Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Gentlest of Souls

At first there were only four of them, little things that crept out of the shrubs onto the lawn on the far side of the parking lot in full view of Duncan, who lays on the balcony and waits for them. We have watched them grow from small kittens into fair-sized rabbits over the past two months. Dunc could hardly wait to drag me to their warren under the bushes, slowing as we approached, his eyes scanning the long grass for sight of them. Often the only thing we could see was the sunlight shining through their paper-thin ears, painted gold by the afternoon rays. They'd allow us to come remarkably close before darting for cover. They were the only four we saw, but over the last few weeks, as the scent of the Russian Olives has been replaced by the overwhelming perfume of the Lindens and their yellow flowers, that number has increased dramatically. The four became eight and now there is hardly a place we can walk without stumbling upon one, crouched low, impersonating a flat stone in the grass, their ears held low along their backs, their eyes wide but unmoving as they wait for us to pass.

There is a place in The Glen that Duncan has returned to again and again as the summer has progressed and the grass has grown long, a shady spot along the edge of the fence between our earthen bowl and the golf course which runs behind the property. It is a lovely spot, nestled under a tall, wide cottonwood and a young Russian Olive where the loud blades of the mowers cannot reach. A sprig of wild daisies has sprung up and the sun dapples the grass in the afternoon like gold reflecting off water. Each time I throw his ball he carries it down there and pokes about, sometimes lingering for long minutes, sniffing here and there, laying down, one paw held over his ball, the other reaching under the fence.

This afternoon, too hot to play much, I sat on the hillside above him while he ambled to and fro, sniffing here and there, checking his marked territory. His bright green tennis ball lay forgotten in the long grass at the edge of the fence while he dallied, but suddenly he lunged forward at the dark earth, pulled back momentarily and lunged again. I sat up and called to him. He turned, his tail wagging ferociously and started a slow and careful jog toward me, something small and brown held safely in his mouth.

I knew immediately what he had done and leapt up, hurrying barefoot down the hill toward him where he stopped and waited, the baby rabbit hanging limp by the scruff of its neck in his mouth. He smiled in that bashful way of his and laid down, setting the thing before him between his paws as I neared. He licked it once and looked up at me expectantly.

It was small, probably no more than a few weeks old, hardly bigger than one of his long, narrow paws. It hunkered down, ears low and waited. I leashed Roo, patted him on the head and told him what a good job he had done. He licked it again and let me lean in close to inspect it. It waited, breathing heavily. I laid a hand on its warm, moist back and felt its tiny heart racing against my open palm. Dunc watched, his own ears high, his eyes wide, tail still wagging. The thing startled and as I pulled Duncan away, it jerked once then scampered back toward the fence-line, zig-zagging as it went, kicking its hind feet behind it once or twice before vanishing into the shadows. Duncan sat beside me and made no move to follow, obviously pleased with himself and his find.

"Good boy," I told him and slipped him one of the papaya-mango coconut cookies I keep in my pocket."You're a very good boy."

I always insisted he would be kind to a bunny should he ever be lucky enough to catch one. Tonight I  was proven correct. He is truly the gentlest of souls.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wakeful Dreams

The clouds rolled in along the edges of the horizon tonight in lines, like row after row of white waves lapping against the idyllic, sandy rim of a tranquil lagoon. And Duncan and I, strolling as we were through the Linden-scented night, soon forgot the sky and the setting sun, and found ourselves, instead, looking up as though from a comfortable blue depth, at the mirror place where water and air meet.  A mismatched small fat girl in a pink and blue stripped tank-top bobbed along in a current, the frills of her purple skirt reaching out as she passed, like the arms of some colorful anemone grasping at daylight. A bunny scuttled past, darting under a low hedge like a crab seeking shelter under a mottled, water-kissed rock. The clouds were like great ripples fanning out into wide circles except where their line was broken by the silver flash of one, no two--three!-- silver dolphins, sleek and perfect, their arc puncturing the surface and dragging it after them as they dove behind the mountains, following the sun to the end of another day.

