Monday, March 31, 2008

Rest for The Roo

I've cuddled next to Dunc on the couch and he seems to be in good spirits. He ate most of his dinner, drank some water and even had one heck of a pee an hour ago. Winnie and Pip have stayed close as well, and he's carried his Bah-Bah with him where ever he goes. I'm sure he'll spread out long and wide on my half of the bed tonight, which seems to be the secret to dog happiness and health. We'll keep you posted.

For the Boy

I may feel better, and even Jonah has managed to hold down his food, but Duncan has been bitten by the bug. I came home to find him under the bed rather than dancing and chirping at the door, his usual routine. His refusal to come out was alarming, even with the promise of treats and a walk. At first I thought he was feeling guilty, perhaps there'd been an accident, but after inspecting the apartment and finding nothing I crawled halfway under the bed, held his paw and talked to him, coaxing him out slowly and gently. He wanted the walk but would not look at anything but me the entire time we were at the park. He pooped twice, the first was nice and solid and quite typical, but the second was not so lucky so we returned home where I gave him some rice and plain Yo-Curt, my homemade yogurt. He ate most of it and even drank some water but he's spent most of the night curled up in a very quiet ball at my feet. Right now he's under the desk, a place he knows he's not allowed, but I've let him stay because it's obvious he feels so bad. He looks a bit wilted, like a wet dog without the wet. I can't help but feel anxious about it because the last time I saw him this way was during The Great Yarn Crisis of 2006.

The rest of my night will be spent with him, cuddling and holding his paw. Think good, get-well thoughts for him, the same you all sent to me during last week's blahs. Duncan was there for me and now I'm going to be there for him.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Ponds: A Community Saves the Day

It was a great day to be a Duncan, or at the least a Duncan who lives with me. Not only did the patient pup get a nice long walk in the park, complete with ball throwing and squirrel chasing, but we ventured down the street to a brand new dog park on the corner of Bowles and Platte Canyon. Melissa had mentioned it last week, and I'd even suggested it to some new neighbors who were looking for some place wide and open to take their Boxer, Khan (not sure of the spelling, although I like to imagine they were thinking of the Star Trek character, although they may be too young). This afternoon Duncan and I leashed up and, because it was chilly and windy even though the morning's snow had melted off, drove down the street in search of the grand and glorious park known as Wynetka Ponds.

We found it easily enough and bumped into a woman whose Golden, Raleigh, we'd met a few months back on a cold December morning in the park. I mentioned that this was our first trip to The Ponds and she explained that the vast hillside with its rolling brook and occasional copse of elms and pines had been slated for condominium development. I sighed remembering the northern Chicago suburbs where Ken and I had lived before coming to Denver. Much of the farm country there had been transformed into housing developments in the three short years I lived in Round Lake Beach and I've heard from others since that what little remained has also been swallowed up. The woman went on to explain that she lived in the development across the street and the entire community was up in arms over the impending arrival of the condos so they raised the funds, bought the land and sold it to the City of Littleton on the condition that it be turned into a park and that a sizable chunk of it be dog friendly.

It was an amazing thing for a group of people to do, especially in this day and age (there, I've become my grandfather! I actually used the phrase, "In this day and age!") when people will do almost anything to get ahead. It was a community in action and I know that every time I'm at that park I will silently thank them and hope the universe looks after them for the kindness and generosity.

Duncan was quite a hit at The Ponds, where six little Toto dogs nipped and chased after him while their owners (such an ugly word for a dog companion. Someone PLEASE help me find a better term! Post your suggestions as comments!), two little girls, ran with him, grabbed his head and hugged him, threw the ball for him and wouldn't give him a moment's rest. He wouldn't listen to a word they said, not coming, not dropping, not shaking or giving them five, but bless them for loving him so much and trying so hard. He smiled and played, galloped and cavorted, and I loved every minute of watching him. After a week of not getting it his way, it was wonderful to see him in action again.

And when it was done, after he'd been served his dinner and the sun began its descent in the western sky, I took him across the street to the park where we tossed the ball and rolled on the grass, just the two of us. He smiled and danced for me and once again, as every day, reminded me how lucky I am he is in my life.

Just Because

Last night was the first night I returned to bed since getting sick. It seems the nice thing to do, sleeping on the couch to avoid giving this nasty stomach bug to Ken. Duncan, who follows me everywhere, was quite happy to move back to our familiar haunts. The couch isn't nearly big enough to spread out on, especially not with Winnie and Pip curled up around me. As I was climbing into bed, he jumped up and plopped right down, taking up as much room as possible (nearly my entire half of the bed!). It wasn't nearly as comfortable as I'd hoped, but I got to wake up to a face this looked a lot like this one (only with blankets and bedding all around it instead of carpet). How could I be angry? And later today he'll be rewarded with our first long walk since last week.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


This morning, from my spot on the couch, where I've holed up for the past several days, I had a very vivid dream about walking Duncan down Reed, the street my grandparents lived on in Idaho Falls until I was 15 years old. I think it was still some time in the 70's because the people who lived across the street when I was very young were there with their yellow Volkswagen Beetle. And the house next door was occupied both by the obnoxious neighbors with their hundreds of filthy children my grandmother constantly warned us about, and Alice, the kindly woman who replaced them. The big shrubs in front still reached up to the windows, a perfect hiding spot for grandchildren who spent much of their time pretending to be Steve Austin, The Bionic Man (that was me!) and Jamie Sommers, The Bionic Woman (my cousin Sheryl). The wretched Godfrey's were next door in the blond brick house on the corner, and from their garage issued a cacophony of saws and engines and all manner of noise-makers. Grandma was often so frustrated by them that she joked about taking her violin out at five in the morning and playing it under their window just to give them a taste of their own medicine. Grandpa's old turquoise truck was parked out front, as was the dark orange truck he drove to work at Bingham Mechanical. I didn't see Grandma's red Pontiac because it was always parked in the garage. The tree in front was standing at the corner of the front porch, the arc of one of its boughs worn smooth from all the grandchildren sitting in it like we were riding a pony. The short fence, red and peeling, still stood on the side of the house but I couldn't quite see the backyard. I don't know if the apricot tree was in the northwest corner or if it had been taken down. I was very excited to be there with Duncan, happy to finally show him the place where I had spent so much of my childhood, made so many of my happiest memories, from Christmas mornings to Summer afternoon taffy-pulls with Casey and the cousins. I can't think of a more perfect place in all my memories than that street and it seemed right that Duncan should be there with me. There was no feeling of loss or nostalgia, as there was at Christmas when my family drove slowly by to see what had become of the old place (the shrubs in front were cut down to nothing and the tree, the first tree I climbed, was gone) but only a sense of homecoming, timelessness and belonging. And when I awoke, the scene still strong in my head, I did not feel sadness or grief at having passed out of the dream but rather as though I'd been blessed to have been taken there at all, even if only in a dream, with my best friend at my side.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Getting There

Somehow or another the fever finally broke and tonight I'm starting to feel a bit like my old self again. Still afraid to eat and only sipping at ginger ale and bubble water, but my stomach seems to have calmed and my aches and pains are abating.

Staying home is not fun. At least not when you're really sick. Daytime TV is miserable and my head ached just enough that reading was out of the question. I watched a little "Price is Right," which I used to watch with Grandma when I was young, but Drew Carey is no Bob Barker and I had to turn the channel. Next came "VH-1 Behind the Music" and even some "Myth Busters" but it took Waterworld with Kevin Costner before I realized how truly low I had sunk and finally switched to DVDs.

