Friday, December 24, 2010

Richard LeMieux: A Christmas Story of Hope

The man stood at the edge of the bridge, looking at the water far below. The traffic that passed ignored him - he was just another homeless person - invisible to most. Besides, people were celebrating Christmas, and the suffering of someone on the bridge was of little concern.

Richard LeMieux had lost everything during the past year. His business and home, his country club membership and his sailboats were gone. With his fall from financial success, his support system crumbled. He was an embarrassment to his family, and his ‘friends’ had long stopped returning his calls.

High atop that long cold bridge, Richard felt like a failure yet again. He desperately wanted to end his life, but he couldn’t even do that. For, in his van waited a small white dog named Willow, and he could not abandon her. So, Richard returned to his new life of surviving on the streets.

It has been eight years since he stood on that bridge. Years of pain, hardship, growth and miracles. “I was a 58 year old man with no place to go and no one could fix my problems for me,” said Richard. But, a few people did care, and slowly, the mending and the growth began.

“I got little bits of hope from a lot of people and I had to write about what I saw,” he said. So he wrote. He wrote about those who fed him at the Salvation Army, and the people at Kitsap Mental Health who listened and cared. He wrote about the odd assortment of friends he began making who were living on the streets. About kids living together in the woods and a mother raising her family in a storage unit.

He wrote about the dark times, and the unceasing love of his dog, who got him through so many cold and lonely nights. Without meaning to, Richard had a book - deeply personal and meaningful.

With the publication of “Breakfast At Sally’s” many have come to better understand the plight of the homeless, and three shelters have opened around the country, named after his little dog, Willow.

I was honored to meet with Richard last month, and I felt his story deeply. There was no sense of bitterness over what he had endured, and no arrogance over his accomplishments. The man I sat across from was warm, gracious and humbled by the events of the past few years.

Richard learned on a very personal level what has always bothered me about our society. That, for the most part, people are judged not by who they are, but by what they have. “I went from hanging out with rich people to hanging out with the homeless,” said Richard. “The homeless are the ones who have treated me with respect and accepted me for who I am.”

Richard no longer sleeps in his car, but he is still a regular at the Salvation Army where he has become a beacon of hope to others. “Now, I live to make a difference. For myself, I only want a place where I can be warm and dry and where I can write.” Richard is working on a children’s book, “Willow The Wonder Dog”, about how dogs give us unconditional love.

With so much to discuss, Richard and I talked for hours. As we prepared to leave our little coffee shop a man approached. Richard took his hand, looked deeply in his face and told the man how proud he was of his accomplishments and of the efforts he was making in his life. I had the sense that this was a man who was overcoming his own life challenges, and I could tell that Richard genuinely cared. He knew and practiced the truth - that each individual has the ability to be the voice of hope in another person’s life.

May the holidays not bring you bags of goodies, but peace, hope and an appreciation of each other and of each day’s miracles.

Photo: Richard LeMieux could be found writing his book, "Breakfast At Sally's", on a donated manual typewriter at local parks.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bob, The Seducing Cat

His name is Bob.  Covered with fuzzy blonde hair, his broken left ear - crunched over at an odd angle - gives him an air of jaunty personality.  But he is a cat.  Just a fluffy old stray that showed up one day and decided to stick around where the food was good.

He lives outside and for the most part, does what cats do. He hunts mice and drops their carcasses, and squirrel entrails at the front door - gifts to those who live inside.

Bob selected this house with care, for Bob is kinda kinky for a cat.  Bob has a passion for those of the canine variety.  He loves dogs.  LOVES dogs.  And, within this house reside Newfoundlands.  Lots and lots of Newfoundlands.  Somewhere close to a ton of Newfoundlands - some 17 in all.  This is heaven for a perverted cat like Bob.

Today, Bob has another 100 pounds of Newfoundland arriving. Arayo is in town. Arayo - the one with the high prey drive. The one from who's jaws I've removed 2 cats. Fortunately for the cats - removed unharmed. I saw a bumper sticker recently that was made for Arayo. It read "I LIKE CAT'S TOO! WANT TO EXCHANGE RECIPES?" That's Arayo and cats........

We get out of our car and Bob comes running. He wants to meet the new dog. To rub against her. Weave between her legs. Jump up, place his paws on Arayo's face and nuzzle her nose. Bob seems like such a sweet cat, so I swallow and wait for what will come next.

Apparently he knows what he's doing. He's a pro, ole Bob is. Perhaps seducing all the other dogs he's met before were just preparing him for this moment - charming Arayo - - the cat eating Newf!

And, charm Arayo he did. Charmed Arayo's cranky, kinda "not so thrilled about cats" owner, too. We both took to Bob. But he still leaves those body parts at the front door………….

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Murdering the Bitch in the Box

She insisted I take her to New York City. Whether to see Broadway or the Statue of Liberty, I don't know.

I tend to believe she was evil to the core. That she knew a detour into our country's largest city would put me into traffic and bridge situations that would trigger a panic attack that could prove my demise.

So, I ignored her. But she kept up her nagging. "Turn here, right HERE!" she'd demand. She was some kind of high-maintenance nag - or more likely a clone to the townswoman in the Wizard of Oz who wanted Toto killed - the nasty Almira Gulch. Almira morphed into the Wicked Witch of the West, and see how that turned out! This chick was starting to really tick me off.

But, I had the steering wheel and she was the mere navigator. I ignored her. She continued her unrelenting annoying harping, then changed tactics, taking up passive aggression. In her role as copilot, she'd direct me to the wrong address late at night. Take me down long dirt driveways which, rather than ending at the home of a loving couple with Newfoundlands, presented a series of beat up trailers which were guarded by pit bulls. I could usually hear the strains of the theme song from Deliverance coming from within the depths of the compound.

I decided to kill the bitch. I'd had just enough of her and she was becoming a major liability.

She's gone now. I'll not hear any more from her. She's been replaced with Paolo. Paolo speaks Italian with a heavy accent. I don't understand much of what he says, but that is okay. He may be trying to send me off into major cities as well, but with his sexy voice and delivery, every time he tries to direct me off my plotted course, I imagine he is saying "Bella, why don't you turn off on this road? I know of a lovely little trattoria where we can stop for a bit of pasta and a nice glass of wine. Not there? Well, this road will take us to a little cafe with the finest cappuccino in the state."

