2020 Hawaii and Ohio QSOPs

At the end of my radio ops, Sera and I took a walk around the Pine Nut Mountains knoll where I like to operate. The sky was filled with smoke.

Saturday was both the 2020 Hawaii and Ohio QSO Parties. After our morning walk, The Girl and I rested a bit. After waking, I decided to go out to one of my perches in the Pine Nut Mountains. I wanted to play radio a little and be outdoors.

Lately I have eschewed outdoor activities beyond those necessary. The California fires are impacting our air quality and I really do not want to breathe a lot of smoke. But Friday and Saturday were a little better and I was tired of being indoors. So we headed out mid-afternoon on Saturday for some additional outside time.

I set up my vertical antenna and the Elecraft KX2 with my miniPacker HF linear amplifier behind the radio. That gives me about 35w out output, which should be enough for either phone or code operations if propagation is decent.

I know the antenna well enough that I can set it for the 20m and 40m bands without an antenna analyzer. I used one, of course, but I was close enough just “eyeballing” it.

I got The Girl settled on her mat next to my operating position and started listening to the 20m band. I quickly worked three loud Ohio stations. Then I heard a weaker, but readily heard station activating a park (POTA — Parks on the Air), so called him. We made the exchange although he gave me a signal report of only 22 (that’s weak and difficult to copy), but he got the information correct so I put him in my log.

I heard a few Ohio stations calling in Morse code, but none of them could hear me. But I heard HI3T calling and giving signal reports, but not identifying as one of the QSOP stations. When I checked QRZ (online database) on my iPhone, I learned this was a Dominican Republic station. He was working stations very quickly.

During a lull in the action, I sent my callsign. I was stepped on by a stronger station. I waited a few moments and sent my callsign again, during another lull. He returned my call with a signal report of 5NN (best possible signal and probably not a true sigreport). I responded with TU and 5NN (thank you and my real signal report) and he moved on to the next station.

I puttered around the bands for a little longer. I heard no Hawaii stations calling and could not work any of the others stations I could hear. So I packed up the station and The Girl and I made a walk around the knoll.

She glided from sagebrush to sagebrush, sniffing and hunting for lizards. I looked over the Carson City valley and the Prison Hill complex, thinking about the California fires and the smoke we suffered from. Fire is a natural part of the desert ecosystem. Regular burning reduces the fuel load and results in less serious fires (from an ecological perspective). Over the last century, we interfered with that natural cycle. Now wildfires have access to greater fuel loads and are very serious.

Last weekend I watched the Loyalton Fire sending smoke into the sky. This week and this weekend Carson City suffered a lot of smoke. I will be happy to see it go. But I will also be happy to know that the fires are under control and extinguished because I read the heartache they cause for those affected by them.

That’s my Wolf River Coils vertical antenna in front of a very smoky Mount Scott in the background.

North American QSO Party, 2020

A panorama of the Loyalton Fire from last Saturday. This was captured from the area north from Reno.

Last Saturday was the North American SSB QSO Party for 2020. The objective of a QSO party is to make contacts. The exchanges are generally short and simple, in this case first name and state or province. Those stations outside North American gave name and “DX”.

I readied almost everything Friday evening, but was slow getting moving Saturday morning. I can tell fall is coming — my fall allergies are beginning to act up. So I was slow and didn’t leave as early as I intended.

I stopped at McDonald’s after placing an order through their iPhone application. I checked in at the curb and waited. Nothing happened. So I walked inside and asked about my order. No order. But the manager gathered my order together, replacing the water with an orange juice. I returned to the vehicle to head north to Reno, shaking my head.

The Girl perked up as I got into the car. Food! I could hear her thinking. You WILL share that with me, won’t you. It was not a question; it was a statement of fact.

When I crested the pass into Washoe Valley, I called my friends through the 2-meter repeater network to let them know I was on the way. As I left Washoe Valley and dropped into Truckee Meadows, I could see a lot of smoke on the horizon, past Peavine Mountain.

I switched my radio to the Peavine repeater and called again. My friend Mike returned the call and I asked about the smoke.

“It’s on the other side of the Peterson Range,” came the reply.

This was the Loyalton Fire from north from Reno Saturday afternoon.
As I climbed out of Reno toward Lemmon Valley, the smoke began to concern me. I have a little asthma and am sensitive to smoke. But I drove on, hopeful that it would not blow toward the operating area.

I pulled in to my friends’ place and what a gorgeous place they have. Sharen is an animal lover and has a few dogs and a few horses on the place. It is plenty big enough. She met me at the house and guided me up to the operating position. Greg was mostly set up and Mike had a place picked out for me.

I really had not intended to run the radio this time. After the last couple of outings, we have not had enough separation between radios and they interfered with each other. But this time I was more than 500 feet from the others, so there might be a little increase in the noise floor, but I could operate.

So I pulled the rig up close to a juniper tree and set up my station. I had a simple setup, as usual. I used the Elecraft KX2 radio, the miniPackerHF — a small 35w amplifier, the battery, charge controller, and a solar panel, and paper and pen to log any contacts I made.

I could tell right away that I would need more shade, so I stretched a small tarp between the back of the 4Runner and the juniper tree.

It was still hot.

I chased a few stations who were calling CQ for contacts. I probably made ten contacts or so, plus I spotted a VE station activating a SOTA peak. That was a fun contact and one that I always enjoy. After an hour and change, the wind shifted slightly and I smelled smoke.

