Friday, September 28, 2012


Well.  Damn.

You know it is inevitable when you have aging pets.  You see the slower pace, the stamina waning, the  resting time increasing.  And still our Toby, at 10 years old, has retained his tail-wagging, ball-chasing, paper-fetching, food-scarfing, biscuit-begging, human-loving enthusiasm for life -- melting our hearts as only a Golden Retriever can.

In late-May we noticed he was sort of coughing; sort of panting a lot for no reason; sort of hacking as if something was caught in his throat.  A vet visit in early June didn't reveal anything much on exam or x-ray.  We tried some "what not?" antibiotics and something for respiratory issues.  We thought we saw some improvement, at first.   We were sure that if it was the heat and maybe an allergy, the changing season would make it all go away.  But no, in fact, lately it was getting a bit worse again.

Last week we saw our regular vet, who recommended a specialist who could do an endoscopy (tube looking down the trachea and esophagus) and see what might be going on down there.  Couldn't see or feel a thing from the outside.  So on Wednesday we took him in for an early morning procedure, sure that a quick and easy test would reveal a fixable problem.

Ninety minutes later Hub, our two sons (who had rushed from their jobs) and I huddled around the cage where Toby lay as he slowly came out of anesthesia.  We were struggling with the news and what to do.  A tumorous mass on Toby's trachea was the "throat problem".  It was inoperable and likely fast-growing.  One option was to pre-empt what would likely be eventual suffering and choose to let him go then and there, before the anesthesia had fully worn off.

We were all in shock.  Hadn't he been perfectly fine (so far as we knew) just a couple of hours earlier?  Hadn't our lives, and his, been typical for a Wednesday morning?  What were we doing there, holding each other's shock and grief, listening to a stranger tell us our precious Toby was not going to get better?

But we are a pragmatic and compassionate family.  We will not prolong the suffering of an animal companion just to avoid our own grief.  We have been here before, with two other dogs and cats.  It is always heart-wrenching and incredibly sad.  We have always known when it was time and that it was right.

But this time....the longer Hub talked to the vet the more I could read shades of doubt on Hub's face.  One advantage of Hub's profession in medicine is his ability to discern the many layers of truth that can accompany a diagnosis.  I could read concern/skepticsm/doubt on his face as the vet talked about what he saw, what he guessed, what he was unsure of.  There were just too many unanswered questions to risk losing our Toby without another shot at saving him.

We are not inclined toward heroics.  We won't spend untold thousands of dollars on cancer treatment.  But we decided we would bring him home and try to reduce the inflammation, run another course of heavy-duty antibiotics, and pray to some canine diety that this could possibly be something else.

Are we in denial?  Sure, maybe.  But it's not time yet and it's not right yet.  Toby is still Toby, with a cough (which has actually calmed a bit in the two days since his procedure).  He ran down the stairs this morning and straight to the front door to trot out and retrieve our morning paper, as he does every morning.  He ran to the treat cabinet waiting for his reward.  He wiggled and wagged when we bent to pet him.  He lay in his doggie bed in the kitchen, his perch from which he keeps tabs on us all day.

If that thing in his throat really is a tumor, it will grow.  When it reaches a size that even just a little bit starts to interfere with his breathing, it will be time.  We will not watch him struggle or suffer.  We will know and we will do what has to be done.  For now he is loving the TLC we are showering upon him, blissfully unaware of the reason for our newly dedicated devotion to him.  We are holding our grief at bay.  We are grateful for his Golden spirit and how it has shone upon us, and will for as long as he lives.

At least, that's the view from here...©

Friday, September 21, 2012


“The Sound of Freedom”.  That's what they call it over near Oak Harbor, home of the Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island.  This area is also home to Deception Pass State Park, one of the most beautiful natural wonders of Washington State.  We were there "camper-ing" for a few days.  While beautiful, it was not tranquil.  Park rangers told us troops from NAS Whidbey Island will be deploying soon. They can tell by the increased training maneuvers overhead, nearly continuous at all hours of the day and night.  The rumble of the cargo planes and fighter jet engines sound from far off, coming closer until at times deafening overhead, then just as quickly receding, only to be repeated over and over.  By our third day, I could actually tune most of it out except for the roar directly over us.

Believe me, I feel pretty petty complaining about this.  I am proud of our military expertise.  I like that we are good at what we do and I know that getting good takes practice.  It's just that I never realized the practicing was so constant.  

That's because I don't have much history with the military.  Mine was not a military family.  My dad was rejected for WWII service on a medical deferment (which caused him great shame, that being the war all the men wanted to be part of).  My brother joined the Army on the "buddy system" in the early 70's but I was married and gone by then, and paid little attention.  Plus they split the buddies up and it seemed soon they were all home.  I never bothered to understand the whole story behind that.  (Oh, yes, I do regret how completely self-absorbed I was as a young woman.) And that's the extent of my personal knowledge of how the military works.  

