Monday, December 31, 2007

Once and Future

A year ago at this very moment I'd packed a bag and loaded Duncan into my car. Ken had been in the manager training program for the Lone Star in Thornton and invited us up to celebrate the new year at the hotel he'd been staying in off and on for over a month. We hadn't really seen him since our return from Idaho the day after Christmas. It had been a fairly uneventful week: the tremendous snow that had fallen had hardly melted, Duncan was recovering nicely from his emergency surgery and my anxiety seemed to be under control, so much so that my doctor and I had actually begun reducing my medication in hopes of eventually coming off it completely. But as anyone who's taken these sorts of drugs knows, the process is a slow and tedious one and the ultimate goal is sometimes years away. I was in no hurry, except the hurry to begin. Mostly, though, I just wanted to spend the new year with Ken and Duncan, even if it was only for a few short hours in some small hotel room.

Duncan and I made the trip to Thornton with only a few challenges (a car had rolled over on the I-25 and I-70 junction) and we arrived at Ken's room at 11:30 sharp, ordered take-out Appleby's and within 30 minutes I was in the throes of the last major panic attack I've suffered.

I don't know what triggered it, but with a physiological disorder it's difficult to determine whether or not there was a trigger at all. What mattered was that I became almost instantly paralyzed with fear. My stomach knotted up, I was alternately burning hot or freezing cold, I could not stop shaking or crying and was convinced I was going to die. Logically I knew I wasn't going to exit on the nice clean date of January first, but that voice in my head kept popping up, telling me that the diagnosis (or rather the pseudo-diagnosis–they'd never actually been able to make a clear one) had been wrong and that I was about to stroke out in that crummy little room next door to an Appleby's and a Lone Star. I took an extra dose of drugs and tried as hard as I could to ride out, knowing that as soon as they kicked in I'd pass out and wake up exhausted in a snowy new year. I remember laying on the bed listening to Anderson Cooper discuss Katrina and interview Angelina Jolie. I remember the smell of cigarette smoke on the pillows and the sickly green light coming in from the bathroom. I remember apologizing repeatedly to Ken, who had to be back at work at 6 AM, and crying on his shoulder, convinced my life was no longer my own. Mostly, though, I remember feeling a tremendous sense of sadness because it had been so long since the attack and I'd thought them under control and behind me forever.

Duncan sat near the foot of the bed, even climbing up on it to whine in my ear and lick my face and hands when I'd lay still long enough to let him.

It's been a year since that attack, and tonight, with Ken once again off at the Lone Star, and my dog by my side, I am going to celebrate, not just the changing of the date from an 07 to an 08, but the fact that I have faced my fear, put myself right into its very grasp, and not turned myself over to it. It's another momentous occasion for me (you must be tired of reading about them by now, I'm sure) and I think I'll crawl off the couch, wrap myself in a nice warm sweater, pull on my new walking boots, don a cap and gloves and venture over to the park with Duncan. We'll trudge through the snow, climb the hill overlooking the lake and watch the year change together. He won't know why the moment will be so special, why I'll be hugging him desperately and perhaps wiping a few stray tears from my cheeks, but that's why I love him. He loves me when I lose as equally as when I win. He loves me simply and beautifully. And he deserves to play in the snow.

Happy New Year. May it be more wonderful than you can envision.

Comfort and Joy

Ever prepared, Duncan sits close by me on the couch while I recoup, his Berry and his Blue Bone nearby, should I feel well enough to play.

How could a face this gorgeous not help me feel better?

Dog and Dad

I feel bad about Duncan. Not feeling well has really taken it out of me and being outside in the cold longer than a few minutes makes me feel worse. The poor boy has been patient with me, but I can tell by the way he looks out the windows at the quickly melting snow that it's all he can do to keep from going crazy. He loves the snow, and this is the deep stuff, the really good stuff. He's been full of love, a constant cuddler and has even somehow managed to tolerate my moaning, which serves no useful purpose except to make me smile through my aches, pains, coughs and chills.

Ken, when he's not at work, has been good about taking Duncan out for me. He's not as diligent a walker as I am (I don't know many people with dogs who actually are, which seems kind of ridiculous, like having kids and not teaching them language), but Duncan loves being with his dad. He gets to spend such little time with him that I know he looks forward to it. Not having spent a lot of time with my own father (he was more a disembodied voice on the radio or an abstract concept than anything tangible), I know how it feels. But that's ridiculous, you say. Dogs aren't capable of that kind of emotion. Well, my friend, you're wrong. Remember, it was only in the past ten or so years that scientists, vets included, acknowledged that animals experience pain*. I know that my dog feels love and joy; I see it on his face every day. I know when he's bored (he sighs like a pouting five-year-old) or when he's ashamed (he ducks his head low and hides under the table). When he gets to walk with Ken his head perks up and it looks as though he's receiving a special treat.

It's interesting watching them together. Ken's not so good at the kind of consistency I've used on Duncan. He's either lazy or doesn't believe me when I claim it works. But Duncan is a dog who was nearly impossible to walk a year and a half ago. It was incredibly difficult and an unenjoyable chore. But with lots of work and patience and the kind of consistency you could set your watch to, Duncan and I have become quite good together, like dancers, as we navigate the park, the pet store, even other dogs.

Not so with Ken. Rather than let his dad set the pace, as he does with me, Duncan leads Ken, pulling on his leash, taking him where he wants to go, stopping when he wants and not going until he's damn good and ready. I imagine it can be quite frustrating for Little Man, but it's fun to stand in the window and watch, shaking my head. I imagine it's a bit like when mom is out of town and dad has been left in charge of the kids, and being dad, is unaware that the kids have actually been left in charge of him.

*For more information on this topic, read the wonderful book Kindred Spirits: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans & Animals Can Change the Way We Live by Allen M. Schoen, DVM, MS

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sick as a...

Duncan is a trooper. He has been with me all day, from the moment I got up and made him ride with me to Vitamin Cottage, where I picked up some more Yogi Tea (Egyptian Licorice, Egyptian Licorice Mint, Chamomile and The Cold Season Sampler, which always makes me feel better) to the hours I've spent laying on the couch, dozing off and on as one movie or another plays across the TV. He seems to know I don't feel well and hasn't been too impatient with my desire to hunker down and stay nice and warm, away from the cold and the snow. I'll make it up to him with a good jog through the park some time soon. Meanwhile, I'm going to boil more water, take another hit of Zicam, suck on a Ricola and lay low, let Ken make me dinner when he gets home.

Ack! Sputter! Wheeze!

Sure enough, I'm sick. Or rather, taking the long, slow road to getting there. That tickle in the back of my throat has turned into a cough (the nice, non-productive kind) and something funny is going on in my chest. Not knock-knock-who's-there funny, but more of a a guy-walks-into-a-bar-with-a-monkey-on-his-shoulder funny. You know exactly what I mean, I'm sure. The good news is there are only 14 inches of snow on the ground and getting around outside is a real joy.

Duncan has been quite good, though. He cuddled up with me on the couch all day, his head resting on my leg. I'm sure he would've made soup for me if only he could get his paws around the can opener.

Here's a picture from a year ago when he was still wearing his collar from his surgery. That's Little Man curled up on Duncan.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

It was a tough day for me. Duncan and I left Idaho shortly after 7 AM and pulled into Littleton around 5 PM. It was an emotionally and physically draining drive, one that I'm not anxious to make again. But we did it, with the aid of our feathers, great determination and the audio book, Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris, which kept me laughing across Wyoming, despite the less than wonderful conditions just outside my window (if you thought last week's 50 mph gusts were great, you should've witnessed today's 75+ gusts!)

In lieu of greater detail, I did manage to snap some pictures. I'll try to write more tomorrow but the tickle in the back of my throat and the cough which I've picked up somewhere along the way, have me wondering if perhaps tomorrow might not be more low-key than I'd hoped.

Thank you again for your support and encouragement. This Christmas would not have been possible for me without them.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


In the bleak mid winter, frost and wind made moan
You stood right beside me, you and you alone
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow
When the rest deserted, you just could not go
(Duncan Wyllie)

Grass on the Hill

Thrusting through the snow
Golden stalks of brittle grass
A harp for the wind
(Regis Auffray)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Idaho Sky

There's this thing that happens every time I'm here, one of the things I most look forward to: I re-learn my place in the universe.