My operating position was pretty simple: The KX2, miniPackHF PA, battery and charge controller, solar panel, paper/pen, and a tarp.

I stepped around the 4Runner to check and could see smoke drifting through the valley in the Lee of the Peterson Range. I watched for a few minutes, hearing the sounds of HF radio in the background. I did not like the way things looked. I was not concerned about the fire (yet), but did not want to get a bunch of smoke in my lungs.

So I shut down the radio, packed everything up, and drove over to where the others were operating.

Mike was at the radio, so I sat down. I had about decided to head home when lunch break was called. We walked down the hill the their house and enjoyed the cool air inside while we had a sandwich and chatted. Mike and Sharen were concerned about the fire, but not overly concerned yet. The Girl and the other dogs packed right up and played and wandered the place while we recovered from the heat.

The wind shifted a little more to the south so the smoke mostly cleared and I elected to stay and visit and let The Girl wander over the place. Mike and Sharen’s place is completed fenced because of their dogs, so The Girl had free roam. I kept an eye on her anyway because I do not like her to be out of sight. But I was confident she would not go too far.

The fire generated enough heat to cause pyrocumulus clouds to form. We have been having some monsoonal flows as well and a few popup thundershowers formed. The clouds gave us a break from the heat, although the additional lightning was some cause for concern — not only for the radio but for additional fires.

About 1700h Greg called an ending to the day. We broke down his station. I worked on the antenna while he worked on the radio end of the station. I remembered I had a spare shirt (and socks) in my pack, so I took off my sweaty old t-shirt and replaced it with something clean. I was thankful for a dry shirt. With the station put away, we drove down the hill and shared a meal of Papa Murphy’s Pizza and some wine.

I did not realize how tired until about 2100h. I was really tired. But I was not too tired (nor had I too much wine) to drive home. I turned on the air conditioner to cool the 4Runner and paused at the gate to visit with Mike a minute. We could see flames cresting the Peterson Range. Now it was time to be a little concerned.

In the end, it was a good day. My station performed well, although I did not have enough power to break some of the pile-ups. That is portable operations, though. I enjoyed the fellowship of friends and the breaking of bread as a community.

As I write this, the fire still rages. It has not affected Mike and Sharen, yet, and I pray it does not. I also pray for others who are dealing with the effects of the fire.

McTarnahan Hill, W7N/TR-042, SOTA

My station in the shade of my 4Runner.

Last Saturday the group drove the long trail out to McTarnahan Hill, SOTA W7N/TR-042. Our original plan did not look feasible but all of us wanted to go outside and play radio somewhere. So out to the Pine Nut Mountains we went.

I was much better prepared for this outing. I bought ice and a sandwich on Friday. I loaded the cooler with ice and had everything else ready to go. On Saturday morning, all I had to do was prepare myself. This time I even packed a little food for The Girl.

We met the others at KG7D’s place, visited a moment, then headed out. We paused at the east end of Johnson Lane and for the first time I aired down the tires to 25psi. The idea was to make my ride a little more compliant by using the tires.

The trail was not bad. It took us awhile to get out there. By my estimate, the trail was about 13.5 miles to the operating point. This one was pretty easy, not requiring much hike at all.

While the others selected their operating point and scouted for antenna placement, I moved off 50 feet and began setting up my station. For this outing I used the Elecraft KX2, the minipackHF linear amplifier (to get me 35w), and the Wolf River Coils vertical antenna. I did not think stringing out the wire dipole would work as easily.

Power was provided by a couple of Bioenno 28w panels to a Genasun GV-5 charge controller and a 15Ah Bioenno LFP battery. The battery was topped off by the time I assembled the other components of the station. My setup time was about 20 minutes.

I checked on the others and they were still setting up. I checked on The Girl and she was busy hunting lizards and chipmunks. So I prepared my notebook for logging and sat down at the radio.

“Is the frequency in use?” … “Is the frequency in use, AG7TX” … “Is the frequency in use, Alpha Golf Seven Tango Xray?”

“Nothing heard! CQ SOTA CQ SOTA, this is AG7TX calling CQ for Summits on the Air,” began my call on the 40m band. While listening between calls, I spotted myself on the SOTAWatch website.

Then I had a call from a nice operator. We chatted a couple of minutes before I excused myself to work a few more station. I called again and then I pileup of several stations. I worked them one by one, making notes as I went of callsign, time, signal reports, and any information I got from the other operator.

After a few minutes the calls stopped, so I switched over to 20m and started over. After I spotted myself, I took another seven or eight calls, some from as far away as Indiana.

I checked on The Girl periodically to be sure she was still in sight. She was.

“CQ Summits on the Air, CQ SOTA, AG7TX calling CQ SOTA hello 20 meters and listening…” went my call. “OK, last call, last call… AG7TX calling CQ SOTA and listening…” I paused for a few seconds. “OK, nothing heard. Thanks for the calls and AG7TX is clear.”

I turned off the radio and went over to my friends. I had been operating about a half hour and had 15 contacts in my log. They were just about ready to start, so I brought over my table and chair and sat under the EZUp with them.

About that time The Girl wandered over to ask for water. As I gave her a drink, I noticed some blood on her tummy and leg. On inspection, I found she had cut the inside of the left rear leg, probably jumping around on the rocks or in the pine trees.

