Sunday, August 31, 2008

Two Suns

It rained this afternoon, not much, but enough to cover the street and cause the tires to slush up water in fine misty sheets as the cars passed, a sound that is not without its own peaceful merit. Duncan and I walked an hour after the clouds were swept away to the east, dark and low with lightning just barely visible even in the daylight. The sidewalks had just started to dry around their edges when we ventured to the park. The sun carved a place for itself between the mountains and a new row of clouds that had risen over the rounded tops of the foothills, shining a concentrated layer of gold across the city and into our eyes. The park was vast and empty and strange for a Sunday afternoon, as silent as it gets only after the dark has risen and even the late night Frisbee players have faded into the shadows. There was no tug on Duncan's leash and we walked side by side without haste or destination, comfortable with the laziness of our steps, not caring where we went or how long it took to get there, glad only to be out in the cool, rain-scented air together. Climbing the hill below the memorial, following the path up, with the sun in our faces, the sidewalk before us glowed brilliantly, as radiantly as though there were two suns, one setting from above, one reflected on the wet walk and rising up from below. Through the parking lot at the top of the hill and across the wet grass above the amphitheater, we stood and looked down on the lake. The trees and tall willows along the shore, even the foothills and the city along their base, were black as we gazed into the sun and its reflected twin, moving together at the same pace along the same path, never to meet but always lighting the other's way into the horizon. We stood for a long while watching their progress and as the sun, our sun, the one above, met the black line of the mountain silhouettes, I strained my ears for the sound of the hiss as it extinguished against the damp horizon. When it did not come we turned and walked another long and lazy route home.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I don't know what he was watching. Perhaps the cars on the morning street, almost soft and vast in the newness of the day, cars driven with an absence of haste. an enjoyment of the road and an abandonment of destination. Perhaps there was a butterfly, a small one, the buttery yellow kind that have appeared lately and are barely noticeable at all until they take quick and jittery flutters from one patch of browning clover to another. Perhaps it was the mouse which sometimes scurries along the edge of the patio, attracting the attention of the cats, who sit in a row, their tails jerking without any conceivable rhythm as they watch it climb up one side of the grill and down the other. Perhaps it does not matter what he was watching, only that something in his eyes, something far away, reminded me of my grandfather, of a photograph I'd taken in the last year of his life. We'd been sitting on his patio, enclosed and bigger than the one Duncan and I sat on this morning. Grandpa and I were alone and he'd just fallen silent after talking about the cancer he knew would take him. He turned away and looked long and hard past the pine tree he'd planted when I was six, which towered over the yard, now far too tall to jump over as I'd done the first year it had been in the ground. He gazed out the window at the street and the old school on the other side of it. He did not say anything and I did not ask, but took a picture instead and every time I've looked at it for the past eight years my heart has ached for not asking, for never being able to know what that beautiful, quiet moment held for him. Duncan is not my grandfather, did not even have the joy of meeting him, but the way they looked so intently out into world was startlingly similar, with thoughts never to be spoken, held silent like a love poem to life.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Summer Red

Even though Colorado has been a very blue state this past week, I couldn't help but notice the definite burning red of this afternoon. The politicians and delegates have departed and life and traffic, it would seem, have returned to normal, but because I tend to try my hardest to savor each given moment as something unique, I saw the red burning all around us today.

There have been several fires in the area and the mountains have been obscured in a soft, cottony gray haze, losing their definition and becoming more than they are, not less, memories of mountains, or dreams of them, something far away and close all at once, visible but concealed, always just out of reach. The smoke has been a subtle thing, its scent absent in the morning when the world smells of moisture and green, but thicker in the early afternoons, never pungent, more the scent of a neighbor's backyard grill or childhood summer nights falling asleep in a tent when the fire is dying down, a small lump of red hidden behind a mound of ash, popping and spraying sparks only occasionally. The best part of the fires, if there is actually anything good about them, is the sun behind the smoke paints the sidewalks a dull red, almost a soft pink, and shadows lose their definition, become like wet, brown gauze.

But the burning is not just in the forests around Denver; Summer is nearing its end and somehow manages to burn brighter and harder than it has for the past three months. There is a desperation to its living that is both inspiring and a little tragic, as though all the dreams that haven't been realized are flaring up for one last chance.

In the park, under a cloud shaped like a miles-high question mark, I dropped Duncan's leash and let him amble ahead of me. He's been trained well and doesn't go too far, only about twenty feet before he stops and looks back as if to check in and make sure I'm okay with where he is. He'd done this several times but as we neared the place where we turn toward the baseball fields, he picked up speed and trotted off. As I followed after him I saw a couple, young, probably entering their last year at the high school, entwined around each other on the grass, not kissing, just holding each other and watching the sky change. The boy nuzzled the girl's neck and she dropped her hand familiarly onto his thigh, giving it an affectionate squeeze. They were beautiful, her pale body spooned against his dark skin, the tenderness of their grasp, the relative newness of such physical intimacy. I smiled at them and then realized Duncan was headed their way. When I lay on the grass with him it means we're going to wrestle around each other, and I assume that's what he thought they meant as well.

Their eyes has slipped shut and they did not see him coming. His cold nose peeking into the spot where their cheeks touched must have been a shock for they both flinched and their eyes came open. Dunc's tail wagged and he leaned forward and licked their joined faces. The girl lifted her hand from her partner's leg and placed it on Duncan's shoulder, pulling him closer to them. The boy laughed and sat up on his elbows, reaching one hand for his girl's hand on my dog's back. Their fingers were beautiful, entwined briefly in his red curling hair. I apologized and stepped forward but they shook their heads.

"He's wonderful," the girl told me, burying her face in Duncan's chest. "He's just what we needed. Now we'll remember this forever."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dreams and Devotion

Although Duncan didn't hide under the bed at my departure this morning, he wouldn't leave it. As I gathered my things, packed my lunch and mixed myself a nice iced chai, he curled up next to Winnie and wouldn't move, and even when I came in to scratch behind his ears and give him a kiss on top of his head he barely stirred. Now that he's gotten a taste of how his days could be spent, knows that not too far away is a land of tall trees, glorious water reflecting all the colors of the day and instant four-legged friendships, where dogs run free and everyone carries a tennis ball or two in his or her pocket, I won't be able to compete. Unless, of course, I call in the troops, which even Duncan, in all his infinite wisdom, is helpless against. They've shared far too many times together, battled afternoon boredom and the conspiracies of the cats, somehow muddled through together on long trips to and from Idaho, been steadfast friends during my weekend vacuuming duty. They don't go on walks with us, and these days several of them––the faceless and limbless ones, especially––have been relieved of duty, but he's fiercely loyal to them and can't resist their call.

As long as these guys are on my side, Duncan will always be true to me, and even though he won't get daily swims and trips to the backyards of my friends where he can consume seemingly bottomless bowls of their dog's kibble, his heart will belong right here at home.

