Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Run

We have a new favorite place to play in the morning when the grass is still wet and cool from the previous evening's rain and the sun is bright and not yet hot in the lightly dappled dream-blue sky.

Directly behind our apartment is a narrow strip of sloped land which runs between our complex and the golf course, starting where our back door would be if we had one and ending at The Glen. Were I thirty years younger and unconcerned with mud and gnats which float like moats in the air, it would be my home away from home, where I could hide with my Star Wars action figures while simultaneously envisioning the trolls and fairies who played under the bridge and lurked in the long grass which grows so high it leans forward under the weight of the morning dew. There are flowers there, daisies and greatbighuge violet-colored things which erupt from vines in tight clusters, and Creeping Thistles whose stems are as thick as Duncan's forelegs and whose purple heads grow taller than my own.

There is birdsong, too, from the robins who root for worms on the soft muddy slope, and the tiny brown birds who hop among the low shrubs and bushes, and black scoundrels with a nearly perfect red square on each shoulder. There are others, too, some whose voices sound like doors creaking open or corks being pulled from bottles. Some sound like questions and others like poems recited slowly and deliciously, the words and notes savored in the mouth like dripping, luscious fruit. If I spoke their language there would be much to learn and even more to celebrate on a June morning such as this. I don't speak it but that doesn't impair my ability to relish it, to let it lift me, to ride it while standing still in sunshine mottled shade.

I do speak Roo, though, a nearly wordless language conveyed mostly through smiles and the raising and lowering of eyebrows, the wagging of a tail, the height of a bound and the spring of a step. When he is off leash in The Run, darting to and fro, turning his head this way and that at the songs of the birds and the chitters of the squirrels, we understand that words are not necessary, that joy is universally understood and best when silent with a wide-eyed smile.

If my life consisted of nothing else but Summer mornings spent outside with my dog I could die a happy man and look God in the face and tell Him or Her my salvation was earned through the fullness and jubilance of these brief moments.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Duncan & Me

"A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. A waterlogged stick will do just fine. A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he'll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?"
(from the film Marley & Me)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tireless and Dull

We have somehow managed to limp through the past two days. My ankle has been bothering me again and last night was the worst it's been, keeping me up long after Duncan and I should have met for our dream walk. I climbed out of bed, scattering the cats who'd nestled around me and downed four ibuprofen in the darkness of the bathroom. Once I finally managed to doze off, tossing and turning long hard hours, Duncan woke me up gagging and sputtering. I got dressed, staggered down three flights of stairs and sat in the cool grass with him stroking his back as he ripped and chewed at the grass. I watched the stars turn slowly and closed my eyes in the Russian Olive-scented breeze coming across the golf course. At long last we climbed the stairs and returned home. Duncan scooted under the futon and while he snored and hummed in his sleep, I could only lay awake and listen to him breathe, fearful of letting sleep take me again 'less he needed to hurry back outside for another walk through the damp grass.

The alarm called for me at 5:30 and began what would become an exhausting day. We walked down to the end of the way and stood under the big lightning-struck cottonwood. The ants were busy on the sidewalk, repairing the small mounds they build between the cement slabs. Every night the sprinklers undo their work and every morning they begin anew, tireless and dull in their determination. And that's how I felt, plodding to and from work, up and down the stairs, back and forth across the apartment, singing songs to Duncan or reading aloud to him to forget how lonely and tired this day has left me.

But our walk tonight across the grass and in the silence of the darkness was perfect. There was a strange, unexpected comfort in the sound of a plane breaking over the Rockies and banking for the long turn north toward the airport. The crickets have not yet begun to sing but two robins, startled out of their tree by our passing, called after us, an out-of-place eerie sound in the night, hollow and sudden. Duncan kept time with me, unleashed and free but choosing to stay close, occasionally pressing his nose into the warm spot behind my knee, bending to lick the ankle I'm still limping on.

