yachats bay Yachats bay in a rainstorm

Storm-tossed Sunday morning, and I’m watching the leaping whitecaps prey on seagulls, tucked snugly under a blanket in a tiny cottage, waiting past the drip-drip-drip of coffee to a full cup.

Yesterday I walked more than two miles on the beach. The Resident Carpenter-Blacksmith and I clambered through leg-dragging sand, seeking shells and laughter and solace. Nathan patiently blazed my trails, and when I tripped over my laces and nearly crashed to the ground, he scolded me for being out of tune with the whole hiking boot ethos.

“Well, yeah: If you don’t lace your boots all the way up, the laces catch on the hooks,” he growled, exasperated.

Somebody tell me how a big city girl should even know what a hiking boot LOOKS LIKE?

“I guess,” I sullenly mumbled, “I’m stupid.”

“Would you just stop it?” he snapped, and I subsided, seething and hurt. That’s been happening far too much, lately, and it’s one reason we’re at our favorite bay on a long weekend, seeking whales and a measure of peaceful accord.

It’s been a tumultuous 12 months. I’ve been riding shotgun on a huge, year-long project, shoehorning a giant old website into a clean (and much smaller) new site. I herd maybe 400 yowling and leaping and purring cats through 18-hour workdays and thousands of decisions, trying to make a launch date that nobody even pretends is reasonable.

We launched last Thursday, freeing me up to move to the next phase of monsterproject…I hope. Our new baby looks pretty damn good, but now I brace for the inevitable “I know you said it was going away but I didn’t think you MEANT it” complaints.

These are burnout projects; they leave you growly, with a hair-trigger temper that doesn’t play well with change. Or roommates.

Change has become the norm, even if you don’t count the extra stress of COVID-19 lockdown. Most of it is really GOOD change: For example, I’m contemplating a lateral move at work, a role I’ve always wanted but with a guaranteed increase in stress.

Nathan’s business is taking off; he’s got a waiting list of clients, he’s prepping for his contractor and home inspector exams, and the work he’s doing is, quite frankly, exquisite. His clients are raving, and I suspect his biggest problem is going to be finding good workers to fulfill his vision.

But it also means he’s rarely home and, even when he is, he’s getting ready to hang out with friends. Before, I was the one heading out while he stayed home. Now, I’m working from home and rarely go out, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon, even when lockdown lifts.

It’s meant change for furry companions, too. Nathan was pretty much the full-time Grizzledaddy while I was at work. Now, in reverse, I’m suddenly Grizz’ near-fulltime caregiver, and neither Grizz or I have much cared for it.

Grizz may be the Einstein of dogs, but as far as he’s concerned; he’s simply a human with extra canine powers. He sits in human chairs, wants to wear clothes, and would MUCH rather do Nathanlike things than be a dog. Growing up in a COVID household, he’s never known life without constant access to HIS human: Nathan.

It’s a problem because when one of us leaves the house Grizz’ anxiety levels shoot through the roof. The tantrum he pulls just when Nathan takes out the trash must be seen (and heard) to be believed.

It only took one or two full days of Grizz-sitting to discover that (a) he is a VERY powerful dog, and (b) the only way he’ll behave for me is with bribes. Our tugs of war were brief, usually ending with me on the floor while Grizz bounded off to do whatever the hell he wanted. That’s dangerous, given that one bad fall could leave me one-legged, in a wheelchair.

Clearly, I needed to learn how to handle him (and somebody needed to teach Grizz some manners). Unfortunately, dog trainers are in short supply. Several have either flaked out on appointments or simply said, “full up.” We finally found Hanna, who uses methods taught by the monks of New Skete Monastery…a place that breeds, raises and trains ginormous German Shepherds. With a lot of persuasion, she made room for us.

Unlike the previous trainers we’d interviewed, who were mostly of the “hit him over the head with a 2×4 to get his attention” persuasion, Hanna is gently firm, with a lot of patience. Her goal is to convince Grizz that the only way to get what he wants is to first do what WE want.

Novel concept, that.

“Grizz is far too overstimulated,” she explained, “You’re giving him free rein of the house, and all this exciting stuff to explore. It’s just too many sensations all at once and he’s overwhelmed. He’s like any young child: He needs time-outs and structure or he’ll act up.”

Oh great. We’ve managed to find the world’s first dog-on-the-spectrum. 

She spent a couple of hours with us, demonstrating. “Don’t yell at him or yank his leash if he’s not doing what you want. Just stop, wait patiently, and reward him when he finally does it.” About 30 minutes later, Grizz was watching her eagerly, plopping into a sit and following her like…a dog on a leash. She gave him a slip leash that fitted over his neck and muzzle. “It touches an accupressure point on the muzzle that helps him calm down.”

