Friday, December 28, 2007

The Nine Lives of O'Malley

O'Malley, in his last summer with his summer haircut.

My sister Peggy sent me a book for Christmas called “Merle’s Door” by Ted Kerasote. I hadn’t heard of it before, but once I picked it up I couldn’t stop reading. Merle was Ted’s dog that he found as a stray here in Utah. Kerasote adopted the stray, took him back home to Jackson, Wyoming where Merle lived for thirteen years. Man, ol’ Ted really loved this dog. I would not have thought a person could write a fairly good sized book about a dog’s life, but Kerasote did and every page was interesting. In the book, Kerasote imagines what Merle might have been thinking and the result is dialogue; you get to hear what a dog thinks, or what Kerasote thinks a dog is thinking. All in all, it sounds terribly anthropomorphic and juvenile. Yet he backs up his imagination with solid science from people who have studied dogs and wolves and other animals. I was really touched by the book and most of the time I was reading it; I had thoughts of Cisco, Pancho, O’Malley and young Fergus.

I thought about Fergus, that he is almost five or six months old and what an easy-keeper he has been. He's figured out the housetraining regimen fairly quickly, in about a week, and we no longer have too many surprises on the floor. Just recently, his bladder has enlarged to the point where he can sleep though the night without waking one of us to let him out to take a leak. Perhaps we are through the worst of puppy-hood.

Which got me to thinking…..O’Malley was an absolute nightmare until he was six years old. We have recounted some of his mis-adventures elsewhere in this blog, but I thought if Ted could write a whole book about Merle, I could write a few paragraphs about O’Malley.

We got O’Malley in early 1994, from an ad in the Bozeman Chronicle that offered some puppies for free. He was a mutt. The mother was a German Shepard/Husky cross and the father was a roaming Black Lab reputed to be a rather large fellow. We often told people when they asked that O’Malley was a German Huskador. Nancy picked out the most energetic, most incorrigible of the litter, hauled him by the tail out of the den he had dug, and we took him home. He got big quick and folks thought he was five or six months old rather than five or six weeks. Some said he looked like a hyena. Pancho had him house trained in a matter of hours.

He grew to look like a black wolf. He learned at about seven months he could jump the fence. Our fence was around four feet high and he could sail over it at will. I couldn’t have him roaming around Bozeman and get hit by a car, and I couldn’t leave him in the house all day, and I couldn’t make the fence taller. We tried an electric fence, but O’Malley was unfazed by the electric shock administer by the batteries in the collar. A cattle prod might have worked, maybe. So I chained him to a tree. I felt sorry for him so I then chained him to a cinder block. He was able to drag the cinder block around without any trouble. What I didn’t anticipate was that he would drag the cinder block over to the fence, then back off and jump the fence. I came home from work to find him on one side of the fence and the cinder block on the other. Luckily he didn’t hang himself. I think though, that he used up the first of his nine lives. He spent the next few days chained to the tree. He never learned to not jump the fence, he just got too old.

We took a trip to Utah where we had rented a house near Zion National Park. I turned my back and O’Malley was three miles off chasing deer through the woods, no doubt scaring the bejesus out of them. You could hear him barking, howling in ecstasy and he eventually returned, panting and smiling. He was unsuccessful in his hunt, but proud to have chased the dangerous and threatening deer away from our rental house.

A summer or two later, Nancy and I were working at the South Entrance in Yellowstone National Park and driving each weekend to our property outside of Livingston where we were building our cabin. O’Malley rode in the back of the pickup, and stupidly, we had him chained into the bed of the pickup. As we were driving through the park that evening I happened to look in the mirror in time to see O’Malley jump up, all 125 pounds of him, to look at some elk. I don’t know whether he was jumping to go after the elk or he slipped, but out he went. I hit the brakes and fortunately, because the park speed limit was only 45 mph, came to a fairly quick stop. O’Malley was only dragged a short distance. A few square inches of skin was scraped from his paws and a claw or two were missing, and the vet said he would be all right. Luckily I saw him in time, and thankfully he didn’t get run over by his stupid owner. He was bandaged for a week or two but seemed to hold no grudge against us. Number two of his nine lives was gone.

A year or so later, O’Malley had developed a mind of his own regarding getting into the pickup. Nancy and I had joked that he seemed to making his own decisions. Somehow, we were sending out signal about where we were going. If he thought we were going someplace he didn’t want to go, he wouldn’t get into the pickup, and if he decided we were going someplace fun he would kennel up whether you wanted him to or not. He preferred to run down the four wheel drive road alongside the truck, to the point where we got on the county road and we would take the truck out of 4WD and cruise on down to town.

One day as we were leaving the cabin, he would not get into the truck and would not be caught. So we drove slowly down the county road with him running alongside. We would stop occasionally to let him decide if he wanted a ride, but he refused. We had put quite a little distance between us and stopped to wait. He didn’t come around the corner. We waited and waited. Finally we turned around and went and got him. He was walking along the road in a very subdued manner. We got him in the truck and went home. He acted very strange for a couple of days, not his incorrigible self at all; very sheepish and scared. Finally we figured out he was in serious pain. We took him to the vet, and to make a long story short, found he had a .45 caliber bullet lodged in his spine. Someone had shot him along the road when he was some distance from the truck. Again, we felt incredibly stupid, but we had no clue that one of our neighbors would shoot at him. There was no livestock around, no other dogs or cats. Someone just took a shot at him, perhaps because he looked like a wolf. The vet gave him medication that caused scar tissue to form a shell around the bullet, and he was back to normal in a matter of weeks. The third of his nine lives had just expired.

