Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween on Leawood

Duncan and I ventured down to Hero's Pets this evening to participate in their first annual costume contest. Like an idiot I didn't manage to get any pictures but Chelsea assured me she'll send me copies of hers. I'll post them when they come.

When I was a kid Halloween seemed like a throwaway event, something quick and easily forgotten, a one-night-stand holiday, something to tide us over until Christmas. Every now and then people decorated, but mostly with a simple jack-o-lantern and maybe a scarecrow propped up next to the front door. If someone really got into it they'd toss their speakers in the window and play a scary noises–rattling chains, creaking doors, zombie moans, that sort of thing–but that was about it. The rest of the fun was left up to the kids, who congealed into a candy-seeking mass and roamed our neighborhoods long after we were supposed to be in bed. As short-lived as it was, it was our night, which even in the 70's and 80's was nothing compared to what kids did back at the turn of the century, when they actually vandalized property and set fires in the street (see the film, Meet Me in St. Louis, for a great depiction of this) Now days, though, Halloween has become the new Christmas, with all sorts lights–be they string or strobe–and cobwebs, spiders and monsters, lawn ornaments and much more. The kids and their costumes seem the least important part of it. Halloween has become a bizarre "Keeping-up-with-the-Bones'" ritual. The adults have taken over and I'm not quite sure what I think of it. Every year it seems to get worse and the only explanation I have is that the big box marts finally brainwashed the American public into believing they needed to celebrate this way.

That said, I do have to admit that on our walk down Leawood, Duncan and I did stumble upon the most amazing house. Outside of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. An enormous faux wrought iron fence had been erected along the sidewalk, complete with gargoyle-topped pillars and a heavy chain. The entire yard had been filled with headstones and some looked as though actual graves had been dug under them, with arms and other body parts sticking out of the earth. One of the headstones actually rocked back and forth and a voice came from under it, calling out, "Who's there? Help me! Somebody please, help me!" All sorts of animatronic creatures had been stashed in the trees and under the hedges, with glowing red eyes or wings that flapped. It seems pirates are all the rage, so of course, pirate clad skeletons had been set up, along with pirate flags and treasure chests. Many of the trees were covered in cobwebs and enormous spiders and centipedes crawled along their trunks and branches. Strobes lights flashed along the front steps and ghoulish music, accompanied by the heart-warming sounds of a torture chamber played from some well-hidden stereo system. We sat and stared for several minutes and I think even Duncan was transfixed. Or perhaps he was simply keeping an eye out for rabbits.

But despite all this, we didn't see a single child in costume. Does any of the decor make sense without the kids to stand in awe of it?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Portrait in Leaves


You've got to admit, Duncan and I do know how to pose for a picture.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Soccer Star

I don't know when I got so old. By the time I went to bed last night I felt the full effect of my impact with Duncan at The Glen. When the alarm went off at 6 I knew it was going to be the kind of day spent laying on the couch and doing as little as possible. Duncan, however, unaffected by our collision, thought I'd taken the day off to be with him.

Around noon we did stumble over to the park and Duncan was overjoyed to discover someone had left behind their soccer ball. Hopped up on ibuprofen, I knocked it around a bit for him and he took to it immediately, managing to scoot it along by kicking at it and rolling it against his chest. When he finally realized I didn't have it in me to join in the fun, he plopped down in the grass, more than happy to pose for the camera.



Soccer is not just for Europeans and girls, as my father once claimed. It's for dog's, too.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Brushed and Boxed

At times it seems–especially on Sunday afternoons–that my job in the park is more than just The Walker of Duncan; sometimes–quite often, actually–I also assume the role of trash collector, picking up after all the morons who gather to watch the kids play soccer and football, or the thugs who inhabit the skate park who can't be bothered to toss their cans of Red Bull or beer into the garbage bins which the city of Littleton has been kind enough to supply in plenty. The grounds of the park are quite littered Sunday afternoons, and being the sort of person who enjoys a clean park, and does not like seeing his dog root around in fast food wrappers or attempt to gnaw discarded water bottles, I do the right thing by picking them up and tossing them away.

This Sunday Duncan and I came to the park, not only for our walk, but to toss out a rather large accumulation of hair we collected over the weekend. I awoke Saturday morning and decided Duncan was in need of a rather lengthy brushing, and by the time I finished nearly two hours later, we'd amassed a wiggish-looking thing the size and shape of a small dog. I've heard of a woman in the area who spins her own yarn out of dog hair and wondered, briefly, if perhaps she could put it to good use, but then realized if I did such a thing I'd find myself holding onto a rather large bag of hair months from now. Instead I decided to do what we've done for years, which is gather it up and take it outside to toss here and there for the birds and squirrels to use for their nests.

It was with this mission in mind that we set off. The park was mostly deserted, except for the refuse which had been left behind from this morning's various athletic events. In one hand I carried a hair-laden bag which I dipped into every now and then and spread on the ground around me and which was quickly dispersed by a nice warm breeze. My other hand was occupied with the task of collecting bottles, wrappers and the occasional sock, which were all tossed away. By the time my supply of hair ran dry we found ourselves quite near the high school, and still smarting from last week's adventure, we made to cross Bowles and enter, once again, the inescapable neighborhood. Just as we were about to do this, however, I spotted, on the ground, not ten feet from the parking lot, a large, but empty box of Trojans. I scooped it up, threw it away and crossed the street.

Our walk down Fair Street was pleasant and uneventful. We turned onto Marshall which somehow becomes Lamar, which deposited us onto Leawood, not far from the school. We turned west, headed back up the hill and came out on the corner of Bowles and Pierce, directly across from the entrance to our apartment building. As we once again cut across the park and prepared to return home I glanced down and discovered a second, completely full black and gold box of Trojans, Magnum XL. I scooped it up, and not having a garbage can nearby, put it into my pocket until I could toss it in the trash at home. We crossed the street, and because the afternoon was still so lovely, decided to venture into The Glen for a last romp in the leaves and setting sun.

I'd forgotten to bring Duncan's stick or his ball, so we milled around until Kona appeared out of nowhere and commenced to wrestle with Duncan amid the brown leafy debris that fills the bottom of natural indentation in which we stood. Melissa, Kona's mom, soon joined us, and while the kids wrestled and chased and rolled around, spraying fountains of froth and foam and wet leaf in every direction, Melissa and I chatted amiably. When we discovered she once worked with my friend Sarah, who's husband I work with at ACC, we hit it right off and soon lost track of what the pups were up to. Before we knew it the sun had set, the air had turned cold and the dogs continued to run insane circles around the perimeter of The Glen, occasionally speeding across the bowl, crashing past us and back up the other side.

"So, what do you have planned tonight?" Melissa asked.

I shrugged. "I'm not sure, My partner is down in The Springs tonight, so I'll probably just lay low." This I said in a way that somehow sounded as if I don't lay low every night. "You know, make dinner, maybe watch a movie. Stay in."

She nodded knowingly and at that second I heard an explosion behind me and turned in time to see Duncan careening wildly down the hill, Kona hot on his heels, both of them on a collision course with me. I grunted once, a sort of "Umph" noise and turned to Melissa just as they struck.

