Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Path Beckons

Duncan and I took our last good walk of the year just before the sun was setting, down the winding trail I've carved out of the snow in The Run. The light was golden, the snow was blue on the ground and my good dog was leading the way, ever onward.

It has been a good year for me, the best since that terrible Spring of 2005. I see on Facebook and in listening to my friends that many people were not as fortunate as I have been. I have a good job and a nice home. The love of my life has returned and we've been working on forging out our future together. My family is beautiful and perfect. I am aware of my blessings and do not take a single one for granted. And on windy afternoons such as this, with the world painted in the final exquisite light of the year, I count them again and again and turn my face toward the coming year and hope that it can be even better. Not just for me, but for everyone.

I do not know where our walks will lead but the path beckons and Duncan and I will always follow.

Blessings to you in the new year. And thank you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Thief in the Night

There are two trees in this home: the big one for the two-legged folk (although you'd think Pip and Olive had broken into our stash of catnip and were stoned out of their minds with the amount of time they spend laying under it staring into the branches and lights, not touching anything, just staring with wide eyes) and the small tree for the four-legged members of the household. The big tree is real and smells wonderful and is covered in countless fancy ornaments. The small one is fake and bendy and smells like the Rubbermaid container where we store it and is decorated with those ornaments that we've somehow acquired over the years––a few Precious Moments collectibles that hurt my teeth to even look at, a Boba Fett ornament, a gangly cowboy and a pastel pony for him to ride, just to name a few. They have been given to us by co-workers and misguided friends, or people who don't exactly share our taste in holiday decor. It's not an ugly tree by any means but it's not the one we display prominently. It can be knocked over with minimal fuss and should one of the ornaments break we wouldn't really be upset.

For the most part Duncan and the cats are very good about the trees. Olive does occasionally give in to her weakness for wrapping paper and bows, but generally speaking everyone has a very clear understanding that the trees are for looking at, not touching.

One member of our household, though, has taken an interest in a particular ornament and can't seem to contain his desire to simply look at it. The small, fuzzy Golden Retriever wearing the Santa cap and scarf has captured Duncan's interest and there's almost nothing I can do to stop it. It's not enough for it to sit under the tree, right up front, prominently displayed. No, it needs to be carried around in his mouth, tucked under his paws, hidden from view when he sits on the couch, carried to the food bowl and back, and buried among his other toys where it can't be easily discovered.

Duncan has learned our routine. At night he knows when the TV is turned off and the teeth are brushed and when we amble around in the dark turning off the lights that it's time for bed. Typically he'll either climb onto the bed or curl up among the blankets and pillows in his kennel. Since Christmas erupted in our apartment and the ornament has made its appearance, he has taken to staying in his spot under the coffee table and waiting until we're in bed before he joins us. It's when the lights are out that he sneaks the ornament out from under the tree, being careful not to disturb anything else, and retires to his "room," the Retriever cupped gently in his mouth. That's where I find it every morning, wet and scrunched down under the blanket Mom knitted for him or resting under one of his Pooh Bear's paws. Unlike his other toys he does not chew on it, merely slobbers it to death. And because it's so cute and he's so innocent about it, I let it happen. Whenever I take it from him he looks at me with his big, doleful brown eyes, somewhat embarrassed at being caught again, but he watches and waits for the next opportunity to snatch it away from the tree where he alone can appreciate its Christmas magic.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

First Christmas

It has been a busy week. Ken and I finally decided that we wanted to stay here together for Christmas, with Duncan and the cats, and start our own tradition rather than separate and go home for the holidays as usually happens. So we decided that in in honor of our first Christmas back together after a two year separation we'd go all out. We bought our first Christmas tree since 2005, dragged out all the decorations we've amassed over the past sixteen years, and have spent our free time making the apartment look as though the North Pole exploded all over it. Duncan and the cats have been quite patient and well-behaved. There have been no incidents involving the digestion of tinsel or marking of the tree. In fact, Pip, Olive and Winnie have spent much of their time laying peacefully under the tree gazing up at the lights and shadows among the thick branches. Duncan was initially a bit unsure of the Santa I put up in the window but he seems to have come to terms with his presence here.