Duncan has been miserable. He was relieved to have the apartment back after Kevi and Company left on Wednesday, and fully expected to return to long leisurely walks in the afternoons and evenings, but this flu sidelined his hopes. He's been pretty much grounded since Wednesday night, only going out when Ken can take him on walks or the two times I felt safe on my feet today.

The cats, however, have been living it up, if you can call hunkering down on their papa living it up. From the moment I relocated to the couch Thursday morning I have had Pip rolled up in a ball against my chest and Winnie on my hip. Duncan has alternated between plopping down on my legs or retreating completely to the bedroom where he hides under the bed. Olive, being a fat, little thing, hasn't moved from Ken's pillow. She's a daddy's girl anyway so I don't mind. Besides, she probably hasn't noticed at all.

Hopefully I'll be able to get out tomorrow and take Dunc for a walk. It might not be a long one, but at this point anything will be better than nothing.

Earth Hour

I'm not sure if you've heard of it or not, but I thought it was worth posting here. Earth Hour hits in exactly 24 hours. Please join the movement. And if you've come to this blog after the fact, you can still participate.

Hopefully I will be well enough to take Duncan on a nice long walk in the dark. If not we'll light a candle and cuddle on the couch.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Closed for Business

Jonah managed to leave just a bit of himself behind; the stomach virus he nursed all weekend decided to set up residence with me. It's been a tough day trying to keep anything down and even harder watching Duncan cuddle with me on the couch wondering why we haven't gone for a walk. Today was terrible and gray and we didn't miss anything, but it's hard on him if he doesn't get out.

Check back tomorrow. Hopefully I'll feel better. In the mean time, go read old posts and make new comments on them. It's been an awfully comment-free couple of weeks around here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Too Much Room

I came home tonight very aware that Kevi, Mike, Elijah and Jonah have left Denver and returned to Pocatello. We had a wonderful weekend, from seeing the zoo to grilling burgers, playing at the park to sprawling on the couches making each other laugh. It felt good to have these people in my home, these friends who have become family to us. But it also felt good to know my space was my own again. After spending time with Melissa and Kona at The Glen I was almost giddy knowing that if I wanted to talk to myself I could, if I wanted to lay on the floor and pet Olive I wouldn't be pounced on by a four-year old. Duncan, who loves children, started looking a bit wilted this morning and I knew he was looking forward to reclaiming his home as much as I was, but after coming home and throwing ourselves onto the floor in the office to roll around and relax, I think we both realized how empty the place seemed, and not quite as solid. Kind of tinny and echoey. And Dunc, who spent the past three days trying to lay low, seemed kind of lost, too.The apartment seemed awfully big and empty without the sound of Elijah or the voices of my friends. And as happy as we were to have our place back, we can't help but feel a bit lonely.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Wisdom of Children

This afternoon Mike and I took Elijah to the park for some much needed play. Duncan came along with us and while Elijah climbed the jungle gym and slid the slides under a warm, blue sky, Duncan and I strolled down to the lake to enjoy the sun bouncing off its smooth surface from a hundred different angles. The ducks and a few straggling geese swam lazily just off the bank and a hundred joggers, speed-walkers and roller-bladers darted past us. Mike and Elijah joined us and together we decided to visit the memorial and climb Rebel Hill. While Mike looked over the plaques and strolled the smooth brick courtyard, Elijah, Duncan and I followed the path to the top of the hill to overlook the lake, most of Littleton and Denver off in the distance. I took a seat on brick bench and Elijah leaned against the short wall opposite me. He was smiling and happy, but he watched me in that way he has, as if he's reading me and nothing is secret. This is a child I have a connection with like no other. I was present at his birth and was the first person to see him just before he entered the world. He single-handedly saved me at my grandmother's funeral and has touched and changed me in ways I never expected. I am as close to him as I am any of my friends, his mother and father included.

"This is one of my favorite places," I told him.

He looked around, about as amused as a four year old can be by a view of the mountains and the city.

"Sometimes when I'm very lonely and missing my friends and family Duncan and I come up here and we sit and look out on all the people passing below and it makes me happy," I explained.

He thought for a moment, the mountains and setting sun behind him, his head aglow with the last strong light of the day.

"Well now when you come up here you can remember me sitting here with you and Duncan and never feel lonely again."

I think it would be impossible to think of anything else.

I will miss him terribly when they leave tomorrow. He is my angel and one of the best gifts the universe has ever given me.

Monday, March 24, 2008


"How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the Blue!
It makes him very proud
To be a little cloud."
(A.A. Milne)

It was a nearly perfect day, spent mostly away from home with very good friends. The sky was high and bright blue, mostly cloudless and warm warm warm. Although I would've loved to have taken Duncan to the zoo with us, it was not meant to be. While I spent most of the day walking back and forth between the elephant display and the Great Apes, very little of it was spent walking my dog. We did have some quality time this morning, though, and some good playtime at the park, tossing the stick, after we returned home. He was still quite bushed from yesterday's swim so our stroll this morning was leisurely and calm. I was a little concerned about getting everything done that had to be done before playing host to Kevi, Mike and The Boys and Duncan seemed to sense it. I was not as patient as I usually am (there were sheets to be washed, beds to be made, laundry to be folded and shopping still to be done!) but Duncan stopped dead in his tracks and turned his beautiful, freshly scrubbed face to the sky, closed his eyes and took a deep, long breath of Spring air. Floating above us in the perfect morning sky was a single little cloud and I smiled remembering the quote from Winnie the Pooh which appears on a coffee mug another good friend gave me twenty or so years ago. I took a Duncan Breath, a deep one and felt my stress melt away. After all, these are my oldest friends; so what if the pillow cases don't match the sheets! And I didn't mind that Duncan and I took our time getting back to the apartment afterward. There is much to be learned––and even more to be let go of––if we only take our time and enjoy the moment we're in, another lesson my dog seems to continually work at teaching me.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


My car smells terribly of wet dog. It's a long ride from Stapleton to home and I think even Duncan was disgusted with his wet-dog scent by the time we arrived. Once home I made a bee-line for the tub, which I turned on and then went out looking for Duncan's big fluffy white towels and his shampoo. When I returned to the bathroom he'd already climbed inside and was waiting patiently for me to finish the job.It wasn't as fun as chasing geese around the pool with Maddie, but he smells nice now and has spent most of the night curled up asleep.

Firsts and Lasts

Duncan has never been a water dog. He simply does not enjoy it. He tolerates the occasional bath and has even voluntarily climbed into the tub to let me rinse the ice-balls from between his paws after a long, snowy walk in the park, but the whole notion of water has always made him nervous. I've watched him pace anxiously along the shore of many a pond, whining at the geese and ducks just out of range, and he's even taken a tepid step or two in, but inevitably reconsiders and turns his red back on the entire affair. Lately I've been thinking that with Spring coming on it would be a good time to give him a bath and good combing, especially since Kevi, Mike and The Boys will be spending the next two days with us. I haven't exactly been dreading it, but I have been plotting and planning how the whole thing will go down.

Duncan and I celebrated Chocolate Bunny Day by joining Kevi and her family at Rene and Donnie's for brunch and afterward I decided to take Dunc to visit Denise, our former neighbor at Stapleton. Denise is a good egg and I love her with all my heart. She was a true friend throughout my initial anxiety attacks and was one of the few people I've met since moving to Denver who I felt completely comfortable around. There is no pretense with her, which is a welcome change after years of working retail, which is nothing but pretense. Sadly, though, Denise and Martin, her husband, are moving to Missoula, taking their daughter Avery and, most importantly, Duncan's best friend, their Black Lab, Madi. I wanted to give them a chance to say their farewells, play hard and snarl at Hufflepuff, an unfortunately-named white and fluffy foo-foo dog who lives next door to Denise and Martin. Denise had other plans and we ended up going on a long walk through Stapleton, down Westerly Creek to the big pond at Central Park.

