Ranger on Change Theory

Ranger already has a healthy diet... he is lean and beautiful.
Ranger already has a healthy diet… he is lean and beautiful.


These last few days Ranger and I have been sharing much about why people change. We’ve concentrated on change that seems to be happening for me, and another for him. These heady exchanges have concentrated on why we have made these changes.

We both believe that change is hard. It’s hard because the inertia of “normal” is so strong. We both want very much to be accepted by our peers and our family.

Me: “Several years ago I identified a goal for myself. I wanted to eat much lower on the food chain. It would be good, I reasoned, for financial reasons, beans and lentils being much cheaper than meat. Also, for health reasons. Meat available to me is full of toxins and produced in less than admirable conditions…. If I tell you how chickens now live, you wouldn’t eat them either, not that you have a chance. But I wasn’t doing it for social reasons. Let’s be blunt: I raised my kids on a diet that relied on the frozen meat provided by my in-laws who raised good beef and pork on their Iowa farm. It was delivered to our freezer, and formed the backbone of our meals, along with lots of fresh vegetables I grew myself. Further, when we went to a restaurant, the first thing we all looked for was a meat, and then wondered about the side dishes later. So my kids, and my friends, were and are carnivores. So when I made my goal I practiced it alone. When I was out with friends or family, or entertaining, I reverted back to past practices: meat first, sides next. When I started hanging out with Darryl it was easier, because he ate no meat. In the meantime I have educated myself on the practices of animal husbandry and have become horrified by the way chickens, beef cattle and pigs are raised and slaughtered…and the terrible price the planet pays for using so much land to produce meat. Did you know that just one hamburger takes more than 600 gallons of water to produce? I’m not going to expound on all the data, but trust me, it’s bad.”

Me: …. “So I have stopped eating meat. I still eat fish. That transition away from eating meat makes me happy. And I feel better.”
Ranger: “So your change of diet was made incrementally and for yourself, if I understand you correctly, and you are satisfied…. happy…. with that change. So what’s the problem?”

Me: “I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable with that change. I don’t want to sound preachy or like I know better than anyone. It would be better for the whole world if cheeseburgers were no longer sold, but my job is just to be me and to manage myself. I no longer buy cheeseburgers. So when I say anything, it’s ‘I’m doing this for me, because I feel better and happier knowing my body isn’t contributing to the misery of animals.’ I don’t advertise this change. In restaurants it’s easy, because usually fish is available. I’ve got an increasing trove of good fish recipes at home, so I can continue to entertain without making it look like I’m trying to manipulate everyone’s eating habits. When we go to the homes of relatives and friends, I’m becoming more comfortable saying, ‘May I bring my own dish, since I’m no longer eating meat?’ It’s surprising, really, how easy it is.”

Ranger: “So back to your theory of change: since you believe it is incremental and personal when it happens best, what’s next for you in the food department?”

Me: “I believe I will continue to educate myself on things like cheese and egg production…. ice cream too. And fish!!! Maybe the next level for me is to cut way back on that. I’m not saying I’ll become a vegan, but I might. And if I do, it will be because it will make me happy.”

Ranger: “Okay, so change is personal, transitional, and best if not forced from the outside. I guess my own story is pretty much like that. I am changing in the same way regarding how I relate to people. I am slowly getting comfortable with strangers by taking my cues from you and Darryl. When someone comes to the house now I raise a ruckus, but when I see the two of you happily talking and relating to them I calm down and even welcome them. Did you notice the other day when I brought the ‘Blue Bone’ to your friend Michelle?”

Me: “I noticed that! Last week it happened twice, as a matter of fact. Now, will you do the same with my grandkids?”

Ranger: “Hruumph… I’ll think about that. But next session, let’s talk about a thornier topic related to change. It’s climate change and how that impacts you and your life. I believe that discussion might be less rosy and a lot more tense. Get ready.”

