Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Wrong Tree

Every morning we turn the corner out of the breezeway and venture down The Run where Duncan almost immediately tends to business. I stand and shiver, hands thrust deep into my pockets as I scan the golf course on the other side of the fence, marveling at the immense number of geese which keep appearing. Sometimes on the far side I'll see a coyote crouched in the long grass near the barn watching as well. Most mornings, though, after he tends to business I take the leash off and let Duncan run all the way down to The Glen. Typically he heads straight for the low shrubs where the small birds roost. Occasionally he stirs up a squirrel or two, sometimes chasing them right up the brick wall. Most of the time, though, they dart, panic-stricken, for the three big aspens which form a triangle in the space between the buildings.

This morning he found something interesting to sniff and so lingered at the fence line while I plodded ahead, my cheeks, still warm from the shower, turning pink and beginning to sting in the cold morning air. I looked back over my shoulder, whistled once for Roo and waited while he broke into a run, his ears swinging back behind his head, a wide smile on his face. At the last moment he turned, narrowly missing me and leapt straight into the shrubs, scattering a cloud of brown and gray sparrows and what looked like a small army of squirrels. Later I was able to count nine of them in the aspens but some scampered under the fence, into the tall grass and up the side of the enormous willow.

One, though, wasn't sure where to go, so, leaping from under cover, he darted straight up the nearest tree trunk, which wasn't a tree trunk at all but my leg. I dropped the leash and poop bag, took a startled step back and opened my mouth to cry out. He made it almost to my hip before he realized his mistake, screamed for me and pushed off with a tremendous amount of force, landing six or seven feet away. Duncan, overwhelmed by the sheer number of squirrels to chase, was turning in circles, tail wagging, barking and snapping at everything, completely oblivious to the attack. He'd pounced on a stick and was busy shaking it to death while the squirrel and I were fending for our lives. And while we both escaped unhurt––not even my pants suffered a wrinkle––I can't say the same for the stick. Duncan did a pretty good job of taking it out of the game.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Good Neighbors

I know a lot of dogs (Sofie with the broken leg, Patrick the brooding Basset Hound, Cleo the yappy Bijon who sings a chorus with Sophia and Biscuit, the twin Matlese; Toaster, the Schnauzer and Tyson the minpin; Toby, Honey, Emma, Champ and Lucy, the resident Goldens; Katie, the delicate, white-muzzled chihuahua who walks as slowly and carefully as her aged companions; the three Konas, all Black Labs; Bella the Yellow Lab and Nixon the Boxer Mastiff mix; Winston the Pekingese; Judith, the Chow and Diamond, the Dalmatian, who I have referred to here as The Hyenas because they froth and snarl whenever we walk past them; Mollie the barker who has since quieted down and Pepper the short, stumpy mutt of a work dog who loves Duncan more than she loves food; Hank the American Bulldog, Moose and Ellie the pugs who huff and puff, and Akasha, the timid German Shepherd) but I know few of their people. We talk, of course, but most of us never bother to introduce ourselves. We're content to let the dogs sniff and roll around but mostly we just smile and stand while we wait for butts to be sniffed and slobber to be exchanged. We're a happy lot, and friendly, too, but not very neighborly.

It has been a stressful year here at Raccoon Creek with the required renovations. The residents who live in unrenovated apartments have been asked to move to allow for upgrades. While some have left most have stayed, moving to the far side of the complex (or Siberia as I think of it), but nearly all have complained. I was fortunate in that my apartment was one of the first to be updated so I don't have to worry about it, but I've listened and commiserated and counseled while Duncan has sniffed their ankles for any stray crumbs which may have fallen into the folds of their socks.

The other day I noticed that the neighbor who lives across from me, a nice man in his late fifties, was beginning to move. His son had gone away to college and the man was attempting to do it all himself. We've chatted many times, mostly about the weather or his golf game, but we've never bothered to introduce ourselves until Duncan, off-leash, climbed the stairs ahead of me and ambled into his apartment. The door had been propped open while he carried boxes down the stairs to his waiting car.

I apologized profusely but Steve shrugged it off, relating a story about his son as a toddler, wandering across the hall and into someone's apartment where he helped himself to a plate of cookies. Duncan,  who is curious and friendly, and a complete whore for attention, has never been so bold. Steve and I chatted and before I knew it I'd volunteered to help. So for much of last night I carried boxes down three flights of stairs and spent a good portion of tonight helping stow shelves and dressers, desks and disassembled beds into the back of a moving van. Steve is a good chap and even offered to buy me a gift card or give me cash for my assistance but I declined, telling him that it's never too late to be a good neighbor. I'm not sure if I'll ever see Steve again but thanks to Dunc someone who needed help got it and I got to make the acquaintance of someone other than a dog.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Descent

This day has known no silence. The geese have been amassing, enormous flocks of them flying low and landing like clumsy jets  on the brittle greens of golf course. Thousands have crowded today's skies, circling in tight formations then breaking and circling again, their voices rising up like fingers rubbing hard across the surface of a newly polished mirror. I have stood long minutes in the window, first with the sun glowing on the skin of my face and then again after the clouds turned the world dark, a washed out brown with hardly a pulse. And still they came, great clouds of them raising the ruckus Summer had banished. Duncan stood with me, his head cocked, his body taut, nose sniffing the air for traces of them. On our long walk this afternoon we watched them sweep in from the east, circling low over the trees to their north before the long, anxious descent to the ground. Duncan pulled at the leash, did a sort of dance at the sound of them, understood that soon we would be driving up legions of them from the park. They watched us back, squawking and barking, a cacophonous discordant symphony that eventually drove us away.

And then, just before dark, when day teetered on the brink of night, the wind rose up and swept their voices away, lifted the noise over our heads, pulled it through the clouds and let it evaporate in the billowous night. The geese were struck mute as the light abandoned the sky, and we turned our heads upward––Duncan and me and all the geese on the course. The silence was massive. Nothing stirred. The world seemed immobile, as though underwater while we waited and waited for some sign, a permission, to move again.