"Oh, Bella - if you must follow your own directions, that is okay," Paolo will say. "I'll stick by you, no matter where you take us. I'm Italian and for Italians, it is about the journey and not the destination - unless the destination includes an excellent plate of pasta, wine and good friends."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Visiting The Dead

We are joining the dead today. I draw Arayo near and we pass through the tall gates on which statues rest, eyes closed, mourning those who have left this world. Those we are about to encounter. Quietly, we make our way into this place where spanish moss drips from tree branches that reach across roads - like rotting skin which has lost its hold on long boney fingers.

As far as we can see, stones and statues mark the place where the dead lay. The bodies of Civil War soldiers and ashes of Holocaust victims share the grounds of the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah with politicians, authors, mothers and children. It was brought to international attention when a haunting photograph of one of its statues - a young girl holding two bowls - became the cover for the book "Midnight In The Garden of Good And Evil". The "Bird Girl" has been removed, but the photographer, Jack Leigh, died too young and today rests within these grounds.

Possibly one of the most haunted cemeteries in America, we watch for the pack of ghost dogs, said to roam this place - growling and barking their intimidation of the living. Perhaps they are guarding little Gracie Watson who died at the age of 6. Buried beneath a life-like statue, the little girl was so beloved that even into death, visitors bring her trinkets and leave them at her grave. If they are removed, the statue cries tears of blood.

But, it is not for these that we search. We have come to this place, for Arayo has a special connection to one who rests here. Officially named "Capriccio's Life's What U Make It", after a song written by lyricist and composer Johnny Mercer, we've come to visit the grave of the man responsible for her name.

Beneath a simple flat stone, Johnny Mercer rests, though a bench has been placed across from his grave. Inscribed with the names of some of his more famous songs, an etching of his profile adorns the top. A couple weeks ago Johnny would have celebrated his 101st birthday and someone marked the occasion by placing a red rose on his grave and stringing a tacky birthday banner on the bushes behind.

Is Johnny Mercer hanging around, waiting for visits from Newfoundlands who's names contain his song titles? Perhaps. It is reported that someone visiting his grave once began softly singing some of Mercer's songs when a mist formed in a stream of sunlight near the grave. The mist disappeared as quickly as it came but those who witnessed it suspect he may drop around to visit from time to time. Or maybe its just some of "That Old Black Magic".

Monday, November 29, 2010

Newfies Terrorise Children at Hershey!

They are so scary that tough police officers in Des Moines Washington hunt them down and shoot them with assault rifles. Newfies. The huge, black slime-producing creatures that so many of us are unfortunate enough to love. We own them for the macho scare factor, of course. Everyone KNOWS that if a Newf is around you should begin to shake and back up in terror. Lock the doors! Look for your guns!

Oh, wait - here comes a toddler. And another one. And here, a little old lady is hobbling over. They are all smiling from ear to ear, these unfortunate souls. They just don't understand how at risk they are - but they are coming over anyway. Right to the, not one, but TWO enormous black vicious Newfies at the end of our leashes.

We've made a trip to Hershey Pennsylvania. Had to do it. Someone says we are within an hour of a place known for chocolate and I'm all over that journey. So, we hopped in the car and drove to the town where lamps in the shape of kisses light the streets at night. Where you can stay in a spa and enjoy a Whipped Cocoa Bath, a Chocolate Sugar Scrub, a Cocoa Massage or a Chocolate Fondue Wrap. Or you can visit Hershey park and ride roller coasters designed to scare the chocolate out of you, enjoy musical productions and dance with Hershey kiss characters.

Today, the theme park is closed and the chocolate spa is out of my budget, so we take the little ride that explains the production of their chocolate, listen to some cows singing songs about milk and stroll around the gigantic store which sells everything that Hershey's makes.

Then, off to terrorize children. They are crawling all over this place. And today, they are mostily pre-school age so they'll really be afraid of our big black babies!

Arayo and her new friend, Duke, are not even out of the car when people begin to approach. Once in front of the entrance, we are never left alone and every 2 year old around is drawn to the Newfs. The only screams to be heard come from one little guy who is so excited about seeing the dogs that he periodically lets out a screech of delight after gently petting one, then dashing back off again - so proud of himself for having risked his life and lived to tell about it!

Though it has been three weeks ago that poor Rosie the Newfoundland was murdered by police in Des Moines, the horror is still with everyone who has ever loved a Newf and who knows the gentleness which they possess. The sweet nature that draws toddlers and grandmothers in for hugs.

Too bad hardened men and women are allowed to wear badges and carry guns. They could take a lesson from the toddlers in the world.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Not-So-Good House Guest

She ran into the home, flew down the hall, past the humans waiting to meet her. Making a quick right turn, she ran to the window and came to a stop - frozen in front of a small green bird who moments before was happily enjoying a stress-free life, swinging on its perch. Arayo didn't move a muscle as she watched the small creature who's only protection from becoming a Newfy hors d'oeuvre were the tiny wires surrounding it.

Arayo has a prey drive. If there is a list of creatures who are a serious threat to small furry and feathered things, Arayo's photo would be near the top.

Having offered to watch Aryao while I returned to the Seattle area to do some business, the Hudson family now had a new challenge on their hands. How to keep a killer newfy away from their two parakeets and three extremely tasty looking kitties. As Arayo lunged for the bird, family members grabbed the cage and secured it upstairs behind closed doors in a bedroom. For the next few days, any time Arayo went "missing", she could be located waiting in front of that door, willing it to open. When it finally did, we discovered Arayo, cage on floor, nose in cage, bird probably on the way to heart failure. A call to a neighbor sent the flying family pets to live elsewhere during my little hoodlum's visit.

Although, like all of us, I suppose, Arayo has her faults, something about her is just so magical. She stole my heart immediately and managed to worm her way into Donna's as well. She calls Arayo "the happiest dog I've ever met," and describes how "she'd wait until we started to stir before she'd leap on the bed, roll over and hog my pillow, legs in the air and that tail wagging, wanting her belly rubs."

