Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Winter in May

This is what we do when we know snow is in the forecast, when tomorrow promises to be dark and as damp as this morning's washcloth: we ride the sidewalks and stretches of grass hard, as though we're running from something, or running to something. We breath deeply, even though we're not out of breath, tasting the sun, balming our lips with its rays and licking it from the corners of our mouth as we'd lick faint smudges of orange popsicle stains. We dance and cavort until our knees wobble, and when we've done with that we turn our faces into the wind, coming in rapid bursts down from the mountains, still warm but laced on its edges with just the tiniest hem of ice and cold. It feels good, but as the sky darkens and the streetlights come on earlier than they have lately, we lean into it and squint to keep the dust from the streets out of our eyes. We hurry home and stand on the patio watching the clouds spill down over the foothills, creep steadily toward us and finally stretch out their wide bodies until they reach all the way to east and further than we can see. We hunker down and wonder When was the last time we saw snow in May? There are songs for snow in April but has someone written about snow in May? We wonder if anyone has told the ants or the myriad small buzzing things which careen toward our noses and mouths as we walk. They act like tomorrow will be sweet and sunny, another day closer to Summer. And even though it's not started yet, Duncan thinks of the grass, either wet and cold or tall and dry and the best way to roll in it. I think of the baseball fields and how nice it is to sit on the patio and close my eyes and listen for the sound of a good solid, fly ball from the park, even though I don't enjoy baseball and think it's just a bunch of milling around only occasionally interrupted by motion. But still, it's a nice sound, sharp and strong and good. I will miss it tomorrow, standing as I will be, my red dog next to me, on the warm side of the window looking out on the gray, hurried world of winter in May.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Recklessly Blooming

"Everything is blooming most recklessly;
if it were voices instead of colors,
there would be an unbelievable shrieking
into the heart of the night." (Rainer Maria Rilke)


It's here, quite suddenly. Spring everywhere I look, and while walking Duncan there's a lot of looking. Especially with a camera tucked into one pocket, pushing against the bag of pumpkin treats I've slid in there. Everything is magical in Spring. Nothing should escape notice. I was one of many people stopping along the shore of the lake to take pictures and it warmed my heart. There were berry-shaped blossoms, ripples of sun dancing on the lake and the buds and the grass, tiny little bugs crawling across the body of a dandelion which must've seemed like a field of yellow to its eyes and nose. The sky was magnificent, the air warm and only slightly potato skin-scented from the restaurant on the north shore. I could smell the lake, strong and fishy, green and thick. There was something sweet, too, like mint, almost pungent which reminded me of childhood walks through the pastures up in the mountains south of Pocatello. Was it water cress? Does water Cress even have a smell? Maybe it was mint. Whatever, it was sharp and strong and unbearably sweet in my nose. The bugs were also out, swarms of them, gold in the light, the one drawback of the warm months. I'm lucky in that the only place I get bit by mosquitoes is North Dakota, where the things are as big as birds and meaner than geese.
Thank God for Duncan and our walk in the glorious, glorious spring. I wish you were all here to share it with us.

Monday, April 28, 2008

'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy

As the end of the school year draws near, while most people are preparing for a season of laziness and bliss, shopping for swim suits and flip flops, the little hair that remains on my head turns whiter by the day. I am in full panic mode at work and can't seem to find enough time to accomplish the things that desperately need to get done. It doesn't help, of course, that this is also the time of year when I receive the most threats of death and violence to either myself or my car. Students attempting to sell their books back to the bookstore tend to get unhappy when I can't offer them more than they actually paid for the books. Most of the time I laugh it off, pop a few Xanex and go merrily about my day. Ah, the joy of working at a bookstore.

About the only thing that gets me through is knowing I get to unwind with Duncan at the park or down Leawood, or even Lilley Gulch. Prior to walking with him I'd come home, sit on the couch or the floor and brood over all my perceived failures. Now I'm able to cast them aside and re-tune myself. And as the weather gets nicer and the last of the snow and mud pull off the foothills I hope to take him for nice evening strolls up Ken Caryl Canyon. But until then I'm content with playing at The Glen, weaving through the various soccer practices in the fields across the street and admiring the lake from the top of Rebel Hill.
Today we climbed the hill overlooking the lake and just sat. It took most of the walk to let go of the tension but once we were there the sunset was vast and gold and all the world seemed amazing and full of magic. I'm convinced that work is a magic-free zone and if I can only make it through my time there the mountains, the warm air, the gentle scuff of Duncan's paws on the sidewalk and in the grass will be magic enough to rejuvenate me. Laying on my back and taking pictures of clouds sometimes does the trick too, especially when Duncan leans into frame to sneak a kiss.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Cool, Shady Spot

At times it seems all that matters is the walk, if not for me, then for Duncan. From the moment I get up and get dressed it's time for our morning walk. Barely am I in the door after work and he's doing dances and chirping for our afternoon walk. On the weekends he sits and pines in the windows and casts forlorn looks over his shoulder at me, accusatory and full of remorse. How could I think of doing anything other than walk? Walk, walk, walk. With Duncan it's easy to believe the walk is the driving force behind his entire existence. Quite often it even takes precedence over meals. Some dogs are food motivated (and don't think Duncan isn't), some are play motivated (again, don't let him fool you), but with Duncan, more than anything, he's walk motivated.

And that's why I was confused this afternoon on jaunt through the park. It was a lovely day. The birds were out, squirrels were undulating across the grass, the flowers were out in full force and the last of the trees are finally beginning to nudge awake. I packed the ball, a pocket full of treats and was ready to go. Duncan dragged me across the street, but once we were there he didn't seem all the excited to move. He sniffed around for a bit, chased after his ball once or twice but failed to bring it back both times, andt finally decided he didn't want to walk. He merely wanted to sit.

He picked a nice, shady patch of grass quite close to one of the baseball fields and on the edge of a sunny spot and simply sprawled out and watched the small insects as they hummed over and around us, floating like specks of gold against the sunlight. He rolled a bit but gave even that up, finally settling on his back with his legs in the air and his blond belly exposed to the tall sky. Today was about sitting, about letting the world come to us, or not come, he had no preference. The grass was cool and long, not quite ready for cutting, fragrant and eager to tickle. I plopped down next to him and together we watched the little leaguers play ball, watched one small cloud, lonely and not very excited about being a cloud, drift across the sun before calling it quits and vanishing altogether. I think he dozed a bit and I could've, too, but just when my eyes started getting heavy, the crack of a fly-ball broke the calm, we both startled and realized it was time to go home. He had some dinner to eat, his Bah-Bah to groom and I had laundry to attend to.