We even put up the Christmas village my grandmother hand-painted. And Ken had the great idea of stringing icicle lights around the edge of the ceiling in the kitchen so they look like stars shining over it.

This Christmas will be the first in my life I haven't been home with my family in Idaho but I'm looking forward to the time with Ken and the new traditions we'll start together. Duncan will miss running across Mom's mountain and watching the herds of deer as they move across her yard under the pale Idaho moon, but we'll find a way to make it up to him.

I have no doubt there is love enough in this home to make up for all the things that will be missed.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I Remember

I love the mornings, especially the snowy ones. I love the deep silence of the world and the sound of snow falling on other snow, through the branches of the Aspens and willows. I love that first plunge outside when the wind swirls around my ankles as though sniffing me out for weak spots, pulling dancing flakes around me as it goes. I love the music of silence and snow and the bass rhythm of my feet pushing through the soft sift, the crunch, as satisfying as walking through piles of leaves in October.

I tend to forget these things, though. Snow, it seems, like time, whitewashes my memory, ensconcing its rough edges and straight plains with the crystalline ivory of winter's down. But Duncan is here to remind me, as he did this morning when I woke before him, tiptoed down the hall and into the kitchen where I put my water on to boil. I pulled the blinds and looked out on the swirling white of this December morning and caught my breath. It was beautiful, looking over the golf course and the park and the mountains beyond them, the clouds low and white, the ground and trees the color of the sky. But it looked cold and I'd almost made up my mind to climb back into bed when I felt the cool nudge of Duncan's nose in my palm. He had crept out of bed, tousle-headed and quiet to stand with me at the window, his still-lazing tail making a feeble wag and thump against my calf.

"Do you know," I asked him, my voice soft in the quiet of the apartment, "how much I love you?" I turned and gestured out the window. "I love you this much, Roo, enough to go out in that." He nudged me with his cheek, like a cat, and plopped down to watch me change my clothes, make a production out of pulling my boots and hat on, struggle with the zipper on my coat, slide my hands into my gloves, still wet from last night's last walk. And when I was done he was waiting, his soft weight pressed against me, his eyes lit up as though to say, "You love this; you've just forgotten is all. We'll remember it together. I'll show you. Trust me."

And so I did. I stepped out into the breezeway, down the stairs and out into a world that was swirling and churning, cold on my face and those narrow places on my wrists that poke through between the coat sleeve and the glove. Duncan trotted through the snow, pushing it forward, little balls of it riding the crest like dolphins before a ship. He ran forward like I run on late Spring days when the Russian Olives are in bloom and I don't want to miss a single moment of their existence, a single fragrance or tiny yellow petal, when life seems so full but so short and there is much to be absorbed to earn my way into the next life. Duncan ran like that, here and there, from the fence to the low shrubs, to the patios where other dogs watched, dry but with the tips of their noses white and shiny with cold.

And then halfway down The Run he stopped, suddenly and sharp, the snow rising in cartoon-perfect clouds behind him. He turned his face up to the low sky, closed his eyes and breathed in the tumbling flakes, some of them falling on the soft skin of his eyelids. I was next to him wondering what it was that had caught his attention when the sound of the chimes from a balcony above us drifted into my ears. They churned softly in the spinning air, random, twinkling aluminum and bamboo notes caught on the wind, a quiet tune played only for the two of us. Duncan did not know them for what they were and I wondered if he thought, "Ah, the sound of winter." And his wonderment became my wonderment and it was then that I remembered I love these mornings, perhaps more than Spring mornings among the bees and the new grass bending up through dark earth. I pulled the hat from my head and turned my face into the falling snow and breathed it in as my dog was teaching me to do, and those chimes sounded like the way I imagine heaven must sound.

Where my dog goes I will follow. Always.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Snow is not an easy thing to forgive but the sweetness of December somehow makes it possible. Snow is supposed to fall in December and for that reason––coupled with the fact that I was able to work from home today and didn't have to drive on it––I was able to enjoy it.

