Posts Tagged ‘Through A Different Lens’

5 Lessons for Surfing the Waves of Change

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

When my breasts were just buds, my Dad taught me how to be a surfer girl. I grew up in Southern California, and we spent our family vacations at San Clemente, camping every day by the Trestle, still a well-known surfing spot. We’d set up an umbrella, get out the Coppertone oil (yep, I had the darkest tan in town) and buy the best cheeseburgers in the universe at the stand on the beach. Every year I’d push the envelope a bit more.

At first I was only allowed to wade into chest-high surf. I could enjoy that, because the angle of the ocean floor is very shallow there, making series of waves. I would ride the little waves on my canvas mat (pre-boogie boards), while my Dad would venture out to the men-only spot way out where the big waves break.

Already, you can see there are metaphors coming (and you may know, I love ‘em.) My Dad was teaching me how to venture into men-only territory in the world of my future. What he didn’t know is that he was also a spiritual teacher. Today I’m in my 70’s, and I’m more amazed than ever at how big the surf is, even in Arizona. The world seems almost consumed by huge waves of change, and I feel more out of control than ever. Maybe I can’t make waves the way I once thought I could. These days it’s enough to just surf them.

So here are some surfing principles my Dad taught me that you could adopt for navigating turbulent times:

1. Dive under oncoming waves. To get out into the action, you have to go against the incoming waves. The trick: Don’t let them blast you in the face and knock you over. Go deeper than the incoming and surface on the back side of them.

Comment: If this metaphor works, it means trying to “Go deeper” instead of “Rise above it.”

2. Wait for the right wave for you to ride. Don’t start with a giant one, or even assume those are the best. Don’t crowd in front of someone already riding the wave. Pick the one that just beckons.

Comment: Guess this falls under the category of picking your battles–and your thrills!

3.  If you get caught in a riptide, don’t fight it. Be observant and try swimming parallel to the beach until you can catch a wave that will take you to shore.

Comment: Of course you’ll run into unseen forces that are big and dangerous, so be alert and stay calm and humble.

4. When you want to catch a wave, paddle like hell. You have to work for your thrill. Now let the ave carry you. See how you can work with it. What can you do to increase your still and your fun?

Comment: What if life is all about putting everything into the present moment?

5. Respect the ocean. It’s much larger than you are. It can be loads of fun and beautiful, and it can also kill you.

Comment: Like life.

How these principles worked was: Dad would take me out to the zone of big waves where I couldn’t touch. When the right wave came, he would give me a big push on my canvas mat, and off I’d go, paddling like hell until the wave took me. It was a great ride all the way in to the beach. In later years, I’d use fins to catch my own wave and then get up on my knees on the mat once the wave broke, tall and strong in my pink-striped one piece. Not hot, not cool, just me.

Thanks, Dad, for the mentoring. Even though I never made it onto a surfboard, all these years later I can still taste the salt air.

Bringing Billy Home: A Tribute to a Fallen Marine

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Some families appear to be elected, even ordained, to teach the rest of us about loss and suffering, and about the love and resilience that helps us bear the unbearable.

I met one of these families this week during an emotional reunion of the 3 Marine squadrons where Lt. William Ryan served in Viet Nam. My husband, Jon Trachta, served in one of these squadrons, so I went with him to Washington, D.C. for three days of events.

The keystone event was the funeral with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery on May 10, 48 years after Lt. Ryan died on a mission in Laos. His remains were found and identified in January, allowing the family to plan for this event, called “Bringing Billy Home.”

Hundreds of mourners gathered on a hillside where a caisson led by 7 white horses received the flag-draped coffin. Ospreys flew over in the missing man formation, where one peels off and the rest continue. The family walked behind the caisson, followed by a procession of Ryan’s Marine brothers and the hundreds of family friends in attendance. (Arlington officials claimed it was the largest funeral there in memory.) It was hard to say which was more heart breaking: the family, the crowd, the ceremony, or my husband’s tears.