Tonight, climbing into bed, I feel like the ants, tireless and dull as I await the sprinklers and then the all the work of the coming dawn.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sudden Stripe

It has rained nearly every day for as long as I can remember. It seems once the last of the late-Spring snows melted our small corner of the world was drenched in rains, the drops sometimes light and barely noticeable except for the dusty marks they leave on the hoods and windows of our cars, sometimes torrential, nearly submerging our streets and painting our world in Jackson Pollock drips and smears. Lately Denver has seen tornadoes, right in the city, dropping out of the skies with grace and shocking speed, causing little damage and fading away as quickly as they appeared. And then sometimes the rains are merely loud.

Yesterday morning, as he was sitting on the bed in his room, Brady had a front row seat to the suddenness of Denver's spring weather. A bolt of lightning struck one of the three large cottonwoods just outside his window. It's a tree Duncan and I walk beneath every day, sometimes several times, always pausing long enough to admire the thick veins of bark and the highways of ants which travel up and down it. The lightning wrapped around the trunk in two jagged stripes, one on each side, both winding their way from up high among the gray-green leaves, peeling back the thick bark like a pulled hangnail, as it traveled down to the damp earth, leaving a wide cratered fingerprint between two fat roots. It must have been quite the sight, the dark mid-morning illuminated, the tree a sudden enormous sparkler. Brady heard the crack, deafening in his room, but before he had time to turn the window exploded around him, the glass shattering into tens of thousands of pieces, a deadly flashing kaleidoscope. Chunks of bark hurtled through the window and ricocheted around the room as he threw himself to the floor to safety. He spent much of the rest of the day cleaning the room and having his brother pull chunks of glass and slivers of wood from his back and scalp, marveling that he was alive at all.

It is a tree I have always loved, bigger around at its base than I am tall, taller than the three-story buildings we live in. It is the last tree to lose its leaves in Autumn, offering shade and soothing windy whispers when everything else has undressed and stands stark in the slanted light. It is the last tree in Spring to pull its clothes back on, teasing me for weeks as Duncan and I pass beneath it in the morning and again in the afternoons and evenings., Brady hates the thing, and I suppose I would too if I'd watched it sway under the force of a summer storm, hearing the great boughs creak and moan under their own weight. But our experience has been different and so I love it and hope it does not die, that it will stand exactly as it is long after we have rested in its shade one last time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nature Dog

Duncan was recently presented with an incredible gift from Chelsea and Kathy who own and operate our favorite store, Hero's Pets–– a new collar custom made for him by Marchelle and Aaron, the good people at Nature Dog. It's an amazing collar, made from hand-cut leather and big round turquoise stones. It was a gift we will cherish for a very long time, not only because it's beautiful but because it's sturdy and well-crafted.

Please take the time to check out Nature Dog and if you see something you like place an order. There are numerous stones and styles to choose from. Marchelle and Aaron are happy to customize! And be sure to tell them Duncan and Curt sent you!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Great Big Morning

Duncan and I took an early stroll this morning on the tight little slope between the building and the golf course. The sky was bright and clear and the tall grass on the other side of the fence bent low in our direction as though reaching out to tickle or caress us as we passed. It was a perfect morning and Dunc ambled along beside me, his head low at the edge of the shrubs but occasionally turned skyward to take big galumping breaths of the blue, to catch the sun on the tip of his nose, to smile into the warm breeze.

This morning was a perfect morning, the kind of morning I wish I had been born on and the kind I can only hope to be fortunate enough to die on. The cottonwoods are snowing and each walk seems like moving through memory as the cotton wafts down on us, catching the sunlight dappling on the leaves and branches, catching our eyes and on our cheeks. Great drifts of the stuff line the flower beds and Duncan, deprived of snow as he was for most of the winter, has taken to snorting his way through them, exhaling loudly and raising clouds of fluff around his handsome head which he can chase contentedly after.

