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Don't Let Him Jump

22nd Feb 2022 in

Summer on the Mojave Desert is a special time. The days are long and it gets hot, but hardly ever too hot. It gets too hot in places like Florida and Louisiana, but 102º is a nice warm day on the Mojave where the humidity percentage hovers in the teens and twenties. Summer days on the Mojave seem to float on forever between dawn and sunset, as shadows rotate from west to east under the sun’s fiery, but somehow softly diffused roar. I think the atmosphere above the Mojave must have something to do with this diffusion. The wind regularly scours the air clean of debris, sometimes vigorously, and at other times more gently.

Throughout the winter the desert air is scathed by cold, icy blasts from the west that grate and tear and rip and rend the nerves and anything else that's not battened down. Winds in the summer are softer, almost timid. They are tamed no doubt by the sun and the heat rising from the sand and rock. Summer winds usually only qualify as cooling breezes, and the most endearing of them are lightly tinged by the yellow smell of the creosote bush, ubiquitous across the entire region. Having absolutely no relation to the petroleum product obtained through the distillation of tar, creosote on the Mojave is Larrea tridentata, the Creosote bush. I will always associate the fresh smell of the Creosote bush with summer and clean, cool rain on the desert.

Creosote - Larrea tridentata

Speaking of rain, not much of it falls on the Mojave. Annual rainfall averages about 4-inches, and very little of that small amount falls in the summer. Unlike the lower deserts to the south and east, the Mojave does not experience a strong monsoon flow up from the Gulfs of California and Mexico. While summer rains are not rare in the Mojave, neither are they regular occurrences, and they add little to the annual rainfall total. Just over 80% of the Mojave’s annual precipitation falls between October and April. Summer rains, when they do come, however, tend toward the dramatic. I will never forget a summer evening spent with friends on a ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains, overlooking the Mojave as a thunderstorm grew and reached its crescendo over the desert far below. Total darkness and silence enveloped us on the ridge, and the storm gave a wide berth to the mountains we were observing from. We could see the lights of the two main cities below us, and the various other hamlets on the desert where people made their homes and businesses. Above the desert towered columns of billowing thunderheads, reaching upward toward a full moon. Bolts of lightning jutted out from the base of these towering clouds like electric legs, marching the storms across the desert floor. After each flash, we would slowly count out loud, “one…two…three…” and before we reached 20, we would hear distant thunder rumble over the desert floor, then rebound and echo a few seconds later from the mountains behind us.

One particular August afternoon I was content to stay indoors and let the dog day blaze away outside without me. I was a paramedic in my early 20s, unmarried with no familial responsibilities, and this was the first of a three-day break from work. I was spending time at my parent's house where I'd grown up, taking some needed time away from the trials and tribulations of Los Angeles where I worked and lived most of the time. There were, finally, no medical emergencies to attend to. Around noon I wandered to the kitchen on the east side of the house and glanced out the window. Billowing up on the eastern horizon was a line of thunderheads that stretched from the mountains to the south, over the desert to the north as far as I could see. I turned on the radio and searched around the dial for a weather report. As I had hoped, thunderstorms were on tap for the afternoon. 

Inspired, I made a sandwich and put some ice and a few cans of beer in a bucket. As I was getting everything in order, my dog Fremont, a golden retriever, came around the corner, his eyes still heavy from the nap he'd just awakened from, but tail wagging. He knew a plan was hatching. I was planning on climbing onto the roof to watch the storm’s approach and hadn’t considered the fact that Fremont would, of course, want to join me wherever I went. He considered it his lot in life to observe, from a distance and without comment, as I capered about in my foolish twenty-something adventures. 
“Not this time, Fremont. I’ll just be up on the roof.”

Glancing out the window I made a calculated guess that the storm would probably arrive in about two hours – plenty of time to watch the approach, then get off the roof before it became dangerous. I opened the door, then looked at Fremont. He stood by the door, his brown, golden retriever eyes wide with anticipation, ears alert. The silly red bandanna I had tied around his neck made him look quite rakish and ready. All these things, of course, were coldly calculated by the dog to make me bend.


“OK, come on,” I said as I opened the door.

He leaped outside, then paced around in the figure-eight that he performed when he didn’t quite know where to go. I had changed plans and was going to be content to sit in the yard with the lunch, beer, and dog, rather than up on the roof.

That was when I noticed the ladder. I'd just hammered down some loose shingles earlier that morning, and the ladder still leaned against the house.

I looked at the dog.

I looked back at the ladder.

Fremont was well-trained, and I knew he could climb that ladder; I’d had him climb them before. Genius! I brought the lunch and the bucket up and set it on a flat part of the roof, then came back down.

“Hup Fremont,” I said, motioning up the ladder.

Without hesitation he mounted the ladder and in less than an instant was on the roof, wagging his tail and looking down at me, bandanna fluttering and eyes a-gleam. 

“Good boy!”

I climbed up and we walked over to the flat part of the roof above the kitchen. I shared my sandwich with Fremont, and we peacefully watched the approach of the storm. After a while, the wind picked up, and shortly there was the unmistakable smell of rain-fired creosote resin on the wind. Soon the tops of the trees were bending and dust began to blow. 