A child of late Spring and Summer, it is difficult for me to find the beauty in a snowfall and were it not for Duncan I would have missed that beauty for the last seven years. Before he came into my life I tended to hunker down tight during the long, cold, dark months, venturing out only when I needed to, almost never for the enjoyment of it. I am not a skier, I do not snowshoe, sledding is something I haven't done since my college days, and it has been many years since I last built a snowman. But with Duncan at my side, ushering in the holiday season by walking through the snow has become a marvelous thing, full of discovery and delight.

Vickie, my friend at Four-Legged Views, issued a challenge recently in which she asked her readers to take a picture every forty feet of their walk. I do this quite often without the challenge but it was nicely timed with the first snow of December and I wouldn't mind sharing parts of that walk with you.

And for Ken, who had to work this morning and wasn't able to join us on our walk, the last leaves of his favorite bush, red like kisses melting through the snow.

It will be a good December as long as I have my dog, my cats and Ken at my side throughout it. I could ask for nothing more to keep me warm.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Several years ago Ken and I decided that we didn't want to pay outlandish prices for scratching posts for our cats when we could easily make our own for far cheaper. We went to several stores, looked at how they were constructed, consulted some online resources, paid a visit to our local hardware store and got what we needed. In almost no time at all we'd made three posts, one for each of the cats and spent the next eight years watching Winnie, Pip and Olive love the heck out of them. But at some point during the Thanksgiving weekend I came to the conclusion that the posts had been loved nearly to death. They still stood straight and tall but the rope had come loose and the Berber carpet we'd used was in tatters. So we stripped them clean, bought new carpet and fixed them up. And when we were done, Chelsea at Hero's Pets liked them so much she offered to make a place in her store for them if we wanted to make more and sell them.

So we hurried back to the hardware store, bought more materials and spent the last two days of the holiday break making more posts, which were delivered to Hero's this morning under the name WinPipO Scratching Posts.

One member of the family wasn't too pleased with the lack of attention and spent much of his time sulking around, getting in the way, whining to be taken outside and finally––when he realized we weren't going to stop––pouting, sighing loudly and watching us out of the corner of his eye.

Can you guess who???

The Simplest Thing

It was, what I thought, an ordinary walk in every way: the air was cool but clean, the sky was wide, the park was entirely ours. Duncan plodded along beside me, uninterested in roaming far and wide in search of any scraps or stray balls that might have appeared overnight. He was content to walk beside me, a happy, showy, Broadway sort of strut in his step, head high, ears higher, a grin on his face as he breathed in the morning air and sunshine and exhaled warm clouds of breath. I talked with him, as I always do, unconcerned that he's "just a dog" and that people might think the conversation one-sided. I know better, though. He responds in ways that only people who live with dogs would understand: dancing around me if he approves, cocking his head if he likes something I've said, blinking his wide eyes an agreement. We talk and share and confide and who cares what anyone else thinks.

I was unaware that we were being followed. I was whistling––a Christmas song––in time to Duncan's footfalls when the walker came up quite suddenly behind us. She was a short woman, athletic-looking, with her hair pulled back and a faded purple band covering her ears. he had a skier's face, tanned and lined by hours and hours in the sun on a mountainside. But she was smiling and relaxed.

"I hope you don't mind," she said as she came behind me, startling me and ending my whistle quite suddenly. "I've been behind you for awhile now and I just wanted to tell you that that is one happy dog."

And then she was past us, her arms swinging at her side in the way that serious walkers have. I didn't even have a chance to respond, so I looked at Roo who was looking at her, his tail wagging, and patted his shoulder.

Yes, indeed. He is one happy dog.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thank You

