Never complain, never explain. But…

Never complain, never explain.

Too late. I have already complained, and I am about to explain.

I spent four days in Scottsdale, from Thursday, February 16 to late Sunday. It was a wonderful. All of it. Even the parts I complained about and will now attempt to explain. It was a relief to leave, however briefly, a Maggie-less house. Nice also, to be under the sun (for two of the four days) and next to saguaro cacti, which always seem so human to me. And to see my sister Sharon, who has been on vacay for a month.

Proving to instagram that I was in Arizona

Larry and Cathy

My cousin Cathy and her husband Larry were also down in Arizona, so it was a great family visit on top of a much-needed desert holiday. Shortly after arriving at the condo, Sharon and I took off to her home away from home, the Desert Botanical Garden. It’s a beautiful place. The breadth of plant life (mostly succulents) in Arizona in combination with the flat landscape and the afterthought mountains continue to amaze. It’s truly a gorgeous place and I’m always happy to be walking among the pricklies, even if now some of those pricklies are actual pricks (of the Trump variety).

American Starling

Billy Idol Starling

Turns out, on previous visits I had totally missed entire sections of the garden. In my defense, it’s huge, with lots of twists and turns and a great gift shop. Many photo opportunities, especially birds. Apparently there are also snakes, lizards and roadrunners, but I have yet to see any of those. On this trip, I saw mostly starlings, which are a spotty bird with a lovely green sheen. They enjoy sitting on the tops of cacti. Either they have good padding or they are very, very dumb. And, I would imagine, sore. Also, lots of quail and pigeons, although down here they call them doves.


We did all the usual stuff. Walked to Old Town. Ate Mexican. Drank latte’s at the Coffee Bean. I had a particularly nice phone conversation with Tom while sitting on a lounge by the pool as dusk approached. Very balmy. Very relaxing.

Also, I nearly died.

One of my goals for this trip was to do some hiking. Sharon and Vic have hiked all around the Phoenix area, but I have not. Sharon picked her favourite hike in the Superstition mountains, about half an hour outside of Scottsdale. As we approached the trail, it looked harmless enough. The surrounding landscape was beautiful. Mostly flat right up to the mountain range, with lots of cacti. A scene plucked out of a western movie set. Within 15 minutes, however, things got rocky. Really rocky. It turns out this trail is mostly loose rock and boulders, which apparently is called a scramble. By definition, if you need your hands to make headway up a steep gradient, you’re scrambling. I would add, if you need your hands and your ass to make headway up (or down) a steep gradient, then you’ve made a terrible mistake. I have never hiked up a scramble before. My acquaintance with the word had, up to that point, involved eggs. By the end of it, my brain, and parts of my body, were well and truly scrambled. I was a full English breakfast.

The trail of tears

Cathy, Sharon and Larry

Part of the superstition mountain range

For most of the walk, my eyes were glued to the trail, because I was sure if I broke concentration, I was going to fall. Some of the passes were quite narrow, with uneven, rocky footing. It wasn’t the physical exertion of climbing to 5,000 ft so much as the psychological trauma of anticipating my immediate demise and/or blood spurting and/or bone breaking injury, or the injuries of others. I’m not usually such a whiny little bitch, but I was spooked. When I did stop, the scenery was magnificent! Every time I looked up the peaks of the mountains to our left and right were closer. We had started the walk under cloudy skies, but as we ascended, the skies cleared and the contrast between the red rocks and the blue sky was stunning.

Cathy and Larry, Weaver’s Needle behind

Sharon, photographing Cathy and Larry

Me, apparently alive, in front of Weaver’s Needle

I think my fear has something to do with my lack of fitness. I used to be very fit, and I think there is a confidence that goes with a well-performing body. Also a lighter body. Five hours of hiking would tire anyone, but the mental exhaustion was kind of a surprise. I spent most of the hike wondering if my body would keep me upright. (It is known to be untrustworthy in that regard.) I started chanting ‘the earth will hold me up, the earth will hold me up,” and somehow, it did. I tripped a few times but didn’t face plant. I’m glad I made it, but I’m more than a little surprised and yeah, maybe a little ashamed that I complained throughout. That’s not me. At least not when I’m in nature. It’s supposed to my element. Walking is my thing. Who is this Donna??