Madi, unlike Duncan, is very much a water dog. I can't tell you the number of walks I shared with Denise that ended up with Madi bounding into a pond to chase the ducks or the Killdeer which scurry around the bank or play the old Broken Wing game. Madi is enthusiastic about everything, especially water (as well as finding a way to plant her paws firmly against my testicles just about every time I see her). As we approached the big pool there was no question as to where Madi would land, but I did not expect what ended up happening. After watching Madi dive in and climb out half a dozen times, Duncan stepped up to the edge, kind of leaned forward and dove in after her.

Denise and I cheered and I found myself clapping ecstatically, my heart welling up with pride. In three and a half years I'd never once seen my dog swim. I was a bit nervous and was fully prepared to dive in after him should the situation call for it, but he was fine on his own. In and out, over and over, and although he never quite mastered the devil-may-care force of Madi's leaps, he dove nonetheless. And to add to my pride, he even followed a small gaggle of geese around the perimeter of the pool, paddling furiously to keep up, his nose and eyes the only parts of him I could see. It made me want to dance.

And then, just as suddenly as it began, it ended. We made the long walk back to Denise's house where I said my farewells to Martin and Avery, hugging Denise while Duncan and Maddie chased each other around the yard one last time. They are good people and although I haven't seen them as often as I'd like, Denver will seem a little emptier without them. I know Duncan will miss Madi but neither of us will forget his first swim with her paddling at his side, a friendship only dogs know.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Painted Walk

If I was an artist––a painter, or someone who can sketch and draw––I would paint tonight, the softness of the snow and rain on the grass, a color that I don't think can be rendered on canvas. A sort of muted gray-green peeking through a white that is dark and not really white under this cloudy sky and the orange street lamps. I only know it as white because that's what new, thin snow is supposed to be. I would want to paint the droplets that collect on my glasses and the colors they reflect, the green and red of the stoplight and again, that street lamp color which fades in and out as the lights flicker on then off, blurring my vision, turning the night into a kind of puzzle––with whole squares distorted and jumbled, like a windshield in a storm––which my brain is somehow able to reassemble into something that makes sense. I would want to paint the shine on the road and the striking of the flakes and drops on its mottled surface and the way light seems so alive just above it, moving as the water does, catching and holding, shimmering like a breathing black snake. I'd want to paint the soft prints of my dog, the trail we leave behind when we walk, the wind and wet in our faces, but not uncomfortably so, cold in a way that makes us aware of the warmth of our cheeks and the insides of our lips. Paint cannot render scent or flavor but I'd want them to be a part of my portrait also. And sound. The swish of the cars on the road. The clear, snow-taste when I poke out my tongue and catch a flake. The smell of wet grass and wet dog and the tree I stand under while Duncan sniffs and searches for the perfect spot.

Those who know me know I have no ability to draw, except perhaps with my words. But it doesn't stop me from framing and composing, or my hand from twitching as an artist's hand does when it wants to create. I wish you could see what I would paint. But perhaps some night, when we are lucky enough to share a walk with Duncan, you will. And you'll turn to me and say, "This is what you were talking about." And I will smile and reach for your hand.

*Thru the Window, by Sneha Kulkarni, courtesy of the June 16, 2007 post on the blog, A Moon Lit Surface (sic)

Friday, March 21, 2008


Sometimes Duncan leads me places and is able to show me exactly what I need to wash the day away and find myself once again. Late last Summer, as the students returned to school and I worked long, seemingly endless and thankless hours, he took me to the lake and led me to the last of the sunflowers. In October, with the wind howling through the trees, we chased leaves across the dark grass at the park, stirring up their music with our steps and tossing them into their air to rain down on our heads. In December he pulled me through the ankle-deep snow, which was windblown and hard and made a most satisfying crunch as it held my weight for a moment and then caved in, swallowing my booted feet. On those cold, clear nights with Orion standing tall in the southern sky, he insisted I throw myself into it and roll across it, burying my face until I could not breath and and my way was so lost the only place to go was back to me. My dog is wise beyond explanation, or perhaps he only seems wise because I'm willing to listen and treat him as my friend, not as something I own or can call mine. He knows what I need, can make offerings, however simple, which lighten my spirit and center me again.

Today I returned the favor.

He was anxious to get outside from the moment I got home and could hardly stand still long enough to be leashed. He practically dragged me down the yard to the corner where we always stand under his tree as we wait for the traffic on Bowles to pass. He picks the direction and I follow, but today he didn't know which way to go and so we meandered back and forth for a bit and when it became obvious that neither knew where we were headed, I took the lead. We walked down the long sidewalk toward the library, past the soccer and lacrosse players, past the skate park, which always smells of cigarettes and makes me a little nervous. At the corner we skirted the edge of the tall, dead willows, a giant net of sorts, which caught the windblown refuse of winter: empty and crushed water bottles, a t-shirt, bags from the Carl's Jr. just down the street, a stray sock or two. We walked up the hill on the backside of the park and when I dropped the leash and laid down in the grass overlooking the lake, Duncan seemed confused, but then turned and saw the light, startlingly bright, dancing across the water, saw the dark shapes of the mallards, their heads more purple than green, swimming along the edge of the shore. Someone guided a kite above us, and though the hillside was warm and calm, the kite, a huge thing, as big and colorful as a costume from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, whipped back and forth, caught in a nearly violent wind, careened low to the ground and then pulled up at the last second only to climb higher than before.

And as I had trusted him months ago in the snow, Duncan trusted me and followed my lead. He threw himself to the ground and rolled right over me until I wrapped my arms around him and we wrestled, sliding down the hill, laughing and snorting and giving the ducks something to stare at. It seemed exactly what he needed, like something he'd forgotten and rediscovered, a sweetness his life had been without for too long.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Today is the day when bold kites fly,
When cumulus clouds roar across the sky.
When robins return, when children cheer,
When light rain beckons spring to appear.

Today is the day when daffodils bloom,
Which children pick to fill the room,
Today is the day when grasses green,
When leaves burst forth for spring to be seen.
(Spring, Robert McCracken)

What a glorious blue sky and what mighty winds blow across it. What joy in the laughter of the children as they run on the soccer pitch, their red and blue jerseys catching the gusts, ballooning this way then that. When I was young, on gusty afternoons like this, I imagined I needed only to stretch my arms out wide enough and jump at an exact moment to be lifted and carried across the yard, then set back down, perhaps on my belly, on the newly dried earth.

There are the twigs, pulled from the trees and sent flying all around, carried by the wind, but also by Duncan, who is surely impressed with their numbers. He chases them and tackles them before they slide across the sidewalk, chews them a few moments until they are nice wet then spots the next one, and then the one after that, each new discovery more precious than the last. And then, finally, with such abundance all around him has no choice but to throw himself into the grass and roll and roll, his hair pulling it up until he is covered in a dusting of green and fading yellow.

And the trees, magnets to the wind, could not seem taller and fuller in their nudity. They have celebrated the day, baked in warm light until exploding with buds––mere balls, tiny and red, almost brown, but swelling and growing, making promises they have no choice but to keep. These trees out front, along my sidewalk, are old and have seen this before, but they whisper their excitement and the wind carries it across the fields, across the street, over each blade of grass, sharing it with all who will listen. "This is Spring," they say. Finally at last they say it. "Spring has come."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In the Grass

There is much going on in the world, especially low to the ground. The grass along the edge of the sidewalk is quickly thickening and turning a healthy shade of green and will soon be the kind of grass perfect for rolling in and getting itchy, and when mowed will smell like dreams of childhood, heavy and rich, as good as anything I can think of.