Idaho is vast and as varied as the snowflakes which are currently falling outside. My family lives in the southeast corner of the state, where deserts meet mountains. Our valley, the Portneuf, is the place where two ranges come together. The northern part of the city opens up onto sage-scrubbed, volcanic plains, but down here, in the south, everything gets squeezed together into a tight little gap, through which the Portneuf River runs. We are surrounded on all sides by mountains-tall hills, really––which are covered in juniper and more sage, some of it taller and wider than my car. I can leave and drive up the hills to an isolated place that overlooks everything, surrounded by pine and aspen, quakies and cedar. Or I can turn in the other direction and find myself in vast emptiess, the mountains distant bumps on the horizon, with only the sound of the wind, or the occasional grumble of trucks on the interstate to remind me that I exist at all. Idaho's landscape changes constantly and it's one of the things I love most about it.

But nothing compares to Idaho's skies. Montana is the "Big Sky" state, and they do give good firmament there, but I have to say (and perhaps I'm a bit partial) Idaho's skies are spectacular beyond anything I've seen in the Absarokas, or from the Big Horns. I have stood in the Tetons and gazed upward. I have perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon. I have floated in the Gulf of Mexico and watched the sunset, but I remember those skies only as setting, backdrop full of color and emotion and little more.

I have spent entire afternoons with friends sprawled on our backs watching clouds roll overhead. One memorable day at the end of high school my friend Ruth and I couldn't tear our eyes away from a cloud shaped like a falling man. Every few seconds his arms would shift, his hands reach out for something-anything-to grasp ahold of, until after fifteen minutes he'd actually turned from his back onto his belly, his head pointed down at the hill below him, his hair and shirttails flapping behind him. I have watched cloud dogs chase cloud rabbits and then witnessed those rabbits turn into airplanes that chased the dogs. I have seen the sunsets mottled with balls of gold and purple fire that burned away the blue and painted everything as far as I could see in deep crimson.

But as beautiful as the days are, the nights are even better. There is always a moment when I stand on the hill behind my mother's house and gaze upward at a night sky so deep and clear that it's like a scene from a movie. Picture a close-up of my face and then the camera slowly pulls back until you can see all of me against stone and yellow grass and sage, and it keeps pulling back until you can't differentiate me from a clump of juniper. It pulls back more and you can see the whole hill, then the valley and the city, then the city becomes a mass of orange lights, then a single glow amid vast darkness dotted by other orange pools. It keeps moving, faster and faster until the whole planet is in view and then the moon slips by and stars flitter past and you're looking at earth, a tiny glittering dot, as seen from the Big Dipper. It keeps racing away until finally there is only darkness that magically pulls out from the pupil of my eye and you see my face again.

That is how night feels in Idaho, bigger than the words that describe it or the pictures that can be taken of it. It's a moment I cherish and I always feel as though my knees will give out from under me and I'll be forced to the earth by the weight of infinity. It sucks the breath out of my lungs and I can only marvel, mute and deaf, unaware of any sense except vision.

Duncan was with me last night on the hill when it happened again. He was busy sniffing out a clump of sage while I staggered and shook my head on my backward-craned neck. He did not care, because for him all that mattered was being outside and pushing his nose through the snow, over shale and thistle.

All that mattered to me was that I was there, with him at my side under that glorious Christmas night sky.

Dog Christmas

While the rest of us have been caught up in the holiday, making and eating warm foods and sweet desserts, wrapping and unwrapping gifts, visiting and enjoying the company of friends and family, sleeping and recovering, Duncan has been enjoying his Christmas in one of his favorite spots, doing one of his favorite things. He wishes you only had it so good.

Monday, December 24, 2007

On the Mountain

Aside from wanting a nice big yard for Duncan to play in, I often find myself wishing we had a mountain as well. Such a small thing to ask, but I've been a good boy this year and maybe Santa will find a way to come through. Keep your fingers crossed!
In addition to his love of snow, sunny days, a breeze in his face and a nice fat squirrel to chase up a tree, Duncan loves mountains. Not that we're lacking for those in Colorado, but we do lack one in our backyard, such as the one my mother has. When we're home he loves tromping up the hill and following the deer and rabbit tracks down one gully, up another, moving steadily through the juniper to the clearing where we can look down on the southern-most part of Pocatello. The valley comes to a point here, where all the roads and railroad tracks come together to push through the tight little Portneuf Gap and on into Inkom. We can see Johnny Creek and Mink Creek and at night each of those homes are lit up bright with red and green lights, their trees decked out with electrical snowflakes, and, interestingly enough, quite a few have entire branches wrapped in red, others in white and still more in blue. It's a very patriotic Christmas here in Pocatello, but I'm sure Santa has secured the proper permits from Homeland Security and will have little problem getting through customs.

Duncan loves his mountain and I love watching him love it. Almost every year we find an antler of some sort, which he carries proudly in his mouth, its many points rising like a crown before him. I have a whole collection of the things which we've carted back to Denver from Idaho. Sometimes if they're too good I have to hide them from mom, who likes to keep them for her backyard patio.

He's a handsome thing in the mountains, and aware of everything around him, even as he stands in awe of it. A galloping deer is something to be marvelled at. A sprinkle of snow dropping from a juniper bough brings on untold fascination. This is a place he loves mightily. I'm happy I can share it with him. Before Duncan I never walked the hill in winter, but now it's one of the things I most look forward to. He's taught me to find the beauty in the yellow and seemingly barren brown landscape I once shunned. Now I see juniper dotting the hillsides as something glorious. The sage, enormous and still subtle in its beauty, is fragrant and has the most delicate green leaves. Even the cactus bring me joy. I've had a strange relationship with Idaho, as I think many of us have with the places where we grew up, but I've found a whole new appreciation of it through the heart and eyes of my dog. Were there more opportunity for Ken and me here, I sometimes think it would be nice to make it our home, to give Duncan all the land he needed to run on.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


I am a creature of habit. I can't help it, I have my ways of doing things. For instance, my clothes all hang in the same direction in my closet and my drives to Idaho are just as regimented. I like knowing what to expect and when to expect it. I-25 takes me to Fort Collins, where I cut up Highway 287 to Laramie, bypassing Cheyenne altogether. Then it's around Elk Mountain––which is terrible regardless of the time of year––a quick stop at a familiar truck stop in Rawlins, a straight shot through Rock Springs and Green River, down the hill, through the tunnel to Little America where I stop, pee, refill my mug with hot water or cocoa, then take the exit to Pocatello where I travel through Kemmerer, Cokeville, Bennington, tiny little Dingle and the myriad of small, no-stop-light towns, down through Lava Hot Springs and McCammon, jog onto I-15 and head straight into Pocatello. I've done this the fifty-eight or so times I've made this trip over the course of the past eight and a half years. Sometimes at night, if the sky is clear, I pull off the road, turn off the car and stare at the stars and all that space I can't see through Denver's orange-colored night. Idaho skies are brilliant and vast, bigger each time than I remember and my reward for living far from home.

This trip, however, was different.

I elected not to cut from Fort Collins to Laramie, but to go through Cheyenne and over the pass, thinking it wise to avoid Highway 287, the third most dangerous stretch of road in the country, sticking to the interstate all the way. I put the idea to Duncan, sitting in the backseat, and when he didn't object I changed our course, heading straight into some of the worst weather conditions I've ever navigated. The skies were blue, the sun was out, the roads were clear, but damn if the wind wasn't a bitch. And not just a bitch, but a raging bitch with 55-60 mile an hour gusts, blowing white powder over the road, erasing it almost completely and reducing my visibility to little more than 20 or 30 feet in front of the car. But we did it. We were cautious and careful and came down the other side of the pass, dropping into Laramie safe and sound.

It was Rawlins where everything changed. Wyoming is always windy, in sunny Summer weather or bitter Winter. It never changes, as if the entire southern portion of the state is a prison where the worst winds have been banished to spend their days and nights screaming bloody murder. It's a barren place and even the sage brush seems to struggle there. Only antelope and gas refineries are plentiful. And big trucks, monster rigs that rumble and kick up road gravel which the winds are more than happy to send flying right into your windshield.