At the funeral site, Marines lifted the flag and folded it in slow motion. A Brigadier General carried it over to Ryan’s son, Mike, handing it to him and expressing condolences to his wife and children.

The full tragedy was that Mike’s mother, Judy, had been buried the day before—May 9. Literally the day after finding out that her first husband’s remains had been identified, she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer on January 17. She died April 11.This was after losing her second husband in March– the only father Mike remembered. For Mike, this string of losses is simply incomprehensible.

Gary Bain, the pilot who flew with Ryan, his backseater, knelt at the coffin and placed the patch from his flight jacket on top of the flowers. Gary, who spoke later at a dinner for the 46 fellow Marines who travelled to the event, admits to having struggled mightily with survivor’s guilt. He still does not know why, after agreeing they would eject, Ryan’s ejection seat was not freed. Hopefully Gary’s struggle has come full circle, and he has now been brought “home” as well.

As Jon and I watch video and photos, we are both moved by so many aspects of our journey. Of course the beauty of the ceremony and the reunion is bittersweet, overshadowed by the tragedy of war that brought us all together in the first place.

Jon has taught me that the bravery he exhibited in the 240 missions he flew was motivated by brotherhood. The mystique of the Marines has less to do with God and country than with being willing to die for another human who is your brother—or now, your sister.

I’ve not had to risk my life in war, and so I understand that I don’t understand. There is probably no way I can really know what these men have all been through and what it means in the secret chambers of their hearts. But one thing is clear: “Semper fidelis” has to do with love.

I imagine that’s what also motivated my own father, a bomber pilot who was shot down and killed in World War II when I was 21 months old. He flew the plane down while everyone else got out except his bombardier, who was trapped beneath the cockpit. His mother and my mother waited in anguish for four months of his being missing, until one of the survivors wrote my mother and told her he counted the chutes and saw the plane explode. So I do know something about how families are affected.

And so I’m left with the prayer that the love I witnessed last week continues, and that the beauty of the honor and ritual and ceremony continues. May we find a way as a species to love and honor each other without having to resort to war. In the same way that Mike and his family will find the resilience to live and love beyond their losses, may we find a way to recover from battling each other and find the beauty and honor encoded in every life.

If it’s true that “home is where the heart is,” then may all warriors and their families find their way home.


This post is also on HuffPost and can be seen at

Seeing Our Way Through the Pachakutiq

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016


The latest earthquake in Japan is said to be an aftershock from the one in 2011, and that means among other things that Mother Earth set a big change in motion back then, and the effects are still going on. Perhaps our electoral, political and psychic earthquake in the U.S. is an aftershock too, a manifestation of unseen forces of change that were already at work long ago.

The ancient Inka people of Peru and their current descendants refer to the pachakutiq, the force that turns the world upside down. The force was named after Pachakutiq Inka Yupanki, 1438-1471, the ruler who transformed the Kingdom of Cusco into the Inca Empire.

Pachakutiq was a conqueror, an empire builder, whose name meant “he who overturns space and time.” But even Pachakutiq had to ultimately bow to death and to Mother Earth, whose power reminds us that we actually are not in charge here.

We live a multi-dimensional life, whether we are conscious of it or not. In our personal world, the pachakutiq occurs when we’re faced with a personal earthquake like a divorce or death of a loved one, or loss of a job. In the collective world, a pachakutiq has occurred with the recent US election, and the aftershocks continue. And in the cosmic dimension, the force you might call God or the Great Mystery is at work too, in ways that are unseen.

What do we do in times of the pachakutiq?

My brother-in-law taught me a lesson about this years ago, when he was suddenly stricken with Guillain-Barre syndrome. Within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, he was unable to dress himself and bound to a wheelchair. By the time I saw him in a rehab facility, he was paralyzed neck down.

“How are you doing emotionally, Bob?” I asked timidly, knowing this was a pathetic, inadequate question.

“Oh, I’m actually fine, now that I made the psychological adjustment,” he answered quickly, as if he had been expecting the question.

