Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One Last Thing

And so the sun has set on our last walk on the last day of the year, a beautiful day, sunny and blue with a warm southerly wind washing over us. As the sun settled behind the mountains and the crescent moon rose over the park, a single star standing at her side, Duncan and I stepped outside together to marvel at the sight and reflect not only on the miles we have traveled together this year, but the miles still ahead of us and all the new people, pups and adventures awaiting our discovery. Thank you for joining us and for promising to come along tomorrow and all the days after that.

May the new year bring you untold blessings and good fortune, a strong heart and the willingness to use it for the benefit of those less fortunate.

Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on,
with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. (Hal Borland)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bigger Than Himself

Somehow, despite my best efforts, I have raised a jock. Duncan is wildly athletic, something I have spent most of my life avoiding--except for that brief stint when I ran cross-country back in junior high and high school. Duncan, though, prefers running to walking, seems to love snow more than dry warm grass, enjoys steep hills more than wide flat places, and swims the lakes at Chatfield until I have to drag him out. He loves my mother very much (although it could be argued that he loves her fingers specifically, because they slip him turkey and gravy whenever my back is turned) but it's possible he loves her mountain even more. Despite the fifteen plus inches of snow which have fallen since we've been here, he's dragged me up the hill through the wide drifts, deep into the juniper where he snorts and sniffs out the deer, which, I believe, may have replaced rabbits as his favorite fascination. He does not care that the hair on his legs and chest get deeply matted with enormous snowballs or that ice lodges under his pads. He simply stops where he is, picks his feet clean with his tongue and teeth and moves ever upward. The snow has covered much of the sage, drifting up around it and making sheltered little igloos beneath where the bunnies can roost. Duncan insists on investigating each of them and leaving a nice little calling card once he's done. Nothing on that mountain is beneath his attention and no place is beyond his reach.


This morning we climbed the hill again and then once I was fully exhausted I dragged him back down and to the street, where we walked until we came upon the horse pasture halfway down the lane. Dunc has never seen a horse up close so I pulled him over, patting their big heads while he dug around in the snow at my knees oblivious to their presence. Finally one of the big ones leaned down and huffed at him, blowing big steam in his face. Duncan froze and looked up, right into those two wide brown eyes and promptly lost control of his legs. They gave out from under him and his rump went down hard in the snow. Perhaps he thought their legs were merely fence posts or the trunks of sapling, I don't know. I do know that he'd never looked at something quite so big which could also look back at him. After several moments of consideration his legs resumed operation and he scooted behind me, keeping my big blue George Costanza coat between the horses and himself. When I stepped sideways, he did the same, much as he does at the fountain in the park in the summer. It must have seemed an eternity that we stood there while I scratched between the ears of the three horses which ambled over to investigate us. Finally he jumped up on my legs, whimpered pitifully and dragged me away from the fence and back onto the road where he led me straight back to Grandma's couch. Which is where he's been ever since.

Sometimes it's good, even for a dog, to have an expanded world view.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from Duncan and Curt

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Portrait

(Photo by my sister, Casey. Isn't she talented?!)

Home for the Holidays

I can not conceive of any other place to spend Christmas than in Pocatello. As beautiful as Michigan Avenue is during the holidays, with the big FAO Schwartz window and all the lights on the trees and in the windows, or downtown Denver, with the Civic Center remade in every color imaginable, the capitol building glowing green and red, Pocatello is magical to me because it is so simple, as though George Bailey could run down any of our streets while Ralphie Parker gazes at his Red Rider carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle (with a compass in the stock) from one of the many display windows. The lamp posts that line Main Street and Arthur in downtown are still wrapped in garland and wreaths and the buildings look as though they were made especially for this time of year. People smile as they hurry along under the wide green awnings and I never feel quite as self-conscious whistling Christmas music here as I do elsewhere. The snow can render our narrow streets almost impossible to navigate with any speed and you can forget about parking, but I never feel the hustle and bustle of Christmas here like I do in other places. There is a serenity to Christmas in Pocatello that feeds me and makes me return year after year. Duncan and I have spent a great deal of time driving her streets and walking the road outside my mother's home admiring the lights and the silence, the soft jingle of bells that ring each time a door is opened and closed again, sitting in front of the fireplace in love with home more than ever before.

I suppose, though, that home is wherever my dog and I can sit together and enjoy the world, happy with the gifts we receive but also with those we give.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Another Idaho Sky

It happened again last night, as it does every time I return home to my mother's patch of mountain on the outskirts of Pocatello--the sky here took my breath away.

It's sad that I've grown so used to the orange-tinted halogen nights of Denver, with the low grumble of distant traffic masquerading as silence each time Duncan and I venture out to the park or climb the hill overlooking the lake. I spend ninety-five percent of the year thinking I know what quiet is, like last week when Ken and I stood on the patio at two in the morning and I marveled at the seeming stillness of the world simply because Bowles was empty and calm. And then I come home and am shaken to my core to discover I know nothing, that I've forgotten everything which must relearned before I drive away again.

We went out late last night for one last walk and a bathroom break for Roo, who has not had a Big Job since we arrived. The snow is very deep and comes just up to his chin. He loves it, of course, but there is no place to squat so we stepped down the drive and walked along the road nearly to the old highway. It snowed all day yesterday, thick, relentless sheets of the stuff, large, powdery, dry flakes which still have not turned heavy or wet. It is easy to walk through and gusts up around my ankles like a pile of loose feathers, but it clings and balls up tightly and is no easy task to wipe away from Duncan's shanks and belly. He is quite finicky and needs a nice smooth place, clear and dry with easy access, so we stuck to the road and the places where the plough moved through, pushing up frozen waves along its edges.

The sky had finally cleared and as we left the gate and turned south I looked up, right into the eyes of Orion, who was as clear as I remember but had somehow forgotten. I gasped and felt my knees buckle as they always do at the sight of the deep night and the stars over the mountain and came to an immediate stop, which startled Duncan and caused him to turn and frown at me. The dogs which mom's neighbors let run loose out here had been mercifully removed inside and the night was ours with the exception of the occasional rig speeding across the interstate. The silence was shocking and even my whispered awe seemed loud.

On our walks I occasionally play blind and close my eyes, letting Duncan lead the way. I might as well have done that for as he led me down the road, wandering this way and that, pulling on the leash, my head was craned far back, a few final flakes sifting down from the trees and the tall sage alighting on my face and stinging like the kindest, most gentle pin pricks. We rounded the curve and headed toward the old highway, Duncan taking slow and cautious steps as though he'd heard something. It wasn't until we'd gone perhaps fifty feet and he'd stopped dead in his tracks, the leash falling slack at my feet, that I looked away from the constellations and at the road where we stood.

Christmas Eve 1991 had been an adventure. My friends from the Quality Inn where I worked gathered at Kevi's house for an impromptu party which lasted until the wee hours. After it ended, my friend Harvey, who'd just bought a used pick-up truck with enormous tires, wanted desperately to show me how powerful it was and somehow coaxed me into taking a ride up in the mountains south of town between Inkom and Pocatello, not too far from where my mother now lives. He knew a trail to the top of the hill where we could see the entirety of the Portneuf River Valley covered in a new snow much like the snow that fell yesterday. It would be his gift to me for he knew how much I loved to see new places, especially places I know but in a new light. So, like the idiots we were we climbed into his truck without coats or a sand bag or shovel and headed up in the mountains, taking Harvey's secret path to the top. Halfway up we got stuck and after an hour or more of trying to back out we realized we were beat and had to walk the eight miles back to Kevi's house where Cleo, my little red car, was waiting.

