Saturday, February 28, 2009

Grapes and Raisins

I'm sure most of you know how deadly grapes and raisins can be to your animal companion, but just in case I wanted to remind you again. Not only should you not feed your dog either of these things but you should be ever vigilant and mindful of any products you keep in your home which may contain them. Most of us are very attentive to our pets but accidents happen to the best of us, as I can attest after the nearly fatal Great Yarn Crisis of 2006.

Recently my friend Traci, a former professional dog walker and devoted companion to two Beagles, Murphy and Chloe, suffered a scare when Murphy got into a bag of raisin bread. Luckily Traci was home when it happened and was able to quickly induce vomiting, which probably saved Murphy's life. She rushed him to the ER, where he was given two charcoal treatments and had fluids administered. Traci made eight different trips to the vet in three days and had to learn to give poor Murphy subcutaneous injections after his IV was removed. Needless to say it was a difficult week for both of them and even though it looks as though Murphy will be fine Traci has been blaming herself for the entire incident. She shouldn't, of course, because none of us can anticipate what our pets will do or try or get into. All we can do is learn from others and make small adjustments in our own homes.

Traci urged me to remind everyone that danger lurks in the most unlikely places (raisin bread is a double whammy because of the raisins and the sugars, which can cause pancreatitis) and adamantly insists, "The earlier treatment begins the greater the chances are for a complete recovery. Don't wait for symptoms to begin. It can take 48 to 72 hours for the kidneys to show signs of toxicity. By that time, it may be too late." Make sure you know where to locate the closest animal ER in your area and keep your vet's contact information where it will be handy (mine is programmed into both my cell phone and land line).

If you have any questions about what not to feed the dogs in your life a simple internet search will turn up a wealth of information, or you can click here for a quick list of things to avoid giving your animal friends.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Walk with Grandma

It was warm today with a donut sky, a big swath of blue ringed by a wide band of clouds which seemed content to swirl around us without ever quite swallowing our patch of sunshine. It was windy, however. A cold wind, the kind that left the fetal folds of my ears feeling bruised and as heavy as stone while the tender pink insides stung and throbbed as though they'd been filled with sand or angry bees. It was a grimacing wind, forcing a pained and rabid smile across my face and my teeth still ache as though I've bitten straight down into hard vanilla ice cream. Even the bottoms of my feet, which were covered by heavy socks and thick rubber soles, are cold, especially the very tips of my big toes. I wonder, on walks like this, when the wind has stripped and plucked the weakest branches from the trees, scattering them across the brittle yellow grass, how Duncan can love it so much, how his tender paws––which feel like soft, stern pillows against my cheeks when we cuddle or wrestle–– can be strong enough to endure the rough cold of the road or the bite of the twigs as they snap beneath him. But there is joy in each step he takes, joy and work, and that's what got me thinking about the hardest walk I've made.

Today would've been my grandmother's eightieth birthday. As Duncan and I trudged across the park, leaning into and cursing the wind even as I said a quiet blessing for the sunshine, which has only recently reappeared on our evening walks, I thought of my last walk with Grandma, which was probably the most important walk we shared. She was an expert at walking and taught me an appreciation for the slow journey and all the unfoldings it can offer our senses. Unlike the rest of my family, I never really enjoyed fishing, unless, of course, I landed one. On most of our family outings Grandma kept me occupied, making the best peanut butter and raspberry sandwiches I've ever had, telling long stories about my mother and uncles, the farm they'd all lived on when the family was young and new, the animals they'd loved and cared for. And we'd walk. While Grandpa was fly-fishing downstream of us, Grandma would lead me down a rutted dirt road, the thick smell of mint rising up as loudly as the horse flies and cicadas which droned insanely from their unseen perches in the trees and undergrowth. It was on those walks she taught me to be vigilant for the deer, which became a sort of trademark of our bond. She taught me to listen and to hum and to tell stories with her.