Duncan caught me straight on. I felt my feet fly out from under me, felt myself spread out in the air, long and flat but open wide. I looked down at my chest and actually saw my feet rise up higher than my body. My shoulders did a strange little wiggle as my arms shot out and my hands reached behind me for the ground that was not there. My brain, in an effort to rationalize the experience actually played the sound of a solid strike echoing down the lanes of a bowling alley and I felt as though a bowling pin must when it's knocked crazy by the ball. Melissa, somewhere below me, cried out, and as gravity finally caught me and pulled me back down, I saw her standing between my splayed out feet, my toes just about even with her shoulders. The closer I came to earth, the faster time moved and suddenly I was down, with a crash and another "Umph," this one louder and a bit more forceful.

Duncan froze and cowered, his head low as if he actually had anything to fear. Kona, however, couldn't have been more delighted. She jumped right over me, and as I sat up, she leaned in, sniffed me once and head-butted me right on the middle of my face. Melissa could not help but laugh, although I will give her credit for making the attempt to appear concerned as I climbed to my feet, brushing the leaves from my legs and arms.

"Are you okay," she asked.

"I'm fine," I said, laughing it off.

"Oh," she said, reaching down. "You dropped someth--" and froze.

At my feet was the open box of Trojans, with a seeming endless parade of foil-wrapped condoms spilling out onto the leaves.

Duncan looked up at me, a half amused, half pitiful look on his face. Kona snorted and walked away, satisfied that she'd head-butted me. Melissa did not know what to say.

I played with the possibilities and finally decided that silence was indeed golden.

Starry Night

It was dark and late when I took Duncan to the park. The air, which hadn't been able to decide which temperature it wanted to be, finally settled on cold and our breath led the way. It had been a hazy night and the lights around the lake wore halos, cloudy and orange reflected on the dark surface of the water. I was thinking of how brilliant the sky is on clear winter nights in Pocatello, how I've stood on my mother's driveway late on a Christmas Eve and stared skyward in awe, the earth falling away from me, the night sucking the breath from my chest. I've never witnessed a sky like the one I can see from home. As we climbed the small hill above the lake I looked up knowing I'd see nothing but orange reflected off the haze, but at that moment, for only a few seconds, the mist cleared and I could see the night spread out above me and it took my breath away. We paused on the hill and gazed up at the Big Dipper and the "W" that is Cassiopeia, Queen of the Night, and all that space and time spread between them. I thought of that song by Don McLean, "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)" and I was glad to be able to share it with Duncan, and even though he does know not the song or the painting, somewhere in his heart he understands the beauty of a moment.

Starry, starry night.
Paint your palette blue and grey,
Look out on a summer's day,
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now.

Starry, starry night.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,
Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue.
Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain,
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now.

For they could not love you,
But still your love was true.
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.

Starry, starry night.
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless head on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget.
Like the strangers that you've met,
The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose,
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they're not listening still.
Perhaps they never will...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Too Long


a wind has blown the rain away and blown
the sky away and all the leaves away,
and the trees stand. I think i too have known
autumn too long
(e.e. cummings)

If only Autumn weren't such a schizophrenic bitch she'd be a much better time. It was warm and perfect all day; the air tasted somehow amber-scented and the light felt musical on my face. My job is far away from any windows and I was only able to steal quick moments on the west lawn of the college, watching the squirrels wrestle in the leaves, fighting over a piece of discarded hamburger bun. Far out in the field a group of friends gathered to play Ultimate Frisbee. As I watched them, all I could think about was getting home and not taking off my shoes, not resting a moment on the bed with the cats, but leashing up Duncan and going for another long walk through the neighborhoods east of Columbine. After last night's embarrassing and aimless wanderings I've felt the need to redeem myself by learning the streets and their strange, wandering routes. Unfortunately, 45 minutes before my weekend began, the skies were invaded by low, dark clouds and a fierce, unfriendly wind picked up which was not at all inviting to someone looking to take a long stroll with his dog. Duncan couldn't have cared less, of course. He only wanted to be outside. I think he knew I wasn't as enthusiastic as himself, which meant he had to prolong the walk by any means he could: inspecting every shrub and tree and bramble along our path, sniffing and rooting on the ground for the most minuscule sticks and twigs, peeing every hundred yards or so. He likes the wind, likes to turn his face into it and lap up whatever scent it brings his way. I, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to be inside where I could make dinner and dream of a warmer Saturday than tonight would presume.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lost

I was six years old when my mother finally moved us back to southeast Idaho from Boise. My sister and I had been born in Idaho Falls, but Pocatello was less than an hour away and we looked forward to being able to spend more time with our grandparents and cousins. Our move coincided with my first day of school and even though we only lived a block away from Lewis & Clark Elementary, and even though I'd been a latch-key kid the previous year, my mom insisted I walk from school to The Jolly Daycare Center every day after class let out. The trouble was I could never remember exactly where the damn daycare was located, which was really just the converted basement of Mr. and Mrs. Jolly's home. My mother drove the route from school to the Jolly's several times, and one of my teacher's had arranged to either escort me herself or have an older, wiser third grader show me the way. I was so busy talking about remembering the way to school, with whomever was escorting me, that I never really paid that much attention to the route itself. Plus, the older boy held my hand as he'd been instructed to do and I think some portion of my focus must've gone in that direction. Somehow or another that first week I managed to arrive at the Jolly's front step without ever being aware of quite how I got there. Oh well, I thought. I'm here, no need to worry.

And then week two arrived. I still had no idea how exactly I was supposed to get there and passed my day coloring and learning to count and hoping I presented a reasonable facsimile of the sort of kid who knows how to get from Point A to Point B. It wasn't until class let out and I set off on my own that I got into trouble.

I wasn't all that excited about arriving anyway. Unlike other daycares I attended with my sister, this one was no fun. The Jollys were horrible people who had almost as many children themselves as children they were paid to look after. The Jolly kids, many of them older than myself, were not good people, and treated the rest of us poorly, which somehow escaped the attention of the teachers the Jollys had hired to do their dirty work. At one point I remember being locked in a basement room without a window with thirty other kids. When the lights were turned out we all began to scream and pound on the walls but no one came to our rescue. It seemed like an eternity before someone finally released us, although I will admit, being locked in the dark at the age of six in a very small place with countless kicking and screaming other warm bodies can produce the sensation of a much longer period of time. The Jollys provided barely edible snacks and taught us Mormon Sunday school songs, which even then rubbed me the wrong way. It made perfect sense to me why I was in no hurry to get to daycare: singing "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree" while choking down a piece of dry graham cracker would be too much for anyone.

I never made it to the Jollys on my own. That first day, the one and only time I attempted it I ended up making a wrong turn and found myself on McKinley Avenue, which seemed a large and extremely busy road to my six year old eyes. Up and down the street I wandered and as the panic began to grow I realized I was about to face the kind of situation every first grader had been warned about: I knew I'd have to talk to a stranger, not just talk to one, but approach and strike up the conversation which would surely lead to my death. We'd all seen the reel to reel films of little Jimmy getting into the long, green station wagon driven by the fat, bald man, probably a homosexual, who offered Jimmy candy and other treats. Once Jimmy climbed in, it was a slow fade to black and the police officer climbing the steps to Jimmy's parents front door was explanation enough as to the fate that had befallen that little idiot who'd been seduced by the dark powers of a handful of butterscotch candies. I knew enough to steer clear of passing cars, but I also knew that I'd have to knock on someone's door, which would most likely be the very home where little Jimmy had been taken to spend the last, sugar-high minutes of his short life. The sun was sitting low in the west and I knew I needed help fast. Thoughts of innocent, golden-haired me roaming McKinley Avenue after dark, and every day and night ever afterward, flashed through my brain. God only knew what would become of me.

