Beauty All Around

A cactus wren perches on a saguaro fruit along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

It has been a sad day but not a day without beauty. In between talking to the vet in the morning and taking Ellie in to be euthanized, I walked into my office and saw Boo and Trixie transfixed in the window. I walked over assuming they were looking at a bird and was delighted to instead see a western whiptail in the bushes next to the window, a favorite lizard on the trails but a new yard species for me. When we got home with heavy hearts after saying goodbye to Ellie, I saw a cactus wren in the backyard, a first for the new house although I had seem them at the rental house and of course on the trails. This one was perching on a saguaro fruit last summer in McDowell Sonoran Preserve.


Our dog Ellie sits in the snow after the sun set in Irving Park in the Irvington neighborhood of Portland, Oregon

I see her everywhere.

In the dog beds, usually occupied by cats. In the treats she loved, in the end the only thing she would readily eat. In the medications she took and the pill pockets she took them in before she decided they weren’t quite tasty enough. In the fur she constantly shed, a piece of which I hope follows me around until my time too is at an end. In the water bowls scattered around to encourage her to drink. In the gate leading into the litter box room, to let the cats in and keep her out.

In the ramp to help her in the car when she got too old to jump. In the shoes so she could walk on the slippery tile as her legs weakened but which she didn’t like so you’d find them scattered around the house. In the network of rugs and yoga mats we instead spread out and which she quickly learned gave her traction. In the patch of artificial turf we put in the backyard to give her a comfortable place to go the bathroom since the new house doesn’t have grass. In the smorgasbord of dog foods my wife purchased hoping we could find one she’d be able to eat when her appetite waned and we knew if we couldn’t get her to eat, we were going to have to say goodbye.

In the pile of tissues after crying my eyes out, because I see her everywhere but she’s not here.

I know where she is. She’s with Templeton and Scout and Emma, always in my heart and never far from my thoughts, and I will take her everywhere I go.

Ellie 2003(?) – 2019

Ellie 2003  2019

We said goodbye to our sweet pup this afternoon after old age finally took too much of a toll, she died peacefully at the vet’s office as we stroked her soft fur for the last time. How do you say goodbye to the Best Dog Ever? With a broken heart and endless tears, and the deepest gratitude for every moment we spent together.

I took this picture of Ellie in our rental house in August and thought it captured her sweet nature so well that I decided to hold onto it for just this occasion, so I wouldn’t have to scramble around in my grief to find a good picture of her, never dreaming I’d get eight more wonderful months before the time came to post it.

I hope there are things in your life that bring you even a fraction of the joy that this most wonderful of dogs brought to ours.

Little Squeaks

An overhead view of our cat Trixie sleeping against a pillow on the futon in my office

Trixie is the smallest cat we’ve ever had, our recalcitrant eater clocked in at 8 pounds today. We once got her as high as 8.7 pounds but that required more than the normal feedings, she’d prefer to graze throughout the day but we can’t leave food out as other members of the household don’t need so much convincing to eat.

The Morning Surprises

A gambel's quail sings, silhouetted against a blue sky, early on a spring morning near the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I first visited Brown’s Ranch a month after we moved to Arizona last year and fell in love immediately. One of the things I liked about our new house was its close proximity to some of my favorite local trailheads, Brown’s Ranch included. I haven’t been much since the fall, only visiting on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, at first because I was exploring another area (also near the house) and then because I was concentrating on trails near some of the other houses we were considering.

While I haven’t had much time and/or energy for hiking lately I was up for an easy hike last weekend so I begrudgingly got up before sunrise and made the short drive to Brown’s Ranch. A cardinal serenaded me before I stepped out of the car and I could hear the calls of Gambel’s quail and mourning doves and cactus wrens all around. I thought about how much I had learned in my year here, how much more these sights and sounds are familiar to me now, as I grabbed my camera and headed to the Jane Rau Trail, a short little loop trail near the trailhead and the first trail I hiked at Brown’s Ranch last year.

A gambel's quail sings, silhouetted against an orange sky, early on a spring morning near the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I then headed down the Latigo Trail, despite my low energy levels I was so happy to be back that I almost felt like running. I didn’t, however, feel much like taking pictures, a feeling I get sometimes where I almost put the camera away. I usually keep the camera out but there is a mental shift where I don’t worry so much about photography. Sometimes though the animals pull me back in, as they did on this morning. It started with a Gambel’s quail in the trees, silhouetted against the morning sky, I took a quick picture against the blue sky before moving further on and taking another against the orange sky.

An ash-throated flycatcher perches at the edge of a tree limb early on a spring morning along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

A mourning dove shows off the distinctive black spots running down its wings early on a spring morning along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

As the sun rose I spotted an ash-throated flycatcher and couldn’t help but stop for some pictures. It didn’t stay long as a couple of mourning doves flew into the tree and scared it off, so I photographed one of them instead. They were out in abundance, I imagine the white-winged doves will be back in numbers soon and the smaller mourning doves will get moved a step down the pecking order. Beside the trail the banana yuccas were budding and blooming, a sight I hadn’t seen before, and I thought I could spend a lifetime photographing them in their various stages, each beautiful in its own way, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to photograph them on this morning.

A close-up view of a rock squirrel perching in the rocks early one morning along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

But when I saw a familiar shape in the rocks, bathed in the lovely morning light, I eagerly setup my camera beside the trail to photograph what I initially assumed was an antelope squirrel but which I quickly realized was the larger rock squirrel. I had seen them before but usually from a distance, only once getting a close look up at Tom’s Thumb. This one though posed for me in its rock home and now in more of a photographic mood I photographed it with different focal lengths, including wide and medium shots and this full on close-up.