Her death was a very difficult experience for me but when I was asked to deliver her eulogy I was able to take the lessons she'd taught me and share them with the rest of the family. It was an excruciatingly hot July day so I retreated to my special spot in the mountains south of Pocatello, climbed a hill and settled down under a tall pine on a low rock with a bed of cracked and broken shale spread out around me. With only the sound of the bees and the breeze running down the valley before me, I found the kind of words I think Grandma would've been proud of, words which as hard as they were to speak, brought a silent and tremendous joy to my heart.

It was the last walk which was the most difficult. I hadn't expected to be a pallbearer, and was shocked to see my name included on the list of cousins at the bottom of the program. It was not something I wanted to do and rebelled at the thought. Writing and speaking the eulogy, keeping my composure when all I wanted to do was shout and cry, seemed more than enough for one person to do. I could not imagine carrying her coffin to its spot on the hillside which overlooked the valley where she grew up. I refused and threw what was the last tantrum of my adult life, until my friend Mike called and explained that I should look on it as an honor, to carry her on the last walk we would share. And so I did it, my cousins at my side. We lifted the casket from the car and moved solemnly across the grass to her spot in the shade under a tall tree. I remember each and every step we took and the weight, not just of her dazzling white casket, but of every memory and emotion I carried with me on that hot afternoon, of the faces gathered around watching, the hands clasped tightly together, the heat and perspiration running in a straight line from my collar down my spine.

Duncan entered our lives shortly after my grandmother died and I have been walking nearly every day since, not with the same heaviness of heart, but with the same attention to detail Grandma inspired in me on all those walks all those years ago. And on days like today, when the sun is bright but the wind in our faces is bitter and ornery, when every thought somehow finds its way back to the absence of her, I can take comfort in the details, in humming a little song as I go, in the light dancing through and playing with the wild hair at Duncan's ears and the curls across his back. There is solace and peace in every step we take.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Feel of the World

I have been sick and not excited about leaving the safe confines of my couch, wrapped in my unzipped sleeping bag, surrounded by a platoon of tissue boxes, a vapor rub jar, glasses and mugs with the residue of licorice tea and orange juice ringing their bottoms. It was a sudden thing, this sinus condition of mine, and although not the worst, bad enough that it knocked me off my feet for three days and has now taken up residence in my chest, where it likes to remind me of its presence with a pounding cough that hurts my ribs and the muscles of my back. Duncan and the cats have been kind and generous, camping out with me, manning their posts at various stations along my body, from my ankles all the way up to the crook made when my chin and chest almost meet.

It was only with some reluctance that Duncan and I ventured out today, our first walk since Sunday night when the sky seemed so beautiful, Orion lazing on his back as he dipped into the west, Venus long since gone and the sky awash with innumerable nameless points of light. The day looked colder than it actually felt, but I was hurried and hacking, still weak and not at all invigorated by Duncan's tug down the path. Still, once we settled into the spot on the edge of the lake where we can watch the ducks and listen to the geese mimic the occasional pounding of my lungs, I felt invigorated at the sight of him turning his face into the breeze, dry and cool, and only slightly French-fry-scented. He closed his eyes and smiled and for those few seconds I remembered what it was like to be well and to love the feel of the world around me.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rat Dogs & Fluff

I am not a lover of all dogs. Not by a long shot. I try, and every dog gets the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes even I have to draw the line. Take for instance The Shepherds who menaced us in the park last year, or The Hyenas who live right across the hall, an angry looking duo made up of a squat gray Dalmatian with red eyes, bowed fore legs and tall, wide shoulders, and her sister, a white Canaan, dwarfish and vaguely Shepherd-looking. Both growl and froth at the mouth each time they see or hear us coming, which is quite often. They moved in late last Spring and their companion––a man who is eerily friendly one moment and completely indifferent the next––and I have spent much of our walk time avoiding one another. They are the kind of dogs who squeeze their heads through the railings on their patio and begin yowling and foaming at the mere sight of anyone, or climb onto the low window sills to scratch and bark and smear the glass with spittle each time Duncan and I venture out late at night for one last bathroom stop. I've been told they're very friendly, but only after they establish dominance over every other dog they come in contact with. Needless to say, we steer clear.