Hysterical and with tears pouring down my face I stopped on the sidewalk before two houses. There was a momentary dilemma as I tried to decide which one to choose. The one on the right looked like any ordinary home, green siding, a small front yard, a truck parked in the driveway, someone's bike leaning against the mailbox. The house on the left was white, the yard was immaculate, flowers had been planted in nice little rows in narrow little beds all along the property. It smelled of cookies and I could hear a woman singing from somewhere inside. The house on the left seems the obvious choice, right? Wrong! Picking that house would surely equal death! I'd heard the story of Hansel and Gretel enough to know you never pick the good-looking cottage, not unless you're jumping at the opportunity to be fattened up and turned into a gingerbread cookie!

Right it was. Hardly able to see through my tears and gasping for breath, I reached out my small, pale hand and knocked lightly on the door. I could hear someone moving around inside, someone big from the sound of his steps. I backed up and questioned myself. Were trolls easier to escape than witches? At least the witch had been nearly blind and easily fooled by a chicken bone. Trolls could smell children! I was doomed!

But a troll did not open the door. Instead it was a man, probably as old as I am now. He was tall, wore bright blue jeans and a nicely pressed white button-up shirt. He had dark hair, glasses and large, tan hands. When he saw a crying child on his step he knelt down and held the door open as I explained through gasps that I was lost, looking for the Jolly Daycare center and was afraid I'd die alone on the street. I asked if he knew where it was, could he point me in the right direction. He knew exactly where to find it, not five blocks from where he lived; his own children had gone there years before, and he'd be more than happy to take me there himself. But first he wanted to call the Jollys and let them know I'd been located and would be arriving shortly. Everything seemed to be going well–no monsters or witches, no horrible candy-wielding men in station wagons–until he invited me inside. Here was the moment. Did I go inside and face certain death or did I reconcile myself to a lifetime of street-walking? Obviously I chose certain death, but only because it offered a cool glass of water and free ride back to the daycare. After making the call and letting me finish my drink the kindly stranger drove me back to the Jolly's house and explained that I shouldn't knock on strange doors, but if I was ever lost on his street I was to find him. I agreed, and feeling a bit like the returning hero, I walked up the front step where Mrs. Jolly, a horrible woman with a beehive as tall as the temple in downtown Salt Lake, stood waiting. She smiled and waved as the man drove away, but once he was out of sight she grabbed me by the arm, yanked hard and ushered me into the dark room where I sat alone, crying once again, for the next half hour. I was finally released to play outside with the others until my mother arrived to retrieve her children. Mrs. Jolly never told my mom what happened, but once I recounted the harrowing events of the day, my mom went back and confronted her. I never saw that crummy little house with the mistreated children ever again, and to this day I couldn't tell you how to get there.

That was thirty years ago, and although I may have occasionally taken a wrong exit or turned down the wrong street once or twice, I haven't been lost like that since.

Until today.

(My what a long lead-in to the actual story, which, it will turn out, isn't nearly as exciting as you'd suppose)

Duncan and I again skirted the edge of the park, but rather than walk across it, we turned west, crossed Pierce and walked down Leawood toward the elementary school there. It's a nice walk, with the little houses and manicured lawns that often remind me of home. We've walked it two or three times before, but today I just kept going, my thoughts caught up in other things, and before I knew it, the sun had set, the nearly full moon had risen and the warmth of the afternoon had faded. Many of the streets in the area twist and turn and several end in sudden little culdesacs. After nearly two hours I still couldn't find my way out of the inescapable neighborhood, so I started using the moon as my guide. Duncan, who wasn't able to spot the four rabbits he chased without my assistance (I swear, he's got the hunting ability of a carrot), was absolutely no use. If we'd been transported to one of those after-school TV shows about kids lost in the woods with only a pack of food and their trusty dog, we'd be dead long before the kindly park ranger or the wizened, but comical, hermit came to our rescue. Duncan would simply chase rabbits as I pointed them out and I be forced to give him bits of our last scraps of graham cracker as a reward.

I've claimed many times that Duncan has led me to poetry, he's shown me beauty and taught me lessons that I strive to remember every day. He just isn't able to show me the way home. But I still love him. We're just not going anywhere too far without a map.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lake Dusk

I was feeling a bit lazy tonight, so I drove Duncan down the street to the library. I didn't want to walk him and tie him outside as I've seen other people do with their dogs. I never really thought of it until it was my dog and I couldn't imagine leaving him outside at the mercy of strangers or other dogs without me there to protect him. So we drove and I left him in the car only long enough to run inside to check out some of the books Ruth listed in her comment to my "Inspire Me Sunday" post a few days back. Unfortunately, my library is the worst library in the world and they carried none of the books I was looking for. It seems if you're a member of The Juicy Buns crowd you're good to go, with an unending collection of self-help books and Chick Lit murder mysteries. Or if you're the kind of guy who never moved out of his parent's basement and lives for Star Trek conventions, the Columbine Library has a vast collection of science fiction and fantasy books, but nothing that interested me. I had to dig to find a copy of Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation and Dan Savage's, The Commitment.

After getting my books I took Duncan for a walk around the lake, which is immediately adjacent to the library. It was a lovely evening and I'd never been there after dark. The recent cold has killed off most of the bugs, but the night was warm and smelled wonderful, like lake and Autumn and rich dark earth. It was past the feeding hour so we missed out on the wet slaps of the fish breaking the surface for a succulent fly, and most of the people had vanished inside for dinner or the Rockies game. The lake was mostly ours. And it seemed that even the traffic on Bowles was quieter than usual. Duncan chased two bunnies, although I had to point both of them out to him first. We even stopped by Hero's Pets to say hello to Chelsea and her mother, who dote on my red-headed boy and give him plenty of treats and affection. It's nice to feel part of a neighborhood, a place that rejuvenates with its familiar faces and comfortable nooks. I feel more at home here since I left Stapleton.

They say it's going to be nice for the rest of the week. Here's to hoping they're right. We need more of these quiet walks while the warmth lasts and the colors still adorn the trees.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Good Stick

As every smart dog knows, the best thing in the world is a stick, a good thick one, about a foot long with some heft to it, one that can be thrown far and makes a nice solid sound when it hits the ground. Nothing with leaves and sharp points, of course. No, the best sticks are naked and smooth as bone, with a hearty earthy tone, a brown suede melting into an elephant-ear gray. Twigs will do in a pinch, sure, but nothing is as grand as a stick accidentally stumbled upon in the course of a walk. It's got to be the kind of stick that begs to be thrown, needs to gnawed upon–with maybe a small knot or two thrown in, just to really work the jaw. It has enough give to crunch between the teeth with a nice brittle snap but is sturdy enough to bounce without breaking when it crashes back to earth. A stick like that is why dogs–real dogs– evolved in the first place. Without them we'd be stuck with showy little rat-like things that yip and sit on our laps. A dog like that is practically a hamster and hamsters chew on cedar chips, not sticks.

Of course there comes a point in every dog's life when not even a stick is good enough. When that happens there's only one place left to go–up. And what's above a stick?


Why, the whole damn branch, of course.

