Thursday, November 29, 2007


I'm a whistler. I can't help it. There's not a musical note in my body, except for the one that springs up when I put my lips together and blow. My grandfather can play harmonica and guitar, has dabbled with the banjo and has a brilliant voice, as do my uncles. Christmas at my grandparents always concluded with everyone gathered together in the living room playing and strumming and singing and although I gave it my best shot, I'm just not good. And yet, somehow or another I inherited the whistling gene, probably from grandpa, who does even that well.

I spend most of my day whistling, either along with the songs on my iPod, or to the tunes that run through my head. I cover all sorts of music, from classical to jazz, to songs I morph from one to the other. Jazz seems to be my favorite, but sometimes I even run through songs from my childhood (a couple of favorites were taught to me by my grandmother, "Joe Cogan's Goat" and "I Had a Little Dog and His Name was Jack"). Most mornings I wake up with a song already running through my head and I spend the majority of my shower time whistling them over and over, except, of course, while I'm brushing my teeth when not even a virtuoso whistler could manage a tune.

For the past few days the only song I seem capable of whistling is "Sleigh Ride". Nonstop, all day long. I worked hard yesterday getting rid of it, going so far to whistle "Mickey," by Toni Basil, an act of true desperation. Nothing seemed to work. Not even other Christmas tunes, like "Winter Wonderland" or, God forbid, Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" (I sang first tenor in high school so I tend to whistle the really high part). It seemed hopeless until this morning when I awoke blessedly free of the damn thing, went to work, whistled my way through The Beatles, some Depeche Mode and Cure, even Eminem.

It was tonight on our walk, though, when things once again took a turn for the worst. We walked down Bowles to Jay and toward the elementary school. Not far down the dark, residential street someone had put up their Christmas lights and before I knew it, before I was actually aware I was even doing it, that damn Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops tune was racing through my head and blowing out from between my lips. I got a couple of bars in before I stopped––startling Duncan, who was investigating a low shrub––swore loudly, stood and stared at the house, which glowed with a thousand points of blue, shook my head and realized the season was upon me and there'd be no turning back.

Tonight I finally accepted and embraced my inner "Sleigh Ride."

It's going to be a long month. Long indeed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lake Light

I was able to make it home just before the sun set tonight. It's been awhile since Duncan and I have stopped by Hero's to see Chelsea, so after dropping some books off at the library we climbed the small hill to cut around the corner of the lake and make our way to Hero's. The sky was mostly dark, except around the mountains, which still glowed faintly blue from the setting sun. We reached the top of the small hill and looked down on the darkness surrounding the lake, the last of the blue glowed on its surface looking exactly as though a light had been turned on beneath it, shining upward, somehow brighter and more blue than the sky it reflected. It caught my breath and while Duncan rooted and snorted in the snow that fell this morning, I watched the last of the light fade from above the mountains, catch on the water a moment longer than possible and then fade away.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Magic Feather

As most of you know, I was diagnosed with a severe physiological anxiety disorder two and a half years ago. It manifested after I was prescribed Wellbutrin to help me quit smoking. Within weeks I was experiencing psychotic episodes, including mania, depression, and an anxiety that literally knocked me off my feet. At times I couldn't walk, I certainly couldn't drive and was eventually forced to take a three month leave of absence from my job. Over the course of that Summer I saw every doctor imaginable, faced every strange diagnosis there is (including a troubling couple of weeks where they thought I had a very rare but very deadly and aggressive cancer) before they diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder. Eventually we were able to manage most of the physical symptoms but because it's physiological and not psychological, my anxiety is not something I can control by deep breathing or visualizing a nice safe place. I can have an attack at any time without notice. I never really thought of myself as an anxious person and didn't even really understand what it was until it happened to me.

My doctors suggested several treatment options, most of which required more drugs that often came with a list of possible side-effects, or even guaranteed ones (like the promise of gaining 50-75 pounds in a year and facing almost certain kidney and liver damage––that one was my favorite), but I preferred to start off with acupuncture at Acupuncture Denver, under the care of Jane Gregorie, the woman I credit with getting me back on my feet. If you've never considered acupuncture I can't sing it's praises highly enough.

Duncan's impact on my life during this time was profound. Only six months old when it began, he was there for me in ways that no one else was able to be. At times my anxiety was so severe I was unable walk and on those days I'd find myself crawling to the bathroom, Duncan at my side, leaning his body against my own to keep me from tipping over. On several occasions, Duncan climbed onto my chest, stared me in the eyes, matched his breathing to mine and managed to calm me down. I don't know how he knew or how it worked, but to this day I credit my dog with saving my sanity.

So what does this have to do with the blog and why should you care? Give me a few more minutes and I'll get there.

Our walks in the park the last few nights have been rather pleasant, despite the runny butt and growling stomach. The early evenings have been warm and the skies have been brilliant and clear. I've been thinking how the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems to both lag and fly by at the same time. Christmas is less than a month away and it doesn't seem possible.

I made a doctor appointment today to discuss the impending holiday and how once again I have to face the prospect of making the long drive––a trip I used to love––by myself. It's been two and a half years since my meltdown in Atlanta and since then I have not driven more than an hour and a half by myself. It was only last June that I was able to venture as far as The Springs unsupervised and you would've thought I'd climbed a mountain or something, it was such a big deal. But, according to my doctor, that's how I have to treat such little milestones. I have to convince myself that I'm able to accomplish the things that I used to take for granted. Needless to say, the prospect of driving 8-10 hours to get home has me somewhat concerned. Ken has been with me the last two Christmases but this year he's trying to get back to Michigan which leaves the trip in my hands.

The doctor is going to want to know how I plan to prepare myself so I'm trying to develop a strategy. During the summer of 2005, when it was just a matter of convincing myself I could make it to work, I'd practice driving, first ten minutes alone, then fifteen minutes, then fifteen minutes in heavy traffic. Eventually I was able to do it, but practicing for a 580 miles trip, much of it without the aid of my cell phone, is something else entirely.

So I've done the unthinkable and turned to the most horrendous and unlikely of sources for help and inspiration. Disney.

Does anyone remember the story of Dumbo? It's something I've thought a lot about over the last few years. Dumbo is mocked by his peers for having large ears and after his mother is imprisoned for defending him, he's turned into a circus clown. One night, after accidentally drinking some hooch, he and Timothy, his mouse friend, wake up and discover themselves perched near the top of a tree amid a flock of boisterous crows. Timothy surmises that Dumbo must've flown and the crows, coming to their aid, vow to teach Dumbo to fly by giving him a magic feather. As long as Dumbo has the magic feather he can fly as far and as high as he wants. It's only after he loses it that he learns he didn't need the feather because he could fly on his own the entire time.

I've decided I need a magic feather, which is where and why you, faithful reader, come in. We both know I've made the trip from Denver to Pocatello countless times. We both know I could do it in my sleep (and may have actually done exactly that on more than one occasion). But there's this little, annoying part of me that thinks I can't, and unfortunately, that part––smaller than Dumbo's Timothy––has, on countless occasions demonstrated his very loud voice. I feel that a solo trip is the last major obstacle toward getting my head and confidence back where they belong. I don't want to leave anything to chance, and being the superstitious and sensitive guy I am, I need your help to get me there.