I think he knew what was best. All this rushing and moving to see and experience as much as possible just wasn't on the agenda today. And that's just as good as the walk. Maybe even better.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Clean and Green

It was a strange day indeed, here in Denverland. After being promised a rainy and heavy, gray day, we awoke to sunshine and clear blue skies. I trotted outside with Duncan, clad in pajamas, a t-shirt and my slippers and was quite shocked to discover the temperature was hovering somewhere around the low 30's. We hurried back inside and under the covers where we dozed for another hour or so only to wake up and discover a different world. The sun and blue had vanished, replaced with dark clouds, fierce wind and thick snow, an October snow, a first of Autumn kind of snow, most definitely a desperate For-Pete's-Sake-It's-Almost-May snow. Duncan and I threw ourselves onto the couch in a huff, our plans for the morning dashed.

Luckily this isn't Minnesota, where I hear they got real snow, and it didn't last. By three o'clock the skies had cleared, the day had warmed up nicely and so while Duncan chirped and danced at the door waiting for me, I slipped on some jeans, donned a nice Spring jacket, my Vans and grabbed several big trash bags.

Saturday at the park has become a bit of a nightmare, first with the early morning kiddie soccer camp, then the endless games and finally, after the crowds have cleared, the mounds of trash. I'm quite frustrated but realize the parks and rec people are probably understaffed and just don't care quite as much as I do. Duncan and I use the park nearly everyday and because of all the things we take from it, it's my responsibility to give a little something back. Hence the trash bags. We crossed Bowles and while Duncan chased scents through the damp grass, I busied myself with collecting the plastic water bottles, an endless task, the stray socks, more than a few fast food wrappers, a mouth guard, cigarette butts, something that looked like it might've once been a Happy Meal toy, and lots of other refuse. I made several trips to the garbage cans, many of which have been relocated over by the skate park for use as objects to be vandalized and crushed. The plastic I loaded into my trunk and will take to the recycle drop-off tomorrow morning. The park was far from pristine, but it certainly looked better than it normally does by Saturday evening.

When we finished we plopped down in the grass and watched a family fly their kites. Duncan loved the setting sun and the cool wind and spent nearly thirty minutes rolling around until he was covered in grass then proceeded to lick my head all over while the family watched, laughing and snapping pictures of us while we wrestled. As they reeled the kites in and things calmed down, Duncan spread out and let me rest my head on his back. We watched the light change and when it began to get cold we packed up and headed home. It felt good to be out there today, with the few people present watching us pick up the garbage. I'd meant to do it on Earth Day and when I forgot my good friend Kelly reminded me that every day is Earth Day. But honestly, I didn't do it for anyone else. I only want the park to be a nice clean place for our morning walk tomorrow. And if even if no one else follows our example, Duncan and I know we've given a little back. Maybe this will become our new Saturday ritual!



*Can you spot BOTH kites in the picture? One was very high up and took nearly an hour coming down.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Greeting

There is this perfectly wonderful (but in a creepy way) woman at work who greets me nearly every morning. Her office sits quite near the door I use to enter the building and try as I might I can't seem to sneak down the hallway without attracting her attention. She is exuberant, loud and cheerful, wears large bonnets that tie under her chin in the summer and is one of those people who always wakes up on the right side of the bed. I'm sure there's not a soul alive who could say anything negative about her, but to be honest she drives me crazy. Without fail she is standing at her door when I come in and she does this thing when she waves, a big, hearty single wave that involves the slow arc of her arm in front of her body, palm open and toward me, like a clown or one of those off-putting silent characters at Disneyland who are forbidden to speak. She mouths the words, "Good morning" and sort of stage whispers them, hissing loudly as I smile and pass in front of her. There are no classrooms at that end of the building and only a set of small bathrooms nearby, neither of which adhere to library rules of silence. Usually I simply smile and whisper back, but a few mornings ago, after years of being greeted this way I asked, loudly, "WHY ARE WE WHISPERING?" It caught her off guard and she shrugged and just as loudly answered, "I'm not sure." She's an odd bird.

This morning, another beautiful, clear and crisp morning, I entered the building still thinking of my early walk with Duncan. He'd loped through the grass, which is spotty in height, large and bushy in some areas, low and still yellow in others. He'd bent his head down and licked up the sweet dew which had gathered on the edges of the blades. His collar makes a pleasant and musical jangling sound and his tail swishes the grass as he walks. We'd bumped into Khan and Dave on their morning walk and the dogs ran up to each other, immediately made for the butts, sniffed long and hard, perhaps sharing what each had had for dinner the previous night, then moved on to their bellies and under-junk and then, as if on cue, both leapt up, batted at each other, embracing in a kind of paws-askew hug and began wrestling. It seemed a glorious kind of greeting and when Carol clown-waved and hissed at me I couldn't help but think she'd gotten it all wrong.

I am not advocating butt-sniffing or playfully violent brawls but you can't deny it's much more passionate than the often silent hello's and Hi's, or the tight, close-lipped lazy smiles we exchange as we pass one another on the lake trail, at the office, in the parking lot or at the grocery store.

I watched Duncan and Kona tonight at The Glen. It had only been a few days since they'd last seen each other but once Melissa and I led them down to the grassy, tree-lined depression on the side of the complex, they went at each other with such force and excitement you'd have thought it had been years since their last get-together. They ran wide circles around us, chasing and snorting before coming together nose to butt, then nose to belly, before they started up a fierce and slobbery wrestling match. It was obvious they are friends, and heart-warming to see such energy and affection at their greeting.
Carol has much to learn. We all do. Perhaps one morning I'll shock her with a big, loud "GOOD MORNING," and a dance of excitement, although I certainly won't be putting my nose anywhere near her butt.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kites and Shadows

The light off the kites in the park this afternoon was luminous. Duncan and I stood on the hill overlooking the lake, watching seven or eight kites flap in the cool wind. They were not ordinary kites, not the kind I bought at Grand Central as a kid, with their goofy faces or racing stripes, but big, heavy grown-up things, the kind of kites that you need a license to fly. Their operators used both hands to steer them with fancy plastic grips and brightly colored synthetic string, perfect for landing a swordfish. One kite, much smaller than the others, but still quite impressive made a buzzing noise––like a six-foot long wasp–– as it dove, cutting through the air, careening earthward at a remarkable speed, only to turn sharply and suddenly, just above our heads before it raced back into the blue. Another kite, perhaps ten feet long and four feet high, and made of bright red fabric, the kind parachutes are made of, was so big that each time it caught the wind and lifted higher, its driver was pulled briefly off his feet and set back down onto the ground as though fastened to a giant, lazy yo-yo.

I became just as enamored of their shadows as I was of the kites themselves and spent several long minutes watching them speed across the grass then across Duncan's face and back before momentarily vanishing until they interrupted my patch of sunlight once again. The shadow of a small child floated into my field of vision, its arms outspread as it danced a loping gallop from behind me. "Look daddy," it cried, "I'm flying! I'm an eagle!" I smiled and glanced up at the four year old who was racing amid the kite shadows, watching his own shadow intently, oblivious in that wonderful childlike way I love so much about Elijah.

