Silence

Photo credit to Dawn Miller

Sammy was in the zone. Her footfalls were the only thing she was focused on. One step after another, in tune with her breathing, created a zen-like state. She had started her morning run off strong, well on her way to breaking her eight minute mile.

Her GPS chimed the distance. Six miles down, one to go.

She noticed something in the path ahead, something oddly out of place. A pair of boots was lined up soldier straight in the middle of the path. She didn’t want to stop, but she did, catching her breath as she paused her watch.

On guard, she looked around. Everything was silent. Too silent. No cars on the road above. No birds. Where were the birds? Her neck prickled.

Suddenly, Sammy felt a cold hand on her shoulder followed by a hand over her mouth.

Moments later, a figure quietly replaced the boots with Sammy’s running shoes.


This is my first visit to this site. Having fun stretching my writing muscles with these competitions. Thanks for the challenge!

Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers 8/25-8/31

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Freedom

She let the dog run, as she had on countless early morning walks. Run free, she thought. The light was just beginning to come through the trees.

He took her hand possessively, never understanding. Smiling sadly, she willed him to stop, hoping her body’s energy spoke words her voice could not utter.

Image courtesy of Grammar Ghoul Press

In Honor of National Dog Day

Yesterday my Facebook feed was awash in pictures of dogs. My friend’s Scottie peering up at the camera with puppy dog eyes. My daughter hugging our old Pyrenees-Blue Heeler mix. A friend of a friend’s lab lounging in the shade of a tree, tongue hanging happily.

It was National Dog Day.

Now, I don’t pay much attention to national anything days, except to find the humor in the obscure, but I love my dogs, so I took notice.

Dog day was started in 2004 by Colleen Paige in the hopes of bringing to the forefront the plight of unwanted dogs serving time in shelters. (People, spay and neuter your pets!) We are the happy owners of a shelter dog and two other mixed breed dogs. Please let me introduce you.

Ranger as a pup
Ranger as a pup

Grandpa Dog – Ranger

Ranger was adopted over 15 years ago. We were on our way to some friends’ house and had stopped at Wal-Mart for some items. My husband and son ran in and I waited in the car with the rest of the kids. We noticed a crowd gathered around a box in front of the store, which was a common sight back then. People often took their kittens and puppies to Wal-Mart to give away. We wanted to see the baby animals, so we walked over there while we were waiting.

What we saw were the cutest little bundles of fur. I held one, and couldn’t put him down. He was adorable. He was a mixed breed, of course, with a little Blue Heeler, Great Pyrenees, and some Lab. I was still holding him when my husband came out of the store. I just turned toward him with my own puppy dog eyes and asked if this little furball could be my Christmas gift. And my husband, being the kind soul that he is, agreed to take on a puppy.

wpid-20140608_100541-1.jpg.jpegRanger is now a doddering, partly senile, mostly deaf old guy. He has had a long, good life. He lives outside on a fenced acre and absolutely owns this place. He sleeps in the piles of cut grass, the heat probably helping his old bones. He’s a seasoned professional at his guard dog duty, probably due to his Pyreneen heritage. When he was younger, he would nip at the kids elbows as they ran around the yard. We chalked that up to the Heeler. They are prone to act on their instincts, after all. He’s been such a good dog, and a faithful companion. He has the most uncanny ability to know when someone is sad and will come stand next to them, gently put his head on their lap or arm, and look knowingly into their eyes. He’s getting old, and some days has a hard time getting around. We know his time is coming, and we are going to miss this old guy.

Koda Buddy

Buddy
Buddy

Buddy is our shelter dog that we renamed when we brought him home. He is a big lug, an energetic puppy in an 80 pound body. He doesn’t have any concept of personal space, and would prefer to be in our laps if at all possible, and he tries to make it possible. Right after we got him, we thought about returning him to the shelter. He was just so overwhelming and annoying! But my youngest son said, “You don’t get rid of someone because they are annoying.”

So he stayed.