It was a nasty little laceration, about 25mm long, but without heavy bleeding. It had wept a little but was open enough that a butterfly suture was not going to close the wound.

Mike said “that’s going to need a stitch.” That was my thought also.

So I headed back to my rig to pack my equipment and head to the vet’s office. Once the equipment was packed (about 15 minutes), I called the vet’s office to let them know I was coming.

“You going to come back out after the vet?” Greg asked.

“Probably not — it’s a long way out and back and I’ll probably just go to the house and get a shower.”

“You’re still welcome for supper, if you’re up to it.”

“We’ll see how Sera does.”

It took more than an hour to get to the clinic. There we got checked in and the tech took Sera’s vitals and looked at her wound.

“Yep, that’s going to need stitches,” she said.

“I knew it would.”

Soon the vet came in and checked Sera carefully. “She’s a little fluffy around the chest,” he said. “You need to keep an eye on her food.”

I’m still laughing about my “fluffy” dog and teasing her. But I did cut back her ration just a little. Hmmm… maybe I am too fluffy and need to cut back my ration. Nah…

They kept her to put her in the queue for the sutures and sent me home. I went home and got a shower. Then I drove over to Greg’s to share supper with friends.

It turns out they had trouble making their quota of contacts. Apparently the ground plane of Greg’s antenna was not installed. Therefore the vertical antenna had nothing to work against and did not produce a good signal. But they were able to get their contacts with the 2m handheld with a little help from friends recruited through the repeater system.

While we were finishing supper, the vet called and told me Sera was ready to be released. So I said my goodbyes and headed south to Gardnerville to retrieve her. The vet met me at the door, then handed Sera off to me. “You can call in and settle up tomorrow. We have a lot of very sick dogs tonight and everyone is really busy.”

This is not my first rodeo with a damaged doggo. I knew she would need to restrict her activity a bit and to be on watch for licking or pulling at her sutures. But I also know just how tough these animals are and that she would be fine and pushing at me to be active in a day or two. I cannot remember now many times Ki cut herself in the field. I know we had many, many trips to the vet for sutures, notwithstanding all the skin excisions she had because of her skin cancer.

The Girl will be fine. As I write this, she is snoozing on the bed. We have been walking in town so she is not tempted to run through the sagebrush. In a few more days we will be back to our normal trail out by the river. I would much rather walk out there.

Genoa Peak, W7N/TR-007, SOTA Activation

This is the Lake Tahoe view from Genoa Peak. I made the image on my way back down, totally beat but determined to get a few more images of the event.

Introduction: The middle of last week, our fearless leader sent out an email that our intended SOTA activation, Fred’s Peak, was not going to work. Another team member had scouted the area and found a locked gate blocking access to the area.

Therefore, an alternate site, Genoa Peak (W7N/TR-007 and an eight-pointer) would be the target if the group agreed.

I am generally agreeable and am interested more in the activity and the fellowship than the particulars of the event. I knew we would have fun. I knew it would be refreshingly different from my normal routine. I knew the sights would be beautiful. (Now can they not be with Lake Tahoe visible from the site???)

I managed to wrangle The Girl sufficiently to get a selfie at the top of Genoa Peak before we descended back to the staging area for the day.
I already had most of my radio gear ready to go, if not well organized. I intended to use the Elecraft KX2, the MiniPackerHF linear amplifier, the Bioenno 12Ah LFP battery and Genasun GV10 charge controller, and a Bioenno foldable 28w panel as the station equipment. I would log my contacts on paper.

What needed to be done was figure out provisions and water for The Girl and myself, get everything staged (so as not to forget something), and gather the last minute needs on departure.

I decided to take a small sandwich, the snacks that are always in my pack, plenty of water, and some iced tea. I would use the Yeti cooler to keep the cold-things cold and figured I would be able to hike back down to the 4Runner at the staging area to retrieve food and drink.

It has been hot here during the day and the west side of my unit is warm until at least 2200h local. So I do not go to bed until sometime between 2200h and 0000h. I knew that getting up early would be a challenge and that I would not get as much sleep, nor would I get an afternoon nap.

But, I got what sleep I could, woke about 0600h, and figured I would be good if I met the rest of the group at the departure area by 0800h. I puttered around a little, drinking some coffee, gathering up a few last things, and generally waking.

Sharon was looking at the Lake Tahoe overview. The combination of my friend and the lake demanded an image.

The Trip Out: Then I realized suddenly that it was 0700h and it was time to go! The Girl knew I was hustling about, so she woke and her energy level immediately came up. On these kinds of mornings, she will generally avoid food because our routine is that we are back home by noon and she eats a late breakfast. Well, not so this day…

I schlepped the remaining things to the 4Runner, loaded up The Girl, and made a last pass through the house to ensure I did not miss something. Then we headed for the fuel depot to refuel, get some ice for the cooler, and buy a sandwich and drinks for the day.

The cooler filled and secured, I used the iPhone McD’s app to order a couple of biscuits and another coffee. I was still running about a quart low. After I placed my order, I realized that the app put in my order at the north McD’s, not the south store, which took me out of my way. Poop!

So I drove to the north store and checked in for curbside pickup. Of course, it was my day for the s.l.o.w. service. The phone rang… it was Greg…

“How’s things? Are you still planning to come along to Genoa Peak?”

“Yep. I’m picking up a bite and should be there in about ten minutes.”

