Sunday, November 20, 2011

Travels With Cleo

On Tuesday, Cleo is going to experience her first long car trip.  I’m really excited by the prospect.

Regular readers may remember that at nearly nine weeks old (exactly a year ago today, November 19th), Cleo weathered two plane trips, several car rides to and from airports, a stint in a hotel room, and a long wait at the airport with a brand new mom.  Her resiliency and courage throughout the whole ordeal left me in awe.  And, of course, jump started my love of our little girl.  The longest car ride she’s ever had with us has been about twenty minutes out to Garland Ranch.  On Tuesday, we’re driving up to Chico.

Chico, California is the pretty little town where our daughter is going to college.  To be perfectly honest, she is my step-daughter, but I enjoy laying claim to her and she lets me get away with it.  A little over five hours northeast of us, Chico is a fascinating combination of agricultural community and university town.  It’s the most populous city of Butte County which sits at the northern end of the Sacramento Valley, one of the prime agricultural areas of the entire world.  Of the many crops Butte County is known for, almonds are probably at the very top.  If you want to sound like a real Chico resident, pronounce the nuts “eh-monds.”  See, the farmers shake the trees to harvest almonds, and if they really know what they’re doing, they shake them so hard that they shake the ‘ell out of them.  Insert rim shot here.

Upper Bidwell Park, Chico
Anyway, Chico is smack at the western foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  In fact, the city limits go well up into the foothills.  It was founded by a fellow who was a member of one of the very first wagon trains along what would come to be called the Oregon Trail.  I imagine him staggering out of the mountains after a brutal crossing and simply flopping to the ground, refusing to go a step further.  He could have chosen worse places to stop.  Several waterways feed Chico, most notably, Little Chico Creek.  And residents of the city thought highly enough of their founder that they named the massive park that divides the city in two, one of the largest municipal parks in the US, after him.  I cannot wait until Cleo gets to experience Bidwell park.

Of course, neither Chico nor Bidwell Park is the reason for our trip.  We’re going to see Sisarie.  She is almost at the end of her first semester at Chico State.  She already completed multiple courses at Butte College, the junior college close to Chico.  Butte is probably one of the best kept educational secrets in California.  They’ve got a terrific faculty, an intensive student support system, but coolest of all, they’ve won several national awards for sustainability, including the grand prize in the 2008 National Wildlife Federation’s Chill Out Contest: Campus Solutions to Global Warming and the 2009 National Campus Sustainability Leadership Award.  Sisarie loved this school and discovered a passion for biology and chemistry while she was there, including working on a project to create fuel from algae.   Now she is majoring in both sciences at Chico State (and doing very well, if I may brag for just a moment).  I see her being a role model for young women everywhere she goes.  She is strong, smart, hard-working and nobody’s fool.  She proves that the Sciences are very much a woman’s domain.

So on Tuesday we will begin our first great road trip with Cleo.  We’ll hit the road about 7 PM, after John finishes work, and head off for the Sierras—it sounds so romantic.  We’ll check into the pet friendly Holiday Inn, get a little sleep, then spend Wednesday with our favorite tour guide and our four-legged co-adventurer.  Wednesday evening it’s back in the car for the return trip to Monterey. 

Doorway at Chico State
I’m ridiculously excited about this thirty hour whirlwind, even more excited than I was to go to New Orleans.  I think it’s because I am so eager to share the adventure with Cleo.  I’m an anxious traveler by nature, but ninety-five percent of that has to do with leaving someone behind.  When I travel by myself, I’m confident that Cleo will be fine because John is there to take care of her.  But who will look after John?  Yes, yes, he’s a grown man who is perfectly capable of taking care of himself.  Don’t try to use logic to reason me out of my anxieties; they weren’t reasoned into me.  On the other hand, when I travel with John, even though I love every minute of it, I worry about Cleo.  Finding Jane, who puppy-sat Cleo while we were in New Orleans, has made a huge difference.  Cleo adores her.  After our return, Jane continued to sit for our neighbor’s dog for a couple of weeks.  Every time we ran into her on the street, Cleo practically strangled herself with her own collar.  The leaping and tail wagging and generally exuberant greetings were enough to tell the whole story of the level of care and love Cleo got while we were exploring the Big Easy.  Chico will be a whole different experience: I’ll have John and Cleo right there with me.  The boys, Rufus and Marvin, will be perfectly fine on their own for a day.  They have each other, and honestly, as long as they have a warm place to sleep, food and a litter box, they’re happy as clams.

So two more days of school before Thanksgiving break and our 560 mile roundtrip junket.  I remember last year’s break as if it were last month.  The day after Thanksgiving, I wrote in my journal:
“I’m sitting uncomfortably at the kitchen counter, a typing position that’s hard on my shoulders and elbows because I don’t want to leave Cleo, sleeping quietly in her crate with her head hanging out the open door, all by herself.  As my sweetheart headed downstairs to ‘be a musician,’ I had the sort of panicky recognition that I had no idea what to do with myself.  The last few weeks I have been completely dog-obsessed.  First researching the breed, then finding the right puppy, researching supplies, procuring supplies, reading Cesar Millan and the Monks of New Skete, watching dog training videos on YouTube and National Geographic Channel online, and finally, this week, playing with her, caring for her, working with her, and quite honestly just staring at her.   I was just looking through my Sent Items folder on my email and two-thirds of the sixty-seven messages were puppy related. 
November 19, 2010
“Yesterday, Thanksgiving, seemed to mark the first day that she was our dog.  It was the second morning I got up at 4-something to take her out, so John got up at 7:15 to feed her.  He came back to wake me with a cup of tea about an hour later.  He was both excited and, I could tell, a little shaken.  After waking Cleo up, taking her outside to pee and poop, and feeding her breakfast, he took her for a walk.  ‘It was a full walk, a real walk,  She kept up with me the whole way.  I didn’t slow down for her at all,’ he told me.  He had walked nearly a half hour, zig-zagging through the streets of the neighborhood.  ‘And she’s still completely full of energy.  She’s tearing all around the kitchen.’  He looked at me with something almost like dread and said, ‘If she’s like this as a little puppy, what’s she going to be like as an adult?’  
“Well, I’ve been wanting to get into shape.”
It has been such a quick year, full of the unfolding of life with Cleo.  She is sweet beyond measure, she makes us smile and laugh so many times a day, she is clever and quick.  And, oh my, yes!  She certainly does help keep us in shape. 

November 19, 2011

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