Monday, April 27, 2009

A Single Moment

It was not the whistle of the robin, big and fat, round like some sort of exotic brown-skinned fruit hanging in the tree, or the glad faces of the ever-overlooked dandelions, mangy but decadent and unapolgetic in their brilliance, peeking out from the fraying blanket of snow which fell this morning and then seeped away this afternoon under a warmer but gray sky. It was not the pink ribbon, tied as it was to one of the large goal posts on the soccer field, flapping in the cold breeze, dancing and struggling first one way, then the other against the bonds of its own folded tail.

It was the girl, curled up as she was not far from the big willow where we often spend Sunday mornings sitting. We heard her before we saw her, perched on the cement wall where the small, sometimes invisible stream passes under the parking lot. The willow has not yet begun to sprout leaves along its tendrils, but she was nearly invisible behind its sweeping arms. She was young, probably no more than fifteen, and her blond hair was a mop pulled back behind her head, a few stray locks brushing loose against her cheek, tickling the bone-white nape of her neck. Her black pee coat was pulled tight around her gangly body, its collar turned up, her knees tucked up near her chest.

She was singing uninhibitedly in a buttery, coffee alto, a tune so soft and light not even the breeze could carry it very far. Duncan paused in his walk and leaned toward where she sat, his ears cocked high, his head turned softly into the melody. I knelt down next to him and watched him listen to her, captivated by the music both of them made, serenaded on this cold Spring afternoon by the stranger whose song my dog fell in love with.

*Image courtesy of Yahoo Images

Lullabies and Magic

It was a wet night, with solid sheets of rain painting the sidewalks in shades of Van Gogh, colors blending together and bleeding the way they do under pounding wet. Even Duncan did not want to spend much time dallying under the tall lamp post where the water glowed in bone-white sheets around us. But loving the smell of April rain we stood on the patio and watched it come down, battering the puddles which collected in the parking lot thirty-seven steps below, the ghostly sheen of the street light shimmering like a brilliant eye just below the inch-deep surface.

We went to bed--Duncan curled on the pillow next to me, his Bully resting just beyond his nose and under one curled paw where he can be sure of its presence even as he sleeps-- with a lullaby of pattering drops whispering us to sleep. At some point Winnie, Pip and Olive joined us in their usual spots, Pip tucking his cold, pink nose into my shoulder and purring in time to the rain.

We awoke to a new, old world this morning and as terrible as I knew it would make the traffic, I also knew Duncan would be overjoyed. He hadn't believed me last week when I explained that the snow was most likely our last of the season. He always seems to know more than I do and listens to me patiently in that cocked eyebrow way of his before deciding that my two legs and short nose somehow impair my senses. It doesn't matter, though, because he holds no grudges. He was curled on his pillow next to Pooh Bear and seemed reluctant to rouse until I pulled the blinds open and showed him the snow which had fallen steadily all night, gathering in an ice cream blanket around the tall pines where he likes to roll. Once he saw it his eyes lit up and he hardly paused to stretch before ambling down the hall to the door where I had his leash and my boots waiting for us.

The true joy of having a dog as a companion is the wonder they bring to every morning, making them as magical as Christmas.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Things Remembered

There are a plethora of things I struggle to remember, such as the four constantly changing user-names and passwords assigned to me at work, or the combination of the safe, or even my own phone number, but Duncan, my genius dog, remembers each and every place he's every spotted a rabbit, chased a squirrel or found a tennis ball.

