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Me and Bark McGee – my invisible dog

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It was a good day for a dog walk and a good place to be walking an invisible dog. “Spenard”  was where I was told I belonged when I landed in a Mountainview hostel in 1997. I have lived in a duplex apartment on the Valley of the Moon edge of Spenard for twelve years with a spinning carousel of roommates, some of whom move up and down and some of whom are of the more staid chariot types.  We have all mourned not being able to have a dog in our house. We have hidden guest dogs from our landlord at times but have always been found out when the need to find a tree became clear. And so I adopted Bark McGee, an albino, six foot long, 6 inch tall dachhund.

I would like to thank #MimeSpenard for the opportunity to show Bark the light of day. He has been a housedog, licking up cheap pork grease, spilled granola and discarded body parts, (mostly hair and fingernails), for too long.  I felt it important to dress well when taking a dog like Bark on a big adventure. We are both long so I opted for stripes. I cut open one of those tubular striped cotton blend scarves and slid him in clipping out holes for his legs and found some complementary striped apparel for myself. I applied some face paint to make myself look even paler to match his complexion and also to prevent more age spots. Note to self: Next time bring the face paint to the hairline so I don’t get an oval of sunburn framing said face.

Here I am.


One of my friends noted, “You look like a young Florence Henderson.”  That was enough to make me decide to take Bark out next week as well. Without makeup I am usually  compared to the late, great James Cromwell, otherwise known as the farmer in Babe.


Here is  Bark.



bark (2)

Here are some of our adventures.

It was Sunday and hot. The first people I saw, barely, as I was not wearing my glasses, were calling to us from across the street.

” Archie! Archie”, they called.  A guy biked over and asked if I was Archie. I shook my head and he explained that Archie was a really tall Native friend of his who was going to be a mime. He patted Bark.

His friends yelled over, “I told you that wasn’t Archie.”

The gentleman on the bike asked me again. I sort of mimed that I had the curves of a woman but then realized that Archie could just as easily have these. The biker’s pals on the bench patted Bark when we greeted them and we walked on.  This was the first time that I noticed that Spenard has virtually no trees.  The only thing that saves Spenard from being Muldoon is that it curves around quite a bit in remembrance of its farming past. Although once I saw a youngster wearing a “Straight out of Muldoon” tee shirt and realized that Muldoon would not be as forgiving a place to walk an invisible dog.

I walked past the windows of the Northern Lights mall and saw some joyous toddlers running towards me.  Then one stopped and screamed, one of those long, loud screams like they pay you to do in the movies. The father shook his head and tried to explain the concept of an invisible dog to him. This did not help. I scooted by.

We ambled past the Spenard Road House and took in the very nonchalant crowd who barely looked up from their cell phones to greet us.  I took this as an existential warning. Never check or post to social media when in public. Photo taking is okay but remember you are not a movie star, no one really cares about your changing hair or what you ate as much as you do. Enough said.

We had the most fun meeting bicyclists and other dogs. Bark, like any high spirited pup, lunges at fast moving objects and living things. I had to restrain him unless we got permission to meet and greet. The bicyclists are very thankful that you have restrained your animal and the dogs, of course are delighted to check out the smells of another collared creature.

Next stop was The Bike Shop where the helpful staff aided me in purchasing some grips without me so much as opening my mouth.  We decided to follow the detour linking Northern Lights to Benson since that part of Spenard was unearthed. I remembered that I needed some Linseed oil so we stopped in at Blaines. What a wonderful source of artistic inspiration for Spenard.  I have visited many times but have never caught the café open, even the drinks looked inspiring. I  have yet to save my money for the water based oil paints so linseed oil it is.

It was indeed getting hot so we crossed over Benson to the pawn shop and took in the air conditioning and fine selection of inexpensive dvds. There was a nice keyboard for $59 but I did not bring a credit card. That was probably all for the best. A mom kept encouraging her daughter to come over and greet  Bark but she was having nothing of it. That’s okay, Bark is not too sensitive. He embodies the ideal of giving without expecting to receive and taking nothing personally. One has to be like that when one is an extra long invisible hot dog.

