Living The Dream: 27

As part of the weekly excerpt from the novel LIVING THE DREAM: 



Friday morning, I woke up alone again. I found a note on the table next to a mug of cold coffee. Mark had gone to Louisa’s without me. With Anne.

I rang my mom at the bed and breakfast in Oliver.


An hour later I packed the car with two dogs, a bottle of water, my straw-hat, and layers of warm clothes. The first frost of the year had hit overnight and the water bowls had ice in them. I needed Mom. I found her at the coffee shop with a latte in hand and breakfast burritos on their way. Two. She’d ordered for me.

“I hope you like Christmas.”
What? It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.”

“Your chile, you silly. I didn’t know which to get, red or green, so I asked for both. They call it Christmas.” She stood up and hugged me tightly. “Oh, sweetheart, it’s good to see you. I’m so glad I found a flight. And as to that other stuff that’s going on? Well, it will be okay, it will be okay.”

With that reassurance, I fell apart. The conversations in the café continued, unfazed by my outbreak. One of those days, I guess. Mom held on to me then got me to breath again before forcing me to drink my latte and talk to her. The food came and I picked away at it, telling her of all that’s been going on, the stupid little details I’d been ignoring. Until the morning’s note. Casual. Distant. Unthinking.

I ate my bacon pieces one at a time, my vegetarian ideals put aside in New Mexico apparently. All the tables in the café were full of locals, some teary-eyed, some telling stories and laughing out loud, others simply sitting quietly. I told Mom that a local, a friend, called Andrew had died. She nodded. She’d heard. Did I want to go see Louisa and the dogs? She asked as she finished her breakfast. I shook my head.

“I’d like to go for a walk with you. I doubt we’re going to collect firewood today, doesn’t seem right, you know, Mom? To carry on as if nothing’s happened. And anyway, Mark’s off with Anne and her damn practical skills.”
“Now, now, Jenny, don’t jump to conclusions. But yes, let’s go walking with Frida and Nelson. Any ideas as to where you want to take me? It’s all so gorgeous, I’ll be happy wherever we go.”
“Let’s get out of town, okay? Do you want to drive a little ways and go hike in the mountains? There are these trails in the foothills of the ski basin; we could go there. It’ll be empty today, or it usually is, what do you think?”
“Is there a restaurant near there for lunch?” She stood up, holding out her mug and mine. “First though, let’s enjoy some more procrastination, all right? I want to talk to you a moment.”
She sat back down with the lattes and sat back. She looked round the café and the colorful shelves of knick-knacks, books, and local crafts. The locals had mostly gone by now and only a few tourists hung out, reading newspapers and writing postcards. Mom leaned in closer.

“Do you really think Mark’s likely to wander? With this new friend of yours?”
I nodded and my eyes began to water. I opened my mouth to speak but Mom shushed me and carried on.

“Well, I don’t. I know him; I’ve seen you together for what, two or three years now? He might have a crush on Anne but I think he’s pretty damn committed to you. To this dream of yours.”
“Yours. To be honest sweetheart, this is your dream not his. He likes it, yes, I can see that, but he’s a city boy, isn’t he? And you, you still think of Grandma and Grandpa’s place out in the plains, don’t you? The stories they told you about the animals and goats and fruit trees and all the struggles they had to endure. Well, I lived it. It’s not easy. It can be beautiful, but it’s not easy. And it’s not for everyone.” She sat back and sipped her latte before continuing. “Now I’m not saying this to be mean, but I want you to just think about it. If you want to keep Mark at your side, you might need to move back west. With winter coming, and living through these next few cold months, you’ll know for sure. And he will too.”
“But Mom, I love it here.”

She reached over the table to take my hand in hers. “I know, Jennifer, I know.”


Mark had been and gone again by the time I dropped off Mom at the bed and breakfast. Another note sat waiting for me, as did another evening alone with the pups, although to be honest, they weren’t much fun; both had crashed out on my bed after finishing their bowls of kibble in record time.

I sat at the table and picked up the notes from the day before. Yes, Mark, I am researching this homesteading stuff. Why not, eh? I pulled out a half bottle of merlot and poured myself an usually generous glassful. I set the woodstove going with some kindling and wandered outside to fetch more wood. A shooting start lit up the sky above and I made a wish. I smiled at myself and took an armful of branches back inside. I lit a couple of candles and settled in.

It took me a moment to collect my thoughts together but I started by searching for images of outhouses to see how others had done this. Incredibly beautiful were some, others were more funky, fallen down and old-timey but then I came across the most basic functional designs. I backtracked to some brightly painted and oddly shaped ones, and sketched out a couple of ideas for myself. Yep, I could do this. It’s not as difficult as I thought. Mom had inspired me, but not in the way she’d probably thought.

I wrote out some ideas and stored the websites to the menu bar. Next project was to look up the solar stuff. I checked on the history tab. Lots of pages visited in the last week, mostly about setting up tours for his new band by the look of it, although I noticed a lot of Google searches too. I clicked on one of them to see what he’d found out.
Anne’s name. Her full name and address. Her personal website?

He’d been looking for Anne online? What else had he been up to? Wow. He even had a Facebook page that I never knew about. I tried guessing the password but failed with my name and then the dogs’ names. Nothing. I gave up and sipped my wine thoughtfully.

Back to the solar information then, I paged back and forth, taking notes on styles, costs, designs, and sermons on the numerous reasons we should all use solar power. Well, no, I didn’t take notes about that, pointless for me, I was going to do it despite what anyone preached.

I picked up the laptop and checked on the back, looking for something to tell me how much power it took. Nothing there so I did another Google search and found out. Starting my list of power needs with the most obvious electrical things I owned, the computer, the phone charger, and a couple of lights. That’d be enough for me to start with. Enough power to charge up Mark’s cordless drills and maybe we could get a skill-saw? I did the math. For what I use, I could set up a small system with two panels, four batteries, and an inverter. Under a $1000 if I get some used panels. $1500 would be the most by the looks of it. Now why didn’t Mark mention that we could do this so cheaply? Had he done the research?
I sat back, thrilled with my finds, well, some of them that is. I worked out a budget and decided that if I didn’t go stay in motels in Santa Fe for the next month and worked another couple of shifts at the café, I’d afford to have power set up for winter. I saw myself, I mean, I saw us reading in the evenings, playing on the computer, and being all cozy and comfortable with the fire going strong and dinner bubbling away on top of the woodstove. I packed away the computer and finished my wine. The dogs snored from Mark’s side of the bed.

His truck pulled up outside.


“How’s Anne?”

The first words out of my mouth stopped him in his tracks.

“Shouldn’t you ask how your friend Louisa is?”

He closed the door gently behind him and took off his boots with a sigh. He lay his hat and leather jacket on the kitchen chair and came back to the almost bedroom. He sat on the end of my bed, our bed, and looked at me sadly. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and petted the dog closest to him, Frida that is. I said nothing. He said nothing. Nelson yawned.

“Want to tell me how you spent your evening then?”
He shrugged and stood up. He started to get undressed as he talked of the wake at Louisa’s house, an impromptu gathering of Andrew’s closest friends.

“And you.”
“Yes, and me. Anyway, Louisa made some green chile stew and opened a few bottles of cabernet for us. We made a campfire and sat around as they all remembered different stories from knowing him, like when he was a rancher in Idaho, to his time in the Marines in his twenties, and all the years he spent on the road in his thirties. I wish I’d known him. It was weird, Louisa didn’t speak once, she kept quiet, and listened. She cried a bit, but not as much as I’d have expected, you know? She’s at peace with this somehow.”
He climbed in to bed and lay down near me with his hands behind his head. I turned on my side to look at him. He glanced over at me and then carried on describing the day and night, how special it was to be there with them all.

“But why you?”
I didn’t know how to be subtle here, but why him and not me? I thought Louisa was my friend, not his. Mark turned on his side and faced me, almost nose to nose.

“I don’t know if I’m meant to say anything but it’s Anne and Graham…”
“They’re separating, yes, Graham told me.”

“Yesterday, he came by, remember? So, Anne told you today?”
“Yes, I think she wants to keep it quiet until he moves out, but what with all the legal details and all the bureaucracy from Andrew’s death, she needed someone with her today. To deal with it all. And she really didn’t want to ask Graham. So she asked me. I said you’d understand. You had your mom here and all. Well, you do, don’t you?”
I reached over and stroked his goatee, then pulled on it. Hard. “Next time, leave me a damn note then. I’ve been freaked out all day. Mom said you wouldn’t cheat on me but…”

“You told your mom?”
“Well, yes, she made me. She met me for breakfast and I had to tell her I didn’t know where you and Anne were and she talked to me about cheating and stuff and got me all nervous. Actually she thought you wouldn’t but just the idea of it freaked me out. So we went for a hike in the Sandias to clear out my head and show her around. I’m glad she’s here for a while so we do more day trips like that. I’ll have to take you there too, it was all pretty incredible, and we found a restaurant at the top of the mountain that you get to by the ski lifts or keep driving up the road. So we parked in the shade, left the dogs in the car, and then took a ride up there in a lift. There were these amazing views of the national forest and even Albuquerque. You’d love it, we could go sometime.”

Mark curled around me and held me close as I told him about how exhausting it was to spend a whole day with Mom, just the two of us, especially now she’s been going to yoga every day and is all fit and righteous about being healthy. He laughed and held me tight.

“You can tell me about your day too, you know,” I whispered.
He sighed and snuggled in closer. “Tomorrow. Tomorrow. I’m tired, Jen, I just want to lie here and listen to you ramble.”