“Come on, Bob,” I countered. “How can you make a psychological adjustment to being paralyzed?”

“Oh, but that’s the point. You must.” He had worked this through. “And now that I’ve made it, see those toes on my left foot? You come back next week and I’ll be moving them.”

Clearly he wasn’t paralyzed psychologically, and that’s because he had moved to acceptance. I’m sure he didn’t like being paralyzed, so acceptance didn’t mean approval. It meant he had ceased to allow shock to numb him into a state of denial where action is impossible.

I’m only now moving into a state of acceptance about the election. It does appear that it actually happened, and it also appears that it’s as bad as we originally thought. Given the severity of the aftershocks and the probability of many more, what do we do?

Bob pointed out back then that when we’re dealt a bad hand, we naturally want to give it back. Acceptance means we give up that fantasy. Now we can play our hand, even if it’s not the one we wanted.

Elizabeth Gilbert posed the question, “Who do I want to be in this situation?” Thank you, Elizabeth.

I want to look at the world through two lenses simultaneously, and to have the near view and the big picture work together, even though they seem opposed.

The big picture is that I’m a little creature in a magnificent creation, making me both tiny and grand, a formless bit of the Life force swimming in the great cosmic soup. So out of the big picture lens, I want to see everything as part of the One Being, part of Love. Despite appearances and conditions.

Out of the other lens I see smelly garbage I need to take out, and our latest empire builder making horrifying appointments that seem to overturn time and space. In this dimension, I will not be paralyzed or silent, but will stand for the truth I see with all my heart, wearing as much beauty as I can muster, and perhaps some combat boots hiding under the silk.

We must hold both truths to be self evident: that this is a sacred time when it is foolish to meet the beast with his own energy of fear; and that real Love can be fierce, shaking us all into a place of humility. If we can put these two views together, perhaps that will give us depth perception.

I do not forget that Bob did get up out of that bed and walk again, and even play his own version of tennis. He did not do this out of a desire to conquer, but out of a love for life. And, I know he prayed. I will do the same.

This piece also appeared in Huffington Post, and can be seen at:  Link to article.

Women Holding the Long Lens

Monday, January 11th, 2016


I’m visiting family and marveling at how long my grandchildren’s arms and legs have grown, how my daughter has become an inventive and creative cook, and how my ex husband has turned into a gentle friend. As this year just begins to unfold, I’m aware of the longer arc, and of the graceful way life changes the way the path looked …way back then.

I’m reminded of the story of how an apparent tragedy occurs, only to become s portal for a fortuitous event, that then morphs into the doorway for another downturn. Age at least provides a lens for the long story, and presents an option not to get too caught up in the drama and apparent truths of each chapter of this wild and beautiful journey.

On this annual solo road trip, I visit family, see old friends, and will end up with seven close women friends who have been a group for over 35 years. We’ve watched each other meet obstacles, embrace blessings, and survive dramas great and small. Perhaps to balance out the complexity of our own sagas, we always pepper our reunion with as many movies as possible, separated by walks on the beach, home cooked food and less wine than we used to drink.

In our seventies, we know we face losses in the upcoming episodes of our reunion series. One of us has already lost a partner to a sudden, deadly heart attack. Another is recovering from a knee replacement and can’t make it this year. What will it be like when our numbers thin? How will we all get to our destination if we’re disabled? Who will die first, and how will we deal with that?

These kinds of questions are a reality of aging, and yet so far there is a saving grace. We have each other. Friendships forged at a progressive Episcopal church we all attended back in the day, our shared values run deep. We taught each others’ children in Sunday school, and so we care who they’ve married and how their children are doing. We also care whether each woman is finding joy, discovering new meaning, and whether she can take a good joke.

We all have common political views, and so we complain about the state of the world. But these are women who are change-makers. We haven’t given up. Back in the 70’s we named ourselves the Women’s Quilting and Terrorist Society, which we thought was funny then. Now we just use the initials, but the desire to shake things up is still very much alive.

