EvoDev cover

Evolution Device front coverBack in 2012 when I hit a bit of a writer’s block for the novel I was working on — the one that would become Evolution Device (fondly nicknamed EvoDev) — I started fooling around with ideas for the cover. I knew that publishers don’t generally give authors much say in what the covers look like but this was early days. Publishing was  just a distant dream.  

For a while I played with digital images instead of working on my novel. Most of them I used in Mage Music, my first serious venture into blogging. I’m not going to lie — at first I just used images I found on the web. Pretty soon I started using NASA images because they are mind blowing.  But it wasn’t long before I started getting creative. I started using digital art I put together myself. They were based on or inspired by Jimmy Page, because his work was what inspired me to start the blog.  

I wasn’t interested blogging as a fan, however. Mage Music is about the magic of creativity, and while I mostly used Jimmy Page’s work for examples the blog was not about him. Which brings me to EvoDev.

Eddie Edmunds, lead guitarist and founder of the band my book is named for — Evolution Device — is very decidedly not Jimmy Page. Anybody who thinks “inspired by” is code for “about” is going to be disappointed.

Eddie is part Apache, a fact which few people are aware of and most people wouldn’t care about if they knew. But that fact makes all the difference in who Eddie is and what he becomes.

And so when I started playing around with book cover ideas I looked to guitarists’ body posture, and then features from Apache and other native faces that appealed to me. When I had created an image of what seemed to express a truth about Eddie I placed it on an image that had started out as the Horsehead Nebula. 

I liked it. And then I pretty much forgot about it until eight years later when I thought to send it to my publisher. Who liked it, too.

Here, then, are some images from my files that might give you and idea of my process.

Evolution Device is almost here!

Cover proof for Evolution Device

I am absolutely thrilled to share the cover proof of my novel, Evolution Device.  It will be hitting the bookstores JULY 28, 2020.  

This book gave me chill bumps, it was written so well. It pierces the world of the rock star, the rock band, and the audience of each.

I particularly liked the characterization of the Muse. She, too, was so real I felt I could touch her. And if I did she would’ve escaped my fingertips as she does in this remarkable novel.
~ Gerald Hausman, author of The Evil Chasing Way

Evolution Device is the story of British rock guitarist Eddie Edmunds in the wild times of the 1970s. His muse, Lily, is an entity of pure energy drawn into physical existence by what some might call magic.   She is the only one who recognizes the other side of the energies that Eddie flirts with:  if he doesn’t face the music, all the drugs in the world won’t shield him from the danger of uncontrolled power. 

This baby’s been a long time coming.  My first file save was in 2011, so the late summer release date will make it a 9 year labor.

Evolution Device will be published under the Positronic Publications Imprint, which has published authors like George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, and Roger Zelazny.  

I’m SO EXCITED!!!

On Writing

Many words written in journals and on scraps of paperI’ve been addicted to the written word forever.  I blame it on my father’s mother, who read to me soon as I was old enough to appreciate it.  She sat me on her lap and followed the words with her finger, and that’s how I learned to read (for a very brief while I could read some Swedish, too).  

I’m not sure when I started writing, but it wasn’t long before I submitted my first story to be published in my school’s creative writing publication.  That was a long, long time ago, but I never stopped either reading or writing.  I’m not sure I could do so and stay sane because TV and movies just don’t make it for me.  I haven’t lived with a TV in my house since 1993 and I don’t stream either.

photo URL https://public.fotki.com/hypoint/arabians/arabian_album_cmk/bennasrif17317378cs.html

Me & Ben Nasrif on the endurance trail in the 1980s

I wrote about horses a lot in the 1980s and 1990s because we were breeding and endurance racing our Arabian horses then.  Somewhere amidst all the junk I’ve got stored I’ve got stacks of magazines with the equivalent of blog posts in them — mostly stories about how I screwed up, since that seems to be the most entertaining kind of story of all.  Like the time we drove half a day to a ride camp, only for me to discover I had forgotten to bring my saddle.  Ha ha. I was the camp entertainment as I walked from rig to rig hoping someone had brought an extra saddle that would work for me and my horse.

It was around then that I ventured into my first self-publishing experience, creating trail guides for the biggest, toughest 100 mile endurance race in the world — The Tevis Cup — which uses the trans-Sierra portion of the Western States Trail. I sold more copies than I expected and actually recovered the publication costs.  

