Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One Last Thing

And so the sun has set on our last walk on the last day of the year, a beautiful day, sunny and blue with a warm southerly wind washing over us. As the sun settled behind the mountains and the crescent moon rose over the park, a single star standing at her side, Duncan and I stepped outside together to marvel at the sight and reflect not only on the miles we have traveled together this year, but the miles still ahead of us and all the new people, pups and adventures awaiting our discovery. Thank you for joining us and for promising to come along tomorrow and all the days after that.

May the new year bring you untold blessings and good fortune, a strong heart and the willingness to use it for the benefit of those less fortunate.

Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on,
with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. (Hal Borland)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bigger Than Himself

Somehow, despite my best efforts, I have raised a jock. Duncan is wildly athletic, something I have spent most of my life avoiding--except for that brief stint when I ran cross-country back in junior high and high school. Duncan, though, prefers running to walking, seems to love snow more than dry warm grass, enjoys steep hills more than wide flat places, and swims the lakes at Chatfield until I have to drag him out. He loves my mother very much (although it could be argued that he loves her fingers specifically, because they slip him turkey and gravy whenever my back is turned) but it's possible he loves her mountain even more. Despite the fifteen plus inches of snow which have fallen since we've been here, he's dragged me up the hill through the wide drifts, deep into the juniper where he snorts and sniffs out the deer, which, I believe, may have replaced rabbits as his favorite fascination. He does not care that the hair on his legs and chest get deeply matted with enormous snowballs or that ice lodges under his pads. He simply stops where he is, picks his feet clean with his tongue and teeth and moves ever upward. The snow has covered much of the sage, drifting up around it and making sheltered little igloos beneath where the bunnies can roost. Duncan insists on investigating each of them and leaving a nice little calling card once he's done. Nothing on that mountain is beneath his attention and no place is beyond his reach.


This morning we climbed the hill again and then once I was fully exhausted I dragged him back down and to the street, where we walked until we came upon the horse pasture halfway down the lane. Dunc has never seen a horse up close so I pulled him over, patting their big heads while he dug around in the snow at my knees oblivious to their presence. Finally one of the big ones leaned down and huffed at him, blowing big steam in his face. Duncan froze and looked up, right into those two wide brown eyes and promptly lost control of his legs. They gave out from under him and his rump went down hard in the snow. Perhaps he thought their legs were merely fence posts or the trunks of sapling, I don't know. I do know that he'd never looked at something quite so big which could also look back at him. After several moments of consideration his legs resumed operation and he scooted behind me, keeping my big blue George Costanza coat between the horses and himself. When I stepped sideways, he did the same, much as he does at the fountain in the park in the summer. It must have seemed an eternity that we stood there while I scratched between the ears of the three horses which ambled over to investigate us. Finally he jumped up on my legs, whimpered pitifully and dragged me away from the fence and back onto the road where he led me straight back to Grandma's couch. Which is where he's been ever since.

Sometimes it's good, even for a dog, to have an expanded world view.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from Duncan and Curt

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Portrait

(Photo by my sister, Casey. Isn't she talented?!)

Home for the Holidays

I can not conceive of any other place to spend Christmas than in Pocatello. As beautiful as Michigan Avenue is during the holidays, with the big FAO Schwartz window and all the lights on the trees and in the windows, or downtown Denver, with the Civic Center remade in every color imaginable, the capitol building glowing green and red, Pocatello is magical to me because it is so simple, as though George Bailey could run down any of our streets while Ralphie Parker gazes at his Red Rider carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle (with a compass in the stock) from one of the many display windows. The lamp posts that line Main Street and Arthur in downtown are still wrapped in garland and wreaths and the buildings look as though they were made especially for this time of year. People smile as they hurry along under the wide green awnings and I never feel quite as self-conscious whistling Christmas music here as I do elsewhere. The snow can render our narrow streets almost impossible to navigate with any speed and you can forget about parking, but I never feel the hustle and bustle of Christmas here like I do in other places. There is a serenity to Christmas in Pocatello that feeds me and makes me return year after year. Duncan and I have spent a great deal of time driving her streets and walking the road outside my mother's home admiring the lights and the silence, the soft jingle of bells that ring each time a door is opened and closed again, sitting in front of the fireplace in love with home more than ever before.