I knew I'd left Arayo in a safe and happy place while I was gone, but was having slight twinges of concern as Donna's daily e-mails of how Arayo was doing showed more and more attachment to and appreciation for her antics. I half expected to arrive in Hartford and find myself at the airport with no ride home and the Hudson's phone numbers suddenly disconnected!

As has been the norm on this unusual road trip, we've found Newfoundland owners to be just amazing - their warmth and hospitality far beyond anything we'd have dreamed possible.

Thank you one and all.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Please, Don't Let This Happen Again

Again, I post on the senseless murder of the Newfoundland dog, Rosie, in Des Moines, WA. This past Sunday, I joined a group of about 100 people who came to express sorrow and outrage at this awful event. We represented thousands of others from around the planet who were unable to be there in person, but who participated in spirit by lighting candles and continue to post online of the anger and tears that this atrocity has produced. People drove in from Oregon and Canada to attend the event, and local media were in attendance, including crews from two of the three major television stations.

It was felt that the best way to express our outrage was to do it in the gentle fashion of our dogs, with quiet dignity and respect - though most of us wanted to find the murdering police officers and show them the same compassion that they exhibited in hunting down, traumatizing and finally murdering this poor scared dog.

In studying this case it is evident this event is not isolated. That across the country, people are losing their beloved family pets to the hands of police officers who are sworn to serve and protect. How barging into a secured, fenced yard and shooting an animal that has been cowering far from you in blackberry bushes - - a dog who has been there for 20 minutes or so and has not moved a muscle it is so traumatized because of what you have done to it previously - is unconscionable.

That one of the officers involved could laugh, wipe his hands in a symbol of "job well done" and tell the owner of the home where this event took place that "this was the biggest one we've ever gotten!" shows a callousness and disrespect for life - both human and animal - that is truly frightening. That this individual continues to hold a job as a police officer and that he is allowed to carry a gun should strike fear into each and every American.

The Newfoundland Clubs of America, and of Seattle, the Humane Society and at least one, hopefully more, animal rights groups are watching this situation and continuing to apply pressure to the city of Des Moines. An on-line petition has been established with a goal of receiving over 4,000 signatures by this Thursday when they will be printed and hand delivered to the Des Moines city council. Everyone is encouraged to add their name to this document and to send e-mails to the city council, mayor and police of Des Moines demanding that the officers involved in this event be held responsible for this murder.

The Des Moines mayor attended Sunday's vigil and said that they have received over 1,000 e-mails from all over the world, so they know that this a case that has created a great deal of passion and upset. We need to keep the pressure on and I beg people to become involved. If this is allowed to pass without the officers receiving very severe repercussions, it opens the door for similar events to take place - and the next dog who is let out of its fence by a careless delivery person, or children who are intrigued by a big dog and want to play with it - could be yours.

As we drove home from Sunday's vigil, we spotted a dog who was dashing through 4 lanes of freeway traffic, dodging cars blowing down the road at 70 miles per hour. The dog was dragging his leash behind him. We will never know how this dog broke away from its owner and ended up in the freeway. We pulled our car over and tried to stop traffic and catch the dog, but it turned and ran away from us and managed to escape to an area we could not reach and which was hopefully a bit safer for it.

It was with a heavy heart that we drove off, leaving the dog to his own fate. We hope it ran back into the arms of his loving family, but there was absolutely no suggestion of calling 911 to send "professional" help to capture and make the dog safe. It seemed more humane to allow the dog to take its chances with freeway traffic than to subject it to the possibility of a police response and it being made a target for another Sunday shooting.

Please, take a moment and sign this petition today -

Write the city officials, including the major at ………

Help us gain attention of national media of this event as this is a national problem, not a single isolated incident. How about 60 Minutes?

This is a blog post written by Brian Hodges, a lawyer and Newfoundland lover. He eloquently addresses the very dark side of this concern. This is a must read!

If you are associated with any organization, an all breed dog club, a Veterinarian association, animal groomers group - ANYTHING - please educate yourself about this horrible event and ask your organization to take an official stand. We can not condone this kind of action taking place in our country.

Vigil for a Gentle Giant

Gray skies added gentle rain to the tears that fell from the members of the small procession. Pulling carts filled with flowers, Newfoundland and Saint Bernard dogs were led down the street in quiet observation of the murder that had only a week ago stunned the community.

Cars honked or pulled over in respect as the procession made its way to the simple home who's gates, today, were open. One by one, the quiet group filed into the large front yard and came to rest in line. Dogs, carts, flowers and stunned, saddened people…..

It was a week ago that police hunted down a gentle 115 pound Newfoundland Dog named Rosie. Those studying the events of the case, who read the police report and heard from the owner of the yard into which the dog fled, knew that this was nothing short of murder. People drove in from Canada, Oregon and Washington to pay their respects and to say to the city and the world that this should not be an event that is tolerated in this country.

One by one, the dogs pulled their carts to a fence where a small memorial of flowers had already begun. Roses, cards, balloons and posters were laid on this fence - which only a week ago had been Rosie's last hope for safety from her pursuers. The flowers, sent from all over the world, framed the deep back yard and the blackberry bushes where Rosie hid during her final minutes of terror.

Rosie's owners read a short statement, then walked along the group of dogs, stopping to kiss each large, gentle, canine head and hug those who had come to support them. As a final goodbye, they parted the gates to the back yard and walked to the place, far in the back which was marked with yellow roses. The place where Rosie tried to hide from the marksmen who took her life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Unnecessary Murder of a Newfoundland Dog

I was saddened this morning to learn of the murder of a Newfoundland Dog in Des Moines Washington. The dog apparently got out of the family's yard and wandered into traffic. Animal control was called, but it was the police who responded. They tasered the dog. It ran into someone's back yard and was followed by the police who shot it 4 times, killing it.

All reports, except for those of the officer who shot the dog, was that the dog was frightened, and not acting aggressively towards anyone.

