Rika’s Shepherd

My latest project has finally hatched after a very long incubation. Rika’s Shepherd, a fictional story based on my decades of work with Akbash Dogs, had been simmering in my brain since the early 90’s. The first draft was completed in 1997 while I was on a leave of absence from my job at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, PEI. During that year I also completed a first draft of House of Bears, which was published in 2009. This writing process can take a very long time for some of us writers. Now it’s 2018 and another of my darlings has been launched from the nest.

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Yes, that is an Akbash Dog puppy on the cover. The owner is Rika, a teenager who lives on a PEI dairy and sheep farm. This is the story of a girl who loves animals, who learns to deal with failures and loss, and discovers the importance of forgiving and being forgiven. This is also a story about these unique and beautiful dogs and how they can be our teachers if we are open to learning. I am one of those students, stubborn at first, but who eventually recognized the gifts our animal companions offer to us so freely.

The actual book launch won’t happen until September 22, 2018 at the Confederation Centre Library. In the meantime the book is available in print and electronic versions from The Acorn Press and Amazon.ca. Eventually I’ll add it to my home page for one-click on-line purchase, but I need a refresher on how to do that! You see, I am a perpetual student and not afraid to ask for help 🙂

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Wupatki National Monument

On my last full day in Arizona, Elaine took me to the ruins of the Wupatki Pueblo not far from Flagstaff and just past the Sunset Crater Volcano. We were able to wander around this ancient place, likely built in the early 1100s. The 100 room pueblo may have been influenced and inhabited by Sinagua, Cohonina and Kayenta Anasazi cultures as they farmed the fragile, volcanic ash-covered desert to raise corn and other crops. By 1250 the pueblos in the area stood empty, though their descendants, including Hopi, Zuni and Navajo people, live nearby.

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Wupatki Pueblo ruins
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I stand at the entrance to one of the internal rooms
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Elaine standing in front of a hill once covered in volcanic ash

 

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A circular walled area that may have been used for trade events, games and/or social gatherings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elaine and I on a hot windy day, the pueblo behind us in the shadows. We were suitably attired for the relentless sun.
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Elaine is an accomplished artist – a fine painter, maker of pysanky and beaded jewelry among her many talents. Here are my efforts at creating necklaces with glass, turquoise, jade, amazonite, onyx and lapis lazuli beads.  Never a boring moment when visiting my Flagstaff friends!

We decided that I need to return to Arizona (there’s the international gem and mineral show in Tucson, AZ each winter, for instance).  I’d also love to visit Sedona and the Sonoran Desert again (I was there in 1997), though I understand that one needs to be aware of the sometimes lethal Africanized killer bee swarms that don’t tolerate trespassers near their hives!  I insisted that Elaine and Randy MUST visit me on PEI…..and I’ll be waiting for them, their room is reserved.

 

Hiking with Rudy

My last hike along the base of Mt. Eldon with Rudy as my guide, and the day before the forest was closed to all traffic, on foot and otherwise, due to the extreme dry conditions and danger of fires. It was a glorious, sunny day as we explored the giant boulders at the base of the mountain along the dry stream bed.

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What are you waiting for? Rudy asks as I keep stopping to take photos.
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Huge boulders between us and the slopes of Mt. Eldon
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Facing east with Mt. Eldon on the left. The ground cover is crispy dry prior to the monsoons of July
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I don’t recall the proper name of the ‘alligator’ tree, but the nick name works for me
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And Rudy leads me back home, in case I don’t recognize the pipeline trail

 

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Here’s Randy with Rosebud, their African Grey parrot. They are great pals, they even dress alike (sort of)

Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff, Arizona

I’ve been visiting my friends Elaine and Randy in Flagstaff, taking in huge breaths of fresh mountain air, surrounded by majestic Ponderosa pines. At 8,000 feet I need all the air I can get as we wander the forest paths with Rudy the rez dog.  Rudy is an example of a local mixed breed, some of which are used by the Navajo nation and other ranchers as livestock guardians for their sheep. These dogs appear to be a multi-purpose ‘landrace’ of various breeds, including the traditional European livestock guardians, adapted to this arid environment and herd management style.

