Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rescue

The staff and rec office at the park is a messy place where they toss the discarded remnants of rusty goal posts and fraying soccer nets. It's an eye-sore, but it's also where I take Duncan every afternoon to prowl for bunnies. They huddle among the metal posts and beams and the tall thistles which grow along the back side of the fence, hide under the lowest boughs of the pines and dart for cover under the chain-link and scamper into the shed. But Duncan loves it, for the softness of the grass , the heavy scents the rabbits leave behind and the park worker who drives by nightly in his golf cart to make friendly conversation and toss him treats.

The rabbits usually hear our approach on the sand leftover from last winter's road work and take cover immediately, but tonight one poor fellow fled under the fence only to find himself trapped in the thick rope of a soccer net. While Duncan shimmied and shook at the sight of him I realized he was in trouble as he continued to attempt to force himself through, finally exhausting himself once his neck and legs were thoroughly caught. I asked Dunc to sit while I approached the frightened, struggling bunny, which had tipped over on his side, his back legs kicking uselessly his narrow rib cage heaving. with every breath. Very carefully I knelt down, and loosened the thick ropes from around him. He stayed still, his brown eyes fixed on my hands as I worked to release him. Finally the last of the cords fell free. He righted himself as Duncan scooted up beside me. Together we watched the rabbit watch us, his breaths coming more slowly, his muscles relaxing, his ears still tall and alert above his head. Roo leaned forward, licked his back and whimpered softly. I smiled and patted his head as the thing tensed, gave a quick jerked and darted a few feet away, stopping once to look back at us before hurrying across the parking lot and into the shadows of the elms on the far side.

Monday, August 30, 2010

And Then Tonight

Yes, I can feel the summer slipping away. The edges of the Linden leaves are fraying with yellow streaks, the wind has picked up and the park is littered with the bones of branches broken loose by it. The nights have cooled, making sleep that much sweeter with the windows open and the crisp breeze exploring the nooks and crannies of the apartment while we all dream. The sun, lazy and fat, has started taking a short cut across the sky, arriving later and later each morning and turning in earlier, painting the world blue at a time when only a few weeks ago it was still bright and hot. Our walks have grown more precious and we linger longer outside, Duncan rolling in the grass while I watch the clouds, gold and luminous, slip from west to east.

But it's not gone, as I was reminded this afternoon when Duncan and I climbed the stairs after our walk. Dunc dragged me home from the park and a brief stop at The Glen, but he was hurried and had little interest in playing fetch or chasing the dragonflies which are suddenly plentiful there. He pulled me home quickly, bypassing the small shrubs where the squirrels hide, to lead me up the stairs where we found, waiting for us on the railing, our little birds, the two hatchlings I wrote about only last night.

At first I didn't notice their presence but one of them, perhaps impatient waiting for me, chirped loudly, ruffled its feathers and skittered right then left. Duncan and I stopped in our tracks. He turned his smile up at me and thumped his tail against my calf, his hind end doing an excited little shimmy. "Why, hello, little birds," I said greeted them as I patted Roo on the head and scratched behind his ears.


video

Many times Duncan has led me to the things I need: a sunflower growing along the path, a moon, fat and gold, rising above the trees, a leaf caught up in the moment and dancing with the wind. He knows things about me that only a best friend can know, and I suppose he knew that last night my Autumn melancholy was beginning to set in. But The Universe knows things, too, and as it has so many times this summer, conspired to lift my spirits and remind me that if only we listen and look, the world is full of marvels, always easy to miss and never expected.

My little birds, perched and waiting to greet me, brought a smile to my face and have made this night so much sweeter.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Joy and Heartbreak of Little Birds

The Mud Swallow first appeared in June. It was sitting on the railing overlooking the stairwell, its tiny head darting back and forth. As soon as it saw me it dropped away, unfolded its wings and glided outside over the parking lot to take shelter on one of the shaded branches of the Linden tree.

It was there again when I came home from work, this time perched atop the red match-box of the fire alarm just outside my door, its body black and belly bright orange in the dim light. Again it flew away, chirping at me as it went. It was back the next morning and later when I returned home. Eventually we grew accustomed to one another and I found myself saying, "Good morning, little bird," in a high-pitched, sing-songy voice each time I opened the door, or as I came up the last landing of stairs, "It's just me, little bird." And the more I came and went the more it grew comfortable with me, staying on its perch and watching me as I fumbled with the key in the lock and slipped inside.