We stopped, refilled the gas tank and went for a short walk along the perimeter of the parking lot, which was little more than the frozen mounds pushed and piled up by the ploughs. The wind kicked up more snow, which cut our faces and eyes, stinging like relentless needles piercing my tender cheeks, turning my cheeks pink, chapping our lips. We were more than happy to leave, but The Powers That Be weren't so keen on the idea. Not half a mile out of town the traffic ground to a halt and we came to a stop. The roads were closed-every route out of that crappy little brown, industrial Wyoming town were denied us so we sat for three hours, listening to music, dozing off, venturing out to walk the median and stretch our legs despite the constant bite of the wind. Three long hours, which had not been written in to the itinerary.

A quick thanks to the folks who talked me off the ledge and kept me sane while I waited: Kelly, mom, Kevin and Kevi, who reminded me that not only was I learning to trust myself and my will to travel alone again, unafraid and confident, but that I needed to learn flexibility as well. I sat with the bag of feathers in my lap, telling myself that so many people were rooting for me, that the feathers were reminders of that. I pulled them out, examined each of them, whispered words of thanks to the little talismans that had been sent to me, and learned that even feathers are flexible. They bend and move, adjust when they need to adapt to the changing environment and stay aloft despite the conditions that work against them.

As frustrating and claustrophobic as those three hours were, even they contained value. I am learning and remembering what John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

It doesn't matter what we endured, or even how long. It matters only that we endured and managed, after fourteen long hours, to arrive in Pocatello safe, strong and together, the moon shining bright, painting the snow blue and night bright. My mother's driveway was the most beautiful place in all the world, and Kevin's hug was the equivalent of crossing the finish line.

"See," he said. "We knew you could do it. And you did."

And here I am. My good dog curled at my feet, watching the fire burn near my mother, who is sleeping in her chair. The air smells of fig tea candle and my mug of eggnog is waiting for me to take another sip from it. My belly is full a delicious meal I shared Kevi, Mike, Elijah and Jonah, and my heart is warm. This is all the Christmas I need.

I could not be happier.

Thank you all. I am home again and my dreams have come true.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"...A Feather for Each Wind that Blows" (Shakespeare)

"A willing heart adds feather to the heel.” (Joanna Baillie)

Thank you, all. I'm brave and well and we're about to walk out the door. The moment has come and although I'm a bit anxious, I'm surrounded by your magic. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dog Morning

Duncan was like a child who did not want to get up this morning. Granted, he's not used to me leaving for work at 6:30 and typically sleeps in until quarter to eight when he ambles down the hall and stretches a big stretch in front of me, a sleepy dog smile spread across his face. This morning though, after I showered, heated water for my tea and packed my breakfast (honey, maple Yo-Curt with a dab of vanilla, which I'll spread over my blueberry cluster cereal) and lunch (leftover chicken and lasagna) it was time to take the boy outside for his morning business. When I poured the Yo-Curt and food into his bowl he didn't move. I found him spread out across the bed, his head on the pillow, a rabbit twitching his dream-legs. I kissed his cheeks and coaxed him along. "C'mon, buddy; time to get up. Papa has to go." His eyes rolled open and he sighed, a grumpy, the-bed-is-so-warm kind of sigh. I kissed him again and finally managed to get him up. But he didn't like it and when he stretched he managed a yawn and a second groan at the same time.

Despite the warning that it's going to snow and blow all day and into the night, the sky was clear and beautiful, the air still fresh. While Duncan did his business I scanned the heavens for the one or two constellations I know but didn't see them. Apparently they'd called it quits for the night, punched out and headed to a favorite cafe for a quick breakfast of Falling Star Pancakes and Scorpio Scrambled Eggs before hitting the hay. I spotted Mars, which is very close to earth and also very red. It's quite spectacular and bright. I'd seen him last night on our walk, rising in the east, quite near where the full moon will rise. But even he was dipping low, headed toward the sleepful oblivion of the horizon.

Duncan, I'm sure, will follow Mars to bed as soon as I close the door and leave for work. After all, he doesn't have anything to do today but dream and chase Pip.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

No Grudges

Fine, I'll admit it, I haven't been the best papa the last few days, but it's all been for the greater good. Although Duncan still has his numerous walks they haven't been as long or as far reaching. I've simply been too busy taking care of last minute things that need taking care of before we leave for Idaho. Duncan has been much more antsy than usual, but he's very forgiving. Tonight he got to play with Kona and I keep telling him, "You get to see Grandma and you get to chase after deer on the mountain." His eyebrows get wide and he cocks his head, so I know that somewhere he's remembering one or two of those words. My mother is quite good at spoiling her "Grand dog" as she calls him and I know they're both looking forward to seeing each other again. And the only thing that comes close to comparing to the joy of snow is the joy of snow on the mountain behind my mom's house. I can't feel bad about not giving him all the time he wants now because he's about to have a lot better time.

But he holds no grudges. Once we're outside, be it in the snow or rain, the mud or sunshine he forgets I've neglected him and simply enjoys the time he has. He's beautiful, inside and out.

"Agreeable friends — they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." (George Eliot)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

About to Begin...

Duncan didn't get much of a walk tonight because even thought I swore off getting caught up in the holidays I've somehow or another found myself firmly caught up in them. I had to leave work early today in order to take Ken to the airport and then I had to pick up dog food from Hero's, where I also grabbed a new hemp leash. After that I had an appointment with my friend, Connie, who heads up the Medical Office Technology department at ACC. She's been patiently working on a knitting project with me the last few weeks and as I prepare to head home I need to get it completed. I've been running around all night, and rather than sit and blog I find myself frantically knitting i-cord stitches, which I've somehow managed to make much harder than they actually are.

Ken has departed to Michigan, which means my trip is now officially and completely my own. I must admit, part of me was hoping he'd be able to come with me to Idaho, but I must say, now that he's gone, I feel a whole new level of excitement about making the journey. Not anxiety, but excitement. I'm looking forward to finally putting this irrational fear behind me and beginning a whole new phase of my "recovery." I'd like to thank each of you who have sent a feather, as well as those who have feathers still in the mail. Your encouragement has meant the world to me. I've heard from friends and family as well as people I have yet to meet, and the support is at times overwhelming. When I first wrote my magic feather post last month I had no idea I'd feel this good about the drive, that I could literally feel the power of so many people traveling with me. Duncan and I thank you mightily and from the deepest, warmest places in our hearts.

And if you have a minute, think good thoughts for Little Man as he makes his way home for Christmas, his first in three years. His family is looking forward to his arrival and I'm looking forward to seeing his rosy cheeks upon his return.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rewind (Part 4): The Storm & Beyond

We did not go to the park tonight. Instead we crossed Pierce and walked down Leawood. The night was big and clear and warm, the first such night we've had since last week's snow. Duncan was anxious to get out and gallop, especially now that he sees the snow retreating, pulling back from around the trunks of the trees, leaving yellow and green circles of grass in its place, slush piling up in mounds along the curbs and the edges of the sidewalks. He is not a casual admirer of snow, my dog.

I was thinking of the storm that hit Denver a year ago tonight. It had been kind enough to provide an appetizer of sorts that Monday afternoon, and by five o'clock the main course was on its way and I was in hurry, driving down Santa Fe to 6th, where I headed east to pick up Duncan from Firehouse Animal Center.

Before the storm had moved in Ken had been lucky enough to pick him up from Alameda East, where his last night had been uneventful. He'd hurried him to our vets where he was rushed through an x-ray which determined that yes, there was a blockage and yes, it should have been removed 24 hours earlier. As comforting as surgery would've been that terrible Sunday, Ken and I felt infinitely more confident with people we knew and trusted. Alameda East was good to him, although not quite as good to us. I could tell you that perhaps their priorities are not in the right place and that they seemed much more concerned with maintaining the image they'd cultivated on their Animal Planet television show, but I won't. Instead I'll tell you that eventually–nearly a month later–the Board did finally get around to approving the grant I'd applied for to prevent financial euthanasia.

Doctor McCarty performed Duncan's surgery almost immediately after the x-rays came back, and throughout the day the staff was kind enough to call and keep me updated as to his progress. But then late in the afternoon, when news of the coming snow began to whisper down from important places, they called and urged me to get there soon in order to take him home where I could keep my eye on him throughout the night. They feared, and rightfully so, that they wouldn't be able to make it to work the next morning and didn't want Duncan left without care.