More often than not, though, the troublemakers are the Rat Dogs and the small fluffy four-legged rugs who sniff and pull and yip excitedly. When we first moved here the complex seemed a big dog haven, with countless Boxers and Labs, a few Mastiffs, innumerable Goldens, even a Saint Bernard and a Great Dane. Now, however, I feel as though we've been invaded by rabid rodents and aggressive living things no bigger than the hairballs coughed up by my cats, toy poodles, Shiz-Zus and Chiuauas, Schnauzers, Pekingese, Maltese and Jack Russell Terriers, all whom strain toward us on their leashes as we pass, barking in the highest of pitches which echo and make a peaceful walk all but impossible. It is rare that a dog doesn't like Duncan and he loves almost every one we pass, but its become apparent that the big dogs, who are content to exchange butt-sniffs and begin the easy business of play are our friends, while The Rats and Fluff are not. They wear their Napoleonic Complexes of their collars and rush at us, jumping and lunging as though defying the laws of the universe which created them, eager to prove they are not just paper weights or dust mops imbued with precious life. They are angry little things and eager to share it and I am tired of watching my big-hearted wonderful dog get nipped at on the cheeks or throat as he attempts to maneuver around their insane and wicked dancing attacks.

Just this morning a woman somehow lost control of of her Dachsund, which chased after us, leapt into Duncan's face and nipped at his cheeks until he backed himself between my legs and hid behind me while I leaned down and scolded the obnoxious little brute. The woman, who was slow to approach us, actually seemed annoyed that I'd used my Grown Up Voice to reprimand her dog and stop him from attacking mine.

Obviously there are nice Rat and Fluff dogs out there, but it's been a very long time since we've encountered one on our walks, which only makes me work harder to remember that dogs are merely extensions of the time and love their human companions put into them.

Another lesson in patience, I guess. For both Dunc and me.

Monday, February 9, 2009

While Walking in Dreams

And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life? (Mary Oliver)

The grass is golden and tall, reaching nearly to my hip, and in some places where perhaps water has pooled and trickled through shallow channels, it rises even taller, to the middle of my chest, reaching with spindly fingers to the soft place just beneath my arms where it hopes to coax and tickle a smile from my lips. But I am not smiling, not entirely, only the smile of one who walks with his face pointed directly into the sun, squinted and necessary, almost uncomfortable were it not for the joy of the heat kissing my cheeks and lips. The sky is blue, cool and frosty, not Summerish in its delight, but tinted and artificial, distant, something that clings, like dust motes in the thick air of a tightly cluttered space. My hands are flat out at my sides and my passing stirs the long grass around me, the tall blades reach up to brush against the flat warm terrain of my palms, a map of valleys and canyons, wide plains, forgotten winding paths that end subtly, vanishing as the last song on an album fades further and deeper into silence. There is a soft wind, and although the field around me stirs and undulates, rising and falling in wide waves, there is no sound, just the sound of my feet on the earth and my breath in my ears. My pocket is heavy and deep with a few of the things I hold most precious. When I reach into it my fingers are able to discern the names of the things without pulling them free for my eyes to dance across: the sound of a flock of night-flying geese skimming the upper surface of a low cloud beneath which I stand, the silver shimmer of mist caught in low clumps of wet morning grass, the fat round face of a full moon peeking through the clouds on the eastern horizon, the spearmint and perfume scent of my grandmother's purse, a photo of Ken's shadow-dappled face taken on the bank of the river up Boulder Canyon, the color of my mother's yard under the Christmas lights, the rabid laughter of Kevi when she's on a roll and the gentle hmmmm of Ruth when she listens to me talk of fears and sadness, every word written by Mary Oliver, the steps of the kittens when they climb onto my back, turn in a circle and settle down in tight little balls between my shoulder blades. The other pocket is empty so there is plenty of room for the scent of the Linden and Russian Olive trees, the bounce of the road on my bike ride to work, the feeling of Ken's hand in mine, the bubbled laughter and songs of the children I may or may not get to have, shooting stars and the wishes bound to them. When my fingers fumble in all that empty space my pace quickens, the walk becomes a jog and then a crouching run and from somewhere close by I hear a steady rush, movement through the grass, which seems to whisper my location and give me away. I smile and run harder, one hand clutching the pocket, careful to keep the call of the geese safely tucked inside. I stumble but the grass catches me, is cool against my face, a thousand tiny fingers massaging my scalp, the back of my arms, stealing peeks down my collar. The rushing is close, coming faster and I give up crawling and hiding and roll onto my back, the blue of the air obscured by the gold of the grass, and then Duncan has found me, his tongue big and pink, his eyes brown and joyous as they push through the field, dragging the rest of him behind. He sees me, does that little leap of his where his front feet leave the ground for only a moment, as if dancing, and then falls onto my chest, the long red hair at his neck pushing into my face, his scent filling my nostrils, the cold of his nose a chill across my neck into my ear.

