2016: What a year

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Dawn on Orcas Island brings a magnificent view of Mount Baker.

Three weeks from today, the nation will inaugurate a new president — not the one I wanted, not the one everyone expected, but the bloviating mess known as Donald J. Trump.

I shudder to think what the next four years will be like under this man who continues to defy every social and political convention while trampling on the bounds of common decency. Especially so after the model of dignity, grace and intelligence that we’ve seen exhibited by Barack Obama and his equally impressive wife, Michelle, a power in her own right.

It’s still beyond belief that a man so ignorant (and proud of it), so misogynistic (and proud of it), so narcissistic (and proud of it) has been elected to the nation’s highest office. Yet there’s no disputing that Trump’s election was the story of the year in 2016.

But I’m not going to dwell on him. I’ve got my own agenda today — and that’s taking a look back at the year that was. For all the sadness we felt seeing so many entertainers and other public figures pass from the scene — David Bowie, Prince, Maurice White, Elie Wiesel, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, et al — there was a lot of other stuff going on in the Rede household.

After all, this is the year I traveled a new path, away from the newsroom where I had worked for the past 30 years. This was the year I caught a glimpse of what retirement might be like, only to settle into a new work routine in the fall.

Here’s a quick take:

***

First grandchild: We welcomed a charming little girl into our lives in late July. Little Emalyn May Rede, the daughter of our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife, Jamie, has been nothing but a source of pride and joy.

Lori and I were privileged to be the first ones to see and hold Emalyn, other than her parents, when she was just hours old. In the months since, she’s already transformed from helpless infant to smiling, healthy baby, seemingly delighted to be part of the action.

A new job (actually, two): Just as my severance from The Oregonian/OregonLive was running out in mid-September, along came two opportunities to return to the workforce.

Portland State University hired me to teach in the Department of Communications. I got started with a Media Ethics class that set me on a course I’ve always wanted to explore — that of a classroom teacher.

At the same time, I landed a part-time job as communications coordinator with the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance, an organization that partners with local employers and schools to expand career and technical education opportunities for metro-area high school students.

In January, I will add a third leg to this stool as an adjunct instructor at Washington State University Vancouver. I loved being a journalist, but I also feel fortunate to have these new employment opportunities.

The big noventa: My dad turned 90 years old in March, so all three of us kids and our extended families gathered in a San Diego suburb to celebrate nine decades of good living.

My dad and stepmom drove in from New Mexico. Lori and I flew in from Portland. My younger sister Cathy flew down from Alaska. My older sister Rosemary, with help from her daughter and son-in-law, hosted the party near Oceanside.

whole damn family

Thanks to a selfie stick, four generations of Redes gather around Dad (in black hat) in honor of his 90th birthday.

Catarino Allala Rede is the only sibling left from a family of seven brothers and two sisters. It was great to see my dad basking in the love and admiration of his children, grandchildren and great-children. For a man who did manual labor all his life and whose formal education stopped at the eighth grade before he went back later in life to get a G.E.D., he’s done pretty damn well.

A baseball road trip: In May, I made a whirlwind trip that allowed me to see four Major League Baseball games in three cities in five days. I flew into Pittsburgh, then drove to Cleveland and on to Cincinnati.

In all, I covered about 400 miles from western Pennsylvania to Ohio, traveling the length of the Buckeye State through gently rolling landscapes. With Lori’s blessing, I stayed in three airbnb rentals and took the opportunity to see new sights, experience unfamiliar places, and visit with new and old friends in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Cool concerts: There were only three this year involving pop artists, but each was satisfying in its own right.

Got to see Jackson Browne at Edgefield in August and he was outstanding. A month earlier, I saw the Dixie Chicks at a Clark County amphitheater just north of Portland and they were exceptional. Their July concert came at a time when I was feeling down, given a spasm of fatal shootings of both civilians and cops in three states.

In November, I saw Liz Longley, a favorite singer-songwriter, for the second time in 18 months, this time in the intimate space of the Alberta Rose Theater.

Excellent books: All that free time I had in the first few months of the year enabled me to dive into the world of literature. Although I slowed down considerably after going back to work, I still managed to plow through 15 books.

They ran the gamut — everything from a young reader books about a transgender youth (“George” by Alex Gino) and a deaf baseball player (“The William Hoy Story” by Nancy Churnin) to a gritty collection of stories about the Motor City (“Detroit” by Charlie LeDuff) to a rape survivor’s memoir (“Lucky” by Alice Sebold) to a sweeping novel about race, culture and class in Nigeria and the United States (“Americanah” by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.

There was lots more by the likes of John Updike, Steig Larsson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lauren Groff, Celeste Ng, Anne Hillerman and Robert Goodlick. You’ll find a synopsis of each one here: Books & Literature.

PIFF: Early in the year, I joined the ranks of volunteers at the 39th annual Portland International Film Festival. In exchange for helping to greet patrons, take tickets, etc., I got to see six movies for free at three theaters during the month of February.

It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do it again, but not this year. Too much going on with my three part-time jobs to even consider it.