A year or so later Nancy and O’Malley were walking near our cabin and they saw a black bear sow and tthee cubs cross the 4WD road. Naturally, O’Malley took off after it. He followed it off the road and down into the bushes. Nancy said he came flying out of the bushes as if propelled by something. O’Malley who had never been in a dog fight had met his match in the sow. One slash with her front paw, or one bite and O’Malley would have been dead. When they got back to the cabin, I examined him and he had some slime on his haunch. Bear slime. The sow had tried to bite him and gotten nothing but hair. The slime smelled as bad as anything I’ve ever smelled, just like the bears I’ve gotten close to. Every one who has been mauled by a bear and survived has commented on the powerful and horrible stench of the bear’s breath. By this time, you are probably thinking that we must be the worst dog owners you’ve ever known. Perhaps. Anyway, O’Malley had lost the fourth of his nine lives.

Occasionally O’Malley would catch a rabbit or a chipmunk. He was able to kill them but then he had no idea what to do next. The idea that the critters had red, bloody, juicy meat underneath that fur did not ever come to mind. Until I picked them up and disposed of them, he treated them as if they were stuffed teddy bears.

There was also the incident of the mountain lion checking out the tipi in which we slept while we were building the cabin. I was down in the Park as our days off were not the same. Nancy said O’Malley was acting agitated and left the tipi just at dawn. A little later, through the door opening, Nancy saw the mountain lion cruise by, long tail held straight out behind her, perhaps looking for O’Malley. Nancy, wisely stayed where she was and eventually O’Malley returned, missing another of his nine lives.

Did I mention O’Malley looked like a black wolf? He did, and I’m not the only one who thought so. We would take him for a walk each evening in Yellowstone, on a leash of course, throughout the developed areas where we lived. It became a very dangerous time during the month of June when the elk cows were calving. The elk had developed a habit of calving near the developed areas in what might be a safe zone for their calves. Safe from the newly re-introduced wolves that preyed on elk calves, deer fawns, and antelope fawns, and who avoided the developed areas. Among the new wolves from Canada were quite a few black ones. You can see where this is going, right? The elk thought O’Malley was a wolf. Elk cows had chased me and O’Malley, and charged us as we were out for our walk, but I didn’t put two and two together. Well, maybe I did, but I had gotten five, not four. The poor dog, however, had it figured out. He was skittish and knew that the elk had it in for him. Nancy took him for a walk one evening and got charged by a belligerent cow elk. Six or seven hundred pounds of cow elk surprised them and chased them around a stopped truck in the middle of the road. What you have to realize is that these elk saw thousands of people a day and probably a dozen dogs on a leash, and as far as we knew, paid them no mind, never charging or threatening anyone. But there were Nancy and O’Malley running around a truck with an elk behind them. In my mind I can see them; the elk cow having a rough time with her sharp hooves slipping on the asphalt, Nancy and O’Malley roped together by the leash, running around the truck, and at the same time trying to keep an eye on the cow. At some point, O’Malley took a blow on his shoulders from the elk’s hooves. The drama ended when they were able to scramble into the pickup with the startled and benevolent driver and move off. Life number six?

I won’t recount his surgeries and medical adventures. But we must have financed about half a Hummer or a year of house payments for our Veterinarian. O’Malley ran into a few more mountain lions in his life and was smart enough to keep his distance. He never chased another bear and he stopped jumping fences. He would ride in the back of the pickup and never put his front paws on the side of the bed of the pickup. He eventually needed a ramp to get into the bed of the pickup, or at least a helping hand. In short, he became the perfect dog as he approached ten years old. He must have lost a few of his nine lives that we were not aware of, or he didn’t have nine lives to begin with. In the summer of 2006, Nancy and I knew the time was coming when we would have to put him down. He was losing control of his hind end and couldn’t go up stairs and often would collapse while just standing there. His quality of life was at the tipping point.

If you’ve had to put a dog down, you know there is a fine line between too soon and too late. In June we decided it was time to put him down but we lost our resolve at the vet’s office while trying to make the dreaded final appointment. We just couldn’t do it then and O’Malley hobbled around for another month. When July came, he was struggling with the heat, his bowels and bladder and his hind end had pretty much stopped working. He was still happy but we couldn’t bear it any longer and so we phoned the vet and made the awful, horrifying, dreaded appointment. Of all the cruelties, the appointment was scheduled for three days in the future and we spent those days trying to be the best parents we possibly could.

On the fateful day he rode down the road, happily sitting between us in the front seat of the pickup. I felt guilty, like a murderer. When we got to the highway, I almost turned towards Bozeman rather than towards Livingston and the vet. He’d had a delicious final meal the night before. As I remember, it was a T-bone steak with the bone. The old guy’s mind was sharp, but the body had given up. He was very interested in the technician shaving his foreleg for the IV, licked her face and inspected the shaver. Nancy and I were bawling and sniffling while lying there on the floor with him. Incorrigible to the end, he growled at the technician when she stuck the needle in his foreleg, and we laughed through our tears. And then it was over. O’Malley was gone.

If you’ve ever put a dog down, you know they are some of the most emotional and painful moments you will ever experience. Thankfully, the pain passes quickly. I think each time I’ve been through this, I swear I’ll never get another dog. But we always do.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Christmas Story

When I left work yesterday, I was so tired that I could barely swing my leg over the bicycle to pedal the several blocks home. It was "EVERYTHING IS 25 CENTS" day at WabiSabi. And as we had to clarify to just about every customer coming through the door, everything means everything!!! By the end of my shift I had racked up nearly 1200 25-cent items on our one little register. I know it doesn't equate to big $$$$, but it was quite impressive watching folks hauling out stereo speakers, breadmakers, espresso machines, 3-piece suits or lamps....all for 25 cents each.

