Thursday, September 30, 2010

Of Pugs and Tissues

My walks with Duncan are not always as picturesque or inspiring as they sound. Yes, there are the incredible sunsets and cloud formations over the Rockies, the small, marshmallow mounds of snow collected on tree branches, the dragonflies flirting with the willows, the wind whispering secrets to the bees frolicking among the lavender. But there are also the mornings I step in someone else's business and curse my way back up the stairs where I have to scrape it off in the garbage. There are the occasional dead bunnies left to decompose along the fence line, the smell of rotting fish at the lake, and the times we are witnesses to nature's grandeur when a hawk takes a screaming squirrel or a pack of coyotes maul a goose on the golf course. I have seen and heard and smelled many things I never expected over the long miles we have trudged hither and yon but I have never I witnessed anything  like the incident we encountered yesterday at the park.

It was an ordinary walk in every way. The soccer hoards had infected the park and the high school marching "band" was butchering their way through some abysmal tune never meant to be performed on a football field with tubas and clarinets. The rabbits were out in record numbers, the baseball fields were packed and the sun was shining down on our green grass and leaves. Everything seemed to be in its rightful place, with the exception, that is, of one woman and her alien-looking Pug.

She seemed like an ordinary enough person, early fifties, sandy blond hair cut short in a messy bob, a tan canvas jacket. The Pug was... well, a Pug, so there's not much to say. It was a snorty little thing, more pig than dog, sniffing and huffing in the grass, grunting when it found its spot and hunched up to tend to business. The woman turned her back and watched the soccer kids, as numerous as gnats, kicking and chasing the balls across the field. When the dog had finished it yipped a puggish sort of yip to catch its companion's attention. The woman immediately reached into her pocket and withdrew a tissue, which she used––to my astonishment––to wipe her dog's bottom. She gave it one or two good swipes, looked at it and tucked it away in her pocket. I don't know if if she had some strong opposition to the numerous garbage cans strategically placed all around, or if she planned on saving it for later., doing her part to recycle and be environmentally responsible. All I know is that I would've killed to have been there later when she decided to wipe her nose.

"Don't get any ideas in your head, mister," I told Duncan sternly as we gave the two a wide berth. Frankly, I think he was just as confused as I was.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Try throwing a ball just once for a dog. It would be like eating only one peanut or potato chip. Try to ignore the importuning of a Golden Retriever who has brought you his tennis ball, the greatest treasure he possesses. (Roger Caras)

Duncan loves his balls. They come in every possible shape and size, from bright fuzzy, green tennis balls, to the myriad tennis balls we found scattered along the edge of the golf course behind our building. He has rubber balls, Kong balls, ping-pong balls, baseballs, softballs, furry balls shaped like footballs and soccer balls. He's even been known to invent balls where there were none. And with the exception of the Kong, I have purchased none of them. A few were gifts from family and friends and readers, but the majority he has found (or stolen) himself. On cold winter days he has dragged me across the park to scavenge along the perimeters of the baseball diamonds, under mounds of snow and layers of decaying leaves to find a bright green softball. In the summer at the river he has vanished into the thickets, sometimes for minutes at a time, only to return clutching two half chewed tennis balls in his mouth. If there is a ball to be recovered Duncan is the dog to do it. We have lost many, as we did tonight on our walk down The Run, but I never fret because there are four or five scattered around the apartment as well as the hundred or so I've stored away in the drawers I keep with all the pet supplies. The pictures here are but a sample of his collection.

If a ball is the greatest treasure a dog can possess, then Dunc is wealthy beyond words. And the hours I have spent throwing them back and forth, watching him retrieve them, his tail wagging in big circular arcs behind him, have made me richer than I could dream possible.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Wish

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

There was a moment tonight at the park––in that brief in-between time when the sun is low on the horizon, resting just above the mountains as if holding its breath before taking the plunge and beginning a new day on the other side of the world, when the evening is orange and bright on one side and deep indigo on the other, when the air is still warm but the grass is almost cold on the bare toes––when Duncan and I had tired of throwing and fetching the ball and had settled down on the grass, sprawled side by side, almost touching but not quite. I was watching the first of the stars ignite in the eastern darkness and Duncan was watching me. I was just beginning to make the same wish I make every time I spot the first star when Dunc scooted close to me, pushing with his back legs and undulating softly and quietly nearer. He stretched his nose close to my face and kissed me once before resting his head on my chest and looking skyward as if making his own wish. We stayed there a long time, me holding his paw, his tenderness holding me.

