Rock, Scissors, Paper — Roo Style

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Weather forecasts for the next ten days predicted them to remain above freezing, but they were wrong, and with a new wave of cold on the way, Roo and I had to bolt southwards on Wednesday. On Tuesday, a small sore she had developed on her back leg, on the hock right next to the cut she got in Maine a couple of months ago, started to look puffy. Between that and having to make an appearance in my state of legal residence, North Carolina (which was recently classified as one of the world’s lowest functioning democracies, by the way) for a bunch of tasks, we headed to Asheville. I liked the vet she had there. She was the one who figured out how to fix Roo’s hot spots a few years ago, so it seemed like a good idea to go see her.

Before leaving, while I was doing all the chores to pick up stakes, Roo sat outside. It wasn’t cold, and she just lay in the grass, wondering what catastrophe it night have been that had at some point in the past struck the place and wiped it clear of mouses. It had been a disappointing place for her. She was not sorry to go. 

Getting ready to go took a lot longer than I expected, and when we were finally ready, one of my gloves was missing.

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I hate to lose a glove. Especially this glove. It’s not much of a glove, but I like it. We go back a long way. Nearly ten years. It used to be a flying glove and it never let me down. It’s made of kangaroo skin, and though I’m sorry about that, there’s nothing quite like a kangaroo glove, as it turns out. Instead of letting it go, I patrolled the ground and wasted another 30 minutes. It had to be there. I checked the garbage cans. I checked the flooded ground where the valve on a hydrant came loose and grew a pond on the ground. I just had to be there, and it annoyed me no end to lose it like that.

Finally, though, I had to give it up. We had 270 miles to drive and we had to make it that night because my doctor was kind enough to make a special appointment to see me early this morning.

Roo had been waiting in the car while I searched for the glove. I got in and told her the glove was gone. 

“Damn it, Chig. I hate to lose that glove.”

Roo has a way of demonstrating her disinterest in a subject by closing her eyes in preparation for sleep. Of course, the second we would get underway she would start batting me with her law to get my attention, but when it came to the glove, she did not care.

“I really do. I hate to lose that glove.”

She nestled her head onto the seat a little harder, as if some irritation was keeping her from getting comfortable.

Just as I started to pull out, a smiling woman pulled up in a pickup truck and waved at me to roll the window down, which I did.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“I have something for you,” she said. She was holding a brightly painted object in her hand.

I got out of the car and went to her window.

“I’ve seen you around here and said to my husband, ‘You know what? I’d like to give that fellow one of the rocks.’ I used to paint these,” she said. “So, this is for you.” She gave me the rock.

“Aww,” I said. That’s just about the sweetest thing ever.” And it was. She gave me the rock. Whoever was living in the rock was wearing sunglasses and had a big smile, seeming as happy to embark on its next journey as she was to dispatch it. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. Thank you.” And I meant it. What a lovely gesture. It more than made up for the glove. Sometimes people and the things that happen surprise you.

I asked her if I could take a picture of her giving me the rock and she laughed and said, “Oh, no! With me looking the way I do?”

“What are you talking about?” I said. “You look absolutely beautiful.”

“Well, all right,” she said, and I took the picture. I thanked her again and she said good-bye and pulled head of us, waving at us in the rearview. I had never seen her before. She had some hip trouble and just getting out into the truck to see us off with the rock took a special effort.

We got on the damnable road and Roo and I were trying to make time. Roo wasn’t enjoying the drive. For one thing, the extreme cold prevented her from getting her usual level of exercise, and, when I tell her it’s going to be a driving day, she understands that she’s going to be sitting there going out of her mind with boredom. She commands this by insisting on staying in the front seat instead of stretching out more comfortably in the back, which I suspect she does because in the front seat she can harass me constantly to pet her. The only break she got in the slog was when an error in my fuel calculation went off by a single mile and we ran out of gas. I was going for maximum range in order to make one intermediate fuel stop instead of two. I had chosen a route to avoid the hills, but there were still more than I expected and it threw me off. Had this happened to Neil Armstrong when he landed the Lunar Landing Module on the surface of the Moon with one second of fuel remaining, that would have been that, but we were just in Virginia. But, because it happened just after a spot where a couple of cops were lying in wait for speeders, and I didn’t want a visit from them because of the expired registrations on the truck and the trailer, I was inclined to hurry to top the tank off from one of the gas cans I have in the back.

