The Master of Dead Reckoning Runs Out of Road

These days you could use a cell phone to navigate in a light aircraft. But before GPS, beginning flight students had to learn to rely on paper maps. We learned how to identify features on the map and to correlate them with what we saw on the ground. For example, you’d see a road on the map beside a town with a radio antenna. Then, you’d look around to see if anything on the ground matched up. You’d mark your course with a pencil on the map and study the landmarks you expected to find along the way. A water tower here, a small town there, an intersection of two freeways. You might follow a road, if there was one, or a river. You could see how your pencil line angled towards a lake or a hilltop and see if it lined up from the cockpit. Navigating by means of nothing more than a compass and a map is called dead reckoning. I became, if I say so myself, a master of dead reckoning. Eventually, I would stretch it to the point where I could cross mountain ranges in dim moonlight and nail a course with the precision of a World War II bomber pilot. It’s always been a point of pride.

I loved that part of flying, especially since I had always been an amateur of maps. I have a collection of them covering the entire surface of the world, huge things, four by five feet each, and dozens, if not hundreds, of other maps I’ve picked up around the world. Nothing has ever fascinated me more than maps. So much so, that the first time I traveled around the world, I chose my route by looking at a Times Atlas of the World and choosing the places that were the most alluring on the poetry of their names as they appeared in the pastel gamut of those lovely maps. Do not try that. Things like that are reserved to the Masters of Dead Reckoning.

Early in the training of any pilot, right after establishing a rough ability to take off and land and keep the airplane from plummeting unnecessarily to the ground, the student begins to learn how to fly cross country. The flight instructor shepherds the student through the phases of flight planning on the ground — charting the course on the map, anticipating the effects of predicted wind on speed and heading, airport information, fuel calculations, weight and balance — and then sits in the co-pilot’s seat for a flight to and back from some nearby airport. 

In the 1970s, when I learned to fly, there were something like 14,000 airports in America. Many of those are gone now, but when there were that many, they gave flight instructors the opportunity to pull the same time-honored trick on every student. They would command you to fly to an airport that had another one that looked just like it nearby and see if you tried to land at that one by mistake. There were a few like that in Connecticut that my instructor tried to fool me with, but it never worked. I, like most students, figured the trap out and avoided it. I was not yet a Master of Dead Reckoning, but I was on my way, and no such silly error was going to mar my progress.

Then came yesterday.

Roo and The Master of Dead Reckoning left the Eureka Springs area and headed east at an altitude of zero feet above ground level. Temps were in the mid 90s, and, without a cloud in the sky, it was a real broiler for Roo. She won’t lie down in the shade of the back seat on cross country rides. It’s part of a strict dog ethic as she sees it. She won’t do it, no matter how badly she gets roasted in the right seat.

On top of not having cooled off in days, her paw was also bothering her. Even in the air-conditioning she had been panting non-stop, all through the night. On her walks she had been slowing down to the speed of a wheelchair with a flat. Still, she insisted on the front seat where she could make sure I heard her grunting and groaning as she became more uncomfortable and annoyed.

Between Roo feeling bad and the fact that we’re just drifting now from town to town to see if we can find a place to land, I selected a destination only 100 miles east, a place called Mountain Home, a town that takes great pride in being the center for folk music. I don’t know if it is or not, but as a failed mandolinist, that drew me and I thought we might as well have a look.

When we got there, there was no sign of anything but a few miles of the same Family Dollars and Pizza Huts as anywhere else. It didn’t seem like much of a town at all. But there we were.

We went to a small campground in a state park east of town. The vibe was bad. A couple of drunk crackers, extra hot in the high temps, were yelling at each other about who forgot the motor for their bass boat. Each blamed the other and they were at an impasse that looked like it could take a bad turn, even this early in the day’s Bud Light cycle. They had a little chihuahua who was participating in the fight and who was occasionally told to shut up but wouldn’t. There was another camp nearby and we drove over to try that one. It was much nicer, even though the woman attending the pay station was prone to distraction and took 25 minutes to check us in because a park ranger threw in a remark once in a while, like, “Looks like we’re starting to get a line going here,” as the traffic at the gate backed up, and that would derail her and the only way she could get back on track was to start from scratch. Sometimes something else would go wrong even without being asked anything, like forgetting to enter whether my card was credit or debit. It didn’t matter. Somehow she had to start all over again every time. My name, my phone number, my address.