Urban hikes: Another luxury during the first half of the year was exploring my own city with the help of a great guidebook, “Portland Hill Walks” by Laura O. Foster.

I made a routine of selecting a route that took me into mostly unfamiliar neighborhoods, where I learned a lot about the city’s history, geography and demographics. Hard to say which were my favorites, but I do recall the pleasant surprise of discovering Marshall Park in Southwest Portland and getting thoroughly soaked when I hiked through the jewel that is Washington Park.

Island getaways: We made it up to our cabin on Orcas Island three times. Each time is like opening a valve and releasing the stress that comes with living in a city of 632,000 people and an urban area of 2.4 million. Compare that to maybe 2,000 folks total on Orcas.

We’re blessed to have a place where we can hike and kayak, read, play board games, feed the birds and watch old movies — all in a beautiful place that offers Solitude with a capital S.

This year, we enjoyed a parade and community potluck on the Fourth of July weekend and hosted our longtime friends, Bob and Deborah Ehlers. We did our best to make their three-night stay a memorable one, with excursions to Doe Bay, Eagle Lake and Mount Constitution.

Pets: We lost our beloved Otto in July, shortly after our final trip to the island and just a week before Emalyn was born. He was a Jack Russell Terrier, 11 years old, blessed with a sweet disposition, and loved by all who knew him. Otto was especially close to Lori and had earned the status of “The Fourth Child.” Fittingly, he died of an an enlarged heart.

Before Otto died, he schooled little Charlotte, our Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua mix, in the ways of the world. She misses him, for sure, but she has blossomed as the sole focus of our canine attention. Charlotte and I survived a run-in with two pit bulls at a dog park, but she’s healed completely and is becoming more social with other dogs and humans.

Mabel, now the senior pet, continues to rule the roost in her own bedroom, a sweet brown tabby who refuses to come downstairs and interact with Charlotte.

Voices of August: No recap would be complete without mention of my annual guest blog project and post-publication meetup. For six years now, I’ve opened up the blog to a different writer each day during the month of August. It’s a wonderful thing to see — a diverse group of friends, relatives and co-workers from all over the country (and even abroad) each taking a turn writing about an issue or an experience that never fails to entertain, inform or resonate with an online audience.

This year’s VOA gathering was held at a Northeast Portland brewpub not far from our home and drew folks from three states, including my compadre, Al Rodriguez, and his lovely wife (and first-time VOA contributor), Elizabeth Lee.

***

hillary-buttonLike the other 65 million-plus Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, I wish we were inaugurating the nation’s first female president. Instead, I’m left to hope that in 2017 we can endure the worst of what a Trump presidency can bring and begin building a coalition that returns the White House to someone we can put our trust in.

Happy New Year, everyone.

On the mend with Charlotte

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The Little Peanut waits for a morning treat.

It was just 10 days ago that a visit to a local dog park nearly ended in tragedy.

You know the story: Two unleashed pit bull mixes came after our little Charlotte, intent on mauling her, but got me instead.

Dozens of you expressed concern and for that I am deeply grateful. I’m happy to say our physical wounds are nearly healed. And I’m optimistic Charlotte will be back to her rambunctious self once she’s back to 100 percent.

A week ago today, I saw a nurse practitioner. She examined the bites around my right elbow, said they appeared to healing on their own with no issues, and submitted a report to the county animal control department. I wasn’t eager to undergo any kind of antibiotics regimen and she agreed it wasn’t necessary. The scab on the most prominent cut fell off earlier this week and I suspect I may have a one-inch scar to show for it.

The following day, we took Charlotte in to see the vet. A day earlier, the day after Thanksgiving, Lori discovered what we had both missed — an open wound near Charlotte’s tail. It wasn’t evident at first because of her black fur and the fact that it had already begun scabbing. Only then did I realize that one of the pit bulls must have bitten her as I was clutching her to my chest, trying to keep her safe from the leaping dogs.

The vet put our little terrier on antibiotics and gave us a soft-cloth cone to put around her neck so she couldn’t reach the wound. All went well for 48 hours. Then, one afternoon as she snuggled at my feet, I noticed a bright red spot and realized sneaky Charlotte had licked the scab off when her cone was temporarily off. We applied an ointment and on went the cone again.

At this point, the wound seems well on its way to being completely healed. Charlotte has a shaved patch near her tail but eventually her fur will grow back.

If I ever encounter the dogs’ owner, I’ll be sure to give her an earful and demand she reimburse us for the vet bill. Pretty irresponsible of her to leave the scene without giving her name and contact information.

(Click on images to view captions.)

Psychologically, the unprovoked attack was upsetting for all of us.

The idea that a romp in the park would turn into 30 seconds of chaos was pretty disturbing. I honestly didn’t know whether either of us would be severely injured. Afterward, I faced the reality that little Charlotte most likely would have been killed if either dog had latched onto her.

Charlotte shivered that night as she laid on our laps. If I’d only known she’d been bitten too, we would have given her immediate medical attention.

In the days since it happened, I think it’s fair to say we’ve only grown closer to Charlotte. Certainly, more protective.