It wasn’t till after 9/11 that I turned pro — and that was only because I couldn’t stand one more day of my brief stint as a substitute teacher (sorry, but I just do not like kids).  I have no idea why the newspaper hired me, but suddenly I was a reporter and feature story writer for a weekly regional here in western New Mexico. My beat was the county I live in — all 7000 square miles of it.  I attended every meeting I could get to, showed up at every accident that I found out about, covered every oddball incident I could discover — but best of all, I interviewed a lot of… um… fascinating locals.  My county is full of them.  

Fast forward to spending about a decade writing for a natural resource research and analysis institute in southern New Mexico, and then a few years after that of working as a contract writer for my county (and several others). The politics of it — OMG. It was worse than being around kids all day. So I waved goodbye to a real income and, with the help of NaNoWriMo, plunged into writing novels.

Note that breaking into the field of fiction writing is not something I recommend for anyone who plans on supporting themselves or their family.  I could do it because I was by this time a senior citizen and receiving Social Security.  It’s not going to be a get-rich quick scheme for me, since I only recently found a publisher for one of the two novels I’ve completed (Evolution Device).  But besides a few self-published chapbooks and two (2) short stories , that’s it.  And yet I’m writing all the time.

Writing is not what I do, it’s what I am.  A state of being. Lines of dialogue and narrative float through my brain as I scoop horse poop, a mindless task that has become a kind of meditation for me.  Some of what free-associates its way into my consciousness is actually useful. Sometimes it just gets lost, like dreams upon waking. Ideas come from all over the place. I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store and get caught staring. I smile and find something else to look at, but I really wasn’t staring so much as forgetting to look away.  A story has captured my attention, you see — sparked by the person, or the conversations around me, or who knows what — and it’s unfolding in my mind and I’m lost to the real world.

I have a tiny field notes book with me almost all the time, though I seem to more often end up scribbling ideas on the backs of envelopes, receipts, or paper napkins. I’ve found that dictating my thoughts to my phone as I hike works, too. When I get home I put the phone’s speaker next to my laptop’s mic, open Google Docs to a new document, click on Tools/Voice Typing, and let Google do the transcribing.  Oh yes, the transcription is ugly — Google is a riot with its interpretations of what I’ve said, not to mention all the oh sh*ts and ums and backtracking and such — but at least I’ve got someplace to start.

I may have been born to write, but that doesn’t make it easy. Those words bubbling around inside are delicate things that need to be lured onto the screen or paper. Skittish things that will dissipate if handled roughly. Elusive and shy, even when they demand attention. They can’t be forced, but they can’t be ignored, either.

Writing is like being a slave to words. 

Evolution Device – a novel of magic and music

 

Mock-up of Evolution Device coverI am absolutely thrilled to let you know that my novel, Evolution Device, will be hitting the bookstores late this summer.  

Evolution Device is the story of British rock guitarist Eddie Edmunds in the wild times of the 1970s. His muse, Lily, is an entity of pure energy drawn into physical existence by what some might call magic.   She is the only one who recognizes the other side of the energies that Eddie flirts with:  if he doesn’t face the music, all the drugs in the world won’t shield him from the danger of uncontrolled power. 

This baby’s been a long time coming.  My first file save was in 2011, so the late summer release date will make it a 9 year labor.

Evolution Device will be published under the Positronic Publications Imprint, which has published authors like George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, and Roger Zelazny.  

I’m SO EXCITED!!!

 

Rosie and me – settling in

Here it is nine months since Rosie came into my life and I am pleased to tell you I have nothing special to report about her.  As the weather gets warmer I do have to be more careful about letting her come with me on walks, given her compromised respiratory system.  She’s way better now than before her surgery, but she’ll never be an athlete.  I can’t take her far and I can’t expect fast.  Heat + effort + a partially blocked trachea  = potential for over-stress.  For Rosie it could be fatal.  When I take her with me I plan on short, slow walks, with plenty of stops to wait for her to catch up on her own time.

I am still taking it slow and careful when it comes to how I behave around her, too.  No harsh words.  No thoughtless actions.  She’s still automatically submissive, but I’d like to think maybe not as much as she was.  I don’t expect this aspect of our relationship to change much over time.

Rosie is settling in nicely.  She appears to feel this really is her home and that means she’s bolder.  She’s become more demanding about getting attention, which I take as a positive.  She barks more, which I also see as positive — though I must say I don’t always have a clue what she’s barking at.  But she doesn’t take anything too far.  She only once chewed a shoe.  She doesn’t go in the garbage, though she seems to feel the compost pile needs thorough and regular examination.  No cat chasing.  No horse chasing.  Bunnies… well, that’s another story.

