Monday, March 29, 2010

Morning Mischief Managed

Perhaps because I never saw my basket of yarn as anything other than benevolent until it turned on me and almost destroyed my dog, I now look at every object I own with a suspicious eye. What if the couch––solid and immovable––were to suddenly tip under the soft weight of Winnie and fall back and crush the children in one, quick blow? What if I left the stove on and cooked every animal and beloved object not only in my apartment but the entire building? Or what if I didn't make the bed and the cats crawled under the covers and, trapped by a maze of twisted blankets and a wall of pillows, suffocated, their plaintive cries unheard by the only person who could save them? It's absurd (and more than a bit of an exaggeration, I might add!) but after the skein of red yarn I bought for a scarf intended for my sister ended up in Duncan's intestines, let's just say I'm cautious.

That's why every morning, after making my tea and preparing my five fruit breakfast, I take all of Duncan's toys––Percy, his penguin, the Bah-Bah, the Birdy, Buddy and the Baby, and perch them atop my DVD shelf where he can't get to them, rip them open and choke on their fluffy innards. He doesn't like it one bit and upon my arrival home in the evening,  insists emphatically that they all immediately be returned to the ground where he can play with and terrorize them. I leave only the tennis balls for him to play with, while I'm gone and perhaps, if he's very sly, a stray kiwi.

This morning after tending to my rituals I went in search of the toys and discovered that Duncan had taken action while I showered, spending that valuable time hiding his little, armless and legless, and sometimes faceless friends, all over the apartment. Percy was tucked away on his pillow, nestled down between the blanket Chelsea gave him for Christmas and the throw mom knitted for him. If it hadn't been for Percy's bright yellow beak I may not have noticed him at all. The blue bone was concealed in Winnie's fort, an old shoe box I keep under an end table where she hides for hours, peeking up slowly and carefully so that just the green of her big eyes are visible. Buddy was stashed between the bed and the window, down among the blankets where it would've been all too easy to miss him. After a careful search of the entire apartment I'd rounded everyone up except Bah-Bah, who remained unaccounted for. Duncan ate his breakfast, indifferent to my search, or so it seemed, until I returned to the bedroom to find him curled up on the bed, the mangled lamb tucked under one paw while he received a very attentive and thorough bath.

He was not happy when I took him away and placed him up on the tower with the rest of them. He sighed loudly, harumphed and wouldn't look at me when I left. I'll make it up to him and stop by Hero's for a bully stick before I come home.

It's the time away from home that alarms me. He and the cats have all day to plot and plan and I'm beginning to doubt I'm smart enough to keep up with them.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

While Watching the World

My dog knows me well. Ken recently told me that bringing Duncan into our lives was perhaps the best thing he contributed to our relationship. It's not true, of course--not by far--but it is one of the best things he did. Duncan was meant for him, but our bond formed quickly and easily, as though we'd known each other all our lives, and now we are inseparable. When I come after a long day, the door opens to the melody of his chirp, the soft drumming of his tail, and his unbound joy at the sight of me, as though I have been gone for months or years, and as I bend down to greet him I always ask, "How is my best friend? How was your day?" Quite often he reaches for my wrist and pulls me inside, first to the couch where I deposit my bags, and then to the bedroom where I kick off my shoes and lay back against the pillows. He jumps up next to me and we wrestle for a minute before he pulls me up again and leads me back to the door so we can venture outside.

Yesterday was another dreary wet March day in Denverland and as tired as I was I was not exactly looking forward to marching through the puddles, my hood pulled down low over my head, rain and snow dripping down my glasses, while Duncan splashed and played in the water. I craved silence the way I occasionally crave brie and when that door opened Duncan seemed to know it. There was no chirping, but a soft, empathetic hum in his throat, a gentle pressure as he leaned against me and ran his body along my calf like a cat. And then he pulled me into the bedroom, jumped on the bed and looked contentedly out the window at the gloom and murk, his tail strumming the comforter like an invitation to join him. I collapsed beside him and together we laid for a long time, listening to the drip of the water off the roof, the hush of snow beneath low clouds, the ticking of the clock and the soft hum of the refrigerator from the kitchen. There was no desperation to walk, only a quiet wish to rest a moment together, to share in the stillness of the fading day and watch the evening come on, sulking but with a heavy calm.

