Sunday, September 30, 2007

Branches and Twigs

I finally read Marley & Me, and while I would hardly call it a great book–or even a good one–I will say that it was a nice read with a touching ending. It ended as I knew it would from the moment I saw that goofy looking lab on the front cover, but the point was not the ending, it was everything prior to that, everything that everyone who's lived with a dog has experienced. Marley was hardly unique, and hardly the terror the author and publisher would like us to believe, but he was a good dog who found his way into a good family. There could be a million books just like this one, but this was the one I read.

And this was the one which left me in tears, cuddled up next to Duncan repeating over and over, "You're a good boy, Dunc. You're Papa's good boy. I love you." And it was this book which made me get dressed and take Duncan over to the park for a late night round of chase and fetch and chase and wrestle and chase and love. I'm a good dog person, but when you hear stories about people losing their animal loved ones it makes you feel bad that you're not better; hell, that you're not perfect.

So it was with a healthy dose of guilt that I let Duncan drag me across Bowles to the fields. He grabbed the leash and led me there himself, his head high, his tail sticking up and out. And once we were there I let him off leash and threw the ball for 30 minutes or so, rolling him onto his back and rubbing his belly, grabbing at his big wet paws, pulling gently on his tail. He loved every minute of it, basking in the warm glow of my guilt.

But he gave back, he didn't just take. As we ran back and forth across the soccer field Duncan found a stick to play with. I should clarify, stick is misleading; Duncan found a branch from one of the Aspens. It was about 5 feet long and with several smaller branches on it, all still adorned with yellowing leaves. I watched him wrestle for several minutes, trying to get his mouth around the thing without getting stabbed. When he finally succeeded he held it up proudly, his head back as he marched it across the grass trying desperately to manage the weight and balance of it, blinking as the leaves rustled in his face. He must've carried it a hundred feet before it snapped in half. He puzzled for a minute, deciding which half looked better, finally settled on the one with the leaves, scooped it up and carried it until it, too, broke. By the time we reached the parking lot that branch was little more than a twig, a soggy thing no more than six inches across. But he still carried it proudly.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lost: One Heart

Despite warnings that it wouldn't be, today was a beautiful Fall day. I woke up early, took Duncan for a walk, watched a bit of each of the two football games going on in the park as we skirted the fields and came home for a nice breakfast of toast and Egyptian licorice tea.

This afternoon as we took our second walk I noticed a peculiar sight. A party was going on at one of the picnic shells and someone had arranged a massive balloon display, shaped like a heart. The wind picked up and the heart flapped wildly several times before it broke free of its moorings, and leapt into the air. Duncan and I paused, watched it gain altitude, break right in half and speed toward the north, right over our apartment. I barely had time to pull out my camera and snap one picture before it vanished over the golf course. What a perfect time, I thought, for someone's heart to be carried away by the wind, set free over the changing trees and the crisping grass. The rest of the hemisphere may be winding down before another dark winter, but that heart knew what it needed and where it needed to go.

There's a song in there somewhere.

Friday, September 28, 2007

iPod Autumn

Ear buds are our new best friend. Everywhere I turn I see them, especially at the park. No one seems to go anywhere without them, iPods strapped to arms or tucked into waistbands and one woman I saw jogging actually fastened her mp3 player to her Yellow Lab.

I don't take my iPod with me on walks. Not when I can listen to the loons and mourning doves and the crickets. I can't make any promises about what I'll do this winter, but for now I'm content to listen to the familiar plodding steps of my boy ahead of me.

But what are these people listening to? I imagine most of the runners have got some upbeat music playing that matches or drives their pace, which makes sense because our music tends to match our moods. I'm in an Autumn frame of mind currently and so I made myself an Autumn playlist. It hasn't made it on our walks, but it gets a lot of play at work.

If you're interested, here's a list of songs and artists that are either about Autumn or have an Autumn feel. I'd also be interested to hear your suggestions. Feel free to click the comment button and let me know what songs or pieces sound like Autumn to you.

"Boys of Summer" (Don Henley)
"Vineyard" (Jackopierce)
"Wake Me Up When September Ends" (Green Day--yes it's a cliche and way overplayed, but I can't help like it)
"California Dreamin'" (The Mamas and the Papas)
"Autumn Tactics" (Chicane)
"Wild is the Wind" (Nina Simone)
"Autumn Leaves" (Paula Cole– This one has been covered a million times, and the Chet Baker version is amazing as well, but Paula Cole's is I chose for this playlist)
"No Regrets" (Tom Rush)
"The Late September Dogs" (Melissa Etheridge)
"Blood and Fire" (Indigo Girls)
"Quiet" (Paul Simon– This one reminds me of the October afternoon of my grandfather's funeral, when I went to park named after him and listened to this over and over)
"Living in Twilight" (The Weepies)
"When October Goes" (Barry Manilow)
"I'll Be Seeing You" (Carmen McRae–again, it's been covered by everyone, but I think Carmen's version is one of the most poignant I've ever heard!)

Thursday, September 27, 2007


It was a pulling day, with a tight leash and a sense of mission, of which I hadn't been informed. It was a tough walk and I couldn't count the number of times I said, "Duncan, slow!" But he kept pulling and choking on his collar, which only irritated me more. Several people glanced over as they passed us on the trail, their looks implying that it was somehow my fault, that I was abusing my poor dog. It couldn't have been further from the truth; in fact, I could make the argument that it was I who was being abused, my shoulder wrenched back and forth, walking along through clouds of small gnats, my knees not quite warmed up to the idea of running. But Duncan knew where he wanted to take me. Or so it seemed.