I was an eagle once, too, I thought, recalling my years at Edahow Elementary, Home of the Eagles. I was a panther during junior high, an Indian in high school, briefly a Bengal for two years at Idaho State University, and finally, at Lake Forest, a forester, whatever that was. I'd liked being an eagle although our school lacked any organized sports teams so I'm not quite sure what purpose our mascot served, but it seemed a grand thing to be nonetheless and painted in gold on the maroon t-shirts they sold at fund-raisers it was quite handsome. I was an eagle the last time I actually flew a kite and as I watched that little boy fly from the grass where he danced and chased the shadows under the eyes of his father, I wondered what I'd be this time, nearly thirty years later. My various alumni associations would like to think I'm still an Indian or a forester and I probably am, but only nostalgically. Childhood and youth sometimes seem far away, a dim blur of sepia memories.

No, I'm not those things any longer, but if I had to choose, if someone pressed the issue I'd probably be a Retriever. Watching Duncan watch the kites, watching him watch the sunlight on the lake and the little boy playing around him I thought that there are far worse things to aspire to be and far few things better.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Voices on a Beautiful Morning

What a grand, grand morning. Shortly after I climbed out of bed, while sitting at my desk sipping tea and glancing through bleary eyes at the news and before Duncan ambled down the hall for his morning stroll through the tall, damp grass, the phone rang. It was my father calling to update me on Grandma's condition. We'd spoken last night and I'd been left with a rather hopeless heart, feeling far away and as though my hands were tied. I'd made a simple request: the next time he was with her and she was awake I needed to talk with her. It didn't matter if she understood or if she spoke nonsense, I only wanted to hear her voice and know that she'd heard mine.

My father has a radio announcer's voice, which is good because that's what he does for a living. It's firm but charming, professional and commanding. It can confidently relate the worst news of the day and then turn around minutes later and remind us to attend the Grand Opening of the new Olsen Furniture Outlet in North Fargo, where clowns will twist balloons into animal shapes, prizes will be awarded, and the girls choir from some local high school will perform. His is the voice of radio, the kind of voice that can give its listeners exactly what they need, and this morning it gave me what I needed. And more. It's a quick way to wake up, talking to someone who speaks on the radio. Still not quite awake, still only sipping my steaming cup of caffeine-free Egyptian Licorice Mint tea, I answered the phone and wondered briefly if perhaps my name had been drawn to win the million dollar prize if only I could answer three questions. I startled awake even faster when I realized he was calling to let me speak to Grandma, who, apparently, had improved immensely overnight.

Grandma's voice was sunshine and gold and everything precious in the world to me. It sounded like a bright morning, like presents under the tree, like children running through a sprinkler under a hot summer day, like deep warm pillows and the scent of peppermint Certs unfolding from the dark recesses of a purse all rolled into one. It was the sweetest sound I've heard in a long time. She sounded like she was smiling and feeling well and my eyes welled up as we spoke. She'll be discharged from the hospital this afternoon. The best news! Grand, grand news on this beautiful, beautiful day.

After we finished and I'd hung up, Duncan came down the hall, stretched and bowed at me as he does every morning. I knelt down next to him and let him lick my face. He reached out his paw and let me cup it and hold him while we sat for several minutes, thankful for everything there is to be thankful for. The sunshine felt even warmer for both of us this morning as we strolled the damp grass and breathed in all the morning scents which seemed to have been placed solely for our pleasure.

"Oh heavenly day, all the clouds blew away
Got no trouble today with anyone."
(
Heavenly Day, Patty Griffin)


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Watching the Lake

There is a spot on the lake trail, smack dab in the middle of the strip malls, where if you sit on the bench, your back to the Barnes and Noble and the Maytag store, the parking lot, which smells of oil and tires and bustles with people who rush from car to store while talking on their cell phones, oblivious to the precious wonder of Spring all around them, you can watch the wind stir the water where the ducks paddle serenely back and forth along the edge of the bank, their most pressing concern the rush of the big fish who break the surface, breech like whales and slap the water loudly, leaving only ever-expanding ripples––the sole trace of their existence––behind.* The trees are just waking and the tiny blossoms appearing all along their branches look like anemones or strange furry Muppet creatures who could burst suddenly into song with wide, gaping mouths and googly eyes. You could take a book if you wanted but then you'd miss the walkers and joggers, the roller-blading priest, the young couples, the countless puppies and dogs who pant and huff and pull on their leashes for the enjoyment of each person who sighs and wishes to adore them. You could smile from the bench and people would smile back, but perhaps in that awkward way they have of smiling at those who are dining alone, or sitting by themselves at a theater. You could sit for long hours and watch the sky turn on the surface of the lake, starting as an impossibly flat blue, then slowly––like the subtle movement of the hands of a clock which never quite seem to shift––into a bleached pink and gold, then a darker blue and finally indigo and night. It may seem too much, this lake witnessing, but with a handsome dog sitting at your feet, leaning softly, comfortably against your legs, nudging pebbles with his nose, sniffing the occasional ant which crawls across his ruddy paw, time can stand still and not matter at all, pressing and important concerns can be held at bay and an afternoon can last forever.


*This sentence is dedicated to Kelly. She knows why.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Purple Flower

Some days are tough. Work was tough, home was tough, heart and head were tough. Even the weather got tough. Duncan and I had a beautiful stroll early this morning, under blue skies, crisp fresh air and beaming sunshine. Duncan padded along in that merry morning way of his, kind of bleary-eyed and gangly, not at all coordinated, rather lackadaisical and ho-hum. He likes to take his time in the morning investigating the smells that have accumulated over the course of the night, rolling his face in the dewy, newly green grass, stopping to stare into the sun or the yellow dandelions which have begun to spring up along the edge of the sidewalk. All day I hoped our afternoon walk would be like our morning one, but by the time I got home the sky had darkened, the clouds came down low and the wind picked up. Our stroll through the park turned into a quick trot as the temperature dropped and the wind roared through the hood of my sweatshirt, which I'd pulled up over my head in a vain attempt to keep my ears warm. It made a sound like the ocean trapped in a seashell, only cold and frantic, not at all soothing. Duncan pulled me along with little patience and try as I might I could not get him to slow down. I was miserable and hungry, tired and thinking of my grandmother, who I feel very far away from. I did not want to walk. Nothing good seemed able to come from it until we turned back toward home, crossed Bowles and jogged through the gate. As we neared the entrance to The Glen, which is not my home and not where I wanted to be, Duncan stopped quite close to a fire hydrant to sniff around where some mossy, leafy green things grow. The clouds let up and the sun peaked out to reveal a single purple flower, so small and tucked away that it seemed impervious to the sudden April cold and biting wind. The light on its tiny petals turned it nearly transparent and it glowed amid all that green.

