Tuesday, 29 January 2013


I open my eyes to music. I rise up to a dawn chorus.

The first morning sound I hear is Paddy at the woodstove, emptying the ash-box, piling up the tinder, striking matches. He puts on the coffee. He says hello to Bob the Canary and fills the little seed-tray and slices up an apple or fig or plum. Paddy and Bob share that for their breakfast. I hear all this from my bed in the room upstairs, through the cracks in the floorboards that are the kitchen ceiling. (I take my waking slow.)

On the other side of the meter-thick wall of adobe bricks, the Big Dogs hear Paddy move, they hear Bob chirp. And so begins the Dawn Chorus of the Peaceable.

Bella says “woof.” Just once. Then Harry joins with his staccato baritone: “arf arf arf.”
And if the sun is just right, and she feels in the mood, Lulu pitches her pointy muzzle toward the rafters and softly, tenderly say “ooooo.”

Tim and Rose, the Inside Dogs, hear them from their comfy beds by the fire. If it is still dark outside, they stay quiet. If he deems the hour decent, Tim will bark. If it´s Rosie´s turn, she yodels. Rosie has a remarkably human voice, and like a lot of small yappy dogs, she could talk if she wanted to. She could probably conjugate preterite verbs if she could be bothered.

All our dogs know when it is time for their breakfasts, and for their morning walk – the high point of their day. By 8 a.m. their food-processing equipment is at the end of its cycle, and the holding tanks are at capacity. Their bellies are empty, but their hearts are full of joy. It is time to sing.

So they do, five dogs strong – barks, moans, yodels, yowls. A mournful, funny racket, a wonderful way to be roused from bed. And from the window of my room above the town I can hear the song spread southward through the fog.

In the garage across the alley live Oliva and Justi´s dogs, a brutal German shepherd and a white-muzzled old pointer. They never go outdoors. They have a lot to howl about, and they do it very well. They harmonize with a smooth doo-wop kind of woo-woo-woo.

The song is taken up next in the haymow behind Segundino´s carpentry shop, where five or six assorted dogs spend their lives. One of them routinely barks throughout the night. He does not sleep, he does not eat. He lives to bark. And at dawn, with the start of the yowl, his backbeat is engulfed by the songs of his brothers. They shriek and descant, they add operatic coloratura runs, they leap and run. From Pilar´s splendid garden come song stylings of little Perla, the pup who looks like she´s made of pipe-cleaners.

I do not know if the Dawn Chorus extends right on down to the Plaza, to include yappy little Roque and Esteban´s Terry and Toby, and over to Manolo´s barnyard full of baying beasts. Our dogs slack off after a couple of minutes, just long enough for us to hear the reverb shivering up the street. It is brief, intense,  and magnificent.

Tim and Rosie then slink back into their beds. They do not look at our faces. 

The truth comes out in the morning, and they know it. These dogs are really wolves, every one of them. There are more dogs in this town than people. And they are only pretending to be tame.

So we´d better get a move on with the kibble.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


"Confession" sounds so intriguing, so sexy! But hearing other people talk about their faults can be very dull indeed. You have been warned.

I decided recently to undertake a spiritual discipline. I am trying to be really deeply honest with myself, in an ongoing, unrelenting way. 
I find it is like dieting. It is really, deeply hard to do, and it takes a long time to start seeing any benefit.

But now I am. Just the beginnings...
I am an ego-driven do-gooder. Much of the good I do is not so much to serve pilgrims or St. James or God or good. I do good because it makes me look nice, and because it makes me feel good, and it costs me so little in real terms. Pilgrims ask for little. They occupy us for a few hours, and they leave the next day.  I do this because it keeps me busy. It is respectable. It makes me feel unique and honorable and righteous. The benefits for others are, honestly, secondary to my ego. This is my hospitalera mask, my Camino Expert disguise. I think this person must be a great bore.

My Writer Mask: I write. I wear a Writer mask crafted over decades, and it makes me feel competent and professional and superior. It also drives me to write even when I am not able or willing to. It makes me write stories and articles and blogs that are themselves self-serving ego exercises. This mask slots together with the Camino Expert to send me off to obscure camino paths, where I wander up and down  mountainsides and bust my gut writing trail guides that very few pilgs will ever care to use. This, too, is tiresome. It makes me feel adventuresome and heroic, like a pioneer. But I am fooling myself. I never go too far from home. At the end of the day I always find a good meal and a decent bed.    

I am a daughter and a mother and a wife, a neighbor, a student and a friend. I am not very good at most of these things. I do not always take good care of my family and friends. I do not stay in touch. The few close friends I have live many miles away. Recently, several people from this area have made friendly overtures to me -- they want to include me in their circles. They want to befriend me. I find this exhilarating and amazing somehow. I do not answer them right away. I stand apart and feel afraid. I delay. I am not unfriendly, but some part of me does not want to be a day-to-day friend.

I say I am, fundamentally, a hermit. I think this may be true. I have always been introvert, stand-offish.  When I am alone I do not play music or watch movies or read many books, not very often. I haul wood. I walk the dogs, I check up on FaceBook. Sometimes I take myself to a museum. I don´t feel bad. I do not think I am depressed, or otherwise ill.

But I do not want other people to be too close to me. Not for any length of time.
I think Patrick is much the same way. And we chose to live out in the middle of this severe nothing because it suits us. The outer landscape reflects the inner.

But maybe Hermit is just a handy disguise, too. Because another part of me loves people, and is full of compassion for the searching and suffering that goes on all around me. This is a neglected part of me, the healer and artist, the confessor and the counselor. They are for real. They are probably my best parts, and I do not use them so often.

There´s still a lot of work to be done.