(From left to right: Berry, Blue Bone, Baby, Bah-Bah and Buddy)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Duncan was not happy with me this morning. After his Big Day of Adventure he'd decided that staying at home with the cats and lounging across the bed was no longer his style. No, he'd tasted the high life with Aunt Sarah, who, on Sunday took us to Chatfield, the most glorious dog park in the world and followed that up with an afternoon of fun and games in her backyard. He fully expected today would contain more of the same. But as I prepared to leave for work, without filling the doggy day-out bag I'd packed the morning before, he figured it out pretty fast. Our typical morning ends with Duncan sitting in front of the door to see me off, followed by a mad dash to the bedroom window where he watches me climb into the car and drive away. This morning, however, when it became obvious he would resume his old life, he pouted, hid under the bed and refused to even peek out to see me go.

Upon my return home this afternoon I decided he deserved another romp at Chatfield and so we packed up, got into the car and drove ten minutes to what must surely be Denver's Doggy Disneyland, a vast expanse of open space, forest, and scenic trails punctuated by the Platte River, several large ponds and the reservoir. When Dunc realized where I was taking him he had to bite the seatbelt to keep from whimpering in joy. And once we were there, there was no containing him. He dragged me down the trail and almost before we'd hit the first pond he was soaking wet.

Now remember, Duncan has never been the kind of dog who enjoys the water.

At all.

No, sir, not one bit.

I guess he got over it. At some point he decided he'd much rather swim than walk and so while I strolled the path through the woods that spring up all around, Duncan followed beside me, paddling as though he's done it every day of his life. There was nothing I could say to get him to join me on land, until we met up with Jo and her two dogs, Shelby, a Black Lab she rescued and rehabilitated, and Lady, another Golden, who is just as dark and just as sweet as Duncan. Duncan decided they were his new best friends and spent much of the next hour racing for the ball Jo and I kept tossing far out into the water. Lady tended to stay on the shore, running up and down to greet new dogs, occasionally wading out a bit, but not going too far. Jo was an easy person to talk to, friendly and funny, and I look forward to running into her again.

But finally it was time to leave. There was a convention downtown (you may have heard something about it and have hopefully been tuning in!) that needed watching and the sun was beginning to set. We said our farewells and while I followed the path around the other side of the pond, Duncan paddled along beside me, only getting out of the water once it was clear there was no other place to go.

He reluctantly joined me on land and despite much whining and resistance, and with one last long look back, he climbed into the car, willing to return to his bland life among the cats and our meager jungle of spider plants, avocado and dragon trees, but only on the condition that we return again as soon as possible.

It's a promise I intend to keep.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


There are two kinds of families in this world, the family we are born into and the family we make for ourselves once we strike out on our own. I have spent much of my time in Denver telling myself that my first family is the best I could have hoped for and that the one I began building all the way back in kindergarten with my friend, Karren, and up through high school and college was good enough, that it was too much work to develop friendships that are as strong and good and loving as the ones I already have. But I was wrong.

Andy and Sarah have invited me into their family, included me in weekend gatherings and special events. Today they watched over and cared for Duncan, fell in love with him like I love him, assuaged my fears and anxiety about leaving him with them, sent me pictures of him playing throughout the day, and simply put, have become some of the best damn people I know. It is a testament to their kindness and open-hearts that when I slipped into their home to pick up Duncan after work that he didn't even notice me, and once he did he didn't seem too overly excited at my presence. He had the time of his life today, playing with Kahlua and the kids, running wild in their backyard, begging at their table. Admittedly, it was a bit disappointing but after only ten minutes on their patio I understood how comfortable and happy he must have felt all day. Before I knew what was happening I was tossing a football with their son, something I have never done in my life and wasn't quite sure how to do, playing keep-away from the dogs, laughing and jumping and feeling perfectly at home. I am more truly myself with them than I am with just about anyone else I've met since Ken and I left Illinois.

The unexpected hour or two I spent with them after work was wonderful and as Duncan began to wind down, looking at me in that way he has, as if to say, "Hey, isn't there something focused entirely around me that you should be doing?" I found myself not wanting to leave. I wanted to stay and play and laugh as I do now when I am in the presence of my other two families. And so I stepped back for a moment and just watched them be what they are, human and joyous, and with a love for each other and life so strong that the occasional frailty of family doesn't even matter. I am privileged and lucky to have found them and grateful for far more than the fact that they tended to Duncan today.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Nine years ago, when we first moved to Denver, I had the unfortunate experience of working, briefly, at a child care center and adopting the name Mister Curt. I was only there three or four months, and although I loved my classroom of four-year olds, it was a grueling job and the organization was one of the worst I've ever worked for. It was easy to make the decision to leave, but difficult to leave the children, many of whom I still wonder about. I took many memories away with me, but the thing I remember most was the look in their parents' eyes when they left them with me the very first time. All I could do was reassure them that I'd keep their children safe, make them laugh, impart a bit of wisdom and see to it they left looking forward to returning. And many times, as they walked away, I'd see them peek in the windows one last time trying hard not to press their faces against the glass as they wiped tears from their eyes. Those moments were beautiful and although I said I understood, I don't know that I really did.

Tomorrow is a big day for Duncan and me. Because our apartment is being painted he doesn't get to stay home so I've arranged for my friends Sarah and Andy to take him for the day. It doesn't sound like that big a deal, but, with the exception of Ken and my mother, I've never left Duncan with anyone else. I took him to their home last night so I could get a general sense of how he'd feel being there, to see how he and Kahlua, their dog, would get along and to spend time with their kids, who all loved him on sight, and of course, Duncan loved all the attention. Sarah and Andy were kind to me, but laughed at my nervousness and the impending separation anxiety which will no doubt hit me hard tomorrow morning when I drop him off and drive away, leaving Duncan panting and whining in their window. Sarah reassured me that I can call and check on him throughout the day, but I know it won't be enough. I'll worry for him and worry for them, fretting over whether he's chewing on toys or digging holes or peeing inside (none of which he does). I'll worry that someone has left the gate open and that he's wandering the streets unsure of which direction to go. It's in my nature and there just ain't enough Xanex in the world to make that go away.

I do know that our walk tomorrow will be all the more precious for the time apart, both of us out of our elements. Crazy, I know, but even craziness matters.

