Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
Duncan and I wish you only the best. Thank you for all you've done for us.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
When we pulled up the drive last night after a ten hour trek across the vast bland yellow that is Wyoming, Dunc was more than ready to get out of the car. Except for the soft blue and green and red lights glowing along the eves, the house was dark and quiet. I was afraid no one was home but soon the door opened and mom was standing on the walk beaming from ear to ear. Duncan, who'd already begun pacing and whining softly went from zero to eight thousand at the sight of her. He jumped up and pawed at the window, his whine turning into a prolonged, high-pitched jet engine wail. I turned off the engine as Mom rushed forward and opened his door. He jumped up, straight at her, chirping like a rabid parakeet as he clutched the sleeve of her jacket in his teeth and led her back and forth through the dusting of snow on the yard as though he were showing her around.
This morning we went to her shop to get my hairs cut. I had barely turned my back when she fed him a lollipop. She held it up hoping he'd take a few tentative licks, which he did.
She was not, however, prepared for what followed. He quickly decided that cherry suckers were his very most favorite things in all the world (right up there with a roll in the snow and turkey fed directly from Grandma's fingers). Before she could react he slurped up the entire thing and fought her for control of it.
She squealed and pulled and fought back as hard as she could but he can be surprisingly tenacious, especially when it comes to things as wonderful as cherry-flavored lollipops.
Eventually her only recourse was to beg and plead.
He's spoiled rotten but it looks like I'm going to have to keep my eye on mom rather than Roo.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Eli is one hundred percent puppy, beautiful and precocious, curious and timid all at once, ambling about on paws bigger than they should be, managing a tail he hasn't quite mastered. The two chased each other around the yard, argued over who got to look after the bully sticks and got along famously. And the three grown ups present could only sit and watch them, stupid grins of amazement on our faces.
On her Facebook page Sunday morning Heather wrote, "There is nothing more enjoyable than watching two golden retrievers playing together. The room fills with joyful energy and you can't help but smile." She couldn't have been more correct and I can't wait to do it again.
Monday, December 7, 2009
This morning, though, after I'd made the bed and jumped in the shower, after I'd prepared my lunch and even Duncan's breakfast, after I'd pulled the blinds and discovered a snowy world where the temperature hovered around two degrees, Duncan still hadn't appeared. I stepped back into the bedroom and found him in a nice cozy spot, shameless and unapologetic.
He'd somehow crawled back under the comforter I fold up at the foot of the bed, slid around and snuggled under it with his head poking out.
It took some coaxing, but eventually we made it outside, although after he finished his breakfast and before I'd even left, he was back up on the bed and under the covers. Clearly he had his priorities straight.
Monday, November 30, 2009
This morning after our walk while I stood in the kitchen preparing his breakfast, Dunc sat at my feet, his tail smacking the floor behind him as I went through the routine we go through every morning. First I ask if he's hungry. When his tail wags and he barks yes, I run through today's menu in my best French accent, "A very special free range chicken, served raw with a blend of bone, egg shell, berries of the blue and rasp variety, raw egg, carrot and pea." He seemed especially happy this morning so when I dipped into my bottle of OptaGest and sprinkled it over his food, I told him a little story, as I do every morning. Sometimes I tell him the powder will make his tennis balls taste like pepperoni, or that it will lure a big fat squirrel to the patio where it will sit and squeak all day. Sometimes the powder will make him dream of a meadow where bunnies crouch under every shrub and where pumpkin treats and meatballs grow on every tree, where there are wide pools to swim in, vast snowy hills to slide down and green fields to chase butterflies through. Last week when he was having a difficult time paying attention on our walks I told him the powder would help him listen to papa's voice and stay out of trouble. This morning I told him he would spend his naps flying through the air, chasing the squirrels up to the tops of the tallest cottonwood trees and dive bomb the bunnies from above. He seemed quite happy with that idea but I certainly didn't expect to find him wedged between my bed and the window acting out our little fantasy.
When I was very young, and maybe even when I wasn't so young, I could spend an afternoon on my own, running through the neighborhood or riding my bicycle up and down the hills, my arms outstretched, my face turned into the sky, feeling as though I was flying as I darted back and forth, the sound effects burbling from my lips and throat as I went. I was fortunate in that I grew up in a family who nourished my imagination, encouraged and cultivated it, and never told me something was impossible, that we only need to try until we make it real.
Tonight when Duncan and I slipped across the street, the traffic heavier than usual because of the after work holiday shoppers, I undid his leash and let him run rampant across the wide fields. He trotted ahead and then zipped back, circling wide then slowly coming in closer and closer, veering off at the last moment. He was flying and even though the center of my face is the epicenter of my cold and I can't breath very well, I ran with him, arms held out wide, zooming after him with the sound effects vibrating from my lips. We ran and ran and were it a summer night, with the moon bone white and big, we would be flying still.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
When Duncan dreams he whines, soft little cottony sounds that come from the front of his throat. And like most dogs he kicks his hind legs as he chases dream bunnies over grassy and sunny dreamscapes. Last night, though, he curled up beside me in bed but rather than kick and whine his body stiffened up and elongated as though he was trying to reach from the headboard all the way down to the foot. I stroked his paw and kissed him on the cheek but he kept at it all night.
