How could this be??? I’ve been religious about changing Ravioli’s timing belts on schedule. My Montana mechanic, Heath, and his wife, Shelly, drove 35 miles from White Sulphur Springs to Martinsdale at 8 pm on a Monday evening to tow Ravioli into the shop. Talk about amazing service! I’m crossing my fingers and toes no other damage was done… and that my trusty steed can be restored to her old (“vintage” sounds better), yet dependable self.

DSCF1545Ravioli’s current odometer reading: 271,663 miles. But tonight, she gets a free ride off into the sunset.




… tying your broken-down Toyota Rav to the back of a kind stranger’s truck, and allowing him to drag you 13 miles back home. I was SO THANKFUL my Ravioli’s battery failed on a main road instead of the dozens of remote forest service roads I enjoy “getting lost on” every week. Billy saved me this morning by offering me a tow. But once we got rolling it was pretty scary driving with limited steering and brakes, especially since I was following way close to his rig. Billy knew what he was doing though, and I thank him for taking an hour out of his day to haul me and the four dogs safely back to Martinsdale. Tomorrow, I’ll drive my old Ford dog truck (a.k.a. the MOOSE) to White Sulphur Springs to pick up a new battery. I hope that vehicle makes it!

DSCF0374This last Monday as I was leaving Helena to drive back to Martinsdale, I noticed two young men walking single file along US 12-East headed for Townsend. It was almost 5 pm. Dark clouds churned overhead. The hikers pushed “strollers” marked with orange safety flags. They were leaving town at a good clip, moving with confidence into some BIG and wild Montana country. Seeing them, I felt pangs of both nostalgia and longing. I want to be walking with them… I thought.

Five days later, I looked out my kitchen window and discovered the same pair of hikers rolling into Martinsdale. I knew they were headed my way — my neighbor had heard through the grapevine that the two 19-year old Washington State University students were walking across the United States, from Seattle to New York City, raising money for the Seattle Childrens’ Hospital. She also said they’d be passing through our tiny town any day now.

I met Cameron Coupe and Zan Roman as they walked past my house, and I offered them a place to stay. They parked their strollers in my garage, and then took off on their skateboards to explore the town of Martinsdale. We went out to dinner at the Crazy Mountain Inn. At my house, they did laundry, took showers, wrote in their journals at my kitchen table, and crashed for the night in my living room. They fell asleep listening to the Harry Potter series-on-tape, playing the book out loud over a miniature speaker they carried with them.

A roadside find turned hikers' mascot...

A roadside find turned hikers’ mascot…

After spending months hiking on the Appalachian Trail with my dog, Kirby, and friend, Maureen, I know what it feels like to take a very long walk. Cross-country hikers can only go as fast as their legs will work. Their main focus in a day is getting from point A to point B. They carry their whole lives on their backs (or in strollers). And they are quite happy people. Hosting these two young adventurers brought back all of those feelings, and many great memories. Countless people helped us during our hike (we called them “trail angels”) — I was thrilled to pay forward the generosity of those strangers who quickly became our true friends.

If you see two young men zooming down a hill into your town on skateboards, pushing strollers pull of gear in front of them, that’s probably Cameron and Zan just passing through… offer them a place to stay and some grub and you won’t regret it. They’re great company…

Headed east...

Headed east…

Happy trails, Cameron and Zan!

Follow their progress at

When I started this blog, my intention was to post something — a column, musing, photograph, video, etc. — every day. Knowing where my travels often take me, I knew it wouldn’t be wise to promise a daily entry. But I will always make my best effort. For the last two days, I’ve been without internet at my house. Electrical power, cell service, and internet can be “iffy” in Martinsdale. High winds knock out power lines. There are no cell phone towers in sight. Maybe the cold weather and snow up high had something to do with it? Naw, probably not, but when it snows in mid-June it sure seems like a good thing to blame your problems on… not that being out-of-the-cyber-loop is a true problem. And, no matter the season, I LOVE snow! So all is well.