When we drove into the campground it looked familiar. Then I remembered: Roo and I had been there once, in cooler weather, back when this journey began. When you start running into towns as tiny as Gamaliel, Arkansas twice, you’ve run out of road. As unthinkable as it might be, the Master of Dead Reckoning had run out of road. Clear run out, as they might say here in the Ozarks.

Roo’s paw was starting to finally look a little better. There was a good scab on it and I was estimating that within a week she would be as good as new. Seeing the lake here, she was miserable. Being kept out of a lake in which you know from experience is perfectly okay to swim in is an insult to a dog like Roo. And in this heat.

On her walk this morning, though, she put her paw down. She had to get in that lake. She lay down on the road staring at it, panting with a tongue long and inflated by the heat. She wouldn’t move. She broke me with that and I let her in.

Roo hasn’t been in the water for weeks. She dunked her head underwater and swung it from side to side, washing her face and getting the water in her ears and eyes and coming back up for air snorting and looking happy for the first time in a long time. She dunked another forty or fifty times for the sheer pleasure of it. She must have really felt she needed a good wash. She might have been right, too: her paw looks better now than it did before. Maybe reducing her body temperature was the key but the Master of Dead Reckoning was too stupid to know it.

I took advantage of Roo’s good mood to dremel her claws, clean her ears and trim the fur from her paws. Back in the camper I got online to try to figure out just what in the hell it was that Mountain Home was talking about with all that capital-of-folk-music stuff. I figured I’d at least have been able to buy a pack of mandolin strings here. I would justify the expense on the off chance that fresh strings might produce a tone less annoying to Roo. I owed it to her to try. I looked up music stores in Mountain, leaving the rest of the field blank, because why bother when there’s autofill on the online app, another town named Mountain View popped up. Fifty miles south of here. Mountain View is the music town. Not Mountain Home. The Master of Dead Reckoning had flown to the wrong airport. He did not have to admit this to the dog, however. As far as she was concerned, my navigation had been perfect. As far as she was concerned, it was about time. She had been worrying that the Master of Dead Reckoning had forgotten something as simple as getting her to the water.

Her swimming ban is lifted. And tomorrow, the Master of Dead Reckoning will load her up and take her to Mountain View, America’s Capital of Folk Music.

Eureka and beyond


We finally left Oklahoma a few days ago and headed northeast. Roo’s paw is still giving her trouble, and so I was going to stick around a few more days in case she needed to go back to see Dr. Stokes. But then, when I kneeled down in the grass to repair something under the camper, I felt several sharp little pinpricks in my knee. I had no idea. It was burr clover. It’s so pernicious that it stuck to the bottom of rubber-soled sandals. It was so bad that it had turned into the reason Roo had stopped wanting to walk there.

She had become more and more unwilling to go outside, and I was putting it all down to the surgical wound. But it wasn’t, not after a couple of weeks. It was that she was getting pinpricked endlessly while walking on the grass. Walking on concrete she was fine. She only wanted to go for walks if we went to town, where she could walk on concrete and asphalt. I felt terrible for not realizing how bad it was. Something must have blown that breed of weed in this year. It’s all over that part of Oklahoma and there’s plenty, though not as much, where we are now in Arkansas. Roo is so tough that it has to be bad for it to hurt her. I suppose that with all the pain from her paw surgery, she just had it. She was tired of taking chances.

Our first stop is a small town in north Arkansas called Eureka Springs. It’s beautiful small town, one of the few in America that is still filled with the houses built when it boomed around 1900. Most of them are bed & breakfasts now. A couple of old grand hotels are still up there, lording it over the town from the highest hills. 