I didn't think much of it until mom and I returned from Pocatello after grandma's memorial service. As we carried our bags up the stairs I wondered if it would still be there and was just beginning to tell her the story when we spotted it. In the week I'd been gone it had built a nest atop the alarm, a yellow and gray mass of mud and grass that looked unsteady and precarious, but which held quite well. At first mom didn't believe it was a real bird but then its head swiveled in our direction as we approached and she let out a cry of surprise and wonder.

My little bird stayed all summer and was soon joined by another. Within a week the nest was overflowing with feathers and not long after that I heard the faint, tinny cry of hatchlings calling for food. "Good morning, little birds," I called as Duncan and I left for our first walk of the day, the brightly colored male watching over us from the railing while the female hunted for worms or wasps. And then again in the afternoon. "Hello, little birds."

Those words became the mantra of my summer. I was careful with them, alerting the new neighbors to their presence and shooing away their teenagers who congregated in the breezeway outside my door. Four little birds had moved in, quickly becoming my favorite tenants. They were quiet and polite and I was protective and careful with them. I watched and listened to the hatchlings grow, spotting them for the first time as little more than tiny white beaks peeking out over the lip of the nest, hidden among the feathers and grass, eventually seeing them stand upright so they could peer down on us with their new, curious and alert eyes.


And then one morning not long ago the nest was empty. The sun was bright and the day hot and I imagined they'd been hard at work learning to fly as soon as the sun had cracked the horizon. I stood below the red alarm box wondering about them, worrying about the hawks that glide in the skies above the golf course directly behind my apartment. But then one of their parents appeared on the landing, swooping in from the roof, chirped at me once and watched Dunc and I descend the stairs. The babies were there when I returned in the afternoon, their bodies overflowing the nest, and I knew it wouldn't be long before they found another home, their stay with us becoming a thing of the past. They remained for a week and then they disappeared completely. I stood under the nest and worried about them, and worried that the wind outside was signaling a change in the season. It wasn't until Friday when I came up the stairs and found the nest, crumbled and smashed, laying on its side on the cement outside the door. The last strands of it still clung to the top of the alarm, like the last stray bits of a dream that linger longer than sleep. The world has changed and they are finally gone for good. The nights have grown cool and the sun has shifted in its path across the sky. Orion has been seen prowling low along the horizon and I know these long, glorious days are coming to an end.



This morning as we slipped out, Duncan muddle-headed with sleep still in his eyes, one of the birds was sitting on the railing and chirped as soon as the door opened. "Good morning, little person," it seemed to say. "It's just me." We stopped and watched it a long time and as we stared at each other I felt the sweetness of summer fading slowly, becoming only a quiet memory.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Slow Stalk

At the park this morning, when the dew was still thick, even in the sun, walking barefoot in the grass was like walking through bubbles, cold and crisp, the droplets collecting and then popping on the tops of my feet, bursting between my toes. The same bubbles collected on the end of Duncan's nose each time he dipped down into them and came up for air, the edges of his ears dragging and dampening against the ground, his eyes glimmering with the freshness and laziness of morning. He is a gentle walker when the hours are still early, content to step softly ahead of me as though still somehow navigating his way beyond his dreams and into the wakeful world. I love him always, of course, but Morning Duncan is the sweetest and most magical.

Coming back toward home, quite near the edge of the frontage road, he stopped and went stiff, suddenly alert and rigid. I followed the line of his sight and saw nothing but the sunny blue glimmer of dew on the grass. When I gave his leash a gentle tug to coax him along, he would have none of it and stayed quite still, his shadow turning solid beneath him. I studied the grass ahead of us more carefully, expecting to find the diffused sunlight shining threw the paper-thin ears of a baby bunny, the glow as soft as the dull shimmer of honeybees moving gracefully and with purpose. Still I saw nothing. I asked him what he saw but he was so focused he didn't turn in my direction; his tail, ever wagful did not even twitch at the sound of my voice.