How easy it would've been to step over it and never notice it, to hurry home out of the weather, kick away my shoes and write the day off as a loss. But that flower reminded me that there are gems hidden amongst the minutiae of our days, that not everything is dreary and cold, that bright things grow where we least expect them and wait to be revealed when we need them most. From the moment I stumbled on that single flower my day brightened. The sun stayed out, the wind died down and the night came on slowly and quietly, the clouds outside the window turning orange and then fading into purple then gray and finally darkness.

How sweet a miserable day can become with friends like Duncan, who knows where the special things grow.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dog Dreams

Duncan has pulled me through the weekend as he's pulled me through so many difficult times. My grandmother, my dad's mom, was admitted to the hospital Friday night and it's been hard to think about much else. My dad has been good about calling and keeping me updated, but being down here in Denver, so far away from Fargo where she lives, has been tough. He tells me she's doing well, still under observation but feisty and tough, the woman I've known all my life. It's been easy to feel helpless and brood over, but Duncan, patient and big-hearted, has cuddled and played fiercely, distracting me from my head, leading me outside into the sun that only two days ago seemed the most important thing in the world. He's been gentle with me and we've spent long periods of time together, just being near each other. He seems to know my thoughts are elsewhere but has found a way to keep me grounded and in the here and now.

For nearly an hour today, after our long walk this morning and our time at The Ponds with Melissa and Kona––where he was snapped at by a nasty Chow mix with an evil face and a terrible snarl––we sat on the bed, the sun shining through the window. The little birds were darting among the bushes, picking at the small stones and mulch wherever they alighted. After a long while of just looking at each other and trying to match my breaths with his, I took his paw in my hand, stroked it, pushed my thumb between his pads and played with the soft, blond hair which sprouts up between them. They are remarkable things, dog feet, soft and tender, the last places that still smell of puppy, sweet like dew, but wild, like sage. Duncan did not stir as I held his foot, squeezed it, felt the bones and joints move under the soft pressure I applied, pushed my face against it and rubbed its coarse, rocky surface along my cheek and under my chin.

When I was done I moved on to his face, his short red snout, his jelly bean chin, squeezable and so blond on the very end that it looks white. When I was young and had difficulty falling asleep I'd slowly stroke the tip of my fingers over my face, running them down the point of my nose, across my lips, up along my jawline, swirling them across my cheeks, over the closed lids of my eyes and tip-toe across my forehead to the slope of my nose, where I'd begin the routine again and again. I did that to Dunc, playing with the short hair around his nostrils then back under his eyes, actually touching his short, brown lashes––fanning them under my pinky and watching as they sprang back into place like a feather––then on around his cheek to the warm sweet spot under his ears. He stretched out, pawed my face and fell quickly to sleep. Again I matched my breathing to his and soon I was asleep too, thoughts of Grandma and all my worries far, far away. Dog dreams are what I needed and that's what I got.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mediation

There's no denying that Duncan enjoys being admired. He revels in it. This morning at the park several children called out to him from their strollers as their mother jogged them past. "Look at the pretty doggie," one cried, waving at him with her chubby little hand. Another girl, perched atop her father's shoulders demanded to be set down so she could pet him. Duncan stood by, lowering his head humbly under all the praise and licked her fingers as she repeated something she must've heard at home. "He's a sweet pea, isn't he? What a sweet pea!" Despite the fact that he's in desperate need of grooming, people comment on his good looks and gentle nature often, and were I single and straight I could probably refer him to him as "a babe magnet."

But he's more than just good looks. As often as he brings me a sense of peace he seeks to preserve it with others, especially at the dog park. We drive down to The Ponds several times a week and on every occasion I've watched Duncan police the other dogs in an attempt to maintain orderly conduct and harmony among the many other dogs gathered there. He is most certainly not an alpha male. He's quick to roll over on his back and expose his belly during play, often defers to younger, smaller dogs, never raises his hackles and only rarely growls. But at the park if two dogs get overly excited and their play becomes louder than Duncan deems acceptable, he'll break off from whatever it is he's doing, chase down the offenders, give them one very big and very stern bark and literally step between them. In every situation the problem has immediately blown over and Dunc has trotted back to me for a pat on the head and a scritch behind his ears. I've held my breath several times and have even tensed up in preparation of stepping in but it's never been necessary. He's the guy everyone likes, the guy whose opinion seems to matter and all the other dogs listen. They back right down and carry on with their business. This afternoon when one of the owners (seriously people, I need a new word for owner! Suggestions, please!), a young guy who had two rugged and coarse Huskies with him, started jumping up and down in an attempt to excite his dogs, the whole pack swarmed around and started yapping. Duncan, who'd decided to rest at my feet after nearly an hour of running and playing and retrieving the tennis ball we'd brought, leapt up, jogged right into the fray and barked––a deep, low bark––at the guy, his face right in the kid's crotch. We all laughed as the kid dropped his hands, covered himself and relented. "Okay, okay," he said. "My bad." Duncan wagged his tail, sniffed some butts and ambled back to where I stood watching, a look of satisfaction on his face.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sweet Yellow Spot

Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot;
others transform a yellow spot into the sun. (Pablo Picasso)


It's difficult to write about sunshine when you're not walking straight into it, your face up high, chin above the line of your shoulders, the warmth of it radiating against your forehead and cheeks, down along your jaw and across your exposed throat and neck. Difficult to explain how the light of it shines not only on you but in you as well, through every part of you, igniting those dim places we lock up and try not to think about. In the sun there's a temptation to throw open our inner doors, fling back the curtains and unlatch our windows until we can lean out. Way out. Far, until our hands and wrists are trembling under our own weight. Lean out, close our eyes and sing our secrets to the world, secrets which thrive in the dark and don't hold up under the glorious scrutiny of Spring daylight. Writing about sunshine is like trying to have sex through telegrams. Nothing said or written quite pulls it off. There are no words to describe the feeling of walking and walking and walking still, straight into it, pulled and not wanting to turn away from it. Sunshine lives, but as fluid as words and language can be, they do not. They are as stationary as stone. "Words," wrote Charles Frazier, "when they've been captured and imprisoned on paper, become a barrier against the world, one best left unerected." But still I write.

When Duncan and I walk the lake in the afternoons we head straight into the sun which hovers just above the mountains, but eventually we reach a point where we have to turn and when we do its light is on only one side of our face, bathing a single arm, a single leg, still beautiful but not whole. A piece of the sun, and a piece is not enough. A piece of sun of like a sip of orange juice, just enough to coat your lips and tantalize your tongue but not so much that you actually have to swallow. Just a hint of sweetness and flavor that leaves you wanting more, stretches your arms out and curls your fingers around the glass before you've even decided you want another drink.

