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As a Pre-Thanksgiving offer Travels With Chalize will be available on Kindle for free downloads starting Sat. Nov. 21 and ending Tues. Nov. 24. It is available now and will continue to be available for KDP Select downloads. Don’t miss this opportunity.TWC-front cover

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Writer’s Digest Judge’s Commentary*:

So much personality shown in Charlize–we get real emotion and expression in the way the author has painted every scene with the dog. We also get deep emotion (and tears) in the early conversation with his wife, where she says that he can get a dog now that her demise is near. What a selfless statement, a deep realization, and a wish for her husband to be okay after she is gone. This is truly moving, and we long for the author to find the perfect dog to connect with.

“Hope is the mantra of anyone sitting on a boat” on page 75 is a true gem of this book. Author peppers the story with these resonant thoughts. Well done. They stay with the reader.
The ending just drops off when he’s home again and happy to have arrived safely. We could use a description of his home that has been colored by his travels along the coast, the same excellent skill in capturing scenery and feeling. That would round out the story beautifully. A very good read.

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Seattle author David R. Gross practiced veterinary medicine for ten years.   He returned to school and earned his PhD in cardiovascular physiology then he taught and did research in that field for more than three decades. After retiring, he and his beloved wife Rosalie looked forward to traveling, writing, and focusing on social action causes together. In Travels with Charlize: In Search of Living Alone, Dr. Gross tells a gentle and open story of recovery after the death of his wife of fifty-two years. He must go forward and face a new future, but that road carries rough spots. Memories spring up to hold him back. Revisiting friends reminds him of who no longer accompanies him. Home, to which he must return, still stores a profusion of painful memories. It is the presence of Charlize, his newly adopted rescue dog, that keeps Gross steady and willing to see a brighter tomorrow around the bend. Based on a compilation of chronicles from his popular blog, this compelling and enchanting book hit the shelves in February.

The dog loving couple had talked about getting a new pet, but with Rosalie’s diagnosis of lung cancer, those plans were put on hold. After she succumbed to illness in 2013, David adopted Charlize, a German shepherd rescue dog with problems of her own. He bought a travel trailer, closed his house and the duo started their travels. The two troubled souls embarked on a yearlong journey visiting parks and vistas, rain forests and deserts, family and old friends, to discover how to accept and craft a new life with each other’s help.

Travels with Charlize is available from any independent bookstore, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble. The Kindle e-book edition is currently available as are versions for Kobo and Nook. Dr. David Gross has published over ninety papers in refereed scientific journals and over a hundred abstracts in proceedings of scientific meetings. He co-edited three multi-authored textbooks and his single author text, Animal Models in Cardiovascular Research, can be found in most medical libraries. Since retirement, Dr. Gross has been busy writing both fiction and non-fiction. His published books include Manhunt (historical fiction), Animals Don’t Blush (a memoir of his first year in veterinary practice) and the soon-to-be rereleased, Succeeding As A Student (a self-help guide to efficient and effective studying, learning and test taking).

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The Phoenix I knew, before leaving in 1970, is no more. The northern suburbs now stretch all the way to Cave Creek. My brother and sister-in-law moved to Cave Creek eleven years ago. When I practiced veterinary medicine, never certain I practiced well enough or long enough to really be good at it, there was nothing between my clinic on 32nd St. and Bell Road and the town of Cave Creek, seven or so miles north. I had a few clients in Cave Creek so I drove those miles on a two-lane road full of drops down into washes then up again. Today the road is divided, two lanes to a side, no dips and the previously empty desert is full of subdivisions and strip malls. Compared to the eclectic neighborhoods of Seattle and Edmonds, the subdivisions are monotonic, ersatz adobe style, flat or tile roofs, varying shades of tan. It is early spring in the Sonoran desert and the cacti are getting ready to bloom, some already have. If I lived in one of those subdivisions, even though I still have positive feelings about the desert, I think I would need a trail of bread crumbs to find my house after a couple of glasses of Malbec.