His foot came slowly up, twitching softly as it does when he has spied something that utterly consumes his attention. It moved up and forward carefully, almost imperceptibly, a slow Ferris wheel arc before coming back down in the grass barely inches from where he'd lifted it. And then the other foot, just as carefully, perhaps with more consideration than the first. I shuffled slightly forward, watching ahead of us for something, a mouse maybe, or even the silver flash of a grass snake, but saw nothing. Slowly, slowly he advanced, and even though the minutes were slipping past and being on time for work was becoming an impossibility, I stood with him, moving just behind him, careful of my weight and the sound it made coming down on the grass.

And then there was the moment. We were almost upon it, whatever it was. His eyes were focused directly in front of him, at a point almost beneath his chest. He tensed, his ears and tail tucked down, his weight shifted back into his hind legs. His rear gave a jittery little twitch a moment before he leapt, springing straight up into the air and coming down with the burst of a masterful hunter onto a clear plastic sandwich bag.

The force of his breath, exploding with a deep harumph from his nose, lifted it up, shaking the water from its nearly invisible surface, and sent it sailing a foot ahead. He pounced again, his paws settling around it to hold it against him. He bit into it, felt its damp paperiness fold around his chin and against his cheeks, conforming around his tongue, and released it almost immediately. He patted it, knocking it through the grass and then turned to look at me in confusion, his ears back up, a quizzical angle to his eyebrows. His tail thumped once and then, almost as though embarrassed, snorted and rolled, face first, into the grass, his shoulders and hips following in perfect time, his belly turning toward the sun, his feet flailing in the air as though dancing across the blue of the sky.

I would be late every morning if only to witness such serious intention followed by such shameless celebration at the most minor of victories.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A New Star

Duncan and I crossed the street and meandered through the park as we have done more times than I could count. We bypassed the soccer hoards, skirting the edge of the park, around the four baseball diamonds to the low hill below the memorial where Dunc's bunnies roost. I dropped his leash and watched him explore, sniffing through the tall grass, under the low boughs of the pine trees and let him just be. He was graceful and cautious, diligent in his sniffing as only dogs can be, careful and vigilant, oblivious to my presence. And then when he was done he turned and smiled in my direction, ambled over, licked my cheek and dipped his head into the grass at my side, pushing himself against me, rolling over onto his belly to look directly into my eyes and the blue sky beyond. He was free to wander but he wanted to be there with me as much as I wanted to be with him, so I took his paw in my hand, leaned down and kissed it.

I am grateful for his presence by my side and will not take a single moment for granted. I am lucky to have him in my life and to feel a bond with such a special creature. And as I looked at him laying next to me, his paw cradled in my hand I thought of our blog friends Michael and Miguel and their own Golden companion Duncan, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge this afternoon after a day of being treated like a prince, given all the treats he couldn't enjoy when he was healthier, loved as much as he deserved. Their hearts are heavy tonight, no doubt, but I have been reminded of what a precious gift I have been given, what a tremendous responsibility it is to love and care for a soul as remarkable as that of a Golden but also what joy and happiness it brings with it. And tonight, on our last walk before bed, we will venture out, Duncan's nose to the grass while my eyes scan the sky for that new, bright star that has taken its place in the heavens, set to forever shine down on those who loved it so much in the brief time it was here.

Bless you, Michael, bless you, Miguel, and godspeed to your friend and companion. You are in my heart.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Full Curt

Perhaps it was the soccer hoards that set me off, the wildly tame throngs of vanilla-coated parents milling around, polluting the wide sidewalks with their talk of mini-vans, which sports darling Shelby and little Jackson plan on playing this year, the extremely anti-hip whine of their ring-tones emanating from their L.L. Bean pockets and their refusal to step aside when Duncan and I pass through. "Excuse me.... excuse me...." I say as we wind past them while they merely stare, slack-jawed and vapid in their refusal to budge an inch, as hostile as if I were asking them to co-sign on a loan. "Excuse me," I say again, but what I really want to yell is "Get the hell out of my way for once, won't you?!"

I do not like them and what they and their shrill children do to my park. Each night after they depart they leave the field covered in empty, crushed water bottles, forgotten socks, crumpled bags of fast food and their careless, selfish disrespect. Duncan and I walk the park every day, several times, picking up after them, playing in the grass, laying under the trees, chasing bunnies, and they could care less. The park I call a second home is simply backdrop to them. They don't see it. Hell, most of them don't even notice their children being screamed at by the coaches they've hired to babysit.