Duncan will be part of the journey, my ever-faithful traveling companion, but I think I need a little something extra. I need feathers. Which, I hope, you will be able provide. Find me a feather and send it my way. Nothing elaborate, nothing that costs money (unless of course you insist, especially if it's plated in gold). Keep it simple as I plan on keeping the feathers where I can see them. Obviously a peacock or ostrich feather could obstruct my view, causing an accident which would do nothing for the cause. And for God's sake, refrain from plucking them from a living, breathing source. Find one in the dollar store, on the ground, inside your pillow. I don't care, I just want the feathers. And the knowledge that you believe in me.

If you want my address, please send me an email at jcr138 at gmail dot com.

*Once again, I have purloined all the pictures in this post.

Yo-Curt with Rice and Beef

Duncan has endured two days with a nasty belly, so tonight, for the third straight meal I've served him steamed rice, beef and some of my cure-all Yo-Curt homemade yogurt, which takes all of about thirty seconds for him to eat. I may have found the one thing he loves more than snow.

At this rate, after three meals of the stuff, I may have a difficult time convincing him to get better and return to his regular diet. Kelly envisioned it best: this time next year he'll be so used to the good food that he'll get his own table at Thanksgiving dinner, complete with bib and party hat.

Here's to hoping we wrap up this particular holiday gift soon!

Sunday, November 25, 2007


When Duncan whines in the middle of the night it can only mean one thing: get up now or there will be hell to pay. At 3:50 the first faraway whimper broke into my sleep, unzipping the fabric of my dream with little resistance. It's the one thing that really works on me, aside from the telephone, of course. Ken can call my name for five minutes before I flicker awake, but if Duncan whines softly from down the hallway I'm up. Maybe it's because I know Ken could sleep through a tornado (I've literally seen him do it) and if I don't respond... I find myself paying the tolls all the way to hell.

I got up, slipped on my sneakers and coat and found Duncan waiting at the door for me, not wagging his tail, not doing the little bird chirp dance he does whenever it's time to go outside. He was sitting, front and center, like he's been taught, waiting for me. Once I got his leash around him and opened the door, he was off in a hurry, searching for that lucky bit of grass that would be the recipient of the late-night fun for which he'd gotten me out of bed.

Let's just say it wasn't pretty. And although Duncan was able to go back to sleep–he's curled up soundly, guiltlessly, at my feet–I wasn't so lucky. I think I'll sit on the couch and knit a little before giving sleep another try.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Places to Play

It was a beautiful blue day, clear and warm, a heavy jacket kind of day. The snow is receding and the tracks that have been cut by the walkers and the dogs and quiet, creeping night animals, have started spreading out, growing wider and shallower and the grass, brown and yellow beneath, has poked through like cigarette burns on a blanket. The spotted ground, not yet frozen when it snowed, is now wet and muddy, a hundred little bogs that pull up and into the remaining white.

There is no place to make angels and we have to search the far side of western-facing slopes to find snow to fling into Duncan's face, to powder onto his back. It's heavier and wetter and doesn't kick as well and when I scoop it into my hands it clumps together into slush balls or melts and runs between my fingers. But we have been diligent and we know a secret: when you are warm and allow yourself to be guided by the enthusiasm of one who loves the snow almost as much as he loves you, you will never run out of places to play.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Five

My friend Kelly, over at Property of Kelly recently tagged me, a blog game in which the taggees are required to list five random things about themselves. I've sat on it a few days and this is what I've finally come up with:
  • When I was in kindergarten in Nampa, Idaho back in 1976, my mother, sister and I shared a big corner house with the poltergeist of little girl, who the neighbor kids insisted had been murdered in our basement. She moved things around, repeatedly knocked the same painting off the wall, played with the toys in our closet and once even scared my mom and her best friend by screaming outside each of the doors during a blizzard. The police were summoned but were unable to find footprints in the snow or any sign that someone had been in our yard at all.
  • The first girl I ever kissed was Marie Osmond.
  • After an expensive dinner of tapas I threw up all over myself while attending a performance of a Pulitzer Prize winning play, Seven Guitars, at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. I only made it through one guitar and spent the rest of the first act both puking in the bathroom and huddling in my wet clothes outside on the curb in frigid January weather a block off of Lake Michigan. The next morning one of my co-workers asked how the play went and said she'd heard that someone had "decimated the men's bathroom." There are three million people in the city of Chicago and word of my misadventure had spread far and wide.
  • I literally slept through a portion of a phone interview for a job I hadn't even applied for. Two weeks later the company offered me the position and I've been there ever since.
  • I once tried to murder a woman on a cross-country train trip from Boston to southeast Idaho. She'd kept me up all night across New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio but as we entered Indiana I couldn't take it any more. During the course of her rambling she mentioned she'd been a nun, a Mormon, had joined up with Jim Jones and would've sipped the kool-aid had she not escaped a month earlier, was allergic to many things, including most fruits and berries, nuts, colognes and perfumes as well as soaps, detergents and other cleaning products. When I finally had a chance I slipped away to the bathroom to freshen up, dousing myself in Obsession and returned to my seat figuring she'd either be forced to move or die. I sat down next to her and when she got a whiff of me and asked what it was, I suffered one of the most crushing defeats of my life when I learned I was wearing the one cologne that wouldn't kill her. Go figure.


It's been a quiet day, what with coming down from the turkey, the potatoes,three different kinds of stuffing, ham, two different cranberry sauces, yams, grilled asparagus, mixed veggies with tarragon, jalapeno corn bread and the pumpkin and apple pies. As much as I love Thanksgiving, there's a part of me that's always a little ashamed afterward. Thanksgiving is both the best and the worst of American culture: a day to come together and celebrate the bounty of our lives, but also a day to glut and grow fat while so many others go without.

Ken and I had a wonderful time at Rene and Donnie's feast, but by the time we got home, well into our food coma, I barely had the energy to walk Duncan. The temperature had plummeted again (and stayed plummetted all day today) but my belly was full and warm. Before we slipped out I gave Duncan his traditional Thanksgiving meal, as inaugurated by my mother three years ago: dog food covered in shredded turkey with warm gravy poured over the top which he ate in record time. We walked up to the golf course then back down to the dog park at the far end of our complex, but even Duncan seemed to want nothing more than to come home, lay on his back and enjoy the delicious agony of overindulgence.

I gave Duncan and the cats a little more turkey this morning and the lethargy continued. Needless to say, it's been a very mellow day.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thank You

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, because it's genuine, and because it doesn't really ask all that much of those celebrating it. No obnoxious lights and ornaments to hang, the universe has spared us Thanksgiving Carolers, people aren't banging at our doors dressed as pilgrims or Indians, or, God forbid, headless turkeys. Our animals aren't startled by the continuous explosion of a million snapping cornucopia crackers or the bright burst of pumpkin-scented bottle rockets. Thanksgiving has remained pure, if only because the retailers use it as the jumping off point for the exploitation of the rest of the holiday season. Its message is not one of consumerism, but rather a quiet time to come together, be it with the family you were born into or the family you've created on your own, and to acknowledge the the blessings of your life.