I am sickened by this event. Do Newfoundlands "go bad" and become aggressive? Sure, but it is rare. These dogs are known as "The Gentle Giants" because they earned that title. Those of us who have Newfs know that their use as protectors is mostly in the minds of others who might see their size and decide not to chance an encounter. The biggest threat they offer of harming an intruder is that the intruder might trip over them.

While their energy levels are not as high as other dogs, they make great search and rescue dogs because of their love and devotion to the human race and throughout Italy, they are adored because they are known for their use as lifesavers on the beaches.

And, THIS is the dog that was murdered in Des Moines this weekend! A gentle Newfoundland

Needless to say, the Newfoundland world is up in arms about this tragic event. I encourage everyone to write the Des Moines Mayor and council and to help us keep pressure on the story by sending letters to the Seattle area media.

This could have happened to any of us. As hard as we try to keep our pets safe, there are times that they get loose. Police officers who look at killing people's pets as a sport should not be allowed to serve in that capacity and should not be allowed to own a gun.

Tonight, Arayo is with friends in Connecticut and I'm home in the Seattle area doing some business. I miss her anyway, but tonight - more so because of this sad story of Rosie.

Photo: Arayo rests on the beach at Acadia National Park in Maine

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Break in the Ride

Rain is falling in New England. We've spent several days with friends outside Hartford CT and drives in the country in search of the final fall colors have yielded many shades of brown. Trees are mostly skeletal, the ground around them littered with their leaves.

I fly home today - back to Seattle to do a few photo shoots. I feel I'm already there. The gray skies and rain here are too similar to home so that I feel I'm already there.

We are staying with a lovely family, and Miz Arayo has been stalking their two birds. The minute she stepped in the door, she spotted the blue and green feathered duo, ran to one of the cages and froze with her nose to the bars. The birds were immediately sequestered in one of the bedrooms and any time Arayo has been missing, she has been found laying in front of their room. This morning she broke through the bird's safety barrier and knocked one cage to the ground, dead set on a little blue parakeet breakfast. The birds are now staying with neighbors while Arayo stays with the family in my absence - their 3 teenagers, two Newfoundlands and 3 cats - who would also make a nice snack if she could just get hold of one.

Please send good thoughts this way. That Arayo behaves, doesn't catch a kitty, and doesn't succeed in one of her feisty attempts of dashing off the end of her leash. I will return in about 10 days and we head towards warmer parts of the country.

Photos: Prospect Harbor, Maine. Schoodic Penninsula of Acadia National Park

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Boo! Or Reflections on the Season

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Birthdays, July 4, Memorial days - Bah Humbug, one and all. But Halloween! Now that is a holiday I can sink my teeth into. I think it is the fact that people get creative for Halloween. Children become super heros or princesses for the day. Adults turn into vacuum cleaners, hot dogs, lamps or the villainous, underworld figure - Dick Cheney.

It was a coincidence but I got my first Newfoundland on Halloween. That would have been 28 years ago. I was living in Kansas at the time and had, years before, decided that I was going to have a Newfoundland. I owned a small house next to a doctor's office, and one day the local police came to my office to ask if I'd heard anything during the night. Seems doctor's offices are often the target of people breaking in looking for drugs and someone had broken in the night before.

That did it! Time for a "guard" dog. I went down to the local 7-11, bought a newspaper and saw an ad for Newfy puppies. One call and I had arranged to meet this family who lived in Western Kansas and were driving 6 pups to the eastern side of the state to sell them that weekend.

My father was a private pilot so he rented a small plane and flew me to a little Kansas town with a grass runway. We landed at the appointed time, and shortly thereafter, a station wagon pulled up and out poured 2 adults, 5 kids and 6 16 week old Newf puppies! We visited a bit, I handed them a check for $150, grabbed the closest puppy to me at the moment, and off we went.

The nightmare really started for that poor puppy then. Talk about Halloween! She was pulled away from the only life she had ever known, handed over to strangers, dumped into a cardboard box, and propelled into the sky. If that wasn't bad enough, the crazy lady who had just adopted her had her sit on her front porch with her that night and, rather than snuggling with fuzzy liter-mates, poor Tara was forced to gaze on monsters and ghosts, witches and mummies. She must have thought she'd been sent straight to hell! Thank goodness the ASPCA wasn't around that night! In spite of a somewhat frightening beginning, Tara and I shared 12 more Halloweens together.

Today, Arayo and I spent the day looking for goblins and New England Halloween trappings. People in this part of the world aren't too into decorating for the season, but the bite in the air is becoming more pronounced and the trees are becoming more skeletal each day. I suppose that is scary enough.

Photos: And, to celebrate the season, fall colors over a cemetery. (I expect goblins to be dancing under the tree tonight!) Arayo poses as a wicked witch - scary huh?

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Walls Do Speak

I sometimes wonder what my homes have seen. During college, I lived in the upstairs apartment of a house that had been remodeled because the previous renter had died in a fire in what was to become my bedroom.

Another home was haunted. Lights that I'd never turned on would flip on in the middle of the night by themselves. Doors would open, things would move around. The woman I bought the home from believed me when I told her the stories. The house had been built for her mother (called Mongey by her grandchildren) who was a real character. She'd run off and joined the circus when she was younger and even as an old lady enjoyed things like palm reading.

I knew it was Mongey who was haunting the house. In fact, I had been renting the house but the horrid wallpaper with enormous floral patterns was making me nuts, so, in order to strip off the paper, I had to buy the home. I figured that Mongey was hanging around to see what I was doing and once the remodel was complete, she moved on. I kept the home as a rental for 20 years and no one complained of Mongey after the remodeling ended.

Chris Robb bought her 150 year old Isleboro Maine home some 30 years ago when she first visited the island. At the time she lived in the midwest, but fell for this darling farmhouse and had to have it. During the years, she has slowly made improvements - putting in a real kitchen and bathrooms, and removing linoleum which had been glued to the old parquet floors (their existence was a total surprise, though they were so ruined by the glue that they weren't restorable).

She saved for the day she could replace old wiring and plumbing. As often happens when walls are removed, "things" presented themselves that had been buried for years. For Chris, the house gifted her a story of its past in the form of a bundle of letters.