Monday, October 22, 2007

After the Snow

As expected, our snow didn't last. Except on rare occasions, it rarely does here in Denver. Most of it was gone by this morning. However, as Duncan and I took our walk earlier this evening, some remnants still remained. Across the street at the park someone had built an elaborate series of snow forts which Duncan and I were able to crawl through. Despite its sagging foundations and breached walls, there was enough smooth snow left at its base that he was able to do his favorite thing, which is roll around in it and snort it up. By the time he was done he was covered in leaves, thoroughly wet and tiny balls of ice had collected near his ears and in the long hair at his tail. Satisfied with himself he turned his attention back to the fort and claimed it as his own, and in true dog fashion, rather than mark it with a flag, he simply chose a nice solid corner and lifted his leg.

On the way back home we stopped by the snowman that someone had put up at the height of Sunday's storm. When we walked by yesterday, he froze when he caught sight of it with its bulbous eyes made of the two halves of an old, nearly green potato and the thin, orange point of a baby carrot that had been slapped on in place of a nose. It was only with great coaxing that I got him to approach it but once I did, I couldn't tear him away. It was hardly taller than him but he circled it slowly, cautiously sniffing all around it, hesitant to get too close. Every now and then he'd pause and look up at me, cocking his head in that quizzical manner of his, as if to ask what such a small child was doing left unattended out in the cold. Today he was much more confident around the thing, but then it was even smaller than it had been yesterday. The potatoes had fallen off its face and I think a squirrel had probably taken care of the nose. It looked more like snow poop than anything else, which probably accounts for Duncan's nonchalance at attending to the rest of his business, practically on top of it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

First Snow

It started early and suddenly, which is, I think, the best way to start. Duncan, in the window watching a squirrel slink along the edge of the fence from one tree to the next, noticed it first. My rooibos had barely started to steep in my purple mug. From the kitchen the kettle was still whining the last of its whistle and the light outside hadn't turned quite whole. There was something hollow about the morning and the air was still and quiet.

And then the sky broke and spilled beans of bone onto the tips of the tallest blades of grass, caught on the red leaves and hung in the air like meandering moth dreams.

Duncan is never happier than in the snow, except perhaps when he's sprawled on a lush greenery in the sunshine, or when he turns his face into the wind and rain and tastes the memories of Spring, or when he plays with the sound and drum-music of leaves crushing under his padded feet. I could not deny him so we went out into it, me still in pajamas and a sweatshirt, the hood pulled over my head. He sniffed tentatively and then something kicked in, some scent which triggered a memory he'd misplaced in the daze of Summer, and he ran and ran, circles around me and figure-eights between where I stood and the tree which guards our patio. He never lifted his nose as he went, an addict snorting the season and dancing in the high it brought.

His joy at all I take for granted is glorious.


The snow hides nothing,
keeps no secrets, will not lie;
Time written on bone.
-First Snow-

Inspire Me Sunday

Last night after fumbling through the channels and finally settling on my latest Netflix arrival, Extras, I decided I needed something to read. I've recently finished Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris and The Making of the African Queen, by Katharine Hepburn and wanted something new, something to inspire me. I thumbed through several books in my collection, most of which I've read and remembered, and some I didn't remember but must've read because of the copious notes I left behind in the margins. Nothing got my attention and as Duncan watched me go through volume after volume, he cocked his head when I said, "I need something to inspire me."

And so, to you, dear reader, I ask, what have you read that opened your eyes, struck you as beautiful and touched your heart? I have recently acquired my first library card in 12 years, and am looking for something new, something old, something powerful, something beautiful. Send me poetry, prose and essays. I want a list of things that you'd like to share, things that will carry me through the coming winter and warm me through and through.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mask

There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots
may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on
the feelings, as now in October.
(Nathaniel Hawthorne)

The last of Summer's days and not a moment of it to be wasted. Thankfully Duncan woke me early, and while he dined on venison and lamb I sipped a cup of tea and watched the cats play in the sunlight streaming onto the floor at the foot of my desk. The plants, after our long, dark and northward-facing year at The Breakers, have erupted in greenery. My avocado tree had doubled in width and the canopy of leaves and sprouts at its top remind me of a jester's hat. The rubber plant in the front room, after years of looking like a wrestler, short and squat, wide but sturdy, has hit a growth spurt that I marvel at nearly every day. Where only three months ago my spider plant resembled a Daddy Long Legs, it now looks–if not quite like a tarantula– wolf-ish at the least. This office where I keep my computer and books has blossomed with greenery even as the world on the other side of the glass has oranged and browned.

Once tea and breakfast were taken care of, I dressed in shorts and a t-shirt and Duncan and I left for the park. We skirted its edge, cut across the library lawn and made for the lake. The weekend and morning lake-goers seem a much more diverse and casual bunch than those that ring its shore in the evenings after work. Were it not for the color of the leaves, it would've seemed a perfect June morning with close blue skies and sun warming my face and neck. We found one perfect tree made of honey and gold and light and sat under it for quite a while, enjoying the smell of Autumn and the dream of Summer. It was the best of both worlds. Neither of us wanted to go inside so once we circuited the lake we made for The Glen, where Autumn has definitely taken its toll: the trees look abused in their nakedness, their bone-branches jutting and pale, their clothing ripped and forgotten, litter on the ground at their feet. Duncan made the most of it, though. He seems to love the sound of the leaves under his feet almost as much as he loves it when I scoop them into my hands and rain them down around his head. He jumped and ran and spun in the air as if knowing that tomorrow brings us wet and cold and wind...and maybe something more. Not that he'll mind; he loves all the seasons equally.

October is a chameleon, playing us with promises of sunshine one minute, punishing us with cold and damp the next. I know better than to trust her. There is green before our eyes, and magnificent light from above and below but just behind it and rushing all around it, just out of reach are drops of gold and the harvest breath of the wind. Look carefully and you'll see it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Particulars

My mentor in college, Tim Muskat––a brilliant man whose company and inspiration I miss––often reminded those of us who he not only called students, but friends, that it is important to keep a list of particulars. The saying goes that the devil is in the details, but I beg to differ; it's God––if there is one––who has taken up residency in the minutiae of our lives. Everything is beautiful and magnificence can be found in the smallest of places.

And so begins my list of particulars.

Amid the browning and drying leaves which people are so anxious to clear away or stuff into noxious jack-o-lantern-shaped garbage bags, I spied a single, glorious red leaf, a deep red, as if it had lived all its green and treetop-bound days just to turn this shade and find a soft resting place on the bones of its brethren down below.


The beautiful, lavender-scented letter I received today from my friend David, who writes from the Shire-like Midwest. It ended with the line, "The message is not so cryptic, after all, if only one endeavors to learn the language."

The ladybug which landed on my wrist this afternoon, took its time crawling across my knuckle, looked up at me and flew away.

The way Duncan pops the squeaker in his Buddy when he's trying to get my attention.

The scent of grilling burgers on a patio as you walk by just as the sun has set and the sky is turning indigo.

The sound of ice rattling in the freezer ice-maker as it drops into the bucket.

My sister's catch-phrase: "Right on." She doesn't know it, but her indiscriminate use of it is indicative of her laid-back, "to each his own" attitude. She's far less judgmental than she gives herself credit for.

