Thursday, January 31, 2008


The morning I turned twenty-four I stumbled into my Philosophy of Gender class at Lake Forest College to find my friend Rick sitting at our table waiting for me. As I slid into my seat he leaned over and whispered, in that flat, sarcastic way of his, "Twenty-four, huh. Looks like you're about a third of the way done."

I'll admit it, I thought I'd be riding around in hover cars by now. I also thought I'd be a famous writer / actor / director. Yes, I thought I'd grow up to be Alan Alda. I thought I'd have money and status, a big home, influential friends, power beyond my wildest dreams. When I was a kid I wrote a soap opera, this little thing I called Love Affair, which told the story of all my friends (some of whom are reading this blog right now) in an imaginary future where we plotted and schemed, broke hearts, had our hearts broken and wore fabulous clothes while doing things that only happened on television, like buying and selling fancy hotels, dying in season three only to come back to life in season five with a new face and a taste for vengeance. It was a gargantuan thing: at one episode a week for thirty weeks a year, it would take you thirteen years to catch up to me. I envisioned a future vastly different than the one I eventually inherited, but on the eve of my thirty-seventh birthday (seriously, don't congratulate me, congratulate my mother; she did all the work and deserves most of the credit) I'm looking back on my past and my once-imagined present while completely ignoring the future (too big, too scary, don't go there!) and I have to say, although it may not be the one I'd hoped for or dreamed up, it could be a lot worse. I've got great friends, a wonderful partner, a job that is completely unsatisfying and devoid of meaning but almost manages to pays the bills, a nice place to live, three terrific cats and the most amazing dog I could've asked for. It's not a lot, but it's what I've got and I've learned enough to be thankful for what's in front of me. I could ask for a lot more but I could also have a lot less.

This morning one of the women I work with asked me how old I will be tomorrow and when I told her she nodded her head and thought a moment before saying. "Halfway through, aye, kid?"

None of it matters. What matters is that I walked Duncan today and I'll walk him again tomorrow. If this is all there is, I'm good with that.

Except I'd really like that hover car.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I've been working with Duncan a lot lately about coming when called even when distracted. I don't take him anywhere without a handful of Grandma Lucy's dog treats in my pocket. On our walks I call to him, "Duncan, come," and his job is to return to my side and sit on my right foot. He's gotten pretty good at but ever since he discovered the rabbits months ago I have wondered what would happen if there ever came a time when he was off leash and stumbled upon one. Would his training matter or would he ignore me?

Tonight I found out.

After dinner at The Lone Star with Melissa I came home and let Duncan out. While standing with my face in the snow, fluttering on my eyebrows and melting on my cheeks, I heard a rustle behind me, opened my eyes and didn't see my dog anywhere, just a flash of red, a streak of cottony white and tracks leading around the corner of the building.

"Duncan," I called. I ran forward–visions of a car slipping on the ice in the parking lot and skidding right over the top of my dog ran through my head–and saw him chasing the bunny into the low shrubs that border a latticed patio. "Duncan, come!" I called, reaching into my pocket for the treat, getting it ready for his return.

And much to my surprise, he did exactly as I expected: he ignored me completely, pretended not to hear me and dove head first into the bushes, his tail and the sound of his snorting the only indicators that he was there at all. I have no idea what he'd actually do to the rabbit if he caught it, but after discovering that my command meant little to nothing to him, I don't think I want to know.

Obviously we've got a lot more work to do.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Games We Play

There are games I play on our walks. Like when you were a kid and someone taught you that rhyme, "Step on a crack, break your mother's back," and you'd spend the rest of your walk nervously studying the ground in front of you, careful to avoid even the smallest of wrinkles in the sidewalk. It was serious business. Who knew what would happen if you broke your mother's back. Certainly you'd be grounded. And then someone would say, "Break the Devil's back" and that was okay, so you'd spend the next five minutes stomping every crack you came across, that little extra force under your foot surely causing the Devil added misery. I also played a game in which I had to reach a certain location–the lamp post at the bottom of Iris Street, or maybe the painted rocks at the edge of the Brady Swallow's driveway–by the time something happened, say, a car passing or a cloud moving across the sun. If I failed something terrible would befall someone I loved. Or worse, the entire world. The first time was on an ordinary day. It was Spring, warm Spring and I'd taken off my windbreaker, rolled it up in my Snoopy book bag along with a copy of The Great Brain and my collection of Chinese Jacks, I was on my way home from school, and for some unknown reason the thought popped into my head that if I didn't get to the other side of the new tree Mr. Clean had planted next to the sidewalk by the time the school bus passed something terrible would happen. So I sped up as fast as I could without running–running wasn't allowed. From behind me I heard the rumble of the bus. We lived at the top of a hill, so there was the extra pressure and strain of the climb. The bus shifted into low gear as it neared the base of the hill and began its ascent. It was right behind me. I moved even faster, faster still, heart racing in my chest, the thump thump thump of it in my ears, my mouth suddenly dry, my book bag unnaturally heavy. Big rumble I could feel beneath my feet in the sidewalk as it rattled nearer. And then, just as it was upon me–I could hear the sound of children through the open windows–I reached the sapling and peril passed along with the bus, a glowing yellow monster that I'd dodged, a feeling of triumph, a release of tension in my chest like after completing twenty chin-ups while Coach Lucky and all the boys in the entire fourth grade watched. Just like that. At first I didn't know anyone else played. I didn't even know I played, until Mrs. Nuttle, the librarian, recommended a book about a little boy who had to perform similar tasks, like maybe touching a series of mushroom caps in a certain order, or crossing the creek on his way home before he heard the song of a meadowlark, and if he performed the task, some disaster would be averted. He practiced and practiced and one day, when he was very good at the game, an old stump swung open, revealing the entrance to a secret underground world where he was required to use his skills to save the people who lived there. There were no rotted out stumps in the yards I passed on the way home and I certainly didn't believe in secret worlds, but then neither had the boy in that book. My breath caught with each new page and it was only during my sleep-over when we were all confessing secrets that I admitted it. Shane Grow had shot out the side-view mirror of his uncle's new car with his air rifle. Paul Hunt, my best friend, had found someone's lunch ticket on the playground and took it, and when Marrianne Gunnell began crying because it was lost, he was afraid to tell for fear they'd think he'd stolen it, so he kept it. Todd Bell and his older brother Travis, who came from a good Mormon family, had sneaked sips of their father's beer, which even he had to sneak. What a bunch of little delinquents we were. But after we'd played Bloody Mary and Light as a Feather Stiff as a Board, after Robert Galloway had fallen asleep and we'd put his hand in a bowl of warm water to see if he'd wet himself (he didn't), I confessed to them, Shane, Todd, Paul, Brandon Carter, Barry Wells and the three David's (Buffaloe, Dixon and Davis), that I'd been entrusted to save the world. They listened intently, not speaking until I was finished. A heaviness filled the room, a heaviness like when we'd played Quija earlier. But then Todd laughed and said he played the same thing, only because he was a wrestler–a state champ at that–that he had to pin his opponents in so many seconds or minutes, or the world would end. Shane said that when he and his father split their wood into kindling, he had to split so many pieces or he knew something bad would happen. We each admitted our own secret obsessive-compulsive disorders and proceeded to take off our clothes and streak the Mormon church across the street from my house. It was a relief to know the safety of the world wasn't in my hands alone but that my partners in crime had also been entrusted to prevent Armageddon.

I have a new game now, one that's not nearly as dramatic as my old games (there are no risks of spinal injury or planetary destruction) and it can only be played in those times when the world is cold but warming ever so slightly.