I suppose, though, that home is wherever my dog and I can sit together and enjoy the world, happy with the gifts we receive but also with those we give.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Another Idaho Sky

It happened again last night, as it does every time I return home to my mother's patch of mountain on the outskirts of Pocatello--the sky here took my breath away.

It's sad that I've grown so used to the orange-tinted halogen nights of Denver, with the low grumble of distant traffic masquerading as silence each time Duncan and I venture out to the park or climb the hill overlooking the lake. I spend ninety-five percent of the year thinking I know what quiet is, like last week when Ken and I stood on the patio at two in the morning and I marveled at the seeming stillness of the world simply because Bowles was empty and calm. And then I come home and am shaken to my core to discover I know nothing, that I've forgotten everything which must relearned before I drive away again.

We went out late last night for one last walk and a bathroom break for Roo, who has not had a Big Job since we arrived. The snow is very deep and comes just up to his chin. He loves it, of course, but there is no place to squat so we stepped down the drive and walked along the road nearly to the old highway. It snowed all day yesterday, thick, relentless sheets of the stuff, large, powdery, dry flakes which still have not turned heavy or wet. It is easy to walk through and gusts up around my ankles like a pile of loose feathers, but it clings and balls up tightly and is no easy task to wipe away from Duncan's shanks and belly. He is quite finicky and needs a nice smooth place, clear and dry with easy access, so we stuck to the road and the places where the plough moved through, pushing up frozen waves along its edges.

The sky had finally cleared and as we left the gate and turned south I looked up, right into the eyes of Orion, who was as clear as I remember but had somehow forgotten. I gasped and felt my knees buckle as they always do at the sight of the deep night and the stars over the mountain and came to an immediate stop, which startled Duncan and caused him to turn and frown at me. The dogs which mom's neighbors let run loose out here had been mercifully removed inside and the night was ours with the exception of the occasional rig speeding across the interstate. The silence was shocking and even my whispered awe seemed loud.

On our walks I occasionally play blind and close my eyes, letting Duncan lead the way. I might as well have done that for as he led me down the road, wandering this way and that, pulling on the leash, my head was craned far back, a few final flakes sifting down from the trees and the tall sage alighting on my face and stinging like the kindest, most gentle pin pricks. We rounded the curve and headed toward the old highway, Duncan taking slow and cautious steps as though he'd heard something. It wasn't until we'd gone perhaps fifty feet and he'd stopped dead in his tracks, the leash falling slack at my feet, that I looked away from the constellations and at the road where we stood.

Christmas Eve 1991 had been an adventure. My friends from the Quality Inn where I worked gathered at Kevi's house for an impromptu party which lasted until the wee hours. After it ended, my friend Harvey, who'd just bought a used pick-up truck with enormous tires, wanted desperately to show me how powerful it was and somehow coaxed me into taking a ride up in the mountains south of town between Inkom and Pocatello, not too far from where my mother now lives. He knew a trail to the top of the hill where we could see the entirety of the Portneuf River Valley covered in a new snow much like the snow that fell yesterday. It would be his gift to me for he knew how much I loved to see new places, especially places I know but in a new light. So, like the idiots we were we climbed into his truck without coats or a sand bag or shovel and headed up in the mountains, taking Harvey's secret path to the top. Halfway up we got stuck and after an hour or more of trying to back out we realized we were beat and had to walk the eight miles back to Kevi's house where Cleo, my little red car, was waiting.

