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the dog who ate my toilet paper

Jeni and I were camped on the edge of a seven hundred foot bluff overlooking Reds Canyon in the San Rafael Swell, Utah.  This was our last night on the road together, the night of the full moon, and the fall equinox.  Equinox means the time of equal day and night, but the rising of the full moon at the exact moment that the sun set made nightfall feel more like a balancing point than a transition.  Jeni had never been to Utah, never been to the desert, and seeing the state that I call home through her eyes, after a month away, made it seem beautiful, exciting, and seductive in a way I haven’t been able to appreciate recently.

Rocky was a meaty hunk of pit bull and mastiff who belonged to a fellow camper, a young man from Salt Lake who’d set up camp on the other side of the bluff.  We invited him to share our fire and our beer while Rocky and Fonzie, Jeni’s dog, frolicked and tromped around in the trees along the edge of the fire.  I excused myself from the campfire and walked between the moon shadows and juniper trees.  Sand colored bluff walls shone white in the moonlight.  Spindly towers and smooth buttes displayed patchwork quilts of light gold and dark red on the horizon.  I squatted and held my pant legs out of the way, when a loud snuffling announced that Rocky had followed me and was carefully examining the puddle I was making.  “Go on, Rocky!” I gently pushed his boulder of a head away.  After using the toilet paper, I set it aside and pulled up my pants and looked back just in time to see the white paper hanging from the dog’s mouth.  “No!”  I was incredulous.  “Drop it, drop it!  No, Rocky!”  Big orange eyes looked at me lovingly, and his brow creased with worry, but the square jaw flexed, and the small, white flag disappeared into the dog’s mouth.  He chewed once, twice, swallowed, licked his lips, and wagged happily.  “Oh, Rocky.”  The moon rose in the sky; Rocky and his owner returned to their camp, Jeni retired to the tent, and I made my bed outside.  I slept for a few hours, and woke to a loud, wet tongue in my ear.  “Rocky!”  I whispered and pushed him away.  He wagged his tail.  Perhaps he was looking for more toilet paper.  He curled up at my head, leaned against my pillow and fell into a deep, snoring sleep.  In the morning, he disappeared, leaving only a few short hairs and some red dust on my sleeping bag.

Jeni and I parked her Subaru right on the edge of the bluff and drew in the dust on the back window.  Pictures of our adventure together: waves for the Oregon coast, Crater Lake, huge trees, the mountains of eastern British Columbia, rain clouds.  Cartoonish finger drawings that reminded us of the lush, dripping, green of the Pacific Northwest.  “I love it here!”  I said, sitting in the old growth forest on the edge of the beach.  I compared Vancouver to my dry, desert city and spoke disparagingly of Utah’s lack of trees and waterways.  My lungs loved the soothing humid air; my hair and skin wallowed in the moisture.  We also drew lightning bolts and black clouds: rain.  I was excited to use my gaiters for hiking, but soon remembered how miserable it is to sleep in a wet tent, or to cook in a rainstorm, or to be damp for days on end.  A huge, bright sun filled one corner of the car’s window.  “Inti!  Gracias, gracias a ti,” we prayed in Spanish to the Incan sun god as we drove south into Montana and Wyoming, where the air dried our tent in minutes when we hung it on a fence.  Buttes, towers, mesas, and the moon filled the spaces in between, and I remembered the thing I like most about the west: open space.  I love trees, glorious, life-giving beings, but I also love being able to see the contours of the land and the expanse of the sky, and being able to sleep without a tent under the arch of the Milky Way.

I drew the last figure on the back window: a balanced scale.  Both climates stir my spirit.  Cold and hot.  Wet and dry.  Forest and desert.  Balance: I need them both; one helps me to enjoy and appreciate the other.  Nearly two years in Salt Lake City made me sick for adventure and the open road, and a month of travel with Jeni helped me see the value and allure of a settled life. Balance: enjoying and appreciating everything, everything that the world, my friends, my life, has to offer, flowing between multiple interests, commitments, communities, and locations.  So, balance is my catchword and my goal for the next year, as I return to Salt Lake City for a third winter of ski bumming.  Two goals: balance and keeping my toilet paper out of reach of hungry dogs.  Gravity and levity – there’s a balance to setting goals, too.

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