Another Adventure

After working at the Theosophical Society for a few months Andy and Cindy and I and our dog L’il Bit, a black and white Papillion, were invited to move into the main building. It was an unexpected privilege to be moving into the shared adult quarters that had never allowed animals or children. We were given two of several rooms on the 3rd floor that were tucked away for guests. One for Cindy and L’il Bit and one for Andy and me. Other larger rooms were for groups and a main gathering area occupied the rest of the space. There were even humorous rumors of ghost sightings on that floor.

It was an exciting move. We loved our rooms and the freedom we had to be on the premises and mingle with the other residents. Those in the main house and some who lived in separate houses on the property would pop up to see L’il Bit, who was quite popular, and offer to take her for walks or spend time with her. We loved going to the main dining room in the basement for meals and recreational time with members. The food was vegetarian and the cook was generous in experimenting with vegan meals for me.

It was an exciting and meaningful time. Well known featured guests led public functions and fascinating topics were covered by various groups that met or offered workshops. The environment was stimulating and engaging. We were welcomed and appreciated but as time went by we felt some tension when a few of the older members on the lower floor, who had given years of service, were becoming upset by L’il Bit’s growing presence in the building and on the grounds. Many of them had had to relinquish beloved pets in order to live here and devote themselves to service. It became a painful awareness. I did not want our family to cause unhappiness or resentment. I understood the pain and commitment it had taken to part with beloved four-footed companions in order to be here.

It was with a heavy heart on the one hand and anticipation of a new adventure on the other, that we felt it was time to move on. We decided to ride our bikes back to California. Andy put together a little basket on the front of his bike for L’il Bit and we practiced loading sleeping bags, a small tent and minimal clothing between the three bicycles. When friends invited us to travel with them as they drove their car and a rented moving truck to their new home outside of Colorado we were thrilled. Our bicycles and simple belongings were fit in and we were off.

We enjoyed the camaraderie and fun of this first leg of our journey. We bid our friends goodbye when we reached their destination and drove off on our bicycles. Andy took the lead with L’il Bit tucked safely in the tented basket, protected from sun and weather. Cindy followed him in the middle and I held the end position, focusing tensely on Cindy in front of me. Like so many things, it was not what we expected. After making it down a treacherous, steep hill one day the drizzling rain turned into a deluge, coming down in buckets. As we rode along the now flat road a truck pulled over and stopped in front of us. “What are you doing out here?” he exclaimed. We told him we were heading to a campground some miles up the road. “Put your bikes in back and get in. I’ll take you there,” he said. We gratefully stowed our bikes and hopped in.

We were dropped off at what we deemed a luxurious campground. It even had a laundry room. We pitched our tent, took all of our wet clothes to the laundry room and got them toasty warm in the drier. Then we crawled cozily into our tent. It was early evening on Saturday, July 31, 1976. It was my 29th birthday. That evening a complex system of thunderstorms produced intense rainfall for an hour, releasing as much as 7½ inches of rainfall not far from where we were camped. We cooked a warm dinner under the covering of our tent flap and ate dried pineapple for desert. I can still feel the happy contentment as I enjoyed every bite. It was one of the best birthday dinners I ever had.

In the morning we assessed the situation and made a new plan. We would buy a used car, attach our bikes and drive just 50 miles a day. Then we could take our bikes down and explore the surrounding area. We found an old woody station wagon in good condition and Cindy named it Randy. Randy was our new home. We had many adventures as we rode our bikes in and around Indian reservations, met and conversed with native Americans and travelers, made bracelets and necklaces by stringing together various beads and jewels from nature’s bounty and discovered the distinctive whiff of butterscotch as we put our noses into the trunks of a Ponderosa Pine.

We reached the Grand Canyon in time to celebrate Cindy’s 12th birthday on September 10th. We set up camp, made new friends, and Andy and Cindy hiked down the Bright Angel Trail one morning while I stayed on top with L’il Bit. Early the next morning L’il Bit stayed with neighboring campers while I began the descent to meet Andy and Cindy as they climbed back up. I covered as much ground as I could, enjoying the opportunity to experience the majesty of this national park. When we came together Cindy was spent and struggling and Andy went on ahead to retrieve L’il Bit. It became my sole focus to keep her going and get us to the top. After some time a friendly young man hiked past us and made encouraging comments to Cindy. His interaction temporarily lifted her spirits and gave her an energy boost. Fortunately for us, the young man was focused on taking photos and enjoying the magnificent views so we frequently caught up to him. His smiles and encouragement continued to lift Cindy’s spirits and in retrospect it was likely the major incentive that got us to the top before dark. Andy had a campfire going and dinner started. After dinner I got up to gather dishes and clean up but my legs collapsed from under me. For the next few days I could only walk while holding onto Andy.

