Friday, July 31, 2009

Here There Be Monsters

It's been over a month since I've walked with Duncan through the winding nameless stretch of grass directly in front of our apartment. That's where Gil roams and I haven't wanted to expose Dunc to that lunatic, red-eyed German Wirehaired Pointer since their last encounter. But the other night, after leaving Brady's, we cut through the yard, which seemed quiet and empty when we first stepped foot into it. And then all hell broke loose.

Gil appeared from nowhere. Pete, his companion, wasn't paying attention while he talked with Sarah and her yellow lab, Ross. Gil charged around the building, stopped short when he saw us and stiffened up. I saw the hackles raise on his shoulders and a moment before he jumped forward he seemed to smile. And then he was running across the yard at us, his head low, the force of his body in his shoulders, his mouth open and ears back. I could only watch while I pulled Duncan behind me and used myself to block Gil. I called out to Pete, bent my knees and braced for the attack. It felt like that scene in "Jaws" when Roy Scheider is the sole survivor from the ship and he's perched on its sinking mast with a rifle watching as the shark approaches for the kill.

I said very loudly, for Pete more than Gil, "I swear to God, if you touch my dog I will kick you in the head."

And then Gil was on us. He swerved around me, grabbed Duncan's flank in his teeth and yanked, growling as he pulled and ripped. Duncan hopped back but Gil followed, lunging for his ears, missing and getting his cheek. They circled around me, Duncan on his leash, Gil free and wild. Ruth had told me only the day before that you should grab a dog's hind legs to pull him from a fight, but I couldn't reach for Gil and didn't want to let go of Duncan's leash. They kept pulling me in circles, Duncan defending himself, Gil attacking, and I wondered where Pete was, why he wasn't doing something. It didn't matter because when Gil lunged at Duncan's throat I swung my foot back and kicked his head as hard as I could.

He sat back a moment, dazed, picked himself up and lunged again. I finally saw Pete, who was frantically trying to grab his collarless dog. Gil was moving so quickly, however, snarling so ferociously, that Pete couldn't get a grip on him. His fingers couldn't catch on that wiry coat and kept slipping off.

So I kicked him again, yelling Gil's name, demanding he sit. He snapped at my shoe, leapt at us again and wound up with my foot in his rib cage. Hard.

That got him. Gil fell over, which gave Pete time to throw himself on top of him and pull him away. Sarah was standing helplessly nearby holding Ross. I handed her Duncan's leash and stepped up to Pete, who held Gil but kept his head down.

"Put a goddamn leash on your goddamn dog!" I yelled. Pete didn't say anything, wouldn't even look up. "This is the fourth time your dog has attacked us. I'm sick of it! If I see him without a leash again I'll report you to the leasing office and the police."

Pete nodded but wouldn't meet my eyes. "I'm sorry," he said.

Sarah released Ross, who hurriedly sniffed Duncan to make sure he was okay. Sarah smiled a sad smile as I thanked her, took Duncan's leash and walked him home to inspect him. He was frothy with Gil spit but there wasn't any blood. I dried him off, we cuddled on the floor and all was well.

The next morning I actually felt bad for kicking Gil. I'm a dog lover and I kept replaying the scene in my head looking for some other way it could have been handled. Brady and Ruth both assured me I'd done the right thing, that the fault was with Pete for not leashing his dog. I agreed, but I kept wondering how I'd feel if I watched a stranger kick Duncan in the head and ribs. I finally decided that the next time I saw Pete I was going to talk with him, apologize for kicking Gil and work to reach a peaceful agreement.

And then came last night. We'd strolled down the Run, played in The Glen and were on our way home, skirting the edge of the winding yard where Gil roams, the once nameless grounds where Duncan and I used to watch bunnies in the morning, where he plays with Sophie, where we stood down a coyote. After two years of not knowing what to call it, I now call it The Lair.

Again, Gil appeared with Pete right behind him. I stopped and watched to see if Gil was finally wearing a collar or leash, neither of which he was. I stood dumbfounded as he trotted back and forth, head high, chasing a ball Pete was throwing. Then he stopped, turned and stared at us. I took a step back but Pete whistled and Gil sat down.

"Is he on a leash?" I asked.

