On Failure

I feel like a failure regularly. While some of you real dog trainers are yelling “that’s because you are!” many of you are nodding your heads in sympathy and camaraderie. Some of the failures are laughable blips – you don’t get what you want but you get something that teaches you that much more about how your dog thinks and acts. Some of the failures are catastrophic and terrifying – lost dogs, serious fights, or a blown off recall that involves roads and cars.

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Thankfully I do not have to admit to many of the catastrophic failures, and so far all my dogs have survived my ownership, living to ripe old age in relative health and safety. But the small to medium failures happen with greater frequency than I’d prefer. My husband and I were talking about this the other morning, and his context for failure was woodworking. He had spent days on a project only to have the finishing go badly awry. Time, effort, and money lost. He had to back up several steps and try again. He quoted a woodworking guru on failure: Christopher Schwartz’s column entitled “Failing since 1993” is all about letting go of the notion that somehow – by putting time, money, effort, practice, and paying your dues in bruises and worse – you no longer fail. Sure it happens less frequently, and good lord willing, less catastrophically, but it never stops. The failures never end. They keep us humble. And they keep us hungry – hungry to learn more, get more curious, dig deeper, and go beyond the obvious.

Hawkitt just nipped me. It was a classic asshole nip – I ended playtime and was walking him into the house. He wanted to take the toy and run away with it. I said no. He twisted his head around like a godforsaken owl or Linda Blair and nailed me in the forearm with his tiny front razorblade teeth. We’ve been at this for three years. He’s been through a million repetitions of ending play time with dignity. And here I am, at repetition number one million and one, with a fresh bruise. I feel like a failure.

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Is there anything I could have done to prevent this? Sure: for starters, don’t adopt dogs like Hawkitt. His doing and his undoing is his intensity and drive. I understand the nip as “overflow” – he did it not because of dominance or because I never trained him to respect me or any other explanation I’m sure half of you formulated in your head as you read the previous paragraph. He nipped me because that’s what dogs like him do. Period. The fact that he *doesn’t* nip me 99.99% of the time makes this noteworthy. But it still hurts and I still feel like a failure because I do not want to get nipped.

Failures are a central part of the process. They force us to learn and they insist we get better at this – whatever this might be. They are the discomfort that prods us into new territory, and our dogs lead the way. There is always new territory. The learning never ends. And the failing never ends.

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Little Tonshi – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Little Tonshi needs a new foster or adoptive home. She has been with us on Bramley Mountain since February. We nursed her through heartworm treatment and her spay surgery. We’ve gotten to know her, and we’ve gotten attached. But she cannot stay any longer. If she could be safe around my dogs, she would stay here forever – Tom is smitten and all her other quirks are minor.

I can’t stress enough how fun Tonshi is — she really is a classic malinois. She is a bit of a clown, loves to be airborne, and has a truly engaging and winsome smile. She is nine years young – yeah, I always hated that phrase until I met Tonshi. She really is way younger than her years. Athletic, eager, smart, and rarin’ to go, she will make someone a fabulous dog… but that someone can’t be me. She is tolerant of some of my dogs, but truly aggressive towards Peeka. We hoped against hope that this would improve, but it hasn’t. The situation is stressful and neither Tonshi nor the rest of us thrive under stress. She needs a place where she can continue to improve and work on her other issues, and have much more fun. Because really, fun is what Tonton is all about!

If she can’t find a good match, she will need to enter boarding. Quite frankly, Tonshi is not a great candidate for boarding so I though I’d try one last ditch effort to find that perfect match for her. Please share widely, but given Tonshi’s issues, please understand that she’s going to need a very specific new family, with experience and skills to match her needs.

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The Good:

  • Tonshi is smart — smart for a malinois, so that puts her in the upper echelons of smart —  and learns quickly. Learning and working with a human is her favorite thing to do. Solid medium to high ball drive. Hunt drive could be developed. Toy and food motivated. Loves to work. LOVES to work. LOVELOVELOVES to work. She lights up like a Christmas tree when it’s her turn to work.
  • Has a nice “off switch” and will settle indoors. Sometimes this requires a couple of reminders…
  • She loves to swim! Fearless around water. Leaps off my pathetic little dock  — no problem.
  • She can walk nicely on a loose leash when she is feeling confident and secure.
  • Fully vetted: spayed, UTD on vaccines and preventives. Healthy and athletic!
  • Crate trained; no crate issues.
  • Housebroken.
  • Affectionate; loves her people.
  • Alerts when new people enter the property. Not over the top, but great alert barking. Greets strangers at our home without issues.

