Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Staring Down the Barrell

Ahhhhhhhh…I have been camping.  The weather was gorgeous, my site was shady, and my dogs rested quietly at my feet.  The key word is "quietly".  I love to take my dogs camping with me, but there has always been the issue of barking.  I've tried everything.  Ignoring bad behavior, high pitch whistles, clicker method, reward method, shock collars, being "in command" of my dogs, all to no avail.  As a last resort, I decided to try a method a friend told me about that I didn't have much faith in, but desperation calls for last resorts.

I have been looking forward to this trip for a month.  On Friday, as I was packing up, I grabbed a new plastic bottle with a spray nozzle on it, filled it with water, and we headed off to discover some new and spectacular place in Michigan.

I should note here that it has been a while since I last posted.  I apologize to all my readers, both imaginary and real, that I may have jumped the gun a bit on starting a blog.  I thought it might the right time to do this, but after being a stay-at-home mom for 20 years, and still having kids at home, I have found that I still choose to be a mom first; therefore, the last few busy weeks my attention has been focused on my family and home.  Thankfully my husband and kids really do support me in my efforts to start branching out and doing something in addition to being a mom, so they sent me off on this camping trip with the one stipulation of taking the dogs with me so they wouldn't have to figure out how to take care of the dogs.  It is my hope that as we settle into our summer routine, I will find more time to blog.

I drove on Friday until I ended up at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, on the shore of Lake Michigan.  I have not camped there before, but fell in love with the beach.  I am rather adept at setting up my "glampsite", by early evening I was settled in with a pretty site, a bonfire, a good book, and the dogs' company.  Teddy, the little mutt, requires his own camp chair; he sleeps next to the fire like a real camper.  Rooney, the big dog, prefers the cool ground.  As with every trip I've taken them on, as soon as they hear the pitter-patter of feet, canine or human, they pick their heads up, tense, and I know the barking is about to commence.  I was armed this time.

The instant their heads picked up, I sprayed them with the water bottle, right in the snout, and said "Quiet".  They did not like it.  Rooney jumped up and ran from me as far as his lead line allowed, then tried to circle back around me.  I cut him off, and when he started to bark at the nice old couple walking by, I sprayed him again.  We did this about 5 times, and Teddy was so engrossed watching us, he forgot to bark.  Then I turned and sprayed Teddy once more too, just so he wouldn't feel left out.

We settled back in quietly until the next person walked by, then went through the same thing all over again.  By mid-day on Saturday, all I had to do was point the bottle at them when they picked their heads up, and they settled back down quietly.  They weren't barking!  I swear, whenever I pointed that water bottle at them, it was like they were staring down the barrel of a handgun!  They froze.

On Sunday, it was enough to keep the water bottle next to my chair.  I could not believe how simple and humane this method is for training.  I enjoyed a peaceful weekend camping with my dogs, and it was just the break I needed to spark my creativity and re-focus.

I love my dogs, even Teddy, the little mutt who was never supposed to be mine, but here he is.  Now that I have a method for training them that I am comfortable with, and works, I hope to turn them both into well-behaved companions, though I have a lot of work to do yet, since Rooney needs to learn more than not barking.

Both dogs walk very well on a leash.  I hold the leashes in my left hand, Rooney heels at my side nicely, and Teddy walks two steps ahead of Rooney.  When we aren't in an area with people, I either let their leashes out to 10 feet and let them explore, or sometimes unhook them completely and let them run, as long as we are alone in the woods and I have a bag of treats in my pocket to entice them back to me.

So it was that we were walking on Sunday, short leashes, down a lovely shaded path high on a bank above Black Creek.  I had avoided the creek, because that's where the snakes live, and stayed high above-ground where I felt safer.  True to form, though, Rooney jerked, and without warning the leash flew out of my hand, then he took off down the bank to the creek.  There was absolutely no way I was going to follow him down there!  Knowing that he would eventually return, muddy and possibly with a certain creature hanging from his mouth, I was frantic to get him to come back.  As the momentum pulled him and he barreled down the bank, I yelled all sorts of things to get his attention, all to no avail. In a brilliant moment of inspiration, I imitated the sound of the water bottle squirting with a sharp hiss through my teeth.  Rooney stopped on a dime!  He turned around, stared at me, I pointed my finger at him and hissed again, and he trudged back up the bank, head down in deference to my amazing command over artificial sounds, and we continued our walk.

Is this seriously all it takes to train my dog?  Time will tell, I suppose, but it looks promising right now.