We awoke to another gorgeous morning with a bright blue sky and a startlingly warm sun shining in the windows of my apartment. Duncan and I ambled down the stairs and around the corner to the start of our trail and I knew almost immediately what he'd been dreaming about all night.
While I'd been dreaming about television, he'd spent the entire night reliving yesterday's escapades on the ice, planning new and exciting moves. I stood by for nearly an hour and watched him jog up the hill, spin and slide down, his body taut and straight, his paws out before him like Superman. Then back up he'd jog to do the whole thing over again. I was chilled and hungry and hadn't had my morning tea, but for the life of me, I could not imagine taking the sliding smile from his lovely face.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Several weeks ago during the last big snow I donned my boots and carved a trail that wound from my apartment through The Run on the north side of the buildings down to The Glen where Duncan likes to run wild. The trail was quite popular among the dog folk here, but now, after several weeks of being trod upon, it is no longer and easy-going thoroughfare and is little more than an unforgiving ice sluice, each turn a dead-man's curve. Duncan and I walk it every morning and again every afternoon. It's where he chases the squirrels and sometimes if the time is right, we find Brady out on his patio enjoying the sunset over the golf course. But it's becoming clear that perhaps we need to find a new place to walk until the ice breaks and we can get ourselves on solid ground again.
This morning, after tossing and turning all night, I took Roo outside for his first walk of the day. Even though it was incredibly warm and the sun was high and big in the sky, the path was as treacherous as ever. Duncan spotted a squirrel and darted after it. I lagged behind, taking my time to be sure of my footing, but kept my eye on him as bounded ahead. He's normally quite graceful, sometimes elegant even in the way he moves, but this morning something happened that caught us both by surprise: he slipped on the ice, went down on his belly and slid halfway down the hill, spinning a lazy half circle as he went. He didn't fight it but merely watched the world pass around him. When he slid off the ice and into the grass he sat still for a moment, dazed. I hurried to his side to check on him, afraid he'd hurt himself. As soon as I rushed to him, though, he jumped up, darted back the way we'd come, spun sharply, charged at me and threw himself onto his belly to slide again. Despite my fever and chills all I could do was sit on my heels and watch Dunc run back and forth and careen into me, a wide grin spread across his face. Over and over he did it, his enthusiasm growing each time.
If I'd felt better I would've joined him. But seeing as how slowly that ice is breaking I think I'll have ample opportunity once I feel better.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
This has been a challenging year. Ken and I separated after thirteen years together and I had to relearn much of my life. It hasn't always been easy and quite often I've struggled more than these writings admit, but I spent a great deal of my time today reflecting on past Thanksgiving dinners with Ken and my friends and comparing them to where I am now. It would've been easy to feel as though a terrible accident had happened, that by being alone I had somehow suffered some sort of failure. But that's not quite the way I see it.
I believe that happiness comes from within ourselves, that while material things may offer a temporary pleasure, and the company of family and friends certainly enriches us, it is we who determine how to feel. I was invited to spend my day with several people I know but in the end I chose to stay at home with Duncan and the kittens, to make my own dinner, to reflect on the past, both distant and recent. And while people tended to pity me for being alone I can not stress enough that I was not lonely. A year ago I never would've imagined I'd be where I am now, but I had plenty to celebrate and honor within myself. For that I am proud. It was a far better Thanksgiving than those ones spent in Denny's.
I would like to take a moment to thank Amber and Jesse and Kenzie for stopping by, bringing me a decaf latte and a beautiful picture Kenz colored, which now hangs on my fridge. I'd like to thank Andy for knocking on my door and giving me a hug. I'd like to thank my mother, Ruth and Kevi for calling, and Brady, Allison and Larisa for inviting me to join in their own celebrations. My day was made all the more perfect knowing that people love and think of me as much and as often as I love and think of them. Bless you all.
Now that the day is behind me, now that I am sitting in my bed, Duncan snoring at my feet, Olive batting her big yellow eyes at me from the pillow at my side, Winnie and Pip waiting patiently for me to lay down so they can claim their spots on my shoulder and hip, I think I'll just enjoy the silence and reflect, as I do every year, on what A.A. Milne meant when he wrote, "And by and by Christopher Robin came to the end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn't stop."
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tonight I got some good ones, but Duncan saved one for you.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
He wasn't as special to me then, I'll admit it. He was Ken's and his name was supposed to be Jake, but from the moment he winked at me and I picked him up, everything changed. We belonged to each other. Ken was gone a lot then and I was left to raise a puppy, something I was woefully unprepared for and doubt I have the strength, patience and stupidity to do again. But I managed and formed a friendship like none other.
I have been thinking a lot this week of the things I am grateful for and it goes without saying that my dog is at the top of the list. But more than just my dog, I am grateful for the puppy that still lives in him and the one he brings out in me.