Everything has changed for the one whose husband turned out to be gay and still is her best friend. For the one who lives close to the bone, after using all her savings taking care of her father. For the one whose bitter divorce was healed by a surprise passionate romance and marriage, ending in her partner’s sudden death.

And nothing has changed. The big arc of our lives is trained by faith in the unseen. The dramas in each chapter have been tamed by good humor. And the shards of old stories are held in a sacred pot by women who will treasure them, laughing and crying together until we can’t do it in person any more

This year I salute these women and all women and men who come together in groups, urging you to put these meetings first, even when it’s hard to put the important ahead of the seemingly urgent. Every time you meet, you put money in the pot. And the older you get, the wealthier you feel, finding that life is made, after all, not of victories or defeats, but of the stream of love embedded in the entire adventure.


This post is also available on Huffington Post at my author archive, Your comments there or here are appreciated.

Who is the Divine Feminine?

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015


Have you heard a lot about the Divine Feminine re-emerging? What does this mean? Who or what is the Divine Feminine and how can we benefit from Her?

When I traveled in Nepal, the Divine Feminine was everywhere. In the middle of the market were shrines to Kali, or Durga, or other Hindu figures. People and filth abounded and it was hard to tell sometimes if the goddess smelled of incense, urine, food, sweat, or all of the above. She might be covered with filth and/or flowers, but she was accessible, part of life. Sometimes she was portrayed ripping apart an icon of evil or falseness.

Not exactly the image we have of the Divine Feminine as the Virgin Mary, for example. Shouldn’t the Divine Feminine be pure? Beautiful? Enshrined and protected? Full of peace and tenderness?

Of course in many traditions, she is. But as the force in charge of births, she knows about pain and blood and suffering as a way to usher in new life. And as the force in charge of death, she knows about destroying the false that has to die for the true to gain ascendance.

In America, the Divine Feminine is harder to find. In the southwest, we have the Virgin of Guadalupe, who is much more prominent these days. In Latin America, the Virgin is a mainstay, especially for women. In Europe, one can find the Black Madonna.

So, the Divine Feminine is complicated and multi-faceted. Not to be explained by logic, or tamed by too many rules. She is, in fact, wild. And that is why she has been oppressed in so many cultures for so many years. Along with her human feminine counterparts!

These days a lot of spiritual teachers are writing and teaching about the re-emergence of the Divine Feminine. She seems to be showing up everywhere. As Mother Earth, she has been turbulent, unpredictable and changing. As Venus, she has been hidden from us, traveling the underworld, to reappear as a sign of love. As the Virgin, she shows up on screen doors and tree trunks. As Mary Magdalene, she tends those who suffer, and as Kwan Yin, she is the heart of compassion. As the goddess, she has been honored in a variety of renewed ceremonies and myths. And in the form of certain women, we see her incarnate.

These are times of planetary crisis, and so if we ever needed a dose of compassion, tenderness, unbridled fierce protectiveness and signs of death and rebirth, I’d say this is the time.

So, if the Divine Feminine is calling us to awaken, how can we respond? We might begin by looking for her presence, veiled by tradition or culture, at the essence of things. Even, and especially within our own hearts.

Whether you’re male or female, you have the Divine Feminine within your heart. You have that wild, tender, compassionate, fierce force in charge of births and deaths, all within you.

And so I invite you to begin looking everywhere to see signs that it is time to welcome the Divine Feminine back into full equality—in the outer world and in our inner ones. When she has been fully welcomed, hopefully a new balance will begin to be possible in this wild, beautiful complex Earth home.

What You See Is What You Get

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015


“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”–Henry David Thoreau

When I traveled in Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan last fall, I was of course struck by the wealth of sacred art. The particular ceiling in this photo was taken in a private home, so these arts are not relegated to skilled monks or to antiquity–they are still practiced by village craftsman. (Granted, in Tibet these craftsmen are an endangered species, since the Chinese are co-opting and controlling everything about Tibetan culture.) Imagine living in a home where your neighbor painted this extraordinary piece of art.

