Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Something Happened

The wind on the edge of the foothills is not kind. Even in the Summer, when the air is hot and feels like a force pushing against each step you take, the wind will rise up, lash the clouds and blow searing dust and grass clippings into your face. But now, when my corner of the world is comprised of varying shades of yellow and gray, the wind is merciless. We have new snow, a dry pebbled kind of snow, each flake a chip of sharpened rock whittled into a fine razored and blood-hungry point and the wind loves nothing more than to toss it about, fling it with haphazard precision in every direction imaginable, so that even when I walk with my back to it, the crystals still find their way into my face and down my collar onto my neck and chest, defying all my careful zipping up and buttoning and scarf wrapping. It is a curious wind and wants to know every inch of me, its fingers reaching out and touching me all over as though to form a recognizable image on its blind eyes.

There is so little to love about this time of year. Color has been bleached from the world, taking with it all the joy and glory I worked so hard to stockpile last May. Walking and breathing are painful and only the sky––clearer than at any other time of the year––offers consolation, however distant and removed. I hate January, with its geese and their gummy green shit and the wind and bland skies, air devoid of even the most pleasant of scents, the brief days and endless nights, for my cold feet, aching back and dry skin.

After the sun had set and darkness had returned we ventured across the street to the park. On the far side of the baseball diamonds, we turned directly into the wind and Duncan's tail flapped above him in time to the flags mounted on the fences which lashed loudly in the wind over our heads. The snow crept over the sidewalk and rushed at us like clouds or waves and I had to turn my face down, shut my eyes and clench my teeth just to keep going. Duncan pulled on the leash, leading my through it, and with each step I found myself thinking, "How did I get here? How did this happen? This is not the life I imagined, water skiing behind a dog in blowing snow in some Denver suburb after working all day at a ridiculous job for embarrassingly incompetent students at a community college, all the while dreaming of flying and never quite getting my feet off the ground. Something must have happened. I must have been pushed because I would not have chosen this for all the world." The voice in my head sounded like the narrator of Joseph Heller's second novel Something Happened, a painfully relentless and unforgiving book about a man who sees absolutely no joy in his life and is not only unable to change it, but refuses even to acknowledge his responsibility in its outcome. It's the kind of book I urge people to read when they think they can't feel any worse. "There's rock-bottom," I say, "and then there's Something Happened."

Duncan led me to the long, wide soccer field which runs parallel to Bowles. A very crisp but fine layer of snow rushed across its surface, erasing my feet as I plodded through it, shoulders hunched, chin pressed against my throat. I dropped Duncan's leash and without a pause he darted away at a full run, threw himself into the wind, his head raised high, a smile pulled across his glowing face. He spun in the air, came down on his side and rolled right into the blowing snow, pulling it over him, robbing it of its bite. I watched, startled, as the world around him lit up. The snow became clouds and the dark stationary yellowed grass turned into a barely visible earth far-below, speeding beneath us as we soared overhead. The sky erupted with stars, first Venus, then Orion and then the myriad others whose names and shapes I don't know. I turned my face skyward and even though the night was dark, I caught sight of a large flock of geese flying high above the hill, turning only briefly toward the lake, then splintering into two groups who battled for supremacy over the other as they headed over the fields and across the street toward the golf course. They were high, their bodies buffeted by the wind, only their pale bellies visible, painted electric orange by the street lamps glowing beneath them. As they struggled and twisted, turning back on themselves and plummeting momentarily before finding their way again, they looked like burning cinders riding the currents of air as they floated and faded away. I caught my breath and watched long after they had gone, not even their voices catching in my ears. Duncan ran circles around me, his leash bouncing behind him, so I spread out my arms and ran after him, flying in my own way, chasing and being chased,

The truth is I am not as happy as I imagined, but who is? I am still happy. I am about to celebrate my thirteenth anniversary with Ken. We have four beautiful children, a safe home and memories and dreams we have built around one another. I do not have the job I want, but I am thankful to have a job, especially in these uneasy times. I am healthy and have good friends and a wonderful family and would wander aimless without them. I am earthbound, but my dreams are not, and my dog taught me tonight that running through the wind and snow can be more like flying than I ever would've thought possible. Something did happen, and even though it is January and there are no safe places to walk amid the goose droppings, I am thankful for every breath I take.