 

The biggest change though is the shear number of people and the resulting traffic. I took Alexis to see where my clinic was and the building I built is still there. Here is a photo of the Paradise Animal Hospital in 1962:

My beautiful picture

Now the place is a Mexican furniture, knickknack and pottery store. We went in and most of the rooms of the clinic had been reconfigured and obviously repurposed. The indoor kennels have been removed and the openings to the outside runs closed. The outside runs have been removed. My old reception area is now a private office, my old office full of knickknacks for sale. Just for fun I peeked in the restroom. The fixtures have been replaced but the door to my old darkroom was still there, closed. I opened it and the room was empty but still painted black! Here is what the place looks like now:

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Charlize couldn’t have been less interested.

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After eating overpriced Mexican food, fancy presentation, ordinary taste, in Sedona Charlize and I braved the traffic to Cottonwood. The old road is now a divided highway. The last time I was in this part of the world there were no divided highways and Cottonwood was a small village, twenty-odd miles from Sedona on a twisting two-lane road. Another CSU veterinary school graduate, who graduated two or three years behind me, established a practice in Cottonwood in the mid-1960’s. He barely made a living for several years. I lost track of him after leaving Phoenix but if he stuck it out it appears plenty of population moved in for him to make a go of it. The whole valley, from Camp Verde to Cottonwood to Clarkdale, is now full of houses, strip malls, big box stores and hobby ranches on both sides of highway 260.

Here is a view from Jerome, on Cleopatra Hill, looking down into the valley. The cluster of buildings in the left center is Clarkdale. The distant mountains are home to a portion of the Prescott National Forest, the Tuzigoot National Monument, Dead Horse Ranch State Park and the Camp Verde Indian Reservation.

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It is only forty-three miles from Clarkdale to Prescott and another fourteen from Prescott to Granite Basin where in the summers of 1950 through 1952 my Dad and I built a cabin in the shadow of Granite Mountain. My brother Joe, three and a half years younger, worked with us but he claims his only job was to straighten bent nails. I seem to remember him doing a lot more, but he is expert at straightening bent nails.

We built the cabin on U.S. Forest land with what was supposed to be a ninety-nine year lease. Along the way a lot of rules got changed. After Dad retired he and Mom lived in the cabin except in the winter when they traveled to Guyamas, Mexico where they parked their travel trailer near the breach. After Dad died it fell to Joe, living in Cave Creek north of Phoenix, to use and maintain the cabin. It became more and more of a chore as the years past. In the last few years every time he and his wife went to the cabin they both had to work at repairing, maintaining, cleaning and cutting away brush for a fire break. They worked so hard they usually returned to Phoenix ill. Along with all the labor necessary, and insisted upon by the Forest Service, the place was costing thousands of dollars each year. The ground rental increased from thirty-five dollars a year in the 1950’s to over two thousand, plus taxes, association dues to maintain the water system and roads, property insurance and the cost of repairs and maintenance. Joe was finally able to sell the place recently. It is now a place of fond memory rather than a constant financial drain and worry.

I have not been back to the cabin since we scattered Mom’s ashes there in 2001. I decided to rely on my memory of the good times rather than revisiting the place. I have it well pictured in my mind, along with a few old snapshots tucked away someplace. I need to find those photos.

Whitey took us up the steep road to Jerome. Back in the day the family sometimes drove from the cabin, through Prescott Valley to Jerome. Then it was a true mining ghost town, full of abandoned houses and buildings just made for kids to explore and create our own stories and imagined legends. When Charlize and I arrived this time we found the place full of tourists taking photos of other tourists with their digital cameras. So Charlize and I joined them.

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Many if not all of the buildings and houses have been resurrected. People have returned to live in Jerome, living off the tourist trade, I presume. All the shops indicate thriving tourism, but that’s yet another subject I know little to nothing about.