Up ahead, in front of a lonely parking lot, I spied an entrepreneur selling lemonade. I could hardly restrain my measured mime footfalls.  I believe I was her first customer and she took my speechlessness in stride. Real thirst trumps miming beverages and so I marched on until coming upon another speechless soul who appeared to need a beverage as well. This Spenardian was beautiful beyond belief but with ethereal nature which may be the result of hunger and addiction. She had take out food and sat on a shaded curb to eat. It was then I noticed the nature of the takeout, from the universal street side distributer. I backtracked for more lemonade to help her digest her feast. It was gratefully received and I moved on.

We next took a trip to the wild side by stopping in at Dankorage where we were most graciously carded. They had a great card game called “Drunk, Stoned or Stupid” that I will have to return to buy. It’s the first pot shop I’ve been in which actually had edibles in stock but once again I was lucky not to have a credit card handy.

On our way home we stopped in at Anchorage House of Hobbies where we were kindly directed to the upstairs where there were even more fascinating items for sale. The children downstairs were more interested in mechanicals then dogs so with some effort we negotiated the stairs and fell in love once more with Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.

Last stop of the day was a yard sale where the proprietor insisted I wait while he got his camera which was somewhere in the house. Meanwhile the proprietress insisted that I was going to charge him for taking a photo because “That’s how mimes make a living.” I begged to disagree and had her take a photo of me with my camera instead. Meanwhile a boy in diapers tumbled out of another garage to greet Bark. He approached, Bark approached, he retreated, Bark retreated. Finally I had to pick up Bark and exchange licks to convince him that Bark was really sweet.

Me  and Bark at the sale.

me and bark

Please ignore the shadow. The sun does not know how to deal with invisible dogs.

Our last real Spenardian encounter was back at the bus bench where our previous bicycled acquaintance pulled up and asked if I wanted to share his edibles. I politely declined fearing that their might be sexual strings attached but mimed an empty stomach instead.

On a high note as it were, we travelled home via Westchester Lagoon where one little girl demanded that Bark sit, beg and rollover and Bark got to interact with many of his canine kind who are not very judgemental.

I learned on my trip that it would be fun to do this again with other owners of invisible dogs. Maybe we could go to the new dog park at Arctic & 30th! Despite the lack of trees, Spenard is beautiful because of its people, the beautiful sky and the lovely intersection of art and commerce.  I hope that folks realize that even on a Sunday where backhoes and blockades sit upon the upturned earth like steel conquerors that Spenard  still lives. Come and visit. Bring your imaginary guide dog who will free you from the fear of being a stranger in a strange land. Come with me next Sunday for another adventure. Meet at Hillcrest and Spenard at 12 noon or at the dog park on Arctic and 30th at 12:45.





On the trail, Iditarod weekend

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We’ll get to the dogs.

The weekend arrived with little energy.   Retiring at 6 pm is a shameful escape, only lessened by the excuse that the television sits at the foot of the bed. I resolved to venture out before the episode of Undercover Boss where the furry mascot unmasks the bearded CEO.  My outfit was unreasonable, a pink faux fur ring around my head, unmatched with a paisley fawn shearling coat just a half size too small.  I had on a red skirt, blue leggings and hiking boots wrapped with velcroed cleets. I imagine myself as eclectic, not eccentric.

The trail is only fit for walking and running now. The snow changes from icy, to slush, to sandy in the tunnels. Out of a tunnel, I come upon an older couple reading a map. It’s not for me to resist aiding such easy prey to my over-helpful nature. Somehow they were not scared of my attire. It was dark.

Where are you going?

Where are you from?

I’ll walk you there.

Not that they asked me. I guessed that they were from Ireland and not the North or the Southern edge. They had to give me that they were from the West, Galway.  They had just walked from downtown Anchorage to midtown and cursed the icy sidewalks in a polite kind of way.  They had chosen the coastal trail for their return route. It has no lights, only stars, and a sewage treatment plant. It would be nice to say we walked in silence but they were with me, and we were all Irish.

We talked about the Galway arts festival which I attended many years ago. I saw The Field performed in Irish in a pub. It’s a very sad play but not so sad when you don’t completely understand the language. I remember the little boy was very good, and that drama can be wonderful without knowing the words.  We talked about family. They knew the pub which had the same surname as mine. They knew the publican, (a great word), although he was dead now. 

It doesn’t take long for death to pop up in a conversation with me. They encouraged me to check out Thomas Lynch, the poet and undertaker.