Ranger and I Speak About Beauty and Fashion


When I wake up these days, Ranger is peering directly into my eyes over the side of the bed. If he can manage the reach, he will also lick my fingers or toes or whatever is near the edge. When I work on my computer, he places his fine head right on the edge of the table and looks carefully at my work. When I prepare breakfast he is right beside the stove, searching my face for a possible handout. When we are done eating, he brings his blue bone and deposits it into my lap with the expectation that I throw it for him. Until I respond, he patiently and carefully gazes into my eyes.
The gaze Ranger gives is not like anything I have known. I have owned dogs before, but never one quite as intelligent as he. His eyes are focused on me, gauging my feelings. Every nuance, every innuendo, every inflection is gathered in and processed. Then he will decide what will make me happy. The mental wheels are always turning. His blue bone comes with a push into my lap and full eye contract. There is nothing hidden, nothing to avert his gaze. Or he may nuzzle my feet and lie down directly on them, an unconscious effort to comfort and console. Or he may lick the bunion on my left foot, long associated with discomfort if not outright pain, and the reason for the abandonment of any fashion conscious fantasies I may have had. My daughters wear high fashion shoes, stilettos or wedges, flashy things that they seem to wear with abandon. They prance down a street in these things. I struggle, I stumble sometimes, and all in flat shoes. I know my daughters simply don’t understand why I am not more foot conscious and fashionable. I could consult with foot doctors. I could get the surgery. I don’t. I am not in intense pain, and I know that bunion surgery is a difficult thing that causes much discomfort and often simply doesn’t correct the problem. My mom died at 93, and her bunions were as profound as mine. Because I loved my mom, is that why I resist the notion of surgery? Or is it a reasoned review of the situation and the acceptance that nobody in the world cares how my feet look? I’d like to believe it’s the latter.

Ranger seems to endorse that decision about bunions. He is drawn to them. He often rests his head on my feet, as if to say, “I know, girl. These are not fashion statements you’re making. But you’re living honest and not trying to be something you’re not. I’ve got some issues as well, mostly related to some bad things that were done to me in my previous life. My ear was mauled and has never completely been healed. My body was pretty beat up when Darryl got me, and I have memories of that pain which I carry with me. But here we are, and we’re able to live today in a world of little pain and total acceptance. Let’s just enjoy it. You don’t need to go shopping for some more glamorous shoes, because you know very well that very little other than a Size 10 Wide will cover those. Get over it. That’s what will allow you to walk in comfort. I don’t get second glances from people because of my feet. I get them because I am so alert to everyone’s state of mind. You have that same capability. You can listen better than anyone in the world. You can be present with not only me and Darryl, but with everyone in your circle of friends and family. You are not the center of attention. Nobody, not one soul, is able to concentrate on others like you are able to, or aspire to, because they are so into their own problems. If you think for one minute that people are obsessing about how you look on a photo, or the size of your bunions, or about the way your hair is dressed, guess again.”

I tell Ranger, by now my therapist of record (although he doesn’t charge anything other than his food!) about an incident from about ten years ago. I was still working, as a supervisor, and on this particular day I had to chair a meeting at the Minnesota Department of Education, starting at 4:00pm. I hadn’t had lunch until it was way too late to have lunch. What I ate was my usual crackers and peanut butter at my desk. But at 3:00pm I was drained and in need of a change of venue. I ventured out into the St. Paul downtown streets for a walk. I walked through the downtown area, past the St. Paul Hotel and past the theater where Garrison Keillor does his magic most weekends, and then headed back into the Department. As I headed to the restroom my left shoe exploded…. I mean, literally exploded. The lacings on my flat shoe gave way, leaving me limping through the hallway wondering what to do. Should I head back up the street to buy a new pair of shoes? But in a flash of Ranger-type inspiration I realized that if I didn’t make a big deal of this nobody else would notice. I practiced walking along without limping, ignoring the tear in my shoe. I found I could do it. When the meeting convened I walked in without a limp and without concern. Nobody in that meeting noticed my predicament. Nobody.