I like the crack of ice. A nice solid strong crack, like something breaking that shouldn't be broken. Like a record album. Or the crunch of a crisp Autumn leaf underfoot. After a storm, when the weather turns warm and the snow has begun to retreat, leaving little ledges of ice along the edges of the sidewalk, I like to walk on those ice lips and hear them snap, my weight causing them to shift and release beneath me resulting in a satisfying crunch. Tonight, at the park, an entire section of sidewalk had frozen over only recently, and it was so smooth and transparent it was hardly visible until we were standing on it, sliding across its remarkably flat surface. It had nearly completed freezing and the ice layer was strong enough to mostly support our weight, but the water under it hadn't finished and was pushed around with each of our steps. Little bubbles of air, trapped near the top, glowed almost white in the setting sun. I stopped walking, spread my feet apart and bent slightly at the knee and let Duncan pull me. My weight created a million cracks on the surface but I did not break through the half inch of ice. Those tiny fractures just kept pushing before me, sometimes racing outward to the edge of the ice, like they were trying to get away but couldn't. And the resulting cracks were like trickles of sound playing across my ears and the silence of the park around us.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Buried Treasure

Our warm weather seems to have come to an end. Even though it was 50° at 7 AM, the temperatures cooled throughout the day and even as I type this the wind has picked up, dusts of snow are blowing across the orange street lamps and my bones have started to ache.

Much of the snow has melted, revealing all sorts of hidden gems that have been concealed beneath it for the past month. Our walk down to The Glen this evening revealed plenty of goodies which almost make me wish I had to don my big boots and trudge through powder all over again.

First of all, there are the turds. All sorts of turds. Most of them frozen but still colorful. There are the numerous huge diarrhetic pies Cyrus deposited back in November which Tom, his owner, refused to clean up because they were too massive and moist. Then there are the little curly blacks one I imagine were left behind by some small, rat-like lap dog which yips, not barks, in High C. There are the old ones, now yellow and crumbling which, when combined with the fresh ones from the Yellow Lab in the next building, form a minefield which is almost impossible to navigate.

In addition to the plethora of crap littering the back lawn, Duncan and I discovered an empty can of Arizona iced-tea, an unopened fun-size bag of Cheetos, several bleached and empty packs of Orbit gum, a white plastic coat hanger, a USB cord, a brown leather glove, three King Soopers grocery bags still connected, a rotting baseball, a mouldy tennis ball, a roll of twine, an empty matchbox, something I can only assume was once a banana, a string tied around three sad, deflated balloons (two red and a yellow, which I assume are left over from Summerset last September) and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mask someone quite small must've misplaced last October.

I didn't realize I lived in a dumpster, but the melt has shown me the error of assuming I didn't.

Animal Control

Jocelyn, at Jefferson County Animal Control, was a friendly enough person, efficient, courteous, pleasant to talk to and because of that I'm sure absolutely nothing will come my call. I logged a complaint against the owners of the shepherds this morning and was told an officer would patrol the park three times this week during the hours I specified, but somehow or another I still don't feel quite safe. In fact, we avoided the park altogether tonight, opting, instead, to romp down at The Glen with a nice fat stick which I keep on the shelf and take down only on special occasions.

Now that Rush at the school is over and I'll be getting home earlier, though, I'm hoping we can avoid them altogether. As I said last week to Duncan, it's not the dogs I fear, it's the people, and based on the way the man responded to my reminder that the park requires dogs to be on a leash at all times, I'm sure our next exchange won't be quite as pleasant. Especially if they're ticketed.

Think good thoughts for us and hope they just go somewhere else.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Sixty-Five

I'm not so good at breakfast. Don't get me wrong, I make some pretty good ones (just ask David, Kelly, Kevi and Mike, who've all had my dessert-like puff pancake with yogurt, fresh berries, peaches, bananas, apples with a single scoop of vanilla ice cream), I'm just not so great at taking the time to eat it regularly. That's why I make my own yogurt (Yo-Curt! Citrus Pumpkin is my newest flavor, although I'm pretty good at Honey Maple as well) and have started making breakfast pies, with eggs, bacon, pepper, onions, potatoes and smoked white cheddar cheese, all wrapped in a nice homemade bread dough. After they're done I toss them in the fridge so Ken and I can pop them in the microwave before heading out the door.

This is what I spend the majority of my Sundays doing, in addition to the grocery shopping and laundry. Today was a difficult day to spend inside. The temperatures rose to above 65° and the birds and sunshine were calling to me. As expected, Winnie, Pip and Olive did what cats do best by staking out their respective patches of sunshine in front of the various southern-facing windows. Because the morning was warm, I opened the patio doors and let Duncan lounge outside, where I joined him between various cooking sprees. Rather than listen to Dave Brubeck, I turned on the Magic Feather CD my friend Traci made me for my drive to Idaho last month. It was perfect for lounging around, lazily reading Tom Spanbauer and sipping Egyptian Licorice tea, scratching Duncan behind the ears and watching the chorus of little birds which had assembled to sing and hop from naked branch to naked branch in the tree just off the patio. Duncan was content to sprawl on his side and snore, only occasionally perking up long enough to watch a brown plastic bag he kept mistaking for a squirrel as it fluttered, caught in the bars of the fence.

Duncan, of course, couldn't care less what I was doing. He wanted only to walk or pick up the bits and chunks which accidentally slipped off the counter and fell onto the floor. He could hear the geese flocking up across the street in the park, so after what I'm sure seemed an eternity, we strolled out the front gates and walked down Leawood to the elementary school, where there weren't any geese, but horses, at which he got to stare confoundedly through the fences. The sound of dripping and running snow-melt was everywhere. It trickled and sparkled as it raced alongside us against the curb, pulling once-leaves and Pooh Sticks with it.

But the geese were calling from the park, where they'd gathered to enjoy the sunshine and warmth in the relative safety of the fenced-in baseball field. Duncan stalked along the chain links, his head low, keeping his eye on them as he herded them from the outfield to the infield. Once satisfied with their positioning he hurtled himself against the fence and without raising a bark, propelled the geese straight up into the air where they headed west toward the lake and the mountains.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


It may blow and storm or even freeze for days at a time, but the secret those of us who live on Colorado's Front Range keep hidden from the rest of the world is that it never lasts long and we're always rewarded for our suffering and patience by sunshine and warmth. On average there are 330 sunny days a year here in Denver and even January is not immune to them. Today was one of those days.

By noon the mercury had risen to nearly sixty degrees and I decided Duncan and I needed to spend the afternoon outside, playing in the sun and enjoying the world. I grabbed some library books that badly needed returning, leashed up the boy and off we went. We walked down Bowles, sidestepping the park and navigating our way through a minefield of goose-droppings along the way. Most of them seemed quite old, brown and dusty like chalk and weren't much trouble except in volume. After dropping off the books and cutting across the stiff yellow lawn on the hill behind the library we came out on the lake trail, which was crowded with more people, dogs and strollers than I've seen since the last of the nice Autumn days. The lake, which was mostly drained in November, was low and frozen over, and looked as though a white, cotton blanket has been placed over it. We headed west and stopped by the pet store to visit Aunt Chelsea and grab a bag of Grandma Lucy's Organic Cinnamon Dog Treats. If you haven't tried them, you need to! As my family, friends and coworkers can attest, they're good enough for people to snack on, especially the pumpkin ones. Duncan loves them, too.

We took the lake trail back, moving carefully around the throngs, including the Juicy Buns, who were still garbed in velour warm-ups but had traded their tennis shoes for ugly, furry Ugg boots. The trail was clear of goose droppings but still quite wet, which didn't bother Duncan in the slightest; in fact, he went out of his way to step through every puddle, especially the deep ones, and twice if they were muddy. People around us were flying kites, jogging and roller-blading. The playgrounds were full and the punks had returned to the skate park. The only thing missing were the players on the four baseball fields, where the geese had relocated, fenced in and safe from dogs and children. Flocks and flocks of them wandered through the infield and one tall, loud one with a voice like Bea Arthur barked orders at the rest from just behind home plate.

Much of the snow has melted but there are still large wet patches of it on the northward side of things, so Duncan and I headed over to one of the fields where he could roll around, snort and stomp and be the dog he enjoys being. And watching him gave me the chance to be the person I'm best at being, content in the sunshine, enjoying the day with my best friend.