Just about all the towns that we’ve been to in rural America that are still pretty and vibrant tend to be liberal oases in red states. Bisbee, Arizona and Eureka Springs are the best examples. Artists, writers and artisans settle in, neighborhoods are beautified and the tourists come in to spend their dough. In the case of Eureka Springs, there are good schools, museums, restaurants, and tons of shops. Everyone with a B&B seems to have NO VACANCY signs out front, though, from what I understood on the local grapevine, the B&B business is filling up with sharks who are taking over City Hall and the Historical Commission to rig the rules so they can rake in some more money. There was a funny example of this in the local paper, in which there was an article about a vicious commission meeting in which threats were leveled, pressures brought to bear over unauthorized construction — and when I read the name of the person whose attorney was making the threats, the name sounded familiar. It was: it was the name of the paper’s publisher that appeared in the byline of the other story on the page.

Everyone I spoke to there told me that the main thing about Eureka Springs was that everyone not only knew everyone else, but knew everything about them and what they were up to. It was even printed on an apron for sale in town: The great thing about Eureka Springs is that even if you don’t know what you’re doing, someone else will.

The other thing that Bisbee and Eureka Springs have in common is that there is almost no room to clutter them up with more houses. They’re both built into rocky hills that can’t handle anything bigger than what’s there. So, while prices will probably always tend upwards over time, they can’t reach astronomical levels because even if they ever let you tear the old houses down, which, so far, they won’t, there wouldn’t be enough room for sizable houses. It’s a lucky thing, a form of built-in protection to keep Eureka Springs and Bisbee from turning into Jackson, Wyoming or Telluride, Colorado, once magical towns that are now indistinguishable from the average strip mall, where instead of Subways and a laundry, there are pearl jewelers and boutiques for rich hippies surrounded by the same beige McMansions in there same subdivisions as in Kansas City or Phoenix or San Diego. Once the centers of those towns get scooped up, the subdivisions follow and if you got kidnapped out of one and returned to another 1000 miles away you wouldn’t know you’d changed neighborhoods. The area surrounding Eureka Springs will probably undergo the same kind of transformation one of these days. The small art galleries and coffee shops there now will be replaced by Edward Jones financial advisor offices. As soon as a high-end jeweler opens and starts selling gold jewelry instead of silver, the end for any of those towns is nigh.

It probably won’t happen fast here, though, because the surrounding area is so deep red. Get out into the beautiful countryside around here, in the part of the southernmost Ozarks where you can see why the cliché ‘rolling hills’ was settled on (they look like colossal wagon wheels dropped from the skies and have developed into grassy mounds over the eons and I’ll be damned if I can thing of any other word that works), and you are in Trump country. Flags for Trump-Pence 2020 are already flying, usually in front of the homes already garbaged up with other junk in the yards. But it is pretty country.

We went to look at a few rentals not too far away, but there was nothing workable. One or two were far enough from the nearest Confederate flag-draped hog farm, but that was about all they had going for them. We’ll head out tomorrow. It’s going to be another hot one. Roo can’t stand to be out in it anyway, so we might as well drive.

Dr. Stokes prescribed another antibiotic before we left, and Roo’s on that now and it seems to be helping her, but she’s miserable. Though it has thankfully not been humid or stormy these last few days, this is the first time in her life since I’ve known her that she hasn’t been able to go swimming for weeks on end. The heat is getting to her, and she looks longingly at any stream, but as soon as I remind her that there’s no swimming because she has the hand, as I say to her, she backs off. She knows and agrees. But if she can’t swim, she just wants to stay in the camper all day. She resists going out for more than the basics. She’s getting a little depressed. To keep her from licking her paw, she has to wear a sock all the time, but that she doesn’t mind at all. When I put it on, she looks away, with that stoic look dogs specialize in, in case I do anything that’s uncomfortable for her, which I don’t have to now, but if I did she would let me without complaint, and when I’m done she smiles and plasters her ears way back and gives me a few licks on the face. She appreciates having her paw taken care of.

We will continue to head east and north. Hopefully in another week she’ll be out of her sock and able to be Roo again.