“Good, see you then.”

About that time, a server brought my goodies. I thanked her and we were off. The drive south through Carson City was a little slow. Carson Street is all torn up for construction. But at least there was little traffic. So I caught up to the group about on time.

We chatted for a few minutes and then were off. The Girl was doing her excited-bouncing-on-the-seat-and-back-seat-and-front-seat thing. I am hopeful that will wear off a little as she gains experience on our trips and gains a little age. But, we will see.

This is the view of Genoa Peak from the staging area. It was a short, steep hike to the peak and then a short hike beyond to a good operating area.
The trip up the hill to the trail was short and uneventful. Once on the trail, the dust was awful. Nevada is normally a dusty place; this powdery dust was worse than usual and my 4Runner looks like it. I think I blew dust from my nose for several days. But the trip was not bad except for a wrong turn that took us up a reasonably sketchy bit of trail. Mike’s pickup had a little trouble traversing one portion, but it was just rough, steep, and rocky other than that.

Setup and Operation: We arrived at the staging area. The hike was about what I expected, something short but fairly rough and steep. I hoped The Girl would not get into trouble on the way up. But there is only one way to learn to be a trail dog and that is to hike trails.

I grabbed my radio pack and then stuffed the battery and solar panel into it. I did not take time to repack the bag nor to examine what was in it before we headed up the trail. I learned an important lesson from this.

Most of our group was already on the trail to the peak by the time The Girl and I headed up. We readily caught up with Subrina and Sharon. Sharon was particularly struggling to get up the trail. I stayed with her a good part of the way to help her with some of the big steps that were required. As we walked together, I thought “It would not be good for her to fall.” The trail was rocky with plenty of scree and a fall (for any of us) would be a bad thing.

Sharon apologized for being slow so many times I finally had to tell her “Stop! I don’t mind walking with you and I’m not in a hurry.”

We laughed about that fact I might have to grab-a-handful-and-push several times on the hike up. We are both old enough and good enough friends that I would have immediately grabbed her had she slipped or failed to make the step. But, eventually she sent me on and I permitted it. She has a right to do things her way without an old man hovering.

A part of the crew was working on Greg’s DX Commander at the operating site. Carson Valley is in the background.

When I hit the summit, I took a moment to take it in. I was facing south. To my left was Carson Valley and to my right was Lake Tahoe and its basin. Both were stunning and well worth the trip, even if no radio happened.

Lake Tahoe is always beautiful. After a long day on the mountain and ready to be back at the staging area and heading for home, it was still beautiful and was worth taking a few moments just to enjoy the view.

The KX2 station is setup and ready to operate.
I set myself to setting up my station. I found a relatively flat rock not far from a large boulder that I thought would support my telescoping antenna mast. I got out the linked dipole (20-30-40m bands) and started unspooling the wire and coaxial cable from the wire winders. I then affixed the center support and balun to the top of the mast and ran it up. I secured the mast by wedging it next to the large boulder with some smaller rock and walked out the antenna. It was easy to find brush or boulders to secure the ends.

I assembled the KX2 and linear amplifier, added the battery, DC distribution block (fused), and the solar panel. With everything connected, I tested the station and everything was working. I was ready to operate.

The KX2 station was setup, tested, and ready to go. I learned that I need a table or better surface to operate from.

In the meantime, the other part of the crew were busy assembling Greg’s DX Commander, an all-band vertical antenna that does not (when properly constructed) require an antenna matching unit, or tuner.

I puttered with the radio a little, sending some Morse Code to determine if a frequency was in use. I checked into the 40m noontime net (via phone). The other station was coming together and they did not need my help.

The Girl and I headed back down the hill to get a bite to eat and some water. The others were kind enough to give her some water from their supply, but I needed water and the bottle I mooched was not sufficient.

So down the hill we went. The Girl scampered ahead, looking for lizards and the chipmunks that live on the summit. I called her back several times because I am so much slower than she is. All-wheel drive is a thing.

We took time to rest a little, or rather I rested while she hunted lizards around the staging area. I made sure she got plenty of water while we were there and decided to carry a liter back up the hill with me.

So we humped it back up the hill, this time with water.

The remainder of the group was ready to go. They got started while Greg headed back for lunch while others activated the mountain.

The Girl was hungry. As usual, she ignored breakfast in her excitement to get on with the day. Sharon is an animal-lover, so she asked “Can she have some cheese?”

“Of course, just make her behave.”

Being hungry, Sera was a little grabby, so I told Sharon how to handle that. “Just palm it if she’s grabby. She knows how to behave, but sometimes needs some instruction.”

The Girl does not get a lot of people food, but she gets a lot of little bits as a treat. I think this also bonds her to her people because we share our food with her. She understands.

When my turn came to operate the radio, I fired up my KX2 and got started calling CQ SOTA. I made several contacts after Greg spotted me on the SOTA network (we had cell service). All of my contacts were phone. I am still too chicken to call CQ with Morse Code. I made my quota quickly and even had a couple of summit-to-summit contacts. Those are fun, even if sometimes difficult to work, and give double points.

After I turned operation over to the next operator, I realized that my linear amplifier was in bypass mode. I could not see the front panel well and missed it. So my contacts were made with five watts — I was in QRP mode. Hah!

Mike got into a rag chew with an operator in San Diego. Most SOTA operators do not get into rag chews, preferring to make the exchange and move on. Not Mike, though. They talked about all kinds of things, especially about vehicles. I was amused.