Friday, January 25, 2008


When I was in college I worked as a Resident Assistant and Head Resident in the freshmen dorm. It was the best job I've ever had, helping the new kids acclimate to school, working with them to resolve conflicts and problems. A lot people tended to look at the RAs as the building police, always on the lookout for someone violating a rule, playing their music too loud, partying outside their rooms, or perhaps so drunk they mistook a hockey bag left in the hall for a urinal. Ah, the good old days. The truth of the matter was we spent a lot of time trying to avoid dealing with those situations and encouraged our residents to manage their lives like mature adults and to deal with the actions of others in a responsible manner. If your neighbor was listening to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" too loudly, politely knock on their door and explain that you were studying for a test. If the sound of someone vomiting in the laundry room was interfering with your sleep, hold their hair back, see them safely to bed, and make sure to turn them on their side to keep them from choking to death in their sleep. I think we were successful in our attempts to get those awkward freshman to participate in and uphold the standards of the community in which they lived and I still subscribe to that line of thinking. If you don't like something, try to change it rather than merely complain about it.

That's why tonight in the park I prepared myself to speak with the owners of the renegade German Shepherds. As Duncan and I crossed the soccer field just after sundown, Duncan merrily sniffing every ounce of goose poop we passed, I kept my eye open for the dogs and their owners.

I did not have long to wait. We were barely halfway to the baseball diamonds when I caught sight of both dogs, in a dead run straight at us. Not a playful romp, not a light and friendly jog, but a steady and solid charge. Their owners were quite far back, at the edge of the fence, and when they noticed the shadowy shapes of their pets streak past them and straight toward us, they screamed out their names and called them back. Both dogs stopped and turned, looking over their shoulders at us, their eyes narrow, their hackles raised. It was only when they'd been safely leashed I realized I'd been holding my breath and every muscle in my body was tense. I exhaled, took a nice long breath and pulled Duncan's leash up. I forced my shoulders down, put a smile on my face and stepped forward.

As we neared them, both dogs became antsy and pulled on their leashes so much so that the man and woman had to hold them by their collars into a sitting position.

"Hey, guys," I said casually. "How's your walk?"

Neither of them responded. I think they were concerned that I was going to let Duncan get too close, which was ridiculous considering what had happened the night before.

When no one spoke I said, "Hey, did you know that Clement Park is an on-leash park?" I tried to make it sound casual, matter-of-fact, like the weather report. Looks like snow. Wind is out of the southwest. So, this this is what they mean by partly cloudy. That sort of thing.

The man stood up straight, letting go of the bigger dog's collar but keeping a tight grip on the leash. He squared his shoulders and puffed out his chest. "Of course we know," he told me defiantly. What he really meant, though, was, We don't don't care and what are you going to do about it? Take your southwest wind and stick it right up your ass.

I bit my bottom lip and nodded. It was obvious this was not going to work and it was easy to see where the dogs had learned their aggression. This was a man who was prepared to fight. I stepped away, still nodding. "Just wanted to make sure. I'd hate for anyone to get a ticket." And with that we moved on. Only once did I look back to see both of them still standing there watching us go and I couldn't help but feel like that man was fantasizing about letting his dogs chase us off. Or worse.

So that's it. I don't feel safe there and I'm going to call animal control, report the incidents and request some sort of presence in the park at the usual walk time. Sure, I won't be able to toss the ball for Duncan (there's always The Glen and the small gated dog park on the property for that), but I don't want to feel like I have to keep my eyes constantly open for any sign of the menacing shepherds. I don't want to think of myself as tattling on anyone, but if something happened, if another dog or person was injured and I hadn't said something, I'd feel even worse.

It's a community park and we all have the right to feel safe there.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Menace

"It's not the dogs I'm afraid of," I told Duncan as we crossed Bowles on our way back home from the park. "It's their people."

The people with the German Shepherds are regulars at the park and we've seen them nearly every night for as long as I can remember. They are handsome dogs, with long, lean bodies, strangely low hips and high heads. They move swiftly and quietly, running far before their masters, circling back and coming up behind them with their noses low and their shoulders moving quickly. Their owners take them off leash and stroll slowly across the paths, but are careful to notice when other dogs are near. They need only call and the shepherds are at their sides where they can quickly be leashed.

We have met them several times before, none of which has gone well. The man, a short, squarish fellow has been quick to point out that Chance, the big, blond male, does not like other males and to keep Duncan away from him. His companion, a woman who seems to match him in shape and size, restrains the female, who doesn't seem to mind males, she says, provided they "don't have all their parts," and yet every time we approach the female has growled menacingly and/or snapped suddenly and violently. I am extremely uncomfortable by their presence in the park each night, running free among the shadows the way they do. The dogs obey very well, but the distance with which they run away from their people is disturbing, especially when you consider how quickly things can happen. It's obvious these people know their dogs should not be trusted around other dogs because they're always careful to leash them when other dogs are present, even going so far as to warn people, as they have me, several times. And yet Duncan and I practically bumped into them tonight. Luckily the dogs were close and easily restrained. I hate to think what would've happened had they been darting ahead as they typically do. A few nights ago we came upon them from behind and I didn't recognize them at all because they were dogless, until they saw Duncan. When they turned and saw us, on their hills, they man called "Chance!" who appeared quickly from up ahead, spotted us and tried to sidestep his master but was snagged by a long arm and reeled in while we passed around them.

Tonight the female snapped at Duncan, catching him on the snout, scratching his nose and leaving a welt. I was quick to pull him out of her way and immediately yelled at the dog. The woman looked a little taken aback by the way I chastised her dog, but if she's going to allow her to bite my dog's face, I'm not going to remain quiet and passive when it happens. I tightened Duncan's leash in my hand as I guided him around them down the sidewalk but we were no more than twenty feet away when both dogs were released from their leashes, which, again, made me extremely nervous. What if they'd both circled around and attacked?

I've decided I'm calling Littleton Animal Control tomorrow and reporting the incident. I did some research and confirmed what I've always knows, that Clement Park requires the use of a leash at all times. I don't mind that people take their dogs off leash–hell, I do it almost every night. I do mind that these people are aware of their dogs' hostility to other dogs and still unleash. I'm also gong to speak to them the next time I see them, just to let them know that their dogs needs to be leashed at all times, especially because they're menacing. After all, they're not the only ones trying to enjoy the park.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Kid

So there was this kid. This little Hispanic kid, maybe sixteen, with a sickly, see-through mustache and Princess Leia buns on his head. Or rather that's what they looked like. It was hard to tell with the black hoodie he wore pulled up around his face. Maybe his hair was pushed forward by the hood, or maybe Cruller Chic is the new look. I don't know and who am I to judge, really? All I know is that he looked like a masculine Princess Leia and he wore a hoodie. And he wouldn't stop talking to me or following us on our walk. Duncan and I had spent some time playing in the snow on the field and as we rounded the baseball fields this Star Wars cantina-looking kid comes out of no where and starts making conversation like we've known each other for years. "Is this Columbine?" he asked, gesturing wildly around the park. I nodded and pointed toward the high school. "Yeah, right over there," I told him. "All this?" he asked, his eyes wider than a Womp Rat at Toshi's Power Station. "No, just that," I pointed again without breaking my stride. Duncan had places to go, geese to chase. "Yeah, I start here in a couple of days," he said, plunking his hands deep into the pockets of his hoodie. I smiled, the kind of smile that says, "That's nice. Now go away." I'm not an unfriendly chap, not at all. Just the other day we made friends (again) with Simon and Penny, the two Basset Hounds, and their people, Tom and Sharon, who suffered a stroke while walking her dogs right before Christmas. We'd chatted for nearly an hour, about all sorts of things, like Yellowstone Park, strokes, places to walk dogs, strokes. I like talking to other dog walkers, but this kid had no dog. And it was cold. So I kept walking and he kept following and it was only when he said, "So you go here, right?" Here meaning Columbine. "What grade you in?"

That was when my heart opened up and I no longer cared that he looked like Carrie Fisher with a five o'clock shadow. That's when he became my new best friend.