Think good thoughts for us. And hope that they keep him safe, make him laugh and leave him with a desire to return.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Business of Others

Because the park is no longer our own, having been invaded by innumerable children clad in the most garish of colors, their shirts emblazoned with names and numbers, and their parents, who leer and refuse to get out of the way when Duncan and I pass them on the sidewalks, we decided to stroll down Leawood to the school at the bottom of the hill. It's a nice neighborhood and each time I'm there, especially early in the morning, my heart breaks at the realization that Ken and I were so misguided in our attempt to own a home at Stapleton, one of the most sterile and homogeneous of Denver's neighborhoods. Leawood is an old neighborhood, with lots of big trees––which Stapleton lacked entirely––and houses that look well-lived in and loved, not the cookie cutter nouveau-retro styles of our former area, which was built on the razed property of Denver's former airport. The truth of the matter is, we got caught up in the prospect of living in a new and popular neighborhood when we should have been looking for something more our style, with a big yard for the dog, a quiet street and lots and lots of trees. Leawood is exactly that neighborhood, and it reminds me a great deal––especially when the sun is still low in the eastern sky and the smell of bacon drifts out through the open windows––of the block on which I grew up.

This morning I figured we'd walk down the shady sidewalks where the lavender grows wild in the front yards, play on the school grounds where I could take Duncan off-leash and throw his ball, let him explore the edge of the fences which border the pastures where the horses roam, and perhaps climb on the jungle gym, all without the bother of the soccer hoards and their wretched parents who scowl at me whenever Duncan tends to business.

We'd barely gone more than a few blocks, stopping every now and then to admire the gardens, watch the honey bees frolic amid the lavender bushes, which grow nearly as tall as me, when Duncan stopped to pee. I've always felt rather strange about him peeing in other people's yards, usually against a fence post or even at the foot of their mailboxes, but nothing prepared me for what happened this morning. We were standing near what must've been a spectacular wall of lilacs earlier in the spring, me milling around while Duncan sniffed out the ideal place to drop someone a line or leave a message, when, just as he was about to raise his leg, two men, quite possibly in their early 70's and clad from in golfing attire stepped out of the lilac hedge, both of them buttoning up their trousers.

"Hey," the taller of the two called to me and shuffled to my side, leaving his smaller and more jovial-faced friend behind. Duncan was still propped up on three legs, watching them but nothing else as though curious to see where this would lead before he spilled a drop. "I see your dog is about to mark some territory," the man said, dropping a weathered hand on my shoulder.

"I think so," I told him and smiled.

"Well you know," he said, squeezing my shoulder as though we were old friends, his words bleeding together to form a single word, wellyaknow. "I know they like to pee where someone else has already marked. Is that right?"

"It certainly is," I offered.

"Well you know," he said again and his friend smiled behind him as if he'd spent a lifetime listening to him start every sentence the same way. "If he's looking for a place with a lot of piss you just point him right through that hedge. We just left plenty there for him." With that they both burst into laughter and shuffled on their way. Duncan dropped his airborne leg and looked at me as if waiting for a cue as to our next move. I could only shrug my shoulders and pull him along, right past the spot, which I'm sure, inflamed his nostrils.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pillows Swept Away

"A cloud does not know why it moves in just such a direction and at such a speed... But the sky knows the reasons and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know, too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons."
(Richard Bach)

We had clouds today. Not this morning, though, when we strolled through the coolest of August breezes, which carried with it the electric scent of wild grass, a sweet top-note of mint infused with the ripeness of all the leaves in all the trees and a bass note of soil, heavy and brown, enriched by a shock of lightning and the thunder which would roll over us later in the day. The air's perfume was nearly overpowering at times, but because the breeze was gentle, the sun not yet too bright and the park still silent around us, we were comfortable and didn't mind the heaviness of the fragrance. The sky was shockingly blue above the edges of the world and seemed to swallow the color of the trees poking into it like bony fingers as well as the hills and mountains which want so much more than to be dark shadows at her base. Only the plains to the east seemed at peace with the sky, and where they met––perhaps fifty miles out––they had reached an agreement, melting one into the other with no clear line of demarcation.

But the clouds, the morning clouds which grew discontent in being so small and too few in number, became restless and as the morning grew warm and passed into afternoon, they surrendered their gentle sheep-backed shapes and flocked together into one enormous wool blanket which rubbed against both ends of the horizon at once. The storm was not long and eventually, by the time Duncan and I ventured out for our evening stroll, the air had warmed again, and only the last of the die-hards remained, curling over the mountains and trying their best to obscure the last of the day's sun. But they were beautiful things and while Duncan ambled about, dragging his leash behind him, I stretched out on the grass, not caring that my shirt and shorts or the backs of my legs grew damp, and watched them do the things clouds do, their silent and slow courting ballet across the heavens.

How simple, it would seem, to be a cloud, and how easy to presume their task is the easiest of all, going where the winds tell them to go, obeying the commands of the seasons, floating far above and out of harms way, watching the world do what the world does. But clouds are poets, not content to be merely what they seem. My clouds, the clouds which piled up and around each other like European islands, had so many tasks they performed all at once that I could only smile and marvel at them while Duncan rolled nearby, oblivious to their presence. They made the shape of an eye whose line of sight glowed fierce and golden all around, and at the same moment they kicked out a leg, pudgy and newly born with the sole of a baby's foot joined at its end, the toes curling and fat at their tips. Their shadows ran down across the hillside, and galloped through the fields before passing over the street and into the golf course on the other side. They swirled and collided like casual lovers, not rebounding but joining, becoming one before passing away, changed but fulfilled and bloated in their middles, tentative and lingering along their edges, yearning for a touch they will never know. They colored the sky gray and gold and white all at once, never losing time with the breeze on which they floated, humming a tune only the birds and perhaps the dogs can recognize.

And then as the sun drifted down low, seeking as she always does the ocean far away, they were gone, leaving the sky as empty as a bed stripped of its linens, even the pillows swept away onto the floor below.

Where do they go when they slip away and who is there to greet them on the other side of the horizon when they arrive?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Seventy-Six Trombones

I have entered the seventh layer of Hell and there's only one explanation: I must've been a marching band director in a past life.

I have always been a person whose entire day is set to music. From the minute I wake up in the morning and get in the shower to the moment I go to bed I am surrounded by music of one kind or another. About the only time I choose not to listen to it is on my walks with Duncan, when I keep the iPod at home and listen instead to the sound of the park or the neighborhoods and trails we wander, but even then there is a natural music which plays: the breeze sifting through the Aspens along the lake shore, the laughter of the children chasing soccer balls across the grass, the thump of the basketballs on the courts, the heavy suck of air as the baseballs fly in the batting cages, swish and metal-on-cement skid of the kids at the skate park. And even on those rare occasions when silence has found me I always have my whistle.

But lately the unspeakable has happened and even though it's only been a week, I am going out of my friggin' mind. The local high school marching band has started practicing again. Sometimes I wonder if these kids attend class at all or if their merciless director just keeps them on the football field out back all day, parading up and down, back and forth, playing the same wretched chords of songs that sounded bad even before they added a litany of brass to them. They are there in the mornings on our 6:30 walks, the sound of the drums keeping time to our steps as the trumpets drift across the park, through the trees, battling the sound of the early morning traffic and construction on Bowles. And they are there again at night, louder and more strangled than they were at the crack of dawn when no one should be allowed to brandish an oboe or a tuba. Especially a tuba! And to make matters worse, they are no good. Downright awful in fact, and whichever sicko is doing whatever it is they're doing to that poor euphonium needs have their fingers removed! There should be laws! I'm just sayin'!