With that in mind, here are some of the things for which I am grateful (in no particular order, of course)
  • The sound of Elijah singing or Jonah cooing while I talk on the phone with their mother.
  • The warm bodies and soft weight of Winnie, Pip and Olive, who curl up on my hip, against my chest, on the pillow near my head each night while I sleep.
  • The speckled color of cinnamon and allspice added to pumpkin, whipped together and poured into a pie crust
  • The sound of a new book as you crack it open for the first time
  • The word "skinidinkinaw," which has been used by my family since before I was born. I have no idea what it means, but my grandfather uses it best as an all-purpose curse.
  • Dill bread fresh from the oven with butter melting on top
  • The warm, fresh smell of the bathroom after Ken has showered and shaved.
  • This American Life on NPR
  • The way Ruth calls me, "Sweetie," Kevi calls me, "Curty-Wurty," Casey calls me "Bro" and Jen calls me "Curtle" (which to be fair she got from my father, who called me "Curtle the Turtle," playing off the Dr. Seuss character).
  • Squinting into sunshine reflected off of snow
  • The short, sing-songy melody my mother makes out of the word "hello" when she answers the telephone.
  • Duncan's amazing eyebrows, the loose skin of his cheeks and his puppy paws, which aren't as soft as they once were, but I still love to cradle them in my palm when we cuddle.
  • Talking with Kelly every night on her way home from work, the way she makes me laugh and how old and comfortable our friendship is.
  • Peanut sauce, postcards, Poi Dog Pondering
  • Finding lost things, especially if they're much loved.
  • Having a space to write and voice with which to do it.
  • Kevin, who loves my mother more than I love dreaming.
  • New pens, new journals, and a nice flat place in the sunshine to sprawl out and use them both.
  • Working with Phil Simmons before he died and knowing that even now he's encouraging me to do what I do best.
  • "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone
  • A.A. Milne, who wrote, "And by and by Christopher Robin came to the end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn't stop."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Night Snow

We awoke to snow, and although Duncan didn't get a long walk this morning (more like a quick pee, a well-thought out poop, and a quick jog once around the building before I left for work), he saved it up for tonight's long romp in the park.

I can't think of many things that make my dog happier than snow. Shortly after Ken brought him home it snowed and he spent his first days with us plowing through drifts bigger than himself, chasing after powder that rolled ahead of him as he careened forward. Duncan loves the outdoors, loves wind in his face, loves playing fetch or tug of war, but little compares to his joy at playing in the snow. While I spend all year dreading it and then enduring it, he revels in it, delights in snapping at it and rolling through it.

Tonight at the park he was finally able to release all of his pent up energy. The plans he must've made this afternoon as he gazed out the window while it fell, then stuck to the ground. Looking across Bowles he must've seen the park, white and pristine with fields of unmarred snow waiting for him, calling to him.

Once again we were the only ones out so I took him off-leash to run free. Considering it had been seventy-three degrees on Monday, today's temperatures seemed almost unendurable. I've never been a fan of the cold or snow, I do not ski or snowshoe or participate in any of those other winter sports. I spend the long, cold months in sweaters and heavy socks, sitting on the couch reading, occasionally knitting, watching movies. We could not be more different, homebody me, who hates sports and Winter, and my ball-crazy, snow-mad dog.

Because it was so cold I worried all day about our walk and how displeased Duncan would be with me when our nightly trek was cut short. Maybe Duncan knew this and came up with a plan to distract me. I'll never know, but somehow whatever he did worked and we spent more than an hour playing and chasing and rolling around in the stuff. I even managed a snow angel, my first since college when a group of us got drunk and did them naked on the field behind a church. When Duncan tried an angel his came out more like an albino ink-blot test, but I'm not judging. His approach to keeping me out was direct but not aggressive. Rather than allow me to focus on how miserable my feet felt or how my nose wouldn't stop running, he distracted me by doing little more than standing in front of me, blocking my path and demanding I play his favorite winter game, Kick Snow in Duncan's Face. It's very simple: he positions himself down low in front of me while I turn my foot sideways, scrape the snow up in one swift moving arc and kick it in the direction of his head so he can leap forward, snap at it and watch as it rains down, catching in his muzzle and ears, coating his nose and eyebrows. We did this for over an hour, leaving a strange, sideswiping trail as we moved across the covered fields, up the hill and to the top of the memorial where we sat in silence, side by side, looking down on the empty park, the loud orange clouds and the city spread out all around us. When it was time to go he stood up, grabbed his leash and led me back down the hill to a nice, undisturbed patch of snow where we resumed our play.

I wonder what he thinks when I take him out into a world remade in white. I'm meticulous about rotating out his toys, giving him his Buddy for a few weeks before exchanging it for his Baby and then eventually replacing that with his Berry. Does he think I'm in charge of the snow, too; that I pick and choose when it falls and when he can enjoy it. There was a desperation in his play tonight, as if he wanted to get his fill of it before it went away again. Does he love me more in the snow, or come April, when the wind turns warm and he can turn his face into it, does he love me more all over again? Or does he just love me?

I know that I could watch him play all day in the snow. And all day in the grass. Or all day in the leaves.

I could watch him play all day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Catch in the Park

It had been a quiet night with hardly any noise except the sound of the world getting ready to snow, the last of the leaves seeming to vibrate under the delicate touch of a snow so fine it's not even visible, except as a half-imagined mist. I put on my heavy blue coat, the one with the drawstring hood, and we'd walked without incident around the baseball quads, up through the playground and past the Owl Tree, finally landing on the edge of the skatepark. The temperature had dropped sharply earlier in the afternoon and the sky had clouded over, tinging the world in the orange haze of the street lamps, which wore halos in the sudden frigid humidity. It seemed darker than usual and as we came over the hill, I had to squint into the lights on Bowles to see. The park was completely empty and I'd dropped the leash so Duncan could trot freely at my side while we walked.

It was here that Duncan made his catch.

It was the first time we had the skate park all to ourselves. It seems there's always at least one kid there, like they've assigned shifts or something to some thuggish looking brute of a twelve year old who smokes and who on more than one occasion has asked me to buy him beer. Normally the skate park is packed, with all shapes and sizes of teenagers–most of them androgynous in their baggy clothes–or the younger kids whose parents have driven them over and are sitting on the perimeter watching and trying to ignore the swearing, groping and making out which goes on all around. It's not my favorite place to walk (I always feel old and square–do people even still say "square?") but when I saw it abandoned tonight I thought it would be fun to play in the maze-like flow of sunken concrete.

Duncan followed me to the edge and we got our first look. The entire thing sits on the edge of a hill overlooking one of the long double soccer fields and is submerged fifteen feet or so. It rises and falls in smooth waves and has built-in railings to ride, along with steps and every other manner of object a young skater could hope to vandalize in any regular parking lot or open space. I tossed Duncan his ball and stepped after him into the pit. His nails scratched across the concrete as he scrambled down one side and slid halfway up the next. We explored and played for several minutes, until Duncan finally became bored and grew curious near the grass at the far lip of one of the halfpipes.

I watched him sniff for a moment, the ball dropping from his mouth and rolling down near where I stood. As I reached for it and looked back up I saw his sniffing had become more frantic and Dunc was circling back and forth, big clouds of his breath rising up before him. Oh no, I thought, rushing up the side to grab at his leash before something darted away, taking my excited dog with it. Just as I reached the lip, my hand grabbing for the leash, I saw him lunge at the grass, snatch something up in his jaws and shake his head powerfully from side to side.

"Duncan," I cried, leaping forward, catching him by the collar.

It was as though he was something else, something not my dog at all, something operating completely on instinct. His head shook back and forth and this strange growl came from deep down in his chest.