And then the snow came, first as a vague flutter in the corner of the eye, then a rustle of movement, like the darting of a sparrow. Duncan turned first, looking over his shoulder past me and up into the air. Then I felt the cold against my cheek, rolling down into the collar of my jacket, finding its way to the base of my throat. The geese began a low trolling hum that grew as they took a few steps, spread their wings, raised their heads high on their long necks and sang to the virtue of season. The wind returned the breath to the world and we moved on, squinting into the snow, our feet turned toward home.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Quiet Return

While there are many things I am good at, one thing I do not do well is return home alone after dropping my family off at the airport after a wonderful visit.

Mom and Kevin left this afternoon and although the apartment was bright and sunny and warm enough that I opened the patio doors and all the windows to let some cool air blow through, and Olive and Duncan were waiting at the door for me with the kind of greetings saved for the best of friends,  my small apartment seemed awfully quiet and unexpectedly big and lonely. The kitchen still smells of pumpkin pie and turkey and the carpet still holds the marks of the table we'd set up for our Thanksgiving feast but the long weekend has slipped into memory and it'll take a day or two to ease back into my quiet routine. They have only been gone a few hours and I miss them already.

In the meantime there are chores which need tending to and Duncan is more than ready for a nice afternoon walk. The sun is very bright and very warm, the birds are singing and all sorts of tiny, hovering insects and bees are floating through the air. Duncan will know just the thing to distract me and bring a smile to my face.

He always does.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thank You

As I have said many times in this blog, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, not because of the abundance of food or the overindulgence in it, but for its sincerity. It doesn't demand vast sums of money from us, or hours shopping and hunting for gifts, it doesn't require costumes, exploding rockets or flowers and cards designed and written by others because we lack the imagination or courage to express our own words. It doesn't matter if we have a table full of food or if we are surrounded by a room full of people. Thanksgiving asks only that we pause and acknowledge the bounties and blessings of life. So that is what I'm going to do.

Among many other things, this year I am thankful for
  • Mom and Kevin, who traveled from home to be with me this year, braving icy roads and treacherous winds to fly to Denver.
  • good health: my own, as well as that of Duncan and the cats, my family and friends and the people I love.
  • my new job. After eight and a half years in a job I was ill-suited for, and which made me miserable, I am lucky to have found a job I enjoy surrounded by wonderful people.
  • the paths and trails, winding around the park and lake, across the foothills, into the mountains, and all the places Duncan and I have walked together, discovering new things, celebrating old things, and enjoying the silent details of the world around us.
  • my sister and her fiance, Chris, who asked me to officiate at their wedding next summer. It touched me deeply when they told me they wanted my words to be the words that united them in marriage and bound their lives together.
  • Nutella. 'Nuff said.
  • the gentle hum of Pip's purr as he sleeps on my shoulder, the soft weight of Winnie on my hip each night and the voice of Olive when she greets me in the morning and asks me in that cat way of hers how I slept.
  • The song "Feelin' Good," as performed by the amazing Nina Simone.
  • The return of April to my life. Her appearance last summer was sudden and miraculous, and although she doesn't reply to emails as quickly as I'd like and lives too far away, she is immaculate and untouchable.
  • Edgar, my Kindle, and Lori and Tom, who sent him to me for no reason and reminded me of the innate goodness and generosity of people and their willingness to indulge me when I refuse to indulge myself.
  • the sound of Dunc snoring.
  • The Moth podcast, which makes me laugh and cry, sometimes all at once, and always leaves me breathless with anticipation for more.
  • "The Last Dream of the Old Oak," the last story read to my grandmother before she passed away last year, and my father for sharing it with us at her memorial service.
  • the silence of butterflies and the music of wind chimes.
  • Status updates, which make me laugh, think and remember all the people I have shared a path with in my life.
  • Lisa, my sidekick, who is not evil but tries so very hard to be.
  • Two little punctuation makes, which, when put together say so much, the colon and the closing parenthesis.
  • The "It Gets Better" Project and Dan Savage for his work at encouraging gay youth to hang in there and realize the full potential of their lives.
  • Eggnog and Pumpkin Spice lattes.
  • the poetry of Mary Oliver, the prose of Tom Spanbauer and the magnificence of the written word.
  • the voice of Mrs. Wheeland, who says, "Hello, Curt" every time she answers the telephone.
  • my friends, who share their triumphs and tragedies, open their hearts, lean on me when they need to and allow me to lean on them in return.
  • the holidays, which mean more to me than the insanity of Black Friday shopping.
  • a warm bath, a good book, and three cats who perch on the edge of the tub and watch over me protectively.
  • Russian Olive and Linden trees, whose fragrance sustains me through the long, dark winter months.
  • Glee
  • Chris and Troy Denike, who I don't get to visit with enough, but always manage to run into when I'm crossing Bowles with Duncan. Whether they stop and talk or merely honk, wave and holler as they speed past us, they remind me that somehow I have carved out a life for myself here in Denver, the sort that offers sudden and unexpected visits with people I enjoy being with.
  • Jupiter, which has been high in the sky these past several months, giving me something to marvel at on our evening walks.
  • the little bird which built a home outside my door and stayed for the summer.
  • Tired Old Queen at the Movies, The Sassy Gay Friend, Dropbox, Skype and Bejeweled Blitz, which make the internet worthwhile.
  • Ken, who tells me he loves me each and every time we talk on the phone.
  • and, as always, A.A. Milne, who wrote, "And by and by Christopher Robin came to the end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn't stop."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Full Day

Today was a good day, an adventurous day free of work, full and long, the kind of day that ensures a good sleep at the end of it. Mom and Kevin arrived this morning and after being greeted by an ecstatic dancing Duncan, a big sushi lunch, a day of grocery shopping and running errands, of making a ginger-infused-custard pumpkin pie and brining the turkey, playing with Duncan in the frigid temperatures currently holding steady outside the warm walls of my apartment, I am ready to put on my PJs, pull the blanket over me and have nice spice-scented Thanksgiving Eve dreams, my good dog snoring at my feet and one or two, or even three cats curled up like warm little balls of dough around me.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and tonight, as I look forward to a day of cooking, playing Guitar Hero and eating dinner with Mom and Kevin, I am more thankful than ever to have a quiet life and such a wonderful and supportive family.


