Monday, December 31, 2007

Let me live in a house by the side of the road

Olive Grilley Fordham 1913-2005
My Gramma passed away two years ago this past fall, but she is with me always. I strive to emulate her country-bred humor, grace and dignity.

"Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go..." We used to sing this on trips to Gramma's, although it was more like "over the highway and through the (trailer) park" to her house. Cookies and tea awaited us, and when I was older, quiet time and family reminiscing on stopovers on my way to somewhere new.

Olive loved her filly Beauty, and living on a lake in northern Minnesota where her family ran a fishing and hunting resort in the 1920's. I think she went there often in her imagination. She was a wonderful cookie-maker, had a positively beatific smile, and liked her nip of gin or brandy.

Grandpa Fordy and Olive clowning around
She did not say love honor and obey in her wedding vows, firmly omitting that last ridiculous word, with a girlish laugh. Although she was unhappy in her marriage, she had two baby girls, my aunt and mother, and poured out her great love and loyalty to them, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren throughout her long life.

Olive began working as a secretary in her teens, when she was just out of high school, and ended up working for NASA for over a decade in what is now the Silicon Valley, CA. She won awards for her work on the Apollo space missions.

at the ball park...
In her tiny apartment in her last years, she "gave in to the chair", as an older friend of mine says, dreaming the remnants of her life away. I would wake her up on my visits, taking her wild strawberries, and lavender from our garden.

As I tucked her into bed she'd say "Nice girl" and more forcefully, blue eyes shining brightly, "I love you!"

Olive's final resting place, in Big Sur.

"Let me live in a house by the side of the road, where the race of man go by. The men who are good and the men who are bad, as good or as bad as I. I would not sit in a scorner's seat, or hurl a cynic's ban. Let me live in a house by the side of the road, and be a friend of man."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Carnivale Christmas 2007

Here are some Dionysian images of yours truly and Toby in full depression era carny disguise for our annual neighborhood winter festivities.

Ringmaster surveys his circus

Everyone was beautiful, funny and creative. What can we say, there are some wonderful characters in these woods, not all pictured here!

Our Favorite Clown (love the hat)

Ringmaster and Bearded Lady

Master Chef and Ringmaster

Lady Santa

Acrobats have a tender moment

Hoochie-coochie girls and Empress of the Universe

Young Roustabout

Dancing Camille with Ringmaster

Madam Lulubelle

Hoochie-coochie girl and Ringmaster

Ringmaster reads Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales"

Ringmaster takes a well-deserved bow with his rainbow angels

Under the Big Top

Hoochie-coochie reprise

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas card memory lane

We didn't send out Christmas cards this year, so we've received only a few, mostly from our relatives across the pond and the charming die-hards who send us annual updates.
Last week I opened a very nice card, from the guy who sold me a car two years ago. Now that's kinda depressing. So here's a brief tour of some of our favorite holiday greeting cards over the years. We have definitely made an impression in Xmas card land!

First Christmas together — 1996. This wasn't actually a card, but certainly brings back memories...I hadn't known that I'd married a man who loved Christmas so much. I had always been a sort of down-on-one's-luck bah humbug type. Not any more!

In the beginning...

Green Acres Christmas — 1998. This was a specific vision, city folk turned eccentric country gentry. We raised goats for about three years, tender little buggers that we just loved to bits.

Whose beard do you think is cuter, Toby's or the nanny goat's?

Cappuccino, Curious and BeBop

Aloha Xmas — 2001. A walk in the Botanical Gardens in Hilo, Hawaii, that summer. Next year's Christmas destination!

"All we need is this leaf, to shelter us from the rain."
photo by Margaret Goeden

2003 — Big Sur Gothic or X-rated Christmas. The day after our wedding anniversary, a wonderful photographer paid a call. He was so happy to find willing nudists to pose in Big Sur's springtime glory! Note the pitchfork and our very embarrassed looking dog.