With apologies to John Philip Sousa and Professor Harold Hill, we need to face the facts and be honest: the only people who enjoy the sound of a marching band are its members and then only because they're actually participating. I'm sure even their parents would be hard-pressed to admit they actually enjoy it. After all, how many of these folks attend concerts after their children have gone on to bigger and more important adventures, like working at Starbucks or piercing their eyebrows? Simply put, the music is a form of torture and even on those occasions that call for it (parades, high school football games and the like) it's almost unendurable. When I was young, halftime at football games was not when we hunkered down and listened intently to the band geeks stumble through "Tequila," it was when we excused ourselves to pee or slipped outside to dance in the parking lot to Erasure or Frankie Goes to Hollywood, or hell, even Def Leppard while we drank beer. Even then, engulfed by the ignorance and arrogance of youth I knew better than to stick around for the damn band.

And so now, twenty years later the soundtrack of my walks has been replaced with yet another bad high school version of Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk," along with countless other tunes I have yet to decipher and I just know that if I don't keep myself in check, one of these mornings I'm going to march myself right over there, Duncan trotting loyally along behind me, to rip that damn whip out of someone's hands and do something with it that will ensure the bass trombone player won't be marching any longer.

*Image taken entirely without permission from Laughing Squid

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Three Minutes

Three times this week we have crossed paths with The Shepherds, who have now added a giant, black, dusty-looking and slightly mangy poodle to their four-legged menagerie of terror. The only other poodle I've ever encountered bit me, not once, but twice on the same hand on the same day exactly one year apart so although I admire their dedication to book-ending their aggressiveness, I can't say I'm fond of poodles as a breed.

When Duncan and I cleared The Mound today their beat up Blazer pulled into the corner-spot in the lot right in front of us. I'd barely had time to register what was happening when the doors were flung open before the engine had quite idled down, and the three big dogs leapt out directly in front of us. I grabbed Dunc's leash and pulled him away as their people struggled to get their leashes on. We strolled down to the tall grass that rings the big willow––prime sniffing and exploring land for my boy––and milled around a bit while The Shepherds ran over the grass, squatting and pooping with abandon, their companions casting dirty looks over their shoulders in our direction, the mere fact of our presence an annoyance and complication to their evening. Eventually they trotted away, leashless and crazy, running circles around each other, galloping across the soccer field in that menacing fashion I've come to recognize even in the dark and from great distances. As we followed safely behind I kept my eyes on the dogs while Duncan kept his nose to the grass, frantically sniffing out each spot the dogs had marked in their carefree and wreckless romp. It brought me immense joy to see him lift his leg and erase, with one quick spritz, the work they'd done only three minutes prior to our passing. He kept it up the entire time we walked, up across the hill at the skate park, through the picnic shelters and the big playground, and down along the edge of the lake to the prairie dog town, and although I hadn't planned on being out so long, drained as I was from another long day at the bookstore, Duncan's dedication was delightful and as wickedly passive-aggressive as anything I could've cooked up myself. Like papa like son.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Summer's Wake

It's not difficult to notice the dwindling daylight and creeping shadows, the gentle curling and yellowing of the leaves at the tops of the trees that surround the lake and ring the park. Much of our walks of late have been spent cataloging the changes in our top side of the world, a subtle melancholy beginning to flame up in that same part of my chest which only a few months ago seemed more effervescent than it had in a very long time. I spend the evenings with Duncan measuring the lengths of shadows, gauging the coolness of the evening, watching the familiar summer constellations peek out through the lowering sky in different places, while those I haven't seen in months appear more prominently, almost like an aged and unwelcome relative peering through a window to see if anyone is home. The sun has dropped and on the far side of the lake as we turn directly into the light, now softer and kinder, we take fewer steps before gray-cloaked shade wraps around us, cooling our skin and wiping the squint from our eyes. All things have their time and the time of Summer is withering like the leaves and brown seeds in the Linden and Russian Olive trees, like the wake the lone pelican left behind as it trundled across the surface of the lake, its long head bobbing from side to side as though the water it sliced through were thickening around its hidden, webbed feet. The swath it cut caught the last of the daylight, shimmered and spread out, fattening and fattening the further away the big bird swam until it too faded and became smooth and indistinguishable from all the rest. All paths lead forward but eventually even those we have already traversed melt away into nothingness, swallowed by the world and the season.

* Illustration borrowed from Char Roberts

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Shape of An S

There was a moment tonight, a long one, standing at the edge of the park watching the sky turn from blue to gold to pink to purple where I felt the challenges of my day melt away with the ease of the shifting pale white clouds above. Not far to the south a single cloud, snake-like and winding back on itself in the shape of a lazy S, drifted just above the foothills, its edges blurring slowly, almost imperceptibly, fraying until it fell apart. Duncan, tired and wet around the ears from wrestling with Kona in The Glen, seemed content to sit by my side, his body resting only a little against my leg. He did not move, did not make a noise, but sat quietly and patiently, the gold light painting his face a deep shade of red which diminished with each passing second. I could have dropped the leash and he would not have wandered away. I took deep breaths of lake and grass-scented air and watched that single s-shaped cloud slide into oblivion, claimed by the coolness of impending night, troubled no more by the heat or winds of the day.

God willing I will uncurl and float away tonight, Winnie at my hip, Duncan stretched out at my feet, Ken's arms around me, work a far, far away place, the voices of the students and faculty finally silent, dreams like stories running through my head.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Tonight's walk sucked. Plain and simple. From start to finish. In fact Duncan and I aren't even on speaking terms at the moment. He's hunkered down on the tile near the door, his back to me, and I've retreated to my desk to write before eating dinner and putting this damn day to bed. I'd like to take the high road, be all noble and tell you it was my fault, all of it, that there was some lesson Duncan tried to teach me which I struggled to learn and failed to grasp, that my day, spent among the whining students and arrogant faculty at work tainted my perception and prevented me from letting go and enjoying the walk for its mindfulness and absence of ego. I'd like to say those things but the truth of the matter is Duncan was being a shit. Plain and simple. It was all his fault. I was happy, carefree, excited to walk, but that quickly changed. There were no lessons, no flowers, no kisses on the strained edge of conflict. There was no cuteness, no rolling in the grass to expose his pink belly, no happy trotting up the yard to where the bunnies roost. There was only Duncan, pulling and straining, gagging and huffing and dragging me behind him, weaving back and forth, stopping suddenly, refusing to poop, refusing even at times to walk. He was a petulant child and tonight I can only say this: sometimes a dog is just a dog, not a guru, not salvation, not a creature untethered by the constraints we struggle against every day. Just a dog. A panting, pooping, farting, crotch-sniffing dog.

