Sunday, March 29, 2009

I Will Walk

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After the washer and drier have been hoisted up three flights of narrow stairs, the couch and armoire and every other heavy piece of furniture I own lugged up after them, after the countless over-packed boxes of books, kitchen gadgets, clothing, desk junk, CDs and DVDs, and every other manner of minutiae clogging my life have been tossed into their respective rooms to be opened and sorted, after all the good, kind people who have squeezed my shoulder, offered hugs, listened while I struggled through this have gone, after Mom and Casey––who traveled all this way to lend their support and muscle, to be here for me when I needed them most, enduring the snow and the cold and the treacherous roads––have climbed into their rented Jeep and driven away, leaving me once again alone in a parking lot watching them turn the corner and slip from view, what do I do?

I stood a long time in the parking lot yesterday, the near-constant drip of melting ice and snow playing like a percussive symphony all around me. I remembered that afternoon in Lake Forest seventeen years ago, after the three of us had driven across the country to deliver me to the college of my choosing. After unpacking my room and meeting my roommate they gave me my hugs, tried their hardest to hide their tears and then climbed into the car and drove away, leaving me to build an entire life from nothing. This time, though, things were different; I had a life of my own, but as I climbed those thirty-seven stairs and came into my apartment, the sun sitting on the downward side of its westerly travels, its light spraying my office and living room in deep gold, I couldn't seem to remember exactly what it was and I didn't know exactly what to do with it.

What do you do when everything you know and love seems so far away, when the objects you've surrounded yourself with seem like empty relics and you can't quite remember what they meant or why? I stood for a long time––an hour maybe––trying to remember who I was and what I was supposed to do, feeling more than seeing the sun sink below the jagged line of the mountains, casting my small corner of the world into cool, blue shadow.

It took a long time, working through the numb and then the anger and sadness, but eventually I remembered. At least one little part of it.

I did what I always do. I walked with my best friend, let him lead me across the street to the park where he entertained me with rolls through the snow, snorting and cavorting as though everything would somehow, in some nearly inconceivable way be alright again. If not now, soon.

And when Duncan and I returned to this new home, I dug through boxes until I found the first piece of this new life puzzle––a Christmas gift from my mother––and I hung it on the wall in the door exactly where it belongs.

And somehow it made things a little better.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Today Sue at Random Ramblings tagged me to name seven things I love (she thought it would make me feel better and already my heart is a little warmer). Thanks for thinking of me, Sue!

In no particular order, here are seven things I love (not most, just love):
  • Obviously I love my family, especially the memories we have shared, from my mother removing her sunglasses and handing me a can of beer in order to retrieve our dog Skeeter from the murky depths of the Blackfoot Reservoir, to Casey singing songs we made up while riding in our camper on weekend getaways when we were young. I love Kevin's laugh and his dislike for mushrooms and chocolate.
  • My kids, Winnie, Pip, Olive, and, of course, Duncan.
  • Idaho in the early summer, when the mountains are still green and the smell of sage and Russian Olive trees rise up all around.
  • I love my best friends in the whole world: Ruth, who spends her time super-heroing with me in our off-hours; Kevi, whose stories of food poisoning in foreign locations remind me to never take myself too seriously; David, for being my Jewish mama; Jen, for being able to harmonize to anything, including a fart; and Kelly, my "Good Friend."
  • My Illinois restaurants, The Hoagie Hut in Highwood, where it's best to order a cheese-steak, bacon hoagie and a medium root beer, and Salutos, where everything is good, especially the salad.
  • The magic of words, making my own, as well as those of others, such as Tom Spanbauer, Mary Oliver, Tim Muskat, Phil Simmons, Michael Cunningham, Jonathan Franzen, Michael Chabon, Geoffrey Eugenides and John Irving.
  • Ken, with all my heart.
And because seven is simply too small a number I've also thrown in some random loves: peanut sauce, new socks, clean sheets, Orion and Venus, tres leches, butterflies and dragonflies, the music of Patty Griffin, the quiet moment of darkness before the sun rises when all the world is holding its breath, Egg Foo Yung, the Grand Canyon, riding my bike down a hill in the sunshine, a brand new pack of Sharpie markers, how much Duncan loves Brady, writing about, campaigning door to door and voting for Barack Obama, the French Quarter, Devil's Tower, Miss Katie's Diner in Milwaukee, acupuncture, and more things than I could name.

And now to pick seven other blogs to tag. You know the drill: once you've been tagged you have to pass it along to seven others.