I couldn't quite post the uncensored version (my mother looks at this blog)
photo by Dick Sonnen

Gender-bender Christmas, 2005. This one needs no explanation. Our true characters come out. Perhaps this makes a better New Year's card, my favorite holiday.

photo by Sylvia Steininger,

I had to add our sexy former neighbor Lisa to the mix. We miss you Lisa!

And this time around —Rubber Duckie Christmas?

With much love and warmth from our home to yours.
Linda and Toby Rowland-Jones
December 2007

Just in case you want to excuse yourself from sending Xmas cards to family and friends you can tell them the story below. It's sufficiently gross to get you off the hook, at least until they check out urban cockroach myth.
NEVER LICK ENVELOPES A woman was working in a post office in California ..One day she licked the envelopes and postage stamps instead of using a sponge. That very day the lady found a cut on her tongue. A week later, she noticed an abnormal swelling of her tongue. She went to the doctor, and they found nothing wrong. Her tongue was not sore or anything. A couple of days later, her tongue started to swell more, and it began to get really sore, so sore, that she could not eat. She went back to the hospital, and demanded something be done. The doctor took an x-ray of her tongue and noticed a lump. He prepared her for minor surgery. When the doctor cut her tongue open, a live cockroach crawled out!!!! (EEEEEEWWWWWWW.) There were cockroach eggs on the seal of the envelope. The egg was able to hatch inside of her tongue, because of her saliva. It was warm and moist... (of course, finished up with) this is a TRUE story, pass it on.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ain't it fun being a girl?

Stress, or rather how you deal with it, affects hormones. Hormones affect whether you cry or rage or have insomnia or sail smoothly through a crisis. Throughout my life, my hormones have treated me relatively gently (my loved ones may disagree.) Lately, though, my internal chemistry has got me wondering what is up.

So I went to my country doctor, and we had a good ol' girl cackle or two about how sometimes it's hard to be a woman. We talked about the herbs chasteberry and black cohosh and the mysterious hormonal cocktails of FSH, estradiol, estrone, estrogen, progesterone et al.

I find myself thinking about Estrus (humans, unlike animals, can have sex ALL the time) and Equus (that strange play about the English boy and horses.) Then I remember something I've heard about synthetic estrogen. That it's made, pregnant mare urine?

The upshot of this meeting is that we schedule an immediate diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound on my right breast. Because I have a small, pea-sized LUMP. She wishes me luck and says I'm fortunate to have come to see her right after finding it. Gulp.

The only surgery I want to even think about is an eye-lift, thank you very much. When the doctor leaves the room, I hear the cheap wall clock tick loudly, tick, tick, tick.

Waking up the next morning and walking naked to the kitchen for a glass of water, I catch a myopic glimpse of myself in the mirror. There they are, my breasts, looking soft and full and pleasantly primitive in the morning light. The right breast is the problem child. Wasn’t that the one the Amazon warriors removed so they could pull back their bowstrings unimpeded?

On the way to my appointment I call the Breast Center to let them know I'm running late. I'm in Big Sur, I explain, you're in Big Sur? comes the response, as if to say, you wanted to forget your mammogram appointment so badly that you took a vacation day? I live in Big Sur, I work in Big Sur, I explain patiently, and I'm going to be a little late, that's all.

Earlier that day I reviewed my book of affirmations for good health, by the controversial healer Louise Hays. Breasts, naturally enough, represent nurturing. The affirmation for healthy breasts is: I'm important. I count. I nurture myself now with love and joy. I repeat this mantra to the lovely woman who is squeezing my breasts to the breaking point.

As I wait for my ultrasound, I doze in the dark room, listening to the medical equipment which makes the whole building hum. I feel like I'm trying to sleep on a red-eye airplane flight. When we look at the monitor we see whorls of dense breast tissue, but my little lump does not materialize. Seems it's just a fibrocystic mirage.