WabiSabi is Moab's non-profit community thrift store. From the Japanese, it is the WabiSabi belief that beauty lies in the imperfection that surrounds us, that new is not necessarily nicer, and that our discards could very well be our salvation. Yesterday, there was hardly a Moabite who wasn't trying to be saved.

Because Moab is a rather eclectic town, our donation-based inventory is quite unique and impressive---the racks and shelves at our two stores are filled with name brand, lightly-used, and/or pure funk. Between the mountain bikers, river runners, climbers, jeepers, backpackers, and plethera of other recreationists or second-home owners, somebody is always upgrading equipment and belongings. We get the hand-me-downs.

I was more than relieved to see all the Christmas gee-gaws flying out the door, being the bah-humbug that I am. I have no tree, no tinsel, no ornaments, no lights, no cards....and as some probably think, no tradition, no sentimentality. Probably true, but it's stressful enough watching other people deal with Christmas; and I have no boxes to store. I watched people cramming crap in their baskets, running around tighter than a spring, glad to be on the outside looking in.

But there was one Christmas for which I spent a great deal of time preparing, and the memories of it are so tangible to this day. Maybe no subsequent Christmas could ever match up. It was the 1989 REIDUNION at the Grizzly Ranch in Paradise Valley, Montana. Doug planted the seed a year early to see if the idea would sprout amongst his three sisters. There was interest, but coordination, timing, arrangements, were key.

We said we would do the leg work, looking for "the place" to hold the event. Everyone agreed on spending five nights in Montana. There would be about 15 of us, moreorless. Two ground rules were established, but they were critical:

  • Every family member would only receive ONE PRESENT, and all presents had to be HAND-MADE. Names would be drawn to determine the giver and givee.

  • Family members would pair up to cook Breakfasts and Dinners. Names would be drawn to determine the pairs.

Doug and I held the official drawing, and with a few minor adjustments, announced the results. Pairs were told to submit their 'grocery lists' prior to departure so food could be bought in one lump sum. It appeared that we would be consuming copious amounts of butter, wine, beer and cream. Yum, yum, yum.

Doug and I scouted out potential locations for the Reidunion fete. We didn't want it too close to town and its amenities, wanted to be able to ski out to cut a tree, wanted to sled and toboggan, had to have a huge fireplace, sleeping for 15, needed good kitchen facilities, etc. The Grizzly Ranch is tucked away in Tom Miner Basin in Paradise Valley south of Livingston, MT. Removed from just about everything except drop-dead views, we decided it worked.

After arriving, we assigned chores, and some skied off to the National Forest in search of a Christmas tree, with sled in tow. The decoration elves were busily prepping clothespin ornaments, construction paper cutouts, popcorn and cranberry strands. Did I mention and all decorations had to be hand-made? Luckily, Doug's family boasts some extremely creative sorts so the tree was spectacular.

I'm sure everyone has over-indulged at holiday gatherings, so I won't dwell on that aspect. But over those five days, some of my fondest family memories remain---the water balloon fight, the Christmas pageant, and the opening of the gifts.

One evening, creatively prompted by alcohol consumption, the re-enactment of the Nativity began. With hooded jackets draped over our heads, an afghan wrapped around a stuffed animal, and a few shawls and scarves tied loosely, we assumed our roles without direction. The 'play' unfolded without script---some gentle lowing of animals in the background, soft soothing cooing of townspeople, and Mary and Joseph did Christmas Montana-style! The way they all performed without a hitch, I honestly thought that Doug's family must have done this every year. Then I found out that they were just such hams.

Everyone was chomping at the proverbial bit on Christmas morning, anxious to learn the official present-opening order. The ultimate decision was left in the hands of the youngest family members---they could open first or let the oldest open first (and thus be last). Darrell, the unofficial elder of the extended Reid clan, thus began the opening festivities. One by one, working down the chronological pecking list, we each discovered how our chosen "elf" had been toiling away on our gift all year.

Bearing in mind that within a family of 15, no two members will have equal or identical artistic or skill levels. And the ages ranged from single digit to probably 50. Everyone was travelling about 700 miles and would have to transport their presents enroute. The Christmas elf families had to put all this into their equations. I can imagine the brainstorming sessions going on, as everyone eventually figured out what they wanted to make and then what they realistically could make. I'm sure there were a few (who will remain nameless) with young children, who were thinking "raw deal" every so often. But, nothing was ever said.

I think it goes without saying that no one, no one, was disappointed that morning. In fact, everyone was overwhelmed....not only by the 'present' itself, but by the creativity that went into it. A life-sized black plastic bag leaned against the living room window, as if a peeping Tom. It hardly went unnoticed, but no one would admit they knew it was Doug's present. When his turn came, nephew Andrew hefted the body bag inside and dumped it in front of him. Black plastic flew and RamCrow rose from the depths. Half Rambo, half scarecrow, RamCrow was a twist on GI Joe. Imagine a skeleton of metal fenceposts wearing olive drab and camo Army fatigues, topped off with helmet and goggles. He was, of course, amply stuffed. He rode the 700 miles from Seattle to Montana in his body bag on top of the Oldham VW bus, and I couldn't help but be reminded of National Lampoon Vacation. RamCrow adorned our Bozeman yard in various postures for a few years, just outside the fence. At night, more than a few people caught their breath to accidentally look up face-to-face into RamCrow's crooked googles. Over time, pieces of his uniform started walking off. Finally, when a couple neighbor kids asked for the rest of him, we let him go with dignity.

