Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We Have Come To Journey's End

This will be my last post. I'm not taking down the blog, in part because it's important to me to have Wiley's memorial out there in cyberspace. But, quite frankly, blogging is just not fun anymore.

I loved writing about the adventures Wiley and I had, but it's not the same now that he's gone. I can't write about the kitchen. When I weigh in on a political matter that's important to me, I attract random know-it-alls who post tedious comments based on the title of a post rather than its content. Where's the fun in that? And I don't want to have one of those whiny, Facebook-esque much a-blog about nothing exercises in navel-gazing.

Plus, hiking season is just about over, so I doubt I'll be taking anymore exciting solo sojourns into the wild. That's why I'm ending with this one: my hike to Lone Eagle Peak.

Ever since I moved here and bought a book detailing local hikes, I've been obsessed with hiking to Crater Lake and Lone Eagle Peak. The photo of the latter in the book had me entranced.

Work and weather made it tough to find the right two-day break to do it, but Jerry my hiking referant at work warned me the window of opportunity was about to close for the season.

So yesterday I set off, starting at the Monarch Lake trailhead at about 8,300 feet above sea level, where the fall colors are at their peak:

The trail itself has the same rating as Byers Peak in my book: difficult. But the first half was a lovely walk in the woods, with consistent but gentle elevation gain and a few exciting "primitive" bridges over rushing streams:

The trail follows Cascade Creek for much of its 7.5 miles (one-way, to Crater Lake. With side trips I'd estimate my total mileage for the two days was about 17 miles). Paralleling the aptly-named creek, I passed many waterfalls:

The second half of the trail, and especially the last third, is much rockier and steeper, but quite frankly not as heart attack-inducing as Byers Peak. My guess is the two trails merit the same rating because Byers is short but steep and relentless while Lone Eagle is longer and still has about a 2,000 foot elevation gain.

In any case, here's a view of Lone Eagle Peak. To the right of the spire-like monster, along the ridge, is the remnants of Peck Glacier. To the left of the peak is Fair Glacier, barely visible through the trees.

I set up camp at the edge of Crater Lake, right at the foot of Lone Eagle Peak, pleased to have the place to myself. At dusk, as I was drifting off to sleep (I tend to rise and to sleep according to the sun when I'm in the wild), I was startled by the sound of Large Animals. There were two, possibly more, Things all around the outside of my tent. I peeked out through a small window and saw a moose walking past about ten feet away.

No, I didn't take any pictures. There were signs at the trailhead warning that moose were in "the rut" and would be aggressive, and that anyone who happened upon them should leave the area immediately.

Since they had happened upon me, I was just staying put and not venturing out of my tent. Eventually, after they drank from the lake and one of them apparently vomited (at least that's what it sounded like) they moved on.

As the full and total darkness of the wild descended around my tent, I realized I'd never camped alone in a place with real predators... Iceland, southern Chile, the Faroe Islands, Norway... these are not places known for hosting many apex predators. I'm not saying a moose is technically an apex predator, but there are black bears and mountain lions in the area I was and, well, an aggressive 1,000-pound moose on the loose might as well be considered capable of kicking my ass.

In the dead of night, probably around 0200 I'm guessing, I awoke with a start (I sleep much lighter in the wild, too). I was immediately aware of something walking outside the tent. It half-circled, then retreated (possibly when it heard me sit up and grab my trekking poles, which I planned to use to defend myself double-saber-style). Then it came back and made a full circle. Eventually the sound of paws in dry grass faded.

I'm sure it wasn't a bear or a moose, since its tread seemed too light and it was utterly silent but for the grass rustling. I'm guessing it was a fox or coyote, though I wouldn't rule out the possibility of it being a mountain lion. In any case, it didn't smell anything appetizing in my tent, so I was spared the drama of having to go all kung fu on an animal who was, after all, just doing what animals do.

I woke at dawn to find a thin, glossy coat of ice on the outside of my tent, even though I'd been toasty warm inside, swathed in layers of flannel and fleece. (The elevation for my campsite was around 10,350 ft.)
After investigating the environs of Crater Lake for a bit, I hid in my tent while the moose passed through again and then packed up and set off the way I'd come.
Here's another shot of Lone Eagle Peak, on the right, with the incredible wall of cliffs to its north, crowned by rock formations that look like cathedrals. My book pointed out that these cliffs inexplicably have never been named... I propose, with a nod to the great Waterboys song, "Church Not Made With Hands."