“We’d better head down now,” I said, and collected the remains of lunch and the empties. I stuffed everything into the bucket, walked over and threw it down to the ground near the ladder. I climbed partway down, then called the dog over.

“OK Fremont, come on buddy,” I said and tapped a rung on the ladder. 

He looked at me and didn’t make a move. 

“Come on, we’ve got to get down now,” I said in a more emphatic tone.

He looked at me and whined, and then backed up. It was at that moment that I realized the fatal flaw of the scenario I suddenly found myself within. Fremont had only gone UP ladders, never down. The ladders I'd trained him on had only gone up to the top of his dog house, about 4 feet tall. Nothing compared to the height of the roof. I looked to the east and the storm was, of course, getting closer. I looked at Fremont. He was sitting on the slanted roof, brown eyes wide with anticipation, ears alert, rakish red bandanna fluttering in the wind. He was big for a golden, about 60 pounds of solid dog. No way to carry him down the ladder. No time to train him at this point.

“Shit…” I said out loud. What am I going to do now, I thought to myself.

“Stay…stay. Don’t move for chrissake. Stay” I told Fremont in my most serious voice, holding my hand up, palm toward his face. I climbed down the ladder and went into the house.

Goldent retriever climbing ladder
Haley heads up, just like Fremont...

My grandmother lived with us at this point in time. On that particular day, she was only 95 years old. Unbeknownst to all of us, she still had another decade left with us to enjoy these types of adventures. I went in and found her – it wasn’t hard, the Tee Vee was blaring, volume cranked up to 11 so she could read lips and make out what was going on. I walked over and turned the TV off. 

“I need you to help me, Nambo.” We called her Nambo, my sister having coined the name when she was too young to pronounce “grandma”. No one ever questioned how the name came into play or even paid it much mind, but that was when grandma became Nambo.

Nambo was awesome.

“What’s the matter?”

“I’ve got Fremont stuck up on the roof.”

“What?” She laughed a little.

“He’s stuck up on the roof, and I have to run down and get my dad’s pickup truck before the storm gets here.”


“Come on outside and I’ll show you what I need you to do” – getting anxious now.

We went outside, and I pointed to the east; it was black and ominous, and the wind was beginning to howl. 

“Storm,” I said.

“I see,” said Nambo.

I pointed to the west, up to the roof.

“So, see Fremont up there?” 

Nambo turned to look, then laughed out loud, “How in the world…?”

“You stay here with him - just watch him and don’t let him jump – keep telling him to stay.”

“Alright, what are you going to do with the pick-up truck?”

“I’ve got to go right now,” I said as I ran to my little Toyota Corolla. I roared down the quarter-mile-long dirt driveway and then turned left and sped to my dad’s office, (he ran a turkey ranch and a feed mill), another quarter of a mile down the road.

“Hey Dad,” I said as I came through the office door.

Golden retriever on roof
Fremont wore just about the same expression...

He looked at me, narrowing his eyes as only a father can when his 20-something son walks into his office and there's a storm gathering ominously outside, not to mention the expression I must have worn on my face.

“What is it this time?”

“I need to borrow your truck for about five minutes.”

“What for?”

“Fremont’s stuck on the roof.”

To his credit, the old man didn’t ask me how or why the dog was stuck on the roof, or what I was going to do with the truck. He simply dug out his keys and tossed them across the room to me. His scowling eyes bored deeply into mine, then he returned to whatever he’d been doing. I saw him shake his head slowly and his lips were moving. I believe I know what he was muttering, and it wasn't flattering to me in the least.

I jumped into the truck, backed out of the parking space slowly – I knew he would be watching – and drove out onto the road without so much as a squeak of rubber on the pavement. Finally, when I was safely away from the old man’s eyes, I floored the damned thing and blasted up the driveway toward the house. 

As I drove near, I could hear frail, ninety-five-year-old Nambo through the open truck window: “Now now, you stay there Fremont…don’t jump…that’s a good boy, you stay there now.” 

Fremont looked at me as I drove up, and I know it was relief I saw in his eyes. I swung the truck around and backed up to the house. The shell on the back of the truck reached up to within a foot or so of the roof, an easy hop for the dog, who knew exactly what to do. Hop onto the shell, slide down the windshield, jump from the hood and he was down. Raindrops speckled the windshield and thunder boomed across the desert. 

I glanced over at Nambo. She was laughing and shaking her head. Fremont had a sheepish look and a dumb smile on his face as he trotted into the house. I returned my dad’s truck to him, with only the dog’s footprints sliding down the windshield as evidence of any folly on my part. I drove my little Toyota home through a downpour and watched as lightning struck the hills above the desert, the smell of rain-soaked creosote blew through the open window. I love driving in the desert rain with a window down, the creosote-scented rain blowing through is a peaceful, easy feeling. I imagined Fremont’s footprints being washed away from dad’s windshield by the sweet-smelling rain. 

Paw prints on the windshield
Paw Prints on the Windshield


1. Golden Hayley: An agile construction canine


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