Time and some of People needed to plan.

Two of the older Two legged spirits were conversing quietly between themselves. "My return here will leave her in pain and sadness. She will not recognize you and she will try to send you away." Some of the littler spirits listening put in that they too would miss him upon his passing. "That is different. We of the four legs can remember this place in our hearts. Those of the two legs only know of this place, they do not remember it as we do." The younger of the larger spirits replied, "I know. But with the help of the Fates and the Little Ones, I will manage to stay. And I will learn in the short time you and I will have together there, and from the Little Ones" he said with a smile. Another spirit, quiet and aloof stepped up and entered the conversation. "You will need help. We all know the path she has chosen is to be a hard one. More than difficult, she will give of herself, over and over, pushing herself, some times dangerously for each and every one of us. She will challenge the Fates many times in effort to ease our pains." The two larger spirits looked at each other knowingly. "We know. That is why we have chosen to go and why we have chosen the times we have."

"I will go first and will become The Keeper. I will be quiet, gentle, dignified and strong. A companion, caretaker and friend. When it is nearly time for me to return, it shall be his time to come."

"I will arrive in time so we may spend his last days together. She will need my strength when he departs. But there is more. I am going second because I am neither quiet nor especially gentle. I can be boisterous and silly, goofy and clumsy, but most of all, I can be fierce." and for a moment his earthy shape appeared, gray muzzled, snarling with impressive teeth. "I will see her and all who come while I watch, safe. Love is the gift we all give, but security is the gift I give."

"I see," said the latecomer almost with distaste. "I see that I best plan to come along". The others looked at him a bit askance, but went on anyway.

"And now," said the second larger as he turned to the smallest of the spirits, "I will need something of you. Once before one of my kind left her while they were far away from home. That cannot be the case for me. When the time comes, I want her to know what an excellent life we have had together, what a joy all of it and all of you, and yes, especially even you, have been." he said to the late comer, "I want our last day together to be full of joy and the things and the people we love. A special day. I want it to be a good day to die, a happy time, and I want to go quickly as I still have work here to do. But to do this," and he turned to the Littlest spirits, "I will need your help".

And there they sat, the Bigger Spirits, quiet and fierce, the latecomer who was somewhat aloof, and many of the Littler spirits, planning, and the Girl spirit was none the wiser. At least for a while.

Tonka and . . .

Navaire
Tonka's life was never about him. From the get go it was always about someone else. When he was only about 8 weeks old he was chosen out to be the companion of the dying Navaire, Keeper of the Weyr. Many times I have seen a pup ease the passing of an old dog almost as if the old one was able to relax by passing the dogly responsibilities to the new kid. Some one to share his burden so to speak. Tonka was borrowed for that purpose. He'd already been chosen out of a litter of half Aussie, half Rottweiler, pups by a family moving to our city. Upon Navaire's demise he was to be returned to his mother's home and then to the family that had chosen him. Many times over the next 8 years I would comment that had to be the longest move in recorded history.

Navaire passed and we buried him deep in the backyard. Tonka was still a baby, a bouncy rolly polly pup. I took him about everywhere and almost daily someone would say "what a cute pup!" My immediate response was always "do you want him?" The first year of his life when asked I constantly said, "it's not my dog" all the while taking him for his shots, his check ups, his neutering, his every thing.

Santana
When he was about 6 or 7 months old I took him back to visit the little girl who had 'lent' him to me. In tears she told me her grandfather with whom she lived had decided all the remaining pups were to be taken to the pound. We begged a week's reprieve of him and in that weeks time anyone who said "oh what a cute dog" got one – free.

Tonka's sister, Santana, had suffered at the hands of the younger human kids in that house. Being slightly smaller and shier, the kids picked at her – literally. They pinched, plucked, pulled. The day I went to pick her up for the home I'd found for her I had to tell those brats 4 times to get off of my truck. The fourth time I said it spankings got handed out. Poor 'Tana. It took Tonka and I two days to coax her out from underneath our lawn furniture she was so traumatized. In the end their shared blood lines, her lack of training and a neglectful owner would cost her her life when that owner chose to put her down rather than work with her. The day I buried him I apologized for not rescuing his sister. We simply didn't have the room for another big, aggressive dog.