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The Bad:

  • Tonshi has dog aggression issues. Not every single dog, and not 100% of the time, but her inability to live with my pack has put her in this predicament. She will need a home that can handle total separation and “crate and rotate” or an only dog home.
  • Tonshi lacks confidence. This too can be changed, built up, trained through, and improved – she’s made fabulous improvements in her few months here. Patient support and training will make a world of difference with this.

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The Ugly:

  • Tonshi has what I believe is called “drive aggression.” I call it biteys. She will grab-nip-bite her handler when she gets revved up. She is VERY responsive to training on this and I have made huge strides with redirecting this behavior. I believe decent training could eliminate this quickly and completely… but she will need a malinois savvy person who understands this behavior and doesn’t freak out at a little mali-clacking that escalates!
  • Tonshi also will grab-nip her handler when she is panicked. She escalates to being frantic and starts grabbing at her handler in new situations. She responds to calm, gentle and firm redirection. Again, I feel certain she could be helped through this and it will improve, but you need to be ready for that first time!

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We know very little about Tonshi’s back story, but she was born in March 2008 in Belgium. She has “papers” (as a rescue person I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I think it’s good). She lived in Ohio in a home with other malinois, and it appears to me that she must have had a nice bond with a human who worked with her somewhere in her past. She came into rescue with some commands in German, and a true love of work. She knew what toys were, and she knew how to play fetch and tug. Someone loved her and lavished attention on her way back when. She remembers that and is desperately trying to teach me how to make her happy and fulfilled.

Her issues with other dogs also date back to her original home. Her head is covered in scars, old and new. She has been fighting most of her life. Our home and my skills are just not up to the task of keeping everyone separate and that is what’s needed to keep everyone safe. I feel terribly sad but resigned and committed. She has to go. Malinois ownership guiding tenets: face the facts, deal with them and know your limitations. I can’t manage dogs that hate each other, and Tonshi really hates Peeka.

Volunteering with rescue is like signing up for heartache, but hope prevails. I hope the right family steps up for Tonshi and soon. I hope this post helps her find her people. And I hope the next foster works out for us, because there is always a next one… and another and another after that…

 

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How to Hike With A Human Guest Post By Peeka Mouse

I sat down to write this post, but Peeka head butted me out of the way and started typing. Fine. I’ll drink coffee and look out the window instead. Thanks for the time off, Peeka!

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Me and Cinder doing the goodest hiking together.

Mama saided she wanted to write a post about hiking with me and Hawkie and Cinder and I whined “Please, Mama, let me write it.” So Mama saided yes because Mama is a pushover and I’m her favorite. I am also the goodest at hiking so I am an expert.

Hiking Dos and Don’ts for Dogs:

  • Do listen to your mama and do everything she says. Don’t run away from her when she says “COME” for example.
  • Do come back to your Mama after you run away from her when she yelled “come.” Run as fast as you can towards her and then slam your head into her knee, preferably from the side so you catch her on an angle and make her fall down, or at least make her bark and whine.
  • If your Mama falls down while hiking, run to her as fast as you can. Get there quick, while she’s down on the ground, and stand on her hair. Now lick her eyeballs. Trust me, this is the goodest thing to do if your mama falls down. It tends to stop all the F bombs from coming out of her mouth.
  • Don’t roll in bear poop when your Mama is watching. Wait until she is very busy taking photos of flowers and then do it quietly.
  • Do all your poop and pee off the trail if you’re hiking on a trail. Hawkie goes kinda far off the trail, like halfway to Bloomville. Then he comes running back at like 50 hundred miles per hour and scares me and Cinder and barks at us and acts like a jackass (Mama’s word). Don’t do that unless you want to hear your mama yell knock it off, asshat, or something equally impolite.
  • Don’t chase drunken porcupines up trees and then stand underneath them, barking. Sometimes they fall out of trees and boy are they ornery when they do. Don’t ask me how I know about this.
  • Do stand under wobbly chipmunks when they run up trees. Sometimes they fall out of trees too. It is incredibly important to sniffer the difference between an airborne chipmunk and an airborne porcupine. If you hike with Cinder, though, you will never get the chance to do anything except sniffer the chipmunk because she will snatch it out of mid-air before you can even blink.
  • Do lie down and rest when you get tired. Lie down and rest before you get tired too. Lie down and rest when your Mama takes photographs. Lie down and rest when your brother goes poop. Lie down and rest as often as possible.
  • If you see any people, don’t bite them. Do bark at them and get them super upset, because then Hawkie will take over and bark at them more. Don’t bark at other hikers.
  • If you meet other hikerdogs, don’t turn around and run the other way. Don’t hide under rocks. Don’t say Grrrrr or the F word. Don’t twist out of your collar and squirm around like a greased pig when your mama tries to hold you. Don’t ask me how I know about doing all these wrong things; I readed a book about it once.
  • If you meet wildlifes, like baby deers, or porcupines, or coyotes, or bears, don’t bark at them or chase them. If they are lying down being quiet then you be quiet too. You can give baby animals tiny licks on their eyeballs if you want, but only super gently. Hawkie can show you how; he’s the goodest at that. He kissed a baby deer on its head once and Mama almost died from the cuteness. He also didded a tiny sniffer nose to nose with a porcupine once. Mama holded her breath so much she really did almost die.
  • If your mama puts a leash around your neck, do stop walking and lie down. Don’t move. Turn all your muscles and bones into granite and become one with the earth. This will make your mama very happy and she will probably laugh and sing happy songs. Don’t ask me how I know this.
  • Don’t eat too much plants. You’ll frow up.
  • Don’t eat too much poop. Your mama might frow up if she smells your breath.
  • Remember to run into your mama and bang your head into her as often as possible. Also, if you like to carry a stick when you hike, like Hawkie, make sure it’s a very big stick with pointy parts and smash the pointy parts into your mama as often as possible. You can do this by running up behind your mama, but also try other angles to get the bestest bruise pattern on her legs.
  • Do drink water from every single puddle. The muckier the betterer for making your tummy happy on the drive home. You can combine this tip with #8 and lie down in every puddle while you drink. But don’t do mud snorkeling. That’s Cinder’s sport and she is the goodest and you just can’t compete. Trust me.
  • If you bring a toy or a ball into the woods with you, don’t leave it there. The porcupines don’t like to play with dog toys. They think toys are dumb. And your mama will yell at you “FIND IT” like 50 hundred times and then she will grumble about how much money she spended at Chewy’s to buy you toys that you lose.
  • If your mama points her camera at you, do stick your tongue out as far as possible.

That’s pretty much it. If you follow all my suggestions you can be the goodest hikerdog too. You mama will probably call my mama to thank her for all these wonderful ideas. Gotta go; it’s time for me to go strolling around in the woods!

 

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In the Beginning – an excerpt

Another teaser from the dog training book that isn’t a dog training book…

In the Beginning

I warned you that this is not a dog training book, and here’s an extended NOT dog training section. You can skip it. I’ll never know and I wouldn’t blame you.

My Dad died when I was five years old. He was diagnosed with melanoma when I was two and he died in October, six months after my fifth birthday. He was 39. He was from Brooklyn, NY (I think just about everyone’s parents or grandparents were from Brooklyn – right?) and his parents still lived there. Maybe six weeks after his death, my Mom took my sister and me to Radio City Music Hall for an evening out with my grandparents. We arrived home to find out home had been robbed.

The sliding glass door was open, November chill invading our playroom. The kitchen door had a glass window in it; broken glass and blood on the kitchen floor told that story. All our dresser drawers were pulled open and ransacked, spent matches were strewn around and dirty smudges decorated all the hallway walls. A camera and some jewelry were missing, but the unsettled sense deep in my gut was much worse than the material loss. We were all pretty shook up.

My grandfather told my mom to get a gun. For Mom, that was unthinkable. Her brother, my Uncle Michael, suggested we adopt his dog, a burly black and white German Shepherd Dog (GSD) named Zorba. Michael didn’t have a lot of time to exercise and play with Zorba and a family setting with young children seemed ideal. Zorba was gorgeous, ridiculously friendly, and a ball-crazy high-drive lunatic. I was six years old when he arrived.

