Tag Archives: Murphy

December, also ambivalent

It's just the tool shed but it looks good with the first dusting of snow.

It’s just the tool shed but it looks good with the first dusting of snow.

We made it through hunting season in November and I don’t have to walk around looking like a pumpkin with legs anymore, and now we’re well into December and it all comes back to me, the things to love and the things to, well, not so much.

I like the snow and as I write this we’re expecting a decent dump starting late tonight.  I’m a night person so I often do a preliminary shovelling of my sidewalk (is it the only one here in Monroe?  Might be.) so that I don’t have to move huge amounts at any one time.  Snow falling is magic and December is usually about the first snows that everyone enjoys.  The snow in April is enjoyed by far fewer folks.

That co-dependant holiday is just around the corner and the millions who do the obligatory gifting are crowding the venues.  A bit closer to the day and you might wonder if no one ever eats  except two times a year if you dare the grocery store.  It took me a couple of times but if you live in Canada and go to someone’s house for Christmas dinner you still need to shop before the holiday anyway, because ALL the grocery stores are closed on Boxing Day.  Weird.

But my real love/not-so-much with December stems from my life with Mr. Ever-Vigilant/ Scourge of the Forest, Murphy.

Who me?  I'm a love puppy.

Who me? I’m a love puppy.

The temperature is cold enough that he has lots of energy to patrol and bark which it is in his nature to do.  The leaves are gone from the trees and the air is crisp and a good barking rhythm can carry across the valley quite nicely, reminding all residents of the woods that they might better avoid this particular stretch.

Until there is a good amount of snow on the ground to make the excessive (in my mind) patrolling difficult, nearly every day it is possible that Murphy will not return from our afternoon foray up the hill and instead will move back and forth barking.  I would take him in the truck to Northern Pond and do our walk there so he would have to finish with me but in December the ice is not necessarily frozen enough and I do not want to repeat the Reverse Lassie. (See my post, The Thanksgiving Song: https://garbethegoddess.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/the-thanksgiving-song/  for that story.)

Usually he waits for me to at least start the walk with him but today when I came out he was already in full voice.  I started up the hill directly because he was already too close to the neighbour who doesn’t like him patrolling and never forgets an infraction.  I try to get ahead of where he is going so that we can meet in the woods but Murphy was already across the right of way and in the woods on the other side.  There is a loop trail on the neighbour’s property where we used to walk with permission until permission was revoked.  One too many times Murph opted to return in his own time and swing through their dooryard for a friendly chase of a cat if possible, alas.

So today I ran down the snow-covered upper part of the loop to get ahead of him.  I was just looking for the place where we used to cross a little stream when Murphy can running full tilt toward me.  He was all, hey! cool to meet you here! and I was all, what a surprise to find you here too!  I gave him a couple of cookies from my pocket and hooked him up.  He thoughtfully chose to backtrack my trail since it’s good not to go right by the neighbour’s house and give her more fuel for the stories.  ( She never forgets an episode and still uses as an example something he did when he was a juvenile.)

Across the right-of-way we followed my trail up the hill above our garage.  With the little bit of snow it’s hard to see the lay of the ground but traction is not too bad because the moisture from the ground has frozen so some steps are into eight or so inches of ice crystals which gives some traction.  Still there are rocks and piles of branches and some ice so it’s good for the balance to walk such uneven terrain.

So far, I’ve managed to bring him home every time he’s gone on barkabout, but it interrupts my work and I worry that he might get shot by one of those Maine hunters who feel entitled to the deer and erroneously think Murphy threatens that or that he might end up in a trap somewhere where I can’t find him.

Note, the day after:  The perfect winter storm started late last night.  We woke up to 8 inches and I shovelled my way out to the driveway, then barefooted (no snowshoes) down the unploughed driveway with dog and shovel to clear a walkway for my neighbour who has a dodgy heart.  ( Her heart’s in the right place, it’s just not up to heavy physical exertion .)  We walked down the road that the snowplough had done already and the reason I didn’t wear snowshoes.