Roo is having trouble healing

Plans to depart this area sooner had to be delayed because Roo’s paw is giving her trouble and it didn’t seem to make sense to drift out of Dr. Stokes’ waters until her recovery was a sure thing. Kid hoped that getting the stitches out on Thursday would be the turning point but it wasn’t. It seemed like everything was going well until Saturday morning. She came out of her corner when she woke up around noon with her paw inflamed and infected. Cleaning it and dressing only takes care of the problem for a few hours until the wound starts itching her. If that happens in her sleep she is too out of it to realize the damage she does. So, she has a gnarly hot spot there now. I’ve dressed it with a toddler sock as a breathable guard held in place with self-adhering bandage higher up the arm. That way nothing contacts the sore spot. If she keeps picking at the wound she’s going to have to be put in an e-collar. I have one with me. The problem is that there isn’t enough room for her to wear it in the tiny camper. She would just get hung up every time she tried to take a step in any direction.

She listens to me when I clean and dress the wound and tell her that she can’t pull the sock off. But in her sleep she forgets, and if she does and licks it, she can turn it into a bad infection right away. She did it last night, and it was oozing pus in the morning. Cleaned again with hydrogen peroxide drizzled in with a syringe rinsed off with distilled water and a light dusting of NeoPreDef, which contains antibiotic, steroid and lidocaine. If she can make it through the night without harming herself it’ll be a good start.

She’s uncomfortable, bored and sad. Tomorrow it’ll be two weeks since had a walk. She’s tired all the time and just wants to go outside for absolute necessity.

We’ve had two days without thunderstorms, but it’s looking bad for the coming hours:


Supercells are not what I was hoping for. They are what they sound like. Powerful and vast, filled with billions of joules of energy, enough to power the planet, wasted as thunder, lightning, hail and tornadoes.  

The stitches came out on Thursday (Roo was so brave and cooperative with Dr. Stokes). We were going to leave on Friday, but her wound didn’t look good and I brought her back to see the doctor. There’s almost no point in leaving until she’s past the rough patch. We’ll see if she needs another round of antibiotics  

”Chigi Bear,” I lean over the side of my bed to talk to her in hers, “you don’t lick that hand of yours. You don’t pull that sock off.” She understands that and complies. She only forgets in her sleep. 

Then I tell her what I tell her every night. “Whose Daddy loves his Rooki up and down? Rooki’s. And who does your old Daddy love her up and down? That’s right, Rooki’s.” She likes hearing that. It puts her right to sleep. I remind her again to leave the sock taped to her paw alone and she backsnorts a couple of times as if to say, “I heard you the first fifty times.”  And then she’s asleep.

She of course knows about approaching thunderstorms long before I do, and it’s when she’s entering that zone of fear that she’s prone to doing the most damage to herself.  

This recovery is harder on her than I expected. I’ve never seen her want to do nothing but lie in the camper for so long. It makes me worry that this could be the injury that changes her life. That takes the only joy she had in it away from her. She doesn’t want to walk on that paw at all. 

Into the storm


Ten years ago, I flew an open-cockpit biplane from Pompano, Florida to Santa Monica, California, a distance of 2700 miles that began a mile from the Atlantic and ended a mile from the Pacific. The airplane, a WACO YMF-5, was elegant but primitive, a 1935 design with wooden wings covered in cloth and braced by long sets of wire held in place with sawed-off broom handles. Owing to the poor aerodynamics of old biplane designs — fat wings, fuselage and landing gear, a big, round nose and a 60-year-old engine driving an eight-foot wooden propeller, it could only manage a cruise speed of about 100 miles per hour. The tanks contained enough fuel for two hours of flight, but with the wise law that requires pilots to land with half an hour of fuel left in the tanks meant that those 2700 miles would have to be broken up into 150-mile legs.

One hundred miles per hour for a 2700 mile flight does not translate neatly to 27 hours of flying, or, for that matter, 2700 miles. It would take more than that because neither airports nor weather position themselves conveniently. Air masses over the United States move from west to east, so, though the wind at any point on the surface might blow from any direction, westbound flights at low altitude will be subject to a headwind over the long run, and the speed of the airplane’s travel over the ground is reduced by the amount of that wind. In a 20 mile headwind, a 100 mph airplane would pace a car going 80 on the highway. 

