Update on Black Dog. The injury was not to either of his rear legs directly, surprising given that the day after he failed at the Dog Park they wouldn’t support him. X-rays at the clinic revealed a prolonged degenerative spine condition and a point of impingement, which evidently interfered with signals from the brain. Legs don’t move themselves, the brain tells ’em what to do. A standard test to diagnosis this problem is to squeeze the dog’s toes hard, hard enough to get him to yelp. Eventually Chester yelped, “But I had to squeeze pretty damn hard,” the vet said. Days of worrying ensued. Was this it, would he never recover? No – Prednisone for the win! A pretty aggressive dose at that. And man did he respond. After a week of therapy he’s walking again on his own, albeit like a little drunkard in those first few steps after getting up, which he’s also able to do himself now. The past couple of days he’s been eager to go out on short leash walks. I feel like I want to rename him Lazarus. Appetite and thirst, of course, are through the roof, and throughout the ordeal his spirit has remained undiminished. His days of mountain climbing may be over, but it’s not his turn on the rainbow bridge, that’s for sure.


I’ll see your polar vortext, atmospheric river, bomb cyclone – whatever – and raise you four feet of snow and ten below. All before 12/15 mind you! Does that make the national news? Of course not. So long as Californians keep getting North Slope oil and market-priced wild salmon appear on dinner plates, who cares about Alaska.

From our front yard

That was after plowing, such as it was. City “planners” were supposedly given advanced warning of the shortage of plows, and people to drive and fix them, weeks before winter began here. Shrug. The mayor and his henchman hate the assembly, and vice-versa. Because it’s dark outside and some of the folks are clinically SAD, even infighting is not unknown. Alas, the people’s business goes undone.

Three closely spaced storms in eleven days dumped about four feet. As much as I’ve seen in December in thirty plus years here. Schools, businesses, pretty much everything, closed for days. Moose are exhausted. Dogs are lethargic. The birds, though, seem undaunted. Outside my office window I see dozens of Bohemian Waxwings and American Robins light on the hoar-frosted branches of our choke cherry trees, plucking frozen berries. And as usual the Ravens thrive. So long as discarded pizza boxes stick out of frozen garbage overflowing curbside trash containers, the Ravens are content. Seriously. I saw one the other day single-beakedly pull a box from the neighbor’s trash, open it, and fly off with a half-eaten slice of Papa Johns.

Then, after the storms moved off, guess what, we get a cold snap, and it’s dark nineteen hours a day now, and HW broke her wrist before Snowmageddon arrived (needed surgery), and – and! – now Black Dog is gimpy. He tried to navigate some deep snow at the Dog Park and just failed completely. Rimadyl and Gabapentin will help him heal, from what I guess is a torn ligament, pulled muscle, inflamed joint, who knows. Ask a dog where it hurts – vapid stare. Breaks our hearts.

The same neighbor who generously shared produce with us hand-delivered another care package. Not really my go to but much appreciated. Just to get up our driveway he needed to follow behind his snow blower. Lol. 1.75 Liter – should tide us over a week or so. But just in case I managed a slog to Costco for additional reinforcements. They recently combined the Pharmacy and Liquor departments, a seasonal decision by store managers to group items by purpose. 😬 Let it snow!



A recent addition to The Dogs of University Lake, now conveniently linked on the sidebar. More photos will be added to the album as I acquire them.

Decent light for 1:00 PM on November 29th in south central Alaska. A bit nippy though; couldn’t have been more than 7° out. On a day like this a lot of the short-haired doggos will have coats on. I like the deer-in-the-headlights look on the cattle dog’s face, with that black photo bomb rising up behind him.

In the background: Snowshine spread across the accessible peaks of the Chugach Mountains.

Our neighbor texted recently to say he’d received a large gift box of produce he’d like to share with us, including fentanyl! In addition to cursing auto-correct, the very next text from him included: meant fennel 😆 Haha. Yet it set me to wonder how substituting fentanyl for fennel in the soup base might actually be received by our holiday dinner guests. 🤔 Not funny? Probably right, sorry.

I am inclined to over analyze things. It’s the way nature made me. In mixed company, sometimes, this is a bug; yet for me, usually, it’s a feature. I mean a person would have to be afflicted with a disorder of self-loathing to be annoyed by his own ways. This is why normal people are not repelled by their own farts, for instance.