Monday, November 23, 2009
It wasn't even a walk really, just a quick trip down to our end of The Run, a sort of hillside circle surrounded by pine and juniper trees. During last week's storm I'd carved out a trail in the snow with my boots but after a week of heavy use the snow had turned to ice which could be both fun and tricky to navigate. Duncan loves it because he can roll onto his back and slide down the hill, but getting back up has proven difficult. Last night we strolled down to the hill where Duncan took care of business and then slid around for a bit while I listened to the geese mumbling amongst themselves and watched the tight, thumbnail sliver of a moon hover in the southwest sky.
The coyote packs out on the golf course typically aren't too big, two, maybe three small dogs at the most. The big ones, like the one we ran into earlier this year, hunt by themselves. Last night, however, we could hear something much bigger was happening and the geese seemed uneasy. Duncan kept staring off into the darkness, a very soft growl building in his throat. I don't like when he gets like that and tend to listen to him so I brought him back up to the apartment.
It was only after we climbed into bed, Duncan settling happily onto his side while I spread out on my own, that pandemonium broke out. I had barely turned my light off and rolled over when the call of the geese rose up loud from the night. Even though my bedroom overlooks the parking lot and the geese had spread out in a rather large flock on the other side of the building I heard them as though they were in the next room. At first the chatter just got louder, but then a second noise rose up all around it and drowned it out, a manic laughter that came from everywhere.
The cats scattered and Duncan jumped up, his hackles standing tall, a deep unease in his throat. Without turning on the light I slipped down the hallway, through the living room and into my office where I popped the window open and squatted next to my desk. Immediately the apartment was filled with the clear and unmistakable sound of the coyotes, their tinny voices rising up unseen behind the trees and deep in the shadows. One by one I heard other windows sliding open and soon my neighbors had joined me in listening to what sounded like a massacre on the golf course. The geese were screaming and trying to take flight but the coyote pack seemed to have them surrounded because only a few escaped, the heavy beat of their wings passing very close to our building. On and on it went and finally the screams came as the pack started picking them off, laughing like hyenas as they moved in the shadows.
It was a terrible noise and lasted a long time. Duncan stood next to me, his chest out, his eyes peering into the darkness, at what I could not see. But finally, when it died down he turned and looked at me, relieved, it seemed, that we were on this side of the glass and that we had a bed to climb back into.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Morning could not come soon enough and when it did I felt like a kid at Christmas. My bed was coming, my bed was coming! Soon I could spread out and sleep in luxury. Soon the dream world would be my oyster.
After it arrived and was assembled, after I put the freshly laundered sheets on it and fluffed up the pillows which came with the new comforter, after I ran my errands and tended to my chores, I decided to peek in on the thing, to see how it looked, to run my fingers along its sleek headboard and imagine how wonderful it would feel to climb into it tonight, to spread my arms wide and sleep with my legs crossed in that old familiar number four shape, nearly forgotten after all these crowded months on the futon. Oh, the wonderful imaginings running through my head.
I flipped on the light and discovered:
Apparently I was not the only one excited at the possibilities. Olive was curled up on my pillow while Duncan was already practicing taking his share out of my side of the bed.
There may be some negotiating tonight when I hit the hay. I'll let you know how it goes.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
I have been waiting a long time to finally get a bed, and tomorrow is the day my hopes come to fruition. Some time between one and three the delivery men from the local furniture outlet will arrive with my brand new queen sized bed, big enough, I'm convinced, that we'll all get our own spot and can spread out and luxuriate in our dreams in whatever way we see fit. I'm giddy just thinking about it and the knotted muscles in my back are already starting to relax. I envision Monday morning being the most beautiful of days, with a spectacular sunrise coming up in the crisp air. I imagine a Disney-esque world with birds alighting on my knot-free shoulders and chipmunks scampering up my body to sing in perfect harmony in my ears. Rainbows will fill the skies and peace will finally come to the Middle East.
The reality, I expect, will be quite different. I will still be covered in cats and Duncan, when not sprawled across my tingling and painfully numb legs, will snore louder than before, kicking as he chases a squirrel across his dreams. But I can't complain because they love me and they watch over me while I slumber and sometimes meet me in their own dreams, where we cuddle and play all night.
There is no such thing as too much love.
Friday, November 20, 2009
But sometimes when everyone is napping in the sunshine and she doesn't think I'm watching, Winnie will snuggle up to one of his toys, the Bully or the Blue Buddha, or sometimes even one of his tennis balls, and run her cheek across its surface, or bat at it playfully, or even curl around it and fall asleep. Recently she's abandoned the kitty water dish in favor of Duncan's big, yellow bowl, which she could easily take a bath in. And once or twice when we're cuddling on the couch or in bed, Winnie on my hip and Dunc resting his head on my thigh, she'll reach out a paw and touch it casually, almost protectively, on his ear or the top of head.
Winnie may not want to admit it, but she loves Duncan as much as the rest of us. And they both loved that squirrel in the tree long after I left for work.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
As I pulled into the parking lot and up to my building I saw a familiar flash of red in the window, standing on the sill in my bedroom as though he'd been expecting me all morning, his tongue hanging out, his tail striking the glass.
How Roo knew I was coming home I'll never know. I do know that he got a ton of love and a quick walk in the snow before I had to leave.