And I’m glad we kept him. We figured out that he has issues, and in true Cesar Milan fashion, when we put him in with Ranger, who is very stable, he calmed down a bit. The shelter tried to give us his crate when we took him in, so I know he was crated part of the time, maybe too much of the time. We figure the previous owners just found that he was too much dog for a small place. Here he has the run of the yard, and although I know he would love to be an inside dog, our inside space is tiny compared to the outside space. With his boundless energy and whip of a tail, he would be knocking things over left and right.

We can thank the previous owners for putting him through obedience classes. He can behave himself when he needs to. He has been a great running partner. He heels like he was born to, and no cat or dog can sway him from his path when he is heeling, but once the heeling is over, he’s back to his Buddy self. I made the mistake one time of stopping to take a picture with him, and he bowled me over right next to the road.

DSC_0361I recently contacted the previous owners. I was deep cleaning and came across Buddy’s paperwork. As I read through it, I was taken by how they seemed to care about this dog, but when I got to the end, I saw that there was a place the owners could check off if they wouldn’t mind being contacted. Beside that was written, please do! I quickly sent off an email with a couple of pictures and telling how happy their dog was along with the kinds of things he was enjoying around the property. I immediately got a happy email back, and she followed that with some pictures of him as a pup.

Buddy has a great bark, and I’ve had people get back into their cars when he stands at the fence and barks at them. Living in the country, it’s nice to have a dog that will be a deterrent to the crazies.

The baby of the pack is Roxie.

wpid-20140526_082825-1.jpgWe weren’t quite ready for another dog, but had talked about looking for a replacement for Ranger, who wasn’t doing very well at the time. Then a friend told me about how someone she knows had a purebred lab that had gotten pregnant and had a litter of thirteen puppies! We talked it over, and decided that it would be a good time to take on a puppy. I would be off work, the boys out of school, and our daughter would be home from college, so the pup would get plenty of attention. Buddy could get used to having her around and losing Ranger wouldn’t be such a loss.

Well, Ranger really seemed to love this puppy, and gained a whole new lease on life.

wpid-20140520_175746.jpgMy daughter took this on as her personal project, so this puppy has claimed her as her human. The problem with that is that when she leaves for college, the dog is mopey, and Skype conversations can put her into a state of depression. Sometimes when my daughter is gone, I look outside to find Roxie sitting on the bench where my daughter sits to play her guitar. wpid-20150806_101134.jpg

Neediness aside, she’s a fun dog. She lives for the Frisbee, and has recently discovered that she likes to swim. (We just have to watch for those pesky campground hosts who want to enforce the leash laws.) She loves dogs and kids and smells and treats… The list goes on and on. She is the only dog in the past 18 years that has been allowed by my husband, albeit grudgingly, to come in the house. (I won’t tell him about her climbing onto the window sill!)wpid-20141206_142611.jpg

In light of these three amazing creatures, I will have to think about celebrating National Dog Day. I’ll celebrate with treats, with Frisbee sessions, walks, and rides in the car. I’ll take endless photos and scratch behind their ears. I’ll take this day to remember how incredibly loyal they are to us, and how much they love just being around us.

If you’re still with me, you must love dogs as much as I do. Who is your four-pawed, tail-wagging best friend?

Driver’s License!

On the day after my 16th birthday, I was first in line at the DMV. I was so eager to drive, to get my dad’s red Cutlass under me and hit the road. I passed with flying colors, thanks to my dad’s expert instruction and a lot of time in a school sponsored driver’s education course. I was as excited as a child on Christmas morning, and I wielded my new license like my own personal trophy.

Despite having my license, I wasn’t allowed to immediately grab the car and go. My parents reluctantly let me make the small forays into driving independence with errands, including trips to the store right up the road. My parents created the provisional license long before the state mandated it. No friends in the car. Limited trips. But it wasn’t long before I was driving all of my friends around.


Georg Sander / Foter / CC BY-NC

I didn’t always handle my new-found independence with a great deal of responsibility. I drove too fast and at one point raced a co-worker down a road on the way home from work, something I’m sure my dad would be thrilled to hear. And once I backed his car into a pole at Fred Meyer. But overall, life was good, and luckily I didn’t hurt myself or anyone else.