“I don’t ramble.”

He snorted in my ear and I giggled. The dogs yawned again.


Down East in Maine: back after 28 years

Down East #1


Mid-summer in Maine and the campground is empty but for three other sites, although the tall fat fella in the white van with a hound dog drove out this morning. Perhaps he’s moving on? Another couple in the big sand colored tent drove by shortly after and it’s not even 8.30. Maybe I’m alone then? Is anyone else around? Time to explore, well, after the morning coffee on the rocks. Rocks on the coast, solid sit-upon boulders, smooth under bum, and slippery under paws (Harold’s).

I’ve been up for hours, the light wakes us around 5am, the lobster trawlers thunder by, deep and low in the water as I sit on those rocks with a plain coffee. The fog is so thick this morning that the boats are invisible even though voices talk back and forth over the rumble of engine and waves, tides and eddies.


McClellan Park campground is a little known hideaway right on the ocean with ten sites for campers and tents. The road down is winding and narrow through dense woodland but easy on the vehicle, just tight, there’d be no room for anything bigger than a Sprinter. We pull off to let a sedan pass on the way up, and the couple tells me to claim number twelve.

“It’s open, a nice little bit of meadow, and just the other side of the trees is the shore.” She’s missing a tooth up front in that cheery smile of hers, and her husband says something unintelligable. They wave me off. My new neighbors.


We camped in number twelve as directed with a hundred feet of mown grass, a ring of birch trees and the sound of the incoming tides on the rocks. The fire kept us warm although the wood Dennis, the caretaker, sold ended up being damp and green. That couple I’d mentioned though, they brought me some dry wood one morning.

“I was worried you’d be cold, that other stuff doesn’t put out much heat, does it? Here you go, your cat came by this morning. I saw him in the trees, shy isn’t he? Yes, I told Jerry we needed to bring you some wood, get you warm. It’s chilly today. They say it’ll rain tonight so cover up your stuff, won’t you?”

She’s in striped loose pajama pants, a pink checkered long sleeved shirt, and another purple layer over her shoulders, quite a colorful thick-set woman in her sixites. Her frizzled hair is held back by bright red plastic clips. Jerry wears work boots, pressed blue jeans, and a sweatshirt with Vietnam Veteran in bold white letters. His front teeth are missing, his tongue swallows his words, and his grin is like a ten-yer-old boys, all mischief and innocence. He’s about the same size too, wiry, compact, small as a pre-teen.

“You have to visit Jonesport, it’s pretty. My sister lives in Millbridge, that’s why we come here. We only live an hour away but love camping here each summer. Columbia Falls too, that’s a stop if you’re heading to Eastport. South of here, go see the ferris wheels on the beach. Jerry here was on stage for July 4th. He’s an Elvis impersonator.”

Millbridge is an odd little town in US 1, with very little by way of tourism, just a couple of stores, a diner and a mexican take-out, just what we want on the ocean, mexican food, right? I don’t find anywhere to get clam chowder, a sudden craving on these grey days. There’s a laundromat, library, bank, and a couple of churches, but no cafes or brew pubs that I can see. Bummer. I’ll not be staying here too long then. The supermarket undercharges me for the beer and I say nothing but feel guilty for a moment, and again as I write this. Oh well. I have worse regrets.

The shore is rough with a deep sudden drop from brown-stained rocks into swilling waves below. My brain imagines Harold slipping in and that fear that comes, knowing I’d jump in to save him. Probably kill us both. But I’d have to. It’s Harold. Fuck. “Get away from there!” I startle us both, he slips but not into the Atlantic.

We walk in the mornings, early, mid, late. We walk in the afternoons, every hour or so I jump up from book or laptop, “let’s go, guys.” All three pets bounce up, two dogs and a cat, and off through the trees we go, over the rocks, I sit on the grass to the east of this path and lean back. I can spend hours staring out over the ocean. This calm rejuvinates me, brings me back to myself, and reminds me of the Gower Coast in Wales. The grey skies with occassional bursts of sunshine. The salt on my skin. The damp air curling my hair. I wish there was a way to live on the coast like this, wake up each morning to stare out over the horizon and daydream in the cool breeze off the ocean. Can I? Make this a goal of mine? Why not? Or perhaps just drive along coastlines for the rest of my life? I could do that.


My brain ticks over, the lists, the stressors, all that needs to be taken care of in the next few weeks. Instead of tackling any of this increasing number of projects and the relevant details, I make another cuppa. This is the week before I move in finally to a rental apartment in Montpelier, start work, and then college. This is problably the last break for a while. It’s time to explore then, isn’t it? So we do. We do. Gratefully.

Mosquitos follow my everywhere but the DEET works well, not that I’d want to live with it on me year in, year out. But who cares about a few weeks here and there? Toxic crap I know but it works. When I go pee though, that was a problem.

McClellan campground costs only ten dollars per site and another five for a generous bundle of (green) firewood. There’s a shower, potable water, trash cans, and a friendly host who lives near by. Yes, come here. Yes, stay a while. Millbridge is within reach of a bunch of interesting smaller villages, one’s you wouldn’t normally come across on you trip across US 1. The camping has been here since 1946, Dennis tells me, but the State only just realized it, so came a knocking over winter, demanding a licence fee, a few changes, and less sites. Dennis just took down a couple of numbers but left the picnic tables and still mows the grass in those numberless places.

“There, done.” He grins, his eyes wrinkle in mischief, “And they left. Not so bad after all. It might help that the Chief of Police runs this place and threatened the guy, but what do I care? Oh, if this fog eases up, tonight we’re meant to be able to see the Northern Lights!”

The fog only thickened though so I went to bed by nine, curled up in the camper with Harold on the front seat, Rosie in her crate (door open) and Stevie the cat at my feet, looking out the sliding window, gazing upon squirrels. We sleep deeply.


Such utter calm and peace here, looking out over the Altlantic, I’m dreaming of a retreat, a time in a cabin on the waterfront, a deck, some shade, a place to swim, to walk the dogs, and days of peace to read, write, and create more. Yes. I’ll get right on it. Right after I finish my three years of the MFA.


Next though, it’s Down East/ Up North. Time to find the eastern most town on the United State’s coastline. There’s a brewery there.

Living The Dream: 26

As part of the ongoing series, here is your weekly edition of Living The Dream. Also available on Createspace and Amazon!


I shouldn’t have taken this dirt road. We were stuck. Nelson slept in the passenger seat. I fumed, angry with myself. Now what? Shit. I craved a cigarette but we were in the middle of nowhere, no corner store to pop into. I opened the window and turned off the engine. The silence woke up my fearless friend and he whimpered as he looked out the windows. I scratched his back and he yawned once.
I picked up my map again, trying to make sense of where we were before I tackled the how do I get out of this mess question. I followed the route with my finger, flipping the edge to see the area to the east of Elephant Butte. I’d gone past Engle on graded road and now hit this, a dead end. White Sands Missile Range. It didn’t sound like a place we wanted to explore, did it? I gave up with finding another route out. We’d have to back track. If I could.

The road, narrow and steep, had climbed into the San Andres Mountains, a beautiful and barely touched landscape, one I’d hoped to hike with Nelson off leash. Why not walk anyway? We could leave the Toyota here, but then I saw all the warnings and no trespassing signs, I couldn’t risk it. They meant business.

Opening the door, Nelson jumped out and sniffed around, barely walking out of sight. I stretched out my back and touched my toes a couple of times with a groan. The winter afternoon warmed me with the windless and fading sunlight. It was time to hit the road back, somehow.

I climbed back and whistled for the pup. He jumped over my lap, with a stick in this mouth and he laid it on his seat carefully before sticking his head out the window. I took a sip of water and started up, shifting into low four-wheel drive. The 4Runner inched slowly backwards until a gap in the trees beckoned. I climbed out to find a ditch cutting me off from the turn-around.

Stumped for a moment, I cursed my luck. No one was going to rescue me though, I had to buck up and take care of things myself. Under the trees, I picked up rocks and small branches to fill in the hole. Ten or so minutes later, I bounced on the ditch and didn’t fall in luckily. Nelson had watched from the driver’s seat. I pushed him over and backed up. The truck sank and I held my breath. The rocks held as I backed up, turned 180 degrees, and headed downhill, sighing in relief.
I did it. On my own, I did it. It felt good. I drove down the rough road picking up speed on the corners until suddenly the steering wobbled and I lost control. A flat tire. I stopped the engine with a sigh. It had been just too easy, hadn’t it?





I decided to do some research of my own.

I made a cup of tea, pulled out a plate of shortbread cookies and my laptop. Mark was off looking for work or something, and the dogs had worn themselves out and were crashed out asleep on the porch.

I sat at the kitchen table and stared out the window at the distant cloudy mountains. The sky bore down bright overhead but I could see a storm brewing and it made me nervous. We needed to get some kind of permanent toilet set up, or really dig a deep pit and build an outhouse for winter. Digging a hole every few days wouldn’t cut it for much longer. Everyone told me to get ready for winter; this was our last call for warm days. I sipped the tea and waited. Old computers do it slowly, wake up that is. The cookies were almost gone by the time the Internet kicked in and I thanked my lucky stars for having a geek for a boyfriend who’d at least set that up right.

