Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Terrible and Lovely Wind

Indian summer seemed never to want to end. Our afternoons and weekends have been lovely, golden and warm, bright as only October afternoons can be, earth-scented and clean but rich, like my grandfather's bait box. The trees have been bashful, their leaves slow to change their colors but those that have fallen have been sturdy and crisp with just enough music still locked away in them so that they crackle and sigh melodiously when stepped upon and pushed through, rising up before us like waves before a ship's bow. I have bragged about our weather, extolling its virtues to loved ones, half believing it would never end. A year ago we'd had nearly fifty-six inches of snow before Halloween even arrived, but this year––this blessed October!––the sun has stayed with us, tantalized us with promises that it would not leave, whispered warmly, its lips pressed against our cheeks.

And then the wind came.

I laid in bed last night, Duncan and the cats curled around me in snug little balls and listened to it batter the brick walls of my building, gasped when it leapt over the roof and across the eves, pummeled the windows and shook my room. After a while the long burst dwindled into one continuous, faraway liquid moan and I couldn't help but wonder as I drifted off if this was what it sounded like in the womb.

Many of the trees were naked this morning, their leaves scattered deep and wide across the lawns. Autumn had been slow to come but it arrived with a terrible booming howl that refused to be ignored. Great branches had been torn out of the elms and aspens and were scattered like discarded bones everywhere we turned. Even the light was somehow different, faded like the newspaper clippings my grandmother hung on her refrigerator doors.

I was not thrilled for our walk tonight and thought perhaps I could simply stroll with Duncan down to The Glen where we would play in the last of the cold sunlight, but Roo would have none of it. He dragged me across the street to the park, free of the children and their side-line parents, where he could run unfettered off-leash. I simply stood there, my mittened hands thrust deep into my pockets, the collar of my jacket pulled up high around my neck. My hair, which is longer than it has been in a very long time, blew around my ears and across my forehead in new but familiar ways while I squinted against the biting wind and watched Duncan run in circles, from branch to branch, sliding nose-first through the leaves. I was impatient and tired, eager to retire indoors, but he hunted down a heavy stick, as long as I am tall and as thick as my wrist, and brought it to me. I tossed it and watched it spin like the blades of a helicopter into the dim evening, carried further than I expected by a long, loud gust. He darted after it, brought it to me, but would not let go. He pulled and turned and trotted away, dragging me behind him. My laugh rose up over the wind, sudden and unexpected in my ears, and encouraged him to pull harder. Soon we were running side by side, both of us clutching the branch, the wind, cold and lovely, carrying us along like low-flying birds. I had not expected to find joy there, but my smile and Duncan's vast wisdom knew better. He knew there was more outside the windows and across the street than cold and prying ice-fingers against my neck and up my sleeves. He'd listened to the wail all day from his perch at the end of my bed, learning its songs and celebration, and somehow managed to teach us both to fly.

"The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind. The answer is blowin' in the wind." (Bob Dylan)

Monday, October 25, 2010

One More Sunday

It has been difficult arising from bed in the morning. October has been generous with us this year and so I have kept the windows open at night to allow the cool air to wash through the apartment, pinkening my cheeks while I sleep. But the mornings are dark and crisp and bed is the only place I want to be, Pip curled into my chest, one paw resting against my throat as though guarding my pulse while I dream. Pulling myself from beneath the comforter is an almost painful movement but once I'm up the cats scurry around me, singing to me, songs of breakfast and scritches on the chin. Duncan is the last to pull himself from sleep and does so only reluctantly, enraptured by dreams of coy bunnies and darting brown birds always just out of reach. He relishes my weekends because it means long cuddles and belly rubs, lazy walks off-leash in the park before the hoards arrive, afternoons spent playing with his squeaky ball and snacks slipped to him while he lounges at my feet. Mondays are a difficult transition for him and it is all he can do to pull himself from the soft pillows and blankets he sleeps on.

This morning he seemed particularly reluctant and decided the best course of action was to prolong the weekend in the only way he knew how: by curling up on the end of the couch on top of my bag, hiding it as best he could. Perhaps he thought that if I could not locate the symbol of his Mondays mornings that we could repeat Sunday, venturing out among the leaves for more of our precious quiet time together, just the low sun and the two of us. Oh, if only it were that easy.