I raced to pick him and once there hugged everyone: tall, happy Dr. Rogers, who seemed surprised, the mannish tech in the the back room who was tending to Dunc, and the tall, gay guy who presides over the telephone at the front desk. I cried when they took me in back to see him. He was on his side in a cage, needles and tubes sticking out of his foreleg. His eyes were closed, but the lids were open just enough so that I could see the rolling whites under them. He smelled terrible, like medicine and antiseptic. His belly, which had been shaved, was a shade of pink I did not know existed outside of Disneyland. A large raw wound ran down the middle of his abdomen, the stitches black and clotted with small balls of dried blood. His leg and shoulder had also been shaved, for his IV and the pain patch that they'd given him. He hardly seemed to register what was going on.

I knelt down next to him, put my hand on his warm shoulder and whispered in his ear, "These are my favorite parts of The Duncan: the ears," which I kissed and stroked. "The cheeks," which I smoothed with the back of my fingers. "And the paws," which I squeezed reassuringly. When he heard my voice and smelled me, he lurched awkwardly and tried to rise but couldn't without groaning. I cried again while the techs cleaned him up, removed the needles, unhooked the tubes. Doctor Rogers spent extra time with me explaining the medicine, explaining how I should feed him, when to give him his antibiotics and pain killers, how to help him outside when he had to pee, what to expect. Doctor McCarty was in another emergency surgery but I was allowed to peek my head in and thank him. The staff helped me load my weak, barely coherent dog into my car and wished me well, reminding me that he had to be back at seven o'clock the following morning.

It took me nearly an hour to drive home through the falling snow. The sky was filled to capacity with clouds and the flakes were growing larger and falling harder. Cars parked on the sides of the street began to vanish, trees sagged under the weight and the street lamps were little more than glowing orange balls way up high, the light hardly reaching the ground. Slowly we went, navigating the hills, sliding through stop signs on blessedly empty roads. Finally we reached home and I coaxed Duncan inside where I arranged his pillow and a blanket next to the fireplace. It would be the place he'd lay for the next three days, getting up only to stagger outside every couple of hours to squat or hunch up, his legs shaking beneath him. The snow buried our yard and overrode the brick wall surrounding our patio. We did not have a shovel so I spent an hour pacing back and forth in a square spot I'd carved out by the repeated tromping of my feet. I mashed the snow down tight and created a path for Duncan when he needed to come outside. And because it was important to keep his stitched dry, I put him in one of my t-shirts, tying the loose end up on his back to keep him from tripping on it. We brought his food and water to him and practically laughed as we watched him eat ravenously. I spent much of that first time laying next to him, my arm draped carefully over his body. He slept heavily but moaned lightly, little more than a thin, transparent whine that did not wake him but haunted me. When Ken got home late that night he found me sleeping on the floor next to my dog.

It snowed all night and by the time I had loaded Duncan into the car for his return to Firehouse, school had been canceled, as had Ken's flight out of Denver. It took me nearly an hour and a half to get back to the clinic and no sooner had I returned home–two hours later–than they called and urged me to come back; they were closing early because of the storm. I spent much of that day driving on roads that no one should have driven on, except in plows and sanders. And when school and flights out of Denver were canceled for the rest of the week, Ken and I had to figure out how to get Duncan to Idaho to spend the holiday with my family. We weren't even sure the doctors would let him travel, which meant our adventure had not quite seen it's final days.

* * * *

Leawood was dark and the south side of the street had turned to slush which had then frozen into a treacherous path which alternated between crags and ruts and smooth, polished glass. I'd hoped the houses would be warmly lit and decorated. It's a neighborhood I like because the homes remind me of the neighborhood of my youth. But very few of them were lit up, aside from the obligatory tree in the window. It was a dark and difficult walk but as we moved slowly down the hill toward the elementary school I thought back to that night one year ago when the dog who was now dragging me couldn't stand on his own feet, couldn't hold his head up, but was never allowed to forgot which parts of him were his papa's favorite.


It's been an anxious week for me, watching the mail for those last minute feather arrivals and I'm pleased to say that every day for the past four days I've received a package bearing feathery delights.

Upon arriving home tonight I discovered a UPS note stuck to my door announcing that another package had arrived and was waiting in the leasing office for me to retrieve it. I walked down the street, handed the woman my slip and stood there while she fumbled around in the back room looking for it.

When she returned she beamed, holding a single holiday-themed padded envelope, blue and decorated with silvery snowflakes.

"Your packages are my favorite," she said. "Everyone else receives such big ones, but yours," she smiled, lightly shaking the envelope at me before handing it over. "Yours are as light as a feather."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rewind (Part 3): Team Duncan

In the three years Duncan has been with us, we have only been apart five nights, three when I was in Atlanta when I first got sick, and the two he spent at Alameda East. Ken came home late that Saturday and we both went back to the hospital to take him for a walk and let him know we had not forgotten him. After an hour or so, sitting with him, cradling his tired head on my lap, talking with his doctor, Ken returned to Thornton and I spent the night laying awake in bed, Winnie curled on my hip, Pip rolled up in a ball on my chest, Olive on the pillow above my head. I was exhausted having spent much of the previous night standing in the cold watching my dog vomit into the bushes. I spent most of the night on my back watching the orange glow of the street lamps peek through the curtains and between the slats of the blinds. I missed the way he rolls over me as I climb under the covers, snorting and and rubbing his head against my arm. I missed his weight at my feet. He always stays with us until we fall asleep and then he jumps down and shuffles under the mattress where he snores softly. It was a long night and as warm and protective as the cats were, Duncan's absence weighed heavily on my mind.

Ken came home the next morning and we went to Alameda East once again. His condition hadn't changed and although subsequent x-rays had yet to determine what was happening in his stomach the doctor was still encouraging immediate surgery. Do it now! He could go septic at any moment! You don't have time to think! While figuring out what we could do I applied for a grant the hospital's board of directors offer, which is used to prevent economic euthanasia. They wouldn't meet until Monday morning, which could be too late but it was worth a try. Obviously we wanted the surgery but our finances were such that we couldn't afford it on our own which was the most horrible feeling in the world.

It was at that point that I went home and called everyone I knew and begged for money. It was not a pleasant experience and each time I made a new call I found myself sobbing all over again. Ken watched helplessly as I snotted over the phone, pacing back and forth and pulling my hair out, but by the end of the afternoon I'd finally raised the money we needed with the help of my mother, Ruth, Kelly, David and his mother, Cee Cee, and eventually my father. This generous group became known as Team Duncan and it's to them that Duncan, Ken and I owe every memory we've made together over the course of the past year.

I quickly called the hospital and gave them the go-ahead. "Do it now," I practically screamed. But this is where things became confusing. The doctor said no, she wanted to wait and see what would happen. The radiologist had looked at the x-rays and wasn't sure surgery was necessary at that point.

"But you've been telling us his intestinal wall could perforate at any moment, that he could go septic and that if that happens the only viable option would be to put him to sleep." I was near sobbing again.

But she held firm; she wanted to keep him on the fluids, keep monitoring his x-rays and hold off on surgery until they knew exactly what was going on. Reluctantly and with an enormous amount of fear we agreed. Ken decided we'd hold off and try to get him to our vets, Dr. Rogers and Dr. McCarty at Fire House. They knew Duncan, they knew us (Ken had worked for Dr. Rogers and we occasionally socialized with him) and we trusted them completely. Until then, all we could do was wait and hope nothing happened in the meantime.

These Boots Are NOT Made for Running...

On our very quick jaunt to the park this morning, while the air was still clean and before Bowles had quite filled with cars and the lovely scent they leave behind, Duncan and I discovered a smallish flock of geese which had spread themselves out on the mound on the other side park's frontage road. I was feeling great, stomping around in my big, new boots and Dunc was happy just to be out for an early morning pee in the snow.

"Oooh, Dunc," I said softly, which always catches his attention. "Look at the geese." He immediately turned to them, waited a moment and then before I was able to register what was happening, he took off, dragging me behind.