On evenings as quiet and serene as this, with my dog at my side, the sun slipping low and my mind racing with wakeful dreams, I remember the lines of Wallace Stevens and wish that just once I could capture a moment forever by writing something as perfect:

And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Time Capsule

Duncan and I have come home to be with my family and say farewell to my grandmother.

While it was not the easiest journey, we made it safely and despite the shocking cold in the air--yesterday morning was vaguely October-ish even with all the green in the trees and on the mountains--it was well worth the trouble. I have been in need of a quiet and peaceful place, searching for an escape which I finally found in my mother's garden.

While Duncan plays outside with Zeus, the neighbor's German Shepherd, I wander across the grass and marvel at the place my mother and Kevin have carved out for themselves on the edge of the desolate and sage-riddled desert foothills. It is lush and green here like we don't have even in Colorado. The calendar may say that summer is nearly upon us but in Pocatello Spring seems to only have just begun. The ground is still very soft and dark and moist, and the garden is practically dripping with nectar. The Russian Olives have not yet bloomed even though they are nearly finished in Denver where the Lindens are already beginning to open and waft. As Duncan and Zeus frolic and chase one another I find a nice warm, sun-dappled spot in the shade and listen to the birds, which come in colors I have not seen since I left Illinois: the tanagers with their bright heads, the magpies, purple and cobalt in the sun, the tiny darting hummingbirds, so small and fragile but so fiercely territorial. The air smells clean and delicious and rich enough that I can almost lap at it with my tongue. A buck meandered into the yard and excited Roo, who chased it off before returning to me.

This place is a time capsule where magic can unlock memory. I drive the streets past new buildings and homes, up mountain roads that wind and wend, my muscles somehow remembering where the potholes are, where to slow for dips in the road. There is hardly a place in this town not tied to some precious spot in my heart, and with very little effort I can see the faces I surrounded myself with twenty and thirty years ago. The Universe always listens and sometimes it answers us if we ask the right question. Just yesterday I literally bumped into my friend April and her two sons, the very April I wrote about a week ago but did not expect to see or hear from. There is great magic here indeed.

I have forgotten how perfect this place can be at times and shouldn't have to work so hard to be reminded that no matter how isolated I sometimes feel in Denver, that there is a home here for me, a place where I feel rejuvenated and safe, even if only through photographs and sweet, golden memory. Immaculate and untouchable.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010



It has been a very long time, my old friend, and although our lives have changed dramatically since last we hugged and shared one of our many perfect and poignant farewells, you have been on my mind a great deal. I think of your sons and marvel that I have never met them, that they probably don't even know I exist. I think of the Pretty Girl with Pink, Round Cheeks, the Handsome Young Man and the Little Red Car. I think of how shocked our younger selves would be to discover we'd not only lived past thirty but that we were nearing forty.

Lately, as the Russian Olives have come back into bloom I have been thinking of the safe, quiet spot in Idaho we called home for so long, and how it was you who taught me that although it wasn't a place we felt comfortable, or a place that offered us the kind of opportunities we dreamed of pursuing in our lives, it was our home and that it would always be there waiting for us, even if only in memory. And most importantly there was a beauty there that should never be overlooked.

Duncan has been leading me to the Russian Olives this week, somehow knowing how important they are to my spirit. Growing up in Idaho I never noticed them, which seems strange because you can hardly throw a stick there without hitting one. In my memory Johnny Creek, that long and winding road up to your parent's home, was practically infested with them. They always looked rather weedish, like something that springs up along the edges of a dusty Idaho stream. Their pungent aroma was so strong at times it was almost sickening and made me recall childhood fishing trips standing on the shore of a lake or the bank of a river mere feet away from where some bottom-feeding sucker lay rotting in the sunshine, it's rainbow scales faded and gray, it's puckered mouth agape, discarded but refusing to be forgotten.