I also tend to think out loud, especially when working through something I don’t quite understand (at least to my satisfaction). When combined with the inclination to over analysis, I can be a little tedious in mixed company, sometimes a real buzzkill. Other times, at the very least, a dialectical oddity. I tend to be drawn to people like me, not surprising I suppose, as in chemistry like dissolves like.

When I am alone and feeling self-assured I’m prone to ruminate, a kind of psychoanalysis where I am both patient and analyst. More than one person I’m sure has passed by me and Black Dog out for a walk on an Anchorage trail, cast me a furtive look and wondered if I might be talking to myself. Although nowadays, with the ubiquity of earbuds and headphones, most of them probably assume I’m on a call. Sometimes they’d be right – I do occasionally wear BT earbuds and take calls while out walking, although more often than not I’m consuming a podcast. When I’m out cycling I’m rockn’ to music. Which I know comes with the caveat that I’m less likely to hear the angry bear (or moose) charge me while mountain biking, or the errant driver behind me when road biking. But I wonder if being unaware of impending doom might be a good thing. Like not wanting to know if you carry the gene for some deadly disease. We must acknowledge fate, yes, we cannot avoid it, yes, but I’m not sure I want advance notice the reaper has arrived.

Rumination and self-loathing are different afflictions, but both are treatable. The former through mindful meditation; for the latter, see a psychiatrist. Meditation as therapy has the nice feature of being free. I mean you can buy the apps or read the books or attend the week-long retreats, and while I’m sure all of those may help the average ruminater heal, for many others a quiet place and a cushion will do just fine. I prefer the quiet comfort of our guest bedroom, with two goose down pillows placed beneath crossed legs for support (I am not sufficiently flexible to achieve the full lotus position), and ethereal music streaming on noise cancelling headphones (optional). Then, through the simple act of focusing the mind on the breath, slow and steady, it is truly amazing the feeling of stillness and equanimity one experiences. And this feeling comes immediately. You don’t need years of meditation practice to achieve this experience.

One thing I’ve found that does take practice to achieve is quieting the mind (where mind means nothing more than brain activity – what the brain is doing). Like certain other organs in the body (e.g. heart, liver, kidneys) the brain cannot be willed to action. Hearts pump, livers metabolize, kidneys filter – all on their own. Lookup autonomic nervous system to learn more. Similarly, one is not the author of one’s own thoughts. You cannot turn brain activity on and off through the force of will. Anymore than you can modulate the beating of your heart through a sheer force of will. By using drugs, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about. You can modulate the activity of respiration (lungs) with the force of will (this is what focused breathing achieves), but even there, there are limits. You cannot, for instance, through the sheer force of will indefinitely stop your lungs from respiring oxygen, eventually the brain would override the willful attempt to suffocate yourself. People have been known to intentionally drown themselves, or by other methods commit suicide, but again, that’s not what I’m talking about. And I don’t recommend you prove any of this to yourself. I can will my limbs to action – I can walk, run, pedal, jump and wave my arms about – or at least it seems to me I may cause these actions of my own free will (which itself is a controversial topic, but we’ll leave that for another post), but most of your internal organs operate automatically, and while I agree it’s weird to think about it in this way, so does the brain. It’s what people really mean when they say, for instance, “let me sleep on it.” They mean it will take time for the brain to work through some new information about the real world it recently became aware of. It’s common, though not specifically correct, for someone to say I need time to work through it. It’s the brain (the actual organ) that’s doing the work, not the I (you). As arguers against free will like to say, there is no homunculus in the brain directing one’s thoughts. The brain itself is doing the work directly, automatically, independent of any ghost in the machine. Just like the heart, liver, kidneys, etc. – no direction from you is required.

Heresy you say? Not at all. These are biological facts, nothing the least bit controversial about them, so far as basic biology and physiology are concerned. If you conduct an autopsy of a human being you’d see what I mean. Nothing in there but blood, bones, and other gooey wet tissues. And it’s not because after we die the spirit (ghost) has left the machine. No such thing was ever there in the first place.

What’s this got to do with meditation? Well, you can focus on the breath all you want, but try as you might you will never be able to silence disruptive brain activity entirely. Just as you can’t silence heart activity by thinking about it real hard. Expert practitioners of mindful meditation will be quick to assure you that this is not possible. Instead, the best practice guidance is to “note” these thoughts when they pop into your head, acknowledge and accept that the brain will continue its activity even while you meditate, then return to your breath. Rinse and repeat. Over time, as the brain is re-trained to quiet itself during meditative practice, activity will lessen and fewer and fewer disruptive thoughts will interfere with your practice. Try it sometime, you’ll see what I mean. Remember: the overarching goal of mindful meditation is to achieve a lasting sense of peace, equanimity, the tendency to respond rather than react to others, a meaningful life in the present, freed from the hamster wheel of rumination and/or fretting over what lies ahead. In other words, Be In The Present.