And as the dream ends I think, there are many things I want, and may even need, but for now I am content in the love of such a good dog.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another Evolution

The world feels as though it is slowly greening up around me but having lived in Denver for the past nine and a half years I know better than to trust the weather. We folk on the edge of the Front Range have enjoyed seventy-degree temperatures for the past week, sitting out on the grass in our t-shirts and shorts, taking long lunches outside in the shade of our naked trees, biking to work. It has been a bittersweet heaven and there has been something almost rabid in our enjoyment of it because we know it will not last. A few months from now while the rest of the world is warming up and basking in the delicious golden glow of the sun we will be hunkered down under feet of snow and fierce winds desperately clinging to the memory of our brief January and February springtime.

Duncan and I have walked for hours and hours, across the park, where the shirtless boys have gathered at the skate park, showing off for the girls who snap their gum and twist their hair around their nervous fingers while they watch. Bees and fat hairy flies have suddenly appeared, flying recklessly, sometimes smacking right into us before bouncing away. The little birds practically scream their joy from the barren branches outside my windows, which sit open, wide and cool and fresh, filling my apartment with skittish hope. We have walked down Leawood, examining the dry hard patches which will soon overflow with flowers and clover and lavender and make nice little resting spots for the bunnies Duncan loves so much. Duncan and I are perfect companions for we both crave attention to detail nearly as much as air and water and sleep. We take our time, going slow, stopping to check in with each other and share in our discoveries. The world may be evolving around us, but we are in no hurry to reach a destination. After all, it's the journey that matters most, fair or foul weather.

I'm not sure how much longer we'll be here. Ken and I have decided we need to move to a smaller apartment in an effort to save money and although I hope we don't venture too far from where we live now, I'm not sure my windows will continue to overlook the park and lake we have explored and watched over in the dark months and have grown to love so deeply during the light ones. Duncan––who has spent the past two years memorizing the places where the bunnies roost and the trees where the squirrels squat and scream down at us––may have to coax the secrets from a whole new setting, and although it will be tiring and tedious work I'm sure he's up for the task. I've never known him to shy away from exploration. More often than not it's Dunc who has to guide me through the process. The world evolves and pushes on and as challenging as that can sometimes be I would grow quite bored if it didn't.

For now, though, we'll continue to do what we do, walking every morning and afternoon, taking our time along the low hedges and the the gnarled tree trunks along out path, paying special attention to the fattening moon in the afternoon sky and the dimpled edges where the craters seem to jut out beyond her edges. We will walk and breath in this deep woodsy and red-scented earth and witness the world change and change back again all around us, each step a memento of the journey we've made together and a promise of steps still to come.

"There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one another; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." (Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Halo at Thirty-Eight

Some days are better than others, that much is clear. Today––my birthday––was spent, not at a party and certainly not watching The Football Show, but with Duncan, celebrating in the quietest and most simple of ways, enjoying the sunshine both outside and in, alongside the cats, who found patches of light and curled up like golden gumdrops in the window sills, under the table, on pillows. It was not quite the day I'd hoped for, but in its own way it was perfect and complete, with patches of magic scattered throughout. And I was reminded that even on these less memorable days, when it seems the world has somehow forgotten us, or we have forgotten it, when adventure takes a back seat to chores, domesticity and the minutiae of every day life, there are halos if only we remember to look in the right places.

They are everywhere.