Friday, February 29, 2008

A Day Like Today

I could use more of them, days like today. Days where the yellow of the grass is starting to give way and if you look close enough you can see blades of green––actual grass, green and strong––poking through like exclamation points. Days when the park, which has been empty for so long, only a handful of visitors walking it daily, wearing the snow down bit by slushing bit, is suddenly full. Full of girls in shorts, white shoes, tight tanks, their hair pulled back as they jog. A team of them. Probably from the high school. The basketball courts full of boys. Shirts and skins like in high school, yellow Live Strong bands around their wrists. Days when the picnic areas are full of people grilling, moms and more moms overseeing the patties and dogs, clean smoke rising up around while dads and more dads play catch or chase squealing children and more children on tricycles and bicycles with training wheels. Days when the sun is so bright the geese flying overhead cast shadows, strong dark shadows which move swiftly across the rough surface of tree trunks and then break, like scattered puzzle pieces across each of the the naked branches, a kaleidescope of shadows united only by the sound of the flapping and honking cries from above. Birds seen through beveled glass. Days when the ants first appear on the sidewalks and along the wide roots of the trees, building cities above and underground, their shadows long, longer than their dreams. Days when the sound of a ball striking a bat is like music you've never heard but love the moment it meets your ears, a moment that changes life from black and white to Technicolor. A cliche. But on days like today all the cliches are real and true. True as hip-hop beats blown from cars as they glide past at speeds perfect for driving with the windows down. Days like these are days I live for, walks I relish, Duncan at my side, snow and cold forgotten things if only for now, those blades of grass stretching up to lick my ankles and remind me that Spring is coming, surely it is coming, no thief in the night. A glorious thing.

There are blades of green climbing through my spirit and all I can think is Tomorrow there will be more. Tomorrow there is more joy to walk through, fly through, fold around myself, breath and exhale. Breath and exhale.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


For months I have complained about our sleeping arrangements but have done nothing about it. Except complain. At some point in the past year Duncan decided that if the bed was good enough for the cats and us it was good enough for him. He spent the first two years of his life sleeping on the enormous fluffy pillow in his kennel, but at some point he decided he liked sleeping under the bed better so we folded up the kennel and listened as nightly he scrunched down and did a kind of belly-waddle under the bed, sometimes bumping his head in the process. Eventually, though, with all three cats nestled around us, he decided he wanted in on the action as well.

He is the gentlest, biggest-hearted dog I've ever known, sensitive and kind and unbelievably giving, but he's never been bashful or conservative about where he sleeps. Once he claimed the bed it was all I could do maintain my little niche there. Winnie prefers my hip, Pip lays claim to my chest or shoulder and Olive alternates between Ken's pillow and mine. We are surrounded on all sides. Ken doesn't notice Duncan's sprawling presence and can sleep just about anywhere. I, on the other hand, have to toss and turn for a bit before I finally settle down, and tossing and turning requires space. Winnie has adapted fairly well, rising up on her tip toes when I roll over and doing this little sideways shuffle in order to remain in one spot. Once I've found a good position she settles right back down as though nothing happened. Pip is a heavy sleeper and doesn't stir. Olive reaches out a paw and touches my forehead making a comforting little meow when she touches me. But Duncan sleeps heavily, snores loudly, and doesn't budge. And to make matters worse, he tends to sleep right down the center of the bed--sideways--forcing Ken and me into scrunched up balls. Ken doesn't mind but it makes my life difficult. I've threatened them both with the kennel but nothing ever comes of it.

Last night, however, Duncan crawled under the bed and didn't budge. And I, of course, didn't sleep a wink. It felt strange without him there, warming my feet, taking up space, snorting and twitching his hind legs all night. Try as I might, I couldn't get him to join us. Finally, at 3:15 he started whining, which disturbed me, so I slid from under the covers, got down on all fours and poked my head under the bed to check on him. He wagged his tail at me, crawled out, jumped up on the bed, off the other side where he immediately belly-waddled back under. He spread out, whined a bit and made some gurgling noises in his belly, but fell right back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, spent the rest of the night awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering why I'd been abandoned, and why I'm so uncomfortable stretching my legs and feeling free to move around. Too much freedom just didn't feel right.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Ever since our confrontations with The Shepherds I've been reluctant to let Duncan roam the park off-leash. Most days I'd take his ball or we'd find a stick and toss them across the fields, running back and forth retrieving them. Even when Duncan grew bored with the games he danced and scampered around me, grabbing my wrist in his mouth and leading me around like he does when he gets excited. But since I reminded the caretakers of the two German Shepherds that Clement Park is a leash park, I've made a conscious decision to keep Duncan leashed at all times. After all, no one likes to be accused of being a hypocrite, or worse, feeling like one all on your own.

But tonight, after a long day at work, we walked over to the park and because no one was around, I let go of his leash, threw my guard stick as far as I could and watched as Duncan chased after it. He's been rather sluggish the last few days and I've been concerned that he was suffering the same winter blues I've been experiencing, but the moment he stretched his legs and ran across the field my fears dissipated. Everything about him changed, his face lit up and he could not help but smile as we ran circles around one another, playing keep away with the stick. Duncan leapt high, rolled onto his back and groaned loudly and he stretched his body into one long, thin straight line, his beaming face at one end, his thumping tail at the other. He thrashed about wildly then jumped up and did it all again. I have not seen him this way in weeks and as tired as I was I couldn't help but feel my own spirit lifted. Soon I was rolling around with him, groaning just as loudly.

And when The Shepherds appeared on the far side of the baseball field, I simply called Duncan to me, grabbed the leash and watched as they did the same. We seem to have reached some sort of peaceful understanding and mutual respect. They leave us alone and I get to be a dog with Duncan. Who could ask for more?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


A good friend recently remarked that the geese of Clement Park have become like characters in the "story" of my daily walks with Duncan. I have done battle with them, chastised them, mocked them, faced direct attacks from them and lived to tell about it. My own grandmother commented that my hostility toward them was not in my character and she was disappointed because she thought I "loved all creatures." It was a humbling moment and I was forced to pause and try to look at them with a more tender eye, but hours later, as I was struggling to keep Duncan from devouring their green tootsie-roll droppings and then scraping those very same morsels from the bottom of my boots, I shrugged it off and decided that I do love all creatures. All creatures except geese.

They have been gathering in greater numbers all over Littleton, not just in my park but across the athletic fields at school, along the shores of every lake in the vicinity, even in the streets where they often force traffic to come to a standstill. This afternoon I watched a flock of nearly a hundred soar overhead, their bodies huffing and waging war against gravity. I stood in awe on the sidewalk listening to their barking calls and had to marvel at their ability to leave the ground at all. In flight they are wondrous, almost shocking; on the ground they are varmints.

But today, coming home from the park, making an uncharacteristic crossing at the intersection of Bowles and Pierce, we saw a lone goose, which had misplaced the rest of its flock, had stopped the traffic as it tried to decide which direction to go. Duncan, who has spent much of our winter time chasing them, barking them off the ground, strained on the leash and whined. Traffic had begun to back up with drivers anxious to get home after a long day. Each time the poor bird took a few steps one way, the cars edged further forward until finally it was crowded on nearly all sides. The goose, its black eyes wide, looked back and forth, its body turning to match the direction of its head. There was panic and confusion in its eyes and I could almost feel the anxiety that was certainly flooding its body. It did not honk but made slight, whispery chirps, low and cautious, as though it was trying to talk itself through the situation, a trick I have used many times during anxiety attacks. You're not dying. You're not dying. Oh, please let me not be dying. I watched, wishing it would simply run down the center of the road, flap its long wings and jump into the air, but geese need a runway and there simply wasn't enough room. It turned and turned again and my own heartbeat began to quicken. Finally, when I was sure an angry Juicy Bun in an SUV would simply run it over, it squeezed between the cars and began to navigate its way to safety. The sound of its voice rose until it was no longer muttering under its breath but actually cursing the cars which had surrounded it. It finally crossed the street into the park, its head turning quickly side to side as if seeking out another goose, or any bird––maybe even a squirrel for that matter––to confide in. "Did you see that? I thought I was a goner for sure. A million times Mathilda has told me not to play in the street, but did I listen? Certainly not. Will I tell her she was right? Certainly not! Come on, Larry, let's go get a beer!"