In my next post, I will write about Hoffmaster State Park and all the interesting things to do there, and I have a few more stories about Rooney to tell.  Suffice it to say, for now, that downtown Grand Haven will never be the same now that Rooney has been there.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An Unexpected Find: Heritage Park

Last weekend my daughter, Nina had a soccer game scheduled in Adrian, Michigan.  After a 60 minute drive, we arrived at Heritage Park, where the soccer fields were located just past the entrance to the park.  Right away, I could see there was much more to the park beyond the soccer games.

That's the best part of traveling.  Finding the unexpected.  I had resigned myself to a long afternoon of sitting on another grassy field watching youth soccer, but found myself in the middle of a hilly, sweeping park with secrets hidden beyond the next rise in the dirt road.

We dropped Nina at her field, and with 45 minutes to spare before game time, I decided to explore.  My husband and I drove past the fields, following a dip and a curve on the gravel lane, and a flash from the corner of my eye grabbed my attention as a frisbee floated past my window.  Disc Golf!  Heritage Park has an elaborate and very long disc golf course, which winds between steep grassy hills, many of which appear to be man-made, and continues through old growth woods, a stream, and open fields.

We drove through the course, watching players hit and miss the basket, and continued on past an historic farm house and outbuildings, between the softball fields, and came upon a roadblock, skewed to the side. Thinking that the road is sometimes closed to traffic, but observing the block was pushed to the side, we drove on.  We probably shouldn't have done that.

I soon spotted a single track weaving through the woods on a ridge and thought "Bike Trail"!  Stopping the car, we got out to explore and found a well maintained bike trail, walking some distance to check out the potential level of difficulty.

The trail at Heritage State Park is a 9.4 mile loop of minimal elevation.  It is considered an easy level of skill and endurance, though the scattered 2x4 inch boards on marshy ground and fallen trees as obstacles suggest a more moderate difficulty.  Section 1 begins as a wide grass and dirt path through sparse tree cover, but quickly turns into a single track through dense growth with a peek or two of the stream.  Section 2 is more of the same, but increases in obstacles with a few slight inclines and declines.

Section 3 amps it up a bit, with muddy bogs and several stretches of 2x4's placed end to end to get past the standing water and mud.  The woods become less dense here, and low hanging tree limbs add to the challenge, though the elevation remains fairly steady; low and wet, with a few dips and rises to add to the fun. It is the longest section of the loop.

As we returned to our car, I was wishing I had brought my bike.  Heritage Park trail looked like a nice ride to get back into the habit of trail biking.  We continued along the road until we came upon the pavilion that acts as the trail head for the ride, only to find about 100 riders ready to go at the start line.  We had driven right into the start of an event.  With waves of apologies, we just kept going, embarrassed and wanting to get out of there.

We missed the start of the soccer game.  Sorry, Nina.  Sometimes when I find an unexpected delight in the form of a new trail, I lose track of time.  We lost the game 0-3, but gained the knowledge that there is a new place to go for a quick day trip on the weekends when we can't get away for a camping trip but still want a little adventure.

There are walking trails as well, and the town of Adrian is small, yet boasts three colleges and all the amenities of small town charm.  For some reason, on most of my adventures and camping trips, I manage to find a local business that makes homemade donuts, and Adrian did not disappoint me.  Driving back home with a tired soccer player and a warm donut, it occurred to me that I didn't see a snake either.  Heritage Park is a great place!

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Little Yellow Rainsuit

This morning my son left our house at 6:30am to go to his new summer job.  He is lucky to be working on a road construction crew, a good job for a college student who needs to earn more than minimum wage in the summer.  He was a little nervous, not sure what he will be required to do, where to park his car, how long his work day will be, and learning to work with a new boss.  Add to that, it's raining.  As he was getting ready to leave, he asked me if we had any raincoats.  Looking in the storage closet, I found my old yellow rubber raincoat from L.L. Bean, and when my son tried it on, I was flooded with memories of his childhood.

When my kids were very young, we used to keep our camping gear in the back of the SUV so that we could leave anytime to go camping.  Our favorite thing to do was drive north in Michigan until we found a place that looked interesting.  We would leave the highway and follow backroads until we spotted a lake or river, always knowing a place to camp would be nearby.  Early on, I taught my kids that we never changed plans based on the weather.  In Michigan, all you have to do is wait five minutes and the weather will change.   The first summer we spent tent camping, whenever it rained we would wait it out in the tent, but the kids were quite young and they became easily bored, so before the next summer came along, I bought tiny yellow rubber rainsuits from L.L. Bean for the kids, and a much larger one for myself.  They were totally waterproof and opened up a whole new world of camping for us.