Far too soon in our walk we reach another point where we turn our backs on the sun completely. No matter how hard we try we can't do it any other way. We could walk west and walk west some more, stumble through the scrub-brush and up the foothills, climb the mountain and come down the other side, but still we'd lose it. The sun is not meant to be walked straight into for long. And so we turn and even though we can't see it we know it's there. On our neck, the back of our legs. Pushing even as it pulls.

My love of the sun this evening was almost desperate. As the ghost moon appeared over the plains in the east, bone white and transparent along one side, like a charcoal sketch with the lines smudged over by a thumb, I thought how easy it is to look at the moon. It takes no effort whatsoever. We look at the moon on accident almost nightly. But the sun? The sun takes work. How many days or weeks or more has it been since you gazed right into it, big and whole above the horizon? We strain to look into it but turn our gaze instead on everything around and under it. Never it alone. So I looked at it, over my shoulder and only for a second, but enough to see the ball of it, the blaze around that ball. My eyes stung instantly and even now when I type I think I can see it, dancing before my fingers, floating in space between the walls and me. It'll pass and honestly, I don't mind.

I didn't settle for a sip. I ate the whole damn orange.

And so we walked home, Duncan and me, the moon our guide, early and dim, unable to cast a single shadow. So I looked at the ground, at the shapes leading us, two echoes of the sun pushing forward over the grass. A man and his dog. An afternoon of sweetness and near perfection.* Image courtesy of http://www.art.net/thegallery/art.net/

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Happy Birthday, Dad!"

It's Ken's birthday! Duncan helped with the cake (and by helped I mean he plopped down in the middle of the kitchen floor, the spot most likely to cause me to trip and fall, which was a very cat-like thing to do), didn't like the balloons so much and kept time with his tail while I sang "Happy Birthday." It was a grand evening.

Coronation

This morning before leaving for work I was forced to tromp through mounds of snow and scrape it from my windows. It was heavy and wet and required very little effort but by the time I was done my shirt and socks were soaked all the way through and I needed to change clothes. Duncan watched me huff and puff and curse, and wondered, I'm sure, why I didn't just throw myself into the stuff and roll around like he does. What else is it for? After all, this morning was most likely the last opportunity I'll have until October. It's a lesson he's attempted to teach me over and over and over again, but I don't appear to fully understand. Still, he doesn't mind demonstrating.

Like Duncan, fickle, darling Spring has many lessons to teach. For instance, what we see is not always what we get. What is true one hour can be false the next. My cigarettes and I kept tabs on the day, stepping out every few hours from the dark corner where my desk sits in the back of the bookstore to turn my face up into the strengthening sunshine and warmth until the hour I arrived back at home to my dog, waiting as patiently as the grass, victorious over yesterday's snow, green––more green than before––and exposed. I took him back to the park, back to the places we'd played yesterday, recreating our walk, this time without the snow-angels or the blowing flakes flying into my glasses or sneaking under my collar.

The world is different today and I can't help but hope it will stay different, greening up more and more, turning bright with exploding flowers and the scent of so much growth, creating itself anew every few minutes. I do not hold a grudge against winter's last gasp because it made this afternoon all the sweeter.

See for yourself.


What a difference a single day can make. How happy my Willow Queen must be in her coronation gown.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

One Last White

I tried so hard to be lazy, wanted it so badly, wanted nothing more than not to walk the dog, not to change into my heavy coat, the one I'd hung at the back of the closet. I sprawled on the bed in my sweater, Duncan spread across me, one eye on my face, one darting to the window where the snow fell on the other side in thick, heavy globs, shattering on the sidewalk but catching on the delicate branches of the shrubs where the little birds have only recently spent their afternoons hopping and playing. Oh, he wanted it so badly, more than I wanted to stay warm and dry and dozy on my soft pillows. My shoes had somehow found their way free of my feet and had fallen like fat, brown sticks, one on top of the other, both halfway under the bed where Duncan sometimes sleeps, neither wanting to be found. Olive curled up on the big pillow closet to my head and the warmth of her heavy, gray and white body was already beginning to pull me into a nap. Duncan was patient but finally the call of the now was too loud for him so he jumped up, shook the entire bed as he pounced on me and startled Olive away. I had no choice; it was snowing what will certainly be the last snow of the season and I could not deprive him of a good long gallop through all the fluff and fuzz collecting in the park, erasing the greening fields and chasing away the children and their hovering, droning parents.

I don't remember how it happened. I can't imagine I moved quickly, certainly not quick enough for Duncan. Somehow or another I was coated and shoed, a bag of treats in one pocket, my camera in the other, out the door and down the yard, ducking under the drooping, snow-blanketed branches on my way to the park, Duncan mushing ahead, scooping snow in his jaws as he moved forward. And then there I was, in the park, standing atop the mound looking first up into the branches at the snow sifting through them and the few flakes that managed to navigate their way to the pine needle-covered earth at my feet, then at the expanse of white spread out around us in all directions, thick with lumps like cottage cheese. The grass was buried with only some of the taller blades protruding, periscopes made for ants and roly-poly bugs. The willow standing guard near the west field was frosted in sugar and up to her ankles in melted snow, but she looked magnificent and regal in her new dress, a tall queen surveying her kingdom.

Quiet joy all around, the kind only sudden Spring snow can bring.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Three

It was three years ago this afternoon that my life changed. I'd been taking Wellbutrin to stop smoking and had traveled to Atlanta on a business trip when midway through our very first meeting the world as I knew it fell apart. Later, after many months, many doctors and tests, and many dollars, it was surmised that the Wellbutrin had rewired my brain and activated (or unmasked, depending on who's talking) a severe physiological anxiety disorder. From that point on I was unable to go to movies, couldn't stand loud music, was unable to read, lost all tolerance of warm weather, became terrified of travel and withdrew almost completely from society for the first several months I was sick. Gradually over the past three years I've worked hard at reintroducing myself to the life I once had. Many of you, who've been with me from the beginning will recall my Christmas request for Magic Feathers, a collection of talismans meant to see me safely home for the holidays. Through it all, of course, was my most loyal and effective treatment, Duncan, the dog who helped nurse me back to health and who daily reminds me what I'm living for.

Our walk this afternoon was special to me. I didn't want to focus on that day three years ago, but rather all the days since. I felt full of life, excited to be out with my best friend enjoying the world around us. It was well over 70˚ and the wind was quite strong but it didn't stop us. We walked down to the lake and the sight of that choppy water reflecting a thousand suns was spectacular. I stood on the hill looking down on the backside of the park and the water, stretched out my arms, closed my eyes and let the wind blow over me, warm and loud––the only sound I could hear––pushing against me, slapping my shirt and shorts against my skin. I was a skydiver on my feet, imagining myself hurtling through sunshine space with my dog at my side.