Thomas Lynch – Death

They were here for The Iditarod. I encouraged them them to check out Scott Janssen – The Mushin’ Mortician.

mushin mortician

They were great walkers, had walked parts of The Camino de Santiago. “The most important thing is trust”, they said. “You will find a place to stay. You can’t call ahead. Someone will help you if you get hurt.”

It is not a party. It’s a pilgrimage to self.

I didn’t see them downtown the next day but I saw plenty of dogs.

Little dogs!

Little dogs!

Big dogs!

Big dogs!

cold dogs!

cold dogs!

hot dogs!

hot dogs!

It was pretty warm out so even though Anchorage must show off their furs when they can, there were some alternative outfits.

Viva the iditarod!

Viva the Iditarod!

There were also some alternative runners. They ran towards me because they thought I had food.

The Iduckirod

The Iduckirod

The above photo was taken  about 20 minutes after I saw this guy come down the trail, so don’t worry there were no dog/duck interfaces.

The race is over!

The race is over!

I passed an older man walking on the trail home and mentioned how nice a day it was. He had not gone to see the dogs. He had seen them too many times.  He had lived in Anchorage for 50 years but he still had an accent. It was only slightly different than the people I had met last night. He was from Kilronan on Inishmore. If you’ve never been there you might want to go if you love the Gaelic language or walking in the rain. I took an anthropological tour of the Aran Islands after visiting Galway. I can still taste how good the food was. People make fun of Irish food but  when one has to grow it oneself, it’s pretty damn good.

“My father spoke Irish. I spoke it, and English as well. We had no cars, or electricity. I had to save myself from drowning once and that’s how I learned to swim.”

It makes me want to visit Ireland again. I remind myself that I can’t go everywhere or do everything.  Sometimes the world will come to me, or I will meet the world as we walk together.  Let the dogs run. I will walk and talk.  I’m in no hurry.

What I will miss about being car-less – Anchorage version

Why you lookin' at me?

Why you lookin’ at me?

You were expecting a blank post! Not so. I had so many adventures that heli-skiers and ice surfers will never experience mostly because they have access and energy for remote exercise and I have to use every ounce of juju just to get home at the end of the day.

Walking home yesterday. I felt as if I was sailing around Cape Horn. There was a bitter wind pelting me with icy snow pellets. My long white hair swirled around me like the Old Man in The Sea meets King Lear. My lips were covered with vaseline which served only to glue aforementioned streaming locks across my face. I couldn’t see my feet as they negotiated the corrupted ice which tore off my cleats every few steps. I left one cleat as a token to those who might follow. I was reduced to walking with my arms outstretched as if I were ready for a cross.

That’s what I’m talking about.

Or today, there was a lady who is familiar to many of us on the bus. She was repeating something quite loudly. It sounded like, “watery eyes.” For some reason I started hearing, “watery diarrhea.” She changed her tune when a young man boarded and repeated a couple of times, “Your balls are hanging out.” Later on in the ride she was more helpful in that someone had dropped their cell phone and she silently pointed it out.

Assistance is given freely on the bus. People yell out directions, possible job leads. They commisserate about the cold. Walking home on the trail, everyone but the most ardent exercise fanatic greets you or gives thanks that you made some room for them.

I will feel a bit lonely in my car tomorrow. It won’t matter that I know that the seats near the back of the bus are more likely to smell like urine. I won’t have that crazy sense of gratitude and relief when the #2 or the #75 appears over the horizon. I will have more change.

I’ll probably spend more money. There’s only so much you can carry home from the store while walking on an uneven ice rink. It makes you really think about what you need. Then there’s the extra time to be factored into everthing. Once I walk or bike home, I’m pretty much there for the night so I have plenty of time to wash dishes and pay bills. I have to admit I’ve started to watch TV. But in my defense, I got worn out from too much biking and walking and hauling. I started healing my broken body with Elementary, then I got caught up in Person of Interest. Pretty soon I had a show for almost every night of the week – Golden Boy, Survivor, Blue Bloods. This is definately a hazard of carless, cold weather commuting. You don’t need to eat more or sleep more but you do need to be under the covers just vegetating more. Once I get cold it takes a hella long time for me to warm up and it just doesn’t seem right to get off the bus and start reading a self-help book.