She also has taken it upon herself to remind me when it’s time to do things.  Time to get up.  Time to feed horses.  Time to feed Rosie.  Hurry up and feed those blasted cats so Rosie can get fed, would you Lif?  Time to lay her night-time bed on the floor.  Time for a treat.  Time for a pet.  Who knew Rosie would be such a task-master!

All in all, I’ve got a good little dog here.   She’ll likely never be “normal” but so what.  Neither am I. 

I have other news to report.  Check out my next post!

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Life in time of COVID – Sourdough starter

Or, what I was looking for wasn’t what I thought I was looking for

© 2020 Lif Strand

Years and years ago I started trying to bake the perfect loaf of sourdough bread. In spite of the fact that I still lived in California and could buy freshly-baked San Francisco sourdough bread any time I wanted to, I just had to do it myself.

If you’ve read anything else about me, you know about my having to do things for myself. Too often, the hard way.

Back then I was more into cooking than I am now. It was still a relatively new thing to me. I was in my own kitchen, nobody hovering over me expecting me to cook or bake the way they thought I should. All that mattered was I had to like the end result and that whoever I was feeding should like it, too.

That was just food.  The sourdough bread thing was different.

It wasn’t for anybody else. I had an inner vision of smell and taste that I wanted to create, of the perfect tang and chewy crust. It was my personal challenge. It dragged on in fits and starts for years. As with many quests, though, what I was looking for wasn’t what I thought I was looking for.

My quest wasn’t really about bread. That was just the prize. My grail was a perfect starter — for without it there would be no sourdough bread.

Over time I began to believe that starter is a sad story of dreary obligation to one-celled organisms. I had a love/hate relationship with every one of my starters. I didn’t like the bread they made. First I thought I was getting bummer yeast. Then I thought I didn’t have enough yeast lurking in my kitchen. There was even the possibility I was simply a terrible baker.

I began to fear that if I kept going the way I was I’d be chained to a kitchen for the rest of my life. Starter is a living thing, a kind of pet that demands regular attention. Unfortunately, any starter that entered my house was doomed to die of neglect. Too often my only reaction was good riddance.

But yet it would start again. The urge. I swear, I never learn.

Over the years I have nursed too many sourdough starters along that got me no closer to my goal. Many arrived into my kitchen in little packets of yeast powder that cost way, way more than commercial yeast. Sellers claim their dried starter descends from yeast used by gold rush miners in Alaska in the 1800s. Or from yeast that traveled with pioneers over the Oregon Trail. I figured okay, a little expensive, but they’re guaranteed to be the real deal, right?

As I killed off starter after starter, niggling doubts would enter my mind. First of all, how would anyone know the provenance of 100 year old starter? I mean, I know there’s a DNA test that can point to where a given yeast came from, but I doubt anybody but the most scientific of folks is into the time and expense of doing so. And then what’s all this measuring by grams business? Maybe those grizzled old miners in the Alaskan gold rush carried gram scales around with them. I’m betting that 99.99% of explorers, pioneers, and the like didn’t. Unless it was for making gunpowder. Maybe not even then.

Anyway, I could not see those overworked pioneer women messing around with finicky starter. They had hungry families to feed. There were bugs, dust, flood, blizzards, snakes, marauders, limited fresh water, and weevils in the flour to deal with. Who had time to fuss with something as basic as bread?

Fast forward to nowadays – I mean to now when COVID has people convinced they’ve got to bake bread. For all that’s awful that’s going on, there are some good things, too. For one thing, there are biologist Sudeep Agarwala and gastroegyptologist (his term) Seamus Blackley out there on Twitter, encouraging us all in our bread-making efforts.  But wait!  There’s more!  They’re describing how to make wild-captured yeast! How to make bread out of so many things other than wheat flour! And they don’t mind stupid questions!

Right around the time I started following them I came across a great webpage on sourdough starter troubleshooting, the subtitle for which said everything that mattered: What does it take to kill your starter?

Now I’ve decided this whole sourdough starter thing is built on misunderstanding and, let’s face it, taking advantage of people’s ideas that old is bad and new is always better. But it ain’t necessarily so.

Forgotten jar of starter

Forgotten starter

It turns out that yeast that’ll make great sourdough is everywhere — sorry San Francisco. Also, yeast is tougher stuff than you’d think. Don’t believe me? Check out that jar of starter I discovered when I was cleaning out my fridge last November or so. That starter was last fed sometime in 2018. When I came across it I went ewwww and put it outside to empty into the compost pile. Then I forgot about it.

I mean, still in the jar, still on the porch.