At sixteen I also had a part-time job at KFC. My co-workers were my friends, and we had a good time at work. We laughed while we worked and ate chicken on our breaks and drank endless graveyards. Though I disliked coming home with my brown polyester uniform smelling like stale grease, I had fun with these people and enjoyed interacting with the public, AND I was getting a paycheck! I could buy the clothes and shoes that my parents said were too expensive. That was also the year that I bought my Pentax SLR camera and taught myself how to take pictures, creating a lifetime of photographic enjoyment.

Sixteen was a good year. Having freedom, money, and no financial responsibilities, how could it not be?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Only Sixteen.” Tell us all about the person you were when you were sixteen. If you haven’t yet hit sixteen, tell us about the person you want to be at sixteen.

To Whom It May Concern

To the watchers of words and lovers of language at Websters, Oxford, etc.,

First of all, let me take a moment to reassure you that I am and always will be a true aficionado of adjectives, namer of nouns, and visionary of verbs. I use them often, love to listen to most of them, and rejoice when they are well-chosen and appropriate. I may cringe at some words that just plop into conversation like bird droppings onto my car, but it would be extreme for me to ask you to ban them outright.

There is one word, however, that I beg you to consider removing from the lexicon:  Boring

http://

/ Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

I understand you are probably grabbing your top hats right now and tightening your tweeds in preparation to take your leave. After all, you are breeders of words and compilers of lexicographic lineage. To you the thought of reducing the size of your orthographic opus must cause great stress. This word, however, has become a scapegoat. It peppers family dinners and parental attempts to engage children of all ages. It mocks sweet, long, lazy summer days. It is the devil on the shoulder, whispering in the ear of children everywhere, “do nothing.”http://

greg westfall. / Foter / CC BY

Where is the simple serenity of lying under a tree, listening to the whisper of leaves in the breeze, or the adventure of peering into pools in hopes of finding an elusive minnow or scampering salamander? What happened to the joy of summiting sand dunes only to languidly leap back down? Refrigerators everywhere have reverted to their plain facades; the colored pencils, scissors, and glue lounging lazily in a long forgotten drawer.  Frisbees and bikes and basketballs lie buried in garages as the silent streets yearn for the noise of childhood. In the library, the listless books sit gathering dust while bored people everywhere sigh and fidget or bend their heads over tiny screens.

You may be gathering your papers, and I thank you for your time. I would just ask you to consider a consequence to the children of leaving this word in the lexicon. As many say, a bored person is a boring person. Would you relegate the youth of the nation to be thus named? If we were to remove the word altogether, they would have no way to describe these feelings of apathy, and may be inclined to move, to act, to think, to talk, and to create.

Also, as you may or may not know, many mothers reward boredom with chores.

You say you’re bored? Well, the house needs sweeping, the lawn needs mowing, the weeds need pulling, windows need washing…

http://

/ Foter / CC BY-NC

You see what I’m saying, don’t you? Do we really want to live in this Dickensonian world of working waifs, just because of one silly word?

So, I ask you, Dear Word Wardens, please, take a moment to straighten your spectacles, prime your pens, and remove this heinous word from the world. Parents everywhere will thank you.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “No, Thank You.”If you could permanently ban a word from general usage, which one would it be? Why?

Red Tomato, Blue Potato

Ah, food. So much better prepared and shared.

Chard
Chard

My struggling garden is humbly offering its meager treasures this year. It’s partly my fault. Procrastination and I were deep in conversation when the time came to amend the soil. Before I knew it, planting time was nearly over. Quickly, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers and squash were thrust into the soil. Then the heat came, and with the heat, the bindweed and pigweed and purslane, along with tender volunteer tomatillo plants. The garden and I took a break from each other. It wasn’t ready to give me any treasures, and I didn’t see that my dripping sweat would offset the benefits of burgeoning weed patch removal. Also, I have pretty recently learned from my Mexican mother-in-law that pigweed and purslane (and many other weeds growing around the property) are delicious and healthy cooked up in a salsa laden broth. So they grew in tandem, and I waited.

Gardening is not for the impatient.

wpid-img_20140826_073735.jpg
Squash Blossoms

Zucchini were the first to say hello. My mother-in-law was here when they showed up both in flower and the familiar grocery store form, so we grabbed them and made some fantastic quesadillas, al estilo mexicano, with real masa instead of tortillas. She continued to get up early and harvest flowers, chopping and freezing them to add sunshine to a long and dreary winter.