Good dog dreams!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Company Coming

We have company coming for the long Thanksgiving weekend and I couldn't be happier about it. And once Dunc sees who's arriving tomorrow morning he'll understand why he hand to endure a few minutes in the tub tonight after his walk. He doesn't hate the tub and readily climbs in when called but he gets fidgety until the towels come out and he gets the full treatment. The free turkey handouts will justify everything, I'm sure. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it is so perfect and genuine and requires only that we pause and count our blessings and offer The Universe our gratitude for them. Tomorrow morning I will have even two more reasons to grateful. And Duncan will be spoiled rotten.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Under the Emerging Moon

I came home to find Duncan still asleep on my bed, curled up on the comforter, his head resting on the sage-colored throw my mother made for Olive last summer. He hardly stirred, even when I plopped down beside him. We both groaned: me as I stretched and shook off my day, reaching my arms far above my head and sticking my legs out straight; and he as he shook a late afternoon slumber from his head and rolled on his side, first to touch his nose to my cheek to make sure I was there and not leftover from his dream and then as he kicked his legs up as though to dance on the ceiling, as I used to do as a child. Once assured that I was there he was ready to go. He jumped up, swung around messing up the comforter as he snorted into it before leaping to the floor and spinning in excited circles in preparation for our walk. I didn't move but continued to stretch, and when Olive climbed onto my chest and nuzzled into my neck I groaned again, feeling sleep and rest tug at me. Duncan returned to the bed, chased Olive away and chirped at me as he does when he's excited. "Oh, Roo," I whimpered and rolled over onto my belly. "It's been a long day. Give me just a minute." But he's smarter than that so stepped on my back, right into my kidney, and chirped so more.

Once at the park I took him off his leash and let him run. He made it about ten feet before he threw himself down onto the cold earth and rolled onto his back, stretching his legs as far out as he could. He stayed that way a long time, drifting lazily from side to side, his cheeks falling loose around his ears, a wide grin on his face while the rising bone moon bathed his face in pale November light the color of snow. I moved toward him, scooping up a stick and tossing it nearby. He merely watched,  unimpressed and stretched and groaned some more. He couldn't be bothered with me. It was a long time, even after I'd walked fifty or sixty feet away, before he climbed to his feet and decided to tag along on our walk. Once he'd caught up he did it again: rolling onto his back and stretching long, smiling up at me and snorting big clouds of steaming breath into the air. Finally I got the idea and spread out beside him.

We laid there a long time. He eventually rolled into me, content to stare at the clear, blue night, his head resting against my cheek. We were both exhausted; me from a long day at work and him from a long day lounging at home. As the minutes passed I understood: why relax at home when you can do it under the stars and emerging moon, your breath miniature clouds before your face, your best friend  beside you?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Apropos of Nothing

I have a strange memory. I remember everything (although there are portions of my senior year in college I will admit to having blanked out on, which is probably for the best). I can tell you what clothes I was wearing on certain days and can even tell you what day of the week it was. I know which gas stations I used to stop at on my long drives from Chicago to Pocatello and what songs were playing on my stereo at certain points on those trips. On more than one occasion my friends have heard me say ridiculous things like, "It was Friday the 12th because on Monday the 8th we all went to that dinner where so-and-so tripped because he was wearing those shoes he'd bought downtown the Thursday before. When we skipped class. Remember?" It simply does not quit.

I'm telling you this because it was two years ago tonight I was sitting at my desk waiting for Ken to come home from work. It had been a busy day grocery shopping for our quiet Thanksgiving dinner later in the week, tending to the chores and taking some time out to watch bits of Gone with the Wind (as I do every year right before Thanksgiving). Duncan and I had been playing and dancing (to Jimmy Sommerville's cover of the Frankie Valli hit, "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You") and I was in a silly mood so I downloaded a photo off the internet, which I hung, as a joke, in front of his food bowl and water dish, just to see if Ken would notice (he did. Two days later). When I moved a few months later I brought that picture with me and put it up for him again. Numerous people have asked about it (I can even remember who) and I always tell them that although I don't understand Duncan's "lifestyle" I support his right to live the way he wants.

If Duncan could talk I'm sure he's either thank me or say nothing and merely shake his head.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

First Walk

First walk is the whispered one, especially on mornings like this when a low fog hangs over the golf course and the air is crisp and not bitter. The long line of The Run looks like a cottoned hallway ahead of us, with a low, chalky ceiling and only a faint warm glow from the new sun. The birds are mostly silent, chirping irregularly and softly as though keeping a secret. Everything whispers around us, even our footfalls. In the distance and overhead, a small flock of geese––perhaps leaving Marston Lake on the far side of the golf course––flap their wings with the great exertion it takes to lift their bodies from the ground and propel them through the air. The lead calls out to its few followers and one replies but the mist swallows and muffles their voices, makes them almost beautiful and melodious as they fall back into silence and pass unseen overhead. Duncan looks skyward at the place where the beating of their wings originates and then ambles forward, sniffing the ground. Not even the leaves at our feet make a noise. The squirrels perch on the low branches of the elms and mark our passage in silence and indifference.  Sleep and dreams are still in our eyes and limbs so we move slowly, without urgency, our only direction forward, and we wake slowly in each others company, glad to be alive and in this moment, happy that we, too, know the secret the birds think they keep to themselves: the sun will rise and burn this mist away, and the day will be beautiful, as all the days before it have been.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Last Walk