Twice a week when I drive downtown to teach a class at Portland State, my route takes me past The Pixie Project, the animal adoption center where Charlotte was placed after being picked up off the streets.

We will never know what she endured in the first year of her life, but I do know she won’t lack for love or attention as long as she is with us. Our Little Peanut, as we have begun calling her, may be not much bigger than a cat but she may as well as be a St. Bernard when it comes to filling our hearts.

Giving thanks at Thanksgiving

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Proud parents Jamie and Jordan with their animated daughter Emalyn.

Technically, it was just a four-day break from Thanksgiving through the weekend. But it felt longer — and for good reason.

We had not one but two visits during the break from youngest son Jordan, daughter-in-law Jamie and granddaughter Emalyn. The trio arrived Tuesday night, marking the first leg of their roughly 400-mile road trip to see Jamie’s family in southern Oregon. They hit the road early the next morning but on their return home, they stopped in again Saturday to spend the night.

In between, there were movies and a board game, trips to the doctor and a veterinarian, a fabulous holiday meal for two, a visit from other family members, and lots of “homework” for yours truly tied to the near end of my first term teaching a full-time class at Portland State University.

All of this activity made for a stretch of days marked by relaxation and good eating, medical peace of mind, and a last burst of effort needed to prepare for my last two classes and final exam in Media Ethics.

Where to begin? I suppose a chronological approach will do just fine. And if this is TMI, my apologies. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and being around people I love is the reason why.

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Jordan and Jamie were married Nov. 22, 2009, on a brisk autumn day.

Tuesday: The kids arrived late at night, following a long day at school for Jordan. (After final exams next month, he’s just one semester away from completing an undergraduate biology degree and entering the world of work.)

Tuesday also was the anniversary of Jordan and Jamie’s wedding seven years ago. (So proud of these two.)

Believe it or not, Tuesday also was the day Charlotte and I were attacked by a couple of unleashed dogs at a local dog park. (See below for status update.)

Wednesday: Lori and I both worked, but treated ourselves to a first-run movie at the Hollywood Theater. “Moonlight” has been getting rave reviews for its portrayal of the humanity not often seen in films about African Americans. I can see why.

moonlightThe director, writers and cast are all black, and the film crackles with emotional authenticity.

Imdb.com distills the plot well: “A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.”

It’s a serious movie about bullying and survival, relationships and resiliency, and the yearning to be seen and loved for whom one is. I liked it a lot.

Thursday: Lori worked her magic in the kitchen, roasting a turkey and preparing delicious side dishes that provided meals for the next few days. I helped, but all credit goes to Lori, who is a wonderful cook, just like her late mother.

We hauled out Blokus, a board game we hadn’t played in a long time, to help pass the time on a rain-soaked afternoon. After dinner, we watched a movie in the comfort of our home — “Jobs,” the biopic of Steve Jobs’ rise from college dropout to business/technology genius as the head of Apple.

blokus

Rum-infused egg nog always helps when you’re playing a game of strategy.

Ashton Kutcher was surprisingly good in the lead role, capturing Jobs’ brilliance as well as his unlikable, uncompromising personality. This movie was the 2013 version. Not sure I’m all that interested in the 2015 version, but who knows?

Friday: I went to the doctor to see about these dog bites I incurred three days earlier. The cuts on my right arm and left hand seemed to be healing just fine on their own, the nurse practitioner said. She filed a report with the county animal control office about the bites, but since we have no idea who the owner is, there’s no one to hold accountable.

I dove into two stacks of papers written by my students. One, a mandatory assignment; the other, an extra credit option. Both kept me busy through the day and into Saturday.

Saturday: We took Charlotte to the veterinarian’s office to get her checked out, too, a day after Lori discovered what I had missed. Turns out Charlotte sustained a bite just an inch away from her tail. We hadn’t seen it because of her black fur and because it had begun to scab over so quickly.

The vet prescribed some antibiotics and another medication to help the wound heal, and called our little dog both healthy and lucky to be alive. As you can imagine, Charlotte got some extra love these past days, along with more than a few morsels of turkey.

Sunday: After a nice breakfast with Jamie and Jordan, we had Lori’s brother, Jim, and our sister-in-law, Judi, come over to see the kids and meet Emalyn. It’s hard to imagine a baby that’s happier and easier to care for than Em. She smiles all the time, sleeps soundly and regularly, and travels well, her parents say.

Jim and Judi, who have six grandchildren themselves, were suitably impressed by Miss Emalyn, as was our next-door neighbor Monica, who also came over and declared herself “smitten.”

I spent the afternoon tackling my next assignment — preparing the final exam for my 35 students. The two-hour final is scheduled for next Tuesday, December 6.

Once the tests are scored and the grades are officially submitted to the university, I can look forward to a break before diving in again with a new class on Media Literacy in January at PSU and two more communications classes at Washington State University in Vancouver.

I will be a busy man.

A walk in the park turns ugly

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Charlotte romping on the grounds of the former Washington High School.

Thirty seconds is all it took.

I arrived a little after 2 pm Tuesday at the Southeast Portland dog park where Charlotte and I have become regular visitors. The skies were overcast and the grassy field next to a former high school appeared to be ours alone. As we drew closer, we could see two large dogs probably 50 to 60 yards away, chasing a ball and each other while a woman, their presumed owner, stood nearby.