Eventually we reached Asheville. It was an ugly night, dripping and humid and threatening the heavy rain about to hit. Roo, as usual, having been complaining about driving for so long, now refused to get out of the car. This is her usual position. It’s her way of sending a scout ahead to draw sniper fire. 

“Fine,” I told her. “Stay there all you like.” I clipped her Flexi on and extended it to its full length and left the door open so she could come, within reason, when she liked. I was too exhausted to insist. 

A minute later, a lot sooner than usual, she came out of the car. She was holding something in her mouth and giving me the slow wag of the successful prankster. The missing glove. She must have stolen it when I dropped it somewhere when I was breaking camp. And she must have buried it someplace in the car. She gave me one of those looks with her head slightly down under the weight of her own grin, and brought it inside. She has a spot she lies down in to signal that, as per her contract, she is owed a cookie. She went there and put the glove down. And got her cookie. 

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Note to readers of The Dog in the Clouds

FIrst of all, thank you for subscribing to The Dog in the Clouds.

As you may know, the site's title is based on an experience I had many years ago in Kathmandu. I saw a dog in the clouds and spent a couple of years looking for him. I've been writing that story, and publishing it in about 4 parts on a page for subscribers only. I have to do this because weeks of work goes into these long pieces and this is the only way I can try to earn some money from them.

The story will also be available to all of you who were part of any of the fundraising campaigns five years ago, either Kickstarter or Indiegogo. If that applies to you, please send a return email to The Dog Calling newsletter and I'll send you the link.

Otherwise, I hope you'll consider joining the Patreon campaign. Really, all it is is a high-tech way to leave a tip. You decide how much. All you get in return are some stories, so I understand that's not an especially appealing deal in the time of free internet.

But, if you enjoyed the Roo book, this current piece about The Dog in the Clouds might be for you. In it I part with some of the things that have been too difficult for me to write about for many years. It's not for me to evaluate whether it's any good, but it is as good as I'm able to make it. If you've ever felt like you'd make a great patron of the arts, give it a try. It's easy, secure and not at all expensive — you decide on anything from a buck on up.

Thank you,

Brian

Classic Roo: The Struggle to Wake Roo Up

Two days after Roo and I left Los Angeles for good (which was at the end of the Roo book, which you can find here), we were in a motel in Colorado. Two months earlier, Roo had been mistaken for a three-year-old, but turned out to be a puppy of eight months. Apart from having a lot of physical healing to do, being in the constant state of fear she had been in must have made it hard to get the amount of sleep a puppy needs, so she made a project of catching up. This is an example of how soundly she was beginning to sleep. It's still one of her principal hobbies. These days, now that she's over six, she seems finally to have agreed that getting a last pee in at night is a good idea. The real reason I think she likes to do that, though, is so that she can stay in bed until at least 11 AM. 

A note to any actors watching this video: Note Roo's technique for dealing with a director who insists on a realistic sleep shot. Even the finest actors can have a hard time keeping their eyes steady enough to realistically appear asleep, especially under the stress of repeated takes on a busy set. Roo, a born actor, chose instead merely to suggest sleep, to allow the idea of sleep to form in the audience's mind, by the simple trick of sticking her head under a pillow.

If you'd like to support Roo's regal lifestyle, you can either message me for the full list of our cryptocurrency addresses, or just sign up for our Patreon campaign. It's a great way to leave a tip, and if you do, I'll whisper your name in Roo's ear next time she's dreaming so she'll dream of you.