The long, mottled white cloud that cut across the horizon last night on my walk with Duncan. The sky above it was heavy and blue, but the sky below it was pink and yellow and the mountains under that were nothing but sharp black silhouettes. That single cloud stretched for miles and appeared as though someone had torn the edge of the edge and pasted two different pictures together, dark sandwiching the light.

The sound of snow falling late at night.

Shelves full of books, some of the pages dog-eared to mark favorite passages.

The soft weight of a cat curling on the small of your back while you sleep.

Tetherball

"Feelin' Good" by Nina Simone


Standing watch while your bread toasts, waiting for that moment when it springs up and you can spread the peanut butter so that it gets warm and melts.

Japanese hanging lanterns

The final line of The Great Gatsby: "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further... and one fine morning– So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back carelessly into the past."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Homeland Security

Yesterday, shortly after arriving at work, I somehow managed to convince myself that I'd left the front burner on and that the tea kettle was slowly melting, would catch fire and Ken I would be summoned home to find a smoldering pile of ash and cinder, and also a quite few angry-looking neighbors.

I do this; I turn insanely obsessive-compulsive for a few weeks every couple of years. In Chicago I'd drive halfway to work, decide I'd left the coffeepot or the iron on, or that the windows were open and someone would break into the house, before I consciously knew what I was doing, I'd flip a U-turn and drive 30 minutes back home only to discover the coffeepot and iron off and our two golden retrievers, Ashley and Nikki, sitting up in the closed windows watching me and loving me despite my obvious mental illness. I have no idea if other people do this (please fess up if so!), and would love to know that I'm not too far outside the realm of normal mania.

Amber was in the middle of telling an endless and boring story about several other people we work with when I thought, I don't remember turning the kettle off. On and on she went, who said what to whom and what she thought about the whole situation. I bet the burner is red and smoking even as I sit and listen to this inane story, I told myself. I know my eyes kind of glazed over and Amber's voice turned into the buzzing of a nasty florescent bulb. I bet the kettle is made with lead paint. I bet it comes from China. The cats are running wild, trying to dodge the toxic fumes. Those damn Chinese are at it again, trying to kill our pets. Amberamberamber in the background. She's going to Hawaii for two weeks just as my corner of the world is turning cold and brown. I don't have to listen to her. In five days she'll be sitting on a beach surrounded by palm trees and surf boards. Screw her! Duncan is probably scratching at the door, whimpering for help, unable to understand why his papa would allow this to happen to him, allow the Chinese-lead-based-tea-kettle industry to tear our family apart. Something must be done.

"I'm sorry," I cut Amber off and stand up. "I'm pretty sure I turned my stove off but I need to check. I'm going home. It's insanely OCD, I know, but I'll make myself sick if I don't go now."

Amber has seen me sick, has seen me manic and hopped up on Wellbutrin, and she's my friend, which means she knows better than to question me when I get like this. "Okay, go home," she says, and instantly her voice ceases to sound like the voicees of grown-up in Charlie Brown cartoons.

And then I'm off, driving the eight minutes it takes to get home. I imagine coming across the burning mass of my building, firetrucks and onlookers gathered around, their shapes coming and going amid the dark smoke. Briefly I envision myself leaping selflessly into the flames to rescue our chillins, as we call them, our three cats and Duncan. Would The Post cover the story? What about The Rocky Mountain News? Will there be an outpouring of support for me in my loss and grief? Will Oprah ask me on?

Thankfully the building is exactly as I left it 45 minutes earlier, quiet and almost stately looking with the sun shining on the upper floors. The grass is wet and the sky is high and blue and it's a perfect Autumn morning in every way. A Hollywood set designer could not have placed the leaves more perfectly on the trees and at the base of their trunks. Someone jogs by, and then a woman with her baby stroller pushes past.

Ah, life is good, I almost think, and then, Maybe the Chinese have devised a way to make these lead-ridden tea kettles simmer a long time before they burst into flame and spray kettle shrapnel and cinders of chamomile tea leaves every which way. I better check.

So I unlock the door and step inside. The cats are in conference in the middle of the living room looking guilty and shocked to see me as if they've been planning an attack. Pip scampers away, leaving Winnie and Olive to cover. Winnie turns her back and begins grooming her paws nonchalantly. Olive flashes her best baby eyes at me as I move inside toward the kitchen.

Duncan does not appear, which is most unusual.

The first thing I do is check the burner. It's off. The kettle is still warm from my Egyptian Licorice tea so I move it to the back burner, scan all the knobs and tell myself they're all off. Satisfied, I inspect the coffeepot. The kitchen is all clear. I have successfully averted another attack by the Chinese.

But still no Dunc.

I find him in the bedroom, his Buddy tucked under his chin, resting peacefully on my pillows, eyes closed and smiling. He doesn't move. I don't know if he even really knows I was there.
How's that for Homeland Security?!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Happy Birthday

My mother is the grandmother she always wanted to be. Although I don't have children for her to dote on, she's done a number on Winnie and Pip, Olive and finally Duncan. As a good grandma I don't think she'd ever pick favorites, but I imagine she's particularly fond of Dunc. It's her job to spoil him as only a grandmother can, and that means sneaking him treats and allowing him to get away with all sorts of things he can't get away with when his papa and dad are around. Ken and I had worked hard at training him to stay off the counter and not beg for food, and Duncan did a pretty good job of it until his first Christmas when my mother couldn't help but give him a heaping bowl of turkey and stuffing with gravy and all sorts of other goodies. From that moment on he's been a handful. Although he won't take food off your plate while you eat, he will stare you down and make it extremely uncomfortable for you to finish a meal. In fact, I don't think I've eaten a single dinner in the past three years without telling him to stop staring at me.

Grandma is already looking forward to Christmas when we drive home to Idaho and she gets to indulge him again.



Today is her birthday and although he's not able to be there with her, he did want to share his Buddy.

Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sports Night Revisited: Kickball!

Kickball! Now there's a sport I can get on board with!

For the last three nights the baseball fields at the park have been taken over by a much merrier band of athletes who play Kickball. At first I couldn't quite believe it so Duncan and I stopped and watched. I looked around to see if perhaps someone was filming something, if maybe I was part of an elaborate prank, but it turned out to be the real thing. I hadn't thought of kickball since the sixth grade and didn't even know people actually played it.

The fields at Clement Park have been overrun with baseball players since before we moved in July and that part of me that was traumatized by sports decades ago always appears and feels small and inadequate whenever we walk past the quad of baseball diamonds. The players are exactly as I remember them from high school, jockish, brutish, sometimes older and a little wider around the middle and most unappealing in their ridiculous baseball pants, but others–the young ones–look as if they've stepped right out of my worst PE flashbacks, circa 1986.

But not the kickballers! They're wonderful! Saturday night two different games were going on in the same baseball diamond and Duncan and I had to stop and watch them. Duncan normally doesn't like to stand too long in one place, unless it's to choose the location on which he wants to do his business, and even then he doesn't really stand so much as turn in slow circles, nose to the ground looking for that single, perfect 4" X 4" spot in all the world that's good enough. But even Duncan seemed entranced by the games going on. Or maybe it was just the big red, rubber balls bouncy willy-nilly before his eyes. I myself couldn't look away from the players, who were tall and short, fat and skinny, young and old, jock-types and nerd types. It was the true American Melting Pot, and even better was the fact that they all wore goofy hats and costumes–enormous yellow afro wigs and hats with wings and horns, cowboy hats, hockey masks, clown hats, cat-in-the-hat hats, capes and boots. It was like a league of bizarre super heroes at a company picnic. And they all cheered for each other, even the opposing team. It was brilliant and even though it probably won't happen, I really want to sign up next year. I'd ask if Duncan could join too, but I imagine they might have rules about slobbering on the ball, or running away with it and not coming back.