The walk was not as bad as I'd thought. The air was cool but not uncomfortable and the sound of our feet on the sanded roads was rhythmic and soft, the dusting of snow in the empty fields all around twinkling and whispering as we passed. We talked at first, making fun of the ridiculous situation we'd put ourselves in, but after a while we fell silent, each caught up in the silence around us and the sky overhead. After four or five miles the road narrowed and turned under the interstate. As we passed beneath it and emerged into the bright moonlit on the other side the world fell strangely silent around us, as though the silence we'd marched through for an hour had been a cacophony. We both stopped in the middle of the road and it took a long minute to see the tall shadows standing around us in a wide circle at the center of which we stood. Harvey gasped and a smile came to my face, the air cold on my lips and gums. Somehow we'd wandered into a herd of deer, perhaps twenty or thirty strong. They'd remained motionless but watchful and I couldn't help but feel as though we'd interrupted an important meeting or were the guests of honor at a surprise party. We stood there a long time as they milled around us, never coming too close and looking up every now and then to check our position. Eventually the herd moved slowly away, off toward the mountain where they faded into the shadows cast by the moon on the sage brush. Harvey and I did not speak until they were long gone and sound returned, to the world, filling the void we'd stumbled into. "What just happened?" he whispered as we softly resumed our march back into town. Christmas that year was magical, my last before leaving for college in Lake Forest, but what I remember most was the emptiness where we'd stood holding our breath, guests of wonder.

There were not sixty deer on the road last night, only a few, perhaps the very ones who strolled through mom's yard the night before. They were huddled up tight on the corner between an unruly, gnarled elm and the street sign not twenty feet away. Duncan's ears were up, his tail straight out, and for the second time in minutes I caught my breath and stood frozen, afraid to move. Duncan, a consummate rabbit hunter, did not pull on his leash but merely stood, his mouth closed tightly, his body rigid with fascination. Eventually they wandered away leaving us there in the darkness and silence, the smiling face of Orion looking down on us from above.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Softly, Deer

Last night after a good meal made by Kevin, warm family chats in front of the fire and Mom's Christmas lights glowing all around us, the hum of the road faded from my back and palms and Duncan and I slipped into the back room to sleep. Mom had loaded the bed with extra blankets because she knows I like to sleep warm while my face is cool above the covers. After I changed into my pajamas she knocked on the door and whispered, "Curt, if you look out the window there's a herd of deer in the backyard." I turned out the light and very softly, without making a sound, pulled the blinds. Six deer had arranged themselves in two tight clusters across the slope of the hill directly behind the house, not ten feet from my window. Their heads were down as they sifted through the snow in search of grass and the last of mom's summer and fall plants.

I watched them a moment, thinking of all the times Grandma and I had cuddled on the top bunk in her camper watching the deer move through the camp. It was a special thing for us, keeping our eyes on the hillsides or along the edge of the road in the tall sage or amid the lodge pole pines where they stood nearly invisible. Deer were always a special bond between Grandma and me. In fact, when I was born she made me a blanket on which was sewn a butterfly dancing in the air inches above Bambi's twitching tail. That film became a favorite of ours and she even bought me the soundtrack on vinyl, which I still have. Even when I lived in Chicago, where the deer are plentiful--and even a bit of a hazard--on the north shore, I always marveled at them, even when they galloped across narrow Sheridan Road in front of Cleo, my little red Nissan Sentra. Deer are symbols of gentleness and grace, unconditional love, the power of gratitude and also alternative paths to a goal. Those gathered in the yard outside my window, with their white bottoms and big ears, were my reward for the journey we made yesterday, Grandma's joy at my return home to celebrate the holiday she loved so much in the mountains where we were born.

Duncan had already curled up on the pillow where I planned to sleep, so I nudged him and called him to the window. He climbed to his feet with a soft groan and leaned forward, resting his paws on the sill where he watched them in rapt attention, his own ears raised, his tail swishing softly against the comforter from side to side. I stood next to him, my hand on his shoulders, and we watched them for more than an hour, the pale glow of the moon washing across the mountain, bathing the backyard in powder white. Finally I climbed under the covers and as I fell asleep Duncan stood guard, whining very quietly when they took cautious steps around the saplings, growling once or twice when they approached the window to peek in. And when I awoke this morning he was curled up next to me, spooned against my back, one paw draped over my shoulder.

Unconditional love and graitude.

Smudged

My friend Lori sent a feather smudge wand for my long drive back to Idaho. Smudge wands have been used by numerous cultures as instruments to cleanse people and the spaces they inhabit. My wand was custom-made by Nelly Moon with various turkey feathers, hand-painted designs and colors, including a remarkable butterfly, all designed to help ward off anxiety. I followed the instructions that accompanied it to the letter--cleansing the wand with incense smoke, then my hands and body, and used it to waft the smoke in gratitude to each of the four directions, the earth and sky, the four winds, the moon and sun and stars, then I walked around my car and smudged each of my tires, waving the feather around them slowly and sincerely, then did the same to my windows and headlamps, the underside, the engine, all of it. It was a wonderful ritual and brought me peace of mind and spirit, and all across the 580 miles Duncan and I traveled yesterday I felt a continual renewal of strength and courage. We departed yesterday morning shortly before seven and hardly any time seemed to pass before we pulled up the street and turned up the long drive to my mother's house, the mountain behind it covered in snow, the low clouds waiting, like outstretched arms, to hug us close. Duncan did a dance of joy, running figure eights in the snow while my bag of magic feathers and the smudge wand sat on the front seat, smiling as only a well-traveled feather knows how.

The wand feathers, as seen in front of the fireplace early this morning.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On the Road Again

And so here it is, time for Duncan and me to hit the road. The car was packed last night and everything is ready to go. If only I could coax Duncan out from under the bed and outside where I'm sure I'll spend twenty minutes pleading with him to poop. It's a glamorous life I lead, I tell ya!

Thank you all for your kindness and support, and especially the feathers! My bag is filled with the addition of the new ones and the journey already seems more smooth because of it. I'll write once we're back in Pocatello and let you know we made it.

Think good thoughts for us.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two

There are two degrees out right now, one for Duncan and one for me, and while we're pretty good at sharing, it seems as though there should be more. One is not nearly enough, not for my face and ever-expanding forehead or the pale skin at my wrists which my gloves don't quite cover. One is not enough for Duncan's poor feet and the soft warm places behind and under his pads, which fill with the sharp powder which descended on us mere moments before the temperatures plummeted. Still, we plodded through the snow around the complex, opting away from the park and Bowles, which is a dangerous enough street to cross without the added delight of ice and slush and Colorado's shockingly inept drivers. There was no silence in our walk. Packed frozen snow with a whispering layer of powder resting above it is a loud thing, crunching and cracking with each step, making the glittering and twinkling noises normally reserved for films as it wafted around my boots like sand. It was a short walk and more than once I had to run my finger around Dunc's paws so he could step down, but even in the cold and cacophonous silence we were sharing, not just the two paltry degrees, but time and memory.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Antidote


At the end of a long and unfair day, when the sky and snow had turned a satisfying shade of purple while the sun still glowed brilliant orange around the darkened silhouette of the trees, Duncan and I stumbled across the street to the park to romp in the snow. It was a chore getting there, and more than once while I pulled on a second pair of extra thick socks and laced up my heavy boots, while Duncan danced around me, bouncing and whining in that sing-songy bird-like way of his, I said aloud, "God, I hate winter." But once we were there, once Duncan began running in wide laps around me, his mouth down low, jaws open wide to scoop up the wake of snow he pushed before him, the residue of the day was gone and there was no place more perfect for me. I indulged him and kicked the pink tinged snow, which shattered in heavy chunks rather than dusting up in the crystalline powder he prefers. I chased him, let him grab my gloved hand in his mouth and pull me along at an absurd pace considering the size and weight of the boots with which I am only just beginning to get reacquainted. And he indulged me, laying for long quiet moments, his face turned to the sunset, the fine line at the edge of his fur glowing magnificent gold while Orion climbed the night and the world faded purple and blue around us, the perfect antidote to this day.