I'd actually considered cutting the walk short and taking him back toward the park, maybe cutting through the neighborhood behind Columbine just for some variation, but then he stopped on a narrow piece of bank and looked up at me.

You think I'm making this up. You think I have far too much faith in the intelligence of my dog, that it's ridiculous to believe he knows exactly what I need. But I am not crazy; I am not deluding myself. I am not ridiculous.

On this fine, sunny day at the end of September–one of the last, I know–Duncan led me to his gift. And it was wonderful. He walked right up to it, turned and looked at me as if to say, "Here, this is what I had to show you before the sun dipped down behind the mountains. This is what was so important."

“Every friend is to the other a sun, and a sunflower also. He attracts and follows.”
(Jean Paul Richter)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Quiet and Ready Enough

"If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment." Henry David Thoreau

I had a terrible day and was exhausted early, but refused to allow the day to beat me. I did not watch the clock, I did not count the seconds. My mantra was Duncan's, which has done wonders for me the past week. Hunt. Dive. Tree. And as tired as I was, as badly as I wanted to come home, take off my shoes and do nothing, I knew that my salvation was with Duncan at the lake. And as we marched along the trail–Duncan, low with his nose to the ground–taking in the sound of the meadowlarks and the crickets and feeling the warm sun on my face and arms and the back of my neck, I understood the Thoreau quote, that even our disappointments, if we allow them, can lead us to a place of peace and provide a strength we did not know we had. I would not have loved this afternoon as I did without the nastiness of the morning and the trials of the day. It was like discovering the turning lines a poem, this rewriting of the day. Yesterday I said that dogs could lead us to poetry with their vision, and today that point was made again. It reminded me of a portion of the poem "Lake Water" by David Ferry.

"It is like an idea for a poem not yet written
And maybe never to be completed, because
The surface of the page is like lake water,
That takes back what is written on its surface,
And all my language about the lake and its
Emotions or its sweet obliviousness,
Or even its being like an origination,
Is all erased with the changing of the breeze
Or because of the heedless passing of a cloud."

If we let it, anything and everything can move our spirit and change how we see the world. We need only listen.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


The rain started last night. A lonely, Chet Baker trumpet kind of drizzle. The windows ran with the dripping color of the street and traffic lights and everything had a hazy ring around it, a halo or glow, an aura. And it was cold, a nut tightening, skin squeezing cold, the first of the season. It was the kind of weather that drops the leaves fast, and then drowns them until they wash away into dirt. It was a cold crawl-into-bed-early and pull-the-covers-up kind of night. But Duncan insisted on going out several times, just to get his nose wet and to veer back and forth, left and right, finding a way to hit each of the puddles. It didn't let up. All night it drizzled and as I fell asleep, my back to the window, I could hear the soft patter of the drops on the sidewalk right outside. Duncan and the cats curled up all over the bed: Winnie on my hip, where she usually sleeps, Pip at my chest, Olive up high on the pillows, her feet tucked under my head, Duncan spread in a line perpendicular to myself, forcing me into a tight ball, cramped but unwilling to disturb any of them, unwilling to let them think me ungrateful for their small, warm bodies.

It kept it up most of the day. I drove to work through cold and wet and mist and stepped into a puddle climbing out of my car. When I slipped outside for a smoke at ten, I huddled near the side of the building, thinking the long sleeved shirt I'd put on wasn't enough, but then, by two, the clouds had dissipated completely. The sun was out and it was actually hot. The sky had turned that beautiful shade of Autumn blue, a far away blue, like blue reflected off a blade, blue like something fragile. By the time I got home I was ready to change into shorts and a sweat shirt for my first evening walk with Duncan.

He pulled me down Bowles, past the Carls, Jr and the Red Robin, where we cut across the parking lot, through a low stand of bushes and onto the trail around the lake. Almost immediately he caught the scent of a rabbit and nearly cut himself trying to pull his way through the brambles. I pulled on his leash, said, "Duncan, come," sternly, and once we were moving down the trail, praised him for finding the rabbit and following orders. He hardly noticed. He spent the rest of the hour sniffing out every copse of willows and every tree for more rabbits and squirrels.

As I followed him up the hill away from the lake we came to the edge of the prairie dog town (which he had almost no interest in) and a wide expanse of tall grass, now yellow and only just beginning to fall. The sun, behind us, was bright and gold, allowing even the ants to cast long, dark shadows. And the grass was brilliant before us and I was thankful Duncan led me there, through the dark and wet of last night to the radiance of this afternoon. He could've cared less, but I was happy to share that moment with him.

Dogs may not be poets, but they can lead us to poetry if only we're willing to see the world through their eyes.

Monday, September 24, 2007

King of the Hill

It's a Duncacentric world. Seems everywhere we walk there are places that the boy just lays claim to.

Like the tree just outside the gates. It's covered in ants and only occasionally yields a squirrel, but he could stand here for days.

Or Duncan's Mound at the park, where he roots around, smelling God only know what.

Or Duncan's Glen, the natural bowl at the corner of the property where he accidentally taught himself to fly this afternoon.

No matter where we take him, though, he's the King of the Hill.