We'll have to see.

One More Thing

I want to say a big THANK YOU to my friend Kelly who designed my new banner. She took an ordinary picture and turned it into something that looks better than I could've imagined. One of my oldest friends, Kelly works as a graphic designer in Eugene, Oregon and is busy setting up her own business. You can visit her at Wee Tree Creations or check out her blog, Property of Kelly. I think each and every one of you should visit, order one of her cards and send it to me to let me know you like the new banner.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wet Dog Weekend and Beyond

It was a gray, wet weekend and both Duncan and I are grateful it's passed, Duncan because once again he gets nice long walks through the park, rolls on the grass and the exhilaration of hunting squirrels, and me, because as much as I like looking at the rain and walking through it, and whistling Autumny songs into the wind, I hate damp shoes and socks. My wonderful dog tromps through all sorts of muck at the park (especially after they started draining the lake and flooding the back side near the pavilion) and doesn't think twice about it. My pant cuffs get a little wet and I can't get comfortable for hours. Rain in my face and hair, even down my shirt is fine; it's wet shoes I can't stand. Duncan comes home wet and he couldn't be happier. Being wet means being in need of extra love, and that means jumping on the couch to cuddle and offering to help fold laundry fresh from the drier and rolling across clean floors, which is fine because as Ambrose Bierce says, "The most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog." But now that Autumn is finally accepting my challenge and giving us a run for our money, I've started worrying about wet shoes and snow drifts and ice on Bowles. I worry about how dark it's getting and Duncan being disappointed in me for not taking him out in the sunshine and throwing the ball across the green fields. But perhaps I worry too much. Duncan isn't thinking about tomorrow or the day after that. He's thinking about the cool air and grass we played in tonight, about the squirrel we treed, which cursed at us above the roar of traffic on the street. He's thinking about the Black Forest Venison and Lamb he had for dinner and his Buddy, the stuffed opossum who's face and tail he's chewed off. He's thinking about chasing Pip around the apartment later and maybe seeing if he can talk me into sharing a bite of the banana bread I baked yesterday. I should follow his example and stop worrying about the wet. It's inevitable and there's nothing as fruitless as worrying about that. I'll worry about running out of banana bread instead.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Times Like This

There is something about Sunday, especially rainy Sunday mornings, before the sun has risen and the traffic has picked up, when all the world is quiet and waiting. These are my favorite times when the light is low and gray and the oranges and golds on the trees stand out in rich relief against the matted yellowing grass and darkness of the clouds, when the street is empty and water runs without direction across it, undisturbed and without the constraint of the gutters. Were it not for the gray and the quiet and the soft calls of the geese somewhere above the low clouds, their songs like those of whales, echoing up and fading into some great depth or height, this morning would've been like any other, an ordinary morning with nothing to remember it by. At times like this it would be easy to pretend I was the only person awake to see it, that this moment was created just for me. Or perhaps I was merely part of someone else's moment, someone standing in their window with a cup of tea or coffee warming their hands as they watched the man in his rain slicker out for an early morning walk with his dog through the mists in the park, through the canvas of Autumn and the rain and leaves falling all around them.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gray Day

It was a stay inside sort of day. A vacuum and dust and scrub the floors day. A rainy day with Miles Davis playing in the background while I waited for my tea to steep. It was a gray day, and not even all the exuberance of the football games going on across the street could convince me otherwise. It was not a Duncan Day. I stayed in my pajamas until almost 2:30 and wasn't the least bit bothered by it. After the apartment was clean, the curtains hung and the cookies made, Ken left for work and Duncan and I stepped outside only briefly to visit with Melissa and Kona who happened upon our backyard by accident. The dogs jump and spun and covered each other is slobber the way only old friends can while Melissa and I made awkward conversation.

"So, this is where you live," she mused.

"Yep. This is it," I said, half gesturing at my patio. I mean, what else was there to say about it. It was Duncan's one big moment all day.

From avoiding the vacuum to hiding under the bed during the thunder and lightning storms he was destined to be miserable all day. He didn't even get a decent walk until late, between rain showers. Perhaps tomorrow we'll make it up to him.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Strategy

"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog."
(Edward Hoagland)

There's no reasoning with a dog. And once you make a promise to him, you should stick to it. He'll love you either way, but if you break your promise and can sleep through the night, you're a rotten person and shouldn't be allowed to sleep again until you've it made right.

As usual I came home exhausted. It's been a tough two days for me, both personally and professionally, and when that happens all I want to do–if for only an hour–is sleep. Normally I don't allow myself the luxury until after Duncan has had his walk. But tonight my arms felt too long, my feet too heavy and my back slightly broken. It was all I could do to put him on the leash, grab his stick and walk him down to The Glen for a few minutes of potty and playtime.

He knew something was up when we walked right past the gate onto Bowles and crossed the parking lot to our favorite little nook. He actually stopped and looked up at me, his eyebrows raised in that way of his that says he doubts me but is willing to give me a chance to explain myself. This from a dog.

"Dunc," I started, pulling on the leash to get him out of the middle of the road. "Papa is tired. Let's just play here for a while and then we'll go for a walk later, when it's dark the park is all ours." He agreed, begrudgingly, but didn't make it easy on me. We walked down under the trees into the bowl and in one movement I took him off-leash, tossed the stick and ambled up the hill to sit in the spot that overlooks the golf course, the other apartments and the road. Duncan chased after the stick but wouldn't bring it back to me. Instead he plopped himself down twenty yards away and chewed happily on the stick, his eyes never leaving me, insisting that I come to him. You can't play fetch unless you have something to throw so I went to him, retrieved the stick and tossed it again. He merrily sprinted down the hill and back up again, but this time he threw himself down in the spot I'd previously occupied, twenty yards away. Back and forth we went, my dog mocking me and forcing me to chase him and play to his whims rather than the other way around.

After thirty minutes of this we returned home with the promise that we'd go out later and even though I was able to steal an hour of shut-eye, Duncan made his displeasure known; he crawled under the bed and sighed loudly over and over. When the sighing didn't force me up and back outside he resorted to soft little, feathery whines, and then frustrated growls of boredom. When I finally got up and poured myself a vodka and passion fruit juice he forced the issue again by setting up camp in front of the door and stared at his leash. And that's where he stayed for nearly ten minutes, my pouting child, staring at his leash.