Small mounds, still a dull brown and not quite the deep earthy red they'll become later have begun to crop up in the seams of the sidewalk where the ants are already hard at work building their colonies. They're small creatures still, and move slowly, with difficulty, as though the world is not quite warm enough yet, but still they drag seeds and whatnots toward the mouth of their tunnels, a focus and determination unmatched. A lot of people don't like ants but I've never minded them, even after plopping down onto a hill at the tender age of two––a sensation I'll never forget. I'm careful with them and choose to watch my steps when I see them. How could I not respect a blind creature that can carry a million times its own weight, establish communities with rigid social structures and work harder than any other member of the animal kingdom I can think of? Even small things, seemingly insignificant, deserve attention because there is poetry in their movement.

There were other surprises in the grass. Down on Marshall a big crow cawed at us from his perch in a tree and while I watched him Duncan gave a sudden tug on his leash and leapt into the tall decorative grass that bushed up around someone's mailbox. There was a flash of movement and he hunkered down. Afraid he'd cornered a rabbit I was somewhat relieved to discover he'd found a cat instead, a big gray and white tom laying in the mulch sunning himself. Remembering the monster cat at The Breakers who ambushed Duncan almost daily from the willows along the lake, hissing and scratching and actually chasing us away, I tried to reel him in but had to stop when I saw the cat had closed his eyes and turned his face up, letting Duncan lick his chin. Duncan spread out on the sidewalk, his tail wagged and he tended to that cat in much the same manner that he looks after me. They were beautiful, the two of them bathed in golden light, the tall yellow grass rising up around them.

Sudden, unexpected friendships are their best when they come with the greening of the world.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Aeration Day

It's one of my least favorite occurances of the year, the day the groundskeepers come around with their handy little aerators and punch the hell out of the soil. Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to aerating (what an easy life that would be if aeration was all I had to worry about. Forget the fact that millions of Americans have zero health insurance, that corporations like Wal-Mart are diminishing the American Dream or that the polar bears are dying because the permafrost and arctic ice-caps are melting, it's lawn management that really lights a fire under my ass!), it's that I have spent all winter successfully dodging goose crap and have only just begun to let my guard down now that the weather has cleared up somewhat and the geese have decided to take their slimy green Tootsie Rolls elsewhere. And then today I come home and discover every square inch of lawn around my home covered in ground-turds which look exactly like the very thing I've been dodging for four months. And there's that little yip-yip dog in the next building whose owners refuse to clean up after it, like they want to share with the world the leavings of their fluffy friend, which also look remarkably like the fresh little dirt plugs which have suddenly littered our lawns. I mean, how is one supposed to tread? Do you just assume every piece and pellet is dislodged dirt and march merrily along? And what happens when it's not? It's not like I own a hose or anything! In an apartment why would I need one? And what do I do about my dog, who insists upon investigating every single little nugget to inspect it for nutritional value? Just getting from the door to the edge of the parking lot has turned into an unending task.I fully support the promotion of proper root structure in the grass but this is a bit unnerving! Duncan certainly enjoys it but I, for one, think there should be an easier, more sightly way to handle the matter. In this day and age you'd think someone would've invented a sort of dirt mulcher––something similar to what happens when we mow––that would scatter the bounty of all that sprocket-induced turdifying of the grass into a nice little powder. There's a freebie for whoever wants it.

Now stop reading and get busy engineering this miracle of modern lawn maintenance!

Image courtesy of Google images

Monday, March 17, 2008

At the Lake in March

There were birds at the lake tonight, birds that made noises like Chu-whoop Chu-wee, followed by little clicks and a trolling kind of call, and a heron, circling low and always just out of sight made a barking kind of noise, or rather something that sounded like two inner-tubes rubbing together. When it finally came out of the trees and glided over the hill above the lake I gasped at the span of its wings, which were far greater than the tiny gray and brown warblers and whistlers which darted among the trees and the tall willows. Even the ducks, which made quite the sight cutting the glass surface of the lake as they slid down into the water when they landed, sounded pleasant, almost happy. The lake has finally melted and the trail was abuzz with activity, from the rabbits which sprung up from nowhere and disappeared back into it with only a few manic hops, to the two foxes I saw in the field, standing atop their mound watching us as we approached. There will be cubs there soon if there aren't already. One or two of the prairie dogs finally poked their heads up and squawked at us, their noses perched between their paws on the edge of their burrows, looking like a "Kilroy was here "cartoon.

Duncan was quite happy to walk the trail. There was much sniffing to be done now that the snow has melted and the ice has cracked. And a great amount of marking that needed tending to. Back and forth, back and forth he snaked across the trail, his tail high, occasionally wagging when he discovered something new.

It snowed last night, melted today and will probably snow again but the sound of the birds and the clarity of the lake tell me Spring is coming. So soon now I can taste it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


It seemed we were stuck in a sort of perpetual sunset tonight, a bland white light that refused to deepen or color up. It rained most of the day under low white clouds, a September sort of rain with warm air and a wind that went one step beyond requiring a jacket but wasn't quite cold enough to make one reach for a coat. The men's rugby team, which played in the field directly across from my apartment, looked miserable in their short shorts and long-sleeved t-shirts. Their wives and girlfriends made a go of it, but most wound up sitting in their cars watching the match from the side of the street. The day seemed eternally long and I found myself wishing, more than once, for the other shoe to drop and finally dump the snow they've threatened us with all week. It never happened and merely drizzled most of the afternoon.

Duncan and I ventured out during the long sunset. The eastern sky was dark but westward, behind the mountains, it looked as though someone had turned on an enormous florescent lamp, igniting the sky in unnatural white while blackening this side of the mountains. Duncan tromped through the puddles and I bundled up in my jacket and scarf and while the rain misted my face it settled on his red coat, balling up and rolling away, except behind his ears, which seem to suck up all moisture in the vicinity.

I felt good today for the first time in quite a while. After my fall last week I called my friend Dale, who's currently in massage therapy school, and arranged to get a nice long massage. Dale is one of the most amazing people I know, big of heart, generous with his time and patience, strong of faith and kind kind kind. It had been awhile since I'd spent time with him and while the massage was wonderful beyond words, it was his company that brought me contentment. My neck was finally bendable and my back didn't ache quite as much, but more than anything my spirits were lifted by his good nature.

I was thinking of healing all day. I've come a long way since that horrible period three years ago, and while it would be easy to credit the drugs, I know my health was improved by other factors, such as Duncan and the almost magical way he worked with me and tended to my needs during the worst of it. There were my closest friends and my family, and people like Dale, who doesn't really know how rejuvenating his mere presence can be. Healing comes in many different forms, most of which do not require a perscription, only the love of a faithful companion and the blessings of good people.

What You Give

I have spent much of the last three days preparing for a farewell dinner party for my co-worker, PJ, who is moving to Houston with her family in a few weeks. Amber and I have shopped and planned and finally, yesterday we began cooking. With great encouragement from my mentor, David, I prepared a meal of champagne apricot chicken stuffed with spinach and cheese, served over a bed of lemon-butter pasta with a side of steamed asparagus. It's been a fearful experience, especially since I basically cooked for 15 people, a number far greater than I've ever cooked for before. And luckily, we somehow pulled it off. The meal was delicious (thank you once again, David, for all your advice and support) but the best part, the part that will be remembered is how we all just sat and talked afterward. PJ was amazed that we'd gone to so much trouble for her and that so many people showed up to wish her well. "You get what you give," I told her when we hugged, and I believe that. We receive whatever we put out there in the world.

