The Native Americans called it “Burning Mountains.”

They thought an evil spirit lived among the meadows, rivers, forests, and towering mountains. If you witnessed the geysers or stepped into one of the scalding pools – you might think so too.

But good spirits live here. Animal spirits. Nature spirits.

I have just returned from my first (long overdue) trip to Yellowstone National Park. It is magnificent.

I traveled with my friend and fellow gardener, Maria, and her son. There were bets against our compatibility as journeying companions as we fuss and bother like two sisters when we are in the garden. But when it comes to travel, we are surprisingly compatible. Up at dawn to catch the sunrise and the wolves.

Chasing all day after animal sightings, we put 800 miles on the car – mostly in the park.

Fourteen-hour days flew by soaking up the park’s beauty –

From its barren, fossilized landscapes,

To its turquoise pools,

Snow-covered mountains,

Meandering rivers,

And expansive valleys filled with roaming bison, long-horn sheep, pronghorn, elk, coyotes, bears – and if you are very lucky, wolves.

Yellowstone is home to 67 different mammal species –

and a few birds as well.

As a photographer – I am deeply humbled. I lack the equipment or the instincts of my traveling companions for spotting and anticipating the animals’ moves.

But you don’t need to see the whites of their eyes to appreciate their place in the landscape.

Or the poetry of tenderness in such a rugged and wild place.

They loom so large in front of us –

but we are all just specks in nature’s place.

You can understand how people who live in this wide-open country have little understanding or appreciation for “city folk.” It is a harsh, unforgiving existence – but filled with an indescribable and addictive beauty.

It is hard to leave.

And I will return.

“Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints.
Kill nothing but time.”

At the Heart of Gardening…and Rescue

“At the heart of gardening there is a belief in the miraculous.” ~ Mirabel Osler

Who would have believed that an acre of weeds and thistle would turn into our memorial garden.

Or that seeds, bulbs, saplings and bare roots would grow into this.

Yes, it takes hard work, water and sun, and a fair amount of luck – but what unfolds is kind of miraculous.

Rescue requires its own belief in miracles. Here are a few of the tiny ones we have recently had the privilege to know.

Patsy was likely hit by a car and dragged. This little puppy arrived from a shelter with a broken leg and a body covered in bruises and scrapes.

She did her rehab like a quiet trooper in her little prison, giving no hint of the awesome Yoda personality inside.

As she recovered, it came shining through.

She was listed as available for less than 24 hours before a lucky family scooped her up and carried her away.

Miss Pickles puppy came to us with hydrocephalus – water on the brain.

Already nearly blind, the condition could result in full blindness down the road as well as seizures and behavioral issues. But don’t tell her or her mom that she is anything less than perfect,

because Miss Pickles – now Autumn – is perfect for her.

Tiny Johnnie was dropped off at a shelter and marked as stray. He was abandoned.

He has swimmer puppy syndrome. It is a developmental deformity showing up shortly after birth which causes the chest or thorax to flatten. Puppies with the syndrome have a hard time eating or drinking, and those that survive the first few weeks lack strength in their legs to push themselves up. Their legs – particularly their back legs – are splayed, moving side to side – thus the name swimmer syndrome.

Johnnie is lucky to have pretty good use of his front legs. Intensive physical therapy can reverse the impact to his back legs if begun early.

He has found a foster daddy who will work with him – including regular swims – to get those back ones into gear.

Sometimes, miracles are just good people with kind hearts. And we are blessed with good people who understand that…

“Where there is great love, there are always miracles.” ~ Willa Cather

Cat Crazy

I like cats…really I do. But this may not end well.

A couple of months ago, a new cat showed up at the rescue. He was given a less-than-welcome greeting by Tori, our resident “cat-tester” who still has plenty of spunk at age 15. As you can see, the new cat was simply unfazed.

He not only didn’t budge – he made his way inside.

