Friday, May 26, 2006

Santa Fe NM - May 2006 part 1

The life-style in the Santa Fe New Mexico area is easy. The hiking isn't. The reason for the former is the attitude. The latter - the altitude. We just spent two weeks there - we know.

At seven thousand feet above sea level Santa Fe is the highest state capitol in the U.S.A. - and it has the thinnest air. Presumably the politicians who inhabit the seat of government have been there a while and are immune to the effects of the high elevation. As tourists we hadn't and weren't.

You would think thin air would be easier to breathe - being not as bulky as the conventional stuff it seems like it should slide right down into your lungs. But it doesn't. Or if it does it is so deficient in the amount of oxygen that we sea-levelers are used to that our chests feel slightly congested and our breathing organs seem considerably underfed. We find ourselves stopping embarrassingly frequently to simply breathe. And our legs feel heavier much sooner than they really should.

Then there's the hydration thing. I don't quite understand why but apparently because the under-oxygenated air is also cool and dry we secretly (i.e. without sweating) lose a lot of bodily water so you've got to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate just to maintain a normal level of internal fluids. Which actually is a good thing because it gives you a legitimate semi-pretend reason to slow down or stop completely (you don't want to spill a precious drop) and take a sip. Fortunately my constantly parching lips were a perpetual reminder to take in more H2O.

Overriding these climatic concerns however are the quality of the hikes and the companionship of the co-hikers - this time being Mars (wife and favorite sidekick in all things), Sandy (longtime friend), Kyoko & Ron (former golf partners who now live in Phoenix Arizona), Monica & Bram (daughter-in-law & son), and (for the first time ever) Audrey the dog.

Mars, Sandy and I spent the first week of our visit house-and-dog-sitting in the hills around the "The City Different" for J & J, friends of Monica & Bram and the owners of Audrey.

The house is New Mexican adobe style - which no longer is made of real adobe bricks - and is set on a piece of land that, were it in grassy Connecticut, would take three landscapers a full day each to cut the lawn on their Hummer-sized riding mowers. But it's not in New England, Santa Fe has had a year-to-date rainfall of 1.46 inches, so instead of fescue the yard is covered by dry high desert dirt and low pinyon, juniper, and other pines that require little if any moisture. The proximity to the nearest house is about five or six solid Tiger Woods' drives, even in the distance-inducing high altitude air.

The dog is a fifty-or-so pound mixed shelter recovery dog with no discernible body fat, covered with a coat of dusty white and light brown - the perfect "camo" colors for the New Mexican high desert. Her face is evenly divided into the two colors.

The hilltop residence is accessed via a series of unpaved roads and its quasi-isolated landscape gave us ample opportunities to get our altitude legs by hiking on and close to their property. And since one of our daily jobs was to "walk the dog", Audrey was more than glad to show us the area.

Audrey is a dog who takes her responsibilities quite seriously. They are (1) guarding the house, (2) greeting home comers, (3) policing the surrounding property, and (4) retrieving the morning Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.

From any one of her several outdoor guard stations Audrey is able to monitor the traffic on the incoming roads and the immediately surrounding desert land; pursue and chase off intruders such as (but probably not limited to) "bunnies" and coyotes; and analyze the vehicle entry paths in order to properly greet all arrivals.

To check out the areas farther away from her house Audrey relied on her daily walk with whoever was willing to take her.

We walked in the arroyo adjacent to the incoming road, along the barbed wire bounded property line (after crawling through the hazardous fencing), and up and down the unimproved roads.

While we were doing this Audrey roamed amid the shrubbery, ditches and dirt piles alongside of our path. In other words, walking with Audrey is not really walking "with" Audrey - instead it's more like being in the vicinity of Audrey while she (a) sniffs under, around, inside, and on top of adjacent bushes, mounds and holes, (b) chases "bunnies" (the normal sight was a blur of rabbit hindquarters scurrying across our path into the pinyon pines pursued by a rapidly accelerating Audrey) and (c) tries to anticipate where we are going by popping up periodically on the trail ahead of us and, when she's wrong, adjusting her own route with a mid-speed jog through the underbrush to position herself up ahead of us once again - something I think the dog trainer Barbara Wodehouse refers to as "following up front".

Like the rest of us Audrey needed to hydrate properly on her walks so we always carried and used her "Outward Hound" collapsable water dish. At first I poured the water from my own bottle until it became apparent that she enjoyed drinking from the mouth of that vessel more than from her bowl - so we wrote Audrey's name on it and used it exclusively for her after that.

The initial walk with Audrey was a solo effort on my part when we first arrived. We walked down the driveway to the arroyo. She was with me for about the first twenty feet or so. For the next few minutes I foolishly worried that she might wander off ("Hi J & J. I lost your dog within the first half hour.") but quickly decided after several "check-ins" by the dog that she had a better idea of where she was and where I was going than I probably ever would - which she confirmed by shortcutting up the hill in front of the house while I trudged back up the driveway stopping several times to sip water, pretend to look for Audrey, and try to breathe.

After that first trek none of us were able to put on our hiking boots or pick up our walking sticks without sending the dog into a paroxysm of ambulatory anticipation consisting of incredibly understated moans and low key bounding and twisting.

Beginning with our first full day at the house we took Audrey for a walk every morning around nine o'clock of so. This was preceded two or so hours earlier by my brief trip with her down to the newspaper box to pick up the daily Santa Fe New Mexican. As I approached the yellow container Audrey would be nowhere in sight. As soon as the paper was in my hands she was standing in front of me looking up with her mouth in the ready-to-carry position.

The first morning she brought it half way up the driveway hill then left the road and disappeared into the bushes. Fearing that I would have to scramble through the underbrush in search of the morning news I tried to follow. Fortunately I spotted the tabloid about thirty feet off the trail, retrieved it, and carried it the rest of the way home - in my hand. The other days she faithfully carried the gazette up to the front step of the house and left it. On Sunday I removed most of the paper to give her a bite-sized tabloid to sink her teeth into. She seemed to appreciate it.

Whenever we left Audrey at the house we were told to say "Guard the house Audrey. Good Girl!" - so we did. And Audrey took her post, sitting on her haunches looking out over the landscape.

Normally only one of us gave her the good-by message. On the last day when we left all three of us gave her her orders and rubbed her head and neck. She hesitated for a moment then assumed her sentry position.

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