Sunday, December 7, 2008

December Feather

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

We have encountered our owl nearly every night we've walked this week. Since stumbling upon him last year in his perch I have been unable to pass the tree without thinking of that moment when I looked up into his big eyes, so close and round and so very yellow, even in the darkness. Every night I have looked for him there in that crooked and ugly elm growing near the top of the hill above the playground, sickly in its nakedness and overrun with jagged, crowded branches and impatient twigs, wondering if we'd find him as we did last year, unexpectedly and with sudden joy, but it hasn't been. We have seen him circling high overhead, heard him from some perfect, invisible spot above the shore of the lake, have even watched him drift in lazy, motionless circles over our heads but we have never come as close as we did that first night when I could have reached out a mittened hand and stroked the softness of his chest.

This morning, early, when the world was still gray and smelled of the damp, long before the sun rose above the sloppy clouds in the east, as we loped across the big soccer field, my shoes squishing in the new mud left behind by the last of the week's snow, our owl cut right in front of us, falling out of the bottommost branches of one elm, gliding across the field right in front of us, and alighting near the top of a larger tree where its head bobbed and twisted in that alien and unsettling way. As he crossed our path a single feather, small and immaculately white wafted down toward us. Duncan craned his neck to watch the big bird while I took a few steps forward and plucked the feather out of the yellowed grass where it had come to rest. It was a reminder that in a few short weeks I'll be packing up the car again, loading Duncan into the back seat where he can--but won't--rest amid a pile of blankets and pillows, a few toys scattered around him. We will make the long trek back to Idaho for the holidays. And as last year, I'm a little anxious at the thought of being alone on the road in whatever conditions The Universe decides to throw at us. Having proven to myself last Christmas that the trip could be made even in the most difficult weather I am not as frightened, and the feather dropping out of the sky like a wish or a prayer has reminded me of the magic feathers I collected last year and the good they did me, or rather, the good they showed me I could do for myself.

And so, here I am again, inviting you to send me a feather for the road, a blessing of safe passage and strong heart. If you choose to send one they can be anything vaguely featherish. Last December I received newspaper clippings, paintings and watercolors, ink drawings, stuffed animals, music and actual feathers from a variety of birds: peacocks, pheasants, hawks, parrots, crows, geese, even feathers shaped like butterflies. As long as it has a whispered good wish I would love to include it in the silver-ish gold bag Kevi sent me to hold them all. Send me an email and I'd be glad to provide you with my address.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

10˚


Yes, last week it was in the 60's and this weekend it will be there once again, but tonight it's a scrotal-tightening 10˚ in wonderful Denverland, where the temps are sure to drop down even closer to zero before I climb into my bed and pull the comforters up tight around my neck. But that's okay because the ground, frozen from last night's light snowfall and then dusted again throughout the day today, made a satisfying swishing cracking sound with each step I took. The branches of the trees were covered pleasantly, if only temporarily in white sprinkles and we had the park to ourselves, without even the footprints of others to cut across our field of vision. Duncan got to roll in the new powder, making his own version of the snow angel I made in the dark last night, a much less rigid, free-form angel which captured his complete and utter disregard for convention and critical analysis. And then there was the color of the sky as the sun set behind the mountains, a sort of birthday cake flavored sherbet, with blue and orange and gold and a cloudy, velvety red all swirling and bleeding together like thick soup. While small tufts of snow sifted through the branches and Dunc gnawed on the stick which he carried proudly from home, selected from the closet in which we've been collecting his best finds, I stood in the cold which seemed suddenly less cold and merely listened to world being the world, thankful I got to spend the moment, not shivering, not bitter for the sun, but thankful for the afternoon corner I occupied where I got to witness all of the nothingness.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Twenty-One Days

While most of the rest of this country has been counting the days until Christmas, literally killing each other as they vie for the best deals, I have been counting the days until the sun begins blessing us with its light earlier, longer and later. While Christmas carols have been serenading the masses, my ears have been focused on the music of the seasons, listening to the low, ghostly call of the owl which sits high in the trees and watches Duncan and I pass beneath in the darkness. Lights and ornaments have popped up almost overnight, on nearly every house, in all the windows and at each intersection. As magical as they seem, its been more incredible to watch the moon, now a crescent, pass through Sagittarius, Venus and Jupiter impossibly bright and close to one another, watching like anxious lovers. They move cautiously together, never meeting but close enough, it seems, to lean in and kiss, if only briefly. They are millions of miles apart, and even the constellation they dance through is made up of bodies which only appear to be neighbors.

On a night like tonight, when the snow was soft and wet underfoot, making the most wonderful crunching sound as Duncan raced circles around me through it, stopping every few minutes to throw his body into it, rolling and folding it around him like I do the comforter, sheets and blankets on my bed, I wonder if I'm alone in not giving a damn about the holidays while I look toward bigger and more profound events, or are Duncan and I just bodies which only appear to be close, circling the night and never quite making contact?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Second Snow

It is the sound I love most about the snow, the way, from inside, bundled up on the couch, the world gets very quiet on the other side of the window and only reveals itself with the soft slice of the occasional tire crushing over it, the way trees somehow catch the music of its falling and swallow it, a sound like a melody rising up from some deep belly.


We walked early in its falling last night, before it got too deep but well after the street lamps reflected orange off everything it covered. Duncan played rapturously, caught up in the memory of the stuff on his nose, batting his big brows, catching and melting against his soft eyelids. He was reluctant to come back inside so I promised there would be more for him in the morning. Still, while I pulled the blanket over me he sat guard in front of the window and watched it come down, his tail moving softly against the warm carpet every now and then, a release of the joy which built with each settling flake.

The morning was bright, and as promised, I took him out to gallop as madly as he wanted, drive big mounds of the stuff before him, spinning wildly, his back legs driving beneath him. His earliest days with us started in the snow when he was so small he sunk deep, with only his nose visible above the white. He ambled through it, driven forward by a sense of exploration and discovery, only whining when he got lost and couldn't find his way back to our ankles, planted firmly only a few feet away. Now, of course, he stands above the snow most of the time, and his vantage couldn't make him happier. Snow is his earliest memory and he revels in it like I revel in the memory of fishing with my grandparents. It is who he is, perhaps more so than the summer sun, which turns his red coat gold and brings tears to my eyes. While I stand and alternately dread the thought of driving through it and wondering at the soft underside of it in the trees, Duncan has found a way to make it play with him, to rise up from its soft mounds and hum music I will never hear.

