A DOG’S DAY AFTER THE STORM

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating: there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” John Ruskin

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How do you tell your dog that the snowstorm is over? It’s rather simple, take him outside!

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With my cup of coffee and camera in hand, I settled into the snow as a spectator. For the next few hours, I had the pleasure of capturing Shadow explore his world.

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Shadow and I shared a very adventurous 2014. Together, we experienced the many faces and flavors of Vermilion Cliffs.

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2015 was already looking bright. As a team, we experienced our first snow storm together. I could only hope he had as much fun as me!

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JANUARY 1, 2015 – THE SOUND OF WHITE

“The New Year begins in a snowstorm of white vows” William E Lewis

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How did you spend the first day of 2015?  Do you remember where you were and who you were with? Did you find yourself committing to a New Year’s resolution? Was your resolution realistically sustainable? Are resolutions merely good intentions that never come to fruition? Would you be willing to trade a New Year’s resolution for a personal revolution? Name your revolution, what would it be? What would you change about yourself or your life?

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My New Year’s revolution was inspired by Janus; the two-faced Roman god for which January is named. Janus is usually depicted having two heads that face in opposite directions. One looks back to the year departed, and the other looks forward to the new and uncertain year ahead.

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Channeling my inner Janus it was clear that I had fallen in love with the perfect stranger during the final weeks of 2014. Over Christmas I kept it to myself; however, it was time I made it known to her. A friendship was not enough, I wanted a relationship!

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Out of respect to Janus, I started my personal revolution on January 1st. My revolution was overcoming vulnerability. I have always struggled with vulnerability. I liked feeling strong. I’ve always had to be strong, growing up in an addictive family vulnerability felt like kryptonite to the soul. Over the years I have befriended kryptonite; still, it’s easier to wear a cape than carry around kryptonite.

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Dr. Brene Brown was right when she said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for.” I didn’t want to start my New Year malnourished. I felt a sense of urgency to tell the perfect stranger she was everything I hungered for! The million dollar question now was: how do I tell the perfect stranger who is on the other side of the country that I wanted her to be my girlfriend? I decide to braveheart my feelings and intentions via a video message. I felt protected by the spirit of Janus; he was the patron and protector of arches, doorways, and gates. There were no doors to close or gates to hide behind. The perfect stranger was one email and one click away from my New Year’s revolution: living without regrets by being vulnerable.

With my personal revolution set into motion, I decided to walk around the property and take some pictures. This storm was a once in a lifetime experience; I didn’t want to miss a single moment. I had been shooting in magical grey-white conditions for two days. According to weather reports, blue skies could be heading our way in the next twenty-four hours. Mother Nature was manipulating the mood, textures, and lighting of the desert landscape. It was undeniable, I was living a photographers dream.

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After shooting pictures for a few hours, I returned home to find Shadow passed out on the couch. Was he snow stormed out or was dreaming about his next hike? Perhaps he was contemplating his New Year’s resolution.

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I wondered what Shadow’s New Year’s resolution would be. Less anxiety? To be less fearful of men? Give up resource guarding? Finally catch the pack rat that has been hiding behind the fridge and under the bathroom sink?  Pursue his love interest, Coco? Perhaps he would have no resolution, being himself was enough!

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After a late afternoon snack and snuggle, Shadow and I headed outside for our first hike of 2015. Neither one of us could have foreseen our desert backyard turning into a winter wonderland.

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Barely a week before, this was the view from my kitchen window.

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Now, it was nothing but shades of white!

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With Shadow’s girlfriend Coco leading the way, we hiked out towards the property water tanks.

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After less than a mile on trail, Shadow traded his hiking boots for his track shoes. It seemed Shadow was committed to running himself ragged!

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I am not sure who was having more fun; me, capturing Shadow in full flight or Shadow footloose and fancy-free.

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With light conditions fading, Shadow and I took a final moment to honor the masterpiece Mother Nature created.

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This desert storm was a once in a lifetime experience: it may never happen again during my stay in Vermilion Cliffs. Fortunately, I had been able to document the storm. The million dollar question: twenty years from now, would my photos be able to transport me back to the day of this storm? Would I remember the bone-chilling winds blowing snow flurries across my face? Would Shadow remember the sensation of fresh powdery snow under his paws?

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As Shadow and I headed for home, I wondered how my friends were spending their New Year’s Day. Were they spending a quiet day at home or partaking in the shopping mall madness? How many of my friends spent their day outside? I thought about my nomadic Facebook friends who lived on the road; hopefully, they were stationed in a safe warm place.