I was a bit late getting home, or rather, later than I should've been considering Duncan hadn't been let out in nearly eight hours. I was anxious to take care of him, but not exactly excited to walk because the night has turned cold and wet, misty with halos around the lights (like the Illinois nights I fell in love with during college) and the snow is just beginning to fall. Im tired, my heads hurts, my wrenched neck and back are still not happy with me and my belly is warm and full. Walking in the cold is not high on my list of priorities.

But I did it. I came home to a dancing, chirping dog who, despite smelling Amber's dogs on me, was overjoyed to see me, as though I'd been gone for weeks. He jumped up on me, wagged his bum back and forth, and when I knelt down, slathered my face in kisses. Almost immediately my reservations about the walk were gone. I wanted to take him out, wanted to be with him, wanted to experience the night. So we leashed up, grabbed the poop bags and walked down the lawn.

The night was quiet with only a few cars sluicing up water out on the street. The street lights reflected off a million droplets and painted the cement in green, red and brief splashes of gold. The grass, still greening, slowly but surely, finally felt springy rather than crisp and the cool air was good on my cheeks after sitting in Amber and Jesse's warm living room. A rabbit darted past us and we followed him a ways before turning back. We stood near the fence looking out over the park, shrouded in mist, its darkness broken by intermittent pools of gold light and I felt warmed by the thought that we were alone in our noticing of the silence, which so few people experience.

"You get what you give," I told PJ, but I could've told Duncan the same thing as he sat down beside me, pressing his warm body against my leg, his hip resting comfortably on the top of my foot, the two of us watching the world be the world and the night be this night.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Walk to the Mailbox

There is much I would miss if Duncan was not at my side. I could not tell you how many times I have plodded to one mailbox or another, watching only where I was going (still wise, especially after the minor concussion I suffered Wednesday afternoon after slipping on the sole remaining patch of ice in the parking lot), not looking up, treating the brief walk as little more than a chore. There was no joy in going to the mailbox, except on the occasional arrival of a letter from David or April, or one of the eclectic packages Ruth sometimes sends.

While most of our jaunts to the mailbox are uneventful, at least in my eyes, there's no telling what juicy morsels of information Dunc gleans from all his sniffing (Oh, that saucy little spaniel is in heat, or the floozy boxer won't be in heat for awhile, or even, that macho yellow lab who struts around is no longer quite so macho and will need a few days to get his strut back).

Tonight was a cold one and although I was feeling extremely lazy after my day preparing the champagne apricot chicken for tomorrow night's farewell party dinner for a former co-worker. The apartment was nice and warm, I'd indulged myself in an evening watching my newest guilty pleasure, Battlestar Galactica, and the temperature had fallen quite dramatically after the sun had set, pale and white and not its usual pink and spilled sherbet colors. I didn't want to put my shoes and jacket on and I certainly didn't want to take Duncan because what should normally be a five minute round-trip excursion would turn into thirty minutes of watching him sniff every pole and shrub and flower bed between here and there, and then back again for any late-breaking updates. But, being the good and dutiful papa I am, I leashed him up, grabbed some poop bags and headed off, Duncan leading the way.

Almost immediately the walk became an adventure. Not far down the lane the sound of a thumping bass mmmp-mmmp-mmmped its way into my ears and chest in that disturbing way that occurs at stoplights next to teenagers. The further we walked the louder it got until eventually we were standing two stories below what looked to be a rocking party. While Duncan sniffed I did what anyone would do and looked up at the patio window and straight into the barely-covered g-string ass of some slicked up and oiled-down muscle dude dancing in front of a room full of middle-aged applauding women, their eyes wide, their hands clapping. I could hear the cat-calls and whistles as I looked away––blushing I'm sure––and wondered what exactly the differences between the sexes really were. Not wanting to appear to linger too long, I gave Duncan's leash a quick tug and we continued on our way.

After checking the mail (no letters or eclectic packages to be found) we stopped on a small grassy patch next to the leasing office. Duncan didn't see the rabbit lurking in the shadows near the newly tilled flower bed, but I did, so I stopped, whispered the word "Bunny," which always gets his attention and watched his head jerk back and forth as he looked for it. His nose twitched when he found it and his body immediately tensed. We stood there for five minutes, creeping slowly, almost imperceptibly forward. The light on the corner of the building blinked off, casting us in complete darkness, but as we waited it came slowly back on, building from nothing, growing in brightness as steadily and cautiously as our advancing steps. By the time it was full again, orange and as bright as the moon, we stood no more than seven feet from the crouching rabbit. It jerked and turned in our direction, its dark eyes and twitching nose zeroing in on our position. Duncan had hardly moved when it bolted right along the edge of the building, its shadow bouncing across the brick and stone. Duncan reared and was about pursue when the building alarm––a single high-pitched note that cut right through us with its shrill scream––sounded, shattering the quiet like nails on a chalkboard or the sound of breaking glass. I startled and winced as my heart pounded in my chest. Duncan backed off, forgetting the rabbit and turned to me for an answer. The alarm rang and rang, louder than the strip party in the next building, louder than anything the night allowed.

"C'mon, Roo," I said, pulling on his leash and ducking away, hurrying back home while visions of me spread-eagled up against as wall being frisked by a cop ran through my head. I even imagined the bachelorette party and vengeful little bunny looking on, a smirk on his pink face while I was cuffed and dragged away crying, "It was the rabbit! We didn't do anything! I've been framed!" The guy in the g-string, once again wearing his leprachaun hat and bow tie would nod smuggly, as though I were the strange one.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Voice of March

This night is alive with the sound of chimes, mine and the others spread around the apartment complex, coming even as far away as the houses down on Leawood. At the park, even through the low and constant wail of the wind I can hear them. The small ones, light and bouncing bells, the sound of metal dandelions, their flowers plucked away, the wind rushing through their hollow stems. The heavy wooden ones cut from bamboo as thick as my wrist singing a brown song, earthy and deep, the tones of lost tribes. The ceramic ones with music that sounds like something on the verge of breaking––egg shells, perhaps, or ice, a frantic voice, urgent and fragile. And always the wind struggling to be heard over them, around and through them. The blood and breath of their voices. I wonder, does Duncan hear them as I do, patternless and chaotic yet somehow soothing? He pushes his nose against the ground as he walks, aware of things I know nothing about. I can smell the greening of the world, or the perfumes of other walkers, but it is a superficial sense compared to his. I think I know our walks, know the ways and where the wind blows the coldest and hardest. I know its melody and the harmony of the chimes which comes and goes, almost touching us through the night. But what do I miss, what have I not heard that Duncan has already memorized and hums in his dreams. His walk is the wiser one and on nights when March screams all around us, I wonder which of us is guiding the other.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We Are The Shepherds

I fell tonight coming home from work. A good one, with a little sideways dance on a patch of ice. I came down on my left side, wrenching my neck and shoulders, my back and my ribs, and although I didn't hit my head, I had a sensation that can only be described as "a brain bounce." My vision got all funny for a minute, like when you lay on your side and watch TV, or when you were a kid hanging upside-down on the monkey bars and you sat up suddenly. While I spawled halfway out in the parking-lot a woman––who I'm sure is a member of the Juicy Buns Club––drove by in her SUV without stopping to check whether I was dead or merely unconscious, and didn't seem at all phased by the fact that I'd decided to lay down in the road. Eventually it all evened out and I was able to pick myself up and drag myself inside. The world seemed a little strange for a bit––it still does, actually––and so rather than venture out into the park where I was sure I'd keel over in a goose poop-laden puddle of water, I called Melissa to see if she wanted to let Kona play with Duncan. I didn't want to be alone and thought, as A.A. Milne wrote, "It's so much more friendly with two."