Still in their original envelopes and dated 1903 - 1911, the letters were written by a teenage girl to her boyfriend who was working at sea. They told of her life on the island, of working in a local laundry, of walking in winds so high that her skirts flew over her head. They hinted at possible scandalous events.

Did the boy hide the letters for safe keeping so they would not be found by his parents? Were they forgotten, or did they slip to a place that left them unretrievable? Some research revealed that the couple did eventually marry and the boy's grave located.

Chris isn't finished with this story, yet. She is playing with the idea of transcribing and publishing the letters.

If your walls could speak, what would they reveal?

Photos: Chris Robb's home on Isleboro Maine presented her stories from the grave. Her Newfoundland, 9 Volt, guards his front door.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Watching for John Travolta

He's here somewhere, I'm just sure he is! John Travolta has a home on this tiny island and Arayo wants to see him. I could care less, but she's interested. Arayo has only seen one other movie star and that is my "home" island's own Russell Johnson. Better known as "The Professor" from the old sitcom Gilligan's Island, Russell may have been my first crush. He was handsome, intelligent, level-headed, and basically kept the small group of castaways alive during their stay on their small and usually deserted island. What's not for a 9 year old to love?

Well, Russell is now 85 and still clicking - though, at a much slower pace than he was 50 years ago. His step is slower, his back a bit bent. Frankly, he doesn't look like he feels too well, and most people who see him wouldn't realize it is him, but if you look closely you can tell.

So, while I've explained to Arayo the significance of the cute little old man in the Post Office or Grocery Store, she isn't really impressed. But, she would like to see John Travolta - though I'm not sure why. He's never appealed much to me. You wouldn't find him keeping a small group alive on a deserted island, but, when I was in Italy in the late 70's people would ask where I was from and when I'd respond "America", the Italians would smile broadly and respond "America is Good! John Travolta!"

Islands have their own quirks. Especially small islands with few full-time inhabitants. I ran up against the noted coldness to outsiders when purchasing groceries at the tiny store up the street. Three times I attempted to smile and say a pleasant "Hello, Have a Nice Day" to the stern woman at the cash register, but she was not going to be suckered into a response. Though, locals who entered the store received a "Hi Betty. How are you today?"

When driving, however, the situation is the opposite. Drivers in 9 out of 10 cars you pass will give "the wave". I don't notice a lot of smiles from the drivers, but as soon as they see you coming, the hand flips off the steering wheel into a definite wave. When I asked my host, Chris, about this, she said it was a big thing here. At one time, they even put a sign up as you drove off the ferry stating that they wave on Isleboro, but locals complained that visitors might think they HAD to wave and they didn't want that, so the sign was removed.

The island is an interesting place. Beautiful but not for everyone. There are no movie theaters, no dance halls, no public swimming pool and from fall to the beginning of summer, there are no restaurants. Just two teeny tiny grocery stores, a play ground and ball field for the kids, and a small library. Leaving the island for a night on the town isn't encouraged as the 27 - 28 car ferry makes its last sailing at 5 pm.

But where does John Travolta live? Big secret! Chris said she may have stumbled onto his property once. She was on a road which was obviously not taking her where she wanted to go, and as she drove along the lane looking for a place wide enough to turn around she was met by a guard who "suggested" she was in the wrong place and the appropriate action on her part was to head back the way she had come. She doesn't know for sure if that was the Travolta property or one belonging to someone else, but she suspected she'd stumbled onto his land.

So, while Arayo would love to see John Travolta, we aren't taking any unmarked side roads.

Photos: Fall a beautiful time to visit Isleboro Maine!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Fall Drive

The road stretches before us as we head towards Maine. Leaves, in dull shades of orange and gold, slowly release their grasp on branches and float softly to the ground. The colors are a slight disappointment, as the rains, the cold and wind have combined to tone the traditionally vivid Vermont countryside to an understated version of the season.

Into upper New Hampshire and across southern Maine, nature has stepped forward with more self assurance. The trees wear their colors in a fresh, bold pallet.

Arayo and I drive the winding side roads, accompanied by the music of Cheryl Wheeler, an absolutely amazing artist I've been introduced to. Her ballads of love, loss, Fall in New England, and funny tunes bemoaning cell phones and air travel are the perfect backdrop for our journey and I'm so thankful to have found her!

We head to the coast, and eventually to a small island that lays 20 minutes to the east of the mainland. Islesboro, with areas named Pripet and Dark Harbor, was originally called Pitaubegwimenahanuk by the Penobscot Indians. Some name changes are definitely an improvement.

Following the Civil War, the island was discovered by the wealthy who were looking for a cooler place to spend their summers and giant homes were built along the shoreline.

These "Single Family Summer Cottages" are in use a couple months of the year and have been owned by the likes of J.P. Morgan, Kirstie Alley and John Travolta.

Arayo and I plan to spend some time here watching for the rich and famous.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Watched in the Night

They peer down on me. As the dim light of the exit sign, glowing in the darkened building like a red-eyed cyclops, marks my quiet movements, they watch. The crimson light reflected by hundreds of eyeglasses through which the walls glower.

Tonight finds us sleeping on the floor of the local optometrist's office and every direction I turn, the walls scrutinize, study and ogle.

Arayo has become far too attractive to my host's 180 pound male St. Bernard. An "intact" girl, we deal with this once every six months or so. As we are not typically around that many other dogs, her seasonal cycle doesn't alter our lifestyle - or those we encounter - but my host's home has become a bit too crowded for a Newfoundland who has suddenly become a brat and a flirt, and a pushy Saint who knows his size and strength.

So, we spend our days, visiting, traveling, enjoying the New England colors, and at night we settle down in this unusual setting.

But, it is another welcome departure from the norm. We take advantage of this opportunity and spend a while, trying on the latest styles. Is the round Harry Potter look for me, or the heavy black frame, suited for a librarian? The men's department has wire aviator glasses, a pair for the Microsoft geek and a small wire set reminding me of Ben Franklin. I settle on an oval pair in violet and orange. They are happy and different.