What grade am I in? It was like 1988 all over again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


The moon was big tonight, big and orange, like a peach, or a breast. Big enough to pluck from the sky and carry home with me in my pocket. A new ball to toss for Duncan. An eye watching the night. I figured we'd climb Rebel Hill where we haven't been for a month and watch the moon rise over the DTC and Aurora. Occasionally I get these romantic notions of walking my dog, of doing something poetic and nice, something I think I'll remember forever. We all have those moments, when we're standing outside, our faces tilted up into the sweet-smelling rain or when we're jumping into a lake, the sound of laughter rising up all around us. Or driving fast down a long straight stretch of road with a really good song playing loud, maybe "Fresh Air" by the Quicksilver Messenger Service or "Cowgirl" by Underworld. I've had those moments where I step outside myself, watch the scene, like that last good New Year's Eve in Pocatello when everyone was there, dancing at The First National Bar and Ruth smiled and cried out, "It's just like a movie." And it was like a movie and all I could think was, I will remember this forever. The night I watched Elijah slip into the world, purple and wet and so, so new, I felt the same thing. I will remember this forever. There are moments that stand out for no reason whatsoever that will be with me always: pulling over at a rest stop in Minnesota with my mother and sister late one August night. The air was heavy and warm and I'd been sleeping in the backseat using a folded up green Boston College sweatshirt as a pillow. My face bore all the lines and wrinkles of the sweatshirt, like long pink scars criss-crossing my cheeks and forehead. I strolled through a grassy field to sneak a cigarette, which tasted and felt different in such humid air. Like the cherry wanted to jump right out of it. The grass was long and brushed against my calf and I thought, I will remember this moment forever. Or the afternoon Winnie and Pip, still kittens and able to fit into the palm of my hand, curled up on my lap and slept for hours. I didn't want to move so I stayed still, my legs falling asleep under me. They were so warm and felt so safe on my lap. It was a moment that could've slipped right past me but I carry it with me. Forever. There a million of them. Running down the hill on a Sunday afternoon to play in the fields behind Edahow Elementary School with my sister, two step-sisters and a step brother. Sitting at a bar in downtown Pocatello with my mom while Ray Charles' "One Minute Julep" played on the jukebox. Playing Hansel and Gretel with my grandmother and sister and later reading Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales. Grandma had a cubby hole under her stairs and Casey and I liked to pretend it was our house. The night my friend Blaise taught me how to pick out the constellations. A million things I will remember always. Forever.

Anyway, I thought Duncan and I could climb Rebel Hill and watch the moon rise over the city, the first full moon of the new year. He'd sit next to me, his hip warm and soft against my foot. The wind, cool but not cold against my neck, not stinging my eyes or biting my nose. The sound of the traffic would fade away as it sometimes does when you hope it will, when you want to make yourself very small but still very present, alert to every rustle in the branches of the twig-like saplings planted last Spring, aware of the moon glow on the snow and even the places where it doesn't glow, the dark places. Maybe more aware. And as one little wisp of cloud slips overhead I'd think, I will remember this forever, me standing here in silence, a secret from the world, a part bigger than the whole, my dog sitting at my side. A breathing poem.

But then Duncan discovered the joy of sliding down the hill on his side. At first he just rolled, in that seizure-like way of his, where he throws himself down, burying his nose in the snow, shaking his head as it piles up around him. Then he flips over on one side and pulls himself forward, then flips over on the other side, his four legs sticking straight up and dancing on the night, a jitterbug right across Orion, before he turns. It was then that his momentum propelled him forward and he slipped, like oil on water and slid probably twenty feet. His head perked up as he discovered he wasn't where he started. So he leapt up, climbed the hill and did it again. And again until his coat was shiny and slick with ice crust, his nose white, his eyes dark, like olives. And I thought, I will remember this, but not for the reasons I thought. But remember it nonetheless.

God I love him. Especially when he's just a dog and not what I want to turn him into.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Quiet Adventure

Words freeze in the air, caught along with my breath and waft away before the sound can catch them. Thoughts freeze, too, along with toes and fingers and ears and cheeks and the tiny little places between gloves and coat-sleeves, boots and cuffs. Where do Duncan's rabbits and my little birds go on nights when I can't bear to be out, when nothing moves, not even the snow? It's hard to find tranquility when your body can't stop shaking and all you can think about is curling up on the couch, a hot cup of tea in your hand and a red dog resting his head on your slippers? I want to walk and Duncan wants to walk but neither of us want to do it on a night like tonight. I think I'll make popcorn instead and continue reading Now is the Hour by Tom Spanbauer, another former Idahoan, whose writing I love. I think I'll open a can of Duncan's favorite organic food, Brats and Tots, and give him a little treat. I think Winnie and Pip will curl up on my lap and Olive will continue to sleep and grow fat on Ken's pillow. I think this is all the adventure we'll have tonight, and that's okay, because sometimes quiet adventures are just as important as traveling ones.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Little Birds

Rise up this morning / Smiled with the rising sun
Three little birds / Pitch by my doorstep
Singing sweet songs / Of melodies pure and true
Saying, "This is my message to you."
Singing: "Don't worry 'bout a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right." (Bob Marley)

Sunday's are early because Ken gets up for work and even though I try to sleep in, once being-awake has me, all I can do is be awake. So I got up, wandered into the dining room, Duncan at my heels, and sat at the table looking out the window while I waited for the water to come to a boil. 7:30 and already the sun was big and bright so I propped open the patio doors. The air felt good on my face, not cold, not biting, but refreshing, clean. There were no cars on the street so it was nice and quiet, like Sunday mornings should be. The way they are when they're at their best. Duncan stayed close and I reached down to scratch behind his ears in the way he likes. He wasn't quite awake yet, his head low, his paws spread out, his red hair a blanket over my toes. I was thinking it was a good morning for Dave Brubeck. Some mornings are Miles Davis mornings, especially when the sky is dim and low with wet, the air pregnant with mist. But some mornings are Dave Brubeck mornings, the sun perfect for "Blue Rondo A La Turk," or the sky big enough for "Take Five." All those crazy rhythms and sudden bursts of notes are like a celebration of the sunrise, syncopated tributes to morning coming on. Dave Brubeck was invented for mornings the way Chet Baker was made for nights, especially lonely nights, or windy wet nights, or the time just after a soft rain, when the sun is caught low, between the clouds and horizon when the streets reflect the green and red of the traffic signals. I was about to put on "Take Five" when the sweet sound of little birds caught my attention, little birds on the tree just outside my window. Two of them, only a little bigger than my thumb, and the color of cardboard, darting as little birds do, especially on glorious and newly-warm mornings. I haven't heard their voices in so long that I felt like ice must feel when it cracks down the middle. Something in me, some spot I'd forgotten or neglected, opened up and nothing seemed more perfect than the sound of those birds. Even Dave Brubeck would have to agree.

As the morning opened around their song I pulled on my boots, snug and warm, and slipped the leash on Duncan before he'd even realized we were going for a walk, which is the best way to do it. Like a surprise party or something juicy and warm inside a bite of cake, quick and shocking, but the best thing you never thought of. We were out the door and across the street where more little birds moved among the bare branches of the crab apple trees. Duncan cocked his head at them and together we stood and listened, like we'd paid to do it, like it was a concert just for us. And it was just for us, the two of us, out in the cool, bright morning, the taste of Egyptian Licorice tea still on my lips, squirrel and bunny dreams still dancing through Dunc's head. It was a dancing walk, where everything seems easy, like in cartoons, and I wanted so badly for those little birds to perch on my shoulder or alight on my fingers where they could sing right to me.

A day is determined by the quality of its morning. Our morning was glorious. It's an Anything-Can-Happen Day. The best kind of day there is.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Finally, it seems, the cold has broken, or pushed eastward, and has been replaced with more typical Denver weather. The day was sunny and clear, with a solid blue sky and a sun that was warm and bright, casting big yellow squares on the carpet beneath my windows. The cats, who have spent most of the past week huddled together on the pillows in the bedroom, or wedged together in a tight, three-headed ball on the couch, claimed their favorite spots–Pip in the office under the avocado tree, while Winnie and Olive spread out under the big windows in the dining room, their tails occasionally tapping ends. Duncan, who could not seem to believe I chose to spend the day doing some much needed cleaning, sat in front of the patio doors, looking out across Bowles at the park. While I busied myself with the broom and the mop, he'd turn my way, sigh loudly, throw himself down on his belly and pout. When I figured he'd die if I didn't let him out, I leashed him up, donned my boots and took him out.