This time of year is always difficult, the slow transition from the Summer's exuberance to the tame melancholy of Autumn and the invasion of the inconsiderate after-school crowds. I should be used to it by now, but something about today has convinced me that I can't do it again. As much as we love the lake and the rolling hills, chasing the bunnies, being close to the mountains and our magnificent and violent sunsets, I don't think I have it in me to spend another year in the languid indifference of this suburb. I would gladly trade it for a small apartment in an old converted Victorian down on Capitol Hill, surrounded by diversity and excitement. I'd gladly trade the nearby Applebee's and Red Lobster for a quiet mom-and-pop joint. And I could certainly do without the two hours of commute time each day. Duncan and I could use a change of scenery and people.

And we could certainly do without this particular brand of mindless insanity greeting us in the mornings and following us around the lake each night.

video

It might have been the soccer hoards but I'm quite sure this was the cherry on the banana split of our walk this afternoon. It took all the strength I had to not scream out, "No one likes you! No one likes your music! The only people paying attention are your parents and even they can't wait to sell that  damn trombone!"

But I'm nicer than that so I'll move next Spring and we'll find a more Duncan and Curt-like place somewhere out there in the world. There has to be some place. I'm sure of it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Metaphor

Duncan's wisdom came through on a day when I needed it the most, a windy day that looked more like early Autumn than August, with a restless blue sky, as pale and close as veins just under the skin, with bright rays of gold shining through the dancing boughs and branches, the kind of day that looks as though it's best experienced from the calm side of a window but needs to be walked through and lived in.

He knew what I needed when I couldn't find it myself so he led me to the park where a branch had broken free of its tree, forgotten and discarded on the grass. He lifted it up and pulled it to a spot that suited him and managed it in the only way he knows how, one bite at a time, and in so doing told me everything I needed to navigate the anxiety that had claimed me and threatened to render all my hard work useless.


video

I would be lost without him, adrift like the leaves cascading down and swept across the unending fields.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Behind Each and Every Blink

I am a good walker. It took some training, and although he's still not perfect, Duncan has come a long way from the days when he pulled so hard on his leash, dragging Ken and I down the sidewalks past the perfectly manicured lawns and Disney-esque neighborhood of Stapleton where we lived, reaching so far forward that he practically laid down on the sidewalk, choking and sputtering as he went. Now he wanders a little ahead of me, pulling only slightly and minding me when I tell him to leave it when he's investigated the same blade of grass for five minutes. I have trained him to stop at my side before we cross the street, even if only by bribing him with pumpkin cookies. But no matter how mindful and vigilant I am I constantly remind myself that accidents do happen.

This morning on the way to work, tired after another long sleepless night of staring at the pillow or the Picasso hanging on the wall across from my bed, I finally jolted fully awake––not by my shower or my morning walk with Roo, or even the slow drive across Denver––by the sight of three fire trucks stopped in the middle of the road. They'd pulled over in a half circle directly behind a Subaru, which had skidded to a stop along the edge of the sidewalk. Their lights flashed brightly even in the summer sun. A small crowd had gathered on the sidewalk and as I steered slowly and cautiously around them, I glanced over to see a beautiful chocolate lab laying in the street only inches from the curb, a gang of fireman standing around him looking down on his body, discussing what should be done. It was only a brief glance but long enough to see the poor boy twitch and heave, his leg shiver and his chest rise and fall in big, heaving gasps. And worst of all, standing over him his human companion, sobbing hysterically, the leash still clutched in her tight fist, its other end still fastened to his collar. I gasped and looked away, my eyes stinging with tears. I have seen that image every time my eyes have closed today, behind each and every blink.

Accidents happen, I've told myself a thousand times today. Accidents happen. But still, tonight as we crossed the six lanes of Bowles on our way to the park, we stood a long time, Duncan at my side waiting for the okay to cross, waiting for every single car to pass before we stepped out into the street. Each step we took was precious but guarded and there has not been a moment since I walked in the door that I have not silently thanked The Universe for his life and whispered pleas that we are together a very long time, and then when we do part it is not with violence and pain, but silence and peace.

