Finding Scarlet's Run
I had a ranch in California. While I lived there, I would always add a qualifier like ‘ranchette’ or ‘hobby ranch’ when I said that outloud because I was surrounded on all sides by proper ranches run by real ranchers. I would've embarrassed myself referring to my place as a ranch while I lived there. But now it’s the best way to describe it to you.
I named this place Scarlet’s Run.
When I got out of the Army, in 1989, my Mom brought me this awkward puppy. She was a mix of Australian Shepherd and Collie. She had a big head and big feet. I named her Scarlet after Scarlet O’Hara.
In 1991, she and I moved to San Francisco and started a tech company. We had a lot of fun in San Francisco in the 90’s. We did stuff like go to the park, chased tennis balls, ate cheese, drank vodka tonics together, went sailing, married a girl, went swimming, went on fun dog vacations and generally the kinds of things best friends do.
I worked a lot too. I didn’t know what I was doing or how to run my company. That made everything harder. For every problem I solved, I would create two new ones. Scarlet helped me with these problems by reminding me to go outside and be excited about the little things. I would take my big-ass Motorola cell phone, and at least one pager, wherever Scarlet and I went. Thirteen years later, I would get so sick of that cell phone, and every mobile phone that followed it, and that would push me to find somewhere where phones couldn't find me.
Scarlet was a city dog. She walked around with me, off-leash*, all over San Francisco. She would wait at street corners for the lights to change, mostly wait outside while I was in the grocery store, eat at sidewalk cafes, sneak into bars with me, and sleep on the sidewalk outside my office when it was sunny out. On several occasions, someone walking by, would see her unmoving body on the sidewalk and try to revive her. She would play dead and hoped they’d go away. They would eventually come into my office, which was at street level, and frantically tell me there was a dog outside, laying on the sidewalk and they think it might be dead or very ill. I would tell them that her name is Scarlet and she’s just ignoring you because she’d rather not move. They would try to tell me that no, the dog outside was definitely dead. I would give them a doggy biscuit with instructions to lay it on the ground, close enough that she could eat it by only moving her head. They would do that and be relieved.
I knew she was a true city dog when, while heading out to dinner, I noticed she wasn’t walking next to me. I looked back and saw her sniffing the pants of a city worker who was actively jackhammering up the sidewalk. She was nonplussed by the noise and vibration. Justed wanted to sniff the smell of his own dog on his pants leg or maybe lick up some part of his lunch that he’d dropped on his boot. What a good city girl.
For being such a city girl, she also liked to adventure. We camped a lot. She liked camping because it usually involved her favorite things: swimming, getting balls, eating, and drinking vodka tonics. She especially liked camping on boats because they reinforced the above activities. For vacations, we’d do things like rent a houseboat somewhere, oftentimes at Lake Shasta in Northern California. It seemed like this was good girl Scarlet’s favorite place.
One of our favorite things to do together was sailing on the San Francisco Bay. We’d usually go a few times a month in the summer and fall seasons and maybe once a month when the weather turned cold. We’d sail north from San Francisco Bay, to San Pablo Bay, and anchor off the beach at China Camp. Scarlet loved to swim there, even when the water was icy cold. I’d throw her tennis ball off the back of the boat. She would leap off, make a big belly flop splash, swim out to get her ball and come back in for a nap. Scarlet’s sailboat had a high transom making it impossible for her to climb back in the boat once she was in the water. To solve for this, I built her a long ramp out of plywood, covered it in astroturf for improved traction, connected it to the back of the boat, and then put floats on the end that went in the water. After getting her ball, she’d swim back to the ramp and put her weight on the end that floated on the water. The ramp would begin to sink into the water and then she would run up the ramp before it sunk all the way under. Such a good girl.
I got her a small inflatable boat with an outboard motor that we’d tow behind her sailboat. We use the zodiac to get to shore for doing pees and poos. Sometimes, when the fast moving currents in the bay would take a thrown ball too far away, I'd use the pee boat to rescue her. She was a little too dedicated to fetching ball at times.