The walk was not as bad as I'd thought. The air was cool but not uncomfortable and the sound of our feet on the sanded roads was rhythmic and soft, the dusting of snow in the empty fields all around twinkling and whispering as we passed. We talked at first, making fun of the ridiculous situation we'd put ourselves in, but after a while we fell silent, each caught up in the silence around us and the sky overhead. After four or five miles the road narrowed and turned under the interstate. As we passed beneath it and emerged into the bright moonlit on the other side the world fell strangely silent around us, as though the silence we'd marched through for an hour had been a cacophony. We both stopped in the middle of the road and it took a long minute to see the tall shadows standing around us in a wide circle at the center of which we stood. Harvey gasped and a smile came to my face, the air cold on my lips and gums. Somehow we'd wandered into a herd of deer, perhaps twenty or thirty strong. They'd remained motionless but watchful and I couldn't help but feel as though we'd interrupted an important meeting or were the guests of honor at a surprise party. We stood there a long time as they milled around us, never coming too close and looking up every now and then to check our position. Eventually the herd moved slowly away, off toward the mountain where they faded into the shadows cast by the moon on the sage brush. Harvey and I did not speak until they were long gone and sound returned, to the world, filling the void we'd stumbled into. "What just happened?" he whispered as we softly resumed our march back into town. Christmas that year was magical, my last before leaving for college in Lake Forest, but what I remember most was the emptiness where we'd stood holding our breath, guests of wonder.

There were not sixty deer on the road last night, only a few, perhaps the very ones who strolled through mom's yard the night before. They were huddled up tight on the corner between an unruly, gnarled elm and the street sign not twenty feet away. Duncan's ears were up, his tail straight out, and for the second time in minutes I caught my breath and stood frozen, afraid to move. Duncan, a consummate rabbit hunter, did not pull on his leash but merely stood, his mouth closed tightly, his body rigid with fascination. Eventually they wandered away leaving us there in the darkness and silence, the smiling face of Orion looking down on us from above.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Softly, Deer

Last night after a good meal made by Kevin, warm family chats in front of the fire and Mom's Christmas lights glowing all around us, the hum of the road faded from my back and palms and Duncan and I slipped into the back room to sleep. Mom had loaded the bed with extra blankets because she knows I like to sleep warm while my face is cool above the covers. After I changed into my pajamas she knocked on the door and whispered, "Curt, if you look out the window there's a herd of deer in the backyard." I turned out the light and very softly, without making a sound, pulled the blinds. Six deer had arranged themselves in two tight clusters across the slope of the hill directly behind the house, not ten feet from my window. Their heads were down as they sifted through the snow in search of grass and the last of mom's summer and fall plants.

I watched them a moment, thinking of all the times Grandma and I had cuddled on the top bunk in her camper watching the deer move through the camp. It was a special thing for us, keeping our eyes on the hillsides or along the edge of the road in the tall sage or amid the lodge pole pines where they stood nearly invisible. Deer were always a special bond between Grandma and me. In fact, when I was born she made me a blanket on which was sewn a butterfly dancing in the air inches above Bambi's twitching tail. That film became a favorite of ours and she even bought me the soundtrack on vinyl, which I still have. Even when I lived in Chicago, where the deer are plentiful--and even a bit of a hazard--on the north shore, I always marveled at them, even when they galloped across narrow Sheridan Road in front of Cleo, my little red Nissan Sentra. Deer are symbols of gentleness and grace, unconditional love, the power of gratitude and also alternative paths to a goal. Those gathered in the yard outside my window, with their white bottoms and big ears, were my reward for the journey we made yesterday, Grandma's joy at my return home to celebrate the holiday she loved so much in the mountains where we were born.

Duncan had already curled up on the pillow where I planned to sleep, so I nudged him and called him to the window. He climbed to his feet with a soft groan and leaned forward, resting his paws on the sill where he watched them in rapt attention, his own ears raised, his tail swishing softly against the comforter from side to side. I stood next to him, my hand on his shoulders, and we watched them for more than an hour, the pale glow of the moon washing across the mountain, bathing the backyard in powder white. Finally I climbed under the covers and as I fell asleep Duncan stood guard, whining very quietly when they took cautious steps around the saplings, growling once or twice when they approached the window to peek in. And when I awoke this morning he was curled up next to me, spooned against my back, one paw draped over my shoulder.

Unconditional love and graitude.