I let Charlotte off her leash and she began trotting towards the pair. The dogs looked up and Charlotte sensed something wasn’t right. She did a quick 180 and began sprinting back toward me. I scooped her up and she let out a yelp just as the two dogs arrived simultaneously.

Just that quick, things turned ugly.

The dogs leaped at Charlotte but got me instead. I yelled. I turned in circles, facing one then the other. I felt a tug on the sleeve of my windbreaker. And another tug. And another one.

The dogs kept leaping.

I kicked at one dog and got it in the head. .

I yelled at the woman to get her dogs away.

I kept turning, shielding my little terrier from this sudden attack.

Eventually, they stopped. I felt something warm and wet near my mouth. I put my fingers to my lip and bright red blood appeared. I realized it was me — not Charlotte — who was bleeding.

All I could figure was that in clutching her tight to my chest, her teeth had pierced my lip.

The dogs were gone.  A woman who saw the ruckus asked if I was OK. I said I was and headed into the former high school building to find a washroom.

When I looked in the mirror, I saw the dogs had ripped open tears in both jacket sleeves. When I got home and peeled off my shirt, I discovered a gash above my right elbow and puncture wounds nearby. I also had small cuts to two fingers on my left hand.

(Click on images to view captions.)

In that half minute of hell, I realized just how easily a dog can flip the switch from playful to aggressive. I have no doubt those two — pit bull mixes, I’m sad to say — would have hurt Charlotte badly if they’d gotten to her. In the moment, I feared they wouldn’t stop and would latch their powerful jaws onto me.

During those 30 seconds, I heard the woman yelling at the dogs and saying something about one of them belonging to her sister. Whatever. All I know is they were completely out of her control. I couldn’t identify her if she were sitting next to me. All I know is she was white and maybe in her 40s or possibly her 50s.

***

I drove Charlotte to another part of town where they have three separate fenced-off areas for large, medium and small dogs. Charlotte was the only bantamweight, so she and I had alone time in the play area at Normandale Park. It was raining lightly but the thick tree cover kept us mostly dry as we walked among the leaves, twigs and bark.

I felt badly for Charlotte, but thankful that she wasn’t traumatized. Every other visit to the Washington High School dog park had been safe and fun. Not a single dog had been remotely aggressive toward her. We had come to view the open field as our own little refuge in the city.

I won’t stop taking her there because of the attack, but I will be much more cognizant of big or potentially aggressive dogs. And I hope that woman has the sense to keep her beasts away from public places. It wasn’t hard to imagine the damage they could inflict on a child or even an adult, let alone a small animal.

 

Finding release at a dog park

Charlotte looks longingly at the grassy field where she's become a regular visitor.

Charlotte looks longingly at the grassy field where she’s become a regular visitor.

Like everyone else in my blue circle of friends, I was devastated on Election Night. Until now, I’ve not written a thing about my take on our new president-elect and the ugliness unleashed by his campaign, now amplified by his victory.

Suffice to say that as a lifelong civil libertarian, a person of color, the father of a gay daughter, and a progressive who expected our first female president would build on the policies of our first African American president, I was aghast that America instead chose an aging reality TV star to lead our nation.

The thought of this pretentious gasbag occupying the most powerful office on the planet for the next four years was appalling enough. But when I heard the names of Giuliani and Gingrich, and of Christie, Palin and Bannon being floated as Trump appointees, I got downright depressed, even fearful at the thought of what damage these hacks could do to our country.

And so it was that I found release in the most unlikely of places: a dog park.

***

Since Friday, I’ve visited the grounds of the former Washington High School four times with our little dog, Charlotte. It’s in Southeast Portland, about two to three miles from our home, but it’s become something of a refuge for us.

The big grassy lawn is bordered on three sides by a cyclone fence. There’s no play equipment, no ball fields. Just a big open area for canines and their humans to mingle in small groups or spread out for a game of fetch.

Closed in 1981, Washington High School in Southeast Portland has been redeveloped into commercial office and event space.

Closed in 1981, Washington High School in SE Portland has been redeveloped into commercial office and event space.

The high school closed in 1981 because of falling enrollment. It sat there for years, vacant and neglected, until three years ago, when the school district sold the building to a private developer with a vision for transforming it into a mix of commercial office and event space.

These days, a local grocery store chain is the anchor tenant, with administrative offices and community meeting rooms in the remodeled classrooms. The auditorium has become a concert venue — the much-acclaimed Revolution Hall — and creative agencies have moved in as well. There’s also a restaurant on the ground floor, aptly named Martha’s Cafe, with a few outdoor tables on a patio facing the dog park.

***

The first time we came, Charlotte found a fellow terrier named Sybil to run and play with. Sybil, a Humane Society adoptee, shagged the ball while Charlotte, a rescue dog herself, ran alongside, the two of them racing as if they were greyhounds.