"Some women say breast tissue looks like the ocean, or the moon," says my new best friend as she runs the wand over the warm fluid on my breasts. She goes on to describe breast ducts, the paste-like material of fibrocystic breasts, how women like myself often come in because something has changed in the tissue landscape but most times we're OK. Then, over my left breast, she says, "see, there's your heart."

O wow. I watch the tissue rise and fall, rise and fall. Now I have a visual when I feel my heart beat fast with anxiety or desire. Even though the monitor readout is in black and white, I see a warm pink glow when I see my heart. There she blows, steady and strong. What a relief! She's there! Right with me always. Taking care of me. Thank you, dear heart. Thank you thank you thank you!

To “make a clean breast” means to “bare one’s heart”. People once considered the breast to be the place where private feelings and thoughts were kept. With no more secrets in my life, I might as well reveal to the world, that I love my breasts, now more than ever.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hold onto your hat

and let's hope it's not one of those silly red ones that older women wear to tea parties. I mean, it's cute, but I'm just not READY YET.

I am at that age; you know, the one where a woman becomes "a woman of a certain age" and men buy new red sports cars. Or acquire tattoos, mistresses, and other obsessions. My particular riff on it is to dream of amazing sex that will burn away all my fear and grief, Poof! like magic.

Here's a cosmic, comic twist (try saying that several times really fast.) I was driving down Highway One this afternoon in the sparkling winter sunlight, ruminating over this post, and who should I see driving north in a flashy red Italian sports car, but a local gent (and internationally recognized silver fox) named.... Ted Turner!

Hmmm, I wonder how I can get him to look at this blog???

Isn't he a nice man?

Because Big Sur is such an itty bitty fish pond, folks like Mr. Turner really, really stand out, and they can pop up at the oddest moments.

Seriously, it's not getting older that bothers me that much; I'm fit and have good health (knock on wood.) I love to dance and hike, and take pleasure in going deeper with friends in heart-felt conversation. Depth increases with age, I believe. The perspective I have today should be wiser than the one I used to navigate my 20's. You think? Think again!

Here's one way of dealing with decades old insecurity: try to control everything, and when that fails (as it always does), act out! It's shocking how that 25 year old woman is still inside me, fuming, sitting on so much despair. I bang the drum of my discontent until what I love runs into the hills and hides.

At life's mid-way point (assuming I'll live to be 92) it's inevitable that I look at what I've accomplished, and what I still need (and WANT) to do in order to make a graceful exit someday. So, an obligation for self-reflection and a deep longing to make it all better, really fast, using old habits that don't work anymore.

This scenario can certainly precipitate a crisis, at any age. Hey, I'm not alone! There are 43 million American women aged 40 to 60. I think we all could use some time on the fainting couch.

photo by Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, 1872

During this transformative time, I take comfort in the beauty of Big Sur, asking her to please be my true love. The warm breeze off the mountain, the damp grass on my bare feet, the falling stars, and the great, mothering expanse of the ocean, nurture me in a way that mere mortals simply can't.

Nature, as the purest manifestation of god, is love. She can also be a bitch, which just means we need to appreciate her tender moods as much as we can.

According to one source, the “average age at onset of a self-described 'mid-life crisis' is 46. Mid life crises last about 3-10 years in men and 2-5 years in women."Is this you?

Do you have a mid-life story to tell? Go ahead, post a comment...

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Mornings in Big Sur

Photo by Lucy Goodhart

A winter morning in Big Sur, we’re still waiting for rain. My husband, the optimist, is wearing his rain hat. He opens the sliding glass door to our bedroom, and suggests I get out this morning and take a walk, it’s so beautiful. Yes dear, I reply, and continue tapping on the keyboard.

Later though, I’m up and out, drinking in the morning light, walking with the dog down to the oak tree on the point. North and south views inspire me. I watch my shadow walk down the opposite ridge. Enormous waves in the ocean, swells that give the impression of someone very, very large in the bathtub, sloshing around. The mist at the edge of the cliffs up and down the coast for miles is sea spray, not fog.