He doesn't know how difficult it is for me to leave him as well. One more long morning with Roo would be a precious gift, indeed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Service

I saw old autumn in the misty morn
Stand shadowless like silence, listening
To silence.
(Thomas Hood)

 Autumn mornings with Duncan in the park, empty and serene, are my church. The silence is tremendous before the bird chorus begins, as though the parishioners have just taken their seats and settled in, the last of the groans and whimpers of the pews beneath their weight fading away. The leaves, vibrant and violent in their last dying, are like stained glass above us and I know there are no moments as precious as these, as gentle on my thoughts and as rewarding to my spirit. The soft pad of Duncan's feet on the grass and the musical staccato of the leaves on the ground as he passes through them are my psalms, and after all the years have passed their quiet melody will echo in my heart and bones and will be all the salvation I need.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This Was the Day Autumn Came

This was the day Autumn came. It whispered us awake from bed with the soft patter of drops running down the window and rain dancing in the puddles that had gathered and were milling around the parking lot below. The wind, hushed and secretive, courted the leaves in the trees, made pretty little promises to them and then rushed coyly away around the side of the building. The sun has been forgetful of us and concealed her bashful body behind impossible layers of clouds, gathered around and below her like a dragging skirt.

In the evening, even though the sky had somehow managed to cast away the dark costume of the day, the air was still cold and Duncan's breath preceded him across the park in great heaving clouds he snorted from the damp and spongy soil. The puddles reflected the sun and seemed less like puddles and more like gaping holes punched straight through the earth where light was born and burst forth brighter than our own lazy star. And as darkness fell I could smell the lonely scent of smoke rising from the chimneys from the valley across the lake, strong and warm, but distant and as empty as the past.

I spent twenty-one Autumns in Idaho but it's my time in The Shire of the Midwest that I think of each year when the fires begin burning on the hearths. I remember those nights walking across the near-perfect campus of Lake Forest College where I never quite felt I belonged, the mist rising up from the surrounding ravines, the halo around the yellow moon, and the smoke from other people's homes teasing me. Were it not for all the trees and the tall walls I could have peeked in their windows and been warmed by the glow. But because I could not I whistled Autumn songs to myself, listening to the echo off the brick buildings and wondering if I would ever feel at home in Autumn in whatever place I happened to reside.

Nearly twenty years later I am still wondering, but with Duncan walking at my side, brushing against my leg or turning his nose into the cup of my hand, I feel close to home. Not quite there, but close.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Aged in Autumn

Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn. (Elizabeth Lawrence)

She was a small woman, white from head to toe, hunched up in a shawl even though the afternoon breeze, smoke-scented and tired, was warm. She was old––perhaps in her mid-80's, maybe more––and tiny, but her eyes were like fierce sparks and her face glowed with the low afternoon sun. She did not move from her bench under the reddening tree but when Duncan and I stepped past her she smiled and made a cooing noise in her throat. She watched him sniff the long grass for bunnies and the leavings of other dogs who march the trail along the edge of the lake. He was indifferent to her but she did not take her eyes from him.

"Hello," I said.

"There is something," she said. "About a dog and a lake." Her voice, soft and tinny though it was, was lyrical in its rising and falling.

"Yes, there certainly is," I replied. "Did you have a dog?"

She smiled and even though she was watching Duncan dance around me on the trail her eyes were far away. "A long time ago," she said. "A long way from here."

She was still there an hour later when we'd made the long loop around the lake. The sun had dipped lower in the sky and her face caught the red and amber light. She smiled when she saw us.

"Lovely evening," I said.

She nodded. "Every evening is lovely to a dog." She watched Duncan and as he approached, slow and careful, she let go her shawl and reached out a curled fist to touch his nose. He sniffed her, gave her knuckle a quick lick and then laid down in front of the bench at her feet. And there we stayed, watching the light fade from the lake, sitting in silence but not uncomfortable in it.

I remember more dearly autumn afternoons in bottoms that lay intensely silent under old great trees. (C. S. Lewis)

Monday, October 4, 2010


I have been without a morning whistle on my tea kettle for nearly a month, and although it was tough going at times, I somehow managed to survive. My morning ritual has been horribly silent. Rather than the familiar and comforting baby-scream wail of the water coming to a boil, I've had to strain my ears to catch the bland gurgle of boiling water coming from the kitchen, at which point I purse my lips together and whistle Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" or even Vicki Sue Robinson's "Turn the Beat Around." It's not the way I'd like a day to begin, but since the most crucial element of my tea pot vanished it's the best I could manage.

As you may recall, at some point last month the whistle vanished suddenly. Duncan and Winnie were in the kitchen during the abduction, Pip had gone underground and Olive, aloof and indifferent, seemed almost insulted that she was a suspect at all. No one came forward and no amount of searching yielded the victim, let alone any clues. 