I could go on and on reminiscing about everyone's gifts, who made what and who received what. Instead, I'll send out the request for stories from other family members about what you remember. Here's the gift list as I recollect (fill in the holes or correct, please).

  1. Darrell:
  2. Leslie: Funnelator (John)
  3. Doug: RamCrow (Andrew)
  4. Nancy: Flavored Oils & Vinegars (Darrell)
  5. Peggy: Turned Wood Boxes (Nancy)
  6. Tony: Yard Salmon (Sarah)
  7. John: Framed Watercolor (Peggy & Tony)
  8. Amy: Fisherman's Knit Sweater (Leslie)
  9. Sarah:
  10. Noah:
  11. Andrew:
  12. Anna: AnnaDido Stationery (Noah)
  13. Ellen: Wooden Cradle (Doug)
  14. Kate: Purple Polka Dot Shoes/Book (Amy)
  15. The Extra:

For any non-family members who happen to read this, I recommend borrowing this event and tweaking it to fit your family. It's not easy to pull off, it takes lots of commitment, it requires some sacrifices and it takes work. But it's the only time I have ever liked Christmas. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Moab Electric Light Parade

Each December, Moab has an electric light parade. People come up with some pretty creative floats. Others put a few lights on their business truck and call it good. Generally, the float involves a whole bunch of kids on a trailer, a truck, a noisy generator and strings of electric lights. Of course, as in any parade in Moab there are always a few farm tractors. Lots of gasoline is burned in the trucks and generators. However, some of the floats are human powered and silently glide by, with one or two people furiously pedalling some kind of home made contraption. The bottom photo is not a great photograph, and I apologize, but it depicts a woman on a bicycle and you will have to take my word for that. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


This is the beginning of the process, in a big wok, sauteing the chicken parts, the sausage, onions, garlic and peppers in some olive oil. The addition of the tomatoes and some moisture.

Before the rice is added it's like a thick soup.
Serving up the Paella. Yum, yum.

Every time I went to the Mirepoix market on Monday morning, I wanted to get some of the Paella they had cooking in those fragrant and vast cauldrons. However, it was always just after breakfast and too early for lunch and I resisted temptation. I was able to get some Paella at the Marche Nocturne Leran one evening and it just happened to be the last full scoop before the cauldron was empty and was less than satisfactory. So I decided to make another attempt at making Paella at home. Here's how:

1/3 cup of Olive Oil
1 small onion, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 generous pinch of saffron
3-5 tbsps mince fresh parsley
2 tbsps of chicken bullion
3 skinless chicken breasts, cut in large chunks
2 green peppers, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
8 oz. tomato sauce
1 tbsp sugar
4 cups rice
7 cups water
1/2 to 1 lb. shrimp, leave shell on
1 lb. scallops

Saute onion, parsley, and garlic in olive oil until the onion begins to become transparent. Add saffron, chicken bouillon, chicken, peppers and saute until chicken has become white. Add tomato sauce, sugar, . Stir. Add rice and water and bring to a boil. Salt to taste. Boil 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp and scallops, boil and additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Simmer 10 minutes covered, stirring occasionally, If the rice appears to be getting too dry during the last 10 minutes, add more water. If the rice is too wet at the end of the 10 minutes, uncover and evaporate unwanted liquid. ENJOY.

(Some of the changes I made were leaving out the sugar; putting in legs and thighs instead of chunks of breasts; adding some Italian sausage; using chopped tomatoes instead of tomato sauce; and I left out the scallops and I added some frozen green peas. If I'd had some mussels, I would have used them. It's a fluid recipe. Use what you have. I apologize to those of you in Europe for the use of cups, tablespoons, ounces and the like. Make the best of it. If it is any consolation, I didn't measure anything.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Case of the Open Door

We don't lock our doors in Moab, but we've never worried about the consequences of that decision. So I was a little surprised when I arrived home from work yesterday about 5:30 pm to see the front French door wide open, the house dark inside, and the furnace trying to keep up with heating the outdoors. The truck was gone and there were lights on in the guest rental, which wasn't booked. Fergus had been left outside and now didn't respond to my calls. It's hard to work up too much suspicion in Moab, but it didn't take long before the mystery was solved. Fergus appeared in the doorway, stretching his lanky frame, apparently awakened from a deep slumber. His body was cozy warm---he'd been in the house for awhile. We've been trying to break his habit of jumping against the French door windows to tell us he wants inside. At some time during his persistent endeavor, he learned that he can now reach the door lever and push it down and Voila!---magically, Open Sez-A-Me! The big decision now is whether to teach him to close the door behind him, lock the doors in our absence, replace the levers with door knobs, or start using O'Malley's old doggie door.

Fergus is missing his cousins, Small and Large, the other components of "Le Trois Noir", as well as his southern belle cousin Hula. He's back to being a single child. Other than six (yes, that's 6) episodes of car sickness enroute to/from Denver, dehydration, and some weight loss from over-playing, he survived the first family encounter.

Thus far, Fergus promises to be a more 'normal' dog than O'Malley. Anyone who had the privilege of knowing the old lad knows what I mean. His list of adventures is stellar: drug by a pickup truck; shot by a 44 Magnum; bit by a black bear after chasing her 3 cubs; two encounters with mountain lions; and stomped by a cow elk with new calf. I swear these incidents are true, only because I was there.

If Fergus does no more than dig up a few plants, learn how to pick locks, and hang out with all his 'babies', that will be enough for me.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving in Denver

Nancy and I headed over to Denver for Thanksgiving with my two younger sisters and their families. Fergus found himself amongst two other black labs, one smaller and one bigger. Small, medium and large, Jack, Fergus and Scooter pile onto Madeleine's lap. Madeleine is Amy and Dan's daughter and she's in second grade.