Our walks--through the park, down Leawood, or even around the lake--have become an exercise in memory as Duncan forces me to wait while he inspects the hedges in the yard in front of the apartment, or the lumpy lawn just off the patio behind Hopps Bar and Grill. There are easily ten different spots at the edge of the lake in front of the retirement community which demand his attention, and the entirety of the square cinder block management office at the park where the rabbits have set up a home base of sorts. First we sneak down on them from the side of Rebel Hill, yellowed and crumbling with slowly drying mud. Then we pace the edge of the chain-link fence where they roost on the safe side, their backs turned to us in feigned indifference, an act which drives Roo crazy, eliciting whines and pants and the occasional leap forward, all which cause them to rocket under a nearby shed or parked golf cart. Once the herd has been scattered he pulls me around the side and front of the building, sometimes right up to the office door where rabbits been known to crouch in the bushes like breathing rocks. I have lost track of the number of yards in Leawood where Duncan has hunted, but our constant exploration of those places has earned us familiar waves from the home-owners, many of whom remember his name. "Hello, Duncan," they call, holding their hands out for his inspection. "I haven't seen any rabbits today, but come back tomorrow!" they encourage him, running their fingers through the long curls on his back and patting his hind end as he moves on to the next hedge row. He pauses at countless trees in search of a squirrel he once chased up its trunk and scours the edge of the baseball diamonds for the balls which sometimes roll away and are forgotten. Once, a few months ago he pulled me along the fence where he'd once sniffed out the brightest green tennis ball in his collection only to find a discarded athletic cup lurking under the dead leaves. There is very little that escapes his attention and even less that slips out of his head.

Except for one thing. While I still struggle with my address he has difficulty remembering we live on the third floor. He's content to climb one flight of stairs and head to the first apartment on his left. It takes a great deal of coaching to convince him he has one more set of stairs to go and it's never accomplished without a disapproving, furrowed brow sort of side glance and a deep, heavy sigh before he follows after me.

It's been a month, and most walks around the complex inevitably take us past our old apartment, which has been painted, carpeted, refurbished and finally looks ready for new tenants. I try to pass by without reflecting too hard on the changes we've been through as of late but Duncan, Finder of Rabbits, Squirrels and Balls, always leads us up the walk, down the breezeway and to our old front door, where he pauses as though waiting for me to remove his leash and guide him inside.

He never forgets.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Ten years ago tonight I was sitting in my dining room with Ken and April, Nikki and Ashley, our two Golden Retrievers, curled at our feet under our big oak table, while Winnie and Pip cuddled on the soft downy top of their tall kitty condo, half dreaming, half awake at the sounds of our laughter mixed with talk of the plans we were making. Our bags were packed and sitting near the door, two Frontier Airline tickets resting atop them. We'd eaten dinner and were discussing the early morning drive to Midway, the things April needed to do to tend to the animals, my anxiety over the entire trip. There had even been a great amount of talk about the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton which had taken place earlier that day. At some point I stepped outside to let The Girls out, stood in the newly greening and damp grass in our backyard and smoked a cigarette while watching the stars move slowly across the sky. I could hear the soundtrack to Evita playing from inside while Ken and April did the dishes, the gentle chink of the tags on The Girls collars as they sniffed out the yard. I remember feeling like my life was on the cusp of a dramatic change and not liking it one bit. I have never been good at such things and despite my dislike for my job at CDW and the monotony of life in quiet, remote Round Lake Beach, there was comfort in its predictability, safety in routine.

Duncan and I walked the park today and only barely managed to safely navigate the flood of news vans and media which had gathered to mark the 10th anniversary of the shootings which took place at the high school across the street. It was not a pleasant walk, surrounded by sad faces and heavy hearts huddled together under the same blue sky that rose overhead ten years ago. Duncan was anxious and we didn't actually find peace in our walk until much later, when I took him out after dinner under a clear, darkened sky, the stars shining down as a warm April breeze carried the scent of the lake to us. It was the same sky I saw all those years ago in Illinois with the same constellations, only very little of that life remains. April has married and had children and we are no longer in contact, despite an immaculate and untouchable friendship. Nikki and Ashley have crossed the Rainbow Bridge and Winnie and Pip, while still full of vim and vigor, are nearly thirteen and spend far more time napping in the sunlit windows than they do chasing each other. Even Ken, who I always counted on as my constant, the one person who would always stand at my side, isn't here. I don't even own the same clothes I packed and carried across the country. It's all I can do to remember this new address.