That earned him a name: Kermit. And a trip to the vet to ensure that he would not be fathering any (more?) offspring. The plan seemed to be to have him hang around the office to give Tori a much-needed break from the dog-testing duties. But Kermit was such a pest, he quickly found himself booted outside.

For weeks, he lounged around the patio – making his way back in whenever someone wasn’t looking. But today he showed up in a whole new place….the garden.

We have quite a few cats at the rescue. They help to keep the population of mice, lizards and snakes to a minimum. They all have their special places and respect each others boundaries. But not Kermit. If you recall, the garden belongs to our feral cat, Frida.

She is a mighty huntress but a tidy girl who always keeps her garden shed neat and tidy. Lately, however, we have been finding her food and water bowls overturned, and remnants of someone doing their business inside the shed. Now we know why.

It seems that Kermit has been making himself at home in Frida’s domicile – from under the shed (her favorite hiding place)

to on high.

This boy has no fear and clearly doesn’t respect our motto: “it’s all about the dogs.” And let me tell you – we have some cat-hating dogs who will be just as unhappy about Kermit’s presence in their garden as Frida!

The same drama unfolds at home, too. We have two neighbors with multiple outside cats and at least two feral cats that have taken up residence – finding ample free food left on stoops. Like Kermit, they have no fear – and no sense. They roam all of the neighbor yards looking for birds, river rats, and squirrels to savage. The fights are horrific.

Worse: my Yogi is a verified cat-hater. We cannot leave or return from a walk without running the cat gauntlet. Yogi literally propels himself straight up in the air like a helicopter when he sees them – while they just sit and stare. If I were an unkind person, I would let go of the leash. Then again, Yogi might well be on the losing side of a battle with these feline beasts.

I read that there is a controversial cat ban proposed by a New Zealand town. I can tell you, it wouldn’t be necessary if people would keep their cats inside. And yes – I know this is not their natural habitat. But it’s not a dog’s either. And while I appreciate the river rat population control – I do wish they would not pick on the poor birds!

So mind your Ps and Qs, Kermit boy. Remember that you are here by the grace of Tori and Frida, and keep an eye out for those doggies…and the owls above!

The one that got away

My husband says I should compile a montage of all the puppies we have fostered in the last couple of years. Note to self. I’ll get right on that.

Our latest, Buddy, went and got himself adopted. A beautiful Chocolate Lab, he was surrendered at four months of age for being a puppy.

His people – apparently divided in their decision to purchase him – took on more than they could manage or agree upon. As a result, Buddy was sleeping in the garage and staying outside. They were wise enough to know that Buddy deserved more. It was a kindness to let us help him find it.

Too young to be in the kennels, I brought him home. This was not your average size four-month old. He already weighed in at 47 pounds.

But his heart is as big as his paws, and this love bug quickly wormed his way into ours.

He put both our Jackson and Yogi to the test. It took about a week, but they eventually got him to fall in line. And I figured out that if Yogi and I wore him down, my shoes, furniture, and door jams could be saved.

Regardless of how long we foster a puppy – a few days or a few weeks – my Jackson is always ready to pack their bags. He is an accepting – if not gracious – host. Willing to share as long as he sees an end in sight.

Yogi, on the other hand, grieves his puppies when they go home no matter how much whining he did when they tortured him. Yogi taught Buddy how to watch for squirrels (as if he cared),

and Buddy taught Yogi that all toys belong to the baby in residence.

While Chocolate Labs are prized as hunting dogs, Buddy doesn’t have a single hunting instinct in his body. He crawled on his stomach to meet the neighbor cat, and when I took him to meet ducks and geese, he just sat and watched them.

He has found himself a family full of kids, dogs, and adventures. Everything he deserves, needs, and everything I wanted for him. Instead of “Everready Buddy” they describe him as “chill.”

It took days to remove all the baby gates and pens, and put the house back in order. But I miss the little bugger, his morning kisses, nighttime snoring, and impish ways.

Happy life, Buddy. I hope you’ll stop by to play sometime!