It was an uneventful walk, occupied by ball throwing, a little retrieving, a fair amount of slipping on the snow and ice, and a healthy fill of rolling in the powder, which, under the reinvigorated sunshine, was quickly growing wet and heavy. It wasn't until we spotted the flock of geese–maybe fifty of them in all–up in the northeast corner of the park on the low hillside where they'd not only flattened and melted the snow under the warm weight of their bodies, but had polluted it as well with their slimy, green Tootsie Roll-sized poop. Duncan froze. I froze. We watched them for a moment. I tightened my grip on his leash and we moved slowly forward.

One or two of the bigger males standing guard on the perimeter of the flock noticed our cautious advanced and barked out a warning to the others. Within moments they were all standing and their tiny heads swiveled on their absurdly long necks to watch us. Duncan took calculated steps forward and I stayed at his side until we were within distance.

"Are you ready?" I asked. He glanced in my direction only briefly then leaned forward pulling on his leash. It was all the signal I needed. "Get them," I whispered and we shot forward.

The geese were waiting, and honestly, in the chunky snow and ice we were slow enough to present little danger to them. Yet up they shot, their wings beating heavily in the air, their honks loud in the air around us. We stopped at the base of the hill, safe from stepping in their messes, and watched them circle over our heads, calling down curses at us from above. They flew to the south and part of the flock broke off and headed west toward the lake, honking as they went.

"Good boy," I said to Duncan and patted his head, and just as we turned away, the sound of the geese grew louder all around us. I looked south and saw a second flock rise up from the volleyball courts to meet the one we'd disturbed. They merged, turned west where they met up with their other half. Moments later the calls grew louder still as another flock took to the air and circled back around. We stopped where we stood and watched as every goose in the park took to the air, circling and circling, calling up even more of them. Within minutes we saw what I imagine was a flock of nearly three hundred geese flying over Bowles toward the golf course, the sound of their voices loud and awkward, like the voices of teenage boys in a choir.

Duncan's tail wagged and I scratched behind his ears. "Good job," I told him. We had driven out the invaders, every last one of them. He looked at my hand, which still clutched his snow-slick tennis ball. Our work was done, but there was still throwing and retrieving that needed tending to.

Friday, January 18, 2008


For the past several days, the coldest of the year, Duncan's needed a quick trip outside at 4 or 5:30 in the morning. It's a miserable thing, standing in sweats, a t-shirt, big boots and a heavy coat in single-digit temperatures waiting for your dog to pee, hoping you'll be able to go back to sleep, knowing the cold has already seeped so deeply into your bones that sleep will not return. And so I have lain awake all week–too optimistic to get up–staring at the clock, watching the minutes I should've been sleeping tick by, listening to Duncan, spread out across the bed, snore longly and loudly.

He was kind to me this morning and did not need an early morning dash to the yard. I, however, was not so kind. I woke up, as if on cue, at 5:30 and got out of bed. I like walking around the apartment in the dark, navigating my way across rooms, or retrieving a glass and filling it with water. I like to think I'm practicing in case I should ever go blind but really I just don't want to sting my eyes with light.

This morning, as I stood in the window watching Bowles come alive with traffic, I noticed the orange light reflected on the stick-figure trees growing in the park. Then I noticed the blue sky behind them. Not a dark blue, like night, but a fading blue, like old denim, like dawn. That orange on the trees seemed to melt away as the sky grew slowly–so slowly–brighter. And it was only 6:30.

It's the one thing that's getting me through these bleak, miserable temperatures, knowing that even as they drop, the world is conspiring against them, making room for earlier mornings and longer days.

And as Duncan climbed off the bed, ambling down the hall in that familiar, childlike way of his, the hair at his ears slightly mussed, stretching and smiling as he sidled up to me, I didn't mind so much, the taking-him-out-in-the-morning part.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Just Breathe

The clouds were high and faraway but in our faces as our breath caught in the air in front of us turned crystalline and wafted away, a dust that covered the sidewalk, the roofs and hoods of the cars in the parking lot, the windows of the buildings. Ice-dust everywhere, slippery and hard to walk on. The leash turned to ice and my fingers stiffened, along with my back and every muscle in my body, especially the spot where my neck meets my shoulders. I could feel the ice even there. As we slid our way down to the mailbox I looked up as a plane growled somewhere overhead, a low menacing sound, mechanical and rhythmic, a sound that portends a menace in film, and at that moment the clouds cleared, slid away from the sky and the stars bit at us. Someone has torn a hole in the sky and all the heat of the world has seeped out, leaving a void that's been filled by the cold of space. The kind of cold I imagine inhabits the moon and the dark places of the solar system where the sun can not reach. I shivered as Duncan squatted, still staring high above me as the clouds swallowed the hole, the stars blinked out but still bit. It's too cold to walk. Too cold to stand still. Almost too cold to breathe.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


The sky was silver all day, the color of a blade, and the air did not move. The temperature hovered around 15 degrees and when I exhaled, my breath caught in the air before my face, wafted out only a little before falling and shattering at my feet. I realize there are colder places on earth (in Chicago my friend Traci used to joke about how for three months out of the year we lived on the planet Hoth), but these kind of temperatures are not standard practice for Denver. Five years ago on my birthday, February 1st, my mom and step-dad paid us a visit and were shocked to discover it was 76 degree. We spent the day at the zoo in shorts and t-shirts but the next morning they had to leave for Idaho earlier than they'd anticipated because of a coming blizzard, which my mother says is one of the worst she's ever driven through. Our weather may be sudden and occasionally extreme, but our temperatures do not drop. But we do, however, like the outside world to think they do because it keeps the riff-raff out.

Duncan was not happy that our walk was so short tonight. It's simply too cold to be outside for long periods. I took him down to the mailbox and then up the perimeter of the complex and back around through the yard that separates my building from Bowles. He knew what I was up to and dragged his feet and insisted on sniffing every clump of ice and snowball that crossed our path. Everything became extremely interesting and important and it was all I could do to keep my nose from freezing up.

"It's too cold, Roo," I told him. Once we reached the snow-dusted grass, though, he decided he didn't agree with me and attempted to roll around in it. What little snow we received last night had long since frozen over. Even though it didn't quite work, he kept stalling and insisted he was fine. Even though I tugged on his leash and coaxed him along, much of the last portion of our walk consisted of me dragging a stiff and reluctant dog who made most of the trip on his side, his eyes closed and a silly smile spread across his face, frozen snow washing up against his muzzle and floating up into his nose.

There is no reasoning with a dog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


The night is sharp. The traffic has finally died down on Bowles and the clouds are descending like a vast movement of arrows from the mountains in the west. I could almost hear them whistling down on us during our last walk. The stars have gone, taken refuge, and as the night turns reflected orange, the first taste of snowflakes burnt my tongue and lips, reddening my cheeks and stinging my scalp. There is no wind but even Duncan turned his face into the night, closing his eyes against the lowering sky and breathing in the flavor and scent of the north wind.

Something is coming. Tomorrow will be white and cold and we'll leave fresh tracks when we walk.

One Voice

Sometimes, especially after long days and when the nights are dark and very cold, it's difficult knowing that once I finally get home I have to change my shoes and venture out once again, sometimes for more than an hour. As I lug my backpack up the breezeway I can often hear Duncan chirping at the door for me, doing the little dance he does, his Berry or his blue bone clutched in his mouth, his tail wagging and his back-end swaying side to side. Sometimes I pause, take a deep breath and visualize his joy and excitement at searching out the bunnies huddled under the trees or near the shrubs that grow along the edges of the building. I imagine the way he climbs the piles of snow along the parking lot which have been drudged up by the ploughs. I try to see these things to remind myself that his happiness brings me happiness. But tonight, as I listened to him, his nails dancing on the tiles on the other side of the door, his voice rising and falling in that bird-like chirrup of his, I realized that he's singing to me, welcoming me home with a song, and before I knew what I was doing, I slipped the key into the lock and turned the knob. He was on me in a flash, jumping and chirping, dancing and grabbing at the cuff of my shirt to guide me through the apartment.