It's unexpected moments like these that we both seem to live for.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
It seems a single squirrel had found the soft rug I'd left out to dry after being washed on Saturday. It was sitting right in the middle of it, its tail bobbing up and down as it looked back at the eight eyes focused in its direction. I smiled and relaxed, knowing I had time to rinse out my lunch containers before changing my clothes and heading out into the snow with Duncan. When the time finally came I practically had to drag him to the door and down the stairs. I figured the squirrel would be gone by the time we returned, but an hour later it was still sitting there watching the cats.
I grabbed a handful of peanuts and pushed the cats out of the way, sliding past Dunc, who tried to slip around my knees and outside. When I slid the door open the squirrel clamored over the railing and scurried across the brick ledge, not going very far and keeping its head turned so it could watch me. I reached through the rail and plunked a couple of nuts down, then left a small trail back up onto the patio. Stepping back I listened to it squeak at me, and then slowly quiet down until its only sounds were a soft hum, quiet and comfortable. Soon I heard its nails scramble along the brick and then a brown nose poked between the railing. Its cheeks were full of peanuts as it slipped through and cautiously stepped toward me.
I glanced inside and saw the children lined up once again, their eyes darting from the squirrel to me and back again. Winnie's tail could not be contained as it jerked and spasmed at her side. Duncan's tail flapped against the carpet and I heard a soft whine rise up in his throat. One paw reached out and scratched the glass, causing my new friend to stiffen and retreat a few inches. Only when things calmed down again did he come forward. I dropped a few more peanuts on the cement in front of him and watched as he scooped them up. Then, very carefully, I held a peanut out in my hand and watched to see what he'd do. He hummed again, took a few tentative hops forward, sat back on his haunches and leaned toward me. I felt his paws curl around the thumb of my glove and his sharp nails grasp the peanut I held for him. Not once did he take his eyes from my face, and only when he had the treat did he retreat and eat it.
I was just about to coo at him and say some soft words when pandemonium erupted on the other side of the glass. Duncan jumped up, both paws on the sliding doors as he barked. The cats puffed up big, their tails fat and swollen three times their normal size. Pip yowled from somewhere deep down in his chest and scampered away, startling Winnie, who hissed at Olive before she scurried under the couch. Olive remained where she was, her big yellow eyes staring straight at me while Duncan's tail smacked her in the face. My new friend was gone in a flash and even though I tried to coax him back he refused to budge.
When I finally came inside, the warm air fogging my glasses, none of the children would look at me. Duncan sniffed my hand once, harumphed and snorted, then turned his back and sauntered away. Apparently they don't approve of my new friend.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Their voices pulled me from sleep early this morning when the light was still too weak to venture far into the room, but seeped in timidly through the slats in the blinds. With my eyes closed and my face half buried beneath two pillows and a pile of blankets I felt certain I'd dreamed my life, that I was three or four and curled up in Grandma's bed on Christmas morning, the sound of Grandma, my mother and The Aunts drinking their coffee and planning the Christmas dinner a pleasant and glorious call from bed. I blinked awake, the voices from the past slipping into goose chatter from the hollow, snowy morning outside.
It is a deep snow and as Duncan and I struggled through it, I wondered how the geese were fairing, if their bodies were submerged beneath waves of white with only their long, periscope necks and wicked little faces visible above the drifts. As the light came on and the falling snow began to wane their babbling increased, almost desperately, and then suddenly from the north came a surge of wings and echoed cries as they took flight, breaking through the low clouds and then coming back down in a long, sweeping arc. Duncan and I stopped on the hillside and watched them as they flew low overhead, three or four hundred of them, their voices occasionally joining into a single long note, then shattering like glass which fell around us, mixing with the snow washing up against our feet.
We heard them long after they passed and in silence we seemed to come to the same resigned conclusion: Autumn is gone. The time of winter is upon us. Our walks will not be easy.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
The morning was wet but warm so Duncan and I trudged through the mist and damp leaves down to The Glen where he got to run and poke along the fence line. I watched the fog roll across the golf course, among the cottonwoods and back over the homes on the far side of the hill. The morning seemed without sunlight or even the need for it, as though the fog were somehow light enough, illuminating even as it obscured. I am not someone who fears the mist, but delights in the games that can be played there, the way it swallows and spits back sound, smudges lines and definition even as it emboldens color and unity. I could walk a thousand miles in the mist and never grow weary of its magic.
I stood on the edge of the open earthen bowl, my palm resting against the smooth bark of a young aspen, and watched Duncan vanish and appear over and over again, the gentle sonorous jingle of his collar keeping me appraised of his location as he moved and flitted out there in the haze. Sometimes the sound would fade entirely and I would feel my body stiffen as I prepared to call out for him or jog down and back up the other side of the bowl to hunt for him in case he'd gotten lost in his wandering. But then there he would be, a flash of red in the white haze, his divine brown eyes meeting my own, a smile seeming to come to his face, a sense of place and belonging returning to his muscles and mine.
No matter where we go we would find the way in our shared company, my good, red dog and me, earthbound loadstars, one for the other.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I am no war hero, not by a long shot and sometimes it's all I can do to navigate my day. But I know that when I come home my dog, and even one or two of my cats, will be waiting for me, ready to welcome me as though I've traveled the world and finally returned to them after a long absence. It's all too easy to open the door and slip in past them, dropping my lunch bag on the counter, kicking off my shoes as I come in. But not today. Today I promised myself I'd treat them as they treat me, loving them as though nothing else in the world existed.