The second time we visited, Charlotte made friends with Moose, a four-month-old pit bull with a wrinkled face and a clumsy puppy gait. Moose was no match for our Terrier-Chihuahua-Pug mix as Charlotte literally ran circles around him, occasionally darting between my legs as I stood chatting with Moose’s owner.

The third time, on Sunday, is when I realized this ordinary park had become a restorative place. There were no dogs around, just Charlotte and me. I unhooked her leash and we walked along the perimeter of the fence abutting Southeast 12th Avenue.

Charlotte, in her spiffy new harness, gets ready for the ride.

Charlotte, in her spiffy new harness, gets ready for the ride.

Like so many other places in Portland, there are homeless people camped out here on the sidewalks adjacent to the old school. It occurred to me that with all the bombastic talk of eliminating ISIS, dismantling Obamacare and building a wall, Washington, D.C., is the last place we can turn to for help dealing with our shortage of affordable housing, rising rents and increasing homelessness.

Our walk turned into a side-by-side trot, and then we moved to the middle of the field, with Charlotte zigging and zagging and romping with me as if I were a four-legged playmate. That’s when it dawned on me that she’d lifted my spirits and gotten my mind off the election.

The thought that this scruffy little creature, who was picked up on the streets two years ago, is now so happy herself and such a part of our lives made me appreciate the moment. Whatever darkness I was feeling about our nation’s drift to the right dissipated that afternoon.

It may not have been church, but I left the grassy dog park that day feeling as though things will be OK. Who knows if our president-elect will be a disaster or a stunning success? Either way, I know life goes on…and there’s nothing wrong with a small pleasure like running with your mutt, free of tension and focused on the moment.

***

I made time again this morning to take Charlotte to the park. There we ran into Diesel, a brindle boxer with a gray muzzle and a playful nature. I smiled again watching our little girl having a blast running with a dog four times her size.

A weekend with Charlotte

charlotte-kitchen

Princess Charlotte on her best behavior in the kitchen.

It’s obvious to any reader of this blog that I’ve fallen hard for a furry, feisty little creature named Charlotte.

We adopted her nearly two years ago from a nonprofit here in Portland. She’s a Terrier/Pug/Chihuahua mix with a big bark and a personality to match and, lately, it seems that Lori and I love her more each day.

I suppose that’s the result of her being the only dog in our household since our beloved Otto died in late July. With him gone, Charlotte’s the sole focus of our attention. (Well, we have a cat too, but Mabel is content to hang out alone upstairs, one floor above all the daytime action.)

Lori was away for a few days over the weekend, so it was just Charlotte and me. I looked forward to it, knowing she’s easy to take care of and would appreciate some extended one-on-one time.

(Click on images to view captions.)

The blustery, stormy weather we’ve had recently put a crimp in plans for any long walks, but we still managed to get out regularly around the neighborhood. Though she’s improved greatly about this, she still reacts strongly to other dogs and we often have to change directions or cross the street to avoid confrontations.

I’m sure neighboring dog owners wonder what’s up with the little black dog that gets all tensed up and barky. I wish I could tell them. But because Charlotte is a rescue dog who was initially picked up on the street with her puppy (yes, she became a mother when she was about a year old), we don’t know her back story at all. Undoubtedly, there are some negative memories triggered by seeing other, mostly bigger dogs.

But we accept her — and love her — exactly the way she is.

Charlotte sleeps on our bed, near our feet, happy to no longer be confined to a kennel. In the morning, she crawls up between us for a head-and-ears scratch to start the day. A minute later, she’s rolled onto her back, paws up in the air, and her snaggletooth protruding from below her curled upper lip.

At times I ask myself, “Why do Iove this dog so much?” After all, we’ve had some great pets through the years, both dogs and cats, and every single one of them was easier to care for than Little Miss Charlotte.

I guess my affection for her stems partly from her size. At roughly 14 pounds, she’s the smallest canine we’ve ever had. I am acutely aware of her beating heart against the palm of my hand whenever I carry her in my arm like a football. Nothing like feeling life itself.

During the day, she likes to play fetch with any of her soft toys, growling to let you know who’s in charge. At night, she’s docile as a lamb, happy to curl up like a cat or stretch to her full length on our legs.

When we first got her, her coat was a little ragged and she recoiled if you tried to touch her paws. Now? She’s smooth and sleek and trusts us enough to massage her paws.

Lori is due to fly home this afternoon from the San Francisco area. I don’t know who will be happier to see each other. But I do know I’ve enjoyed having Charlotte to myself for a five-night stretch. She may be a rascal, but she’s our rascal.

Sweet Claire

By Nike Bentley

She was nine months old when we met. A petite, greyish-brown tabby showcased at Petco during one of their adoption weekend events. I signed the papers and knew as soon as I put her in the car she was the missing piece.

When I released her in my apartment she cautiously stalked around sniffing electronics, the people, and then coming back to me. Gus, my playful large white shorthair was relegated to the bedroom while she explored. He wanted to play with her, but she would have nothing of it. (Eventually he figured out she would play with him as long as he stayed under the couch’s slipcover. The game was over as soon as he showed his face.)

She came with the unfortunate moniker “Stripes,” so while she explored I tried different names on her. In the end, she was Claire. A light bringer.