A great horned owl perches in a palo verde near the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Further up the trail I stopped when I thought I saw a hawk on a distant saguaro, but when I lifted the telephoto lens to my eye to get a better look I realized it was a great horned owl, my first owl in Arizona. It flew a little closer as an American kestrel hassled it from above and landed in this foothill palo verde. It occasionally cast its eyes over towards where the rock squirrel was but it didn’t seem too interested in hunting.

A mourning dove pauses while preening atop a large rock as the breeze picks up and ruffles its feathers on a spring morning along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I continued up the trail a bit but didn’t go too far, I was tired and while there are times it’s good to push yourself, this morning didn’t feel like one of them. As I headed back I did see a couple of genuine hawks on a large saguaro, a pair of Harris’s hawks that I suppose will be nesting soon. A grasshopper accidentally impaled itself on a buckhorn cholla and I thought my hike might end on a sad note but then I saw a mourning dove preening from a rock above as the breeze rustled its feathers.

Despite not seeing any reptiles it was a quick reminder of why I love this place as I saw so much beauty in so short a time. Soon enough I did get to see a reptile as when I got home a spiny lizard was doing pushups in a tree behind the house, it was too bright for pictures but hopefully he and I will meet again. And hopefully so too the rock squirrel, if it survives the owls and the hawks and the snakes and …

The Elderly Pup

Our dog Ellie relaxes in front of her dog bed on our patio with only one shoe on

It’s been a rough month for Ellie.

She’s getting rather senile but she knew the rental house well, inside and out, and that familiarity allowed her to better mask the times she got confused. The new house offered no such compensation in the early going and particularly in the evenings she got rather stressed by not knowing where to go, the most obvious example being when she fell in the pool on our first night here as she tried to take the route she would have at the old house. She’d relentlessly pace the house, into the backyard and through the house to the front, over and over again, trying to understand where she was.

She woke me out of bed, assuming she needed to go out to go to the bathroom I got up with her and took her out back, then to the front, then back inside, repeated a few times until I got her to lay down to try and calm her. I was the thing she could hold on to, so I held onto her, until we both fell asleep on the floor. I was continuously exhausted in those early days, initially I hoped to take some time off after the move but I got some good news at work that unfortunately meant I had to go in.

The vet recommended a sedative until Ellie got used to the house and that kept her relaxed at night but also kind of out of it so she had even more trouble walking. At her age the sedative also took a while to wear off so she was a bit groggy during the day, but as she got used to the house we were able to take her off the sedative and the spark in her eyes returned.

There is no relief from the ravages of time and she is having even more trouble walking now, often leading to accidents in the house, so sometimes when I’m hoping to head off to bed I’ll have a mess to clean up first. Thankfully my wife is home during the day, I honestly don’t know what we’d do if we were still in Portland and both working as taking care of Ellie has become a full-time job. She’s been able to look after Ellie during the day, including the arduous feeding of not just Ellie but the cats. It didn’t help that in the first week our cat Boo was also stressed about the move and not using the litter box but thankfully he’s been on the straight and narrow since.

One night as I got ready for bed I saw Ellie pacing up and down the hallway and assumed she needed to go out, and quickly, but as I approached I saw bright red drops of blood up and down the hallway. Thankfully it was just a nose bleed and the biggest consequence was that after scrubbing the hallway I was too awake to go to sleep. We’ve gotten shoes to help her on the non-carpeted parts of the house, though she doesn’t like wearing them, and have gotten washable rugs to cover large parts of the tile so she can walk more easily. To compensate for the lack of grass we laid out a small patch of artificial turf that she enjoys using on bathroom breaks if she can make it there in time.

One day Ellie was pretty out of it, fortunately our wonderful vet was coming by for a visit and helped my wife get her into the car and to a 24-hour care facility where she got antibiotics and fluids, she had gotten dehydrated after a bout with diarrhea. The next day she came home and was the normal Ellie again, trying to charm her way into treats. You try not to get too down with the lows as you anxiously wait to see how far she’s going to bounce back after a setback.

One of our biggest challenges is that she doesn’t want to eat the food she should be eating, it is kinder to her slowly failing kidneys, the food she will eat often leads to soft stools and more accidents. The other big issue is a couple of days ago she slipped getting out of the car after a vet visit and hurt one of her front legs a bit, so now sometimes she has trouble walking at all, last night I had to carry her outside so she could use the bathroom. She fell asleep inside the sliding glass door so I left her there and took her shoes off so she’d be more comfortable, but when I woke she had at some point not only gotten up on her own (a rare feat for her these days) but walked across the house to the bedroom. And just now as she relaxed me with me on the patio she walked unaided out to her patch of turf to go to the bathroom. If only she could always move so!

It has been an exhausting month for all of us, but whether her time with us is numbered in days or weeks (months seems too much to hope for) I’m thankful for the opportunity to care for her at the end of her life. I wish we could have done the same for Scout and Emma, if disease hadn’t cut their lives short we’d be nursing Scout through her elderly years while Emma would be early in her senior years, endlessly chirping at the quail moving about her yard and letting me know which birds where in the yard by the style of her purrpurrations.

At the moment Ellie is sleeping peacefully at the foot of my couch, she wanted to come inside and made a beeline for my office so quickly that as I was stabilizing her rear end as she walked I wasn’t able to close the sliding door onto the patio. Trixie and Boo were curled up together on the cat tree beside the door but neither woke up so I was able to double back and close the door before either was the wiser. These are the moments I wish could last forever.

Lair of the Rock Squirrel

A rock squirrel peeks out from the rocks it calls home along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

A rock squirrel peeks out from the rocks it calls home. A great horned owl was nearby, itself being harassed by an American kestrel, perhaps it got too close to her nest. A little later I saw a grasshopper fly off and impale itself on a buckhorn cholla. Life isn’t easy in the desert, even in a lovely spring.