It's the least I can do.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
This morning he sniffed out a squirrel lazing on someone's patio and chased it first up the air-conditioning unit, where the poor thing realized it was completely exposed and vulnerable. As Duncan sprang forward the squirrel leapt over his head, caught itself on the screen door and scampered all the way to the top where it screamed and chittered a litany of curses at us. Duncan couldn't squeeze through the bars on the patio but was content to sit and pace and pant and torment the poor thing until I caught up to him and pulled him back. No sooner had he turned away than he was barking up another tree at four squirrels.
I watched him watch them and was amazed at his attention. It's like I'm not there, like nothing in the world is there, just the tree and the squirrels and the light catching his coat. He is a remarkable creature, so tender and quiet as he cuddles against me in bed, then so fierce and determined moments later when he's outside, oblivious to all but his prey.
I could watch him for hours.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Racing home to spend a few precious fleeting moments of light with my boy seemed the wisest decision I'd made all day.
Monday, November 9, 2009
But there is a dark side to the park which breaks my heart. More times than I could count I have written about the soccer hoards or the children athletes and "their wretched parents." Duncan and I have navigated their gatherings with great difficulty in the Fall and Spring, sometimes staying away for weeks, not returning until they have moved on, their discarded water bottles and fast food wrappers the only reminder that they were there at all.
I do not like sports. I never have. I find them brutal and arrogant and lacking the very sportsmanlike ideals they claim to foster. The public, and especially children, have been duped when it comes to turning athletes into role models, coaches into sages and paradigms of wisdom.
The soccer hoards have left, as have the baseball teams. Now the lights of the park are lit for the kiddie football league, my least favorite of all sports. Tonight we circled the baseball diamonds where they practice and I winced each time I heard a coach scream at his charges. It's not the yelling that bothers me so much; after all, it can be a great motivator, but the language they use, the things they imply. It was a warm and lovely night, but I felt myself hardening up, growing angry and more than once I stopped and listened and considered saying something.
One coach growled at his team as he strode back and forth in front of them. "What the hell was that?" he roared. "You're all prancing around out there like a bunch of pussies. C'mon, you're in the fifth grade! Act like it!"
Another accused his team of being girls and then paraded before them, his wrist falling limp, a distinct and offense sashay in his step, an intolerant lisp in his voice. I got the message.
Another made the boys run laps, calling the one who'd fallen behind a fatso.
And where were the parents? There were none on the perimeter or in the stands. None watching at all. No, they were seated in their running cars, some asleep, some talking on the phone, none involved in the training of their children. It was heart breaking.
So we climbed the hill and sat on the swings at the jungle gym. Duncan rolled in the sawdust below the slide while I tried to block out the sound of the whistles, each one a violent shove, pushing childhood further and further away.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Sleep has not been easy coming to me lately, and even harder to hold onto once I've found it. Much of my nights are spent on the couch, watching movies or reading until my eyes grow heavy. But once in bed I toss and turn, cough and try to make room for myself among the dog and three cats who share my space with me.
This morning when it was still dark, Duncan woke me early, standing beside the bed, his nose nearly touching my own, a soft whine in his voice. He does not like to wake me but when he does I know it's time to go, that there is no time to spare. I pulled on my shoes and a jacket--my camera still tucked in the inside pocket--found my knit cap and stumbled downstairs with him. He trotted ahead, the tag on his collar jingling like a Christmas bell in the morning silence, and crossed the parking lot to his grassy spot before I'd even cleared the last landing. But when I did I stopped and caught my breath.
Light had just barely cracked the darkness, splitting the sky in two, one half black and silent, the other red and gold and as violent as a wide burst of lightning. I sat down on the brittle grass with Duncan at my side and watched the night break above us like we were the only two sets of eyes in all of existence. Like this morning was made solely for us.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
It was quiet out, as though the world was holding its breath, afraid to move 'less the warmth of the day and the season be startled away and replaced with clouds and wind and gray. Dunc sniffed the edges of the path, found a nice tall clump of grass to examine for a few moments and then redoubled his efforts at leading me in the direction of his choosing. Not long into our walk we caught up with a woman pushing a tiny beaming face with a mop of blond curls in a stroller. As we pulled alongside them Dunc slowed his pace and huffed once or twice to catch her attention. She looked at me and smiled, but when her eyes settled on Roo her pace slowed and something in her turned and caught itself.
"Your dog is beautiful," she said. "We have––had one the same color. Her name was Maggie. We had to put her to sleep three weeks ago."
"I'm sorry for your loss," I offered. "Was she with you a long time?"
She smiled and nodded and loosened her grip on the stroller just a bit. "Yes, she was fifteen. Last year when she turned fourteen we threw her a big birthday party and all the family came. And not just the dogs. Everyone. We didn't think she'd make it to fifteen." She looked away and out at the lake, which caught the colors of the sky and somehow made them truer than the originals. "But she did. Fifteen plus three days."
"You're very blessed to have had so much time with her," I said.