Smudged

My friend Lori sent a feather smudge wand for my long drive back to Idaho. Smudge wands have been used by numerous cultures as instruments to cleanse people and the spaces they inhabit. My wand was custom-made by Nelly Moon with various turkey feathers, hand-painted designs and colors, including a remarkable butterfly, all designed to help ward off anxiety. I followed the instructions that accompanied it to the letter--cleansing the wand with incense smoke, then my hands and body, and used it to waft the smoke in gratitude to each of the four directions, the earth and sky, the four winds, the moon and sun and stars, then I walked around my car and smudged each of my tires, waving the feather around them slowly and sincerely, then did the same to my windows and headlamps, the underside, the engine, all of it. It was a wonderful ritual and brought me peace of mind and spirit, and all across the 580 miles Duncan and I traveled yesterday I felt a continual renewal of strength and courage. We departed yesterday morning shortly before seven and hardly any time seemed to pass before we pulled up the street and turned up the long drive to my mother's house, the mountain behind it covered in snow, the low clouds waiting, like outstretched arms, to hug us close. Duncan did a dance of joy, running figure eights in the snow while my bag of magic feathers and the smudge wand sat on the front seat, smiling as only a well-traveled feather knows how.

The wand feathers, as seen in front of the fireplace early this morning.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On the Road Again

And so here it is, time for Duncan and me to hit the road. The car was packed last night and everything is ready to go. If only I could coax Duncan out from under the bed and outside where I'm sure I'll spend twenty minutes pleading with him to poop. It's a glamorous life I lead, I tell ya!

Thank you all for your kindness and support, and especially the feathers! My bag is filled with the addition of the new ones and the journey already seems more smooth because of it. I'll write once we're back in Pocatello and let you know we made it.

Think good thoughts for us.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two

There are two degrees out right now, one for Duncan and one for me, and while we're pretty good at sharing, it seems as though there should be more. One is not nearly enough, not for my face and ever-expanding forehead or the pale skin at my wrists which my gloves don't quite cover. One is not enough for Duncan's poor feet and the soft warm places behind and under his pads, which fill with the sharp powder which descended on us mere moments before the temperatures plummeted. Still, we plodded through the snow around the complex, opting away from the park and Bowles, which is a dangerous enough street to cross without the added delight of ice and slush and Colorado's shockingly inept drivers. There was no silence in our walk. Packed frozen snow with a whispering layer of powder resting above it is a loud thing, crunching and cracking with each step, making the glittering and twinkling noises normally reserved for films as it wafted around my boots like sand. It was a short walk and more than once I had to run my finger around Dunc's paws so he could step down, but even in the cold and cacophonous silence we were sharing, not just the two paltry degrees, but time and memory.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Antidote


At the end of a long and unfair day, when the sky and snow had turned a satisfying shade of purple while the sun still glowed brilliant orange around the darkened silhouette of the trees, Duncan and I stumbled across the street to the park to romp in the snow. It was a chore getting there, and more than once while I pulled on a second pair of extra thick socks and laced up my heavy boots, while Duncan danced around me, bouncing and whining in that sing-songy bird-like way of his, I said aloud, "God, I hate winter." But once we were there, once Duncan began running in wide laps around me, his mouth down low, jaws open wide to scoop up the wake of snow he pushed before him, the residue of the day was gone and there was no place more perfect for me. I indulged him and kicked the pink tinged snow, which shattered in heavy chunks rather than dusting up in the crystalline powder he prefers. I chased him, let him grab my gloved hand in his mouth and pull me along at an absurd pace considering the size and weight of the boots with which I am only just beginning to get reacquainted. And he indulged me, laying for long quiet moments, his face turned to the sunset, the fine line at the edge of his fur glowing magnificent gold while Orion climbed the night and the world faded purple and blue around us, the perfect antidote to this day.


video


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Sunday, December 7, 2008

December Feather

"A willing heart adds feather to the heel." (Joanne Baillie)

We have encountered our owl nearly every night we've walked this week. Since stumbling upon him last year in his perch I have been unable to pass the tree without thinking of that moment when I looked up into his big eyes, so close and round and so very yellow, even in the darkness. Every night I have looked for him there in that crooked and ugly elm growing near the top of the hill above the playground, sickly in its nakedness and overrun with jagged, crowded branches and impatient twigs, wondering if we'd find him as we did last year, unexpectedly and with sudden joy, but it hasn't been. We have seen him circling high overhead, heard him from some perfect, invisible spot above the shore of the lake, have even watched him drift in lazy, motionless circles over our heads but we have never come as close as we did that first night when I could have reached out a mittened hand and stroked the softness of his chest.

