Camping with Dogs
Amy Lynn Reifsnyder
“On the first part of the journey”
Gosh, where do I begin? I suppose I should fill you in on the background, in case you missed it. For now I’ll keep it short, kind of like a postcard reference (it’ll have to be a really BIG postcard, though):
July 2015: Invited to teach English Language Arts in Arizona. Salary negotiated. Not to worry about Arizona certification, I’ll have a year to get it. Great. I’ll see you in late July.
August 2015: After working two weeks (teacher training and team development), I was informed I would be paid less than a third of what was negotiated, with three options.
- Go the following day and obtain a Substitute certificate from the Arizona Department of Education.
- Accept the pay, and work as the classroom teacher. The school would hire a certified substitute to sit in the classroom in order to meet the state requirements of having a certified teacher in the classroom.
- If I get certified before the October 1 deadline, I would be back paid the salary promised.
I opted for the sub cert, and remained on staff…until the next pay day, when my check was for one week, not two, because one of those weeks was for “certified teachers” only.
Thank you, I didn’t move there to volunteer. I got a job elsewhere teaching middle school Reading and Writing. Excellent schedule. Fun students. All the behavior issues are thrown out of school with their attached person. Kind of a vacation from other schools where I have taught.
In the meantime…
My left knee swells up. I can’t put weight on it. I go to the orthopedist. He informs me my knee cap is missing a few necessary pieces. No hiking.
No hiking? Really?
Physical therapy, and patience. I’m able to hike about two miles, on relatively flat terrain. The desert is not flat. Boat launches are painful. Woe is me.
Next: Kidney infection that lands me a three-day trip to the hospital.
Followed by: Systemic poisoning from the oleander, including a dangerous reaction to the steroids, and another trip to the ER.
Mind you, the first trip one had the midnight staff rudely wondering what I was lying about. The second one included someone else’s blood on the oxiometer and a lip smear on an unclean X-ray shield. Blech.
Three days later, I am dehydrating due to diarrhea. I blame it on the hospital.
Oh, never mind the scorpions at this point, or that five-inch spider behind the washer. Just let me make it through the day. Amen.
April: Pink slip or renewed contract? I got the gentle handshake, and an apology from the principal who shared the founder’s/headmaster’s decision to buy out my contract. Differences in philosophy, he said.
Right. I had spent the year sharing a room with the principal, and he had no problems with my teaching methods, or my interaction with the kids. I also shared a room with the Diva. Miss I’m the Daughter of an LA Gang Leader who is now dead because he was also a child molester so he shot himself when he found out his son found out and was coming to kill him.
I grew up with my mother and my step-mother. LA gangs have nothing on the two of them.
But the Diva no longer sweeps the floor, because, cough cough, she has allergies.
She wonders where the paper has gone. I remind her I teach a WRITING class, ergo (she doesn’t know what that means), we use the paper.
Somehow or another, I am to blame for the printers on campus no longer printing. Hey, I am not the one who bought the cheap ink. That would be Daddy Headmaster.
She whines a lot, and I don’t buy into it, I just don’t say anything to her.
But, oops, at the Emergency Room, I was chatting away like a magpie, and one of her dear friends apparently told her what I had said.
Drugs. Reasons not to use them around people you can’t trust. They toss your common sense right out the window, and loosen the tongue.
Then, there is the founder’s daughter, who, I was told in all confidence after she barged into my classroom the first time, she has emotional troubles. Family matters. Reasons to pray.
I prayed. I also got let go because I somehow managed to piss off the founder’s daughter, and the Diva. Gifted, I am. Gifted.
Colleagues and people in town clarified: “You actually teach,” they said. “You are a teacher.”
Well, yeah, I am. I do.
But now, I am an unemployed teacher.
I used the severance pay to buy a new computer, a printer, a case of paper, and bunch of ink jets. I figured, I’d have time to write.
Wait for it…
There’s that laugh line: “I’d have time to write.” Hahahahahhhaha.