At one point Pip joined us, crawling up the line of my legs and nestling between my shoulder blades, tucking his head down low against my cheek and ear, purring and gently––without too much pressure––kneading his paws against my back.

The three of us––The Boys–– in harmony, watching the world without a care in it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"One of Those March Days"

"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." (Charles Dickens)

Tuesday's snow is melting, slowly by Denver standards, but it is melting nonetheless. The trees have taken a beating and I spent much of our time walking yesterday and this morning grabbing their bowed and sagging branches and shaking them furiously, loosening the snow, rejoicing in the cold of it as it slid off the bare sad, naked and powdered down around us. Duncan was indifferent to my toils, simply accepting winter as it is, celebrating it for its beauty and stepping through its disaster with grace and his dog-like assurance that things are unfolding, no doubt, as they should.

And when the spirit moved him, as it often does, he simply rolled over in the thick, wet muck and rolled around, creating angels where it's all too easy for my Summer-centric eyes to see only demons.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"A Revolution of Snow"

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,

its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.

In a while I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch,
sending a cold shower down on us both.
(from Snow Day, by Billy Collins)

It snowed all night and is snowing still, but more as an afterthought, flakes that are minuscule and nearly forgotten as they waft through the air, like motes in a sunny window. They are kind to the face and eyes, and do not sting or pinken the cheeks even, but seem somehow to remind me that I am alive, that mornings like this––trudging loudly, breathing heavily under the weight of the snow––are beautiful also, even though my heart is a late-Spring heart and my spirit is firmly married to summer. There are gifts to be found in the snow, in the silence and the wet suck of the cars cutting through the granite-colored slush. There is goodness in the cool of the air on my open throat or the back of my neck, and profound appreciation for the warmth of my gloves and socks, which always seem to turn sideways upon themselves in the unreachable depths of my boots.

And then there is Duncan, the greatest gift of all. I cannot help but marvel at his wonder and exhilaration, watching him run and play as he does, stopping every now and then to pick the snowballs out from under the rough pads of his feet before resuming his tireless celebration. Together we crawl into the snow caves made by the sunken, covered boughs of the trees. He enters cautiously, unsure of what he'll find, but something in there, the blue-white light perhaps, or the discovery of a place entirely his own, causes his heart to leap up strong so that he runs circles, in and out, back and forth, weaving among the boughs, knocking the snow this way and that until eventually the cave is not a cave but simply another low spot among the trees. No bother, though. There are other places to explore and the memory of this day will sustain him through the long summer months, just as the memory of his delight will sustain me throughout my life.

We cast no shadows on days like this, and all the light in the world seems to come from within.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


It was quick, this springtime storm, lulling us with heavy, sleepy clouds that rolled down out of the northwestern mountains, bringing with them a soft patter of afternoon rain, which barely dusted the slowly greening grass. The thunder pulled the thick wet smell of earth out of the ground and as I left work I didn't know if I should believe the reports of the impending blizzard headed our way.

Thirty-nine minutes later as I pulled into my parking space, Duncan standing on the windowsill three stories above watching me gather my things and scurry inside, nearly three inches had fallen and the world was a complete whiteout. The last time I'd seen that much snow fall so quickly had been almost exactly a year earlier when we'd first moved to this apartment. My windows were quickly freezing over but it didn't matter, there was not much to look out upon. Brady's apartment, not one hundred feet away, was obscured completely from view, erased by a sheet of undulating, swirling white. Winnie sat atop a bookshelf watching her brother bat at the large white flakes as they swept past the screen outside. Cars slipped and slid through the lot below, the snow breaking loudly beneath their tires, a sound barely heard over the wall-shaking wind.