And so we went down to The Glen, which––were it not located right on the edge of one of the busiest and loudest streets in all of Littleton, or sandwiched between a parking lot and a golf course––would make a nice, almost passable corner of The Hundred Acre Wood. It's my favorite place in the complex, shaded and grassy in the summertime, warm and glowing in Autumn. It's not so good at winter, with its slushy bowl of a middle and steep hillsides perfect for slipping and sliding down, getting your pants all wet and snow down your boots, but I'm excited to see what it has in store for us come Spring.

Duncan and Kona are good friends, and as such they enjoy rolling and wrestling and gnawing on the spots behind each others ears while making sure to leave as much good, thick saliva in the general vicinity of their heads as possible. They're friendly dogs, eager to play hard with one another and especially excited to welcome new dogs to the area, even if those dogs happen to be on the sidewalk around the side of the fence, for which there is no gate.
While Melissa and I chatted (Melissa kept her eyes on my pupils to make sure they stayed the same size) a woman, who I'm sure is quite pleasant under normal circumstances, happened to walk by with her little white poodle. Kona noticed the poodle first, then Duncan caught sight of them and trotted around the side of fence and onto the sidewalk to greet them. Kona darted right after him and by the time Melissa and I, running, were able to catch up to them, the poor woman had lifted her frightened white ball of wriggling yipping fur into the air above her head (which you're not supposed to do should your dog ever be attacked). But Duncan and Kona were not attacking, merely trying to sniff butts and bump noses and do all the other things dogs do when they greet each other. Obviously this was made more difficult by the poodle's placement on her mistresses shoulder, but Kona and Duncan were up to the challenge and persisted in their efforts at Canine Hospitality.

"Don't worry," I called. "They're very friendly." I grabbed Duncan's collar as Melissa scooped up Kona and the woman, fire in her eyes and venom in her voice spat out, "That's what the last guy said right before his dog attacked my dog."

I didn't know what to say. I felt extremely embarrassed, but, to be honest, also a little annoyed. This was Duncan she was talking about. The famous Duncan. If my Google Analytics is to be believed a superstar in Eastern Europe (way to go Poland and The Czech Republic!) and southeast Asia––but that could be because (prepare yourself for the really bad pun and also slightly racist joke) they think my blog should be called While Wokking Duncan (you knew I'd do it eventually, right?!). This is Duncan, angel of Clement Park, the sweetest, kindest dog in all the world (yes, Chicago Ruth, he is really as sweet as he looks! Head bath thing and all!). How could this stranger, this person carrying what looked like a mop-head on her shoulder imply such things!?!

Melissa and I dragged our dogs back to The Glen. I quickly leashed Duncan and didn't let go of him for the rest of the evening.

"What did she say to you?" Melissa asked. When I explained she got very quiet for a moment and shook her head, fighting the smile that was forming on her face. "This isn't funny, it's terrible, but that's the poodle my boyfriend's dog attacked. And then the other day Kona jumped her again. Just to play, of course!"

The smile was contagious; I felt it forming at the corners of my mouth. "Are you telling me that dog has been 'attacked' three times in a row?"

Melissa nodded. "In the exact same spot."

It was not funny but we sat on the hillside for ten minutes laughing, especially when I pointed out how we'd become no different than The Shepherds, the horrible, barking dogs who've haunted us at the park for the past eight months. I'd become no better than them; my beautiful, handsome boy had become a snarling beast. I know we'll be in trouble when The Poodle Woman starts carrying a cudgel on her walks.

Walking the Dog

Walking the Dog
Two universes mosey down the street
Connected by love and a leash and nothing else.
Mostly I look at lamplight through the leaves
While he mooches along with tail up and snout down,
Getting a secret knowledge through the nose
Almost entirely hidden from my sight.

We stand while he's enraptured by a bush
Till I can't stand our standing any more
And haul him off; for our relationship
Is patience balancing to this side tug
And that side drag; a pair of symbionts
Contented not to think each other's thoughts.

What else we have in common's what he taught,
Our interest in shit. We know its every state
From steaming fresh through stink to nature's way
Of sluicing it downstreet dissolved in rain
Or drying it to dust that blows away.
We move along the street inspecting shit.

His sense of it is keener far than mine,
And only when he finds the place precise
He signifies by sniffing urgently
And circles thrice about, and squats, and shits,
Whereon we both with dignity walk home
And just to show who's master I write the poem.
(Howard Nemerov)

*Cartoon courtesy of Mark Dean

Monday, March 10, 2008

No Longer Our Own

Duncan and I, under the constellation Orion, have been faithful guardians of the park since October when the last of the after-school sports teams packed up and called it quits for the year. Dutifully we strolled the wide sidewalks, cut our own paths through the snow, protected the fields from the varmint geese and played as much as we could, keeping that park magic alive during the long dark months and the quiet cold mornings when we were its only occupants. Yes, there were times the park didn't feel as safe as it could've, but most days we were content with the silence and the vast emptiness, alone with the snow halos around the street lamps, the owl which stared down at us from its tree perch, the sound of our feet crunching the snow and cracking the ice echoing between the trees, across the fields and over the frozen lake.

This afternoon we ventured across the street to discover that the teams have returned. Children had flooded the fields and I was unable to count the number of different soccer practices which were taking place around us. There was the girls team in the lower field with the blue jerseys and the matching purple backpacks. There were two different boys teams, the taller ones in gold and black, the smaller ones in red and blue. Further down toward the skate park the jerseys bled together until it seemed like a mass gathering, a protest, perhaps, or even a gay pride parade exploding with all those colors. The parking lots were packed with minivans and SUVs, barking mothers, fathers talking on cell phones, toddlers playing on the edges of the sidewalks, their parents too busy catching up with other parents to notice their children were playing with the crusty remnants of green goose poop. I felt invaded and a little sad that with the return of Spring and green and sunshine we'd lost the thing that's meant the most to us these long months. We were glared at as we made out way through a particularly loud group of people. One of the kids was lazily bouncing a silver and red soccer ball and Duncan took an interest in it. The child's mother hastily pulled the kid away and the unattended ball rolled down the hill with Duncan straining his leash to follow after it.

So we left and ventured down Leawood, the neighborhood which reminds me of the place I grew up. The new Spring light falls at a nostalgic angle on the 80's-model homes, on the gently sloped curbs, the red mustang––just like the one Kenny Mecham's older brother drove––parked in the decaying driveway. There is something comforting about Leawood and her side streets, Newland and Marshall, where we walk. Something friendly about the people tending to their yards or clearing our their overly-packed garages. There are the monkey bars at the school, an exact copy of the one we played on at Edahow, the elementary school I attended (several readers of this blog just saw that picture and smiled). It's nice to walk there, even though it's not my neighborhood or 1982 when I rode my faithful black dirt bike up and down that hill to and from the homes of my friends.

Tonight, on our last walk, I noticed that Orion has slipped in the sky. For months I have watched him hover in the southern night directly over the park, his dogs Canis Major and Minor nearby hunting Taurus the bull, keeping their eyes on Lepus the hare. As the days have grown longer Orion has started to move on, beginning his nightly hunts further west, perhaps aware that all those kicking children and their loud-mouthed hovering parents and coaches, have chased away the good game.