It didn't bother him at all that it was our first cold day of the season, or that the grass was wet, or that the leaves he was rolling in kept getting tangled in his tail and coat, after all, that's what he keeps me around for.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Dog, the Genius

Duncan, who amazes me every day, who knows how to sit and stay and come and fetch, who can not only give you a high five, but can also give you ten, Duncan, who can differentiate between his Baby (a squirrel), his Buddy (an opossum) and his Berry (a teddy bear), who knows his yellow bone from his blue bone, Duncan, who tended to me two years ago when I was sick and kept his weight against me when I was so dizzy I had to crawl to the bathroom, who, during several of my attacks climbed up on the couch, laid down on top of me and taught me to match my breathing to his in order to calm down, Duncan, who consoles me on those occasions when I watch the sad movie (or TV show or–okay, already!– the occasional commercial), my dog, the insane genius who I've praised and praised and talked up and down, got his head stuck between the bars in the fence tonight.

My son makes me proud. Yes indeedy! Quick, call MENSA!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Calling Autumn Out

Before our walk tonight I was talking with Kelly and she mentioned how happy she was it was finally Autumn. I've never been a fan, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I really am a fan. I'm a Summer person through and through, but just as a sad movie is okay every now and then, Autumn, too, can be pretty fun. I've done some of my best work when the leaves change and the nights get cool. There's that part of me–the part that actually enjoys feeling somber and lonely and very small–that gets a tremendous boner for this time of year. I get to trudge through piles of leaves clad in my best sweaters, my handsome dog at my side, our shoulder showing the weight of our melancholy and the somber lines on our faces shouting our depth of feeling to the world. No one will be able to mistake us for happy, carefree folk, no siree. I will wear Autumn on my sleeve, pinned to my bleeding heart.

These last few weeks of fire in the world will warm me enough to make it through yet another winter, where I'll be too busy keeping my feet dry and neck warm to feign any despair whatsoever. There's just no place for drama in Winter, unless you're out on the prairie herding cattle and fighting to survive. No one looks good in winter, so we might as well live it up in Autumn while we can. Nothing looks better on a person in Autumn than hunched shoulders, a creased brow and a burning heart.

Bring it on. Duncan and I are waiting.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Sometimes you wonder where you'll find inspiration–your art or your story–and you're so busy looking for it that you're surprised when it finds you. That's the way I felt this afternoon in Clement Park as Duncan and I passed through the baseball quad and worked our way up the walk toward Rebel Hill. I was surprised to discover a fleet of news crews in vans and trucks and even one or two helicopters hovering overhead. I hardly noticed that the memorial was finally open.

My Columbine story, as insignificant as it really is, began on that morning in April in 1999 while I was sitting at my desk at CDW. Ken and I were leaving for Denver the next morning and while I was killing time between editing a couple of magazine ads, I went online and saw the report on Yahoo News. Something terrible had happened in Littleton. The magnitude of the horror was something I still can't comprehend, but I remember thinking, "On choir tour in 1989 I sang at that school. I stood right there."

The next morning, after checking into our room at the downtown Denver Holiday Inn, we walked the 16th Street Mall and saw for ourselves the impact Columbine had on this community. An enormous card, the length of a city block, had been set up and people were standing, three and four deep, waiting to sign it, their hands trembling, tears in their eyes and on their cheeks. Everywhere we looked we saw the same dazed expressions; no one could believe it happened here.

Needless to say, it was a terrible time to visit Denver. We could not have picked a less enjoyable weekend to check out our new home. There was no escaping it, not in the restaurants over lunch, not in the bars and clubs, or at the zoo, not in our hotel room. Even on our way out of town we passed Al Gore's motorcade leaving the airport as it made its way toward Littleton. It wasn't until we were home that we felt relieved of the weight of the tragedy.

Shortly afterward I was speaking to my father on the phone, explaining that I'd just returned from Denver and that I was considering moving there.

"Whew, Denver," he sighed, in that radio announcer's sigh of his. "That must've been tough, and not very fun I bet."

I thought for a moment, as I often do when speaking to my father. "You know, it was an incredible experience," I began. "It was horrible and you're right, it wasn't any fun, the whole city was grieving, but I got to see that. I got to see that community pull together, was able to witness the grief and the comfort they imparted on one another and it was an amazing thing to be a part of."

Our strengths and virtues are not tested in times of peace and silence; they are tested by crisis and cacophony and Denver and Littleton passed that test. This city certainly doesn't want to be remembered because of Columbine, but it doesn't want the rest of the world to forget either. If it can happen here–in this middle-class Mormon community–it can happen anywhere.

That April day as I read about the shootings I had no idea that I'd soon live half a block away from the school, which Duncan and I occasionally walk around. It's always held this strange awe for me because something so terrible happened there and yet it looks like any ordinary school. The kids I see arriving in the morning look like any regular high school kids. Passing the front doors and moving around toward the library side, where most of the true horrors occurred, has always made me catch my breath.

This afternoon as Duncan and I entered the memorial, which won't look truly beautiful until the spring when the grass and the flowers come in, I experienced a new feeling. All around me were the actual families and friends of victims, I was surrounded by students who'd had to run for their lives. As I walked around the wall and read some of the selected quotes that had been mounted on plaques, I felt my awe of the building and the shootings fade, replaced by awe of the people and their ability to grieve and then find a place for their grief as they returned to their lives. It was overwhelming and as we left I couldn't help but cry. It felt good to be there and felt like this community, where so much anger is to be expected, has found a way to forgive.

