Happy Solstice

IMG_1697_2_v1

Advertisements

The Further Adventures of Smokey

If my battery holds out, I hope to share two more camping anecdotes. Probably won’t be near civilization to post them for at least a couple of days.
I am back in the Kern River Canyon after a 10 day hiatus during which I took some friends who were visiting from Michigan to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and a short trip down the coast. But that is another story…
We got back here the other night and found a campsite to the east of our previous one and much closer to the Kern River. These two anecdotes both concern my 7 year old Blue Heeler, Smokey. I am not neglecting my senior Aussie, Shadow, but she is wise enough not to start fights with rattlesnakes or the other brash (foolhardy?) things which follow. If I were to write camping anecdotes about Shadow they would all be a variation of “we went for a hike, Shadow stayed close and didn’t cause any problems.”
Smokey is a cow dog, when in the car she barks at every cow she sees. Until last month she had never met a cow in person. Since she had adapted so well to our life of travel I decided to let her meet some cows as a reward. So last month I tracked down some cows in the national forest and turned her loose on them. She instantly knew what to do with them, she circled to their far side and gently pushed them to me. I circled away and she nipped at them and they turned to follow. I eventually ran away and called her along (did I mention that I am afraid of cows?)  That is the background for the first anecdote.
This morning the dogs woke me up at about daybreak to let them out of the tent. Which I did and then I lay back down contented, just loving life. It wasn’t long before Shadow started growling…a rumble low down in her chest that tells me she is serious. She is 11 and this was only the forth or fifth time that I’ve heard her do it.
I grab for my glasses and the tent zipper at the same time and i hear a crashing sound from outside. I get the tent open just in time to see a half dozen cows come careening down a 30 foot sand embankment and into camp, with Smokey at their heels. Three cows, two calves and a bull. One cow lets out a bass “mew-oo” that I could feel in my bones. Evidently she had become separated from her calf. I scrambled out of the tent shouting and trying to get them out of camp while scrambling up the embankment away from them. They left out the drive and down the road, the calf-less cow continuing to call out and thankfully Smokey let them go. I am dismayed that Smokey thought it was a good idea to round up a small herd of cattle and run them through camp first thing in the morning. Incidentally, I saw the wayward calf slink around camp to join its mother about 15 minutes later.
I am blown away by how innate this behavior is in Smokey. Shadow, a sheep dog, would herd people when she was young, but without reinforcement, the behavior was extinguished by the time she was 2. The behavior has to be stored in their DNA, what other explanation could there be? It is totally amazing that Smokey would just naturally know what to do with cows. And, while I know that I am anthropomorphizing, I am certain that she had a self satisfied look on her face.
That was a frightening start to the day, but nothing compared to the fear I had for that dog late this afternoon. Like I said earlier, we are much nearer the river in our current camp. So this afternoon we bushwacked our way down to the river. It was difficult to get down to the river because much of it is cut through rock and has a 20 to 30 foot sheer rock embankment. We eventually found a spot that we could get to with about 20 feet of dirt only 2 or 3 feet above the river. Shadow generally likes the water while Smokey avoids it at all costs. I stripped and put my feet in but the river was too cold and fast to get in. Evidently too fast for Shadow too, as both dogs were hanging over the bank getting a drink. Smokey lost her footing and into the river she went. At first I laughed as that dog hates the water. But my schadenfreude was quickly replaced with fear as she was quickly carried down stream. 20 feet and there would be rock faces and she would not be able to get out. While I wasn’t afraid of her drowning, I don’t think dogs drown very easily, I was fearful that it would be difficult to find her or that she might end up on an inaccessible rock or who knows what. I was terrified for that dog. Somehow she ended up on a rock 20 feet from shore. She didn’t stay there long but made a jump for shore and swam strongly to the embankment where she couldn’t get out of the water. I scrambled over the rocks and got a hold of her collar and pulled her out of the river. She was not a happy dog and there was nothing remotely self satisfied on her face. She spent 15 minutes shaking and rolling in the sand before she wanted anything to do with me or Shadow.
I would imagine that she likes the water even less than she did before. Keep in mind that this is the same dog who canoed with me 350 miles down the Missouri River and never once got wet. Coming up from the river we had to traverse a field of poison oak, I can only hope I don’t get a full body dose of itchy rash, both dogs are covered in it and we will sleep in a pile tonight.
I both love and hate Smokey for her bravery. While I admire her heart, I fear that it will be the death of her.

I still hope to write this trip up in depth when I get access to a keyboard, tapping it out on my tablet is a serious drag.

Just to add, I was only gone from here for 10 days but during that time Spring ended and full on Summer started. The flowers are gone and the grasses are dying. It is 15 degrees warmer and we will have to move further up into the mountains soon.
I am coming up on 6 weeks of off and on camping and each day I feel less like returning to the bay area. I am so over traffic and the hectic lifestyle and the opulence and poverty that exist side by side. The chorus for a song that I recently wrote begins: “This concrete ain’t no jungle, it’s a prison don’t you see.”