I am lucky indeed and there was no need to convince myself I had to do anything. I get to do it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Onward and Upward

I can safely say that I know my dog pretty well. I know his moods by the elevation of his eyebrows. I can tell when he's bored by his sighs and the way he watches me out of the corner of his eye. I can predict exactly which spot he'll pick to poop on. I know when he's hungry, when wants to dance, what foods he will and won't eat (he's surprisingly picky), when he'll get up in the morning, whether or not he's in the mood to cuddle, if he'll tolerate Pip taunting him, if he prefers Tug-of-War to Fetch, whether or not he's interested in my presence at all. I can read my dog like I can read a Denny's menu, but the one thing I still can't figure out where he'll mark his territory.

Admittedly, he was a late-bloomer to the concept of lifting his leg. When we first got Duncan my friend Christine told me that it took her Dalmatian, Whitey, six months to figure it out. When Duncan reached his one-year mark without so much as raising a foot I told myself he was moving at his own pace and to be encouraging and supportive without adding undue pressure to him. Heck, even I get gun shy! By the time he was two and still peeing like a girl, I couldn't help my concern. Was it something I'd done?! But a few months before he turned three he started dabbling with the idea of a leg-lift, popping it up every now and then, first on a discarded pile of phone books then on someone's puppy. After apologizing to the puppy's owners I think I felt the way a parent does when their child learns to ride a bike. He's doing it! He's doing it! He's actually doing it!

Now, of course, he does it all the time, but I must say, he's quite particular about where. No longer is he content with a sign post or even a shrub; now he's got to climb to the top of a pile of snow or even skooch as far up the side of a tree as he can reach. I've seen him mark the most unlikely and awkward of places. I've joined him in scouting out locations but apparently Duncan has a far more discerning eye than I do. He must pity me and thank his dog god I'm not like him, some rank amateur willing to mark any old nook and cranny. No, a real pro aims higher, strives ever upward and onward. In this respect I'm all too human and should simply leave that work to the dog.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


I've been thinking of Ashley and Nikki, our first Goldens and how difficult it was to come to Colorado without them. They were my first dogs as a grown-up and were part of what made Ken's house in Round Lake Beach my first home after leaving my mother's in Idaho. When Ken decided to attend Bel-Rea in Denver and become a veterinary technician we quickly realized we wouldn't be able to bring The Girls with us. We'd been unable to find a very big apartment let alone one which accepted dogs. Ken arranged to have The Girls move to Michigan with his family and I knew I'd probably never see them again.

The first year we were in Denver was a difficult time, especially because our home seemed so empty without the dogs. Before I found a job I spent long afternoons driving around the city, exploring, enjoying getting myself lost and finding my way home, and walking the local parks. Almost always I'd stumble upon people walking their Goldens and I'd find myself aching to cuddle up next to The Girls. Most of the time I'd walk right up to them, explain that my dogs were in Michigan and ask if they'd mind if I could take a minute and get a quick fix of dog love. While they watched and waited I'd roll my face against their dog, scratching their neck and running my fingers through the long hair near their ears. It was wonderful but walking away almost always broke my heart. I'd turn and watch them scamper off, running in that happy and exuberant ways Goldens have, return home, pull out the pictures and pine for hours on end. I'd always fancied myself a cat person but being away from Ashley and Nikki taught me otherwise.

This morning coming home from The Glen a woman stopped her car in the parking lot, climbed out and rushed toward me. "Can I pet your Golden?" she asked, her face wide with a big smile and beaming big eyes.

"Of course," I told her and watched as she knelt down next to Duncan and buried her face in his neck. She pulled at the fur on his back and played with his paws, taking in every moment as if she were sipping a fine wine or enjoying a remarkable meal.

"How long have you been away from your dog?" I asked.

She looked up at me and I could see tears forming at the edges of her eyes. "We have shared custody and I miss him a lot when he's not here." She smiled, cleared her throat and I recognized myself in her. "It's tough, you know?"

I nodded and told her where we lived. "Any time you need dog-love you come find us, okay?"

She smiled at me and I know we'll see her again.

I never would've understood without Nikki and Ashley. I still miss them. Every single day.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Small Things

I was gone most of the day, running around town, tending to the errands, getting gas, getting a haircut, picking out new glasses. I got home late and didn't have much time before I had to leave for dinner with Rene and Donnie and Mike and Beth (we're celebrating Rene's new job), but the highlight of the afternoon was being at The Glen with Duncan. It didn't matter that we didn't have long to play, only that The Glen still has snow and Duncan found a nice-sized stick to chew on. He played Keep-Away and wouldn't let me anywhere near him as he rested on the snowy side of the hill, the stick jutting out of his mouth as he chewed on it. There is something about Duncan with a stick in the snow that is truly magical. He ceases to be a dog, becomes something wild and untamed, bucking and thrashing with joy, head high as he dances on his back legs and spins in the air, or the way he curls his paws around it and tucks it down under his chin while he peels the bark from it. I watch him and think I could never bring him so much joy as the simple things he finds, the things I walk past or over without noticing.

If there is such a thing as reincarnation, it must take a special soul indeed to come back as a dog.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Window Stories*

If there's one thing I hate it's when the holiday decorations don't go away. My mother raised me the right way, which means the tree, the tinsel and hoopla come down by New Year's Day. Any later than that and not only are you lazy, but you're sick in the head. Considering that the holidays now begin sometime shortly after Labor Day, I'm stymied as to how anyone could stand another minute of Christmas by the 26th. As Duncan and I walked down Leawood tonight, I couldn't help but tsk tsk tsk at all the people who haven't had the decency to take it all down and put it back in a box. If Wal-Mart can find the guts to do it, so can they!

If I were a voyeur (and I'm not saying I'm not), walking down Leawood could be an interesting experience. The first thing I noticed was all the lights still up, then the trees in the windows, some still lit, but many were dark and brittle, fire hazards dressed in drag. Once I got past the holiday hangers-on I started seeing the people and brief glimpses of their lives. Like television there's a bit of everything, a story for everyone, fact and fiction, and you need only scan the various windows for the one that's right for you.

Greg Holland was just getting home from work. He's a plumber who works for the new communities up at Lowry and Stapleton and gets to drive one of those shiny white vans with all sorts of gear fastened to the roof and sides. As Duncan and I passed, poor Greg was struggling to remove a ladder but it fell and the language he used was not fit for a house with a wreath–brown and folded up on itself–still hanging on the front door.

Nora Chambers, who lives on the corner of Newland and Leawood was standing over her sink in her kitchen, which faces the street. Her arms were moving rapidly up and down, as if rinsing potatoes or scrubbing a seared pan. She was talking to someone over her shoulder, probably her nineteen year-old son, Cliff, who's played Wii every waking second since Christmas. Nora did not look happy, and that one long curl in the middle of her forehead, the one she bleaches to hide the advancing gray, was wagging and bouncing like a deflated balloon.

On Newland Duncan got sidetracked by a lawn statue, nearly invisible behind the shrubs and rocks. It was a small bunny, it's ears up and at alert, eyes wide and peering straight ahead, right at Duncan, who froze and lowered his head as he studied the thing. I stepped back and watched him as his left paw came up slowly, as if pointing, before he took a cautious step and inched closer to the thing. When it didn't move he waited a moment, snorted softly then looked up at me to see whether or not I'd witnessed his momentary confusion. Another sniff and we were on our way toward the school.

Down on Jay, at the house with too many trucks, a trailer laden with well-used RVs, a burnt-out looking camper shell and a garage full of tools and engine parts, two teenagers were smoking in the darkness off the side of the driveway. One said, "I can't believe you got away with it," to which the other replied, "I know, right? They think grandma did it."

People love their lights and on both sides of the street we could see clearly into nearly every room. Sharon and Ralph Piper looked as though they were arguing. Ralph must've just come home because he was still wearing his scrubs. At the school one lonely teacher, a brown-haired, short woman with a white, puffy sweater, was busy writing on the board, stepping back every now and then to inspect her work. It was nearly 7:30 and as we passed her window I wondered if she had anyone to go home to. Across the street, on Ingalls, Glenda Tropmann was baking cookies for the 6th Grade Winter Carnival. He daughter Caitlyn, the 6th grader, was sitting on a stool nearby, talking on the telephone and twisting her long brown hair around her thumb. Downstairs her brother, Colby, was watching 1 Vs 100. Next door, the Hoffmans were doing the same while their black lab Libby sniffed the counter for dinner crumbs. A couple of houses down and across the street, Randy Norby was in the garage working on his truck, as he's done every night since his wife left.