It wasn't until you joined me in the Midwest where the Russian Olives don't grow, that I learned to love them so voraciously. Their absence was heart-wrenching and pained you greatly. Often we journeyed across the vast, bland plains to our mountainous home and as soon as we entered The West you'd hang your head out the window, or take long walks at rest stops and just breathe, your head tilted back, your face turned into the dying blue of the day, your eyes picking out the first twinkling of faraway stars. "That is the smell of home," you'd tell me in a whisper. "Do you remember? My favorite smell in all the world." So I'd stand with you and just breathe until I felt Pocatello racing through my veins, pumping the blood in my heart, igniting images of those mountains and our valley and all the years we'd spent there.

The summer Aran had his truck and let us take the top off, we spent our nights driving through the mountains and down onto the desert of the reservation and each time you caught a whiff of your tree you seemed to change, become someone far wiser, someone who took nothing for granted and understood the deeper meanings and subtler nuances of all creation. Your unruly mane of chestnut hair lifted up, caught on the wind and whipped across your cheek, sometimes catching on your fire-engine red lips, where you'd pull at it with a perfectly manicured fingernail, tucking it safely behind your ear. You never looked more beautiful than on those nights.

So I smell the Russian Olives each day when I walk Roo, and at night when the air cools I open my windows and they waft through my small apartment––the one I never envisioned for myself––inciting dreams of days I'd give anything to revisit. I think of you and how big the hole in my heart has become with your absence. I think of Ken, now living in Milwaukee, so close to you, and how there's almost nothing I wouldn't do to spend an evening with just the two of you, smoking a cigarette, talking and laughing so hard we'd be hurt the next morning.

I don't know if you'll ever read this, but if you do I hope there's nothing you take for granted, that you have been taking care of my Messy Little Man, that there is still something in you that burns as fiercely as that creature I rode shotgun with across the roads of The West, the one who taught me  a love of simple things and a love of home I never understood, the one who introduced me to the wild, weedy trees that pain me with longing and gratitude.

I hope you are still immaculate and untouchable.

Monday, June 7, 2010


David and Greg,

Trees are the earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.  
(Rabindranath Tagore, Fireflies, 1928)

Ah, my flowering friends. The two of you have spent so much time trying to teach me the names of things, the pretty blossoming things which have brought me so much joy. I am  a poor pupil because the names are not as magical to me as their beauty, and despite their poetry, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, the dreamer in me can't help but I appreciate them all the more for not knowing what to call them--like the pretty girl I passed in the park last year, the one stooped over her guitar, whisper-singing a song to the wind. Or the shapes of the clouds which transfix me as I lay on my back next to Roo on hot summer days. I do not need to know a cumulonimbus from a stratus, and discovering that perhaps my little singer was really called Wanda would somehow break her spell and the serenity of her memory. The color and scent, the way they catch the dew or bend with the breeze, creep up the side of an elm, these are all that matter to me of the flora of this world.

And yet there are a few that I remember. David, you introduced me to Jack-in-the-Pulpit, which is almost obscene but brings a smile to my face when I reflect on it. Greg, your Bachelor Buttons have filled me with untold joy. Perhaps I am richer for knowing the names, but I think I am richer for having been told them by you.

Duncan led me down to the lake today and as we neared my nose picked out that one scent that sustains me throughout the year, the honey, mint butter fragrance of my precious Russian Olives, now finally coming into bloom. I would gladly spend any afternoon with you, but I can imagine none more perfect than walking you across a hillside of Russian Olives, asking you to close your eyes as I cup the reedy branch with its delicate yellow flowers toward your face. I would explain to you that while some people have songs and music, or poems or films that best express the story of their lives, mine would be perfectly encapsulated by the sweet, heady scent of those tiny petals. And because you understand the magic of growing things and because you can hear with your hearts, you would understand and perhaps know me better than most people.

That would be the greatest gift I could offer you, and your silence and reflection at that moment would be the greatest you could give in return.