We didn’t tarry in Jerome and less than two hours later we were in Cave Creek at my brother’s house in the desert north of Phoenix. My runny nose and allergy-clogged head remind me of the almost forgotten reasons leaving the Valley of the Sun was not difficult. This photo of the Sonoran Desert in February, as represented by Joe’s back yard, doesn’t seem to provide any reason for allergy problems but a close look shows the cacti blooming.

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On Sunday, Feb. 9 the family and I ended the official mourning period, according to our traditional upbringing, with the service for the unveiling of Rosalie’s headstone. During the process I learned something new. The Rabbi told us that Abraham started this tradition when he put up a monument to mark the grave of his beloved Sarah.

Charlize sensed my mood, as always and, along with my two sons and their families we survived the day and celebrated Rosalie’s life at her favorite Chinese restaurant. If you are interested let me know and I’ll give you the name of the place. She was, after all, a gourmet cook and foodie with high standards.

Two days later my new vehicle, “Whitey”, I’m finding it harder to be original with vehicle names, was packed and loaded. Charlize and I worked our way through early morning Seattle traffic on our way to Enumclaw. We had never been that way before and I am all about never travelled roads and new experiences. I intended to cross the Cascades via Crystal Pass. My new GPS directed us around a traffic jam on I-5 and before too long we were headed east across the plateau, filled with hobby farms, towards Enumclaw. We passed small acreages with horses and an occasional small herd of cattle. I spotted an obviously old, large, barn sticking out of the mist, probably part of the original large farm that occupied the location. I presume that original place supported a family prior to being subdivided into plots much too small to serve that function.

The GPS was programmed to take us across the mountains to Yakima. Charlize’s new habit is to keep me awake and focused on my driving by resting her head on my shoulder as I drive. The GPS warned us of traffic difficulties, directed us through Enumclaw but there was no mention of the Pass being either open or closed. There was traffic heading west and I concentrated on the dry pavement now winding and climbing west through a rain forest. Moss climbed tree trunks, engulfed downed logs, grasping at young trees forcing their way toward the light from nurse stumps. We passed a few clear-cut openings as we went up and out of the dense forest into more typical mixes of evergreens and deciduous. We continued to encounter the occasional vehicle coming from the east. We stopped in the Village of Greenwater for coffee but I didn’t think to ask if Crystal Pass was open. Surely the GPS would warn me if it was not and all those vehicles were heading west from someplace.

You guessed correctly. We found snow, then more snow, but Whitey is an all-wheel drive vehicle, no problem, until we arrived at the barricades across the highway and signs informing that the Pass was closed. I suffered minimal frustration since time was not an issue on this trip. So back we drove to Enumclaw, north to I-90 and the now not so interesting drive over Snoqualmie Pass. I ate a lunch of Mexican food in Cle Elem and filled the gas tank. The sun was out but lots of snow and slush on the ground.

After Yakima we headed south, finally back to the plan. Now we were seeing new views and vistas of country not previously travelled. The western slope of the Cascades was covered with snow from the most recent storms but the road was clear and dry. When evening caught us we stopped in Goldendale and found a motel that would allow Charlize to stay in the room with me. Two hundred and fifty dollars tacked to the credit card bill if she made a mess but my girl would never do such a thing, too much of a lady.

The owner of the motel was an Asian lady and very pleasant. I brought Charlize in with me to show how well behaved she is. I related how Charlize was helping me get through a day at a time as a new widower. The motel owner told me that her husband of forty years died three years ago, leaving her to operate the place, we were soon friends of shared experience. When I checked in there was one other guest and the next morning there were only myself and two other guests in the place. I hope she gets more business when the weather is not so ugly. The rain all night turned a foot of snow into slush in the parking lot.

Charlize’s cold nose on my cheek got me up and moving at six AM and at 6:59, Charlize fed and walked, my travelling cup filled with a two Splenda® latte, we were on the road traveling south by southeast through forested lands. Clouds hung on the road in the distance ahead of us, turning to mist as we embraced them, the heavy sky overhead. Then there was an opening, a donut hole in the dark cover and blue-gray light reflecting off puddles on the pavement rushing past.