Property of Kelly
Fermented Fur
The Midnight Garden
Mackenzie Speaks!
A Red Dog in the Red Rocks
Life is Golden

Thank you, Sue, for including me and making me think of the things I love most. It's easy to forget when life does that thing it occasionally does.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Conspiracy of Rabbits

Duncan and I were out at a little past six this morning. I'd left the office window cracked open a bit and the air was warm enough that I didn't need a jacket. And even though it was still mostly dark, I could see the rabbits on the other side of the window. There were three huddled along the fence directly behind my apartment, all watching through the glass as Duncan watched me pull on my socks and shoes. They were nearly invisible, dim gray humps against the yellow grass and Duncan would not have noticed them except that when we appeared outside their ears perked up and their bodies went stiff. Duncan tensed, slid into his sleek hunter pose and led me slowly toward them, his feet lifting slowly in the air and almost trembling with anticipation as he stepped forward and brought them back down. It was too early for games so all three bunnies darted through the grass and across the parking lot to the small oasis of green which winds between the three buildings across from our own.

We followed slowly behind, Duncan pulling hard on his leash while I keep murmuring, "Poop. Go poop, Roo." He would have none of it, focused as he was on the bouncing white moons of the retreating rabbits. We crossed after them and as we neared the corner of the closest building we stopped long enough for Duncan to sniff a shrub and raise his leg over it. I squinted into the dim morning and spotted our three rabbits not far away, and just beyond them three more. All six seemed alert, but none of them were paying any attention to us.

And then there was pandemonium like I hadn't expected. The three rabbits closest bolted straight at us, the three beyond them close behind. Duncan jerked, stopped peeing and lunged forward around the corner of the building in time to spot four or five more rabbits charging directly at us, their ears back tight, their bodies sleek as they bounded, hardly touching the ground. I took a step back, startled, wondering if after months of chasing them across the park and all over our property, if the rabbits hadn't held a council and reached some sort of consclusion regarding the fate of Duncan and his companion. Had they lain in wait, plotting, lead us into an ambush? And what exactly would that entail? How much damage could a small herd of rabbits do to a person? I didn't have long to think as they swept around us for Duncan reared up and lunged and a moment later the coyote appeared.

He was in a dead run, chasing rabbits, snapping at them as he went. He was big, taller than Duncan, and very white with spatters of gold and grey along his back and head. But his tongue was wide and pink and lolled out of his mouth in a way that reminded me of Duncan when he chases the raindrops. The rabbits, trapped between us, paused for only a moment and then decided to take their chance with Duncan and me. They skidded past and around the building, scattering under the bushes, making for the other side of the fence. The coyote stopped and stared, maybe twenty feet away.

Duncan didn't know what to make of him, and after our long visit to The Ponds last night, I'm sure he thought he was about to make a new friend. I, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was and didn't like the nearness of him, the look in his eyes, which alternated between playful puppy and feral animal. He simply stared for a long time and when Duncan whined, wagged his tail and pulled on his leash, the coyote retreated a few steps, but all too soon leaned far forward on his long legs and sniffed. I could see his nostrils undulating as he took us in. He took a single step forward before I reacted.

The only thing I could remember about wildness encounters was about mountain lions but I figured, why not. I raised my arms high above my head and in a very low, and very absurd voice, moaned loudly, a deep gutteral Dickensian-ghostly sound that surprised even me. The coyote flinched and darted away, looking back once over his shoulder as he loped off. And once he'd gone I'm sure I felt the eyes of countless rabbits on us, breathing a soft sigh of relief, perhaps reevaluating their earlier plans.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Walking Away

Early this morning, before the sky had turned blue and was still playing with pinks and golds, before the soccer and baseball crowds claimed the entirety of the park for themselves, the geese and gulls wandered freely, paddling along the shore of the lake, waddling across the fields still covered by their fading, crumbling tootsie roll droppings. It was nice to see the gulls, to sit on the hillside above the water and watch them hover over the shore, the cuh-reek cuh-reek of their voices echoing off the trees and the backs of the strip malls which line the north shore. Duncan rolled in the loose yellow grass, pleased with the way it clung to him, snorting joyously when it refused to be shaken loose, even after I slid my hand along his back to brush it away. He'd found a nice stick and pranced around, plopping down next to me occasionally before galloping off again.

I watched the geese, their comings and goings, the way they flocked together in tight groups and seemed to follow one another as they plodded through the muddy bank then up the grass and into the dim promise of the slow-to-rise sun. They did not venture far from one another as they waded through the flocks and seeing them was a bit like watching the families which fill the playground each afternoon: Father and Mother drive up, unload the strollers and toys and lead their flock of children to the red, yellow and blue plastic behemoth assembled in a pit of wood chips and sand. And when it's time to go Father and Mother gather them all again and herd them back to the van.

