journal . stories . life

4 ~ March 2023

One of the keys of having a rich life in your elder years is to keep moving. I have tried to do that, and my border collies ensure that I do it even more. In the winter months most of our outings are at midelevations - in the Ponderosa Pine and Juniper and Douglas Fir. We use the southern slopes as our travel corridor up, since they are the first to be snow free. At the top we make short excursions to the snow covered north and east sides. Jess is loving all of it, (see photos below), and at just short of six months has an amazing amount of energy.

Both of Jess’s parents are working dogs, and she seems to have inherited a strong herding instinct from them. At first she was good with the chickens, being content to just chase them. Now at just about six months old, I am pretty sure she might kill them if I left her unattended. In fact when I brought one out to put in an enclosure to start Jess’s training, Jess sort of got out of her head and was jumping up at the chicken. I took a step back and am teaching her more of the basic commands - wait, sit, down, which she is very good at. Now we are working to have her execute these commands in the chicken yard, on leash. My plan later is to start teaching her to bye (circle to the right) and way, circle to the left, wait, and ‘to me’ around some chickens in the enclosure. Jess learning control around the hens is the first task however. (Update 3/6/23: The chicken gate didn't shut and one of the hens came into the yard while Jess was out there alone this afternoon. When I found them Jess had herded the hen to a standstill, but the chicken was unhurt, which makes me very happy)

The woman I bought her from (Morgan) is a true cowgirl, and wanted to be certain Jess was going to a good home. She told me if things didn’t work out to bring her back. (Jess is doing fantastic!) The next morning after I brought Jess home Morgan texted to see if Jess did ok throughout the night. (I had crated Jess and she slept close to Beau and Hayley all night long without waking).

I am doing a lot more hiking now because it is so much fun to watch little Jess fall in love with wildness and the outdoors. She is good about staying close but is not afraid to go out and explore when she wants to. I have her trained with a whistle and an ecollar to come back to me on my command, (set on vibrate only to get her attention). When you are out where there are lions, bears, and eventually wolves, your dog has to stay close when you ask them to, which Jess has become very good at already.

Jess is fascinated with everything Beau does when we are out hiking, and will usually be a step or two behind him. I can tell he is enjoying the adoration. Beau tolerates things with Jess he would not do with Mollie and Hayley, like sleeping beside him on the pillows on top of the elevated 8 x 12 ft ¾ inch plywood slab in the dog room.

When Mollie passed away Beau and Hayley seemed lost. On our walks they went very slow, and I had to encourage them to walk faster. Mollie was the oldest and in her quiet but passionate way was the leader of the pack. I don’t know if it is Jess’s personality, or the way she is treated by the other dogs, but Jess has started to become what Mollie used to be. When we go on walks Jess sets the pace and Beau and Hayley walk very fast now. (as do I). When we are out on adventures I have noticed when Jess stoops to pee, first Hayley will come up, sniff and pee in the same spot, and then Beau will also sniff, then lift his leg there. My pack of three border collies is complete again.

below:rock composed of pink feldspar and white quartz

Jess and Beau on a scent; (March 3, 2023)

Jess and Beau in the woods; March 3, 2023
March 3, 2023

Yesterday on our hike the dogs found a deer bone with juicy marrow in it, and had carried it between them for a couple of hours. First Jess had it, then Beau, for a while Hayley got it, then finally Jess again. I was taking some photos of them, and all Jess wanted to do was lie down and chew on her bone. I called her over and took it away from her, and tossed it off the rock outcropping we were on, figuring that would be the last of it. Jess revealed what she is made of, and her mountain heart. At less than six months old she found a way down and after a search came climbing back up with her bone. I couldn’t help but tell her good job.

more journal notes: February/March 2023

3 March: The dogs and I hiked up to a secluded rock outcropping, new to us, and found a gorgeous wooded level area behind it, spaced with tall Ponderosa Pine. We spent a few hours there just enjoying the mountains. After we got home and I fed the dogs, I went in to check on them ( = talk to them and give them some love), and I noticed little Jess was not in the dog room with Beau and Hayley. I went up stairs and very quietly slid open the glass door to the deck, to see what she was up to. I got to see her playing by herself down in the yard - tossing a stick up and jumping up to get it, charging over to herd off a curious chicken (behind a fence), sniff the dirt at the edge of the fence, then pick up one of my socks she had brought out there and throw it and chase after it with a puppy bounce.

Seeing her so happy with her new life melts my heart!

1 March: Today I was out collecting eggs, and the sun’s warmth over the new straw I put out in the chicken yard made it feel like spring is near. The chickens were clearly happy, and so were the border collies who came out to play and enjoy the day with me, a day of rest for us until our mountain adventure tomorrow. There was no mistaking the border collie smile on Jess and Hayley’s faces.

As I walked up the deck stairs, it occurred to me how lucky I am to have this home and a retirement like I have, punctuated with dogs and chickens and large gardens, and mixed with Colorado Mountain treks and once a year expeditions to the sea.

26 February: I was going through things my Mother kept, in preparation for beginning my own estate cleaning, and I found some photos of 18 year old me with my first girlfriend, from the 1960’s.

By then my habits were already set, of traveling in the mountains with my dog. It seems what you gravitate to when you are young can be what you return to in old age. When our relationship ended back then after a couple of years, I of course spent more time up in the mountains with Wolf. So my means for recovering from difficulties were set at that young age. And when future relationships passed the question was, was I dumped or was I set free?

Her and I had fun together though - hiking, riding my Honda Trail 90 or her horses, and making out. We got to go to Disneyland on Grad Night, where high school grads spend all night long there, with all the rides open. We went to different high schools, and I remember hearing that when she attended my football games, she was upset when some of the girls from my school cheered when I made good plays.

25 February: Yearly exploring far off tropical seas and diversity of coral reefs has definitely made me happy. I spend a lot of time going over the photos and videos I take there every year, imagining what it was like in the freedom and beauty and mystery of the seas, and dreaming of my next visit.

Dancing to a good beat, especially swing and country blues has made me happy. Bookending my weeks with heartfelt celebration to live music is a fine way to live.

Finding good stories and then retelling them to classrooms and students and their teachers has made me happy. It is an honor to have done this for 15 years and has made for a rewarding and rich retirement.

But the number one thing that brings me happiness is walking behind a group of wild heart border collies, who express joy and wonder in their eyes and feet, with an occasional grateful glance back to someone who they know will love them forever.

23 February: I am often digging my garden by the end of February. This year that might be weeks away. Snow has stayed on the ground around the chicken hut/run for months. That turns to mud as soon as we have warmer weather. (I am going to lay down sand and then straw for them).

Not today though. This morning it was minus 4 F. The dogs have not gone anywhere since Monday because of this latest storm. But we are headed out anyway. They are border collies and have to move. And so they keep me moving.

20 February: So my idea of Heaven is climbing a dry ridge, sparsely wooded with pines and firs. Up ahead are my border collies animated and excited with the sense of discovery in the wild. They stop and look back at me, grateful that I have brought them here, and secure in their connection with me.

But in the physical world, how wonderful it is to be retired and to have the health and the time to do all this, again and again. It is even more exciting now that I have a young border collie to introduce to the wild. Jess has supercharged my and Beau and Hayley’s lives. We are off today, to find our sparsely wooded ridge to climb!

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart"