Recently, I found myself in strange communion with an unlikely creature. As you may have heard, our little friend Pelé was bitten on the leg by a normally deadly animal. I'll tell that tale in a bit, but first I want to explore the curious position in which I now find myself; being genuinely grateful to a snake.
Perhaps it's because I'd been spending so much time in lands once occupied by animistic cultures, or maybe it’s because I've got an existing fascination with the nature of consciousness and how it expresses itself in non-human animals; either way, I have been thinking deeply about my friend, the dog, and the mercy of his attacker, the snake. Before I go too deep into these considerations, perhaps I should tell you a bit about how we ended up in Southern Utah, in the first place.
We left the Boulder area in the rain, and headed to the lovely town of Paonia, CO to hopefully see Charris and his family one more time before leaving the state. Once we passed through the rain, we found ourselves in the middle of the mountains. There is something powerful about driving through dangerous interstate conditions on steep and winding mountain roads. Even marginally safer ground can make you truly glad to be alive! We were so happy to be breathing, we stopped in a small town with a lovely park, threw the ball with Pelé, then ran back to the van and moved it back and forth like it was back on a windy road with the kind of fun and passionate sex you can only have with someone you know really well. If you are offended by the idea of two hippies screwing in a van near a public park filled with precious and innocent children nearby, you can relax; there were no children anywhere near us. There was an older woman, casually chain-smoking about a block away, she didn't seem to notice us.
Charris was gracious enough to give us directions to the home he is building just outside of Paonia's charming downtown. He told us he would be there in the afternoon on the following day, and he would let his friend Gordon know we would be staying over. Gordon is in the process of building a traveling van of his own, and is also working on the building of Charris' home. We got to Paonia in the dark, and didn't get a chance to meet Gordon until morning. We also reached out to our new friend Johnny Keenan, who is also working on Charris' home. He told us he would be there in the morning as well.
We got up early and made a big breakfast for everyone to share. Getting the opportunity to see Johnny again was fantastic. He is an incredibly skilled builder, seeing his handy-work on the home he was building was fantastic. Gordon is also quite skilled, seeing the van he was building was super cool. His design is great, and he has absolutely no intentions of writing a blog, posting photos to an instagram page, or starting a podcast! In fact, he just wants to travel in the thing, and not be bothered by bull-shit. I appreciate this in a big way.
We took a fairly tough hike up a trail on the edge of town. The mountain is called Jumbo. It was almost all uphill, with thick and heavy mud sticking to our boots, getting to the top was a fantastic challenge...even for the bottomless pit of energy that is our dog! When we got back down, we found yet another pubic park to do something potentially damaging for the psyche of young children. We took showers in our underwear with the van backed up to a small field. Feel free to continue to relax, the only person we encountered was an old man who didn't hesitate to ask me questions about the van as I scrubbed my butt. Clearly we were not offending anyone in the town of Paonia!
We made our way into town to check it out. Paonia was once the favorite of the great rock and soul singer, Joe Cocker. His love for the town was so deep, he funded the building of it's thriving public radio station. We paid a visit to this little gem. KVNF FM is old school radio at its best. They were in the middle of a fund-drive when we arrived, so the vibe was electric. A tall, lovely and deeply enthusiastic volunteer was kind enough to take us on a tour of the building, and introduced us to a few of the DJ's. As it turned out, she was also a DJ. The main reason we stopped was to potentially meet a specific DJ named Felix Beaumont. He is 100 years old, and still hosts a weekly show. Unfortunately, he was not around, so we missed that opportunity.
We then took our little procession to a quirky little apothecary and crystal shop at the end of the street, called “Heart of the Dragon”. We actually needed this shop! When you travel in a small space, cooking meals, changing clothes, sleeping, and housing a small dog, it is wise to have the ability to change the olfactory atmosphere whenever possible. Incense is excellent for this purpose. “Heart of the Dragon”, as you might expect, has a rather large selection of incense. They also sell one of my favorite products, Mugwort. I like to occasionally drink a tea made from Mugwort, as it is great for making my dreams even stranger. The shop owner, a wonderful and kind woman with a sly sense of humor, showed me her Mugwort in two forms.
She had ground Mugwort, a treatment with which I am familiar. She also had a small vial of Mugwort in an essential oil. I had never seen this. She was as excited to tell me about it as I was to learn more. She started by giving me a sample, saying, “This is really great for lucid dreaming and astral projection. Just take a little bit, put some on your third eye, and some behind each ear. If there is any left on your fingers, put it on your wrists. Ohh, and don't drive anywhere after you put this on.”
I was sold! I put some on, and had a bit of a conversation with her about her store and the town. Tiff asked a few questions, as I browsed around. About two minutes later, my fingers were tingling a bit, and I felt somewhat euphoric. The shop owner asked me how I was feeling; when I looked at her lovely face, and saw a knowing grin drift across her teeth, I suddenly felt a rush of something special. She knew exactly how I was feeling. We bought the vial, some incense and some coals to burn under the small bag of dried lavender we also purchased.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around and enjoying Paonia's downtown, and playing with Pelé in another empty park. Charris texted to let us know he would not be able to make it to Paonia that weekend, so we decided to head out the following day. Our stay there was brief, but well worth it. Getting to spend more time with Johnny, getting to know Gordon, chatting with the shop owner, and the DJ, Paonia felt like a pretty wonderful place to get to know better someday.
We left Paonia in more rain, and headed for the Utah border. We spent the night in an incredibly muddy BLM area near the interstate, grateful as could be for our time in Colorado. The next morning, we made our way through a frighteningly muddy road, back to the interstate. We got off the interstate and took a fantastic and nearly empty highway which dove down from the interstate, and landed in Moab, UT. The road is Highway 128, and passes through an incredible landscape of wild rock formations, following the Colorado river, and Arches National park to your right. It was cloudy, raining intermittently, and a heavy mist hung in the air when the rain wasn't actively falling.
We reached Moab in the rain, and needed to do laundry, get water, get groceries, and contact a few people. Fortunately, Moab is set up for that sort of thing, and we were able to tackle all of those tasks in the same block. While doing our laundry, I noticed a shiny Subaru parked out front. I watched as a cute and healthy woman with short, curly salt and pepper hair hopped out, wearing overalls and a relaxed and charming smile. When she came into the laundromat, she checked on her clothes, took out a tennis ball, bounced it and snatched it out of the air. She somehow reminded me of Huckleberry Finn. We made brief eye contact, and shared a smile.
Tiffany came back into the laundromat, and said the Subaru outside had a Tennessee license plate; from Memphis, no less. I pointed to the jaunty woman with whom I had just shared a smile and Tiffany introduced herself.
This delightful lady is Amy Bell, we chatted with Amy for a bit, then decided to meet her in town later for lunch. I am so glad we did.
As I turns out, we have mutual friends with Amy. In fact, she once dated a friend of mine who was also renting my hose. Amy, a woman we randomly met in Moab, Utah, has been inside my house in Memphis, Tennessee.
In addition to our mutual friends and our shared feelings about Memphis, Tennessee, we all have quite a lot in common. Amy, who has raised two beautiful daughters as a single mother, is now experiencing her freedom as an adult on her own terms. Her daughters are out of college, and on their own paths, so Amy is traveling. She has been on the road with her Subaru, her incredibly spunky 15 year old dog, Bandit, and an adorable little T@B trailer for over a year and a half.
She is compiling a dizzyingly large catalogue of photographs, writings, and years of yearning for the freedom of the road, and will produce something creative and fun with it all at some point. We met her for lunch, and she introduced us to her friend, Caleb. We would end up camping on public lands with Amy, Caleb and Bandit for several nights.
We spent the first night by a perfectly made campfire, thanks to Caleb's ingenious use of his breaker-bar as a tunnel to direct air into the fire. The sky cleared up, and we watched the sunset over the multi colored mesa to the west, and light up the whole of Arches National Park behind us. We saw satellites, shooting stars, the big dipper, and the milky way. At one point in the evening, I noticed something incredibly bright in the western sky. It looked, at first, like a helicopter shining a light on the huge mesa. The way it traveled across the sky, and the incredible intensity of the light which it produced, were too bizarre and too strong to be a helicopter. We were all completely puzzled by this strange light, which eventually left us standing there, in the dark, with no answers. The following day, we all learned it was a Space-X rocket, returning to California!
The next day, the rain was fairly intense, so Tiff and I went to the local recreation center for a swim and a shower. We had reached out to our friend Thomas Moreau, who we met in Homer, AK. We also reached out to a guy who has been supporting us on Patreon and who operates a hiking company in Moab, his name is Micah.
As soon as I parked in the lot of the recreation center, I looked down at our phone and saw a text from our friend Thomas. Before I could answer it, I saw Thomas pulling into the spot next to us! It was wonderful to see him! Any familiar face on the road is welcome, especially when that familiar face is so prone to smiling like Thomas. We chatted for a bit, and made tentative plans to go with him the following day on a trip down the Colorado River. We left Thomas, feeling like two of the luckiest people on the planet.
After a swim and a shower, I was heading out the door when a man in his early 40's stopped me and said, “Andrew?” Fortunately, context is something I do my best to keep in mind, and I didn't immediately run away, deny the name, or ball up my fists in defense; I figured this was Micah, and was correct. I introduced him to Tiffany and Pelé, and after a brief chat, we hopped into his truck and we headed over to the “Atomic Cafe” for lunch.
Micah is a high energy guy. Passionate about the outdoors, interested and knowledgeable in the ancient and recent cultural history as well as the natural history and geology of the area, with a genuine love for hiking and guiding people through an experience. Micah is the ideal person to do what he does. We felt so privileged to be offered his services for free! We agreed to go for a hike with him a few days after our river trip with Thomas.
We spent another evening by the fire with the charming and hilarious Amy, Bandit, and Caleb. There were no strange projectiles in the sky; just the casual miracle of thousands of stars and a few planets.
We woke early, ate breakfast and hit the road to meet up with Thomas. We got the opportunity to leave the van behind as the chase vehicle, and rode with Thomas, back up the magnificent hwy 128. This time, however, the sun was shining!
Thomas is such a unique and pleasant character. He is a bit private about some of his pursuits, so I'll be leaving out a few things here, but suffice it to say, he is quite a character. Micah had met him a few times, and told us about Thomas' having a podcast! Thomas never mentioned that to us. It is called Moab101, and it has great potential.
Thomas is also a FedEx driver, and spends part of every workday driving hwy 128. In addition to his familiarity with the road we were on, and the river which it followed, Thomas is familiar to almost everyone in town, it seems. His unique voice, his childlike enthusiasm and outgoing friendliness is infectious and leaves an impression on anyone who spends time with him.
On the day we were to paddle the river, Thomas was getting the opportunity to hang out with a friend he had not seen in over twenty years, Russel and his wife Mary. We got to the put-in, unloaded the boats and gear, got Pelé situated on the boat, and shoved off into the crazy brown and red waters of the Colorado River.
Russel is a retired forrest service fireman. He and his wife, who is still an active educator, take every opportunity to travel. When we met them, they were on a trip in a beautiful Airstream trailer throughout the Southwest. Mary, in conversation with Tiffany, told her about an experience she had the previous year, wherein she was bitten on the foot by a rattlesnake. Mary described it as a “defensive bite”; looking back, it was more frightening than life-threatening. The story was little more than a foot-note at the time.
We spent several hours on that river, chatting, paddling, watching Pelé lust after sticks as they floated by. We stopped a few times to indulge one of Thomas' private pursuits. On one of those stops, we all stood in gratitude as the sun washed over us; Pelé was just happy to be able to pursue his own not-so- private passion, the chasing of things I throw to him!
When we got back into the kayak after our luxurious sun bath, Pelé was completely muddy, and more anxious about being in the boat than he had been the rest of the time. He proceeded to crawl all over me, covering me in mud, and eventually falling into the river in hot pursuit of the perfect stick. When I dragged him back in, he shook the frigid water deep into my beard, and proceeded to shiver uncontrollably. I had to wrap him up in his now muddy blanket, and put him as close to my chest as I could while still paddling the river. He never dropped that stick though.
At the terminus of the river trip, I took Thomas and Russell back to their trucks. We packed up the muddy boats into their vehicles and headed over to Thomas' house to clean them off. Thomas had one more adventure in-store for us before the day was done though. We cleaned off the mud from the boats, gave Pelé a bath, and Tiff, Pelé and I piled into a 4x4 jeep, following Thomas to deliver a truck to a group of rafters who were on a five day trip on the Green River. The road we took lead us up towards Canyonlands National Park. We turned right on a crazy dirt road, and I was immediately so grateful to be able to drive down the thing in something other than my van. What a gift it is to drive someone else's car! Especially when that car is four wheel drive, and not 22' long.
We worked our way down to Mineral Bottom road, and took one of the steepest and craziest roads I've ever driven down to the banks of the Green River. We parked the truck Thomas was driving, hid the keys in the pre-designated spot, and pointed the little jeep back up the canyon. We probably dropped about 1,000 feet in elevation from the top of the White Rim into the bottom of the canyon. We were impressed by the little jeep, and even more impressed by the people who built the roads we were so privileged to be able to drive. The next time you see a road crew, be sure to wave and smile; those folks have got hard work in their future.
Riding back with Thomas, as a passenger, was fantastic. I'm almost always driving, and trying to carry on conversations with Tiffany. I think Tiffany would prefer it if I carried those conversations somewhere else. Driving through a place as beautiful as Moab, having nothing occupying my focus other than a spirited conversation with a guy like Thomas was a treat for me.
That evening, we got a message from one of Tiffany's friends from New Orleans, saying that she and her girlfriend would be in Moab for the night. We met up with Lisa and Mia at a pizzeria in town after our day of adventure with Thomas, and had a ton of laughs with that fun loving and hilarious couple of ladies.
Our evening fire-time with Amy and her crew, was somewhat abbreviated after such a fun-filled day. We got up the next day with little on our plate. We headed into town to take care of some items which needed attention for Tiffany's work situation (licensure, etc...). Tiffany and I do not want to give the impression that we always get along perfectly. In fact, we do not. On this particular afternoon, we thought it would be best if she did one thing, and I did another. I put my bike together, packed a bag, and rode off to do my own thing for the day. Tiff took the dog and the van and headed out for a hike.
I honestly don't know why we haven't done this before. We both had a great time doing our own things. I think we would have both enjoyed ourselves quite a bit more if we'd decided to do this without being irritated with each other. We agreed, if we did this more often, we might irritate one another less often. We will be working this option into our regular routine from now on. Sometimes an argument can provide it's own defensive snake-bite for which it is prudent to feel grateful.
We met up again at the BLM camping spot outside of town to spend the evening with Amy, et al. Having regular compatriots to chat with is a rare and wonderful thing on the road. At home, I spent time with mostly the same people any given week. On the road, we are with new folks every day. Any character who we get to spend more than a day with becomes a better friend by the day.
The next morning we got up early to go hike in the rain with our new friend Micah. We made it to the park on time, and were suddenly in range of cell service when we got a terrible message. A horrible and annihilating hurricane had devastated Micah's hometown in Florida. His family was alive and safe, but the town had been wiped completely off the map. Understandably, going for a hike was not something he felt like doing. We were deeply sad for him and for his family's losses.
But, we were up, we'd had our coffee, we had our rain gear on, and we were in the park, so we took that hike alone. When I say alone, I mean it. There were very few people in the park. Arches National Park is not known for having very few people in it. However, when it's cold, early in the morning, and drizzling rain, you'd be hard-pressed to find more than a dozen people in any portion of the park at one time.
We took a little drive up to the most iconic of the arches, “Delicate Arch”. It was a short hike from the huge parking lot to the top to the hill, where an up close and personal encounter with this dramatic feature was all ours for nearly 30 minutes.
We spent a little more time in the park, then took the cue from the rain, and headed into town for a library day. Library days are cool for me. They are usually born of poor weather or something in “real life” which needs our attention. I use that time normally to write, work on the podcast, or research repairs for the van.
That night by the campfire, we enjoyed our last evening with Amy, Bandit and Caleb. It was nearing the weekend, so our “regular spot” had a new set of visitors. The whole campground, which had been a mix of smaller vehicles to maybe a few RV's, was now filling up with RV's and trailers of greater and greater proportions; each of them towing at least one super go-cart.
Our new neighbors did not come out to say hello when we returned for the evening. They kept to themselves, a group of about 4-6 people. I never even saw the face of one of them, but I could tell a few things just by virtue of the volume of their voices. One, the vocal volume was substantial. Two, it was powered by southern accents. Three, it was increasing in volume in proportion to the amount of bud-light poured into the extremely busy mouths of the speakers. Four, if you haven't guessed already, these were what I call rednecks.
I grew up with rednecks, and I don't always use the term in a derogatory way. I have many redneck sensibilities, against which I do my best to prevail. I don't want to sound judgmental about our neighbors...I just didn't like them very much.
I was reminded of a camping trip I once took with my friend Steve, back in Memphis. We decided to drive to Arkansas to go camp by a river and go play around on a crazy rope-swing up stream. That night, every voice within earshot was that of a drunk-ass redneck...including ours! We both took independent walks around the campsite. When we got back, I told him I had just heard one of the most redneck thing I've ever heard.
“So did I!!! What's yours?!?” Steve asked.
I overheard two very drunk young women chatting, while I waited in line near the busy campground's bathrooms. One of them said to the other, “All I know is, if he come home smelling like pussy again, I'M GONNA FUCKIN' DUMP HIM!”
I asked Steve what he heard on his walk. The nugget he returned with, still sits atop my list of the most redneck phrases I've ever heard. “Maaan, I'm fucked-upper than shit!”
Regrettably, the rednecks next to which we spent our last evening with Amy & friends did not deliver any great lines. I heard one silly comment about blow jobs...it was so lame, even I won't write about it.
The next morning, we made a leisurely exodus from the campground, after saying goodbye to our new found friends, Amy Bandit and Caleb. Amy and Bandit were heading to Taos to participate in the “Women on the Road” event there. Check it out ( HERE). Caleb was off to possibly ride his dirt bike, or pilot a ship, or build a house, or all of that, or possibly none of that. Where he is, or what he is doing remains a mystery to me...I like that. I thank him for all the firewood and excellent fire-ring. I thank Amy for the fantastic conversations, and for making us feel like we were at home when in her presence.
We headed into town to restock water, food, fuel, etc, as we wanted to get out of Moab for the weekend. We could see the RV's heading into town, and by the feel in the grocery store, the town was bracing itself for yet another busy weekend. We had eyes on the BLM camping just outside of Canyonlands National Park.
Our first evening near Canyonlands, we arrived a little late, and had to find a spot in the dark. I would say we lucked out, in that we didn't get stuck in a ditch, or crash into a rock. When we got up the next morning, we moved our van away from the campers near-by who were clearly disappointed to have us there, and took Pelé for a walk around the area. It was stunningly beautiful.
We walked up a small butte about a mile from where we had camped, and found a campsite run by the State Park. We decided to take the van up there (via an actual road) and possibly stay the night. On the drive up to the campground, Tiffany found another spot on the app we use to find free camping (iOverlander). We decided to go check it out.
On a high mesa, near a large and rounded butte, we parked our van about a mile down a road which was slowly turning into a roller coaster. We found a mostly level spot where we could spend the weekend. We had plenty of food and water, and nothing but clear skies in the forecast to keep the batteries charged. We made plans to bike, hike, play with Pelé, cook by campfire, and enjoy Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse State Park, which we were camped directly in-between.
As soon as we found our spot, we unpacked the bikes, hung the hammock, got dressed to ride, and took Pelé to the National Park. We were 3 miles from the entrance, with little to no wind, clear skies and warm. The ride in and around the park was beautiful. We rode about 10 miles, wandered up to an incredible view of the Green River below the White Rim of an enormous canyon.
Pelé is basically not welcome in the National Park. He can be with us in his little chariot, but he isn't allowed off of any paved paths. If we want to experience most National Parks, doing it by bike is our best bet for Pelé to have a good time.
Canyonlands National park, in mid October, is basically a postcard in every direction. Recent rains made for such clear and crisp air, it seemed like I could see for over a hundred of miles. We had an amazing view of the LaSalle Mountains in one direction, and The Henry Mountains in another. In front and behind us on the National Park road, we had views of rolling and rocky hills, covered in sage brush, juniper, pine and grasses, browned by a very dry summer.
On the way out of the park, as you pass the ranger station booth at the entrance/exit of the park, there are speed bumps which span almost the whole lane, save a small chunk of asphalt, just wide enough for a bicycle towing a small dog in a chariot. I had managed the one on the way in with no issues. On the way out, however, I miss-judged my angle by about an inch, which was just enough to flip the little dog chariot completely on its side. Mercifully, Pelé is about as nimble an animal as I can imagine. He landed on his feet, and ran next to it as I came to a stop.
He was a little bit spooked, but got right back in when everything was back in place. That little guy never ceases to amaze me with his laid-back attitude to constantly changing shit! I felt terrible about the accident, but he was unscathed, and unafraid of the chariot, so on we went.
After our ride, we parked our bikes next to the van, excited to be able to leave them assembled, as we planned on riding them the following day, after a half-day hike around the campsite. We set up our fire, I grilled, Tiff made a salad, and we sat on a large and smooth rock which was jutting out of the ground at the perfect angle to provide seats by the stone fire ring beside it. We sat next to the fire after one of those medium-slow October sunsets which dramatically change the lighting every two minutes for about an hour.
The star-gazing that evening was nothing shy of spectacular. As you can imagine, it made us feel small and insignificant in the crushing expanse of infinity above us, that always happens. We watched stars and satellites for several hours. I smoked a joint, and we lounged next to the fire until it was nearly dead. The air was so crisp, each exhale felt like a little prayer of gratitude to any god who might be listening.
I had set up my hammock in-between a couple of trees on the other side of the road, about five minutes after we got to that spot. There wasn't another soul within eyesight, and I could see in every direction for miles. I was very much looking forward to eating lunch in there the following afternoon, after our hike.
We all slept so well in the cool air on the high mesa. The moon was low, and did not interfere with the star-gazing from inside the van. We woke the next morning, the three of us, Tiff, Pelé and I, cuddling together under the sheets, about as warm and happy as we could be. It may gross you out to know that the dog sleeps under the sheets with us when it gets cold. I don't blame you for being grossed out. Before Pelé, the idea was gross to me as well.
We had a leisurely breakfast with scrambled eggs, greens and avocado. Hot coffee, a beautiful sunrise, brisk temperatures outside, a warm heater purring inside; we should have realized our good fortune might just be too good.
We packed up some food, water, and extra clothing, just in case, and headed down the roller coaster road to go get a look at the canyon rim, then make our way up the butte behind our site, and work our way back to the van so we could go for another bike ride to Dead Horse State Park.
The morning chill was slowly wearing off, and we took off our coats. Pelé had long since ditched his jacket, and he was practically dancing with joy to be outside and playing with us. We took a few pictures of him, and a short video of him chasing after sticks. He was about as happy as he could be.
We had hiked for about a mile and a half, when we saw the end of the butte we wanted to climb. It was near the bit of the canyon rim we wanted to see. About a mile later, we were almost to the point where we would need to climb up the back of the butte. We were on a small dirt road, frequented by people driving, what look to me like the expensive equivalent of four wheel drive go-carts. We actually only saw two of them while we were on the road.
To our left was the butte, and to our right was a large, open, sage-brush covered, high desert mesa. Tiffany and I were both quiet when it happened. I saw Pelé sniffing the ground, then suddenly leap up and back into the air. I saw the unmistakeable figure of a fully extended snake follow his path backwards. I yelled for Pelé to come, which he did. The snake was on full defense, standing almost vertical, and the unmistakeable sound of a high-pitch rattle was clicking away underneath him.
Pelé ran to us, and Tiffany picked him up. Tiffany didn't see the snake. I told her it was a rattlesnake. We couldn't tell at first if he had been bitten. His eyes were filled with terror, and he was afraid of me touching his left paw.
We set him down to see if he was O.K. Within half a minute, we knew he was not. He laid down, and started retching and dry-heaving. I immediately emptied out the back pack, tucked Pelé into the big pocket, strapped him to my chest, and started to walk with him in my arms. Tiffany carried all our stuff and took off in a run for the van.
We were at least two miles from our van. Our van was at least 45 minutes from Moab. We had no idea if or where in Moab, on a Sunday afternoon, there might be an emergency vet.
I needed to walk, and keep Pelé calm at all costs. I was dying to break out in a dead-sprint, as I knew time was limited. I also remembered what I had been told while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail about rattlesnake bites. The bite victim needs to keep her heart rate down, by not panicking, not running, and calmly walking out. Paying close attention to what kind of snake it was that had sampled you is a good idea as well.
In our case, the snake was about two feet long, light tan, with faint spots on its back and sides. I would soon learn a great deal more about this animal.
As for keeping Pelé calm, all I could do was hold him up, talk to him in a low and soothing voice, and try to assure the both of us we were going to be able to help him. I was speed walking up hills, and over a crazy rollercoaster road, with my poor little dog, retching and groaning in a backpack, resting his head in my arms when he could.
I recently bought a record by one of my favorite artists, Adrianne Lenker, called - Abyskiss. I'm something of a sucker for music with heavy themes; tons of her tunes deal with death, loss, disappointment, and the strange joys found in being bereft. I love this record. I had only listened to it once when the bite and slow haul back to town were happening. In-spite of the single listening, one tune in particular was playing constantly in my head as I sweated profusely, nervously speed-walking towards my van. The tune is called, “10 miles”. I highly recommend this record to anyone who looks for good soundtrack music to score their brief showing here on Earth.
I remember when my dad died, I had a tune stuck in my head. That one, I had written. I remember writing that song in the ICU waiting room, and driving to and from the hospital over his last week there. The day before he died, I had worked out all of the chords and lyrics; it played in my head continuously. It was equally comforting and discomforting, and did little to diminish the feeling of helplessness in the face of the death of my father. I felt a similar helpless fear in my chest as I slowly drew closer to the van. I could see it from about halfway back from the site of the bite. I was walking as fast as I could without bouncing Pelé around, but felt like I was trying to run in a dream.
At one point, I could see Tiffany had already made it to the van, and was picking up all of our gear, bikes, chairs, firewood, etc.... As I got there, there were only my Hammock, and the leveling blocks under the van left to collect. I backed over the blocks, told Tiff to forget about the hammock, and we took off.
The road between Canyonlands and Moab is a perfectly paved, winding and hilly affair. It's an excellent road to travel if you're not in a hurry. If you're in a hurry, it's terrifying. I tend not to drive in any hurry. In fact, I drive pretty slow, in general. On that drive into Moab, I was not driving slowly.
Our hazard lights were on, I was flashing my brights, motioning for people to pull over, and I was going as fast as I could safely drive our crazy red van down that mesa. When we made it to the bottom, we had enough service to do a quick search - “Emergency Vet Near Me”. Thanks to a brief unclenching of god's merciless teeth, a number appeared, and we called. They were open, and would be expecting us.
I regained my position on the road as a maniac in a large, red, speeding four-wheeled toaster. We made it to the vet's office after another twenty five, ass-cheek puckering minutes of tense driving.
On a side note, I must say that while my driving was aggressive and faster than normal, it was quite cautious. I felt completely in control at all times, and never did anything rash, needlessly dangerous, or overly push. I also did not speed through the busy, pedestrian filled part of town. However, I did run several stop lights when there was no one coming, and was prepared to explain everything to any officer who might have stopped me.
We pulled up to a veterinarian’s office which clearly handled all kinds of animals, from cows, goats and chickens, to dogs, cats and gerbils. The face which greeted us when we entered the building was almost too calm.
Dr. Alyssa was on her feet as soon as we came in, and began on Pelé with a calm and measured exam. She set him down, to watch him walk. His left front paw was lame. He hobbled to me when Tiffany put him down. He laid down by my feet and curled up in a ball.
The doctor calmly told us what she could do, had us sign some paperwork, asked me in two different ways if we were certain he had been bitten by a rattlesnake, and not, say a bull snake. I told her the tale, gave her details about the snake, and she took Pelé back to a room to give him fluids, pain meds, and to monitor his vitals. He would need to be hospitalized for the time-being.
The receptionist said, “Well, just thank god it wasn't one of those midgets that bit him, dogs that get bit by them are dead before they get here.”
We spoke with the Dr., and asked if we could park outside for the night, and she agreed. Just like that, it was all completely out of our hands. We had made it to the veterinarian’s office, and she knew what to do. We were shaken, but Tiffany never fretted. I fretted.
I looked up the “Midget” snake, and saw a carbon copy of the snake which had just bitten our dog. The “faded-midget ranges from 18” to 24” in length, with a small, diamond shaped head, brownish spots on its back, in varying degrees of contrast. As they age, the spots become more faint, hence the “faded” bit in their name. They go from looking dark and spotty as younger snakes, to looking like a sun-bleached, light-tan leather belt in their latter years.
The Midget-faded Rattlesnake is a species of rattlesnake found from Southern Wyoming to Southern Utah. Unlike most rattlesnakes, its bite does not deliver a necrotizing venom, which essentially acts as a meat tenderizer while the snake waits to ingest its prey. The venom of the Midget-faded is a neuro-toxin, which eventually causes organ failure and death.
Like most snakes, the “Midget” can not regulate the amount of venom it delivers in each bite when young. It takes a few seasons of snaking to be able to tweak the quantity of venom it passes along. Older snakes can go from, “you are going to die”, to a defensive, “dry” bite which will have a somewhat diminished chance of killing you. If you happen to be a small animal, like a 25 pound dog who wears a tie, even a little can kill.
My only hope was that the snake which had bitten him, as faded as it was, had the age and capacity to regulate its venom, discerning food from nuisance with the tongue of a connoisseur.
I also had to go back to the previously idyllic campsite to retrieve the hammock I so casually abandoned. Tiffany stayed in town to keep an ear out for a call from the vet. Outside of town, we had no cell service. Fortunately, the place was still completely empty, my hammock was still there, swaying blissfully free of an occupant.
When I got back to town (again) Tiffany had been walking around the town, in roughly the same mental haze I was in. We busied ourselves with repacking the bikes, which were fully assembled in the middle of our kitchen/living room/bedroom/bathroom. Everything we had outside of the van, had been tossed -in in our hurry to get to the hospital.
We were beyond eager to hear from the vet. When we did hear from her, she told us we needed to abstain from any visits, as his heart rate was high, and seeing us would only raise it.
We managed to find some cheap showers at a hostel near the vet's office, did our best to pull ourselves together, and made our way back to the vet's office to park the van for the night. The temperature would be below freezing that evening.
We met the owner of the vet clinic as he was walking into the row-crop planted fields across the street. Dr. Sorenson not only owned the vet clinic, he lived there with his family, and farmed a few acres of land near-by. He was kind enough to chat with us. I gave him my theory on the snake which had bitten Pelé. His prognosis was grim, and his no-bullshit demeanor left me feeling even less hopeful than I had been.
Dr. Alyssa was on-call that evening, and would be doing check-ups on the animals if the night-nurse (a member of the Sorenson family) noticed anything amiss with any of the patients. She left the office around 8PM and called us from the road on her way to another emergency call. She told us Pelé was in stable condition, but his breathing was labored and too fast. He was in a great deal of pain. She also found the site where he had been bitten. The fang marks were small and very close together, (further indicating the snake which had bitten him was the one I suspected). She told us she would be back later in the night, and would be keeping a close eye on Pelé.
I took a minute to explain to her just what kind of life Pelé had been through up to that point. Noting, that I am well aware of how “special” every dog owner thinks their pet is. I assured her, I wasn't pleading for special treatment for Pelé; instead, I impressed upon her how important to me it was that the poor creature didn't die alone.
I'll tell you in greater detail what I summarized for the vet about Pele's life before meeting us.
We are the fourth family to claim responsibility to Pelé. We have no idea where he was born, or in what sort of situation. He has a small tattoo just below his balls, indicating the shelter neutered him already. The first time he ended up in the animal shelter, was after his owner had been violently arrested. He was terrified by the officers, and was treated poorly for being aggressive to them.
His second family adopted him from the shelter, then casually brought him back a few months later when they were called to move away for work in another state.
His third family adopted him nearly a year later. They were our neighbors, Mark and Brooke. They loved the “idea” of having a dog, but were not exactly “dog people”. Pelé was free to run around our neighborhood at any time of day or night. To be fair, we lived on a relatively quiet country lane, on a large hill fifteen minutes outside of the nearest town. However, there were speeding vehicles on the adjacent road, and coyotes roamed the hills at night.
We first met Pelé on the morning after the first women's march. A large tree near our RV had fallen in a storm the previous evening, and when I went to investigate in the early morning, I slipped on a root, and smacked my face on the base of the tree.
The tree was blocking vehicle traffic, so all of the neighbors were out. Pelé came with his owners, and was incredibly shy. He played a little bit with our neighbor's dog, Giuseppe, but mostly kept his distance from us.
After that, we would occasionally see him running the streets, always leery, always keeping his distance. One afternoon, while outside working on the van, Pelé came by, and Tiffany had the good sense to offer him a treat (we kept them on-hand for the daily visit from Giuseppe).
About five minutes after giving him that treat, Pelé returned the favor by bringing Tiffany a pinecone. He has a way of flicking things at you, which make it abundantly clear he wants you to throw it back. From that moment on, if we were outside, Pelé would come by. He would bring me pinecones to toss with him all day long. He even started going by our neighbors, and would bring pinecones to anyone who came near him.
Eventually, he would chase down our vehicles as soon as we drove onto the lane, and would greet us with licks and pinecones. Not long after that, he stopped going home at night. We had to call Brooke and Mark to let them know he was heading home. I would walk down the lane with a flashlight to make sure he made it safely; many nights, he would be back at our door within minutes, and we would repeat the process.
One afternoon, Tiffany and I decided to take a walk. Pelé decided to join us. On our way down the lane, Brook and Mark approached us. Pelé was excited to see them, but not nearly as excited as he was when we came home. Brooke, rather casually, let us know that she had to “surrender” Pelé as she was afraid he might bite their grandson, who was just learning to crawl.
I'm not the most particular guy when it comes to the use of language, but some words bother the hell out of me. “Surrender” bothered me. Clearly she told us about that, hoping we would want to take him right there, on the spot. We did not. It took us a while.
We discussed just how difficult and impractical it would be to take a dog on a multi-country journey. It would be dangerous, expensive, and fraught with paperwork. Also, we had to euthanize our sixteen year old lab about six months after moving to California, and the idea of adopting yet another heartache in ten to fifteen years seemed like a bad idea.
We came up with a solution. We would tell Brooke and Mark that we would take full responsibility for finding Pelé a good home. I knew he would just go to the shelter from which he was adopted. I didn't know his full back-story at the time.
We made a Facebook post about Pelé. I took him to meet my coworkers. We took him to meet one of Tiffany's coworkers. Everyone we introduced him to wanted him. I started taking him with me to work. We did all of this in our van. Pelé was making himself at home, and seemed to enjoy meeting our friends.
After a long walk with Pelé one evening, we made up our minds, we would adopt him officially. Within a few weeks of that moment, he bit a small girl, right on the cheek. To be fair, she startled him by poking her head into the van, right in front of him, but to be even more sure, it was not cool.
Two weeks after that happened, Pelé was mauled, right in front of me, by two 80 pound pit-bull sisters. It took me and another neighbor to get the dogs away from him. That was the first time I had to take him, speeding to a veterinarian’s office, fearful he might die.
About a month after we left for our journey, Mark, Pelé's previous owner, died from glioblastoma (the same viciously malignant brain tumor which killed Senator John McCain).
The whole time, Pelé has been having the most fun out of the three of us. His demeanor has gone from that of a skittish little street urchin to a charming scoundrel, and sweet companion.
And now, here we were; failing to sleep outside a veterinarian’s office in Moab Utah, wondering if our little pal would live through the night. Perhaps you can see why I didn't want him to die alone. For what it's worth, I wanted him to know how he was loved, and not abandoned to die in a cage.
The next morning, we spoke with the Dr., who had to leave to attend to the medical records of over 100 cows. She told us to go in at around 8:30AM, and the attendants would let us see Pelé.
When we saw him, he was walking, wagging his tail, but clearly fucked-upper than shit. His eyes were not totally there, and he was wandering around like he was a little lost. We took him outside, scanning the lawn for snakes, and were thrilled to see him take a piss and a shit in the yard.
We brought him back in, and they put him back on his fluids. Tiffany and I felt some relief, and headed over to the library to post the next episode of the podcast.
Recording the introduction was difficult. It felt unimportant and selfish to be working on the show. I had planned on releasing Charris Ford's episode, but I was so out of gas, I couldn't bring myself to muster the energy necessary to give a proper introduction. I opted instead, to publish my conversation with the Wheeler's, another incredible and dynamic family, whose personal energy would clash a little less dramatically with a more subdued and worried intro.
That afternoon, when we were allowed to visit again, Pelé was doing much worse. His breathing was incredibly rapid, he was gagging and coughing, and he looked like death. We sat with him in the van for a while, then we waited inside with Dr. Sorenson for Dr. Alyssa to return from sorting through cows.
When she arrived, we were also delighted to see our friend Tom, who stopped by in his FedEx truck to check on Pelé. That sweet guy was in a big hurry to end his day, but still made time to come visit, pat Pelé on the head, and invite us over.
Dr. Alyssa got to work right away, and drew labs on Pelé. His liver enzyme count had skyrocketed from baseline, and he was exhibiting symptoms of organ failure. His rapid and labored breathing was of concern as well. He would be staying another night.
Those nights spent outside of the vet's office were not nice. Sleepless, worried, and helplessly considering Pelé's fate, I did not handle it well. Tiffany is a much more measured person when it comes to managing her expectations where they intersect with medical care. I recently heard the difference between pessimists and optimists, spelled out in perfect terms for me; an optimist believes we are in the best possible scenario, a pessimist fears this might be true.
It took another two days of hospital time for Pelé to recover sufficiently. His liver enzymes were of concern, but the final labs showed them elevated above baseline, but heading in the right direction. We planned on getting his blood work drawn later in the month.
In all, the ordeal cost us some cash, birthed few dozen new grey hairs in my beard, as few dozen more from my head parted with me for good, and ultimately gave us back our little pal. He was visibly shaken for a few days after leaving Moab, which we did immediately after interviewing the fantastic Dr. Alyssa.
On our last morning in Moab, we did manage to have coffee with our friends Tom and Margie. We parked in front of their home, and came in for coffee before everyone (except for us) headed off to the real world and work. We chatted for a while, Pelé was in the mood to play a bit, but mostly just laid down and rested.
Before leaving for the day, Tom and Margie offered the use of their kitchen to make breakfast, and encouraged us to do our laundry while we were there. These two remarkably laid-back, kind, and generous people allowed two strangers with no jobs and an ailing dog to hang around their home as they left for a full day's work.
We took them up on their bighearted offer. That has taken some time to be able to do. Some sort of weird southern politic was in the way for us early-on, as we politely declined many kind offers of help. We do our best not to do that anymore. We offer help freely, every chance we have, and are always richer for the experience of being helpful. It is unfair to deprive another of that same joy.
We spent the rest of the day doing laundry, re-provisioning, washing the van, and preparing to leave town after Pelé's last vet visit and a quick chat with the Doctor. Pelé was pretty mellow, but recovering amazingly well.
We were relaxing with Pelé, next to a sign reading, “no dogs allowed”, when I noticed a guy walking a skunk on a leash. I had to ask Tiffany to verify what I thought I was seeing and she agreed, there was a guy with a skunk on a leash.
We approached him and were amazed to see a fat little skunk in his arms. I don't remember the man's name, but I'm fairly sure his skunk was called, Jack. I wanted to believe the guy was walking a skunk, just to fuck with the authorities who posted all of the “No dogs allowed” signs. Reality, however, was much more interesting. He wasn't fucking with anyone, he's just a curious and quirky guy who likes skunks. Walking the little creature, feeding it scraps, and picking it up and petting it were high on this character's to-do list, and he was about as content and pleasant as a person could be.
After Pelé's visit, we headed to the van and set up the recording gear, in anticipation of Dr. Alyssa's interview. Dr. Alyssa had been on call since we met her, and just before she was heading out the door to come chat with us, she was called-in to perform an emergency surgery. We were more than happy to wait.
Tiffany did a fantastic job of getting a great story from Dr. Alyssa. I tried to get Tiffany to ask her some weird questions about the nature of animal consciousness, but ended up deleting all of that. Check out Tiff's best work yet - HERE
When we finally drove out of Moab, it was dark and raining steadily. Our route was up a South-bound, windy and busy highway. We ended up staying the night in a rest stop off the highway, because all of the other destinations we were finding were accessible only via peanut butter muddy roads.
Once we got settled-in and in bed, the three of us together, safe, warm, dry, and not violently ill, I pictured a small snake, in the dark, in the rain, in the desert. I wished for safety for that tiny creature. I wished for it to feel even a fraction of the safety and comfort I felt in that moment. I am grateful to a snake. The wisdom of animals is a powerful medicine, if you know how to take it...I'm not sure if I do, but I'm willing and grateful for the opportunity.
I'm grateful to a little semi-stray dog,
who chased pinecones into my heart.
I'm grateful to a strong-willed woman,
who deals with the threat of death
with a nurse's oaken resolve.
I'm grateful to friends,
who's trust feels like home.
I'm grateful to the talented
and hard working Doctor,
And I'm grateful for the wild little place
where she masters her craft.
And again, I am doubly grateful to that snake,
for defending herself with non-lethal force,
for not taking our little friend from us,
for being alive out there,
in the quiet of her high desert paradise,
which is so very rarely invaded
by human monsters
and their pets