Behold, the splendor of nature in all its bouldery magnificence!

It’s OK not to like scrambles. If the trail had been clearer and the boulders less homicidal, I think it would have been different. But even at peak fitness, I’m not an agile person. I don’t look for ways to go up or down hills on my ass, and I don’t like going full old-lady down a trail, grabbing every branch for dear life, including the occasional cactus. I was probably being overly-cautious, and sometimes that can be as dangerous as being reckless (like the douche we passed running up the hill, and then down). Whatever I was doing with my body, and certainly with my mouth, it made me look like an asshole, a million miles from where I used to be just a few years ago. I don’t like being that afraid, and I also felt bad that I made my sister feel like she had taken me on an un-fun hike. It was fun, in hindsight, and the scenery was (probably) worth it. My cousins who are more than ten years old than me had no problem, and they loved it! Sharon, who is managing a health crisis rather admirably, had no problem. We were all tired, but I was the only one complaining. Nice.

My step counter showed 22,487 steps. A record for me.

After we arrived back in the ‘hood, with great difficulty I got out of the car and got myself a latte, and then we all spent the next hour exchanging skins cells in the hot tub. That helped. I wasn’t too stiff the next day, but still felt bad about the whole thing. My inability to deal with the scramble, and my inability to keep my mouth shut about it felt at odds with how I perceive myself. On the other hand, maybe I am a whiny little bitch. I am certainly out of shape.

The rest of the vacation featured few dangers, and very little complaining. Who could complain in that landscape? It did rain on the Saturday, and parts of Sunday, but along with the ease that comes with warm summery temperatures, I also miss rain in winter. We don’t get a lot of it in drought-prone Edmonton and the sound and smell is always so calming. It was wonderful falling asleep to the sound of rain on Saturday night. We also enjoyed walking around the partially flooded golf course on Sunday, watching the cormorants air-dry their wings and just being immersed in green. We followed that up with a great dinner at The Blind Pig, one of Sharon and Vic’s favourites, which had a live country band. Lively atmosphere and the salsa was incredible. And then a direct flight home.

My takeaway? Winter holidays are great, even if they are short. Also, more exercise, more walking and more nature. Fewer boulders.

Cormorants drying their pits

Goodbye my friend

Maggie in green

Hello want to go for a walk

Hello want to go for a walk?

Maggie wasn’t even my dog.

At the end of summer in 2011, I moved into my sister’s basement for what I thought would be about a year while they were on sabbatical – ostensibly to help with my two nieces, who were 18 and 20 at the time, and their dog Maggie. I have always been a dog person and I loved Maggie. I had been their designated dog sitter for years, and thankfully, my sister and brother-in-law traveled a lot. Every post-Christmas ski trip. Every summer holiday. A weekend here and there.

Maggie and I, in the woods.

She was a champion walker and my best dog pal. My snack buddy. My frequent bed partner. My mood lifter. On Tuesday, she passed away. Fourteen and a half years old. An old dog, yes, and very arthritic, but up until her last week, happy to frolic in the park behind the house; eager to eat rabbit shit and smell every pee hole in the snow. To the very end, a dedicated blanket messer-upper and family room ‘tapper’ (she liked to go around the room and tap the surface of things with her paw). The best part of my day was when I was walked up the street after work and my sister would open the door and Maggie would come running down the driveway. Always joyful. She was a joyful dog.

Maggie smiling

She had been in decline for a couple of years. Early in her life, she was full of energy, or as Sharon described it, full of the hybrid vigour that comes with being a mutt. I remember once, when she was still quite young, I was dog sitting during a couple of weeks of incredibly hot and humid weather. I got up at 5:00 to walk her for an hour in the cool of the ravine, and then left her in the house all day while I went to work, and then walked her again for another hour or more later in the evening. She needed it. I’m not sure I did (especially at 5:00 in the morning). We both loved to go for walks. We could walk for hours.