"Hatred never ceases by hatred; by love alone it is healed. This is the timeless and eternal law. Forgiveness is primarily for our own sake, so that we no longer carry the burden of resentment. Our hearts are already heavy enough."
The Gatekeeper
(Columbine High School Memorial)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hunting, Diving, Tree

My dog is full of lessons. Despite all my talk of wanting to be present in the moment, of not wanting to wish away my hours or minutes, I spent most of today watching the clock and waiting for the day to end. At ten o'clock this morning it felt as though it should be three, and it was all downhill from there. I wasn't the only one who felt it, we all did. The Muzak played the same songs it played yesterday and the day before ("I'm Too Sexy" and "Kung Foo Fighting" will not leave my head). I replied to the same emails over and over, had the same conversations, went through the same motions.

And then I got home and took Duncan for his walk. We headed west on Bowles to the Barnes and Noble, cut through the parking lot and skirted the northern edge of the lake. Along the way Duncan hunted his first rabbit (now that he has them in his nose I imagine he'll sniff them out as he has the squirrels), tried to dive in after the ducks, and treed two squirrels. He was single-minded and nothing could sway him, not even the ants which climbed up my legs and braided themselves into his tail. For nearly 15 minutes we stood on the median in Bowles on our way back home so that he could look up at the squirrel he'd treed. He wouldn't even break focus to appreciate my scratches behind his ear.

(Hunting Rabbit)

Tomorrow I will hunt rabbits, I will dive for ducks and I will tree every squirrel that comes my way.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Walking Meditation

When I was in college at Lake Forest and looked forward to coming home for Christmas or summer break, I used to count my steps. There was a time I could tell you how many steps from the theater building on South Campus to my room in Deerpath Hall. I knew how many steps it took to walk to the beach or to Tim, my mentor's, office. My journal is filled with entries that said things like, "Five hundred steps to the train station today. How many steps 'til I'm home?" It brought me comfort and gave me something to look forward to, like marking off the days until Christmas. I forgot all about that until this afternoon when I realized I was going through the motions on my walk with Duncan. I hadn't been paying attention: I wasn't in the moment. I was asleep.

As much as Duncan may not like it, sometimes the walks aren't about him. Sometimes they're not even about me. Sometimes they're just about the walk and being awake.

It's easy to get used to the places we go, the people we see, even the sounds and sensations of our steps on the same sidewalks or the same soggy grass. It's easy to forget that the world is changing every moment and even though we've walked or driven or peddled the same route day after day, climbed the same stairs, parked in the same spot under that one precious, shade-yielding tree, that everything is different than the last time we were there.

The nights are cooler now–they have been for awhile. Even the days are cooler and the trees and grass are different every time I see them. The elms are done but don't know it; they hold on to their yellowing and browning leaves like houses hold on to ghosts. The grass isn't as soft, and it has a September sort of crunch to it under our feet. The people, still wearing shorts and t-shirts, have begun to tie sweaters around their waists, or they wear hoodies. They all look the same to me.

I don't want to go through my life a zombie, counting the days until the weekend and then Monday morning after that, or the hours left until I get to leave work. I want to absorb as much as I can, to not take anything for granted. It's a difficult task to stay awake and not switch over to autopilot. Sometimes you have to work hard to be present and notice the beauty all around you.

There's a line in American Beauty, one of my favorite films, that makes me weep for my old poet's eye: "It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it.... that's the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and... this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever... It helps me remember... and I need to remember... 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."

Who at the park today noticed the man and his grandson fishing from the bank where I sometimes let Dunc wade in after the ducks? Who stopped and spent ten minutes watching them cast and reel, cast and reel, the sun setting in front of them, the mountains and lake turning black before them? Will they even remember how thick the bugs were, or that the school marching band was practicing Tusk, that quintessential marching band song not a quarter of a mile away? Will this night fade for them or will they lock it up some place and keep it alive simply because they want to keep it alive?

I will remember this night because it was beautiful and made my heart want to cave in.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Boy and His Dog

Sometimes it's easy to forget what unconditional love really means. Thanks to my friend Chuck for reminding me why I love Duncan and not why he should love me.

And thanks to mom for the picture.

Monday, September 17, 2007


(Reflections on the Lake)

I lost my temper tonight.

Maybe I'm just too attached to my dog. Maybe I'm too concerned about what he's thinking and feeling, but when you have no kids of your own and you want them, when there's so little else that brings you both peace and satisfaction, you tend to dote on your pets. And after everything Duncan and I have been through together, tending to each other, nurturing one another, healing each other, I don't think I could be blamed.

Fine, I'm a dog doter. There, it's out.

I work so hard at taking care of him. I bought a house because I though he needed a yard. I didn't need a house. I didn't consider buying one until that puppy was running around and I thought, "I need to do everything to make this little guy happy." I went into debt (I can't name a friend I don't owe money to because of his Christmas surprise last year), I sacrifice my time and social life to him. I feel guilty if he doesn't get the attention he needs. I do everything within my power to make this ungrateful dog happy and he's not appreciating it, dammit.