Until yesterday.

I'd returned home from the grocery store with an armload of food: apples and still-green bananas (exactly the way I prefer them), some lettuce, a cucumber, a single carrot, a few boxes of organic soup, beans, some fish and a king-sized jar of Nutella (for the lonely nights). While putting the produce in the crisper I noticed an empty bag at the back of the drawer. When I retrieved it I saw something heavy and dark and wondered what monstrosity had been growing forgotten and alone, biding its time in the coldest, most forlorn reaches of my home, waiting to unleash it's juicy, hairy horror upon my mundane life. I winced as I opened it, expecting to discover an angry grape tomato, or even the last bit of a kiwi, but was shocked––and elated––to find my whistle.

Somehow or another it had fallen into a bag and been deposited in the fridge. I did a little dance and hurried to each of the kids to announce their innocence. Winnie rolled over on her belly, Pip finally emerged from beneath the couch after a long month spent with the nefarious gang of dust bunnies he's been hanging with, Olive rolled her eyes and sauntered away. Only Duncan seemed relieved, which he demonstrated by dancing with me, but then he's easily impressed anyway.

I blame the corn on the cob. It was delicious but I could tell it was up to something.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Spiderweb Autumn

For awhile I actually believed Summer would never end. The leaves have stayed solidly green, only fraying at their very edges with a fine vein of red. The grass is thick and smells like high Spring when I lay in it. The days have stayed hot and the sky has been blessedly clear of clouds. But sometime last night while we slept Autumn crept in and began to remake our corner of the world. There was a mist on the edge of the park and a fine silver crust clung to the grass, sparkling like dusk's stars. The morning is cool, almost cold, and shows no signs of hurrying into the warmth we've enjoyed for so long. I wore a jacket for the first time on our morning walk and the thin layer of leaves which fell overnight crunched under Duncan's feet as we explored the new season. Autumn has arrived as suddenly and shockingly as the invisible spiderwebs which I pass through under the trees, silently, with a tickle and a tug on my face as they brush my new beard and catch on my neck, things felt and not seen. The day promises to be beautiful but my heart, a Summer heart, is breaking as it begins to hum the old, familiar Autumn songs, "I'll Be Seeing You" and "Autumn Leaves." I'll enjoy it as best I can and take comfort in Duncan's delight in the falling leaves and his dreams of snow, but I won't like it one bit. With one eye on my dog, I am already beginning to look forward to the warmth of Spring's sun.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Claiming New Territory

Sophie, a Pekingese Maltese mix, loves Duncan. Joyce, her companion, and I get along well and often spend long minutes chatting and catching up while Soph scuttles around and under Duncan, whimpering and wagging her little tail while she tries to sneak kisses from his cheek. Duncan, who has grown increasingly indifferent to other dogs and prefers the company of people, tolerates her adoration admirably, but he'd much rather Joyce dote on him than talk with me.

Sophie recently discovered the pumpkin treats I carry in my pocket. Although Joyce insists Sophie doesn't really like treats she likes mine, so tonight, rather than play with Roo, she rubbed against my ankles like a cat and rolled at my feet, her little paws wagging in the air. I obliged her and knelt down in the grass to rub her belly and slip her some treats, which she eagerly chewed up, licking my fingers for the crumbs when she was done. Duncan, fiercely protective of my attention, also loves the treats and kept trying to maneuver his way between us, reaching for the goods before Sophie could get them. I kept pushing him away and slipping her more treats, which caused her to wiggle and whine and dance circles around me.

Duncan has always been the jealous sort and when it became clear to him that I preferred Sophie to him, he decided to take immediate action. He turned his attention to Joyce and decided that she was a fine human, good enough to make his own. So he did what dogs do when they take possession of something. He stepped around Joyce while we played with Sophie, sniffed her calf, raised his leg and marked her ankle as his new territory.

Joyce squealed as Duncan looked up at her with a wide grin on his face, obviously pleased with his decision to make her his. Joyce squealed, and always a good sport (aided by the glass of wine she brings with her on her evening walks), laughed and shrugged it off while I chastised Roo and apologized over and over. She shrugged the whole thing off, kicked off the flip-flop and wiped her foot on the grass. I offered to clean it for her but she brushed me aside and insisted all was well and told Dunc she was flattered that he loved her enough to claim her.

Sophie, drunk on pumpkin treats and confused by the whole scene, seemed to think my pumpkins goodies were an even exchange for Joyce. She whimpered and watched while I pulled Duncan away and led him home where he was reminded that he has my heart and could never be replaced.