Pete held up a leash, coiled around his hand but not attached to Gil. He dropped a bag of Gil shit in the garbage can, turned away and snarled at me over his shoulder, "Get fucked."

Apparently Pete doesn't play nice either and I no longer feel like apologizing.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I came to Pocatello--my first trip home in the summer months in five years-- for my twenty-year high school reunion, traveling across the windy and dust-blown Wyoming landscape with Ruth as my trusty navigator and Duncan as our loyal, panting backseat passenger, listening to 80’s tunes as we went. I have anticipated and planned last night for a very long time and although I’ve spent months exercising and eating well, doing my best to look and feel good, nothing could have prepared me for the quiet surprise of the evening. Even though Duncan was home with my mother, far away from Pocatello’s infamous Green T cowboy bar, he was very much with me.

I got out of Pocatello as quickly as I could manage. It is not a bad place, just not the kind of place that offers the sort of opportunities I’d imagined for myself. And although a part of me would love nothing more than to move back home to this quietly growing valley, I probably never will. It’s a safe place, a nice place to raise children, but between the dominant religious sect and political party I can’t really imagine making an entirely satisfying life for myself here, which is sometimes a very painful thing to realize, missing my family and friends as I do, wanting to lean on them when times are difficult, being unable to reach out for their embrace as often as I’d like. I have felt detached from home since that very first Christmas back from college when I realized that life and people move on with or without you, sometimes even in spite of you. The people I grew up with and have known since I was a very young child have become more than a bit of a mystery to me and there have been times when I have felt as though I don’t know my way around, don’t recognize a single face, have never lived here at all.

And then last night I stepped into my past the moment I stepped through the doors of that bar, coming face to face with all those people who I was sure had forgotten me, people I had somehow convinced myself flipped through the pages of the year book and paused on my photo only to think, “Who the hell is that?” It was like a waking dream and each step forward brought me into contact with people I was shocked to see and who were just as shocked to see me. As I moved through the crowd, stopping every few feet to speak with people, to hug old friends, to flirt and reminisce, the strangest, most unexpected thing kept popping up: people seemed to know Duncan just as well as they knew me--people I hadn’t seen or spoken with in ten and twenty years.

“I am so glad you’re here,” they said. “I’ve looked for you for years, and then suddenly I found your blog. I read about you and Duncan all the time! Did you bring him with you? Is he here in Pocatello?” I didn’t know how to react. The first time I was flattered but by the fifth or sixth time I started to feel overwhelmed. Not only did people remember me––had even searched for me, the quiet, shy drama geek––but they knew intimate details about my life, returned to this small, safe place on the internet to learn more and more about me, and had grown to love my very best friend in the whole world in ways I could not have foreseen.

Even though Duncan did not walk with me last night he was somehow still there, connecting me to my past and present in a startling and powerful way. And after it was over (my friends and I actually closed Pocatello’s premier cowboy bar, the place I’d been most terrified to set foot in!), after I’d driven home, overwhelmed and anxious for today’s events, Duncan was waiting for me, joyous and beautiful, sincere and loyal to his core.

I feel like the luckiest person in the world, for having a home to return to, for the people who remember me and enjoy spending time with me, for my incredible family and for the dog who loves me for everything I am and in spite of what I am not. I wish--almost desperately-- there was some way to tell him this, to make him understand how much he is loved, how firmly he has planted me in the world, how many words have been written about him, by myself and others, how greatly he is loved.

Perhaps I will take him for a walk and hope the sunshine and birdsong, the green on the hills and in the grass will whisper these things to him and bring as much joy to his heart as he has brought to mine.

Friday, July 17, 2009


It has been five years since I've been here, but I can not remember an Idaho summer this green. It is impossibly green for July, a green so thick and heavy that in some places the mountains appear nearly black, especially early in the morning or in the evening as the sun sinks into the reservoir west of the city. My corner of Idaho, the place I was born and raised, is a brown and yellow expanse of land, broken up by rolling hills and small mountains, heavy black chunks of lava rock and vast flowering potato fields. It is somehow desolate and comforting all at once.