So there it is: Lone Eagle Peak, crossed off my to-do list. Despite how much I was looking forward to this trek, I have to say I didn't enjoy it. The trail was pleasant enough, and well-maintained, and the weather was near-perfect for hiking (sunny and in the 60s... though personally I prefer hiking in the 50s), and the scenery was gob-smackingly gorgeous, from the yellow stands of aspen to the magnificent cliffs and glaciers, as well as the imposing Lone Eagle Peak itself.

Maybe it was because I was wearing a full-on backpack for the first time in a long time (I'd been using a day pack on the shorter hikes Wiley and I took) and, oddly enough, the difference in weight between my pack ready for an overnight and ready for a two-week international jaunt is only a couple pounds (the difference being food).

Maybe it was because, of a dozen people I met on the trail, nearly all of them were with their dogs, which made me miss my little buddy even more.

Or maybe it's because I've got a lot of stuff going on now, things I haven't been blogging about but find very stressful. In any case, the hike was a trudge, a slog, a put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-and-get-it-done march. It was on the trail that I decided this blog has run its course. Thanks to all who read along, posted comments or e-mailed me. I've appreciated you sailing along, but now it's time to disembark. Take care.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sarah Palin Wants Polar Bears To Die

I knew that already, but if you are at all concerned about animals, please check out the first-ever endorsement of a presidential candidate by the Humane Society Legislative Fund (hint: they're not backing McCain). In addition to an objective run-down of both the prez and VP candidates' records on animal welfare, the link features a rather awkward photo of Barack Obama holding a poodle. Neither one looks very comfortable, but that's beside the point.

Props to my bro for sending the link.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thank You

I just wanted to thank everyone who has posted a comment, and so many others who have emailed me, offering support and happy memories of Wiley. I know there will be a day when I can remember all our great adventures together and the unconditional happiness he gave me for so many years, but it is not today.

Probably won't be tomorrow, either.

In any case, I gave Wiley's remaining treats to my favorite line cook Jerry, who has two dogs of his own, and will be giving his bedding and bowls to Bridget and Brian. This morning I also made a donation in his memory to Best Friends Animal Society. I told them to use the money where it's needed most but, all things being equal, it would mean a lot to me if they could use it to support one of their programs helping stray animals overseas. They do a lot of work helping people in poor countries or anti-pet countries establish shelters, and they've also gotten pets and strays alike out of war zones and disaster areas. I like to think that another feral street puppy in some dumpy country somewhere might get the chance at a better life in Wiley's name.

This morning I woke up early, as usual, and not knowing what else to do took myself for a walkies. At work, I had the opportunity (a few times, actually) to yell at my assistant for truly careless mistakes, and I learned that it is not possible to cry and have a Gordon Ramsay moment at the same time.

I opted for the Gordon Ramsay moment.

The retired Swiss chef who comes in on the weekends to do prep work told me about a dog he'd lost, and how for weeks after the dog had died, he would still go to the door every morning with leash in hand, waiting to put on his pet's collar until he remembered. He told me it will take time to get over Wiley, which I know, and to let myself mourn him. Everything else can wait, he said.

Then he told me to go home and have a drink.

Well, I'm drinking... Aveda's "soothing" herbal tea, to be exact, and listening to Sigur Ros, which always fills me with peace.

When I was at the kennel on Thursday morning, Bridget gave me a print-out of The Rainbow Bridge poem. I didn't want to say it, but I thought "oh, no." Most of you know how much I hate poetry, especially the gooey, sentimental sort, and those of you familiar with the poem know it's definitely in that category. I've read it before, but hadn't seen this version, which claimed to be "inspired by a Norse legend."

Suddenly the poem seemed less lame to me, though I had to research the connection. (Okay, I googled it.) Turns out they're stretching the inspiration for Rainbow Bridge to be Bifrost, the bridge separating Midgard (our world) from Asgard (kinda like heaven, only with more drinking), and it's apparently the same bridge the warriors judged worthy of Valhalla cross on their merry way.

That amused me, because one of Wiley's early names, and one he occasionally deserved when sufficiently crazied-up, was Fenrir.

If you love the Rainbow Bridge poem and take comfort in it, hey, God bless. Me, I'm sitting here listening to my elegiac Icelandic "post-rock" and imagining Wiley running amok on Bifrost, barking his "bacon bark" until Heimdall finally relents and throws him a piece of roast beast.

And that thought makes me smile.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wiley in Pictures, Part Three

December 2007, Mills Mansion grounds, NY: Wiley really loved going walkies here, with all the different trails and the deer and squirrels, which he loved to chase... and which sometimes chased him back. A few of the deer seemed to think his charge was part of a game and answered in kind, startling him more than once.

January 2006, Milwaukee shore of Lake Michigan: Wiley was often camera-shy, so I love any photo that got him looking into the lens.