“Now,” she said, “You need to work with him for a few days. Keep him mostly in the kennel, but bring him out four or five times a day for 20-30 minute training sessions. Just keep it simple, reward him and pet him when he does the right thing. When he doesn’t, just stop, tug UP gently on the leash to remind him. And stand there quietly until he does it.”

By damn. It worked.

I spent the next three days practicing being Hanna. Grizz and I got reasonably good at the exercises, then Hanna picked him up and took him home for four weeks of intensive therapy. She’s teaching him to be a good canine citizen, stop knocking over small children (and me), and to deal with frustration and boredom when the human just wants to sit and work.

She’s been regularly sending us progress reports for the past three weeks, including carefully titled instructional videos of Grizztraining in action. They’re remarkable to the point of, “wait–that’s GRIZZ?”

Not that Grizz is the easiest pupil in the world. He gets excited easily and he playfully tries to escape the leash by biting, clawing, rolling, and more. “You’ll need to watch him carefully for signs that he’s becoming too stimulated, and slow him down before he gets out of hand,” she wrote, then, diplomatically, “I think you’ll have an easier time handling Grizz, Cynthia, if you have him neutered.”

Neutering had been our plan from the start. I thought.

We’d waited until the vet-recommended 12-month birthday, but somehow Nathan just never seemed to find time to make the appointment. Talking to Hanna, however, revealed that neutering was only MY idea, not Nathan’s.

“I want a puppy from Grizz,” he said stubbornly, not looking at me, “When Grizz gets old and is gone, I’ll have a Grizz puppy.”

So neutered, easier-to-handle Grizz is–poof–out of the picture.

(some small, wicked part of me wonders if I’d have an easier time handling The RC-B if …nope. Don’t go there.)

We’ll see how it goes when Hanna returns Grizz on Monday and gives us think-like-a-dog lessons. Nathan is positive it’ll be fine, that Grizz’ outlaw days are over, and I’ll handle our changed pup as easily as I type the word “fantasy.” I sure hope he has enough confidence for the both of us: I haven’t been this nervous since my gym coach made me try a double backflip. (it…uhm…didn’t work out)

So I keep telling myself: I walked two miles on the beach. I can do anything.

Nathan still hasn’t found a perfect sand dollar, but this one came close.

Last year, my beach-walking consisted of leaning heavily on my trekking poles and timidly testing each step. This year, I clambered down the embankment almost easily. I took my trekking poles along for the ride, literally; mostly, I let them trail behind me in the sand as I strode along.

For the last month or two I’ve taken daily walks on the rollercoasterish sidewalks in my neighborhood. It seems to help.

I walked two miles on the beach.

This weekend, we rented a tiny cottage right where the river meets the sea in Yachats, a little sheltered inlet town we love, full of misty hills, incredible shores, and friendly people. Our cottage is old, probably on its last legs, with a tiny garage built for Model Ts.

The view from the big, comfy sofa is outstanding, and Nathan’s favorite fudge shop only a block or two away.

We headed out to the beach yesterday afternoon, filling our pockets with sea detritus–broken shells with beautifully subtle patterns, fairy rocks (rocks with sea-drilled holes), and a few mussel shells with iridescent mother of pearl.

Frustratingly beautiful silver box I’m enameling, which keeps cracking at the base. Drat.

Work has consumed creativity lately; I’ve pretty much stopped writing or working in the studio. I’ve got stones and patterns lining up to make more and more jeweled and enameled boxes…but the vision in my head outstrips my poor enameling skills.

Now, walking on the beach, ideas once again are starting to flow. I’m not worrying about redirects and global navigation; I’m wondering what would happen if I polish up that clamshell I found, maybe hinge it for a lid. Or possibly visit that delightful-looking rock shop around the corner, find some crystals I can pair with bronze for a vessel…

I feel more change coming, and the need to streamline and edit my world to prepare. Some changes are smallish and simple: Grizz no longer fits into my car (unless you put the top down, an impracticality in rainy Oregon); if something happens now that Nathan’s working, I need a way to transport him to the vet. I’m looking at cheap, old cars.

I’m seriously contemplating moving to somewhere with less living space and more…makespace. My employer has decided that employees working from home will be the norm, so I no longer need to live close to work. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll look around Yachats for some real estate. Or look into a cabin in the mountains. I have plenty of time and space to think about all this.

Because today, I walked two miles on the beach.