Last walk is the quiet one, after we've eaten and played, after the stars have been scraped from the sky by a wash of high, passing clouds, distant and nearly transparent like streaks on a pane of glass. It is a reflective walk along the silent street and we have only the sound of our feet on the pavement and in the grass and my soft whistle to accompany us. Very few people are out and nearly all of them are accompanied by their dogs, who are content to merely pass each other in silence, with perhaps a fleeting tail wag as their only acknowledgment of each other. It is a dreaming walk in which shadows play under a hazy moon that has been framed by clouds in such a way as to look like an eye watching over us, guiding us out and then back again, up the thirty-seven steps to the door, behind which a warm bed and a hug of soft pillows await.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lorien

Autumn has finally turned the world into a bland, unending expanse of brittle yellow, broken by cracks of faded browns and dusty shades of forgotten bone. The leaves have mostly fallen and scattered or been torn up––once-leaves, sliver shards, hardly even remnants of their former selves. The green has faded from the grass and the ground is slowly contracting and hardening and although winter has not yet appeared I can catch glimpses of her out of the corner of my eye, flirting behind an aspen, crouching amid the frost in the grass, running her fingers along the black iron of the gates.

There is one place, though––a silly place––that Duncan led me to this morning and again on our evening walk: the courtyard surrounding the hot tub. He pulled me to the gate and leaned in close to the bars, his tail swishing as a happy moan hummed in his throat. He turned and smiled at me, watching as I took in the color. One tree, hanging low over the tub, is still green but with the most vibrant and plump gold and red leaves fanning throughout the branches. The colors were shocking, and standing there, gazing at them, watching the dew roll slowly down the open face of a leaf, collecting drop after drop, growing as it moved, I could hardly believe how impossibly lush and new it looked. The cold vanished from the air and I felt years younger, exactly as I needed to feel today.


"[He] stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever. He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lórien, there was no stain." (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Serious Hunt

Whatever it was, hiding under the lowest boughs of the fir tree, far back and deep near the narrow trunk where it's always dark and shadowy, had Duncan's attention.

Our morning walk had taken us down The Run, through the shrubs where the squirrels and little gray and brown birds hide, to The Glen, which the sun had only just began to touch. The grass was stiff and frosted with the silver cobwebs of a hard frost and the air was cold and unmoving. As the sun slipped over the line of buildings its rays softened the ice and ignited the dew drops into a millions golden globes, playing with our eyes even as it blinded us. Duncan burst into a hard run, circling me and sliding on his side down the hill. He ran and ran around me, panting in that untamed, exuberant way that dogs have, his tongue hanging out, his eyes wide but focused on everything simultaneously, as if he was seeing the entire morning, racing to capture its every aspect.

And then he stopped. His body went utterly rigid, except for his left foreleg, which was raised,  barely hovering above the grass while the paw quivered slightly as though stirring the cold air. He took a very slow and cautious step, lowering his head and peering under the low boughs of the tree. I leaned forward and peered into its depths, expecting to see a lone rabbit or perhaps a squirrel perched at the base of the trunk, its eyes riveted on Duncan, waiting to decide what to do. But there was nothing. The leaves, blown wild from last night's tremendous wind, had formed a deep, unmoving undulating pool there, deeper in places, nearly bare in others, tall frozen waves rising and falling in a brown and yellow ring. I stepped to Roo's side and followed the line of his vision but couldn't see anything. He took another step, pushing his shoulders back and steadied his hind legs as he prepared to leap.

And then he sprang straight into the needles, parting them and slipping among the branches. I expected an explosion of sound as whatever creature huddled there jumped into action, ran in a quick circle as the squirrels often do, screaming and cursing as they clamor for safety. But no, only utter silence. Duncan drove inward again, invisible except for his tail, a red and gold propeller that rotated and pushed him ever forward. I heard him snort and huff and then he began to scratch at the leaves and earth, shredding them as he strained and moved, moved and strained.

And then he emerged, jaws wrapped tightly around something small and brown, soft-looking and snug. Oh God, he's found a dead rabbit, I thought. Now what? What do I do? He kept his head low and turned away from me as he darted around and away from me, as he does when he's being coy about a game of fetch. I followed him, shouted his name and commanded him to stop, which he did. As I leaned in he turned his head, swallowed and bit down.

"Duncan," I said sternly. "Drop it. Drop it now."

So he did. The thing rolled down the hill, bouncing as it went, cutting a vague path through the leaves before coming to rest twenty feet away. Duncan made to move again but I beat him to it, sliding on the wet grass and bending to pick up a large chocolate chip muffin.

"This?" I asked. "This is what you've been stalking?" He whined and beat the earth with his tail and made pretty eyes at me but I did not give in, although I did laugh and pat him on the head, and tossed him a papaya and mango treat. "Good boy," I told him. "What a brave hunter you are. What a serious mission."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One with the Wind

A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away, and the trees stand. I think, I too, have known autumn too long.  (e. e. cummings)

I thought it would be a quick walk. I meant for that. I really did. I meant to take Duncan outside, perhaps to The Glen, just long enough to stretch his legs and feel the air on his face and against his open mouth, to let him taste the last of this day to save for some other time when he was sitting in the warm side of the window watching an afternoon pass without him. The night was dark with the sudden clouds that swept down on us from the north, raising the dust and prickly once-leaves and then bringing a thick, heavy snow which wanted to last but couldn't because the wind was simply too impatient for it and in far too great a hurry to rage unfettered across the open plains of Kansas or Nebraska. Surprisingly I, for once, agreed with the wind and wanted to rush and howl.

But once Duncan I were at the park, dark and blessedly free of any other souls, some force claimed us both, took command of our bodies and thoughts and scooped us up, driving us forward, against the screaming wind, pushing our cheeks back, shaping our mouths into maniacal grins and turning our eyes into squinting black points. The wind was terrible and fierce and as I stood in the center of the wide soccer field watching the cottonwoods and elms bend all around us, leaning at nearly impossible angles while Dunc darted madly back and forth among their trunks, a sense of celebration rose up in me, defiance and celebration and nothing in me wanted to return to the warmth of home or the rich, safe fragrance of the French onion soup simmering on the stove. I wanted to dance and run, and sometimes merely to walk but always to struggle. I wanted to listen as my calls for Duncan were pulled from my throat and ripped into shredded-silence across the field. The sting on my cheeks and in my eyes meant nothing, nor the cold sucking on the bones of my fingers. All that mattered was the roar and our passage through it.