And a tip of the snout to Rebecca Shelor for the idea of renaming The Historic Roo Video Collection to Classic Roo.

Dog Dynasty

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It's been getting pretty cold lately, and it's on the way to getting colder. I'm starting to wonder if there isn't something to the old saying about "When hell freezes over." Maybe it is now. If there is a God, perhaps she has just decided to freeze the whole country cryogenically until a cure can be found sometime in the future.

But, in the meantime, when it gets as cold as this, there are certain steps that the average cracker out in the wild with a dog has to take. Trailers — at least the kinds manufactured by Amish con artists — are not able to withstand low temperatures. There are two problems: the first is that, because the entire plumbing system is mounted underneath and exposed to whatever the ambient temperature is, it is easily prone to freezing and bursting. The second is keeping warm inside. This second problem isn't hard to deal with. There is a propane heating system. It makes the camper warm by switching on a heating element under the sink and then blowing the air out by means of what sounds like a surplus jet engine from the Korean conflict. No one worried about quiet engines in those days. If there's sufficient electricity, a space heater suffices.

Keeping the bottom of the camper from freezing is much more difficult. The only way to do it is to create a barrier of some kind, called a skirt, around the entire bottom of the camper. There are commercial systems available for that, heavy canvas that you attach to snaps mounted on the camper.

In search of a cheaper alternative, I had several ideas. The first was simply to wrap it up in that clear plastic wrap furniture movers use, the stuff like giant rolls of Saran Wrap. That didn't work. I finally settled on some cheap foam board. It's a terrible production getting it on. There are all sorts of places where it has to be trimmed and fitted and it's brittle stuff and it flops around in the wind.

If you have a dog watching you when you're trying to do this, the dog assumes you've lost your mind. They lie there, luxuriating in the feeling of freezing grass, and give you that kind of questioning look, especially when the job drags on for hours.

But it has to be done if you're stuck for any prolonged period in extremely cold temperatures. In our case, the idea of traveling farther south was too disturbing. We're in Virginia now. South of here is North Carolina, where it's every bit as cold, and after that you get to where the Trump lawn signs are still up. Most of the rest of the country had the good taste to replace those, in a complicated move that had to have been coordinated by a nationwide cabal of Evengelical preachers, with pre-positioned Thank You, Jesus signs. They were swapped out on the night of the election last year as if someone had thrown a switch. My feeling is that if Jesus had a pickup truck and a baseball bat he'd have driven the backroads and knocked every one of them down.

Well, once I finally got the thing sort of attached, it was time to take Roo for a walk. I knew she was going to go swimming. There's a river nearby and it hadn't frozen over yet, and those are especially hard for her to pass up. I was wearing five or six layers of t-shits, thermal underwear, frayed old Brooks Brothers shirts (they are my last holdout on the way to becoming a complete cracker), scarves and so on. None of it mattered. It was as if I was running naked on the way to an ice bath in Siberia. 

When we got back to the campground, Roo was iced up from her swim. The burrs in her coat were frozen in place. She was feeling great. She wasn't the one who was going to have to spend the next hour cleaning her up. She was a little tired, though, and walking slowly.

Few other people are out in this weather, especially in RVs. An old man was puttering around with something outside a well-kept old motorhome and Roo drifted over in his direction.

We had met him the other day when Roo walked over to him and he turned around and yelled at me: "Hey! That dog's got to be on a leash!"

"Oh, sorry," I said. "She won't bother you."

"I don't care! I don't want to be stepping in any dog crap over here!"

"You won't be stepping in any of hers, mister," I said. No one likes being yelled at.

"I already did! Stepped in some right over here!"

"Well, it wasn't hers, I can guarantee you."

"You better watch out," he said. "I work for the park."

"I don't care of you're the head of the goddamned KGB. You haven't got the right to yell at anybody like that," I said, and I kept going.

A minute later the old guy drove up in a little white car and rolled his window down. I looked at him, wondering now what.