(Post Script: Since I published this post Duncan has been the cuddliest, kindest, baby-faced-est dog imaginable. His PR firm must've contacted him and reported that he needs to clean up his act. He does, after all, have a rep to protect!)

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Do not praise the day before the sunset. (Dutch Proverb)

This day has been unsure of itself, bright and glorious early in the morning, then shy and pensive throughout the afternoon, peeking out from behind the clouds which passed continuously across its face. There were no tears today, though, and the park and hillsides took full advantage, shaking off their tall grasses, straightening the flowers that have drooped and bent under the weight of falling rain, tucking the water safely down into the earth. It was only as the sunset approached, humid but cool, with a whisper of a breeze, like the flight of ghosts brushing across the skin, that the day decided what to be. And so, as we neared the top of the park and looked down on the sky reflected in the lake, a keyhole opened up in the clouds and all the gold that should have belonged to this weekend but didn't spilled out and ran across the backs of the ducks and pelicans paddling along the shore, flowed over the ripples made by the fish who leap and leave expanding circles behind, never seen but always heard, spilled over into the eyes of all the people on the trail and the hillside and ignited a thousand pearls of gold in their faces––the children who chased each other, laughing with the madness of youth, the parents and grandparents who watched them, the dogs romping through the damp grass behind, the lovers holding hands all around.

It would be easy to think this weekend a waste, the last weekend before school starts and hell erupts at the foot of my desk, but this sunset was worth the wait and apologized for the hours spent pining at the window with Duncan beside me. Standing at my side above the lake, smiling as he does so readily, I know he felt it too.

*For David, who just couldn't wait

Blue and Free

It seems as though we've been living inside an enormous pie the last few days, buried under the inside of a hazy gray crust, trudging ankle deep through the juices which collect on the bottom. And then this morning it was as though someone had pulled the top layer away, leaving a ring of crust along the edges, spilling blue and sunlight into our world, if only briefly. A wall of clouds ringed the horizon, obscuring even the foothills and the mountains, dark near their bases but whipped, like meringue at their peaks. Duncan was more than ready to adventure out and not even the lake that had overrun the grass could stop him. I dropped his leash once we'd crossed the street and stood by, content watching him run and jump and even roll, snapping his jaws in the early morning sunshine as if trying to capture it and bring it home to enjoy later. There is no joy like the joy of a dog set free in a dry and blue-skied world.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wet: How My Dog is Driving Me Crazy

As much as I love the rain and the re-greening of the park and hillsides, I must say, I'm quite ready for it to end. Storm after storm has passed through for nearly three days and we've had nothing but cold, miserable weather accompanied by an unending shower of heavy, gray rain. Our walks have been short and when we do amble outside we move quickly. It's no easy task taking Duncan outside in the rain. I have to lay down the rug and get the towel ready for our return, then shake out my rain jacket which is usually still damp from our previous foray outside. Dunc, who does not like getting wet, pines at the window and whines at the door for long periods of time only to get outside, duck his head low and glare at me accusingly, as if the weather is somehow my fault, as if these wretched April storms and October skies have anything to do with me. And even though he's miserable I'm forced to coax him along and drag him behind me, encouraging him repeatedly, "Come on, Roo, go potty so we can go inside." He dillies and dallies, sniffs even more diligently than he usually does and take his sweet time picking out a nice spot for his business, turning this way and that, squatting or leaning forward only to decide at the last minute that he could do better and begins the search anew. And all the while I stand nearby, huddled up, shaking the water from my glasses and bouncing on my heels to keep warm.

We've both had a serious case of cabin fever but Duncan shamelessly let me know how dissatisfied he is with our current weather conditions this morning. He started whining a little after 6:30, so I climbed out of bed and thinking we could somehow manage a quick trip outside threw on my slicker and slipped into my flip flops, which were sitting near the door. Duncan chirped and danced around me while I grabbed a few doggy bags and put his leash and collar on. As soon as the door was open he bolted down the breezeway and into the soup that is our front yard, dragging me behind him, my feet almost instantly cold and soggy. He poked around the patch of lawn at the front of the building then led me into the parking lot and up the drive toward The Glen, where, at the corner he spotted the tall Snapdragons in all their pink and yellow and peach glory. I don't know what it is about those flowers but he can't resist marking them as his own. And so while I stood faithfully nearby, watching the early traffic on Bowles, Duncan raised his leg and leaned a little too far back, his stream missing the flowers completely, arching, instead, over the sidewalk and right onto my bare, flip flopped foot. At first I didn't know what was happening and thought something along the lines of, "Wow, that rain is really warm... and concentrated," but then looked down and jumped back. There wasn't far to go as I still held his leash, which isn't that long. And because we were standing on a very busy corner I couldn't let go for fear he'd step off the curb and into traffic. About all I could do was move back and avoid the splash. He stared up at me the entire time, shamelessly, then turned when he'd finished kicked some wet grass in my direction and led me back home, where the towel I'd set out for him came in quite handy for myself.

If there is no sun tomorrow I think I'll go insane.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Not Merely Being Wet

It is cold. Cold and gray, a sweater kind of weather. Hot tea and cocoa and curling up on the couch with a throw wrapped tightly around me, tucked under my chin. The rain has fallen almost constantly since last night, steady and rhythmic and almost painful on the cheeks and tips of the ears. But there are puddles––big ones, and wide, too––and the grass is green again and even though socks get wet and pant cuffs stay damp, it is fun to walk through, sluicing around heels and toes, tap tap tapping with each step.

There is discovery in a cold, late-summer rain, a kind of startling realization that all good things must pass, that the heat that has gripped us almost painfully, cutting off our breath and nearly bruising the skin, is not long for this top side of the world. The day has been dark and tonight will come sooner than I'd like. I am not done playing with The Dipper or watching the bats amass in the air above The Glen. I am not ready for Orion's long, slow prowl across the southern sky. There is still much I want to do.

But discovery, even the unexpected kind, can be pleasant if you find the eye that wants to see it. Duncan and I tromped through the puddles in the park, blessedly empty except for the high school kids running cross country circuits down the slope and across the fields. A small stream appeared at the base of The Mound where none had been the day before, running downward, pulling the long blades of grass with it, like hair caught, but not captured in a drain. We pondered the sudden change in the leaves, now beginning to burn with cold rather than bleach in the sun. We discovered the faces leering out at us from the Snapdragons, with watchful eyes and pronounced noses. We were not content merely being wet, but sought joy in our watchfulness and openness in the strange and sudden change that has descended upon the Front Range. This is not how I like things, in this bittersweet end-of summer time, but I am ready for what is to come next.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
(April Rain Song, Langston Hughes)

It is not an April rain. I'm not sure it's even an August rain. I know it's a big one, though, with lightning and thunder heavier than houses, shaking my own and igniting the dark room where I write. When I glance down I can see my fingers, stark and impossibly white, illuminated in bright staccato bursts above the keyboard. Duncan and Winnie are hovering next to me, one wrapped around my feet, the other huddled up in a tight little ball just to the side of the screen.