I won't soon forget the look in its eyes, so lost and so frightened. Nor will I forgive its invasion of my playground, but perhaps my heart has opened up a little. No creature functions well solo.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Two Hundred

Two hundred times I have sat here, looking out my window, at green grass or oranging leaves, at snow dancing against the window, the rain making invisible smattering sounds out on the road. Two hundred times I have told you about my walks, the things we have seen and the steps we have taken, and always my thought about both. Two hundred times I have shared the beauty of my dog and the calm that settles over me, like a church calm or a lake calm, when I am with him. Two hundred times you have laced up your shoes and joined us, pulling your scarf tight around yourself, or reaching deep into your mittens. Two hundred thank yous for all the times you came along.

Walks are always better with someone else.

Last night
the rain
spoke to me
slowly, saying,
what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
and vanished
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain –
imagine! imagine!
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.
(Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me, Mary Oliver)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Smoke Rings

Tell me where do they go,
These smoke rings I blow each night?
What do they do these circles of blue and white?
And why do they seem to picture a dream of love?
Why do they fade, my phantom parade of love?
(Smoke Rings, The Mills Brothers)

Sunday night is a blues night, a night to sit on my patio, Duncan at my feet, the laundry churning inside–as it has all day– melancholy music playing while a cigarette dangles from my lip. Sunday is the bluest night of the week and I can't help but plod through with a flourish. Were it Summer I'd don a wife-beater and pretend it was some time in the 30's in the Midwest, flat and lonesome with nothing but the smell of the corn and whiskey to keep me company. Sunday is a day that moves too fast despite its tedium, a day to reflect on all you'd hoped to accomplish and to feel guilt for all you didn't. Sundays are manic in their leisure and I've never known quite how to handle them. It may be the first day of the week but it feels like the last, like a dream about to burst at the sound of the clock. I do not like Sunday and have spent much of my life trying. I walked Duncan three times today, once through Leawood, the neighborhood which reminds me of the streets where I grew up and all the people I knew there who probably haven't thought of me in years. We strolled through the park where a new youth baseball team has sprung up, their white and blue uniforms stark and brilliant as they practiced against the warm sky. And finally we walked down Bowles, past the place where the bus stop used to be before a car skidded on the ice a few months back and smashed it to pieces. We stopped at the dog park and I let Duncan roam around off-leash, but neither of us seemed satisfied so we returned home to the patio where we've been sitting for an hour, The Mills Brothers playing on a loop while I smoke and he gnaws on mulch. Sunday feels like there should be something more but I don't know what. More late-night driving under serene and vast skies. More drinks with more people. More adventures. More beginnings.

Oh, little smoke rings I love,
Please take me above, take me with you.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reverent Moments

Some times are better than others and having walked Duncan at nearly all times I know which I prefer.

I prefer the morning times when the world is quiet and the sky is newly blue and the birds are singing, when steps echo across the walk and the jingle of Duncan's leash is like music. The people we pass on those walks are the kindest, friendliest of all, eager to greet and stop and exchange talk while our dogs sniff and tangle their leashes, forcing their caretakers to shuffle and move, exchange leashes, bend and spin, a dance for their quiet enjoyment.

I prefer afternoons in Summer when I can wear flips flops and get my feet green, when I lay down in the grass and roll with Duncan while he chews on a stick or his green ball, tolerant of my play, patient with me and happy to be sharing moments under warm skies.

I prefer times when the light is gold and the sun is caught between the horizon and a band of clouds. If it has just rained the air is rich and sweet with all the scents of the day floating at dog level. If Duncan steps in the mud his foot leaves the cleanest little imprint, a reminder, if only for a day or two, that we passed this way.

I prefer the time just after the sun has set, when the sky is blue, an inky blue and not yet dark, when the last rays of the sun are able to catch the few clouds above and paint them bright pink, patches on the quilt of advancing night.

I prefer Autumn days when the trees rain leave on us and Duncan dances to catch them, snapping all around his head. The air is cinnamon and warm and tree bark smells like chocolate.

I prefer the moments just after the snow has started, when each flake still makes a sound as it hits the earth, when you can hear the faint melting and when the ground swallows the storm.

There is reverence in these moments that I have never found in a church.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Squirrel and Goose

Everything said, Don't go for a walk. Not now. Wait. But did I listen? No.

I came home, laid down on the bed to greet the kids and almost immediately Winnie and Olive curled up on my back and fell asleep. Duncan nestled down above me and I watched the small birds hop outside the bedroom window while he licked the top of my head, one paw resting on my shoulder blades. It had been a long day and as tempted as I was to take a nap, with all those warm bodies curled on and around me, the sweet whistles of the birds lulling me to sleep, I rolled over, much to the annoyance of the cats, and got up. Duncan began his dance and chirp as we leashed up, grabbed our big stick and headed outside where I immediately stepped in a pile of poop that someone (the neighbor with lab) forgot to clean up. With Duncan pulling me along I did that walk we've all done when we've stepped in something unpleasant, a kind of shuffling, dragging lope, pressing my foot firmly down into the grass in order to wipe off the mess. I scraped my shoe on the gravel, on the rain gutter that runs down the middle of the back yard, along the edges of the sidewalk, even against one of the trees, all of which was made more difficult by the insistence of the dog who had more important things to attend to. I mean, what's the big deal, right? He eats the stuff all the time.

As the weather has warmed and our days have grown longer, we've stopped seeing rabbits and have spent a lot of time chasing large flocks of geese and treeing squirrels, which we did almost immediately upon entering the park. While Duncan clamored around the trunk of the tree, I continued my scrape and slide, scrape and slide, the squirrel above screaming down a litany of curses at us, its tail cutting the air almost violently. When Duncan realized it wasn't going to come down we moved on to the next tree, and the tree after that until we'd crossed the baseball fields and treed another one near the batting cages and volleyball courts. Duncan whined and shuffled around while I gazed up and did my best squirrel impersonation, which is quite good if I do say so myself. It screamed at us for several minutes and then fell strangely silent, wagging its tail and–I swear I'm not making this up–smiling at us. Duncan plopped down in the grass and as we stared upward the squirrel farted and released four or five small, black pellets which dropped and bounced, dropped and bounced again and finally landed blink blink blink on my arm. I jumped back, Duncan jumped up and that's when the geese appeared.

They were a small flock, perhaps only twenty or thirty in all, and they'd been resting on the gentle slope of hill above us. When I screeched and Duncan barked, they climbed to their feet and ran straight at us in that funny, heaving way that geese have, opening their wings and flapping furiously to gain altitude. Geese trying to fly is not a pretty sight; watching them is like watching someone push a dead car down the middle of a busy street. And the sound! The sound is like driving over railroad tracks, loud and jarring, something that can be felt in the chest even as it thumps in the ears. I turned and looked at them as they bore down on us. Duncan forgot the squirrel and looked at the stampeding flock as they rushed closer and closer, their pointed pin heads perched atop their absurdly long and taut necks, those black, beady eyes the eyes of sharks. Neither of us seemed to know what to do, run or duck, so we stood dumbfounded and watched. And just as they seemed to be upon us they caught the air. I leapt behind the tree and ducked, throwing myself to my knees and raising my hands over my head as they filled the space I'd occupied only moments earlier. Forty or fifty wings splashed in the air all around us as their voices rose, a squawking discordant chorus that echoed across the park and perhaps even the golf course on the other side of that.

It was only after they'd passed the baseball fields that I looked down and saw my knee had come to rest in a nice green nugget of wet and still warm goose gunk.