The airplane did not have the instruments you need to fly in the clouds, so those had to be flown under or around, rarely over, because the plane didn’t have the power to climb higher than any but the measliest of clouds. It also had a minor engine problem, not a dangerous one, but it was consuming too much oil and the caution that necessitated also meant having to abbreviate flights when the temperature climbed into the red. Crossing the country took about five days and 17 stops.

Summertime flying, especially over areas like the desert that reflect the hot sun from bright surfaces, can result in a lot of turbulence. Turbulence of any amount never bothered me, but without protection of the roof of an enclosed cabin overhead, with just the sky up there and the ground over the sides of the airplane, with the hurricane force of the wind just outboard of the cockpit, I sometimes fond myself holding the stick between my knees to keep the plane level and using my hands to grip the steel fuselage tubes on the sides of the open cockpit. This was out of an irrational — idiotic, really — fantasy that the seatbelt could be induced to fail when a heavy bump yanked me on it and, no longer attached to the plane, allow me to be shot off into the air. I imagined the bolt attaching the belt to the fuselage shearing, or the tab it was welded to cracking. That was one of the two things I would think about in motels overnight: I could feel and visualize the whole process, popping out of the airplane and watching it fly away, a wing dipping and it entering a spiral with no one on the stick, as I plummeted to the ground (the other thing I thought about was cell phone towers, their steel frames and rows of black cables, which I always suspected of lying in wait to clip a wing for me when I flew below their height). You might find this as strange to read as it feels to write, but I’m scared of heights. That was never a problem for me flying other airplanes, probably because of the false sense of security of the roof of the cabin overhead. But in this open cockpit airplane, I hated to get up too high, as if falling from 6000 or 9000 feet would be any worse than falling from 100. I think it was the idea of the long fall to the ground. All that time to reflect. Seeing the ground approach, always faster until the lights went out. The whole thing was stupid, because the things that I imagined breaking were in fact extremely secure. I had checked them ten million times. Yet my mind gravitated to the fact that if you aren’t wearing a seatbelt when the plane pitches over, you would depart the plane at whatever speed it’s traveling at the time. You would simply rise from the cockpit the way a trampoline would bounce you, up — for only a moment — into the slipstream, and then fall the way you do in a nightmare.

The weather might cooperate sometimes, but this was late spring, and all through the southern tier of the country that meant thunderstorms. It took two days just to make it out of the 600 miles of Florida and into the panhandle because storms built so rapidly in the morning. When there is a squall line of storms you have to wait until it passes. But if the thunderstorms are isolated, as they were all the rest of the way, you can fly around them if you have enough space. How much space you need depends on the severity of the cell. You can’t fly into them, because even the tiniest of cumulus clouds are like hitting a road with the pavement torn up. The big ones can bend wings, pop rivets, put creases in the sheet metal of wings, or simply smash an airplane of any size to pieces. You can’t fly under them, because a microburst of wind might decide to slam you into the ground like a spitball shot from a straw. Jets fly over them, but in an underpowered crate like the WACO that’s not an option. You can’t risk getting too close to the sides because they might let loose with some hail. Otherwise you can fly around them easily enough. Just ask Charles Lindbergh. When he was flying the mail in biplanes in the 1920s he never once allowed the weather to ground him, even though that strict ethic resulted in his having to parachute out of them four times. He always found the wreckage and secured the mail, though.

Of course, where there is one thunderstorm cell the conditions exist for more of them to pop up in front of you while you’re committed to a route between them. Other than only flying where I could see a clear way ahead, I relied on two things for guidance. The main one was a GPS that displayed current NexRad weather radar returns in real time. As long as that worked, I could see if what I was seeing from the cockpit lined up with what was on radar. Whenever possible, I backed this up with a conversation on the radio with air controllers who had weather radar.