Would I be interested in working on the curriculum team at Rez Junior High? Starts June 6. Full-time. Appealing salary. Then a full-time teaching job in the fall. Again, appealing salary.
Would I be interested in a renovation-in-exchange-for-rent house on the rez, where I can bring the four dogs, three chickens, and a rabbit?
Why not, I say, with some unspoken unease in my spiritual life. But, wotthehell, I move the animals and anything that fits into the car onto the rez.
I work on the curriculum the first day. I greet the principal. I meet the curriculum director. I visit human resources. I am glad to have work for the next five weeks. Good-bye, Debt, I imagine.
But wait! The phone rings that night after dinner: The Board of Education has decided to not fund my employment. The policy has been to only hire previous employees for summer work.
Screw the policy, I suggest.
They stick to it, and I am again, without work. Why they couldn’t have mentioned this before I moved kit and kin across Salt River Canyon, I do not know.
And, by the way, they will not be paying me for the day I worked.
That’s some policy.
I interview north, at a school in a lot of open space, north, not too far from the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. An hour from any other town, and it snows in the winter time. A lot. They sometimes close Route 40. I need to live nearby, if I am going to teach. I am clear that I live with four dogs – count ‘em – 1-2-3-4. The chickens and rabbit are negotiable.
Fun and professional interview. Yes, they know I have four dogs. The superintendent approves my living in teacher housing with four dogs. I begin to make preparations to move. I call the housing manager who informs me I will be moving in with four, and finding homes for two.
I beg your pardon? I live with four dogs. Four. Maeda Jayne, Freckles Magee, Hannah MacKenzie, and Molly Regen.
And, no, gentle reader, I have no intention of finding homes for two of them. I have four dogs. They are my family. I am part of their pack. We live together. You have your husband, your children, your parents, your whoever. I have my dogs. End of discussion.
Let’s not forget the wildfires. The one in Young that has closed Route 288. The one in Cedar Canyon that closed Route 60 and part of Route 73 and sent smoke spewing, and had the neighbors on pre-evacuation notice. Or the one that started by Four Peaks, initiated closings along Route 188. Or the …
Wildfire. A natural phenomenon. Right up there with hurricanes and blizzards.
Not in my central nervous system. I don’t have panic attacks in hurricanes, and I really love blizzards, so, no, wildfires are not natural, as far as I am concerned. They scare the hell out of me. And now, (or then), the only way out would be to travel three hours south, turn left, crawl along the New Mexico’s southern border (to avoid the wildfires there), and then run like a Mad Hatter out of the Southwest and into somewhere where fire is not wild.
I move my things off the rez, coughing because the smoke is so thick.
I watch the horizon, and the smoke I see is now grey and white. Grey being closer to the fire.
I watch the sky when driving back and forth through Salt River Canyon (yes, That canyon), and cry because I am in that canyon, and because the world is on fire all around me, and who will watch over the wild horses, the elk, the wolf, and “my” lovely Coyote Choir, and what am I going to do with myself and the dogs and chickens and the rabbit since I have no job, and I have to be out of my beautiful house by the end of June, and the world is on fire. And the sky is filled with smoke. And who ever heard of pyrocumulus clouds before, anyway? Clouds formed by the heat from a fire. What the hell.
I learn about wildfire management from professionals who post things online, from the fire chief and his wife who live next door, from the guys at the fire station out at the end of town, where I went to drop off donations for the Hot Shots and other firefighters who were battling the 43,000+ acre fire which was burning the places I love.
I take intentional drives to familiar places to watch the transitions in smoke and smoldering places so I have a better sense of where the fires really are in relation to where I am.
I have nightmares every night about fires I was in as a kid. Fires that my mind creates. Fires where I am stuck, and cannot move, because I can hear the fire, and it does not sing and crackle, it bellows and intimidates.
I am in Hell, surrounded by lies, deception, smoke, and eternal fire.
The people who offered to help me move are not available.
The people who told me to contact them if I needed anything do not respond to my emails, my phone calls, our conversations at the grocery store.
Friends are off to open-heart surgery, or hibernating due to family illness and/or death.