I got a second shot at operating and this time made sure the linear was inline. That gave me 35 watts and made it a lot easier for other stations to hear me. I made a few more contacts and one more summit-to-summit and then the well went dry.

Teardown and Return: So I turned off the rig, satisfied with the day. It did not take me long to tear down and prepare to repack my pack. This time I took everything out and packed it properly. That made the trip down the summit easier because my load was balanced and the weight low and close to my back.

After our descent from the operating position, a kindly person who was enjoying the afternoon at the staging area made this capture of The Girl and me. I was bushed, ready for some water and rest, and ready for some food. The Girl was definitely ready for food.
At the bottom of the hill and at the staging area, for the last time this trip, I paused, wanting a photograph of The Girl and myself at the end of the trip. Another group were standing around visiting and enjoying the day. So I asked.

“Would one of you please take a couple of pictures of my dog and me?”

A large man smiled and stepped over to us, “Sure.”

“I assume you know how to run one of these,” I asked as I passed my iPhone over to him. He smiled and nodded. Then he proceeded to make a few images of my dog and me. She was still in patrol mode, but we got one good one of her looking at the camera.

He handed back my iPhone and The Girl immediately began greeting the group. They asked me all about her, what breed was she, where she came from. So I told her story, at least what part of it I know, while she absorbed all the attention and affection.

[Soapbox] People think pit bulls, and all the bully breeds, are nothing but aggressive dogs who should be banned and destroyed. Those who know the breeds understand their breed traits and work with those traits to help these dogs become the wonderful companions that they can be. [End soapbox]

They went back to their visiting. A couple of other groups drove in, stayed a bit, and wandered off. I waited.

Before much time passed, I saw the rest of the group heading over the summit and back down the trail. The two female members of the group struggled with the steepness of the trail. I was particularly concerned about Sharon. But she had help, took her time, and made it just fine.

They stowed their gear and we headed back down the trail, this time avoiding the sketchy portion for the better trail. Once down in the trees, Greg found a wide spot in the trail and pulled off.

“Who wants wine?” I had to laugh. I have not been known to turn down a glass of red wine. Greg likes red wine, too. I pulled out a folding chair from the back of the rig and plopped into it. The Girl immediately took to hunting. So I watched to make sure she did not wander off too far. She is doing really well.

We talked and laughed and drank a little wine and enjoyed the coolness of the forest after all the sun of the day. My knees were a little sunburned given they do not get much sun on my daily outings. Well, they did this day.

The wine bottle empty, the snacks gone, and everyone tired we saddled up for the short drive (for some of us) home. I stopped by the Aloha liquor store and bought a sixpack of Coronas and a bottle of Cognac. I intended to celebrate the day a little after I got home, stowed the equipment, and showered.

Lessons Learned: I learned a few things on this activation. They are:

  • Always, always, always carry some water. Even for a short trip from the rig.
  • The pack carried a lot better on the way down, after I unloaded and repacked everything. I need to mind my pack and how it is loaded.
  • I can probably do these activations with a lot less radio. I think I should try working with just the KX2 and a wire antenna. I could do an end-fed half wave or just a random wire. I would still need a mast for many locations, but it would lighten my load a lot.
  • Operating a SOTA activation with more than one radio is difficult. We could not both operate at the same time. My KX2 would bypass the receiver to protect the itself.
  • I should put some orange tape on the cap of the telescoping mast. A black cap is easily lost in the shadows of gray rocks.
  • I should wrap the bottom section of the telescoping mast with something protective. I have a roll of orange Gorilla Tape that would work and would make the mast easy to see if I put it on the ground.
  • I need some kind of platform to work on. I could not see the front panel of the linear, so I made a few mistakes along the way. A working platform would also mean I could have a low chair to work from.
  • I need water bottle carriers on the sides of my radio pack. I should carry at least a couple of liters of water and a foldable dog bowl… always.
  • I should have completed my activation while the others were assembling the second station. I could easily have filled my quota for the day and then torn down my station and just played. DoH!

It was a great day, a good activation, and I am grateful. I leave the story with a view of Carson Valley from my operating position.

The view of Carson Valley from my operating position was just gorgeous. The views alone made the trip worthwhile. That I got to play radio was icing on the cake.

Snowy Ki in Orange

This was shot in January 2020 while we were on walkies. She had her orange hoodie on and still wanted to walk.

Ki will always be The Original Girl, even as I begin calling Sera The Girl.

I found this image on the memory card of my Fuji X-T1 camera this afternoon. I was doing a couple of test shots with an old Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 manual focus lens. When I grabbed the SD card from the camera, this was on the card. I do not recall making the shot, though I do remember the day.

She was not feeling well after a couple of really bad seizures. But she still wanted to get out and walk and she so loved the snow. So we took her out for a walk — as long a walk as she wanted.

I was thinking about her this morning. I do not recall what made me think of her, perhaps it was my play with Sera. Sera and I have been playing tug with the old rope Ki and I used. Plus I bought her a new Kong squeaky-stick, which is a toy that Ki also loved to play with.

I am using the same training approach with Sera that I did with Ki. My friend Anna taught me to use the tug to teach them to manage their energy. Both of them get (got) very excited by the tug. So we tug for a bit, then I ask for a release and tease them with the frayed end of the tug, but require them to leave it.