Duncan, like me, has his habits, and the most important one is his immediate need upon my arrival to go outside to tend to business. I changed clothes, donned my heavy coat, a hoodie under that, a cap, and my big boots. He pranced in the door while we leashed up, and then pulled me down the stairs and into the storm. I took him to the side of the building where the wind was weakest, but still fierce, and watched him charge circles among the trees that grow amid the natural bowl in the earth.

I huddled under a tree, my glasses, silly and useless on my face, collecting water which dripped down my cheeks. Duncan spun circles, dove head first, snapped at the flakes, barked at the sky, but did not tend to the task at hand. So after twenty miserable minutes of begging, of shaking the green doggy bag in his face even as I shook the snow and ice from mine, I gave up and brought him inside, where we dried off with the thick white towels I keep in the linen closet for exactly this sort of occasion.

After we were dry and a pot of tea was coming to a boil on the stove, Duncan and I stood in the window looking out over the golf course and the narrow creek which runs between it and The Run. In the moments between rattling gusts of wind, when it seemed we were alone with only our breathing and the ticking of the clock in the bedroom, a brief but vast silence claimed the apartment, and it seemed as if the world had come to a standstill, waiting. And then, with the next gust and rattle, we were reminded that here, at this time of year, there is no such thing. We are reminded often. And suddenly.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Three Kiwis

I am a creature of habit and know my habits well, using each to pull me through the morning, out the door and through the long drive across Denver. For instance, every morning I put together a breakfast of five fruits. On Sunday nights I cut up a fresh pineapple and each morning throughout the rest of the week mix it with strawberries, mandarin oranges, sliced bananas and kiwi. The kiwi, furry and rough, is the last thing I do, carefully rinsing them until their skin is soft and comes off under my knife like shaved cardboard. The fruit, bright and green, drips down between my fingers, over the palm of my hand and into the sink. Duncan watches me, and sometimes if he's lucky, receives a bite of strawberry or a tossed sliver of banana.

This morning I thought I would take my friend Lisa a kiwi since she loves them and doesn't have them nearly as often as she'd like. While Duncan, curled up on the couch, watched and waited for his own breakfast, I packed my lunch bag, set it on the coffee table next to my mug of tea and my computer case, and set a single kiwi next to them before returning to my bedroom to pull the blinds and open the window a crack. When I returned the kiwi was gone. I looked around, got down on all fours even and peered under the table, along the edge of the sofa but found nothing.

Perhaps, I though, I'd imagined doing it so well I'd skipped actually setting the kiwi down. I grabbed another, placed it on the table and slipped into the bathroom to put in my contacts before mixing Roo's food. When I returned the kiwi was gone. I looked around, glanced at Roo, still curled up on the edge of the couch watching me patiently. The cats had already claimed their spots on the carpet in the morning sun, their eyes half closed, their tails fluttering at the very tips without any discernible rhythm. Pip's paws clenched and unclenched as he kneaded the air. Olive rolled onto her back, exposing the vast white expanse of her belly and cooed softly as if attempting to lull me down next to her.

I placed a third kiwi on the table and moved into the kitchen. Duncan climbed down off the couch, stretched and followed me, taking up his usual spot where he could watch me mix and sprinkle, talking to him in my Julia Child falsetto voice. "First we mash up the meat with the spoon, being careful to break it into little chunks, then we add a dash of Optagest--num!--and top it off with a healthy spoonful of glucosamine. Smells like fish. Mmmmmm."

Once his breakfast was complete I came around the counter to his little food table and set it down where I saw, nestled back in the corner between the bookshelves, two kiwis resting among two bright green tennis balls.

"Well look what we have here," I smiled. Dunc bowed his head, wagged his tail, opened his mouth and dropped the third kiwi onto the floor with a soft thud. It bounced once and rolled awkwardly to join the others in the strange little pile. They were unharmed and remarkably slobber-free and as much as I wanted to let him have them I wanted them more. He can have his tennis balls and fancy food. I'll keep my habits and my kiwis.