Sunday, March 29, 2009

Greetings From Big Sky Country!

I find my human is using a lot of swear words as we discover the beauty of it all.

Anyway, we had a little trouble getting out of Boise the other day. While the human and Seamus were packing up to leave after a very pleasant stay at a friend’s Idaho estate, I managed to wander off just before departure. I must have been missing for about 45 minutes before I was finally found. I could hear them calling my name but I had no way to get to them. See, I had wandered into a stranger’s garage when suddenly the door went down. I was stuck, no way out. I don’t even know why I wandered in there. I think I thought I smelled some food, but when I got in there I realized it was just cat food high up on a shelf I couldn’t reach. The human and Seamus seemed to get more desperate in their calls. I decided to yelp to help them out, but with each yelp they seemed to get further away. Just when I began to wonder if they would leave me behind – would they? – a stranger opened a door and spotted me there. She pushed a button on the wall and magically the big door I entered through opened. I was free! I ran out and back toward our van to find the human wearing a dual expression of relief and rage. I promised this would be the last time I wandered off, knowing full-well it was a promise I couldn’t keep.

Anyhow, no small potatoes, we made it through Idaho and into Jackson, Wyoming by sunset. The human and Seamus sweet-talked our way into a Motel 6 that supposedly had no vacancy. I am very impressed by those two and how they gain trust and make friends with people so quickly. I think they would make great dogs. They kind of remind me of puppies what with how strangers think they are cute and want to take them right in. This Motel 6 thing was looking bleak but a couple of flirty minutes later and we had ourselves a room.

We made our way down to the famous "Cowboy Bar" where we met all sorts of interesting people. Seamus befriended an older cowboy with a worn out hat and glasses as thick as the bottom of the beer mugs I could see above. The guy was drunk as a skunk and had a herd of cowgirls around listening to his stories. From my vantage point at the foot of the stool, it seemed Seamus had found his hero.

Before the night was over the human had met the famous nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen and planned a rendezvous with him at his place first thing in the morning. His place just so happened to be one of two houses at the base of the Grand Tetons. When we arrived I heard the human let out another swear word. Mr. Mangelson wanted to give the human "his shot". “His shot” was a picture that he hadn't taken yet but knew he would one day. "His shot" was a picture of his dog diving into his backward lake with the Grand Tetons as the backdrop. I gotta say I was going bonkers watching Mr. Mangelson’s water-loving dog go flying into that lake time and again chasing after the tennis ball they repeatedly whacked out there with a tennis racket for extra distance. I couldn’t stand it! Problem is, I don’t know how to swim. So I had to stand there at the edge of the lake pretty much going freaking mental.

The human got the shot. Mr. Mangelson’s dog got the ball. And all I got was freaking case of the anxieties. If there is one thing I can’t stand in this life it’s another dog having the ball that I want. The human thought he was doing me a favor by letting me out of the van, but next time I hope he thinks it through a little more and overcomes whatever guilt he feels by leaving me behind.

After chatting with Mr. Mangelson for awhile at the base of the Tetons we said goodbye to our new friend and headed out for Montana. Helena would be our destination. We bypassed Yellowstone due to construction and took the I-15 north. We passed through the most beautiful storm right as we were crossing the Montana border. We pulled over to take a snapshot of the "Welcome to Montana" sign and just as the human was ready to step out of the car a flash of lighting struck and a crack of thunder followed like a gunshot going off in our ears. Now I ain't afraid of much, but that thunder crack made me shake like a tea leaf in a hurricane. I kinda wished I was still stuck in that garage in Boise!

So we rolled into Helena at about midnight. We could have made it earlier but we had to pull over and take so many dang pictures. The sky is so huge here. Today we will travel to Ft. Benton, MT to learn more about the history of Old Shep. Old Shep is a dog who used to walk his master to the train every day. His master would take the train to work and when he returned Old Shep would be there waiting. Well, one day the Master didn't return. He died instead. Old Shep waited at the station for him for the next five years. He checked every train that came in until one day when he slipped on some ice and got run over. Now there is a monument in his honor. Noble dog, that Old Shep.

P.S. Did you know that the Grand Tetons were discovered by the French and named in honor of their women that they left back home. As the story goes, they were very horny and missed them much. Hence, Grand Tetons. I'll let you translate. I’m a dog, after all.

Here I am above the giant Hole that is Jackson, moments before descending on our fate.

Fate would be meeting the famed photographer Thomas Mangelson on the stool next to us at the famous Cowboy Bar. The following morning is when we found ourselves on his beautiful grounds at the base of the Tetons. Above is Mr. Mangelson's dog Loup. The human snapped this shot from my POV. You can see why I was having fits inside. Damn water dogs.