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Zorba — that’s me in the red stripes.

Zorba was an adult dog, and required very little from us in terms of formal training. Smart as a whip, and so eager to play ball, Zorba was a breeze to live with. I don’t remember any real challenges, although Mom did coach me to drop the leash and let him go when we walked him in the state park. Squirrels or rabbits plus cliffs and ledges equaled “let him go” for my mom. I guess she had visions of six year old me attempting to hang on while Zorbie flew down the mountain after a bunny. Thankfully nothing of the sort ever happened and Zorba was a good boy right up until he ran headlong into a tree (chasing a ball) and ended up dying from complications.

When Mom told Uncle Michael that Zorba had passed away, Michael offered us another dog. His female GSD, Gypsy, recently had puppies. Michael picked us out a gregarious male and my sister named him Vinnie Barbarino. That was the extent of her involvement with him, though. Vinnie was my project.

I was about ten years old when Vinnie flew into John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. He promptly escaped from his airline kennel and roamed JFK, all gangly puppy legs and gigantic ears. He was located, and made friends with the airline workers who led him to Mom and me on a length of rope someone found for the purpose, his leash and collar long disappeared. Vinnie was going to be a project.

Although Mom was no stranger to dog ownership, Vinnie was a challenge. He was much drivier than Zorba or any dog my mom’s parents had owned. He was smart, intense, and full of beans. He picked up house breaking without issue, but getting a handle on his chewing and puppy mouthiness was more difficult. After he shredded a blouse the same day my sister bought it at Saks Fifth Avenue, Mom was ready to ask for help.

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We contacted Carol Benjamin and set up private lessons. Mom and I went, and learned from Carol how to harness Vinnie’s intense energy and get him engaged with us in a much more positive way. We signed up for the on leash obedience class at Rockland Community College and that first night Vinnie was a disaster. Distracted, and utterly uninterested in working with me, I lasted about 10 minutes before storming off to cry in the corner. A very bewildered Carol took over for me while my Mom died a thousand deaths of embarrassment.

By the end of the eight or ten week session (or whatever it was) Vinnie was the best in the class. He was a robot (that’s a compliment), performing every command with precision. We took Carol’s off leash obedience class and Vinnie was amazing. He and I had figured it out. Exercising him and training him were my after school “chores.” Vinnie and I hiked and rambled daily, running up Hook Mountain after school and exploring the woods when we didn’t have time to hit the Hook’s summit.

My success with Vinnie was big news in our small community, partly because I was a petite kid and he was a big boy. Passersby would ask me if I wanted a saddle for my pony, yuk yuk yuk. By the time I was about 12, I had my first ever paying job: training a neighbor’s GSD – a young male named Detlef, imported from Germany. Detlef was a piece of work. He had destroyed his owner’s kitchen, tearing all the sheetrock off the walls and consuming rather a lot of it. His owner didn’t have time to run up Hook Mountain with him… so he was pretty frustrated and bored.

I failed miserably with Detlef, but I understood why. He didn’t need training. He needed play and exercise and hiking and bones to chew. He wasn’t a lunatic or a bad dog; he was a good dog that wasn’t getting his basic needs met. Asking him to be a good boy while his owner was at work all day was like asking him to do trigonometric equations. He was just too pent up to focus.

Success with Vinnie and failure with Detlef: early childhood experiences are referred to as formative, and in this case my most basic approach to dogs was indeed formed by “working” with these two GSD pups. Not unlike humans, I come from the school of thought that all living beings learn and “perform” best when their needs are met. Don’t ask me to braid your hair or give you a ride to the mall when I’m hungry or haven’t slept; similarly, you can’t ask a GSD puppy to be a good boy when his needs for chewing, running, etc. have not been met.