Ki got it and it helped her a lot. This morning Sera was getting it. She wanted to continue to play, but listened to me and it was a good session.

I love working with dogs. They are such wonderful creatures.

Yesterday afternoon I sat on the couch in the cool living room to rest and read a little. It was not long before The Girl showed up, oozed up onto the sofa, and stuck her face right up against mine.

After checking on me, she laid down next to me and put her head on my thigh. It was not long before she was sleeping. Her relaxation and sleep sounds made me put down my book before I dropped it. I then fell asleep too.

I only woke because my legs went to sleep. Otherwise I might have slept a couple of hours.

I loved how Ki shared her life and energy with me. I miss her and always will. She was a unique personality who was a huge part of my life.

And guess what, The Girl is a huge part of my life and is a unique personality who came into my life at the exact moment that I needed her. We need each other and will have a good life together, full of love, play, and even a little work. God willing, Sera will be as well traveled as Ki was and have experiences that only a few dogs ever do.

I love dogs, working with them, living with them, having them be part of my life.

Ants

I have problems with these little buggers every summer. They invade the house, hunting for sweets. Terro will get them.

Every summer I have been in my little place, these small black ants have invaded. They usually invade the kitchen, looking for sweets.

Some years ago, someone recommended Terro Ant Killer for the little buggers. When I researched it, I learned it is just Borax, which is non-toxic to humans and dogs. So that is what I use.

I really dislike killing them. I do not care to kill God’s creatures unless necessary for the most part.

There are a few exceptions to this rule — Black Widow spiders and wasps in my house or around my house die as soon as I see them. I have had too many bad encounters with those (in the house). Away from the house, I leave them alone. Sometimes a wasp will get after me. If they will not leave me alone, they die.

This year, the little black ants have invaded my living room. I did not notice them until one of them bit me. Their bite is not bad, just a small pinch that I noticed. So, I tracked them down and found them running across the top of one of the rear channel speakers. It took me a bit to track down my supply of Terro and put out some of the poison.

If they had left me alone, I would not care if they were in the house. But they became an irritant so now they have to go.

I still do not care to kill them. But I do not know of another way of making them go away. So, they will have to die. Pity.

Welcome, Sera

This beautiful young woman came to live with me this week. She is an absolute babe in all possible ways. I already love her.

My beloved Ki died four weeks ago. The brain tumor got her. I grieved my dog months before she died, knowing that she would most likely not survive but electing to move forward with the surgery just in case. In the end, though, I was right and she did not survive.

Several good friends who are dog people counseled me to wait months before adopting a new pup. But I did not want to go very long with some canine energy in my life. I began a light search a couple week after Ki died, but did not know how far I would pursue the search.

I found a couple of likely candidates. One, in particular, caught my eye. She is called Serendipity and is a young dog. I sent a request asking about Serendipity. I then moved on with other things, which included missing Ki.

By the end of a couple of weeks my grief abated. I know griefwork and I knew that I was healing. However, I had a hole in my heart that asked for another dog to be in my life. I filled out the adoption application for Serendipity and filed it. It took me a couple of tries to get it completely filled out (I do not do well with forms) and then waited.

Last week a call came from the rescue and we chatted a few minutes about dogs and things. The call terminated with my understanding that my application would continue to be reviewed.

On Friday I received another call and my application was approved and I was selected as the potential adopter of Serendipity. So I made arrangements to travel to a location near Fresno to meet her and potentially to bring her home with me.

I will admit some trepidation at taking on a new canine friend. It is a significant commitment to take care of an animal. But the rewards are also significant and I think I was just second-guessing myself.

Older Son and I rose early Monday and drove over to the rescue. It was a couple-hundred miles over and back. We arrived shortly after noon and met the lady who runs the rescue. She took us to the backyard and we waited for Sera to come out.

Sera immediately play-bowed and then ran around crazy for a few minutes, interacting with us and enjoying the outdoors. She is bigger than Ki and is not quite two years-old. It did not take me long to sign the foster contract and prepare to head home.

Cindy, who runs the rescue, told me she stopped traffic in Fresno when she saw Sera running on the highway. She was able to coax her into the vehicle and take her home. No one claimed Sera.

Older Son and I cannot fathom what would make someone let Sera go. She is a very sweet girl and very attentive. She wants to please.

Sera got into the 4Runner with a little help and we headed home, leaving a tearful rescuer behind. Shortly after we left, a text message arrived that Cindy had not gotten an adoption photograph. So we turned around and returned for a couple of photographs. There was no reason not to.

She did well enough on the way home. I think she was a little carsick in the mountain twisties because she drooled a little. We made a couple of pee-stops, gave her water, and enjoyed the company. Sera spent the return trip either in Older Son’s lap or stretched over the console from the back so she could interact with us. It was so cute.

In the few days she has been here, she is readily settling in to my home and routine. I do not know if she slept with her previous owner, but she learned how to sleep with a human easily. She is very snuggly and wants to be close. She will bark at the noisy neighbors, but is learning the sounds of her new home and is less likely to bark when they move around.

She had her first day in the desert yesterday. I think her paws were a little sore, so I checked them, put a little paw-tector salve on them, and trimmed her nails a little. She permitted me to do this without a lot of protest.