Next time I'll listen and take the nap instead.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Caution and Patience

"The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size." (Gertrude S. Wister)

It is too early, I know, and I'd be a fool to get excited about Spring, but I can smell it, a rich, heavy smell, like tilled earth, clean and fresh, the opposite of Autumn's smoke and bark scent. I can see it. The green poop littering our parks and sidewalks is drying up, dusting away like chalk. The morning birds perch on top of our building and call to us as Duncan and I pace the grass under clear, crisp skies. The sun, which eluded me for so long, sees me safely home and all along our walks. I can feel it when I open the windows on warm afternoons and lay with the cats on the bed, basking in the light and the fresh breeze. I can hear it in the calls of the gulls, which have recently appeared, crowding the sky. The geese are gaggling together in greater numbers, pacing restlessly on ground they have pecked and scoured clean for months. It is not here, but it is coming. I know it. I saw it today on our walk. And while March and April are typically Denver's snowiest months, I can still rejoice in a quietly hopeful way. With a little caution. And lots of patience.
The tulips are coming! The tulips are coming!
Call me a fool for loving them but they are still coming!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

From Bone to Blood

The clouds ahead were moving slower than the ones behind and no matter how long I stood outside, Duncan at my feet gnawing on wood chips, no matter how hard I wished it, I just couldn't make the moon come out for me. I spent more time watching the dark gaps between clouds, oceans to their continents, drifting slowly, slowly eastward, never quite wisping away, only thickening the harder I watched. They rose up from unknown places, ignoring the vast expanse of clearness in the southwest, ignoring physics by materializing from nothingness, like smoke or dreams or something for which we have no words. I stood, shifting my weight from foot to foot, thrusting my hands into my pockets to keep them warm. I walked with Duncan around the buildings, turning to look over my shoulder every few seconds and still, no matter how hard I sought, the moon wouldn't play hide-and-seek, only hide. I could see its glow shining from its bottom end through the clouds, like something glimpsed through many mirrors, but the sky wouldn't give me what I wanted, clarity and vision, connectedness with all those people who are out there in the night gazing up at it, watching it turn from bone to blood, children, wrapped in blankets and mittens sitting on laps waiting for the moon to disappear. We are all looking for the moon, and in a sense, looking for each other, sailors on the seas of night, guided toward a single destination.

Image courtesy of Google Images

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Nineteenth

Today would've been my grandmother's seventy-ninth birthday, which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Duncan. But as we walked tonight, thoughts of her heavy in my heart, the stars started creeping out and I remembered that when I was very little and sad over the death of my great grandmother, Grandma took me outside under an evening summer sky where we stood holding hands watching the night slowly come on. "Curty," she said. That's what she–and only she–called me. "When we die God gives us our very own star in the night sky so that we can look down on the world and all the people we love in it, even the people we don't know yet, and offer them light and direction. And in this way they're never really gone from our lives. Do you understand?" I nodded, understanding as much as a four year old could, and asked which star belonged to great grandma, her mother. "Which one do you think?" she asked. I squinted and strained my eyes and picked a very small and not very bright one, thinking that because great grandma had just died her star must be very new and hadn't quite got the hang of being a star yet.

Duncan came into my life the very same year Grandma died, a mere four months after. When he was a puppy and Ken was in Fort Collins I'd watch him play with the cats and explore our home or cuddle up on my lap asleep and wish he'd had the chance to meet her because she was one of the most amazing people in my life. I know we all say that about our loved ones, that they're special, different, but I really believe I had a powerful connection with my grandma. My mother tells me that when I was born, the second grandchild, my grandmother picked me up and we stared intently into each others eyes for a very long time. "Yep," she said. "That's the one," not meaning that I was her favorite (she was the fairest person I've ever known and would never stoop to picking favorites) but that we shared a bond that not even the two of us would be able to explain.

Her death was hard on me. It was very hard on all of my family and even after nearly four years we haven't recovered, which would sorely disappoint her. And there are still times I miss her so ferociously I could drive myself mad if I think about it. But then there's Duncan. Duncan who seems to understand me like no one else. Duncan, who two years ago at Christmas visited Grandma's grave–a place he'd never been–with my sister and me and jumped out of the car, ran straight to her snow-covered headstone and began clearing it off, laying down on it and licking it once he'd finished. Duncan, who when once asked if he knew her sat up, smiled in that way of his and smacked his tail loudly up and down. Duncan, who has comforted me in moments of sadness that still feel fresh. There's Duncan, with whom I have a very powerful, inexplicable connection.

Maybe our loved ones are more than just stars in the night. Maybe they can pick new friends for us, friends who will help fill the void they've left behind and offer some unconditional love in the face of the grief we carry. Or maybe they can do even more than that. Be more.

I once said that it takes a very special person to come back in their next life as a dog. I'm not saying my grandmother has become one, only that she was a very special person. Special indeed. And she's sorely missed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Love Song to This Night

Don’t you write it down
Remember this in your head
Don’t take a picture
Remember this in your heart
Don’t leave a message
Talk to me face to face
Talk to me face to face

("Dead Man's Hill" Indigo Girls)

I wish you could have seen it. I wish your hand was in mine, balanced amid the heavy stick I carry, with its pale bark, smooth except for the places on the ends where Duncan chewed before I realized it would make a fine weapon should a situation arise which called for a weapon. Your hand would've felt warm and of a good weight, although Duncan would've pulled us, anxious as he always is to get to the top of the hill, and we would've had to adjust and tighten our grip just to keep touching through our gloves and mittens. But we wouldn't have minded because the sky was so gloriously pink and gold, and the silhouettes of those two kites, black against the brilliance of the sunset, would've pulled us as anxiously as Dunc. There was wind tonight, but we would've laughed into it, glancing at each other and not speaking, listening instead to the melting of the day and the flapping of those kites on their delicate strings as the wind caught and pulled them. And there was the laughing of the children, too, tiny captains of their ships who did not want help from the shape of mom or dad–their bodies were dark against the sky and nothing but shadows of big people. Not children. But it was time for them to go and so each of them reeled in and reeled in, a quick twisting and heavy work for small wrists. The kites fought, or the wind fought, it was difficult to tell which, especially with the sound of the fabric slapping against the air and struggling like a fish on a hook. But slowly they descended and for a moment I forgot I was standing, holding my own kite, a ground kite, red and warm and four-legged. I forgot my feet belonged to the earth and imagined I was up there, tethered to a string and struggling to stay afloat amid all that color, the explosion of the day against the fist of night. I didn't want to come down. Down is not in my nature. I belong here, high above the hill and the lake on the edge of the mountains with people looking up rapturously at my flight. But that child pulled and pulled and I could almost hear heavy breaths and the struggle of the tiny heart as it worked and worked that flapping air fish. The kite came down, losing its silhouette and becoming a thing of color, drab compared to the sunset, manufactured and plastic, its illusion blown away with the wind, its tails little more than long, thin streamers of a sliced garbage bag. No wonder it fought to stay aloft. Some things, as Monet knew, look better from a distance, behind a fog, slightly out of focus. Some things are not meant to be seen up close. Cautiously the child reached up, caught the kite at the place where it met the string and I swear I could feel that tiny hand on me, pulling me to earth, gently keeping me from crashing into the brittle grass. Standing there I realized I'd been holding my breath, which is why it would've been good to have you there. You would've said, "Curt, breathe," and I would've. And once that moment was over it would've been nice to see your face painted in sunset and to turn with you and walk back down the hill, the east dark before us, Orion already peeking up over the plains, the moon above, a flock of geese taking flight from their sanctuary on the baseball field below. How glorious it would've been to have seen them from the other side, the side facing the sunset, all those heavy bodies flapping and struggling for flight, resisting gravity and its sirenous kiss. With you, in this night, walking would've been like flying and the memory would last forever.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Delicious Little Ways

This is how the weekend ends.