My impersonal knowledge has been a knee-jerk uneducated bias based on distrust due to military excursions that, in my judgment, we had no business making.  But that has everything to do with politicians and little to do with the military itself.  I've learned to lay blame on those who make decisions, not those who carry them out.

All of this may be why I was so moved by a "military action" taken during a time of peace.  There is an unassuming and, unfortunately, nearly invisible museum at the Bowman Bay side of Deception Pass State Park near the campground --- a Civilian Conservation Corps Interpretative Center.  I spent a little over an hour there Wednesday afternoon, plenty of time to see the exhibits and view the short video explaining the CCC and what amazing work those men did in nine short years to clear, plant, build, and create a lasting legacy of nature conservation and state and national park infrastructure.  

In a time that was worse, but sounds mighty familiar lately, our country was in a deep economic depression.  Jobs were scarce, people were losing their homes, bread lines were long.  For young people at that time, opportunity was non-existent; a huge number had no high school education, some were illiterate.  Lacking in education and job skills, they were the most unemployable of the unemployed.  

FDR instituted a program whereby these young men, aged 18-25, would work on civilian conservation projects to earn money for their families back home while getting an education with on-the-job training in a variety of skills.  They would work at shoring up the neglected natural lands across the country, notably "out west", building roads, trails, bridges, and parks, fighting fires and planting seedlings.  

At the Interpretive Center, I read the first-person accounts of CCC camp life, looked at artifacts from the camps, saw photos of these men and their work.  Soon, I realized I was looking at all of it through a haze of tears.  I don't know why I was so moved by this exhibit.  Maybe it has something to do with these young men all looking like my dad, who was their age in 1935, and even a bit younger than my own boys are now.  Maybe it was the gratitude they all seemed to express for having been given this opportunity to help their families and learn a skill.  Maybe it was the appreciation for craftsmanship I've always felt whenever I've seen characteristically CCC-constructed structures in National and State Parks, so sturdy and so part of the natural setting in which they sit.

Maybe it's the idea that millions of people were helped by a huge government program that initially brought together four cooperating federal agencies -- The Departments of Labor, War, Agriculture, and Interior -- to oversee various aspects of the Civilian Conservation Corps. This peacetime initiative improved our access to and experience of the natural world for generations and showed that government has a role in creating programs that help its country's citizens.   The Republican candidate for president this election season was recently recorded stating his distaste for those who rely on government for assistance.  He apparently would not have been a proponent of the CCC, an idea which still seems like a good one (and in this day would also include women and integration of people of color).

As I took in the exhibit, with fighter jets running practice missions over the solid CCC structure which houses it, I thought about the ease with which we have used our government's resources to wage war, yet how vociferously we have argued about using those resources to help those in need.  I hope when you have a chance to visit this little gem of an exhibit, you will be inspired by this time of peaceful military might -- and then send a prayer for the safe return of those flying overhead.   There are many Sounds of Freedom.

At least, that's the view from here....©

Monday, September 17, 2012


Fall is a beautiful time of year.  My favorite, really.  Crisp, cool nights.  Bright, sunny days.  Memories of back-to-school activities -- new clothes, sharpened pencils, high school football games, Homecoming floats...

...And the strange and quaint ritual of TP'ing each other's houses.  This is what passed for edgy fun in my girlfriend circles in the late 60's in northern Illinois.

It's Friday night.  The plan is made.  We raid our linen closets of several rolls of toilet paper, gather at one of the girls' houses with our stash, and decide who would "get it" tonight!  Then we pile into a car, drive to the victim's residence, surreptitiously parking a block or so away (so sneaky!), and make our Ninja-like approach.  Taking up various posts, rolls of TP in hand, we proceed to decorate bushes, shrubs, sidewalks, and porches with flowing rivers of tissue.  For the piece de resistance, we fling entire rolls into the air, allowing streamers of TP to hook around tall tree branches, the roll falling to the ground, to be flung again, over and over, until the trees shimmered with streamers of white.  Then barely unable to contain our naughty glee, we race back to the car and speed away.  Laughing hysterically or dramatically recalling the thrill of almost getting caught when Mrs. Jones stood up from her recliner and walked across the living room and glanced out the window!  Oh my!

My TP skirmishes are very different these days.   They revolve around the "nearly empty roll".    I've become convinced that there is some strategy employed in ensuring the user before me will NOT be the one to put on a new roll of paper on the holder.  How is it possible that they could take care of their business and leave about 6 squares still on the roll?  Really?  Had just enough -- didn't need even a teensy bit more?  I feel there is a conspiracy afoot that guarantees I am the one who changes the rolls of toilet paper.  I have 3 bathrooms in my home.  No matter which one I use, it seems I'm there just in time to change the roll.  This also used to happen at work -- two restrooms -- two nearly empty rolls when I got there.  (And recently even at my Yoga studio!)  It's just weird.

I'm thinking a little payback may be in store.  I'm experienced at this.  So watch out all you leavers of empty rolls -- I've got a stash and I know where you sleep!  I'm justified.

At least, that's the view from here....©