And then I saw it. It was pale, with two long, unmoving limbs that looked like bones swaying loosely , or perhaps limp pale ears coming down from a darker, hairy body. It's already dead, I thought, Nothing alive hangs so limp. And then I remembered the story earlier in the summer of the discovery of Bubonic Plague in several squirrels and rabbits around the metro area, including Littleton. We'd been at The Breakers when the story broke and only a few days later Duncan and I had stumbled across a dead squirrel in the grass outside one of the apartment buildings. Duncan had nudged the thing and when it didn't move he'd looked up at me forlornly, as if confused about why it didn't want to play and scamper up the nearest tree. I'd pulled him away, concerned he'd come into contact with the fleas. For days, even after the squirrel had been removed, he'd sniffed at the spot, always looking at me from under those expressive eyebrows as though he needed an explanation. All this flashed through my mind in the blink of an eye

"Duncan," I yelled, lowering my voice to what I imagined was a suitable disapproving alpha male tone. "Drop it!" When he didn't and shook the thing even harder I made the demand again, imagining a repeat of last year, but instead of 500 feet of swallowed yarn it would be an expensive treatment for The Plague, the pandemic which reduced the world's population by one third in only four years. The Black Death, sleeping in my bed, cuddling on the couch.

Before I knew what I was doing, I was reached toward him, clamped my fingers into the place where his jaws come together and using his lips, pried his mouth open. With my other hand I grasped at the rabbit, my stomach tightening as my mouth filled with saliva. My hand curled around what I thought was a limp and dangling ear and as I grasped it I thought It's so smooth. And cold. Duncan dropped it as I pulled it free, and as I prepared to fling it aside I caught a glimpse of thick dark hair pulled back in... a ponytail?... and a small body covered in... what was that, a mini skirt?

Duncan sat down on the edge of the concrete, his tongue hanging out of his mouth watching me gag down my revulsion at holding the mangled and disease-ridden body of Jade, a Bratz™ Princess doll. His tail thumped twice and he almost seemed to smile.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Flight Plan

While Duncan restlessly searches the ground for rabbits, rabbit droppings, places rabbits have hunkered down, my eyes have turned upward toward the stars. It was a perfectly clear night tonight so I did what I've wanted to do for a week which was search out the comet. Unfortunately I can't tell a jet from a satellite from a star, or even a weather balloon. But I don't think it matters because even when we don't know what things are we can make them wondrous simply by imagining they are.

As we mounted the hill above the lake a single very bright star (or was it a planet? I don't know and in the course of trying to figure it out I've frustrated myself and abandoned astronomy completely) was shining just over the rounded tops of the foothills. While Duncan sniffed and scratched the base of a sapling I watched the planes come in from the south west, perhaps from LA or Vegas, but it appeared as though they were coming in directly from that brilliant... heavenly body. They lined right up with it, slowly descending from the mountains and sweeping across Littleton before turning in a long, wide arc toward the airport. I smiled and watched for nearly five minutes as one by one the planes followed the same trajectory from Planet Who Knows What to DIA.

It reminded me of this place we went to when I was in college. We called it Northern California, although in truth it was nothing more than a bluff in Lake Forest that overlooked Lake Michigan. We'd drive out there in the late afternoons, and sometimes at night, quite often high, but not always, and look out across the lake, imagining we were looking over the Pacific. We'd christened it Northern California because it resembled the hilly, rolling green land with it's jutting peninsulas and wide tree-lined bays. At night we'd sit for hours watching the planes appear on the horizon, rising, it seemed, right out of the lake, and fly straight toward us before veering sharply south toward O'Hare.

We all have our flight plans and trajectories and sitting on that bluff in Illinois thirteen years ago I never would've been able to imagine myself on a hilltop in Denver doing the very same thing, enjoying the planes as they appeared on the horizon from unknown origins. I would've believed the people standing with me had similar flight plans and that remaining close to them wouldn't be so hard, especially the ones I loved the most.* My plans did not include working at this sad little college nor spending so much time walking and talking about walking while thinking about other things, gazing at the stars, looking backward in time.

I was unable to identify Comet Holmes, or rather, if I did I was unable to recognize it as a comet but as just another white speckly thing located somewhere in the constellation of Perseus. But the universe, which I believe provides for us in the same way that some people believe God does, did not want me to leave empty handed. As Duncan and I turned back toward home (Duncan had his own flight plan which seemed situated somewhere under the shrubs between the playground and our Owl Tree), I watched the sky split in half, cut down the middle by a white hot blur that sparked and burnt the night. I caught my breath and watched the meteorite (a Leonid?) burst brilliantly above me and then as it moved toward the milky horizon, sputter and fade away.

It was wonderful and reminded me that I am still standing exactly where I am supposed to be.

*To Rick. It's Good to Know You're Still There
(Photo courtesy of Google Images)

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Sunday is the longest day of the week by far. Some would claim Monday–and understandably so–but I think they choose Monday for the same reason most people choose their politics: because that's what mom and dad believed. If you hear enough people complain about Monday, surely you're bound to believe it's the most terrible of days. I myself tend to think of Wednesdays as nearly unendurable. "Hump Day," that's what it's called because we've finally "reached" the top of the hill and are about to coast down the other side. In my experience there is no coasting. Thursday and Friday are quite often as tedious as Monday and Tuesday, only this time we feel the pull of the weekend so perhaps we're a little less patient than we ought to be. "Hump Day," doesn't feel like I've mounted the hill, or the week; rather it feels as though I've been mounted. So to speak.

I've always struggled with Sunday. Thankfully my sister and I were not raised in a religious home, but our very Mormon community made sure we could not escape the doldrums imposed by the shadow of the church, which was right across the street. Most of our closest childhood friends were churchgoers, which left us a little curious about what went on in there. When questioned, they had little to offer, although quite often they'd sick their parents on my parents, insisting that Casey and I found our lives empty and were requesting religious direction. Hardly! We merely wanted to hang out with our friends, who weren't allowed to play on Sunday. Imagine, half the weekend wasted like that. And they thought we were misguided? Besides, no one I knew seemed very excited to be going. If God truly did live in there, shouldn't the people invited to one of his parties be a little more enthusiastic? My perception of church was always a negative one, and from what I saw of the people plodding up and down our hill to and from their church, I wasn't the only one who shared that sentiment.

Sunday as a day of rest never made much sense to me either. As a child, Sunday was a day for homework and chores and being cooped up. As an adult, it's much the same. Sunday is the day I do my laundry, plan the week's menu, go grocery shopping and run errands; On Sunday I make yogurt (which I've dubbed Yo-Curt) and bake bread, and sometimes, if I'm feeling motivated, cookies. Sunday is when the apartment gets cleaned, the carpets vacuumed, the toilets and showers scrubbed, the floors mopped. They say there is no rest for the wicked, and if that's true, Sunday is the wickedest day of my week.

Sunday feels too short, like there's not enough time to accomplish what needs to be accomplished, and even less time to enjoy doing the things I like doing: reading, writing, watching movies, walking with Duncan, talking with friends. Sunday is the day I feel the most stressed, simply on the basis of it being Sunday, the day before Monday, when despite the hump of Wednesday, it's all downhill.