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Since living remotely, I have found myself wondering about how other people live. Did this sense of wonder stem from no longer living by mainstream standards? Had my new way of life redefined my sense of normal? Living by mainstream standard now felt like a foreign concept. The majority of my friends seemed content with the stability and consistency of mainstream living, while I never did! Working in mental health I never felt a sense of job security. My work in high-end rehabs was contingent on client census. Furloughs were common practice when business was slow. A few treatment centers failed to make payroll on several occasions. Without union representation and a backlogged labor board, staff went unpaid.

In many ways, I feel the rehab industry has capitalized on codependency. By employing codependent staff members, companies could be assured of a one-sided loyalty.  Leaving employees feeling happy to have a job, even if they were underpaid or on some occasions never paid. Being of service does not mean working for peanuts at high-end treatment facilities. Ironically enough, the simplicity of living and working in an outpost town offered a job security that my former professional life couldn’t!

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With the sun starting to set, I snapped a few final pictures before heading indoors. On my evening to do list: sending my video message to the perfect stranger. Surprisingly, I felt no fear and was not worried about her response or the final outcome. My intentions were made clear. Here’s to 2015; the year of living vulnerable.

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WAKING UP TO A DESERT STORM

“For many years I was a self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms and did my duty faithfully, though I never received payment for it.” Henry David Thoreau

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Have you ever spent an entire night chatting on the phone with a love interest? What starts as a well-intentioned goodnight phone call slowly evolves into an endless conversation about life and love. Is it commonality that bonds two humans over the phone or is it the soothing sound of a familiar voice? Is love founded in chemistry and bonded in chemicals? What fuels a marathon long phone call? Could oxytocin be to blame? Can the social bonding love hormone be activated during phone conversations? I am saying YES because I felt chemically altered after hanging up the phone with the perfect stranger. So altered, that I could not believe my eyes when I let Shadow outside to use the bathroom. I saw snow; it was snowing in the desert!

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Shadow and I left the front yard and headed over to Highway 89A. Being off season, there were no tourists traveling along the road. Vermilion Cliffs lay quiet from a population standpoint. The majority of seasonal workers had gone home for the winter. All that remained was a handful of staff members and a few local residents. This is what the dead of winter looks like in a remote outpost town.

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After our slippery walk along 89A, Shadow and I returned home to have some coffee and banana bread with Min. As tired as I felt, I decided to stay up for the day. Sleep could wait, there was so little time and too many photo opportunities. Snow outside my back door was a dream come true!

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Just before noon, Min, Shadow, and I headed through the backyard towards the cliffs. Based on the weather report, the storm would continue for another thirty-six hours. It made me wonder; how much snow could we expect in Vermilion Cliffs? Six inches, eight inches, a few feet? I didn’t care, bring it on! I felt so fortunate to be hiking in a desert snowstorm.

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After less than a mile on trail, we found ourselves in the eye of the storm. The snow was falling at over an inch an hour and the wind was starting to howl. Shadow didn’t seem to mind, perhaps he felt like a seasoned snow dog after his white Christmas encounter.

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Halfway up the cliffs,` we decided to take a break and shoot some pictures. The storm was now in full force, white out conditions were looming.

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Late in afternoon, Min broke the bad news to Shadow. How do you tell a dog it’s time to go home? You don’t, you just start walking!

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Taking one final view into the canyon, Shadow, Min and I made a beeline for the house.

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Leading the way and setting the pace, Shadow ensured our return in record time. Maybe Shadow was keen to get home and warm his paws by the heater.

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Less than a hundred yards from the house, I turned around to look at the cliffs. I was awestruck! There were no words to describe the view. Not even in my wildest dreams, could I have ever imagined a desert winter wonderland on New Year’s Eve.

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Neither could Shadow for that matter!

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IN SEARCH OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS

By definition; a White Christmas is having at least one inch of snow. Statistically speaking, the chances of having a White Christmas is 60% or better over the Northern Rockies, the Northern Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and most of New England. If you live in the southern third of the country, your chances of seeing snow are less than 20%.

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Living at an altitude of 4,000 feet, I looked to the town of Jacob Lake for a White Christmas. A scenic forty-minute drive to Jacob Lake would not only double my altitude, but also increase my chances of snow.

