An Afternoon Walk at Carley State Park

A budding tree

“What should we do tomorrow afternoon,” questioned my husband on a Saturday evening in mid-April.

            “I think it is too early for bluebells to be blooming,” I answered thoughtfully, “but it might be fun to hike again at Carley State Park. We haven’t been there in a really long time.” Carley State Park is only about eight miles from where we live so it is a local activity.

            The next day dawns cloudy and cool. The temperature barely touches the low 50s. Not willing to abandon our plans, I check the weather radar on my cell phone climate app. The forecast calls for a 15% chance of rain all day, but the radar shows that green morning splash that touches the screen as sliding off the display by two p.m. Maybe there is still hope for our plans.

            Claire, our dog, barks as we both put on our jackets and then eagerly jumps into the back seat of the car. She knows something exhilarating is happening. Tiny splashes of water dash the windshield as we start towards town. Ugggh… It is still trying to rain. Well, we are going to plow ahead in spite of the windshield wipers flapping back and forth. I am hoping that we will have the trails and the park all to ourselves.

            A gently curving route leads into the entry area. We follow the right road split to the vicinity where a little DNR cabin used to sit. The cabin is gone. All that remains is a small kiosk at which to register. Apparently, it has been a lot longer than I thought since we were last here. The small parking area which I remember as usually being empty is full of cars. That’s strange. Is there a special event today, I wonder? We wind our way down the forested gravel lane to the lower-level parking area. This parking lot is full as well. I don’t think there is anything special today. I guess people have nothing else they can do in the midst of the Covid pandemic. This state park used to be pretty much empty when we visited in prior years. Since the gate is closed to the camping area, I pull up to it and park in front of it. Afterall, there is no “NO Parking” sign. My hubby, the rule follower, doesn’t say a word. Claire is excitedly prancing around – ready for a new adventure.

            We choose the path along the north branch of the Whitewater River which gurgles and loops slowly through the park. The sky still hangs heavy, but the misty rain has stopped. The trail has a dark brown firm mud underlay from the numerous footsteps that have traversed its length since the recent rain. The trees are just starting to shoot out their buds and the underfloor of the forest is covered with green. Carley SP is known for its bluebells in spring, but I think we are just a couple of weeks early. Many of the plants have purple buds peeking from their green but they have not fully opened. A few shoots display fine cone shaped white blossoms. The day is perfect for a walk such as this. Claire eagerly sniffs every new smell of this fresh unexplored place. She weaves to the right and then the left and then circles back for another snuffle. She soon puts it in 4-wheel drive and tries to drag me along.

            We leisurely mosey along the narrow trail, sometimes stopping for Dave to take pictures, sometimes stopping off to the side for others to pass. Claire, of course, wants to bark at everyone but she soon settles down and waits quietly when I cling tightly to her harness handle. Soon we come to a double river crossing where it looks like one part is only water filled when the river is high. The river crossings at this park are not bridges but huge concrete steppingstones that have been placed parallel to each other but perpendicular to the flow of the water. One needs to jump from stone to stone to traverse the river while maintaining dry feet. The absence of recent maintenance also means the riverbanks have become eroded leaving the base along the bank muddy. This calls for some ginger stone stepping attempting to miss the mud. Claire is not sure what to do so she wades out into the water for a splash around before clawing her way onto the concrete steps.

            Safely across, we continue our amble through the woods. Soon the trail turns and begins an ascent along the bluff. Hubby and I are panting with the effort. Claire decreases my effort needed as she attempts to drag me along. We climb upward for about ten minutes and then stroll along the ridge for another ¼ mile before the trail begins its decent to the river below again. This river crossing presents a much more challenging dilemma. The erosion along these banks are much more extensive on both sides of the river. Someone has dragged three separate sections of six-inch diameter trees to the riverbank and slid them into place side by side to make a slanted bridge to the first concrete step in the water. This could be hazardous for two sixty something-year-old persons. There is nothing to hang onto, the bridge is uneven, and neither of us have the balance of a younger individual. I wonder for just a moment if we should retrace our steps back the way we have come. But that is an overwhelming thought, so a different plan is needed. Claire is not in the least bit interested in stepping onto that rickety makeshift crossing either, so this also presents a problem. There is no way we can carry her.

            I finally give Claire’s leash to Dave and step out onto the round trees. I quickly realize that I will be in the drink if I try to walk across these logs with nothing to grab onto when I lose my balance on the unsteady surface. There is a larger tree at the bottom of the dip just below the makeshift bridge. Maybe I can walk on that and use the trees for balance. I lower my butt to the threesome of trees and gingerly shuffle partway across the larger tree until I can take a flying leap to the concrete step. Once safely landed, I turn to help retrieve Claire. Dave has ended up sitting on the muddy riverbank and he pushes her towards me on the rounded trees. She quickly gets the idea and comes bounding across. That just leaves Dave to traverse the dangerous crossing. At least, I can extend my hand to him for balance. Like an old pro, Claire leaps from concrete step to concrete steps and scrambles up the muddy three-foot bank on the other side. That just leaves the old people to claw their way up on hands and knees. Well so much for being clean but we are safely across! And we didn’t even fall in the river.

            It is just a short walk along this side of the stream back to the parking area where our chariot waits to ferry us home. But first, we must cap off the day with a Dairy Queen treat.

Celebrating Our 29th Wedding Anniversary

“What should we do to celebrate our wedding anniversary?” questions my husband.

“We can’t go to a movie, eat out, or visit any museums with all the restrictions from Covid,” I reply.

“How about if we go to a different State Park that we haven’t been to before in the southeastern part of the state?

That sounds good to me so the evening before our planned adventure, Gordon researches the various state parks in Southeastern Minnesota and decides upon Beaver Creek Valley State Park close to Caledonia. Neither one has ever heard of it before and we definitely have not visited it before. He prints off some Google directions to help with our navigating.

We decide to take Claire, our puppy, with us for the day. I am beginning to think that we should have a diaper bag ready to take along just like for a baby. We need a water bottle, bowl to drink from, harness, leash, a towel to clean feet, and last but not least, doggie poop bags. By 8 a.m., we have all our supplies gathered and are ready for our conquest.

Deviating from our printed Google directions, we drive to Plainview for our usual Kwik Trip breakfast. Travel continues down Hwy 42 to Kellogg, then south on Hwy 61. We make a stop on Garvin Heights in Winona to give Claire a break. Of course, she instantly leaves her calling card after getting out of the car. Time to use those extra plastic grocery bags.

Not really knowing where we are going, we finally plug the address for Beaver Creek Valley State Park into the GPS. Oh no! Its first command directs us to Interstate 90 and insists that we get on it. No ma’am. We do not want to travel the interstate. We want to take back country roads, so we just keep driving on right over the interstate. The sign says this is County 19. The road travels along I90 for a while then turns south. Soon we find ourselves on a back-country gravel road. The landscape is rolling. Steep bluffs are contrasted with farms nestled in the valley. The trees are just starting to turn color. We wind around the sides of hills, through valleys, and along meadows with herds of beef cattle. Surprisingly, the direction goddess is silent. Now this is more like it. This twisting trailing path we are on takes us almost exactly to the state park after a sidetrack down what looks like a minimally maintained road.

It has been a densely foggy morning. A damp coolness still hangs in the air as we start our stroll across a well-crafted five-foot-wide wooden bridge. The creek gurgles lazily beneath our feet. The blacktop path transitions into a well-worn dirt track. It has rained recently so there are widely spaced mud puddles. Claire is excited and she leans into the body harness dragging me after her. It is all I can do to hold back her thirty pounds powered by four-wheel drive. Us old people behind the dog are much slower. Gordon has been struggling with plantar fasciitis making for a painful hobble at times. Still he is determined to hike and take photos today.

We soon arrive at the first creek crossing. A free-standing bridge is balanced over the water. There are no handrails, just a few wooden slats securely fastened together. Clair eagerly tugs on the leash in her hurry to investigate the flowing water. She has never been near open water before and as part Golden Retriever, Gordon and I suspect she might like water. Soon she wades into the green lilies along the shoreline. What reappears is a dog with four very muddy feet and legs. Ah! This is fun! She must be thinking. Before I can stop her, she rolls upside down in the shallow mud. No…o…o…! Now our cream-colored dog is brown on her back and top of her head. Well there is not much I can do about it right now. Maybe, I will throw her all the way in later. She pads around in the shallower areas of the flowing water until it is time to move on.

The hiking trail runs parallel to the river. Gordon and I stroll slowly along taking in the beauty of the day. Some of the trees are starting to change color. Gordon stops occasionally to take photos. Claire pulls me along with enthusiasm. I am not moving fast enough for her. She finds every small trail that divvies off to the river and turns to try make her way there. After several turns like this, she looks a sight. There are green and brown seed pods clinging to her face, her legs, and her body. What a distressing mess! Claire’s hair is wavy and about two inches long and these, what I call, prickers seem to become well enmeshed deep into the soft, thick layers.

The path we have chosen to walk is about a three-mile round trip. There are two separate loops within the greater circle. We decide to trace both loops. The day warms as the sun burns away the fog and climbs higher. Off comes my coat and then, the sweater. Gordon begins to have pain between his shoulder blades which is not uncommon, so I offer to carry the camera bag and the tripod. Both of us are starting to feel our weariness as we reach the furthest most point in our trek and turn back towards the beginning.

Claire barks robustly and loudly at every person we meet. This is unacceptable. We seem to be able to mitigate this by stopping to sit and be quiet when humans come by. It is harder to bark and lunge while seated on one’s butt. Our stops become more frequent as the number of hikers increases with the passing of the day. She also wades into the gushing water with every creek crossing of which there are many. Finally, there is a splash as she gets brave enough to jump in from one of the bridge crossings. She has lost none of her energy and continues to pull actively, trying to drag me along. The same cannot be said for us. We are moving slower and slower.

As we make our way back to the parking lot, I mark off in my head each segment of the trail as we come to a signpost. We are almost there. Finally, we come to a river crossing that does not seem to have a bridge across it.

“I don’t remember ever crossing open water,” Gordon comments.

“I don’t either,” I agree, “This must not be the right place.”

As we continue along the path, I step on a protruding rock in the path. Without warning, my left ankle turns over and I pitch forward. Claire, who I have been leaning back on trying to slow her forward motion, continues her dive forward. I have no way to stop the forward pitch. I slam into the ground with my right knee first followed by my right arm. The leash handle clatters along the ground before Claire stops and looks questioningly back at me. I lay there stunned. I want to cry. My knee hurts. My arm hurts. The camera bag and the tripod have clobbered me from behind. Gordon rescues me from the extra load. We can hear people coming so I stumble to my feet. I am glad no one saw my ridiculous spill onto the ground. Everything seems intact so we start out on our hike again. We haven’t gone more than a few hundred feet until we meet a lone older gentleman who throws a question our way, “Are you going around again?”

“No,” I reply, “Just trying to get back to the parking lot.”

The man does not say any more but as he moves on, Gordon and I look at each other.

“That’s a strange question. Are we going the wrong way? Did we miss the turn back to the parking lot?”

Now we are totally confused. “I don’t know if we are going the right way.”

“Well, let’s go back to that last crossing again and see if we missed something.”

Disheartened, we turn and trudge back the other direction. Within a few hundred feet, we arrive again at the crossing we had discussed earlier. The bridge we could not see coming from the other direction is now clearly visible off to the right.

“This must be the path back to the car.”

A few hundred more feet and it is evident that we are now going the right way. If we hadn’t met that man who asked a strange question, we would have walked another mile before realizing that we were totally turned around. It reminds me a little of life’s journey. There are others along our walk of life who try to point us in the right way. Sometimes, we don’t pay any attention to the wisdom they are offering us and end up way off course – a difficulty we could have avoided if we had been tuned in.

By now, it is pushing three o’clock in the afternoon and we are thirsty and hungry. Claire has had all the water needed from the river, but we did not remember a water bottle for ourselves.

“Where should we eat?” is the next question of the day.

I grab the local Minnesota county map book that I keep under the car seat. I quickly peruse it. “If we keep going just a few miles south on this road, we should arrive in Caledonia,” I announce, “Let’s see if we can find some fast food there.”

Caledonia turns out to be a good size town with many businesses and several franchise eating joints. We grab some Subway sandwiches and cool refreshing pop and take our treasures back to a city park that I had spied on our way into town. There we have a quiet lunch in the shade of a few trees. It is time to head for home. Our last stop at Dairy Queen in Chatfield is the “icing on the cake” as the saying goes. Time to begin year thirty in our married walk of life.

Golden . . . Or not?

“Goldendoodles AKC Registered Parents w/Champion Bloodlines, Microchipped, Shots, Potty Trained, and Some Obedience Training, $500, Call, Will Send Pictures,” so reads the ad in the “Dog” section of the Post-Bulletin. I am intrigued. I have been reading the dog ads for several months off and on since our beloved Bella died four years ago. I am looking for just the right dog to fill that empty spot in our hearts while at the same time hoping to delay getting one until I retire in a couple of years.

Claire fluff ball

 I decided a long time ago that I do not want a puppy. A puppy is exhauting during that first year while he/she grows into a lovable tolerable dog. I also do not want a dog that sheds all over my house. That means whatever dog we get needs to have poodle or one of the other small non-shedding dogs mixed into its heritage. Our first two dogs while Erin was small were non-shedding. One was a mutt consisting of American Eskimo, Pomeranian, and Toy Poodle. The second was a Bichon/Shih Tzu mixture. Then came Bella, a much begged for German Shepherd mix. Although the most lovable dog of the three, piles of hair covering all my furniture was the trademark.

The problem with my two criteria is that it is very difficult to find an older shelter dog where it is known that they have some Poodle mixed in. So this ad excites me and seems to offer a compromise. It says the puppies are “potty trained” and that they have “some obedience training.” To top off the positives as I see it, the price is right. Five hundred dollars for a golden doodle is cheap. I mull over the ad for a week before I call the number listed. And when I call, I find out that they are about five months old. They should be past the very early puppy stage as well.

“Can you come today?” questions the lady, “I have three people coming this morning to look at the females. There are four females and two males.”

I hesitate. I had not planned on making a fifty-mile trip on this Saturday. “How about if we come tomorrow afternoon?”

If I have done my math correctly, this information she has given me means there will be one female and two males left. I really do want a female. She also proceeds to tell me that this was their first time breeding dogs and they didn’t realize that having the puppies in the fall would result in not being able to get rid of them. There were eleven puppies originally and they were able to get rid of five in the fall, leaving six to winter over.

The following day, Sunday, Gordon and I make the trip to see our potential acquisition. We arrive early and the couple is waiting for us. The two males are locked up and they bring out the female. She is a beautiful puppy with a cream-colored curly coat of hair.

“She was the smallest one of the litter and always the shy one. She is really shy around new people,” the man informs us, “but she does well with us.” The puppy whom they are calling “Baby Girl” because they have not named her shrinks away from us and cowers behind the gentleman. He finally picks her up and strokes her sad droopy ears.

“Oh yes,” the lady adds, “and she piddles on the floor when a stranger comes, and she is excited.”

I am beginning to have serious doubts about taking this puppy. I have read that shy dogs often become aggressive. But we are here and I feel like we can’t just walk away.

“Can we bring her back if this doesn’t work out?” I question.

“Oh, yes. We would want you to do that.”

Shoving all the screaming doubts into the back of my head, we gather up the shaking puppy in our arms and deposit her into the kennel we have brought along in the back of the car. She is panting as fast as she can and shaking like a leaf. She is terrified. All the way home over the next hour, her rapid breathing generates torrents of water off her little pink tongue.

From the moment we arrive home, grave doubts crisscross through my mind about our decision. Clair, as we have decided to call her on the way home, refuses to get out of the kennel and then makes no effort to pee when taken outside on a leash. Snowflake, the cat, takes one look at this strange creature we have brought home, hisses with humped back at her, and whacks Claire with her paw. Clair tucks tail and scurries away in the other direction as fast as she can go. Oh, this is working out great. The puppy is now terrified of the cat and takes every opportunity to hide by the front door. By the time we head for bed, Claire has piddled pretty much everywhere on the carpeted floor upstairs but doesn’t even think about doing the same thing outdoors. Well, we were told she pees when she is frightened and being terrified of everything results in pee unbridled. So much for my expectation that this new dog has already been housetrained.

I get up a ½ hour early the next morning to take Claire outdoors. In spite of being in her kennel all night, she makes no effort to relieve herself outdoors and I can tell the kennel floor is wet. I am exhausted from lack of sleep and feeling overwhelmed by this whole situation. Why did I ever think that this was a good idea? Unable to get her to eat any breakfast or to follow me upstairs, I pick her up and carry her up with me. I set up a baby gate to keep her from running back downstairs to hide from the cat and so I can keep her in my sights. She huddles terrified by the gate while the cat nonchalantly addles by. I have no more started to wash up for the day then I hear a terrified yelp from the sitting area. I step out of the bathroom to see little brown rolls of poop tumbling out of the dog as she streaks down the hallway. This is not even half funny. I rush her outside, but of course, it is already too late. All that is left to do is clean up the mess.

After her first hair trim

I have prior obligations in town for the morning, so I place her back in her kennel for a few hours. There has still been no elimination in the great outdoors, but the kennel is again wet when I come home. I am exasperated. It is time to go back to square one with the housetraining. Apparently, the only one housetrained was the caretaker. When I think back to the situation Claire came from, I realize why there might be a problem. The puppies were only allowed access to a very small kitchen area. The rest of the house was baby-gated off. Claire has no experience with carpet or roaming free. Each puppy had their own kennel in a mudroom area, but the outdoor area used for potty training was approximately a ten by ten area cordoned off by more child fencing. The bottom of the area was covered with outdoor grass matting. I am puzzled why one would choose to use something for training that seems an awful lot like carpet. I guess it does keep the feet clean. Clair has no experience on a leash and no real experience in an actual yard either. I trudge down to the basement and retrieve the smaller kennel we used for our first two dogs. It is much more cramped but gives her less room to use for relieving herself. I put the bigger one away temporarily until I can trust her.

I have also made a decision to “enroll” our new puppy in puppy daycare at a facility along my route to work. If someone had ever told me when I was growing up on the farm that someday I would use puppy daycare, I would have laughed their head off. How silly! But here I am doing the unthinkable. It will keep Claire from being locked up for over ten hours per day and force her to interact with other people and dogs. Maybe she will grow out of this frickin cowardly behavior.

But of course, now I have to get her to the daycare each morning on my way to work. I again get up a ½ hour early on my second day of being a new puppy owner. I have made a plan so that this morning ends differently than our first – or so I think. My plan is to take her out in my pajamas and then eat breakfast while she eats hers. That way I can keep an eye on her and get her outdoors if she shows signs of relieving herself. She loves the snow, so she is delighted with our early morning escapade into the dark front yard. But that is as far as it goes. Frustrated, I give up. I need to get ready for work. I set her water and food bowls right next to the table and dole out the specified amount of food. I prepare my own breakfast and sit down to eat. I think Claire will want to be next to me and will eat while I eat, but there is another problem. Snowflake sprawls in the middle of the kitchen floor as is her usual behavior. Claire, as a result, scurries into the entryway and hides by the door. Oh, this is working so well. Having a dog who is terrified of the cat is never going to work.