We did not walk long tonight. The temperature dropped nearly twenty degrees in the few shorts minutes it took me to change my clothes. It continued to plummet, and a frosty wind picked up while we made our rounds through the park, now overrun with the kiddie soccer leagues and their parents, who pretend to watch from the sidelines but are mostly engaged in gossip with other parents or people over the phone. The first drops, icy and small, started as we rounded the baseball diamonds and picked up in speed and volume as we crossed the fields, which were quickly emptying out. Long lines of SUVs and minivans angled for the exits out of the parking-lots, windshield wipers humming and sweeping rapidly back and forth. By the time we crossed Bowles the rain was driving us down, stinging and cold, as though our entire bodies had fallen asleep like a leg or an arm slept on at the wrong angle. We could not get home fast enough.

I am cold and tired, deserving of quiet and sleep, and the sound of the rain on the windows and in the street outside is its own music. I think I'll turn off the telephone, turn off the lights even, maybe light a few candles and sit in the dark until my eyes grow heavy and Duncan's chin on my ankle no longer shifts with the sound of the thunder but settles in and grows warm against my skin.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Duncan's Evening

Tonight I am tired and Duncan has been especially eager to play. His Bah-Bah has dangled from his mouth all evening, from the moment he met me at the door and then later when I returned from the grocery store. He looks hopeful and I can't help wanting to sit and play with him, tossing his various toys down the hallway or across the rooms and then scampering to hide while he retrieves them. It is a game we play often. There is such delight in everything he does that even though my body is tired and I want nothing more than to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head, I will stop and spend my last hour wrestling and cavorting, doing the things that mean so much to him. He seems desperate for it and his face is big and open, as though wondering why I'm doing anything other than crawl around the floor with him. We will take our walk in the cool night and I will watch the bright Big Dipper while he watches for bunnies and when we are done he will wrap himself around my feet and rest his head on my shin and we'll meet in our dreams where there will be plenty of time for play.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Duncan and I climbed the low hill at the base of the memorial, passing through the silent and empty prairie dog town that edges the side of the lake. The clouds were thick and settling down low and the northern skies offered brief but wide stripes of lightning. Near the top of the hill and at the edge of the park we passed The Shepherds, who'd joined forces with several other big dogs and their companions. They all turned our way and watched us walk by, leashing up their dogs until we were out of range. Duncan didn't notice them, content as he was to drag the heavy stick we'd found along the receding shore of the lake. We skirted the edge of the memorial and came down along the path that winds up from the parking lot. There's a point where the trail turns and as we neared it a wiry bunny, his face turned directly into the setting sun, leapt from the tall yellow grass right in front of us, less than two feet away. Duncan froze and I gasped, tightening my grip on his leash. The rabbit, a dusty brown with long white feet and tall ears tipped also with white, did not see us. His nose quivered and he took a slight hop forward and except for a quick twitch in his tail, Duncan did not move. I heard people on the trail behind us and turned slowly to wave them to a standstill, which they readily did once they spotted the rabbit edging toward us on the path. The skinny little thing thing moved forward again and stopped no more than a foot away, its nose twitching and eyes straining to see us through the thick evening glare. Duncan leaned slowly forward and the rabbit leaned up, too, and for the briefest of moments it looked as though their noses touched. The rabbit suddenly stiffened and jerked away before bolting back into the brush and down the side of the hill. Duncan seemed too dazed to move, the stick still dangling from his mouth. I could only smile while my heart raced in my chest. The small group of people behind us jogged up. "Did you see that?" they asked. "Did they actually touch?" "That was incredible," they exclaimed, patting Duncan on the back. We milled around a moment while Dunc strained and pulled on his leash, leaning as far forward as he could in the direction the rabbit had gone.

I have never seen such a thing. I did not expect to see it tonight but I'm happy I did.

Monday, August 11, 2008

This Night, Wild and Billowing

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone--
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance--
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love--
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world--

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?
(The Sun, Mary Oliver)

I did not expect––nor could I have––the way this day would end, with the most perfect sunset of my life, happy with my dog in the park, the two of us grinning and chasing each other, leaning into one another, rolling in the grass and laughing. I know that this night was my reward for a long day, the first hard day of back-to-school Rush and that I earned every second of it.

If there is a god or an afterlife, this night––with light liquid and boiling––is the way I want to be greeted there for I can't imagine more perfect colors or scents or contentment. If I gain nothing else in this life I could die content having stretched out on my back on this night and watched it come on and fade away, a memory as alive as the heart that beats in my chest, as heavy as the breath of the dog laying next to me.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rain Walk

It was shining and sunny when the storm hit, slipping down the side of the yellowing mountains suddenly and hard. Storms like this are my favorite, with heavy darkness on one side of the sky and brilliant gold on the other, each falling drop an explosion of light, each drip on a window a comet's trail. Duncan and I were safe inside, where it was cool and I'd already started taking down the pots and pans I'd need for dinner. Duncan's raw meat had defrosted on the counter and was ready to be served up in his bowl. Winnie watched from her spot under the plant on the dining room table. We were dry and settled in for the night, except perhaps, for the night walk, our last of the day, which always comes just before bed when the traffic has calmed, the clouds have cleared and the stars are at their most brilliant.

There was nothing in me that could resist walking in the rain. It is summer, after all, and I knew the air was still warm and sticky even if the water was cool. I tugged on my flip flops and grabbed Duncan, who in his mad desire to spend as much time as possible outside did not seem to notice the wet until he stepped in his first big puddle. He snapped at the rain as it came down on his head and ran his chin through the tall grass, bending under the weight of the droplets. I tilted my head back, closed my eyes and walked across the yard, Duncan's pull and play my only guide, the rain catching in my eyebrows, pooling down in the corners of my eyes, running slowly into the stubble on my cheeks. It was a glorious rain, fragrant and rich, and felt good dripping down my neck and under my collar. My shirt quickly soaked through and as the rain started to let up, the drops continued to trickle from my hair into my eyes.

