Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Marked Man

I was late getting home. First I had my boot camp class right after work, then I was forced to stop by the store to grab the pack of Nutter Butters I've been craving all week, and then, because I didn't go yesterday, I had to run to Hero's to pick up food for Duncan. By the time I got home it was dark and Duncan was more than ready to walk.

It was a lovely night, warm and windless. The sky was deep purple, tinged with city-light orange on the horizon but clear and starry deep in its middle where it counts most. The elms, white and stark, and almost completely naked, rose up around the park's perimeter like giant skeletal hands pointing out the lowering Dipper and returning Orion. Far to the north, and just beginning to peek over the western mountains, is the front that brought sleet and snow to southeast Idaho this morning, the same one that will make tomorrow cold and wet. But tonight was perfect and even though my legs were already stiffening up and I desperately needed a shower, I didn't mind an extra long walk with Roo around the baseball diamonds, up to the lake, and then back down to see the bunnies.

Not long into our walk, though, we ran into The Shepherds, who have formed an alliance with every other shepherd and their companion who walk the park. They travel in an enormous pack, sometimes exceeding six or seven dogs, not all shepherds but almost all of whom are big and off leash. So far none of the other dogs have been hostile, but I still feel nervous when our paths cross, especially since it's obvious they've all been told who I am.

The pack split up, but one shepherd and a poodle remained. They trotted up to us and immediately leaned into me when I knelt down to pet them. Duncan sniffed each in turn while both dogs happily licked my face and hands, sniffed my pockets for the organic wild boar treats I keep in there, and doted on me. Roo paced nervously around us, trying to step in, trying to win back my attention, but when that didn't work he did the only thing he could thing of: he raised his leg and pissed all over me.

Not them. Not the cinnamon shepherd who smelled like lavender and wanted nothing more than to press herself against me while her companions watched. Not the black poodle, who kept thrusting her Frisbee into my hand in the vain hope that I would toss it for her to chase after.

No, Duncan stood right next to me and let fly with a hot stream of urine, which zigged up my rib cage to my neck, zagged across my arm and chest, and then dribbled down onto my legs.

Both dogs instantly backed away and Duncan moved right in, rolling into me, pushing his face into my legs and sliding as much of his body against the dry side of me as possible.

He is not mine. We are not each others.

I am his.

Point made.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tail Held High

Duncan is full of lessons, some more obvious than others.

As the leaves have begun to change, coloring our walks through The Run in ambers and reds, my heart has been breaking for the familiar heat and burn, the scents and noise of summer. Duncan, though, ambles through the shrubs, sniffing out the trunks of the trees while catching burs and thorns in his coat, soaking his face in the morning dew and caking his narrow paws in mud. I slip and slide on the wet grass and shiver in the cold, cursing my lack of a private yard, wishing I could hunker down with a cup of tea for a few more minutes before heading off to work. But Dunc is always happy, squirrel or no squirrel, mud or not. His head may be low, his face drenched, but there's always a very obvious joy about him.

Kind of makes me wish I had a tail. Just to wave it and share with all the world. How wonderful life would be. And perhaps Autumn would be a bit more bearable.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Not Tonight

It has been gray and dreary and the clouds have been low enough that the geese are able to fly unseen through the mist, the heavy beat of their wings the only sound they make as they pass overhead. It has been a week of cold mornings, followed by windy nights which have shaken the buttery leaves from the elms, scattering them across the damp grass. Piss elms, we call them back home, because they are scrawny and spring up like weeds, but also because they are pungent and unpleasant to smell when burned. The Run is littered with them, now nearly naked, their rat-tail boughs and branches lonely against the hollow blue of the September sky. Duncan does not notice as he has been very busy--almost desperate--to tree the squirrels who undulate like sea serpents through the tall grass and the quilting of fallen leaves when he chases them. But I notice, first in the mornings when the crisp air drives the sleep from my eyes and then again in the evenings when the early darkness and smell of warm fireplaces makes me remember all my Autumns past.