Tony, who along with Peggy, visited us in France this summer, catches up on his sleep. Tony has a burgeoning medical practice to attend to, babies to deliver, and he just renewed his pilot's license and has other commitments too numerous too mention. In his spare time he teaches skiing. You have to sleep sometime and it was not exactly an exciting football game. Dan, the guy not sleeping, is preparing one of about six side dishes that he served on Thursday.

You can see Nancy preparing my favorite hors d'ouvre, tomatoes and mozzarella, and avocado in olive oil. She was assigned the task of appetizers for a dozen folks. I caught my sister, Peggy, who spent the previous day making pies and Thanksgiving day doing the turkey, about to take my picture. The dinner table had folks from Alaska, Louisiana, Indiana, Colorado and Utah. The ages ranged from, oh, I'm going to guess, from seven to ninety-two. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Some Pictures I Took Last Summer

You may have thought that we here at North of Andorra had decided to devote all further posts to young Fergus. Well, you would be wrong.

Here are some photos that I couldn't find any reason to use earlier but I still like 'em a lot.

Early in the summer we drove over to Foix, and coming back to Leran, we took the scenic route. I shot this of cows grazing the foothills of the Pyrenees with threatening clouds in the background.

The gentleman in the beret is Jeano. He is resident of Leran and speaks excellent English. He was the one who "quite agreed" with the "Worst President Ever" bumper sticker. I took this one of him during the exhibition of the majorettes from Lavalenet marching around Leran with accompanying marching band. All very American and very incongruous in the old French village of Leran.

The photo of the Scot Highland Piper is in London, where we had a layover on our way to and from France. The interesting thing about this photo is that 20 years ago, in the summer of 1987, I took an almost identical shot of this very same piper. If you've known Nancy and I that long, you might remember it was an image in our slide show of that great summer. It stands outside a boutique smokeshop and is the British equivalent to the cigar store Indian. In the old days it advertised a tobacco shop and was used because advertising signs were forbidden. If you enlarge the photo you might be able to read the explanation.

The proprietor standing outside the Cafe Llobet is in Mirepoix, and on one summer morning he graciously agreed to pose for me. We have never been inside this particular cafe, and I don't know why not, other than we found another one we like and have stuck with it. But it sure looks great on the outside and I think next summer we will have to patronize this place.

The rabbits are always for sale on Market Day in Mirepoix, and I don't know whether people buy these bunnies for breeding stock, or for the stock pot. Again, Nancy and I are going to have to go back to France and be prepared to make some dishes with rabbit. I wouldn't buy one of these soft, cuddly, live critters. I'd get one that was dead, cold, skinned and gutted, butchered by a professional from the Super U. (We used have dinner with our friends, Ron and Judy Hess in Bozeman, and they made a great "Hassenpeffer". I'm sure the spelling is incorrect, and Judy, please help me out. Which as I remember was a hearty German dish with rabbit and mustard.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

We Get Letters

We get letters here at North of Andorra. Here's one we got just the other day. Jean-Pierre of Leran writes, "Did Fergus gain 19 pounds in two weeks and does he now have a new doghouse made of recycled plywood, recycled metal roofing and old licence plates?"

Yes, Jean-Pierre. Right you are, on all counts. Be sure to write again with more remarkable and amazingly omnipotent questions. Here are some pictures of young Fergus with his doll collectlion , his new dog house, and as a bonus, a picture of part of my licence plate collection.

Landscaping Update

My sister asked how our landscaping was coming along. She hasn't been to Moab since March of 2004, I think, when we were just planting some of these specimens. She was here for her birthday and a camel ride through the trackless desert. (We all remember that they were Dromedary camels, not Bactrian camels. ) The plants at that time were nothing more than sticks in black plastic pots and the large cottonwood was about the only live vegetation on the property. It seemed the best way to share with her the progress, and with you too, was on the website. I should have been out there several weeks earlier so that I would have gotten some green grass and green vegetation, but autumn is pretty too. So without further ado, here are the pictures of the almost mature, mostly native vegetation.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Short Walk Up Negro Bill Canyon

We took Fergus for a short walk this afternoon up a very beautiful canyon about four miles from our house. Negro Bill Canyon is named after a mulatto settler who lived near the mouth of the canyon just after the Civil War, who went by the moniker "Nigger Bill". You occasionally still hear folks around here call it that, as that was it's official name until 20 or 30 years ago.
Negro Bill Canyon was once the site of a heated battle between environmentalists and motorized recreationalists. The Bureau of Land Management would close access to vehicles and the Grand County deep thinkers society would bring out a bulldozer and open it up again. Thankfully, it is closed to motorized recreation now and it is a beautiful walk. Our dogs have liked it because it always has flowing water, summer, winter, fall and spring. Fergus hasn't decided whether he likes water or not.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Say Hello to Fergus

This is Fergus. We got him at the Moab City Humane Shelter two days ago. He's two months old, give or take a few weeks.
He has already been housetrained, although in reverse. That is, as soon as walks into the house he takes a leak.
He's half lab and something else, yet to be determined, perhaps some kind of curly haired water dog, like a Springer or Terrier.
Fergus is our fourth dog and has a Scottish inspired name. He follows our Spanish named dogs, Cisco and Pancho, and our Irish named dog, O'Malley. Pancho had Cisco to help house train him, and Pancho house trained O'Malley but now we have to re-invent the wheel and remember how this is done.