Our adventure continued and we stopped here and there for shorter or longer periods of time, getting jobs and taking time to explore new areas. In the Tempe and Phoenix area we climbed buttes and hiked trails. We adjusted our schedules to accommodate the extreme day time temperatures, spending more time outdoors in the early morning or evening. We walked in the morning as the sun came up and shopped in the evening after dark. When an opportunity came up for a work project in Evergreen, Colorado we packed up faithful old Randy and headed to the Rocky Mountains.

Evergreen was a charming little town, 19 miles west of Denver, where most locals commuted to work. Andy acquired the position he had applied for and we rented a renovated attic, accessed by an outdoor stairway. It was a cozy one bedroom, one bath, with a small kitchen and a cubby under one side of the slanted roof. The bedroom was set up for Cindy while Andy and I slept on a mattress in the cubby. Cindy had been homeschooled for 3 grades and was now enrolled in 7th grade at the local school. Andy and I took a class and signed up to give temporary foster care for children in transition. Our little home qualified and we were told about a young teenager named Penny, who needed a temporary place to stay while a suitable home was found for her. We were also told that she had been abused, acted out, was too friendly with men and disliked women. I was informed that she wouldn’t allow a woman to get close to her. Andy and I went to meet her. She was surly and frowning and didn’t say much.

After meeting Penny we had concerns about the influence she might have on Cindy. The three of us talked it over and Cindy, enthusiastic to be supportive of a foster sibling, felt she was up to the challenge. She wanted to help. We moved a second bed into Cindy’s room and hoped the girls would adjust to the temporary situation. It was touch and go in the early days. Penny challenged us to reject her and broke every rule. She lit up cigarettes in the bedroom, defied us, did everything she could to prove we wouldn’t accept her. Cindy and Penny managed to bond with each other on a peer level and adjusted to the arrangement.

One day, discouraged and determined to connect with her, I sat on the bottom of the stairs outside and waited for her to come back from school. She arrived, defiant and angry and I began speaking to her from my heart, telling her things I wanted her to know - that she had special qualities, that life hadn’t been easy and she deserved an opportunity to be in a caring home. No matter how she spoke to me or how angry she was I continued speaking to her gently and patiently. After a time her face began to quiver and suddenly she was in my lap, arms wrapped around me, sobbing.

She quickly became attached to me. The social service worker couldn’t believe it. She had never responded to a woman before. I was glad to have connected with her but knew it couldn’t be an ongoing relationship. We were neither prepared nor licensed to take her on permanently. This attachment was going to make it difficult for her to transition into a home. She wanted to be at my side and have my attention all the time. If I went to bed before Andy she would come out of her room and snuggle up next to me until Andy came and she had to go back to the bedroom. It was hard for all of us and then they found her a home. She wouldn’t look at me or speak to me when she was picked up. I wasn’t allowed to see her again. It was heartbreaking and the end of foster care for us. Penny, or Penelope, as I affectionately called her, remains in my heart as does my hope that she is living a happy and meaningful life.

Our little attic home was surrounded by forested mountain terrain and I frequently walked down the road to a path that led into the mystical realms of nature. One day I was returning blissfully down the path to the road when a large Saint Bernard ran by, chasing a car down the road. As I reached the road I headed in the opposite direction and the dog, who had no doubt been outrun by the car, had turned around and made me his target. He came up unexpectedly from behind, lunged at my thigh, and bit me. As I jumped around to face him he continued to lunge and I walked backgrounds, holding my hands up and yelling at him to go away. By now I was across the street from a house and a woman yelled to me, “Don’t worry. He doesn’t bite.” I yelled back, “He’s already bitten me!” To my utter surprise she turned away and walked back into the house. I managed, walking backwards as he lunged at me, to get home. When I was able to examine my thigh it was covered in a large purple bruise. I called local authorities and was told nothing could be done unless the skin had been broken.

Andy was at work with our only car. When he arrived home I took the car and drove up the driveway to where the woman had called out to me. As I parked the Saint Bernard ran out and lunged at my car window. I blew the horn several times and waited but no one came out. The next day, out walking in a different direction, I pondered how to respond to this situation. The dog lived right by a bus stop where children gathered each morning and were dropped off in the afternoon. It was not a safe situation. As I looked up at the sky enjoying the beauty of billowing clouds one cloud caught my attention. It was clearly shaped in the form of a hand holding a pen. As I looked at the image a thought struck me. I could write an article to the editorial section of the local newspaper. I did. It was titled, Is a Dog’s Freedom Worth It. It was a long article and it was printed in its entirety. Within a handful of days the dog was no longer running freely. It felt important to me write the article but I had not expected it to actually get published. It brought an unexpected realization: I can write.

Cheryl Canfield, CCHT, 2024