Duncan was wild, galloping and rolling, snapping at the leaves that spun through the air between us, flung from their high branches, careening around our heads, winding around our ankles. The trees shifted and groaned as they bent toward us in stiff, straight-backed bows and I wondered how anything so tall and narrow could stand it and then I thought, how could they not? Why would anything want to ignore such graceful and feral calamity behind the veil and impotence of four walls when it could bend and dance under a sky-ravaged moon and test the mettle of its character?

Tonight we were free. Beautiful and wild and free. Tonight we were one with the wind.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Top of My List

It wasn't the first snow and didn't last very long, but it was Duncan's first daytime snow and he couldn't have been happier. By the time I got dressed this morning, he was already sitting in the window watching it fall, tail thumping, ears perked up. And although snow is near the top of the list of my least favorite things, watching Dunc run and play in it is not. It was the perfect way to start my day. And his, too.

video

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Safe Spot

When Duncan was young and we'd just built our house we kenneled him. Those first few nights were rough, perhaps more so on Ken and me, but we all eventually transitioned to it nicely. I come from the school of thought that a kennel should be a safe haven for a dog, a cave for them to retreat to when they're anxious or frightened, and should never be used as a punishment. Duncan had a great kennel, with lots of big pillows and his Winnie-the-Pooh and even when he got older and we left the door open at night, he chose to sleep there. It was all his. No cats or humans allowed.

After we sold the house and moved into a much smaller apartment we didn't have room for the kennel so we put it in storage, until I eventually gave it to my former boss, whose family adopted a Golden puppy. Duncan, though, still craved a special spot of his own and chose, instead, to sleep under the bed, which was fine, except when he'd climb out in the middle of the night, bumping his head, rattling the box spring and making all sorts of noise. He was fine with that arrangement until last year when I got a new bed with a much lower clearance, effectively cutting him off from his safe spot. I hoped he'd adjust and invited him to share the topside of the bed with me, but that didn't solve our problems.

Every time it thundered, or a loud truck would drive through the parking lot, and especially around the Fourth of July, Duncan was miserable. He had no place to hide and his anxiety began to make me anxious. I had nothing to offer him except the underside of the coffee-table in the living room. He was miserable, I was miserable, the cats were miserable. So I began the search for a new kennel. I have a very limited amount of space and wasn't looking for a full-sized one, just one where he could retreat when he needed to get away from it all.

Chelsea at Hero's Pets eventually sold me the perfect place for Duncan. It's a canvas collapsible kennel, the perfect fit for Roo, with screens on all four sides and on top, kind of a like a big, square tent. I tossed in his pillow, slipped Pooh Bear back in the corner, laid down his blanket and the afghan my mother made him last Christmas and led him inside. He loved it! He spun in a couple of slow circles, tamping the pillow down just so and then plopped down, his chin resting on Pooh's foot, a sleepy smile on his face.

But Dunc isn't the only one who likes it. More often than not I have to remove Olive and Pip, who curl around each other in tight little balls, the afternoon sun beating down on them. Winnie, who has always been the smartest, chooses to sleep up top, thus avoiding any forced relocation. Dunc is polite and doesn't want to disturb Olive, who is stubborn and aloof, and often peeks inside, sees her there and either hops up onto the bed with me or scurries back to the living room to crawl under the coffee-table. I've actually had to teach him that it's okay to give her the boot, which seems to suit him just fine. Now he ambles in on his own, rearranges the pillow and plops right down, Olive or no Olive. And she has learned that her old spot above my head on the pillow is ready and waiting. Winnie, of course, stays right where she is, barely batting an eye.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Elliot

I am not a peeping Tom but Duncan is. Sometimes it's all I can do to keep him out of people's windows, nosing around, peeking in at them, riling up their dogs. Seducing their cats.

Today we stumbled upon a big fat tabby sitting on his sill, minding his own business, basking in the early afternoon sunshine, but when he spotted Dunc he looked as though he was going to pounce. I tightened the leash and prepared to pull him back. It wouldn't have been the first time a cat has puffed up, hissed and smacked a window silly at his sudden appearance. It's a nasty sight and on more than one occasion I've seen blinds ripped down as a worried human appears to console the freaked out feline while we amble away apologetic and embarrassed.

But not today. This cat fell for Duncan. Hard. Roo inched up to the window, touched his nose to the glass directly in front of the cat and wagged his tail. The cat leaned in close, batted the glass then proceeded to roll into a ball in the corner, tail flapping happily, knocking the blinds back and forth. Duncan whined, tapped the window with his paw, pulled in for a closer look and began to lick the glass. I stood back and laughed as a car pulled up and a woman got out.


"I see Elliot made another friend," she said as I apologized and tried to scoot Duncan away. "It's okay," she told me. "He loves dogs. Loves!" We both turned and watched Elliot roll and play in the window while Duncan leaned against the glass, tail moving a mile a minute behind him. "He sits there all day. My husband thinks it's so he can watch the birds in the trees but I think it's so he can flirt with the dogs. He's a dog at heart."


On our afternoon walk we stopped by Elliot's window again. The blinds were drawn and the cat was nowhere to be seen but the second Duncan whined the big fur ball leapt up and began the whole routine all over again, mewing through the glass and rubbing it with his cheek. Duncan knelt to grab a stick, which he rubbed against the window as though trying to share with Elliot.