"I know at last what I want to be when I grow up.
When I grow up I want to be a little boy."
(Joseph Heller, Something Happened)

Thursday, January 22, 2009


It has been a rough couple of weeks. Now that school has started work has picked up and even though it's not true it feels as though most of my waking moments have been spent there, smiling at people who do not appreciate the hard work I have put in for their benefit, or the people who are sometimes downright hostile toward any effort made to help them. I am a person who has an almost ignorant belief in the innate goodness in people but the start of the school year always causes me to reconsider. There is something about the fear of being exposed to new ideas that really tends to bring out the worst in people. So I spend a few weeks at the start of each semester being the college's punching bag and absorbing far more negativity than I've earned, unless, of course, you believe in reincarnation, in which case I must have been a terrible person in a past life.

The high point of my day has been coming home to find Duncan waiting at the door for me, his back-end exuberantly swaying from side to side as he cups my wrist between his teeth and pulls me into the safety of our home. The sun has usually set by the time we venture across the street, but tonight we made it in time to witness the last of it leaving the sky, its rays almost a memory above the mountains. A soft and flowing line of clouds divided the sky in half, an uneven, thick, white racing stripe that meandered lazily back and forth; on one side the pale crumbs of the day, on the other, a deep star-speckled blue knitted by the softest, gentlest hands you've ever touched. Duncan led me around the park to the management offices where the bunnies herd up and I watched that night blanket fold itself over the world, slowly and softly, without a sound. Duncan pulled me up the hill where the sun's rays kissed his face and the fur at his chest one last time, and in that instant I felt the day wash away, felt the tension slipping from my back and neck and felt my faith in the goodness of the universe return just a little. An enormous flock of geese flew low around the base of Rebel Hill where we stood, their calls shattering my silence like nature's farts, but as I craned my neck back and turned to watch them pass overhead, I thought of the Mary Oliver poem and remembered that even the things we do not like have purpose in our lives:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

So I allowed the blanket to fall over me and as Duncan led me home I could not stop smiling, for the peace beneath it was exactly what I had earned.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Political Monday: One Last Thing

I was looking at the sky tonight on my walk with Duncan, my eyes moving back and forth between Venus and Orion, both clear and magnificent, beautiful beyond words, things I carry with me in my mind and heart throughout the day, but with the knowledge that they are so far away, so abstract and unattainable I will never be able to lay my hands on them. It was hot in Denver today, nearly 70˚ with a bright, wide sky and dark shadows behind the trees where the sun couldn't reach. What was left of our snow didn't last much beyond noon, but now that night has reclaimed our side of the world and the temperatures have dropped again, the runoff has turned into the sheerest layer of ice on the sidewalks and drives. It was difficult walking with my eyes focused so distantly, and only when Duncan and I slipped did I remember to look back at my feet to reclaim my balance.

I've been thinking a lot about the events of tomorrow. So many of us worked so hard last Fall to bring about the change which our country will embrace. It was a long road with many twists and turns, dangerous slippery spots and places where the path ahead was not exactly clear. But we prevailed, not only by looking at the faraway and abstract, as I did tonight, but at the ground directly beneath our feet. Things will not change overnight. We must proceed cautiously and vigilantly, with both a critical eye and an optimistic spirit.

There are things to remember as you witness tomorrow's historic inauguration. First––and I must confess this one is purely personal––Rick Warren is a son of a bitch who's words do not deserve to be heard. Barack's selection of this vile, hateful man is a painful slap in the face to the tens of thousands of gay people, such as myself, who dedicated time, money and effort to help win him this election. He claims that he's reaching out to those evangelicals who follow and respect Warren. I say that it was the first misstep of his presidency, one which cost him much of the respect he earned. The people he claims to be reaching out for are bigoted monsters who have institutionalized hatred and would sooner see me rotting in hell than extend an olive branch in my direction. If you know and love a single gay person do them a favor by turning off your television while he speaks, turning your back on his disingenuous compassion, and refuse to buy into his vitriol. Please, grant me this one favor and I'll ask nothing else of you.

Secondly, as we celebrate tomorrow and bask in the opulent show we must put on for ourselves as well as the rest of the world, it is important to remember that our economy is in a disastrous state, that thousands of people have lost their life savings, that banks are making money off the bailout, that men and women––real people––, however misguided, are taking their own lives because of their financial positions. People all across this country still do not have health care, are losing their jobs and homes, are being discriminated against, lack a quality education, can not afford food. If the people of this country could become as excited about these issues as they are about tomorrow's well-deserved show, we could eliminate these problems quickly. Please, answer the call to service by volunteering your time or money to a cause that matters deeply to you. Each of us must earn the reward we think we've been granted and honor those who have far less than the attendees of the galas and balls want to admit.

Finally, there is still much to do. In fact I would say the real work has not even begun. We, each of us, have a job to do, now more than ever. There are still wrongs which need to be righted, ugly things which need to be exposed and vanquished. It is not the sole responsibility of our new president to makes these changes; those tasks rest in each of our hands.