Duncan stepped up beside her and brushed her leg as he passed. She smiled and reached down with one hand to stroke his back. Her fingers traced the curls on his shoulders. "He looks so much like her. Same color. Same curls. They could be twins." A flash of embarrassment crossed her face as she withdrew her hand and placed it back on the stroller.
"Would you like to pet him?" I asked. "I think he'd like that very much."
She faltered a moment and then came to a slow and awkward stop. Duncan eased up beside her and without being told sat down. She clicked the lock on the wheel of the stroller and then knelt before him, watching my face for any sign of impatience or weariness. I smiled and nodded.
And then she buried her face in Duncan's chest, ran her fingers over his ears and down his shoulders, entwining them in the long hair on his back. She pulled herself into him and Duncan merely sat and watched, sniffed her hair, breathed softly in her ear. I dropped the leash and let them sit together on the lake path. She hugged him tightly, played with a paw and kissed his cheek, causing his tail to thump once or twice. I was proud of him and not at all shocked by her sudden display of emotion, and yet there was a part of me that felt obligated to say something, to offer some word of consolation. But that was not my part to play. Duncan had led me here for her and for him. My job was to remain silent. So I turned and looked out on the last colors of the day and listened to the gentle splash of the ducks skirting the beach, the silence of the moment, the very soft sighs of the woman grieving her loss.
There is too much noise in this world. Not enough comfort and quiet.
Next time what I'd do is look at
the earth before saying anything. I'd stop
just before going into a house
and be an emperor for a minute
and listen better to the wind
or to the air being still.
When anyone talked to me, whether
blame or praise or just passing time,
I'd watch the face, how the mouth
has to work, and see any strain, any
sign of what lifted the voice.
And for all, I'd know more -- the earth
bracing itself and soaring, the air
finding every leaf and feather over
forest and water, and for every person
the body glowing inside the clothes
like a light.
("Next Time" Mary Oliver)
Sometimes the walks are not for me at all, but the silence I have to offer to the world.
Friday, November 6, 2009
I'm supposed to name five blogs who also deserve the award, but wouldn't you know, I just don't want to pick from the list on the right. Despite the rules––and you all know how I feel about rules––all the blogs I list are good and I value each of them for the unique joy they bring to my day. To hell with picking just five. They are all superior scribblers in my book. I encourage each of you to pick three of those blogs, ones you have never visited, stop by and leave them a little note, something kind and happy, and tell them you heard about them from Duncan (and me, of course, even though I am Just the Handler).
To read more about the award (and the rules), please visit here.
Thank you, Lori, and thank you to my readers, who have kept me writing, however infrequently, more often than they could guess. But mostly, a hearty, ear-scritching thanks to Roo, who makes me walk whether I want to or not.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Duncan was exuberant like I have not seen him in weeks, chasing and romping with two little rabbit-sized pugs he's befriended lately, hunting down stray golf balls (three tonight!) and running back and forth, his body stretched thin and low to the ground, his legs churning and rustling up the leaves, leaving a wake behind him. Occasionally he'd skid to an abrupt halt in a pile of leaves, slide across their brittle backs, kick and fling them up in the air where they'd rain down around his smiling face.
At The Glen I tossed his ball back and forth but the leaves from the aspens have accumulated and the ball was too easily lost among the quilt of their bodies. So we rassled and chased each other up and down the bowl in the earth instead, running rings, jumping back and forth, weaving among the trees. Duncan demanded leaves so I tossed them at his head causing him to rear up and dance among them on his two hind legs before they settled back at his feet.
And then there were the owls. I've laid awake in bed these last few nights trying to sort through all the things in my head, and the owls have been with me, calling to each other outside my window, singing a song only the trees and the night have learned. They roost high in the cottonwoods behind my building, surveying the tall dead grass that borders the golf course, their eyes watchful for the bunnies we chase in the afternoons. Mostly they are invisible, but when I do spy them in the minutes before dawn, their bodies, tall and wide, look like the silhouettes of nests or gnarled knots and were it not for their bobbing horned heads I would miss them entirely.
Tonight there were three of them gathered in the aspens above us. One called down and was answered by its companions. Duncan cantered to a stop and craned his head back to watch them watching us. They continued their conversation, back and forth, back and forth, and even when Roo leaned up against the smallest of the trees they did not fall quiet. I plopped down next to him, buried my sneakers in the leaves, laid back and watched the night come on––orange turning to raspberry then to indigo––and basked in the loveliest of dusk serenades. I could have––and probably should have––spent the night there, Duncan tucked into my side, one paw on my chest, his eyes turned toward the treetops.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Tonight after an hour at the gym, my body already stiffening up and this one bitch of a muscle screaming at me in my shoulder, Duncan and I walked down to the little enclosed "dog park" at the other end of the complex. It's smaller than The Glen but it's lighted and fenced in and much more user friendly on nights like tonight when all I want is a quick, painless thirty minutes outside with the dog, followed by an extremely hot shower, a beer and a pizza (so much for the hour with my trainer) and a movie on the couch until I pass out.