It felt strange, standing there in front of someone's window while they played, but I didn't think anyone who saw would mind.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hard Frost

As a writing student in college I was taught by my mentor, Tim Muskat, to seek out the beauty in the mundane and to be as specific as possible. That can be a difficult task, especially at this in-between time of year, caught as we are between the explosion of Autumn's color and the simple but marvelous whitewash of winter. My long walks with Duncan now occur mainly at night when it's impossible to see much of anything except the orange glow of the city sky and the occasional burst of starlight when the haze clears. Our morning walks, though, cold and quick, are the only time I have to notice,  to exercise my senses by following Dunc's lead, keeping my eyes low to the ground where the hard frost has brought new life to the colors and textures of our world, my ears turned up to catch the final calls of the owls in the cottonwoods, my feet tuned to the crunch of the hard, brittle grass below.  Tim beat the concept of the concrete and specific into our brains and onto our pages, but Duncan leads me to them with an ease that is unmatched. I thought I'd share some of his finds from the past few mornings, from curling leaves spiderwebbed into the grass to an explosion of gold behind the shattered glass of frost-covered trees, from the frozen teardrop of dew on a wilting purple pansy to the silver fraying edges of yesterday's blood-ripe leaves. Tim taught me to watch while Duncan guides my eyes daily.






Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.  (Stanley Horowitz)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Night on the Lake

It is not often we walk the lake path after dark, especially when it is cold and the snow has been sprinkling lazily down on us all day, more of an afterthought than anything to be taken seriously. Like dust swept up from the ground. There is no accumulation and not enough for Duncan to play in, but it has crisped and frosted the long grass that sprouts up past my knees along the edges of the trail. Everything is yellow and brown and crystalline but that does not matter in the darkness. The lamps rise up every hundred feet or so around the lake, casting warm little pools of gold along the way. The shops and stores that line the its western edge paint the surface of the water in distorted and melting mirror images of their signs and storefronts, bleeding greens and gold from the Barnes and Noble, a waxy and watery blue from the electronics store, a neon scratch of pink and turquoise from the 50's diner. During the day I rarely notice the scents from the restaurants and fast food shops, or the warm and inviting fragrance of coffee from the Starbucks, but at night they are strong, almost overpowering, as though someone has saturated a rag in them and is holding it to my face. I can't imagine Duncan can smell anything in the grass and weeds but he seemed focused and determined. The ducks and a small flock of geese, returned from whatever bickering and hostile place sheltered them over the course of the summer and long fall, gathered and mingled in the shallows along the shore. It has not rained with any significance for a very long time and so the water level is the lowest I've ever seen it. The ducks, wading and standing on the shore, looked to be walking on ice, their feet barely disrupting the mess of reflected color from above and all around.

It was a long walk, or rather, it felt that way, with my jacket bundled tightly around me, a cap pulled low over my ears, my gloved hands thrust deep into my pockets. Stupidly I'd left my scarf at home and my neck was tense and angry with me for such carelessness. I've forgotten what cold really feels like and have decided I don't like it one bit. Duncan, barefoot with his nose to the ground, hardly seemed to notice and not for the first time I wished I was a dog, plodding carefree, my senses alive, the cold something to be celebrated.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And the Winner Is...

Chelsea, at Hero's posted the photos of the costume contest entrants on her Hero's Pets Facebook Page and asked her friends and fans to vote for their favorites. Because she also works tirelessly to help adopt wayward animals, she said that if people voted for Oliver, the latest guest-in-residence (a beautiful twelve-year old cat who's mom was forced by her mean, new husband to get rid of him) that she would donate a twenty-five pound bag of food to the shelter where Oliver is from. So Oliver entered the contest dressed as.... (wait for it)... a basket case.

Three years ago Duncan entered the contest as a Greaser and took second place, beat by a lovely and anything-but-frightening pair of ghosts. This year the contest was tough but the voters decided Duncan, dressed as a snowboarder dude, complete with goggles and an unruly blond wig (which did not go over well) was the winner. We got to go in and pick our prize but decided that Oliver, who is an awesome guy, despite his extreme and very verbal dislike of dogs, deserved to be rewarded so we donated the prize to him and his shelter. Duncan, who was a trooper and did the right thing, got to pick out some new toys as his reward from me, so we finished out our Under the Sea Collection by bringing home Bubbles, a bright orange catfish, and Buck, a nearly neon green seahorse, to play with Duncan and his hammerhead, Bash.


Chelsea threw in a bag of Polka Dog Bakery Chicken Little Mighty Dog Treats and a tiny bit of something dried and curling which Dunc plucked out of a low basket and may have been a bit of bull junk or some winding internal organ at one point in its existence (I don't know. I don't care. I stopped asking after I helped with inventory a few years ago and had to count The Wall of Terror and its baskets of grizzly, greasy contents).

I'm happy we could help Oliver and his friends back at the rescue and happy that Dunc made even more friends.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Just a Little Patch

The snow had stopped falling by the time I reached home and most of what had collected on the grass had turned into slush under the light drizzle that had replaced the snow. Duncan was sitting in the window watching the parking lot and, I assume, the snow, waiting for me to climb the stairs, leash him up and take him out. He was quite ecstatic at the sound of my key in the lock and began chirping anxiously as I stepped inside. I was cold and wet and frustrated at the long drive across the city, surrounded by drivers who, despite what you'd expect, have almost no knowledge of driving in the snow, even the kind that looks more like rain and doesn't stick to the ground but for only a few minutes. I was not eager to go back out in the cold but Duncan wouldn't have any of it; he grabbed my wrist in his mouth, led me to the couch where I could put my things down, then guided me right back to the door where he sat and waited, tail thumping, ears up and alert, eyebrows raised. I patted his head, sighed, grabbed my gloves, made a mental note to start thinking about getting a new winter coat, and grabbed his leash.