2007 Claire

A month after Nike brought her home, Claire sleeps through her new owner’s bachelorette party.

Where Gus was playful, Claire was more reserved. Where Gus was reserved, Claire would crawl in your lap and purr. Together they were the perfect cat.

Claire saw me through the two months I lived alone between my roommate moving out and my wedding day. She was there when I returned from my honeymoon. But she also was a master escape artist. I spent countless hours looking for her over the course of six years before throwing my hands up and deciding she could be an indoor/outdoor cat – so be it!

She yowled through no less than four road trips to and from Eastern Oregon and endured six moves over eight years, including an accepted four-month stay with my brother while we bought a house. Her cries while we all grieved Gus’ tragic loss haunt me to this day.

This sweet kitty sat in my lap as I wrote papers and completed my bachelor’s degree. She was a comfort during my two years of clinical depression and bore witness to hidden hurts and healings. Ever the faithful lap cat, she grudgingly welcomed my firstborn and more graciously accepted the second. She saw me become an adult in my own right.

2008 Watching Birds

Dogs fetch balls and sticks. Cats sit near windows looking at birds. Any questions?

My love for her was more mature than it was for my childhood cat, Patches, who was also wild at heart but less snuggly. Claire was affectionate so it was easy to bond, but I had also grown to embrace Robert Heinlein’s mantra, “Women and cats will do as they please and men and dogs should just get used to the idea.”

It took me twenty years, but I finally accepted that you never truly domesticate a cat. Cats love adventures.

Perhaps it was that growth in me that kept me from pushing the issue when she refused to come in one night.

I had a business dinner and arrived home late. Claire met me in the driveway and walked me to the door, happily chatting all the way. When I held the door open for her and asked if she was coming in she meowed a “Nope!” and took off across the yard. My husband was also working late so I went to bed. Claire wasn’t there in the morning.

To lose a pet to a grand adventure, what I often call “a walkabout,” is a strange thing. You’re unsure when or how or if you should grieve. For three weeks I called for her morning and night. My husband and daughters canvassed the neighborhood and inquired at shelters to no avail. I mapped the most direct route from our house to our friends’, holding on the frail hope that maybe, just maybe, she decided she liked Boring better than Troutdale and estimated she would arrive in roughly ten and a half days on their porch.

She didn’t.

2011 Claire in a Bag

“I had a big purse and my cat fit in it,” Nike says. “She was not amused.”

More than two months have passed since I last saw her middle-aged chubby face. I have quietly accepted she made her choice and whatever fate befell her she was doing what she loved most – running wild. It’s a small comfort, but it doesn’t fill the void in our home her absence has brought. But, given a choice, I’d still choose to lose her to a walkabout than watching her slowly decline or have a sudden and tragic accident.

My memories of Claire aren’t marred by sickness or death’s cold grasp. The uncertainty allows for imagination, and imagination allows me to believe she’s on an expedition working towards solving our mole problem once and for all.

*

Nike Bentley is a wife, mama, and friend. An Oregon native, she enjoys hiking, harvesting fresh produce, and wearing fleece jackets while eating an obscene amount of s’mores.

Editor’s note: When I taught my first weekend seminar at Portland State University, Nike was among my students. I enjoyed having her in class and even more so have enjoyed seeing her become a college graduate, a mother and a valued employee of a nonprofit health foundation in Portland.

Tomorrow: Andrea Cano, A special neighborhood: Sesame Street

On with the show

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Abby found a kindred spirit in her owner-roommate John Knapp.

By John Knapp

When I first met my cat, Abby, it was raining outside. A small cat appeared at the corner of the duplex across from mine. She was crying. She was hungry. I went into the house to grab a can of tuna I had, and when I came back out she was gone. I called for her. She reappeared and came over for dinner.

She was a calico, with pretty markings and was very friendly for a stray, I thought. She let me pet her, and I left her to finish her meal. After she finished, she disappeared into the bushes around the house.

Over the next week or so, she would be around, and I would feed her, but I worried that I was feeding someone else’s cat. She seemed so tame, I figured she had to be someone’s. I took a picture of her and posted it on one of those “lost and found” pet sites. No luck. I took her to the vet, and she had an ID chip, but oddly it wasn’t registered in anyone’s name.

I had her health checked out, and made sure she had her vaccinations. Until I could be sure she wasn’t someone else’s, I let her move in to keep her close by in case someone called to claim her.

She was very wary when she first came in the door. She paced around the place, walking from room to room, inspecting the crannies. Though she was friendly, she kept a respectful distance. She was a quiet, well-behaved guest.

Like some intern, she shadowed me. It became apparent to me that I was the day’s “entertainment,” every day, all day long. I was “the show.”  I live alone, and I’m all the stimulation she was going to get. I am not unmindful that for her I was the “go to” guy; cook, cleaner, doorman, playmate…everything.

One day I became ill, and somewhat dizzy. I went to my bed, and Abby stayed with me. I was down for hours, but she stayed with me the whole time. I guess that was the day I fell in love. I love this cat. I’m not the only one who loves their cat (see the proof here).