“It looks like if you go another ten miles on your present heading and then get to the north side of that cell before you turn south, you should be okay,” the crackling voice on the radio would say. It was nice talking with them. Some pilots don’t like talking on the radio, but I always enjoyed it, especially on solitary flights over the mountains or the desert and even more so at night, when there’s more magic to a voice reaching you as you bore through the clouds or a black sky in a small plane, when the instrument lights reflect dimly in amber and green and blue on the window and there is a depth to the darkness beyond that is like nothing you ever see on the ground. What a privilege it is. It places you on a scale that leaves you in no doubt as to how tiny and insignificant you are. Sometimes you see clouds ahead, or all around you, and see another airplane miles away, and that plane is nothing but a gnat, and you know you are nothing but a gnat, too, flying among mountains twice as tall as the Himalaya.

One storm came up in a way I had never experienced before. It was along a dry line in Texas, a place where atmospheric conditions mix in the ideal way to feed high-power storms. One large cell was off my left wing and another to the right. I had plenty of room. There was another cumulus cloud building ahead, but it didn’t look like it was going to be a problem. Within a few minutes, while I approached it, it grew into a spontaneous mountain nearly 60,000 feet high, as if it were a time-lapse film of a thunderstorm growing. The returns on the GPS’s radar display went from green to yellow to red just like that. There was nothing to do but to turn around — the only way to do any of this is never to leave yourself without a way out, a lesson I now wish I had taken more to heart  — and land at Odessa, Texas and spend the night there, lying on a bed in a motel waiting for the hearing in my right ear to return from the beating it took in the open cockpit from the prop wash on long flights, studying sectional charts for the details of the terrain ahead and thinking about cell phone towers and falling through the air.

These days, no longer allowed to fly, I find myself looking at the radar returns more intently than I did back then. Instead of NexRad on the GPS I see them on a cellphone app, and instead of an open-cockpit biplane, it’s to see what’s coming for Roo in this tiny camper. I don’t know if it would be better not to have the information. But there it is, and I stare at the damned thing all the time, especially when it gets critical, the way it is now. 

We’re expecting three days of thunder, and it’s just coming on now. I watch the screen to see if there’s going to be enough of a break to get Roo out to pee (there isn’t, and she won’t). Roo can’t be left alone with her paw wounded because if I’m not with her she will in her panic try to dig a hole in the dinette seat and it would tear her stitches open. So I have to time showers, trips to the store, getting her out and fed, everything. All around thunderstorms.

Dr. Stokes called yesterday to schedule taking her stitches out and I had to to ask him if we could make the appointment when the predictions firmed up a bit, because Roo would be unmanageable if there was a thunderstorm when she had to go there. Getting her in and out of the car would be impossible, getting her inside the office out of the question, and then she would just flail wildly. How could anyone be expected to take eight stitches out from the webbing between her toes with her like that? Staring at the radar and the predictions, it looks like there might be a break on Thursday afternoon. Dr. Stokes said if the wound looks sufficiently healed, he’ll take them out then. If not, it’ll have to wait until Monday. I could do it, but better to have her see the doctor for proper followup.

Meanwhile, it’s going to be a rough night for the Kahoo. The first of the thunderclaps just landed. There’s no turn we can take. 

We have to fly into the storm.


Roo’s lab work returns


The old Country Monkey continues not to enjoy recovering from her paw surgery. You can see the stitches in the photo, and those extend all the way down the webbing between those two outboard toes, so that’s got to be a bummer. Amoxicillin also makes her feel terrible, but she’s had her last dose of that, so we’ll see if that makes her feel better. She still hasn’t been able or allowed to walk for more than a few minutes at a time. Not that she wants to. This is the first time in her life she’s gone without walks fort an extended period. Even when she was deathly ill a couple of years ago she went for walks, except for the two worst days.

Dr. Stokes called this morning with the biopsy results on the mass he removed last Tuesday. It’s something called a fibroadnexal hamartoma. The most concise online explanation of that distinguished title is, “A mass (oma) composed of an overproduction of normal structures (hamart) with a combination of collagen (fibro) and hair follicle structures (adnexal).”