How would looking up at such a ceiling every day affect your vision of the world?

I think sacred arts have been created for many reasons, but one of them must be that the piece of art preserves the vision of the sacred world–and the invisible one–and passes this vision forward, preserving it as part of reality.

When we create any kind of art we are preserving or encoding a view we have of a certain aspect of reality. In that sense, what we saw when we made the piece is what we get as a future.

There’s another sense in which “what you see is what you get.” All the theories that abound today about creating your own reality are based on the idea that our thoughts can become manifest. And our thoughts are largely visual. It’s as though we have a vision–whether it be of ourselves coming down with a cold, or reuniting with a friend–and often we are either grabbing a tissue or answering the phone, delighted at the “coincidence.”

Vision has been proven to affect performance so strongly that  most serious athletes visualize that perfect high dive or ski run. Since I’m recuperating from foot surgery and don’t want all the muscles in my left leg to forget they’re muscles, I’m picturing myself dancing, hiking and walking on the sand. Science tells me that my muscles will believe they’re really doing it.

The link between vision and manifestation works from the inside out, and also from the outside in. When I traveled to the Berlin Wall in the ’60’s, I was shocked to see the wall, even though I had studied about Berlin and knew intellectually all about the efforts to divide people from each other. We know there is a big difference between intellectual and emotional knowing. Once I had seen it, I knew I would always be against such walls and would take a stand for what unites rather than divides us. The seeing changed my mind and heart, and became part of me. What I saw was what I got.

So how can you use this notion that what you see is what you get? I can think of three ways:

1. You can purposefully go on treasure hunts for beauty. With your camera or just your physical eyes, you can collect images that will become part of you, in mind, body and spirit.

2. When you see something disturbing, do a re-frame. Instead of focusing just on how disgusting or sad or scary something is, you can ask what the deeper purpose of your seeing could be. That way, you will literally “see” this scene differently, as if you put a filter on your mental camera.

3. You can point out beauty to others. Everyone does not see the subtleties of the pearly light on the foggy mountains. Some people just see grey and “bad weather.” You can always ask if someone sees how many different shades of green there are in the forest. It may literally expand their vision, and thereby their experience.

Beauty is good medicine. If what we see is truly what we get, then I’ll choose beauty any day of the week.

Lobo’s Last Lesson

Monday, July 21st, 2014



L's bedWe owners know intellectually that our dogs’ lives pass by much more quickly than our own, but when they begin to fail, it’s utter torture.

Lobo wasn’t a big fetcher, but over the years, Jon had convinced him to go out to get the morning paper and carry it back to the house for a treat. This was always subject to Lobo’s mood that morning, and his periodic refusals were evidence that he could hold himself above bribery. Sometimes he’d go at it with real enthusiasm, throwing the paper up in the air or ripping it to shreds. Other times he’d decide to take it over to his outdoor bed, as if he was planning to lounge there with his coffee. But eventually, he just didn’t want to spend his waning energy on this ridiculous routine. He’d bark at Jon to remind him to go, but then he’d sit on the step and just wait.

Horseback rides with Jon were once a non-negotiable. It was evidently a manly thing to do to go out with the neighbor men, even when it meant trotting for miles, lying down in the shade and panting when necessary, and begging water from Jon. Even in later years when he’d be sore for days, he was not about to be left behind. When his arthritis became obvious, Jon left him once with me. He kept scanning for the horses in the distance and howling and crying. He knew he couldn’t do it any more, but it was as bad for him as it is for some elderly people to have their car keys taken away.

For years when we took him to our place in the mountains, Lobo would be delighted to take advantage of “ranch rules,” which allowed him to get up on the furniture. But eventually, leaping up on our bed was impossible, and he was relegated to the rug.

When he started refusing to take walks, we knew something was really happening inside that big dog body. He would lie on his outdoor bed and just stare at me with his ears down, a clear “No, thanks.” He would go with Jon up until the very end, when we had to agree with the animal communicator that he was getting ready to leave his body.