There is nothing more perfect in this world than the love shared between a dog and his boy.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Boy in the Window

Duncan and I were down on the far east side of the property, a shady, sloped place we haven't visited much in the three years we've lived here. 

It's a mostly quiet spot, protected from the noise of the traffic by an iron fence and a brick wall, a tall tree at its entrance that turns the color of fresh honey in October and not far past that a bent pine that arches over the path like a gate. I have dubbed it The Wrangle because when the grass is tall and wet walking through it can be like work, slipping and skidding down the hillside to the low shrubs that grow along the lower edge. The far end opens up on a small enclosed park where dogs can run and play and leave their markings on the Cottonwood and Linden trees which have grown up along the fence dividing our apartment complex from the golf course. Duncan loves it because there are more rabbits there than we can count. I love it because despite the concentration it takes to remain standing, especially in winter, it is blessedly free of dog poop. It is not a treacherous place but it is not easy to maneuver either.

Near the bottom, where the slope begins to level off and it's easier to walk, the path bends quite close to the apartments and quite often we can see into people's living rooms and bedrooms. In the evenings the smell of chicken and burgers grilling on the patios is carried on the breeze and sometimes the soft sound of music or TVs drift out the windows. The blinds are typically pulled shut during the day and we rarely see anyone.

This morning we worked our way down The Wrangle, Duncan pulling on his leash and sniffing out the bunnies. He pulled left, toward the apartments where he likes to stick his head under the shrubs into the darkness where the bunnies retreat when they spot him coming. It can take a long time to reach the park because the bunnies move through a bed of crisp, dried leaves, and their stirrings keep Dunc's attention firmly fixed on the shrubs rather than the park where he can play. So I tugged on his leash and coaxed him along with treats, keeping my eyes down low and away from windows in order to avoid violating the privacy of the tenants who reside mere feet away.

While standing and waiting for Roo, a movement from the corner of my eye caught my attention. When I looked up I found myself looking directly into the face of a small boy standing on the other side of a window pane not four feet from me. His skin was oddly pale, almost blue, and there was not a hair on his head. He wore a t-shirt and a blue hoodie zipped halfway up, his arms hanging limp at his sides. His eyes were dark with heavy circles under them but they did not move, remaining, instead, fixed on me. I smiled and pulled on Duncan's leash. When I looked back up half a second later the boy was gone. And even more strange was the fact that the apartment in which he'd been standing was completely empty, recently remodeled with the paint tape still fixed to the place where the walls and ceiling met. I blinked a couple of times and watched for signs of the child but saw no one. Goosebumps rose on my arms as I pulled Dunc away from the shrubs. The patio door blinds were open and even there I did not see the boy. He was gone, as though he'd never been there. Duncan looked inside, growled once as I pulled him away and turned back toward the park.

A half hour later we stopped by the leasing office where I talked with one of the women who works there.
"So... I think I saw something this morning in one of the apartments," I told her.

"In building number two?" she asked. When I nodded she smiled. "Yeah, we've heard that before. We've even called security because we heard there was a boy walking around in the apartment but there's no one there." My mind raced. I'd seen him, very clearly, as solid as Duncan who'd been at my feet. The woman went on. "We've heard it for a couple of years now and it's always the same little boy, bald and sickly. Is that what you saw?"

I nodded.

She smiled again, her eyes wide. "Happy Halloween is all I can say."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


It was raining tonight when I arrived home. The clouds had settled over the city except for a thin, clear blue band directly above the mountains. By the time I'd leashed Duncan up, filled my pockets with mango papaya treats and poop bags, the sun had dipped below the clouds, filtering the evening world in heavy, golden light, the kind that makes you want to stretch out your tongue and lap up. We strolled down The Run as the rain turned to a drizzle and then finally a light mist. Droplets clung to the tips of bending leaves and the sun sparkled through them like a million stars, blinding in the daylight. Such fragile things, I thought, so precarious in their position, delicate in the brief moments they have before plunging grassward to be lost among the green.

