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Chet Baker's Last Run

Thursday, August 31, 2017

For the past week, I've had a song running through my head, Carol Burnett's farewell.

I'm so glad we've had this time together
Just to have a laugh or sing a song
Seems we just get started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say "So long."

Over and over. I hear her voice and see her tugging her earlobe. I wondered why. Now I know. I honestly think it was Ida, a great Carol Burnett fan, gently bringing me up to speed, singing in my ear. 

The trouble with Chet started a year and a half ago. It's a litany of ailments that started with a systemic tick medication I wish I'd never heard of, and wish I'd never given to him.  After only a few months, Chet got an ear infection, resulting in profound and permanent deafness in February 2016. While poking around with that, Dr. Lutz found Chet's thyroid was no longer working, and he had a heart murmur, too. Dominoes kept falling. In September 2016 he got a bad skin infection that was linked to allergies. He'd be on antibiotics for the rest of his life. The drug management of his maladies swelled until he was taking six medications, twice daily, and I rather swiftly lost my strong, vital, funny little running buddy to the dull, nagging drone of his ills. For his part, Chet's world contracted down to pill treats, meals, and slower and shorter runs that became lopes that became walks. I never saw a better 10-year-old dog--unfazed by 7 mile runs--until I saw him no more. 

I didn't write much about it because it made me so sad, and I didn't want to make you sad, but I have to say it's been hard to stand by, throwing pills at him from the sidelines, as my dearest friend faded. Keeping my blog and his Facebook page going was like being a press secretary to a beloved but ailing head of state.  How is Fidel today? Well, Fidel enjoyed his morning coffee...I'd scratch around and find something sweet or funny to share and then a long time would go by before I found another thing worth sharing. The writing was on the wall, and I had to read it every day for a year and a half. But that didn't mean I wanted you to have to read it, too.

It turns out that, even as I share some of my life here, and make people feel they know everything about me, I'm an iceberg. There's this huge lurking part of me that I won't allow to roll over and pop out of the depths. This thing with Chet has run me down, pushed my iceberg over, and it feels out of balance now.  I'm upended, the rotty icy part from deep down dripping in the unaccustomed light.

Doing wildlife rehabiltation for so long has given me a familiarity with the signs of suffering, and an intolerance for allowing it. I've played jury, judge and executioner far more times than I ever wished to. Who'd have thought that the child who wept over every black molly that went belly up in her 5-gallon fishtank would end up seeing so many creatures out of this world? Cue Carol Burnett. She's been singing in my ear for a week now.

He had a good two weeks in and out of Phoebe's arms. He was loved and cuddled and coddled. He gave her so many good kisses. On  Monday, August 21st, we took our Eclipse Night walk together.  I had a feeling it would be his last walk, but I didn't say anything about it. And the day she left for college,  the following Sunday, he started down a much steeper hill. By Monday afternoon he was breathing hard. Lasix, prescribed on another office visit Tuesday, had no effect. I heard the rasp in his breath Wednesday morning around 4 AM. And I knew when I looked into his eyes that Chet Baker's good long run had come to an end.  He was apologetic but firm. He wanted out. I wanted to let him out. I was not going to be the one to drag it out, to exhaust every possibility and spare no expense.  There may have been options for prolonging his life, but I had no interest in pursuing them, because the outcome would be the same, and the interim would hold only more suffering for him. I listened to Chet, and he spoke to my head, and my heart heard him too. I was grateful to know beyond doubt that it was his time. It's the doubt that will ruin you and bring you to your knees. I have watched too many friends walk this terrible line with their pets. No one is comfortable in this role, having to make the final judgement on a beloved one's time with us.

It wasn't a surprise. I'd had all kinds of warning. So I went into Deal With It mode, which keeps no room for drama, breast beating or hair tearing. I made Chet as comfortable as I could, and Bill and I picked a place and dug a sweet little grave in the front flower bed, just a couple of feet from the stoop where he baked his brisket on spring mornings. There, we wouldn't have to dig into turf, or mow around it. There, I could plant whatever I wanted in his honor. I set aside some daffodil bulbs we'd dug up to replant when we were done. 

