Saturday, May 10, 2014, a perfect day in Ojai
Be careful what kind of dog you get—apparently it’s true that people start to look more and more like their dog!
Photo Credit: David E. Moody — in Ojai, California
January 24, 2014
I must have looked somewhat out of character driving a U-Haul truck down Shady Lane, because, when I stopped at Ojai Valley Imports auto repair to pick up my friend David, he started clapping his hands and practically rolling down Ojai Avenue, laughing his head off.
I had called him the night before to see if he could help me unload the heavy stuff into my new “apartment.”
“Well,” he said, “it all depends on what time. I’m taking my car in for an oil change at 8 a.m.”
When I found out that where he was dropping his car was right on the way to where I’d be unloading the U-Haul, I exclaimed, “That’s perfect! While they’re doing the oil change, you can help me unload the shelves, my oak desk, the filing cabinet, and other heavy stuff.”
David hoisted himself up into the cab, and through the whole short drive over to my new “gated community,” he kept laughing about seeing me behind the wheel of a truck. I didn’t mind; it always gives me great joy to be the source of someone else’s amusement.
It’s true that I had needed convincing from another male friend that I was perfectly capable of driving one of the smaller trucks. I had driven it tentatively around Bryant Circle before heading down Ojai Avenue, getting used to no view in the back and the big side-view mirrors. My daughter and her husband had helped me load all the heavy stuff, making me realize that I’d better line up a helper at the other end.
I punched in the code and the gates opened wide. I swung the truck around to my new temporary digs, apartment #26.
Then I jumped out of the cab and unlocked the back of the U-Haul. Learning to unlock and secure the lock contraption at the bottom of the door had first required all my powers of concentration, but now I did it like a pro. David, who knows how hard mechanical things are for me, was visibly impressed. We both jumped out of the way as the door flew up, obeying the “Caution: Objects May Shift and Fall Out” sign. Only my bicycle, the last thing I’d put in, was leaning precariously over the edge. Everything else, including my yoga backbender, was miraculously still in its place.
Next I opened the door to my “apartment.” David let out a whoop and promptly declared, “There’s no room for any more stuff.” He saw with a sweep of his eye all the journals, photo albums, pots and pans, boxes of books, my collection of Utne Readers, and all the little things I’m still attached to, taking up every inch of floor space.
“There’s no room for any more stuff,” he kept repeating.
“There’s plenty of room,” I declared with equal vigor. “Just help me unload everything and then you can walk back to your car.”
“You’ll be here all day,” he protested.
“I know what I’m doing! I’ll have everything put away in half an hour.”
I had to get it done in record time because my hands and bare feet were freezing cold. I’d forgotten how cold Ojai mornings can be in the shade.
I hoisted myself into the truck and started lowering the filing cabinet down to David, who was still regarding me with an incredulous look on his face.
“How much are you paying for this place?” he asked as he placed the filing cabinet on the ground.
“$230 a month,” I replied. “And I found a coupon online for half off the first month. I was lucky to get the last one. Every large unit here is rented! Where else in downtown Ojai can you find a clean place with high ceilings and 24-hour security cameras for that low price?”
“Right,” he agreed. “Plus the neighbors are quiet and hardly ever home.”
While we unloaded the truck, I explained to my friend that I would be living in a tiny guest room, high on a hill, with a panoramic view of the mountains and valley below, plus trails nearby where I could hike with Honey and Chico.
I told David that when I’d found out I had to move from the river bottom, I’d started house hunting. The last house I looked at, on the corner of Canada and Oak, had just been REDUCED to $2,300. And, as usual, SORRY, NO PETS! I probably won’t know till my life flashes before me whether or not I’ve made the right decision hanging on to my dogs, even if it means having to put all my stuff into storage and taking along only what I absolutely need to keep body and soul together.
It’s now been almost five years since my landlord died and I lost the wonderful country house I’d leased for 14 years. During these past few years of communal living and various shared-house situations, I’ve had many opportunities to rent quiet condos, apartments, or guest houses within walking distance of town, in nice, park-like settings. But they’ve all stipulated NO DOGS–especially not a large dog.