So maybe Ranger and I were meant for each other. My therapist and I knew each other immediately as soul mates. All he had to do is bring me into licking territory so that I knew I was okay with the decisions about shoe explosions and about buying bras without underwires and about jeans that actually fit over my bottom rather than over someone’s idea of my bottom. He told me it would be okay if I only bought shirts that actually fit me, with pockets that could hold the stuff I gathered at the beach or in the woods. He told me that bathing suits would be fine if I felt fine in them. He told me that my life was complete if I loved myself first, and then everyone else right behind. Oh, that was a moment. How could a girl (a girl!!!) raised with 1950’s standards of waiting on your man actually put herself and her comfort first, before anyone else in life? How could someone free herself from the need to wear fashions designed for much younger bunion-fee people, who weighed less than most? How could someone free herself from the crippling need for approval from everyone around her, dress as she wanted, and know she was okay? Ranger said, “It’s obvious, lady, all you need to do is pretend you’re a dog like me, and the rest is easy. Dogs have a basic understanding of this, you know. We’re ready and willing to share our understanding with you, but it’s difficult given the fashion magazines and advertising on TV. It’s no wonder you can’t see through the clutter of all that. Dogs don’t have magazines, and given our language limitations we’re going to be able to only give therapy where therapy is received. Funny how that works. You and I speak the same language, so it helps a lot. But for most folks it’s hard to have a coherent conversation because there is so much clutter in the room. Clutter of messages related to how your relatives and friends want you to be, clutter of messages from advertisements, clutter of messages from yourself and your host of parental influences, because you’re wired to receive those messages. Be gentle with yourself while you’re unwinding from it, but unwind you will.”

Ranger and I Speak About Purpose


I have an ongoing conversation with a good friend about why we get up each morning. He admits to having little purpose other than caring for his autistic grandson, who will be grown and gone before long. My friend’s grandparenting has been intense, and so necessary for this boy being raised without a father. But what happens now, I ask, before I turn the question back to myself. My life was full of purpose being the kind of mom my mother’s example set. It was full of a career that was demanding. It was full of being a grandmother once Alex came along. I have had passions for peace, for political candidates I support, for advocating for other women who are in miserable marriages to closeted gay men. I am passionate about my friendships, my hobbies of reading and writing. But the question lingers still…. what is my central purpose in each day? Am I simply filling time with my meager store of energy, throwing things on a wall and hoping something will stick, or do I have a driving need to accomplish a single great goal? I watch Darryl, who can now clearly articulate a purpose, after spending seven decades dabbling in a dozen things for all of which he had great talent: sculpture, painting, music composition, music performance, writing, business, real estate… you name it, and he’d done it. But finally, as a septuagenarian, he knows why he gets up every morning: filmmaking, but not just any films. Films that are devoted to educating about endangered species, films about human predation on habitat, films that also entertain. These films gather all his passions and talents under one umbrella. He goes out to get the film, often trekking through inhospitable climates. He edits that film into a complete story. He narrates that story. He writes the music for the story. He produces the final product, a series called “The Wild Orchid Man.” He takes those films around to orchid societies, environmental groups and theaters around the country. It is not a money making proposition, so he keeps his job at the local access channel, where he again makes his passions come to life in films about endangered habitat with the title, “The Florida Field Journal.” At both his day job and also his afternoon and evening job he is free to pursue what he finally really really gets up for every morning.

My purpose? Right now it is to bring no judgment to all the people I know, both relatives and friends. Unconditional love of others is not a bad passion. I can still list particular goals now, like write these emails, write these letters, shop for these birthdays, etc., etc., but they don’t drive me each day toward their completion, which is simply exhausting. Ranger says that it’s okay to sit with another cup of coffee so I can read the paper, to actually stretch out on the couch on an afternoon and take a small snooze, an unheard of thing during my entire life. On each occasion I do this I have a dog draped over my lap, happily joining in. After the snooze we talk about why we exist, what is the central purpose of getting up every morning. Ranger is clear: his purpose is to guard Darryl and me, get us to bed on time, and herd the two of us toward a quieter more loving existence.

We talk through our purpose on long walks, but also at naptime.
We talk through our purpose on long walks, but also at naptime.


Ranger on Skin


Ranger tending to my bunions.
Ranger tending to my bunions.  He knows my bunions hurt today!


Ranger has a thing about skin. More accurately, he has a thing about my skin and his fur. He shares his freely. I needed to learn how to do that, with my epidermis.