Wait, shouldn’t we learn from our past? Of course, good idea. But once you have, let it go. The events and circumstances of the past are not coming back, ever. There is no do over. Get off the hamster wheel of “What-ifs.” All of this is destructive of mental health. Not all in one fell swoop, of course, not saying that. But a steady dose of rumination, day after day, over the years it will add up to no good. And if you’re already prone to over analyze things as I am, rumination may be especially destructive of overall mental health.

Justice In Drag

You see the term Hero bandied about, too often thoughtlessly if you ask me. Mr. Fierro is the real deal, someone who deserves the accolade, the epitome of heroism.

As for the perp, getting his comeuppance at the end of stiletto worn by a drag queen – priceless.
Richard Fierro: The Army Veteran Who Disarmed the Club Q Gunman
Dave Philipps

COLORADO SPRINGS — Richard M. Fierro was at a table in Club Q with his wife, daughter and friends on Saturday, watching a drag show, when the sudden flash of gunfire ripped across the nightclub and instincts forged during four combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan instantly kicked in. Fight back, he told himself, protect your people.

In an interview at his house on Monday, where his wife and daughter were still recovering from injuries, Mr. Fierro, 45, who spent 15 years as an Army officer and left as a major in 2013, according to military records, described charging through the chaos at the club, tackling the gunman and beating him bloody with the gunman’s own gun.

“I don’t know exactly what I did, I just went into combat mode,” Mr. Fierro said, shaking his head as he stood in his driveway, an American flag hanging limp in the freezing air. “I just know I have to kill this guy before he kills us.”

The authorities are holding Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, on charges of killing five people, and say that 18 more people were injured in a rampage at the club that lasted only a few minutes. The death toll could have been much higher, officials said on Sunday, if patrons of the bar had not stopped the gunman.

“He saved a lot of lives,” Mayor John Suthers said of Mr. Fierro. The mayor said he had spoken to Mr. Fierro and was struck by his humility. “I have never encountered a person who engaged in such heroic actions and was so humble about it.”

It was supposed to be a chill family night out — the combat veteran and his wife, Jess, joined their daughter, Kassandra, her longtime boyfriend Raymond Green Vance, and two family friends to watch one of his daughter’s friends perform a drag act.

It was Mr. Fierro’s first time at a drag show, and he was digging it. He had spent 15 years in the Army, and now relished his role as a civilian and a father, watching one of his daughter’s old high-school friends perform.

“These kids want to live that way, want to have a good time, have at it,” he said as he described the night. “I’m happy about it because that is what I fought for, so they can do whatever the hell they want.”

Mr. Fierro was trying to get better at going out. In Iraq and Afghanistan he’d been shot at, seen roadside bombs shred trucks in his platoon, and lost friends. He was twice awarded the Bronze Star.

The wars were both past and still present. There were things he would never forget. For a long time after coming home, crowds put him on edge. He couldn’t help to be vigilant. In restaurants he sat against the wall, facing the door. No matter how much he tried to relax, part of him was always ready for an attack, like an itch that could not be scratched.

He was too often distrustful, quick to anger. It had been hell on his wife and daughter. He was working on it. There was medication and there were sessions with a psychologist. He got rid of all the guns in the house. He grew his hair out long and grew a long, white goatee to distance himself from his days in uniform.

He and his wife ran a successful local brewery called Atrevida Beer Co. and he had a warm relationship with his daughter and her longtime boyfriend. But he also accepted that war would always be with him.

But that night at Club Q, he was not thinking of war at all. The women were dancing. He was joking with his friends. Then the shooting started.

It was a staccato of flashes by the front door, the familiar sound of small-arms fire. Mr. Fierro knew it too well. Without thinking, he hit the floor, pulling his friend down with him. Bullets sprayed across the bar, smashing bottles and glasses. People screamed. Mr. Fierro looked up and saw a figure as big as a bear, easily more than 300 pounds, wearing body armor and carrying a rifle a lot like the one he had carried in Iraq. The shooter was moving through the bar toward a door leading to a patio where dozens of people had fled.

The long-suppressed instincts of a platoon leader surged back to life. He raced across the room, grabbed the gunman by a handle on the back of his body armor, pulled him to the floor and jumped on top of him.