But this Sunday I'm taking it at my own pace. Yes, the laundry is currently churning in the washer and drier, yes I am perplexed about what to make for dinner for the week and how I'm going to prepare my "famous" cranberry relish for dinner on Thursday, yes the sun is shining and it's far too warm–almost hot, even–to be sitting inside, but I don't care. This is the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, and I'm content to sip my rooibos with honey, to watch the cats follow the footprints of the sun across the floors, to open the windows and enjoy the air coming through my office. I'm going to tend to the things that need tending to, but I'm going to do it slowly with many breaks. And that's going to be okay because when the day is done, Duncan and I will take a walk in the cool dusk and I'll be as content as I could ask to be.
“If God hadn't rested on Sunday, He would have had time to finish the world.” –Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My Dog, Fudd

It's become all about the rabbits. It's not about the faraway blue of the sky or these cloudy days with their strange November warmth, nor is it about the walk itself, over the crunching grass, which, where the junior footballers have played, has worn away into nearly smooth dirt. It's not about the rich brown earthy scent that's carried on the breeze, not unless, of course, that scent contains the sweet, cottony smell of rabbit. It's not about sticking to a course and following a path, reaching a destination or even enjoying the journey. It's not about meeting others on the way, making eye contact and saying hello. It's not encountering other dogs and sniffing them, unless that other dog has recently sat upon a rabbit. It's not about walking around the apartments at night, passing through those sweet, Downey-scented clouds or the sometimes breathtaking view of the stars and constellations, unless that constellation is Lepus, the rabbit, located near Orion, which the great hunter and his dogs chase across unending night. Then there might be some interest. Even at night, curled up across the bed–sometimes in a tight little ball, but more often than not spread out shamelessly, as if the bed was his own–his dreams are rabbit dreams, and he can't help but twitch and kick his legs at my ribs and kidneys. At least he's dreaming–and dreaming of something he loves, which is more than most people can say.

"People's dreams are made out of what they do all day. The same way a dog that runs after rabbits will dream of rabbits. It's what you do that makes your soul, not the other way around." - Barbara Kingsolver

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sky Sight

We had only a few minutes to enjoy the light on our first walk tonight, but I thought the sky was beautiful especially with that sliver of moon floating amid the pink.

I've been paying more attention to the sky lately while we walk, if for no other reason than because it's so dark and the stars are just about all I can see. Often times I'll find that I haven't even looked to see where we're headed; instead I crane my neck back and try to pick out the few constellations I know (I can count them on one hand) or just make my own: The Mickey Mouse, the NBC peacock , and my favorite, the lengthwise roller. Duncan has admirably assumed the role of guide dog, leading me to such inspiring destinations as the skate park, the tipped over garbage can where he likes to pee, the spot the bunny sat in two weeks ago. It must be nice to have such simple tastes.

Later we went out again, this time to search for Comet Holmes, in the northern sky, just off of Cassiopeia (the sideways "W") smack dab in the middle of Perseus. The only clouds in all of Denverland were right about where I was supposed to look, and, as an added bonus, our apartment complex chose today as the day they decided to replace all the bulbs in the parking lot, which lit us up like a used car dealership. I fear I'm destined to miss this one, too. But, November is the month of the Leonid Meteor Shower, when the Earth passes through the debris left over from the tail of the Tempel-Tuttle comet (can you tell I've been reading up my As a kid I always expected the meteor showers to be much more spectacular than they actually are, so tonight I didn't expect to see much. But while on our fifteen minute walk around the perimeter of the property I saw three different streaks, each of them catching my breath. It was not quite what I imagined, but still, it was better than a walk in the rain. I hoping Duncan had somehow been as transfixed by the flashes as I, but when I looked down he wasn't even paying attention. Instead he'd lodged his nose in a discarded Arby's wrapper in an attempt to suck up whatever "cheese" sauce had adhered to the paper.

What a good boy.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


This afternoon while trying not to fall under the crushing weight of my mundane job, I was browsing the news online and read about Comet Holmes. Last week one of ACC's professors set up the telescope so that people could take a gander, but, being the lazy fellow I am, and so dedicated to my dog that I rushed home to let him out rather than wait in line to look at a faint smudge across the blackness of the sky, I missed it. It didn't seem a big deal and I did have a rather disappointing history with comets. I'd been burned before, during the frenzy that was Halley's Comet back in '86 when my friend Tim Bernasek ruined my only chance to view the once-in-a-lifetime occurrence by leaning on the telescope moments before clouds moved in and blocked it from my view for the next ninety-some odd years. Comet Hale-Bopp, the Great Comet of '97 was a wonder to see, however. Ken and I drove all over northern Illinois searching for a darkened patch of country road so we could gaze up and marvel at the sprinkling of glowing dust across the northern night sky. It was quite an adventure and after hours of driving to and from we returned home only to discover it was perfectly visible from our porch. It was a wondrous thing to experience, yet in March of the following year my memory of the event was forever changed by a houseful of whack-jobs who wore Nike tennis shoes and committed suicide in order to hitch a ride "home" on the tail of the thing.

I had almost no interest in Comet Holmes until this afternoon when I read that it has now become the largest object in our solar system, bigger than even the sun. I won't (read: can't) go into all the scientific details of what happened (I'm not even sure the scientists know at this point), but it seems Holmsey experienced "an unexpected eruption" that caused the comet's coma, a kind of atmosphere, to expand to a tremendous size. Although that little ball of ice or rock or whatever it is is actually quite small, the haze around it is now bigger than our own sun and is visible to the naked eye.

Visible to the naked eye?! thought I. I love naked-eye visibility. It's the best kind! I must check this out!

Being the not-so closeted romantic I am, I envisioned my walk with Duncan on the hill above Columbine, kneeling in the grass and gazing into space at this thing, this ancient piece of space detritus that is destined to circle and circle our solar system, witnessed by thousands of eyes over the course of thousands of years, and even though I could not shape it or touch it, or impact it in any way, my eyes upon it, and the moment shared with Duncan, would somehow be enough to matter, would carry forward with the thing, through space and time, gliding silently around and around, beautiful, cold and unending.

Sounds nice, right? Ah, if only the clouds had agreed.

Maybe tomorrow. Or perhaps Tim will appear and ensure that this one, too, will be lost to the ages.

*Photo taken with no permission whatsoever from wikipedia. org

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

So Well

I will admit, I rushed through our walk tonight, and who besides Duncan wouldn't have done it, too? Today was our first real cold day of the season. It didn't snow and it wasn't windy, but not even the sun on the sidewalk offered any sort of warmth. It was a back-tightening cold, sucking the breath out and not even allowing you to convince yourself that the fresh air felt nice. It was dark when I got home and my ears and neck were pink before we'd even crossed Bowles. I decided to skip walking up the hill toward the playground to search for the owl we saw last week, a trip we've made every night since.

As we crossed the small ditch into the park and I dropped the leash, Duncan trotted at my side, waiting for me to throw his ball, which I'd purposefully left behind. I thought of all the things we know about and have come to expect from each other, no different than best friends.

I know that Duncan always pees in the same place near the gates that open onto Bowles and that he waits to poop until we get near the trash barrel just inside the park. I can discern his restless sniffing from his more serious, deep in concentration attempt to pick the perfect spot to go sniffing. I can also differentiate between whining at the door for fun from whining at the door because things are about to get desperate. Even in my sleep I know when to tell him to lay back down and when to get up and let him out.

When I get home from work Duncan knows that we're not about to go for a walk until I've changed my shoes. If I skip that process, as I sometimes do, he gets confused and seems surprised when I reach for the leash. He also knows when I'm taking him for a walk and when I'm letting him out for a quick bathroom break.

I know he will not get out of bed for his morning walk until after he's heard me turn off the shower, dry off and get dressed. Once I set the water on the kettle for my morning tea he ambles down the hall and waits until he gets to my feet to stretch and "Mmmmhrrrr" and blink at me with droopy, morning eyes.

Duncan knows that when we return from a walk I always kiss him on the nose as I remove his collar and leash. He'll sit back, turn his head up to mine and wait for me to say, "Good walk. Yay, Duncan" and plant one on the pointed top of his head.

I know that Duncan is just as surprised as me when Winnie brushes her head up against him and cuddles down with her hips touching his side. She won't admit it to either of us, but she loves him, and when she offers her occasional brief display of love, Duncan will lay very still, the cocking of his brow in my direction his only movement. He will chase Pip and let him climb all over him, and even though Olive nuzzles his chest, it is Winnie's approval and affection he is most surprised and rewarded by.