I watched the snow roll in and out of the sky through the naked branches of the tree on our patio all afternoon. Once the weather decided what it wanted to be I finished my chores and leashed up Duncan. After a lovely night-walk on the crust of the snow which dusted us all day, I decided that we deserved a treat. Duncan was served lamb sausage links in sweet potatoes, snow peas, gravy and Granny Smith apples while I prepared myself chicken poached in vegetable stock and served under a thyme and Gorgonzola cheese sauce, sprinkled with fresh snipped parsley, jasmine rice and buttery white corn. I'll put on my pajamas, pop in The Razor's Edge and enjoy the rest of the evening on the couch, Duncan curled up near me, keeping my feet warm, while Winnie rests on my hip. Were I able to drink, I'd enjoy a glass of port but I'll have to settle for chamomile tea instead. And this will be enough to get me through the week. We all have our ways.

Sunday Coming On

Just before the storm broke Duncan and I were standing outside. The sun had not yet risen and the sky was at that inbetween place, wanting to be light because that's what it was supposed to do, but still dark because it had filled with low clouds that hadn't yet said what they wanted to say. While Duncan searched out his bathroom spot, his feet crunching on the stiff, frosted grass, I pulled my coat around me, bounced on my knees and watched the waiting world decide what it wanted to do. There was no noise except the wind blowing over Bowles, rattling the bits of twig, once-leaves and the occasional fast-food wrapper which had collected in the rain gutters. Then even the wind stopped and the world caught it's breath. Duncan squatted in the silence while I held my ear against the morning and listened the way a person pushes their palm against a pregnant belly and waits to feel a kick or a shove. The silence was deep, underwatery. And then I felt the air churn, a burp really, as it stirred to life, little more than sound followed by a fluttery movement in the trees and then the singing of my chimes, first the small silver ones, then the ceramic ones, and finally the long, wide bamboo ones with their hollow boat sound. I felt the first flakes before I saw them, like cold air popping on my cheeks, near my nose, in my eyelashes. And then I could see them, like dust motes, not falling so much as drifting, into the street. Duncan's collar jingled and I looked to see he'd finished his business and was waiting for me to take him inside and back to bed, which is exactly what I did. There will be plenty of time later to watch the world. Now is the time for sleeping and cuddling.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


After a lovely day of sunshine and a walk around the lake, naps on the couch, cups of warm tea and leftover pasta from dinner with Lisa last night, there is no finer way to unwind than with a good bath. I get one every night, usually close to bedtime, but tonight Duncan decided I needed one early.

I've told people about my nightly Duncan baths and a few have even seen them (some with grimaces of awe and barely concealed disgust, but let me tell you, I'd much rather be licked to death by my dog than watch a toddler eat breakfast. Now that's revolting!), but until you've had it done you can't fully appreciate how wonderful it is. It's like having my own spa, and, with the exception of The Great Yarn Crisis of 2006, far cheaper.

If only I could teach him to do foot rubs!


Sometimes Duncan knows where we're going. I have leashed him up and from the second the door opens he has a purpose, a destination in mind. Last Fall he dragged me out the door, across the street and around the lake to a specific flower, which he presented as though he'd grown and tended to it himself. He has led me the top of Rebel Hill to witness pink and gold sunsets, streaked with clouds, where warm and cool breezes have ruffled the long hair at his chest. He has shown me things with such urgency that I often marvel at his knowing.

Tonight, as the sun was dipping low behind the mountains and the temperature was beginning to drop, he pulled me across the park–stirring up vast numbers of geese in the process–as though he'd gotten online and discovered some new and wonderful location that had to be shared immediately. On the far side of the park, above Columbine he took a sharp left, pulling me across the parking lot toward the batting cage and up a narrow trail wedged between two baseball diamonds. There was such insistence that even though I needed to return home to call my friend Lisa to plan our night out together, I allowed him to lead the way. We stepped through the mud, slipped on the water which was just beginning to thicken up into a nice smooth surface of ice and stepped around dark puddles. He leaned forward, the leash tight and it was all I could do to keep up with him. At the top of the hill he turned right, not even sniffing the edges of the sidewalk. His eyes were focused straight ahead and I trusted him to take me to the place he had in mind.

When we came to a dead end between two sheds he looked up at me, a blank expression on his face. This was it: a barren, slightly muddy strip of sidewalk on the backside of the high school where kids probably sneak away to smoke cigarettes.

Yes indeed; sometimes he does know. And sometimes he just doesn't. I smiled as he sniffed around, no shame on his face, perhaps only some minor confused creases in his eyebrows. I patted his head and said, "Come on, Roo, take me home." And he did without hesitation because that destination was just as good as any.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


The beauty of walking a dog is that it forces you, or rather, allows you, to see the daily beauty of a world which would otherwise remain safely on the other side of a pane of glass. Were there no Duncan there would be no tromping, no cold breath suspended before me, except perhaps near my car as I scraped ice off windows, or in a rush at the between places: from car to work, from car to home and the other times we don't count, ignore and hurry through. There would be no music of a morning snowfall, listening for the chime of flakes catching on branches and needles, sifting slowly down to white earth where they sigh soft notes that fade into a silence only the trees can hear. There would be no whistling of walking songs, some made up in the moment, or humming for no one to hear but frost and dogs. The world, special and magnificent in its winter quiet, joyous beyond words, except the poetry kind, would go unnoticed as it does so often for far too many. Surely this day will be lost amid all the the others, even to me, but somewhere inside I will know I'd been a part of it, actually lived it and walked through it, stood witness to sounds and sensations that were meant for all but shared only with Duncan and myself. If, when I die, there is a God and he asks me what my life meant, I hope I can say, "That day, that cold February day after the sudden and brief thaw, my dog took me to the park and led me off the sidewalk to a place where we watched the snow collect in the trees, and as it wafted down on us, he turned his big red head up into the flakes, closed his eyes and snapped at them like they were flies or smoke. His muzzle turned white and he looked prematurely old, but wise, and so I did the same because he'd led me there and what else was there to do? And in this way he reminded me of the old ways, of the ancient, unspoken joy of seeing without sight." And if this God is there I expect he will nod his head, for he will have known many dogs and their often silly ways, and he will rest his heavy, warm hand on my shoulder and say, "Your dog has taught you well. Go to him, he has waited a long time." And that is all the heaven I'll need.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


There was no mistaking the smell of Spring in the air tonight. It was rich and earthy with just a hint of smoke, but fresh and clean, and the silence of the walk down Leawood certainly added to it. Children were outside playing in the warm air (not to rub it in–well, okay, just a bit but only because I can–but it was in the high 60's today and still 61˚ at 6PM). The sound of dogs playing in their backyards drowned out what little traffic from Pierce and Bowles we could hear and I could feel my spirit soar, a welcome change from the drab brown gruel of the previous weeks.And so, after a week of melancholy and The Blues, it's time to remind myself about the things which hold meaning for me right now, most of which, but not all, come from my walks with Dunc.

The rabbit statue halfway down Leawood that always captures Duncan's attention and sets him into hunt mode. We spent ten minutes staring at it this afternoon, Duncan taking slow and careful steps toward it before finally crashing through the bushes toward it, expecting it to dart away. When it didn't, he looked over his shoulder at me, eyebrows raised, clearly dumbfounded.

On the corner of Nixon and Leawood a tall evergreen sang in bird-ish at us as we approached. The tree was filled with tiny sparrows, some of which fluttered to and fro around it, while most of them hopped safely amid the branches and needles deep inside. There could have been a hundred of them there, all invisible, all raising their voices in a single chorus of praise toward the sun and the blue, shining sky.

On Marshall we met Jinx, a big, waddler of a Golden Retriever who belongs to the Jenkins family ("Get it" Mrs. Jenkins asked. "Jinx Jenkins?" she needlessly explained), who clamored out the door, down the step and across the street toward us while Mrs. Jenkins carried the groceries inside. Duncan and I accompanied Jinx back home and while I made conversation with the family, Jinx proceeded to sniff Duncan and then, without any sort of pillow talk, or even dinner and flowers, attempted to mount him from behind. Duncan snarled and stared up at me wide-eyed while Mrs. Jenkins pulled her dog away, apologized and retreated to her groceries. Duncan almost shook his head in disbelief, as if sighing, "Boys!"