Autumn 2007, Dutchess County, NY: Did someone say salmon? When it comes to my cooking, Wiley was my greatest fan.

December 2007, Mills Mansion grounds, NY: Dr. Virago actually took this photo when she came to visit me for graduation. I love it because it captures Wiley in his "crazied-up" state, when he would bark for no reason. I'm sure he had a reason, we just couldn't understand him.

Wiley in Pictures, Part Two

December 2007, Mills Mansion grounds, NY: The above is one of my favorite photos of Wiley. I took it as he was recovering from a bad kidney illness and my vet and I weren't sure he was going to make it. I just like the trees, his pawprints in the snow and the calmness of the photo.

October 2005, Milwaukee, WI: Yes, I bought Wiley a Darth Vader costume. He seemed to enjoy wearing it much more than the rather lame pirate outfit I'd bought the year before. He liked the cloak in particular, and sometimes I'd put it on him just to go walkies, as it seemed to make him feel like more of a badass.

April 1995, Moscow, Russia: Still recovering from mange (you can see some raw spots on his paws) but no longer green.

April 2007, Rustbelt: This is another favorite shot of mine, taken in Dr. Virago and Bullock's home, where Wiley lived for a couple months while I worked in Las Vegas. This really is the dog Wiley was: alert and happy.

Summer 2007, Dutchess County, NY: Wiley and Dash play hide and seek.

Wiley In Photos, Part One

April, 2008, Four Corners: Barking in four states at once.

Autumn 1997, Orange County, NY: Bark loudly and carry a big stick.

AAutumn 2007, Rhinebeck, NY: The Buster Block, one of Wiley's favorite toys.

August 2008: the last two photos taken of Wiley. Above, with me at the 14,000-foot-plus summit of Mt. Evans. Below, looking west from the summit, perhaps spying his next adventure.

In Memoriam: Wiley, 1995-2008

Wiley passed away unexpectedly just after 8 a.m. mountain time on Thursday. He was thirteen and a half years old.

Although I was not present at his death, he was cared for and comforted by Brian and Bridget of Four Paws Animal Resort, and for that I am deeply grateful. When I arrived minutes after his passing, they told me how quick and apparently peaceful the event had been. I take heart that he did not die alone while I was at work, and that he did not suffer greatly.

Wiley was born in Moscow, Russia, on a cold winter's day in early 1995. His parentage, like his earliest days, remains a mystery. He was found by a colleague of mine begging outside the American embassy. He was about four to six weeks old, hairless and green. Mange had claimed his fur and someone, either as a prank on a hapless street puppy or as some kind of homegrown anti-mange treatment, had painted him green.

My colleague took him home, intending him to be a friend to her fully grown dog... which was terrified of Wiley, then a feral monster that enjoyed biting anything he could sink his teeth into.

Unwilling to return him to the streets, she asked if I would take him. As it turned out, my Rhodesian Ridgeback Kosmo, then a strapping two-year-old, was the only thing Wiley feared. For a while. Kosmo was exceptionally patient with Wiley using him as a chew toy, and Katya, the young Russian woman I hired as a dog nanny, was able to quickly housetrain and semi-domesticate him.

Wiley's original name was not Wiley. It was Dodger, after the street ruffian in Oliver Twist. He didn't take to the name, however, so it was soon changed to reflect his uncanny resemblance to a certain cartoon coyote. It also began a long tradition of nicknames for him, including Mr. Kittenheads, Smalls, Plush Mammal, Wilbur, AdventureDog and many, many more.

From the first day I knew him, I realized Wiley was an exceptionally intelligent dog, able to understand a number of words in both English and Russian. He was a great communicator all-around, with several variations on his bark to indicate what he wanted, whether it was the percussive, incessant warning he needed to go outside or the seal-like yelpy bark that said "bacon! I smell bacon! Gimme bacon NOW!"

Wiley grew into a healthy Siberian Laika, a Russian breed of dog related to the Finnish Spitz. I had always assumed he was just a mutt, but several Russians pointed out that only purebred Laikas have a black cross shape on their tail. Whether he was a Laika or not, as soon as his mange was cured, Wiley grew an impressive five-layered coat.

He may be gone, breaking my heart, but his fur will be with me forever, as well as in the carpet and car seats of any place he's been.

When we returned to the States, Wiley quickly learned to acclimate to his new country. True to his Russian street puppy roots, however, his favorite food remained fish skin. In Moscow, vendors used to sell whole fish on a stick, like a kebab. People would toss the stick, bones and skin on the street after eating, and I'm assuming their cast-offs formed a large part of his early diet.