I have never loved the snow and thought I never would but then Ken delivered this warm, little, blinking red life into my hands and when I watched him love it I could not help but do the same. I have spent many afternoons lately walking with him at the park, turning my face into the setting sun, whispering my gratitude softly into the unusually warm November air, hoping Winter would somehow forget about us this year, ascend the mountains and leap far over us, landing somewhere in the Midwest, anywhere but here. It is a lot of work and preparation to walk in the snow, what with the heavy boots and thick socks, the coat, the knitted hat, the gloves and scarves wrapped and wrapped around me. I remembered the burden of it but not the joy. Duncan's joy.





Although I don't look forward to it, and would much rather watch him race through the sand and into the surf, I will love watching him this winter, will love watching him scamper and slide down the hill at The Glen, catching the snowballs Melissa tosses, will love kicking the snow at his face so he can snap at it as it disperses around his glorious head like wished-upon dandelion dust. There is much to love about the joy of another.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Little Dignity

I'd gone to the gym with Brady this afternoon and by the time I got home my legs were starting to stiffen up and whatever poor excuse for muscles I have in my shoulders and arms were throwing a loud and obnoxious tantrum. Duncan, of course, was in exactly the opposite condition, jumping and full of celebration, demanding we walk and walk and walk some more. I agreed to take him for a quick one around the complex with just another time to pee and poop and check the fire hydrant messages which had been left for him. He didn't quite agree and decided to drag the walk out as long as possible, sniffing every rattling leaf, scouring entire patches of sidewalk for the faintest of odors, moving on and then doubling back to make sure he hadn't missed anything, forcing me to stand in the cold, bouncing on my aching legs to keep warm. It was my punishment for being gone this afternoon, which obviously should have been spent with him, playing with his Birdy, being spoon fed stuffing dipped in gravy and cuddling on the couch. His slow pace wasn't a problem until we came around the Bowles side of the building and stopped near the low hedge directly behind the bus stop. The sun had gone down and darkness had settled in, along with a sudden and surprising chill, and while Duncan nosed around the shrub I shivered and told him, "You need to poop. You need to poop now." He didn't even look up. "If I were you I'd poop. Poop now. Poop now!"

The man sitting on the bench a few feet away turned in my direction, Duncan completely concealed from his line of sight. "By all means poop!" he told me. "But at least wait until I get my ass on the 5:35 and away from you!"

At times Duncan loves to remind me that my dignity means very little to him.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thank You

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Unlike it's more ostentatious cousins it asks very little of us, only that we gather together and honor the bounties of our lives. We're not required to wrap our houses in increasingly obnoxious light displays. We don't have send boxes of pilgrim hat-shaped chocolates to our loved ones. Nothing explodes in the skies. We need merely pause and be grateful for whatever gifts, however large or small, have been bestowed on us.

I try to give thanks every day, letting the people I love know how much they mean to me, sharing whatever goodwill I have with the people who enter my life, turning my face into the sun and thanking it for its warmth. But this year, on this day I am especially thankful for
  • the voice of the American people for rejecting incompetence and finally selecting a leader who will help this nation fully realize its potential and promise (all while speaking full, clear, grammatically correct sentences).
  • Ken, for working as hard as he does, making the tremendous sacrifices he has and being the person I most want to share my life with.
  • Kevi's courage and perseverance throughout this difficult and lesson-filled year. She does not know how much her strength and patience have inspired me.
  • the many new friends I've made because of the places Duncan has led me and the experiences we've shared.
  • butterflies and honey bees, which were scarce in my part of the world this year, but whose rare and sudden appearances reminded me that there is tremendous power contained in the smallest and least likely of places.
  • Homemade honey maple yo-Curt with almond Kashi for breakfast.
  • The lake at Chatfield where Duncan learned to love the water.
  • the Magic Feathers and all the people who sent them to me, which I collected last year (and will soon ask for again), which reminded me of the courage I already possess but occasionally forget.
  • David, for calling me "kiddo" and being such a generous and sincere mentor.
  • Mom and Casey for coming to Denver in my hour of need, keeping me busy and making me laugh and look at the world through new eyes.
  • the scent of the Russian Olives and the Linden trees, the memory of which is forgiveness for winter's bite.
  • the poetry of Mary Oliver.
  • the precious memories of Thanksgivings past, spent with April and Ken in Round Lake, making vast quantities of good food, playing Risk, holding hands and saying the blessing.
  • the rabbits, which keep Duncan occupied on our walks and allow him to be the dog he truly is.
  • Tom Spanbauer for writing Now is The Hour and the line, "The only thing that keeps us from floating off with the wind is our stories."
  • The song, "For What It's Worth" by Buffaloe Springfield, which had particular meaning for me this Fall.
  • The music of Duncan's voice when asked, "Who do you love" and he replies, "I love you."
  • Chelsea for being the responsible, socially and environmentally-aware business owner she is, and for Hero's Pets, the best damn store west of the Mississippi.
  • Brady, for his excitement and enthusiasm in learning that participation is another form of patriotism, as well as teaching me to play Guitar Hero.
  • My dad and Jane for a memorable day together last August, the first such day in over eight years.
  • Rabio Lab on NPR.
  • Oberon, my grand oak tree at Lake Forest College, standing watch over the edge of the quad, and the long winding staircase Jen and I climbed countless times to the top of Carnagie Hall there, to sit and talk, or not, and watch the stars climb over Lake Michigan.
  • Winnie's soft weight on my hip in the morning, Pip suffering species identification problems and thinking he's a dog, Olive's enormous owl eyes batting at me from her roost on Ken's pillow in the morning.
  • and, as always, 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."

One Wish

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Cusp of Dark

The sun was still up and the air still warm. Several men had gathered to play what will surely be their last shirts-and-skins game of football in the big field at the park. Afternoon was quickly turning into evening, a delicious and fragrant night on the edge of a winter that has been uncharacteristically timid this year. The air was calm and none of the few leaves which still cling, like poltergeists, to their nests in the thick branches of the elms stirred. Duncan and I sat at a bench and watched the players slowly toss the ball back and forth while they plucked their shirts off the withered grass, tightening their shoelaces as they made their way slowly back to their cars. The sun hung for a moment right above the mountains and the park grew utterly silent as it hovered on the cusp of dusk, night drawing a deep breath before slipping its shawl over us. The last of the light warmed my face and then slowly, almost imperceptibly, began to fade as the sun lowered itself behind the foothills. I felt it go, inch by inch across my cheek until all that remained was one last sliver, like a finger hanging on to the horizon. And then it was gone. A rush of cool air swept over us and I remembered standing on the deck of the big ship when my father and I went on our cruise through the Caribbean thirteen years ago. Nearly every night that week I'd gone out to watch the sun set and see if perhaps I could spot a school of dolphins playing in the thrust of the big water off the bow. As the sun melted into the sea I strained my ears and almost imagined I could hear the soft hiss as it was extinguished by the rush of water around its glowing body, a gentle breath before being claimed by the depths. I can still hear that imagined sound, and as the light slid from the sky tonight I could hear it again. And it was good.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Retreat

Duncan has never given up on a walk. Not once. Even when he was sick after eating 500 feet of yarn, when he was hunched up on the grass puking up an endless line of bright red fluff which had been meant for a scarf, he wanted to walk. I was in a frenzy, uncertain what to do, but there was Roo, a trooper through and through, a length of yarn caught in his stomach and hanging out of his mouth dragging on the ground beside him, gagging and whining around it while still attempting to make the rounds. Last winter, when snow would ball up under his sweet paws, causing him to limp, he wanted to do another lap around the lake, maybe head down Leawood and see what was shaking on the elementary school ball field where he likes to run. There where frozen nights, tall and cloudless with a moon whiter than exposed bone, when I had to drag him home and carry him across the parking lot because his feet hurt so bad. He has never given up.