When good girl Scarlet turned twelve, she started to develop tumors all over her body. These were probably related to her rich diet of vodka tonics and cheese. Her doctor gave her massive injections of hormones and, thankfully, the tumors shrank and went away. However, she soon thereafter developed Cushing’s disease which, ironically, causes an overproduction of hormones. It’s incurable. It causes all kinds of internal chaos that include things like swelling of the organs, trouble breathing, weakness, inability to control urination, and ravenous thirst and hunger. Puppers with Cushing’s disease can die of all kinds of symptoms but Scarlet hung in there. She was fourteen years old when the cheese got her.
Cushing’s can makes dogs uncontrollably hungry. They usually gain a lot of weight and will craftily get into anything edible. It’s nearly impossible to keep a ravenous dog from eating everything they can get their paws on. She was really weak at this point and there was no more getting balls. She needed to be picked up and carried a lot. I loved this because until then, she never let me pick her up and hug her. She would tolerate some limited affection, as long as you kept it brief, but she was not into that stuff. But when she got sick and too weak, she accepted the inevitable hugs, kisses and me burying my head in her fur. I would hold her for hours and hours. I wanted every second of her ticking clock.
In 2001, on the last day she graced my life, Scarlet and I were heading out to spend the weekend sailing on the San Francisco Bay. We’d gone to the grocery to load up on food and then made a second stop to pick up wine. These days, she preferred to wait in the car. I was in a hurry to get underway in order to beat the changing currents in the Bay. If we left too late in the day, we’d be fighting them, and it would add hours to our trip. I had just planned on running in and coming right back out. By the time I got back to the car, Scarlet was dead in the back seat. She’d dug a block of Havarti cheese out of a grocery bag full of the weekend’s supplies and choked on it. She got the cheese stuck in her throat and didn’t have the strength to cough it back out. I can’t say I’ve ever been the same.
A few years later, I was looking for a way out. San Francisco had lost its shine for me. I’d rented a houseboat on Lake Shasta again for a vacation with the two idiot dogs I tried to replace her with. Being there got me thinking that maybe I’d just stay. I ended up returning the houseboat a few days early and drove aimlessly around the surrounding countryside. I wanted to imagine what it might be like to live out there. I made some wrong turns, if there is even such a thing in a place like that, and ended up in the little place called Whitmore.
Whitmore was at the end of a twenty-mile long dead-end road. It was the rare place that was not on the way to anywhere else. You couldn’t be ‘just passing through’ Whitmore. You had to go their intentionally, or like me, be lost. The one road in was paved for the first twenty miles and then turned into a dirt road just on the other side of the “town”. From there, you could, with a little work, stay on dirt roads all the way through the mountains and out into the desert, for another hundred miles, until you hit the dry lake bed in Nevada where they held Burning Man each year.
I say “town” in parenthesis because it really wasn’t much of a town. It had a gas pump that sold fuel in ½ gallon increments, a general store that had non-ironic sawdust on the floor and a small school. I’d find out later that this school held classes for grades Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade. It had fewer than twenty students in total, with some grades having just a single student. I'd meet people in their twenties who'd attended that school for their entire young life, graduated, stayed in Whitmore and then married another classmate. It was that kind of place. The unincorporated township of Whitmore was outside of any police jurisdiction and had a volunteer only fire department. It was the kind of place where, if you needed something, you figured it out yourself or had to rely on your neighbors.
But, I didn’t know any of this at the time. I didn’t even know where I was. This wasn't a place that had roadsigns. I didn’t have a GPS or map. I was pretty sure, after driving through, that I’d never find it again. But I was wrong about that. Whitmore is where, a few weeks later, I found the little ranch I named Scarlet’s Run.
I know I’ve gotten off on a tangent here. My plan was to tell you about Scarlet’s Run and how Jenny and I 'remodeled' that place and how we want to apply what we learned to the Going Queen. This is, after all, a blog about a renovation project. We’ll get to that. I renovated Scarlet’s Run and it renovated me.
* before anyone goes nutz about Scarlet being off-leash, I refer you to the statement about it being San Francisco in the nineties.