Chloe says, "How many times do I have to hear this???"

Chloe says, “How many times do I have to hear this???”

Although, Chloe does seem bored by my decision to write (indoors) instead of walk (outside) in the chilly rain/hail/snow. I took a break from the memoir-writing to work on a piece of short fiction, and I’m enjoying it. I can’t say the same for Chloe — when I write, I read everything out loud over and over again. If Chloe’s snoring is any indication of my foray into fiction, I’m in real trouble.

People have been asking about my decision on grad school, so I’ll give you a quick update here. Because of too many unknowns in my life at the moment, I decided to defer admission to the Iowa State University MFA program. The offer is very exciting, and the school has a one-of-a-kind “creative writing and the environment” focus, so going through the pros and cons of relocating (when I already have two houses 1800 miles apart to maintain) was challenging. But I do feel good about the decision. And it’s good to have an option in place for next year.

Since I applied for the traditional MFA programs way back in December, I’ve learned about low-residency MFA programs from several professional writers who have attended these schools. I am looking into this as another option which would allow me to write from anywhere (Indiana, Montana, Texas, Bolivia, you name it!). My desire is to write, and I want as much direct guidance as possible. I have heard these programs have an intensive focus on both the quality and quantity of writing put out daily, pushing and supporting writers through the entire book-making process. Most of these programs require students to come on site for 10 days to 2 weeks in January and July before the start of each semester (working year-round for 2-3 years depending on the program). During those hard-core workshopping sessions, the writer picks a mentor to work with for that semester (or for the entire program). After the writer leaves campus, they send in packets of work to their mentor. Most of the programs require at least 40 hours per week of writing to complete the MFA in 2 years. Right now I am looking at schools such as Stonecoast, Vermont College of Fine Arts, the Rainier Writing Workshop, and the University of Alaska. I am still researching all of these and more. Many of the programs have both fall and spring deadlines so I hope to get some applications in by September, and then, once again, wait and wait for acceptance letters (why not be optimistic?). Acceptances to these programs are just as competitive as the traditional MFA’s so I am aware I will need patience in the process. If I can get a short story completed by September, I might apply in both fiction and non-fiction. I also need to write a critical essay — I am reading Rick Bass’ “All the Land to Hold Us” right now, hoping to write about literature and a sense of place. It’s been YEARS (University of Montana, 1994) since I wrote an essay like this. We’ll see how it goes.

I began this blog a few weeks ago to help with my memoir-in-progress. I hoped writing quick “bits” about my relationships with my dogs, my parents, the outdoors, friends, etc. would help give me new direction. Writing about being a caregiver for my parents has been difficult. I miss them so much, and putting myself in front of a computer in their lifelong home to reflect on our last years together guts me… over and over again. I thought the blog would be a good change of pace. I wrote a column for the Great Falls Tribune in Montana for 10 years, and I loved it (thanks, Mike!). Coming here to a String of Dogs takes me back to those column-writing days. And it feels like home. I thank YOU for reading!

... or is it Big Sky country?

… or is it Big Sky Country?


Somehow we’ve made it through one entire week back home in Montana without any major “Jigs incidents” — knock on wood. For Jigs, making it 7 days in a row without getting sprayed by a skunk or tangled up with a porcupine or stepping on a rattlesnake is a major miracle. My good fortune so far has little to do with Jigs’ improved behavior, and more to do with the fact that I’ve been hiking with him on a leash. But today, no extendo-lead was going to protect me from my terrier’s favorite Montana activity. When Jigs spots a steaming cow patty on the trail (before I do) he lunges straight towards it, ducking his head and somersaulting into the watery pile with the same enthusiasm as a teenager cannon-balling into a swimming pool. And he doesn’t stop there. He squirms back and forth on his back until his wiry coat has completely absorbed the soupy flop. When he finally stands up, the cow dung quick-dries in the wind, leaving my cuddly bedmate encrusted from head to toe. This is nothing new — I know this about Jigs — yet my time away dampened the stinking memory. After needing to give Jigs two hose-downs in one day, it’s all come back to me now. Montana is Big Cow (Pie) Country…


A meadow muffin-maker takes a siesta.