Perhaps people who enter intersections in their motor vehicles while talking on a cell phone should be sentenced to reading a self help book. I feel bad for these folks. They could be singing and riding the bus.

I will still bike to work once or twice a week. I will take a break from the bus. But you never know how long cars are going to last. I’m just happy to know the bus is there when I need it. I also feel blessed to have seen the commercial where the California cow sings Swagger Jagger in the shower. Maybe you’ll see me singing  on my way to work.

I’m a streetwalker – Berkeley edition

I overheard several wonderful things  while walking randomly in Berkeley. Two men- one digging through the back seat of his car, the other on the sidewalk, sidewalk man says, “Have you located the reference genome?”  I was not sure I heard this correctly when the impatient man on the sidewalk repeated his question verbatim. I don’t believe he was talking about what the man was looking for in the car, although my knowledge of genomes is somewhat limited. I think he was simply not able to contain his obsession with his work.  So Berkeley!

Then one night I was walking past Pegasus bookstore on Shattuck Ave and I saw there was a reading. I happened in just as the question and answer period began. A bearded man in the back stood up as he asked, “As we learned from Clockwork Orange, many things can be changed in the human brain, do you think this is what happened to Huey in prison?”  I believe he was referencing Clockwork Orange as a non-fiction book/documentary and had found this pertinent to the fate of Huey Newton. The author of the book/cd compilation “Hey Whitey? which is a sound history of the Black Power movement was very generous in his answer, addressing the sad impact imprisonment can have on the soul.  Paranoia and compassion are the spice of Berkeley life.

On another walk a car almost ran over my foot even though I had the light and was in the crosswalk.  I heard from behind me a sympathetic “ooomph”, a growl of disdain. It was another woman my age, walking and sharing her dismay at the car culture in general. It would be rare to hear such a sound in Anchorage where pedestrians are assumed to be criminals who have had their licenses removed.


I’m that person you recognize but you don’t know from where because you’ve passed me on the street ten thousand times. I grew up walking. It was the cheapest most effective antidepressant available in my youth. When things got real bad my mother would send me away somewhere, not to a hospital but to a relative’s home where I would explore their environment with hopes of moving away to a new life. I love a walking vacation. I talk to everyone I see on the street, usually to their dog first so they don’t think I’m too crazy. Also I feel the digital camera is like the best invention ever because I’m inspired to share all the ordinary things I was able to see with my vacation vision.


Here is the tree across the street from my friend Lee’s home in Berkeley. It’s like the tree of life, it blooms so beautifully but the bloom doesn’t last forever. The lichen is cool too also just the way it twists and turns even though it’s surrounded by concrete.

The tree of life

Lee has a beautiful garden but because I’m depressed I had to screw with it in these photos. The flowers are very warm and happy so I had to make them kind of cold and Alaska like.

Mood disordered Calla Lillies


A bright, warm flower is nice but a cold deadly one is more interesting. Perhaps that why I’ve never married. But like most people I’ve learned that interesting is fun in book club or at work but cold and deadly is not a great bedfellow. Funny is better.



trumpet of death

I know that sounds like a pretty bleak caption – trumpet of death but these things are actually quite poisonous. They are yellow by the way just in case you were thinking of offing yourself.


I can’t escape my obsession with death even on vacation but I believe everyone is just dealing with this in their own way. Here is a strange illustration as seen in a Berkeley toy store. Notice that in this toy set there can be only one winner and the other must die, your choice.

Fun with Mortality


When you go to Berkeley, you might see one thing and I another. I love walking in the neighborhoods as they have more interesting than most museums. People do lawn art well in Berkeley.

Car Art


Sometimes you just have to carve out a piece of fun in your life. Most people find squirrels a big pain but this homeowner chose not a bunny or a poodle but a rodent theme for a topiary statement.


Don't need a GPS to get to a potluck at the house with the giant squirrel out front.

Here is something you might just walk by on your walk from College Avenue to Shattuck Ave but to me it epitomizes the can do/make do attitude of the true Berkeley denizen.

Traffic circle kale!


My friend Dove’s mother planted this little gem of a garden. Can you imagine the neighbors coming out for a little dinner side or a person without food walking by for a little vitamin grab. This is Berkeley at its best – raw, free, accessible.