It was dark out and what little snow remained was threadbare and weak but Duncan did not care. He galloped across the parking lot and slid on his belly right through the closest patch (if it could be called that), scooping the slush up in his mouth and snapping at the last of the raindrops as if they were heavy flakes It was not what he wants but he made the best of it and celebrated it as hard as I celebrated our weekend sunshine. He did not turn to look at me as  though to say, "This is it? This is all there is? This is what you've been bellyaching about?" No, he ran and jumped and rolled about as though the gray little patches barely peeking above the grass were the greatest thing he'd ever seen, greater than bunnies, greater than leaves tossed on the wind or turkey fed from my mother's fingers.

We could all take a lesson from our dogs. It takes so little to please them and they are so very, very patient.

Monday, November 8, 2010

End Song

There is a place halfway down The Run where three old aspens grow in a wide triangle between the buildings and against the fence. Their trunks are mottled and thick, not smooth and pale like the younger trees in the park. They are a favorite of the squirrels and Duncan has been known to sit in their center, neck tilted far back to simply watch them perch on the high branches watching him while they nibble on the bird seed they have scavenged from the second and third floor patio feeders. The grass fanning out around their roots has been blotted out almost completely by a bed of heavy golden leaves which crunch underfoot in the afternoons but are damp and soft and silent in the humid mornings.

This morning we slipped down The Run, past the place where the three mutts I refer to as The Harpies, froth and growl and snarl at us each time we pass. Duncan trudged through the shrubs, nose down, hunting for the little gray and brown birds that linger there unseen until he rouses them and sends them darting in playful clouds around his head. The morning was quiet. The trees were strangely absent of squirrels and the scratching of their toothpick-long nails on the thick bark. The air was unmoving, until we reached the center of the aspen triangle when a whisper of a breeze rose way up high where the branches are thin and willowy, far beyond where even the little birds do not venture. Duncan stopped dead center and craned his head back, as if listening to the trees talk. I followed his gaze, my eyes scanning the cradles between the boughs and truck for signs of squirrels but found nothing. Duncan would not move, would not even entertain the notion of my gentle tug. He glanced at me, snorted, and turned back to the wind high up, watching the branches slide back and forth against one another, listening and waiting.


At the exact moment the sun broke across the line of the roof, the leaves began to quiver and then slip free of the branches that have held them across the days of the summer and through this endless fall. They turned in the air, brushing against each other, bouncing off the branches, slipping down the side of the trunk and raining down around our heads, their sound like the soft, tinkling of bells in the distance or the crystalline fall of snow on a wide and windless field at midnight. The air was suddenly warm on my skin and the music of the leaves making their single journey warmed my spirit. Duncan shimmied where he sat, his tail giving a feeble little wag and rustling the leaves around him. He chirped softly and looked at me with the same eyes I've seen on children when they behold something entirely new and magical. I sat next to him as the leaves, hundreds of them, alighted on the ground around us. I caught my breath, reached for Roo and rested my hand on his back, closed my eyes and listened, really listened to this final, wonderful song of Autumn, another gift I would've missed without the wisdom of my dog. It went on and on until finally the breeze found a new tree to play in and slipped away, leaving us with a heavy silence, the kind best shared among friends who don't require words.


Silence
seeks the center
of every tree and rock,
that thing we hold closest-
the end of songs.

(Michael McClintock)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Red, then Gone

Yesterday, running through the park with Duncan, the two of us caught up in the heat and revelry that was the most incredible November day I can remember, we passed a glorious bush, bursting with red leaves, each of them catching the heavy golden rays of the late afternoon sun. It was like a heart, beating and filled with blood and lust and fire right there in the middle of the park, so bright and overwhelming it was almost obscene to look upon. We must have passed it a hundred times this Autumn but this time––at this instant––it exploded in our presence, as if it had lived its entire life for one brief moment, waiting for the eyes of a dreamer, someone who does not easily forget, to gaze upon it before it was swept away by the coming winter. 


We stopped and stood before it so I could reach out and touch the delicate brittling leaves, half afraid they would burn the tips of my fingers when I did so. They were still soft, though, like velvet, and I wished there was something I could do, take it home with me perhaps, something to preserve it exactly as it was.

But this weather and these colors cannot last. This afternoon, warm but windier than I would've liked, we crossed into the park when the sun was low in the sky, painting its rays above the mountains in clear streaks, and went back to the bush. I needed to see it one more time, to burn it onto my eyes and memory but the moment had passed. The wind had swept the leaves away, all but one, and the sun ignored it as it danced on the air and resisted the tug of the wind. Duncan stood by my side, leaned into me and the two of us held our breath until that one leaf relented, gave up its battle with the season and was finally swept free of its branch. It twirled once in the air, struck me in the chest and was whisked away forever.


What a difference a single day can make.

The long darkness is coming. Winter is nearly upon us and these walks with Roo in the daylight will be brief and rare. How I wish that bush would burn through all the cold walks ahead.

The one red leaf, the last of its clan, 

That dances as often as dance it can, 

Hanging so light, and hanging so high, 

On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.

(Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Promise of This November Day

It is supposed to be nearly 80˚ in Denver today, so Duncan and I woke early and headed over to the lake for a quiet morning walk along the path that winds around it. I wish you could have been there. The sun was bright and warm, and seemed to be shining in two places at once, above us in the faded and metallic sky and from the reflection off the lake below. The air was still and the water was impossibly smooth, with only the lazy wakes of the gliding ducks to mottle its surface. By 8:30 it was already too warm for the jacket I was wearing, so I slipped it off and tied it around my waist. The sunflowers are still in bloom along the shoreline and bees still dance from one wide yellow stage to another. When I closed my eyes and followed the gentle tug of Roo guiding me on his leash I felt as though I was a kite, untethered and witness to the world spreading out all around, basking in the warmth of the morning, breathing in the rich scents of both Autumn and the summer that has steadfastly refused to depart. I smelled mint and greenery, thought I caught an echo of the Russian Olives and the Lindens, imagined I was still in Lake Forest, where the scent of the lake seems to be the only scent that matters. Blind but led by a dog and the light of the sun on my closed eyelids, all time seemed to come together and melt into a single, extraordinary moment that surpassed logic and sense.