Driving north on my way to work, I see a condor perched on a steel highway guardrail. Impulsively, I pull a quick u-turn into the pullout and speak with an Australian man and his red-headed son, who’ve just come out of their truck to look at the bird. “What is it?” he asks, “it’s a California condor," I say, elatedly. "I’ve never see one perched here like that.” These ancient birds have been carefully re-introduced to this area by the Ventana Wildlife Society.

I spring into spontaneous docent mode. I need to sell them on the idea that we have to scare this magnificent fowl away so that it doesn’t start to enjoy hanging out with people, handicapping its ability to survive in the wild. If condors get real cozy with us, VWS will have to take them to a new, more remote area.

With no natural predators, condors are curious, and that’s how they became extinct. Starting in the mid-19th century, people would take their eggs as souvenirs, and they were shot and poisoned (by eating lead bullets in carcasses) for more than a century.

I’ve had the good fortune to meet some of the VWS folks. True believers all, there’s a special category for a naturalist like “Condor Joe” who I once coaxed into making condor sounds at an educational event. Hint: Condors have no voice-boxes, so when they make sound, they grunt or hiss. Joe put himself on the map that day.

A condor is one of the definitely “not cute” endangered creatures. The sparsely adorned head above the glossy pink flesh of the bulging wattle, the long mortician-style black feathers. This one is so big, he reminds me of a crouching child, v. a perching bird. They’re such a wonder, prehistoric creatures brought back to life. You can even adopt a condor chick, if you want!

Another gentleman shows up with a camera. I expound further, "they’re raised in captivity with a technique called Human Aversion Therapy," (I love this term.) "We’ll have to shoo him off." "That’s all right," says the guy with the camera, "I want to photograph him in flight, anyway." OK, here we go, I say, happy with my role as team leader, let’s send him, off, on the count of three. One…two…three, we all run a few paces towards the bird, waving our hands in the air and yelling.

#94 (as he or she is tagged) hops off the stanchion, landing about a foot away, on the edge of the cliff. And looks back at us, balefully. It is here that I see something (or have yet another anthropomorphic moment) when the condor and I make eye-contact. The photographer comments, “Hey, he’s saying, what are you doing? I like you guys.” We all laugh.

Then, crazy woman that I am, and late to work to boot, I hike my skirt and climb over the guardrail, flap my arms and…he lifts off. We watch him glide, without even a flap, to the cypress trees on the point several hundred yards away. This moment makes my day. Ah, said the photographer, getting his shot of the creature’s easy grace and huge jet-black wing-span as he coasts down to the trees.

Dad and son return to their truck, and as I turn, I see Mom, sitting inside in the passenger seat. A small note of sadness enters the scene for me. Who sits in the car on a beautiful morning when this magnificent bird is so close? Maybe she’s afraid of heights. But I know the sadness that keeps one from jumping out of the car and embracing a life experience. (I’ve been that sad myself, and am grateful this morning, that I’m not.)

Contact with the wild is one of my cherished dreams. While other people want to get high by parachuting out of planes, black diamond skiing, or doing stand-up comedy, I want to have a timeless moment of communion with an exotic, maybe even dangerous, member of the animal kingdom. I’m still waiting to see a mountain lion in my yard so I can offer him a bowl of milk. But I’m also content to see little wild rabbits hopping across the road and enormous rare condors gliding beautifully across the sky.

I did get to have a death-defying experience the following morning, though.

That night, my early-bird husband suggests we go down to Partington Cove to see the monster waves before work. Somehow, I agree to this. At 6:30 in the am he is puttering about, coaxing me out of bed. “It’s cold,” I moan. “Get up,” he admonishes. After 12 years of living together, I know how to follow this order, especially if some experience of natural phenomena is promised.