I was really tired and hit the rack about 2100h. She had gotten a second-wind, though, and was a little playful. So we had a little light play before lights out. She likes a rubbery chew-toy in my inventory and the old tug-rope that I also have. She chewed her bone a little as well. Then she was a little playful and mouthy when I went lights out. She will stop her mouthiness if I demand it, but I play a fine line there between permitting the puppy-play and correcting the behavior. It is not serious and she is paying attention.

We both slept better last night. That is partly because she is learning the sounds of her new home and partly because she is learning the ways of her new partner. I know that she enjoys the touch of me reaching out to stroke her side or hip and ruffling her ears when I wake. I know that I enjoy having her there within reach.

This morning we went out back for her morning outside time. She immediately checked to see if the buttholes next door were out and at the fence. She has a line of hair that rises on the back of her neck, just like Ki had. But they were not out, so she relieved herself and we had a play with a toy. We went back indoors so I could have some coffee, but there was also some play with the tug-rope.

I love to get on the floor with her and play with one of her toys. She is so engaged and loves to pursue her toys.

In the end, I was ready for a new companion to come live with me. I will miss Ki forever because she was a great dog and a best friend. Sera will not replace her, because Sera is her own person. She is different and I like that difference. We will forge another partnership and be team, not just like Ki and I were a team, but a different team with different strengths. But, we will be a team and are well on our way.

Welcome home, Sera. God willing, this will be your forever home.

The Girl is Gone

This is one of my favorite captures of The Girl. She was very happy that afternoon and grinned for us when Older Son dropped his hat on her head.

On the way home from Davis Saturday afternoon, I realized I had not written on my weblog in quite a while. After I got home, I was just too heartsick to even think about writing anything. I was, and am, in need of just processing the loss of The Girl and all that means to my world.

Last night, or this morning — I cannot remember — I looked at my weblog and realized it has been more than two months since I last wrote anything. The last thing I wrote was about Wife’s death seven years before and my fear that The Girl’s life was coming to an end. The first seizure was in December of last year. It was followed in January by another and then came February and there were several.

Near the end of February, Older Son and I drove The Girl over the hill to the U.C. Davis Veterinary Hospital for imaging and a workup. What we learned confirmed what the local vets told us — Ki had a brain tumor. However, the tumor was on the surface of her brain and the morphology was consistent with one of the less severe possibilities, a meningioma.

What this meant is that I had hope that with surgery and possibly some radiotherapy, The Girl might live another year or two. So, against my previous decision, I elected to move forward with surgery with the hope that I might get some more time.

Over the course of February and March, there were more seizures and a general deterioration of her condition. She had trouble walking, dragging her feet and losing balance, not aware of her space, and a continued loss of interest in our daily walks. It was clear to me that the surgery needed to happen sooner, rather than later.

Although it was scheduled for the first week of April, they moved it to last week. We drove over the hill again and pulled into the client parking lot. After I called the main number, a vet technician came to the rig and took Ki from me.

As they walked toward the hospital, Ki paused once and looked over her shoulder at me, making eye contact. She was asking two things: “Is this OK? Are you going to be there when I come back?”

It did not cross my mind until later that it would be the last time I saw her alive.

The resident called me in the morning before surgery and apprised me that, as expected, her liver enzymes were much higher. With the phenobarbital and prednisone I was not surprised. They did the surgery, which took six hours, and the resident called afterward with the after action report. The tumor was worse and had shifted a bit to the back. But they got it out, or most of it, and Ki was recovering well.

Friday I got a call that Ki was not waking, despite them giving her drugs to counteract any remaining sedation from the surgery and post-op recovery period. The did an MRI and found that evidence of bleeding. So she went back to surgery for some cleanup. There was some brain swelling that was treated and was acceptable.

Friday evening I got a call that, although she had woken briefly post-op, she had still not woken and stayed awake. The resident advised me that she was going off-duty and that Ki’s surgeon would be watching over her Friday night. The medical team was providing supportive care, but had done everything they could and it was up to Ki to recover.

The surgeon called me about 0500h Saturday morning. Ki was no longer breathing on her own. Her prognosis had declined to the point where she was not going to recover. Older Son and I dressed quickly and headed to the hospital, only a few minutes away.

She had died in the few minutes before we got there. We stood there next to her body for a few minutes, saying goodbye. I got to pet her a few last times before it was time to go. I wept for The Girl and for all the time I hoped we would have, walking, playing, eating, snuggling, and just spending our time together like we had for nearly nine years.

I made arrangements for a service to retrieve her body and cremate her remains. I will take them to one of our beloved spots and scatter her ashes, returning her to the earth from which we all come. I will say a prayer, be quiet, and weep for my lost love.

Now I am in the bereaved space once again. I knew this was coming. I suspected it back in December. I wrote about it in January. I watched all of February and March. I had a glimmer of hope that the surgeons could get us a little more time. I was just wrong.

It will take awhile to recover from this. The Girl and I were so close. I have always been close to the animals who live with me. This one was different because she watched over Wife during Wife’s terminal illness. Then she watched over me as I grieved Wife. Then we lived and loved for seven years.

Now The Girl is gone too. I miss you Ki. You will always have space in my heart. There is nothing left to say, except goodbye.

Enjoy Every Sandwich

When it’s warm in the 4Runner, many times The Girl falls asleep sitting up.

One of my favorite musicians, Warren Zevon, said some time before he died, “enjoy every sandwich.” Those words struck true to me when I read them (and saw the interview in which he shared them).