The anniversary was part of the walk only in that the world seemed sweeter today because of it. I remember the end of June that year because it had slipped past me without much notice. A friend had driven me to the doctor and on our way home I noticed the Russian Olive Trees had already bloomed and their buttery sweet fragrance had faded. I'd been trapped indoors, unable to concentrate only on not losing my grasp on sanity. I'd been so caught up in my own head that one of the highlights of my year had passed unnoticed. Anyone who knows me knows how much those Russian Olives mean to me, how I can pause in a walk or a drive and do nothing but tilt my head back and breath their scent like it's the only thing keeping me alive. Paula pulled the car over near an enormous tree and waited while I tried and tried to catch the faintest whiff of them, and when I didn't and began to weep she held my hand and drove me home in silence. Before I climbed out of the car I turned to her and said, "I will never miss them again. I refuse to spend another June trapped in my own head this way." And that's where I believe my recovery began and the seed for today's walk was planted. The spirit of those missed trees––my trees!––guided my eye with every step I took.

While most of the trees, not just the Russian Olives, are only just beginning to bud, the willows are filling in nicely. From a distance they look almost yellow, but up close they are spectacularly green against the blue of the sky.Up high, soon to be concealed by long tendrils, a woodpecker had plowed the gnarled drab bark of one willow with it's beak, revealing the sandy, bright grain beneath.
Basking on a rock near the bank of the brook that runs through Lilley Gulch I caught sight of a strange insect sunning itself on the warm, mottled surface. As I knelt and examined its bright yellow wings and rough body I realized it wasn't an insect at all but a seed pod fallen from one of the nearby trees or carried by the wind and set gently atop the stone like an infant released unharmed from the tornado that destroyed its home. I turned it over in my hand, rubbed my fingers across its course surface, watched bits of it flake away only to gasp as Duncan, impatient with me, leaned down and sucked it up, chewed once and swallowed. There, his eyes seemed to say. Can we go now?

Up on Pierce, quite near the high school, on a sidewalk I've walked a hundred times I noticed an ancient map of the old world peeling away from the back of a bus stop bench, tan bodies of land surrounded by vibrant green oceans lacking only the words, "Here be dragons."There were willows along the road, tall and gold with small black birds perched delicately on their points, the red tips at their wings brilliant under the sun. There was the call of some bird of bug which sounded like a screen door squeaking open and closed echoing across the greenway. There were the shadows dancing all along the sidewalk as we passed beneath the trees. But my favorite shadow of all was the shadow Duncan and I cast, walking together, anniversary or no anniversary, the most important detail of the walk.

Monday, April 14, 2008

"YOURS!"

Children are sociopaths. It's that simple. They think of nothing but themselves. There is little to no consideration as to how their actions or words affect others and so they plow merrily through their day, screaming, yelling, throwing themselves onto the ground in tremendous fits of rage or sadness, kicking, biting and hitting. One child I once worked with, a four-year-old boy, had even honed his skills at stabbing his playmates with plastic forks, not to the point of drawing blood or scratching, only just enough so as to always leave a mark––a series of little red dots, like beauty marks––a fact he was well aware of and had, in a sense, cultivated.

And then there's the concept of sharing, which admittedly, as a child, is a frightening prospect. Even now, my childhood mostly gone, I sometimes struggle with it. Sharing, for a child, is a difficult thing. What if the toy isn't returned? Or returned broken? Why share the cookie? That's less for me and I want it all. I am, after all, the center of the universe! The word "MINE," as screeched by a child has a nails-on-a-chalkboard effect for me. My shoulders tighten, my lower back goes into spasm, my head immediately begins to throb and I want nothing more to do with the wretched thing. It's one of the benefits of getting to play uncle instead of dad: I get to walk away.

I had a friend several years ago who complained about all the people who treat their dogs like children and refer to themselves as Mom or Dad when clearly they are. She'd just had a baby and was––rightfully so!––utterly absorbed by the midnight feedings, the crying jags, the colic, the complete and utter neediness of her baby. She mocked me for complaining about how difficult it had been raising Duncan almost entirely on my own. Ken had brought him home and then went to work out of town four days a week, leaving me with cute red....thing I had to idea how to operate. I was on my own, making it up as I went. I'd never raised a puppy, I had no idea what to do. It was a trial and error experience and one I'm not quite ready to jump into so lightly again.

I've been thinking about my friend and what she said and I don't believe she's right at all; raising a puppy is just as difficult as raising a baby. I was up every night for the first few months, every few hours, to let him out. When he didn't want to sleep alone in his kennel I laid awake and listened to him whine and cry and scratch at the gate. I dealt with vomit and accidents several times a day and wondered if I was doing something wrong, and put my vet tech friends and vet through hell each time he coughed or puked because I was convinced he was deathly ill. Based on how I handled Duncan, I know for a fact I should be the last person allowed to raise a child, which is why I'm perfectly fine with my dog.

Duncan is deep into his threes. There are no temper tantrums, no screaming, no fits (although he does pout if he feels a walk wasn't long enough), and best of all, no "MINE!" If anything it's always "YOURS!" He's perfectly willing to share. It's not always sharing that's difficult. Toys are useless unless someone has joined in playing with them. He doesn't mind one of the cats poking into his water dish or food bowl, or even sneaking into his spot of sunshine on the bed or the floor of the office. He has no concept of withholding anything from anyone, especially his love. Duncan is not the center of his universe, it's whomever he's with that his world rotates around.

Ah, if only we could teach our children to be like our dogs.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Morning at Lilley Gulch

So much depends on light and time of day. When I was young and spent the night at a friend's house I often didn't sleep well, woke early and laid in my sleeping bag, which was typically unrolled on the living room floor or couch. I'd watch the light creep around the drawn curtains, glowing at the edges, trickling up along the textured ceiling. I lay on my back staring at the walls and carpeted floors, listening to the unfamiliar sounds from the kitchen, the ticking of the fridge, the drip of water from a faucet, the cat playing with the kibble in its dish, or even the early morning birds chirping outside the window. It was all foreign to me; I was used to these places in the afternoons when we played with Star Wars action figures, sipped Fanta Red Cream Soda and snacked on graham crackers and chocolate frosting. The silence and dimness made me uncomfortable and I was quick to leave once the house came to life, thanking the parents, declining breakfast and gathering my things. I'd race home on Trigger, my black dirt bike and hurry inside where my mother sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and listening to the Oldies Hour on 95 Alive, 94.9 FM. Dan, my former step-father, would be in the driveway washing and waxing the cars, the sound of the water running through the pipes all around us. The sound of TV drifted up from downstairs where Casey would be curled up on the big pillow chair watching it. These were the things I was used to, that I was lost without.