While I watch the sky and the clouds easing slowly across it, squinting into the sun, tilting my head back into the warmth of the afternoon (did I mention it was almost 70˚?), Duncan sees the world in a completely different way, nose to the ground, following trails I'd never know where there. He is so careful with them, delicately touching his nose to the tips of the leaves, carefully circling trunks of trees, stepping over puddles, casting aside pebbles, all in pursuit of things I will never be able to experience.

Working with Duncan while on our walks the last few weeks has been wonderful. Quite often people forget that they need to train their dogs outside of their living-rooms and off their property. We have been working on "Come," which requires him to return to me and sit on my right foot or as near to it as he can get. He's gotten quite good, with the exception of a couple of distractions. We've also been working on "Down," so that when people approach us I can give the command and make him wait patiently for them to pass or scratch him on the ears without the risk of taking a paw in the crotch or kidney. He knows I carry treats in my pocket and the look he gives me while I make him wait is beautiful, innocent, excited and proud.

Today while cutting across the park, a kid–meaning a former frat boy now past his prime –was hitting golf balls, his mastiff at his side. Each time he hit a ball across the field the dog chased after it which resulted in a beating. I shook my head and wondered what he expected. The dog was simply being a dog and I knew that as frustrating and difficult as it is to train a pet, it's a lot harder to train people. And yet Duncan has trained me that I love him too much to deny him his nature.

I'm thankful that I can stand on my patio and look up at Orion and the moon and know that on the other side of the country, people I love dearly can do the same thing, and even though we can't see it together, knowing we can see it at all is enough.

I am thankful that someone is saying a prayer for the woman on the bridge.

And despite the fact that I've made entirely too much about our balmy, Spring-like weather today (again, for the people in the Midwest, it was 50 degrees warmer here!), it's going to snow all night and through the morning. My drive will be horrendous but when I get home I get to watch Duncan gallop and roll and snort and that will bring me tremendous joy. That white will wash the blues right out of my hair!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cat Break

Up until three years ago I always fancied myself a cat person. I got my first cat, Tigger, when I was five. My grandmother noticed her hanging around the wood pile and when she mentioned it to my mother, mom agreed to consider taking her home with us. Several weeks later when we were in Idaho Falls staying with my grandparents, the kitten appeared and Casey and I spent the afternoon playing with her, feeding her and planning on making her a part of our family. When my mother returned from a convention she'd been attending, the kitten had vanished, breaking our hearts. We reluctantly allowed our mother to convince us that we'd get a new kitten once we returned home to Nampa but as we were climbing into the car we discovered Tigger already waiting for us in the backseat, nonchalant, like it meant to be. And it was for the next thirteen years. After Tigger numerous cats came into my life, Pandora, Ling, Cricket and finally Winnie, Pip and Olive and even though dogs were ever present–Skeeter, Auggie, Noah, Nikki and Ashley–I insisted on calling myself a cat person.

Today I changed my mind.

Don't get me wrong, I love my cats. In fact, Winnie is the best cat I've ever had. She's my girl and if I had to choose a favorite from all the kids, it may surprise you to learn that Winnie would take the prize. If I could, she'd get a blog, too, but let's face it, there's not a lot you can do with a cat. They're great cuddlers, incredible contributors to illiteracy, and the best sleeping aid I could ask for, they just don't do much except sleep, eat, groom and puke.

It was the puke that convinced me tonight.

Is there a week I don't clean up cat puke? Pip's favorite game is to stuff himself full of food, drink a ton of water, run around and play with Duncan until he ralphs on the carpet. Olive, who had a rough evening with a Boxer several years ago, prefers the safety of the bedroom. After eating far too much she'll retire to her favorite place on Ken's pillow, moving to mine only when she feels the need to empty the contents of her stomach. Winnie is a dainty little eater. Her only vice is one of my several spider plants. She can't resist climbing up high to bat at them and chew on the leaves, which immediately come up in green little piles on the counter, the back of the couch, amid the pages of a favorite cookbook I've left open and vulnerable.

There's no stopping them. I spray the plants with cayenne pepper. I'm careful about the amount of food they get. I try. I really do. But, as anyone who lives with them knows, you might as well move a mountain than change the will of a cat.


Tonight while watching the Westminster Dog Show, I saw numerous commercials for the Pedigree Adoption Drive. Although not a fan of Pedigree as dog food, I have to respect any organization that wants to ensure a good home for every dog. I thought this commercial was particularly touching.

And now back to your regularly scheduled blog.

Monday, February 11, 2008


In addition to my personal journal, I have kept a quote journal for the past eighteen years and have often claimed that if you really wanted to know how I felt or gain an insight into The Full Curt," you should cast off the ramblings of my diary and check out my collection of quotes. Several notebooks have been filled with bits and pieces of quotations from books, films and things my friends have said or that I have overheard that have struck me as funny, poetic, interesting, philosophical, intelligent, spiritual and just plain whimsical. My friend Lori over at Fermented Fur made a comment about yesterday's post that reminded me of something Tom Robbins wrote in one his best books, Jitterbug Perfume, which you can order here. If you'll indulge me I'd like to share it with you.

"They say that February is the shortest month, but you know, they could be wrong.

Compared, calendar page against calendar page, it looks to be the shortest all right. Spread between January and March like lard on bread, it fails to reach the crust on either side. In its galoshes–and you'll never catch February in its stocking feet–it's a full head shorter than December, although in leap years, when it has growth spurts, it comes up to April's nose.

However more abbreviated than its cousin it may look, February feel longer than any of them. It is the meanest moon of winter, all the more cruel because it will masquerade as spring, occasionally for hours at a time, only to rip off its mask with a sadistic laugh and spit into every gullible face, behavior that grows quickly old.

February is pitiless and it is boring. That parade of red numerals on its page adds up to zero: birthdays of politicians, a holiday reserved for rodents, what kind of celebrations are those? The only bubble in the flat champagne of February is Valentine's Day. It was no accident that our ancestors pinned Valentine's Day on February's shirt: he or she lucky enough to have a lover in frigid, antsy February has cause for celebration, indeed.

Except to the extent that it 'tints the buds and swells the leaves within,' February is as useless as the extra 'R' in its name. It behaves like an obstacle, a wedge of slush and mud and ennui, holding both progress and contentment at bay.

James Joyce was born in February, as was Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo, which goes to show that writers born in February are poor at beginnings, although worse at knowing when to stop.

If February is the color of lard on rye, its name is that of wet wool trousers. As for sound, it is an abstract melody played on a squeaky violin, the petty whine of a shrew with cabin fever. O February, you may be little but you're not small. Were you twice your tiresome length, few of us would survive to greet the merry month of May."

Lori urged me to join her for a getaway in Vegas where we could talk dogs and dogs and dogs but then thought better of it because I needed Duncan just to make it through the month. As I stayed home today, sleeping most it away on the couch, occasionally walking Duncan down to the edge of the yard for a potty break, I knew exactly what she meant. He's the one thing that's brought me any solace this afternoon. I have watched the weather turn from bright and sunny to gray and dark, then fill with snow flurries and now what looks like rain. Being inside with Duncan, safe from February's bi-polar disorder, has been comforting and safe. Being dogless now would be most unwise.