My mother lives south of Pocatello on a nice chunk of land that backs up against the mountains. Her backyard is a mountain, dotted with tall clumps of sage and wide stands of juniper, with deep washes that run down either side of the property. Normally a visit this late in the summer finds the tall grass long since yellowed and crisp, the flowers faded and a bit wilted and the air sharp and hot in the lungs. This year, unlike any year I've known, heavy rains have fallen nearly every day, prolonging Spring and cooling what is typically an unbearable July, keeping the air fresh but dry, fragrant and easy on the nose. Everywhere I look I see green, tall and limber, as alive and tender as May.

Several weeks ago a massive storm gathered near The Gap, the place my mother lives where two mountain ranges come together, creating a narrow valley. Storms often move through the valley and meet these two enormous walls of land and rock and back up on themselves. But this storm swirled and grew in force until it erupted in one of the most fierce microbursts mom has ever seen. Flash floods raged all around as water spilled down the mountains and into the washes on both side of the house, flooding her backyard and running down into the street, which became a river.

Last night after Duncan and I arrived, tired from a long day's travel across Wyoming, we were warned to stay off the mountain because the flood pushed the snakes down lower than usual. My mother, working her amazing gardens and flowerbeds has encountered several, and the neighbors have reported killing rattlers. Duncan has never been to Pocatello in the summer,and his only experiences on the mountain have been in the deep snow. He loves it up there and I've been promising him we'd trek all over. Mom and Kevin's warning was more than a little disappointing.

This morning before I took Duncan for his walk, while mom was getting ready for work, she warned me again. "I wouldn't take him up there," she said. "He's just so curious and I'd hate for him to poke at a snake, especially a rattler."

I nodded and listened, but once she was gone, my dog gave me that look and so we grabbed Zeus, the friendly Shepherd pup from across the street and went up the hillside, running through the juniper, staying out of the sage where the ticks lurk, up and down the hill, back and forth. Duncan was ecstatic and it was all I could do to keep him close. I could stand and watch him run and explore for hours. His enthusiasm and appreciation for all things, old and new, is remarkable.

The morning eventually began to wear off and the sun grew hot. We climbed back down, south of the house to the road, where we walked down the middle, Duncan admiring the stink bugs scurrying for the grass line, and me admiring him.

And then there it was, spread out right in front of us, a long thin snake, tan with black diamonds on its back. I froze, gasped and being terrified of snakes, did a full body quiver. Duncan stopped and stared at the horses, oblivious to the snake directly in front of him. I tightened my grip on the leash and pulled him back close to me. I had no idea what kind of snake it was, and although I was pretty sure its tail didn't have a rattle, those diamonds made me nervous. The snake, of course, did not seem to even notice us. Its tongue spiked out once and only reacted when I moved my hand, sending a shadow across its field of vision, it reared back and looked right at us, capturing Duncan's attention. He bent forward and sniffed it's thin tail, nudging it with his nose, causing the thing to slither a few inches forward. Duncan's tail exploded in joy and he looked ready to pounce.

Duncan was convinced he'd found the ultimate stick, and before I could react, leaned down, scooped up its tail in his mouth and prepared to trot away. I yanked hard as the snake coiled up, startling him. He dropped it and leapt back, his eyes never leaving it as it slithered across the gravel and under a tall clump of lavender.

I could hardly wait to tell mom that the danger was not on the hillside but right in the middle of the road where she'd urged us to walk.

Monday, July 13, 2009

While Washing Duncan

I think Duncan rolled in something dead last night. If it wasn't dead it should've been. It certainly deserved to be.

But then if he hadn't rolled in whatever it was, I wouldn't have been mistaken for a twenty-two year old by the young man--nay, boy-- who worked at Wag 'N Wash where Duncan got his bath.

While my friend Rex and I stood outside chatting late last night, the dogs circled around the trees, mingling with the moths and occasionally vanishing into the shadows for a few moments at a time. Obidos, Rex's Chow/Shepherd/something else mix was good and stayed relatively close, coming when called and keeping his nose close to my pocket where I kept the bag of treats. Duncan, however, crawled down into the lower levels of Hell where he found the most disgusting thing imaginable and decided he wanted to share it with me, a surprise he waited to spring on me until he climbed into bed and nestled down against my pillow. Needless to say, he was banished from the room and pouted in the living room all night and well into the morning.