Duncan took his time sniffing around and prancing about as he is wont to when he knows I can hardly move and will be doing my best Frankenstein's Monster impersonation tomorrow when I walk. First he strolled the perimeter of the yard, sniffing back by the shed where they keep the weed whackers and holiday lights. Then he circled the wiry, little saplings, raising his leg and spritzing each before moving on to the park bench and doing the same to all four of its legs. I stood around, bouncing on my heels and shivering in my jacket as I waitied for him to poop. When he finally did, he chose the furthest and darkest corner, moving off to the side when he'd finished to grin maniacally while watching me shuffle down to him, dodging poop left behind by the dogs of less courteous neighbors.
I reached into my pocket and grabbed one of the several wadded up poop bags I take with me everywhere. I am to poop bags as old ladies are to tissues up the sleeves of their sweaters. I take them with me everywhere. If we're ever out together, you and I, on a hike, or a road trip, shopping at the mall, eating at a restaurant and you find yourself in dire need of a poop bag, I've got you covered. Trust me.
It was dark in that corner of the yard and not even the light from the passing cars was much use. I fetched a treat from my other pocket and slipped it to Roo who took it and ambled off leaving me to clean up after him. A breeze kicked up, stirring the leaves and rattling the twig trunks of the twin saplings. Their shadows swayed back and forth across the crisp, yellowing grass, the moon painting them as pale, bony fingers pointing me in the right direction.
I slid my hand into the bag and reached for the small pile. Since I put him on a raw diet last year, Duncan's poops have been small and hard, shaped like nearly-perfect balls, and never take up very much space in the bag. They're quite manageable, almost cute even, compared to the smoking behemoths I see other dogs leave behind. Still, not noticing the hole in the bottom of the bag and grabbing Duncan's quaint little pile, really digging in and getting it under the nails, was no more pleasant because they're shaped like big peanut M & M's.
It took me a moment. I've grown quite accustomed to the heat, but the moisture and the clearly rendered texture was something new. It was only when I felt them shift and roll down my fingers and into my warm palm that I gasped and ran like a little girl to the nearest garbage can, Duncan chasing after me and batting at my heels like we'd invented a new game.
Sometimes the glamor of my life is almost unbearable.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
By the time the sun had set and darkness had arrived earlier than I'd been prepared for, after I'd eaten my dinner standing alone in the kitchen, the lights turned down low, Duncan laying at my feet, I felt awfully sad, without anyone to distract me and help my heart feel light. Perhaps its the turning of the season, my first Autumn alone in thirteen years, or the passing of my grandmother, but I felt terrible and watched and listened to my phone not ringing, feeling as though the streets were empty and I was the only one left in all the world. A glass of a wine, a hot shower and an early bedtime did not help.
I laid awake watching the shadows of the barren branches of the linden tree outside my window dance across the ceiling. Pip curled into my shoulder and Olive rested a single paw on my forehead. Duncan was coiled up tight on his pillow, snoring and twitching in his sleep. He whined each time he heard me shift and turn, and finally stretched up, eased toward me in the darkness and felt for my nose with his own.
Sleep was fruitless, so I got up, pulled on a pair of jeans, a flannel shirt and my tennis shoes and took him outside. The moon was bright in the empty sky and because we were alone I didn't bother with his leash. He followed me down the stairs and across the patch of thin ice at the bottom before crossing the parking lot to the patch of grass where he could stretch and tend to business. I watched the stars and began to hum softly to myself, a song I've known for a very long time but had forgotten about until that moment.
calling all angels
walk me through this one
don't leave me alone
calling all angels
calling all angels
we're cryin' and we're hurtin'
and we're not sure why...
then it's one foot then the other
as you step out onto the road
how much weight? how much weight?
then it's how long? and how far?
and how many times before it's too late?
(Jane Siberry, Calling All Angels)
My iPod was still in my jacket pocket, so I pulled it out, found the song and listened, singing softly as Duncan led me across the muddy grass. The streets were silent and pale in the moonlight and I could hear the drip of water from the trees in the park, from all over my small corner of the Front Range it seemed.
Duncan pulled me through the soupy bog to a deep patch of receding snow and looked at me a long time in that wondrous and understanding gaze of his, and as the song's chorus rose up in my ears, he rolled onto his back, his weight cracking the hard top layer, his stick legs reaching for the sky as he wiggled softly back and forth, never taking his eyes from mine.
calling all angels
walk me through this one
don't leave me alone
And then, as he stood up and leaned his damp body against my legs, I saw the snow angel he'd created for me, shimmering white and blue in the darkness, his warmth still melting into it. The tears came cold and sweet to my cheeks as he turned and led me back home, up the stairs and back inside where the cats met us at the door.
How is it that with such a miraculous companion I must constantly remind myself that I am never, ever alone, that my angel lives and breathes by my side every day of my blessed life?
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Last night was such a night. They all followed me to bed but at some point during the night Winnie departed to reclaim her familiar post on the back of the couch. Olive decamped to the bathroom where she curled up in the bathtub (which she has only recently discovered and become enamored of, a bizarre but somehow fitting arrangement for my strange, owl-eyed girl). Duncan quite often leaves the bed to crawl beneath it and spend the night snoring, or to cuddle up with his giant Pooh Bear on the fancy bed roll Ken and I bought for him the day after we first brought him home. I was more than a little surprised at my lack of Pip since he rarely leaves my shoulder, where he rests his cheek against mine all night long. Honestly, waking up alone and unfettered was not quite the glorious, magic-of-the-open-road feeling I'd imagined. My small futon seemed lonely and a bit cold, and suddenly bigger than I thought it could.