 Liam got up and got the news and held his dear dog for a long time. He'd been so worried about him Tuesday night, but we hoped Lasix every 8 hours would perform a miracle.  He didn't believe my words that it was time until Chet told him it was so. I hated to see that sweet boy facing this, but I've tried, and I know now I can't make everything OK for my kids, not even close. All I can do is tell them the truth, always. 

 When Dr. Lutz's office opened at 8, I called, and they agreed to take us at 9:15. A blessing. I made Chet a breakfast of ham, eggs and cheese, but he couldn't take it. Just a little water. All right then, off we go. It was the longest half-hour ride into town I've ever experienced, except for when I was in labor with Phoebe.

Taken from the back seat. Bill drove. We kept our hands on him the whole time. 
Dr. Lutz gazed at him and said there are a lot of wonderful dogs, but there will never be another Chet, and she's right. Another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one comes again. We all wept and I wrapped myself around him and shared his last breaths, nose to nose, so he'd know I was there. His ears smelled like honey, his feet smelled like Fritos, and the harsh rasping slowed and stopped, and I realized that over the last three days it had become the soundtrack of my sorrow. In the unaccustomed silence, I wondered aloud. "Just like that. So fast. And he's gone. Who'd have thought?"

And yet most of us reading this have done this odd thing, or are looking at a time when we will. Only time will tell whether I'll ever have the strength to do it again. From where I sit, I don't think so. Finding another Chet just doesn't seem possible, even if it seemed right to me. I think my heart has had all it can take for a good long while. That dog was there for me for twelve and a half years. He tried to hang in there, knowing how much I needed him, but his time came and too soon. I'm sailing alone without him now. I'll be OK, Bacon.  If I could just freeze-frame him at 9, and keep him that way forever, with his vast vocabulary of words and mutual understanding, with his training having come to full fruition, with  his hearing and eyesight and all his organs and wisdom and humor and strength intact, I'd sign a deal with the Devil. Give me the pen. Show me where to sign.

Midwest Birding Symposium, 2013. Photo by Jenny Bowman

I'd already signed a pact when I bought him, sight unseen; in utero no less! from my wonderful friend Jane Streett in the winter of 2004. And that pact was to love him without reserve or condition. It was not a performance-based love, not a jealous love, nor a possessive one. I remember wondering, when he was a young pup, when he'd turn to me and realize that my heart was his, and his mine. And I remember when it happened, when I saw him light up upon seeing me, when he started refusing to go anywhere unless I was along. And that was when I got the handle "Mether" and our love took off. 
12 1/2 years, and it never failed us, not once. We never fought, never went to bed mad. There was no no subterfuge, no duplicity. There was only love, the pure kind of love a baby has for its mother. Is it any wonder we love our dogs back so hopelessly, so slavishly, so openly, so fearlessly? 

February 2005. Small enough for a tubesock coat. Be still my heart.

I was searching for images to illustrate this. Yes, I could go back in the archives and sort through tens of thousands of Baker photos and find just the ones. But I don't have the time or the heart to do that. So I'll take you on Chet Baker's last run, only ten days before he left us. August 20, 2017, the day before the solar eclipse. 

At this point, when taking Chet for a lope, I was picking my weather and my routes. It had to be a cool day--this one started in the upper 50's. I didn't want a lot of steep uphill climbs. There had to be water for him all along the way. Duck Creek Road, on this sparkling August morning, it would be.

We had to stop and pick up a Little Soldier on the way. 

I carried him across, singing the song. My song.

Chet knows to wait in the car until Mether's done wriggling around in the middle of the road with her camera and the turkle. He's in the Chetspot, front pawdypads on the console, where Mether can kiss his cheek and throw her arm around him for the curves. Sometimes he'd put his left paw on my shoulder, leaning into me as we went around a curve. That was my favorite thing he did in the car.

Duck Creek Road was still misty, just like we like it. And there was clean water in the ditch from last night's thunderstorm. Perfect. 

This beautiful blackish horse was very interested in Chet, and he was happy to touch noses and exchange breath with me, too. 

Horses in the morning always do me good. The days when Chet would duck under the fence and try to nip a soft nose are long, long gone. He was one crazy-ass puppy.

I missed my palominos and the grullo--Buckeye, Daisy and Jesse--but these worked just fine.