I contemplate my response, should the local police decide to pay a visit. With guns drawn, would they beat down the door and demand Arayo and I give ourselves up? "Put down those glasses and step outside!" they might demand. I decide that tonight would be a better night to sleep in proper pajamas rather than just my favorite old frayed t-shirt.

In case the glare of the faceless glasses are joined by the scowls of the local law.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tears on Dog Mountain

A teardrop slides down his face. A dignified man wearing a suit and tie, he holds a leash with a small brown and white mutt at the end. And he cries. On this beautiful hillside in Vermont, surrounded by fall colors, a small chapel and six other dogs of various sizes and breeds, the beauty and the serenity can't stop the tears.

The man wasn't created to depict such sadness. He is a statue, crafted and placed in this setting to highlight the bond we have with our four-legged friends. But, today, at the Chapel on Dog Mountain, the heavens have a different message for us. Today, as gentle rain falls, the man weeps. Most people passing by are unaware of the pain of this man, but for those who take the time and look deeper, we are reminded of the complexities and frailties that connect so many of us.

For, it was only nine months ago that the creator of Dog Mountain, the man who crafted the Chapel and the artwork, took his life.

Stephen Huneck's life was full of promise, of talent, of hardship and compassion. A solitary man for much of his life, he knew poverty and overcame unbelievable challenges. Following a fall that resulted in a coma and a subsequent condition in which he had to relearn everything from walking to writing, Stephen vowed to build a memorial where people could celebrate their connection with their dogs. Today, visitors from around the world visit the tiny building. They sit on pews which are supported by beautifully carved canine ushers. Light filters through stained glass windows, each depicting a dog and proclaiming the lessons they teach us; trust, friendship, love, joy, play, loyalty. And, covering the walls, are thousands of notes and photos of animals who have touched the lives of those who have visited.

But, Stephen didn't stop there. On his property he built a playground where people can enhance the bond with their current pets. There are trails for walking, ponds for swimming, an agility course to play on. Twice a year he, his wife and staff held Dog Parties, attended by hundreds of dogs and their owners.

With several books and a thriving business selling sculptures, wood cuts, furniture, shirts and cards, most featuring dogs, Stephen appeared to have overcome the challenges life had sent his way. But, Stephen also shouldered responsibility. He had staff and families depending on him. With the downturn in the economy, he was forced to look seriously at cutting staff in order to pay his own bills.

On January 7, the responsibilities became too difficult and he put a gun to his head.

Today, as the man in front of the chapel cries, visitors stop at a new remembrance wall and view notes and photos of Stephen Huneck. And ponder not only the bond we have with our animals, but the ever fragile connection we have with this life and with others who share this planet.

One of Stephen's woodcut prints depicts a labrador retriever. It is swimming in rough waters and tows a boat named "Friendship" in which three other labs ride. Stephen apparently felt his swim was too long, the waves and the currents too high. Somehow, the world missed the signs that this man of talent and compassion was in need of a lifeline.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

The trim white-haired woman faces the 500 pound wild animal. With paws that could filet her with ease and jaws that could render her faceless, the woman gently puts half a peppermint between her teeth and bends towards the enormous creature. With equal tenderness, the black bear brings his face to hers and accepts the treat. "Now, go into your den," she demands, and the bear turns and goes inside his house.

Found 23 years ago roaming the roads, the young bear was brought to Ron and Gail Rogerson who own Oaklawn Farm Zoo in Aylesford Nova Scotia. "People were trying to run him down on their ATV's and had killed his sibling. It was obvious he wasn't going to survive on his own in the wild so we took him in," Gail said.

Another smaller bear was found after he was hit on the road. He was so weak that a woman was able to pick him up and carry him. He, too, was brought to the Rogerson's. It was touch and go with that one for quite a while, but he made it. But rather than welcome company, Smokey, the original bear, didn't appreciate the addition of another bear in his space. "He stayed at far end of pen and wouldn't come near him for days."

Once a bear is used to people it can't be released into the wild. It becomes trusting of humans and is an easy mark for bear hunters.

I visit with Gail as she leans over to hug one of their sleek massive jaguars when suddenly she is pounced on from the rear by the other cat. Huge paws wrap around her shoulders and the cat buries its big head in her neck. Gail staggers forward and catches herself on the fence, then laughs and shrugs off the feline. "You prankster," she scolds. "You got my clean shirt all dirty!"

"Always hold your ground with a cat," Gail explains. "I've had times when one panther will jump up to hug me from the front, another from the rear and I'm a panther sandwich, but if I don't fall to the ground, I'm okay." Instinct kicks in when someone goes to the ground and the cats will come in for the pounce.

"Face a wild cat, don't show fear and slowly move away from it. A scared cat is the most dangerous." She points to a big orange and white tiger and explains that of the 16 cats that they have, he is the most dangerous. Gail goes into its pen to clean and feed him but never trusts him. "You sense he is nervous. You can see it in his eyes."

The Rogersons have always had exotic animals. Fancy birds, goats and such. "We were letting school groups come out to see the animals," says Ron. "1,800 kids would tour through here, then the kids would come back out and bring their parents. We had to either stop allowing groups to come or open a zoo and start charging, so they applied for a license and opened as a licensed zoo in 1984.." They began phasing out the livestock and brought in tigers, monkeys and such.

Though the couple now has a staff of 20 to help with the zoo, feeding of the more dangerous animals still falls on Ron and Gail, who have established a trust of the animals they care for. Gail feeds and cleans up after the bears and cats while Ron handles the primates. "When Ron goes in to feed the gibbons, he wears a hat. I wear a helmet," Gail explains. Gibbons mate for life and are very jealous. Once, Gail went into the gibbon pen and approached the male. The female came up and with her strong arm slapped Gail across the face.

"We don't have gorillas, orangutans and chimps," says Ron. "Chimps are awful. They share a common ancestor with humans and are jerks. By the time a chimp is 12 it is like a psychotic person, plus you need special fencing and houses for them because they can get out of anything. You can't trust them."