At 7:30am we’re hiking down the path to the cove. We walk into the tunnel through the mountain made with hand-split redwood by John Partington and neighboring homesteaders, in the 1870s. “Do you think that the light at the end of the tunnel you’re supposed to see in death could just be a repetition of the birth experience?” I muse. “If so, what happens to people born by C-section?” Hmmmm, Toby says, then snaps a picture.

Emerging from the tunnel, sea spray makes the air smell of iodine, the foam below us is thick and creamy, like God’s beer. The last time I was here was on a gentle spring day, foraging for mussels at the water’s edge with friends.

I was posted as the lookout and made the mistake of bringing binoculars. My job was to call out the incoming waves, but I got distracted by a funny little sea otter, head poking out of the water, looking directly at us, probably thinking, “those guys are going to get creamed!” A surge swept in and covered everyone except me for a few terrible moments. Mercifully, it was just a salt-water group baptism.

This time, we walked just a few feet beyond the “Danger” sign and stopped on the tip of the rock, looking to the north. Monster waves, alright, stacked up, 30’ high, crashing joyously over the rocks beyond. We started taking pictures, and couldn’t stop. Remembering the loss of perspective that can happen from looking through a lens, I keep an exit path in my mind’s eye. Down the rock and back up a few steps. With wifely trust, though, I assume we're safe.

As a child, I was once swept out to sea at a beach. I can still see my Dad, like Superman, stripping down to his swimsuit and diving into the surf to rescue me. I've had the occasional tsunami nightmare ever since. Now I am looking at waves much bigger than those on the beach 40+ years ago. As they explode over the rocks, roll into the tiny cove below us and shoot up spray dozens of feet, I squeal, not with fear, but with delight. Their wild, crashing power is exciting and joy-inspiring.

Finally, common sense returns to us and we back down the rock face and hike up the trail to the highway. “We were safe, there, weren’t we?” I ask hesitantly, “Well, pretty much,” Toby says. “The trick is to hold onto the rock and let the wave roll over you.” “O great!” I laugh, “I just faced my greatest fear and didn’t even know it!”

Another Big Sur lesson, this one before my first morning cup of coffee.

Definitely NOT a musselling day...

"Promise me you'll always remember: you're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think" —A.A. Milne (Christopher Robin to Pooh)

Monday, December 3, 2007

The brave music of the distant drum

Bob, at his 88th birthday party
“O the brave music of the distant drum!” —Omar Khayyam

When my husband and I began care-taking the property we live on in Big Sur (ten years ago this Spring) we were given a curious, extra responsibility.

Due to turn 90 on February 18, 2008, Bob Nash has lived in his particular spot, a tiny, bare-bones shack on the edge of the forest, since the early ‘70s. He actually arrived in Big Sur in 1951 and spent some years (as we say, served his time) living extremely simply, in shacks, tents, and under the redwoods, before landing on this piece of property.

He was friendly with famous ridge resident Henry Miller, often dining with him and observing the intellectual, bohemian world that Miller enjoyed. During this time Bob became inspired to become an artist.

He was a handyman/caretaker on Partington Ridge, while his wife Rosa (a former nun from a teaching order, the Immaculate Heart of Mary) was a tutor to several local children, now adults with children of their own. Bob tended roses in his small garden, removed rattlesnakes at the property owner’s request, made pottery and created thousands of his unique and mysterious “line drawings.”

Henry Miller wrote of Bob’s visual poems in his essay, “Journey to an Antique Land” and you can see more of Bob’s work on his very own web-site. He must be part of a very small subset of nonagenarians on the web, one of the few of his vintage who know how to use "google" as a verb.

Bob recalls seeing Henry Miller for the first time while sitting on a bench in the state park. Henry drove past him in his green Cadillac and someone said, reverentially, “that’s Henry Miller.” He eventually met Henry via Wynn Bullock, who he met because he was courting a woman named Virginia, who worked for Bullock.