I was raised in a home where every morning you emerged from the bedroom fully clothed. God forbid we ever saw a naked body. When my brothers enlisted in the army we were all arranged on the porch for a goodbye handshake! For God’s sake, they were going off to possibly die, and we gave them a handshake? One of the most memorable and horrible experiences I had at about age ten happened in the basement of the parsonage in which we happened to be living. My oldest brother was working as a hired farmhand, and had returned home without me knowing. There was a shower in the basement, and he was under that shower. It had no curtain. My mother asked me to go get the potatoes for dinner, which were stored in the root cellar next to the main room. I took the colander and headed down the steps, and then realized that brother Paul was showering. He was as startled as I, and we both ran for cover. That experience was traumatic for me, an experience that haunted me for years. I am pretty sure my father would have been pleased to know that, since he believed in guilt and shame as integral to what makes a young person come into adulthood.

If I had those traumas, I’m sure my ex had even more difficult times. I do have a fair amount of empathy, not for the way he handled his coming out, but about how difficult it must have been growing up gay under those rural circumstances in a dysfunctional family. That, along with a personality that was risk-averse and seeking of other’s approval, must have been agonizing. No wonder he was in such panic!

Every morning these days, Ranger feels compelled to lick my hands. He is welcoming this new and fresh day, and wants me there with him. He asks for nothing in return, but happily accepts each and every ounce of attention I give him. We have breakfast, Darryl and I, and as soon as Ranger knows I am done eating he brings me his “blue bone,” which is deposited in my lap. I then throw some lobs down the hallway, which he fetches, and then I think of a new trick. Today I put the bone into the wires of his kennel. It took him a while to figure out that he had to go into the cage before he could retrieve it. But after the second try he had mastered it, as he masters each and every new trick for the day. When we announce that we’re done with that playtime he settles down on our feet in a happy cloud of fur.

Skin. It is our biggest organ. I didn’t know anything about skin other than that you covered it up and prayed for it not to sag as you aged. In my twenties I fried it to a crisp, usually with baby oil laced with mercurochrome. Later I was too busy to care, and didn’t lift a finger to help either my face or my body along toward skin health.

Now when I wake up in the middle of the night, I feel two bodies besides mine in the bed. Darryl gives a soft contented moan when my hand reaches out to caress his back. Ranger gives the same low moan when my foot finds his sleepy form on the bottom of the bed. We all are here in the boat of life, finding our way in the slow rhythm of that sea, and for now we have each other, and all of our skin matches. It matches because it feeds our need for human contact. It matches because we all know we need each other. It matches because we unconditionally accept everything about each other. It matches because our bodies and hearts were made for such touch. Where once I dutifully rose each day to face what I accepted as the necessary sacrifices of an lonely, austere life, I now feel plugged into the source of physical and spiritual contentment. I am so grateful to have finally arrived at this point, this quiet and joyful place. I am bursting into furious flower.

Ranger Turns Sideways Into The Light

Ranger convenes a session with me on a morning when the lake is shrouded in mist and the wood storks on shore appear to be hunkered down like aged clerics in a cold cathedral. We sit on the screened porch, me with a steaming coffee cup and him in tense attention to the dark. The first bursts of dawn appear pink and comforting directly opposite us.

Ranger: “You and I both need to turn sideways and into the light. It’s taking your unconditional love to the next level and applying it to strangers and also those outside your immediate circle.”

Ranger Turns To The Light

Me: “Look, can’t you leave me in peace? I’m wanting to think about absolutely nothing right now. I want to sip this coffee and enjoy dawn when it comes, without some therapy dog getting all intent on making more of me than I want to be, and I become annoyed.”

Ranger: “Ha. You say that, but you know damn well that the minute I open my mouth you pay attention, and you usually make it worth my time… even though that time spans several sessions. You’re slow, but you’re not beyond hope. Remember last week, when I challenged you to not only believe in but also practice what you have on your kitchen wall, that plaque that reads ‘Every Day Do Something That Scares You?’ Yeah, that one. I’ve watched you looking at it often these days, and I’d just as soon challenge you to think about Darryl a bit more seriously in this matter of judging/talking about people both within your family and among your friendships.”

Me: “I have studied Darryl now for a while. I would guess that when he talks to himself it’s in the realm of ideas, not people. I spend time fussing and fuming about one person or another, and when I let that spill over into a conversation with him I am surprised that he certainly observed the behavior, and perhaps even had an opinion, but it never occurred to him that he would share that with me, or to dwell on it. Does his brain work differently than mine? Further, he does not carry a grudge in any sense just because I am upset. I thought I’d learned that lesson long ago: Do not bear your friend’s burden for him by taking it on, because it usually turns out badly. The only person you can control is yourself. Darryl is listening to the music in his head, and that music is real. Or he is thinking of the script to write for a segment of his online journal. Or he is remembering a photo taken in Myakka State Park. Is that because he’s a man? Or is he, because he is an artist, living in a world softened by the creative impulse? Or has he learned, through hard experience, that life is ephemeral, and that to get into the grudges of other people is counterproductive, but also a waste of time. Not only that, but to spend time trying to analyze the behavior of other people is even more of a waste.”