Monday, October 1, 2007

That's All Folks

We're not very good travelers any more. Maybe we never were. Travel by airplane, however, is getting to be more and more stressful. We were strapped into our straight jackets in the transatlantic cattle car for the flight to Chicago and robotically chewing the plastic food hermetically sealed in cardboard boxes tossed on the tray tablettes. The airline was apparently short-staffed that day, so we helped them out by picking up our luggage and carrying it over to our next departure terminal for the flight to Denver. Customs was a mere formality. We did flash our passports a few times and of course walked barefoot from one very bored uniform to another, but they never once checked the back side of the required US Customs entry card listing all potential contraband items. I guess if you can carry it through Security, you can keep it.

Jet lag has subsided and we are no longer taking naps as frequently as newborns, so it is time to get to the point. We must bid good-bye to our audience.

The raison d'etre of this Blog was, as you may remember, to "Document the trials and they attempt to purchase and renovate a French "fixer-upper" in the foothills of the Pyrenees with new French power tools and a new language." Feel free to offer an evaluation: on a scale of 1 - 10 (1 being nowhere close, 10 being a real winner), how'd we do? I know my answer, but mum's the word until I hear some other responses. We really would like to hear from our readers, if any, who haven't yet commented. It would be nice to know who was reading and where they were from. This is your last chance.

Anyway, we're back in Moab and settling into our very non-French existence quite quickly. We're already plotting next year's return to Leran, but the Blog must rest. It's that simple. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone out there who has been either a faithful, occasional or one-time only reader; a special outpouring of gratitude to those who took the time to lift our spirits with Comment contributions or emails and let us know that 'somebody is out there listening'; and thanks for all the encouragement and nudging from many of you to keep the Blog going. All we can say is: We'll pass the baton on to you if you like. Yogi Berra said: "It ain't over 'til it's over". Well, it's been great.....but it's over.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Leaving Leran in the Broad Daylight

Since it seemed village tradition that parties in Leran occurred in pairs, it was good news that Billy and Sally were planning a Thursday luncheon BBQ at the same time we were scheduling our Friday apres-midi going away party. And, luckily, all the usual suspects were available for both occasions.
As we sat on Billy and Sally's patio on yet another perfect summer afternoon, we started to say our good-byes. But before the mood could get too gushy, Alan pulled out his guitar and started answering requests for songs. Billy provided backup support and some of the ladies practiced synchronized hand movements. All went well until Doug called out for "Rocky Raccoon". From the looks on the faces of the Brits he might as well been speaking in Esperanto. They had never heard of the song....a Beatles song off The
White Album! Only us Yanks and the Aussies knew it. What is the explanation for this?

Billy made a comment that one of the great things about parties in Leran is that you seem to take in more bottles of wine than you put out. That's probably pretty close to truth. People are generous, always conscious about bringing a bottle or two.

For our party, I spent most of the day prepping hors d'oeuvres and cleaning around the house. The party went well for the most part. But, when we ran out of wine glasses at our party, we switched to French working glasses. I was very surprised by the reaction of a few people who were hesitant to drink out of anything but wine glasses. I guess they have never been on backpacking trips where you drink out of whatever is handed to you. Later in the evening I was too lazy to wash anymore dishes and I grabbed an empty mustard jar and received a few more appalled comments.

As the evening wound down and only the hard core remained, we once again drifted back to wondering why none of the Brits had ever heard of "Rocky Raccoon". They thought we were off our rocker. Doug went to the Internet and pulled up a website showing that the song was indeed written by Paul McCartney, and there it is on The White Album, right after Piggies. Alan remembered that he had it on his IPod and went to get it so that we could all listen to it, but none of the Brits (except for Andy) were even vaguely familiar with it. Some later Google research informed me that the song was apparently a parody of Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding album, and that it is supposedly meant to sound "cowboy-style". Ha-ha.

Sunday morning's departure, 4 1/2 months after arrival, loomed. Leaving Leran is not easy. We leave behind a whole new life, rich with people and memories. Moab is on the horizon, after two days in London. But Leran is already on the brain.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Roof Terrace Follies

One of the driving forces for buying a house in France (or it could have been Italy or Spain) is the charm of the Old World architecture. Really, old houses for Americans date back to 1890. We specifically chose a village house and knew there would be constraints. We don't want the integrity of the historical character compromised. But, change is inevitable, even in rural France. Electricity, plumbing, TV and even broadband internet. All of these 'improvements' are not without their impact. Wires obscuring the horizon, satellite dishes hanging off rooftops like giant white sunflowers, and huge PVC pipes protruding from stone buildings. Modernization.

We too, wanted our piece of paradise, a roof terrace. We want to do it right, keeping within the historical character of our village. Before we ask for official permission to construct a terrace, we want some direction, so we aren't paying to design something that they will not approve, and we just can't seem to get on the right path. We are used to following guidelines, a manual, protocol, and what we get are whims, feelings, and intuitions.

