I am sure you already have a question for me: Pepper? Just who is Pepper and why would I want to read her letters? And here is your answer: she's the tiny little dachshund that started it all . . . I saw a painting of her on a silk scarf and knew that the artist, Gina Murrow, could illustrate The Girl Named Trees book. Through the many months it took to complete 50 artworks, all hand-painted on silk, Pepper and I became good friends. Part of the time I stayed at her home and took care of Gina's chores so she could paint, including taking Pepper on her walks each day. I even wrote a couple of stories about her . . . so if you are in the mood, pause with this story for a minute, hop over to Prose Light to read those short stories . . . Harbor Seal and Town & Country . . . and pop back.
Flash forward a couple of years and they know that Mimi, Gina's mom, is beginning to fail and this winter will be her last. They want it to be a warm one for her, so Gina's family packed up everyone, including Pepper, and headed south for Mimi's final days. Facebook can be such a wonderful way to keep in touch, and we all share Mimi's last days with Gina via postings and pictures and paintings, some of which she sends to Alaska to be hung at the Vagabond Blues Coffee House in Palmer as part of Gina's tribute to her mom.
Then, one day, May 11 to be exact, a little posting appears . . .
"Our ten pound dachshund, Pepper, needs a place to stay in Alaska from May 21 to June 12. We will be driving north to Alaska at that time. She's quiet, housebroken, spayed, doesn't chew things, and loves to snuggle. We provide the food – you provide the love."
. . . and I comment . . .
"I am babysitting a dog up in Stuckagain Heights during that time … would she be OK there? If so, I'll take care of Pepper too!"
. . . and Gina posts on my wall . . .
"Oh, Therese, thank you! Pepper loves you and wouldn't miss us at all if she was with you."
. . . and I comment . . .
"You are welcome! I would love to take care of her . . . she is my little harbor seal!" XO Trees
Pepper's dad, David, even sends a private message from Pepper to me, something she and I have done before, back when they let dogs be on Facebook. . . and I posted to my wall . . .
"I just got a facebook message from a dog . . . I am not being cruel here about someone's appearance. Ya'll know me, I would never do such a thing . . . a real dog just sent me a message! LOL"
Then Gina turns her attention to taking care of her dad who has been separated for the first time ever from his darling Mimi . . . never has a devotion of two souls been seen quite like theirs.
"T minus" two days and counting, and I get a little message from Gina . . . "Pepper is dancing a jig with excitement that she gets to come stay with you!" . . . then the day finally arrives for Pepper to take the plane home with her friends Tim & Lisa, and the Pepper tracking begins!
So that Gina won't miss Pepper, I decided that Pepper should write her a letter every single day and post to Facebook, so that's what we did . . . Pepper told me what to say, and I did all the typing for her.
Settle down with your favorite beverage and maybe a cookie or a bisquit, and enjoy our story of Pepper's adventures in Alaska while her family takes a leisurely trip back home with Gina's dad. I hope you will pay special attention to her letters, in all she dictated fourteen of them to me . . . quite the accomplishment for a tiny little dachshund who never learned to read and write.
I am on "Pepper countdown" today. My friend's tiny dachshund Pepper is flying back home to Alaska later today and I am going to meet her at the airport, a midnight rendezvous, it is so Alaskan! So . . . I go to check the flight information on the Alaska Airlines website, and . . . I found this a little freaky, in a good way, so I grabbed a screen shot just to prove I wasn't dreaming . . . the webpage that popped up on my screen suggests scheduling a trip from Houston to Anchorage. Guess where Pepper is flying from and to? Mmm-hmm. Don't you just love life's little serendipities? I do, and I think this means our little love will be in good hands up there in the skies tonight. xo Trees
Pepper tracking . . . 480 knots, 36000 feet . . . ETA in just about an hour . . .
. . . and for those who might be wondering who Pepper is … this is her as painted by her mom, Gina Murrow, Silk Creek Studios . . . she is the dog that "started it all". I was looking for an artist to illustrate my book The Girl Named Trees when I went to Gina's First Friday art showing at Kinleys . . . I saw this scarf with Pepper on it and knew that she could do the artwork . . . all hand-painted on silk … :-) Trees
Hi, Mom. I had a nice trip on Alaska Air. I love my soft dog carrier! It is like my own little home. Therese and I drove Tim and Lisa (and Dad's computer) over to Anvy's then drove to Wasilla! We are hanging out at Maria's house and roaming about Mat-Su until tomorrow morning. Maria has a little dog too, Toby, who looks like a little lion, but he's not as tiny as me! Tomorrow morning I get to go to Stuckagain Heights and meet Chaos! So . . . mom . . . do you recognize this place? We picked it for lunch because your artwork is on the walls! Next we are going to Alpine Nursery Garden . . . Therese's friend is the owner and we are going to look at some rock garden plants. I am being really a good girl, I know this, because Therese keeps saying it over and over. I even ate my breakfast this morning! See you soon,
Pepper was so excited this day, she wrote her mom a second letter that night . . .