“Was he shooting at the time? Was he about to shoot? I don’t know,” Mr. Fierro said. “I just knew I had to take him down.

The two crashed to the floor. The gunman’s military-style rifle clattered just out of reach. Mr. Fierro started to go for it, but then saw the gunman come up with a pistol in his other hand.

“I grabbed the gun out of his hand and just started hitting him in the head, over and over,” Mr. Fierro said.

As he held the man down and slammed the pistol down on his skull, Mr. Fierro started barking orders. He yelled for another club patron, using a string of expletives, to grab the rifle then told the patron to start kicking the gunman in the face. A drag dancer was passing by, and Mr. Fierro said he ordered her to stomp the attacker with her high heels. The whole time, Mr. Fierro said, he kept pummeling the shooter with the pistol while screaming obscenities.

What allowed him to throw aside all fear and act? He said he has no idea. Probably those old instincts of war, that had burdened him for so long at home, suddenly had a place now that something like war had come to his hometown.

“In combat, most of the time nothing happens, but it’s that mad minute, that mad minute, and you are tested in that minute. It becomes habit,” he said. “I don’t know how I got the weapon away from that guy, no idea. I’m just a dude, I’m a fat old vet, but I knew I had to do something.”

When police arrived a few minutes later, the gunman was no longer struggling, Mr. Fierro said. Mr. Fierro said he feared that he had killed him.

Mr. Fierro was covered in blood. He got up and frantically lurched around in the dark, looking for his family. He spotted his friends on the floor. One had been shot several times in the chest and arm. Another had been shot in the leg.

As more police filed in, Mr. Fierro said he started yelling like he was back in combat. Casualties. Casualties. I need a medic here now. He yelled to the police that the scene was clear, the shooter was down, but people needed help. He said he took tourniquets from a young police officer and put them on his bleeding friends. He said he tried to speak calmly to them as he worked, telling them they would be OK.

He spied his wife and daughter on the edge of the room, and was about to go to them when he was tackled.

Officers rushing into the chaotic scene had spotted a blood-spattered man with a handgun, not knowing if he was a threat. They put him in handcuffs and locked him in the back of a police car for what seemed like more than an hour. He said he screamed and pleaded to be let go so that he could see his family.

Eventually, he was freed. He went to the hospital with his wife and daughter, who had only minor injuries. His friends were there, and are still there, in much more serious condition. They were all alive. But his daughter’s boyfriend was nowhere to be found. In the chaos they had lost him. They drove back to the club, searching for him, they circled familiar streets, hoping they would find him walking home. But there was nothing.

The family got a call late Sunday from his mother. He had died in the shooting.

When Mr. Fierro heard, he said, he held his daughter and cried.

In part he cried because he knew what lay ahead. The families of the dead, the people who were shot, had now been in war, like he had. They would struggle like he and so many of his combat buddies had. They would ache with misplaced vigilance, they would lash out in anger, never be able to scratch the itch of fear, be torn by the longing to forget and the urge to always remember.

“My little girl, she screamed and I was crying with her,” he said. “Driving home from the hospital I told them, ‘Look, I’ve gone through this before, and down range, when this happens, you just get out on the next patrol. You need to get it out of your mind.’ That is how you cured it. You cured it by doing more. Eventually you get home safe. But here I worry there is no next patrol. It is harder to cure. You are already home.”

The Dogs Of University Lake

Dog Park Doggos. Click or touch the first photo, then use arrows to scroll. Enjoy!

Back Home Again

Anchorage Beach

Peaceful, innit? No crowds, no talking heads, no consternation, no judgement of any kind. A simple winter walk with Black Dog on a beach all to ourselves. A ten minute drive from home. I don’t think I’ll ever become jaded to it. It hasn’t happened in over thirty years, likely it never will.