To get the full information Murphy buries his nose in the snow,

To get the full information Murphy buries his nose in the snow,

So it’s all good now.  Murphy  and I love to run downhill in the snow, me with snowshoes.  He steals my mitten and flips it into the air, a playful moment for a usually serious guard dog.  Snowshoes were needed for the walk up the hill but not so much that Murphy couldn’t offer to break trail for me, but just enough that he came home from the walk and now is out on his long lead, letting the nearby world know that this hill is guarded, go elsewhere if you are a ne’er-do-well.  Today December is good.

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Yay! Winter! and knitting! and new camera coolness!

New snow on rose hips

New snow on rose hips

Already this winter is better than last.  Just after Christmas we got a couple of dumps of snow, nearly two feet of powder, good enough for snowshoes.  Best of all it stayed cold for a while, but then , that dreaded warming and quite a bit of the lovely snow melted, alas.

Winter is  my favourite time of year.  No need to have excuses to be inside listening to music, creating, designing, or escaping in a good book with a cup of tea in front of the fire.  Meanwhile the necessity of dog walking means that I still get out twice a day, one early morning, before breakfast, down the road, and the other, afternoon, in the woods, up the hill.  I sense that, when I’m out at this time of year, that there are not a lot of others out, braving the weather.  Too bad for them; for me the feeling during the day is like late at night, tranquil, when most of the world is asleep.

Last week Murphy and I did a weekend road trip to Bonney River, New Brunswick to help my cousin with some computer things.  I brought my snowshoes but I couldn’t really let Murphy off the leash because the ice on the Magaguadavic  River (those who know call it the Magadavy) and the smaller Bonney River where we walked in the woods was not reliably frozen, so I trudged for miles in my big Sorel pacs.

THe preferred boot for slogging through two feet of snow, rated for -40.

The preferred boot for slogging through two feet of snow, rated for -40.

 It’s a good workout to walk behind a dog through the snow.  From Calvin’s we walked partway down the road, looking for a place to get off and into woods.  There is a good place a bit more than a mile or so toward St. George where the old railroad used to be, but in the winter there is not a place to park so we were limited to the nearby area.  I found a ATV trail at the back of a blueberry barren that looped to the near side of the Bonney River opposite the old railroad bed.  I almost let Murph off the leash but the moose tracks had me worried.  He kept stopping and gazing off into the deep woods and I had visions of him long gone on the trail of a cranky moose.  Not a good mental picture.
Murphy meticulously examining the tracks of a moose

Murphy meticulously examining the tracks of a moose

The not quite frozen Bonney River

The not quite frozen Bonney River

The Saturday of our visit was snowy all day.  I had hopes that there was also snow three hours south but it turned out to not be.

Sunday warmed up enough that under the snow was boggy melt, enough that Murphy could drink the water pooling in our footsteps.

My helpful data entry gig lasted until noon on Monday, then a last lunch and we headed back as the temperatures were going down, again.  Home in Maine, most of our snow was gone, the driveway a sheet of ice and so cold that my little woodstove could barely keep the temp inside above 15C.  Upstairs my thermometer read 9C, inside one morning.  A hot water bottle  helps keep my feet warm.

The morning walks are a challenge when it is this cold.  My extra long scarf wraps around my face but that means I can’t wear glasses because they steam and then ice up.  I wear long fingerless gloves inside my heaviest mittens, wool socks inside my felt pac boots, full length down coat and two hats.  Thus garbed, I can walk for hours if I want but my vision is a bit blurry and the two hat thing is not my best look, so I decided to make a heavier proper earflap Fair Isle hat.  I found a good pattern on ravelry.com, The Juneau Fair Isle Hat, by Jenny Dolan that I used as a starting point.  I liked the I-cord edge and I’ve done enough two-stranded hats and mitts that I thought I could come up with a decent, warm hat.

Meanwhile, I bought a new book at my LYS (Local Yarn Store, to non-knitters) about using up stash yarn.   A Yarn Stash, is like the the loot in the secret caves of the thieves that Ali Baba followed.  I have heard there are knitters who buy only enough yarn for a project at a time, use it, then get more.  Weird, I say.  I have yarn that I bought in the 70’s (I think that ‘s the oldest) and have accumulated enough that I could probably knit my stash for a couple of years (doing nothing else) before I needed more.  But there is always something more.