Hi, Mom! What a first day back in Alaska! After meeting Toby the dog who looks like a lion and seeing your artwork at Vagabond Blues, we took a walk to the Palmer Visitors Center. We hung out on the grass for a while and just looked at the pretty clouds. Then we went to visit a nursery. I met Ginger, a teeny tiny 'pink' teacup poodle who was even smaller than me! And look at this mom, a whole larch forest that is no bigger than I am. Then we went back to Maria's and I took a nap.
Therese is so funny. She doesn't want to leave me alone right now because she doesn't want me to be afraid … so they took me to dinner with them! That's right, I sat in my soft dog carrier on the seat next to Therese while she & Maria ate dinner in a nice Italian restaurant. Therese placed some of my food in the carrier, and we all snickered while they ate salads and could hear me crunching away on my dog nibbles. We took one more walk with Toby when we got back home, then I let Therese go to bed early, she looked tired! What a fun first day back in Alaska! . . . Therese wasn't the only one who was pooped, I fell asleep one minute after she did. . .
Hi, Mom. We just got back from taking a walk. Chaos is really a good friend, he kept checking to make sure he knew where we were because his legs are so long we can't keep up with him! We watched Chaos get his paws wet in a shallow creek and heard some Chickadees singing in the trees.
It looks kind of like our home in Chugiak here . . . except we are high in the hills. Look, this is the view from the front deck, beyond the sea of green way down there is the city of Anchorage, and you can see all the way across to the mountains on the other side of Cook Inlet!
Wow, Mom, I'm taller than a cloud, how cool is that for a tiny dachshund? Well, gotta go now, I need to help Therese unpack, then keep her company while she reads a book. Therese said to tell you to have a good night and sweet dreams but to say it in French because it's so pretty. Bonne nuit et fais de beaux rêves.
Je t'aime (I love you),
Sidebar from Therese:
I have a tiny dachshund draped across my arm and a mellow yellow lab at my feet … a gentle wind is sounding the chimes, and my view while typing to you is of treetops and bluer-than-blue skies . . . and so begins the next chapter of Trees' life … Stuckagain Heights Revisited . . . :) Trees
Hi, Mom! Therese took this picture at 9:30 at night, and even though it's after 10 pm now, the sun still isn't setting yet, ain't it grand? She says that's why they call Alaska the Land of the Midnight Sun. I know you have always told me how wonderful Alaska is . . . but now I really see it, really I do! Therese says that it is time for all good doggies to bed even though it's still light out, especially since we did get her up to take us for a walk at 6:00 am and we will want to do it again tomorrow with the early sunrise and such perfect weather. And she's right, Mom, I'm pooped! G'nite, Mom. See you soon!
Wed May 25, 2011
Sidebar from Therese:
Pepper didn't write a letter to her mom this day, I think she forgot to . . . afterall, she was busy re-acclimating to the long days of summer in Alaska.
Sidebar from Therese:
Noir et bleu . . . 43 degrees . . . civil twilight sunrise at 3:21 am . . . 6:19 am up with the dogs . . . Chaos is out checking the property to make sure nothing is out of place . . . if the birds moved any of the trees overnight, if any new rocks sprouted . . . teeny tiny Pepper went back to bed . . . while I enjoy the quiet of the morning and my cup of camellia tea . . .
Hi, Mom! Are you having fun on your road trip back to Alaska? It's gonna be pretty everywhere at this time of year, so don't forget to take lots of pictures. I can't wait to see your sketches of all the lovely things you've see along the way.
Mom, it is so much cooler up here in Alaska that I shiver at night! Therese lets me sleep on her fuzzy blanket and wraps me in her polar fleece throw, she says she doesn't need them because she thinks it's boiling! I get to sleep on a water bed, Mom, and I love it so much that when I'm not eating or taking a walk with Chaos that is where I like to be!
I have been helping Therese weed Carmel's rock garden … well actually, I just keep her company, but it's really fun because it always looks so nice when she's done. She says that the flowers can grow bigger if they aren't in the shadow of the weeds. I like that, Mom, it sounds like an important life lesson to me.