I logged on to our account and went surfing. Compost. Types of toilets. Off-grid plumbing. You name it – I looked for it. The result? Ten pages of notes on all my choices, from one page on how to dig in caliche soil – you need a digging bar in case you’re interested. Option two suggested spending fifteen hundred dollars on a plastic trendy pre-made composting toilet that you hand mix and turn every week. They need electricity too by the looks of it. So that’s not happening, for now anyways. The outhouse seemed better and better to be honest.

I sat back and put my feet on the other chair. An outhouse it is then. I finished my tea and put the mug in the sink. With Mark off on some adventure, I had to do this one on my own for once. I’d work it out.


Outside was getting chilly and so I gathered some firewood and loaded up the campfire. It took me three attempts to light, and I stood over the flames and assessed the stuff we had lying around. The shovel was off to the side, looking a little worse for wear after our attempts at digging a veggie garden, but still, it was just what I needed. Off behind the bus lay a stack of lumber, some more suitable for firewood than building. I grabbed another armful of logs and branches and threw them near the fire. The sun shone and dogs panted. I filled the water buckets for them. Where to build the outhouse then? I walked around the bus and parking area we’d created. Two juniper trees had been trimmed back to give a shaded bedding area for the pups. A couple of tin trashcans were tied to a pinion near the driveway, with three crates full of recycling. My firewood stack was pretty meager but the next day had been set-aside for the big firewood collection day. Talking of which, I needed to make some sandwiches and butternut squash soup to take with us. Anne, Graham, Mark and I were heading into Rowe Mesa with the trucks.

I wandered up our driveway and looked for a spot pretty hidden from the road, not that we had much traffic passing by, but it’d be just my luck to be in midstream when we had visitors. I walked back to the bus and in the other direction.

Ah, perfect. Close enough to run to in a snowstorm, yet out of the usual hangout areas and protected by a few good-sized trees. Yep, I’d found the perfect spot. My only question is this, where’s Mark when I need him? We’ve talked about digging the outhouse for ages but had he done anything about it?

I collected my tools together and a bottle of water. I wore my favorite straw-hat and set to work. I swung the axe and hit a rock. The axe flew out of my hands and landed in the tree next to me. I swore but then laughed. No one saw me, so who cared? I checked around to make sure the dogs were safe then I tried again. I swung the axe and chunk, it split the dirt. Yes. I did it again and again, getting on my hands and knees to pull out some head sized rocks. Swing. Dig. Swing. Dig. Over and over, I worked hard and loved every minute of it. Kneeling down to pull out a thick juniper root, Frida nudged me from behind and knocked me over. I shook some dirt at her, pretending to growl at her and instantly my pup grabbed those roots and dirt and threw it over her head with a shake. She stuck her nose in the hole and sniffed deeply. Then she started to dig. Twigs, stones, dirt, pine needles, dead grass, she flung it all. Nelson bounded up ever curious and dug from the other side. I sat back on my haunches and watched. Frida looked up at me but didn’t stop. Down they went until both hit some thing that frustrated their efforts. I sighed and reached in. Nope, not something I could move either. I stood up and grabbed the shovel. I had to force it underneath and wriggle it back and forth. Loose enough? I reached back inside the hole and found my grip and yanked it out. A huge boulder with the shape of a bowl in the middle of one side. A perfect birdbath. Struggling under the weight, I carried it over to near the bus and dropped it under a tree, filling it with water. The dogs drank deeply and assumed the position, asleep that is.

I sat on the steps and took a moment to stretch out.

Where was Mark? It was very strange of him not to leave me a note or anything. I sighed and stood up, stretching backwards with a pop. Ouch. Not good. But I needed to get this hole dug today, at least three feet by three feet deep. It was doable, that was my goal, and I’d do it. On my own, I’d do this one small project. As to the building part? I’d wait for Mark to finish that up, I’ve never built even a shelf.

I looked up at the sun overhead and grinned. This is the life, the good life: I work outside. I live in a sweet little community. Two dogs have adopted me. I live in a school bus. And I have a great boyfriend. Yep, this is the life for me.


I swung the axe but it’d hit the sides of the hole. Useless. So, I grabbed the shovel again and slowly but surely dug deeper, making nice straight walls and clean edges. I jumped in to measure the depth. If I’m 5’5”, then digging down to the height of my hips should be more than enough for the outhouse, right? There were only two of us pooping in here. I knelt down and flung out the last few piles of loose dirt behind me. Done. I did it. Scrambling back out, I admired my work. The dogs watched me sleepily as I told them how great a job they did, helping me out like that. Nelson fell asleep mid-flattery.

I didn’t want to stop, not yet. I’d make the soup later. Back by the bus, I gathered up more lumber, some thick posts, four of them. I’d start with that. Did I have a design? Nope, I didn’t, not really. I’d just get creative with whatever I found lying around. That was the plan. An improvisational method.


I drank some water and stood next to the fire and warmed my hands. Clouds were creeping closer as the day went by. Next to the hole, I stacked lumber, posts, a can of screws and nails, and some tin roofing. Didn’t I help Mark build the porch? Yeah, so why not build an outhouse the same way? More or less, that is?

I lay out the wood, putting the posts in the four corners, about two feet away from the loose dirt. I began to dig, this time only a foot and a half and stuck in the first post. I held it upright and scooped the dirt back in and trod it down, forcing it back in the hole and making sure it’d hold on its own. I stood back. Ah, right, I needed a level, where would that be? I searched the bus and around the porch but never found the damn thing. I stood back from the post then adjusted it, stood back off to the other side and tried again. It took a few attempts and by the time I was done, it looked pretty damn good to me. I worked on the other posts but ran out of steam on the third one. Too hungry to function, I left the tools ready for the last corner and wandered back to the bus. The fire outside kept going with a low deep red bed of smoldering logs.


Inside, I fixed up tortillas with melted cheese and opened a bag of chips with a jar of salsa. I ate on my bed, leaning back against the pillow. I checked my phone but no messages from anyone. I finished the last crumbs myself even though the pups watched me, shaking from hunger and neglect. I ignored them both and fell asleep.


The dogs barked and barked, slamming themselves against the door. I woke up, sat up, and hit my head. I yelped. A truck drove up to the front steps and honked its horn. The dogs went crazy. I didn’t know what to do. I let them out and shut the door.

I peaked out the window. Graham sat in his Chevy truck, his windows open, as he talked to the dogs but made no move to climb out. I dodged back into the bedroom and found a fresh pair of jeans and sweatshirt.

“Hang on.” I yelled out the window. I brushed my hair back and retied it. Stumbling out the door, I almost fell down the steps but just caught myself on a post and stood up straight.

“Hey, Graham. It’s okay. They’re friendly. Nelson, Frida, come here, will you?”

I strode over to them, calling the dogs to my side. Nelson, the biggest, ran up and wagged happily before lying down again with a sigh. Frida, ever neurotic, would not shut up though so I had to grab her and throw her over my shoulder before she shushed enough for us to chat.

Graham leaned out the window to stroke her and for once she didn’t growl at him. Progress of sorts. I put the dog down as soon as I could.

“This is a nice surprise, what are you up to?”

“Just in the area, you know.” He grabbed his hat and pager then joined me on the porch. “I was out for a medical call but it got cancelled before I got there. Just a couple miles down further from here. I thought I’d stop over and say hello, see how it’s going out here. Oh, and is your woodstove chimney safe? It’s time to get ready for winter, you know.”

I laughed. “Well, Mark installed it last month so we should be good. Want to check? I’m going to put the kettle on, want something to drink?”

Frida ran off towards the bus. Graham followed me inside; the first time he’d seen our place up close. I focused on making some herbal tea and getting out the rest of the cookies. I gave the pups a treat each and they wandered off to their beds with rawhide in mouths. Graham sat at the table. I moved the laptop out the way for him. The teakettle whistled and I poured out water for us then sat down opposite.

“How’s it going?” It seemed a pretty good vague question to start with. I pushed my notes on humanure off to the side. My arms were sunburnt again and hands grimy from digging. Graham didn’t comment. Not about that anyway.

“I saw Anne and Mark driving into Santa Fe when I came down to the fire station. Are they getting more stuff for the dog sanctuary?”
“No idea. Milk? Sugar? Did you talk to them?” I kept my hands busy.
Graham shook his head and picked up two cookies and ate them fast. He looked around, smiling as he pulled down books off the shelf next to him. All about homesteading and living off-grid, there was nothing too revealing, thankfully. I sipped my tea, not sure what to make of this visit. Graham’s an odd bird at the best of times.
As usual he wore his uniform, all pressed and clean. He’d shaved thoroughly and his hair still seemed damp from a shower. The pager beeped every so often but he turned it down. He put back the books and sipped his tea and ate another cookie. I waited. Actually, I wanted to go back outside and finish the posts for the outhouse.

“Anne wants me to move out, for sure now. She’s wanting us to separate officially, working out the legal stuff too.”
“Oh. I thought it was just an idea, not really that likely from what you said at the party.”
He shook his head sadly. “I know. I know. I was wrong apparently.” He smiled up at me, and tucked in his blue shirt, looking at his clean fingertips for a second more than needed. He picked up the mug once again before talking about the place he’d found in town, and how he’s got a new phone number.

“That’s partly why I came by, to give you my number. In case you want to hang out sometime. Or have questions about this stuff?” He held up one of the books on building and I laughed.

“Wasn’t Anne the driving force at your place?” I teased.

He grinned at being busted and then laughed with me. “Well, I helped. Honest.” He leaned back in the chair and stared out my window. “What are you working on out there?” He nodded in the direction of the new outhouse. I told him how much I’d done.