I'd say I shot an unusual number of Bacon photos, but I didn't. I always shot an unusual number of Bacon photos.

We scuttled from shade spot to shade spot.

Chet was always a dog who looked up. As a puppy, he'd run after low-flying turkey vultures, jumping up to try to meet them. I'm thinking of all the posts I've done...Chet Baker, Birdwatcher...oh, I could go back and link to them, but I won't. It's hard enough to stay in the present.

In the last year of his life, any time I tried to stop take a photo of Chet going on ahead--his default mode when he could hear--he'd stop and turn right around to come back to me. He refused to walk ahead of me, because he couldn't see me then, and who knew when I'd take off to identify a butterfly? He wasn't about to lose me now, this late in the game. Plus, he always got kisses when he doubled back. So doubling back was a win for him. I could no longer take my distant inkblot photos that had become sort of a signature of this blog, but who cares? Things change. 

Here I come. You aren't going to get away from me this time.
We got to the Whipple Fish and Game Club, and found a shady bank where we could look over the pond. There was an osprey there, piping from a dead snag, perched above four wood ducks and a green heron. We settled in for some birdwatching and a nice long rest.

I love this picture of my little gentleman. Love the peaceful, careless way he's sitting, love his expression. 

Don't you think it's time to go home, Mether? It's past brunchtime. 

We took it slowly on the way home, with water stops and stretchouts in deep shade. 

While I waited for Chet, I found Small-flowered Leafcup!

Polemonium canadensis was one of the rare plants I looked for when I worked for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. I wasn't able to come up with its name when I found it, but I knew it was something worth knowing. A quick message to The Buckeye Botanist fixed that!

 I do love The Information Age. So much.

When we got back home I took a photo of Chet, waiting for me to give him his brunch. I was happy that, at 12 1/2,  he'd made the four-mile trip with me, but I remember saying as we came inside, "I think I've just taken my last run with Chet. From here on out, it's going to be shorter hikes. I'll take my big lens and take it slowly, pick my days and quit trying to run with him. All I do is keep doubling back to wait for him now."


 I'm so glad we've had this time together. 

The next night was Eclipse Night, and he walked almost two miles with me and Phoebe, to go get some more peaches. 

 Such a beautiful sight, that little white cow-face coming up over the hill.

Seems we just get started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say "So long."

 This zinnia got good and trampled during the dig, but I've been nursing it, and it's coming back. Tiger swallowtail thinks so, anyway.

 He always loved to shuffle through this bed, looking for chiptymunks.

And another matchless little soul takes wing. 

He hears each soft word
Sees the rabbit and squirrel
Runs like black ink and
Stays like a good dog
in our hearts forever. 

Chet Baker, Boston Terrier

December 12, 2004-August 30, 2017

The Best Day Ever

Saturday, August 26, 2017


Eclipse morning, August 21, started off partly cloudy and warm and beautiful. I went out to document the "Flying Saucer" morning glories that are giving me such a charge as more and more open.

Pearly soft against the pearly soft sky.

The amount of blue on them seems to vary by plant. Two of the plants have flowers with more blue. This is an hypothesis I need to test. I had thought that one plant could have variable flowers, some with a lot of blue, some with less, but it's looking like the amount of blue in the flowers is fairly consistent within a single plant.

Naturally, I like the ones with more blue. Mmmm. As a variety, this one is fun, but I miss "Clark's Heavenly Blue" and wish I'd planted some along with "Flying Saucers." The main complaint I have with "Flying Saucers" is that the flowers don't last much past 10 AM, even on cool days. They're more diaphanous than Heavenly Blue, and they pack it in very early, wilting to nothing. Bah to that. A good "Clark's Heavenly Blue" will last two, even three days in cool weather. These dazzling divas are done mid-morning.

Plus, "Flying Saucers'" blue is cooler, more toward ultramarine than cerulean. It's that sky-cerulean I'm such a sucker for. Next year: "Heavenly Blue" will be interplanted with "Flying Saucers." 

I worked my way down to the back gardens and watched the sun come up through the trees. He doesn't even know what's going to happen to him at 2:30 this afternoon, I thought. He's just up there bloviating, sending out the hot gases, doing his thing. And all the while, the moon has plans. Just you wait, Mr. Big Stuff. Moon's gonna throw some shade, shut you up for awhile. 