The geese, though, after sticking so closely to the same three or four others, eventually drift apart, losing them amid the crowd, and while they may crane their heads back and forth for a bit, barking for their lost friends, even that seems to grow wearisome. By the time a loose golden lab charged down the hill at them, shattering the flock into pieces and driving them into the air above our heads, I was pretty sure their old acquaintances meant nothing, had been forgotten in the rush of flight. I watched one group veer toward the golf course and another head south, perhaps as far as the reservoir at Chatfield. And I wondered, do they pine for the friendships they made on this morning? Do they even remember?

It all seems so casual, these animal relationships, the meeting and the parting. And as I disassemble the life Ken and I began thirteen years ago, I can't help but wonder if their way isn't easier. For the goose or the gull, or the skulk of foxes who have carved out a den in the field on the southern side of the prairie dog town, there is no dividing of lives, reliving of memories, fond fingering of gifts and cards and mementos. They simply walk away. I am not so fortunate. I have to pack my things and watch as Ken packs his. I have to wonder if at the end of this separation we have agreed to, whether we will ever share another Thanksgiving dinner at the dining room table we picked out together, whether our bed will ever hold the six of us again, Duncan sprawled between us, Winnie on my hip, Pip at my chest, one paw resting on Ken's elbow, Olive roosting like an owl on the pillows above our heads, her eyes wide and yellow. There is no walking away. Not when you're in love and confused and unsure of what the future holds for you.

Duncan and I will always walk, but this time, just this once, I'd give anything to know the destination.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Duncan has not been feeling well. Or rather, Duncan doesn't feel well when in my presence. When Ken is home he's all tail wags, smiling face, lolling tongue and solid poop. I get the opposite more often than not. I'm sure it's stress from the appearance of the boxes and the rearranging and sorting and the general sadness which has overtaken our home, and it makes me want to tell him, "It's okay. We'll be okay. I haven't had solid poop since this all began either." But he doesn't understand so I sit with him, always touching him, running my fingers along the dark curls on his back, slipping under his paws or between his toes, sliding my foot along his ribs, back and forth. I take him out when he needs it and I speak softly.

I have not been sleeping well and because he hasn't either we often find ourself making quick trips outside very late, when the stars are bright and seem to roll across our sky, or early in the morning at that moment when the darkness is on the verge of shattering and dawn trembles with anticipation in the east, when the stars and moon hold their breath and watch as night once again concedes the struggle.

This morning Dunc stood at my side of the bed, his nose almost touching my hand and whined softly into the mattress. I am a very light sleeper and snapped awake, the big brown eyes of my dog almost level with mine. He whined softly again, as though taking care not to disturb Ken––who could sleep through the Apocalypse––and then turned to the door, his signal that we must leave now, that he's waited until the very last possible second to wake me and if we're not outside immediately no one will be happy with the results. I hurried into my slippers, grabbed a jacket and leash and ushered him outside.

The dawn was gray with pink and gold foam on its edges, a thin line of clouds hovering just above the horizon. Duncan and I walked up and down the narrow lane of grass behind our home as he searched for a spot to tend to business, which does not happen when his belly is sick. At times like this he's rarely choosy and barely makes it out the door before squatting and avoiding eye contact with me. But this morning he walked with diligence and led me back and forth across the stretch of lawn, sniffing carefully then wheeling suddenly around to hurry in the opposite direction. Having just come from bed the air was blessedly cool on my face and against my sockless ankles. I blinked the sleep from my eyes and followed him up and down the fence line and the accompanying sluice, which when dry collects pine needles, sticks and twigs, the occasional Starbucks cup and all manner of things. It had recently been blown out but a week of high winds had filled it again. Duncan pulled me west, almost in the direction of our new apartment and The Glen and then, at the moment the sun broke the surface of the horizon and erupted into the world, he turned and led me straight into its fresh light. The clouds hovering just above it filtered the rays into a very tight and concentrated band of intense gold, vivid and so thick I almost felt it lap against my slippers.

And then, without having attended to the task which pulled me from bed, he sat at the edge of the run-off ditch and waited. I stood behind him, called his name and pulled a little on the leash but he refused to look at me, staring, instead, straight down the cement line running along the fence. I looked to see if I could spy a squirrel undulating through the grass or a bunny playing statue under a low shrub, but there was nothing, only a single ball of golden fluff bouncing in the soft breeze toward us. Duncan cocked his head and wagged his tail from side to side as it neared, its edges brilliant in the narrow beam of sun. As it rolled forward Duncan climbed to his feet and took an anxious step toward it as if greeting an old friend, someone he'd prearranged a meeting with. He nosed it softly, lifting it away from the cement and into the grass where it ceased to move, then turned to me with the expression I've seen so many times, as if to say, "Here, I brought this for you. It's important. I want you to have it."