Here's Loup posing for the human with the Tetons in the background. Not a bad environment to mark in the mornings. Loup was born into the good life, for sure.

There I am down there, mere minutes after the loudest thundercrack ever known to man or beast. You can kind of see the residue of the terror that remains on my mug. Anyway, the storm passed and we had to get out of the car for another photo-op - this time the Continental Divide.

Little history lesson for you two legged creatures out there: A continental divide is a line of terrain, mountainous usually, which forms a border between two watersheds such that water falling on one side of the line eventually travels to one ocean or body of water, and water on the other side travels to another, generally on the opposite side of the continent. There are a few divides in America, I hear, but this one seems to be the granddaddy of them all. Hence it's name, the Great Divide! The Great Divide runs all the way from Alaska to the tip of South America! Don't take me on that walk!

Ah, the big sky of Montana. Roll down my window and step on it, human.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Ride Of His Life

Back in 1999 I had the great fortune of getting a book deal through Chronicle Books. My pitch was that I would hit every state in the country and photograph at least one dog to represent each state. It would be titled Dog Bless America. Chronicle gave me a handsome enough advance that I was able to get in a van and with my two best friends--Seamus and Otis--and cover what ended up being 17,000 miles of road. The journey was epic in every way. And it is certainly true what they say about the journey being the destination. I'd say that was my greatest lesson from the trip--that the journey is the destination. I think Otis always knew it. The day the three month ride ended might have been the lowest in Otie's life. The morning after we returned home to Portland I couldn't find him. I peeked outside to spot him sitting next to our van ready to roll. He had become accustomed to the routine of the road. It took a good two months to get him out of his funk. I used to say he was walking around as though the weight of a piano were on his back. And I do contend that life was never quite the same for him after such an historic ride. Eventually, life became routine again and Otis was able to once again live fully in the moment. But whenever the opportunity for a ride came up, you could see the glimmer of hope in his eyes that maybe, just maybe, this was gonna be another one for the ages. 

Thus begins a recounting of our journey through the eyes, ears and nose of Otis Kerouac.

Greetings From Boise! 

The three of us have reached Boise, Idaho and boy is it hot. The weather reminds me a lot of Portland--clear blue skies and no chance of rain!

We left Portland on Monday and made our first stop about five hours later in Walla Walla, Washington. We met and photographed a herding dog named Daisy on what seemed to me to be the most beautiful farm I might ever see--then again, this was only day one.

Miss Daisy was a perfect subject for my human up until one of the cows got a little out of line. All hell broke loose when Daisy's housemate Jack the Shitzhu wanted to herd some cattle too. Jack the Shitzhu just can't stand being stereotyped as a little lap dog and will sneak out into the pasture any chance he gets. The problem is that when Jack charges the cows, the cows charge back. Needless to say, we almost witnessed the end of Jack.

After photographing Daisy and getting Jack the hell out of there we sat down with their parents and an ice cold glass of homemade blue ribbon winning beer. Over beer the conversation immediately turned to the fascinating topic of UFOs. Turns out that Daisy and Jack's parents had only very recently discovered "crop circles" right in their wheat field. They showed us the newspaper articles and everything! At present, they are the talk of the town and I suppose they will continue to be until they finally meet the little green men and their little green dogs.

We said good-bye to Walla Walla a little behind schedule (UFOs and blue ribbon winning beer will do that to you), and we headed out for Boise. Three hours later (about midnight) we were being pulled over for doing 83 in a 65. Thank goodness Seamus was driving because my human says Seamus gets away with just about anything. And sure enough, the kindly officer let us go with a warning after learning a little bit about our journey. "That's a lot of driving ahead of you," he barked, "You be sure to get enough rest now, you here?" 

Yes, officer. Thank you, officer. And off we raced.

Boise, Idaho is a hoot. Last night we sat and discussed archeology and the history of dogs with world renowned archeologist Max Pavesic and his two Shi Tzus, Kashmir and Chibi. Later, Max broke out a seven dollar bottle of wine and the conversations continued into the night. By the way, Max too believes we're not the only ones out here.

Today we head east to Jackson, Wyoming and the Grand Tetons. I hear it's kind of pretty there.

That's all for now. We are all getting along swimmingly. And I just can't get enough of all the new smells!



P.S. My human, as I like to call him, is documenting our trip in both moving and still photographs. The Polaroid Company supplied all the film for his project. Because he takes all of his photographs with a 1965 Polaroid Land Camera, he approached a wonderful woman at the corporation named Anne McCarthy who agreed to donate as much polaroid pack film as he needed. And he's gonna need A LOT! He started snapping as soon as we hit the road. And if I know what's good for me, I will be game to be his subject whenever he needs, so long as he gets the shot in one take. Their are just too many scents and scenes to just sitting there wasting time for a photo-op.
The human has set a goal to take a picture of every single state welcoming sign as we go. Washington, being only minutes from my digs in Northeast Portland, was his first snap.