Perhaps one day technology will be as magical as any given moment in this wakeful life and I'll be able to sit at my computer and write something that will transport you this lakeside, where you will be able to feel the pull of Duncan on his leash and hear his soft footfalls on the path and the long grass that rises up along its edge. You, too, can close your eyes and savor the brilliant gift of warm sun on your face on a November morning. The scent of the lake and the trees will wash over you and the lowing of the ducks on the shore will be like a whisper in your ear. And only then will you come close to knowing how wonderful this morning was with my good dog at my side and the promise of the day spread before us, as vast as a lifetime and as silent as prayer.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hammerhead

With many of Duncan's pals still locked safely away in ICU and showing no signs of immediate recovery (read: I haven't exactly made stitching them up a high priority), I figured it was time to see if we couldn't make him some new friends so I took him over to Hero's so he could pick out someone new to bring home. After trying out a couple of plush lions, one or two plastic squeaky things and licking the basket of bully sticks every time he walked by, Dunc finally settled on something unusual and unexpected, a bright blue hammerhead shark with orange and white flowers sprinkled along his back and a rather deep and raspy squeak when squeezed. He's made of sturdy fiber and floats in water so he makes a nice toy to bring into the tub.


It took awhile to settle on a name for his new pal, especially since we tend to stick primarily to the B's (Buddy, Baby, Bah-Bah, Blue Buddha, Beaker and Berry) but Duncan eventually picked out the perfect name himself. After a day or two of carrying the shark around the apartment by the tail and shaking him furiously back and forth, knocking over anything and everything not tied down, we settled on Bash.

I'm just happy he's soft otherwise my shins would be bruised and Pip––who has also showed an interest in Bash––would be in the ICU with Roo's other friends.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"A Torch Flung to the Trees"


Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, 

a torch flung to the trees. (Faith Baldwin)


Daylight is precious and Duncan knows it. His urgency to venture outside upon my return home from work has reached a near-frantic pitch as the last of the color bleaches from the sky above the mountains and the lamps marking the paths through the park blink and hum to life. We rush through the parking lot and across the street where he can tromp through the leaves and hunt down the bunnies, barely visible in the blue hour, like stones rising up from the matted and cinnamon-scented grass. We have spent many sleepless summer nights in the park and are not strangers to the darkness, but these early Autumn evenings are difficult to adapt to.

The park is a dim place in the summer, with the thick canopy of elms, cottonwoods, maples and locust trees blotting out the glow from the lamp posts. But in Autumn, with the trees slipping into further nakedness each day, the golden circles around the lamps are more clearly visible, and somehow more comforting. We can see further into the night and each light is like a star in the darkness, glowing within the trees and reflecting off the blanket of leaves below. We spend a lot of time there, imagining the days are longer and taking as much comfort from the circles of light as we can in preparation for the long winter ahead.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wordless

Sometimes, when you've had a difficult day, there is nothing finer than dinner with a good friend and a nice quiet moment watching your dogs lay in front of a fireplace. No other words are required.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Picture of Friendship

There is not a lot I claim to know, but I do know a thing or two about the companionship of dogs and the impact it can have on a human life. Those of you who have service dogs or volunteer dogs see this every day. And those of you who simply live with them, share a space and walk with them know it, too. They can be frustrating and tiring, demanding and needy, but nothing on this planet will ever love you as honestly and unabashedly or more than your dog. Their companionship, the soft warm spot they make next to you on your bed, or the way they lean into you when it seems no one else is there for you more than makes up for the January nights standing outside waiting for them to puke, or the occasional accidents you have to clean up. Some people claim that God is dead or doesn't exist but I am witness to a divine and uncompromising love each and every time I open my door and am greeted by Duncan.

I have been a silent follower of the blog Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Bacon for only a short time, but in that brief period I grew to love Abbey, the Golden who resided there and the voice of her human, Wendy. I was sad to learn of Abbey's passing last week and have been moved by the outpouring of grief and support Wendy has received. Her most recent post displayed a picture that touched me deeply and I wanted to share it here because I think it speaks volumes about this world we inhabit and the connections we make along the way.


As I told Wendy in the comment I left her the other day, this is a big world full of strangers and challenges, hardships we can't imagine, but somewhere along the way, if we open our hearts we can make a connection with other kindred spirits and take solace in each others company, even if only briefly. Venturing out alone can be a frightening prospect, but when we invite another spirit to walk alongside us our entire perspective can be forever changed. Even long after they have gone their presence will still move us and guide us and ensure that we are never alone.

There has not been a day since I first held him and he winked at me that I have not been grateful for Duncan. I try as hard as I can not to take him for granted and remind myself, even when I'm exhausted, that he is a blessing The Universe has bestowed on me, a partner who is there whenever I need him, who is ecstatic to be at my side even when it is not convenient for him, who loves me fiercely and loyally. I am fortunate to have good friends and an incredible, supportive family, readers who have walked so many miles with us and have grown to love Duncan almost as much as I do. Yet there is nothing I own or could own that will ever be as beautiful as the bond I share with my dog. I can't begin to imagine the depth of Wendy's grief and try not to think about the day I will have to say farewell to Roo, but I know that I am a better person for having been fortunate enough to share a brief period of my life with such an open and loving soul. And I hope Wendy is able to feel the same way.

It is a big world but a somehow a good dog makes it so much better.

Bless you on your journey Abbey, and bless you Wendy for being such a good friend to your girl.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Halloween

As many of you know, Dunc loves the snow more than just about anything and perhaps because our summer has dragged into November, he's been growing impatient with the lack of snow around these parts.  This year we were invited to attend two different costume contests, at the apartment complex where we live and another at Hero's Pets. When presented with two choices, a surfer dude (mine, because I'm a child of the summer) and a snowboarder dude (also mine because Duncan doesn't talk) he went with the boarder dude. Maybe it was the goggles. It certainly wasn't the wig.


I'll let you know the results of the contest as soon as we find out.