Lobo’s last lesson was how to die well. He did what he wanted, following his own instincts rather than our wishes. He was extra affectionate, approaching us almost every day just to stare into our eyes. He talked more, developing sounds that became an understandable language. And when it became clear that there were no options left except his suffering, he had loved ones around him singing and drumming and feeding him all the treats he wanted. I would love such a farewell.

We sprinkled Lobo’s ashes in his favorite places around the house. Some under the mesquite trees where he buried bones, treats and the horse brushes he had stolen. The  container of ashes had sat for weeks on a little kitchen shrine with a Day of the Dead dog figure with a paper in his mouth. Next to it was a card from the vet that always made us laugh. It was to Jon and Patty. (Patty was Jon’s first wife back in the 70’s. Someone’s records need updating.)

As I write this, Jon is away on a fishing trip, and the house is absolutely silent. No need to go out and remind Lobo not to bark. The house hasn’t been cleaned for two weeks, because there’s no dog hair. If Lobo were here, he’d be depressed and would be doing a lot of waiting up on his outdoor bed. And so I tell myself there are advantages. The squirrels and birds are happy he’s gone. But I haven’t been able to get rid of his outdoor bed. Sometimes when I drive in, I think I see him there, scanning the yard, making sure the area is safe for me.

Surely we’ll get another dog. And surely we will love that one, and cry again when that one dies. But I know we’ll never forget Lobo. Just like any member of the family, there are no substitutes.

He was indeed, my teacher.


Lobo’s Lesson #6

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

A family of coyotes built a den below our next door neighbors’ property, and must have been mystified for ten years by the next door neighbor dog who chased them one minute and howled with them the next.

We’re not sure what Lobo was saying when he joined in with their songs, but he sounded like a songdog just tuning up and jamming with the band. Since his howl was as loud as his bark, the cuteness would wear off after a few rounds, and we’d either be scolding him into being quiet or escorting the concert outdoors. The most the vet would theorize was that Lobo was part hound. But we knew there was real communication going on.

We always worried when Lobo was young and fit, and after disappearing for awhile he would return panting hard, obviously after having been on an exciting chase. A couple of times tufts of hair were missing from his hind end, indicating he had either been too slow, or had been surrounded by the coyotes’ notorious pack attacks. The fact that he survived meant to us that among the species there was a big game of chicken going on, and that the rivalry was mostly in fun.

Humans are the ones who are out of it where animal communication is concerned. We couldn’t figure out how Lobo was communicating with the coyotes, or with the fierce mother cows whose babies he chased. All we knew was that as we passed certain moms on our walks, he would give way. Not a word was said, but he would put his ears down and slow his walk, chastened. Other times, he chased to his heart’s desire despite the glares of the whole herd. Our horses were the same. Who knew why he could drive one horse crazy with his teasing, while he knew he’d better leave the other one alone.

Even though we couldn’t figure out Lobo’s communication, he had our language down pat. Over ten years he learned a lot of English, but the language that fascinated us the most was the silent, telepathic one.

Sometimes he would get lonely and bark after we left, our neighbors informed us. So we’d put a dreaded bark collar on him before leaving the house. In his later years, he knew we were coming. I would venture into the garage and open the door, the bark collar hidden behind my back. Often he would already be walking away from me to escape, which he would never do when I wasn’t armed with electricity. How did he know?

When his last days were coming and he began to fail, he told us as best he could what he wanted and what he didn’t want. One day I made an appointment to take him to the vet, and he refused to get in the car. No amount of lies about the great drive we were going to take, and no amount of treats would convince him. He already weighed in at 120 lbs., but when he was refusing to be moved, he could effectively make himself weigh 500. I gave up. When I called an animal communicator and had her do a reading on him, she said he hadn’t felt the trip to the vet was necessary. Later when he was sicker, he cooperated.