In Miller’s Partington Ridge home in the ‘50s the talk around the table was of current events and philosophy. While others talked about themselves, Miller did not. A very personable man, in Bob’s view.

Bob’s background is pure Americana — his father was an Episcopal reverend in the Wyoming wilderness, where Bob was born. One of his favorite stories is of how, as a young boy, he met a bishop of the Episcopal Church, who told a story of Chief Joseph.

“I was born in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1918. When I was four years old, my mother heard of a retired Episcopal Bishop of the Territory of Wyoming (prior to statehood in 1890) who would conduct a sermon in Kelly, a small town ten or fifteen miles north of Jackson Hole.

We went, and I remember nothing of the service, but afterwards there were maybe a dozen people standing around and I was introduced to the old gentleman. What a wonderful face he had! He must have been in his late 80’s, close to my age now, come to think of it.

A woman behind me, who I never did see, with great awe in her voice, asked, ‘Bishop, did you know Chief Joseph?’ The old man’s face lit up with a wonderful smile, he threw up his hands and laughed. O yes, he said, I knew Chief Joseph for more than 30 years. He was the holiest man I ever met, and I could not convert him.’

That scene has been with me for over 80 years. I take it as reminder that there are many roads to the ultimate mystery of life.”

There you have it, straight from the genuine, accept-no-substitutes Old Man on the Mountain!

Bob's home is decorated in an eclectic mishmash of wooden tables, dust-covered books, piles of clothes and Christmas lights, up all year. His desk, also his dining table, has a stack of music in the corner next to the radio, a few photos of friends, bills, silverware, the random jar of maraschino cherries next to the peanut butter.

As I’ve fussed with the clutter over the years, dusting, hanging pictures and paper lanterns, finding him bright-colored cozy bed linens since he’s now spending more time reclining, I’ve noticed the emergence of the color pink in Bob’s home. Bright pink, sometimes fuschia, sometimes scarlet, appears in the cards we’ve tacked to the walls, a newspaper ad for a movie with a large picture of a beautiful actress wearing pink lipstick, a purple feather boa held by a ceramic hand, a photograph of him wearing a coral-colored plastic lei.

Like many older people, Bob loves young children, especially feisty little girls. Twenty some years ago he was surrogate uncle to a brilliant child who grew up on this property. Photos of this little person are on Bob’s desk and walls, all smiles. She’s not that different now!

For years, I’ve been reading Bob children’s stories (some of the world’s best literature, in my opinion) alternating with science-for-the-layperson texts. Right now we’re reading The Golden Compass, an adventure story incorporating physics and a sweet, savvy little girl.

A decade ago Bob developed macular degeneration. His wife Rosa had passed away and he was alone. He gave up driving right away (a good thing considering the perils of Highway One.) He has managed extremely well, though, still living on his own at 89, with a little help from his friends.

Bob says that the key to his success as an elder is having younger friends with "flexible" minds, who can share new ideas with him and help keep him flexible, too. A steady flow of pilgrims make their way to his door, where he dispenses wisdom, or at least listens gently to their tales.

What I think is Bob’s secret, aside from being made of incredibly sturdy stuff, both physically and psychologically (who else could live in an un-insulated shack with just a radio and visitors for 30+ years?) is that he FEELS. He is engaged in the world in his unique way, and finds people fascinating (especially those of the female variety.)

Living for so long and still having empathy, feeling both the pulse of the world (he's a Winner's Circle KUSP donor) and of the people around him that he loves, seems a great triumph to me.

When we're young, we feel we're immortal, nothing can wound us permanently, or stop our momentum. In the middle years, we begin to get a glimmer of our mortality. In antiquity (as Bob calls it), even the magical modern medicines can only take you so far.

Bob is now at the stage where his death holds him close, watches over him, embodied in the trembling hands and wheezing breath that are a kind of curtain call. To see this is terrifying and awe-inspiring. To live with it as he does is unimaginable to me.