It was two feathers, their soft frayed edges glorious with golden light, wrapped up in each other "head to toe," a sort of yin yang. My breath rushed out of me and I knelt in the grass and pressed my face into Duncan's soft chest which caught my tears and carried them away. He licked my cheek and for the first time in a very long time the morning was beautiful again.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Not Walking, Just Standing

I've spent so much time the last few days unaware of the sun and the brilliant bright mornings which have overtaken us, warming my face and painting Duncan a startling gold by seven A.M.. Duncan has been patient and generous with my spirit, but I wonder if perhaps he has been walking me instead of the other way around. This morning he led me outside and down the yard, turning to look at me over his shoulder as if to make sure of me, to see whether or not I'd noticed the blue of the sky or the softness of the grass beneath our feet, the way its slowly beginning to turn green, despite the inevitability of a heavy March snow. I have been a bad walker, oblivious to the world around us, only the dull scuff of each step along the sidewalk, across the streets and through the park, trapped some place between my head and heart, Roo's leash the only thing grounding me, his soft pull a sort of wandering anchor.

This morning, when the sun seemed garish and harsh, when all I wanted was to climb back in bed and forget the boxes littering my living room and the work that should have begun days ago but hasn't because I'm too tired and too fearful, I longed for sunset and the safety of the stars. I craned my head skyward hoping to spy just one, perhaps low in the west where the sun could not quite reach. And when I didn't find any I felt my thoughts drift over the mountains, across the desert to home, where perhaps one or two still twinkled in the sky above Pocatello. I imagined them, resting just above the hillside across the valley from my mother's house, breaking through the bare trees just outside her big picture window, but even that seemed empty and brought little solace.

I'd never considered what stars do during the day but then I realized they're still there, whole constellations I haven't seen and would never know the names of even if I did. They go no where, it's we who drift and move from one side of the world to the other, and maybe if we're patient, if we wait through the day and spot them early enough in the evening, when they are still sleepy-eyed and groggy, they'll listen to us, hear our voices and offer us the peace our hearts seek.

When I left the school tonight, vowing to take Dunc on a long walk through the park and maybe up the hill to overlook the lake, Venus, the Evening Star, was the first thing I saw, shining almost directly over my home three miles away where Duncan sat waiting for me. The sound of the traffic on Santa Fe Drive faded and for a long moment, not walking, just standing and looking at that bright spot above the mountains, it was just Venus and me. I felt I had to say something to her, maybe remind her who I am and praise her, but the only thing I could think of was a child's rhyme, but somehow that seemed perfect.

Star light, star bright,
the first star I see tonight;
I wish I may
I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight.

It was a beautiful walk even if my wish doesn't come true.

Image courtesy of

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The First Sunday in March

Things which sounded like they'd make me feel better but didn't:
  • Sunshine on a beautiful March day
  • Listening to that last playlist I made on my iPod
  • A jalapeno burger from Carl's Jr.
  • Laying on my back on the hillside in The Glen watching the few thin clouds pass over the bare uppermost branches of the Aspen trees.
  • Phone calls
  • A bottle of wine
  • Laying in bed for a few hours not doing the laundry, not taking a shower, not finishing the carpet cleaning which I started yesterday morning before everything changed.
  • Seeing the park and baseball fields fill up with crowds of people running and playing in the sun.
  • Chasing bunnies with Duncan
  • A box of Wheat Thins and the really good bad dip from the King Soopers Deli
  • The movie Singing in the Rain
  • Driving with the windows down and my arm hanging out while the song "Against All Odds" played on the radio.
  • A visit to Hero's
  • Smoking on the patio and watching the thin thread of a spiderweb elongate and shine gold in the afternoon light
  • A very long nap, followed by a second one
  • A glass of wine in the afternoon
  • "Robot Chicken"
  • The Winnie the Pooh story which contains the passage, "And then he gave a very long sigh and said, 'I wish Pooh were here. It's so much more friendly with two.'"

The Thing Which Was Unexpected and Brought Sunshine to My Heart:
  • Duncan curling himself around me, laying a paw across my chest, licking my cheeks clean and then resting his head quite near my chin, where we both slept, dreaming of other places and other things.