There is something about driving back roads and empty highways early in the morning that makes me feel free and righteous, a lightness in the chest akin to watching your offspring win at something you know is important to him or her. Anyone who has experienced that feeling knows what I am talking about. If you don’t I have sympathy for you.

We arrived at the Columbia River and Charlize asked to get out to check out the view, she loves the snow.

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We stopped for lunch in Bend, Oregon, at the Big Belly Grill House. Who could possibly pass up a place with that name? I let Charlize out of Whitey for a quick walkabout then put her back in.

“That’s a beautiful dog, is she friendly”” asked the waitress.

“She’s very friendly,” I responded, “especially to good looking women.” Dating seems to have sharpened my repartee’.

“Can I pet her then? My name is Lise,” she held out her hand.

I took her hand.

“Lise, not Lisa or Alicia,” I asked.

“No, L E E C E, pronounced the way it is spelled. It used to be Lisa, but I changed it.”

“OK,” I said and let go of her hand but not before she gave mine a squeeze.

“I’m Dave.”

“Please to meet you Dave.”

“Likewise.” Again note the sharp repartee’.

It was about one-thirty in the afternoon and the place was empty except for one customer. Leece asked him if he needed anything else and he responded in the negative. She told the cook she would be back in a moment. We went out to Whitey and I opened the hatch back, telling Charlize to wait. Leece petted Charlize after asking her name. Charlize leaned into her and absorbed the attention. When both had their fill of petting, leaning, touching, licking I told Charlize to get back in and closed the hatch.

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“I was afraid of dogs for a very long time,” Leece told me.

“That so, why was that? Did something bad happen to you?”

“When I was about seven years old I watched as a Rottweiler attacked my cousin and practically chewed his arm off above the elbow. His mother was a Christian Scientist and refused to take him to a doctor and he eventually lost the arm.”

“That’s a horrific story, I can understand why you were afraid of dogs. What happened to change that?”

“Well my second husband had two Golden Retrievers and they were very sweet dogs. They were much sweeter than the oaf turned out to be. Leaving those two dogs was much harder than leaving the oaf. Anyhow I’m now a dog person.”

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Four weeks ago Charlize and I embarked on a new, a different kind of trip. This trip requires new and different skills. Both of us need to learn to be patient and to find ways to control the way we handle day-to-day emotions and frustrations.

Over three years ago the arthritis in my left ankle started to limit my physical activity and ability to get around pain free. Rosalie and I investigated what could be done. The options, after consulting experts, were to either replace the ankle joint with a prosthetic or fuse the joint. The advice from the surgeon was to continue to use the ankle brace I had been using for over a year at that point and a cane. We were told that when the pain became unbearable I would know it was time to do something.

About a year later, we started thinking surgery was a reasonable option. Then Rosalie was diagnosed with stage four-lung cancer and everything else was put on hold. After she passed, exactly to the day, one year after the diagnosis, I was incapable of making almost any kind of decision regarding my own health.

Six months or so later l I was no longer able to walk Charlize for more than four or five blocks without intense pain. After our morning walk I had to ice the ankle and rest it for more than an hour to be able to take her for another walk. She was good about it though, somehow sensing about how long I could manage, turning back toward home after a couple of blocks. She even took care of her business early in the process so as not to prolong my discomfort.

So back to the surgeon and re-evaluation of the ankle.  New radiographs and a CT scan showed significant progression with loss of almost all cartilage and bone loss of the distal end of the tibia, the long bone of the leg that forms the first portion of the ankle joint. After more research and discussion with the surgeon we decided the best option was to fuse the joint and not rely on a mechanical device that doesn’t have the same level of success, as do the artificial knee and hip joints.

Four weeks ago almost three hours of surgery was completed to the satisfaction of the surgeon. After two nights in the hospital I was home with a cast and facing twelve weeks of recovery with no weight bearing on my left leg. So this is the new journey Charlize and I share. We are coping and I will share with you the new challenges, the new friends, new helpers and new strengths we discover on this continuing journey through life. 

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