The last few years have been some of the most challenging of my life and at times it's been difficult to find things for which to be thankful but this year my blessings are easily recognizable and I am can say for the first time since my family lost my grandmother in 2004 I am truly grateful and humbled by the blessings that have found their way into my life. On this incredible Thanksgiving afternoon, on a warm, sunny Denver day, I am thankful for
  • Ken, who was able to find his way back home to Denver, and for the time we've been able to spend together since, rebuilding our family and bringing new life into these nearly sixteen years we've been a part of each others lives.
  • the smell of homemade pumpkin pie first thing in the morning.
  • Kevi, who reminded me this morning that we should be thankful for our troubles, for they too have purpose: to make us stronger and to help us truly appreciate the blessings that we have found.
  • Patty Griffin's song "Heavenly Day," in which she sings, "No one on my shoulder / Bringing me fears / Got no clouds up above me / Bringing me tears / Got nothing to tell you / I got nothing much to say / Only I'm glad to be here with you / On this heavenly heavenly heavenly heavenly heavenly day."
  • The good people I work with, who are supportive and kind, who make me laugh and think equally hard, who have become a sort of family to me.
  • The poetry of Mary Oliver.
  • The soft weight of cats sleeping against me on cold nights.
  • My family, who seem to get stronger and closer every day, especially my sister, Casey, who had a difficult year but has shone brighter than ever before.
  • The memories I have of the people who have walked with me, if only for a time, and shared so many special experiences, from April and the WNG to Marc, who knows he's smarter than me; from Kelly and The Dirt People to John, who has cow dreams; from Little Ruth to David, who taught me that not only are things good, but they're good for you; from Karren and her cookies to Rick, who understands the butterflies as well as I do.
  • The power of Skinadinkinaw!
  • The "It Gets Better Project" and Dan Savage for changing so many lives.
  • Russian Olive and Linden trees for being sweet enough to get me through the entire year.
  • Orion standing watch over these Autumn skies.
  • Facebook and the connections it has restored.
  • Duncan, for his ability to say "I love you," for his voice and eyes, his delight and wisdom, for the miles we have walked and will continue to walk, for the courage he has taught me and the dreams he has encouraged, and for being with me, not only during the difficult days, but the kind ones as well.
  • 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."
And I am thankful to all the people who have joined Duncan and me on our walks through this blog, who comment and email and love him as much as I do. You have all enriched my life in countless ways.
Blessings to you, this Thanksgiving Day. May they be too numerous to count.

Monday, November 21, 2011


The sun has not touched The Run in the early hours for what seems months. It is a cold place in the mornings, shaded but open to the golf course on one side, a narrow trail at the end of the wind's path, cold and loud. It can be quite unfriendly, especially under feet of snow, but it is a place we love and the place where we walk each morning, so we go there, just the two of us, Duncan and me.

This morning, in the hard frost of the earth, we found two leaves, fallen together some time in the night, the last from the Japanese Elm at the head of our trail. They tumbled from their roost, the only place they have ever knows despite looking out over the world, and fell as one, alighting as though holding hands.

Duncan leaned over them, sniffed them gently as he would a small animal, and waited for me to join him at their side. We looked down on them for a long moment, a smile on my face, infinite understanding on my dog's.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Last to Go

It feels nearly complete, this Autumn turning. The trees, which have obscured my view of the mountains and the park since April, are little more than jagged charcoal lines bending and twisting into the sharp November sky. They are like fat, dark arteries fanning out into winding veins that end in a finger-like splay of capillaries, reaching into nothingness. And yet even they––bland and colorless––are beautiful in their starkness.

The Lindens were the last to let go. Their leaves held on, resisting the weight of our two October snow storms, curled up into tight knots around themselves, as brown as leather, as crisp as paper and as fierce as fists. And when they let go they did it all at once, a multitude in solidarity against the changing of the season. Our streets and lawns are covered with them, nearly knee deep in places. Duncan likes to run through them, pushing against them as he pushes through the water of the summer river, his chest heaving forward as his body rises and falls through their depths.

And though they are dead and will soon be buried and forgotten, their music is loud and true and, while it lasts, the most beautiful sound in all of Autumn.

Friday, November 18, 2011

All Those Years Ago

We fed Duncan early, took him for a late afternoon walk as the sun was setting and then another right before Ken and I went downtown to see the Broadway tour company's production of The Lion King. We came home, ate a very late dinner and took Roo for another quick walk before calling it a night and going to bed. It was only around three this morning, with Ken snoring on one side of me, Duncan on the other and Pip taking up most of my pillow, that I sat bolt upright in bed and caught Duncan's eyes, reflecting the glow of the streetlamps on the other side of the window, watching me. He sniffed once or twice then laid his narrow chin back down on his paws and blinked.

"We forgot Duncan," I said into the darkness.