Most of the dog training books I read stressed this as well. Both Donaldson and Behan discuss basic dog needs: running/chasing and gripping/chewing. They stress the need to satisfy dogs, to provide opportunities for them to experience satiation of these predatory urges. They talk about ways to do this, such as playing fetch and tug, and doing things that simulate the hunt. I just say “let dogs be dogs.” While much easier said than done, I have set up my life and my training (meager as it is) around finding ways to allow my dogs to be dogs, as safely as possible. My “program” if one could call it that (one friend calls it doggie boot camp!), is that simple. I make sure my dogs are enabled to be dogs and fully express their dogness every day. I still don’t know why they trade their agenda for mine even in the midst of practicing this “being dogs” thing we do. But they do, reliably and completely.

Except when they don’t. The exceptions stand out in high relief against the backdrop of cooperation and compliance. I can say “well, they are dogs, not robots,” but the truth is if a military working dog failed to do his or her job just once, soldiers would die. Search and rescue dogs fail to do their job? People die. Livestock guardian dogs fail at their job? Livestock losses are the result. Working dogs are trained much more consistently and much more effectively than anything I do with my rag tag bunch of miscreant fools, and the dogs are much closer to perfect than mine could ever dream to be. 

If my guys fail to obey me? Not much by way of consequences most of the time. Once Mica bit a hiker in a parking area (she had no teeth, so it was wasn’t exactly a bite – more of a “gum”); once Vinnie tossed a yorkie around like it was a chew toy (that yorkie was fine – no injuries). A few times Hawk barked at a hiker on a trail. And most of my dogs, past and present, have been quilled by porcupines. Ok, some of my dogs have been quilled by porcupines a lot of times. One of my dogs (cough Peeka cough) has been quilled while I hollered and attempted to jump in between her and the porcupine, bellowing commands right and left, diving for her and generally enacting a slapstick comedy routine in the middle of the woods – a situation that led me to consider buying a clicker. Not for the dog. For the porcupine. Pretty sure the porkies of Bramley Mountain are more trainable and cooperative than Peeka.

I think being able to tolerate a certain amount of failure is what separates pet homes from working homes. Or at least it should. Working dogs should work – consistently and predictably. I write more about failure later on, but for me and my dogs, failure is tolerated as a stepping stone – a way to grow and learn and improve. I know I’ll never have an impeccably trained, blue ribbon dog, but my goal is to stay out of the emergency room and keep the peace. The rest is gravy.

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Peeka hard at work. Porcupine or chipmunk, she crawled under the ledge until I decided enough was enough and dragged her out. She dove back in as soon as I let go of her.

 

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Love

I could have just had a beer, and maybe some ice cream later, and called it dinner.

 

Tom swooned over the scent of the chicken stock simmering on the stove top as he left for his broadsword class. I got up from working on my dog training book to strain it. Ok, I admit it – I had forgotten about it, engrossed in my writing. I gave it a taste. It was good. The roast chicken was delicious the other night and the bones made a damn good stock.

I love Tom. I didn’t feel like cooking. I barely felt like eating. I just wanted to write. Tom went off to sword class (why does that sound vaguely dirty to me? I can scarcely write it without blushing or giggling.) without a decent dinner in his belly. He will come home on this rainy evening long past dinner time, long past hungry. And the stock tasted damn good.

Sigh.

It’s still light out.

I love Tom more than I want to indulge in laziness or the fantasy that I have possess edgy roughness, a crass exterior made of poor eating habits and alcohol. I’m a health food eating, yoga practicing, drinker of herbal tea, despite my fantasies to the contrary, grubby jeans, judicious use of the word fuck, and muddy steel-toed boots.

Hawkitt, Peeka and I went out the back door. Hawk came with me into the woods; Peeka stopped at the edge of civilization, trusting that whatever the hell I was doing I’d be done soon. Hawk followed me to the patch of wild leeks, and stayed nearby while I picked.

We walked back towards the house together. Hawk veered off at one point, interested in our new squatters — the cottontail rabbits that have taken up residence under the deck. I murmur “inside” and he changes direction without breaking stride. We collect Peeka from her perch on the hillside and again, I murmur “this way, inside” and she falls in step. My heart swells. Successful interspecies communication is such a turn on. These dogs seduce me daily.

I do a mediocre job cleaning the leeks, and then swipe at the remaining mud with a muddy finger. Grilled, I decide. Grilled leeks, leftover roast chicken breast, and cremini mushrooms in a bowl with hot broth poured over the top. Only I don’t have enough chicken for both servings. Ok, Tom gets the chicken.