The boots are wonderful things, they are. But the combination of my lack of real world boot experience and their size mixed with my sudden and unexpected acceleration did not go over so well. I made five or six huge gallumping strides before my knees gave out and down I went, open palm in the middle of the road. The leash slipped from around my wrist and while I hurriedly picked myself up before I found myself attached the grill of a truck, Duncan chased the geese, which ambled to their feet and jumped into the air in that awkward way they have, their wings churning the snow and air around them. Duncan stood amid their flattened field staring skyward while I picked pebbles out of my palm and wiped the scrapes from my wrists.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rewind (Part 2): Two Pictures

I thought the worst of it was behind us, that all the yarn had come up–albeit it slightly bleached and in long, gloopy strands–but I thought Duncan was in the clear. Hours later, however, it was obvious he was not. He still enjoyed laying outside at the end of our walk, his eyes pointed toward the geese which had herded up across the street at the tennis courts, but he stopped eating and drinking, a sure sign that all was not well. Ever vigilant he was never out of my sight and when it was obvious he was an unhappy puppy, I did the first thing any responsible person would do: I went into denial. Whenever he began to look wilted and lethargic I simply popped on his leash and took him for a walk, which always revived him. On those walks that cold Friday night he was his old self, which seemed to say, "Nothing wrong here, Chief. Full steam ahead!" It was when we returned home and he collapsed onto the floor in an exhausted heap, uninterested in any of his toys, or even treats, that it became apparent he did not feel well, that we were not only not out of the woods but perhaps only just heading into them.

By ten o'clock I was in a panic. He hadn't eaten a thing, had begun retching up the water I practically forced him to drink. He hardly moved, just laid there, barely lifting his head even when I spoke his name. I called Ken, who was training in Thornton, and asked him to come home and take a look at Dunc. Ken is a certified vet tech–which was the reason we originally moved to Denver–and I assumed he'd know what we should do.

"He's not eating, at all," I told him. "And everything he drinks comes right back up. He won't play with his Baby or his Buddy and the only time he shows any sign of life is while we're walking. I'm worried." On his advice I scrambled some eggs, prepared some rice and had them ready to go right when Ken walked in the door.

And that's when the little poop pulled a fast one on me. The second the door opened Duncan sprang to life, jumped up on Ken, kissed him and licked his hands, ran and got his toys, turned in joyful circles. I stood there dumbfounded; the dog playing with Ken was not the dog I had been sitting with all night. His ears perked up, his tongue lolled out, his back end shook almost violently with the wagging of his tail. Ken arched his eyebrows and looked at me in that way of his that says, "Clearly you've been exaggerating again." I stuttered and explained that Duncan was faking it, that the minute Ken put the eggs and rice down my point would be made: Duncan would sniff it, maybe even take a polite lick, but he wouldn't eat. As Ken set the bowl down, Duncan practically leapt at the food, inhaling it in one, maybe two big bites. Almost immediately he turned to his water dish and downed everything, his tail wagging the entire time. I shook my head and stammered about how bad it had been, how this strange animal in front of me was the not the dog he'd been only moments before Ken had opened the door.

"Just keep your eye on him," Ken told me, gathering his things. "As long as he's eating and drinking he should be fine. The yarn probably just upset his belly." He scratched Duncan behind the ear, grabbed his stuff and left. He was home for all of ten minutes, and no sooner had he left the property than Duncan stood up, faced me and yacked all over the carpet. All that water, all those eggs, each and every grain of rice, spread out in a nice yellow puddle at my feet. I opened the door, led him outside and rubbed his back while he heaved for the next ten minutes, knee deep in the snow.

It continued for the rest of the night. Saturday morning dawned for me at roughly 3 AM. Following are the text messages I sent Ken:

2:59 AM: The eggs are back. He's puked 7 times all over the apartment.

4:59 AM:
And we're up puking again. He's a sad puppy!

5:06 AM:
Now he's drinking lots if only to have something in his belly to puke. He looks terrible.

5:09 AM:
Call me when you're up, 'kay?

7:34 AM:
We're up again, but he drank some more.

7:55 AM:
And we're puking again.

9:38 AM:
Outside puking. He's so tired. And you'd definitely notice he's sick if you were home now!

On and on it went. It seemed he'd eaten an infinite number of eggs and an unending supply of rice. They just kept emerging. By that afternoon I was scared so I called Ken and told him I had to do something, that he needed to see a doctor immediately. Our vet had just closed and the only place available was Alameda East, which was less than five minutes away. Ken consented and we were out the door.

I don't know what I expected, maybe that they'd give him something that would make him puke any remaining yarn, that he was dehydrated and they'd put him on fluids, that there would be a pill that would make him better. I certainly didn't expect what they told us: that the yarn was still in his stomach, possibly his intestines, that there was a blockage and that if it didn't pass soon we ran the risk of his intestinal walls tearing and resulting his body going septic, which would cause his death. I was floored, couldn't speak, didn't know what to say or do. They left me alone to think and talk with Ken, decide what we needed to do, what we could afford.

I think that was the most shocking thing, that his entire life hung on our already precarious finances. How could something like this happen and the deciding factor come down to money? He was only two years old! It wasn't his fault I'd been careless and left the yarn out. And now his fate would be decided by whether or not we could pay to save him. This was the dog who had saved me during my anxiety attacks, the one who'd comforted me when no one else had been able to and this was how it would end?

The x-rays came back inconclusive (yarn absorbs the dye they use so catching a clear image is almost impossible). They kept telling me we needed to do surgery immediately or he'd die. Immediately! Now! You don't have time to think about it! But they wouldn't do it without payment up front and we didn't have the $5000 they had quoted us. My mind swam. They did want to keep him overnight for observation and to get his fluids up, which meant I had to leave him.

I asked for a moment alone with him. We curled up on the floor in the office. He rested his sad, little head in my lap.

"These are my favorite parts of The Duncan," I told him. "The ears," I said, squeezing them softly, running my fingers though the long hair that grows there. "The cheeks," I said, pulling on his jowls which hang slightly lower than his mouth. "And the paws," I said, rubbing his feet, rolling my fingers between his pads and the blond hair between them. "These are my favorite parts of The Duncan and I won't do without them." He sighed and his eyebrows did that thing they do which tells me he understands. "Papa is going to leave you here but he'll be back. I promise. Your job is to get better."

As they took him away I took two picture:

one of my limp little dog

and one of me
because I never want to forget how afraid I was for him.

These Boots are Made for Walking...

I had a busy day, what with taking care of the tires, running to the bank, a quick stop at Best Buy and then an hour at the world's worst library. I was barely home when I heard a curious scratching at the door. When I opened it there stood my friends Amber and Jesse, who came bearing gifts. It had been a long time since I'd had a pop-in (The Breakers was a gated community) so I was a little unprepared and the apartment was a mess. Duncan did a quick run-through of all his tricks and seemed particularly fond of Amber (I don't think there are enough women in his life. I'll have to have them over for dinner!).

It seems that Amber had grown tired of hearing me complain about my lousy shoes and how my walks with Duncan keep my feet in a nearly perpetual state of cold and wet, so she and Jesse picked me up a pair a nice Champion snow boots for Christmas, perfect for galloping through the snow and ice. Duncan will appreciate them because he'll get to stay out longer and I'll be able to kick even more snow in his face. Between the boots and my Everest-proof coat, I think we're set for the season.

Thanks, guys! You made a boy and his dog very happy tonight.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rewind (Part 1): The Great Yarn Crisis of 2006

I'm a knitter. Not a good one, or even a consistent one, but on occasion I have been observed knitting. I can handle a scarf with minimal problems, and last year I even undertook my biggest adventure to date, a baby blanket for Jonah, Kevi and Mike's youngest son. I know very little about the craft but the repetition is good for me in moments of stress. One of my favorite things to do is put on The Music Man and knit while singing along. Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep cheep, cheep, talk a lot pick a little more. It's the gayest thing I do, but it's comforting and I'm not at all ashamed. My knitting had never resulted in any trouble, that is, until a year ago tonight.

I was thinking about it while walking Duncan this evening in the park. I decided to retrace last night's meandering path through the snow. I wanted to see if anyone had followed it and was surprised to see that someone actually had, at least until the second curly-q through the trees, at which point their path diverged sharply with ours and we were on our own again.