I took the photo today, half a year later. That stuff in the bottom looks pretty good, actually. Could it still be viable? What would bread I made from it taste like? I haven’t figured out how to get the good part out of the bottom. I don’t want to contaminate it with the nasty black goo on the top. I haven’t even opened the lid yet – but when I do I’ll let you know what happens.

Meanwhile, in spite of the two jars of commercial yeast on my shelf I once again had a burning desire to make my own homemade bread starter yeast. The first try was uglier than the jar from the depths of my fridge. I blame it on juniper berries. No offense to juniper trees, but… gin. The alcohol that gave me a hangover so bad when I was a teen that I can’t stand the smell of gin to this day. And what is gin distilled from, my friends?

Juniper berries.

So all right. Possibly some prejudice on my part towards the juniper berries I made starter from. I take responsibility for the starter going moldy and gross before I could even try it in dough. I was going to go for it again and this time it was going to be different. This time, following directions gleaned from the tweets of the two above-named gentlemen, I used raisins. I like raisins.

happy bubbly sourdough starter

Bubbly starter

I had a happy, bubbly starter in no time at all.

The next challenge was adapting my no-knead bread recipe for starter instead of dry yeast. The recipe makes good but not sour bread. I’d been making loaf after loaf using that recipe for long enough that memories of hockey-puck bread had faded.

Not so with the sourdough starter. My dough ended up as a goopy nasty mess that I had to pour into my improvised Dutch oven. It left sticky globs of dough on me and everything else. The resulting bread was tasty but a little too close to hockey-puckness to suit me. The clean-up time cast a pall on bread-making. My enthusiastic starter was demanding that I make more and more bread. I could see where this was heading.

STOP!

I’m already tired of baking. It’s already warm here in the southwest and I don’t want to heat up my house baking bread twice a week. I don’t need to consume that many carbs anyway. Besides, I can get wonderful fresh-baked bread delivered once a week these days. Jennifer’s bread looks better, tastes better, and I don’t have to do anything but slap some butter on a slice and eat it.  Why bake?

Ah, but there’s that starter.

I made it myself. It’s good starter.

I don’t want another science experiment in a jar in the back of my fridge.

I don’t want to keep feeding it and then throwing out the excess to feed it again. Yes, people do that. Not me. Not when it’s a 60 mile round trip to buy more flour, assuming there is any in the store. Not when it’s such a frivolous waste to throw good food out.

So… back to Google.

To quote one website I looked at, starter is flour and water. It’s not some magical alchemical substance that can only be used for one kind of ritual. Yes, friends, sourdough starter can be used for plenty more tasty bits and bites than bread!

The mind reels.

I found a great recipe for sourdough starter crepes. I like crepes. The recipe uses a cup of starter. If I don’t feed my starter great honkin’ amounts of flour every few days I could have crepes once a week and not an overload of starter. Forget baking bread for a while.

Yay!

The recipe calls for milk. I don’t keep milk in the house because it goes bad before I get around to doing anything with it. I do have powdered milk, but that stuff is nasty. There’d have to be a zombie apocalypse going on before I would bother with it and even then I’d use it to chase off the zombies. So I used a wee bit of evaporated sweetened milk (why not?) plus some water. Everything else was as the recipe called for.

three crepes on a plate

Three malformed crepes on a plate

The result was more like wimpy pancakes than real crepes. Thinner batter would have been better. But so what. They were pretty. They were sour and yet sweet. I tried one with organic blackberry jam. Yum! I had another with honey. Yum again! The other two — well, three — I ate as-is, soon as they were cool enough to handle.

I’ve got one left but I’m too full to eat it [note: by the time I posted this it was long gone]. No problem! Crepes are great cold, too. I’m thinking a fruit and yogurt filling later on when I’ve got room for one more.

Let’s hear it for starter!

Let’s hear it for not-bread!

Crepe held up to the sun and blue sky

This is what it looks like if you hold a crepe up to the clear blue sky

Life in time of COVID – taking care of self

After the haircut - 2020 Lif Strand photoWhat you see in the photo is evidence of my most recent haircut. That would be the one I gave myself this morning. I’m not sharing a photo of the remaining hair on my head, not because it’s a terrible haircut (it is, of course, a terrible haircut) but because I don’t post photos of myself on the internet.

Besides, who wants to see a photo of terrible haircut?  

I do have a thing or three to say about it, though. I don’t have a future as a hair stylist, but I have paid attention when Sarah has cut my hair. I do know that putting a bowl over one’s head and cutting off all visible hair is not a good idea. Individual hairs must be snipped.