Yes, she had to be someone’s.

Mine.

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Abby would rather be photographed than held. And it’s just possible she’d rather be sleeping than posing.

The next day, I gave name to the cat on the ID chip and unbeknownst to my absentee landlord, I gave her my address, too.

She is not a perfect cat. She has some quirks for sure. Used to being outside, she wants out constantly. I have known her to sit outside in very hot and very cold weather for up to six hours at a stretch. She fights coming inside, especially if she is having a stare down with another cat.

I know you’ll find this hard to believe. She is incredibly finicky about the food she eats. No, really. It’s true. It has taken the better part of two years to figure it out. The secret is whatever she wants to eat will always not be what I’ve put in front of her face. Yes, whatever she really wants to eat is her secret.

She has very dramatic bowel movements. After she “drops the heat” she will race around the house, as if the funk in her litter box is a visible monster. She’ll trip out on her newfound “enlightenment” and turn the hallway into her personal racetrack. Then she’ll leave it to me to fish out the “kitty-roca”. Some nerve.

Abby the Queen in her Carriage

Abby, the queen in her carriage.

We recently moved into an apartment which is up one level, and she can no longer go out by herself. I purchased a pet carriage for her, and we tool about the neighborhood, getting surprised looks from passersby. Or perhaps they are jealous, or maybe think I’m nuts.

Who cares? All I know is Abby likes it, and it gives her the chance to go outside, even if not actually touching the ground.

We are two fellow travelers, little candles who light each other’s way, and face the shadow play of life together. To twist a line from Game of Thrones, “It’s amazing how a very small cat can cast a very large shadow.”

We have a routine before going to bed. I slowly start pulling the shades, and turning off lights over the course of an hour or so. I wash my face, turn down the bed, thank God we made it through another day and perform the usual pre-bed oblations.

My intern will follow me, silently padding along. I may or may not notice she’s there. Usually upon almost stepping on her, I’ll sigh and say, “Oh, that’s right. I’m today’s entertainment.”

Well, then. On with the show.

***

Abby and John Knapp live in Vancouver, Washington. Abby is currently way into superballs, and is currently rejecting what John has offered her for dinner. Go figure.

Editor’s note: I met John through The Oregonian’s Community Writers program in 2008. He was one of a dozen Oregon and Washington residents chosen to write once a week for the newspaper’s Opinion section. I’ve been a fan ever since, impressed with his wit and intelligence, his candor and his lefty opinions.

Tomorrow: Angie Chuang, Why some immigrants ♥ Trump

 

Goodbye, sweet Otto

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Otto was never in a rush, always taking time to smell the flowers, on neighborhood walks.

Our home is so much quieter now. Mornings used to begin with Lori rising early to get ready for work, accompanied by Otto, our doe-eyed, gray-muzzled Jack Russell Terrier.

The two of them would take a short walk in the predawn darkness so Otto could relieve himself. Back inside, Lori would fix a pot of coffee and Otto would start in on his first meal of the day, a mixture of wet food and dry kibble.

Some 30 to 60 minutes later, Charlotte’s whimpering from her kennel would awaken me and I’d bring her downstairs to join her older brother. Without fail, Otto would wag his stump of a tail at Charlotte, our rascally rescue mutt, and make his way over to me to say hello.

Sad to say, our sweet Otto is no longer with us. He died a week ago today, July 10, just two days after we had returned from our last trip to Orcas Island.

Otto and Lori

Inseparable: Mister Otto and Lori.

Fittingly, he passed away in Lori’s arms as she held him across her lap in a quiet room at an animal hospital. The bond between those two was like nothing I’ve ever seen with any of our pets during our 40-year marriage — so much so that our three kids and I referred to Otto as “the fourth child.”

As an 11-year-old belonging to a breed that’s prone to heart disease, Otto had already slowed down quite a bit and was taking several pills a day to lessen the discomfort and prolong his life.

He’d made two visits to the E.R. in recent months and we had to hospitalize him the day after we got back from Orcas. He was battling heart failure and tachycardia, an abnormally rapid heart rate. He spent the night at the pet hospital and we hoped for the best. When we saw him struggling mightily the next morning, we knew the humane thing to do was to euthanize him.

Losing a beloved pet is always hard. In Otto’s case, even more so, owing to his sunny disposition and strong attachment to Lori. I don’t exaggerate when I say Otto loved everyone and everyone who knew Otto loved him back.

otto painting

An image of a younger Otto hangs on a wall of our home. (Painting by Michelle Noe.)  .

Otto came into our life at 9 months old when we already had Max, a Black Lab/Great Dane mix who was a 120-pound teddy bear. When Max died in 2009, Otto became the only canine in a household with two cats. When we adopted Charlotte in 2014, Otto had to accommodate his new roommate — a Terrier/Pug/Chihuahua mix half his size, with a big bark and energy to burn.

He did so gracefully.

Now that he’s gone, we vacillate between mourning his absence and celebrating an exceptional creature.

We miss seeing Otto curled up in his bed next to our street-facing window, his favorite soft toy typically beneath him. We miss the routine of feeding both dogs a handful of baby carrots at dinner. We miss the simple pleasure of taking a leisurely walk in the neighborhood, where everyone knew Otto and had a kind word to say.