In other words, it’s a growth having something to do with hair follicles. I know there’s nothing worse than a good-news-bad-news joke to accompany a medical diagnosis (the doctor who found my spinal cord tumor used one on me to break the news), but there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that it’s not cancerous and that the lab reports that it appears that Dr. Stokes got the whole thing out. The bad news is that if you’re a mouse you might as well put the champagne away and break out the Bushmill’s, because Bearface will be back on the prowl before long.

In the meantime, the stitches are due to come out on Thursday or Friday. Between now and then another vicious storm is going to be moving in. So, mouses, take comfort in the fact that Roo will be suffering a lot more than you for a few more days.

I wonder how long that pebble has been in Roo’s shoe. For some weeks she’s been slowing down, occasionally limping and not interested in her usual walks. I have high hopes that this surgery might restore to her some of the youth I was afraid she was losing prematurely.

Roo is really not enjoying her recovery


Roo’s surgery was on Tuesday. She did well, but that night more thunderstorms came through, and so, instead of the rest she needed, she spent the night petrified. Early in the morning, when she came out from hiding behind her thunderstorm spot, jammed in behind my pillow, I saw that she had torn the pressure bandage off. Most of the incision is between her toes, so she didn’t hurt anything by pulling the bandage off and she didn’t bother the wound. I got Dr. Stokes on the line first thing in the morning, and he said it didn’t need to be covered. He was going to remove it anyway at her followup appointment that afternoon.

Her paw was too sore for her to want to walk much, but she also didn’t limp when she walked for the few minutes it would take for her to go outside. She spent the day sleeping until I loaded her in the truck to go see Dr. Stokes.

It was raining when we got there, and refused to go inside. She was so upset that she lay down in the parking lot and began to tremble violently. I was close enough to the door to be able to open it and tell one of the techs and Dr. Stokes came right outside to examine her, in the rain. He was satisfied with the incision, and I took Bearface back to the camper.

She’s on amoxicillin, which always seems to make her feel bad. For pain she gets a rimadyl, but that’s also rough on her. But it seems better to give it to her because she starts panting when the paw hurts too much. All of that’s contributing to how miserable she feels. That, and the heat here. Today it’s only about 80 degrees, but when it hasn’t been thundering it’s been up around 90 already. Still, the first day, she seemed to have been feeling a little better than she is now. She even had the bright idea of wanting to chase a squirrel, which she had to be prevented from doing. But today she’s just lying around. I know from my lifetime of surgeries that that’s often how it goes, and we’re only three days out from the surgery.

Until the incision heals, Roo can only be allowed to walk fora minute or two, just long enough to empty the tanks, and that’s fine with her. She doesn’t want to go longer than that. But this morning, as soon as she took a few steps a little blood appeared between her toes. I texted Dr. Stokes a close-up photo of the wound and he recommended pouring a little hydrogen peroxide on it followed by a tiny rinse of water. Roo didn’t like that, but her trust in me is high, and she always lets me do anything that needs to be done without complaint. She looks away and doesn’t resist at all. That seemed to take care of the trouble. The wound is clean and dry now. She’s going to have to go out again later, though.

Being as skittish and hypervigilant as Roo is a big problem. In this godforsaken camper, any time I move, even when Roo is feeling fine, she is startled and now that makes it all the more difficult for her to rest. I try to sit still for as long as I can, but just so much as moving in my seat makes something creak. The bed also creaks. There’s no space in here, so she’s always underfoot, and though I have never once stepped on her, she’s understandably more wary than usual now. Overnight she’s taken to hiding, preferring to stuff herself to sleep in the spot she goes to whenever she’s worried, even though the full-size bed area I built for her beside the bed is just as safe and more comfortable. When she wants to hide out, she prefers the other, more confined space.

No thunderstorms are predicted for a few more days, but starting on Tuesday it’s going to be all thunderstorms all the time for days on end and we can not be here for that. It will be murder. Dr. Stokes said she should be healed enough to travel by then — even though the stitches don’t come out for another ten days — but there’s still the question of what the growth was. The lab probably won’t report until Monday, though there’s a slight chance Dr. Stokes will hear tomorrow. If he hears from them he’ll call, but he says it usually takes them five days and they won’t report on Sunday, so Monday is more likely.