My LYS is the fabulous Heavenly Socks in Belfast, Maine.  It’s a dangerous place for yarn lovers.  I have the same affinity for yarn stores as for fabric ones.  (reference my post: A change agent, lamenting change, May, 2011).  Colour, texture, possibilities.  Best of all, most things you knit can be unravelled and knit again, changed, mistakes corrected.  It’s a most forgiving art and my default activity when I  have a problem to solve in another arena.  Knit for a while and suddenly the how of constructing a pocket that works from two sides, or some other problem, becomes evident.

The stash-busting book had a tip that I wanted to try.  There is a newish item in the yarn stores called a Zauberball that has long colour changes that fade into each other.  Zauber means magic, and the book suggested making a magic ball from coordinating colours of yarn, creating a variegated ball that would stripe fairly regularly.  I had just finished a fabulous pair of socks with yarn from Good Karma Farm so the small leftover ball was the inspiration.  I don’t have lots of sock yarn so I doubled anything that was fingering weight or sport weight to match the knitting worsted weight that is most of my stash.  I lined up the colours on my desk then started roughly measuring lengths and knotting them together.  The beauty is that if you knit plain, all the knots will go to the back.

I made a BIG magic ball.  First, to try it out, I knit a scarf I saw on Ravelry, Wingspan Scarf.  Of course, my yarn is thicker than most so mine is a bit like a long collar.  Because it is garter stitch the knots show everywhere but I sewed a shell button on every knot, used big shell buttons so that it can be buttoned up and beaded the pointy ends.  I also did the yo, lace-ish version; helps with the buttons.

Angora, mohair, alpaca, and a bit of acrylic chenille in olive, purple, taupe and gold.

Angora, mohair, alpaca, and a bit of acrylic chenille in olive, purple, taupe and gold.

It’s kinda old man, 1940’s colours but I like it.

Then Hat or another pair of mitts?  I went for the hat so I could stop the two hat madness.  I knit the hat in 2.5 days, using my magic ball and natural worsted from Briggs and Little  in NB.  I started with the ear flaps and figured my gauge from them, calculated how many stitches to add and unlike the pattern, I moved the earflaps back a bit.  I also made the earflaps longer because they didn’t seem long enough by themselves, so now they are super long.  Because of my stitch count I used a 16 stitch repeat pattern that was 15 rows for the main pattern but it was getting too deep so I started decreasing with the pattern, lost six more stitches in the plain rows then did regular decreases with a tree pattern.  Someday I’ll make a plain hat (Hunh!) I finished the top with a flower, purple with green mohair leaves.  the flaps and a head band are lined with purple stretch velvet.  I paired purple mohair with a purple worsted for the cord edge and made a loop and button closing at the points of the earflaps.  The flaps are too long to have ties.  And I think flaps always look cooler, loose.

Somehow I have once again channeled my inner Mongol horde ancestry with my take on the ancient warrior of the steppes hat.

I used the timer on my new camera for the first time today.  What a revelation!  It has a face recognition feature.

Modelling my Mongol Warrior, Fair Isle Hat

Modelling my Mongol Warrior, Fair Isle Hat

The countdown to snap doesn’t start until you look at the camera.  How amazing is that?  No more rushing to get in the pic .  I wanted to take a picture of the back and had to look at the camera before I turned around.  The only hard part is figuring out where to stand so that I am in the frame.  Murphy participated as well because he was jonesing for his second afternoon walk and wanted to make sure I did not forget.

Hey, Supreme Leader, remember that patrol thing we do every day?   You walk your loop and I occasionally surprise you on the trail, remember?  Then there's cookies....... isn't that NOW?

Hey, Supreme Leader, remember that patrol thing we do every day? You walk your loop and I occasionally surprise you on the trail, remember? Then there’s cookies……. isn’t that NOW?

So now I have a super warm hat and scarf that is sort of matching, and still enough magic ball to do another…… and that didn’t even dent the stash, so  much for stash-busting.  Still I  put the idea to good use and learned more about my camera.  Now to stash bust my fabric…… that might take a decade!