Until tonight.

I'd come home, found him curled up on the bed, or rather in it. Somehow or another he decided the bed would be more comfortable if he swirled the sheets around himself and propped his head under one of the pillow, a single back paw and his tail the only sign of him protruding from under the comforter. He snorted when I sat next to him and plucked his paw up into my hand. We attempted our welcome-home routine, which entails a lot of rolling around and pawing and huffing, all of which took place tonight under the covers. When he did finally emerge he grabbed my wrist in his mouth and trotted us down the hall, through the dining and living rooms to the front door where he wiggled his bum and chirped like a bird until I leashed him up and pulled on my cap.

Duncan is an eager walker and pulls hard on his leash when we first leave, only calming down once we cross Bowles, where he sits nicely, smiling up at me while we wait for the traffic to clear before crossing. He did all of that, and once we reached the lower soccer field he traipsed and gallivanted, head held high after discovering someone's discarded soccer sock, which he carried proudly, like a shot duck, in his mouth. We played chase for quite awhile until he suddenly stopped and looked north toward the big queen willow. A soft whine came to his throat, and although he didn't release the sock he stared nervously and kept looking over his shoulder at me. Finally he began a slow walk back up the hill, keeping his eyes trained on the tree and the tall reeds which crowd her base, and moved across the larger field, a nearly inaudible whine rising up from his chest as we went. He led me back across the park to Bowles, where he plopped his rear down in the cold grass and waited to cross, never looking away from the willow. There was no reluctance as we entered the parking lot and headed toward home. By the time we reached the door he was practically running, dragging me behind.

It was only an hour later, sitting on the patio watching two bright southern stars rise up over the trees that I heard the yipping of the coyotes over the grind of the traffic and understood why he wanted to come home.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Season of Falls

I have taken tremendous pleasure in our unseasonably warm temperatures over the past several days. My friend David is the recipient of much of my gloating and to his credit, handles it pretty well with only minimal name-calling. This morning, though, I couldn't help but think that perhaps he got a bit of revenge for all my talk of sunshine and temperatures which came awfully close to 80 this week.

I fell asleep on the couch again last night, a bad habit I really need to get a handle on. I had a short but vivid dream of talking on the telephone with David and boasting once again about the perfection of Denver's weather. I could hear him scowl all the way from Illinois and rather than call me a "dirty rat," as he usually does, he said, "You just watch yourself, mister. You'll get yours."

I finally woke up a little after 2 and took Duncan out for one last bathroom break. Our nearly balmy night had been replaced by frigid air and a thick, heavy mist which cast orange rings around the lamps in the park and made the street on the other side of gate shine like a black snake's back. It was a wet mist, and because it was cold it was already freezing. The grass was stiff and slippery and crunched with each tentative and sleepy step Duncan took. I did not envy him having to lean into it to pee.

After he finished we walked around the side of the building just to stretch our legs a bit before heading back inside to the warmth of the two comforters Ken had pulled over the bed. As we came up the slight incline of the front walk in front of our apartment, I felt my feet slip on the fine layer of ice which had formed and before I knew it I was at that place I came to know so well last Winter, the place between the sky and the ground where I hover--arms and legs akimbo--only long enough to anticipate how hard and cold the ground will be when I return to it once again.

Duncan stopped dead and turned just in time to see me come back down, first on all fours, and then when the ice did not approve, flat on my belly, a hhwump sound echoing off the buildings all around. He seemed to shake his head and glance around to make sure Kona or Toby or even the Wretched Hyenas who froth and growl and threaten us from their window next door did not witness my grace. I picked myself up, wiping crystals from my pajamas, some of which slipped down my naked ankle and into my slippers where they stung the soft warm part of my heel.

It is the season I dread most, my season of falls. Let's hope both Duncan's pride and my head survive.

Somewhere I know David is smiling. I got mine.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Night So Big

This night was so big, the sky so vast and clear, the wind so gentle Duncan and I could've hunkered down on the grass, still warm from an afternoon spent glowing under the sun, and outlined a constellation for every person I know, from my mother, with a speckle of stars dancing like clouds of humming birds around her head, to Lori, with a pack of dogs running wild like comets at her feet. It was a beautiful night and our walk felt like it could last forever, like it should last forever. The light tickled the surface of the lake, rippling across it as it washed up on the bank, which has receded several feet over the past month. Duncan hoped to chase the ducks swimming along the shore, so we walked down in the place where the water used to be, mottled and wave-scarred sand which felt hard when stepped upon but turned soft and gave away each time I lifted my foot. The air was so clear I swear, given enough time I could've smelled what you cooked for dinner and listened as the wind carried your whispers across the miles. Duncan rolled in the grass, picking up the once-leaves, catching them in his long hair, and though The Shepherds passed quite near, nervous at the sight of us, their companions reluctantly leashing and pulling them in the opposite direction, we did not care, did not let their appearance mar the night. There were no spectacular colors, only the warmth of the shadows and the memory of the scent of the Russian Olives as we passed by them on the lake trail, the gentle chink of Duncan's collar and leash bouncing and ringing with each step and discovery.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Colors of a Blessing

Although it snowed Friday morning, an event which would've crushed my spirit had Duncan not loved it as much as he did, it was gone by the afternoon and the rest of the weekend was sunshine and perfection. Life on the edge of The Rockies has been very kind and at times it's been too easy to believe winter will never stake her claim. Autumn has gone on and on day after day and if I didn't know how the weather in Colorado loves to tease I could easily be tricked into thinking the snow will never come. Duncan and I spent much of the afternoon, after the chores were done, the bread baked and yogurt made, walking the park, sniffing out bunnies, dancing in the leaves, laying on our backs staring up at the blue sky, a warm breeze blowing over us, a clatter of leaves racing across the grass and breaking against the sides of our bodies. It was the kind of November day I can not remember from my life in Idaho or the years I spent in Illinois. It could only happen here, in this place where we walk through all the seasons of the year and experience blissful days of spring in November, or early Summer in the dead of winter. This whole week promises to be kind and gentle and we may even see 70˚ again.


And the sunset was amazing, a bonfire burning behind the clouds, the wind settled and calm, the smell of pine needles thick in the air, like a living room on Christmas morning. Duncan and I stepped outside and sat on the grass behind the apartment, he chewing a bully stick, one paw resting on the top of my foot, while I marveled at the dusk and marked it as a gift from The Universe. The colors of this night were the kind that made me want to call everyone I know and urge them outside where their faces could be painted in amber and crimson, a kind of blessing and prayer against the cold of December and the frigid breath of January.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Measuring the Moon

"Dreyfus once wrote from Devil's Island that he would see the most glorious birds. Many years later in Brittany he realized they had only been seagulls... For me they will always be "glorious birds." (Harold and Maude)

We watched the moon rise from the top of Rebel Hill tonight, silent and pale, with only a few small patches of clouds interrupting the vastness of stars hovering in space. I'd spotted it as Duncan sniffed the scrawny trunks of the locust trees which have either tragically or blessedly been planted amid the plaza of cement down between the four baseball diamonds. I happened to glance over my shoulder to see it erupting from the eastern horizon and gasped aloud at its suddenness and the silence with which it rose. Duncan startled at my breath, his body going tense and his face reading mine for some indication of what had happened. He followed close at my side as we hurried across the parking lot and up the hill behind the park and rec building to the path winding up from the memorial. It was where I'd led Elijah last Easter, where he'd told me I'd never be alone as long as I thought of him while Duncan and I sat on the low stone bench looking out over the plains and the mountains and the city which rises up between them.