Whenever the rain came, I would put the tiny rubber pants on the kids, help them zip up their tiny rubber coats, and we would play in the rain!  I have the fondest memories of my children running through the woods, flashes of bright yellow between the trees jumping in puddles and picking up handfuls of mud, only to let it slide through their fingers back to earth.  My son would build giant ramps of mud to ride over  on his bike, mud flinging off his tires and spraying his tiny rubber rainsuit.

When the rain ended, I would hang the tiny yellow suits from a tree to dry, and we would resume our activities, but I think the kids were always disappointed when the sun came out.  They loved their little rubber suits, and splashing in the rain.

Sadly, I don't have a single photo of my kids in their tiny rainsuits.  I didn't have a camera back then, and only have this picture to remember by, but the images in my head are always there, the flash of yellow and the delighted laughter which will always remind me of rain.

As my son put his raincoat on this morning, he said, "Hey!  I remember these raincoats, we had matching pants, too!"  It's nice to know that he, too, can remember those days from his childhood.  I'd be willing to bet that, if he gets the chance, he will jump in a puddle today at the job site.  Just for old times' sake.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rhododendron: Now There's A Word For You!

I have always been fascinated with words.  I like the way some words sound, like "melody".  It's a pretty word with a pretty meaning.  Other words, like "zucchini" sound ugly to me, which may explain while I never developed a taste for zucchini.  But every word we use means something.  At times, the same word means more than one thing, so we have to use other words with it to convey the meaning.  I study words and the way people use them.  If I hear a friend say "Oh, he has went to the store" I have to bite my tongue and sit on my hands to stop myself from correcting, and losing, a friend.

Have you ever repeated a word over and over until it sounds wrong to you?  I have.  Corn.  Corn. Corn.  Corn.  Corn.  Now it doesn't sound right.  And who thought of the word "corn"?  Did some native look at the tall stalks in the field and proclaim "This shall be named CORN"?  None of the other natives argued, they just started calling it corn?  I don't think so.  Who decided corn is corn, and love is love, and mercantile is a store?

The story goes that ancient Germanic Tribes invaded Britain sometime in the 5th Century A.D. and brought the beginnings of the English language with them.  But that doesn't explain how the natives derived the language.  I have a hard time believing that some ancient barbaric germanic tribesman with a rebellious streak decided that sometime "c" sounds like an "s" but other times it sounds like a "k".  You won't convince me that natives introduced the phrase "cheery-ho" to say good morning to the Brits.

Around the 1800's, the English language began to adopt words from foreign languages, such as "canyon".  But here's a conundrum:  water that falls is called a waterfall.  But a lake is not called a waterplace, a river is not called a waterfast, and a brook is not called a waterslow.

The english language is complex, as is any form of communication, yet I remain fascinated that every combination of letters we use to make a word, has meaning.  As a writer, my challenge is to choose just the right words to make you laugh, think, cry, or become curious.  Also as a writer, my greatest frustration comes from not being able to find the right words to adequately describe a feeling, a place, or a thought.

For quite some time I have struggled to describe the way I feel when I am living in the tin can.  When I come around a bend in the path I am hiking to be greeted by the splendor of Lake Michigan, there are no words to say how I feel.  I've tried.  I always fall short.  Then I tried to make up new words to describe how I'm feeling, but every new word I tried to make up resembled a combination of two words that already exist, and again, I fall short.  Fetlacdle isn't a word anyone would associate with grandeur.  Neither is wesperly, or tralafully.

In any event, these thoughts fill my time whenever I have a few minutes to spare.  When I am waiting in line at the grocery store, I look at the magazine headlines and ponder words like "shocking".  Say that one over and over…shocking, shocking, shocking, shocking.  Sounds weird, doesn't it?  Or if I am waiting for my kids at school, I start thinking about the words school, bus, teacher, student.  Why do they mean what they mean?

I have no answer.  I can promise you one thing, though.  When you go to bed tonight, you will surely find yourself wide awake, whispering "ceiling.  ceiling.  ceiling.  ceiling" over and over again, and it will drive you to madness.  My apologies in advance.  By the time you drift off to sleep, I trust that you will have found the words to describe how you feel about me right now.

As a final thought, I'd just like to say so long, farewell, adieu, aloha, good day.  You get what I mean, don't you?