I have no patience for snipping individual hair, but I was willing to snip smallish clumps of it. Mostly.

I also have noticed that Sarah cuts all over my head, not just working one spot to perfection before moving on to the next. I was willing to do that.

I confess that it is a mystery to me how Sarah knows what length to cut, so I decided I’d just cut off all hair longer than the width of three of my fingers.  I could swear I did that, but it seems that either my hair has grown half an inch since this morning or I was actually cutting more like four finger-widths. Possibly I was concerned with cutting off my own fingers, since I wasn’t bothering with a mirror.

The hair is pretty short, no matter how many fingers you measure by.

At some point I did look in a mirror. I ignored the overall results and just identified the bits that were sticking out and clearly too long. This resulted in the hair being rather shorter than it usually is in the back.

When I forced myself to stop trying to make it all even, I took the time to admire the hair I’d so blithely cut off. What a nice job Sarah had done with coloring! I had received many compliments on the results just six weeks ago when she had last touched it up. Kind of a calico-cat effect. All of which was now in the catch-pan and pretty much not on my head anymore.

Three things:

  1. I have faith that Sarah can fix this whenever I can see her next, COVID permitting.
  2. I’m sending Sarah an advance on my next cut via PayPal right away.
  3. I have hats.

 

Life in time of COVID – Taking stock

Quick question: Do you know what’s growing in the back of your fridge?

Eight years or so ago I put together a little digital book called The Thrivalist: Beyond Survival in 2012 (currently available for free for KindleUnlimited) which provides a simple way to figure out how to stock up for uncertain times. It’s really a no-brainer method, but you’d be amazed how few people know what they actually consume.  Because of that,  shopping for long-term food needs can sometimes have strange outcomes.

Really, do people actually use that much toilet paper? I think by now we all know what the answer is.

If you haven’t gotten the shopping list of what you really need together yet, it’s not too late. It appears we’ll be on stay-at-home for at least another month, maybe longer. But of course you’ve already stocked up, right? I hope it’s with food and other products that you will actually use. What you remove from the grocery store shelves is something that the next person might need as well, and if you won’t ever eat those probiotic prunes (yes, there is such a thing) maybe someone else would. But no.  You bought it and now the package is languishing on one of your shelves because you really aren’t a prune fan after all, in spite of having enough toilet paper to last till next year and beyond. 

I suppose you are wondering what this has to do with fridges

It’s about the back shelves — a traditional location for the incubation of science experiment growths. All well and good if you are a scientist, but most of us are not. So I ask you to consider this: If you don’t know what you’ve got then how will you know to use it in a timely manner?

I love lists. Not that I pay much attention to them, but the making of lists seems to satisfy some need in me. Maybe it’s the need to feel like I’m accomplishing something even if I’m not. Today’s list is different. It’s not make-work.  It’s a useful list, not a substitute for action. It’s a list of everything you’ve got to eat in your house. Several lists, in fact.

What? Yes, I am serious. I’m here to tell you that if you don’t remember you shoved those potatoes on a dark back shelf, soon you will have potato plants. Not only that, but even though yogurt’s got lots of bacteria in it that’s good for you, the black fuzzy stuff that grows on top of it when you’ve forgotten about the container is not so good. Soft mushy oranges that give way like zombie flesh to your groping fingers are disgusting and inedible.

And it’s all a waste.

No – that was last month. This month or next, letting food go bad because you forgot you had it could mean going without for longer than you had in mind.

Make a list — do it now!

Make several lists of food items by shelf life.

  1. Fresh fruits and veggies
  2. Refrigerated foods that will spoil if not eaten quickly (e.g. dairy)
  3. Refrigerated foods that can be stored a while longer (e.g condiments, beer)
  4. Dried and canned foods not refrigerated
  5. Critter food
  6. Non-food items

Date the items on your lists with “use by” dates if the packaging has it. For stuff that’s not labeled now would be a good time to do some online research to see how long the foods can be stored.

And then…. actually plan your meals around your lists. Cross off items you use up and add them to your shopping list. Doing this digitally will save you a lot of rewriting, but sticking paper lists on the fridge or a kitchen cabinet is a way better idea, at least for people like me who can’t remember what I walked into the room for, much less to look at the lists I’ve got on my phone.  The life you save may be your own: the items you forget about may start evolving into sentience while hidden in the dark.

So today I’ll update my food lists. Oh, who am I kidding? Update? I know you can see from that photo of the potato plant growing in the dark that I need to follow my own advice.

Maybe today I’ll plant some potatoes outside.  But first: lists.