The evening before Eclipse Day, Phoebe and I had ridden our bikes to an abandoned farmstead where I had found a peach tree in heavy fruit. And these are not just any peaches. They are white-fleshed! Sweet as honey, if a bit small and pitty. We picked until it was too dark to see, then rode home with my backpack loaded down with fruit. A Most Excellent Adventure, it was.

We got enough to make a pie, maybe 8 pounds or so. They're small, and the stones are large, and it takes a lot of them to make a pie. We thought it would be awesome to celebrate the near-total eclipse with a nice lunch of chicken chickpea tagine, followed by an orgiastic slice of Eclipse Peach Pie. I came home from the store with two Pillsbury crusts, because where pie crust is concerned, that's how I roll. Phoebe objected and said she'd make the crust. She'd make the whole pie. I was happy to concede, since I've never made a pie in my life other than quiche and chicken pot pie. Which aren't really pies.

I am a good peach peeler, however, so we peeled a shtun of peaches together.

While we were peeling, I heard a small cry, like that of a bird in pain, from right under the kitchen window. I looked down to see what I thought was a chipmunk running in a wobbly way across the lawn, toward the weeds. My situational awareness, turned up to 11, sent me flying down the stairs and outside to see what was going on. 

In the grass next to the house foundation, I found this: 

A black rat snake, in the process of subduing a baby cottontail. The snake's white throat is just to the left of the rabbit's face; its nose is on the snake's back. Woof. What a thing to see.

It was far too late to do anything to help the rabbit, and I wouldn't have, anyway. We have plague proportions of rabbits. The snake has to eat, too. 

You can see the shredded brown grass that constitutes the rabbit nest in the loop of the predator's body. This snake has found the nest, nosed down in and taken the rabbit out of it. The little creature I'd thought was a chipmunk, that was toddling across the lawn toward cover, was a baby bunny that said, "I'm outta here!" and got away.

I was so fascinated to see this smallish (under 4') rat snake tackle and swallow such a huge prey item that I brought my cameras, my bowl of peaches and knife down to the bathroom window so I could watch the whole process. I made some videos, but I'll spare the non Science Chimps among you. The cool thing that I figured out only upon looking at these photos closely is that it seems I found the snake working on its second rabbit. See the reddish, stretched out length of snake in the upper loop? That's the bunny I saw being swallowed.  The first one it swallowed is just a thickening in the lower loop of the snake in the picture below. So there were at least three rabbits in that nest. One that got away, and two that went into the snake. Rabbit mothers being what they are, I figured she'd find her runaway bunny that evening. And if she didn't, its eyes were open, it was fully furred, it was able to run, and it may have been ready to start eating solids anyway. One thing that bunny knew: lying terrified in its nest as a snake swallowed its siblings no longer worked for it. It decided to use, for the first time ever, the legs it was given to get the hell out of there. Good move, baby bunny.

Upon viewing a total solar eclipse, the Ancients thought that a snake was swallowing the sun. The unexpected, serendipitous harmonic of watching a snake swallow a rabbit even as a solar eclipse was occurring was not lost on me. I'd been doing a little reading and thinking about the significance of a solar eclipse in Leo (my astrological house). As a roaring Leo, I'm powered by the sun, by light, warmth, living, growing, thriving things. This eclipse in August turned out to be a pretty big metaphorical deal for me.

It's all stretched out from swallowing the rabbits. The second rabbit is just a thickening in its waist now.
The astrologists agree on the significance of the eclipse. 

Something must die so something new can be born. 

I like that. It works for the snake/rabbit; it works for lots of things. I've been working very hard to make a new beginning this summer and fall, to shed what is no longer working and throw my considerable energy into what does work. I'm creating something new for myself. 