Is this a joke?

Is this a joke?

Until the other day, if I had to make a quick guess, I would have imagined the closest stoplight to be at least 80 miles from my home in Martinsdale… probably on a main street in Lewistown or Livingston. So a few night ago this random stoplight out in the middle of nowhere came as a surprise to me as I drove home from a hike with the dogs. I actually stopped and waited at the red light for 15 minutes (even snapped this photo through my bug-splattered windshield) until, finally, I started to feel a little bit silly sitting there all alone, not another human or vehicle in sight. Maybe I’m imaging things… I thought to myself. If someone waits at a red light in remote Montana for over 15 minutes, are they a bit dense? If someone runs a red light in remote Montana and nobody sees it, did it really happen?

(Answers: YES, NO)

Lolo (left) and Pig taking a snack break just 20 miles from the 2004 Iditarod finish line

Lolo (left) and Pig taking a snack break just 20 miles from the 2004 Iditarod finish line

Lolo is waiting in the Rav. After pacing the length of my yard for an hour, I decided to give the poor girl a break. It’s 50 degrees here in Martinsdale, and a steady breeze pushes the cool Montana air through the wide-open car windows. Glancing at the vehicle parked in front of my house, no one would know a dog’s in there. Lolo sleeps curled up in the backseat.

Since Lolo was a tiny pup, she’s been a little bit “different.” Hyper-alert, serious, always wanting to please — these characteristics make for a good lead dog, and that’s what Lolo became after I bought her for $100. Terry Adkins — annoyed by Lolo’s spooky, yet stubborn nature — didn’t want to waste his time on her. “Good luck…” he said, taking the check from my hand. “Thanks… I’ll need it,” I replied, restraining my excitement for fear Terry would change his mind.

Lolo (left) and Pig lead us off of Norton Sound onto the main street of Nome, Alaska. 2004

Lolo (left) and Pig lead us off of Norton Sound onto the main street of Nome, Alaska. 2004

I made that purchase over 13 years ago. Today is Lolo’s 14th birthday. Like my beloved Borage, she was born in the year 2000. I witnessed both of their births. Sadly, Borage did not make it to June 13, 2014, which would have been his 14th birthday, too. Even Lolo seems to sense it is a bittersweet time. Or, more realistically, Lolo still grieves her loss. Borage was her buddy, her constant sidekick. Lolo likes my little dogs, yet her behavior shows she longs for something more. Sled dogs know their own. They were raised in a giant pack, fed raw meat, trained as working dogs. They ran literally thousands of miles together. When one member of a string passes, the others feel as if they’ve lost a limb… or a heart. I know — that’s how I’ve felt since March 11th, the day I had to put Borage to sleep.

The last time Lolo and Borage were together here at the Martinsdale house, June 2013.

The last time Lolo and Borage were together here at the Martinsdale house, June 2013.

After Borage died, Lolo howled for weeks. The only time she stopped her mournful crying was when I put her in the car. Sitting in her usual place, right behind the driver’s seat, she feels safe. Like Borage always did, Lolo loves the Rav. Whenever I hear her wailing out in the yard, or see her trotting the fenceline, I know it’s time to open the car door and say, “Load up!” Lolo no longer leads an Iditarod sled dog team. Her friend, Borage, is gone. But inside our car, Lolo knows she’s still part of a string. And that I’ll be out to join her soon, loading up Jigs and Chloe, taking us all somewhere good, for a long walk together. 

Lolo ready to go to the Martinsdale Reservoir for her 14th birthday.

Lolo ready to go to the Martinsdale Reservoir for her 14th birthday.