He is also still devotedly marketing his artwork. Did I mention you can purchase Bob's drawings on the web?

This evening, Bob says, let me tell you what my mentor told me: Then he draws a complete blank, stares off into space, seated in front of the wood-burning stove (the man never has brain blips.)

His face is priceless, stuck, amused at himself. We laugh uproariously.

As I’m leaving he calls me back, he’s remembered!

“She is the brightest and the best
That Time and Fate in their vintage have pressed

And her name is

— Omar Khayyam

The funniest part of this is that Bob has plucked this verse out of his brain, doubtless several decades after hearing and using it. I, on the other hand, have to call him when I get home (a walk of about 5 minutes) to double-check the wording. More evidence that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

The sunset tonight was incredible, bright orange fire at the horizon, high cloud cover of slate blue, turning into a flood of magenta. Bob has spent so much of his life right here, watching this over and over again. I asked him about all his sunset watching, and he acknowledged this luxury with a nod of his head. "And the mornings," he added, in a solemn tone.

Another piece of Bob's secret is the ability to do nothing, to simply be. This skill is so odd nowadays it's practically subversive. I tell him, "No one does this anymore, Bob, unless you're a monk in a temple," and he responds, "I am."

“The thoughtful soul to solitude retires” —Omar Khayyam

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I love my dog

Ok, I know, how totally provincial of me to write about my mutt. How many bloggers have done this, I fear to ask. It's like the novice photographer shooting her cat, over and over again, in cuter and cuter poses.

But my dog, now, MY dog, IS special. Everyone says so. My dog has inspired other people to go to the pound and rescue a puppy, overcome their fear of god (I mean dog) even to receive Darshan from him (Sanskrit for having an experience of God.)

People have sung lullabies to my dog. When he was a puppy he literally stopped traffic. I’ll never forget the first time someone didn’t give him the attention he’d grown accustomed to. He got very still and watched this person walk down the street and around the corner, then looked up at me, mystified.

Of course, he is spoiled. But he’s got enough of the working dog breed in him (border collie, terrier) that he still takes responsibility, patrolling the perimeter of our space always, wherever he goes. He smiles, showing his pretty front teeth. He is conscious of children and older people, treating them gently. If he knows and loves you, you can be assured of a very warm and vocal greeting each time you meet.

Living in Big Sur, also known as "dog paradise" something happens to dog owners, primarily because we are providing a utopia for our dogs. No fences, no leashes, no gates, run around all day long and guard the property from...ok, well, mountain lions (hey, there's a price for everything.)

Until I was in my late 20s, dogs terrified me. A barking dog put panic in my belly. As a small fearless child, I’d played with a dog on the street, who bit me. I still have the scars on the soft part of my right arm. Since, as they say, parenting was not a verb in that decade (or the following one, come to think of it) my fear of dogs was not “addressed.” Nowadays there's help.

Then I met Cacia, a black Lab, Chesapeake Bay retriever mix who was dearly loved by a man I dearly loved. She became my friend, with no prompting from me at all. It was cool to be with her, and my heart opened in understanding. When dogs bark, look, they also wag their tails. Maybe they’re saying,”Hi there! Sorry but I just gotta make this scary sound until I know you’re ok to play with.”

Toby, my husband, chose our dog, Kipling, and gave him to me as surprise. He walked around the corner of our office holding this tiny creature in his arms, handed him to me and said, "it's a little boy." I felt like I was standing outside the delivery room. Toby chooses well with his heart.

A dog is your ambassador, your champion, your love-object, your canine alter-ego. A person with a dog is less threatening than one without.

Have you ever had a long chat with someone about their cute dog, what breed, how he reminds you of another dog and so on but not made any personal contact with the dog’s owner? It’s funny, and among dog owners, accepted. It’s not love me, love my dog (though that does apply to overnight visits with my dog in tow) but really, love my dog, never mind about me, I just buy the dog food.

A tongue we all know and love.

Ready for action.