I get the feeling we are going to pull over quite a bit on this trip. Fine by me cause I can mark territory with the best of 'em. This is the famous Columbia River Gorge which divides Washington and Oregon. Look at all those trees! My goodness, I am already on sensory overload.

The human spotted this sign along the highway and decided it was worthy of a snap. Like I said, get it in one shot and it's fine by me. That said, I'm going to need to increase my intake of water or I'm going to run dry attempting to mark all this stuff.

Interesting play on words.

Here's Daisy. Her human says she's the greatest herding dog ever to live. I saw her in action and I totally believe it. She's a freak of nature the way she rounds them up. I was extremely impressed and kind of turned on. I just had no idea we dogs had that kind of talent.

Here she is having wrangled them up. They didn't dare stray either, even when she turned her head for my human's quick photo-op.

I like cows.

Eastern Oregon, Idaho and Montana all kind of look like the road ahead. Long, straight stretches as far as the eyes can see. The human and Seamus started playing a game where they guess how many miles away a high point in the road will be. So far, they are both terrible at it. One will guess three miles and the other will guess nine and it will end up being six. If only I could talk.

Idaho is, of course, known for its potatoes. That's me up there on the train tracks waiting for the click of the camera. Nobody mentioned the life-threatening nature of this part of the deal.

Kashmir and Chibi were pretty funny. They were the same looking as Jack the Shi tzu from Walla Walla, but I don't think they would have raced out to challenge the cows. These two were more secure in their lapdog lifestyle. They were pleasant enough to me, definitely more engaging than 'ol Daisy who wouldn't give me the time of day, but I still don't think they were sorry to see me go. I get the feeling I might be imposing myself on quite a bit of territory along the way. Dogs are just going to have to get over it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Eulogy To Otis

The ashes have been delivered. I've sprinkled some of him over his favorite spots in the yard. There's plenty more of him to go around, although I was surprised how little there was of him to start. He seemed so much denser than the 3x4 tin urn he returned to me in. Anyway, my true aim is to take a little bit of him to Alaska and Hawaii - the only to states he didn't have the pleasure to mark.

We still miss him dearly. People ask if I've got another dog yet. You know, I love dogs as much as anybody, but I find the question a bit insensitive. Otis isn't just going to be replaced. This house is still his. Even though he's gone, he still occupies the space. It wouldn't be fair to another dog. And the only benefit to me would be a cleaner kitchen floor. Now that Otis is gone, we realize just how many food particles we drop on the floor. Otis was more miraculous than the Dyson vacuum advertised in the infomercials. 

Alas, without further ado, here is my eulogy to Otis, in poem form. Now, please understand that I do NOT fancy myself a poet, this kinda sorta just came out. 

eulogy to Otis

Otis two balls was your Indian name.
one ball would never suffice.
those times at the park when you'd not only fetch your ball,
but another's as well.
it was embarrassing,
but down inside I was proud how you refused to relinquish it.

I remember the time we dressed as doubles partners for Halloween.
decked out in our gear with every logo except for nike,
I in my shiny adidas apparel,
you dawning two Penn tennis balls and a headband with a big red W emblazoned in front.
how we went to work and who was the first person we bumped into but Phil freaking Knight.
"can you point me to the bathroom," he asked.
when here I thought it was game set and match.

you were the best partner in the world, dear Otis.
always there when I dropped the ball, 
both literally and figuratively.
your constancy was my blessing, 
even when I stepped on you by accident, 
then shooed you away as though it were your fault.

the time in New York at Saint John The Divine,
the pastor speaking of Jesus and his limitless compassion and love.
I turned to find you sitting on a blind man's bluff.
at your core, you were the four-legged Jesus.

who could be more unconditional and forgiving than you?
all dogs are such, but we humans differ,
and I have to believe I took a lot more forgiving than most.
how I came home too late or too tired for a trek around the block, 
depriving you chances to reclaim your territory from the rogues of the day.
how I awoke too late for a morning jaunt, 
you masking your disappointment as I put up your gate and left you for hours.

always you wagged when I returned.
bygones were bygones, and hope in my goodness sprang eternal.
I could never rate,
and you could never care less.

Oscar Schindler at the end of the movie cries out,
"I could have done more!"
that's how I felt when your glorious pounding muscle of a heart took its last beat.
I could have done more.
I could have done more.
I could have done more.