Perhaps doctors should rethink their treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Rather than urge the use of UV lamps they should prescribe a litter of Golden Retriever pups for, to misquote A.A. Milne, no one could be un-cheered by a Golden."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Day That Never Was

What a strange Sunday. I've had the blahs for three days now and it's been difficult to find motivation and energy for much of anything. When Ken's alarm went off at seven not even Duncan stirred. While Little Man putzed around and got ready for work, the dog and I cuddled in bed. The light coming in the windows was rather muted and dark for a day we'd been promised would be clear and blue and warm. I dragged myself out of bed at 7:30, sat at the dining room table waiting for the tea kettle to scream at me and watched the day never quite wake up. Not even Duncan stirred from the warmth of the comforter, the cats curled around him. By nine the day was still dark, the light low and early-morning-ish, and none of the animals had moved. I was beginning to wonder if something had happened, if I'd woken up in some odd frozen 6 AM land, a place of eternal almost-sunrise where the dark has faded from the sky but somehow forgotten to change from white to blue. The birds were not out, the traffic never quite managed to pick up and it was almost noon before I found the energy to put on my shoes and do the grocery shopping. Before I knew it it was well past afternoon and the day never seemed to manifest. The air was warm, Bowles was unusually quiet for a six lane road and Duncan seemed perfectly content cozying up on the couch, uninterested in anything that required more energy than it took to snore. I did manage to drag him out for a walk early this evening as the non-day moved into non-night, the sky finally deciding it was too much work to turn blue and opted to simply go back to dark instead. I can't say we ever quite woke up, ever really accomplished anything. All I do know is that my head is beginning to throb and Duncan seems more than willing to curl up on my lap on the couch. At this point, with Monday and more blahs looming on the horizon, I think that's the best I can manage.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Okay, so I lied to the guy. I don't like lying but there are some occasions when a little lie is a safe move, like when the man with puffed up chest and the alpha male monkey stance is standing ten feet away with one of two snarling German Shepherds at the end of a leash.

Duncan and I enjoyed a nice leisurely late afternoon walk under a deepening blue sky with stripes of pink and gold clouds cutting across it. It was warm today–in the upper 50's–but I haven't felt quite right so I spent much of it asleep on the couch. The snow has mostly melted and the grass is one wide soggy marsh so we kept to the sidewalks and it was only toward the end of the walk as we were coming through the baseball diamonds that I saw The Shepherds–off leash, of course–and their people walking far behind.

I stopped, my heavy stick tucked under my arm and my camera in my pocket, and waited for their owners to leash them up. When they finally noticed me we continued on our way.

"I'd like to ask you why you called the cops on us," he said in a thick accent that sounded vaguely Chicago-esque.

"Someone called the cops?" I asked, feigning shock at the audacity of whomever had been discourteous enough to do such a thing.

"Yeah, animal control was here three times last week," he said, and added, "It's a good thing we know all of them." Wouldn't you know it. Just my luck. "She was very nice," he continued. "She warned us three times but didn't give us a ticket although she might next time."

"Well," I said, "Next time maybe you should keep your dogs on a leash."

Then I got the whole story. They've been coming here for fifteen years, they know all the dogs and people and have never had a problem. Their dogs are quite friendly, always under their control and have never hurt another dog. Period.

"Yeah, well..." I interrupted. "I've been charged four times by your dogs and you may have control of them but I don't so naturally I'm afraid. You admitted they don't like male dogs..."

"Not males," he cut me off. "Just Goldens."

Oh, that makes me feel a lot better. The park is certainly safer now, thanks.

When he told me I should've just communicated with them, I explained that I tried but was met with aggression and silence to which he was unable to respond. We went back and forth, even joking as all three of the dogs slurped up nice moist goose turds. His wife never spoke but stood back with the barking, growling female, who it was explained, was rescued from a highly abusive situation.

It wasn't a bad conversation and although nothing was really resolved I feel like progress was made. I'm still taking my stick, I'm still careful and I still want his dogs on a leash. Duncan and I will do our best to stay clear of them but maybe, hopefully we can work toward some sort of peaceful understanding. I remain optimistic. And if that doesn't work I can always lie about the next time I call animal control.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Longest Mile

The Summer of '96 was the first I spent in Illinois. I'd gone home for Summer vacation each year I was enrolled at Lake Forest College but always managed to catch the tail end of it in August. My blissful and quiet months in Idaho somehow erased the memory of how truly oppressive August could be on the edge of Lake Michigan. I'd grown up in The West where the air is like dirt, dry and weightless, and wasn't accustomed to the heavy, moist stuff that passed as oxygen in the Mid-West where the nights were spent sweating into your sheets, which remained nice and wet for you all day, where envelopes sealed themselves, bags of cereal and potato chips grew soggy and sticky and hair, which had never shown the slightest bit of curl suddenly fro'd up in long, tight ringlets. About the only thing I enjoyed were the last of the fireflies, which my corner of Idaho, a desert, sadly lacked. They were like magic to me and I spent many a Lake Forest night outside on the edge of the ravine watching them, using my lighter and a burning cigarette to mimic their patterns and dances, drawing them close enough to see even when they weren't flirting. At that time of the summer most of their magic had already burned off, but for a few days I was able to witness more fireflies in two minutes than I'd seen my entire life in Pocatello. I had no idea that June and July brought swarms of millions and that every tree and bush would be aglow with more of them than there were people in my home town.

That first Summer I worked at Barnes and Noble in Vernon Hills. I'd been hired as a full-time temporary bookseller in September of '95 before the store had even opened. My job was to help set up the shelves, learn the cash registers, hang out through the Christmas Rush and then hope to God they wanted to keep me or find something else. I'd been there for less than a month before I was made a full-time, permanent employee and then Head Cashier two weeks after that. I spent many hours counting cash drawers, balancing the safe and supervising the cashiers, sometimes coming in early mornings to handle the deposit or staying late to close up and prepare the store for the next day. It was meaningless and low-paying work but I enjoyed it because, unlike my friends who'd gone straight into their careers, I didn't bring it home with me. I can't recall a single night of waking up in a sweat because I feared the store didn't have enough copies of Howard Stern's Private Parts or The Celestine Prophecy. I merely trudged home, got stoned with my roommates and went to bed.

Toward the end of July I finally made the decision and moved in with Ken, who lived in Round Lake, a little north and east of Vernon Hills, and a bit further out in the country. It was a long drive and even on late nights when I was the only person on the road it could take up to 45 minutes. The route I took was a winding one that followed the Metra tracks through several small towns, following the bank of an unhealthy little stream and skirting the edge of an enormous landfill, which was the longest and straightest part of the drive. It smelled horrible year round but was even worse during the Summer when all that garbage, a literal mountain of it, baked and simmered in the humidity.

It was Thursday night, the night my weekend began, and David and I had just finished closing the store. Ken had let me take his truck, a big Chevy S10 that stood taller and had more power than the tiny Nissan Sentra, Cleo, who'd seen me safely across the country countless times. I liked the truck because it was very unCurt-like and had a great sound system.

After leaving the store I drove down Butterfield Road until it turned into 83 and followed that toward the landfill. Despite the odor and the heat I loved driving at night with the windows down. I'd pull the tie from around my neck, loosen my collar or remove my shirt completely and just drive. A joyful and free drive. Fast because it was late and the road was all mine. I was young and in love, it had just sprinkled and the air seemed cooler, the night rich. I was on my way home where the weekend loomed ahead of me, full and promising so I popped in Poi Dog Pondering's self-titled first album, the one with the poetic songs, sexy and fun, and cranked up "Pulling Touch," my favorite song, hung my head out the window like a dog and sang into the night.

You are a butterfly and my eyes are needles
The cold has your breast and my hand is on fire
Are you resting and reposing
Oh my veins are pulsing
And nothing can cure me, but your pulling touch
I'll stretch you out, and lay alongside you
Run my hands along, devour and divide you.
In the cool of the night, under a rain-pelted roof
Beneath cotton white linen, our love is spilt
Are you the cup that I hold by the cheekbones,
I pull you close and I drink you up.
I'll stretch you out, and lay alongside you
Run my hands along, devour and divide you

I was doing sixty on a narrow, two-lane road as I neared the landfill and the stream. My foot was tapping, I was playing the drums on the steering wheel and just before I hit the first frog I remember thinking, "This moment could not be any more perfect." It wasn't until about the two hundredth frog that I thought, "What the hell?" and slammed on the brakes, turning off the stereo with a quick flick of my hand.