Tonight, coming home to a dark apartment, cold because I refuse to turn the heat on, Duncan and Olive met me at the door, sitting as though they'd been there for an hour, shifting restlessly from one hip to the other, glancing at each other as though to say, "It won't be long now" and "Soon." Olive entwined herself around my ankles and Duncan grasped the cuff of my jacket in his warm mouth and the two of them led me to the bedroom where I kicked off my shoes and laid back on the pillows, still warm from where Winnie and Pip had nestled all afternoon. Duncan curled beside me, resting his chin on my shoulder so he could watch my eyes. Olive climbed onto my chest where she touched her forehead to my face, dipping her nose against my lips, purring softly and kneading my chest.

They know how hard Autumn is for me, especially this year. And as we cuddled on the bed, the light yellowing behind the low snow clouds already spilling down the foothills, they both seemed to tell me that tonight was mine, that tonight the wind could tap against the windows and the snow could fall, but they would keep me warm, and their gentleness would soothe these autumn pangs.

Monday, September 7, 2009


I could have been killed--or at least seriously wounded--while my best friend pranced around gaily, his tail wagging as I floundered in the tall grass, my last breath spent calling for help.

The Run, that narrow strip of land at the back side of our apartment complex which borders the golf course, is not all frolicking dragonflies and dew-sprinkled purple flowers. The morning and evening sun is faint but sweet and the silence is welcome as I trudge along behind Duncan as he snorts through the thick hedges, chasing squirrels up trees and batting at the honey bees who hover over the wild daisies. It's a beautiful little spot which ends at The Glen, where we toss a tennis ball or lay on the hillside watching the clouds drift lazily by above the aspens, but it's more wild and dangerous than I'd ever considered.

This afternoon while Duncan danced against the side of an elm in search of a squirrel who'd only narrowly escaped his clumsy bounding, I stood off by myself, a leash in one hand, a doggy bag in the other, softly singing Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" and watching the sun sprinkle across the whispy grass and knotted tree trunks. Just when I'd reached that part of the song about the boy being "a little shy and sad of eye but very wise," I heard a strange popping noise in the tree above my head, sharp and fast like a brisk knock at a door. I looked up, momentarily dazzled by speckles of sunlight through the thinning elm leaves and saw the source of the disruption.

I stepped aside as a golf ball ricocheted through the branches and landed heavily against a rolling root, bouncing once before pitching through the grass where it struck the toe of my shoe and finally came to a stop. Duncan immediately lost interest in the squirrel and scooped up the ball in his mouth. It was not the first he's claimed on our walks through The Run--I have a drawer full of the things despite the fact that I don't let him play with them. I reached for him but he danced away and I chased after, finally pulling the sloppy wet thing from his mouth and tucking it into my pocket.

A moment later a second ball crashed through the trees, this one landing directly where I'd been standing only moments before. Duncan lunged for it, but I'd leashed him and pulled him quickly away. As we jogged back home, a dragonfly hovering just over my shoulder, I thought of all the balls we've recovered over the summer, the ones we've stumbled upon without giving the slightest thought as to where they came from, as though garden gnomes dropped them in the wee hours of the morning with the hope that we'd find them. Or the mornings I've sat at my desk nursing a cup of tea while Bob Dylan, Neko Case or The Old Crow Medicine Show played on the stereo, the cats sprawled at my feet in the sunshine, our heavy and well-earned peace rudely broken by the sudden thump of something striking the building not far from my window, a loud thumps that scatters the cats and shakes my art, makes my hand tremble around my mug while Roo whines and peeks meekly out the window.

I thought Gil and The Shepherds were the most we had to contend with. Nope, now we have to worry about golf balls. Killer golf balls raining from the sky.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dunc!

"We are always the same age inside." (Gertrude Stein)

It was Duncan's birthday today so we stopped by Hero's and picked up a new rope toy and a Bully Stick, which is now gone, along with the oatmeal cupcake Chelsea slipped him. After that it was a walk around the lake in the sunshine, a quick, mad rush at a flock of ducks resting on the shore and dinner at home. I made him the same "cake" as last year, although I swapped the raw chicken for rabbit, and topped it with rice, fresh blueberries and drizzles of chocolate. He could hardly contain himself and even let me put a new homemade hat on while he licked the remainder from his nose and cheeks.

Happy birthday, Duncan. Papa loves you with all his heart!