Marvin
Tonka was only about 4 or 5 months old when his best buddy came to stay with us. Marvin. Starvin' Marvin to be exact. Marvin was an orphaned kitten about two and a half weeks old that two of the ferrets raised. To this day he doesn't know he's a cat, he's a ferret, but that aloof, feline nature, gives voice to the truth. He and Tonka got to be best friends and playmates. They ran the yard together, they slept together, they tried to share the same food. But Marvin being Marvin and even though he doesn't know it, a cat at heart, he had to have the upper hand. He put Tonka in his place and kept him in that place with periodic thumpings. Every couple of months I would have to shave Tonka's head and doctor it for a week because the cat had beat him up and the cuts, unseen in all that beautiful meryl hair, had become infected.

Not to say he was hard headed, but he was. One day I was sitting on the couch and Tonka stood up in the kitchen about to get into something he shouldn't. I hollered at him, "Tonka, Tonka!" trying to get his attention but he just blew me off. Marvin got up off his bed, a most annoyed look on his face, walked over to the dog, cocked back on his hind legs and let fly. Whap! Whap! Whap! Tonka stopped what he was doing, Marvin turned around back to their bed and I almost fell off the couch laughing. Hard headed or not, Marvin obviously knew how to get through to him.

Sugar
Tonk was always very good with the ferrets. Protective and tolerant, he'd play with them as carefully as if he knew they were made of glass. I have seen the ferrets chew on his legs and hang from his face by sharp ferrety fangs and it have no effect. Enter Sugar.

Sugar is nearly all white, but most importantly she hates anything with four legs. I don't mean dislikes, I mean hates. She fights to do harm. When she was first brought here and younger, it was my intention to get her over that so she could find a home. After she'd moved in and become settled, I decided to begin introducing her to other animals and get her on her road to psychological recovery. Of course the most likely candidate to start with was the one she was least capable of harming – Tonka. He was in the kitchen under the table when she spotted him – 2 pound ferret, 80 pound dog. She stomped over to him, grabbed his ankle in her teeth, and bit. He looked down at her and he didn't need English to be clear, "You're kidding." It wasn't long until they were bosom buddies. She couldn't scare or hurt him and he was just as glad to have the company of one more soul.

Next up was her introduction to Marvin. Now that didn't go so well. Cats can jump and have seriously longer legs than ferrets, so it was no hardship for Marvin to get away from the nippy little pest, and soon it became a game for the both of them. Sugar would chase and Marvin would run. Or Marvin would sneak up behind Sugar, ferrets are notoriously near sighted, tap her and then run. None of this went unheeded by Tonka.

I've been told many times it was not fair to him, but the penalty for Tonka in raising a paw or a lip at anyone in our house was near death. And that included Marvin even after his beatings. But you know what they say about paybacks.

One night Tonka was asleep on the rug by the front door. For no reason neither he nor I could discern, Marvin got up, walked over and let fly. Poor Tonka was smacked awake by cat claws. I yelled at the cat, but too late for the poor dog. Ah but his time was rapidly approaching. Later that night Tonka was in the kitchen, Marvin was asleep by the door and Sugar was loose. Sugs spotted the cuddled cat as easy prey. She stalked over, grabbed a big mouthful, and yep, bit down hard! Marvin screamed, jumped straight up awake and headed for the kitchen and what he thought was escape. Ha! Sugar had him in her sights! Those little ferret legs went to pumpin' hard trying to catch that cat, and Tonka? At the first note of distress from Marvin's throat he was on his feet in the kitchen heading for the trouble. A word from me stopped him almost mid stride. He stood in the kitchen doorway watching the cat and the ferret coming at him and I swear to you I watched him do the math. As Marvin got to him he 'downed' the cat, rolling him into his front legs, going down to the ground and holding him there with his head. Marvin was trapped, no way out, no way to get to Tonka to make him let go, and Sugar hot on his heels. Tonka held him long enough for Sugar to provide the payback he was owed but could not collect on his own. Teamwork had provided justice.

Cows, not really cows and YellowStone

Both Rotts and Aussies are herding dogs and Tonka felt that call deep in his heart. When he was a young man one of his boys took him to a local stable and 'worked some cows' with him. I always suspected there was little actual work done, but it awoke something in Tonk – the need to make 'em move and keep 'em all together.

In his seventh year we had the good fortune to see YellowStone Park together. When I drove through the gates the first time tears came to my eyes, I could not believe I was there. The ferrets were on their half of the folded down backseat in their carriers, Tonka standing on his half, Marvin riding the center console arm rest in the truck, our home away from home, the camper, behind us. If you have never been to YellowStone, let me give you a heads up. Everything in Nature is backwards there. The 'wild' animals have absolutely no fear nor respect for humans, cars, or any of our contrivances. It’s a deadly combination for both man and animal. It is a beautiful place, and I'll go back, but that one thing still bothers me deeply.