Lately, on our walks, he's bright and exuberant and happy, but the moment I turn toward home, he becomes sullen and starts dragging his feet. His head hangs low and he becomes quite pathetic. He stops obeying me when we cross the street–as if getting struck by a car, or getting me struck by a car, is a viable option to returning to #613. What is so bad about this apartment. Part of the reason we picked it was because it was so big, had so much more light, and was so close to the park. Once again, we were thinking about Duncan. So the least he can is not make me feel terrible when I've had enough of the walk, when all I want to do is sit down, not deal with people, not care about anything else. I spend the rest of my day tending to the piddliest people and their petty complaints at Arapahoe Community College. I walk him and play with him and throw the ball and wrestle and cuddle and feed and walk him again. Have I spoiled him?

Should I just strangle him and start over?

Perhaps our walks have become too much about me. They are my Zen moment but I do spend a lot of time thinking about other things, looking for pictures to take, wishing someone else was there to take the reins and let me just walk and enjoy the night.

And I still wish he had a yard that I could let him loose in.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

One Good Dog

Clement Park looks as though a tornado struck.

And in truth, it wasn't far from it. Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but when the storm hit this afternoon, its sole purpose seemed to be to wash away all that had gathered there over the past three days. The rain was thick and heavy, and from where I watched in my window, I knew it was the kind of rain that slaps and hurts when it falls. A real leaf shredder. The sky got very dark very fast and within minutes Bowles Avenue looked like the Colorado River, four lanes of raging water between the curbs; I wouldn't have been surprised to have seen rafters paddling with all their might to keep from being swept away.

The tents and booths came down with surprising speed, and people scattered to their cars in a near panic. It was like one of those scenes in a disaster movie where the tiny Japanese people run and scream ahead of the advancing monster. Except these were suburbanites afraid of getting their SUVs wet.

If I'd been outside it wouldn't have been nearly as fun to watch.

Later Duncan and I ventured over and if you could see it, my tornado analogy wouldn't seem quite as dramatic: folding chairs have been scattered across the tire-track ravaged fields, garbage cans have been overturned and refuse blown everywhere. Popped balloons and what I'm hoping wasn't a discarded condom were scattered amid the shrubbery and in the low branches of the piss elms.

Duncan and I jogged through the mess, and I kept him at a nice trot to avoid the fiasco that was last night's walk. No discarded deep-fried Snickers for my boy. Nor turkey legs or corn cobs. He's strictly a Science Diet dog, with the occasional corn chip thrown in every now and then.

Despite being kept on a short leash, he was quite happy to be out. It's as though his entire day is lived in anticipation of his hour walks at the park. I wonder what he thinks the rest of the time: that we don't love him? that we're punishing him? that he liked that big yard with the fence and his friends Daisy and Maddie better? It's hard not to feel guilty. Our apartment is bigger and brighter than that cave we lived in at The Breakers. I thought Duncan would like it more. The cats certainly do. The windows are low, and it would be easy to lounge in front of them, moving slowly to keep up with the teasing rays of sunlight. But I don't think he does that. Instead I think he lays under the bed, which seems miserable to me, but which he obviously likes.

He is my reward and I am blessed to have him. I only wish there was more I could give him and do for him. We walk and walk and jog and throw the ball and come home and play with his numerous toys, but it's not enough. I want to give him a long wide field that smells of mint and Russian Olives and pine and let him run and run and run some more, chasing squirrels and rabbits and dragonflies. After all he's done for me, it's the least I could do for him.

I live to make him smile.

They say you get one good dog in your life; I have mine. I only hope I'm a good enough human for him.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Port-a-Potty for Your Kingdom

And so Summerset is upon us.

If I hadn't taken Duncan for a walk last night, when the first two booths had appeared and the grass had been painted in orange grids, I would've been shocked at the changes which took place while I was at work today.

The whole park has been transformed. The long soccer fields are lined with tents and booths and trailers where corn and gyros and burgers will be cooked, where crafts will be sold, leaflets handed out. It's a county fair in my front yard.

The back side of Rebel Hill, between the lake and Columbine High School, has been transformed from a grassy slope surrounding the amphitheater into a maze of stages and aisles and rows of more tents and more booths. The edge of the lake has been marked out for the fishing derby. Already people are wandering around trying to sell their goods to the other people who are trying to sell their goods. Everywhere I looked were kids hawking glow sticks for the fireworks display, which may or may not occur tonight (it's cloudy and cold).

I was impressed with how much stuff they're going to cram into the park. Duncan was impressed by other things.

He didn't want to go home.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Walk in Two Parts

Tonight I was invited to celebrate my friend Sarah's 30th birthday at Vines, a Wine Tasting bar in Parker, which is only on the other side of Denver, but feels like an eternity away (first you take Santa Fe to C470, then C470 to I-25 South, then take the Lincoln exit and drive all the way across the valley to Parker Road, but be sure to make a right and not a left as directed by my friend Amber). I didn't get off work until five and the party started at 7:15, which meant I had to race home (it now takes all of about 10 minutes, as opposed to the 45-60 I was driving before the move), change my clothes, take Dunc to the park, come home, change again and hit the road. I know he's "only a dog" but he's my boy, so I explained that we'd have a short walk now and then go back to the park and play later. We did a quick circuit across the empty football fields, cut around the baseball quad, then back through the field and home. The park people were already setting up Summerset, which begins tomorrow night, and they'd spray painted little grids and directions all across the grass. Here and there, in bright orange were the words, "BBQ," "GREEK" and my favorite, "CORN MASTERS," which sounds like some twisted porn title. It's exciting to know the park is going to come alive for the next few days, that I can cross the street and immerse myself in all sorts of festivities (I'm thinking of entering Duncan in one of the dog competitions, just for the fun of it), but also a bit sad because it means we won't have any place to play and do what we do.