Mom, she also told me that there are all kinds of pepper. There is common black pepper that you can find in every kitchen in the whole wide world, coarse ground black pepper that you can grind on a salad, spicy red cayenne pepper, and hot jalapeño peppers, but that I must be named after the bell peppers, because they are sweet just like me. A pepper that's like a bell . . . I'm going to dream about that tonight!
Time to go to sleep on my waterbed. G'nite, Mom.
Note from Gina to Therese via Facebook, 6:18am . . .
I am SO grateful that Pepper is with you. We were at Carlsbad Caverns yesterday. It was HOT in the sun and Pepper would have had to stay in the Cavern Kennels (which I don't think she would have liked). Even a short stop for food heats the car up to crazy temps. She would have been an extreme illustration for "Hot Dog". Thank you again!
Hi, Mom. How was Santa Fe? When we were out walking today we heard more chickadees and saw a red robin, just like the restaurant, and Chaos saw a squirrel and thought it posed a threat to us so he chased it right up a tree! Here's a picture of my buddy Chaos jumping in the stream this afternoon. And this is really funny, Mom, yesterday Therese was wondering if I really ate my green dental bone or if Chaos chomped it down when I wasn't looking. This morning she found out that I ate it alright, I'm sure you can figure out how. Therese and I had a good snicker over that.
Today we planted some spruce bushes at the Stevens Memorial Garden. Carmel helped us too. The nice folks at Faltz Landscaping helped Therese to plant everything last August and they gave her replacement plants for those that didn't make it through the long Alaskan winter. It's their plant warranty, that means you don't have to pay twice, and that is really important up here in Alaska, because plants cost a lot. Then we went to Lowes and bought flowers to plant tomorrow because it's Memorial Day weekend and that's when it's finally safe in Alaska to plant flowers in the ground without worrying if they will freeze.
Mom, I know everyone likes Therese, but there's a limit. I don't think we should let the mosquitoes like her so much . . . it's not a pretty sight. And those mosquitoes are strong, they can bite right through your clothes! I think mosquitoes should only be allowed to bite bad people . . . then we'd all know who they are!
The sun is shining on the Cook Inlet this evening, and it's so bright that it looks like part of the sun must have fallen into it. Therese says that's called reflection, but that reflection has another meaning too . . . when you sit quietly and think about your day and what you want to do in the future. I told her that second reflection is easy. I think my days are wonderful, Mom, but in the future I can't wait to see you and Dad again, all together in Chugiak once more, and Therese says that's a nice reflection on you!
G'nite, Mom . . . you know where I'm going . . . back to my waterbed!
Hi, Mom, since it's Saturday, Chaos and I let Therese sleep in until 7am! She took this really nice picture of the sun just coming up over the hill behind the house on our morning walk.
Today she taught me about Civil Twilight so I could understand why it is hardly dark up here at night. Last night (uh actually really early this morning) the twilight sunset was at 12:42 am, and the twilight sunrise was at 3:13 am this morning … gee, Mom, … that's only about two and a half hours, did I do the math right? Therese says that is why they call Alaska the Land of the Midnight Sun. No wonder she has to tell us when to go to bed and when to get up, you can't tell by sunrise and sunset around here! She says the sun moves around a lot in the Alaskan sky. In the winter it rises and sets in the south just making a brief appearance in the sky, in the summer it rises and sets in the north after looping around the sky all day long, and the sun rises and sets everywhere in between the rest of the year. Alaska is one amazing place, no wonder we live here!
We had a little rain late this morning and fun planting flowers this afternoon. It's been a quiet evening tonight, I guess we wore all the birds and squirrels out taking so many walks!
G'nite, Mom, sleep tight!
Hi, Mom! How are you doing down in that canyon today? It must be a really big canyon, Mom, because Therese says we may not hear from you for a few days, but I'm going to write you a letter everyday anyhow so you can read 'em all when you climb back out of that canyon.
We've had a quiet day today. We took a big long nap and then went down the hill to water the flowers we planted yesterday. We saw another moose munching on bushes alongside the road … Therese says it's called "moose pruning" … here's a picture. They are silly looking animals, Mom, but I'm not going to tell them, because they are way bigger than me!
We've had a gentle breeze all day long, Mom, and it plays the prettiest songs on the wind chimes. It's nice and warm so we have all the windows open and it sounds like those chimes are singing right above my head! Yes, you must have guessed by now, I'm on the waterbed again. Mom, I love this waterbed soooooooOOOooOooooo much that I think you really really need to think about getting one for Chugiak!