Me: (continuing….) “Perhaps we all learn more from young kids than from adults. I was with granddaughter Alex a few weeks ago. She is exceptionally connected to people and very aware of her environment. She reprimanded me (from her car seat in the back!) that I must always say only good about other people. Apparently she had witnessed a time when I did not do that. I can learn from her.”

This is a slow process, this turning sideways into the light! I’m nowhere close to it, but have that vision in my mind each day. It’s hard personal work, the hardest I’ve ever done, and it’s lonely a lot of the time. Often, when I turn, the other person assumes I don’t want to talk, or have another agenda, or think I’m too preoccupied…

So I reconvene a session with Ranger.

Me: “Okay, I’m trying hard with this idea. I have experienced blowback anger coming my way when I change topic or don’t respond with more immediate enthusiasm. So now I’m coming back to figure out what’s going on. I notice that when a stranger comes to the door, or Darryl or I bring someone into the house who you don’t know, you go ballistic. In fact, the other day I brought my grandson into the house and had to finally put you in another room because you were scaring both of us. How is that different than having my own little exclusive group of friends or family with whom I can share confidences?”

Ranger: “Okay. I see where you’re going with this. Should I be glad you’re working hard to understand? Yes. I commend you for trying. I do my job, and my job is to herd and protect the flock that I’m entrusted with. You’re in my flock now, but I had to work you over pretty well before you got there. Same with your grandson, although I need to be around him a little more before that happens. No different with humans, right? You and Darryl lock up the doors at night before you head to bed. Darryl called the police the other day because he could see a drug deal happening down the street. Don’t confuse that with what you and I are working on. Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Be as gentle as a dove but smart as a snake?’ Being gentle and smart about your relationships with people is exactly that. Don’t put blinders on. When you were married all those years, you had blinders on, and you weren’t smart at all. I suspect your ‘gentleness’ was covering a lot of anger and hurt, and where did that get you? When you took the blinders off, you gathered the facts, and then you went straight to the root of the problem and you did it with direct confrontation. You didn’t whine to the kids about it, you simply shared your own feelings and the facts. It all turned out for the very best, right?”

Me: “Okay. I need to process that for a while. I think what I’m learning here is that just because I refuse to engage in talk about other people doesn’t mean I don’t have my own opinions about them or about how they behave. I’m entitled to that. What I will strive to do is to not engage in anything but positive conversations about anybody… friends, family, or strangers. Frankly, that will be hard.”

Ranger: “Why hard?”

Me: “Because so much of conversation with everyone involves subtle comparisons and judgments.”

Ranger (yawning): “Tell me something else that’s new. That’s not new. At least you didn’t give me that old adage that small people talk about things, bigger people talk about people, and really important people talk about ideas. What would be new is everyone talking about ideas. Now that would be of huge interest to me. It should be to you. When’s the last time you consciously determined that every conversation on a particular day would be about ideas, not about people?”

Me: “All I can say is that I will try.”

Ranger: “Wake me up when you have something to report. You’ve made me tired.”

Ranger on Prayer


Ranger's got prayer figured out. He's helping me get my head straight.
Ranger has prayer figured out. He’s helping me get my head straight on that subject….



Ranger: “Okay, you need to pray.”

Me: “Hold on! I’m not going there. I haven’t prayed in years. I’m on record about all of that. Religion has been a completely negative chapter in human history. All you need to do is look around you at the world right now and you know that. Christians had their torture heyday and now Muslims are doing it. Doesn’t matter what religion you look at – well maybe Buddhism is the exception – you’re looking at hierarchy that is intent on protecting itself, establishing control over the populace, and exploiting all resources. Why in the world would I be caught praying?”

Ranger: “Because you misunderstand the nature of prayer.”

Me: “Huh?”