“Do you want some help finishing up? It’s easier if I hold the beams when you screw them in.”
“I’m not done with the posts yet,” I admitted.

“But you’re close right? Come on, I’d like to help.”

Graham stood up and held out a hand for me. I took it and he lead me out onto the porch, letting me go after a moment standing with his face to the sun. “We only have a couple of hours left, so what’s your plan?”
“No plan, just posts with wood across the top for now. I’d not really thought it through much more than that. Any ideas? I’ve not done something like this before.”
We headed over towards the project, picking up the shovel and post when we got there. Graham dug right in and finished that last posthole as I collected the lumber together, and I even found a small handsaw. He held the post in place as I tamped down the earth and made it pretty solid. Still no level but with the two of us we got it set straight first time round.

The dogs watched from the trees and I heard a donkey bray in the distance.

“Now what?” He stood back with his hands on his hips, somehow he was still looking clean and ready to go. The mud in my hair kept it out of the way if nothing else. I picked up the tape measure and suggested we find out the spacing.

“You mean you didn’t measure anything yet?”
I grinned, “no, was I meant to?”

I passed him one end and found out that within a few inches, the posts were pretty evenly spaced out, six feet by four feet more or less. I checked out the pile of wood and we started cutting and laying up the crossbeams. Graham held the lumber and I had the satisfaction of tying it all together. Within an hour, the basic framing was done. We worked quietly and comfortably.

“Not bad, Jen, not bad.” Graham held the ladder as I climbed back down with tools in hand.

“Sweet. Mark will be so proud of me.”

I put the tools on the steps of the ladder and stood back to admire our work. A little wonky but damn fine for a first attempt. Graham’s pager beeped. He grabbed it and turned up the volume. I had no clue as to what they were saying but after a couple of minutes he passed me the rest of the tools. He looked sad. He wiped his hands on his jeans and reached out to shake mine goodbye. I hugged him, suddenly afraid but I had to ask.

“Are you okay? Is it anyone you know?”

He nodded and held on briefly. “I’ve got to go. One of our locals just died. A friend. I’ve got to be there.”

He walked off fast with me at his heels. He turned back to say something and I walked smack into him and we crashed to the ground. He laughed out loud and picked us both up, dusting off the twigs and dirt. He picked out some cholla cactus from his palm with a smile. He climbed into his truck, turned on the flashing lights, and backed out. He stopped up the road and shouted back to me,

“Looks good by the way, the outhouse, it looks good. You could paint it, you know. But I wanted to ask you this, where are you going to sit?”

Oh, there is that.


I came back from walking the pups to find Mark in the bus, making a fire, and heating up some soup. It smelled great. I gave him a big hug but he didn’t do anything but grunt at me. He turned around to face me and his eyes were sad, shut down.

“What? What’s happened?”
He took my hands in his and searched them for a second then looked down into my eyes.

“It’s Andrew. Louise’s brother died last night. They just found him.”

I didn’t know what to say so I sat down, fast. The kettle boiled in the background but Mark turned it off and pulled out a bottle of red wine. He opened it in silence.

“Graham told me a local had died. I didn’t think it’d be someone we knew.”
“Yeah, I know. This sucks. Here, drink this.” He sat down opposite me and flicked through my pile of notes. He put them aside.

“How did you find out?” I asked, gulping back half the wine. I’ve not lost anyone before. Mark pulled out his cigarettes but put them back in his pocket.

“I was out with Anne in Santa Fe when she got the call from Graham. We came right back. I dropped her off at the tavern. Everyone’s there. It’s packed. I wanted to come tell you though.” He drifted off.

I put the glass down. “But what were you doing in town? You never left me a note and I got kinda worried.”

He shrugged. “Anne texted me, asked if I wanted to pick up the supplies for the chainsaw for tomorrow, not that we’re going now. She’ll need to stay with Louisa, I guess. Shopping, we were shopping when Andrew was lying dead at home. He could’ve been there for ages before anyone found him. How horrible is that? God, we’re all so vulnerable out here. I don’t know if I can live with that.”

I reached and took his hand in mine and stroked his fingers slowly. Mark shook his head and continued to tell me how the neighbors had come over with some harvest for Andrew and how the dogs were all freaked out, jumping on the truck and barking up a storm. They’d found him in bed with a book half-read and a mug of cold coffee.

“Not a bad way to go, eh?” He tried to smile. He looked around and saw my notes again. “You doing research now, hon?”
I nodded and leaned back in my chair. I described what I’d done, and how close I’d come to finishing with Graham’s help. Mark peered out the window but it was already getting dark and he couldn’t see anything but silhouettes of the junipers.

“Did Graham put the tools away?”


Living The Dream: 25


“Seriously? You should’ve talked to me first.”

Mark slumped inside his new truck and stared at me in disbelief. My hands shook as I opened the door and climbed down and away from him. I let Nelson out to stretch his legs but he ran over to the trees, watching us both carefully with his tail tucked far underneath. I called him back closer and he came reluctantly.

“You know how sensitive he is, don’t raise your voice at me like that. You scared him.” I crouched down and buried my face in his furry neck and burst out crying.

“Oh Jenny, now what?”

Impatience and gentleness competed in his voice. I cried. His footsteps brought him close but I didn’t look up. He knelt down next to me and pulled us both onto his lap under the midnight sky. I curled up tight and Nelson whimpered. Mark stroked us both, whispering softly about the stars above. I relaxed. Nelson wriggled and I let him go. Mark sat and waited.

I sighed once more and leaned into him. He spoke up.

“Do you think he wants to drive with you or with me in the new truck?”
I punched him lightly, “me of course. You’re the big mean stranger who made me cry.”
He laughed out loud and it echoed down the highway. I sat back and stared at him for a second.

“I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. One woman wanted to take him as a guard dog and leave him alone outside. Another man wanted his hyper little kids to chase him around all day. I couldn’t do it.” I tried not to cry again.

“But why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“You were too busy on stage. And I thought you’d be mad and make Louisa take him back,” I told him.

“But why?”
I couldn’t explain, not even to myself, so I shrugged and stood up. I held out my hand to him and pulled him close.

“Let’s go home, okay? We can talk about all this in the morning, just not now. I’m too exhausted, Mark. I’m just exhausted.”
“Okay, it’s been a long night. What do you think Frida will do?”

“Play, I hope.”

He nodded as he closed the car door for me and walked away, watching me drive off ahead.

We made coffee and sat outside, all four of us. It had been a long night. Frida had been none too happy to share the bus and it took a while to settle everyone down. Nelson knew he wasn’t wanted and avoided Mark as much as possible. He sat near me, practically on me, and I thought of using his broad head as a coffee table. The ears would’ve kept the mug from falling off.
Mark toasted me with a smile, tired but soft. I said little. We’d not chatted about the truck or the dog. Neither of us wanted to spoil the mood, I guess. The sky stretched cloudless as usual, and the ground beneath the trees had cracked and split once again. The rains had come and gone. The water buckets sat empty. The tomatoes had been eaten. Life was good.

Nelson stretched out his nose and sniffed at Mark’s bare feet, tail wagging, and oh-so-gently, he took a lick. He didn’t curl up and die, instead, he inched forward and we all watched, even Frida. Nelson wriggled close and poked his left foot with a paw. Frida stood up and came over, sniffing the new dog curiously. She sighed her puppy sigh and wandered off to water a pinion. Nelson followed cautiously. They circled each other twice. Nelson bowed once and the games began. Running full-pelt back behind and around the bus, over and over again, they charged across the yard, under trees, over buckets, and I got dizzy trying to watch them both. Mark cheered them on, making bets as to who would come out first on each lap. Frida, no Nelson, no, back to Frida.
The sun beat down and I grabbed my straw-hat, and sat with my back to the bright light.
Mark offered me a cookie and poured out more coffee for the both of us. The breeze tickled the dried grasses in the yard. The prayer flags rustled and I said a quiet thanks.

“We should get some firewood soon, don’t you think, Jenny?”
I nodded, “Can we get a huge pile? I don’t want to freeze this winter. Do you think the bus will be okay though? Not there’s much we can do, is there? I can start collecting the kindling whenever I take the dogs out walking.”

The land was full of dead and down pinion trees, and I pictured breaking off the branches and carrying them back one by one. Maybe not. Mark had heard of someone with firewood stacks some twenty feet high – he had firewood envy. But he’d talked to one of the men and was quoted a decent price for a truckload.

“It’s very doable, especially if we load up ourselves, and now we have the Ford…”
“Yeah, we have the Ford. How much did it cost, you never said?”
He gave me the best widest smile that morning. “You’ll never guess.”
“Go on, tell me,” I pouted.

“No, you’ve got to guess at least once first, come on, be a good sport.”
I stood and walked over to it. The paint was flaking off in places and pale rose-colored rust peaked through. The tires had a deep tread. The engine hadn’t leaked oil over night. The front end was dented. The interior was a wreck. I had no idea, and I told him so.

“Five hundred. Only five hundred, not bad, eh? For a working reliable vehicle.”
It was a wreck, but not that bad, you know? “Good job, Mark. Yeah, okay, I approve, but only if I get to drive it too.”
He laughed and threw me the keys. “Let’s go then, shall we?”
“What? Now?”
“Why not?” he grinned wickedly, challenging me.
“I have a hangover and we have two dogs, where are they meant to go?”
“In the front seat with us,” he said as he stood up, grabbing the thermos and his bandana and sunglasses. “Let’s go explore. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
What could I say? I whistled to the dogs and they came up, panting and drooling. I opened the driver’s door and in they jumped, no questioning looks given. I claimed my seat quickly. Mark was left to fight for a space as I gunned the engine by accident. I grinned sheepishly.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize it would be that sensitive. Everyone tucked in?”
With nods and smiles all around, windows open, radio tuned to a country western station, we drove away.