Wiley had his first known brush with death while living in Madison, WI, when he mixed it up with a badger who unceremoniously slashed an artery on his muzzle. It would be just one of several meetings with the emergency vet.

After a year in Orange County, NY, we moved back to Wisconsin, this time to Milwaukee, in 1998. A frequent rabble-rouser at the dog park on the northwest side, Wiley loved to start something with a bigger, aggressive dog and then run and hide behind Kosmo, who reluctantly settled the confrontation with a deep-chested woof or two.

We moved to the south side of Milwaukee, known as Bay View, in 2000, and Wiley and Kosmo quickly made themselves at home in a spacious house, a park bordering Lake Michigan and Seminary Woods, an area of forest untouched by development. It was here that Wiley scored his only two recorded kills, both rabbits, though he would probably insist he also got a possum and a squirrel.

While I underwent chemotherapy for cancer, Wiley and Kosmo were my dearest supports, never complaining if I spent hours immobile on the couch instead of taking them walkies, or forgot to feed them because I had lost my own appetite.

It was living in Bay View where Wiley had his second brush with death... an 18-pound tumor growing in his spleen turned out fortunately to be benign, but the sheer size of it required risky surgery. He pulled through like the little scrapper he always was, and even tried to pick a fight, still wobbly from anaesthesia, with a golden retriever in the waiting room.

Wiley was an extremely emotional and sensitive dog. He would show shame when Kosmo had an accident (his own mishaps were rare), for example, or tune into whenever I'd had a bad day at work and follow me around the house, staring in concern with his big dark eyes.

One of my most poignant memories of Wiley is what he did a few days after Kosmo passed away at the ripe age of 12 back in 2005.

For years, Wiley had loved to steal Kosmo's rawhides, amassing a great pile on the rug in the dining room and then laying on them while Kosmo barked pitifully for them to be returned. In the last few days of Kosmo's life, both dogs ignored their rawhides and soon they littered the house. One day, shortly after Kosmo died, Wiley very purposefully gathered all the rawhides in a pile on the rug in the dining room, looked at them for a long time and then looked at me as if to say "it's not fun anymore" and then walked away.

In the years we had together as a duo, rather than a trio, Wiley grew into his own. He could be walked without a leash, loved to go hiking and perfected his "lemme back this thing up" butt rub dance. While he got along with few other canids, discriminating on a dog-by-dog basis, he loved people, and one of his best friends was a neighbor's cat named Dash.

We met Dash when we moved back to New York in 2006. While I missed Lake Michigan, we quickly found hiking paths all over the Hudson Valley, and I would like to think that, though I spent many hours at school away from him, Wiley enjoyed his daily walkies deep into the woods.

In late 2006, when I went off to Vegas to learn fancy cookin' techniques, Wiley moved in with Dr. Virago and Bullock, where he was spoiled rotten. I approved. He and I were reunited in April of 2007 and, while I don't think he recognized me at first, we quickly fell back into our buddy routine.

Even more than Kosmo, who was sweet but dumb, Wiley became my best friend, understanding much of what I said to him (or at least playing along) and always sensitive to my mood.

One of Wiley's favorite things to do was go buh-byes, or ride in the car. For the last year or so of his life, he had to be helped up onto the seat, but once aboard he'd proudly stand with his head and shoulders out the window, ears perked and bright eyes alert for interesting things to bark at. In the past few months, he often sat with his chin on the door frame and just his nose out of the window. Looking in my sideview mirror and not seeing that little black nose is something I will never get over.

A brief but serious kidney illness in late 2007, as well as advancing arthritis, were signs of things to come. But despite his age, Wiley was still active, hiking and making friends with neighborhood dogs more readily than he had earlier in life. He even made it to the top of a fourteener less than a month before his death.

Although briefly ill earlier this month, Wiley appeared to have made a full recovery when I headed out of town for a couple days and left him in the care of Bridget and Brian. There was no indication that he was ill, which made his death on Thursday that much more sorrowful.

When I had to put Kosmo down, my vet at the time said something to me that really resonated. Dr. Rosene said: "If they didn't give us so much in life, it wouldn't hurt so much to lose them." Kosmo's breeder, when I gave her the news, also told me "I'm glad he was in your life, and that you were in his."

Both of those sentiments have given me some comfort. Wiley gave me so much, especially in his later years and especially after we moved here, away from friends and most diversions. I always said he was the best thing to come out of Moscow. I'm glad I was able to save him from the streets. I'm glad he was my friend, my hiking partner, my bed warmer and my li'l buddy for so many years.

I hope wherever he is now that he knows he always was, and always will be, a very good boy.