New Bay Bridge, Some Thoughts

I posted a shorter version of this on my micro blog the other day, but I am feeling like there is more to say.

The Oakland/San Francisco Bay Bridge is actually two bridges, an Eastern and a Western span connected in the middle by a tunnel on Yerba Buena Island.

An aside: Yerba Buena translates from the Spanish as “Good Herb” and was San Francisco’s original name, changed when the US seized it in the Mexican American War (1846). With SF’s role as the genesis of the modern marijuana movement, I am surprised there is not an effort to restore its original name.

The Eastern span of the bridge was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 which resulted in part of the upper deck collapsing onto the lower deck. After hasty repairs, it was decided that the old bridge could not be made safe against future quakes and it was decided a new one should be built. Initial designs called for an economical causeway, but Jerry Brown, then mayor of Oakland, fought for a better bridge…and delays ensued…and costs went up. Finally, early this month, after nearly 25 years, the new 6.5 billion dollar span officially opened.

The new span includes a (still incomplete) pedestrian/bicycle walkway which someday will reach halfway across the Bay. With the opening of the bridge the 90% complete pedestrian walkway was also opened. Earlier this week I decided to walk it with my dogs.  Having to park 3 miles from the bridge made the round trip a 10 mile hike, this is near the dog’s limit.

Bay Bridge West

Looking West from the half way point.

The bridge design has been much criticized, but I like its open modern aesthetic. With 5 lanes each way, breakdown lanes, and the pedestrian walkway the bridge is billed as the widest in the world. The old bridge still stands beside the new, waiting to be torn down.  As of now it blocks the view from the pedestrian walkway.

This touches close to some of my criticisms of the new structure. The walkway is on the South side of the bridge, this offers only views of Oakland’s industrialized ports.  Had it been on the North side the views would have been much grander, with the Golden Gate off to the Northeast, Alcatraz Island below and to the West, and the Richmond bridge to the North. Also the new bridge sweeps in a wide arc with the walkway inside the curve. This creates a scene where you only see the bridge as you walk. Had the walkway been on the outside of the arc, the view would have been far grander. Finally, it would have been better had the walkway been above or below the traffic lanes. Strolling along with 10 lanes of traffic backed up beside you is not as nice as it could have been. However, these are quibbles, and the new bridge livens up the bayscape.

The new bay bridge looking East

Looking East from the halfway point

The regional transit agency is trying to come up with funding ideas for the billion dollars needed to retro-fit the Western span for pedestrian traffic. But as of now there are no definite plans to do so, for the foreseeable future the new span will be a pedestrian bridge to no where. Once the newness wears off, it is doubtful that many people will walk the bridge. On my 4 hour walk I saw maybe a hundred people using the bridge walking and bicycling. Most of these, like myself, just came for a look at the new structure. Forcing folks to walk three miles from the trail head to the bridge also dissuades use.

Tired dogs at the halfway point.

Tired dogs at the halfway point.

When I walked the bridge it was sunny, windy and hot warm (well…hot by our standards). It is tough to measure wind velocity, but earlier in the day they had cancelled the America’s Cup race due to wind which means it was at least 20 knots. I carried a quart of water for me and another for the dogs, I probably should have taken one each for the dogs.

Overall, the new bridge, a combination causeway/self anchored suspension bridge, is a huge improvement over the cantilever (erector set looking) bridge that it replaces. To those who say that America can’t do grand things any more, I respond, that we did manage to order this bridge pre-fabbed from China.

Dogs, Dog Breeds, and their Purpose

Nature versus nurture, the age old question.  What determines behaviour, our DNA or our upbringing?  With the exception of a few out-liers, most would agree that it is some combination of the two.  Whether it is 60/40 or 40/60, or some other ratio; there is little doubt that both our socialization and our physical heritage makes us who we are.  Would there be any reason to think it would be any different with dogs?

This morning I did a little web research, looking at the last 5 years (2008-2012) of the US numbers of humans killed by dogs.  In the larger scheme of things, human deaths by dogs are fairly insignificant averaging only 27 per year.  Still the numbers are somewhat interesting.

In the last five years, there have been 133 deaths by dogs.  Of these deaths, 52% (69) were caused by pit bull type dogs.  If you include mixes, the number jumps to 62% (82).  Two out of every three deaths by dogs involve pit bulls!  While there are no hard numbers to indicate what percentage of dogs are pit bulls, a common number thrown about is 5% or less.  If we take the 5% number, then pit bulls are over represented in killing humans by a magnitude of 12 (although the actual number is probably higher).  These numbers do not even begin to account for those who are maimed or otherwise seriously injured, let alone the countless deaths of other dogs.