"I'm sorry about that," he said, "and I owe you an apology. I don't know what come over me. Wasn't right what I did. You were right."

"Oh, hell," I said. "No hard feelings." I went over and shook his hand and said, "I'll tell you what. You're a hell of good old coot to say it."

"I don't know," he said. "I'm eighty-five now, maybe that's it."

"Eighty-five? Well, you don't look a day over ninety," I said. Every guy who makes it into his eighties has been on one end or the other of that crack for decades. I told him my name and he told me his was Franklin and I asked him which Franklin they named him after.

"Well, it was 1933," he said, and trailed off. He was hesitant to fill in the rest. To claim the other Franklin he would have had to say it was 1780. I sensed that this might be because of the burden of carrying the name of a Democrat around for nearly a century. A New York Democrat, at that. Everybody knows they're the worst kind. I'm one, myself.

"Franklin Roosevelt," I said. 

He nodded a little gravely.

"He was a great man," I said. "I admire him enough to have a picture of him up on the wall in my camper," which I do. Every time I look at it I wonder if he's buried in the suit in that picture and how well it's been holding up with all the rolling over in his grave he's been doing lately. It's probably more frayed than my old Brooks shirts, which may have been sold to me by someone who sold him that suit, come to think of it.

The subject of the skirting on my trailer came up. He told me that his son had spotted it and told him about it and said, "What's the guy doing? Is he moving in?"

"No, not going to do that," I said. 

The day after Christmas Roo and I were walking back again and there was old Franklin again and Roo trotted right up to him and he gave her a few friendly pats and scratches. A real dog man. You can always tell. Roo liked him.

"Hello, there, Franklin," I said. "How're you doing?"

"Doing good, doing good. How are you?"

"Just fine, thanks. How was your Christmas?"

"It was good," he said. "We had about twenty of the family over to the son's house. And you know what?"

No, sir. What?"

"I thought about you."

"Good thoughts, I hope."

"I thought about you."

"Well, Franklin," I said, "I really appreciate that."

"Okay," he said.

 

How Roo and I became filthy rich today

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I've always been interested in the practical side of cryptography and stuff like digital currencies, more as a matter of curiosity than anything else. It started with needing to help some friends fighting a revolution in Burma figure out how to communicate securely, and went on from there. So, back in 2011, when Bitcoin was the first of the new wave of digital currencies, and only worth a few cents, I used to mess around with them. I learned how to buy them and trade them and just generally fart around with them. It was a harmless distraction, and what with the price always going up, I probably made a couple of hundred bucks, fifty cents at a time, back then.

Well, with the price of Bitcoin having edged up to nearly $20,000 each (they've gone up 178,000 percent), I thought I'd rummage in the digital sofa cushions for lost change. I have nine hard drives with me, and there was a chance that a forgotten wallet file from back then might still be there.

So, I hooked the drives up one at a time, and, my, my... lookee here, baby... what did I find, but the old digital wallet. It was stuffed to the tune of 21.5 Bitcoin. Though the price had fallen in the time I was conducting the search to a meager $16,800 each, I wasn't too severely disappointed. If I had to settle for $360,000, then I would just buck up and put a brave face on it. Rather than speculate further, I would call it a day at the baccarat table, tip the lovely dealer and cash them in en masse and transfer the resulting torrent of dollars to a checking account. I'd better just send a third of the windfall straight to the IRS so I wouldn't get too used to having it close to hand. I could be too easily tempted to start amassing a collection of old mandolins and vintage British motorcycles. I told Roo to get ready for the good stuff. She was about to get back on the good jerky. She would obviously require a more expensive and dignified name, one that spared no expense on the numbers of letters in it. I allowed my mind to wander over the country we had lately seen in such great detail. Where would we live, now that we could, within reason, choose any place we liked? The sudden freedom and hope of the thing was too much. I was getting too far out ahead of myself. Better to start modestly. I'd hitch the trailer up for one last ride out West, where I would shove it into a ravine just south of that hellhole up at Dismal Lake that it almost went into the first time around.