Our next visitor was the watermelon, an heirloom variety called Sugar Baby. It seems that it loved the heat. Now, I’m not a huge fan of watermelon, but in sharing it with my husband on a blisteringly hot summer day I may have been converted. It wasn’t quite ripe to the edges when we picked it, but boy, oh, boy was it sweet! All the way to the rind. Sadly, it was the only one on the plant.

IMG_20130914_161822Like mini Christmas lights, tomatoes are now beginning to color the garden. My industrious husband had the idea of stringing them up on hog panels, so they are the first thing you see when you come to the garden, little dots of red on smallish green bushes. They are Juliet grape tomatoes. I discovered them last year, and when they prolifically burst into colorful abundance, I got to work looking for things to do with them. If you have never tried tomatoes roasted in the oven with garlic, a dash of olive oil and sea salt, step away from your computer right now, go find some grape tomatoes, and try this. It’s that good. Last year we ate them like candy. I had hoped to roast and freeze them, but I was never fast enough. What wasn’t eaten on the spot went onto sandwiches and into eggs. My mouth waters at the thought of reliving this experience.

Garden Salsa
Garden Salsa

The Serrano chilies are blistering to the tongue, another effect of the early heat, I presume. We live in an area where summers are usually relatively cool, but we had a record breaking June and July this year, and the chilies are a late season reminder. I also planted a Padron variety this season. The Padrons I had tasted previously were mild, but this plant has some heat. I’ve used them in my salsa in place of some Serranos and find that they deepen the flavor, getting rave reviews from my daughter.

The rest of my vegetable garden is blanketed in pumpkin leaves. I groan at the work that lays before me, roasting and freezing and dehydrating pumpkin. But soon we will be sharing pumpkin bread and cookies and pancakes. We will try things like pumpkin curry and soup. A little work now for a wheelbarrow full of enjoyment later. I can deal with that.wpid-20141005_121713.jpg

And we are not the only ones benefiting from the garden’s bounty. Our little flock of hens devours anything we toss their way, repaying us with humble brown and green eggs for our Sunday breakfasts.

Food is more than just fuel for the body. It is connection with the land. It is shared experience, a way of drawing closer together, of learning things from each other and enjoying one another’s company. Preparing food for people is a way to show love. When we distance ourselves, whether by choosing pre-packaged, highly processed foods that are quickly prepared or eating mono-colored food passed through a car window, we lose some element of this. Life is not about existing. It’s about living. So plant a tomato, or head down to your local farmer’s market. Breathe in the heady, soil rich aroma of natural things. Peruse Pinterest and Food.com for recipes. Try something new, and by all means, gather together for food.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Red Pill, Blue Pill.”If you could get all the nutrition you needed in a day with a pill — no worrying about what to eat, no food preparation — would you do it?

Close Encounters

She settled into the grass with her book, stretching her aching legs and resting her back on her pack. He was already asleep. She envied him this ability to sleep whenever the moment arose. But for now, she would just sit back and enjoy the crisp high desert air and the warm sun.

The hike had been a little more arduous than she had imagined. Was it the elevation, or was she feeling her age? The sedentary life had not been kind to her, but since she had shed those extra pounds, hiking had become not only easier, but her personal rebellion against this modern life of convenience, computer, and television.

The birds wouldn’t let her read. They were rustling all around her. She watched them appear and disappear in the sage. A dragonfly rested momentarily on the branch of a small tree. There must be water nearby in this arid, dusty land.

She scanned the open range, marveling at the distant hills against the blue sky. Had she ever seen sky so blue? There was a dust cloud in the distance. Dust devil? The air around her was still, thankfully. It had been a chilly morning, and any wind would diminish the beautiful sun’s warmth. She tucked her book back in the pack and settled back in, content to take in the view.

The dust cloud was coming closer. There were dots moving on the land. She sat up, alert. She nudged her husband, and he stirred.

“What is it?” he exclaimed.

She shushed him, pointing.