Those with an opinion on the issue come down hard on one side or the other, nature or nurture.  Are these dangerous dogs created by irresponsible owners or are they born dangerous?  Of course societal deviants with violent tendencies are more likely to own pit bulls and the pit bull was designed to kill.

Lets start with nature.  When bull baiting was made illegal in England, dog fighting took its place.  The favourite dog of bull baiting (the bull dog) was bred with terrier type dogs to make it vicious with other dogs, dog fighting and pit bulls share the same genesis.  But can heritage determine behaviour to the extent that the family pet becomes a killer?  I own a couple of herding dogs.  An Australian Shepherd (sheep dog) and a Blue Heeler (cow dog) who are 10 and 6 respectively.

The Aussie wants to herd.  She will often nip your hip or butt and generally try to direct your movement, she crouches and uses her gaze to direct you.  The Heeler will bite your ankles and achilles tendon and attempt to physically direct your movement, often charging and barking in attempts to move you in certain directions.  Not only are these tendencies expressed in behaviour, it is also in their physical make up, the Aussie is lanky for trotting beside the sheep while the Heeler is low slung and muscular to interact with the cattle.  These dogs have never had any herding training, they were bred to herd and it is in their nature.  Pit bulls were designed and bred to kill, it is in their nature.  Not only is it expressed in their behaviour, it is also in their physical make-up, low slung and muscular with incredibly strong jaws for biting down and rending.

On the other hand miscreants and other societal dregs are drawn to pit bulls.  It fits their self image and they train (and neglect) these dogs to be vicious.  If they didn’t have pit bulls then they would migrate to Rottweillers or German Shepherds or some other large dangerous breed.  Vicious dogs are not born, they are created by irresponsible owners.

With some truth in both arguments, what does it mean?  Breed specific legislation will cause the miscreants to migrate to another breed, not really solving the problem; bad people will do bad things.

I think their is a simple two pronged market solution to the issue, with accountability being the linchpin of both.  Firstly, accountability could be ascertained with stiff legal penalties for owners of dogs who act out viciously.  If you act negligently and someone is injured or killed, then you pay.  Educating owners on the nature of their  pets would end the hand ringing and wailing of “I didn’t know” when the neighbour’s child is killed.  Perhaps you didn’t know, but you damn well should have and now you can think about it in jail.  A second level of accountability could be ascertained in an already tried manner, insurance.  If owners of dogs had to obtain liability insurance based in part on the breed of the dog, they could be educated and at the same time would be financially accountable for their dog’s actions.  The setting of premiums would be based on the nature of the breed.  And those who have a history of infringing on others could be prevented from getting insurance and thus from owning a dog.

Not a perfect solution, but in a free society sometimes people get hurt.  While it can’t always be prevented, we can ensure liability and punishment to those who transgress.

12 Days Till Vacation

Having decided to take a 3 week vacation earlier this week, today I figured out how I would spend that time.  The whole trip is based on the fact that I need to be in Michigan for a few days in early August.  Since I was wanting to spend a couple of days in Missouri on the way, and since I didn’t have time to save much money for the trip, Colorado was the logical place to spend some quality camping time.  But I was hesitant to commit to that because I just spent 3 weeks in Southwestern Colorado two years ago.  Plus I’ve done the Northern half of the state numerous times.  It is beautiful and all of that (especially the San Gabriels), but I didn’t have a strong pull to go there to hole up.

Today I hit upon an idea that satisfies most of my needs and seems like it will be a lot of fun.  I am going to leave here on the 20th after a 10 hour work day and then drive till I get tired.  Then I am going to take all secondary roads across Nevada, Utah, Colorado (spending about 3 days in Rocky Mountain NP), Kansas and Missouri.  Then after spending a few days there, I will continue on secondary roads across Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and finally to Michigan; arriving there about August 4th.  I will visit with family until the night of the 8th when I will bee line across I-80 to the Pacific’s embrace where I have to be to work on the 12th.

I have about a week to drive to Columbia (excluding the 3 days at Rocky Mntn NP).  That is only about 300 miles a day…I have a good feeling about this trip.  Driving across country without using freeways has been something that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time…it will be nice to see if the novelty can live up to the hype.

For those wanting to follow along:  West through Stockton and out across Yosemite.  6 across Nevada, through Tonopah and merge with 50 in Ely.  Continue 6 across Utah, onto 191 and finally to 40 and into Colorado.  Then across 40, through Steamboat Springs, onto 34 and into Rocky Mntn NP.  Across 34 till I catch the tip of Nebraska and then drop down and follow the northern most road in Kansas all the way across the state to St Joseph Missouri.  Then on to Macon and finally into Columbia.  Leaving there, it goes something like this:  Quincy, Champagne, Ft Worth, Toledo and into Michigan.