G'nite, Mom, hope you can still have sweet dreams of pretty feathers and things even though they have a long way to float to get to the bottom of a canyon.
Hi, Mom! Today is Memorial Day and there is so much to learn about that, like how long to leave the flag flying at half-staff and how to fold the flag when you take it down. Did you know that former slaves, freedmen, near Charleston were the first to celebrate Memorial Day? Those people were so grateful to the soldiers that had given their lives for their freedom. The soldiers had been buried in a mass grave, but the freedmen thought that was not very honorable. So they reburied all the soldiers the right way, children spread flowers petals on the graves, everybody sang and then they had the first Memorial Day picnic, though back then it was called Dedication Day. I wonder if they had hot dogs back then . . .
On the way down the hill, we saw that same moose from yesterday 'moose pruning' the bushes as he made his way up the hill. We went to the cemetery to walk and lay flowers down for a forgotten Alaskan veteran. Then we went to Carmel's to do some more weeding. I took a nap in the sun while Therese pulled horsetail out of the rock garden. You should see how much the plants grew in just two days . . . with the 24-hour sun that makes every day like three days!
Carmel and Therese did their favorite thing to celebrate the day, swing in the porch swing, and figure out the next things to do in the garden. I even let Carmel pet me! Therese told everyone that between me and Chaos, that nothing bad was going to happen to her in Stuckagain Heights, and that we are taking really good care of her. Then we went back home to hang out with my buddy Chaos, because I didn't want him to be lonely. Here's a picture from the other day when Chaos chased the squirrel up the tree!
OK, Mom, I'm going to end my letter now because we want to go on one more walk with Chaos this evening . . . then you know where I'm headed … uh-huh … waterbed city!
Hi, Mom! Did you make it out of the canyon yet? Chaos woke Therese up at 3:15 am this morning so he could go outside. Me? I just thought, what a crazy dog, maybe that's where he got his name, then I fell right back to sleep on my waterbed. I've decided that Tuesdays are the perfect day of the week to sleep in!
It was sunny and warm and almost 70 degrees yesterday, perfect weather for the holiday, but today it's chilly and not even 60 degrees. The sky clouded over like someone pulled a giant blanket across the sun. I'm having a great nap day, so is Chaos! We are trying to get Therese into the act too … she did rest for a bit and read a book. She took so many photos on our noontime walk that she had to wait for the camera to recharge! Hey, how do you like this picture, it's the really cool sign at the driveway entrance to the house down the hill from us.
This afternoon it sprinkled a little bit and it's been really quiet, like all the birds and animals all decided to laze around too! But the trees still must be hard at work because their leaves are getting bigger and bigger every day. I swear they look greener every time I look at them, even if I just glance down for a minute, then pop my head back up really fast to try and catch them before they can get greener again!
Tomorrow we are going down to Carmel's to play in the garden again. I hope it's sunny so I can sunbathe on the lawn like I did yesterday! Well, off to bed, Mom, it's time for my beauty sleep.
Hi, Mom! Is it sunny where you are? It rained all daylong today and was it ever quiet. I never realized just how much noise the birds made until they weren't chirping and flying around. It's so quiet I think you could hear a spider crawl . . . maybe that's what Chaos was barking at. We all stared out the window, but we couldn't see anything. Chaos had that "I dunno, I thought it was something" look on his face. Then we all went back to bed.
This morning I was sleeping in, and Therese was up early having her morning tea . . . when she checked in on me to see if I was awake yet … I lifted my head up and she cracked up! She said the way I was holding my ears up that I looked just like The Flying Nun! … she said it was a really old TV show. . . here's a poster . . . I must have looked pretty funny!
Our gardening plans with Carmel were canceled due to the rain. You can't play in the garden when it's soggy or you can smother the little plants' roots. So we just flopped around inside the house. You never know just how much you enjoy being outside until you have to stay inside to stay warm and dry!
It's time to go to bed and start dreaming . . . I'm going to dream so hard that it turns tomorrow into a beautiful blue sky day!
Hi, Mom! Therese says you've made it all the way to Idaho and that means you are more than 1/3 of the way home now! I am glad you are having so many wild adventures and taking a ton of photos. I don't think I would have had very much fun horseback riding down a canyon, so I'm so glad I snagged a plane back to Anchorage . . . I really like this waterbed . . .