At one point in this looking-for-a house-that will-take dogs saga, I met a wonderful couple on the trail who were looking for a companion for their large collie-type dog. Honey and their dog got along great, and when they learned of my predicament they offered to adopt Honey. At the time, it seemed a cosmic blessing–like the Universe was stepping in to help! This couple had a spacious home, with plenty of fenced property for the dogs to roam and play in. In a moment of desperation, I agreed, realizing how much easier my life would be without a dog. (This was before I adopted Chico.) I gave Honey away with the understanding that, if things didn’t work out, they would give her back. I couldn’t risk having her end up back at the shelter.
For about two weeks, I got daily phone calls with glowing reports on how happy Honey was and how well everyone was getting along. But in the third week I got this message: “We love your dog and she loves us, but we sense she’s still waiting for you to come back and pick her up. Maybe you’d better come over for a visit so we can talk . . . she’s just not bonding with us like we’re her family.”
I’ll never forget how my heart turned over when I heard that Honey was still waiting for me! And she practically flew through the ceiling with pure joy when she saw me again.
As George Carlin says in his classic standup routine about the importance of Stuff in our lives, “What is a house but a place to store your stuff?” So that’s why my stuff is in storage and I stick with Honey. As I told my friend as we unloaded the last of the industrial-strength steel shelves that hold 3,000 pounds, “This is a great place. Not only is my stuff totally secure–they can see everything that goes on here on the big, flat surveillance screen in the office. Plus, if I die, they’ll auction off my stuff and that will be the end of it.” — in Ojai, CA.
December 11, 2013
I handed Honey a heart-shaped Newman’s Own Organic Peanut Butter Premium Dog Treat. I’ve never seen such a lack of enthusiasm in my life! Whereas Chico leaped up and swiped his out of my hand with all the Chihuahua gratitude his spirit could muster. So then, of course, Honey reluctantly nibbled her rejected biscuit, rather than let Chico nab it . . . — in Ojai, CA.
Saturday night, November 23, 2013
I was in my nice warm bed, burrowing deep under the covers, my weary head sinking into the pillow, cats sacked out on top of the comforter, dogs crashed out on the floor–every body settled in for the night and accounted for. Just as I was fading away, in the stillness of the house, I distinctly heard running water, like a faucet trickling, followed by the sound of water splashing. It lasted only a few seconds, but long enough that I wondered, “What could that be?”
I couldn’t fall asleep, and, since I knew I’d have to fly out of the house at dawn, I thought I’d get up and do my ablutions early. As I was about to step into the shower, I noticed that the cat’s water bowl that sits near the shower was all yellow and filled to the brim. And then I remembered that odd running water sound I’d heard. Chico, out of consideration for his mistress, had thoughtfully peed into the water bowl instead of on the floor, where I might have stepped in it. I had to hand it to him–his aim was perfect!
The wild wind sweeps through the river bottom . . . Honey is crazy with joy, and her canine exuberance is contagious! She runs with the wind like a whirling dog-dervish. She dances and prances and follows a thousand invisible scents. Little Chico scrambles to keep up. His whole Chihuahua being trembles with excitement! For a moment the wind is so intense that it kicks up the dry dirt and we pass through a cloud of dust. I’m aware that wind can blind us, can destroy all in its path. But here, so far, it’s a joyous, cleansing, healing wind that just blows the past right out of you and lifts you into the present . . .
October 4, 2013
When I’m tired, when I have a headache, my one-room living space looks sad and forlorn, messy and hopeless. But this morning, with yesterday’s headache fading away, buoyed by a good night’s sleep, with the sun shining in, it looks like a happy writing yoga playground. Yoga blocks, papers and books scattered on the ground . . . little naked Chico buried in a stack of yoga blankets for warmth . . . bed unmade so as not to disturb the cats . . . and the dirty kitchen floor that I found so depressing last night, doesn’t bother me at all.
It’s hopeless! I gathered up all the dirty cat and dog dishes (including human dishes from letting Honey and Chico lick the plates) and stacked them neatly in a plastic dishwashing tub. Set the tub down on the steps by the kitchen sink, thinking I’d soak the animal dishes and scrub them last. As luck would have it, a few moments later Honey exploded with a bark that would wake the dead, knocking the tub off the steps as she bolted out the door to chase a band of raccoons. Plates and bowls flew through the air and hit the tile floor with a loud clatter, breaking into a zillion pieces . . . And now all is quiet again. She sleeps peacefully, totally oblivious. Only the two stainless steel bowls are intact.
Time to get on my hands and knees and pick up the pieces.