When his back end was failing him, we both had travel commitments and started to worry about him deciding to leave his body while we were gone. So I had a talk with him. “Lobo, we’re going to have to leave. Now, I know you’re getting ready to move on, and I know you’ll do that in your own time, whenever you’re ready. But if there’s any way you can wait until we’re all together, that would be great.” He stared at me with those golden eyes, as he had done at least once a day, and I knew he got the message. And, I knew he would do exactly as he pleased.

We are the ones who don’t think telepathy is natural. Animals must communicate using energetic frequencies, emotional tones in a scale we don’t even hear. Yet we probably could if we believed in our abilities.

I wish Lobo were still here to teach me all the languages he knew. Maybe even I could turn into a songdog.

Lobo’s Lesson #3

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

It didn’t take long to discover that the poor excuse for a fence around our yard was not going to keep Lobo at home. We weren’t sure all our neighbors were as enthusiastic about his presence as we were. Judi, who lives next door, gently pointed out that her husband Rick was not a dog lover. Lobo was turning up at the kitchen door, golden eyes hopeful. And, they had a wildlife pond where they liked to watch…wildlife. Which probably wouldn’t come to the pond if it was constantly guarded by a huge, hungry puppy.

We bought an invisible fence. You put up one wire, which is electrified, and train the dog (again, hopefully with just a few shocks) to stay away from the fence. Great theory, and I’ve seen it work.

But, passion can withstand pain, as Lobo taught us quickly. It didn’t take long for him to learn that jumping over the fence wasn’t that hard (it was only four ft. high at the highest) and didn’t hurt all that much, or for very long. The advantages of Judi’s occasional bits of chicken outweighed the disadvantages. Before long, Lobo’s leap looked like a deer’s, and a path was worn to his favorite spot for clearing the fence.

Bit by bit, rumor by rumor, we discovered that Lobo was becoming the “Mayor of Sutherland Valley.” His constituents included the Gibsons uphill from us; Richard and Peggy two doors away, Rick the gardener at the end of our road, and even Bradley and Triests a half-mile away.

This discovery solved the mystery of how our young dog was gaining not only a lot of height, but too much tummy. I sent out an email imploring our friends not to feed him. “But he looks at me with those golden eyes, they would say…”

The Sonoran Desert is a region whose boundaries are free of political borders; part of the ecological territory is in the U.S. and part in Mexico. Animals who want to pass through that heavily walled and guarded border must be confused about the frustrating obstacles they meet. Likewise, the territory that Lobo came to call his own was independent of our annoying fence, or any of our neighbors’ fences. His range was bounded by his own instincts, and that’s the range he would roam until he couldn’t any more. And that was only at the end, where it wasn’t us who stopped him, but only the limits of his body.

Fortunately for us, he converted Rick, along with any other neighbors who had been reluctant. Even though he would bark at Rick when he came out into his back forty to practice shooting a bow and arrow, Rick came to understand that the problem was only that Lobo hadn’t granted him permission to use it in his territory.

As for us, we eventually just gave up. Over the years, when his leaps were compromised, he dented the fence in places to make the breach easier. In the end, I suspect Jon helped him by lowering the bar even further, to keep his pride intact.

We came to understand that as a working dog, Lobo considered this large territory to be his responsibility. He had many sub-tasks under the heading of this formidable career. There were the rabbits and squirrels, which needed to be kept under control. In later years a resident Cooper’s Hawk would roost near the bird feeder, hoping for an easy meal. This Lobo must have considered cheating, because he would bark and chase the hawk away. He had to keep track of the supply of bones he buried under various trees. Evidently he had to check on various neighbors, and so he made his rounds. Then there was the guarding of the property and the waiting for his people when they went out. Fortunately, he was well equipped with the tools for his work orders. He had a good nose, great ears, keen eyesight, speed, paws that could wound with one strike. Of course he also had courage. And there wasn’t a fence on the market that could contain these qualities.