Today is my last day of summer. Rush at the bookstore starts tomorrow and most of my hours will be spent listening to the senseless whines and complaints of Littleton's finest, the hope of tomorrow. It's a terrible time of year for me, one I spend months and months dreading and making myself sick over. It would be easy to spend tonight thinking of nothing else, working myself into a ball of nervous energy and anxiety, but after the walk in the rain I can say it will be easier tomorrow just to survive, knowing I have this memory inside me, that all the bitching and moaning of the college's miserable lot will never be able to take that from me. I am not my job. I am no one's punching bag. I am a writer, a lover of animals, a kind and gentle person (albeit one with a deep appreciation for irony and sarcasm) and a person who is unafraid to walk in the rain and find strength and harmony enough in its clouds to survive anything.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Tonight, after the work barbecue, when I got home far later than I should have, Duncan and the kittens were waiting in the window for me, bleak, sad expressions on their faces as they thought of the dinners which should have been served three hours earlier. Winnie darted behind the big planter in the dining room while Pip scolded me from the back of the couch. Olive entwined herself between my ankles, as though either trying to endear herself to me or to cause a fall which could potentially result in my death. It was difficult to tell which. Only Duncan seemed genuinely happy to greet me, but he did it silently, clutching the maimed and disfigured thing that is all that remains of his Bah-Bah in his jaw, his hips swinging wildly back and forth. It was an unusual greeting, not his typical chirping and singing and I didn't wonder after it until well into our walk, down the dark lane to the mailbox, across the wide parking lot and back up the sidewalk in front of the property. It was a silent night with long empty and soundless spaces between the cars on Bowles which gave me time to hum the mantra from "Across the Universe," and actually hear myself rather than just feel the act of humming in my chest and throat. Duncan walked lazily beside me, no tension in his leash, a quiet, ambling sort of walk, keeping his body close to mine. I watched the stars while he watched the grass, we splashed in deep puddles which turned my flip-flops into slimy fish. We moved effortlessly beside each other, silent and listening.

And then over my humming, Jai Guru Deva, Om. Nothing's gonna change my world, came the sound of the crickets. It was a sound I didn't know I hadn't heard all summer until it slipped so casually into my head. How do you describe a sound you know so well but didn't know you'd missed until it was lost and then found again? Their song was like the sweetest fragrance of childhood or the discovery of a forgotten and never seen photograph of a lost loved one, or even the sight of a fat, full moon on the first night of real summer. It was... well, it was music to my ears, strange and familiar all at once, soothing and exciting, making me want to curl up on the patio where I could listen to them and only them while also enticing me to walk and walk and keep walking and not stop until after the sun had climbed the morning trellis and the chorus had retired.

What force had kept them silent all summer I do not know. I only know that their soft and rhythmic chirrup was the Om in my hum, the sacred beginning and end of this gentle night, the last free night of my summer, like the fluttering of butterfly wings against my cheek or a lullaby gift from the universe.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Golden Moments

The storm passed over us with only a few flashes and claps of thunder, not even enough to ruffle Duncan, who sat by my side on the patio, pawing at the wood chips that fill the flower bed at the edge of the cement. It wasn't until later, when we walked across the park, bypassing the baseball games and making our way to the top of the memorial that we were able to enjoy the show. From where sat on the low brick bench we could see far out over the eastern plains, nearly to the edge of the city lights where a tremendous storm raged in the skies above Almost Kansas. Further in, not far from the park but far enough to shield us of from the sounds of the rockets, a fantastic fireworks display lit the skies. From our hillside perch we looked down on it, which was a bit like peering down on a colorful and fast blooming garden, with dandelions of gold and red, flaming pansies of blue and green and tall columns of exploding snapdragons. And behind it the lightning storm, which we could hear and feel all these miles away. Duncan sat next to me, panting from the climb in the humidity, resting one foot atop the toe of my shoe, his head cocked at each bright burst and the streaks of orange light arcing across the sky, illuminating the entire horizon from north to south. It reminded me of an evening spent in Lake Bluff, on an estate which overlooked Lake Michigan. John and Betsy and I had gone there to sit on the winding wooden walkway which descended the side of the bluff to the boat dock below. We sipped wine and beer and smoked grass and watched an enormous storm over the lake, far away on the Michigan side, with fingers of lightning that seemed to spread hundreds of miles. We hardly spoke to one another, instead keeping our faces turned eastward, our eyes on the black clouds and thick streaks of rain. We were content simply sharing the moment, not commenting on it, not laughing or joking, just being together. Those are the kind of friends I love the most, the ones who can share and keep a silence, who can sit beside you and witness, maybe reach out a hand or smile and who know the importance of golden moments.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Faces in the Park

Duncan and I have vastly different agendas on our walks. His seems purpose-driven, as if he's got a strict list of things which need accomplishing, including peeing on the snapdragons on the corner, disrupting the ant hill at the base of the largest of the cottonwoods and sticking his nose in every unsavory thing we stumble upon. My agenda, however, is to be as agenda-free as possible, to enjoy the walk, perhaps do some people watching, ponder my novel and maybe snap a few pictures along the way. Duncan is quite good at stopping and staying when I see a shot I'd like to capture, although more often than not he gets in a few digs aimed right at me which aren't always apparent until I get home and download the photos. He's good-natured and lovable, but he's also cunning and has a wicked sense of humor.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Roadside Affection

Duncan and I had a little disagreement over direction this evening after our walk. It was a cool night, the first in a month, the skies were very low and the wind, leftover from last night, was blowing hard, catching the drops of rain from the afternoon storm, pulling them from the grass and tossing them in our direction. Neither of us had eaten and so we turned into the apartment complex and started down the road toward home. I offered to swing by the long grassy lane between two buildings to hunt for bunnies. It's a prime spot, especially on a cool night like tonight but Duncan wanted only to stand in the middle of the drive. I tugged on his leash and he pulled in the opposite direction, actually leaning away from me, his body angled away. "C'mon, Dunc," I said, and tugged again. When he refused to move I offered to take him home, the direction his body was pointing but again he refused to budge. A Land Cruiser idled up and stopped while I pulled on the leash some more. "Duncan, come!" I said, dropping my voice into its lower register, The Papa Voice. Unfazed, he looked away. I pulled again and looked up at the driver, offering a shrug and an apologetic smile. She waved and laughed back, content to watch the show we were providing.

I knelt down next to him. "C'mon, buddy. This isn't cool." He refused to look in my direction, staring instead at the grill of the waiting SUV. "Duncan," I said again, deep and loud and frustrated. "Let's go," and just as I moved to stand, reaching out for his collar to pull him out of the way, he turned quickly and licked the tip of my nose, wagged his tail and trotted away, leaving me stunned but smiling where I'd been kneeling.

Sometimes when you just want to kiss someone you'll do anything to have the chance.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Backwash of Light

On a night like tonight, when the clouds are high in the eastern sky and taller, it seems, than some states are wide––when they reflect the last glow of the sun behind me in the west, hovering just above the mountains and radiating a backwash of light, a mirrored sunset, how can I sit indoors and not lay in the grass with Duncan at my side, looking down on the baseball diamonds and simply enjoy the fact that this moment is my here and now, that all my steps have led me to this beautiful, wondrous evening on the side of the hill? This is a marvelous night, with a cool wind coming from the south and the promise of heavy thunderstorms later, the smell of electricity heavy and rich in the air, like the flavor of a penny on the tongue. I can no more sit and write and ignore the other-side-of-my-window-world than I could go without telling those I love that I love them.