I took a right turn and headed away from the highway. The sun bore down on me and I reached for Mark’s sunglasses. He changed the radio station to Oldies in revenge. The dogs leaned against us both, tails intertwined and wagging comfortably, the stress of the night before apparently forgotten. The road was graveled and rocky in parts, smooth going in others, the valley opened to the west of us, and I glanced over at my boyfriend. He was frowning as he smoked but I didn’t ask. I drove slowly to start but soon found my confidence and picked it up. We passed a few more private driveways after a couple of miles, leading to half hidden homes with tall windmills sticking out into the bright blue sky. Horses grazed in the arroyos. A coyote ran over the rise in front of us, chasing a roadrunner by the looks of it.

My phone rang. I passed it to Mark.

“Hello?” He grimaced. “Yes, Martha, she’s right here, but we’re driving and she can’t really pull over.”
The road ahead and behind was empty and I tried not to giggle or cough too loudly. He carried on, politely asking about the weather, her cats, and if she had any plans to visit. I slapped him and he put the phone out of reach, humming and hawing. The dogs panted. I pulled over onto a sandy spot on the next straight stretch. I grabbed the phone from him.

“Hello, Mom. You did what? When? Oh…for a couple of weeks?”

Mark let the dogs out and joined them in their watering program. He wandered out of sight with the two following his heels closely as he scrambled up a small ridge and waved. I climbed out and sat on the tailgate, listening to Mom’s plans. I drank some cool coffee. The plans? Well, she was arriving next week. On Thursday, at four.

The road dropped off into a wash, the rocks lined the path, and the gravel had run off in the last rains. It was great. Actually it wasn’t, we were stuck in sand. Mom was coming to visit next week. The dogs were thirsty. I was still hung-over and Mark was loving every minute of it. He pulled out a shovel from the bed, and he dug out the one rear wheel, by sticking branches and rocks to give us some traction. He turned a nozzle on each of the front wheels, climbed back in, and gave me the thumbs up as the engine started back up first time. The Ford slowly but surely climbed out of the rut, an inch at a time, the truck made it.

“Gotta love four wheeling. Can I drive the rest of the way?” He beamed at me.
Ahead of us, the road rose up towards the mountains and ridges, a narrow one-lane track with barely a sign that anyone lived back there. He stayed in the front seat and I shoved the dogs into the middle and I claimed the window seat.

“When’s she coming? We’d better get the outhouse finished. Okay, onwards and upwards, my friends, onwards and yes, most surely, upwards.”

He gunned it and we shot up the mountain road with a scream.

Living The Dream: 24


“Yep, let’s do it.”
Mark gave an easy grin and closed the door behind him. I stood at the bottom of the steps and picked at my new tee shirt and slightly worn-out denim skirt. It wasn’t quite right.

“How do I look?”

“Perfect. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun.”
He wore a white shirt tucked in to his pale blue jeans, and he’d even shaved smooth around the goatee. His hair was tied back into an inch-long ponytail. His eyes sparkled as he walked over to her. “It’ll be fun, remember? Don’t worry. Let’s just go and play, shall we?”

“Hang on, I’ve got to change. I can’t do this. I need jeans and boots.” I shrugged. “I think it’s time to retire the skirt. It doesn’t work any more.”

Mark shrugged, he didn’t care either way.
He drove the long way into Oliver, taking it slow. I wished I still smoked because I was nervous as hell. Instead I sipped on my coffee and looked out the car window.
“Do you think Frida will be okay on her own?” I worried.
He nodded and glanced over at me. “It would’ve been too much for us to bring her, you agree, right? She’d hate being in the crowds, and what’s worse; someone might have wanted to adopt her. You couldn’t put her through that. At least this way, she’s home safe and sound, and you can focus on the other dogs up for adoption and not worry about our girl.”
He was right. I stared at the Ortiz Mountains. “Can we hike up there some day?”
“Sure, Jenny, sure.”
The road drifted up and down small rises, into dried up/ fried up valleys, and finally hit the highway. He turned right after the three or four cars passed us heading into town. I sighed.

“Well, all you really need to do is to take care of the dogs, and try to find them good local families, forever homes for them.”
“I know.”
He took the curves faster than usual, and I grabbed the door handle. I wanted to bitch at him, but I didn’t. I finished the coffee as we pulled into town. The galleries were staying open later than usual and had advertised the big event: Rose’s Rescue was in town. Oliver was busier than usual after two radio stations and the local newspapers had interviewed her. Louisa had come through and each story showed both her compassion and drive to rescue these dogs the best she could. We parked on the left, out of the way. Mark stopped the engine. We sat there in the quiet. I turned to Mark and realized he wasn’t his usual easy-going self.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, don’t worry about me. It’s new, that’s all. I’ll be okay, will you?”

I reached over and grabbed his hand and kissed it.

“Yes,” I took a deep breath, “let’s go.”

“Louisa, how can I help?”
The parking lot was cordoned off with tape and tables. In the shade sat five scared dogs. I veered towards them and sat near by, talking softly to each one, calling their names, and letting them come to me. Within a few minutes, I had all of them leaning on me and licking whatever limb they could reach. I laughed and relaxed.
Louisa sat on top of the table nearest me, Buddha-like, and watched us. “That’s what they all needed – a familiar friendly face. It’ll be easier now. Thanks for coming to do this, Jenny. It’ll help out a lot.”
I shrugged and sat back with Nelson lying across my lap. “What’s the plan, then?”
Louisa wore clean tidy black jeans and a faded green shirt. Her hair had been recently buzzed, and I noticed that her fingernails were clean for once. I wanted to tease her but that’s not how we were together; I smiled to myself anyway. I looked around the parking lot. Luckily, Louisa had claimed the one and only shady spot in front of the cars parked off the highway. We had some hundred by ten feet rectangle of dirt to call our own. Mark unpacked the Subaru and brought over the posters he’d made, images and cartoons of dogs were painted onto the plywood scraps from home. He propped one against the table near me, and tacked another to the tree behind. He took one over to the tavern. He leaned it against their sandwich board. He went inside.

Louisa looked at her notepad and talked about the different dogs she’d brought. I knew them all, but some better than others.

“We have some volunteers coming out here to help, so we could to wait for them, I guess, but maybe not, if Anne and Graham get here soon. We’ll see. My thought was that we’d each take a dog and stay with him or her until they find a family or we get tired and pack up to go home. I’m not staying for the whole night, that’s a promise.”

She stood up with a grin and checked on her dogs. Their files were still in the truck and she went to get them as I held five leashes and prayed no one tried to escape.

Anne arrived and went straight inside. She spoke to Mark on the doorsteps, about the music probably, and Mark glanced my way, said something else, and then went back into the tavern. Anne came over.

“No Graham today?” I asked.
“He’ll be here later. They had a call out, a medical one; it didn’t sound too serious, but he’ll be gone for an hour or more. What do you need me to do?”
Louisa came over and gave us each our folders with the dogs’ medical histories, rabies certificates, and a donation/ adoption form. I checked that everything was there. I was to take care of Nelson again. I also held onto a female older pit-bull, white but for a pink nose and brown ears, who was incredibly gentle and a sweetheart. Louisa took on the two five year old Labs and Anne kept an eye on the absolute New Mexico mutt that we had no idea what he was. Cute, short brown fur, odd colored eyes, and four legs. That’s all I could really say about him. Oh, and he had a curly tail and was short like a corgi.
The afternoon slowly ticked by, cars came and went, and the tavern filled up. One by one, the tourists left town. One by one, the locals came over to hang out with the dogs.

“I’d like her. The husky.”
I looked up to see an older woman in her fifties or so pointing at Nelson. She didn’t approach us, but stared at my dog. “Yeah, she’ll do. It is a girl, isn’t it?”
I petted his head and stood up. “No, this is Nelson, he’s young neutered husky mix and he’s still a bit skittish after being a stray for too long. That’s what Louisa thinks anyway.” I remembered my lines and asked about the home situation and what was she looking for in a dog. I wanted to make a good match.

“I need a guard dog for out where I live.”
“Okay, where’s that?”
She pointed up into the mountains behind us. “The Ortiz. There are too many damn coyotes for my liking. I need to keep them away since I don’t want to shoot every last one of them. I need a guard dog.”
She was serious too.

“What does that mean to you?” I had to ask.

The woman took off her sunglasses and checked me out, slowly, up and down. “Do you live round here?”
I nodded but said nothing else. The contrast between us couldn’t have been stronger. I was the new kid on the block and she knew it.

“Hmm. Well, as you should know, it’s not safe out here. A woman alone needs a dog in the yard, especially at night. He’ll have his own doghouse; so don’t worry. But his job is to protect me.”

She took a few steps towards us and Nelson gave out a low deep growl. The woman ignored it and came closer, reaching out to pet the dog on the head. Nelson flinched and tried to back out the way but the woman closed the gap and tried again. I heard the growl forming in the back of Nelson’s throat and I stepped in between the two of them.

“Did you say you’ll be leaving him outside at night? On his own?”
The woman wore a dark green baseball cap, big boots despite the heat, and a full set of army fatigues. She stared at me as if I were an idiot. “That’s what guard dogs do, they guard you.”
I didn’t know what came over me but I pushed her away from Nelson.