Owning and running a zoo was never a plan for the Rogersons but with their knowledge of wild animals they have found their calling rehabilitating wounded animals who come to them and releasing them back to the wild when possible. Others remain with them and are cared for while introducing and teaching children of the area those creatures we share the planet with.

Photos: The zoo's most dangerous cat sits atop a platform and surveys his domain. Gail Rogerson interacts with one of the spotted leopards at the Oaklawn Farm Zoo in Aylesford Nova Scotia.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Trip On Medical Hold

After housesitting for a friend and her Newfoundland Dog near Boston last week, we were ready to move on when Arayo lost the ability to stand, sit, twirl..... Walking was painful. Getting her down a long steep flight of stairs was a challenge. Her tail didn't have the same enthusiasm it typically has.

She saw a vet on Monday who seemed to have a need for a new swimming pool or convertible for his kids and offered up several thousand dollars worth of tests he could do. I suggested we start with the most likely and work our way down. Maybe fund a day at the spa for his wife......

Arayo was tested for Lymes and other tick diseases and that proved false. Damn! She was given an injection for pain and inflammation, as his next thought was arthritis of some sort. While there, they also treated her for a major hotspot that was on her back.

While the vet said there was no way that the hotspot and mobility issues were connected, others differ with him, given the size and placement of this injury. Right now she is resting peacefully and, when movement is called for, running up and down the stairs like her old self.

We move on to visit friends in New Hampshire, then to Vermont, and hope that we have seen the last of Arayo's pain. Please send good healing thoughts our way when you have a chance.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Arayo Brings A Special Smile in Newfoundland

I pulled up beside it and drew Arayo from her place in the back of the car so she could stretch her legs while I pumped gas. A big man was standing by the door, a kind of sentry, keeping guard over the one inside.

I struggled to get the fuel pump to properly accept the pass code for my debit card, and a woman popped out of the station and began the exclamations and adoration I was so used to hearing from the Newfoundland people. "Oh, a Newfoundland Dog! Isn't he beautiful? He or she? Oh, she is so beautiful! You don't see many of these dogs around here!"

As she made over Arayo, I noticed she was directing her comments more towards the secured vehicle next to me. "Look! Let her see! Isn't it a beautiful Newfoundland Dog? Look over here!"

I peered into the back of the vehicle. The ambulance I thought was empty and just stopping for fuel was transporting a lovely young woman with long brown hair. From her stretcher against the far wall of the rolling mini hospital, she strained her head to turn around and look out the side door at Arayo and a smile stretched across her face, lighting the darkness of the foreboding facility.

Unable to enter the ambulance, I held Arayo where she could see her until they were ready to continue their journey. The smile never left her face.

After they departed, I finished pumping my gas and headed towards the highway again. Just as I was ready to pull into traffic, a siren screamed. We waited for the ambulance that rushed past us, headed back towards the city.

I'll never know if this was the same or a different ambulance, but we hope it wasn't our new friend. That she is home and well tonight and that more smiles await her than those of a chance encounter with a visiting Newfoundland dog at a gas station.

Photo: Arayo relaxes in the grass at my favorite spot in Newfoundland, near Elliston Newfoundland.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Can't Seem to Get Newfoundland Outta My Mind

While I was able to leave the island of Newfoundland just before Hurricane Igor played havoc with much in the Province, I'm continuing with this and one other post about the island before moving on geographically with my blog. As you can see, my heart was captured by this beautiful section of the world.

Perhaps it is because I was raised in a small town that I am drawn to and most appreciate the slower pace of a rural community. In all my travels, I've found myself pulled towards the rural settings. More than cities, I think you can get an idea of what a place is like by stepping off the main roads and walking the streets of a small town.

Newfoundland communities are special. Many were built because their placement offered a cove - a protection for the fishing boats that supported the community's members. But, many of these communities are changing. With a decline in the fishing industry, the working numbers of the towns are dwindling as people leave for more populated areas to make a living. Some communities are seeing an influx in foreigners who have fallen in love with the beauty of the island, buy a home and often, live there only a few months of the year.

Some of the very isolated communities have been relocated. One such community, Grand Bruit (which means Great Noise, named for the sound of the waterfall in the center of the town), was moved this past year. Located on the southwest shore of Newfoundland, Grand Bruit is accessible only by boat and had a population of 30 people. With much sadness, the community members voted to take a buy-out from the government of $80,000 - $100,000 per family to move. For $1 a year, they can rent their home back from the government and return for visits, but they will have to get themselves there and there will be no services.

SO - other than the beauty of Newfoundland, and the lovely people. Why do I love Newfoundland?

First, you gotta love a place with the guts to be the only place, possibly in the world, to have its own time-zone. When it is Noon in Nova Scotia - Newfoundland is 12:30! Now THAT is a place after my own heart!

Then there are the names. Only peole with a sense of humor and a lot of self confidence would have towns or places with names like Cow Head, Farewell, Joe Bat's Arm or Tickle Cove.

Not being a romantic, I wasn't drawn to visit Heart's Desire, which is just up the road from Heart's Delight, but I went out of my way to stay at Dildo Provincial Park and was crushed when Blow Me Down closed before I could get there.

Some places speak to the ruggedness of the island: Shambles Cove, Savage Cove, Wreck House, and Deadman's Bay. Names like those would drive a PR man nuts! And, then, why compromise when you don't have to? There are two islands named Bell Island. One off the west coast, one near the east. I have no idea how they get the mail to the right place. Maybe postal codes were designed just for them.

My favorites? Well, Witless Bay is up there, as is Too Good Arm. Hares Ears Point is pretty cute, but if I could choose an address to get my mail sent to - I think I'd opt for a town with the name of Jerry's Nose. Now, how great is that!?

Photo: The small town of Trouty has been cut off from the rest of Newfoundland after Hurricane Igor destroyed roads and flooded homes last week. This photo, taken a week before, shows the peaceful community that it was.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sleeping in a Public John

I awoke to find myself curled up on the floor, lights shining in my eyes, the underside of a porcelain throne as my bedmate. I was sleeping in a public toilet. A crapper. A john.