We will watch over the park without him. And we will relish the daylight, but we will miss calling it our own.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Rabbit Interruptus

It's been awhile since we've seen the rabbits which seemed to have taken over for the squirrels last Fall. Every night we chased at least one of the bounders from under the tree, around the side of the building and into a hedge. Sometimes Duncan and I spent fifteen cautious minutes slowly advancing on one, Duncan gently lifting his paw, holding it in the air as his body moved forward, muscles tense and at the ready, every ounce of his being devoted to the attention of the rabbit fifteen or twenty feet before us. Then, slowly, so slowly that foot would come down into the grass without a sound and he'd pull forward, never allowing the chain on his collar to jingle in the slightest. We haven't seen a rabbit since before Christmas but it hasn't stopped him from investigating the site of each and every rabbit encounter we've had since we moved here last July: under the Juniper along the fence, in the shrubs along the side of the building, near the landscaping lamp in the high grass near the front gate. His memory for these things is startling; he's searched for rabbits in places we've seen one only once, and that was back in October. But every day he sniffs the ground there and occasionally marks the spot as a kind of warning. The whole thing makes me question the validity of the reports that dogs have very low memory spans. When it comes to rabbits, Duncan does not forget.

So it was surprising to come upon the rabbits on the edge of the parking lot, huddled against the tires of our third floor neighbor's Jeep Wrangler. Even more surprising that we discovered them with the sun high in the sky when the shadows are short. And even more shocking to stumble upon them in flagrante delicto, two bunnies doing the thing we hear they do but never see. I think they were just as surprised as we were, and neither knew quite knew which way to go. Duncan didn't care either. It was two for the price of one! As they fumbled about––quite annoyed at our appearance, I'm sure––Duncan lunged forward, dragging me behind, and chased them into the bushes. We spent nearly twenty minutes hunting through the hedge, back and forth, and at one point even climbing on top where Duncan could better thrust his nose deep down into the pricklies. But alas, they rabbits had absconded, perhaps to a hotel room, and we didn't see them again.


Strange how hard it rains now
Rows and rows of big dark clouds
When I'm still alive underneath this shroud
Rain Rain Rain
(Patty Griffin Rain)

Our first rain of the year. A nice solid rain that started as a heavy mist and got bigger. The lights at the park cast orange puddles of light that Duncan and I hurried through, darkness to orange, darkness to orange. It's still warm out though and my hoodie, despite turning damp, kept me warm. It's been a rough week and I feel tired down through my bones but this rain, this beautiful mist, felt good on my face, running down through my hair and into my ears. The snow is washing away, if only for awhile, and I know Spring is coming. Spring with my dog, walking the trails we've discovered in the mountains. Spring with the flowers and the little birds hopping madly from bouncing branch to bouncing branch. Spring smell in my open windows, and the sound of the night rain on the grass. I survive winter solely for the joy of the rain, for splashing with Duncan in puddles and not caring if our feet get wet. For feeling my tired heart burst open at all the beauty in the world and Duncan, at my side, a kind of shroud, leading me from darkness to joy, guiding me to the rediscovery of the world.

Friday, March 7, 2008

So Much Depends Upon

So much depends
the red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
(The Red Wheel Barrow William Carlos Williams)

The week was lived for this night's sunset, caught as it was around and between the big boughs of the tree, Duncan's Tree. It wasn't just the gold on the clouds against the last of the day's blue, or even the darkness of the tree seen from behind––not quite a tree any more, but the shape of one, its memory––but the two of them together, happening at once, a perception of action and inaction. That was why the week was so long and at times unendurable because the universe, behaving as the universe does more often than we'd like to admit, was saving this, knowing that as Duncan and I returned home, tired and chilled and looking forward to the quiet of the weekend, that I would glance––so accidentally––in the direction of the mountains for one last glimpse of the day and catch my breath. The reason for the week, painted against the sky for everyone to see, so difficult but also easy. Like a favor. Or a blessing.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Bigger Boat

February lingers. I can feel her in each breath, each gust of wind that slaps my face, each bitter nugget of snow that finds its way between the cuff of my jeans and down alongside my ankle. I can see it in the icy blue of the sky just before the sun sets. Winter's tenacity is unmatched, except, perhaps by that of cockroaches. And maybe Cher.

And all we can do is hunker down, pull our collars tightly around our necks and plod through for a few more excruciatingly long weeks. Were winter a shark (and I'm not convinced she isn't––a great roaming white monster with unmoving black eyes, fixed and determined, focused on a single objective) we would all play the role of Roy Scheider's character in Jaws, who proclaims, upon first seeing the beast, "[We're] gonna need a bigger boat."

The park has seemed like the belly of that shark all week, smooth and cold and also treacherous. But Duncan has been with me, joyful and impervious to it, warming me even as my ankles and wrists have struggled against the ever-searching wind.

It's difficult to trudge through the blowing snow and cold and see it as anything other than what it is. My boots work wonders, but I need goggles and today I would've felt much more comfortable astride one of the Taun Tauns from The Empire Strikes Back. The wind was cruel, the snow was like sand, fine and sharp and relentless in its pursuit of soft, warm places. It's difficult to enjoy walks like this when all you can think about is getting home. But it was while watching Duncan throw himself about that I simply stopped struggling and let the walk take me where it wanted, let the world transform from a cold, empty park into something more. I stood ankle deep and watched the snow slide toward me, making a soft hiss as it came at me and I had the strange sensation that I was moving forward, gliding just over the surface of the park watching the ground move toward and then beneath me. It was like moving without moving. And then I remembered fishing off the Osborne Bridge over the Snake River with my grandmother and my sister. We loved the bridge because the swallows built their nests on the underside and we'd watch the birds come and go by the hundreds, perching on the edge of their nests, greedy and sharp toothpick beaks emerging and chirping wildly for food. But the real magic of the bridge––aside from Grandma's peanut butter sandwiches or the L'il Smokies we'd snack on––was when we faced south and watched the river move away from us, there was a moment of discombobulation when we felt like we were moving. Like the bridge was the back of a giant boat working its way upstream. The water wasn't moving, we were. We'd clutch the rail and hang on because there was always a brief moment of vertigo while our brain tried to catch up to our eyes. Standing in the park as the snow rushed toward me felt like being on the bridge, and for a moment I could taste the peanut butter and hear the stories Grandma used to tell or the songs we'd sing about Joe Cogan's goat, or the one about the little dog named Jack who lost his tail on a train track ("Wagon wagon" ).

This is when my walks mean the most, when simply being present and attentive leads me to new places. Or old places. It's walking meditation, time travel, the biggest boat in the world.
Photo of complete and utter strangers on top of Osborne Bridge courtesy of Google Images

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wanted: New Job

To Duncan's great delight it snowed all night and we awoke to find our white world even whiter. Ken and I took turns taking him outside, where he reacted like a child on Christmas morning. God he loves the snow! His eyes got wide, he caught his breath then jumped head first into it, scampering in widening circles around me, kicking it up behind him. His face quickly whitened and only the dark tip of his nose and his brown eyes stood out, like a ghost costume cut out of a sheet. I walked with him down to the end of the yard and back, wishing I could stay home with him today and play in the snow. I wish I was one of those people who could telecommute, or who had a rich benefactor, or someone who simply didn't have to work. I'd never grow bored, or rather, I'm good at boredom so it wouldn't bother me.