When I finally took him out he pranced and trotted victoriously but not quite boastful. He did not rub my defeat in my face. That's what unconditional love really means. I could not reason with him so he reasoned with me, in his own dog-like fashion.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Roll

Sometimes, when your afternoon has turned sour, when the pills you took just to keep yourself sane kick in and make you want to pass out, the best thing for you is not the weepy letter or phone call to a friend, not the bag of chips sitting atop the fridge, or even the re-run of your one guilty pleasure, Project Runway. As every dog knows, sometimes the best thing is to wait until that perfect moment when the sun has set and the sky hasn't decided what color it wants to be, when the temperature drop five degrees as quickly as a zipper, and simply throw yourself on a nice cool patch of grass and roll around in it. Leaves and twigs and half crushed water bottles be damned. Sometimes the best cure-all is a nice roll. It's that simple.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Defending the Glen

After our walk this afternoon–a rather uneventful trip through the park, up Rebel Hill to the memorial and back home–we stopped by Duncan's favorite spot, The Glen. Everything looked the same to me–the curling brown leaves that littered the bottom of the natural bowl in the earth, the bone-white limbs and branches of the Aspens, even the page of newspaper that had blown through and gotten caught in the bars of the gate was still there. But Duncan knew things were different. He had no interest in his tennis ball, dropping it from his mouth right where I'd tossed it. Almost immediately he began making the rounds, scouring the perimeter with his nose, stopping every few feet to sniff, sometimes veering wildly off course as if following an invisible trail, only to retrace his steps and start over. After several minutes of investigating every tree and shrub and post, he began marking, which seemed tedious work, all that squatting and peeing, leg-lifting and peeing, crouching and peeing. When he was finally satisfied he returned to where I sat on the hillside near the spot where he'd accidentally taught himself to fly a few weeks back. He rolled over on his back and let me scratch his belly, but I'd hardly began when a sleek black shape appeared in my peripheral vision, charging down one side of the depression and up the other straight at us. She was a lean lab mix, quite thin and long. I jumped up to grab Duncan, but he met her dead on, leaping into the air, spinning Matrix-style around her and catching her neck under his chin. They huffed and crashed into the leaves and began rolling wildly down the slope. I looked up to see a young woman darting toward me through the trees, a wide smile on her face. "She's okay," she said. "She's just young." I'd frozen on the spot. thinking of the stories I'd heard of dogs mauling other dogs while out on innocent afternoon walks with their owners. It had been on my mind a lot and I'd wondered whether Littleton's unenforced leash laws needed to be addressed– after all, only twenty minutes earlier at the park we'd been charged by a rather large German Shepherd whose owner finally appeared and stopped the beast just as he loomed right over us. I was relieved to see that Duncan and Kona, the newcomer, were not fighting, but had become instant friends instead. His best friend at Stapleton is Maddie, and I wondered for a moment if he thought this narrower and lighter version was his old pal. Melissa, as she introduced herself explained that they'd just moved in and that Kona loved our spot and had become pals with the few other dogs she'd met there. No sooner had she said that than two other racing shapes appeared, a smaller Golden who looked exactly as Duncan did two years ago, color and all, and a matted, yip-yip dog, a "Malty-Poo," Leanne and Deke, her owners described her breed when they appeared. Melissa and I left the dogs to wrestle and romp while we did what I imagine parents do when they meet the parents of their child's friend for the first time. We quickly introduced our dogs (theirs were Sadie and Cinnia) but it was a while before we thought to introduce ourselves. We made small talk for a bit and then just sat and watched the slobbering, leaf-encrusted parade of dogs, Cinnia always at the rear, yapping and snapping at tails and ankles as little dogs are wont to do.

Finally, covered in saliva and exhausted, Duncan appeared at my side, nudged the hand I was holding the leash in, and announced that it was time to leave. His ears and the top of his head were wet and matted, and a thick string of someone's slobber streaked across the top of his head. He looked beat so I hooked him up, waved good-bye to the others and we took our leave. No sooner were we in the door than my tireless dog collapsed in a heap and slept. And I got to sit and do nothing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Journey

The summer after my second year at Lake Forest, I asked one of my friends, Ned Black, if he wanted to drive home with me. Ned, who was from St. Louis and had never been west of Kansas City, Missouri, was eager to make the trip. I'd provide the gas and pay for our accommodations, and he in turn, would entertain me for the long hours from Chicago's wealthy northern suburbs to southeastern Idaho. We planned the trip for weeks, and when the day finally came, we set off in Cleo, my red, '89 Nissan Sentra. As anxious as I was to put Chicago behind me and return to my familiar desert and mountainous part of the world for three months, I quickly realized that the trip itself could be more enjoyable than the arrival at our destination. Because Ned had never seen a real live mountain I decided we'd take the most scenic route afforded us, traveling across weary Wisconsin and monotonous Minnesota at night, avoiding the unending flatness and methodical scenery of the upper Midwest. There was no way around eastern South Dakota, so we made the most of it, stopping at every giant prairie dog statue and ridiculous tourist trap that populate these vast and empty states. We smoked more marijuana than I care to recount and felt the kind of joy only people in road trip movies seem to experience. We spent an entire day in the Black Hills, visiting Rushmore, Crazy Horse, pulling over to see if we could tap into the power of the universe the Sioux claimed resided there. We spent six hours laying on top of boulders at the base of Devil's Tower (my favorite place in the entire world) listening to the enormous gears inside the earth slowly pushing that pillar of rock up through the surface and out into blue, pine-scented Wyoming sunshine. It took us two days to navigate Jackson Hole, the Tetons and the mind-boggling Teton Mystery baked out of our minds. I drove through Yellowstone, stopping every half a mile to point out buffalo, eagles, moose and elk. But then, on day five I realized I had nothing left to show Ned and turned Cleo's nose toward Pocatello. We pulled into the driveway just after the sun had set, and even though Ned still had three days until he flew home, we both knew the vacation was over. The journey, not the destination, had been the adventure.For the next two days we lounged around, ate junk food and hardly spoke; we spent twelve hours watching a Soap marathon on Comedy Central, and it was with some relief that I finally drove Ned to Salt Lake City, put him on his plane and saw him off.

My walks with Duncan are nothing in comparison to the wild road trips of my youth, but he reminds me every day that it's the journey, not the destination, that matters. This afternoon we walked down Leawood to the elementary school. I was tired and gassy and didn't feel much like being dragged behind a dog. I imagined a nice leisurely stroll that would find us back home before the sun set. Duncan, however, felt compelled to sniff every shrub, every mailbox, every clump of lavender growing at the edge of every driveway. He didn't have to mark his territory but he certainly wanted to explore the option, regardless of how long it took. On the playground at the school he had to inspect the swings and slide, and took a keen interest in the tetherball pole. Regardless of my desire to get home, Duncan was enjoying the place between where we left and where we'd wind up.
It's a good thing to remember, to enjoy the scenery and adventure as you go. Another lesson from my dog.


Monday, October 8, 2007

Cast of Characters

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it; you walk your dog a lot. But who else is out there on the trail at the lake?

First there are The Fishers, those people who settle on the shore of the lake with their poles in hopes of catching one of the seeming hundreds of fish which leap from the surface every night at dusk. I never quite see them, but as we walk the trail I might catch a flash of silver, or a dark body cutting the water. Often times I hear the splash and turn only to the see the ripples fanning out in widening circles. They are elusive, these fish, but The Fishers believe they can net one. What they'd do with it once they caught it, I can't say. Most of them seem ill-prepared. Tonight, the role of The Fishers was played by a pudgy woman and her daughter, who wore too-tight jeans. They'd spread a veritable gourmet buffet feast out before them, and although they had the poles and a small tackle box, they lacked an actual net or anything that looked like something in which they could carry one. The daughter was disgusted at having to worm her hook, and her mother, too busy slicing pieces of some sort of focaccia sandwich, didn't seem interested enough to help out. They weren't the only ones, of course, but the others were mostly elderly men over from the retirement community on the south-western shore, all of whom looked deadly serious in their task, and could easily have been confused with one another.