Duncan sat next to me and together we watched the moon, amazing in the ascent we all take for granted. There is magic in the way she climbs the night and I've been told that her size on the horizon is exactly the same as her size when she reaches the highest point of the sky, that she is no bigger at the beginning than she is at the end, that it is nothing but a trick of light and angles. So I measured her with my thumb, holding it up close to my eye. She was as big as the nail but far brighter and much more beautiful. I let Dunc's leash fall and while he sniffed the edge of the walkway for bunnies, I spread out on my back and played with the clouds. Several drifted past which looked exactly like Santa's eyebrows, mustache and beard, all floating independently of each other, hair without a face to grow on. They seemed not to move at all until I looked past them at a small quiet star when their pace would suddenly seem to jerk and accelerate as the wind caught them and pulled them toward the north. Looking directly at their mustached center they stopped again until my eye rediscovered the star. Over and over I did the trick, and sometimes it seemed that I could see and feel the spinning of the entire world beneath me as the sky moved without moving. After many long minutes my clouds grew bored with my game and turned into something else entirely before moving out over the golf course and beyond my field of vision.

Later, much later, at an hour when Duncan is used to the sound of my sleeping, we ventured back out across the street and up the hill. The park was silent and the traffic had found a den to curl up in and sleep until the early hours when it spills out over the world again. Such silence, broken only occasionally by the appearance of a single car on Bowles, its solitary rush and hum almost beautiful as it moved alone, the sound of its wheels cracking across the pavement like a song, like the fall of snow, like everything and nothing. How is it that one sounds like music but the symphony sounds like madness? The moon had made much progress and not even Orion could match her brisk pace. We sat in the same spot and with Duncan at my side I raised my thumb to my eye, held it as close to her pale body as I could and gasped again. It's true. Light and angles and the horizon had played a trick on me, but I prefer to call it magic.

We should all make time for the rising of the moon. Every once in a while.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Many Stars

My friend Lori, who writes the blog Fermented Fur, said farewell to her much-loved Golden Retriever, Sprocket, yesterday. She and her husband Tom were with him as he crossed The Bridge, and we all know in our hearts that their companion Ripley, who crossed two years ago, was with Sprocket, guiding him across.


Last night I'd promised Lori I'd give Duncan extra love, so I took him to the park after the sun had set, just as the sky was in that inbetween place, like when you're half awake and half asleep, when dreams seem more real than reality and reality as magical as dreaming. We stood on the low hill overlooking the willow where Lori and I stood with Duncan just a few weeks ago. I watched the stars blink awake and when I squatted down to Duncan, taking his paw in my hand to whisper a blessing for Sprocket, the southern sky before us flashed for a moment and when I looked up I saw a shooting star burning brightly, flaring once and then fading down low on the horizon, fiery dust trailing after it.

"Your beautiful boy is racing with Ripley," I wrote Lori. "And all the skies of the universe are their playground. Please find peace in that thought and know that you, Tom and the rest of the pack are greatly loved. Many stars shine down on you tonight as many people hold you in their hearts."

If you get a moment, please stop by and offer your words to Lori and Tom. There is no such thing as too much kindness and at a time like this I know they could use it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One Leaf



Duncan and I spent a long moment this morning watching a single leaf, a brown and brittle hunchbacked thing as big as my palm with the fingers curled inward liked the hooked legs of a spider or a crab, crawl across the sidewalk. It moved slowly, taking tentative steps until the wind caught it and hurried it along at an awkward gallop. The Cottonwoods have been slow to change, as they were slow to bud last Spring, and just a week ago I remarked to Brady that it was almost as though they were the last of Summer's celebrants, still so green with full, tree-bound leaves swaying in the wind, a gentle chorus, so unlike clamor that accompanies the slightest shiver from all those who have fallen and scuttle and crunch underfoot each time they stir. Now, though, they are nearly bare, enormous clenched hands, rising dark against the blueness of the sky.

I have spent our afternoon walks trudging through the leaves, dragging my feet through them, making the most of their voices, taking what little joy there is to be had in their bodies, driving them before me like waves and dolphins before a ship. But watching that one leaf crab-walking across the sidewalk reminded me that there is life in even those things for which we have little use and are busy forgetting. It's walk and rush were feral and alien, but I stood transfixed and remembered that quote from American Beauty, the one I have used so often here: "[It] was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that's the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and... this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever."

Sometimes it's difficult to find the joy in this season, but if we remember that life does not end, that death and Autumn are an illusion, we can find great comfort in its beauty. Duncan knows this. He finds joy in every patch of grass, every twig and cast-off branch, every gust of wind, carrying the scents and flavors of the world to him. It's in watching his joy and delight in this suddenly barren world that I rediscover my own.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Walk On

It feels as though we've been walking and walking and walking some more, from afternoons when the sun was hot and it was easy to raise a sweat just by breathing, to these cold days when the wind has lifted the leaves from the trees and scattered them in a raucous chorus across the yellowed grass. But, as I've always claimed, the destination would be nothing without the journey.

Over these past few months I have made friends and shared experiences I'm unsure would've been possible without the journey of this election and the reward of its historic outcome. My faith in mankind has been elevated and I will never forget those jubilant moments just after Barack Obama's name was announced as our 44th president. I will take that memory with me on many journeys and I'm sure each of you will do the same. It is important, crucial even, that we never forget how we felt at that moment, like the door had swung open, light had been let in and all the promises of our country were made real.

If there's one thing I've learned from walking with Duncan it's that no matter how satisfying a walk can be, how utterly fulfilling and joyous it is, there is another waiting just beyond it, full of the same unknowing and challenges as each of its predecessors. Duncan demands we keep walking and despite weary legs or a tired spirit, blistering heat or painful cold, I take him out and we walk again, not always with the same result, but rarely without reward. Duncan knows with his special wisdom that there can be no destination without a journey, and we must apply that same knowledge to our new government. As Obama said in his acceptance speech on Tuesday night, this election was never about him, it was about us. He did not elect himself and he will accomplish nothing without our assistance. So, in these days of celebration and excitement, I call on each of you to search your soul and find one issue that is of special significance to you––be it health care or equal pay, the environment, education or gay rights––and never stop walking until you reach a destination that brings you comfort and peace of mind. Write your senators and congressmen, join a group, educate yourself, speak and speak until your voice is hoarse and then speak some more, and do everything in your power to make your vision a reality. Do not stop until you've reached the world you've always wanted to live in. Walk on.