“Holy crap!” he said, sitting up, wide awake now.

“Put a sock in it,” she hissed, grabbing his elbow excitedly.

The chorus of tweets and twitters had been joined by a staccato drumbeat of hooves. Wild horses. She knew they existed. She had seen them in other places, driving through Nevada and Eastern Washington, but never here in Oregon. But now that she saw them, she remembered there was a herd that roamed the flatlands around the Steens Mountains.

The drumbeats slowed, and the horses came to a restless stop not far from where the couple sat. They milled around, heads up and ears at attention, tails swishing wildly.

What a sight to behold, she thought.

One dun horse stared them down and shook his mane. He took a few steps closer, never taking his eyes off them. She looked over at her husband. She knew how much he wanted to grab his phone and start taking pictures, but to do so might startle the herd.

Some of the horses had followed the stallion, but he quickly turned them back before resuming his halting approach. He seemed as curious about the couple as they were about him. His ears twitched and he breathed deeply as he circled downwind. The other horses watched him, heads and tails held high, ever alert to the need to turn and run.

She held her breath. She wanted this moment to last forever. She thought of a book she read as a kid about a man who could tame wild horses without using force. They had called him the horse whisperer. She had dreamed about having that experience, about stepping into the ring with a wild horse, looking it in the eye and letting it know she understood. Yet here, sitting still, sharing the same space, she had a thrilling tingle of fear mixed with excitement. These horses were powerful. She could see the muscles rippling beneath their winter coats. She could feel the energy of the herd.

Suddenly, the stallion tossed his head, snorted, and turned toward the herd. In a flurry of manes and tails they were off as one, hooves pounding the staccato drumbeat of freedom as they raced across the plain.

She looked over at her husband, now standing, cell phone in hand.

This was so much better than TV.

Picture courtesy of Grammar Ghoul Press

Kids… Always.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Helpless.”Helplessness: that dull, sick feeling of not being the one at the reins. When did you last feel like that –- and what did you do about it?

It’s a time of slamming doors.

She storms back into the house.

“I can’t ride in the car with him!” she exclaims.

I sigh and look at her. They were on their way to work and had barely made it out the door, tension thick around them. In just a minute he slinks into the house also, airing his gripes and the reasons why he was being obnoxious. Soon it’s a vociferous argument about what the other one did.

How do I tell them I don’t want to be a part of it? They are 22 and 18. If they can’t solve their problems, what makes them think I can? I try my best to mediate. Neither one feels in the wrong. I plead with them to make an effort to get along.

I just want to drink my coffee in peace.

I listen to both sides. I ask them to consider the other’s feelings. It’s all I can do, but I feel like I’m talking to two very sturdy walls. It’s with a heavy heart that I watch them storm out the door, problem still unresolved.

Does empty nest syndrome strike parents of large families?

Two Books

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Bedtime Stories.”What was your favorite book as a child? Did it influence the person you are now?

When I think of my young literary life, two books stand out. Did they influence me to be who I am or was I drawn to them because of who I am?

Velveteen RabbitThe first was The Velveteen Rabbit. If you are unfamiliar with this book, it’s about a stuffed rabbit who is loved by a little boy. He has become threadbare and has a button eye where his eye fell off. He is looked down on by the fancy toys that have springs and gears. There is another toy in the boy’s room, the skin horse, that one day tells the velveteen rabbit about becoming real:

You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” Margery Williams

I held onto this quote, put it in my quote book. Even as a young child I could see the true meaning of the words, about being an authentic person and accepting the things in your life that make you who you are.

The LoraxThe other book I loved, dog-eared loved, was The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. I have always loved nature, and the idea that someone could carelessly and thoughtlessly destroy my world was disturbing to me. I hung onto the words at the end of the book

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Dr. Seuss

Well, I was going to be that someone.

I am not a conspicuous consumer. I carry my own water bottle. I recycle and compost. I enjoy nature and leave it as I found it. If you follow my blog, you will see an environmental activism thread running through it. But before you dismiss me as a radical, let me tell you that I’m not going off the grid or giving up my car. But given a choice, I will choose conservation and stewardship of the earth. And you can thank Dr. Seuss.