And I’m cooking. Mushrooms in the pan, leeks on the grill, stock simmering away. Dogs everywhere, because chicken stock is a call to action. Music on.

Grilled wild leeks are sweet and smoky.  I eat too slowly, and the soup gets cold. The bottom of the bowl is gritty and I assume that’s mud. Maybe it’s black pepper. Either way, I toss the last sip or so.

Tom won’t be home for another hour, so I sit down to write. Only now it’s not the dog training book I want to work on. It’s love. “This moment this love comes to rest in me… inside the needle’s eye a turning night of stars.” I moved through this tiny world this evening loving the dogs, loving the rain, loving the leeks, and loving Tom. It doesn’t happen like this all the time but when it does, it’s worth noticing.

 

 

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Thirteenth Night – A Teaser

The pilot wrapped the stained and fraying Ace bandage around Violet’s ribcage once more, flattening her breasts into believably masculine pectoral muscles. “You batten down them hatches any tighter, my eyes gonna pop clean out,” she chirped, her blue eyes bulging.

“Lower your voice,” the pilot growled, wiping the blood from his sideburns with the back of his hand. He shot a furtive glance over his shoulder and held his mangled index finger to his lips. Violet had no problem holding her breath; it was breathing normally that was proving to be a challenge. She heard a twig snap, and then the sound of dry leaves rustling. Her heart slammed against its Ace bandage cage while the pilot slid his right hand towards his brand new Sig Sauer the bureau had sprung for when they assigned him this mission.

A young white-tailed deer picked its way through the plane’s wreckage, each step preceded by a careful sniff. It came upon the survivors huddled under the huge spruce, torn clothing and first aid supplies strewn about on the pine-scented duff. It stamped once and its dark eyes locked on Violet’s as the pilot drew his sidearm. Violet backhanded his the gun away from him and the deer turned and bounded away, downhill, towards the road and Violet’s destination.

“What the fuck, dipshit? Have you tasted what they call rations? You could have had fresh venison for your first meal on assignment. Everyone says does taste better.” The pilot grumbled.

“How y’all know that was a doe?”

“No antlers, genius.”

“Why, bless your heart, you greenhorn. All deer are antlerless right now. Y’all cain’t tell a doe from a young buck in June without a good look at their south side.” Violet rolled her protruding eyes.

“You understand what you need to do?” The pilot changed the subject, irritated. Violet’s slack jaw offered a vote of no confidence. The pilot shook his head. “We’re fucked,” he mumbled, and began bandaging the gash on his arm.

Violet, seated with her back against the tree, tried to take deep breaths to quell her anxiety about the subterfuge. The bandage made that impossible, so she began to hum a song she heard on the radio that morning before she left Virginia.

“I Shot The Sherriff? Really?” The pilot raised his voice. “You need to get your shit together, ya dig? You have a job to do. Sorry this mission isn’t all peaches and cream, little lady, but you need to pull yourself together, go infiltrate that drug ring, get The Duke to implicate himself while you’re wearing your wire, and then get the fuck out of there, so we can make the bust and go home. Is that so all-fired complicated?”

“I cain’t breathe,” Violet squeaked again. “You pulled them bandages too tight.” She stood up, stumbled over an exposed root, and then crash landed for a second time that afternoon.

 

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Use the Bathroom

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The article I wrote for the Watershed Post’s 2016 Outdoor Guide has been making the Facebook share rounds. It’s always a bit startling, and totally fun, to see something you wrote and got published, from the perspective of having moved on. Sweet nostalgia – my research for the piece consisted of an awesome few days of driving all over the extended Catskills. Not just the high peaks areas I know well, but deep into the foothilly wilds of Sullivan County. I went alone, not even a dog or two in the back seat. Me, my camera, and my assignment – and it was exhilarating.

But print is a very strict medium. Brevity rules with an iron fist and this left me with a few misgivings and a story left untold. Check out the photos from the editing room floor (above) and my favorite story from the whole shebang (below). But first, some incredibly important information.

USE THE BATHROOM IN THE CLOSEST VILLAGE.

I’m not kidding. I’m not trying to be funny. I’m not making some weird double meaning, innuendo, or snark or anything else. I am telling you key information you need to enjoy visiting these places.