Lesson #2 from Lobo

Monday, June 30th, 2014

lobo w: siLobo at 1 in 2005, with our grandson Simon

Amnesia works in strange ways. In the same way a mother forgets the agony of childbirth and signs up to do the same thing again, dog lovers forget what it’s really like to have a puppy.

“He’s going to be big,” our vet friend Sonny said, looking at the giant paddy paws. “He looks about six months now, so there’s a lot of growing ahead. I think he has some mastiff or hound in him.”

But we do not listen to the voice of a good advisor. Not when we are blinded by passion.

I was still having radiation treatments, so we thought the timing would be good. Lobo (we had immediately re-named him) would be company. As in companionship, encouragement, affection, loyalty.

I took him down with me to feed our two horses. Down the path, across the wash and over to the little barn and corral. His excitement grew. In the wash, I threw him a stick. Not only did he fetch it, he must have pegged me for a worthy playmate. From 100 feet away, he charged at me full speed and then took off a few feet in front of me, flying at my chest with those huge paws extended. I went down like a bowling pin.

“This is not good,” I tearfully explained to Jon. “I can’t have him knocking me down right now.”

“Or any time,” Jon agreed.

We started trying to train him. He was into the treats for sure, but rewards didn’t seem to have any effect on either long-term or short-term behavior. A leash was unthinkable. He lunged ahead, pulling the weak two-legged behind him, flailing about like a fish on a line.

We live in the country, on the border of a state and national park with hundreds of miles of trails. We wanted to be able to walk him off a leash. Without him running out in front of cars, which he must have thought were animals big enough to be worthy playmates. We didn’t want him to keep chasing the cattle who roamed the range we lived in. The littlest ones were about his size. We didn’t want him on our furniture. (Well, I didn’t—that’s another story….) We didn’t want him jumping up to get the food on our plates. (Well, I didn’t. Yet another story.)

After bingeing on episodes of the Dog Whisperer, it was clear to me that Lobo knew he was the alpha. Maybe he was here to give me an assertiveness training course. “I am alpha,” I would explain to him. And he would smile that silly dog smile they do with their long tongue hanging out and that panting that sounds like laughter.

Maybe he was just too much. Too big, too powerful, and already too accustomed to being in charge. Even though I can’t stand Chihuahuas, now I felt sorry for the one he had terrorized. Maybe, I said to Jon (tearfully, again) we would have to give him up.

Instead, we researched dog training techniques and local experts. Jon’s sister swore by a trainer who used an electric collar, which fell under the Torture category as far as I was concerned. But never say you’ll never do something until you’ve been truly desperate. After yet another flying lunge at my radiated chest, Lobo was loaded into the truck and taken to Torture dog training.

It’s painful for me to remember. Really. I mean, when I got teary watching die Fuhrer reduce Lobo from Alpha to Zeta, cringing as he yelled, “Place” and pointing to a tiny pad, the little smart guy explained to me that dogs don’t have emotions. That’s funny, because I could swear that Lobo now was feeling a love for us that was every bit as passionate as the kind of love a child feels when they see that someone else’s parent is worse than their own.

But, mercifully, Torture training did not take long. Just a few zaps were all Lobo needed to be convinced that the Collar was the source of all evil. Now, all we had to do was put it on him, push a button that produced a beep, and yell, “Place,” and point to a dog bed or an imagined tiny pad in front of the TV, and he would cringe and crawl into position. He would also resist chasing cows, which was the ultimate test. He would reluctantly heel, even in the presence of a tempting car. And lie down while we were eating. At least until Jon finished. (another one of those “other stories.”)

And so, he avoided the first and only threat to his new Good Life. Not only did he not have to go back to the Humane Society, he came out as one of the biggest winners in the doggie world. What other dog from the humane society lived on the edge of the wild high desert? Here in his own back yard, there were squirrels and rabbits and roadrunners to chase. Deer even came occasionally to seek water. A javelina or two ventured into the yard before the word got out. Lobo could live up to his name here. He would be allowed, despite the little Fuhrer’s efforts, to be a wolfy, wild dog.

How wild, we had only begun to discover.