"He's right here," Ken said, patting the bed beside him, his voice faraway, perhaps still in a dream. "Go back to sleep."

"No," I said, climbing out from under the covers and curling around Roo, who, having heard his name, was no longer asleep or even pretending. "It was seven years ago tonight you brought him home for the first time."

"Mmmph," Ken mumbled and resumed snoring.

So I laid next to Duncan, listening to him breath as my hand on his ribs rose and fell with each breath, and remembered that cold November night in 2004 when Ken arrived home, a small cardboard box seat-belted in his back seat. I met them in the parking lot and opened the door. In the darkness I saw a small red head poke itself up and turn toward me. Ken climbed out and watched, a grin on his face.

I touched Duncan for the very first time, pulled him up and toward my chest where he shivered and cowered against me, a high-pitched whine in his throat.

"You're so handsome, Little One," I said and kissed his head. Then I held him out so his belly caught the light of the moon and looked into his handsome eyes. "Are you a Duncan?" I asked.

He winked at me and I knew we'd be the best of friends.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Undivided Attention

It has been a long time since we have seen a squirrel in The Run. Ever since the arrival of Jeffrey's feral cat last Spring, their presence has dwindled and finally, by the mid-summer, they had vanished entirely. Before the arrival of the cat––who is now known as "Mama Kitty" for the litter of kittens she had near the hot tub heating unit last February during our coldest time of the year––Jeffrey adored the squirrels, left feeders out for them, and spent his mornings in his window watching Duncan chase them up the trees, up his screen and occasionally up me. They were the delight of our mornings and afternoon walks but Jeffrey could not turn his back on the cat. He took pity on the poor thing and slowly coaxed her into his apartment, even finding homes for each of her seven kittens. Mama Kitty, happy and healthy, stuck around but, sadly, our squirrels did not.

Now that the weather has turned cold and Mama Kitty has been confined indoors for most of the day, the squirrels have begun to return, if only for brief visits. When Duncan spotted one on our walk this morning there was little I could do to turn his attention away. He chased it out from under the shrubs and up an elm where he sat for nearly twenty minutes, a smile on his face, his ears raised, his attention focused entirely upon a single fat squirrel who looked down on me with exasperation. If it's not the cat, it's a dog. What's a rodent to do?

I finally had to put Duncan's leash back on him and drag him, snorting and huffing, away so we could resume our walk and I could finally head off to work. I'm not sure what happened to the squirrel but I know he won't be caught by surprise again.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


November is at its best when it behaves as though it is April, with skies that change from bright and blue and filled with sunshine, to mottled grey with silver and gold-lined clouds, then back to what it was before, sweet and wide and warm; when the small brown birds flutter from bare branch to branch, lining up like exclamation points to watch, twitch-headed and nervous as Duncan and I pass below; when the first thing that greets us on a morning walk is a lazy-flying bee, wandering low and confused over the leaves which only appear golden from the proper angle but are muted and yellow husks when finally alighted upon. The bee swept up suddenly, as though rejoicing at the sight of other living creatures, zipped a tight spin around first my head then Duncan's, tip-toed across his back and sped away, through the fence to lose itself in the sinking yellow wilds of the tall grass that lays down along the wide edge of the golf course.

It is hard to remember the holidays and the gales of true, unfettered winter are so fast approaching when all the world seems to be teetering on the edge of Spring, when the few remaining ruby leaves of the bush whose name I still don't know look like polka dots and the air tastes of mint and cinnamon all at once. But until the morning I know Autumn has surely passed and winter has claimed her place, Duncan and I will walk and marvel and take our rejoicing where we can find it. Exclamation points, polka dots and all.

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

Monday, November 14, 2011


After a week of tending to Ken's nasty cold I have finally succumbed. While mine has bypassed my head it entirely it went straight to my chest, where Ken's is currently residing. Both of us spent much of the night hacking and sputtering, getting up for drinks of water and occasional restless trips to the couch in order to let the other sleep.

Duncan, unlike myself, is not a complainer and made the most of the situation by spending the night on one side of the bed or the other, shifting as we took turns getting up, sprawling out while we were gone. He snored blissfully while we coughed, scattering the cats and sometimes the pillows. The cats, however, took our restless, dark wanderings as a sign that it was time to be fed and so followed us around, mewing loudly as they entwined themselves around our ankles and tripped us up and yowled even more when they realized their dish wasn't going to be refilled as we headed back to the bedroom.