Duncan knows that if he wants the best spot on the bed he needs to wait until I am asleep before he claims it. I prefer him laid out against my chest, but once my breathing becomes deep and regular, he can move down toward the middle and stretch out long and flat–sprawl is probably a more accurate word–forcing me to one side or the other. He knows I won't disturb him and that's when he begins to snore.

Duncan knows when I arrive home from work and somehow manages to greet me at the door every day. I'm not sure if he's memorized the way the light slants across the grass and sidewalk outside the window or if he can hear me, but I've tried parking in different spots and avoiding the bedroom window where he surveys the world with the cats from the comfort of our bed all day. I've snuck in around back and even come home at different times, and he is always waiting with his bird-like chirrup the minute I open the door. The only exception to this was the day I came home to ensure I'd turned off the kettle and he was snoring into my pillows.

When I come home I know if there's been a rare accident by the way his head hangs low and guilty and he looks at me from under his eyebrows down the long length of his nose.

Duncan knows when I'm sad and will whine to comfort me. I can cry at a movie and he's immediately at my side, paw on my lap, nuzzling his face against mine. Once a few months ago I awoke from a dream in tears. I was barely conscious of it before I felt him turn over in bed, plant a big paws on my shoulder and lick the tears from my cheeks, offering a warm and comforting sigh in my ear.

Duncan knows that if he can stick his Berry or one of his play bones or his slobbery tennis ball into my open palm my fingers will almost always close around it and he'll be able to play tug with me. Occasionally during our nighttime games of fetch, hide and go seek or tug of war I'll play dead. Duncan will spend the first minute or so trying to insert whichever toy we've been playing with into my hand, but when that doesn't work he'll begin nibbling on my fingers, which evolves into licking, which will move from my hand to my head. When those tactics fail to rouse me, he'll gently lay his head on my chest and whine until the guilt forces me to stop and I grab him, throw my arms around him and and roll around on the floor.

I know that every night before bed it's time for a bath which means Duncan gets to lay on top of me and groom me as if I were his pup. He will lick every inch of my head, from my neck up to my crown. I've learned to let him do it, and the only place off-limits is my nose. Most people who've seen it shake their heads and wonder how I can stand it–some have even called it gross–but he's my best friend and it's something I've grown to accept and love.

We look after each other, Duncan and I, and that's how we've come to know each other so well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

(Robert Frost, Nothing Gold Can Stay)

The leaves have long since given up looking like leaves. They have been ground down, trod upon and whipped around by the wind and the men who come weekly to rake them up and carry them down to the floor of The Glen, where they linger only briefly before climbing up the hill, across the parking lot where they make their way, like butterflies, back to the trees where they were born. I am convinced they are the same leaves, transformed: sharp, tiny pieces of parchment on which have been written the secret love poems of Autumn. Their shapes are not all they have lost; their voices are gone now as well. There is nothing musical in their dancing nor rhythmic in the way they crunch underfoot. Now they are little more than slivers that sting the eyes and lodge under my pant cuffs in the ridges of my socks. They stick to Duncan, mat in his tail and the long hair of his ears where they don't even whisper anymore. They have ceased to be leaves, and leaves are what make the Autumn bearable. Now it is the sky alone which carries color.

Walk Whitman claimed, "Every leaf a miracle," and they are remarkable things, their veined surfaces bearing the rough shape of the tree, a map of their lineage, a living geneology of sorts. Like poems they are born of something bigger that falls away, becoming its own thing, something unique and without definition yet still carrying the mark of what it once was. Leaves are an essence of the tree as poems are fragments of that which inspired them, a moment, an image, a glance.

These once-leaves pain me. A week ago they were art, now they are little more than accumulation, biting reminders of what came before. They are dead poems, broken and cast aside, clogging my vacuum and unfit even for the tail of a dog.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Night Vision

The sliver of the moon resting over the hills of Ken Caryl, a pregnant woman in profile, her belly–hanging plump and low– aglow with the light of the city below and the stars above.

The big cat, a lion or cougar maybe, sprawled at attention on the edge of the grass, ears up, its body relaxed and tense, as if enjoying the coolness of the grass on its belly and smell of the lake on the breeze. It did not move as we approached and for a moment I paused as the shaped changed and it became a dog, a shepherd or a large collie, and then it turned again, this time into a rock, jagged on one end and pointed where its ears had risen up, so lean and sharp; its body a mottled gray, smooth and fat, but cracked near the base.

The milk of the northern sky, bright with haze, and the ladle of the Big Dipper vanishing into it, spooning up the northern suburbs.

The trees turned upside-down, their leaves buried in the crisping grass, their roots sticking up–a many-legged creature–spreading high and wide, pale and smooth and pointed on the ends, like the bones of pinkie fingers.

My dog, blissfully unaware of the tricks of the light and the season, guiding me through our own nighttime wonderland.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Calendar Girls

November is a dangerous month, perhaps only matched by April for sheer schizophrenic insanity. The whole damn family has their quirks, but, with the exception of Crazy Cousin November and her two-faced niece, April, they're generally pretty reliable. The triplets, December, January and February are horrible, granted, but you know where you stand with them; they refuse to be ignored, have only the coldest and most bitter things to say and can't leave soon enough. The same thing goes for July and August, who play their heavy metal far too loud, can't sing on key and spread their overweight lethargy as if it was the common cold. May and June are bright and gay, the drag queens of the calendar year, while September and October are the curmudgeons, the beautiful but creepy spinster old maids perched in attic windows turning a wrinkled cheek away from the world they left behind. March is a moody teenager, flooded with hormones and not quite sure what she wants to be: one minute putting on a pretty, plaid skirt and some kick-ass red lipstick, the next dying her hair black and crying while listening to Depeche Mode. Only April and November, those twin, moody bitches refuse to be tagged and labeled. The are fickle, they tease, they scream and shout and then suddenly they open their arms, smother your face with sticky smelling kisses and pledge their undying devotion. They are cruel and treacherous and I can't tell if they just need a good spanking or a pharmacologist. Were I to throw a party, April and November are the two months I'd avoid inviting, urging the whole family to keep it secret, especially their gossipy sister March and bitter Aunt October, who love nothing more than to fan their fires.

It was only a few weeks ago the tree near the library was dressed up in all her finery. This morning we discovered her naked and alone, shivering where she stood. As much as Duncan and I are enjoying these warm days, I can't help but feel as though we're waiting for the other shoe to drop. These sunny mornings with their blue skies can't last forever.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

And the winner is...

This morning I awoke with an email waiting for me from Chelsea at Hero's Pets. In big letters the subject field read, "YOU WON!!!" It seems Duncan took second place in the first annual Halloween costume contest, coming in behind a pair of ghosts which I even I had to vote for. When I broke the news to him he seemed mildly pleased but more concerned about his morning walk. After giving him some treats and praising him for finally earning his keep, I took him out for a quick walk down the street and back and then over to The Glen to play in the leaves. Perhaps it was just me, but it seemed he held his head a little higher and walked with a bit more strut in his step. And when we got home he got an extra helping of wet food mixed in with his regular food, which he always appreciates. Winnie, Pip and Olive could've cared less.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Duncaversary Part Two: The World's Most Expensive Dog

I have been accused of being "a dog freak," which I deny adamantly. I am not a parent and don't have children to dote on and spoil so I channel all that energy into my dog. And although dogs are not children they do take a lot of time, a lot of energy and space. Especially space.