Chaos was barking his head off this afternoon. The first time, it was only a squirrel. Then second time, it was a moose! I barked the second time too. I'm not sure if I barked because Chaos barked or because I knew it was a moose. Anyhow, Therese wouldn't let Chaos out of the house to go chase the squirrel, she said that poor little guy needed a chance to munch without being harassed after yesterday's long rainstorm. And the moose? It was just mowing the grass in the meadow. Therese said she'd give the moose a head start, so she let Chaos out half-an-hour later . . . and it must have worked, because Chaos came back and sat on the porch.
We still couldn't garden today, but it's stopped raining and everything is starting to dry out, and this evening the sky is blue again! The irises are getting taller now, soon they will be taller than I am, but the horsetail are trying to beat them. I still like what Therese said the other day, Mom, that the flowers can grow bigger if they aren't in the shadow of the weeds . . . I'm going to dream about flowers as tall as trees tonight.
G'nite, Mom. I've gotta rest up now, we are gardening again tomorrow and I want to do my best to keep the flowers out of the weed shadows.
Love you bunches,
Hi, Mom! We were going to garden today but those "strong winds along the Turnagain Arm and higher elevations" started blowing today. First, down by the bog where Carmel lives and now up here in Stuckagain Heights. If there were any old dry leaves or needles from last year still tucked in the trees they won't be there much longer!
Chaos keeps looking like he wants to bark, but Therese keeps telling him it's just the wind. The three main things he likes to protect us against are the wind, the birds and the squirrels. He's also a good 'bear dog' so we don't worry about that either. His 'mom' says people love to take him along with them when they go hiking on the trails up here.
Therese says you left the Lower 48 and started into Canada today. Folks forget that the closest places to Alaska are two foreign countries, Canada, and that other place with the saying that Tina Fey made so famous . . . um . . . well, 'nough said about that!
Anyhow . . . it's chilly! It only got to about 55 tops today and with the wind . . . brrrrrrr! So you know where I'm spending my time … fleece blanket city … on my waterbed, of course.
G'nite, Mom. Stay warm and dry, this storm may be coming your way soon!
Sidebar from Therese:
Pepper didn't send a letter to her mom today . . . she did start a letter, but never finished it, she must have dozed off. . .
Hi, Mom! We have a drizzly day again. And it's so quiet! No moose, no squirrels, no birds. I guess everyone in smart enough to stay inside and keep warm and dry.
Hope you are warm and dry in Canada.
Hi, Mom! Sorry I didn't write yesterday … but I felt like a broken record … it rained again all day, we did a few errands and spent the rest of the day napping. It was raining again today, but we still made a trip out to Alaska Mill & Feed for a few more flowers and some dental bones for me! Around dinnertime there was a moose in the yard. I couldn't see him, but Chaos was out sitting on the driveway keeping track of him, and so was his dog friend Buddy. After the moose went on his way, Chaos sat in front of the door . . . is that cute or what? He's our knight in golden furry armor.
The sun came out just in time for a nice walk after dinner. With all the rain, the fireweed has grown like crazy! Therese says there's a legend that goes with the fireweed, that when it blooms at the top of the stalk that summer is over. I sure hope the fireweed slows down so we can have a nice long summer! And it's a good thing we got our walk in early … it's raining again … even though the sun is shining bright … and in the opposite direction on the hillside is a rainbow! And now that crazy Chaos is sitting out in front of the door, he is one dog that loves being outside.
Tonight is our last night in Stuckagain Heights, Mom, tomorrow we both become 'city girls' again . . . so I'm sleeping as much as I can on my waterbed . . . I'm sure gonna miss this bed . . . Therese just shakes her head and laughs at me.
G'nite, Mom. See you soon! Thanks for letting me stay with Therese and Chaos.
Sidebar from Therese:
Early the next morning, I posted to Facebook about a late night moose and rainbow.
Late night moose last night. Moose are so funny … this is the young bull that Chaos and Buddy chased away earlier in the evening . . . he just waited until everyone was in bed (except me, I was watching the rainbow) to reappear and continue to dine on birch saplings . . . and, yes, this is a night-time photo, though it's hard to define what 'night' is during the summer in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
It's hard to see it, but a rainbow filled the sky last night. It was so beautiful to see it colorizing the hills . . . like a rainbow made of trees . . . though I watched that rainbow for a long time, I did not stay awake to watch it fade . . . I preferred to take it with me to my dreams. . . :) Trees
The next morning, Pepper and I packed up everything, said good-bye to Chaos and headed down the hill. Our time together for adventures and community letter writing had come to an end, as all stories do . . . by now you can see why I thought you would want to read her letters to her mom . . . quite a big thinker for such a little dog . . . that's my Pepper for you . . . and why she's my little harbor seal.