The Russian Olives are in bloom and their scent is breaking my heart even as it heals it. Two smalls trees grow directly behind my building and when I leave my windows open in the afternoon I return home to the most delicious and sweet smelling rooms I've lived in. Duncan and the cats perch in the windows all day, looking down on the squirrels and the falling cotton, breathing in the precious scent of my favorite tree, the scent I live all year to savor. The moment the yellow flowers appear in early June I feel my spirits lighten and know that the memory is enough to get me through another year.

We made our way down to The Glen where I sat on grass that was only faintly moist with the morning's dew, as faint as dreams that follow us a few steps back into the waking world. I laid back on it and watched the blue sky, bigger than I could put imaginary arms around, move through the tops of the Aspen trees far overhead, felt Duncan plop down beside me and roll onto his back, his feet sticking up into the air like bent twigs. He pressed his nose against my temple, snorted and thumped his tail against my hip as he twisted this way and that, capturing as much of the morning and the light as he could.

God, this morning was big and made my heart soar alongside that of my good red dog. This is what sweet, smelling, bright heaven must be like, with a million dogs running the fields, their companions smiling and following lazily after.

"To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace. (Milan Kundera)"

Monday, June 8, 2009

Five Minutes

It was a beautiful night, a bit cloudy and cool, and the grass had somehow managed to stay wet despite a lack of rain. Pete's wife, who's name I still don't know, and Sara––companions to Ross, our new yellow lab friend, and Gil, of Gil-Peed-On-Duncan fame––were in relaxed and cheerful moods as they watched their dogs play in the wide lawn that flows between four of the buildings.

Spotting Gil, and not wanting to give Duncan another bath, I planned to slip through, say our hellos and head to the park, but Sara was tossing a ball for Ross while Gil lounged at his mistress's feet, his orange eyes rolling back in his mutt-shaped head while she stroked his belly. Ross spotted Dunc and trotted merrily up, dropping the ball at his feet, his tail swishing back and forth dragging his butt this way and that. Gil did a funny twist and climbed to his feet, sniffing between both Ross and Duncan. I dropped the leash and let the dogs play for a moment while we three grown-ups chatted.

And then the fight started. Duncan and Ross were chasing the ball and each other while Gil lagged behind. It was when Duncan plopped down on the ball and rolled over that Gil leapt forward, grabbed him around the neck, shook him hard as he turned him over and went for his throat. We all stiffened and jumped into action with Gil's mom leading the charge. She attempted to reach between the two dogs to separate them but Sara and I pulled her back and warned her against ever doing that in the future.

I expected the fight to peter out but it didn't. Gil caught Duncan's ear and made the most horrific noises while he thrashed about. Duncan twisted and snarled and pushed back against the German Wire-Haired Pointer but couldn't get the advantage. Finally I stepped between them, raised my foot and kicked Gil square in the face, pulling Duncan back as I did. Gil fell over, jumped back up and came at us from the other side where Sara was waiting with a clenched fist which she unleashed right into Gil's jaw. While his mother pulled him away by the collar, struggling against his ongoing snapping and growling and lunging, Sara and I knelt and tended to Duncan's ear, which was scratched and bleeding lightly but not damaged. I poured some water over it and because Dunc was anxious to play in the park we headed on our way.

Bowles is a six-lane road with a wide, grassy, tree-lined island running down the length of it. Duncan has been trained to sit and wait at the curb until I give the go-ahead and then dash beside me as quickly as we can to the shady island where we wait to cross to the park. We made it the island and because the wind had been fierce yesterday it was covered in downed sticks and branches. I spotted a nice brown one right at the tip of my shoe and as the traffic sped past us I reached down to grab it only to touch my fingers against the moist, scaly surface of a snake, pinned beneath my toe and attempting to curl around my ankle. Being deathly––absurdly, even––afraid of snakes my entire body seized up and spasmed as I leapt back, pulling Duncan, who'd been patiently sitting and waiting for the cars to clear. Before the snake had even slithered off into the long grass I dragged us across the street not feeling safe until we were on the other side.