“Really? Well, this isn’t a guard dog, not for you anyway. Nellie is a sweet sensitive boy and he needs to sleep inside, ride inside, be treated gently, he’s a companion dog, not some kind of cheap alarm system.”

My voice squeaked the last words and I took a breath. I stepped back from her. I looked around in panic. Louisa came over and started talking to the woman, “Dana, I think you’d be better off taking a different kind of puppy from the shelter, one that doesn’t have the issues that these dogs do…”
I tuned them both out and sat down with Nelson in the shade and hugged him to me. I whispered, “she wasn’t good enough, she wasn’t good enough.” Nelson licked my tears away and leaned against me. His tail thumped against me. His odd colored eyes didn’t leave mine. I stroked his thick neck and shoulders.

Louisa sat down near us both and watched the traffic go by before asking if I was okay.
“I didn’t like her.”
She nodded. “But you do know that a lot of these people are terrible with other people but great with dogs? Just because you didn’t like the woman, didn’t mean she’d be a bad home.”
“But it would be the worst thing for Nelson, stuck in a yard on his own. How would he get any confidence? Who’d play with him and hug him and love him?”
Louisa smiled softly. “Not all dogs are treated like that, Jen. We can’t be too picky, that’s all I’m saying. The focus is to find these dogs home, they might not be perfect, but they’re better off in their own homes. Think about it.”

She stood up and whistled to herself. All the dogs watched her closely. I stayed in the shade with Nelson.
Anne was chatting to a family with some young kids, and within minutes the two labs were playing and bouncing and licking those two boys upside down. The mom burst out laughing at one point and the dad pulled out his camera. Anne took him to the table and talked to him about the sanctuary and I heard him say that they’d come out just for the fundraiser, hoping to find a new pup.

“Or two.” He watched his kids rolling in the dirt and he turned back to Anne and her folder. “What do I need to do?”
She’d smiled easily and described the dogs in detail, talking about their medical histories, and the way they’d ended up at the sanctuary after being found wandering the highway some five months previous.

“Drop-offs we reckon. It happens a lot, people drive out and see the loose dogs here and leave theirs. Deliberately. Crazy, isn’t it?”
“Hell yeah, so no one came to claim them?”
“No, we put the info out through the local email groups, told the shelter, and even made a few flyers. Nothing came back. Louisa wanted to fatten them both up first. They were pretty malnourished. Anyway, they both have a clean bill of health, still energetic and playful as you see. We don’t have set fees but if you can make a donation towards her costs?”
“Absolutely, we want to help set her up. I gave one of my paintings for the auction and we’d thought we’d stay for that part of the night, but I think we’ll just take the kids and the dogs back home and settle everyone in. I might drop by later, but I’m not sure.”

He filled in the paperwork and handed over a check for a hundred dollars. Anne shook his hand and passed over two leashes. Louisa appeared and crouched down next to the dogs and the two young boys. She spoke quietly to all four of them. They listened carefully. Each boy took a leash and petted the dog closest to him slowly and gently. She talked some more and the boys nodded seriously. She stood up and walked back to her truck without looking back.


“Good job,” I couldn’t help but say.

Anne drank her water and offered me a protein bar from her bag. The other three dogs lay in the sunshine and our volunteers relaxed in the foldout chairs, chatting to each other and talking to folks as they came over. Anne knelt next to me. We watched but said little. Her face was more tense than usual but I didn’t ask. Mark popped his head out of the tavern and saw us. He waved and headed back in. Anne stood.

“I’d better check on the bands. Isn’t Mark playing with the Thrashers tonight?” She saw my expression and carried on quickly as she walked away, “Are you going to be okay out here?”
“Sure. We’re fine.”
She checked in with Louisa, who looked at her phone, and nodded once.
A young man came over and sat down facing Nelson, asking, “Would he be good with kids?”
“What age?”
“Well, I have a toddler and a four year old, crazy little guys, always into mischief. I tell the wife we should send them to school and get them socialized but no, she wants the home schooling thing. I love them to death, but they don’t stop running around.” he smiled a lopsided grin, and pulled out a pouch. “Smoke? It’s homegrown.”
I shook my head and looked to see if anyone was listening.

“No, he’s unpredictable with kids. He might bite. He might hurt them. He’s a guard dog, you see. Best left alone outside. That kind of thing.”
“That’s a shame. He looks sweet.”
I stood up, and held onto Nelson’s leash tightly as if I might lose him. I nodded seriously.

“Looks are deceiving. You’d do better with that pit-bull over there. Angel, she’s great with kids. Very sweet and loyal. Older too, less likely to be wound up by their playing.”
“Thanks,” he held out his hand and shook mine. “I appreciate your honesty. I’ll check her out, yeah, that sounds good.” He stood up and went over to meet the other dogs.
“How did it go?”
“Great.” I took a big gulp from his beer. “Great.”
“Did you adopt out any?”
I nodded and took another gulp. “Yeah, all of them. Even the funny short little mutt found a home in Cordova with this older couple who live near a creek or river or something.”
“That’s great. Well done, Jen. Where did Nelson end up going? Anyone we know?”
“Yeah, good people, just a couple with a dog.”

Mark ordered another round for us all. “Did you like them?”
I nodded again and looked around the tavern. “Yeah, they’re not bad.”

The room was packed, completely and fully packed, with all the tables and chairs taken, kids and dogs running between and through us, and a reggae band made talking hard. I focused on watching everyone hopping from group to group, stopping here and there, shaking hands, hugging, and laughing easily. I wandered over to the bathrooms and washed my hands and face. It was only six o’clock and I was exhausted.


The drummer from the Woodman Thrashers joined us at the table, Dave that is, the young kid who’d called Mark a narc all those months ago. He’d cleaned up in a grunge band kind of a way, with a different tee shirt that although was black and torn, somehow looked new on him. He’d spiked his hair up and off his face and looked ready for fame and fortune.

“Are you ready, Mark? We’ll be playing those five songs we gave you so no surprises for your first time on stage here. Come on; let’s go set you up, okay? We’ll be on after the next group’s done.”
Mark grinned widely until he saw my surprised look. “I meant to tell you, but you’ve been so busy.” He scratched as his goatee and shrugged sheepishly. “I wanted you to just look up and see me on stage. I’ll be back later, save me some food if you get any, okay?”

The tavern filled up around me as Mark wandered off with Dave, Andrew, and Jimmy, heading out onto the crowded porch. Frank and Debbie came up and asked about how the monsoons treated us in the end.

“We had ten full buckets of water for a moment there. Of course, most of it’s been used up already. The tomatoes take a gallon each, I’d had no idea that they’d be so thirsty.”
Frank pulled up a chair and set his pint on the table. He leaned forward. “It was good to see you at the fire department the other day, but you’ve not been back? Oh and I heard the cops came around, is that right?”
“Yeah, it was a bust.”
“That’s too bad. Did they fine you or what?”
“No, it was a bust; they didn’t find anything, that’s what I meant. We don’t have anything.”
He sat back, disappointed. “They came up to our gate but the kids ran down and spoke to them, babbling away. The cops asked a bunch of questions and the kids just chatted away so innocently that they all drove off back towards town. I watched it all from the house. The kids were so excited by being interrogated. They ended up playing cops and growers all afternoon.”
Debbie laughed at the image and started to ask more about our homestead. I described the bus and the porch we’d made, the chicken run without any chickens, the waterless storage buckets, and the compost that didn’t compost.

“All in all, I think we’re doing great. Mark loves being out on the land, and the dogs, I mean, the dog loves following him around as he fixes up the place. What about you? What are you doing these days?”
She talked, in detail, of the hot water system that they’d installed, the size piping, the kind of pump, the water flow per minutes from the water storage tanks. People round here don’t mess around with small talk. She talked. I listened.

Mark wandered over to the stage with Drummer Dave and talked about setting up after the next band. He walked out to the car to grab his guitar. Anne stood and went out to the porch, talking to Louisa who wanted to go home, please. Anne wouldn’t let her until the auction had run its course. They went back and forth about what Louisa needed to do.

I didn’t listen as my cheese and chicken enchiladas had to be eaten. I ignored the world as I tucked right in. The level of activity, noise, and all the random conversations here, there, and everywhere, was deafening, and well, it was all a bit too much for me yet I didn’t want to leave and miss out. I ate the plate clean and even licked it when no one was looking. I leaned back against the wall and drank some water sensibly.

A family took to the stage among much good-natured catcalling and yelling. Their eight-year-old girl waved at us all and claimed a microphone. She spoke softly. The tavern dropped silent fast.

“I’d like to say thank you to Louisa. She gave me a dog two years ago when I was a kid.”
Everyone laughed. She smiled and brushed the dreadlocks off her face and smiled at us confidently.

“Geraldine is the best dog ever. She’s black and white, and she comes with me everywhere. I love her. Thank you, Louisa. I hope you can keep the rescue running. This song is for you.”
She turned and nodded at her dad who started playing his guitar. Her mom stepped forward and gave her a quick hug, and set in with her mandolin. The tavern listened in silence as the youngster held on to the mic and began to sing. A song of hope and compassion, a song of love and family, the words fell off her tongue and kept us focused in awe.

She stopped and the whole tavern erupted, a standing ovation from us all, and with loud cheers and clapping of hands and stomping feet, they began again, a faster uplifting tune that had the front tables pushed aside and five or more couples danced and swung each other around, laughingly bumping into each other over and over.
I beamed. I listened and beamed, my feet tapping under the table.