Duncan and I walked Lilley Gulch early this morning, a little after nine before the sun was all the way up, when the sky was blade blue and clear and the breeze was clean and a little sharp. It was much brighter than our afternoon walk last week and the entire stretch of green-way seemed different, bleached, maybe. The sounds were different, too, different bird calls from the trees that run along both sides, squirrels scrambling up and down their trunks chasing each other rather than lounging on branches and boughs. Children were out on the their bikes and playing in the brook that passes right down the middle. That rich, Spring smell was gone, too, replaced by frying bacon and eggs wafting through open windows. I could hear the television sound of pundits babbling on those Sunday morning talking head news shows. It was not the walk I expected, with very little of the quiet and calm I'd hoped for. Lilley Gulch is an afternoon walk, a place that's best with the sun low before us, the calm of the afternoon settling across the park.

Sundays are not Fridays, but Duncan is always Duncan; morning or afternoon he is beautiful. My most precious constant.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

One of the Pack

Duncan is more than just my friend and mentor, he's also my dog. There is magic in the places he leads me and the things he shares with me––the simplicity and details of the world––but there is beauty in just watching him be a dog, doing the things dogs do.

Today we ventured back down to Wynetka Ponds where we met Melissa and Kona and five or six other dogs. I've always been a little nervous about dog parks. Our first experiences at the one in Stapleton were often frustrating and occasionally fearful. Maddie, Denise's dog, was attacked and injured several times so Duncan and I stopped visiting but walked the greenway in front of the park quite often. Our two trips to The Ponds, the park the community purchased to spare us more condos, have been quite different experiences. Today, while the dogs––Kona, two Jack Russells, a Collie, a Boxer, and two sort of mutty hunting dogs––played, I stood back with the grown-ups and simply watched. Duncan was beautiful beyond words, his red coat shining in the last of the afternoon sun. He romped and chased without fear, only occasionally returning to me, almost as if to check and make sure I was okay without him, before returning to the pack. He flaunted as he played, holding his tail and head high as he chased after whichever dog carried the lone tennis ball in its mouth, keeping quiet as most of the others barked and snapped playfully at each other. Someone once told me they imagined Golden Retrievers as laid-back surfer dudes, mellow, perhaps stoned, and willing to go along with anything. That comparison never quite seemed right to me. Today, though, I saw Duncan for what his breed really is: everyone's most trusted and reliable best friend, brave, smart, courteous, the one girls fall for and guys want to be, trustworthy and kind in everything he does. A perfect gentleman.

But he's not everyone's best friend. He's mine. And I'm his, and together we're just about as perfect as friends can be.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Salvation in the Details

Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men
(Chinese Proverb)

It can be rough, this Springing of the world, as rough as childbirth, with its groaning and pains, pushing and thrusting, and difficult to look beyond what we think we feel and see at any given moment. It would be all to easy to think Spring had forsaken us this year, in this long and dreary April, which all too often has worn the guise of March. Long gray days strung together do little to lift the spirits. But, as I've often said, God is in the details and it takes a sharp eye and a willing heart to truly see.

I did not want to walk today. The afternoon did exactly as I predicted by churning up winds and snow at the precise moment I leashed up Duncan and pulled my scarf tight around my neck. Duncan, who'd laid on the bed staring out the window all afternoon, was not as reluctant as I so he did what any good dog does on a walk, which is pull and drag in all the right spots, pause and sniff at appropriate places and wait and wait and wait for me to make a discovery that I should have seen but missed because of laziness and unwillingness. April has been lost on me, behind the clouds and the snow bursts which cover the yards and cars, then melt only to burst upon us again, over and over, days without sunshine or color.But there before me were all the details of the world, the delicate, struggling things which persevere and push through the lingering winter. While Duncan rolls on the ground in the last of the once-leaves, the fuzzy tails of the Aspens in bloom dance across my vision, tickling my cheek before I notice them. Other trees whose names I don't know are covered in blossoms of fine red hair that catches the snow, pulling it like an anemone grasping for food in the dark, wet places of the world. The junipers are exploding with berries and soon the ground beneath them will be littered with thousands of bright blue balls. When I was young we gathered them, clutching them until they burst and smeared thick purple skins and green pulp between our fingers. We played war with the remnants in the ravine behind my home, using wide drinking straws to blow them at each other, sending them flying through the air like bombs.

There is so much of Spring all around us, minute and easily overlooked. But on days that aren't quite what we yearn for or feel we deserve it's especially important to open our eyes and seek out these tiny blessings. They are the things that make the walks worthwhile. They are the salvation of our spirit in these bland and cold days.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Old Foes

As lovely as the park has been as of late, I can't help but feel Duncan and I have been robbed of the peace and quiet we found there all winter. The fields where we've romped and played and rolled have been overrun with kicking screaming kids in soccer and lacrosse garb whose parents can't seem to find the common decency to pick up and recycle their discarded water bottles. Almost daily the entire park is turned into one giant garbage dump full of deflated balls, spat-out plastic mouth guards, crushed soda cans and more cigarette butts than I can count. It's disheartening, but because Duncan and I love the park, and because it allows us to feel somewhat heroic, more deserving and superior, we try to clean up as much as we can.

This afternoon as the snow began to melt we headed to the park, which was blissfully free of children and their wretched parents. It was cold and windy but the park was ours! We could run wide circles and Duncan could tend to business without feeling the reproachful eyes of coaches and disapproving mothers on us.

Apparently we weren't the only ones who felt that way. After crossing the street and inspecting each of the trees on The Mound for squirrels, we caught sight of our old foes, The Shepherds. They were, of course, off leash and running wild, far ahead of their owners (again, I need a better word for "owner." Keep those suggestions coming!). I stiffened up and tightened my grip on Duncan's leash. We paused for a long moment, just outside of the trees in plain view. I thought they'd leash up the dogs once they spotted us but they did not. They paused at our appearance but merely pushed on, heedless and without consideration.

It wasn't quite the walk I wanted, keeping my eye out for the beasts, and without my cudgel I felt vulnerable. Thankfully the walk passed without incident but their appearance on such a day was reminder that Spring can pose as many dangers as the dark winter months.

April Games

We work and hope so long and so hard for Spring that it's easy to forgot that sometimes it snows in April. Occasionally we wake to discover the ground has turned white, the sidewalks have frozen over and our windshields are in need of a good scraping. It's a heartbreaking moment, sliding the curtains open, pulling the blinds up and seeing the big fluffy flakes falling on the grass we rolled on just yesterday. It shouldn't be this way, we think. It's hard to remember that here in Denver April is the snowiest month, that nearly every Spring we suffer a crushing setback, the kind of storm that stops traffic for hours and takes down power lines, along with budding, and slowly leafing tree limbs. As sweet as April is there are moments I wish she'd stay gray and dreary on the promise that come May Day there would be only sunshine and blue skies. But, like I said, she's sweet and it's a hard thing to do, to turn one's back on sweetness.