As the sky grew dark, Honey started barking, running in circles, and practically pulling me out the door. I grabbed my knapsack, cell phone, and pen and notebook, and poured some Honeyrun elderberry wine into an empty bottle of Lori’s Lemonade. Honey was so wound up that she and Nubio rolled around in the dust, growling and nipping, pretend fighting, before charging out the gate.
We made our way down the trail into the dry river bed. Out in the open, the landscape was still gold—light enough for a good walk. But a few minutes later there was a single gunshot, or a firecracker explosion, and suddenly all the wild exuberance in Honey evaporated. She ran back to me and pressed her body against my leg like a frightened child.
It took a while for my brain to relax. After Honey calmed down, too, we continued walking the river bed. Before turning back, we sat on the warm stones. The ceremonial sips of wine heightened my senses. The dogs settled down, and together we sank into the pervasive silence that is always here at day’s end—a blessed break from the injustice and insanity in the world.
On the way back I caught sight of the bright, clear sliver of the moon and the white rim of the sky above the pitch-black mountains. Day slipped calmly into night, in a cosmic rhythm untouched by the day’s events.
This morning, after yoga, I went to see my parents. My mom was sitting alone in the front yard, wearing a pretty sun dress, a sun hat, a necklace. She was in high spirits. I know I inherited my love of nature from her. The atmosphere around the house felt extraordinarily tranquil. We sat together and watched the birds drinking from the bird bath. There were white clouds above the mountains. The temperature was just right. I heard myself say, “This feels like heaven on Earth.”
I let myself relax and sense into my mom’s world. She told me again how when she left Holland she had no idea she’d end up in a place this beautiful. I was only seven, but I recall the car ride from L.A. to Ojai. On the freeway I remember my mom shaking her head, complaining about all the cars, all the asphalt. This was 1957. It was a great relief when we arrived in rural Ojai.
After a while my mom wonders, “Where is that man that lives with me?” So I go check on my dad. He’s on the back porch, asleep on an old sofa, wrapped in a blanket. I watch to be sure he’s still breathing. The breeze ruffles his hair. I debate whether to wake him, so he knows I’m here in case he wants to go do an errand, and decide it’s better to let him sleep.
On the way back to the front yard I pick up the July issue of National Geographic to read to my mom. At first it goes well. There’s an amazing story about Daniel Kish, a man known as “Bat Man.” Blind from the age of 13 months, he explores the world—and even rides his bike—by clicking his tongue. Now, at 47, he navigates the world primarily by using echolocation, like a bat. He says, “Vision isn’t in the eyes; it’s in the mind.”
But then I turn the pages. After showing my mom a wonderful photo essay about farmers in Transylvania, I go back to look more closely at “Last Song,” a story about the slaughter of songbirds. It documents how some people eat these beautiful creatures in the same way that others eat chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. Three billion birds of some three hundred species—songbirds, waterbirds, raptors—migrate thousands of miles. They navigate by cues that the human mind can barely fathom: the sun, the stars, scents, landforms, the Earth’s magnetic field . . . And instead of standing in awe before these winged wonders guided by the cosmos, humans take advantage of their exhausted state after flying thousands of miles without food and use their merciless cunning to devise cruel traps to catch them.
Suddenly the world seems a very dark place. I want to cry. All at once I have to leave my parents’ tranquil cocoon. My work on the Earth plane is not yet done. And neither is yours.
Monday, July 8, 2013
Yesterday, on the way to teach my Sunday morning yoga class in Ventura, I saw a homeless man with three large dogs walking near the intersection of Olive and Main. He was pushing some kind of cart, filled with a big backpack and bed roll. The dogs were on leashes, walking along obediently, not pulling, and my impression as I waited for the light to change was that they were well cared-for.
A thousand thoughts ran through my mind. I know firsthand how difficult it is to find housing that allows dogs, and the day-after-day challenge of their care. I wanted to stop and find out their story. I wanted to thank him for caring for those dogs and gift him a 20-dollar bill to help with their food. I found the sight of this human/animal pack, walking, walking . . . like nomads amid modern life . . . so moving. But the light changed, and I drove off so I wouldn’t be late.
There’s more to this story, but for now I’m running off so I won’t be late . . .
My Dog is My home: The Experience of Human-Animal Homelessness.
The National Museum of Animals & Society is preparing an online and physical exhibition that draws upon the personal stories of homeless human-animal families.