We are on a long walk and there are many wondrous sights to behold along the way, and no one is more excited than I am, but please don't forget that your feet belong on the ground while your eyes reach for the heavens.

Image courtesy of google images

Friday, January 9, 2009

Early and Replete

My alarm clock is a nasty little thing, bright green with a picture of Kermit the Frog sitting in a directors chair, and makes a noise unlike anything which occurs in nature, a high-pitched beeping screech which promises to wake the neighbors if left on too long. Unlike music on the radio or those Zen alarm clocks which play the sound of crickets or babbling mountain streams mine makes the sort of noise which is impossible to incorporate into a dream and is far too horrific for even the worst of nightmares. It was a Christmas gift from my mother in 1980 and for whatever reason I have relied on it ever since, taking it with me to college, on a trip to Canada, even here to Denver in high school, where I accidentally left it and paid to have the family who hosted several classmates and me send it to me overnight. I have been given other clocks, but have received none as true as Kermit, who refuses to offer the false promises of a snooze button and does not intrude upon my sleep with ominous glowing red or hospital-green numbers. No, mine suits me just fine and despite its horrific alarm, I love and treasure it. When it erupts from the dresser on the other side of the room, requiring me to jump out of bed and run to turn it off, Ken hides his head under the pillows while Duncan groans and the cats scatter down the hall into the dining room where they crouch and hide under the table like mice. It is a terrible way to wake up, really, but it gets the job done quickly, a bit like throwing oneself into a cold pool of water rather than tortuously dipping one toe in at a time.

I don't know exactly when it happened but some time shortly after graduating from college I became a morning person. I may not like it, but I'm damn good at faking it, and it doesn't hurt that I'm able to whistle my way through the entire process. I've often wondered what my neighbors think when Duncan and I make our 6:30 AM rounds, walking down the yard to the corner, then back up across the Linden-strewn meandering patch of grass between two of the buildings. I whistle the entire time, sometimes mimicking the little birds which flutter between the boughs of the pines, or calling back to the mourning doves who perch on the highest points of the buildings all around. I whistle songs everyone knows and some that come to me right there on the spot. I am not particular.

It has been a long week: work has been frustrating with the start of the new semester, Ken's schedule is still a mess and I've been worrying after one of my closest friends, who seems to be in the midst of a Job-like test of calamity and endurance. Kermit's call this morning was not welcome in the slightest, especially since I'd somehow convinced myself it was Saturday and it seemed absurd that I'd set him at all. When it finally sunk in that I had yet one more long day to make it through, that the weather had finally assumed a more January and less April-ish role, I sighed, plodded down the hall toward my office, whose tall wide window looks out on Bowles and across the street over the park to peek out on the bleary world.

I do not know why the sunrise this morning seemed so magnificent. I have watched it come up over Lake Michigan, which seems as big as an ocean. I have climbed high in the mountains and low in the deserts to witness it. I have stood on the deck of a ship in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and watched it pull itself up, as Emily Dickinson said, "a ribbon at a time." I am quite certain there have been more spectacular mornings, but this one seemed especially glorious as though it was just for me. Duncan wasn't due up until after my shower, when the tea kettle calls him down the hall and out for our first walk. Quietly, so as not to disturb him, I pulled a pair of jeans on over my pajamas, threw on a henley and a flannel shirt just to be safe, found my gloves, cap and camera, zippered up my coat and squeezed out the door.

It was cold, as January mornings should be, and each breath was clean but sharp in my nose and down into my chest. The back of my neck, which had just been nestled among numerous blankets and nuzzled against by Olive, who slept on my pillow, seemed shockingly bare and extremely naked but alive in every way that a morning can make one feel alive. The grass was brittle as I strolled down the yard but the ground was soft beneath it and gave a little under my weight, like ice when it bounces and bends because it can't decide between being a liquid and a solid. Last night, when it was so delicious and warm, when Spring seemed so very near, I would've cringed at the thought of strolling in the near-dark on such a cold morning, breathing such painfully light air and hearing the kind of silence only heard in deep caves or at the bottom of the sea. Nothing could have made me purse my lips together and summon a tune, real or imagined. The morning was complete in its crisp quiet, it's mottled orange and purple sky, with the faint white trace of light on the darkened edges of the tree trunks and their innumerable nude branches. This was a January morning that forgives all others, that forgives unpleasant awakenings and offers sincere promises that the rest of the day can not help but be just as abundant in its simplicity and subtlety.