It has been a hectic day and the rest of the week promises to be just as crazy. You see, my friend Ruth is flying in from Minneapolis on Wednesday so that Thursday morning we can hop in the car and drive to Pocatello where we will celebrate our twenty year high school reunion. We're very excited, but of course these things tend to bring up some silly concerns about age and mortality and other such pleasantries. Naturally an adventure of this magnitude requires a lot of prep: an oil change, a car wash, a hair cut, cleaning of the apartment, laundry, packing, making arrangement for Ken to tend to the cats, and all the rest of it. Discovering that your best friend smells like rotting carcas dipped in Linden dust tends to alter the plans considerably.

So tonight, after working late and missing my chance to get an oil change, I raced home, grabbed Duncan, took him to Hero's to buy enough raw food to see him through our trip home, and then headed to Wag 'N Wash where I discovered I'd missed the last chance to give him a bath. I pleaded, offered to clean up my station and gave them the best puppy dog eyes I could manage, even explaining that this was the one chance I had before tossing him into my car for a nine hour drive to southeast Idaho. Finally, in utter desperation I made them actually sniff him, at which point they cracked under the pressure and gave me a tub, a hose and a supply of freshly washed towels.

And while I washed Duncan, spraying him and kissing his nose as he whined and looked at me like I was torturing him, the nicest young man--nay, boy--made our acquaintance, offering a few pointers and helpful tips while standing awfully close and asking all sorts of questions,which eventually led to me revealing I was venturing home to attend my twenty-year high school reunion.

He cocked his head. "You graduated in '89?" he asked. His eyes grew wide and he stepped back. "That's the year my parents graduated."

It was almost like getting kicked in the nuts, only not as pleasant.

"Sorry, man," he stammered. "I thought for sure you were my age, maybe a little older. Seriously. I thought you were twenty-two."

"You're very kind," I told him. "But you're too late."

"I'm eighteen, " he offered and I pretended not to know what he really meant. And even though I can still hear those words ringing in my ears, That's the year my parents graduated-- a sound not unlike the time I hit an elk and heard the imagined echoing crunch as it smashed against the side of my car for weeks afterward--I have to admit I smiled all the way out the door, Duncan, clean and fluffy, prancing at my side.

It may have been twenty years since I was in high school, but I still have it. Oh yeah.

Now if only I can find the time to get an oil change.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Goodbye Riley

My heart is breaking a little bit this morning. Last night we learned that Riley, Duncan's oldest friend, crossed The Rainbow Bridge suddenly and unexpectedly.

It was four years ago this week that Riley, who I'd known casually for some time, came to stay with us while Heather and Emma, his companions, were out of town. He was a big dog, wide and tall with a slow, lackadaisical gate and a face and heart that were without malice. He was a cuddler and one of the sweetest creatures I've ever wrapped my arms around and snuggled my chest and face into. He and Duncan hit it off right away, and although Duncan was still very much a puppy at the time, Riley was kind and patient with him, firm and also fun and a bit mischievous.

Over the course of the four days Riley stayed with us, he taught Duncan every one of the bad habits my boy now possess: climbing up on the counter, begging for food with the droopiest, saddest, most malnourished puppy dog eyes possible, barking at the door, chasing the cats. Most of them I have worked hard on removing, but when Dunc is sly it's because the Riley in him is coming out.

Last night I returned home to learn that Riley was gone Heather had found him on his side, his breathing labored. He was rushed to the vet where he passed shortly after arriving. When Heather called me we spent a good long time together crying and I told her, "He was so brave and strong for you. He didn't want you to worry about him and he didn't want to leave without saying goodbye. In a way, this was his final gift to you. He was very brave."

It was ten years ago this week that Ken and I moved to Colorado, leaving our two Goldens, Nikki and Ashley, with his family. We were dogless and miserable. Riley was the first Golden we got to spend time with, the first dog we befriended before bringing Duncan home. He loved us and gave us exactly what we needed when our hearts were sick from the absence of our own dogs. I will always be grateful to him for that, even when Duncan tries to sneak some food or puts his paws on my counter. From now on out, each time he does, rather than scold him I'll say hello to Riley and send a little blessing in his direction.

"All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle." (Saint Francis of Assisi)