But at least I have Duncan and our walks and the stars. On nights like tonight, when my heart feels like it's breaking, there is tremendous comfort to be found in those simple things.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

While Watching the World

It has been a cold and gray weekend, wet and misty in the mornings, like a dream that lasts well beyond the pillow and continues to brush across my eyes even as I sip my morning tea and sit in silence before the windows looking out on my new third-story perspective of the world. The cats, when not cuddling on my chest, love the windows and spend most of their days on the wide sills, their eyes only half open, the very tips of their tails twitching with the darting of the little brown birds which flit from branch to branch in the tree below us. Even Duncan has taken to spending a good deal of his day in the window, watching the patch of green directly beneath us for the soft rock-shaped bodies of the bunnies he's fallen in love with, or the nervous undulations of the squirrels who scurry across the parking lot and play near the safety of the wiry tree trunks. My desk faces north west, across the golf course, over an enormous red barn and toward the mountains, which have been invisible for three days. Even our narrow little patio, crowded by the grill and my bike, offers a southwesterly view of the park and the continuing line of Colorado's Front Range, where I can sit and watch the cranes circling overhead, their spindly legs dragging behind, carried aloft by their wide and enormous wings. With all this space around us and these tall, nearly room-wide windows, there is no way to help but look.

Still, I prefer to spend my time on the ground, where I can see things close up, where I can pause and run my fingers along the leather-colored skin of a leaf which made it through the winter intact and beautiful. I love to be able to pause and trace the thick, ridged bark of the cottonwoods with my eyes, imagining the ant highways and cities which will appear on them in only a few weeks. On days like today, when the streets are painted in fine water, reflecting the light and echoing the swish of the cars which move over them like some bright but vague jazz painting, I like the feel of the mist kicked up by the spinning tires. Duncan has taught me to pause at those moments and raise my face into it, eyes closed, and relish the sensation of a million tiny drops barely kissing my cheeks, my forehead and chin.

We walked this morning when there was hardly any traffic, when the sky was low, flirting with the tops of the trees, and then again late in the afternoon, when the mist had lifted but could still be felt with each step we took. It was cold but I could sense, even if I couldn't quite see, the presence of Spring all around, like the water in the air which was collecting in our hair and on my glasses, flavoring our tongues with each breath. Spring is an elusive thing in this part of the world, slow to come and then gone before you notice it. It teases and tricks, and like a ghost you can never seem to look directly at it, only notice its vague shape and movement from the corner of your eye. But every now and then, when the world thinks you're not paying attention, you can see it, in the still-naked trees with their barely perceptible halos of green at the edge of their branches, in the bushes, which teem with frolicking tiny birds, each singing as though they've only just learned how, only to fall silent and motionless when you pass too close.

Everything is a game to Spring, but I never grow tired of playing and sharing.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Thick Skins

Even as I work to figure out my new place in the world, it seems the world has been doing much the same. The skies have alternated between sunny and warm and overcast and gray, almost white. One day we have snow, the next it's nearly hot. This morning we awoke to a fine dusting of snow, which had fallen on top of a misty midnight rain. As Duncan and I strolled the park, the snow––lighter than pillow feathers––seemed to waft out from beneath our feet as the grass, crusted in a fine layer of ice, rustled like wax paper under the weight of each of our steps. By mid-afternoon the sun toyed with the idea of coming out and the snow melted away. Duncan and I ventured out on the patio where we could watch the low clouds play with the foothills above the park. By sundown, however, the rain and snow were taking turns teasing us and the wind was fiercely cold. We tried to play in The Glen but all either of us really wanted to do was hide. So we came back home to continue unpacking and watching the world do what the world does from our new third story windows.

While I sat in the window and watched a bunny in the yard far below, Duncan sprawled on the couch and outside the trees did what trees do when the snow batters their thick skins.