For what human ill does not dawn seem to be an alleviation?
(Thornton Wilder

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Only Venus

It was an April day today, bright and sunny with dark shadows falling on the grass, which still believes––rightly, so––that it is early January on the edge of The Rockies. I spent most of the day at my dark little desk in the far corner of the bookstore dreaming of walking with Duncan while the sun was still high and the air a surprisingly warm sixty-six degrees. It was not meant to be, of course, as it was dark and cool by the time I arrived home. The sun had left a faint smear of itself on the western horizon, an orange fingerprint hovering above the mountain shadows for an hour or so before even it finally melted away.

But it was still warm for a January night and there seemed to be a sense of celebration in the air, accompanied by the summer scent of steaks on the grill and the far away sound of passing music drifting out of some open car window. We leashed up and with only the slightest amount of regret at not having the sense to fake a sudden bout of stomach flu in order to spend the afternoon playing outside, we turned away from the goose-trodden park and walked down Leawood toward the elementary school where Duncan loves to run back and forth across the soccer field. I have lived in many neighborhoods here in sunny Denverland, including Stapleton, which, at one time, was the place to live, but none have offered the same sort of warm welcome as the familiar-ish homes on Leawood. They remind me of the street where I grew up in Pocatello, and the houses where my friends lived and played. It is not often we get down that way in the winter months so tonight seemed the perfect night to take an extended stroll with Duncan marching ahead of me, his eyes trained on the shadows for a glimpse of the ever present crouching rabbits which linger on the edge of the sidewalks and huddle among the shrubs in the brittle, amber flowerbeds.

There was no sun, but there was Venus, high above in the south, traipsing gently westward, Orion rising slowly at her back. She was bright and vibrant, unwavering, unblinking with beauty as surprising as the day was warm. She was the only star in the sky and once the others had blinked awake, the brightest. While Duncan nosed around the mailboxes and lawn ornaments, I could not take my eyes off her, and wondered for a moment why the sun had seemed so important when Venus was out, offering clarity and calm, the kind I crave so often throughout the day and look forward to on my nightly walks. There was something familiar about her, close and warm and I wished every night could be like this night, with the heavens open and welcome, a warm hand on a cold forehead, a promise that clear winter nights can be as magnificent as any summer day.

Image courtesy of www.nasa.gov


I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Jonathan Baker at Petdoc.com, a quality website for pet companions who seek answers to questions, guidance about which pet may be best suited for their lifestyle, as well as health and grooming tips. Their contributors are well-educated and are available to tackle all sorts of topics, from "medical issues, behavioral issues or the day-to-day care of owning a pet." Petdoc is a user-friendly site that can provide you a wealth of information that is not readily available and easily accessed elsewhere. Please check them out.

And be sure to read the interview here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Gaggle

We have heard them in the night, on our last late walks, when the traffic on Bowles has ceased and the lights in the apartment complex wink out as we pass beneath them. We heard them last night over the snow, gathering in the golf course behind us, their voices loud and disrespectful of the deep, warm dreaming occurring all around them. Night snow has a way of hushing the world even as it amplifies every sound––the bending of a blade of grass under its soft icy weight, the gentle whisper of cloudy flakes rushing like exhaled breath over the empty and naked streets, the mingling crystalline jangle of ice settling in the pine needles––and their voices were almost a roar in the stillness, their heavy beating wings a ridiculous chant hidden just above and around us in the blowing mist. We know they were coming and Duncan is waiting for them, waiting to drive them from one edge of the park to the next, waiting to pull me behind him as he lunges through the drifts, against the wind, tireless in his pursuit.

It will be a long hunt, but the light is finally on our side.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Promise and Potential

Denver almost seems a foreign land since our return from Idaho earlier this week. Pocatello was drowning in snow and the road crews were unable to keep up with the accumulation, which, after being ignored for several days, made driving unpleasant. The roads were icy with deep ruts carved into them and getting anywhere--which normally only takes ten or fifteen minutes--became an almost monumental affair. Denver's roads are blessedly clear, though. In fact all of Denver is clear. You'd be hard-pressed to find snow anywhere except up in the mountains. Even the foothills are barren, their golden grass matted but still visible. The temperatures have been hovering in the low 60's all week, and even the nights are pleasant with warm breezes and clear, cloudless skies. We have walked and walked and played in the sun at the park and today I took Duncan down to Chatfield where he spent so much time swimming last summer. The ponds were iced over and I kept him well away from them, but he didn't seem to mind, running wildly among the trees and low bushes, playing chameleon in the long grass, a silly Golden grin spread wide across his face, warming my heart and holding tomorrow's cooler temperatures at bay if only a little longer.

Why anyone would share their lives with any dog other than a Golden Retriever is beyond me. There is no magic quite like it. With Duncan at my side this new year is full of promise and potential.