There was no end to what we could see and learn on our quick walk down to the school and back. Even at our apartment building the lights were on next door, at Tom and Melinda's, where they were eating dinner in the living room from TV trays. Their dogs were on the floor, Kiki with her head resting on her neatly folded paws while Cyrus licked himself. Across the way, Ben and his Boxer, Layla, were running back and forth across his living room.

As we came into our Christmas-free apartment and I took the leash off Duncan, kissing his head and cheering him for a good walk as I do every time we come home, I smiled and asked him, "Do you think if I posted a made up a story about the houses we passed and the people who lived there, they'd believe me?" He cocked his head and waited for me to kick off my boots. "If you write with authority," I explained, "People will believe almost anything."

*Dedicated to Kelly, whose neighbors know no boundaries

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Despite what Paul Theroux had to say about geese in a Smithsonian Magazine article last year, I still loathe them.

It's that time of year when the dirty monsters make their rounds through Denver's numerous grassy areas and lakes. They descend from above in clacking clouds, defiling the land with their dark green turds and hacking, barking calls. There is nary a place I can walk without having to dodge the messy, moist piles they leave behind. The lake and swimming pools at The Breakers were infested with the things, as are the grounds of the school, the sidewalks near my home and every place in between. While working at CDW in Illinois I witnessed a goose savage a pregnant woman and nearly had to run over it with my car to drive it away from her. Geese are no friends to civilized people and I am no friend of them. Before we moved to Littleton, I delighted in freeing Duncan from his lead to let him chase the things off my lawn, barking at them as they rose skyward in a huffing impossible sweep of wings and fat bodies.

Over the weekend on one of our walks I noticed a strange footprint, a singular thing caught in a small clump of snow between two patches of grass. It was a three-toed impression within a pentagonal imprint and upon first seeing it I thought someone was having a joke at my expense. After all, I've spent enough time creating what I call "elf prints" in the snow using the side of my loosely closed fist and thumb to create a footprint which looks as thought a small, barefoot child has darted across the snow. I was reminded of E.T.s tracks in the dirt outside Elliot's house but upon leaning down and looking at it more closely quickly determined that Clement Park had not been invaded by botanist aliens but by geese. Over the next few days the tracks grew in number until this evening when we were walking down below the skate park and found ourselves in a field overrun with tracks and round little impressions where the things huddled out the night. The snow had turned gray and brown and nearly scraped away by the thousands of tracks which spread out in all directions. Duncan seemed to have discovered it before I did and so I spent much of the remainder of our walk fighting to keep him from behaving like a kid in a candy shop. Everywhere he turned he spied green chunks, ripe and juicy, perfect for sucking down like pasta.

They have invaded again and the park and my boots no longer feel safe. Duncan, on the other hand, will have something new to obsess with, now that the rabbits have become scarce.

Photo courtesy of FotoSearch

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Some walks are not spectacular in and of themselves. It's how open to the walk and the world I am that makes them memorable. You'll never find me talking on the phone or listening to a Dan Savage podcast on my iPod. As wonderful as those things can be, they are also isolating and when my greatest walks with Duncan have been the ones in which the world has snapped its fingers at me and called my attention to something I may not have noticed otherwise.

I made it home tonight in time to witness the last of the light leaving the sky. As we trudged through the snow a single stripe of blue light, caught between the black silhouette of the mountains and a band of thick clouds, cut the sky into pieces. I watched it slip away, turning gray, then pale blue and a final fade into a gentle and surprising green before the clouds and mountains swallowed it up. It was shocking and sudden and I marvel that my dog led me to it in his own meandering, iPod and phone-less way.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Twin Comets

We took Duncan's stick to the park tonight, the stick we found months ago and have saved ever since, bringing it down from it's perch in the shelf near the front door only on special occasions to prevent it from becoming routine and boring. It's a perfect length and thickness, with a slight curve on the end, like a handle, from which I can toss it, creating a nice rotating arc before it strikes the ground. I brought it down and carried it across the street, Duncan hopping and whining for it as we jogged across Bowles.

I took him to the lower soccer field, which is at the bottom of a slight bowl and tossed the stick back and forth for nearly 45 minutes and Duncan chased after it tirelessly, never quite bringing it back but circling around me and plunking down in the snow, greedy and suspicious of my every step while he gnawed on it. After we both grew tired I spread myself flat on my back in the snow, which has refrozen and been covered in the fine white powder of last night's storm, making a satisfying crunch and sighing sound as my back slipped into it, my weight pushing up a nest around me. While Duncan sprawled out next to me chewing and holding tight to the stick with his strong paws, I watched a few wispy clouds blow across the night. The stars, far away above them, seemed like familiar faces at a party, coming and going across my sight, appearing briefly between clouds, fading from sight and slipping just as effortlessly back into view. They were clear but their constellations were lost behind the orange haze of Denver around me. Mars was not as red as it has been the last few weeks, which means it's moved away from us, but it was still bright and prominent. The snow was cool on my back and dusted the back of my neck but I didn't mind. Somewhere over my shoulder and to the east, perhaps up near the memorial, I could hear the tags of another's dog's collar echoing over the snow fields and the hushed voices of two people talking and strolling through the night. As the clouds rolled slowly past it looked as though the stars were moving and for a moment, if I forgot about the feeling of the earth against my back and filtered out the frame of the trees on the edge of my vision, it seemed as though I were floating through space, moving at a lazy speed, gliding across the southern constellations, my dog–the reason I was there in the first place–at my side, the two of us twin comets, oblivious to the sound of traffic, the cold air or the warm pull of home across the street, blazing our own path through the night.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Snow Dance

The snow started earlier this afternoon and as I watched the sky turn from white to gray, from distant to very near and very low, I couldn't help but think that snow with Christmas is like the empty echo of a great big house without any furniture. It may be beautiful but it feels hollow and cold. As I watched the big flakes blot out the color of the cars in the parking lot, then the patches of grass which had only just made it through the layers of ice, then the sidewalks, I wondered if I today's snow would've felt better with a layer of Christmas behind it, the glow of all those lights on its surfaces, buried under the covered branches. It'll be a bear to walk in, I thought feeling cold already. And I'm sure the sidewalks will be a mess. I felt myself get old in a matter of moments and turned back to the day without much glee.

But when I got home and discovered Duncan sitting in the bedroom window, his face practically adhered to the glass, his tongue lolling out and his tail thumping against the pillows, I knew he'd provide the warmth and spirit that January–such a poor replacement for December–lacks.

It took some time changing from my grown-up clothes into my snow clothes, and he waited patiently, without his usual chirping and nervous prancing back and forth in front of me, sometimes knocking the boot from my hand. He watched me, his tail beating against the door until I was up, coated and gloved and ready to go. And then there was no stopping him. Barely had we crossed into the yard before he was rolling and galloping, spinning in circles and snorting.

The park was mostly pristine, the new snow filling in the cracks and naked spots of the weekend's melt. It's always a bit of a shame to mar a clean surface like that, but watching Duncan cavort is just as pleasing to the eye as a smooth, powder plain. He is to snow as Nijinsky was to dance. Watching him is like watching an artist create, the way he tears up a field, burying his face in it as he moves, kicking up wakes of powder both in front of and behind him. His leaps are huge and he twists in the air, his tail elongating and spinning his body in great red circles. He springs straight up and comes down in a crouch, ready to go again. The snow seems to part before him, eager to avoid his churning feet. He is a virtuoso and watching him tonight filled me with joy, erasing my misgivings.

Snow does not need Christmas to be magical, it needs only friendship.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Everything Except Walk

Duncan's spirit is the spirit of a tree, joyful and great, reaching ever outward and upward, mingling with the wind, rejoicing in the snow, as bright and loud as Spring.