Please, do not let the accidents happen to us. Please keep me a good papa to a good dog.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Great and Lovely Weight

After the Sunday chores were finished, after playing with Roo down at The Glen, after my lunch and a tiny bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with a couple of hearty spoonfuls of Nutella, it was time for an afternoon nap on the couch. Duncan curled up at my feet but quickly relocated to the floor where I could rest one hand on his rib cage. I dozed and dreamed of a warm bed, covered in heavy blankets but then the dream turned––as dreams do––and I felt as though a great weight was pressing down on my chest, slowly pushing the air out of me, compressing my body the way a bug must feel when a foot pushes down on it from above. I startled awake, gulping for air, and was met with Pip's cold nose touching my lips, a reassuring tap as though to say "It was just a dream." I blinked awake and understood immediately where the dream had come from.


Just another day in the life of this papa. Great and lovely.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Watching

This is what I can tell you about Duncan:

--he is left-legged, meaning that when he pees he always lifts his left leg
--when I come home he will wait for me to set my bag on the couch and take my lunch box into the kitchen before he gently takes my right hand in his mouth and guides me down the hallway, his back end gyrating like the needle of a compass
--when you turn him on his back to rub his belly, his mouth will fall open and his ears will slip back making him look like a rabid bunny and he snorts and sneezes uncontrollably until you right him again
--he will howl, his mouth a perfect oval whenever he hears an ambulance, but he ignores a police or firetruck siren
--when I set his food dish down he will sit at my feet and wait for me to say a blessing to his health and long life and then kiss him on the head, but if I skip the kiss he will wait to eat until I remember
--he brings his toys to bed, lining them up next to me before settling down and curling up at my feet
--when asked who he loves he will say. "I love you" and jump up and down in celebration
--there is nothing as wondrous to him as new-fallen snow, which speaks to him and asks only that he bury his head in it and run in circles, kicking it up so that it may take flight, if only briefly, once more before resting forever
--he cheats when we race up the steps to our apartment, always leaping forward on the count of two rather than waiting until I reach three
--he can tell you when it's 8 o'clock because that's when it's breakfast and dinner time
--he will bow to you first thing in the morning and then stretch and yawn and wink once as a welcome to your day
--he will sidle up beside me when I'm sad, lick my cheek and lean his head on my shoulder, sighing as though to tell me he understands and is here for me
--his craving for pumpkin cookies will make him do anything you ask
--the vacuum, which frightens him, makes him stand between it and the cats, as though shielding them
--he knows the names of each of his toys and will fetch them if asked

Sometimes when I lay on the couch and read or watch a movie, or wake up in the middle of the night, I will catch him just sitting and watching me, his head cocked to one side, and I wonder what he could tell you about me, the little things even I do not notice. Perhaps he would say nothing, content with his knowledge, silent with the magnitude of our friendship.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Playing with Someone Else's Balls*

Duncan and I stopped by Brady's apartment last night on our way back from our last walk. The sun had set but dark had not quite settled in above the mountains. The sky, except for a single, narrow stripe of clouds, was clear and thick with stars. The early evening rain had tickled the scents from the grass and trees and the rich dark ground. The glow of light from the parking-lot lamps was crushed by dancing swirl of moths and gnats. But Brady's apartment was cool and quiet and the music, as always, was good.

Duncan is a little afraid of Roxie, Brady's mutt, which, in our feeble and fruitless attempts to identify, we have dubbed A Czechoslovakian Toad Hound. Roxie is a good dog, trained by the inmates of a Kansas prison. She sits and stays, shakes, hugs, does everything she's told, but she's not very friendly when Duncan comes inside to visit. They play happily and without care in The Glen, but once inside she has a nasty habit of snarling and snapping. Dunc tries hard to avoid her, sometimes crawling over coffee tables to do it, but loves her toys. Brady has spoiled Roxie with dozens of tennis balls, chewy ropes, stuffed animals and all manner of plastic squeaky things, and Duncan, who, despite the bureau I keep filled with balls and fraying, well-loved friends, feels completely neglected and must play with everything in Roxie's stockpile.