I cannot say that I am always successful at being so into the moment. But I am, sometimes.

Nearly a year ago, The Girl had a seizure which scared the poop out of me. I wrote about it back then, here. She recovered, mostly, and we have been living happily together and enjoying life. We walk, play, eat, love, and sleep together. It is a wonderful relationship.

Her idiopathic vestibular event frightened me — not the fear-for-my-life kind of scare, but the I’m-not-ready-for-this kind of scare.

I knew, when she came to live with us about 8-1/2 years ago, that there was a significant probability that she will die before I do. Intellectually, I am prepared for that.

As it turns out, I am not so sure I am emotionally prepared.

Last night, a little after 1900h, we had eaten and I was watching a little Netflix at my computer. I had a small cup of chocolate ice cream and a Cognac that I was enjoying for dessert. The Girl was sleeping on her bed under my worktable, as she often does in the evening. We are generally not very far apart.

I was startled by a “BLAM” and then she tumbled out of her bed onto the carpet protector under my office chair, convulsing. I kicked the chair away from us and knelt by her side. She was in a full-on seizure, paddling and foaming at the mouth.

I put my right hand on her side and began talking to her in a calm voice, projecting love and positive energy toward her as she fought herself. With my left hand, I reached up to the keyboard and stopped the stream. Then I got my phone and dialed the vet clinic, putting the phone on speaker and setting it on the table. Her rapid breathing and paddling had diminished. For a moment, I thought she was dying.

I continued to comfort her while I talked to the vet tech on the phone. She suddenly came to, as he said she would and was confused and disoriented. I simply wrapped my arms around her and held her to me while she flailed.

Once she regained her composure a little, I released her and quickly dressed. While I dressed, she bumbled about, still confused and uncoordinated. I moved the rig to the front door and carried her to the waiting, warming 4Runner.

The drive down and back was uneventful. The vet examined her, took a blood sample, and told me that if there was no metabolic abnormality it was most likely a brain tumor or lesion.

She was regaining her balance and awareness, but had some residual effect from the seizure. He indicated it should clear up in a few hours or maybe a day. He told me to be watchful for another event and to keep track. So I am now on seizure watch.

I am having a mental block on that word, “seizure.” Several times today I could not remember the word. I think it is so distasteful to me that my mind refuses to recognize the word.

I closed the bedroom door once we returned home and made a bed on the sofa. After pacing around the house (a normal post-seizure behavior) for about an hour, she hopped onto the sofa-bed and settled in.

There was no settling for me. I slept a little, but every time she moved I woke to check on her. I was in a hyper-vigilant state and did not rest much.

She slept until almost 1100h this morning. After going out and eating a little breakfast, she started asking for an outing. To be honest, sitting in the house was not doing me any good. So I drove us over to the Station 51 park and we made a couple of loops. She seemed fine, sniffing and playing like she always does.

I took advantage of the outing to reprovision the house. She seemed to tire at the grocery store, so I kept the trip as short as I could. Once home again, she stayed by me while I made a bite of lunch.

I was very tired, so I laid on the bed. It took only a few minutes before she hopped up next to me and snuggled. I put on a little music and we both slept. I slept an hour or so, she is still snoozing as I write.

I love those snuggles with The Girl. It is a wonderful thing to be so close to another being that we can share the heat our bodies generate and just enjoy being near one another. There is great comfort in that relationship. Dogs are wonderful creatures who are so intricately linked to humans that the connection baffles me.

It is unclear what the near future holds for her. I suspect the vet will adopt a watch and wait position to see if another seizure occurs. If one does, then there will be additional tests to run (probably a scan) to determine the cause and whether it can be treated. The vet suggested palliative care could be very useful and that brain tumors are generally slow growers.

In the meantime, I am reminded for Warren Zevon’s words — “Enjoy every sandwich.” I enjoy every moment I have with this wonderful creature that God brought into my life nearly nine-years ago. Last night was another reminder that life is short and it is wise to pay attention.

N.B. The image is one I captured of her a few days ago. Over the last few months, I have caught her falling asleep sitting up. She has FOMO and does not want to miss something. So she will continue to sit up even while falling asleep, much like a small human child will fall asleep sitting up and then… face-plant. She is such a hoot.

Burnt Cabin Summit Moonrise

Just before supper, I captured the moon rising over the northern Nevada desert near Burnt Cabin Summit. Image captured with iPhone XS Max.

A week ago (yeah, it has been a week) I drove out to Burnt Cabin Summit where my friends Greg and Subrina were camping. Greg asked if I wanted to come help with the antenna we’ve been working on.

So of course I drove out there.

We worked on the antenna most of the afternoon. I think it is working on all the bands (that he wanted) with the exception of 80-meters. For some reason, the element won’t tune properly. We worked on that a long time.

As the sun drifted below the mountains to the west, we put away tools and equipment. I paused for a moment to make a couple of images with my iPhone. To the east, the moon was rising over the northern Nevada desert. I liked the light, so I made this capture.

“How about chicken alfredo for supper?” my friend asked, “I think I have enough wine for two glasses.”

“Of course,” I replied, it didn’t take me long to think about it.

We enjoyed supper in their camper, The Girl resting on the floor where it was warmer than in my 4Runner. The food, wine, and fellowship was fun and I enjoyed it.

The Girl and I then headed home for the evening. It was a little later than I am usually out (about 2130h when we got home), but it was totally worth it.