I am not the kind of person who kills things, even ants, without feeling a pang of guilt. I rescue bugs and put them outside, the only exception being that if they touch me and they're an arachnid I'm perfectly justified in executing them. Once my senior year I thought I hit a dog and spent an hour puking on the side of the road even though there was no body. My first summer back from Lake Forest I drove across the desert and hit a bird, which bounced off my hood, struck my windshield, did a somersault over the car and landed, still alive but not so happy about it, behind me. I have a respect for life, even those creatures that no one pays much attention to. Like the thousands of frogs that were caught in mid-migration on my sad and smelly little patch of Illinois 83.

I started to open the door to get out but upon looking down at the pavement reconsidered. I hit the high beams and as far as the eye could see, under that suddenly clear and brilliant night sky, the crickets louder than I'd ever heard them, the fireflies dancing and glowing all around me, I saw a country road covered in thousands, maybe tens of thousands of frogs, brown and green bumps, wet and silver under the stars, some hopping or climbing over the backs of their neighbors, some just sitting, chilling out, enjoying the night, almost all singing and chirping, content. Innocents. God's Creatures. Life. And me, in the big red truck, bearing down on them like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or rather the 190 Horsepower Men of the Apocalypse.

I'd driven right into them without noticing. When I looked behind me I saw the field of frogs stretched far behind me and even as I watched thousands more mounted the side of the road and hopped onto the pavement, closing up whatever open, life-free patch of an escape route remained to me. There was no place to go without killing them. I sat there a long time, my heart racing, my favorite Poi Dog song long since forgotten, home and love calling to me, the weekend waiting to be claimed.

So I did what any person would do with love and sex dangling on a string in front of them, I sat back in my seat, took a deep breath, cranked up the stereo, put the truck in gear and went for it.

I was hoarse from all the screaming by the time I got home fifteen minutes later, still shaking, my fingers frozen and curled from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. As I climbed the front step, the porch light on and Ken waiting for me in the living room, I could feel the horrible bump of the road as the wheels of the truck ploughed over all those small bodies, a bump like driving over a cattle guard, only bigger and longer, as if the guard were a mile long. And squishy. And made popping noises as you passed over it. The only thing that made me feel better was Ken's smile, the way he hugged me after I told the story and, of course, the drink he fixed while I showered.

Tonight Duncan and I took the sidewalk. The snow has started to melt and the day was warm but windy–a cold wind from the north–so even as the snow softened and melted, the wind hardened and sharpened it, turning much of the park into a coarse field of brittle ice-razors. The geese had been out but even the places where their warm bodies had crushed the snow were still jagged and frozen. There was nothing pleasant to be had walking on the grass.

It was dark by the time I awoke from my nap. Duncan had been quite patient with me when I got home and a part of me felt guilty for not taking him out sooner so I let him lead me where he wanted. He was excited in that Duncan way of his, running back and forth across the sidewalk sniffing everything he could, seeing the park in a way I can only imagine. He pulled on his leash, dragging me after him, pulling me over patches of ice and eventually breaking into a run. I tromped behind, my boots thumping loudly, the air cold on my cheeks and scalp. It was like flying, racing, blind, down the sidewalk, smiling as I took big gulping breaths, trusting Duncan to keep me from falling. The few street lamps above us had wound down and blinked out and it was only when one finally buzzed back to life, illuminating the ground in a dark orange glow, I gasped and pulled hard on the leash to reign in my grinning dog.

We were standing in a long patch of sidewalk littered with fresh goose poop, both ahead of us and behind. The grass on my right was matted with the stuff, still dark green, still fresh and slimy. There was no place to go. Duncan started sniffing around and I had to pull the leash tight because sometimes if I'm not careful he'll slurp one up and chew on it. There was no time to think so I steeled my nerves, took a deep breath and spurred him on and ran screaming all the way down the sidewalk to the high school.

Frogs and geese and cement. The story of my life.

The Longest Day

I am burnt out. Today was the longest of the semester. From the moment I arrived at work this morning, turned on my dying computer and took my seat I knew I should just close up and go home. My patience with the customers is wearing extremely low and the only person I could stand speaking with was Amber, who understood but frowns at anyone who isn't at work when they should be. I've seen her work through strep throat and tonsilitus, which I think is just plain stupid, and would probably come in even if she was bleeding from the eyes. Although she isn't my supervisor and says she doesn't judge me when I stay home, I worry about what she thinks when I'm not there. She listened as I ranted, as she always does, and gave me that sweet North Dakotan smile of hers, the one that says, "I'm sorry, but really, it's time to buck up and deal with it."

I tried all day to remember my Duncan mantra, Hunt. Dive. Tree. but couldn't help watching the clock. When 4:30 finally arrived I shut down, grabbed my things and was out the door before the second hand had reached the five second mark. By the time I got home I knew there was no way I could walk Duncan without resting first, taking some time to be by myself, breathing deeply and putting my needs ahead of anyone else's. As I put the key in the lock I listened for his familiar chirp and the sound of his paws dancing on the tile in the entryway while he waits for me. I knew the minute the door opened he'd jump up, grab my wrist and drag me around the apartment until I put on my boots and leashed him up for the thing he'd waited patiently for all day. I took a deep breath, opened the door and found him sitting quietly, his head cocked, his eyebrows creased. I sighed, rubbed behind his ears and was shocked when he grabbed my wrist and pulled me into the bedroom. As I kicked off my shoes and laid back, he jumped up on the bed, licked my hand and curled up beside me. Without a word and no explanation I fell asleep. And that was fine by Duncan because somehow he knew that today this was more important than our walk. Having nothing better to do, he gave me a quick head bath then spooned up against me and we slept for two hours.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


The truth is not many girls visit our apartment. There aren't many guys either for that matter. Ken and I have startlingly sparse social lives outside of those people we know from work. It wasn't always this way, of course. For a time after we moved to Denver I had weekly Sunday night get-togethers that sometimes hosted up to twenty people. But those days are long gone and most of our time at home is spent alone, doting on the kids, eating and sleeping.

Duncan doesn't get to see many women, other than my mother and sister once or twice a year, and Melissa on the occasional play-dates we arrange at The Glen. Other than that his only female contacts come from Winnie and Olive and Kona. I'm not quite sure what he thinks of them, but I think he likes them. So tonight when Summer, my long lost friend from high school, arrived and spent a couple of hours with us, Duncan didn't seem to want to leave her alone, sitting with her on the couch and laying at her feet. I had no idea how comfortable Summer was with that arrangement, being crowded off the couch, taking the occasional foot in the ribs and having a big red dog lay on her jacket, but she handled it gracefully.

Pip is the same way. He adores women. He grew up in Illinois sitting on my friend April's lap. When Jen was here last Fall he wouldn't leave her alone. I think he's a boob man, Pip, crawling up their laps and in their faces, trying to rest against their chests, nuzzling their cheeks, turning up the Charm Volume all the way. Were he a boy he'd be a frat boy and a lady killer, much to the dismay of his two dads.

Winnie, of course, is intensely jealous of all women, looks on them with complete and utter indifference which sometimes borders on brazen contempt. She hardly moved from the couch to investigate Summer, turned her back on her and behaved in that way that makes "Dog People" despise cats. I'm sure she'll take up extra room on my hip tonight just for opening the door to a woman.

And Duncan and Pip will spread out on the bed for allowing her to leave. Boys!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Award Night

Last night Duncan and I were awarded the I Love You This Much Award from my friend over at the Property of Kelly blog. I can't take all the credit since this blog is, after all, not titled, "While Walking Myself." I'm merely the scribe, the toadie for the star, the guy who keeps his pockets stuffed with Grandma Lucy Treats and doggy poop bags, the guy who does the tossing of toys, as well as their retrieving should they roll under the couch. I'm the guy who readily gives up his spot in bed at night, doesn't mind being pushed off the couch and has a hard time wearing black because of all the fur. I'm a nobody in the process and have made my peace with that. Still, it's nice to get some recognition for my efforts.