I dropped Duncan's leash, scoured the ground for sticks and as we moved past the big willow and toward the side of the small hill on the north side of the lower soccer field, I found one, a solid one, fat and gray that did not slither and hiss. Duncan did his happy puppy dance as I peeled the loose bark from it then tossed it around the side of the hill and directly at the sixteen year old couple on the other side, one standing talking to his father on the phone, the other kneeling before him doing... certain things better suited for the back seats of cars than a public park.

"Dad, it's okay," the boy protested, looking directly at me as his girlfriend continued doing what she was doing. "We're at the park. Everything is cool. Believe me. I'll be home in an hour." He looked down at his girlfriend and smiled proudly.

My eyes widened when I realized what was happening. I hurried toward Duncan who was galloping straight at them.

"Roo! Come!" I called, at which point the girl stopped what she was doing and froze. Duncan looked at her, she looked at me and all I could think was, Okay, so if that was me, caught red-handed, so to speak, how would I want the grown-up to react?

So I did the only thing I could think of. I gave them both a thumbs up, grabbed Duncan's leash and hurried away.

All in five minutes.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bitter Spring

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping
for that which has been your delight. (Kahlil Gibran)

It has been heavy and gray in Denver for days, cold with a rain that falls in thick, relentless sheets, glowing around the lamp posts and knocking the flying, buzzing bugs out of the night. The ravine behind our building, dividing the property from the golf course, has turned into a swamp where blossoming Russian Olives, wilting lilies and knee-high grass rise up out of the gray, eddying water. We have been restless and cut-off with the windows closed, and our jogs outside have been huddled and brief as we pause only long enough for Duncan to tend to his business before we hurry back inside. Sleep begins and ends with the constant hollow pound of water on the windows, melting the lights and fragmenting our view of the world.

This afternoon, between downpours, I pulled on my tattered blue windbreaker, zippered it all the way up, cinched the hood around my head and rushed Duncan to the park for whatever brief moment of play we could capture. He trotted beside me, navigating his way through the puddled canals, not venturing far off the sidewalk where the grass is sickeningly damp, the ground beneath it slippery, too willing to slide beneath his feet, as treacherous as ice.

I led him to the far side of the park, just below the playground, red and yellow and green, where the new bunnies roost in the tall grass and then hide when they hear the jingle of his collar. Except tonight one bunny didn't move at all. We stalked carefully up the hill toward it, Duncan raising each foot slowly and stepping delicately, his ears high and alert, his back straight and long. Still the baby did not move. Duncan looked at me in that quizzical raised-eyebrow way of his and stopped, simply sat and waited. I curled his leash tight around my hand and stepped forward expecting the thing to dart away, stirring up the grounded starlings with its mad dash.

The poor thing was laying on its side, it's big brown eyes staring straight into the single scratch of blue in the sky, its breathing shallow and weak, pulling the air through lips which heaved desperately. Duncan laid down and waited for me to do something but there was nothing I could do. I called Chelsea who attempted to call several rabbit rescue groups in the area but was met with disconnected lines or voice mail recordings. She called me back and tried to reassure me that this is the way things go, and even though I understood it was difficult to watch poor Duncan, laying as he was in the mud, a concerned smile on his face, his tail occasionally thumping the wet grass, sending a storm of drops into the air around him, a soft whine humming up through his beautiful red throat.

We sat on the hillside for nearly an hour and a half watching its breaths grow softer until it was difficult to tell them from the breeze and the misting drizzle churning down the foothills around us. When it ceased to move at all Duncan sat up, whined again and waited while I said a prayer to the universe thanking it for the gift of this brief and joyous life which had brought such pleasure to my best friend and to me.

And as we walked home I could not help but feel that sometimes Spring can be every bit as bitter and ruthless as January.