“Would you do me the honor?” Mark held out his hand and bowed ridiculously low and wobbly. I stood with a curtsy, and he followed me up to dance. We didn’t have a clue and that was perfect too.


The Thrashers took to the stage just as most of the tourists left, which was probably a good thing. 1980s punk covers didn’t really fit the crowd at that point but suddenly a group from out of town showed up, all in their early twenties, all carded carefully, and ready for a good night in town. The volume cranked up. I waved at Mark but he didn’t notice, he was busy drinking and playing with the band. I snuck out onto the porch and found a quiet corner to myself. I sat down and watched my boyfriend through the window.


“You did what?”
“I bid on something in the auction.” Mark told me, as we were getting ready to leave, many hours later. I drank back a full glass of water before asking, “what exactly?”

He grinned sheepishly. “Something we need.”
“Oh really? Like what?”
He shrugged, “it’s outside, want to see?”
The tavern had emptied out but for a few hard-core partiers such as ourselves. Dieselhead Danny had shown up at eleven with a gang of friends from Albuquerque. Anne and Louisa left at some reasonable hour but I couldn’t tell you when. Graham hadn’t shown up at all.

I paid the tab and we wandered outside, hand in hand. The street was empty but for a handful of cars and trucks. There were no such things as street lamps and it was pitch black outside. Mark walked ahead of me and past the Subaru and towards an old Ford pick-up truck. I caught up with him, pulling him back with me, the drunken fool. He turned me back around and pointed at a pale rusty red truck with blue doors and a black bumper tied on with wire.

“This, I won this.”
He opened the door proudly and climbed inside. “Come on up, honey, and keep this old cowboy warm.”
“You didn’t? My God, Mark…how much? You should’ve talked to me first.”

Again the sheepish look as he told me that he couldn’t resist, “it’s perfect for us. This old bench seat means you can sit right next to me as we cruise Oliver on a Friday night. Frida can have the window seat. It’s got a V8 engine, new brakes, and the tires are pretty good. It runs; that’s the best part. It’s old and funky and it runs, slowly…but it’ll get me around when you’re at work, or when I need to go to Louisa’s.” He babbled away nervously and showed me the lights and the radio and the cassette player and the duct-tape and the baling wire in the glove locker. “It’s so New Mexican.”
I turned on the radio and a country western song burst out full volume, startling us both, and I laughed out loud.
“Okay, okay, you can keep it. And, er, I got something today as well.”
“You did?” He looked relieved. “Did you bid on something too? What did you get?”
I cranked open the window and whistled.

A shadowy triangular silhouette appeared in our car window, with the horizontal shape of a Flying Nun, his ears flapped in sleepy confusion.

“Nelson, I got Nelson.”

The Importance of Book Reviews

After about ten reviews, Amazon starts including books in their suggestions “also bought” and “you might like” lists.

After more reviews, Amazon is more likely to spotlight the book. This creates a massive increase in visibility and sales. We all want that, right?

Reviews and sales go hand in hand.
The problem for my own books is that most are sold by word of mouth, at events and the such. Then emails and FB posts/ messages tell me how much they enjoyed the book. Then that’s it. Which is wonderful to hear. Please though, can you take a moment and go on Amazon and click on Van Life or any of my books and leave a review. It only takes a moment. I need your help to find the recognition that is beyond winning best fiction with NM/AZ Book Awards in 2012 and 2016, plus being a finalist in 2014 for another. Great Northwest Book Contest awarded Van Life Grand Winner for best nonfiction.
Until I have some reviews though, Amazon ignores these books, which will stay under the radar and only appear if readers are actively searching for my name. The awards don’t help except reassure me that I didn’t waste my time putting it out there.
Seriously, I’d like to find more readers. Whether you liked the book or not, a review will get it noticed. After ten reviews then the sales hikes, the promotion by Amazon, it grows tremendously. But only after review start coming in.
So, yes, please take a moment and leave a customer review. It will make a difference.

Thank you. Thank you.

Yes, thank you.

Living The Dream: 23


Nelson nuzzled against my neck and licked me.

“Good morning, friend. Are you hungry?”
The sun shone through the window and hurt my eyes. I sat up and scratched at my scruffy hair, pushing out of my eyes. “It’s that late, huh? Damn, I slept in, didn’t I?”
Nelson wagged his thick tail and sat up too. He yawned and smiled his happy smile when my feet hit the cabin floor. He trotted after me and watched as I lit a fire first time round. I put the pan on for my coffee and reached for his bowl. Thump. Thump. I poured out kibble and threw on the leftover beef stew from the other night. Thump. Thump.

He ate. I sipped coffee and watched the woodstove. It was a good start to a winter’s day.








Anne and Graham drove ahead of us in their Toyota truck, which was piled high with twenty or more straw-bales. The road dipped and curved and washed away in places but Mark followed happily, telling me about his day in Santa Fe. He’d been posting flyers about wanting to join a band and also how he could help with the promotion side of things. He’d got into conversation with a couple of women who’d taken his new business card.

“Did you tell them about moving here with me?”
He grinned. “Oh no, of course not. I want the work, right? I reckon the one from New Orleans will call me next week; she’s in a local country band and wants to set up a tour in Tennessee and beyond. She has money too, or that’s my impression. Not a bad start to the new business is it?”

“That’s great, Mark, you’ll be good at it. And I’ll be getting some extra shifts now as one of the other baristas is pregnant and wants to cut back. Where did you end up going?”
Mark talked of coffee shops, bars, restaurants, a couple of used music and bookstores, and he’d even found a college on the south side of town. Mark was proud as punch.


The road veered off to the left, and we all pulled up at the rescue. Louisa was expecting us and had opened the gate in advance. I let Frida out but she jumped back in when I wasn’t looking. We drove up the slight hill and back past her cabin to the barn. Anne pulled over at the first gate and stepped out, Graham climbed down moments later with his bottle of water in hand as usual. He didn’t look so happy to be here. Anne had hardly spoken to the poor man when we’d gone to town to pick up the bales. Mark and he had wandered around the Feed store, admiring tools, and chatting away happily together. Anne had been all business with me, not her usual self.
Louisa walked up, her tanned arms highlighted by a dirty white tee shirt and pale blue jeans. She smiled widely and stretched out her arms.

“This is great. How did you get so many?”
My Subaru had two bales strapped to the roof and another three inside. Frida had ridden on my lap, much to her delight. Anne gave Louisa a hug and talked about Andrew’s health, and of course the upcoming event.
“You’ll be there, won’t you?” I asked as I pulled on my straw-hat.
Anne glanced at me and shook her head, “it’s not really Louisa’s thing is it?”

Louisa laughed. “I may surprise you yet, Anne. Don’t go telling me what I do and don’t do.”

They grinned at each other and the normally taciturn dog-whisperer chatted up a storm with her friend. I followed along as they walked over to the dog runs. The fenced area stood some hundreds of feet long and wide, with tee-posts and wire taller than me. Inside the yard ran ten of the biggest dogs, the newest ones to the rescue.
“Until they get used to being here, in the pack and on the land, I tend to keep them in here. It gives them a sense of home for a while and they can watch the others come when called, be fed, and find a routine. I have another run over there specifically for one on one training sessions. That’s what we do most mornings.”

I looked around fascinated. Mark had been a few times but I always met her and the dogs in town. This was a first for me. Louisa strode off to get back to work in the backfield, away from us. Ten or more of the dogs ran after her, sniffing at her heels and I heard her talking back to them, calling them by name. I turned in a circle admiring the work and the amount of thought that had gone into everything. There was a small wooden cabin near by with a screened in porch and a tunnel leading to a fully enclosed small fenced yard. For the little dogs that occasionally come here, Anne explained, it was for the aged poodles and numerous Chihuahuas that get dumped once no longer cute and more likely cranky in old age.

“Let’s go unload the bales over here, okay? Where are the men?”
Graham and Mark had disappeared down into the valley; we could hear them talking away.

“Typical, he always finds reasons to avoid the physical work.” Anne grumbled to herself on the walk back to the truck. She passed me some gloves. She climbed up and started to toss bales at me near me. I waited until Anne pointed me in the direction of a wheelbarrow.
“We’re taking these bales into the yard over there, and stacking them to make some shelters for the winter. Three long and two high. I’ll help you out in a minute.” She yelled down to me as she cut the ropes and worked her way through the pile.

I carried two bales at a time in the barrow and tried not to tip over. The path was gravel and none too easy to push on. I started on the first shelter when my friend, the husky came to say hello. I knelt down and he leaned against me, licking my sweaty arm.

“This is for you this winter, my friend. Want to help?”
His ears flicked forward and I stood back up. “Come on, Nelson, follow me.”
He wandered along side me, ignoring a black lab that wanted to play with him. Frida came over and I watched as they sniffed each other out and began to wag cautiously. I hauled more bales and fixed up one shelter, but for the roof. What was I meant to do for that? I’d kept one side completely open so the dogs could lie there and watch the road down below. Mark walked up as I took a break. He grinned widely. Ah, stoned again, that made sense. Graham and Anne came over with another bale each. She stacked them across the top of my new shelter by using lumber to give structure and strength to the little buildings. She checked out the direction and agreed that having a view of the driveway and the home was important for the dogs to feel safe and included.

“The spring winds come from over that hill, so the next doghouse can take that into consideration, okay? We’ll orient it to face the East.”
I nodded, impressed by how tactful she was. Louisa called out to us from the barn.
“Do you need any water? Lemonade?”
“Yeah. Both.”