I had to drag him home, almost literally, and once here, as I changed my clothes again, he was so disgusted with me that he hid under the bed, leaving only one leg sticking out. When I commented on that one leg, he promptly pulled it the rest of the way under and didn't let me see him again until I returned home three hours later.

He's just turned three (on the 3rd), so it's to be expected.

Tonight, as promised, I leashed him up again, grabbed his favorite bright green tennis ball, and marched him across the street, where we had the entire park to ourselves, not a soul in it. The baseball people left, shutting down the big lights and drove away, leaving Duncan and me alone to throw the ball, which we did for nearly thirty solid minutes. Back and forth, back and forth. And when he got tired he'd tuck the ball under him, roll onto his back and make me rub his belly until he was ready for another round. We ran and played chase, but chicken seems to be his favorite. He loves to charge me, the ball clutched in his mouth, snorting like some out of shape horse, and then veer away at the very last second, smiling around the ball, as though he's outsmarted me.

And even though he didn't want to come home again (he literally pulled the leash from my hand and ran tight circles around me for five minutes), I have a feeling he'll crash soon.

I hope. Although I might just beat him to it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Scent Path

Of the senses, I believe scent to be my favorite. That doesn't mean I would choose it over the ability to see or hear, it means that scent brings me pleasure in ways the others do not. We can all agree that seeing a puppy or hearing the sound of a newborn brings us joy, but scent is a highly subjective and personal experience. Sauerkraut may remind someone of winter afternoons wrapped in the comfort of their grandmother's kitchen. It makes me think of vomit.

Scent is the sense most associated with memory; in fact the place in your brain that processes and interprets odors is right next door to the place that "contains" your memories. Trigger scent and most likely you've triggered a memory that pertains to it. Hence my association of sauerkraut to vomit.

Tonight during our walk I watched Duncan trace nearly our entire path with his nose. He stops at the same places every night, sniffing here, taking a deep breath there, analyzing everything through his nose. He knows things about the park that I could never imagine, like where the rabbits have sat, cautious and careful as they move across the fields at night, or perhaps what the short, rectangular-shaped hound we occasionally see had for breakfast this morning.

Following his lead, I let me nose guide me. As we cross Bowles, just outside the gate, the smell of earth is strong, almost pungent, wet, like an old fishing net. The earth is soft and I know they water too long at night, so the mossiness of it is no surprise. As we cross the football field, which always smells of thick, freshly mowed grass, and enter the square at the center of four of the baseball fields, I smell popcorn and beer from the concession stand, typical, cliche and also perfect. Coming out and up the hill toward the playground there is the smell of cedar, which always makes me think of Tyrone, the gerbil I had when I was younger. The floor of his cage was covered in cedar chips, which I could always hear him moving around in. That takes me backs to nights on Booth Road, when I sat in my window, listened to Tears for Fears or Depeche Mode and to the baseball game down at the field at the end of the street. On those nights, with Ty scurrying back and forth across his cage and the smell of sage and junipers from the hills around us, I listened for the sharp slap of the ball meeting the bat and I always felt the world was as it should be.

Past the playground I can smell the lake, fishy and duck shitty, but strong and pleasant and full of memory. Never a real fisher myself–although I wanted to be–I spent a great portion of my childhood either sitting on riverbanks or lake shores with my grandmother and mom, eating a peanut butter sandwich, keeping my eye on my bobber to see if something had snagged my worm. It was at Chester Bridge, where we sometimes took afternoon trips with my grandparents, that we stood on the bridge, facing south, and watched the Snake River pass beneath us, creating the illusion that we were moving, leaving the water behind.

Around the edge of the lake, after stopping to take a picture, we passed a couple who'd come out to the park on a date. The man was holding the woman, who looked a little drunk, but was happy when he guided her to the swinging benches overlooking the water and the mountains and the sunset above that. She reeked of perfume, a sweet, Springy smell, flowery, with maybe something like clove as the bass note. Duncan and I followed her path all the way down the backside of the hill. I closed my eyes and allowed my nose to guide me, and for a moment I wondered if perhaps this is what it's like to be a dog, to trust that side of yourself that people seem to take for granted. Eventually we moved out of her path, but I could've pointed out her car, her smell was so strong around it.

And then near the skate park and the playground nearby everything smells of cigarettes, sweat, fast food and salt. Past that we we're back onto the wide fields where everything smells green and healthy, with the cinnamon fragrance of red Autumn just growing stronger every day.

This weekend is Summerset, a festival in which the park will become a playground of events and booths and balloons and people and odors. We probably won't get to throw the ball much, and it'll be quite crowded, but maybe I'll take Duncan just to see where his nose leads us.

(If you'd like to read more about scent, and the other four senses, check out Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses–easily one of my all-time favorite books.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sports Night

I have never been a fan of sports. I haven't even been able to successfully pretend to care. I have never seen any use for kicking or throwing or batting or catching or running with a ball. I've long admired the enthusiasm people have for their favorite sport or team or athlete, but it doesn't stop me from thinking it could be put to better use. If fifty thousand people came out one afternoon to cheer on the arts, I couldn't be happier. If people spent a quarter of the money on educating their children that they spend on memorabilia or merchandise, we'd live in a vastly different world.