Then there are the Juicy Buns, those women who wear the low-waisted velour warm-up pants with "cute" sayings stenciled across the cheeks: Juicy Buns, Rude Girl, Princess. These are the girls who are too young to have husbands and children, but are frantically searching for the perfect man to ignore and resent, someone to make their lives incomplete. They tend to travel in pairs, and if you see one, chances are the other is nothing to look at–the girl they keep to make themselves look prettier, or juicier, as the case may be. Despite their attempt at looking seductive, they come across as simply needy, and in good need of a self-esteem tune-up.

Quite often, but not always, we see The Horn Dogs, the returned Mormon missionaries who are out with their dates, walking the trail, always angling for the perfect view to share with the girls whom they're wooing. Rather than the normal mating dance rituals of booze and loud music, these young men ply their women with ice cream cones from the nearby shop and scenic views and questions like, "This is pretty right? Isn't this pretty?" They're clean-cut and fast approaching an age which, in their church, invites unwanted questions as to why they don't yet have wives. If there's a bench overlooking the sunset they'll practically froth at the mouth in an attempt to get their girls into it to share a quiet, romantic moment.

What group wouldn't be complete without The Jocks? Johnson Reservoir, as the lake is officially known, is bursting at the seams with countless runners, speed walkers (made up primarily of middle-aged women with low baseball caps and sunglasses), bicyclists and roller-bladers. They tend to do several laps around the lake to each one of ours, and although they say nothing, except an occasional, "On your left," they can be heard huffing up behind you, like some rut-crazy elk. My favorite Jock is the roller-blading priest. At least I think he's a priest. He's very tall, always wears a dark shirt with a white collar and either nylon shorts or warm-ups. The thing about him is his iPod, which he sings along with as if no one else can hear him. We see him nearly every day and it seems his collection is made up almost entirely of 80's power ballads, made popular by the likes of Night Ranger and REO Speedwagon.

Duncan and I belong to a class known as The Big Dogs. We're the ones with the big dogs, the labs and retrievers, the shepherds and boxers. There are a good number of terriers, bijon frise, maltese and chihuahuas, but these are usually owned by The Juicy Buns and occasionally tolerated by The Horn Dogs, who'll put up with anything just to get a wife (read: sex). The Doggers are those of us who say things like, "Leave it," all the time. It tends to take us longer to circumnavigate the lake as our pets stop every couple of feet to sniff or mark, or brush noses with other dogs. We make people like The Jocks nervous with our long leashes and our dogs desires to investigate both sides of the trail. We are the only group with our own signs, which I think sets us above the rest.

Regardless, we all enjoy the lake, and although we may not always greet one another, we do tend to smile or nod our heads, a shared silent language.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Indian Summer

The world has done what it likes to do once we find comfort and joy in it–change. This morning it was sunny and bright as I sat in my office, the window open, the blinds drawn, Duncan and the cats following rays of sunshine as they crept slowly across the floor. And then, shortly after Duncan and I returned from our afternoon walk, the skies were overrun with clouds and the rain began to fall, not in sheets, but something stronger than a heavy mist but lighter than a drizzle. By four o'clock it seemed seven and seven seemed midnight. Although the rain has let up, the wind has not and I fear we've not too many leafy days left. The park view out my window will turn from colorful and scenic to barren and desolate. I'm not a fan of Ol' Dame Winter and think her quite the bitch. I could stay in this prolonged Indian Summer forever.

This morning Duncan and I had fun marching through the drainage trough that runs directly behind the apartment, stomping on the leaves and kicking them up. He particularly likes this because he gets to jump and leap and bound and I like it because I try to imagine what he's thinking as the leaves rain down around his face and snapping jaws. Watching my dog is like watching a child discover their hands, or bringing a dear friend to your hometown and seeing it all again, brand new through their eyes. At the same time Duncan must grow tired of my wonder at his wonder. He seemed impatient when I stop mid-walk to snap some photos to add to the most documented Autumn of my life. This afternoon as we stood between the yellowing rows of trees on the island in the middle of Bowles he could hardly sit still while I marveled at the light breaking through the canopy of gold and orange above our heads. I think he knew the rain was coming, that he wouldn't be allowed to sit with me on the couch, that I'd keep him from cuddling on the bed because of his wet dog smell. He was smart enough to spare himself an ire born of my silly desire to stop and gape at the world simply being the world.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Night Walk

Autumn is coming and it's coming fast.

It's been a wonderful week in Denver. The leaves have not fully changed and are still hanging onto the branches, while those that have fallen make wonderful music as they crunch under our feet.

Today was sunny and bright and the air seemed to glow with Autumn. But it was windy and only got more so as the day progressed. By the time we went for our night walk at Clement Park, the clouds had appeared over the Front Range and were moving rapidly eastward. But it was still gorgeous. The sky was vast and brilliant and the stars were out. The wind smelled clean and cool and Duncan and I both stopped several times to tilt our faces into it, close our eyes and imagine we were flying.

I did something I said I wouldn't do. I wore my ear buds and listened to my iPod. I've added more music to my Autumn playlist. If you get a chance to hear them and take a walk among the leaves, I hope you can. They're wonderful.

"Autumn Leaves" (Miles Davis)
"Imagination" (Chet Baker)
"Flamenco Sketches"(Miles Davis)
"Love's Melody" (Django Reinhardt)
"Harvest Moon" (Cassandra Wilson)
"Coffaro's Theme" (Bill Frisell, Ron Miles, Curtis Fowlkes, Eyvind Kang)
"In a Sentimental Mood" (Duke Ellington & John Coltrane)
"Autumn in New York" (Billie Holiday)
"Sliding Down" (Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, Mike Marshall)
"Slumber, My Darling" (Edgar Meyer, Yo-Yo Ma, Mark O'Connor)
"Anthem" (Gabriel Yared)
"You Will Be My Ain True Love" (Alison Krauss)
"After the Rain" (John Coltrane)

Post Script: Shout Outs

I'd like to take just a minute to mention a couple of things I've discovered since starting this blog. The first is Red Dog Diary, another blog which chronicles the story of Raja, a Golden Retriever who was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 8. Red Dog is the story of his struggle as well as a terrific resource for information about osteosarcoma. Please pay them a visit and watch the trailer for the dogumentary they've been working on.

If he could talk (and believe me, you'll never catch me writing as if he does), Duncan would also want me to mention our latest find, Hero's Pets. Yesterday on our lake walk and shortly after our Bunny Hunt we saw a sign just off the trail that invited us to come on in, so we did. The minute we stepped inside we knew we'd found our new favorite place. In addition to having an incredible selection of organic and eco-friendly foods and treats, the staff were incredibly polite and fun to be around. They even gave Duncan an enormous bag of free samples to take home. This morning he had Timberwolf Organics Black Forest Venison & Lamb. Check out the list of ingredients: venison, rice, lam, salmon, flaxseed, spinach, celery, parsley, blueberries, pears, cinnamon bark, anise seed, cranberries, sunflower seeds, garlic and the list goes on and on. Damn him, he's eating better than us! Duncan has never been one to mow down his food–he eats like a bird–but this morning he polished it off pretty fast and licked the bowl for five minutes. Tonight I think we'll try the Dakota Bison. Hero's has an interesting variety of events coming up (check out the pet communicator!) and a bunch of cool information. We'll definitely be going back!