I am alone, with the responsibility of four dogs, three chickens, one rabbit. Fire is too close, and I am not sure what to do.
Hannah eats two of the chickens.
A windburst drops on our neighborhood, and the only damage in town is done to my chicken coop; it got flipped, cracked, and the back panels flew out. The remaining chicken and the rabbit go to a more stable home of someone I met at Tractor Supply. She gives me $18 for the set.
A neighbor down the way pays $75 for the broken coop.
I pray, and hear only maniacal laughter. Wondering what else is going to happen. What I need to do.
Friends call, come by, bring me food, just to be sure I know I am loved. They heard another jumper went off the canyon wall. They don’t want that to be me.
I am frustrated. Afraid. Lonely. Confused.
It is Sunday morning, I had a three-day tag sale. The truck from the Humane Society came twice to carry my furniture away. I am fed up, finished, done. I have nowhere to go, and no one is willing to help me get there, anyway.
I am leaving. Today. Now.
Friends come over to pick up things they will keep in storage for me. They hug me, reminding me that whatever I need to do to take care of myself is ok. “Don’t let anyone take your fur babies,” they repeat, over and over.
They understand this. All of this. And they brought me lemon cake and goulash, juice packs, another hug.
I say good-bye to the neighbors. I pack a strange and unusual collection of items into my car, get the dogs settled, and we head out. Away. Toward some place, any place, that is cool and green and shady, and not on fire. Somewhere where the temperature is not 99 degrees and hotter. I will stop when the thermometer in the car reads 70-something. I hate the lies of Arizona. I do not do well in heat. I am scared to death of the wildfires; they break my heart. I remember Boulder, Colorado, as a place full of life. Rich in green. Safe. Friendly. With music. I get out the map. We head northeast.
We stop in Gallup, New Mexico for the night. Motel 6. Everyone is welcome.
A patrolling officer warns against going to the dog park after dark. “There is a lot of alcohol abuse here.”
I heed his warning. Take a very long shower and watch the final episode of Game of Thrones on the hotel television.
We stop at McDonald’s for breakfast, and so I can use the WiFi. Two men are brawling across the street. The man next to me says, “They’re probably still drunk from last night.”
The police are alerted by the bouncer at the door: A bouncer. At McDonald’s. During breakfast.
Makes a statement, not too plain.
The dogs and I go to the dog park. A retired teacher there shares her experiences.
The words “alcohol”, “drunks”, are a litany in Gallup.
At a gas station along Route 40, I stop. Hannah somehow manages to slip her lead, and she takes off across the back area, toward the train line. She careens toward the busy highway. I sit down and cry. She is angry with me. Frustrated. And tired of being in the car. I watch for traffic. Hoping she comes back alive.
A man comes along and offers to help. He is a college student. A Christian. He pounces on Hannah, and brings her to me. We pray together. I wonder about a God who sends people to help catch a naughty and frustrated dog. One with a brother who has the same questions I have. He heads west, where he will take flight to the Philippines; he is off to translate the Bible with Wycliff.
The dogs and I spend the next night in Colorado City KOA. I love the KOA, even if they do charge extra for the dogs. We stayed in a cabin, out of the monsoon.
I forgot the time change, and got to the restaurant an hour too late. Oops. Sandwiches at the gas station, it is. I did not pack food well for a camping trip.
We drive north into Colorado. I look closely at the changing terrain.
We drive past Morrison Reservoir, and I almost careen off the road. There is a beach there. People are playing in the water. A power boat zips two children around on a raft. I worry that they are going to hit the wall. They don’t. I wonder why I worry. There is laughter. Sunlight. Happiness.
Boulder is about 28 miles away. We drive into town and I am aware that I am sucking up energy from what is around me: people. Healthy-looking people. Not fry-bread Natives. Not withered, toothless descendants of miners. There is no poverty glaring me in the eye, accusing me. Anticipating how best to take advantage of me.