It became obvious after only two days with our new puppy that our lives were about to undergo a massive overhaul. Our first weekend with Duncan was exhausting, and our apartment was not very dog friendly (and by "our apartment" I mean our three cats). There was a lot of species identity conflict in our home. Winnie and Pip had been raised by two Golden Retrievers prior to moving to Denver and Pip seemed to think he was a dog: coming when he was called, playing fetch, rolling over to have his belly scratched. Even Winnie, the most cat-like of our cats, liked a good spanking and enjoyed being roughed up. At one point I was even walking her on a leash. Olive, the youngest, was now being raised by two cats who thought they were dogs. Duncan entered the picture, a big, bumbling puppy, and soon became convinced he was a cat, demonstrating it by curling up in our laps, perching on the back of the couches to look out the window and eating with only the most fickle and disapproving of appetites. He was small, but still larger than Pip and tended to knock things over as he chased his older brother around the apartment. We had no yard and could only let him out on his leash, which we struggled to train him to walk with. By the end of our first weekend, after the twentieth trip out with the dog, I came inside, kicked off the snow, removed my shoes, coat, gloves and hat and announced to Ken, "We need a yard."

The very next morning we began our search. We drove down Monaco and through Park Hill and Montview looking at houses which appeared small but had fenced in yards. The trouble was, all the houses in the neighborhoods we liked ran upwards of $600,000 and were often smaller than our apartment,so we decided to take a look at the developing area known as Stapleton, Denver's old airport, where people were building brand new homes. We must've walked through fifty different models that day, returning home frequently to let the dog out. By the end of the day we'd found a model we liked, had met with the sales reps and were pretty convinced we'd settled on a neighborhood and a price that met our budget. Over the course of the next several weeks we'd look at other homes and work on securing our loan, and by the end of November we'd pretty much decided on building a brand new home on Central Park Boulevard.

By the end of our first month with Duncan, our free dog had somehow managed to cost us over $300,000.
And he still wasn't potty trained. But he knew how to mug for the camera.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Duncaversary Part One: Meet Jake

It's three years today since Ken called me at work and asked, "What do you think about getting a puppy?"

It seems a simple enough question, but in light of everything that's happened since, it's like asking, "What do you think of willfully submitting yourself to financial ruin?"

Of course I got excited, especially after he mentioned the puppy he had in mind was an eight week old male golden retriever. We'd raised two females, Ashley and Nikki, a mother and daughter, when we lived in Chicago and had been dogless for five years. As I pondered the question I thought of the magnet which sits on our fridge, "A house without a dog is not a home." According to it, all our hard work amounted to nothing; we were homeless. Three cats were great but the magnet said nothing about cats! We needed a dog and Ken had stumbled onto one. And better yet, he was free.

I'm not quite sure how it happened, but a breeder in Fort Collins, where Ken was teaching in the Vet Tech program at Front Range Community College, had several puppies she needed to find homes for immediately. She brought the puppies to the school and Ken got excited. He missed his Girls, who'd been left with Ken's brother in Michigan when we moved to Colorado. He wanted a dog, and when I mentioned I wanted a male, he became even more excited. Pirates of the Mississippi, one of Ken's favorite country bands, had a song called "Feed Jake" and Ken wanted to name his next dog after the song. Not being a fan of country music, or the name Jake, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

I've always believed that animals name themselves and have never been a fan of naming pets or children before you've met them. Names are sometimes the first thing we learn about someone and they are powerful things, keys to who we are. It was days before I named Winnie and Pip, and Olive went nameless for weeks; we'd unsuccessfully tried Daisy and Stella, but neither fit. A name has to be perfect, and it has to tell you something about who it belongs to. It never hurts to compile a short-list, however, and with that in mind I went to work, enlisting the help of my friends in the Student Affairs office at ACC. I explained the rules: it had to be a "people name," but it couldn't be a common name, like Joe or Mike; instead it had to be unusual, something respectable yet quirky. Heather took the job very seriously and spent the better part of the day compiling an extensive list of exotic names, only two of which I now remember: Algernon and D'Artagnon.

D'Artagnon? Obviously she didn't get it.

My assistant, Janet, had recently lost her father, a famous Methodist author, D.A. Reily. She'd returned from his funeral in Brazil only the day before and as we were talking about him, I asked her what the D.A. stood for. "Duncan Alistair," she told me, and the second I heard it, I knew it was perfect. What could be better than a Golden Retriever named Duncan?

Ken spent four days of the week in Fort Collins, living with a friend Monday through Thursday, coming home only on the weekends. I waited up for him that night, anxious to meet the puppy. When they pulled up I ran outside to greet them, and there in a box in the back seat was the cutest face I'd ever seen. A terrible traveler from the beginning, he was shaking and covered in saliva; thankfully, Ken had washed the vomit off him before introducing us. I opened the back door and peered in at him.

"Hi there, little guy," I cooed. He cocked his head at me. "Are you a Jake?" I asked, picking him up. "Or are you a Duncan?" And with that he winked right at me. A good solid wink, not a blink, not a twitch or a spasm, but a wink.

Ken was standing behind me. "Duncan," he said aloud. "I like that."

And almost immediately, Ken's dog became mine.

Like it was meant to be.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


There are pockets in the night that reveal secrets and sudden nuggets of wonder that can be stumbled upon and, if you're not paying attention, passed through without notice. Tonight's pockets were deep and luckily Duncan and I were willing to explore and revel in them without any sense of urgency. It was not cold, there was no wind, and we were able to enjoy our walk in the quiet of Clement Park at our own pace.

One of my favorite things while walking is unexpectedly stumbling upon the Downey scent of someone doing their laundry. The drier vents at the buildings in our complex are on the back side nearest the street and sometimes, if we're lucky, we catch a whiff of warm fabric softener on the air. Sometimes it lasts only a few seconds and other times I can stand with my eyes closed in the park across the street and breath it in. I don't know what it is about Downey, but perhaps it reminds me home. My first year at Lake Forest I looked forward to my Sunday nights trapped in the laundry room, washing clothes and catching up on my reading. The smell of drier sheets made me feel connected to something in a place where I had yet to forge connections. And although I don't miss that isolation I felt my first semester, I miss that part of me that yearned for home, the part I lost when I made my own home. Tonight the air was rich with Downey and I didn't mind Duncan's unending sniffing along the hedges or in the dark corners of the buildings. I simply followed him and followed my nose.

I'd taken a jacket for our walk but as we moved through the park I took it off and tucked it under my arm. The night was warm and the stars were bright and it felt good to take deep breaths and close my eyes as Duncan guided me. As I tossed the ball for him, which more often than not I had to chase down because he hadn't seen where it landed, I stepped through pockets of cool air that brought a quick rush to the exposed skin of my face and arms, and then, as quickly as I'd stumbled into it, I stumbled back out into the strange warmth of this November night.

On the other side of the baseball field Duncan found a stick, not quite perfect, but one that so captivated him he couldn't part with it. Although it was nearly perfect in girth and was smooth to the touch, it was easily five feet long–more of a staff than a stick–and not easy to carry. I dropped the leash and watched as he lifted it in his jaws, raised his head up and attempted to keep either end from touching the ground. He carried it a few yards before deciding it would be best to stop and chew on it. So he did and there was nothing I could do to move him from his spot. I sat down next to him, scratched his belly while he gnawed on the end of the thing. After thirty minutes or so I finally pulled it away from him and managed to carry it over my head as he hopped along beside me in an effort to reclaim his prize as we continued our walk through the park.