On the eclipse's significance, from

Without endings, there could be no beginnings. When you are touched personally by an eclipse, that is essentially your situation. In your life, something must die so that something new can be born. One trick is to take it on faith that something is being born even though you can’t yet see it.  Recognize that whatever is dying needs to get out of the way. You can take comfort in that perspective now – or you can take comfort in it later.
The dying part is no fun at all. And not knowing what might lie ahead isn't easy either. But Uncertainty has been my constant companion for years, and I'm a bit more comfortable with it now.  I know what Stasis feels like. We're even older friends than me and Uncertainty, and Stasis has nothing to offer. Right now, I'm like a tree growing in deep shade. There's a big, neglected half of me that's not getting enough light, sun and sustenance to leaf out at all. I'm hanging in there, but there's so much of my energy that has nowhere to go. Clearing the way for a better future, however difficult it may be, is the only thing I can do. This eclipse in Leo was speaking to me. Could there have been any clearer sign than that snake, those rabbits, that dimming sun?

Why don't we celebrate? 

Phoebs started in on the pie crust at about 12:30, and was finished at about 45 minutes to totality at 2:30. Perfect! She popped it in the oven and we headed outside to revel in the celestial event.

We all wore our glasses to look at the sun being swallowed.

Elena came over to experience the eclipse with Liam, Phoebe and me.
 Bill was flying back from England and had to miss the whole thing. Bummer!! We hated to celebrate without him.

We climbed up in the tower to take in the darkening landscape.

The air was festive, excited, jittery. A cool wind sprang up when the sun went dark. What would 89% occlusion look like? We just kept digging the dusky half-light of the occluded sun.

Taking pictures seemed to be the thing to do, since this was light like no other we'd experienced.

Thanks to our friend Tim Winship for the boffo solar shades. He also sent, probably at horrific expense, Baeder solar film to cover the ocular of our spotting scope, and I fashioned a homemade film holder from foamcore that worked great. But I never managed to get the sun in the scope despite trying from about 8 AM - 2:30 pm. Humbling. If Bill had been here he'd have had it in the scope in seconds. I just stink at finding the largest star in our galaxy in a spotting scope. I tried until I got a huge headache, and gave up. But the day was saved. We had our specs, plus some awesome solar binoculars sent to us by Celestron that brought the event so much closer! Thanks, Celestron! And thank you, Tim. Lord knows you tried.

89% occlusion. Pretty dim out there. The shadows were so black, the sky a dusky gray-blue.

We loved the intensity of the zinnias' hues in that melancholy light. We noticed that the larger butterflies kept foraging as if nothing was happening, but the birds left the feeders, and the mourning doves, an ever-growing herd that now numbers 44, circled several times, then all flew north in a bunch. The best wildlife thing I saw during the beginning of the eclipse was four blue jays sitting close together in a dead treetop, all preening like crazy. I couldn't say I'd ever seen communal preening in blue jays before. (Jemima was not among them). 

The greenhouse roof at near totality. 

Pinhole projections of the crescent sun, under our Japanese maple. The trick is to hold the cardboard up close enough to the leaves to get the images in crisp focus. There is an optimum distance. 

Pink zinnias glowing against the deep shadows near totality. 

 So dark, so dim.

Phoebe, gamely trying to get the sun in the scope. Nope. 

To be fair, the solar film covering the scope is jet black and you can't see anything at all until you are right on the sun--not any hint of brightness. And I'm told it's darned hard to get any scope on the sun with no points of reference. Plus, you can't look at the sun while you're trying to find it and...ugh. It's just hard.


All in all, it was a superfun, awe-inspiring, cosmically significant excuse to lie on the grass or stand in the tower and stare up at the sun. We're already excited about 2024, when totality will be as close to us as Dayton, Ohio! I want to see the stars and planets come out at midday. I want to see sunset 360 degrees around me. And I reserve the right to burst into tears when I do. 

To some, it's just a shadow crossing the sun. To others, it's the death that makes a new beginning. 
Let it be whatever it is to each person. I personally think that anything that gets people outside and looking up, wondering and feeling small is fabulous. 

When we got in, the fragrance knocked us over. The Eclipse Peach Pie was done!! Perfect timing, Miss Phoebe!

However. We needed vanilla ice cream to go with the hot pie, and my Carb Smart vanilla ice cream had been judged inferior. My kids call it Carb Shart. So Phoebs and I mounted an expotition to the Dalzell Variety to get some. On the way there, we saw an elementary school classmate of Liam's walking down the middle of the road, shirtless, wearing a welder's helmet. That was a precious moment. On the way back I swung down Dean's Fork to see what it looked like in eclipse light (the light was growing, but still far from full intensity). 