 

It Came From The Fridge

Life in Time of COVID

In this time of COVID everybody’s got to do what they got to do, but we’ve all got to do it a bit differently than we have before.  Turns out social distancing is easy when you live where and how I do.  Being a hermit kind of person, I hardly ever see another human being anyway, so practicing more of that now is no biggie.

Getting the mail is one of those things that has to get done on a fairly regular basis.  The mailbox cluster where my mail is delivered is twenty-five miles from town and five miles from my property.  Lots of people in my county have to go much farther for their mail, so I’m pretty happy about how close mine is.  I like to sometimes hike out for the exercise, but not on a day like today.

It’s springtime in New Mexico.  That means the weather can present itself as any one of the seasons — at any time.  This morning it was a normal spring day, which is to say clouds were scudding across a blue sky and the wind was blowing like a !@#$%^!

My friend Laura, who lives about four miles from me, was going to pick up her mail and asked if I’d like her to get mine.  She’d leave it in a tire that’s not far from the county road, less than two miles from my gate.  We’ve left stuff for each other in that tire in the past.  It’s almost equidistant for each of us, though she’s got a lot more of a climb if she chooses to hike it instead of drive.

So, beautiful spring day?  Good day for a hike.  I sneaked out of the house, leaving Rosie behind because that’s a bit of a distance for her stubby legs, and started off for the tire.  The temperature gauge said it was in the mid 40s but I knew with that brisk wind it would feel colder, so I dressed appropriately.  I had a silk wild rag around my neck in case I needed it for a hat or a balaclava, wore knit gloves, plus there were four layers on my torso, the bottom one cotton and not silk because hey, it’s spring, and I’ve been overly warm lately with my usual layers.  The top layer was a Purdey shooting jacket, lightweight but a decent windbreaker.  As you’d expect from a good shooting jacket. 

I was quite comfy.

Out away from the weather shadow of the mesas it was a different story.  The wind was clearly coming straight from the Arctic Circle without pausing to warm up between there and here.  It was blowing hard enough that it boosted my speed as I walked up the grade towards the county road.  I was still okay.  My hands were a little cold but my jacket was doing its job and my back was further insulated by my small pack. 

About half a mile from the tire, I saw the first flakes of snow.  Snow?  No way was I turning around.  Besides, I could see patches of blue sky — how bad could it get?

Never ask that question.

By the time I got to the tire the temperature had dropped, the snow had picked up, and the blue up above was hiding behind dark clouds.  I grabbed the plastic bag that contained my mail and headed back towards the wind break of a thick juniper tree before taking the time to stuff the bag’s contents into my backpack.  I also rearranged my clothes.  I zipped up my fleece vest to the neck, turned up the collar of my jacket, and buttoned it up to the top.  I tried pulling the handkerchief over my nose but I couldn’t breathe — never have been able to breathe through cloth — so I just pulled it up over my mouth.  Then I shouldered my backpack and headed out into the wind.

The difference in temperature between the shelter of the juniper and out in the open was a good lesson in wind chill.  My layers and buttoning up kept me not exactly warm but at least not cold.  I thought it best to get a move on since that would help increase my body temperature.  Hypothermia is a real thing.  Been there done that.  

The hike back home was not nearly as easy as the hike out.  I was walking into the wind now and it was ripping the breath right out of my lungs.  I didn’t let myself dwell on how uncomfortable I was — something I learned back in the day when I was endurance racing.  I just put one foot in front of the other and kept my mind blank, since thinking about writing (which I had been doing on the hike to the tire) was not happening anymore.

By the time I got a few hundred yards from the cattle pens even the wind shadow of the mesa wasn’t helping.  It was snowing heavily now, hard little pellets that stung when they hit my face, numb as the skin was. 

I noticed that the cattle had all taken shelter in the lee of junipers and pinon pines, and were watching intently, their white faces giving away their hiding places in spite of the white stuff being shot from the sky.  I envied them their shelter. 

They were mooing.  How odd.  Was it the weather?  Certainly they wouldn’t care about me, a hiker they’d watched go by many times before.  

The cows started to heave themselves up.  They left the trees, headed for me.  I couldn’t understand what was going on, until finally I turned around to see a truck hauling a trailer, moving at a crawl behind me.  The wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t hear the engine.

It was my neighbor ranchers.  They had come to pick up a cow, one I’d not really paid attention to as I walked by earlier.  She was lying down not far from the pen, but not near enough to be sheltered by the fence or anything else, either.  The rancher said she’d been there for two days.  Something was wrong with her back legs or her hind end, and they were going to try to get her in their stock trailer or, failing that, leave her food and water till they could figure out something else.