If you need us, Duncan and I will be in the long grass near the field. We'll be waiting.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Birding Bush

Dogs must believe in magic the way children do, with wonder and joy, but without the sense of apprehension, the wanting desperately to believe but knowing, deep down that the joke is on them. To dogs the entire world must be an incredible place where bunnies burst from thick clumps of grass, where the skies rain sweet smelling petals one day and cold-to-the-nose fluff the next, where paths are carved by scents rather than feet.

Today, not far from our door, around the side of the building and at the end of a trail of white, perfectly round-capped mushrooms, which rose up from the tall, moist grass like a line of antique ivory buttons, Duncan discovered the bush. It was a red thing, short and squat like a dwarf, but bright in the smoky orange air, each leaf an exclamation point against the grass below. It rustled as we approached and as Duncan leaned forward, pulling his leash tight in hopes of thrusting his nose against the warm backside of a rabbit, countless tiny birds burst from its interior, first only a few at a time, then more and more until I actually took a step back and laughed aloud as Duncan sat down hard, his head swiveling from side to side then up and down, his ears raised and his beautiful, magnificent eyebrows cocked in wonder. Bird after bird rose from the thing, flinging themselves into the air and alighting on a neighboring bush, where they scurried inside and back to whatever conference they'd been attending. Perhaps sixty or seventy in all, coming in waves, their voices rising up as they leaped, until all around us was a whistling white noise, the flap of bony little wings and the soft scuffle of feathers against the air. On and on they came and finally, as their numbers dwindled, I wanted nothing more than to ask Duncan what he thought had happened because there would be poetry in his telling and magic as leaves took flight and swirled around his head, singing to him in a strange and lyrical language without translation but whose meaning was clear and as pure as his heart.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Across the Universe

Last week, on the morning the bottom fell out of my world, I made a cup of tea, something I do every morning. Yogi Tea is my favorite and each morning I alternate between Egyptian Licorice and Egyptian Licorice Mint. I have never been a fan of licorice, unless it's the red kind, but as I learned from my wise and wonderful friend David, who alternately channels the voices of a Jewish mother and a Lutheran wife, depending on the urgency and magnitude of the issue at hand, "Red licorice is not really licorice." But this tea, this licorice, is good stuff and I've made it a staple in my home and of my mornings since I gave up caffeine cold turkey three years ago. Prior to the anxiety and the coffee ban I'd never been much of a tea drinker but I think that was because I'd never found a really good, flavorful cup of tea. I'd been raised on Celestial Seasonings, which is watered down, typically bitter and always bland. When my friend Ruth learned of my dislike and the absence of a warm cup of anything from my mornings she sent a care package of tea, lots of it, all of them warm and vibrant, but especially the Yogis, which include a little tab at the end of the string which contain valuable words of wisdom. During the middle days of the anxiety––when I was still wobbly and busy shoring up self-confidence––it was this "daily wisdom" which helped sooth my mind even as the tea calmed my spirit. I took to taping the messages all around my desk at work so that wherever I look I'm reminded of the things which really matter, or receive instruction on how to survive from minute to minute during the worst and busiest parts of the year. They are The Universe's message to me, personalized by my own hand as it pulls a bag of tea from its box.

Last Saturday, when everything seemed upside down and my mind was reeling and it was all I could do to stand still, I brought my red kettle to a boil, sat at the dining room table looking out on the grass and the traffic just beyond that, the slow mechanical clink of the water warming and stirring in the pot building behind me until the first sputter hissed from the kettle and turned into a whistle, which always makes me think of my friend Wendy who would run to the kettle when it erupted in readiness, hands over her ears calling, "Screaming babies! Screaming babies!" I set the bag in my favorite mug, the one with the E.H. Shephard drawings of the Pooh characters doing somersaults and the line running across the base, "Some days are more tumbly than others." I poured the water, watched the bag saturate and change colors then puff up big and fat before turning the water a nice shade of greenish brown. The steam smelled of mint and I closed my eyes, as I always do, and breathed deeply. One way or another everything would be okay, The Universe would do what it does best, which is merely Be the Universe. I watched the water grow darker then pulled the bag from the mug, twisted the string around it to coax out the last of the flavor, plucked the tag from its end and tossed it in the garbage. Sitting back down at the table I blew lightly across the surface of the cup, raised it to my lips and took my first tentative sip, which, not surprisingly, was perfect in every way. I smiled that Make-It-Through-the-Day smile we all have and read the bit of "Daily Wisdom" I clutched between my thumb and middle finger. In small tea-leaf colored letters is said:

Let things come to you

And so the week was spent letting things come to me. My father and Jane arrived not long after and we spent a marvelous afternoon and evening together enjoying old photographs and stories, food and drink, and a long walk with Duncan. My mind was in the moment, not on the other things, and it felt good to show them places that belonged to Dunc and me, to show them the person I've become and maybe talk a bit about the person I still want to be. Then suddenly mom called mid-week and asked if she and Casey could come for a visit this weekend. And then there they were, at my door on Thursday night, as if they'd walked through it a thousand times and it hadn't been nearly eight months since I'd last seen them. A week of family and love and strength brought to me because I let them come, opened myself up and received all they had to give.

And now that they are all gone, back to their homes across the prairies, around the mountains and through the deserts, I am here with Ken and the kittens (who are really cats but will always be my kittens) and Duncan, a family in our own way, just as strong, struggling just as hard, although sometimes it seems we struggle harder, although I know that's not true. Last week I wanted to sit in this room in front of this screen and tell you that every silver lining has a cloud, but the past eight days have changed that and once again I know the opposite is the truth. Goodness and peace swirl around us like the bodies of myriad paper-thin tiny jellyfish we stood enraptured in front of at the aquarium yesterday.

There is a place, a wide dry patch under one of the large trees in The Glen, where there is little color, only the brittle brown and yellow of pine needles, and direct light only on the far end of day when the sun dips low before being extinguished behind the silhouette of the mountains. It is a sheltered spot, but also a forlorn one, forgotten and not very pretty. Duncan pulled on his leash so I dropped it and watched as he bent low under the lowest boughs to sniff a single sprig of green, which had somehow managed to push through the hard cake of earth and rough, sharp points of the needles and reach out for the day's last thin rays of golden light.

There are miracles every day. I know that if you let them, things will come to you. And sometimes, if you love and are loved hard enough, if you're open and very lucky, those things will be good and your walk will be better and easier because of them.

Sounds of laughter shades of earth
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me.
Limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
and calls me on and on across the universe
(The Beatles, Across the Universe)