There are no public bathrooms in any of these places. There is no restroom, no water fountain, and no place to powder your nose. Stop in the closest village, buy a snack, or a map, or a cool touristy t shirt, and ask to use a restroom.

PARK LEGALLY.

Some of these places have limited parking, and some have VERY limited parking. You will be ticketed if you park illegally, but much more importantly, first responders have complained that due to illegal parking there have been issues with getting emergency vehicles where they need to go. Maybe your illegally parked car won’t block an ambulance, but the guy who parks behind you might. Trust me, none of these adventures are so cool they’re worth that kind of drama, trouble, and guilt that would involve.

DO NOT TRESPASS.

If you are thinking “No shit, Sherlock,” great. You are not who I’m talking to, and I’m delighted. However, lots of people take the approach of “better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.” With the exception of Grossingers, every place mentioned in the article is located on public land and access is legal. On Lundy Road, this is a little bit more complicated – the structures are not accessible and can only be viewed from the road. But the photo in the article was taken by me standing in the road – you really don’t have to step off the road one inch to get a great look at the house.

You’ll note that I suggest mountain biking on Lundy Road, and going to play a round of golf at Grossingers. Both activities would be fun, legal, and afford you views of super cool stuff. You want more? I’m sorry, but the answer is no.

LEAVE NO TRACE.

Again, if this is beyond obvious, that’s as it should be. Pack it in, pack it out. Enjoy these places respectfully.

READ THE DESCRIPTIONS CAREFULLY.

Numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 involve hiking. That means you’ll need decent hiking boots, a day pack, food and water, and all the normal safety and comfort gear and accountrements for a day (or at least a few hours) in the woods. Kaaterskill High Peak, Bearpen, and Stoppel Point are not short strolls on level ground. Rochester Hollow and Russell Brook Road are less strenuous but still – it’s hiking. If you want to check out ruins, but you don’t enjoy hiking, you may want to explore some different options.

And here is the story:

For those of you that don’t know me, I’m a pretty small person. I have been teased about being the size of an average 5th grader, and have boasted about not weighing enough to donate blood. My husband is always lukewarm at best about me heading off on solo adventures, be they in the wilderness or in civilization. He was a police officer years ago and has instilled in me a certain worst case scenario mentality that I tend to ignore until it stares me in the face.

Lundy Road is about 7 miles long and much of it runs through state land, remote and wild. Not suburbia. No houses for miles on end. Beautiful and quiet and I’ll admit it – a touch eerie. Years ago a village way back at the end of the road called Potterville was rumored to be haunted. You can’t really get there any more and the buildings are all but gone, but for me the vibe remained.

The road got pretty bad – rutted and narrow and funky – maybe 5.5 miles in and I thought “aww hell no” to the idea that I’d have to back out. I found a place to park nose in and hopped out, ready to explore what remained on foot.

A few moments later it came to me: I was literally miles from nowhere, armed with a camera and that’s it. No cell service, no emergency gear. Not even a Clif bar. I had this sudden, intense awareness of my own vulnerability. So I ignored it and kept walking (NOTE: I had all that stuff in my car and folks at home knew where I was, the details of my itinerary, and my ETA. I’m crazy, but I’m not stupid.).

A twig snapped.

No shit, that really happened a moment or two after my conscious mind clued me in to how potentially dangerous my situation was.

I stopped and listened.

The road is enclosed on both sides by dense laurel thickets. I peered in, but you can’t see two feet deep into laurels. They are multi-stemmed shrubs with dense foliage at eye level. I shrugged it off and took a few more steps and again – a twig or two snapped.

I stopped again and slowly squatted down, aiming to peer through the naked laurel trunks. Once I got low enough to see below the leaves, my eyes met a small coyote’s. She looked at me, and I looked at her. For a long split second, we shared that space. Then she broke the gaze and trotted away.

I didn’t get a decent photo, although I did try. In my anthropomorphic, wishful thinking way, I figured I had been accepted into that space and was safe to continue. The rest of the adventure was uneventful – just a pleasant walk on a nice road in the woods.

 

Enjoy exploring in the Catskills. Be respectful of all the locals – wildlife and humans alike – and have a wonderful adventure.

 

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