Ranger: “You got indoctrinated by all that nonsense from your years in pews. What notion you got, I suspect, is that prayer was a petition to some great powerful being who might grant your request. At the most basic level you’ve witnessed those who ask their powerful being to grant them a good parking space. It’s no wonder you roll your eyes in disgust. Then when a car pulls out at a convenient spot, presto, it’s thanks to God, right?”

Me: “Exactly. Or how about the nonsense of asking for a good grade on a test, as if God would provide that? Or my personal favorite, begging for a lottery win? I actually know someone who did that, and was convinced nobody would do more good with the winnings than she, even though the first thing on her list was, ‘buy a red convertible.’”

Ranger: “Clearly we agree on that level of supplication, so let’s not beat that dead horse. But go up a notch. What about praying for rain in order to have a good crop? Surely that is a righteous prayer!”

Me: “No. I’ve thought about this a lot. I don’t agree with that at all. Climate is a natural phenomenon. I believe mankind has negatively impacted rainfall and ice melt and sea level rise. The gods or whatever you call them refuse to get involved with that kind of thing, and trust me, if they really exist they’re mightily amused by the idea that prayer might suffice to induce a ‘miracle’ and produce rain. The planet is on its own, and it’s going to burn out eventually on its own. In the meantime the human race has made a terrific mess of managing it. Most annoying to me are people who believe the world is there for their own personal pleasure and use, as if the more resources they can use the more they figure they’re entitled to. One of my favorite authors, Martin Borg, says, “…we think primarily of ourselves and not very much about future generations – our children and our children’s children. The earth belongs to God, not simply to us, and not simply to those of us alive today.” Amen to that. There are people, and more of them in my own American culture than anywhere else in the world, who must figure that the earth is put here to be subdued and manipulated. They must think that the world has infinite resources that will continue to provide what is necessary for them, always renewing itself. Unfortunately, we’ve got more and more evidence that the world is fragile and needs to be respected and protected.”

Ranger: “Glad to see you read something pithy from time to time. Do you see me disagreeing with you? You could probably preach that sermon to a lot of people, but to a dog? Come on, think of something more substantive on this subject. Otherwise I’m headed over to my food dish and whine for something. You see, that begins to get at my point about prayer. I go to my dish, whine, and sometimes I even pick it up with my mouth and dump it at your feet, usually when you’ve totally forgotten I also need to eat! I figure I’m the one who can impact the situation by doing something that will make my own situation – and yours – better. It’s not prayer, its personal individual action that possibly, hopefully, changes the reality. I feel hunger pangs, I do something that changes things. That’s the essence of prayer.”

Me: “Okay. But now widen your lens. Let’s say I learn at my next doctor’s appointment that I have Parkinson’s Disease. How about begging for relief from that through prayer?”

Ranger: “Actually, it’s no different. Hate to break your bubble. You get a bad diagnosis, it’s the product of the natural environment having a go at your body. You’d be well advised to listen to your doctor, do research on the topic, and elect a course of action that might (or might not) improve your life over time.”

Me: “You’re pretty hardnosed on this topic, aren’t you?”

Ranger: “You bet. It was the luck of the draw that got me out of being put down. Darryl arrived, not as an answer to prayer, but as the result of some pretty fortunate circumstances. It had nothing to do with prayer. It had everything to do with both Darryl and me being receptive to the opportunity provided.”

Me: “So prayer, in your view, is managing yourself, and being proactive on your own behalf or on behalf of others. So why do you call it prayer? Why not call it self control or self actualization?”

Ranger: “Actually, it is prayer. It’s more than just being proactive. It involves a lot of quiet reflection before the action. I get a lot of such meditation done while you’re gone from the house. Sitting here on the sofa I’m doing a lot of plain old meditation. I watch the birds, yes, and I nap. But I’m also reflecting constantly on my own place in the world. I ask myself constantly how I might be able to improve my own attitude. I think about each close relationship I have and scout out what might be one thing I can do to improve it. You notice I’m no longer dragging my own toys and bones out of the family room? That’s not because you were wishing for that to happen. It’s because I was watching your body language when you were cleaning up every night. I’m not stupid. I figured out that because I love you and want you to be able to get to bed more promptly I could help and what I get out of that is the satisfaction of watching you happily headed to bed.”