Maggie in Whitemud Creek

About three years ago, she began to hesitate, slowly at first. Sometimes she refused to go up a hill. Some days she would walk more slowly than usual. Sometimes she’d just stop. Our walks gradually became shorter, more destination oriented. We would drive her to Terwillegar off-leash because she loved the river, or the creek, or any pool or bog or puddle. She had a habit of sitting down in the water, no matter how dirty or shallow or icy. It always made us laugh, and I think she knew that.

Any water will do

Any water will do

I had been a solo walker for many years. I was used to walking at a fast pace, with few or no stops. Walking with Maggie over the years, but especially these last five years, I learned to walk more slowly. To stop and listen and drink in the landscape while she nosed about in the bush. I even wrote a post once about her snout. Such an admirable snout.

Her favourite bed

Her favourite bed

One of my favourite memories of Maggie did not involve walking but sitting on the stairs of the deck. She would sit beside me and I’d put my arm around her. She’d lean in a bit, her hot fur weight against me. I could smell her doggy scent, hear her light panting. Occasionally she’d look around and give me a quick lick on the face. I was truly present in those moments. Just sitting there, with her. We did that a lot. Not my dog but yet so deeply bonded. To be in the company of a dog, especially a dog like her, is really something.

In the last couple of years of her life, she was prescribed many medications: for her fading eyesight and her aging heart and her arthritis, creeping inexorably down her back and legs. Cubes of glucosamine, or as the kids called it, her medicinal jujubes. I was in charge (or at least, I took charge) of administering these concoctions. “Shooting” her and “pilling” her, multiple times a day. Making sure she ate something with her pills. Making sure her water bowl was full. Even now, five days since she’s been gone, I can’t stop looking over where her dish should be, anxious that she doesn’t have any water.

Maggie blue sky

Last week Maggie was having more trouble than usual getting up. She was wobbly and sometimes she fell, and once she fell off my bed. She seemed to be listing to one side, her right side, and she just didn’t seem herself. She stopped eating her kibble, and few of her snacks. Milk bones were left untouched on the floor. She was also drooling, which was unlike her. Maggie was a barker and a licker, not a drooler. But also the most gentle dog that I’ve ever known.

She did not have a mean bone in her body.

Maggie Bonk

Maggie snowface

The day she passed, Kate called me at work. Maggie had fallen and could not get up. When I arrived home half an hour later, Maggie was on the floor in the hallway wrapped in a blanket, wagging her tail and lifting her head. She tried really hard to get up. I told her it was OK. We put her bed into the back of the car and drove her to the vet. My other sister Joanne joined us there. (Sharon, her beloved mum, was in Scottsdale and her dad in Australia.) I ran my fingers through her fur and kissed her and told her I loved her. On the table she leaned very hard into me. All three of us were crying. The vet and the assistants were all very kind. They knew Maggie and loved her too. The vet even kissed her, which I will always remember. He said, this is the day. She had suffered a stroke, probably several, and had another one in the doctor’s office after they had taken her away to give her a sedative. He brought us into the room with her and she was calm. Her eyes were closed. We were there when he administered the final drug and she passed away. It was hard and peaceful.

Maggie in the fall

I am thankful that so many of our walks have been recorded in this blog. All the photographs and wonderful memories. Maggie had a long and happy life for a dog, somewhere in the vicinity of 80-90 human years. I knew her days were coming to an end, we all did, but that didn’t prepare any of us for what feels like a sudden absence. This week hasn’t been easy. I see her everywhere. All of my routines have been disrupted. I miss her snoring. I miss her happy barks when one of her pack members arrived home. I miss her helicopter tail. I miss the tap of her paws on tile. I feel badly for Sharon and Vic, who just happened to be away on the day. I am glad, however, that it wasn’t in the middle of the night. We were there with her, and for her, and her suffering was short.

Maggie in snow

A weird thing happened. When our family dog Happy died in 1983, Cyndi Lauper’s song Time After Time, a hit on radio at the time, became inextricably tied to the memory of her death. To this day, the song, and in particular the lyrics, always makes me think of Happy, lagging behind on walks, peaceful and slow in old age. I was not as close to Happy as I was to Maggie, but I did love her. When we got home on Tuesday from the vet, steeped in grief, I went downstairs to my bathroom and turned on the radio. It was playing Time After Time.