A quick inspection of the apartment proved me correct on my assumptions about Winnie and Olive, although Olive was not sleeping in the tub but hovering over the drain batting at it with one wet paw. Pip and Dunc were not hard to find at all and when I did I decided we could postpone our morning walk until their highnesses were good and ready.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Having been forced to drive in it twice, I was less than thrilled, but Duncan... well, Duncan could care less. Sure his poor tender feet get packed with ice and his long hair collects dense clumps of snow which require a quick rinse in the tub (which he hates but endures because he loves to be toweled off). For him the snow is pure, effervescent rapture.
This morning's snow is deep and wet and difficult to get through, and rises above his shoulders, and yet it doesn't slow him down. His mouth hangs open and he gulps down enormous quantities of the stuff, breathing it back out in heavy clouds and driving it forward by the force of his joy. He is unstoppable, as a squirrel learned this morning when he plowed through a drift and sent it scampering up someone's screen door to avoid being caught.
And when we're not outside he curls up next to me on the arm of the couch, just as the cats taught him when he was a pup. He sits stoically and watches me and makes sure I notice him looking glum and dour and miserable because we're not outside playing in his snow.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I take no great pleasure in the snow myself. I am not a skier, I do not snowshoe and it's been years since I built a snowman. I am one hundred percent Summer and need to be coaxed and prodded to spend any time outside in the snow. Duncan, however, can't get enough of it. We're polar opposites in this regard, so to speak. This morning I caught him staring longingly out the window, but the moment he heard me he turned, leapt up, did his chirping, butt wiggle dance and pleaded with me to take him out.
Being a good papa I did, but I didn't enjoy it as much as he did. And the cold has made me feel older than I did just last night. Spring can't come fast enough.
Monday, October 19, 2009
She was grief-stricken, sobbing and frightened and completely exhausted. I wanted nothing more than to race home to Idaho and help her family in any way I could but all I had to offer were my words and my good thoughts carried on the wings of imagined butterflies in her direction. I was still numb from the news my father had delivered only an hour earlier but Cookie was expressing everything she felt that cold Sunday morning.
"I'm so glad you're not alone," she said as she finally began to compose herself. "I'm happy Ken is there for you." We had never discussed my thirteen year relationship with Ken and this was her way of telling me she loved me no matter what, that she understood.
"Oh, Cook, I'm sorry," I told her. "Ken and I separated last February. But don't worry, " I offered after a momentary silence. "I'll be okay."
There was a longer silence and then her grief broke through again. "Then..." she cried, her words coming in big, heaving gulps. "You. Are. Utterly. Alone. There."
I hadn't felt alone until she'd said it and then suddenly there it was, an enormous gulf between me and the rest of the world. There was no one to rush to and throw my arms around, no one who knew my grandmother and could cry with me, no one who understood what a unique and special voice had finally fallen silent.
The rest of the week was extremely difficult, not only because I was grieving but because I came down with the flu and spent much of my time in bed, Duncan and the cats curled around me while I shivered in my sleep. My sister traveled to Fargo to be with my dad, sharing stories and reminiscing, consoling one another. I stayed home and felt sorry for myself, resenting my flu and the anxiety which kept me grounded and unable to travel. And I felt truly, "utterly" lonely, still too numb to cry much, too sick to care.
And then tonight Duncan and I strolled through the park. The soccer kids and their wretched parents were wrapping things up. Duncan had pulled an enormous branch off of the big willow and was happily prancing through the leaves and across the field with it clutched firmly between his jaws. I chased after him and finally settled down next to him while he chewed and gnawed. His face was rapturous, eyes closed as his teeth slid up and down the thick pole, peeling the thin, papery bark away before plunging into the depth of the green and golden wood. He rested one paw on my hand as I laid on my belly next to him. The sun had drifted behind the mountains and while the sky was bluish white the clouds caught the last of its beams and exploded in pink and purple above us.
I don't know how long I slept. It couldn't have been long because Duncan hadn't turned away and his paw was still curled around the back of my hand. The park was nearly empty, though, and the color in the clouds had melted. The sky had darkened just enough that a few stars had begun to peek out. The grass beneath me was warm and even the air had yet to cool. I did not want to lead Duncan back across the street to our small apartment, did not want to stand in the kitchen while I ate alone. I did not want to curl up in my bed tonight with no one there whose arms could fold around me, someone who could kiss the top of my head while I slept. I only wanted to roll over, lay on my back with my good dog's paw resting in mine and watch the stars, remember my grandmother and her laugh, her refusal to smile, the smell of her mint gum.
Duncan rolled toward me, spooned up against me and licked the top of my head. He smiled into my face, that big, hearty warm smile of his. The world may be a lot less friendly without a grandmother there to love, but it is certainly not empty.
I am not alone. And I am very much loved. Thank Dog!