Poor Chigi. There’s nothing worse than seeing a good dog suffer.

Roo's surgery: More paw trouble


The day started with taking the half hour to wake Roo in time for her 8:30 appointment with Dr. Stokes. “Chig, you’re going to have to get up,” I repeated to her a million times while I made some coffee. “You’re going to have to get up, Chigi, we have to go in the car. You have to go back to the doctor. Poor little bear. But the doctor is going to fix you that little hand of yours, so at least there’s that. Come on, Rooki, you have to get up.” Waking that dog up is like bringing someone back from the dead. But finally, she got the idea, got out of her bed and came outside.

She had refused to go out last night, so it was more than 12 hours since her last bathroom break, but there was no talking her into that. I tried and tried, but she just wouldn’t go. I tried again at the vet’s office, but she wasn’t interested. She was going to go under the knife like that.

Roo was good about going into Dr. Stokes’ office but she wasn’t too excited about being placed in the cage where she was going to have to wait until her surgery. “Don’t worry, Chig,” I said. “You’re going to be fine,” Dr. Stokes told her, and she gave me a look of terrible disappointment as I left.

Around noon Dr. Stokes called to say that there was no foxtail awn in Roo’s paw. What there was was a small nodule, some sort of growth. Dr. Stokes kept the incision small, but excised the nodule put eight stitches in and wrapped Bearface up in a fat pressure bandage. The growth is off to the lab. The results will be back in five days. Probably Monday.

Dr. Stokes told me to hold off until 3:30 or 4 to pick her up. I was there at 3:30. Roo was still a little woozy from the anesthesia, and putting any weight on her paw hurt her, but she kept forgetting because she was so happy to see me. Dr. Stokes briefed me on what he’d found. He said the growth was hard and fibrous and could be from something that got in there, though there was nothing else to be found. So, the lab.

The second Roo got outside she took a long pee that reminded me of the day I first met her, when I picked her up from the lousy, crowded vet clinic in Los Angeles where she had just been spayed. She had been caged for who knows how long then and, as frightened and traumatized as she was, she had to go.

After that, she wanted to get right in the car. Roo being the dedicated chowhound she is, and having been starved since 8 last night, she tucked right into a piece of jerky and a cookie. She didn’t want to drink any water but when we got back to the camper, I gave her a bowl of water with a big chunk of the ice I always freeze for her in hot weather, and she tanked up.

Unsurprisingly, the paw is too painful for Roo to walk on and she doesn’t want to go outside for long enough to get rid of everything she needs to, so that can’t be too comfortable, but that’s where we are.

I had been planning on leaving here, but obviously we have to stay for her follow-up. Dr. Stokes said to expect it to be pretty sore tomorrow — the day after surgery is always, in my experience, the worst of them. He’ll take the pressure bandage off tomorrow afternoon and have a look at how she’s doing. We won’t leave until Dr. Stokes clears her.

And so we wait for the lab results. In the meantime, the thunderstorms I’ve been dreading and was hoping to get ahead of are on the way. They are the last thing I want Roo to have to experience tonight. She’s going to want to come up on the bed, but if she tries to jump off she could hurt herself, so I have to figure out how to keep her from doing that.

She’s a little on the miserable side, but not as bad as she could be. She likes hearing me tell her what a Poor Little Bear she is, though. I get down on the floor with her to tell her, and she bats at me with her paw to make me tell her again, but then it zaps her with pain and she has to stop.

She’s a tough girl, though. As long as there’s no bad news from the lab — and I have a feeling there won’t be, because it seems more likely that this is just another in Roo’s long line of mouse hunting injuries, if a strange one — she’ll should be all right. The stitches don’t come out for 10 to 14 days, though, and that means that Roo in hot mouse country, is grounded. No swimming, no nothing but life at the end of a leash.

For now.