I'm looking for a new job. The bureaucracy and inane politics of higher education have grown tedious, and I don't even work for the college. I work in the bookstore, which is retail, which is about as meaningless as jobs get. Retail takes and takes and takes some more and offers little actual benefit to mankind. No lives are changed because of a new floor cleaner or because we now get 33% more in every bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. I am little more than a purveyor of useless items. No one goes home and says, "Thank god there was someone there to order my over-priced textbook for me!" It's not that I'm seeking praise or a permanent place in someone's memory; that's not it at all. What I really want is to be able to go home and feel proud of the job I've done, knowing that I did something good, made someone's life easier, or changed the world in even the tiniest of ways.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to get paid to stay home with Duncan, study his ways and share the wisdom of dogs with the world? There is obviously much we could learn from our best friends, such as the value of leisure, the importance of play, how to love everyone and everything unconditionally. I wouldn't have to jump through hoops or say things I don't mean; hell, I wouldn't even have to put on shoes if I didn't want to. Duncan and I could play and roll in the snow and the world of business and commerce could keep its ugliness far away from us. The dog world is much kinder and nurtures the spirit, which is far more valuable than gold.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

White Wind

The afternoon came on with wind. A white wind blown over the tops of the mountains, in a spray, like water on rock, that misted down from miles away, erasing the blue, scratching at the afternoon gold on the clouds, painting the daylight in a gray, then a sullen yellow, before bleaching the sky into bone. White-washing what little remained of our weekend glimpse of Spring. A white wind, a vindictive February wind with teeth and open palms made for slapping. The snow crusted over and try as he might, Duncan couldn't pull it over him when he rolled in it. It merely cracked around him and caught in his collar, brittle chunks of ice. When we walked it slivered his paws and bit at my face, bringing tears to our eyes as we leaned into the force of it on our way home.
Spring could not have been further away tonight. But we watch from our window and hold close to one another as only a dog and his companion can while the world, bland and cold in the last days of winter, blows against it.

Monday, March 3, 2008


Duncan fell in love with his Berry the moment he first laid eyes on him and they've been inseparable ever since. I try to rotate his toys––The Baby (a squirrel, now missing most of its face and two paws), The Buddy (an opossum which scared the hell out of him when they first met, but once its rather creepy tail was dispatched he warmed right up to it), The Blue Bone (a bright blue plastic toy shaped like a bone) and his Berry (the teddy bear he met while on a brief field trip to the college bookstore where I work)––but he just won't let go of the Berry. He carries it with him all over the house, grooming it, gnawing on the stub that was once its tail, keeping it nice and moist at all times. He curls up with it on the couch, tosses it around when I'm too busy blogging to play, and takes particular joy in slapping it down on my head when I'm in bed, leaving wet little smears across my cheek. He's quite fond of it.

Recently we welcomed a new member of The Duncan Clan, a soft, white sheep with floppy ears and narrow little nostrils we're calling his Bah-Bah. It's a cute thing, and although he's been reluctant to give up any time with Berry, Bah-Bah has slowly been making her way into his heart. He's been very careful not to favor her and has offered Berry equal licking and grooming time, but tonight I caught him cuddling with her on the couch. Berry was nowhere to be found.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Winter Marches On

Winter feels eternal. There are days––the long days of February––when it seems our backs will break under the weight of her, that we simply can not go another day without losing our minds.

Growing up in Idaho winter seemed almost unendurable: the skies would never clear, the wind––a cold wind carried down through the mountains where it backed up in the narrow valley that is Pocatello––never stopped blowing. The two phosphorous plants west of town pumped putrid clouds of gas and steam into the air, all of which blanketed our city for days at a time. I still remember the stench of the clothes hanging in my closet after one of those heavily-polluted inversions, a bitter, sweet smell, like dust mixed with fertilizer.

Chicago was much the same, an endless string of days without release, of watching the Weather Channel and seeing enormous, spirit-crushing masses of arctic air moving down across Canada, on a mission, it seemed, to settle over the Great Lakes where it would hover for days––if we were lucky––but sometimes for weeks at a time. And the wind off the lake was the most terrible thing, carrying ice vapor which cut through everything, like sand or diamonds. I remember not ever feeling warm, except, perhaps, while sitting in a steaming tub.

I always said I wouldn't mind winter if it were broken up into bits, cold, snowy days divided by warm ones, with clear skies and bright sunshine so that climbing into a car that had sat all day wouldn't be so terrible. I don't mind the cold so long as there is snow along with it, but Idaho and Illinois had long dry days with only that arctic air and the wind. Always the wind. Never a balance, never the kind of winter I dreamed about. I didn't know such a place existed until we moved to Denver where winter is almost enjoyable. It snows and freezes but our weeks are punctuated by days of calm and melting light, and sometimes warmth. Our Spring comes early and lasts well into June as we undergo a continuous string of snow days followed by sun days.

We all knew it was coming, the snow after our sun, which accounts for the almost manic celebration in the park all day yesterday. Soccer teams were out, as were the newly formed baseball leagues. The skate park was filled with kids clad in shorts and tank tops, and some even went shirtless. And why shouldn't they? It was 76˚! The bicyclists were out at the lake, along with the roller-bladers and the moms and dads with their kids and dogs and an endless parade of strollers. Strollers are like geese and weevils, nuisances the rest of us must learn to navigate, even on beautiful days. People played Ultimate Frisbee long after the sun had set; I could hear them from my patio. And all of it was done with the knowledge that Sunday would not be a sun day but a snow day.

And so the snow came. By four this morning, when I let Duncan out, it had turned from a drizzle to actual flakes. At six when I officially got up it had decided to stick. And by eight, when Duncan went out for his morning romp, it had accumulated to several inches, covering the trees and ground with a thick, fluffy blanket that required boots and work just to walk through. It was a walk filled with long sighs, resigned head-shaking and heavy, snow-marching, but watching Duncan––who only yesterday had chased ants across the sidewalk––roll and leap and pounce and chase the snow with his snout, warmed my heart. He does not mind the weather the way people do. Each day of sun or snow is a gift to him and he enjoys them equally.
Ah, to have the heart of dog. There can be no finer thing.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


I've been listening to my favorite podcast, Radio Lab. In one of the most recent episodes, Laughter, it's explained that Aristotle theorized that laughter was the one thing which set us apart from all other living creatures and in fact we don't really become human until our first giggle as a baby, typically around the fortieth day of our lives. Science has since slowly chipped away at Aristotle's idea and has determined that not only do babies enjoy their first laugh around day ninety, but that perhaps humans aren't alone in their ability to laugh. Several studies have shown that rats laugh, as do primates and several other species.

But what is laughter? One of the theories put forth by the Radio Lab episode is that we laugh as a sort of defense mechanism, a way of signaling non-malicious intent while behaving aggressively. For instance, baby rats who play together laugh to remind the rest of the community that they're not actually fighting, simply playing, a way of saying, "There's no trouble here. It's all fun and games." Radio Lab go on to report that laughter has developed for societal reasons, that without the aid of books or film or recordings or other media we don't laugh when we're alone because there's simply no reason to do so.

Science has a remarkable way of removing the fun and magic from life even as it offers explanation and enlightenment. But that's science's job and I can't lay any blame. I, however, am a romantic and have a difficult time thinking in such black and white ways. But as Tom Robbins said, "Romanticism and science are good for each other. The scientist keeps the romantic honest and the romantic keeps the scientist human."

I have spent countless hours playing with Duncan and were Dr. Lab Coat to tell me that Dunc does not experience joy and knows nothing of laughter, I would smile politely but think him an idiot. This morning––a gorgeous 70˚ morning––Melissa and I took Duncan and Kona on a walk through the park, down to Starbucks. The dogs played almost constantly, wrestling and nipping, stealing sticks and treats from one another. It was clear they enjoyed the other's company. And even when they weren't interacting––what the scientists call "parallel play"––they were enjoying being outside, the blue of the sky, the warmth of the air, the fragrance of Spring rising up all around us. I needed no rationale to tell me my dog was happy.

And I do not need years of study and research to tell me that it's possible Duncan may laugh. When we wrestle, or when he rolls in the grass, or even when we've been working hard on some new "trick" and he sees he's pleased me, his joy is apparent; I have heard his laughter. We laugh alone together all the time. I need no other proof.
If this is not a laughing face, I am an idiot.