I take time to go through Alfalfa’s. It is a large co-op grocery store, specializing in edible food, and personal care items that smell marvelous. I shop, remembering fragrances that do not exist where I was in Arizona. I am reacquainted with myself.
Town is full – there is a Grateful Dead show of some kind in Denver. Ah ha, I think. That is why I am here. My brother, the Dead Head, finally sending me good vibes. Heaven must suit him.
We are promised a room at a hotel, but it isn’t there when we go back. I burst into tears. The owner invites us to spend the night in the back parking lot, near Boulder Creek. He usually charges $10 a night, but we can stay for free.
We’re in Boulder. People are invited to camp where they need to. I say thank you, and notice the tapestry on the wall. It includes a quote from the Book of Psalms. Ah ha. Here He is, too.
The dogs and I camp in the parking lot, along with several other folks in various vehicles. They smile. No one feels shame. The stars are glorious. The creek sounds wonderful. Clear water brooks. What I missed most in Arizona.
Next day, I am directed to a dog park. North of town. On the foothills. The dogs get to frolic. I meet polite and friendly people. There is green grass here. Green. Grass. Wildflowers I recognize. Trees in full-leaf. I saw only one cactus in town, and that one kept its distance. I walk, giving no heed to where I place my foot. No caution, lest there be a scorpion, a rattle snake, a palm-sized spider, a thorn, thistle, or spine. I feel more at ease. Confident. I love Boulder.
We drive to Nederland. It is different than I remember, but so am I. I buy groceries, and people greet me as if we share the same joy. I buy a large apple pastry, and tear bits off to eat as the dogs and I drive up into the mountains.
I am aware that I am surrounded by pine.
I picture them on fire. My breath catches, and I turn around, head back to Boulder.
I am not yet ready for another season of isolation.
We travel south, to Eldorado. The water rushes heedlessly downhill. The path is too close for me. We walk along the traffic road, glancing up now and again to see the climbers coming and going on their lines. Now that is some kind of faith in action. Faith I do not have.
I’d like to spend some time in the pool. The place looks familiar, as if I have been there before, even though I don’t remember being there. This sense of déjà vu was part of my Colorado experience the first time I was there. I am not surprised, just curious.
My soul lives here when it isn’t with me.
We camp in Arapaho National Forest. Next day we drive to Black Hawk, Central City, looking for food. We find a casino town. An old mining town that has been “renewed” to life by opening a casino in every building. It is unsettling. Dinner is good, but I don’t like being surrounded by casinos. It feels creepy. A cancer, insidious. Misplaced.
I have been to Estes Park before, with my cousin in 1978. The dogs and I head there. Fourth of July weekend. What a madhouse! We find the last available site at Longs Peak Campground. Two young ladies from Iowa and Pennsylvania are looking for a site. They stay with the dogs and me. This makes for a most enjoyable weekend.
Out here, age means something different than it does out East. I know I’m 55, but I am not treated in a condescending manner, as if I’ve grown old and have no value. We share stories; I am aware that I have too many words stuffed inside me. They don’t mind if I let them out. We giggle some, and go downtown as if we are long-time friends. Caramel apples are messy, and napkins do not help.
They are best friends, one a dancer and social worker, the other a marine biologist. The world is a better place because they are part of it.
They leave on Sunday, amid false tears and smacking of hand-kisses, laughter and anticipation. The campsite is decidedly quieter; I realize I have outgrown my need for solitude.
It is the Fourth of July. Independence Day. I call my cousins, overwhelmed by homesickness. Then, I call my aunt, and I vow never to return to Ephrata. There is little understanding there, and I am too fragile to tactfully defend myself. I hang up on her.
Sunday evening I meet another camper, this one from North Carolina. He is a teacher. We talk shop. We talk mountains. We talk about who we are, and what we find here. He is off to Longs Peak in the morning, I am off to I don’t know where. I consider Montana, because I’ve never been there. He assures me Montana isn’t going anywhere. He thinks Boulder suits me; maybe there is a job waiting for me in the foothills. I hope.
End for now. July 6, 2016. Kelly Dahl Campground, Colorado