I do not intend to stop living here, or to stop living. I intend to keep peeling off the layers I have built around me, to find just what is hiding here, under all these disguises. I am very fortunate to have the time, silence, and resources to do this kind of mental scrub.

I am lucky, blessed, and very grateful. That´s a good starting point.


Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Mongrel Horde

Lots O Dogs: Paddy with Rosie, Tim, Bella, Harry, and Lulu

I am back at The Peaceable, sitting by the fire surrounded by animals. It took me forever to get home, but travel travail makes for mighty boring reading. I left Boston at 7 p.m. Monday, and rolled up at my door at 8:30 p.m. the following day, wracked with jetlag. I don´t remember ever being so lagged. I grow old, alas.
The world grows old.
I downloaded the photos from my trip. We all look much older and greyer and rounder. We look tired, every one of us, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Still, Paddy looked very good to me, there on the platform at the train station He is on his annual January Wagon, eating only healthy food and drinking no alcohol. His weight is down, but he says he feels no different than before.

Horrors waited at home, the things Paddy never tells me for fear of spoiling my holiday. 
Harry´s turn on the lead

On Sunday Paddy had all the dogs out on the camino, heading east toward the labyrinth. After the cemetery he let the greyhounds off the lead for their customary game of keep-away. Once their ya-yas are sufficiently spent, they take turns walking on the lead – they only get up to mischief when they are loose together. As luck would have it, Raquel and Modesto were out on the camino for their afternoon paseo. Alongside them toddled Roque, Edu´s yappy little dog. When he saw the mongrel horde approaching.
Roque bolted into the adjacent field to hide. Lulu and Harry, being greyhounds, went right for him, rolled him over and tore him limb from limb – or so it appeared.

Modesto and Raquel and Patrick ran as hard as their septugenarian legs and walking sticks could take them into the plowed field. Modesto fell down, but got back up again. By the time Paddy beat and dragged the greyhounds off, little Roque was lying very still on the ground.

When the slavering hounds were safely restrained, the Moratinos Dog Resurrection Juju rolled in. Roque opened up his beady eyes, shook himself, and scarpered off home by another route.

Two days later in the Plaza Mayor, Paddy thanked heaven he had both the hounds on that lead – Flor´s little brown dog came barking out of their house. The greyhounds yowled at her, but Pad held on tight. And watched as the noisy-but-harmless Rosie went straight for the little dog. And peaceful, slow, 50-kilo Bella went right in after her and knocked the little dog off her feet.

Pad managed to hand off the greyhounds to Martina. He waded into the melee and threw himself bodily onto the little dog until Bella and Rose got the message. He picked up the lapdog and handed it off to the owner, who hustled it indoors. It was still very much alive when he stood up, Pad said. No visible damage, no blood. Except on Paddy. Something colorful and bad happened to one of his fingers.

And so I returned to grey winter meseta, to a pueblo where our beloved dogs are Caninae Non Grata. Roque is back in action, yapping and snapping, but we wait to learn how Flor´s little dog is doing. The pup took to her bed, and has not moved much in the last few days, according to Manolo. No word on if they took her to a veterinarian, which Paddy duly promised to pay for. I am praying for another dose of Resurrection Juju. (I spend an awful lot of prayer on animals.)

We walk now with all the dogs but Tim on leads. We are thinking big thinks. It is clear that so many dogs do not a Peaceable make, especially when two are more wolf than dog, and another is part polar bear. We have many options to choose from:

> We can fence a chunk of our land and give the dogs more space to run and exercise throughout the day.
> I can give up on leaving here for longer than a day, seeing as five dogs cannot be safely exercised by a single person, and awful things happen when I go away. I can adjust my still-shredded sleep schedule to better help with the morning dog-keeping duties.
> The clearest long-term solution is to thin the herd. But:

    Tim is too old to give away, and he didn´t attack anyone.
    Rosie really belongs to Kim.
    Lulu and Harry are greyhounds. Attacking small animals is what greyhounds do. Nobody around here wants a greyhound, because they are by nature high-strung hunting dogs.
   Besides that, Lulu is crazy as a bedbug. We are the only people who can touch her.

Which leaves Bella as the low-hanging fruit.
Bella and Paddy

Paddy loves Bella, but the other dogs only tolerate her. She is large and overly affectionate. Her kisses and clumsy play drive them up the wall. She is a smart dog, eager to please. She learned from the others not to make messes inside the barn. She´s learned to pee straight into the sewer drain in the patio – something none of the other dogs has mastered. (I suspect she saw Paddy do that, and just copied him.) She (maybe) learned from me, finally, not to dig up the garden. She would very much like to be a house dog, but we do not let her inside unless Paddy´s taking her through to the rear garden to “help” him cut wood. She loves hanging out where people are. She does not molest the chickens. She is only mildly interested in the cats.

Bella is big, and still growing. She is at least half Leonese Mastiff. Bella has all her shots, an EU animal passport, microchip, and cannot reproduce. She is about 9 months old, she still has her baby teeth – a good thing for Florin´s little dog! Still, I do not think she will attack another small animal. I think she was learning bad behavior from our other bad dogs, and once she starts keeping better company she will put this shameful episode behind her.

I understand that all this is our fault. There are no bad dogs, just idiot owners. And all that. In many places we would be fined or jailed or have our dogs taken away for what happened. The Guardia Civil would have something to say if they saw us walking in the fields with five unleashed dogs. If someone filed a complaint, we would be in trouble.

But even though every single household in this town has had some less-than-happy encounter with our animals, no one has denounced us to The Man. We apologize, we give them a fresh young chicken to replace their greyhounded hen, we really are sincerely sorry. And they tell us “dogs are dogs. Just be more careful. Don´t worry.”

And this time, “Maybe five dogs is too many.”

If you have need of a polar bear, please let me know ASAP.