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Rudy, pondering his path on a Ponderosa forest trail in Flagstaff, AZ
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Rudy and Elaine pause for a break
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Mt. Eldon, just behind Elaine’s home
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Claret cup cactus blooms on the forest floor; aka crimson hedgehog, heart twister strawberry cactus and spinemound
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I’m standing next to a hollow Gambel oak, aka Rocky Mountain white oak and Utah white oak. Note the giant boulders behind me, at the base of Mt. Eldon

 

Ancient and Modern Arts of Utah

On our final day together, our host Rene took Diane, Kat and me to the Ivins area to scramble over ancient rocks in search of petroglyphs. I am happy to report that we found them.

A typical view in southern Utah, looking across a valley from the petroglyph site

 

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Rene & Patrick in conversation; Kat & Diane in photo mode (scarlet cactus flowers ahoy!)

And finally, petroglyphs!  They were all over the dark grey stone slabs once you paid attention.

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Ancient graffiti? Or not so ancient?
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The real deal, really.

After our 2 mile petroglyph hike we bade Martine and Patrick farewell, then drove up to the Ivins arts village to tour the local galleries. Then back to the Xetava Cafe to sample their artful culinary delights.

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Rene with a loaded cocoa coffee. And that’s my usual fruity sangria in the foreground.

My friends Diane and Kat below are also suitably impressed with their fancy drinks.

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May in Utah

My friends Martine and Patrick picked me up at Terry’s home and we drove to the airport in Bellington, WA to catch a flight to Las Vegas from the US side.  The discount airline was bare bones but relatively inexpensive. We arrived safely amidst the cheers of a well-lubricated planeful of party-goers. A few hours later we drove into St. George, UT for the ‘mostly’ annual Akbash Dogs International Gathering. Our gracious and brave host was Rene Fleming, long-time treasurer for our dog club.

Our first full day found us getting lost in a city that is currently the fastest growing urban centre in the US, so I’m told. Thank goodness for GPS! We spend a hot, dry afternoon checking out a desert botanical garden (Red Hills Parkway) and the arts village in Ivins at the northwest edge of the city.

 

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Patrick and Martine, my fellow travellers

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I’m enjoying a chilled, fruity Sangria at the cafe in the arts village of Ivins

The next day Martine and I joined our host, Rene, and Akbash Dog owners Diane Spisak and Kat Medrea on an outing to Zion National Park.

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Zion National Park

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Meanwhile, Patrick had a blast mountain biking.  No photos of all his fun, however.

We enjoyed our gathering today, and had the opportunity to visit with friends we had not seen in years, plus meet several new members. A guest speaker introduced us to the concept of using healing energy to help our pets with health issues and to relieve stress. And we discussed club business and had discussions about how to reduce the number of dogs that are abandoned by sheep ranchers and other dog owners, and who end up in rescue.

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A giant spider installation made from recycled metal, including a head made of old license plates!
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Another art work based on Jules Verne’s fantasy world in the middle of old town St. George

After the meeting, Rene took us on a short tour of old town St. George, adorned with several fascinating art installations. The day ended with a meal together at a local Mexican restaurant. On the menu for tomorrow –  a walk to see some of the local petroglyphs, then to say farewell to our host and other friends. Martine and Patrick will head home, and I will await the arrival of my dear friend, Elaine Dillingham, who I have not seen in 22 years!

 

Rika’s Shepherd is on the way!

Finally, my latest YA book is nearly ready for flight.  The first draft was finished in the US in 1997 during a leave of absence from my job in PEI.  The launch will be in June or September 2018 — I will post the date as soon as I know.  The story is fictional though many events are based on real incidents experienced by myself, other dog owners, farmers and real dogs.  My characters are inspired by the rural history and immigration of Dutch farmers to PEI, by dog trainers and veterinarians I have worked with and learned from, and by my local community of talented fibre artisans.

I am also indebted to the many people who have given me feedback during the long, interrupted process of writing and polishing this work – from my beloved writing group of sisters, to creative writing fellow students and teachers (thank you, Richard Lemm!), and many others — you know who you are.  And to my newest group of inspiring friends, the generous writing community in Tasmania, a huge warm hug of thanks to all of you.

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Rika with a livestock guardian pup-in-training