It looked smashing!

Down on Dean's, Ironweed Festival 2017 is in full swing, the colors of the flowers glowing against black eclipse light shadows. Joe-Pye weed adds its soft mauve, and now wingstem is painting vivid daubs of gold absolutely everywhere. It's all too beautiful. We were so glad we took the time, even with the vanilla ice cream melting, to see it in its glory. We made a full expotition on August 25. It was incredible. 

The peach pie was beyond glorious. It was amazing to me, who has never made a fruit pie, to think that my girl can do this marvelous thing. She's learned from the best.

I looked out in the now-bright evening sun and saw RedRabbit lounging.

Made me want to paint that lovely model.

I like RedRabbit, but naughty fatbottom Notch still has my heart.

Eclipse Day was winding down to a close. We didn't want it to be over. We decided we needed more peaches. That pie was so good that the four of us almost finished it by ourselves. It was hell trying to save out a piece for Daddy when he got home.
We did it, but we kept trimming the ragged edges. That piece of pie had extremely clean edges by the time he finally got it the next morning.

So Phoebs, Chet and I set out for the farmstead on Eclipse Evening. We drove and parked about 3/4 mile from the place because we had to carry the picker and we'd have a lot of peaches to haul home, too, and it was getting too dark to make it by bicycle. We parked way up off the right hand edge of the photo, so we still got some nice exercise.

Too much exercise if you ask me. Whew!

I was mesmerized by the sight of Phoebe making her way up into the sunset sky.

Behind me was a sweet sight, too.

These days are so rare and precious, when I can hike together with my elderly dog and my blossoming daughter. Each one, a limited time only offer...she'll be off to her last year at Bowdoin tomorrow. And Chet, at 12,  is growing weary of my wanderlust. We're picking our walks now.

Inkblot, check.

 When we got there, it looked like all the peaches were gone. Au contraire. All the easy peaches were gone. There were still plenty in the highest branches. In the gathering dark, Phoebe wielded the apple picker.

A fine haul. Maybe 20 pounds? We made TWO pies last night, because we killed one for dessert, and it's always better the next day anyway, when the flavors have mingled and you have a cup of tea or coffee to go with it. Imagine. All you can eat peach pie!!

As we walked back to the car, a woodcock came to circle low over us, not once, but three times, looking curiously down at us, its wings twittering sweetly. Well. Hello to you, too! We appreciated the portly little messenger. DOD loved peach pie. So did Ida. Hmmm. 

We drove up our driveway slowly, headlights on now, the day truly and finally done. And a dark brown form materialized out of the weeds. A short twisty tail, long, rabbitlike hind legs...a baby bobcat!! Phoebs and I both squealed, "That was a BOBCAT!" at the same moment. It trotted along in front of the car, then dove into the weeds again. Could Eclipse Day get any sweeter?

Click on this one to see her crazy beautiful face.
It looked like this one, only about 2/3 this size. This one,  a smallish female, has been spotted five times in our yard since June.  I saw her kill a squirrel on this very spot.  I photographed her at last on August 17, 2017. This is not James. It's a new one.  Yet to be named. Yahoo!! How lucky can you get???? Lightning strikes twice! 

Bedtime neared. I was washing up a few dishes, listening to the kids talking in the other room, when I noticed a katydid doing something odd on the kitchen window. The video speaks for itself.

I literally didn't want to go to bed on Eclipse Day. I was afraid I'd miss something. It's been hard to find the time to write this blogpost, and it's taken me three days, in between studying Jemima, writing, cooking, running, and hanging with the kids, but I wanted to record it for them, for me, for Bill, for forever.

"Just to live in the country is a full-time job. You don't have to do anything. The idle pursuit of making a living is pushed to one side, where it belongs, in favor of living itself, a task of such immediacy, beauty, variety, and excitement that one is powerless to resist its wild embrace."

by E. B. White, who oughta know. My italics. It's how I read it aloud. Flying saucers and heavenly blues, rat snakes and bunnies, solar eclipses, flars and birds and bobcats; roses to be smelled, peaches to be picked and pies to be made and eaten. All that.

 xoxo jz
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