I am not fragile, nor momentary, I thought. I am strong and have weathered storms I never imagined in my life. I have taken risks, basked in their rewards and regrouped after my losses. My imagination and optimism have been steadfast, buoyed by my sense of humor and a profound belief in the goodness of people and right and wrong. My dog has stood by me at my weakest moments and has marched at my side during times of victory and celebration. Together we have laughed and cried but never abandoned one another nor those closest to us. I believe in kindness and honesty and opening myself up to the experiences of the world. There have been many times over the course of the past several years when I nearly lost sight of who I was but the goodness in my dog and my spirit saw us through. I am proud of the person I am even while still being able to admit I'm a work in progress.

I watched the crystalline drops and the leaves and looked beyond them to the tall yellow grass beyond the fence along the edge of the golf course. Only months ago that grass was filled with ticks, fat and bloated, almost pompous in their vampire arrogance as they sucked the life out of their hosts before falling away to die, forgotten and alone in the dirt. They were fragile, sneaking things, annoying and a bitter reality of the world, but completely temporary and forgettable. There are times when I have felt like a droplet but I have never been a tick and never will be.

I am not fragile. I am not alone. And I am loved.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Night Like Tonight

I could go crazy on a night like tonight
When summer's beginning to give up her fight

And every thought's a possibility

And voices are heard, but nothing is seen

Why do you spend this time with me

May be an equal mystery.

(Indigo Girls, "Mystery")

We had a late walk––a delicious walk––with children running to Dunc to pat his back and scratch his chin, a vivid tangerine sunset followed by night so dark and clear it seemed we could see faces smiling back at us from the planets above. We played fetch around the few vendor trailers and kiosks which are beginning to arrive for this weekend's Summerset festival, and the air was sweet in a way that it hasn't been for weeks. At the end of August David commented that the world was weary of Summer; the flowers had withered, the air was stagnant and exhausted and even the sky seemed bleached and weary of the season. "Enough already," he sighed. But I wish he had been there tonight in the park with us, where pockets of sweet coolness hung above the fields and the candied breeze somehow smelled of Russian Olives and Lindens, Spring and mint all at once. Duncan chased his ball tirelessly and then rolled in the thick grass with a vigor he reserves for snow and wind. On a night like tonight Summer seems to want to last forever and I want nothing more than to throw my arms around it and beg it to carry us southward with it, dancing under the skies of stars and singing songs only the crickets know by heart.

It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life. (P.D. James)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


My morning ritual is very important to me. After getting out of bed I usually sit for a bit and read the news while my water heats in the kettle on the stove. Once the whistle calls me back to the kitchen I pour the water over my tea and let it steep while I take a shower and get ready for the day. It's not a friendly whistle, not even warm and well-liked, but it does its job and does it well.

This morning, however, I made a shocking discovery: at some point during the night while I slept someone removed the whistle and hid it. I was slow to come to realization while I skimmed The Huffington Post, checked in with my friends on Facebook and scoped out the weather for the day. The kettle just never seemed to come to a boil and instead of that familiar screaming baby trill I was met with an unsatisfying hiss and a boiling, gurgling sputter. My morning routine was clearly shot as the mystery unfolded. No amount of crawling around the floor, searching with a flashlight under the fridge or scanning the area for signs produced any clues as to its whereabouts.

The Suspects:

Winnie, perched on the counter behind me began to pace nervously. While normally well-behaved and fiercely loyal to me, she's not above occasional mischief and merriment at my expense. As a kitten she was prone to knocking plants and pots off sills and stands and then running in circles around me while I cleaned up the mess. She's been known to climb onto the counters and play with spoons or fortune cookie wrappers, knocking them onto the floor and chasing them under the dishwasher. I have no proof it was her, but her anxious demeanor makes me wonder.