"If you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking,
eventually you'll make progress." (Barack Obama)


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This Day


On this day, this most important day, the day I have written about and studied and spoken with countless people about for months and months, the day I have argued over and dreamt about, made myself sick over, this day when I really honestly feel as though this country is on the cusp of monumental change, as though things are finally and blessedly about to shift from darkness back into light, I have to stop and give thanks to my dear friend, David. Without his patience and knowledge, without his outrage at the state of our decrepit health care system, his indignation at the treatment of our fellow citizens, without his guidance, I may have spent this election cycle attentive but inactive, concerned but woefully uneducated.

David is a remarkable man and there is much I--and to some degree each of you--owe to him. He is passionate and dedicated, loyal beyond words, and at times, when I have been unsure of myself and the direction of my life, David has been there as only a few others have. Despite the neglect and ignorance which have guided this country for the past eight years, David's belief in its potential is staggering and inspiring. His heart is the heart of a poet, for not only does he see things as they are, but he is able to look beyond them and see what we can be. We have spent innumerable hours over the past year agonizing about this day, this one day when the eyes of the rest of the world are on America, watching and waiting for us to finally, at last, make the right decision. His emails have encouraged me, enlightened me, frightened me, and finally ignited a fire in me that would not go out until I had used what little voice I have to speak up for what is right. It is because of David that I have used this place to rail against the dangerous arrogance which currently controls our government and the ignorance which threatens it again. Because of David I have attended rallies. I have walked the streets handing out leaflets, knocked on doors asking for support. I have spoken with friends who only a few weeks ago seemed beyond reach but have come to realize this country deserves more, deserves better.

In a letter I recently received from him, in an envelope scrawled with his familiar and much-loved handwriting, a single sprig of lavender folded between the pages, as he has done since I moved away from Illinois and the kindly Shire-like folk there, the very people who have given us Barack Obama, David wrote:

This election has inflamed the best and the worst of this nation. We will, each of us, vote according to our character and collectively define the character of the Unites States. The election booth will become a sort of civic confessional in which we exercise our faith in this country. I vote tomorrow. I have waited a long time, and it will feel good to finally have my say.

On this day, this morning when here in Denver the sun is out and the sky is blue, when anything and everything seem possible, I ask you to vote according to your character. I ask you to be brave and look not at the past, but to the future. I ask you to put the last eight years behind us finally and forever and to take a deep breath before we begin the much needed healing of this nation. I ask you to raise your voice and change the world.

*The banner at the top of this post was designed by my friend Kelly, who created it on her blog, Property of Kelly. Not only is she one of my most favorite people, but she's a talented artist and designer.

Animal Farm

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sudden Dark

Yesterday, on our late afternoon walk, Duncan was not ready to come home. We'd already strolled up to the library, around the side of the lake, up the hill above Columbine, down to the gray cinder block parks and rec building where the bunnies hole up on the safe side of the chain link fence, back across the park and through the lower soccer field. The sun was warm despite being low in the western sky, hovering just above the mountains, casting them in heavy shadow even as it favored the rest of the land in gold. It was a marvelous afternoon, with one or two stars already peeking out and the wind blowing the smell of toffee and cinnamon. So I indulged him and let guide me across Pierce to Leawood, where he stopped and sniffed at every spot where we've ever encountered a rabbit. He played with Jinx, a familiar Golden on our route and chased only a handful of bunnies under a large, low-boughed pine tree. And even after the sun had slipped behind the mountains and the sky began to turn, when the air cooled and rustled our hair, chilling, if only a little, our cheeks, he still did not want to come home. With some coaxing and promises of extra treats with his dinner, I was able to convince him, but as I sat on the patio outside, my feet propped up on the railing listening to Miles Davis, I wondered if coming home had been the right choice. We have been unseasonably lucky here in Denver the last few weeks, with clear mornings, nearly hot afternoons and mild nights, the kind which allow for windows left open a crack to cool our dreams and night imaginings. I realized after the sun had set and Duncan had finished his dinner (in addition to some of the duck strips Lori brought him when she visited two weeks ago) that the day's glowing afternoon walk will become a rarity, that the sun will have set by the time I arrive home. Time has suddenly shifted and where there was day there is now dark. I will hold the memory of yesterday's walk with me a long time, watching Duncan sniff under hedges, step gently around fences, the sun dancing as it does so willingly across the curling gold and red of his back. He knew dark was coming and wanted only to walk in the sun as long as possible. My wise, wise friend.

Imagine One Voice


MusicPlaylist
Music Playlist at MixPod.com



"You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
."
(Imagine, John Lennon)




Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Word on the Tip of the Tongue

November has been uncommonly kind to us this year, warm and mellow, and, as Ken remarked this morning as we stood on the patio looking out across the park, a steaming mug of coffee curled between his cupped hands, the warm lip of a cup of tea pressed to my mouth, "It's like Spring, except for the smell. If I closed my eyes I'd never know it wasn't May." As he said it a warm breeze stirred the myriad leaves which have collected in the gutters and sent them clattering across the deserted street. "And the sound," he added. "The sound is unmistakably Autumn."

Duncan and I rose early. I prepped his raw chicken breakfast, tossed in a load of laundry, took a glance out the window at what can only be described as the most perfect of Autumn mornings: the sun bright but still low, the streets empty and silent, the air unmoving. I leashed him up and we jaunted across the street to the park, which was empty of the usual Sunday morning revelers, even the kids who dress up as medieval warriors and wage sword battles down by the big willow. The time change must've thrown some of them off, which didn't bother me in the slightest. I love the park best when it is wide and open and all ours.

Many of the trees are nearly bare, especially the elms, which cast off their clothing back in September, and now only the Lindens are left, their leaves still thick and mostly green, the ghost of their summer scent lingering in my memory as we pass beneath their slowly thinning canopy. At the top of the hill above the lake, where the city and the foothills spread out before us, the colors are nearly spectacular, with a thousand shades of gold, dwindling reds and the deep almost-gray of the evergreens, all of them pressed against the rich blue of this clear and healthy sky. Looking at the tree-tops from a hill is a bit like studying the slow slide of the clouds across the sky as the eye seeks out patterns and shapes, recognizable forms: a car, a fish breaching the water, grandpa in profile.

Trees in Autumn and the light sifting through them remind me of that first fall after I got my drivers license, when I climbed into my old silver Ford Fairmont on Sunday mornings and drove the quiet streets down by the cemetery, the one place in Pocatello where the trees grow wild and tall and unlike anything else in that faraway corner of the world. With my windows down and the air cool on my knuckles, clutching the steering wheel and singing along to Depeche Mode's album Black Celebration (the most Autumnal album in my entire collection, even twenty-two years after I first bought it) I couldn't help but feel as though I'd missed something, as if it had been within reach, whatever it was, but had slipped away. Every fall since I've felt that way, sad and reflective, unable to grasp what it feels like I should have grasped. Like a word on the tip of the tongue.

I still don't know what it is and I probably never will, but Autumn makes me feel poetic and reflective, only now, with Duncan snorting his way through the leaves, pushing them aside to reach whatever scent lies buried beneath, their familiar churning crunch as we carve a path through them, I feel a little less like sighing and more like dancing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Whatever You Do



As always, please send this video to five friends and insist they do the same and that they do the same and on and on and on. If you can, drive people to the polls. Call your local election commission and ask how you can help them on election day. Do anything and everything within your power to vote and to ensure others do the same.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sports Night: Number Twenty-Two

It's no secret that I am not a sports fan. There is much about it that does not make sense to me but I have always been able to appreciate the ideals for which sports stand: the dedication and work it takes to participate, the courage required to stand up and put your abilities on display, the devotion of the fans. And of course, a good underdog story is always heartwarming.