Duncan is patient, though. I spent much of the day on the couch, drowsy and restless, completely unmotivated to take him out for a walk. The day was warm and the sun coming in through the windows warmer, but finally, groggy and rested, I relented and took him out for an afternoon stroll. The wind was chilly but nothing so bad that a jacket and gloves couldn't hold it bay. We wandered down to The Glen and briefly across the street to the park. Dunc has been a caregiver from day one so even though I took him off leash to let him run loose to chase leaves and the fast food wrappers fluttering through the parking lot, he stayed close by my side and kept his eye on me. And when I was tired and resumed my hacking, he readily turned back toward home without pulling on his leash.

And when I reclaimed my spot on the couch, two pillows tucked under my head and my grandfather's favorite blanket––the one I gave him for Christmas two years ago––pulled over me, Duncan merely curled up on my feet, rested his head on my ankles and stayed beside me, his eyes never fully closed by watchful of me every time I resumed coughing.

What a good boy.

The cats who helped raise him could take a lesson.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Sundays are lazy days, at least after I clean the apartment, tend to the laundry, make the weekly menu and venture out for the groceries. My lunches come late and often I find myself curled up on the couch amid a pile of cats and a snoring Duncan curled up on the end of the couch while a book rests open and unread against my chest, the warm sun coming through the windows painting us all in gold. Sometimes there are no words to be written because sometimes our walks are just walks, quick jaunts down the stairs and around the property, lasting only long enough for Roo to sniff out his favorite spots and eye the geese which have begun to amass on the golf course side of the fence.

And when I find myself worrying about not having words to write or discoveries to make, memories to revisit, I simply follow Duncan's lead, which is to do nothing, to set the toys aside and allow my eyelids to grow heavy and spend the day dozing and dreaming.

So I think I'll set aside my fretting, kick off my shoes and rejoin the warmth of my four-legged friends on the couch, consider making a nice warm dinner and spend the rest of this night enjoying the exquisite delight of boredom and silence.

Always follow the example your dog sets. That's what I'm going to do.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


It is an easy thing to do, on an Autumn afternoon, when the sky is bigger than you remember it ever being, and the sun, warm as it falls away toward Winter, is a thing that laughs at the wind and the tumult of the leaves ripping from the trees and the general discord of the season, to spend the day on the warm, serene side of the window watching the world shake itself loose outside and decide to nap and fold yourself in loud, vivid dreams and fill your head with the downy cotton of nappiness. It is all well and good but if it lasts too long you risk missing the smile and squint the sun and wind force your face into when you walk into them, while the clatterous music of dancing, bobbing leaves scuttles at your feet all around you.

And so groggy and sleepy-headed I let Duncan lead me to the park where, despite the rude nibble of the snow-scented wind, loud and insistent, I laughed and ran with him, held my arms out wide at my sides, unconcerned with witnesses to such dog-induced silliness, and felt my jacket pushed back tight against my body––flapping like excess skin under my arms and behind me––and imagined we'd leapt from a plane and felt both the sweet suck of gravity and the abuse and crush of the air against us as we moved down and back into the world to the safety of earth where we could run and jump and daydream some more.

Sometimes it takes wind and cold and a dancing dog to remind you what is real and important and what should be left behind on the safe side of a window.

“i thank god for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees & for the blue dreams of sky & for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” (e.e. cummings)

Friday, November 11, 2011

No Good Scenario

Duncan took in quite the haul today: three tennis balls this morning––two of them multi-colored!––and the bottom of someone's shoe tonight.

It makes me think of Kevi's dog Ranger, a stocky, grinning German Shepherd, smarter than he let on, and devious. One day Ranger came home dragging a deer carcass behind him. When Kevi first told me I envisioned him running wild across the foothills of southeast Idaho, chasing a herd of whitetail deer and finally bringing one down, which he promptly dispatched and brought home to share with his family. The truth of the matter was he took it down from someone's garage during hunting season and dragged it a block or two home.