I was thinking about that morning a year ago when I woke up to discover what I thought were several tall piles of bloody vomit littering the floor of our apartment. Ken was out of town for training and I was on my own. If you've never woken up at 5:30 AM to piles of bright red puke, let me tell you, there are better ways to begin the day. My heart pounded in my chest, my vision blurred and I began to panic. It was worse for Dunc, though, by a long shot. The poor guy was hiding under the bed and refused to come out. I literally had to pull him out to get a look at him to see what the problem was. There was no blood on his face and he looked fine, although a little wilted, and once he saw I wasn't angry he perked right up. I gave him lots of love, coaxed him outside and prepared myself for the gruesome task looming ahead of me.

After grabbing pounds of paper towel, a moist rag, the carpet cleaner, a sponge and a scrub brush, I reached for my first handful and discovered it remarkably manageable, and only a little warm. It's the warmth that bothers me most, but the pile had cooled and I didn't gag at all. In fact, the whole thing seemed to lift off the carpet in one easy scoop, with none of the smearing or sliding familiar to anyone who's cleaned up after a pet mess. It was only when I picked it up that I discovered it wasn't blood at all but a huge wad of yarn, the bright red wool I'd purchased for a scarf only the day before. Apparently Duncan liked it just as much as I had, although for entirely different reasons.

Needless to say, the clean-up was quick and painless and I was in the shower and off to work without a second thought. Duncan was fine, he'd only tried to eat some yarn. It had come right back up and there were no problems. Never mind that nearly a third of one of the balls was missing, or that I'd carelessly left the yarn sitting in the same basket it had always sat in, right there in a corner of the living room where anyone, or thing, could get it. Again.

I quickly learned the error of my ways upon returning home nine hours later. While I was gone Duncan decided to sample some of the other year: a bit of the heavy black wool, which he left in a moist little pile right in the doorway, a bit more of the red, but the one that struck his fancy the most was the ugly brown ball with the metallic gold thread woven into it. That he'd consumed rabidly. And puked up with just as much fervor as I imagined he'd downed it. There were several large piles scattered throughout the apartment, with a single long strand running between them, connecting them and which formed one enormous, continuous piece when I cleaned it up. He didn't look too happy with himself but became even unhappier while on our walk when he began puking again. At one point when the yarn seemed caught I actually had to pull on it gently and guide it out of his stomach. We left another enormous pile on the grass at The Breakers, which would be re-discovered on another walk five months later when the snow finally melted. I took him home, made some rice–which he picked at only half-heartedly–and sat on the couch knitting one of the endless scarves I still had to knit prior to Christmas. Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep cheep, cheep, talk a lot pick a little more.

The adventure seemed over, but the next day I'd learn it had only just begun.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Whimsy Trail

It's cold. Very cold. And there are inches upon inches of snow on the ground, a nice new fluffy top coat which sings in crystalline voices as I move through it, and a hard crunchy layer under that which seems firm when I put my foot on it but cracks like egg shells under my full weight. I do not own boots so my feet are constantly wet, but my cap, gloves and coat (a $30 number I picked up from Old Navy several years ago which I swear could get me to the top of Everest) are wonderful. I did not want to walk tonight, had almost talked myself into it, but once I got home and was met by my dancing, singing dog I knew I could not help but walk.

The trail we blazed the other night is still strong and visible through the inches accumulated last night and all day today. It is the strongest trail in the park and has been trod upon many times. Tonight I decided to leave it and start a new one. Midway across the field we took a sharp left, breaking open the unblemished snow and wandered back toward Pierce, looping through several trees, turning in a wide circle followed by a smaller one. We zigged, heading toward the baseball diamonds, then zagged abruptly back toward the lower soccer field, first meandering around each of the trees in front of us, a loose weave back and forth between the trunks. Crossing the sidewalk my plunged into deeper snow on the hill where we cut tight and unnecessary switchbacks down its gentle slope. From there we ran in figure eights across the length of the field, up another hill, plowed a line across the side of it, slipped down toward the willow, back up and across the sidewalk to our starting point.

As much as I hate the snow and cold it was nice to create a trail that only a dog could understand. I turned and looked over my shoulder at the single heavy line, our signature, amid all that white. No one will follow it, but wouldn't it be fun to know what they thought if they did?

Wonder Pets & Feathers

My friend Denise, who lived three houses down from us in Stapleton and kept me sane throughout much of my time there, called tonight. We discussed the beautiful feathers she and Martin, Avery, their daughter, and Maddie, their black lab and Duncan's best friend, sent me. She asked about the impending trip and what I thought of it. As I explained my plan I realized I am indeed looking forward to my first solo long-distance drive since getting sick. It feels solid and not only do I have Duncan keeping watch from the backseat, but as each of your feathers roll in, the stronger and more confident I feel.

"Duncan is your Wonder Pet," she said, referring some TV show I'm not familiar with. And seconds later she sent an email with the picture.

He's not a duck, a turtle or a Guinea Pig, but he's a Roo–my Dunkaroo–and everything will be fine.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Eye in the Sky

Tonight is supposed to be the high point of the Geminids Meteor Shower, which runs from December 6th through the 19th. Indeed, last night, while sitting at my desk I witnessed two spectacular shooting stars, almost green in color, race across the sky before burning up on the horizon. Tonight as Duncan and I sped through the park–it was too cold to walk– I craned my neck skyward hoping to catch at least another peek at the wonders of space. The clouds were rather light and whispy despite the fact that Denver is due for more snow later this evening and I could still clearly see the stars, especially the sideways W of Cassiopeia. While looking at one particular star just west of the middle point of the W a curious thing happened, it went out, or rather it appeared as if the heavens closed around it like the slow blinking of a great eye. I stopped and watched to see if it would appear again, a plane perhaps, or even a fluff of cloud that would slip away and reveal the light again. But two minutes later, ankle deep in the snow, no such thing happened and I felt something inside myself vibrate awake, become almost anxious. Duncan was impatient on the end of his leash and began snorting and rolling in the snow, pulling my arm after him. Still I watched and nothing happened. All the planes in the vicinity kept moving, the skies were still visible but that eye never reopened. The space around it stayed dark and nothing shifted, nothing took its place.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Paths We Think We Know

We walked under an amazing sky tonight, a deep indigo, like spilled ink overtaking a table, tinged with the most delicate sherbet orange along the horizon. Everything else not sky was black in silhouette, a bold contrast that warmed me even as the cold air reddened my cheeks.

Duncan quickly found the trail we'd carved through the snow last night and I was relieved to see that many others had followed it as well, electing to leave much of the white fields unblemished by tracks. Every now and then we crossed another path, but quite often they joined with ours, cutting a frozen road lined by white, crystal walls.

By the time we made it up the hill the sun had set and the spilled ink had finally claimed the table, and because the clouds had lifted, the sky and snow were finally dark, a true shade, the almost natural shade of night, only slightly tinged with the lights of the city. Standing above the lake I looked over toward the memorial, or specifically the base of Rebel Hill and noticed four pillars of light rising out of the snow, straight up into the night. I'd never noticed the lighting that had been put in below the trees that mark the entrance to the memorial even though I'd been there twice in the past week alone–another reminder of how easy it is to overlook the obvious, see only the forest rather than the trees. Those small lamps cut through the drifts and as an easy breeze sifted snow onto them, they steamed like dancing ghosts that whipped away almost as quickly as they'd appeared. I turned and looked out over the park, over Littleton and what bits of the surrounding city were visible to me and wondered at all the other things I'd passed and had not noticed.

It feels good knowing there's adventure still to be had on these well-traversed paths.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


"You can always tell how you're feeling by how your shadow looks."
(Tom Spanbauer, Now is the Hour)

Fluffy snow, no longer lazy, mingling snow. Real and honest to goodness. The kind of snow that whooshes when you push through it. The kind that, no matter how hard you try, sneaks under the cuffs of your pants, climbs down deep into your shoe, settling on the low side of your ankle and refuses to melt. The kind that clings to socks long after you've taken them off and dumped them in the hamper, mad little balls of impossibly stubborn snow hanging off them like burs. The kind of snow that won't let you see much else, even from the top of a hill. Except your shadow. Snow likes shadows as much, if not more, than the moon. Seems snow could hold a shadow almost as long as it takes to melt. God knows I love a sunny day, a bright warm Spring noontime, but I don't think anyone's shadow looks as good as it does on an unblemished field of sparkling snow.