I volunteered to help.  Of course I did.  “Something else” for a range cow isn’t always what the cow has in mind.

The next half hour or more was an exercise in patience.  Repositioning the trailer multiple times.  Attempting to get her to stand.  Attempting to pull her in.  It wasn’t my cow, so I couldn’t make any suggestions.  I did help direct the maneuvering of the trailer and occasionally helped roll her onto her side or upright again, but mostly I just held the gate open so the wind wouldn’t slam it closed on all of us. 

The neighbor ranchers had a plan, but the cow had not been consulted during its development.  She was not inclined to help, though she was not fighting.  She seemed more interested in being scritched on the forehead.  Unfortunately she’s a big cow, and a big cow that isn’t helping is a cow that one man and two women are not getting into a trailer, even with ropes, a make-shift ramp, and come-alongs. 

Finally I had to leave.  It was snowing like crazy, I wasn’t moving around enough to generate enough heat so I was freezing.  I had to leave.  I offered my phone at the house if they needed it.  As I left they said they’d probably just leave her with the food and water and come back with more people and  more help tomorrow.

Unfortunately, all the other cattle wanted that food and water just as much.  Poor cow wasn’t going to get much if she couldn’t get up.

The rest of the way home was tough going.  The wind was still blowing, the snow was still snowing, and did I mention the wind?  If I hadn’t been that close to a house with a wood stove cranking out heat, I’d have been in real trouble.  But I was that close and that made all the difference.  First thing I did after warming my stiff fingers was make myself a hot toddy with plenty of honey to warm me up from the inside as I warmed up from the outside.  

Since I’ve been back in the house the snow has stopped and started several times.  The wind notched itself down a bit, but the forecast is for gusts up to 40 MPH overnight.  The temp has dropped to 32° (before sunset as I write this), and it’ll go down into the teens tonight.  But at this very moment the sun’s shining again and when I went out to see if the cow was still there, I noticed my hops plants survived the winter and are already a foot tall. 

That’s springtime in New Mexico for you.  

Aftermath:

I brought the cow some munchies after I fed my horses.  Her herd mates had abandoned her, so she got a big pile of hay all to herself.  Of course I asked permission first, and in doing so I found out that they’ll be back in the morning with a new plan for loading her, along with more muscle.  

Not my muscle, mind you.  

 

Happy News in Trying Times (Rosie Update)

The recent new medical term for me was not corona virus — at least not last month.  Instead it was brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome.  No, not my airway – Rosie’s.

Brachycephalic means “shortened head”.  The syndrome goes by various acronyms.  I’ll settle for BAOS, which along with the others refers to a cluster of anatomic abnormalities seen in brachycephalic breeds that contribute to dysfunction of the upper airway.  

You’ve seen lots of dogs that are brachycephalic – pugs, bulldogs, boxers, Frenchies, and other breeds that have been developed to have shorter heads and noses than those of their ancestors.  They’re cute — but because of the changes in physiology brought about by those short heads and noses, they tend to have breathing difficulties. 

Signs and symptoms of BOAS in order of seriousness

  1. Breathing difficulty: Noisy/labored breathing.   Open-mouth breathing.  Extending head and neck to keep airway open.
  2. Stress and heat intolerance during exercise.
  3. Snoring/gagging/choking/regurgitation/vomiting/susceptibility to pneumonia.
  4. Collapse/death

The symptoms seem to show up when a dog’s around four.  Rosie came to me with the condition.  I thought at first she was panting so much because she’d gone from about 5000’ altitude to 7000’, but she never acclimated.  In fact, she got worse over the first several months, arriving here at level 1-2, and moving on to level 3 in short order.  I couldn’t sleep at night worrying that she was going to die.

In January I took Rosie to my vet to have her spayed.  We discussed her BOAS issue and the consequences of not treating it.  Rosie’s condition would be aggravated by heat come summer, and by being overweight.  She was overweight partly because she couldn’t exercise.  She couldn’t exercise because she couldn’t breathe.  She could never rest deeply, because she was always struggling for breath.  She was always starved for oxygen.  Her whole body was stressed with the effort of trying to suck in air. 

Not only all that, but over time the cartilage of her trachea could collapse and she would suffocate to death — if she didn’t die from pneumonia first.

What a horrible way to go.  My vet couldn’t do the surgery, so he recommended a veterinary hospital in Albuquerque.  I made the arrangements and in mid-February I handed the leash of my little dog over to a veterinary tech, worried as hell and not a little afraid for the outcome, too.