Sometimes you picture me
I’m walking too far ahead
You’re calling to me, I can’t hear
What you’ve said
Then you say, go slow
I fall behind
The second hand unwinds

If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting
Time after time

Maggie in the field

Friday in Hawrelak

Hawrelak sky

From a monochromatic Sunday (last week) to a spectacularly blue sky on Friday – we’ve had a mini-warmup. Tom and I took advantage of the balmy afternoon and walked to Hawrelak over lunchtime. We did this several times last year in January/February, and like last year, the ice castle greeted us at the entrance to the park. This year, it’s colder so the structure will probably stay intact for longer. It’s beautiful, but hard to take photos of because of the red fence. I guess we will have to pay to see the thing up close ; )

Hawrelak ice castle

Hawrelak rink

It was 2C I think, but it felt chilly until we were about half way through the walk.

Babies. Tasty and nutritious.

Babies. Tasty and nutritious.

Hoaring around Whitemud Ravine

hoar sky

NOTE: These photos are NOT taken in black and white or colour corrected!

The entire weekend was foggy, chilly and hoary. I prefer a blue sky, but it was beautiful, especially today. Yesterday (Saturday), the view was completely obscured by fog. I kept expecting monsters to emerge out of the mist. On that basis alone, I decided against walking into the ravine. Today, the fog mostly lifted, affording a much clearer view of monsters on the horizon, and so I ventured out.

Hoar trees

Everything was pillowed in white and each branch sprouted a different configuration of frost. But then, suddenly, an orange slice, impaled on a twig! It was so lovely, so vividly, ludicrously orange against the bleached background. Unfortunately, the photo wasn’t as crisp as I had hoped.

Hoar orange

On the way back, a random turkey leg. Not nearly as vivid, but just as much of a surprise.

hoar drumstick

Hoar closeup

11:10 to 12:20/-7C

Fuck, what a beautiful day!

Whitemud tobaggan

Tobogganers (with a bonus bull dog in the foreground)

It went back into the deep freeze after I returned to work on January 3, and since then no walking. Until today. What a beautiful afternoon! 6C, with a fiercely blue sky.

I drove to Whitemud Ravine north through muddy, wet streets. The hill by the stairs was dotted with many colourful tobogganists, in varying stages of screams (of delight, mostly). I don’t think I recall the hill being used for this purpose, but last year was so much warmer, there might not have been enough snow.

Whitemud creek walkers

Cross-creek skiers

The ravine was full of river valley enjoyists – on foot, toboggan, snowboards, skidoos (on the river) and cross country skis (on the creek). Spectacular walk, but I missed my walking buddy Tom who is studying. I also found myself seriously out of breath on the stairs. Shame on me. I’ve lost considerable ground in the last few months. Hopefully this weather will stick and I’ll be better at getting outside.

Whitemud blue ball

Blue balls in the ravine

Whitemud boardwalk

Whitemud snowmobiles

One of two skidoos on the river

Whitemud North Sask River


Blue and Warm


It’s been a heck of a December. It was unseasonably cold for the first two and a half weeks, without mercy. And by unseasonably cold I mean holy christ cold. Poor Maggie would freeze almost instantly, especially in the mornings. Her arthritis is not compatible with frigid temperatures. On several occasions, we had to rescue her from the yard, and lift her up the three steps to the deck. Since then it’s been relatively mild, up and down, or in other words, seasonable. It snowed on Christmas and the blue sky returned, so it was a quintessentially gorgeous, picture perfect Christmas day. Cold (about -15C), but pretty.


Today, I went for an hour’s walk in Whitemud Ravine. I am sooo out of shape. Not out of breath (yet), but I could feel my leg muscles straining on the hills. Yuck. I miss the body that was. The strength that was. I hope to walk more the rest of this week, and into 2017. It’s now 20+ years of walking in Edmonton’s river valley and ravines, with the last few years being a bit of a geographical struggle. At least I have that 1996 to 2011 memory of a time when I priorized my life differently. Some things have been out of my control (especially the location), but I’ve still made counter-productive choices along the way, and no doubt will continue to make them, but hopefully I can strike a new balance. That’s my resolution for 2017. Health. Relocation. And to wear fewer clothes from Reitman’s. Is that too much to ask?