It’s good to be the dog

Murphy, Scourge of the Forest, back at his post. ‘Whatever. It’s Spring and there are denizens of the forest to terrorize.’

It IS good to be the dog, at least in my world.  There is routine and a most important guard job, a faithful cat companion and an understanding person who allows for the predator, alpha-guardian nature to be expressed, MOSTLY in a harmless way.

I am envious, most days, of Murphy and his lifestyle.  There is the waiting, for good things to happen, but he knows that good things will happen:  the morning ablution walk, the longer ramble in the woods, crunchy cookies (dried chicken breast), meat with salmon oil in a cat food dish, and the nightly vigil that might include barking.  Also there are good surprises, like intruders to be on the alert for and rides in the truck, sometimes to distant places to visit friends in Vermont or Martha’s Vineyard or New Brunswick.  Yeah!!  I am still astounded most days by his mostly exemplary behaviour so he receives regular praise.  He really is good at his job.

Then there is the 3% of the time when ‘exemplary’ is not the descriptive word, and ‘pain in the *&#’ and ‘Scourge of the Forest’ are terms that come to mind.  It was a difficult winter because the lack of snow meant it was easier for Murphy to chose to go on a Bark About rather than return from the afternoon walk.  Typical of the giant guardian breeds, if you are anywhere in the same 100 square mile area of the woods, that is a walk with your person.  Sometimes he’s funny and races home just as I get there (olly,olly in free!) but once a week through the winter he decided to patrol the ridge or go on a hunt and I had to trick him to get the leash on him and marched back to his post at the castle.

March was warm though and he went through a good period until the coolness of April and the movement of the denning animals coincided.  One afternoon, instead of hanging around waiting for the first person to head up the hill with him, Murphy was barking his ‘I have something cornered and I can almost reach!’ bark, much too close to our neighbours who have been quick to call the dog officer when he’s strayed.  SO up the hill I went, leashed him, and brought him back to be tied, earlier than usual.

‘Five more minutes and I would have driven that racoon crazy enough to leave the safety of the hollow under the rock.’

Whatever animal it was, he remembered the next two afternoons, and our neighbours called both times as I realized and brought him home.  So I decided that it was time to do the Northern Pond walk again.  It’s away from people who might worry about him killing something, he gets more exercise (as do I) and he needs to get home by vehicle so, theoretically, he should end the walk when I do.   Ah, but that is not always the case.  Sometimes the scent of something gets him on the silent hunt and call as I might, that lure is more compelling than riding home with me.  And he knows that the trail is not so far from home.  In the past I’ve left him and returned a couple of hours later and he’s hiding in the trees by the entrance, waiting for me to pick him up.  Well, except for one day when I had errands that took me south for several hours and when I returned he wasn’t there;  he’d hitched a ride home with a kind-hearted person who lives on the Dahlia Farm Road.  Good thing his name and address are on his collar.

Two days in a row we had good walk experiences.  We met others but he mostly behaved (wanted to kill a wimpy greyhound but I was ready with the leash and no damage done) and all was well.  Then the third day he didn’t catch up with me on the last leg of the trail.  I called but no Murphy.  Sometimes he cuts to the road and meets me as I’m driving home so he doesn’t have to go all the way back to where we started but this day he did not.  I drove back and forth then went home to eat thinking that I’d return in a couple of hours.

I was just finishing my soup when the phone rang.  ‘Do you have a dog on The Dahlia Farm Road?’  ‘Do you have my dog?’  Yes, he was at the entrance to Northern Pond, watching for me and a friendly electric company dude driving a huge bucket truck stopped to see if his tags had any info, which of course they did.  He said he’d wait with Murphy until I got there (how cool is that?) and when I drove up there was Murph, looking slightly bemused and eager to get in the truck.  Maybe he’s related to Blanche, (‘Ah relyah on the kindness of strangahs….’)

Always an adventure, and the cool seasons are most trouble.  Now that the temperature is warming the energy exertion will be minimized, luckily and Murphy avoids the excess activity and lies on the lawn, soaking up the warmth of the sun, waiting.  Gooooooood dooooooog………..

The waiting is best done lying down.