It ran through my head that I could do something with this experience if I happened to be a country western song writer. But, where is the romance? I hadn't been sitting in a bar, drinking off the loss of some man who'd done me wrong. I hadn't even been in a bar drinking what is supposed to be a horrible Newfoundland Rum called Screech, kissing a very old cod. At least with that I'd have been dubbed an honorary Newfoundlander.

Do they write songs about 55 year old women who head off with a Newfoundland Dog in a Subaru to photograph and write? Better an old musician with a pick-up truck, a beat up guitar and a hound dog, I suspect. But then, you need to be in jail, not a campground.

So, has the the journey hit an all-time low when waking to the sight of a crapper in a public john?

Our life on the road was taking on a rhythm. Drive, photograph, camp, get wet, spend a day drying out, then start over again. You can increase the tent flooding experience by tossing in a 100 pound dog that likes to sleep on her back, leaning against the backside of the tent. Count on a pool of at least 4" of water in her corner following a few hours of that. Even without her help, I was waking up many mornings to a wet pillow and sleeping bag.

Arayo and I had spent the day driving my favorite piece of Newfoundland. A stretch of road along the southwest shore. The clouds were building and forecasters were predicting 3 or more days of rain. I looked at the forecast for Nova Scotia and decided that God was giving me a nudge to help me leave the island.

I called to book a ferry which a few hours ago had plenty of space available. Apparently God was speaking to a few others as well, and they were faster to pick up on the message. The ferry was booked. I'd have to do one more night in rainy Newfoundland.

By this time rain was beating down on the rock. I spoke with the guys at the Provincial Park and mentioned that half my campsite was already under water. " Perhaps I should move?" "We were just talking about you and thought it was time to move you," the ranger said, explaining that the dry creek behind my tent tended to fill quickly and the road in front of it could accumulate 6" or so of rain. He offered to throw on some rain gear and come help. I tossed on two extremely heavy jackets. Within 10 minutes we'd moved the tent but I was soaked to the bone.

"We may get 60mm of rain tonight," Ranger said. "Oh God….." I responded. (That's roughly 2 1/5 inches for we Americans. A lot of water but sounds even worse in millimeters.)

I was pondering to myself if I could get away with sneaking into the ladies bathroom and just hanging out there for the night. Apparently brilliant minds - or those in survival mode - tend to think alike.

"Why don't you do this. We've got a handicapped toilet. No one staying here is going to need it, so you take your sleeping bag in there, lock the door and no one will bother you." BLESS his heart! Fact is, other than one other couple in an rv, I was the only person in the campsite, period. Certainly the only one crazy enough to sleep in a tent in something like this.

So, while the lights continued to shine in our eyes, a rattling fan hummed and the rain beat down outside. Arayo and I were snug and dry. Though, in a slightly unorthodox sleeping locale at least it would make for a good story to tell.

Photos: After the rain, Arayo is forced to endure one more Newfoundland photo shoot at Cape Ray. And, summer cottages in Newfoundland are often simple but functional and dry. Someone built theirs out of an old bus and built a viewing deck off the back side!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Everyone Said You MUST Take This Drive......

You HAVE to drive the Irish Coast. It is beautiful. See the Irish Coast.

To drive the loop known as the Irish Coast would take 3 hours, maybe a bit more. So they said. So, with about 3 1/2 hours until darkness, Arayo and I headed towards the coastal drive, named for the people who initially settled it.

A series of small islands scattered just off shore at the beginning of the drive caused me to turn the car around and return for a few photos, then we quickly continued our southern journey. I noticed that towns were becoming further and further apart. I glanced a concerned eye at my gas gauge, another at my map. The landscape was beginning to remind me more of Western Kansas with every mile we drove. Flat. Nearly empty.

The sun was getting lower in the sky and I'd not yet reached what appeared to be the halfway point. The dwellings I passed resembled double outhouses more than homes. No cars were parked near them.

Ahead, another construction zone? I passed the scene and realized that the dozen or so vehicles parked along the roadside were all various forms of police cars, one ominously proclaiming "Homicide Unit". Shortly off the road in a field I spotted bright yellow tape, marking a crime scene.

I tried to recall the community that had been mentioned in the news all day. Two campers had come upon a body. I attempted to pick up a radio station, but I'd lost all reception about an hour ago.

The southern tip of the loop was getting close and I looked again at my map, concerned because the "Low Gas" light had been blinking at me for miles. "Honey, I'll feed you as soon as I can," I assured my little Subaru. I hoped she could hold out.

Trepassey City Limits. It was the sign I'd been watching for, but nothing gave me hope of finding fuel. At the far edge of the community, a small auto repair shop had a single pump in its front drive. Relieved, I filled my little car, then went inside to pay.

"How long is the drive from here to Harbour Grace?" I asked the young attendant. "Gungka ummmm" he testily replied without looking up. "Okay. Well, may I use the restroom?" "Uuumkpa." I took that as a yes. I was desperate.

I considered the crime scene playing out nearby, shut my mouth, took care of business. Would hate to think the individual or individuals in the field had asked too many questions at the one local gas station. As I opened the door to the restroom, I noticed several drops of blood on the floor. Fresh blood, not yet dried to a dark red. Another young man is wiping blood off his hands as I quickened my step, hopped in the car and promised Arayo she could have a bathroom break up the road a bit.

The remainder of the loop may have been lovely. I can't say. It was lonely. I was anxious. Why didn't I think to clean the salt spray off my windshield at the station of gas and smiles? Before I met the owner. The setting sun bouncing off of windshield was blinding me.

And I needed to see. With darkness upon us, we were driving at the worst possible time in Newfoundland. Don't worry about murderers of the human kind. Darkness is when the moose come out to prowl the roads. "Never drive after dark," was the local mantra. "You hit a moose with your car and the moose wins."

I drive on through the night. Through the end of the Irish Loop. Threats from the outside of flying moose and unknown murderers. From inside of the car, Arayo places her head on my shoulder and begins the breathing pattern that I know signifies she is car sick and ready to explode.

Everyone should drive the Irish Coast.

Photos: Arayo enjoys the islands nestled near the shore at the beginning of the Irish Coast. Much of the coast is lonely.