I was glad to learn that coming into so much unexpected cash wasn't changing me one bit. I didn't allow myself to sink into an easy, cushy lifestyle. Unlike most of the wealthy, I remained interested in more than myself. My curiosity about the world was undiminished. So undiminished, in fact, that before I hitched the trailer up for its death march to Idaho, and because I had learned about Bitcoin way back then and have a pretty good understanding of how it works, it occurred to me that the $400K figure might have been off. The interface between the complex worldwide system of Bitcoin nodes and the wallet software on one's personal computer could conceivably have produced some kind of error. 

I was rusty on the procedures, so it took several hours to arrive at a final determination of just how rich Roo and I were. I won't bore you with the technicalities, because it is nothing but the worst kind of them, but after a lengthy process involving checking the cryptological addresses of all those old Bitcoins against their combined histories on the blockchain, a concrete valuation of my towering cash portfolio eventually emerged. The initial $400,000 estimate was only off by a little — depending on whether you counted up or down from the $400,000. It was off by $399,700. In the typical way of such errors, it was in the bank's favor.

It was nice while it lasted. 

In case you've never seen one, is what a Bitcoin address looks like:

1GsvpKfBZPPeiN24FNHXKsAMVzHeizjLV6  If you need any practice using them, feel free to try that one.

Otherwise, damn the damn things.

Looking for a beautiful girl

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She disappeared for a while today.

Not Roo. She disappears down mouse holes every day. It was this red tail hawk who disappeared.

We've been camped in some woods in western Maryland, and the more the temperature dropped recently, the more Roo liked it. She kept swimming until it about 30 degrees, and then only stopped because I asked her to, and I only asked her to because adding a wet dog to a freezing camper is a bad idea. I know this, because it happens all the time.

But the upshot of the cold is that Roo is willing to go outside for a pee. She likes to charge into the forest and bark at everyone out there. There is no one out there, in reality. She just feel invigorated and enjoys showing off. When she comes back I tell her what a brave girl she is, and she likes that, too.

Yesterday morning, it was about 25 degrees or so, and Roo went outside to lie down for a nap. She was exhausted from sleeping all night. 

From inside the camper I heard her bark at someone. Tentatively, just a couple of woofs, delivered in a mild tone, as if she wasn't sure she was overstepping but wanted to let someone know she was keeping an eye on them. I took a look, and just down the hill from us, a falconer was flying this stunning red tail hawk. I've never seen anyone do this before. The falconer looked up in our direction, and though he was too polite to say anything, it was obvious that the bird wouldn't come down from the trees with a wolf like Roo nearby, so I stuffed her back in the trailer. That was fine with her, because the issuance of two woofs so early in the day had exhausted her and she wanted to go back to bed. 

A few minutes later, Lou, the falconer stopped by to show me the bird.

She's a three-and-a-half pound miracle, half superior aerodynamic design, half pure badass. She is who I often wish I could be. A better flyer than any human will ever be and without the FAA to haunt her.

The falconer takes her out most days to hunt. She picks squirrels off as if they were brass rings at a merry-go-round. They never see her coming. She is able to swoop down as pick them out of midair as they hop from tree to tree, as they run on the ground or climb trees. Once she sights one in, the squirrel becomes her dinner.

She returns, with her catch, to her human. Why she would isn't clear to me. She could just go and eat the squirrel and be done with him. But she doesn't. She comes back, he gets the squirrel from her, and then she gets it back for dinner later. I asked the falconer how he got the bird, and he said he trapped her. They set up a net enclosure and lure the bird in with bait. Then they feed the bird those little chicks they love, and they loosen up.