This morning, early, when the world was still gray and smelled of the damp, long before the sun rose above the sloppy clouds in the east, as we loped across the big soccer field, my shoes squishing in the new mud left behind by the last of the week's snow, our owl cut right in front of us, falling out of the bottommost branches of one elm, gliding across the field right in front of us, and alighting near the top of a larger tree where its head bobbed and twisted in that alien and unsettling way. As he crossed our path a single feather, small and immaculately white wafted down toward us. Duncan craned his neck to watch the big bird while I took a few steps forward and plucked the feather out of the yellowed grass where it had come to rest. It was a reminder that in a few short weeks I'll be packing up the car again, loading Duncan into the back seat where he can--but won't--rest amid a pile of blankets and pillows, a few toys scattered around him. We will make the long trek back to Idaho for the holidays. And as last year, I'm a little anxious at the thought of being alone on the road in whatever conditions The Universe decides to throw at us. Having proven to myself last Christmas that the trip could be made even in the most difficult weather I am not as frightened, and the feather dropping out of the sky like a wish or a prayer has reminded me of the magic feathers I collected last year and the good they did me, or rather, the good they showed me I could do for myself.

And so, here I am again, inviting you to send me a feather for the road, a blessing of safe passage and strong heart. If you choose to send one they can be anything vaguely featherish. Last December I received newspaper clippings, paintings and watercolors, ink drawings, stuffed animals, music and actual feathers from a variety of birds: peacocks, pheasants, hawks, parrots, crows, geese, even feathers shaped like butterflies. As long as it has a whispered good wish I would love to include it in the silver-ish gold bag Kevi sent me to hold them all. Send me an email and I'd be glad to provide you with my address.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

10˚


Yes, last week it was in the 60's and this weekend it will be there once again, but tonight it's a scrotal-tightening 10˚ in wonderful Denverland, where the temps are sure to drop down even closer to zero before I climb into my bed and pull the comforters up tight around my neck. But that's okay because the ground, frozen from last night's light snowfall and then dusted again throughout the day today, made a satisfying swishing cracking sound with each step I took. The branches of the trees were covered pleasantly, if only temporarily in white sprinkles and we had the park to ourselves, without even the footprints of others to cut across our field of vision. Duncan got to roll in the new powder, making his own version of the snow angel I made in the dark last night, a much less rigid, free-form angel which captured his complete and utter disregard for convention and critical analysis. And then there was the color of the sky as the sun set behind the mountains, a sort of birthday cake flavored sherbet, with blue and orange and gold and a cloudy, velvety red all swirling and bleeding together like thick soup. While small tufts of snow sifted through the branches and Dunc gnawed on the stick which he carried proudly from home, selected from the closet in which we've been collecting his best finds, I stood in the cold which seemed suddenly less cold and merely listened to world being the world, thankful I got to spend the moment, not shivering, not bitter for the sun, but thankful for the afternoon corner I occupied where I got to witness all of the nothingness.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Twenty-One Days

While most of the rest of this country has been counting the days until Christmas, literally killing each other as they vie for the best deals, I have been counting the days until the sun begins blessing us with its light earlier, longer and later. While Christmas carols have been serenading the masses, my ears have been focused on the music of the seasons, listening to the low, ghostly call of the owl which sits high in the trees and watches Duncan and I pass beneath in the darkness. Lights and ornaments have popped up almost overnight, on nearly every house, in all the windows and at each intersection. As magical as they seem, its been more incredible to watch the moon, now a crescent, pass through Sagittarius, Venus and Jupiter impossibly bright and close to one another, watching like anxious lovers. They move cautiously together, never meeting but close enough, it seems, to lean in and kiss, if only briefly. They are millions of miles apart, and even the constellation they dance through is made up of bodies which only appear to be neighbors.

On a night like tonight, when the snow was soft and wet underfoot, making the most wonderful crunching sound as Duncan raced circles around me through it, stopping every few minutes to throw his body into it, rolling and folding it around him like I do the comforter, sheets and blankets on my bed, I wonder if I'm alone in not giving a damn about the holidays while I look toward bigger and more profound events, or are Duncan and I just bodies which only appear to be close, circling the night and never quite making contact?