We were in northwest Washington for a spell (not Seattle), looking for a home we may want to buy, somewhere else to live our lives for a while. It’s truly shocking what money won’t buy. We don’t have big asks. A modern, well-appointed kitchen (needn’t be a Chef’s kitchen), a private office for me (french doors would be nice), a spacious master primary bedroom with a spa-like shower in the en-suite (we’re spoiled in our current home), one or two spare bedrooms, a cozy living room, and a modest-sized fenced backyard. Prefer a one-story, but two would work. A view would be nice, so long as it’s not of a neighbor’s property awaiting condemnation by the municipality. We visited a property with such a view, in a walk-able neighborhood, one possibly undergoing a slow gentrification (emphasis slow). You know what I’m talking about. With nearby coffee houses that brew with sustainably sourced beans, boutique grocers who feature locally grown produce, pocket parks and ball fields, streets lined with old growth fruit trees, little free libraries, the whole community-vibe thing. What’s not to like? For one, the house. It was an old, long and narrow home, recently re-modeled (flipped) with slightly better than builder-grade finishes, uninspired gray and white accents everywhere, a usable but small kitchen, and a meh primary bedroom and bath, neither of which anyone would call spacious. The entire house couldn’t of been more than 1400 square feet. It backed to an alley where you’d expect a garage if there was one (there wasn’t). A fenced side yard with a postage stamp-sized lawn. And then there was that eye-sore next door. The front and back yards were piled high with crap and scrap that appeared to have accumulated since the Civil war. Why were we looking at starter homes? We weren’t. That’s what $700K buys you in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood. I needed help lifting my jaw off the floor. We piled back into our agent’s Audi and got the hell out of there. As we sped away he said he just wanted to show us that place because we’d told him we may be interested in a craftsman-style home with character in an established community.

After a few days in Washington we flew to Milwaukee, my hometown. HW and I splurged on dinner at Eddie Martini’s, an old-school supper club about four miles from the apartments (since torn down) where Dahmer committed his heinous murders . A quick reminder of our visit to Eddies last year was all that was needed to pique the memory of our server – “Oh, that’s right, I remember, yous guys are from Alaska.” As is our wont we ate at the bar. A linen cloth was laid, appetizers were ordered and promptly served, wine decanted. To a one the staff here are smartly dressed, impeccable in manner, always nearby at the ready to fulfill the diners’ needs. We shared an entree of Australian lamb chops with Pappardelle, portabella & shitake mushrooms, asparagus, spinach, and cognac dipping sauce. Delicious all. Eddie’s is run like a tight ship but without a hint of snobbery. The staff are eager to engage in spirited banter if prompted, which I am wont to do (sometimes to HW’s chagrin).

The following day we drove north to the Fox River valley area to visit family and friends. There must be thousands of billboards along highway 41 alone, in both directions. I don’t think there’s a single one along any roadway in Alaska. Granted, we have many fewer highways here, and most of the land adjoining the few roads we have isn’t owned by farmers, like it is in Wisconsin, where I presume farmers receive revenue from advertisers who are permitted to erect billboards in their fields? Some of the billboards were adverts to come visit the state of Michigan, where recreational pot is legal. One such billboard sported a photo of a Westie, apparently stoned, wearing a conical party hat with a chin strap. The message seemed to be: Lighten up drivers, come to Michigan, twist one up with us and party on – legally! Can’t say for sure if that was the precise message, we sped by that one so fast I didn’t grok it all. Other billboards featured preachy slogans, devout reminders to joyfully obey God’s law, interspersed with still others that advertised porn shops – take the next exit! Amusing, but puzzling at the same time. I mean, paying a farmer to erect a billboard to drive revenue to the Michigan dope industry, or to a mom-and-pop porn shop, I get. But merely for the sake of religious pandering? Where’s the money in that? Evidently, not every voter in Wisconsin is so amused

In Appleton, most everyone we visited with seemed to be doing well. Our niece and her husband threw a Packer party at their house. The Packers lost, and nobody seemed to mind much, or expect otherwise. The taco bar was excellent. Each morning I either drove or walked to a local coffee house for espresso drinks for myself and HW, about two miles round-trip from my parent’s house. I snapped this photo on one of my morning walks there. This is what $700K buys you in central Wisconsin

Better yet, instead of rubbish next door, you get a view of a pond and the community vibe of migratory geese.

Alas, we are back home now, safe and sound, grateful for family and friends, sure, but at the same time there’s no place like home. Will home change for us soon? To early to say for sure. There’s a lot of economic commotion in the world right now. Not that we ever expect it to disappear entirely, because it won’t, but mainly because more or less we are happy and content with our lives du jour right where we are. Live in the moment, be present, and don’t forget to curb your dog

HW dangles a bag of doggie do-do

Boys Being Boys (Again)

Moose sparring in our side yard

And not a cow in sight. I looked. It wasn’t all sparring either. In fact, during the time I watched them they mostly ignored each other, one content to mow down what’s left of the raspberry plants while the other munched garden discards he found in the high grass. Happy Wife figured the sparring was just practice for when they get older. Probably true, being these were young boys.


Sting – Russians

There is no monopoly on common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too