Much of my exposure to sports this past year has come through my walks with Duncan as we navigate the various teams which swarm over the fields in the park across the street. While I detest the surprising majority of parents who seem completely inattentive, talking on their phones while standing on the sidelines with their backs turned, or sitting in their cars reading a book or the paper while their children run and kick and jump and cavort for them, I genuinely admire the kids who give their all. I remember what it was like to stand there, awkward and fearful, praying the ball stayed as far away from me as possible 'less I blow my one chance. To this day when I see a ball I careening toward me across an athletic field I see a lifetime of childhood and adolescent anxiety. Duncan merely sees a ball bouncing across the grass and wants to join in the fun. On more than one occasion we've accidentally interrupted a kiddie soccer practice when he's charged into the fray to wrest control of the ball in a mad attempt to slather it with drool.

The football teams finally returned today. They appear to have lost some of their status along with the privilege to play on the main fields and have been relegated to practicing on the now abandoned baseball diamonds. While Duncan paused and sniffed the trunk of a bare Aspen tree, I watched the kids slam into each other, their pads colliding and groaning under the strain of their impacts, but one kid, rather thin and gangly, was a little more forceful than the others, running a little harder, catching a little more air just before crushing into the others, grunting louder but catching his balance and pushing on before his teammates did. It was only when he turned away and moved back into formation that I saw the long ponytail hanging halfway down his back, noticed the grace of his movements and realized that number twenty two was not a he but a she. And a damn feisty one at that. When it came time to rush her coach, squatting behind the small kiddie-sized tackle sled, she nearly knocked him over and moved right on past as he struggled to keep his balance and prepare for the next kid.

I could've stood there all night, watching this small, bird-like girl throw better than some of the boys, run faster, dance on her feet with much more agility and repeatedly push her coach back, gaining ground on him each time. I was never a fan of team sports, but she was the kind of person I'd definitely want on my team. I was always one of the last kids picked when it came time to choose teams (except at dodge ball!) but that's something number twenty-two will never have to worry about. I guarantee it.

Proud


I voted today. And it feels god damn good!
What have you done today to make yourself proud?
Go vote!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Politics Monday: Conservatives for Obama



Many of the people I know will freely admit they vote Republican simply because that's what their parents and grandparents have always done. While I understand it I can't help but feel it's the lazy and ignorant way out and requires no thought whatsoever. Many of the Republicans I know don't realize they're actually moderate Democrats who just can't seem to get their acts together. For instance, several friends believe that health care is a right, not a privilege. They also believe that we all deserve the opportunity to improve our lives through education, while also recognizing that we don't all have the same background and financial ability to do so. They believe that gay people deserve the right to love whomever they choose and share in the same rights and benefits offered straight people. They adamantly believe in a woman's right to choose. I've tried speaking to them and while several have stopped and seriously considered what I've had to say (the military friend I wrote about last week admitted recently that he'll most likely vote for Obama), others choose to remain steadfastly ignorant of their own political leanings.

This video is for them. They know who they are. If you know of people who are afraid to come out and turn their back on the old way of doing things, please forward the video to them as well. Share it in any way you can. Post it on your own blog, Facebook or Myspace page. Get the message out to those people who are simply afraid to break with family tradition. Their votes could make all the difference. We only have 8 days left. There is not a moment to lose!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Obama Sunday

I was a part of something today which was enormous and important and which could potentially change the entire world. You may have heard that Barack Obama spent Sunday morning in downtown Denver speaking to a crowd of well over 100,000 people, which included Melissa and myself (watch part of it here).



It was an exhilarating experience, one I hope never to forget. I cannot tell you how amazing it felt to be a part of something so big with so many other people who recognize that this country is in dire need of change in a positive direction. They were people of all types and colors, economic brackets and classes.


The volunteers, who numbered in the thousands, handed out fliers, sold buttons and shirts, bumper stickers, recruited even more volunteers and shared their message of hope. I have never been in such a large crowd with so many considerate people; everyone wished us a good morning, thanked us for coming out, wished us well as we left. It was electric and there were times when I listened to Barack speak that tears actually came to my eyes. I felt I was part of history, that this day and this election was a one I could look back on and be proud of. I felt part of a community which wants nothing more than to help this country and her citizenry realize its full potential.


I can not urge you enough to vote early, to tell your friends and family to do the same, to speak with everyone you know about why Barack Obama is the best candidate for the future of this country. This afternoon I signed up to go canvassing door to door, which makes me proud and helps me feel like I've earned the right to see this man made president of the United States. Do all you can do. Don't just sit there, get involved!

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.
We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
(Barack Obama)


*The last photo was borrowed from The Huffington Post

Friday, October 24, 2008

Clambering Autumn


When I was young, perhaps seven or eight, I remember my sister and I Sunday-driving through the wide neighborhood streets near the high school in Blackfoot, Idaho in my father's car. It was some time in late Autumn when the sun is still able to choose warmth even though the sky is as sharp as a razor and as far away as the moon. The trees, yellowed nicely, had finally kissed their leaves farewell and set them free on the wind. They'd spent all summer shading and sheltering the swallows and sparrows and countless other little gray and dirt-colored Idaho birds, listening to their talk, imagining they understood enough that when the time came they'd learned enough to fly off on their own, far away from the bleak little town on the edge of the reservation in a forgotten corner of the state. But when the time came, when the fingers of the trees relaxed and set them loose, they could only spin once or twice in the air before alighting on the grass, against the tall curbs or down into the street where they curled up on themselves and waited and waited.


Casey and I were in the backseat, standing, as you could in those days, looking out the back window, watching as the thrust of the car pushed the leaves aside and then pulled them in behind us where they rattled as they took chase, bouncing and crunching, leaving sad, broken bits of themselves––slivers in the road––behind. Casey and I cheered them on and when our father asked what we were watching I exclaimed, "They're chasing us, daddy! They're chasing us! Go faster." He glanced back in the rear view mirror and confirmed the army of leaves advancing and then falling behind as we sped ever forward, and bless him, he played along, slowing the car and letting them clatter forward, almost reaching us and then gunning it just as they reached for the tires beneath us.


It was an image I have never forgotten, and I have spent many a Fall afternoon walk with Duncan remembering it as I've watched the leaves rain gold and fire from the trees, roll across the sidewalk, heave through the grass or shatter against the curbs in the parking lots. There is nothing quiet or serene about Autumn and her colorful dancing minions are louder than even the wind, never content but always clambering for direction and movement, for the ghost-dreams of flight which haunt them through their final hours. On those days when the weight of the season has not taken my heart I like to run with Dunc across the grass, dodging the dried little hand-print shapes caught in the slowly yellowing blades, leaping over them as we cross the sidewalks. His joy at the chase is matched only by the surrender when we stand beneath the locust trees as the leaves swarm down on us, catching me around the shoulders, hanging from Roo's ears and clinging to his tail. Eventually we find ourselves on our backs staring upward, blinking leaves away when they waft down into our eyes, listening to their final mad frolic and the broken glass notes of their song.


There are not many days left of this part of Autumn, this Clambering Autumn when Orion rules the night and the naked trees, can only point, mute, at his path across the dark.