Olive, who was the most precocious kitten and still occasionally takes delight in terror, was curled up on the back of the couch, indifferent––almost desperately so––to my grumbling and searching. She refused to even entertain the idea that I would question her and seemed offended that I would suggest she is capable of such an act. I didn't say it for fear of further offense, but her weight does limit her ability to jump on the counter, although I've seen her do it from time to time, often with disastrous consequences when she knocks over a peppermill or candle. Still, she could have been the brains behind the operation and cannot be ruled out.

Duncan, obviously, could not reach the tea kettle, but he'd be the perfect tool for hiding the whistle once it was knocked down. He does enjoy a new toy and the whistle would be something he'd be interested in. And he's been known to commit acts of unthinkable horror. He was there in the kitchen, where he's not allowed, looking extremely agitated, ears curled down, tail stiff and unmoving behind him. If he didn't do it, I suspect that I could pry some information out of him. A few pumpkin treats and a good belly rub and I'll have him singing like a canary.

Pip was nowhere to be found. It's no secret that he despises the whistle almost as much as the vacuum and has been known to flee the room once it sounds. After careful searching he was located under the couch, a dark and seedy place known for the rough-and-tumble gang of dust bunnies which lurk there. He was reluctant to come out, pleading the fifth, and chose to slink back further into the shadows after being questioned.

It's a mystery which, I fear, may never be solved. No one is speaking and the whistle has yet to be located. I'll keep you updated with any new information.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Best Six: Happy Birthday, Roo!

"It takes a long time to grow young." (Pablo Picasso)

I wasn't there when he was born, but I've been there every birthday since. And although his birthday only comes once a year I am grateful each and every day for his beautiful red head, his smile and generosity of spirit, for Team Duncan, the good people who helped keep him alive, and for Ken for introducing him to our lives.

Is it too much to admit that when the alarm went off this morning he was cuddled up next to me on the bed, an expectant look on his face, as though waiting for me to sing "Happy Birthday" to him, which I did? He got to sleep in while I tended to the morning chores but got up in time for an extra long walk down down The Run to The Glen, where we played some early morning fetch and a roll in the wet grass. The birds were lined up waiting for him, the squirrels ready to scamper and one or two bunnies, their paper-thin ears, golden and barely visible above the grass, were at attention and ready to dart for shelter at the sound of his galloping feet.

When I arrived home from work he was waiting for me at the door, ready to head to Hero's to pick out a new toy.

After we came home, toys and treats in hand, we headed across the street for a long game of fetch as the last of the sunlight slipped from the sky. We played for well over an hour with the park almost entirely to ourselves, no marching band to disturb the peace, no soccer hoards to interrupt our space. It couldn't have been any more perfect.

After we returned home it was time for the traditional birthday cake: raw chicken frosted with rice and drizzled with organic peanut butter, topped with a single candle.

The candle was for me, and as I blew it out I said a blessing: "May you have many, many birthdays to come. May all your days be a celebration of your long life, filled with joy and happiness and good health. And may I be as blessed to have you as my friend in the next life as I have been in this one. Happy birthday, Roo."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


September: it was the most beautiful of words, he’d always felt, 
evoking orange-flowers, swallows, and regret. (Alexander Theroux)
So here we are on the far side of summer. I felt it the moment I woke up, the air cool on my face and colder still after my morning shower. It was a hot day but I felt the evening cooling in giant balloon pockets as Dunc and I strolled along the edge of the property. The sun and sky felt further away and somehow faded, as though the mere word "September" had somehow bleached the ferocity of summer from the world, turning everything into a pale, muted version of itself. Duncan led me without direction, content to meander here and then there with only the barest interest in the particulars of our world. The little birds in the shrubs, the cottoning thistles, even the sound of the crickets were merely backdrop. They will be there tomorrow, and perhaps when the idea of September has had more time to sink in they will capture our attention.

But that's okay. I have been sleepy all day and am already looking forward to crawling into bed, pulling the green comforter over me and unclouding my head with dreams of orange flowers and the hum of honeybees in the lavender thirty-seven steps below.