Our walk this morning in the park was joyful, despite the slush and mud. The sky alone was enough to bring us happiness, but we had each other and dancing and sliding on our bellies to tend to. Duncan investigated every tree we passed, sniffing out their trunks for squirrels or other dogs and I had their glorious boughs and branches to marvel at. There are times when his constant investigation of them is trying, but this morning we found a mutual appreciation for them and neither of us minded paying them the attention they deserve.
We can learn a great from a tree if only we'd stop and listen. As Alice Walker said, "Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk?"

Saturday, January 5, 2008


During the best of the snow someone took the time to make a snow family in the yard on the other side of my building. They lack for faces or clothing but at least their creator saw fit to provide them with skinny twigs for arms. Today's sunshine and warmth took a toll on them and now they don't resemble people so much as some sort of bizarre snowhenge, three oddly shaped obelisks jutting up in a ring, slush totems that fail at announcing the time or day of the year.

As Duncan warily moved among them, not quite sure what to think, I remembered the afternoon of Christmas Eve when Duncan and I took Ruth to the park for a walk through a tremendous snow storm. While Duncan galloped and careened among the trees, Ruth and I rolled up the first snowman I've built in probably twenty years. He was a nice tall fellow with enormous hips, a wide belly and a head as big around as a boulder. We found berries for his eyes, twigs for his brows, a red seed pod for his smile and Duncan provided sticks for arms.

I've thought of him a lot the last couple of weeks, wondered if he's still there, even if only as a slushy pillar. It's a shame that our snow people have to melt, leaving on the memory of their births behind. But even when they seem to serve no further purpose, Duncan finds them useful as places from which to retrieve his sticks. As we passed by the trio in the yard this afternoon he sniffed them cautiously then pulled off one of the arms before merrily prancing away.


It was a remarkably warm day, so much so that I slid the patio door open, closed the screen and let the cool, fresh air fill the apartment. The cats basked in the sunshine and the breeze, rolling on the floor in a state of delirium. Duncan and I took to the park where we, too, enjoyed the sunshine. For over an hour we tromped through the slushifying snow, which seemed so pristine and strong only last night, but which has turned an unappealing industrial shade, not only along the curbs, but across the fields as well. The snow has souped down nicely and all those little craters our feet had punched into the top ice layer all week looked more like shallow bowls filled with the kind of watery potato gruel my former step-mother excelled at concocting. It was still difficult to make our way through the park, and Duncan kept finding himself bogged down in shoulder-high drifts which had taken on the consistency of giant gray snow cones, sprinkled with sand and car-fume exhaust. Grass has found a way to poke through several large spots, but it's turned muddy and flooded and we found ourselves cutting wide circles around it. The park seemed a rather bleak place because as the snow has pulled back it's revealed all sorts of nasty secrets its kept hidden for the past three weeks: the soggy, matted body of what I can only assume was once a squirrel, colorful fast food bags, nearly invisible water bottles, and the greatest joy of all, turds. Turds are everywhere. It seems my fellow park-goers mistakenly believed the snow would cleanly dispose of anything their dogs left behind, not just preserve it until the world defrosted and turned to slush, a kind of meatball soup.

Soup, everywhere we turned.

But at least the sunshine was warm and the sky beautiful. If there's nothing else to look at, you can always take solace in the safe majesty of the sky.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Simplicity Blessing

There are nights when the sky is so open and the stars so clear that no words can describe them. Duncan and I played on the packed snow with our friend Erik and his two dogs, Otis and Gracie, and even though I had fun sliding down the hill on my belly, my arms out wide beside me, the air cold on my knees and around my ankles, the dogs clambering all around me, trying to drown me between their warm bodies and the snow , I could not stop looking skyward and thinking silent thoughts of thanks that I was given the chance to be outside and part of the pack. There are no words to describe the feel of twelve tiny and some not so tiny feet pawing at your back as Mars rises above you and three feather-shaped clouds waft slowly across the eastern sky. An ordinary night made magical by friendship and heavenly light. We are blessed by the simplicity we so often overlook.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


The world is turning.

I have been patient, watching the skies shift, The Big Dipper overturning above the northern horizon, Scorpio creeping up the south eastern edge of the darkness. The nights have been so long and it seems forever since Duncan and I have felt the sunset on our faces as we walked, but tonight as Mars tracked us, red and brilliant above us, I realized we are slowly, almost imperceptibly reclaiming the days, turning the nights over to the southerners. It's hardly noticeable, and when it is, you still have to squint to see it, but the days are growing longer and soon the snow will retreat as the planet spins back in our favor. Mornings and birdsong will arrive before our eyes are open, our bare feet will play in the grass as we weave it between our toes and the scent of Russian Olives will carry on the breeze. It's a long way off and foolish to look so far forward, running the risk of overlooking what's before me now, but who doesn't know that anticipation is most of the fun.

I will not wish my days away. I will not forsake Duncan's joy at throwing himself head first into a drift, but I can still dream about the Spring.

The days are getting longer and five o'clock is no longer dark. It's coming and I need plenty of time to enjoy my dreams.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Snow as Sand

The world is different under the snow, like a ship resting at the bottom of the sea. Snow is a poet, transforming objects into more than what they are while allowing them to remain the same. The magic is found in that connection between what is and what could be. Benches become overturned mattresses. Shrubs and small bushes are the bodies of kittens sleeping under a tangle of linens on sloppy, unmade beds. Snow allows us to see and assume.

The magic of snow is that not only does it transform the things it buries, but it has the power to transform itself with the ease of a glance from an impressionist painter. It ceases to be snow, becomes a field of diamonds, an abyssal plain, the pale skin of a loved one, the memory of bone.

Walking the park tonight was a bit like flying over a foreign land. As I relinquished Duncan's leash and let him gallumph circles around me, I watched my booted feet, still strange and new to me, crunch through the top crust of the wind-hardened snow. There was a moment with each step where I wondered if it would support my weight, which it quite often did, but just as often held for only a moment before cracking in chunks, splintering a crater around my foot. I looked down on the wind-swept surface and saw a desert from miles above, with tall dunes rising in gentle slopes or forced into rugged peaks. Valleys and canyons spread out in all directions, and ripples, from a long-vanished sea, tickled against the bases of the trees. Every now and then, where the wind had whipped too hard, the yellowed grass was exposed, naked and shocking, like a glimpse of someone from behind a shower curtain. Or more aptly, like an occasional oasis bursting through the sand, shattering the unending monotony of the desert.

It was a tough walk. Even listening to the cracking and collapsing sound of my footsteps was work. But it was beautiful in a way I'd never seen before. Snow as sand, my dog and I riding the choppy air above it, transforming the landscape with steps and imagination.

Duncan's Hero

You've heard me talk about her for months, so on our first official walk of the new year, Duncan decided he wanted to visit Aunt Chelsea at Hero's Pets, who's not only bubbly and fun, but also gives out the best treats this side of Grandma's house. We braved the trecherous drifts, crossed icy streets and had a very exciting moment with a rabbit, all to get to Hero's.

I think aside from the middle of my bed, or sprawling out on the couch next to me, Hero's is his favorite spot.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


The park was wonderful, completely alien under all the snow, silence and night. It took nearly thirty minutes to tromp across the fields and up the hill which overlooks the lake, and the snow was difficult to navigate. It's been touched by the wind, turned crisp and brittle, and when stepped on crunches and breaks in big blocks rather than compressing into tidy little tracks. It was work and Duncan couldn't walk so much as bound from one broken crater to the next, dragging me behind him. Once we reached our summit I released him from the leash and he ran mighty circles around me, crashing through the snow and ice, the sound heavy like glaciers breaking away and falling into bays. The night was quiet as I've never heard it here, not even in our magnificent snow storms. There were no cars out. We stood over the lake, looking down on the streets of Littleton, still glowing with the lights of the holidays, but nothing moved. Pierce was quiet and still, as were Wadsworth and Kipling beyond it. Only the sound of our breathing mattered, until the hour struck and fireworks erupted all around us. From where we stood we had a panoramic view of balls of flowers and fire igniting the sky, their voices ricocheting off the streets and hills around us. Duncan paused in his gaiety and listened intently, and then, as I was about to reach for him, he leaped up on me, planted his big, cold paws on my chest and jumped repeatedly for my face. I bent down and he kissed me, his tail wagging, like he knew what it meant, like the festivities made sense even to him.