I'm not sure either scenario works well with Duncan and the shoe.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hide and Seek

Duncan loves a good game of hide and seek. Sometimes I'll hide in the apartment, behind or door or in the shower. A couple of times I've even hidden behind a mirror which confuses the heck out of him. At the park when he wanders away I'll duck behind a tree or a low shrub or wall until he comes back, a panicked look on his face, his ears high, his face turning this way and that.

This morning at the park he decided it was his turn.

I think we both agree he hasn't quite figured out the finer points of the game.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I am not a man of few words, as these seven-hundred seventy-eight musings on this little outpost of mine can attest, but even I know when it's time to shut up and let the world and our walks through it speak for themselves.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


The world was on fire this afternoon just before the sun dipped below the dark, jagged silhouette of The Rockies. The park was ablaze with the last of Autumn's leavings, from the single tongues of flaming leaves catching the late season light, the yellowing blades of grass illuminated through their crisp, delicate skin, the veins dark against the burning, to the inferno that dazzled the trees above our heads.

The grass was a kaleidoscope of the kind of colors I haven't seen since my days in the serene solitude of afternoons spent walking the campus at Lake Forest College: reds the color of heart-blood, browns and blues so deep they were purple, like meaty, still-living tissue, golds and ambers like dreams. Even the walkways were ablaze with the final glow of the fallen locust leaves, tiny wisps of fire that melted the sidewalks of my imagination.

Surely this is Autumn's final burning before winter lays claim to the land. Not that Duncan cares. He is fireproof and reflects the blaze back into the world, lighting our way through the dark months to come.

Monday, November 7, 2011


I am not a fan of this time change, most especially because Duncan and the cats don't quite know what to think of it and have somehow decided to hold me accountable.

First they thought I overslept this morning, which Olive and Pip were more than happy to inform me of at 4:30 by yowling and nuzzling against my cheek. Winnie, ever polite and always a lady, merely jumped from her perch on my hip to the floor then back to my hip, over and over again. Duncan, sleeping beside me in place of Ken, who has taken to the couch to recover from the cold that's been busy trying to infect me, merely stood up, stretched, leaned over my face, snorted once then settled back down on my pillow. I shooed the cats away, pulled the pillow over my head and tried to catch a few more winks but was unable to do so amid their clamoring insistence. The sun was up when I finally crawled from beneath the covers, and as I prepared their dish they were not at all reserved in voicing their displeasure at the lateness of their breakfast.

Twelve hours later when I finally returned home I was greeted by all three cats and Roo sitting in a half moon around the door, stern looks of displeasure on their faces, visible even in the darkness and the sliver of light shining through the door from the breezeway behind me. I stumbled down the hall, my back aching, and attempted to change from my work clothes to my walking attire. While trying to slip out of my khakis, one leg in and one leg out, Olive winding her way around one leg and trying to climb into my pants, Pip decided it was the perfect time to climb up my back, one crisp, sharp paw at a time. Winnie, patient and kind, merely yowled from the doorway as I hopped around the room, trapped between my clothes and Olive with Pip attempting to ride my shoulders for the full eight seconds.

Duncan, unhappy with the darkness and the necessity of the leash and the walk down the parking lot to the place where we cross the street, rather than his free ambling down The Run, eventually softened to me and stayed by my side once we reached the park and I could untether him and let him roam free, far and wide. He seemed to understand the circumstances were beyond my control and forgave me, and even stepped protectively in front of me when we returned home an hour later and were met by a cacophony of cats screaming for their dinner.

I do not like this change in the hours and the new, deep darkness of our walks, but he was like a golden light guiding me through it.

Thankfully it's only seven more weeks until the stupid southern hemisphere loosens its grip on our sun and allows it to creep earlier into our lives and stay later.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Out with the Old, In with the New

It was a busy morning, what with one neighbor moving out, taking Vinnie, his Miniature Pincher, and his loud, obnoxious girlfriend with him, and another family moving into the neighboring apartment. The parking lot was a mess of trucks and people carrying boxes, colliding on the stairs, and being as polite as moving allowed. Duncan, however, spent much of the day on the patio enjoying the impossibly blue skies and the warmth of the sunshine, his face poking through the railings to monitor the goings-on below. Unlike his papa, who, like most writers, prefers to be a casual observer rather than a participant, Duncan likes to be involved in everything, be it his business or not. And so I had the benefit of listening to him whine most of the day, and when he was inside, watch him pace from window to window to see what all the ruckus was about.