Today I am thankful for snow. And, as always, Duncan leading me through it. We are quite striking out there, trudging and falling, climbing banks, sliding down hills, rolling and laughing. He keeps me young and my perspective clear. As clear as shadow on the snow in the park.

Falls Without Falling: A Deep-Morning Train of Thought

Sometimes you just stop sleeping. For no reason at all your eyes open and you're just as awake at 3:30 as you imagine you would be at 7. So you get up, climb into your clothes without turning on the lights, stumble down the hallway to the bathroom where you have a nice pee and then find the dog, who for some reason has curled up on the couch, like a cat, in a tight little ball, head to tail. After only a little persuasion you get him up and take him outside where you both discover it's snowing. While the dog buries his nose in the stuff, looking for that perfect spot, you shiver and bounce slightly on your knees. You hate this because the cold on your face and neck is nearly unbearable and will only make it that much harder to fall asleep again. Only moments ago you were tucked into bed sleeping softly, warmly under the comforter, the flannel sheets pulled up to your chin. Now here you are in the cold watching it snow, but not really. This snow is not coming from above, but from all directions–despite the lack of wind–and is so fine you can't really see it so much as feel it. You squint into the street lamp–your eyes are still sensitive to the light–and the night looks like something you see on one of those Discovery Channel specials where scientists take you below the ocean, far below the surface, to where the water turns dark and thick and all that stuff floats in it. You can only imagine what it is because they never really explain it, or even acknowledge it really, but surely it's bits of fish, meat and whatnot, and plant and microscopic motes that are designed to eat the rest of it. The snow looks like that, and the only other frame of reference you have is for those weekend afternoons when the sun is strong in the window and you stand at just such an angle so as to see all the millions of tiny bits which catch its light and float in your air. As a child it was fascinating and even called for a Catch-the-Dust game. As an adult it disgusts you and almost always results in a good vacuuming. So that is what the snow is like on this deep Tuesday morning. Have you ever even seen 3:45 on a Tuesday morning? Does the snow always fall without falling like this at this time? And why hasn't the dog finished his business? You check; he's not far away: the spot has been located and he's just starting to lean into it. You see the snow, more like mist, settle onto his back, get breathed up his nose like those afternoon dust motes. The world is silent and you can hear it, actually hear those tiny bits of ice drifting on the air around you. They don't sound like anything else except what they are. The same with the smell. Snow smells only like snow like rutabaga tastes only like rutabaga. Comparisons are pointless. Besides, the dog has finished and it's time to go inside, turn on the kettle and hope a cup of chamomile will set the night to right, help your head slip back down onto the pillow. If not, you can always write about it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Snow Therapy

I did not have a good day and because I've grown so used to spending the majority of it sitting on my butt at my desk, my feet hurt because I was on them all day. By the time I got home I was grumpy, tired of people and barely able to stand myself. I certainly wasn't in the mood to take Duncan for a walk, but, once again my dog is smarter than me and showed me that I did want to walk, that sometimes doing the silliest things–dog things–can be rejuvenating and healthy.

We crossed the park and almost immediately he tossed himself into the snow, keeping his eye on me the entire time, almost as if he expected me to do the same. Of course I was in no mood for that so I pulled on his leash and demanded he walk. We hadn't gone more than ten feet when he did it again, rolling and sliding through the the wet, watching me as though I were the fool for not doing the same.

I finally coaxed him into walking but when we got to the far side of the baseball diamonds he simply stopped, turned toward the upper diamonds above Columbine and stared, his back to me. "Come on, Roo," I urged but he wouldn't budge. Thinking he might have spotted a rabbit, I finally gave in and let him take the lead. He led me up the narrow walk, turned left and kept going as though he knew exactly where he was taking me, which I don't doubt he did. After leading me around the volleyball courts we came to a a nice quiet spot, lined with short round trees with undisturbed snow where Duncan stopped and looked at me. He has this way of watching me, of cocking his head and raising his eyebrows that seems like he's trying to say something if only evolution would allow it. We stared at one another a moment and when he finally rolled over, face first, into the snow, I got the message.

Dropping his leash I flopped down on my back, spread my arms wide as Duncan threw himself into them. He nuzzled his head against my cheek, kicked his feet up into the air, as if trying to run upside down, grunted and snorted and covered me in thick wet snow. I laughed, pulled him close and tossed snow straight up, closed my eyes and felt it rain back down on us.

It was heaven, laying with my dog in the cold, not caring if someone else, or even the coyotes, were watching. I didn't care if they thought I was crazy because at that moment I knew that I was more sane than I had been all day.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Silence Broken

Sunday is not yet over and I feel the weight of Monday already upon us. Walking once more down the sidewalk I closed my eyes and let Duncan guide me as I sometimes do. Last night when we walked blind through the park, the snow fluttering on my tender pink eyelids, I listened for his steps, nearly the only thing I could hear amid the clamorous silence of the snowy night. I heard my feet pushing snow forward. I smelled it all around me. I trusted Duncan to guide me, if only for fifty feet. Tonight, on our last walk I closed my eyes again and knew the world had changed: the scent was gone, that crisp, cold linen smell; the flavor of it on my tongue was bitter, like the smell of as invisible gas or oil; the world was rich with sound, none of them as beautiful as the snow falling. And that was how I knew Monday had come. Rush, rush, rush. I feel it all around us. So I came home, wiped off his feet and nose, patted his head once, gathered my knitting and enjoyed the last of the day.


Melissa called tonight for our weekly play-date with the dogs. She and Kona met us at the corner and as we crossed the street the whole park glistened orange and blue, a diamond mine for a playground. We let the dogs off leash, and with the exception of a brief incident involving two German Shepherds who did not like Dunc, the evening was nice. Melissa and I stood off to the side, our poop bags full, watching the dogs roll and wrestle, fight over sticks, leap up and crash back down into the snow. Kona, I discovered, enjoys having snow kicked in her face as much as Duncan, so I spent an exhausting hour kicking and scooping and kicking some more, but when it stopped melting off of Duncan's face I become concerned. His muzzle and ears were coated in ice and I could see large balls snow collecting between the pads of his feet. We came home and I noticed a slight limp when he walked, so once got inside I ran a tub with mildly warm water, tossed him in and watched the ice melt. He recovered almost immediately and I got wondering what else I should know about Winter pet care. I found the following information, most of which is common sense, but still worth taking a look at.

Sunday 6:30

First walk is the hardest. Getting out of bed on a snowy morning is brutal, especially touching my feet to the cold linoleum of the bathroom floor, although nothing seems to wake me up better than standing there and shivering. Thankfully Duncan is generally pretty patient with me; he's like a child, still dazed and dreamy with his hair slightly askew and a confused look on his face. He ambles down the hall behind me and stops to take a big stretch, a downward dog yoga pose, grinning up at me while I pull on my socks and Vans. By the time I'm slipping my cap and gloves on he's awake and dancing at the door, his tail wagging and his bum swaying side to side.

Outside in the new light of this Sunday morning the snow looks blue and the roads have not yet turned to gray and brown slush. An occasional car coasts by, barely moving over the ice, making no noise at all. While Duncan leans into the snow to pee, I watch the Christmas lights blink off and shiver a big one, from my shoulders down the middle of my back to my hips, which rattle in my big blue coat. I love morning time, love watching the world come awake, feeling like I'm witness to something so few know anything about, Sunday 6:30. While Dunc meanders along the fence line, his nose pushing the snow forward, I close my eyes and let the cold sting my cheeks and the place on the back of my neck where the scarf I wear has pulled loose. The air is so clean early Sundays, like the world has made a fresh batch just for me. Snow-scented air (and there is such a thing if you pay attention) is just as wonderful as entering a home where bread has only just come out of the oven. It brings a smile to my face. After a moment, I notice I can't hear the soft crunching of Duncan walking so I open my eyes to find him twenty or so feet away, hunched up in the green circle under a tree tending to his real business. I wait a few seconds for him to finish, then plod along, scoop it up in a bag, which I drop in the garbage bin. With a whistle and a pat on my leg I call him to me. He comes readily, his snout and face white, his eyes little raisins poking through. We move back inside where my tea kettle is already calling to me. As I choose my flavor (Egyptian Licorice Mint) Duncan goes back to bed and I settle down at my desk to watch the rest of the world catch up.