I was never comfortable with sports, never liked how black and white they were. Some kids felt like superstars and the rest of us felt awkward and leaden, judged and discarded. I was never the guy picked last for the team, but it was close, standing there feeling sorry for Tom or Jason, hoping just once they'd get picked sooner, but still hoping I'd get picked before them. Sports change people from rational individuals into lunatic mobs. And I hated what it did to me, even when I was made a team captain once in boys PE. Rather than do the nice thing and pick Tom and Jason, just to make them feel better, I did as all my predecessors had done, I picked the star jocks, ignoring the pleading looks from my true peers. I hated feeling like I wasn't fast enough or strong enough or brave enough.

Aside from running cross country in junior high, which I did for two years–and even then only to hang out with my friends after school–the only other sport I ever took any interest in was soccer, and that happened for all of about one week. In elementary school, our PE teacher, Mister Lucky, introduced us to soccer, which I immediately fell in love with. I was good at it. I felt fast and agile and graceful and capable. Until I mentioned it to my father while on a weekend trip to visit him.

"Soccer!" he proclaimed in that radio announcer voice of his. "Soccer's no good. It's not a real sport. Nobody likes soccer, except Europeans. And girls." The implication was enough that I don't remember touching a soccer ball again.

I get all the positive things that sports can do for kids, I just don't see them as often as I see the negatives.

My walks with Duncan at the park have not been entirely pleasant as of late. The junior leagues have taken over our turf and it's pissing me off. Every day I steer clear of not one, not two, but four kiddie football teams, ten soccer teams and the Columbine Cross Country team, not to mention the six baseball fields that see three games a night. I haven't been able to throw Duncan's ball for him, I'm constantly restraining him from going after soccer balls or footballs, and don't get me started about the baseballs. It just hasn't been fun because I've been feeling strange about myself and strange about the enterprise as a whole.

I do not like listening to coaches demean kids who are still too young to deliver newspapers, or accuse them of running like girls, or call them fat, all within earshot of parents, who sit on the sidelines in their Sports Authority fold-up chairs and watch it all. "It develops character," they say. Or, "She'll learn to be part of a team," and "It teaches responsibility."

Bullshit, says I! That kind of sportsmanship alienates, scars and breeds the very resentment that led to the tragedy that took place not half a block away.

I just want my park back. So I can play fetch with my dog, the ball lover!

Monday, September 10, 2007


"...perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake."
( Wallace Stevens Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction)

With apologies to Wallace Stevens, I believe he got it wrong. I believe the truth depends on walking around a lake with your dog.

The first fish that leapt, loud and large, leaving an ever growing ripple around the place it had been. The Mexican man and his son, their poles cast not far away. "Did you see the big one over there?" I asked, pointing at the edge of the narrow peninsula. Nervous, and in broken English, the father nodded, grinning wildly, his eyes telling me he hopes his young son catches it. "Yes, he is big."

"Yes he is," I told them.

The small white flowers that grow along the trail, winding their way in and out of the willows and Russian Olives, which will break my nose on their fragrance next June. Now that I know they are there, I can not wait. They will haunt me all winter.

The sad man ahead of us who never removed the cell phone from his ear, never listened to the fish slapping against the water, never stopped and looked at the opposite shore, so close yet strangely far away, like heat ripples on the road. Never stopped swatting at the bugs. He did not like the lake. He did not like Duncan. He has never read Wallace Stevens, who wrote in Sunday Morning, the most beautiful line of poetry I know:

And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink
Downward into darkness, on extended wings.

There is nothing more honest than walking the lake with your dog.

It looks like we are both doing our business, but it's not true. I promise.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Yesterday, Once More

The world changed last night while I slept.

Clement Park went from a green and sunny spot, to a cool place, a place where one wears a hoodie, a place where the ground crunches under your foot with the shattering of a hundred yellow and red and brown leaves. The grass is starting to thin and the sky was that knife-blue/silver that always signals the point of no return for me. The calendar may say Summer, at least for a few more weeks, but the colors and smells and sounds have Fall written all over them. In less than a month, Clement Park will be naked and empty and windier. But hey, at least my view of the mountain will be better.

The Boys of Summer will be gone...

...and Old Lady Autumn will be movin' in.

As if the downright cool temps weren't enough of a change this morning, the park was overtaken by two different groups, powerful enough, apparently, to push out even the kiddie football and soccer clubs. First, the Buddy Walk was going on all over the park, on the sidewalks and in fields. One woman we passed was lost, looking for the registration area, which was not at Clement Park, but at the library just down the street. She asked me for directions and when we came to the top of the hill and I pointed out the library, maybe a quarter of a mile away, she went on a tirade about how far away it was. Duncan and I continued on our way, listening to her call someone to complain about how far she had to walk just to register. Good thing she volunteered for the Buddy Walk.

Not only were the sidewalks taken up by Buddy Walker (or Bitchers), but the parking lots had been invaded by the Old Car Council of Colorado. Turns out it was All Ford Weekend, so the parking lots were full of old Mustangs and other cars, some older than grandparents, all in wonderful, shiny condition.

They even had a famous car, or rather, a car made famous by the man who drove it.

That's one of the cars Mel Gibson drove in The Road Warrior

Duncan could've cared less about all of this. He just wanted to find a nice quiet place to do his business.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Night Walk

Duncan and I had a lovely evening. Our friends Rene (check out her Stapleton video here) and Donnie, and their daughter Nora, invited us to dinner at their house, with some other friends, Mike and Beth Martin, and their sons, Mitchell and Marcus. Duncan, was, as always, included in the invitation, but I didn't know if I'd take him as I sometimes like a night off. In the end I opted to bring him along as they like him and he likes them and having a day off isn't always all that. Besides, it's not often these days that Dunc gets to play on stairs or nose through other people's things.