What of this roof terrace, some commenters ask? The short answer is simply: "Je ne sais pas encore!" I still don't know. There's always next year. If that's enough information for you, stop reading NOW. The long answer would rival the Da Vinci Code in complexity. So to recap, as concisely as allowable by French law, here goes:
  • After dinking around for two months, we went with Tim, our construction planner to the CAUE (Conseil d'Architecture d'Urbanisme et de l'Environment) in Foix to meet with M. Assayde who looked at our terrace designs. He does not make the final decision, but has telepathic powers with those that do, and is therefore able to foretell the likelihood of obtaining planning permission.
  • M. Assayde's initial response was moreorless "no way, no how" that we would be able to alter the front facade of our house. He did cheerfully suggest that we could probably get approval to cut a hole in the roof so that we could look straight up and see the sky, as long as we retained the front and side walls and the rest of the roof.
  • At this point I'm mentally practicing Le Bras de Honeur for a dramatic exit but restrain myself.
  • Since M. Assayde is not the final decision, that being left to the ABF (unidentified initials in government-speak) in Lavelanet, and there being no written protocol, he hedged a little and suggested taking the documents to the final Powers-that-Be.
  • Tim agreed and called the ABF to set up a meeting; they however are terribly overworked, just returning from the annual August shutdown, and would he terribly mind faxing the documents. That way, they could be reviewed IMMEDIATELY! I'm sorry, I don't think that word is in the French language.
  • Tim faxes the documents, waits a week or so, calls again, and learns that the gentleman can't get to them because he is going on vacation next week. And realize, that this isn't even for the real actual approval, this is just for the preliminary pretend approval.
  • Tim also learns that the planning permission process is changing October 1, 2007. You know the expression, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?" So, what could possibly be wrong? The upshot of it all is, that requests submitted after October 1 and on the books in excess of 6 months will automatically be approved. Am I hearing this correctly? Is this some sort of work incentive? Maybe the ABF folks are being paid on a "piece rate" system.
  • Our neighbor and friend Alan, upon hearing portions of my tale of woe earlier this summer, suggested buying a couple of the biggest Veluxes (skylights) available and just forget to put the glass part in them. Apparently you don't have to get planning permission for skylights. Let's see, maybe 6 of them, each 3'X3' would do. Jeez, Alan, your idea was more creative than any Tim the planner has come up with yet, and I'm paying him money!

So, are you sorry you asked? Me too.

New Shoes

I can't remember exactly where we were the other day when an awareness hit me. But, then that was exactly the point. We were driving along a road, some road, du chemin, and it occurred to me that I had forgotten that we were in France. Lost in thought, I took in the undulating fields of wheat, sorghum, sunflowers and corn. Cats and hawks hunted newly-harvested fields. It could have been Colorado or Montana, Wyoming or even Utah. It doesn't matter where. It just didn't occur to me.

This is not to say that I have become complacent about my foreign surroundings. Quite the opposite. Or that I have 'been there, done that'. Hardly, by a long shot. Maybe it's like buying a new pair of shoes and it takes a while to break them in, no matter how much you wear them, before they feel comfortable and you forget you have them on. Maybe I'm getting broken in.

I just hope I remember to bring the same pair of shoes when I return so I don't have to start all over.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Golden Closure

I walk outside the door and everything is shades of gold. In my limited experience, I think it's hard to screw up autumn. The weather is intended to entice you out of those dog-days of summer. But it's been hard to start new projects lately. I have fallen into a funk, wandering from room to room. We leave on Sunday, and the last few days in a place give me that limbo-like feeling (not the dance but the place that unbaptized catholics were sent).

Everyone keeps asking us when will we be back. Jeez, we haven't even left yet! But maybe it's their way of saying that we will be missed. The truth is that we don't know when we will be back, but it probably won't be for 4 1/2 months again. Unless (1) the French Consulate opens an office in Moab; (2) the dollar ends its downward spiral and begins a 'surge'; (3) Ryanair or some other airline begins a Moab-Carcassonne route; and (4) we could figure out how to operate Mr. O's Place guest house on an "on-your-honor" basis. Likely? J'ne sais pas.

We don't intentionally keep our friends in suspense with vague answers. We just can't commit. So then they pry deeper. What will you miss the most? Knowing that Doug crafted a well thought-out list, I felt compelled to do some soul-searching. I can't find fault with any of his items, but what will I miss the most?

I find it hard to put into words, but I will miss life on the street. Right now, I sit in a chair pecking away at the computer and am inches from the front window that is inches from Rue du Four. Our curtains are never closed, and we only close our shutters when we go to bed (OK we do go to bed early). We watch everyone go by, and whether we admit it or not, everybody looks in open windows. I'm guilty. Eye contact from house to street always elicits a 'bon jour'.

I don't know all my neighbors names, but I know their habits, who and what times they go to the boulangerie, their garden plots, walk their strollers or just sit in their doorways. I never grow tired of the "Screamer" (real name: Benjamen) and his endless motorcycle and race car sound effects from the seat of his bicycle up and down Rue du Four. I know when Marc is home by the sound of his toilet flushing. I know when Jake is going to school by someone calling Roy and Thor for their walk. Camille opening his shutters every morning and straighting his bug curtain is almost a religious ritual. Doug once asked the handsome beret-wearing bicycle-riding neighbor with two garden plots what his name was, but couldn't understand it; we watch him pedal by several times a day hauling produce, cuttings, or firewood kindling. We joke that he'll live to be 110, or maybe he is already. Every evening he sits with his lady friend or wife in the doorway down the street. A few of our fellow LeranCestralers, Pascaline and Berte (whom we have called Betty), live down the street or around the corner, so they are regular passers-by. And there are new-comers. The other night, a friend's parents were visiting, and as his Polish father was strolling by he saw Old Smokey and exclaimed through our open window, "Where did you get a tank like that?" He then came in and chatted for awhile before heading further down the street.

I have never had "life on the street" in the States. The closest I came is living in an old brownstone in Chicago. But I was in college at the time and the building was chopped into wasn't even close. I'm sure at one time things were different in Chicago, because my dad used to talk about everyone sitting out on the front porch, the place where life happened. I think suburban architecture in the States has put an end to the front porch, and replaced it with a remote-controlled 3-car garage so you can enter your house without leaving your vehicle. And then go immediately into your privacy-fenced backyard without interacting with anyone.