I’ll even admit to missing him in our bed, tunneling under the covers, then coming up for air, then diving back in to get warm, then surfacing again to cool off. Annoying? Yes. But he did keep our feet warm and the nighttime routine was uniquely his.

otto bed

Otto’s collar and his favorite toy, a fuzzy frog, are still in the bed where he curled up near the dining room table.

We called our loyal, loving friend Mister Otto (because he had class) and Sheriff Otto (because he’d keep an eye out for shady characters from his vantage point overlooking the street).

In our last few minutes with him, there was only one thing to say as we stroked his face, his head, his ears: “Goodbye, sweet Otto.”

From the archives:

An aging dog

Mister Otto

The fourth child

 

 

Atticus: The little giant

Admirably audacious or practically insane?

The question kept coming to mind as I read “Following Atticus.”

It’s a first-person account of the most unlikely tale. A self-described middle-aged, overweight, out of shape, scared-of-heights man with no romantic interests is the publisher, editor and sole employee of a monthly newspaper in Newburyport, Massachusetts, a coastal town of about 17,000 people roughly 35 miles northeast of Boston.

When a source, a good friend, dies, the chubby newspaperman decides to honor her by pledging to climb all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks.

Not just once but twice.
Not during summer but during the winter.
Not alone but with the dog that is his constant companion.

That would be Atticus M. Finch, a 20-pound miniature schnauzer .

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The way author Tom Ryan tells it, he and Atticus are a common sight around Newburyport, virtually inseparable.  He takes the dog with him on his daily rounds, into city hall, into local restaurants and shops. Everyone, it seems, has a kind word and/or a treat for Atticus, even if they don’t care much for his owner.

I suppose I should say here that I had never heard of Ryan or his story. A friend, a dog lover of the first degree, bought the book for me, thinking i might enjoy an upbeat story about a man and his dog. Like Ryan, I’m a journalist and a blogger and pretty fond of my own four-legged friend, Charlotte.

Never climbed a mountain, though, let alone in winter.

Anyway, I dove in.

Some 273 pages later, I had finished the book. Clearly, it was more than just a recounting of an ambitious goal to climb four dozen mountains — twice — in 90 days. It was a story about an amazing little dog known as The Little GIant and an extraordinary friendship between man and animal.

It was a story about a mismatched pair showing they were capable of physical feats just about anyone would believe was impossible. Climbing in winter’s darkness by the light of the moon or Ryan’s headlamp, they would often trek up a mountain alone. Arriving at the summit, they’d sometimes meet with howling, biting winds that chilled them to the bone and made it nearly impossible to see.

Somehow this little creature would lead the way, slow but steady, while the lumbering Ryan, slow and sweaty, would follow.

Tom & Atticus

The mountain climbers: Atticus M. Finch and Tom Ryan.

In the process, Ryan says, they forged a bond of trust beyond imagining. Amid the most brutal winter conditions in the most remote New England wilderness, they depended on each other as any two humans would, and shared moments of solitude and introspection that transcended their biological differences.

Beyond that, it’s the story of a man seeking to repair broken relationships with his father and siblings, of a man reinventing himself and discovering his life’s purpose in nature, all with the help of a little dog.

“When I reached the summit of North Hancock, Atticus wasn’t waiting for me,” Ryan writes. “But I knew where he was. I pushed to the left through the snowy pines and saw him sitting on the ledge. It was a fine day, warm and calm, and he sat the way he did in the summer months, a little Buddha looking out at the Osceolas, watching the late-afternoon sun paint them a golden yellow. I regarded him for a while, not wanting to interrupt.

“I watched that little dog sitting placidly on a mountaintop in winter, miles away from the life we’d come to know, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be doing, and that’s when it struck me: Our quest was about so much more than reaching 96 mountains or raising money for a good cause. It was about us and what we shared and saw together and what we were becoming. It was one of those moments when you realize this is truly the time of your life.”

Far fetched? Audacious? Insane?

If you love animals, especially dogs, maybe you’ll want to read this book and decide for yourself.

Atticus-at-the-top-of-mount-washington

Atticus at the top of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast.

My takeaways?

— I marveled at what Tom and Atticus set out to accomplish,  even if I thought they were crazy to try.

— The quality of writing was a pleasant surprise. Ryan brings a literary sensibility to his work, often quoting Thoreau, Emerson and Frost.

— I had trouble imagining them doing this. Not so much the how but the where. I’m used to seeing Mount Hood and other Oregon peaks, rising 10,000 feet and higher. Ryan spent his time climbing peaks less than half that size. On some outings, he and Atticus traversed them and completed three or four peaks in a single day. It’s hard for me to visualize that.

— I’ve got to respect the man. It’s easy to go through the motions of everyday life. It’s much harder to step out of that comfort zone and commit to doing something extraordinary.  Something admirably audacious.  Even if it’s practically insane.

Hats off to Tom Ryan and his buddy Atticus M. Finch.

Photograph at summit: willmydoghateme.com