It was great night. After the preliminary round of jokes about Larry Craig, we made dinner and sat at the table talking around a flock of purple balloons, which the kids were playing with, and which kept raining down on our plates. Duncan sat close–under the table–and stayed out of the way. I figured he'd situate himself near the kids, as they were the most gullible and the most likely to slip him French fries or pieces of their burgers. But he didn't, and they didn't, and I liked knowing he wasn't part of the mischief.

It was only after we got home and I was walking him in the rain that I fully felt the value of his presence there tonight. Each of the families had representation through their children, and I had mine. He made me proud; Mike, who recently lost one of the best Goldens I've ever met, said that Dunc was a good dog, a mellow dog (which couldn't be further from the truth, but I liked that he thought it).

He's a good boy and I'm proud of him and love him more than I love my own arms. I could not ask for a better friend and companion.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Every Tree

When we first got Duncan, the breeder told us he came from a long line of champion hunting dogs, a claim I didn't believe for a long time. He was far too energetic and easily distracted to be a hunting dog. Hell, there were times I tossed his ball right over his head and he missed it and couldn't find it. I can't tell you the number of times I had to go get the ball myself. But after we left Stapleton, where there are no trees or birds, only foxes and rabbits and the occasional coyote, we moved to The Breakers, where squirrels nearly outnumbered people. Duncan had never seen one, but there was something in him that instinctively knew what they were.

"Squirrel," I said and his ears popped up, his head cocked to one side as if he knew the word and was listening to me carefully.

From that moment on he was a full fledged hunter.

Duncan dragged me from tree to tree, across parking lots or street to get to a place he'd spotted a squirrel. It was all I could do to keep up with him. He broke three retractable leashes in our first month there. Walks became unpleasant and it wasn't until Kevi and Mike gave us a pinch collar at Thanksgiving that I was finally able to rein him in. We've worked hard at making him stop and sit each time we cross a street. He can't proceed until I say, "Okay." He no longer drags us around at a near run while he sniffs out the squirrels, real or imagined.

But he still stops at every tree. And I do mean every tree.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Secret Dog

Duncan is always anxious for our walks. When we lived at The Breakers he'd sit in the window and wait for me to come up the walk, but now that our living room faces away from the parking lot he can't do that anymore, which buys me a few minutes to kick off my shoes, loosen my tie and put down the lunch box before he finds me. And once he does it's pandemonium. He jumps and chirps–a kind of whiny song–and clutches my wrist and leads me around the apartment as if to show me the places of his day: "This is where I napped. Oh, and I slept here for awhile! And check this out; I crawled under here and napped some more. Did I show you where I napped?" It's our ritual and as frustrating as it can be after a long day, or in bad weather, it's something I look forward to. Immensely.

I have been extremely anxious about the fact that we have not told the leasing office we have a dog (not to mention the three cats). I live in constant fear of discovery because it means an immense deposit, which we can not afford right now, and increased rent. Duncan is oblivious to such trifles. He merely wants to walk and doesn't care who sees him do it. In fact, the more the merrier. He'll announce his presence to anyone. I prefer to slink out the back way, incognito behind my glasses and cap, hedging along the fence hoping to escape notice. Duncan prefers to gallop and trot and hold his head as high as he can as if to catch every ounce of sunshine and attention available. He's very handsome--at least that's what most people we meet on our walks say to me–perhaps it's the same thing we say to parents we know, not wanting to admit we have seen a more beautiful baby–and I think he wants to share his beauty with the world. Why, after all should it be contained? Money means nothing to him.

I admire his courage. Or his ignorance. I can't tell which. When I watch Duncan plod along ahead of me, it's easy to see how valuable both can be.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

When Ya Gotta Go

I was venomous today, wallowing in the kind of mood that radiated out into my arms, turning my hands into fists and my elbows into knives. All I could think about was getting home and walking Duncan. Even though it always feels like a chore before I do it, Duncan is my yoga, my meditation, my Zen moment. He requires me to leave the day behind, from the instant he greets me at the door, as I change my clothes and tie on my runners to the moment I fasten his collar and take him outside.

We live across the street from Clement Park and quite near Raccoon Creek Golf Course so we have plenty of room to roam–although I will admit that I don't know if dogs are allowed on the greens so we have yet to venture there. Duncan loves The Park, and it's where we spend the majority of our walks. Lately it's been inundated by the after school kiddie football and soccer crowd so we're a bit limited in where we venture, but we always end up near the lake watching the ducks.

Today Duncan led me to one of the six baseball fields where we were treated to the sight of a five year old boy whipping down his pants and aiming his stream at second base. He was a modest chap and managed to keep his back to us at all times, turning as we edged along the perimeter of the field, but maintaining his perfect aim as he marked his territory. Second base was his. His coach and the rest of the team froze, watching him go, and it wasn't difficult at all to spot his mother; she was the woman whose hands were covering her entire face. She was too embarrassed to call his name. It was only when he finished that his coach said, "Okay, Cody, all done?"

Nothing was out of the ordinary for Cody. And Duncan seemed to understand better than anyone. When you've gotta go, you've gotta go.