Up top, near the playground, we stopped at a tree and I happened to look up and directly into the large golden eyes of an owl, which had taken roost on a limb just above me. Its head swiveled in that strange raptor way, blinked and looked past me, at the low hedges, maybe looking for a mouse or something else small and warm. It was a big thing and dark brown, almost invisible against the night, except for those eyes. It cocked its head and when Duncan finally saw it and climbed against the trunk of the tree the owl fell forward, unfolded its wings and glided silently to the next tree where it landed–higher this time–without a sound. We followed it and I couldn't help but feel as though we were infringing upon something sacred, maybe something dark, something beautiful I shouldn't know about. But I couldn't help it. It had moved with such silence and ease that I was reminded how lucky I was to walk upright in the daylight and not scurry in the shadows, a meal with a tail. I watched it scrutinize us, which felt somehow special, as if we'd caught the attention of something royal, but when it looked away I felt small and unimportant, unworthy and uninteresting. A woman and her beagle passed quite near us and neither of us pointed out the bird; instead we kept it to ourselves, our secret gift of the night.

It was hard to come home, difficult to cross Bowles with a jumping dog leashed on one arm and a walking stick balanced overhead in the other. I did not want it to end and wondered what other gems were out there waiting to be discovered, things that only Duncan and I were meant to share.

If not tonight, maybe soon.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Word came from Chelsea at Hero's Pets that Duncan is in 2nd place in the Halloween costume voting contest. There are still several days of voting left, so think good thoughts for us. He was a real sport about the whole thing, but he didn't like the jacket–it was hard to walk–but he had no problems wearing the goggles. Duncan's a natural. All we need now is the motorcycle and sidecar and we can take our show on the road.

Monday, November 5, 2007

November Dream

So dull and dark are the November days.
The lazy mist high up the evening curled,
And now the morn quite hides in smoke and haze;
The place we occupy seems all the world.
(John Clare, November)

November will never end, and I don't think even Duncan can keep me from wishing away this unendurable month. We sit in my office, Duncan pining near the window, wondering why his walk came so late and passed so quickly, and I can't keep my thoughts from blue skies and long walks in the heat. Even yesterday, which was still November, seems an eternity ago and lovelier than today.

I left work late and like many others, was shocked to see the sun had set and darkness had taken root; the last of the golden light in the west seemed little more than a dusting across the horizon. I hurried home and didn't even bother changing my clothes before taking Duncan out. The park, which has been filled with junior footballers sine August, was dark and empty and we saw no one, passed no other dogs, couldn't even hear the high school marching band practicing the same songs they've practiced for months while we walked. I felt Rip Van Winkle-ish, as if I'd been asleep a long time but wanted nothing more than to lay my head back down on the pillow. The darkness seemed like water and not even the cold could energize me, nor the restless tug of Duncan pulling ahead of me. We circled once and came back through the gates. A rabbit darted past us but I saw only a white smudge across my field of vision and wouldn't have thought of it again if Duncan hadn't strained on his leash after it.

When I close my eyes I think of the last red leaves on the tree hanging over my patio, which only yesterday seemed safe in the warmth of the sun and the steely blue of a faraway sky. Tonight the leaves are just shadows, dry and brittle, and I can't wait for this November dream to end.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What is Good

November is a good time for visiting, for touching base with old friends and reminding oneself about what is good and strong and important in life before the nights grow longer and the days more pale, before the winds joins in chorus and wash the warmth from the trees and fields and spirits. It is good to take walks in the sunshine, to listen to the calls of the geese and the short yips of the prairie dogs from their squat little burrows. It is good to have a dog in these days, someone who cares not what season it is, but only that you're walking with him in it.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Yesterday I added a new job to my Must Have job list (which previously included "writer" and "Scenic Overlook Decider"). After hiking through Chautauqua Park with Duncan and Traci
I decided I want to be a Namer of Mountains. Although I'm not sure I could compete with the guys who've been doing it, I'd at least like the opportunity. It won't be easy; I mean look at what they came up with: The Great Smoky Mountains, with their rolling smoky mornings, the Sawtooths, which do indeed look like the giant blade of a saw sticking up from the shore of Alice Lake, and the Tetons. Okay, maybe the Tetons don't exactly look lik giant breasts, but their name does give some insight into the frame of mind of those randy, French trappers who christened them. And then there are the Flatirons, just outside of Boulder (such a pity the best scenes along the Front Range are located in such an annoying little town), which local women named because they looked like the flat part of the irons with which they ironed their clothes. I'm in awe of the namers of things and only wish there was some range or valley or creek I could take a shot at naming.

Our hike was wonderful and Duncan far outperformed Traci and myself. Traci had the double excuses of having only just arrived from Chicago (elevation 579 feet), and being asthmatic (she's so lucky!). I had no excuse whatsoever for my difficulty in breathing or my knees which felt as if they were on the verge of blowing out. Duncan, on the other hand, didn't seem to notice. He bounded up the trail to Royal Archway like it was a couple of steps, dragging us behind him. It was a busy trail, but the people were incredibly polite (damn Boulderans!) and we were able to take some nice photos.

We need to do this more often. The sound of the wind blowing through the Ponderosas and the rocky silence of those narrow little switchbacks were amazing. There's a reason I always wanted to live in The West. I just need to remind myself of that every now and then.


This weekend Duncan's Aunt Traci is coming from Chicago for a quick visit. Traci and I met while working at CDW eight years ago and have been friends since. She's a fun person to be around and greatly different from the conservative, very Republican person I first met; now after 8 long years of beating the truth into her, I can actually tolerate being in the same room with her. Traci has made some remarkable changes in her life, all of which were witnessed by her own faithful, four-legged friends, Chloe and Murphy, both of whom are Beagles. If I didn't believe Murphy was Satan's dog, I might give them props for helping turn her into a real, live person. Instead, I'll just have to share the credit with Chloe.

It was because of Traci's arrival tonight (and my compulsive need to clean and clean again before I have guests–thanks, mom– that Duncan got a very short walk this afternoon, a quick whisk around the park and home again, home again, jiggity jig. But Traci suggested we take him for "a hike" tomorrow, which we might just do. It all depends of whether November wants to behave as though it's still October, or if it wants to pull what it pulled today by acting exactly like November.

Either way I doubt Duncan will care.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Typically the passing of October leaves us skinless and showing only the rough bones of November's boughs and branches. But this year our blood is still pumping, red and fragrant as cinnamon stirred into hot cider, red as the blush on a virgin's cheek, red as red was meant to be. Everywhere I turn, every path we take, we are surrounded by the most glorious shades of red, in the shrubs and trees, single glowing leaves hidden among the still-green grass, red in the misted moon, red in the eyes of the jack-o-lanterns that have burned in our windows. Just outside my patio there is the most brilliant bush, a red like none other I've seen, a red that appears only in faerie tales or comic books. On our way to the park, now mostly naked and exposed, we pass several bushes that look as if they've been baked in beets, jellied in cranberries and roasted over a fire of hot peppers. They smell Christmas sweet and their leaves are still strong, still clinging tightly to their delicate branches. They are lost kisses, caught by the wind and blown far off course, snagged in the sticky brittle fingers of Autumn. They are the flattened bodies of ticks grown fat on blood sweetened with the meat of fresh, ripe cherries. Two red guards have taken up their posts outside The Glen, short and fat, they are dwarfs, small and cute, but as serious as a Russian tragedy. One stands at attention, rigid and stern, the other seems to flit as restlessly as a flame.

And my red dog is there to share them with me.