Anne strode off with Mark following her smiling but saying little. He had the munchies, I could tell. They walked over to the house and all went inside.


“Did she tell you?”
“Tell me what? Who? Louisa?” I turned to face Graham.
He shook his head and sipped from his water. “No, Anne. She’s kicking me out, or we’re talking about it. She’s talking about it like it’s a done deal, but – ”

I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. “Separating? You’re separating? But why?”
He shook his head slowly. “I shouldn’t have said anything, I guess. But I didn’t want you to think badly of me.”
We wandered over to an unfinished doghouse. I sat down and he stood there, his bottle hanging loosely. He stared over to the house. Frida and Nelson lay in the shade together, close but not touching. They both watched me carefully. The sun beat down on me but I felt I had to listen to him talk.

“She accused me of having an affair. I’m not. Not really anyway.”
I sat and listened. Graham talked as if to himself. I’d wished Mark would hurry back. Anne. The dogs. Someone.
“She thinks it’s the new volunteer but it’s not. I like her, sure, we go out and check the back roads together, but there’s nothing more than that. Not really,” he repeated.

I didn’t know what to say or to do. I did nothing. He talked of another woman in town, a musician, someone else that Anne suspects of sleeping with her husband. He kept saying it was nothing, not really. He described going out of town for a day trip with the new friend, and how when he got back from hiking in the mountains, Anne had been waiting for him at the tavern. They’d had plans for dinner and he was late. He’d invited the friend to join them.

“It didn’t go over too well, with either of them.”
“Well, what were you thinking?” I blurted out loud.

He flinched. “It’s not like we’re monogamous or anything. Anne and me, we’re best friends, friends with benefits. You know? Right?” he turned to me with his wide eyes and the innocent little insecure smile and I saw how easily he could get whatever he wanted. I don’t like Lost Boys though.

I shrugged. “No, not really. Mark and I, well, we’re not into playing around. I don’t need to. He’s happy. We’re both happy, I guess. I can’t imagine being with anyone else. So what happened?”
Graham finally sat down with his back against a straw-bale and told me of a fight when they’d got home. She’d been jealous. He’d spent the last week, trying to do his best by all of them. He carried on and on but I saw Mark beckoning us over to the porch. I stood up.

“Drinks.” I practically tripped over myself to get away.

“What’s that about?” Mark whispered as I hugged him tightly.

“I’ll tell you later, promise. Just keep next to me, okay?” I watched as Graham came up. I prodded Mark and he spoke.
“Oh, hey, Graham, Anne’s got you a glass in the kitchen. We’ll be there in a minute.”
Graham thanked him and walked past me, giving me a small sad smile as he took off his boots and headed in to his wife. I leaned back and coughed first and then giggled.

“My god, what a mess. Have I got a story for you when we get home.”
He passed me the lemonade and I drank deeply before finding an armchair to claim as my own. Mark joined me and sat near by. He raised his eyebrows but said nothing and I shook my head. I pointed at the dogs instead.

Frida and Nelson had come out into the sunny courtyard following me over when one of them began to run in circles, nipping and barking. Frida yelped once and sank to her belly, tail wagging, and suddenly they were off, running and chasing each other through the trees, cars, trucks, straw-bales, ladders, and even the other sleeping dogs. They were oblivious of everything but speed, with Frida taking shortcuts and catching Nelson under the one tall pinion tree two or three times. Mark and I sat watching in amazement at Frida playing so easily, and we laughed loudly, cheering them both on. I finished my drink and chewed on the ice.

Frida lost steam first and came bouncing over to us, panting wildly, her ears flopping and tail gently wagging back and forth. Nelson wandered closer to Mark and licked his hand once before collapsing in a happy heap at his feet. Frida joined me, sprawling her little terrier body over my boots. The dogs panted in unison. I sat back and relaxed.


“Come on. We need to get this done.”

Anne walked over to us and kicked my boots gently. “Come on lazy bones, only ten more bales to move, and I offered to stack some of the wood closer to the house. What do you say?”
“Well, thank you doesn’t pop to mind, but okay, let’s go. Where’s Graham?”
She grinned. “He’s helping Louisa out back, raking the dog yard. A perfect job for him right now.”
Mark laughed uneasily and stood up. “Well, ladies, I think I’ll help you both instead of joining him. Gloves anyone?”
We threw bales into the wheelbarrows and raced each other back and forth, trying to build a second shelter in half an hour. Anne found more pieces of random lumber and laid them across the bales for a roof to rest upon. She tore one bale into pieces, stuffing the ground inside both for more insulation. Frida and Nelson watched but didn’t help this time. Mark got into the spirit of things and wanted us to go fetch another load for the other dogs. Anne shook her head.

“One thing at a time. If Louisa felt we were taking over, she’d throw a fit and the fundraiser would be a waste of time. She’d not accept a cent if she got her back up. This is enough for now. Next month maybe?”
Mark nodded. “I get it. Once a month we could help out, bring stuff and work, is that what you’re thinking?”
Anne told him about watching Louisa’s rescue grow over the years, with one more dog at a time, and how her income is shot now, what with no more movies –
“Yeah, didn’t you know? Louisa, she was a producer in LA with her husband as the director. They were quite the team for a while there.” Anne looked around. “She doesn’t talk about him anymore, but they were married thirty-one years before he left her. You never know, do you? You just never know what will happen.”

Anne turned back to the dogs at her heels and I glanced at Mark. He shrugged and winked. I smiled nervously. I whispered to him, “Is this what small town life is like? Divorces and separations and affairs?”
“I don’t know, Jenny. We’d better not get married, eh? Anyway, I like waking up and saying Good Morning, Girlfriend.”

I laughed quietly, “you’d better.” I tugged at my hat and stood with my back to the sun. My arms ached. One good thing though, I noticed that my lovely pink skin had turned copper. I had a tan. Finally, I had a tan. Wait until I told my mom.
Anne knelt down and stroked one of the older male dogs, he was belly up and smiling at her. His dark brown chocolate fur was covered in dust and the tail stirred up yet more. I began to sneeze.


Louisa stirred up the coals on a barbeque and Mark waited next to her holding a plate of onions, garlic, and zucchini all thinly sliced. The hotdogs were kept out of temptations way in the cooler at his feet. He held an open beer for them both. Louisa poked once more and laughingly gave him some space. They chatted easily about all kinds of things, projects to be done, priorities of hers, mostly though she taught him how to think of this lifestyle as a process. I’d noticed that we both got caught up in our lists and deadlines. Then we’d come visit Anne and Graham, or with Louisa, and suddenly the idea of taking ten years to make a dream home wasn’t as overwhelming. It made sense. To me.

“I’d always wanted to live in the mountains, I just pictured tall trees, and creeks and wild flowers, not this high desert and dogs.”

Louisa stretched out her long legs and we watched as a few of the dogs decided to give chase to the birds. Ravens flew down near us, settled on a low hanging branch, talked to whoever was nearest, and then sprang into the air with only seconds to spare. Over and over, they messed with the pups, squawking happily.

“They do this all the time. I think the ravens are deliberately playing this game. They’re having fun, aren’t they?”

They were too; they were playing with those clumsy canines. I grinned at the thought. I looked around us. Frida had followed her new friend over to the Subaru and they’d crashed out underneath in the shade. Mark asked again about the fundraiser despite Anne’s shaking head. He wanted to know how best he could help on the day. She wanted to avoid the subject.

“Are we still doing the adoption event in the afternoon? Do you need my help?”
Louisa passed him the mushrooms and corn to grill before answering. Anne gave him a furious look but he ignored her and handed Louisa her bottle of beer. Graham had gone home already, but Anne wanted to drive back with us. Perhaps she wished she’d gone already? She held back from saying anything to Mark and waited nervously. She was so protective of her friendship with Louisa that it made me wonder why. Louisa stood up and looked at her pack of dogs. All thirty of them roamed free, but for the three small guys up safely ensconced in their own run. She checked on where shy sweet Nelson was and then looked back to me.

“What do you think? Would it be a good idea? We don’t have the volunteers who know these dogs. Jenny?”
I sipped the water and took a moment. “Yeah, let’s do it. We can ask a few people to commit an hour or so, and I’ll be there for one dog at least. Who else can we ask?”
Anne piped up that she could round up three others and would that be enough?

“Yes, I don’t like bringing more than four or five at a time. We’ll bring Nelson, and Cadbury and his sister Twix, the labs you were petting earlier. I’ll try to think of who else is ready. Probably one of the small critters, that corgi mutt perhaps, and that albino pit mix, Angel, she’s a sweetie. Okay, let me organize it with the other volunteers in town. Maybe one or two of them would want to come out here since we won’t be in Santa Fe that weekend.”

“When’s everything starting?”
“Four or so is what I was thinking. The yard sale and the adoption, perhaps we should begin that at two and end at five though.” Anne offered her thoughts.
Mark talked about how he could come out to the land and prepare the dogs to come to Oliver, walk them to wear them out, that kind of thing. Midday for him. Two pm for us.
“The bands are planning on the first set at six, to catch the dinner crowd and keep them around. We’ve still got enough tourists passing through that the place will be packed. What else do we need to organize?” Anne pulled out her notebook before adding, “apart from another dinner?”

Mark looked down to find that the mushrooms had shriveled up and the zucchini blackened. The onions smelled great though.
“Oh, right. Hotdogs anyone?”