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Jacob Lake offered an escape from the desert heat in the summer and glowing aspens in the fall. I was hopeful Jacob Lake would complete the trifecta of my seasonal experience, by giving Shadow his first snow encounter and a white Christmas.

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Before retiring to bed on Christmas Eve, I chatted with the perfect stranger and checked the weather forecast. The overnight temperatures were expected to drop below 30 degrees with a 50 percent chance of snow. I felt the odds were in my favor; White Christmas here we come!

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On Christmas Day, a sleepy-eyed Shadow and I headed out to the kitchen to make the morning coffee. From the back window, I could see the clouds hovering over the cliffs. The temperature felt colder than usual; it was starting to feel like snow weather.

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By mid-morning, the view from my front porch was nothing but grey clouds. A final weather check reported snow flurries on the Kaibab Plateau and up to four inches of snow at Jacob Lake. It was official; a White Christmas for Shadow!

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Outfitted in snow gear, Min, Shadow, and I left Vermilion Cliffs bound for Jacob Lake. Ascending over 3,000 feet, we traded the desert valley floor for a snow storm in the Kaibab National Forest.

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The snowy road conditions caught Shadow’s eye. He had never seen snow before, but it did pose the question: do dogs have an understanding of weather?

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Shadow was not a fan of hiking in the rain, yet he had no problem swimming in the cold Colorado River. Would Shadow enjoy the fresh snow under his paws? Well, we were about to find out!

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I am not sure who was more excited, Shadow, Min, or me!

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Dressed in his Michael Jackson Thriller vest, Shadow galloped through the snow. Min and I took turns playing photographer, as we both wanted to capture Shadow’s first snow experience.

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While Shadow continued to run himself ragged, thoughts of the perfect stranger ran through my mind. Had it only been one week since we said our goodbyes at Kingman Airport? Would you believe we had talked on the phone every day since? Call me selfish; it wasn’t enough! I needed to see her. I missed her company!

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Even though I felt fortunate to be spending Christmas Day with my family; Min and Shadow, it felt incomplete. My special someone was a few thousand miles away and it was snowing. I wanted to share my White Christmas experience with her too.

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With the snow continuing to fall at an inch an hour, Min and I decided to head back to Vermilion Cliffs. Neither one of us wanted to get stuck or stranded in the snow storm, although Shadow wouldn’t have minded. How do you tell this face it’s time to go home?

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As Min headed to the car, Shadow and I enjoyed our final run in the snow. Shadow was a natural in this winter wonderland, and I could only hope for more snow opportunities in the New Year.

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Perhaps Mother Nature could overnight a winter storm to Vermilion Cliffs. Ideally, she’d deliver several inches of snow to my desert front door. I wanted to experience a desert winter wonderland!

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Walking back to the road, I had so many questions running through my head. I wondered if Shadow would remember the sensation of snow under his paws. Would Shadow and I get the opportunity to share some winter adventures together? When would I see the perfect stranger again? How would I spend my winter break? None of my questions required answers; I was content to let life happen.

Letting life happen is a lifestyle that dogs model for humans on a daily basis. A dog owns nothing; they live in the moment, yet they seldom seem dissatisfied. Companionship is their currency to happiness.

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In recent years I’ve had friends tell me they are more likely to find companionship with a dog than with a human. It makes me wonder, has human companionship become such a foreign concept that we fear it as much as loneliness? Is it our lack of companionship that places the focus on consumerism at Christmas? Has Christmas become more about giving presents than offering our presence?

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I returned home to a clouded in Vermilion Cliffs. With the temperature dropping, I grabbed a hot shower and heated up some homemade soup. I spent the rest of my day camped out on the porch. Yes, this was how I spent my Christmas.

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A DOG’S YEAR IN THE DESERT- UNLEASHED

“Science has so far been unable to tell us how self-aware dogs are, much less whether they have anything like our conscious thoughts. This is not surprising, since neither scientists nor philosophers can agree about what the consciousness of humans consists of, let alone that of animals.” John Bradshaw

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When I first moved to Vermilion Cliffs I wondered how my urban dog would adjust to life in the desert. Would he miss the grass under his paws or embrace the desert dust, dirt, and mud? After nine months of desert living the results are in!

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Shadow has sprinted, jumped, climbed, swam, dug, and bathed in the Paria and Colorado River. He has experienced monsoonal storms, chased pack rats, befriended lizards, met a rattlesnake, and experienced his first fall on the Kaibab Plateau.

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Now, if only I can give him a white Christmas!

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