The Twenty-Five (or so): Another List

I have been tagged once again by my friend Kelly, from Property of Kelly, who now demands I list my Top 25 Movies. I don't really have a list of favorite movies in a set order, but I'll certainly give it a try.

  • All About Eve* Joseph Mankiewicsz's writing is snappy and superb and the entire cast shines, especially Bette Davis. This film has some of the best lines ever written, bitter and brutal
  • Sunset Boulevard* In my humble opinion, there is no finer performance recorded on film than the one provided by Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond. Every inflection, every twitch, every gesture is calculated and serves a purpose. Simply amazing
  • Meet Me in St. Louis* This one is purely sentimental. The Christmas scenes near the end always make me cry. Judy Garland is wonderful, but the true winner in this film is little Margaret O'Brien, who won an Oscar for Best Juvenile Performance that year
  • The Royale Tenenbaums I can't think of a finer ensemble cast. Each performance is stunning, the writing is clever and poetic and I love this film even though almost everyone I know is bored by it
  • Until the End of the World A film about dreams and our culture's addiction to images, which become a kind of paralyzing disease. Beautifully filmed and directed with an international cast, this one is one I could watch over and over
  • The Color Purple Sure it's manipulative and sentimental, but I think I have cried every time I've seen this film since I was 15 years old. It will always be a favorite
  • Peter Pan Who wouldn't want to be a flying child who never grows up?!
  • Bambi I was born to be a Bambi fan. I had no choice in the matter. My grandmother quilted my baby blanket with Bambi on it, took me to see the film and bought me the soundtrack. I have mighty memories of her and can not watch this movie without thinking of and missing her terribly
  • Gone with the Wind* It's almost unbearably long, but this film is amazing and couldn't be a minute shorter. Vivian Leigh's performance, while a bit theatrical, is stunning. The grandiosity of the entire production is a marvel. I've watched three times this past year alone
  • Magnolia Another one of those films in which people claim "nothing happens." If by nothing happening they mean the final fifteen minutes of the film when the most shocking and surreal thing I've ever seen occurs, sign me up for lots more "nothing."
  • A Star is Born* "I was born in a trunk in the Princess Theater in Pocatello, Idaho..." This is a wonderful flim and the story of its restoration is just as intriguing. The FBI became involved and after nearly 70 years you still can't watch it in its entirety. This film became the film that inspired the world to preserve our celluloid history
  • Boogie Nights This film is not about pornography so much as family, and with the 70's backdrop, a terrific ensemble cast and sharp directing by Paul Thomas Anderson I can't help but love it as much as I loved my Charlie's Angels lunch-box
  • Fight Club This one had the poorest marketing campaign of any film I've seen. It's not about beating people senseless, it's about politics and society and should be required viewing for every college student in the country
  • Brokeback Mountain Not because it's in the manual and I'm supposed to say that, but because it shows how truly fluid and ambiguous sexuality and love can be, even in the most unlikely of people
  • Fiddler on the Roof A huge production with wonderful music, a great cast and "Tradition!" My sister and I used to watch this when we were kids, and had memorized my grandmother's soundtrack album by the time we'd entered elementary school
  • Life is Beautiful A moving film that literally left me speechless for well over an hour after we left the theater. Ken, April and I were unable to speak without sobbing–not crying or sniffling, sobbing. This film is about courage and sacrifice and should be, I believe, watched by everyone
  • Pulp Fiction No one does dialogue like Tarantino, except perhaps Mankiewicsz and no one delivers it better than Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis
  • The Music Man All those trombones and a fun soundtrack make this one fun to watch and great to knit along with
  • Moulin Rouge Another musical with a killer soundtrack and excellent performances by the entire cast. This was the film that made me finally like Nicole Kidman, who is far more talented than she's been given credit for
  • Waiting for Guffman Christopher Guest and cast deliver an amazing improvised story of a small town putting on a show for a New York theater critic. I can't help but laugh almost all the way through
  • Monty Python and Holy Grail I don't know of a funnier film. I memorized it during college and spent months doing little more than quoting it, recreating scenes with my friends, trying desperately to determine the airspeed velocity of an unladen sparrow and saying "ni" until my mouth was bruised.
  • Star Wars A New Hope Although its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, is the best of the franchise, this is the film that made me fall in love with movie-making at the age of six. Every time I put it on I get goosebumps and remember what it was like to be a child and in awe of the universe and the magic of storytelling
  • Rebel Without a Cause Not because of James Dean and his style of method acting, but because of the impact it had on film making and culture. It changed everything and gave teenagers a voice that still rings out in films such as Breakfast Club, Dazed and Confused and countless others
  • Red River* The only Western I own. This was Monty Clift's first film. Cast against John Wayne he looks a bit like a wet puppy, but delivers the strongest performance in the film. And watching it it's fun to know that sometimes a gun is not always a gun
  • This is Spinal Tap 'Nuff said
  • American Beauty "Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in."
I think there's one extra in there, but who cares. It took far longer than I expected. If you haven't seen all of them, I strongly encourage you to do so. They're pretty good.

*As recommended by my good friend, and Movie Mentor, David, who has taught me more about movies than I'll ever remember and far less than he knows. Quite often David feels that when recommending movies to me he's casting "pearls before swine," but my life has been tremendously enriched by his efforts and would be quite empty without him. Thank you, sir! Don't give up hope and keep the lessons coming!

Down, Above and Below

We just took our last walk of the night. The clouds are heavy and low, a delicate mist has settled over the park and the entire night has been painted a soft orange under the clouds reflecting the street lamps. Were they not here I wonder if the world would be blue, or even visible at all. The silence is loud, a kind of thick cottony deafness brought on by the snow, still pure and unmarred by the feet others, my favorite kind of snow to walk in.

There were geese flying overhead. I did not see them but I heard the heavy beats of their wings coming from somewhere between the clouds and the ground, a thick, rhythmic flap, weighted and meaty. This is the season for geese, who make what seems an endless migration from one small Denver lake to another. They never quite manage to leave, just rotate homes. They are permanent in their impermanence, their sticky green dropping sometimes the only reminder they were here at all. Sidewalks become treacherous places, each step a careful negotiation, but the snow hides things, if only temporarily, and we can pretend every step is safe.

Because I'm on a Mary Oliver kick I thought I'd share another poem I've read recently. We seem to be in sync this weekend, Mary and I, but she is much better at capturing a moment than I could hope to be.

Snow Geese

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
to ask
of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.
One fall day I heard
above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was
a flock of snow geese, winging it
faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun
so they were, in part at least, golden. I
held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.
The geese
flew on,
I have never seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won't.
It doesn't matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Snowy Night

It's strange how snow muffles the sound of the world, places a hush over it that not even the seemingly endless traffic on Bowles can penetrate. The cars, moving trepidaciously, are barely audible and only the deep rumble of the ploughs and sanders emit any noise at all, and even that is little more than vibration, something felt, by my skin and deep organs, rather than heard. I have spent time on the patio with my eyes closed, face turned into the last downy trickles of flakes wafting down from above, flakes not even falling so much as drifting and mingling, dancing lazily with the still currents of the air before coming to rest on my nose and cheeks. I've taken my cue from Duncan, who knows how to appreciate snow, taste it and breath it in, allow it to cover his face, slip down the length of his nose and drip finally at his feet. He is a connoisseur of the weather and a poet of the seasons.

After our walk we trudged home, my Vans soaked, the cuffs of my jeans ice-encrusted from the nearly continuous snow-scattering foot-sweep I perform to his delight. As we left the park I caught the sound of our owl, a lonely hollow noise that barely pierced the covered fields before reaching my ears. We both paused, Duncan cocked his head and I smiled. It made me think of a Mary Oliver poem I'd read recently:

Snowy Night
Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
an indeterminate number
of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.
I couldn’t tell
which one it was –
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air –
it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable – would have hurried
over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean.
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out
my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,
whatever its name –
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.

I love this world, but not for its answers. I love my dog for the same reason: his tremendous delight in not knowing but understanding nonetheless, a wise poet whose verse is writ with the silence of footfalls in the snow.