My stomach is curled into a tight knot and the tension is mounting. I am feeling overwhelmed by this uncharacteristically non-puppy like animal. I again carry Claire upstairs and put up the baby gate while I go about getting ready for work. She cowers by the gate and I ignore her for now.

“What’s this?” questions my husband as he walks into the living area to turn on the TV. There on the floor again are the brown rolls. “N..o..o..o..o..o!!!!”

“This is never going to work. I think we should just take her back,” I blurt out in defeat.

“Let’s just give her a couple of weeks and then decide,” Gordon encourages.

It’s time to get started to work since I have to make that extra stop to let the puppy off. Claire, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to fight the leash much and for that I am thankful. But she has no interest in crossing the threshold into the garage. That is terrifying. With some treats and a little encouragement, we finally get that accomplished but getting into the car is a definite hardstop. Finally, I pick her up and drop her into the front seat. She sits there trembling then tries to climb over onto me. I push her back to the passenger side. She continues to try to push her quaking body over to my side on the five-mile ride to town. She refuses to even consider my treats. I don’t even try to coax her out of the car and into the dog kennel. I simply pick her up and haul her into the building. Several large dogs bark loudly and crash into the door dividing the kennel from the reception area. This has the makings of more terrorizing rather than calming. I turn and walk out. I have had all the chaos I can handle for one morning. It is Gordon’s responsibility to pick her up.

Gordon reports later that she refused to come to him when he stopped to pick her up.

“She did just fine with all the other dogs,” is the report of the kennel attendant.

Gordon carries her out to his truck and deposits her on the passenger side. Claire instantly scrambles over the two-foot-high homemade center console towards the driver’s side scattering work papers in all directions.

“I don’t think this is working at all,” is his comment later that evening. “I think we should consider taking her back.”

“Well, let’s give her a couple of weeks,” I reply. “She has only been with us a couple of days.” Gordon and I go back and forth over the course of the first week, continually switching roles in our emotions and convictions as to whether we should send her back.

By the third day, a small miracle does occur. Claire pees outside – always in the snow but outside. This could be a problem when the snow melts. And I have figured out that if I walk her down the drive before going back inside in the morning, she poops. And then Gordon starts to fall in love with her. I scour the internet looking for solutions to the cat terror issue.

“You need to take her upstairs with you in the evening and pen her up there with you,” I instruct Gordon, “She can’t just sit hiding by the front door.”

And then we hit on another solution. “Feed the dog high-desire treats while in the presence of the cat,” says one internet site. I guess it is worth a try except Claire doesn’t really care for her dog food as a treat. Not much entices her. Then we discover that people food, chicken, she is crazy over. This is a no-no (according to pet experts) but we are a couple of desperados. A couple of sessions of feeding chicken to a begging dog and cat just a few inches from each other starts an astonishing transformation. The fear is forgotten in the pursuit of the tasty morsels. Soon both cat and dog are tentatively sniffing each other and then running away. One day I hear a bark from Claire. She has gotten up the courage to bark at the cat instead of fleeing. A few more days and Claire is tormenting the cat trying to get her to run. At least, normal cat/dog behavior is appearing. Finally, the being on the lookout and running away to hide disappears. One problem solved.

The next problem we need to tackle is getting in and out of the car. We practice getting in and out with more treats. Still she shakes like a leaf and whines. I finally take her along for the three-hour ride to Ames to see Erin. She trembles most of the way down. But after a busy few hours playing with Erin’s big dogs, Claire keels over on the way home and sleeps. We have cured the overwhelming anxiety of riding in a car.

As the next weeks flow by, Claire becomes a mischievous puppy. She bounces around the house undaunted by the cat. She tears around the yard like a banshee chasing a stick. She eats every piece of garbage she finds. She jumps into the car for a ride without a second thought. What a total turnaround. She does still hit the house with her pee and poop once in a while. After all, she still is a puppy and only we are fully trained. But we both now say, “I think we’ll keep her.”