Brady and I sat on the patio overlooking The Run. The night was hot but a cool breeze wound its way through the leaves of the maple which grows mere feet away from his balcony. Duncan lounged at my feet, two or three radiation-green tennis balls scattered in front of him. Roxie stood guard in the doorway 'les he sneak back in and grab a few more toys. Duncan gnawed and chewed, rolled them back and forth between his paws and glanced up every few minutes with a sheepish grin on his face. Roxie could not reach him and he was free to play unfettered.

We didn't stay long, no more than an hour. Duncan, who loves Brady, gave him a long lick on the leg, slipped past Roxie, who immediately began a careful inventory of the balcony. Duncan, normally reluctant to leave, waited anxiously at the door, eager for the leash and the walk home. He dragged me down the stairs, across the parking lot and to our own door.

Even though we have been avoiding it, Duncan was eager to venture down The Run this morning, ignoring the flocks of birds cackling from the shrubs and the squirrels which he chases from tree to tree. He barely stopped to tend to business but charged ahead as though on a mission. I struggled on the slight slope, the grass damp underfoot, and managed as best I could to keep up with him. Normally he won't go too far ahead and stops often to wait for me to catch up, but this morning he could have cared less, forgetting to glance over his shoulder and ignoring my whistles. When I lost sight of him I rushed forward and found him scouring the shrubs below Brady's balcony, two of Roxie's tennis balls firmly lodged in his mouth and attempting to squeeze a third one in. He looked up at me, tail wagging a thousand miles an hour, a full, but guilt-free smile spread across his face. While we'd chatted last night Duncan had been casually slipping the balls between the rails and dropping them to the ground below to be retrieved on our morning walk.

How he must have suffered all night, curled up beside me, feigning sleep while his revenge loot waited to be claimed. I tossed two balls back up but let him keep the third as reward for his patience and cunning.


*You should be ashamed for thinking what you were thinking!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Rude Awakening

Last night was not a restful night. While Duncan snored loudly from his bed on the floor and the cats angled for the best spot on my pillow, I struggled to get even the briefest amount of sleep. But even after silence descended––except for the low bubbling ring of the wind chimes from outside my window––I laid on my back staring at the ceiling or at the obscure shadowy figure of the Picasso print that hangs on my wall. It wasn't until nearly 5:45, a mere fifteen minutes before the alarm sounded, that I dozed off, still slightly aware of the soft shape of Olive curled up on the pillow above my head.

Somehow or another my feet found the floor and I pulled myself into the shower while the rest of the family slept, oblivious to my weariness. I stood under the water a long time, my face turned directly into the hot spray, running with a loud rush down into the curling crevices of my ears. Later, the baby-scream of the tea kettle summoned everyone to breakfast and while they ate I sipped from my mug and dozed at the counter, exhausted and wanting nothing more than to call in to work and sleep on the couch.

But Duncan needed his morning walk, so we slipped down the stairs, around the side of the building and onto the dewy grass of The Run, which we have avoided since the monster dogs, who snarl and froth from their patio, moved in late last Spring. Duncan ran freely while I thought of all the miles we'd logged back there, walking from home to The Glen and home again under the heavy boughs, over the packed snow and ice. The squirrels are Dunc's primary object of interest, but this morning he was enraptured by the birds, from the big squawking crows to the tiny gray and brown things which look like stones but flutter like a storm of dust motes before an open window. He chased after them, reaching as far up the trunks of the Aspens as he could, grinning and whining while they looked down  disapprovingly from above.

My eyes were heavy and I wondered if I'd ever wake up when Roo suddenly turned and darted into one of the low shrubs which grows in front of someone's patio just feet away from where I stood. He dove head first into the thick greenery, yapped as a cyclone of tiny birds erupted from hiding, fluttering around his head. He snapped again and then jerked back as he does when he investigates something that startles him by its movement. He turned to look at me and as I bent to pat him on the head, he opened his mouth and released the small bird he'd somehow held on his tongue. The thing screeched and flapped up into my face, spun in the air shaking loose the dog slobber that coated its wings and breast feathers and flittered away, vanishing into the high branches of the trees.

Duncan smiled widely, almost wickedly, and jumped up, his paws resting against my belt. I was wide awake, perhaps more so than on any morning in recent memory, but not nearly as awake as that bird, which cursed at us long after we had moved away.