Tonka and I traveled to all four corners of the park, him on the backseat usually with his windows down, his head out watching, and smelling. He loved the wilderness as much as I. The ferrets and Marvin stayed in our home away from home, but Tonka and I spent every day and the early parts of the nights driving, looking, memorizing.

In the summer there are thousands of tourists in little bitty cars there. City bred tourists. Tourists who have no clue that something the size of a buffalo can, and will, butt or kick a car hard enough to roll it over. Tourists who have no idea that pretty little deer is capable of killing with a single kick and don't even ask about them and the bears! Well tourist or not, when you are driving a tennis shoe looking compact and a heard of 20 buffalo take up residency on the road, including both shoulders, you are going to stop. And if those same buffalo decide this is a good place to lounge while they chew their cuds, you best have brought a book. Well, we don't drive a tennis shoe. We drive a big ole diesel, extended crew cab, four wheel drive truck, I didn't bring a book and I have worked cows, albeit much smaller critters than the ones that surrounded us and half a dozen tennis shoes, and we had places to go. So slowly, gently, we wound our way through the buffalo herds, usually with a line of traffic glued to our bumper. And the entire time, every time, Tonka stood, quivering on the backseat. "Tonka, don't say a word, don't open your mouth. Tonka? Not a word, I mean it, not a whisper." I kept the windows rolled up tight, and he watched each buffalo go slowly by from front fender to rear fender, only 4 or 5 inches from the rubbing against the side of the truck, down both sides. The only sound that came from him was panting as he struggled to control himself. There were cows out there by golly, and they needed proper rounding up and moving and they were soooo close! Nearly ever day we encountered buffalo, often on the road and although his quivering told how hard it was for him, he never barked, growled or whined. I still don't know how he managed that.

I really looked forward to him and I being able to get out and do some serious hiking together. The whole park is crisscrossed with trails and many of them extremely remote, remote enough we would not have accidentally bumped into other humans. When you have a partner like Tonka your safety is his first concern and anything or anyone not expected is a threat to be dealt with by force, deadly force if necessary. Off leash runs and other activities can only be done where you know you will be safe because he is a loaded gun and you are his top priority. Well Yellowstone is full of places like that. After traveling a thousand miles and being restricted to the truck, camper or his 350-pound test tie out chain, I knew he was looking forward to it too. But every time I found a likely looking trail there would be a sign saying, "Go back little girl. There are bears along this trail and they will eat you and the dog too." Needless to say we hastily got back into the truck! Then we found the YellowStone River.

Fishing in the park is 'catch and release'. That means you don't get to eat what you catch. To me the point of hunting or fishing is eating, so is there a point? But to Tonka, fishing is just fun. We parked in a pull out, he got out on the horse lead rope we use for a leash. We hiked the half of a mile to the water and after I was absolutely sure we were alone, I turned him loose. I sat on a rock, the cold clear water of the YellowStone River running past me as Tonka splashed through and in it. Every time a shadow moved across the water or I said 'get the fish!' his whole face disappeared past his ears as he dove after something that was probably never there. He didn't care. When you are Tonka the whole point of fishing has nothing to do with fish. Its clean air, icy water, sun on your back, Mom laughing at you, and acting silly. It's throwing a twig in the air and chasing it down stream, its picking exactly the right rock off the bottom to dig out and then trying to pick it up with out drowning. It's about being alive, being with the people you love and sharing some of the best of Mother Nature. The river gave us a chance for all of that.

And then there were the gate attendants. Every time you enter or leave the park you have to stop at the gate. After you've been there awhile the attendants get to know you, your passengers, or in my case passenger, and your car. It didn't take long before 'can he have a dog cookie?' was the cost of me getting back in. Tonka got to the point he would drop into an automatic sit on the back seat, eyes locked on the approaching booth, and begin slobbering as we approached. When I slowed to a stop his head would pop over my shoulder in anticipation. Not that anyone would spoil him! And then horror of horrors, a new gate attendant, one who neither knew him nor offered cookies! As we drove away without that cookie he began searching for the one he knew I must have dropped because he sure didn't have it. His look of utter devastation when he realized there was no cookie was enough to set me into hysterical laughter. He just could not believe there was no cookie. I had to bite my lip to stop; he was so upset it seemed mean to laugh at him. I made amends by tearing him off a piece of my sandwich and giving that to him. It seemed to do.