The world was white this morning and while my feet became heavy and the still-damp hair on the back of my head froze, Duncan couldn't have looked more pleased. He did that Duncan Thing, running in circles around me, cutting deep green trails through the fluff. He is delighted by everything but, after weeks of flowers and afternoons sitting on the patio reading a book, it was hard to follow suit. It was hard to do anything but sigh. As we walked down the yard, following the drainage trough which runs the length of the fence I noticed that what little remained of last night's rain had frozen into very thin and very clear puddles across the cement surface of the trough. While Duncan peed I looked down at one of the puddles and saw a single worm, now white and curled up upon itself, caught in the ice, frozen solid. Mere hours earlier it had crawled out of the damp earth, happy the ground had thawed and somehow or another found itself trapped and cold and dead. Kapow! Just like that. My own weariness at April's games paled in comparison. I may be cold, my socks may get wet but at least I'm not a wormcicle frozen by what will surely be the last storm of the year. I'd rather be on the bright and fluffy side of the snow than the frozen side of the drainage trough.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Damn Paparazzi

Some days seem to fly by. Even for Duncan, who, while playing catch at The Glen, couldn't be bothered to hold still or be cute for longer than a few seconds.And when I did finally catch up to him, after nearly forty-five minutes of running and dashing and rolling and snorting, he seemed none too pleased with my efforts.This is a face I make far too often, especially at work. I know exactly how he feels.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

All That

Spring is all around, at least for today. Tomorrow and the rest of the week are looking rather bleak (once again, look out dear friends in the Midwest), but today Spring was here, or rather, Colorado's version of it. The sky was gray but the air and sun were warm and as long as that wind that creeps down through the mountains kept quiet it was actually quite nice. All I needed was a sweatshirt and a light jacket, my sunglasses and a couple of poop bags (for Dunc, not myself) and I was good to go. Duncan just needed his leash and my pocket full of Grandma Lucy pumpkin treats (which I like to snack on as well).

We walked down near the lake and even though the trees are still quite bare, and the reeds along the shore rather yellow, the ducks were guarding their nests, the gulls were singing songs to one another and the gnats were out in full force. We passed through clouds of the things along the trail and each time I squeezed my lips closed and felt them brush against my cheeks and neck like fine, silky feathers caught in the air. Even the other walkers seemed caught up in Spring, holding hands, leaning into one another, lowering their voices to whisper sweet things to each other. I couldn't help but smile at them. "She got flowers and she wouldn't tell us who they were from," one Juicy Bun said to another as they marched past us in their velour track suits, ponytails bouncing behind them. "I can't fight this feeling any longer," sang our roller-blading priest (I'm still not sure if he's an actual priest or just someone who enjoys dressing as one while enjoying the outdoors) over his ear buds. We haven't seen him for many months and I actually got at excited at his appearance. Then there were the random snippets of conversations I caught passing several teenagers. "She's hot, man! And her mom's fine, too!" Or the girl talking to her boyfriend as they strolled ahead of us, arms entwined (and I'm not making this up), "She said she'd never have a threesome. I mean, who does she think she is?!"

Yes, Spring is certainly here. I'm so lucky to have Ken and happy that when I walk with Duncan all I have to do is walk and snap the occasional picture. All that guarding and speaking and singing and roller-blading and Juicy-Bunning and... threesome-ing. It just seems a bit much. Give me some tulips, a Golden Retriever and a warm day I'm good to go!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Independence

Sometimes while walking Duncan I get the feeling I'm playing the role of the parent to the embarrassed and annoyed child. I'll be enjoying a perfectly lovely walk, whistling as I go, looking at the trees and the new buds which are swelling up nicely, watching the progress of all the flowers whose names I haven't learned or can't remember and talking with him as I occasionally do––asking little questions like, "Ooo! There's a stick! Is that a good stick?" or "Wanna go chase a squirrel?" or "This looks like a good spot. Do you need to pee?" those kind of things) and I notice he starts pulling further and further away from me––three feet, four feet––until eventually we're walking almost directly across from one another, the leash stretched as far as it can reach. Sometimes he won't acknowledge I'm even there. When I reach down and scritch behind his ears or pat him affectionately on the rump he'll actually skip right past me, practically ducking under and away from my hand. I smile and think of those days back in junior high when I was young and thought I'd figured it all out even though my mother still drove me to school each morning. She'd pull right up in front of the building and I'd give her a quick peck before I got out of the car. Although I never actually recoiled I was very aware of all the eyes potentially watching and as I climbed those long steps in front of Franklin Junior High I waited for someone, one of the older, cooler kids perhaps, to say something, make some comment, fearful that if they did that would be the end of it, that I'd have to shun my own mother to save my reputation.

I don't mind Duncan's occasional independent streaks. They make me smile and I simply drop the leash and watch as he fumbles about for a bit trying to get his bearing without the familiar pressure of my grip to hold him steady or to pull away from. He may think he's tough on his own, but I know better. Just this morning as I went outside to start my car and wipe away the snow which fell while we slept, I took him out with me. I left him in the front yard to sniff out a good potty spot and pulled the car up close to the building. Duncan was sitting nervously by the breezeway, a look on his face like a child frightened of being left alone. When I climbed out of the car and walked with him back to our door, he jumped all over me, whined and clutched my wrist between his teeth as if to say, "Don't ever do that again! You scared me to death."

I could no more leave him than I could my arm. In fact the arm would probably be easier.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sunshine Day

I have hated Sundays most of my life. It's never been a day of rest but the day I spend fretting about chores, grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning, the impending arrival of Monday and the week that looms ahead.

Duncan, however, sees Sunday as the day we get up early and go to the park to throw the ball and chase the little birds that dart through the low bushes. Sunday is the day he's ready to go from the moment he senses a change in my breathing and my eyes creak open. And because I'm a good papa, I don't even turn the tea kettle on before I throw on some jeans and a hoodie and head out the door with him. Sunday is the day when I know Duncan would whistle if he could, a happy tune, like "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", or perhaps, "Sunshine Day" by The Brady Bunch. He'd drag me down the sidewalk and across the street, his head up, cheeks full of air and his lips pursed together. Sunday is the finest day of the week to be a Duncan and for awhile, before the list of things to be done starts to accumulate in my head, I get to share in it.

And even if he can't whistle I'm good enough at it for the both of us, and besides, there's always a ball to chase and grass and sunshine to roll in. And quite often, like this morning I throw myself down right next to him and enjoy the morning as every morning should be enjoyed.