Life on the street in Leran has, admittedly, at times been a great source of irritation and frustration (remember Le Fumers...). Now I find it rather ironic that it is the memory I will treasure most.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Season of Melancholia

I’m beginning to feel a little melancholy these days. Summer is ending in a few days and our time in France is over in little more than a week. The fetes and festivals are mostly over except for harvest festivals. The light has changed, almost imperceptibly, but it is now a lower, slanting light, rather than the high in the sky light of a month ago. We were so busy with our tourist activities last week we didn’t notice the inevitable change.

There are fewer patrons at the bar, in fact for an hour on Friday evening, I was the only patron. The traffic is lighter, there are fewer cars, campers, caravans, and horse trailers heading back from a day at Lac Montbel. Over in the Aude, the grape harvest has just begun and the air is at times a little smoky with things burning in piles and smoke rising into the air.

The fantastic pace of summer is over. To me it is reminiscent of Yellowstone as the summer draws to a close; the visitors head home, the kids go back to school, and the bears continue steadily, purposefully fattening up for hibernation.

The weather is still perfect, at least today. It’s warm during the day and nicely cool at night and in the morning. Doves still call in the evening and bats are still busy at dusk.

The Marche Nocturne Leran is over and it was great fun, but we couldn’t go on at that pace for too much longer. We’re not in college anymore and the activity is unsustainable. Still, it leaves me a little sad.

We prepare to leave France. We are buying food in small quantities and trying to eat up things that have been the refrigerator all summer. We contemplate how to say goodbye to everyone and we realize there is no perfect way to say Au Revoir. We are thinking about what we need to do to prepare the house for a long winter with no one home. We have a possibility of renters taking the house but at this point we don’t know.

I’m sitting at the bar alone on a Friday evening, making notes for this post, and where once it was all hustle and bustle, now it is quiet. You can hear birdsong and conversations drifting down from windows along the street. It’s that quiet. Cats lie in the sun along Cours St. Jacques now, instead of in the shade.

I’m the only one at the bar. I drink much slower.

The leaves are just beginning to turn and some have already fallen. Here and in Mirepoix the city workers are already raking up a few leaves as they clean the streets. Brown leaves blow across the Cours St. Jacques. The color of the trees has changed from bright vivid green to the tired, dry, brittle green that precedes autumn. Some leaves have a hint of yellow. Out in the countryside, the fields are brown, some recently turned over, recently plowed. The sunflowers that were once so bright yellow are now brown stalks with drooping heads awaiting threshing.

My thoughts turn to the hot tub in Moab on freezing, cold winter mornings. And we have had scary thoughts about how the dry, red desert landscape will look after a summer in this lush and ancient land. We must be some of the last summer people left in Leran. The ‘Le Fumers’ are long gone and mostly forgotten. The kids are back in school. Moms and Dads escort the little ones to school in the morning even though it’s only a short block or two away.

It will be good to see some of our old friends back in the US. We anticipate seeing some of our friends from Montana, heading down to the desert for a last snow free hike, or a last backpack trip, or the last river expedition of the season. It will be good to see our old friends as we pass through Colorado and our friends back in Moab.

It will actually be good to get away from here for awhile. Ten months back home will sharpen our senses and we will return with fresh eyes. But these last few days everything seems more special, even insignificant things. Will this be the last time I sit at the bar? Will this be the last time I see what seems like a driverless British car cruising down the road with no one in the driver's seat?

These past few days, everyone asks us, “When do you come back?” And we don’t really know for sure.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Busy, Busy Tourists

We've been very busy tourists this past week with my sister and brother-in-law here for the week. I won't give you a blow by blow description on the days, however, I will give you the highlights of the week.
Peggy and Tony went to Albi to see the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum which is a must see whether you are into his art or not. It's a fantastic museum with a great range of his work, as well as some of his influences, his lithographic stones and some artifacts. Together, we visited the walled city of Carcassonne, hiked up to Cathar castle and massacre site at Montsegur, visited Mirepoix on Monday morning for the market, the caves at Niaux where we saw 13,000 year old drawings, took a drive into the Pyrenees, had a fantastic dinner at the Abbe in Camon, took a drive to see boats go through the locks at Castelnaudary, saw the beautiful brickwork around Mazeres and had drinks at the bar here in Leran. That's just the high points, mind you.
Perhaps the strangest few hours of the visit were in Vicdessos, a small village up in the Pyrenees. We had just visited the caves at Niaux, and unfortunately we were not allowed to take our cameras with us, hence no photographs. (But you could Google it.) We came out of the caves quite hungry and went looking for lunch. At Vicdessos we saw a quaint hotel's restaurant with a terrace overlooking the little creek, so we parked and walked in. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the outdoor table because it was reserved. We walked in, sat down and waited. Not much happened for quite awhile. Our stomachs were growling and the staff was ignoring us. Suddenly, as we were loosing patience, a plate of meat and pate along with a salad appeared. We hadn't gotten menus yet. We assumed it was the appetizer course and soon someone would be along to tell us of our options. We waited and yet no menu or waitstaff arrived. Suddenly, what did show up was the waiter with four pork chops and large plate of white beans with pork bones. None of us were Jewish, Muslim, or vegetarians so we dug in. It was good but we were still puzzling over our lack of choice and the fact we didn't know what we were paying. A plate of cheeses finished off the lunch. Fortunately we had some cash because they didn't take credit cards. We walked out, stuffed and confused. Only then did we see the little sign stating the only choice was the Plat du Jour, viande et legume at 15 Euro.
It's been a great time and we look forward to more visits from our friends and family next year. I credit Nancy with all the great pictures and be sure to click on them to enlarge.