First, Rosie had to be sedated for the surgical veterinarian to examine her to determine the position of the soft palate, checking for masses and/or extra pharyngeal tissue, and evaluating the laryngeal, tonsil, pharynx, and upper airway structures.  The good news was that there was no evidence of cancer as a cause, nor was there any evidence of tissue erosion due to regurgitation/vomiting.  To no one’s surprise, Rosie was a prime candidate for surgery. 

The bad news was that Rosie’s trachea is way small for her size.  Her airway structure was such that even with the surgery Rosie would always have breathing issues.  Still, the laser surgery to trim the extra tissues would mean she’d have a chance at a longer and more comfortable life.  So I gave the word to go ahead.  

The procedure

To cut to the chase, everything went swimmingly.  Within short order Rosie was coming out of the anesthesia.  Not that she was going to be released to come home.

Rosie needed to be under close observation till the next day, just in case.  Any swelling would close her airway.  Any vomiting in reaction to drugs, to the surgery itself, or any number of reasons, could cause her to aspirate into her lungs.  Any excitement or activity that would cause her to breathe heavily could cause bleeding that she might aspirate into her lungs.

When I picked her up I was a nervous wreck.  Rosie was still mildly sedated but even so she was panting and hacking and generally doing everything the vet told me to discourage.  She would not calm down.  Worse, the sedative I was supposed to give her was a prescription I had to pick up before leaving town.  My friend Laura was with me.  We took turns walking Rosie around the Wal-Mart parking lot very slowly while waiting for the prescription, during which time a new issue developed – Rosie couldn’t stop peeing.  Nobody had mentioned anything about this.  She was dripping pee all over the place, and panting, and gagging, and making all kinds of horrible sounds. 

I was beyond myself and I’m sure my agitation wasn’t helping Rosie at all.  In my defense I thought my dog was going to die!  I cursed the pharmacy for taking so long, cursed Rosie, cursed the veterinary hospital, cursed the Department of Transportation for every bump in the road as we headed for home, and cursed anything else I could think of to curse, including myself for having agreed to rescue this problem dog.

When the sedative hit her system and Rosie went to sleep in the back seat, I almost wept in relief.

Post-surgery at home

House training seemed to be a thing of the past.  Rosie pooped in the house.  She peed — big lakes everywhere on my floors.  This was a dog that just a day or two before had no problem at all using the dog door to go outside.

I emailed my vet.  He said it was the steroid, prednisone, that was meant to keep the swelling down but that also made her pee a lot.  But why was she going potty inside?  The dog door was the same one that had been there two days ago, that she used just fine.

Worse, Tux the tomcat started peeing in the house, too.

I may never know the reasons for that sudden failure of house training, but I did not allow myself to yell at Rosie and trusted that over time it would improve.  In fact, while it seemed to take forever for Rosie’s training to kick in again it was only a matter of a week.  Tux, it turned out, had a UTI and is on meds for that.  Thank the gods.

Meanwhile, I had to keep Rosie sedated if I couldn’t keep her calm.  I had to soak her food, couldn’t let her chew on bones, couldn’t let her out of the house or her dog pen lest she start to breath heavily, couldn’t let her get overheated lest she start panting, couldn’t let her bark.

Let me tell you, when you’ve got to provide a calm, quiet environment for a patient it’s just amazing how much happens to cause excitement.  People will show up.  Coyotes will come too close to the house.  Tux, Lili, and Rosie will bicker like kids in the back of the car on a long trip.  The metal roof will pop when the sun hits it.  All cause for barking and excitement.

It’s been just four weeks today but it’s been four weeks of hell.

The light at the end of the tunnel

I am happy to report that Rosie is doing very well.  She’s lost weight.  She’s breathing much easier.  She and the cats are working on a renewal of their truce.  No more accidents in the house (well, Tux hasn’t gotten the complete message yet, but he’s improving).  I’ve been letting Rosie out of the dog pen when I’m home during the day.  She’s been finding old bones and bringing them into the house (I think that’s a hint).  This morning she chased a rabbit and came back all dancing and proud, and she wasn’t gagging.  Pretty soon we can start going on walks again. 

Yeah, Rosie still snores, wheezes, and occasionally gags.  I guess she’ll do that for the rest of her life.  But she’s definitely the new and improved version of a BAOS dog, and I think she’s more cheerful for it.

I certainly am.

PS  Thanks go to Jack Duncan, DVM and to the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center, Albuquerque, for taking such good care of my Rosie.

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