I don't know anything about this, so I'm not going to judge. Offhand, it seems like a hawk would prefer not to be caught like that, but she does, after all, return to him. I asked him if he thought she liked him, and he said he didn't think so. He didn't think her mind operated that way. She was in it for the same reason the Beatles formed a band — for the chicks. The falconer feeds them to her. She also eats whatever she kills and brings back to him, though she gets that later. Why a bird agrees to this I don't know.

While we were talking, the red tail was calm. She didn't care that I was there. She didn't display any indication of nervousness, which I guess is what it takes to be such a high-performance creature in the first place. Every once in a while she would spread her wings and decide to fly off, but Lou was holding onto her claws until he was ready to let her go for another round of hunting.

I asked him if she liked him or if it was all about the chicks he fed her, and he said it was all about the chicks. They acclimate quickly to captivity, they eat well, are cared for, and then released. Like I say, I don't know, and maybe it's miserable for the bird, but she gets the chance to escape all the time, and doesn't.

Or at least, she didn't, until now. Lou stopped by the camper the next day to ask if I had seen her or heard her. I hadn't. He said shed been gone about a half hour. 

I was glad to have met her. Red tail hawks are all over the country, but I've never seen one this close. She is, of course, magnificent, in looks and bearing. She is confident and strong and an efficient weapon whose hunting takes place at high speed, flying through obstacles. When you're near her, she doesn't try to avoid eye contact. She looks you right in the eye. Sizes you up. Realizes you can't fly like she can. Figures she's the better bird. She's right and she knows it.

Lou looked for her for a couple of hours. Evidently, she was just hunting, and it hadn't gone well. She hadn't eaten. When he called to her, she came right back and landed on his arm.

She goes free in the spring.

We leave tomorrow. It has become way too cold to stay. It's unmanageable. It takes huge amounts of work to keep things warm and to manage everything. I'm not sure where we're going. We're looking for some kind of place to live. We have to get out of this camper. It was the worst mistake I ever made. It's spiraled completely out of control. The hawk was right. I'm not the flyer she is. She would never hit the ground the way we are.

The Red Tail with Lou.

The Red Tail with Lou.

Master Dog Training Tips and Tricks: Getting your dog to stand still in the middle of a shake

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One of the most annoying problems anyone who photographs dogs has to deal with is trying to capture them not looking insane when shaking water off. All my previous attempts have met with failure. Unfortunately, the only solution to obtain this essential behavior is years of precision training. You can't be impatient with this. It comes easily to no dog, not even a highly-qualified obedience champion of Roo's caliber. It has taken five years of daily swims and lengthy photo sessions utilizing sophisticated equipment.

The first rule is that you can never miss a single day of training. If you do, you will lose all the benefit of previous sessions. This trick is just too hard. The mind of a dog can not be allowed to drift too far from the goal. Sub-freezing temperatures, hurricanes, it doesn't matter. You have to drill the dog on this every day.

The top photo illustrates the usual shaking dog photograph. Anyone can take that shot. The second photograph, however, is a perfect example of the success you can expect once you apply Master Dog Training Techniques, an encylclopedia-style series of volumes numbering the thousands of pages which I plan to compile. Space doesn't permit sharing with you the exact process by which I have been able to stop Roo in mid-shake in order to achieve this milestone in dog training (the internet is just not big enough), so for the moment suffice it to say that it is a lengthy positive reinforcement regimen. The dog must be required to go on lengthy hikes and be heated up by being allowed to pretend they have lost their minds as they chase prey, dig holes, tear trees out by the roots, disappear over the horizon for half an hour at a time and so on. 

Then you must make sure your dog never enters the water until commanded to do so. Finding the appropriate commands is tricky because you must be a master of dog psychology, anticipating every possible reaction of the finely-tuned and complex mind of a dog. What works for me is, "Roo, I said don't go in the water!" which ensures that she will run in at full tilt.

Of all the questions received here at TDITC World Headquarters, this has to be the among the top two or three. Hopefully this will encourage those of you who might be about to give up on teaching your dog to hold still in mid-shake so you can get your shot to keep trying. Don't give up. It can be done.