Kelly and I have been friends since way back in 1985 when we were young and "Hungry Like the Wolf." While she was a Miami Vice kind of girl, I aspired to be like the people on Dynasty. She's the one responsible for talking me into joining the blog world and is one of the people who joined Team Duncan when we needed support during The Great Yarn Crisis of 2006. She's an amazing person, a terrific artist who is trying to start a freelance business and all 'round great friend. Check out Property of Kelly, find a card you like and send it to me!

She's also the person responsible for my banners and took great pains to remove the man- boobs the current one originally sported. Three cheers to Kelly!

In the tradition of The Award, I'm required to pass it on to someone whose work I enjoy. And so it brings me great joy to give it to Lori over at Fermented Fur. She's a funny woman based out of Minnesota, who writes a heckuva blog and is a regular reader of this one. Thanks for making me laugh, Lori! Duncan and I love you!

And because we've received this highly prestigious honor, Duncan and I are taking the night off and focusing our attention on the couch, the television and the pasta that is just about ready to serve. The noodles are all mine, but Duncan will get a little something extra in his bowl, perhaps some Merrick Harvest Moon duck, pheasant and quail served in sweet potatoes, green beans and Minnesota wild rice. I kid you not, he eats better than Ken and me, but he's a star, after all, and deserves to be pampered.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Place Between Paths

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends. (Shel Silverstein)

I have never been a fan of sidewalks. I like that they're available, especially when they're good ones, shady in the summer and clear in Winter, but given a choice between strolling across a nice patch of grass or easing down a paved lane, as Jerry Garcia almost certainly said, I'll take the grass.

Sidewalks are too tame. They're for the safe people, those who need to be directed even in their leisure. There's little room for spontaneity on a sidewalk, as first you're led this direction then later led that direction. Like a sheep. Sidewalks lack an element of danger, a spirit of adventure. They're the equivalent of ordering the same meal at a favorite restaurant, over and over again. They're clean and quiet, like a library, and lack any musical element, unless, of course, you're on a bike. But to walk them is to enclose yourself in a sterile environment, to hang a Do-Not-Disturb sign on your chest, to live of a life of dotted i's and crossed t's in a land of stop signs and fences.

But that place–that unknown place–where the sidewalks end and adventure begins, that's the place Duncan and I like. We prefer the grass, tromped and matted or thick and wild, even a dusty, barren stretch of land is better than a block of cement. We enjoy cutting our own path, stopping when we like for as long as we like, to examine a wildflower, a leaf that's avoided the blower, an ant mound overflowing with dark crawling bodies. It's the places between paths where the spirit of the walk can be found, the joy of the going, the pleasure of the doing. They're the back way, the scenic route, the very place adventure is born.

Duncan is like a child in this respect: he doesn't need the logic or practicality of a trail, he is nourished by the whimsy and frivolity of an open place. He has taken me places and showed me things I would've been too busy to discover on my own. Without him I think I may have lost my way amid the marked and paved lanes of this world.

Monday, February 4, 2008

L'heure Bleue

Another blue hour at the park, precious minutes between sunlight and dusk when the night seems on the brink and frozen. Snow has a way of making things stand still, even sound, and the color, which wanted to be orange under these terrible park lamps, was blue in spite of their effort. The snow was blue, my breath was blue, the slush sounds of traffic crawling over the ice was blue. Like a crushed berry. Even our tracks were blue, jazz notes caught on a blowing page, impermanent but perfect. Blue shadows amid blue drifts like a painting no one thought of. A splash, a streak of red, prancing merrily through the scene. Duncan, warmth enough on a night like this.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Ken Caryl

What good is it, living in Colorado, if you don't occasionally get out to the mountains, away from the noise and odor of the traffic, to a place that smells of winter grass, where you walk on trails of finely crushed red stone and the air is sweet and cold? I took Duncan up Ken Caryl Canyon this afternoon where he could get his feet wet and dirty on something other than goose droppings and yellowing park grass and where I could marvel at the rocks, hills and valleys around us, the quiet of the afternoon, the cloudless white of the sky. Duncan is a natural outdoor dog and I could feel his heart warm in the clean air as we walked the trails through the rock formations. He's beautiful, but outside, under a mountain sky, his beauty grows and I love him all the more.

The Blue Hour

There is the time before I'm fully awake, when the walls come and go as I open then close my eyes, when all I know is the warmth of the blankets and Ken beside me, the soft balls of the kittens curled around us and the weight of Duncan across my feet, his body spread between us, the soft line of his cheek resting against my ankle. I have to fight off the day without fighting too hard because it's the struggle that pulls me from my dreams and pillows and tears me away from the soft and quiet joy that is sleep. Dreams are like socks I slip in and out of with so little effort. All I want is to stay here, to keep my feet from touching the floor, from making any noise that will arouse the cats or cause Duncan to shift his chin from the spot near my toes it fits so nicely into. I only want to lay where I am, the light slipping around the edges of the curtains, blue and fragile and kind like a good-morning lullaby, if there was such a thing. So I snooze and rouse and breath deep into my pillow, which smells like the lavender candles I sometimes burn and try not to think about standing outside in the frosted grass waiting for Duncan, poor, barefooted Duncan, to find a nice spot to mark as his own. Instead I dream his dreams, the one where we're walking along the creek whose banks sprout bushes and shrubs that flower tennis balls and chew toys, whose stepping stones are bones and rawhides. The sun is warm and the squirrels and rabbits dart back and forth in front of us, unable to climb or hide and the birds whistle a Duncan sort of song.

There is no finer way to start the day than from bed with sweet dog dreams in your head.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Something Else's Walk

Sometimes nothing happens on the walks. The sky simply turns from blue to gray, the wind picks up and bites at the places where minutes earlier the sun felt warm and pleasant and the traffic does what the traffic does, which is move from either right to left or left to right. Duncan does his thing, which is sniff lots of places, raise his leg on one or two of them and then we go back inside because I wore a sweatshirt when I should have put on a coat. Those are the throw-away walks; they're not even walks really, just slow, casual meanderings up and down the lawn between the building and Bowles while I wait for Duncan tend to his business. Sometimes there's a rabbit but most times there are not, so we simply come inside where Duncan sits at my feet while I make tea, talk on the phone or write at the computer. Those are the walks that make me sweat, make me think, This is day I have nothing to say and they'll all see me for the fraud I am.

But sometimes, when it's one of those days, if you pay attention, the universe will bring the walk to you.

We were sitting in the living room listening to Wagner's Das Rheingold, Duncan near my lap but not on top of me, Winnie on the back of the couch doing that roll-around thing she does when she wants my attention but won't let me touch her, when I noticed something move outside past the patio. At first I thought it another of the countless morons who live nearby and don't pick up after their dogs, but it moved slowly, with trepidation and when I looked up, standing not ten feet away, on the other side of the patio doors, stood a tall and lean doe, her ears raised, staring right back at me. Were I at my mother's house in Idaho, I would not have been the slightest bit surprised, after all, her house sits at the foot of a mountain and I've spent many a winter afternoon watching the deer move through her yard. Even in Lake Forest deer were common. But I can't think of a singer time since we moved her nearly nine years ago that I've seen a deer down in the city. It felt like a treat, something special, especially because she was looking at me as intently as I was looking at her.

She took a hesitant step forward, never looking away, not even when Duncan raised himself off the couch and approached the window. Her white tail flicked twice and she moved forward out of our sight. Duncan and I followed into the dining room where she was standing in front of the window watching us. I hurried into the office to grab my camera, but by the time I turned it on she'd moved past, down the yard and behind the building. I can only hope she crossed into the golf course and stayed away from Bowles completely.

We stared after her and I think we both realized that this afternoon the world was not part of our walk but we were part of something else's walk.

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Fine Day

There is no finer way to spend a birthday than free from work, in the sunshine at the lake, a warm breeze blowing your face, a red dog at your side and spectacular skies above it all.

Thank you to everyone who called, sent emails and wished me well. I love you all with every ounce of this thirty-seven year-old heart of mine.