It was when we went on our afternoon walk that he decided he'd had enough with watching. We were returning from a nice game of fetch in the park and he was off-leash as he always is when we walk back up The Run. Normally he follows me closely as we near home but when I paused to talk to Chris, who was departing for Florida, Duncan ambled into his garage. I cut our conversation short and chased after him only to discover the garage empty. Chris invited me upstairs to check for him there but Duncan was nowhere to be found. The door into the breeezeway was wide open and it was only when I heard the giggling of small children downstairs and outside that I realized what had happened. He'd gone up Chris' stairs, out the door, into the neighboring apartment, presumably to welcome the new family, had followed the children downstairs and was now in their garage. So back down the stairs I went and humbly apologized to the family, who had gathered around their new, friendly neighbor, who had already claimed one of their dog's tennis balls. One of the little boys, hugging him and petting his back, was already pleading with his parents: "Can we keep him? Can we keep him?"

If he wasn't so cute I might have considered it. Silly boy.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


There are few things in life more satisfying and fulfilling than caring for and nursing the person you love most, the one who has caught a nasty little cold, spending an evening with friends eating wonderful food and listening to good music and then coming home to a dog who is waiting at the door for you, a deep whine of pure joy rising up from his tremendous chest and heart and a hind end wagging so fiercely that things get knocked over.

When I opened the door tonight Duncan was waiting for me. He took the sleeve of my jacket in his mouth, led me to the kitchen where I could deposit my water bottle then back to the door so I could grab his leash and the bag of treats I take with us everywhere. He refused to let go of me all the way down the stairs even though it meant walking much slower than he is accustomed to, and having to turn his head at an awkward angle to stay next to me. And even when we reached the bottom and stepped across the parking lot to his preferred grassy spot, he refused to let go of me. So I sat with him on the curb, the wind rustling the day's leaf-fall all around us. He leaned into me, pressed his shoulder hard against mine then gave my ear one quick lick. He winked at me, his eye catching the moon and holding it for me to admire. And only when he was good and sure that I knew I was loved did he step away.

Every now and then it is good to be reminded that you are your best friend's best friend.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Strange Games

The last walk of the night is usually a hurried thing right before bed, more of a final trip down the thirty-seven stairs, across the parking lot to one of the grassy islands spread throughout the parking lot where Duncan can pee while I stare at either the stars or the orange glowing clouds, depending on the weather. But tonight, late, when the traffic had calmed and the noise of the city had settled, it was still relatively warm so we ventured across the street for a final walk around the park.

Half a moon watched us as we stepped across the street and onto the soggy grass. Today's warmer temperatures put an end to the snow, except on the shadowed, north side of things, and the ground was dark, absorbing what little light the moon provided. Here and there the fish belly shimmer of puddles glistened amid the grass providing ghostly patches of light as we walked, but mostly it was a deep dark. I'd taken Duncan off his leash but made him him stay close, darting only a few feet ahead of me, so I could be sure of him and his safety.

We'd crossed through the baseball fields and were coming up the middle of the long soccer field, the elms empty bones above us, the last of their leaves silent in the unmoving cool of night. The street was quiet with the light of only a few passing cars illuminating the furthest edges of the park. As Duncan ambled ahead I heard the sound of laughing and saw the familiar green and blue flash of one of the glowing discs the high-schoolers use when they play late night games of Ultimate. I didn't think much of it until I passed what I initially mistook for a solitary patch of snow. It was only when Duncan stopped to sniff it that I realized it was a t-shirt, a crumpled white thing cast off and left behind. A few feet ahead a shadowy clump of jeans and more t-shirts told me everything I needed to know.

We'd somehow stumbled into a game of naked Ultimate. Up ahead I could see the dark shapes of people running back and forth as the glowing disc sped through the air and came down in someone's hands. More laughter––this time from a woman––broke the silence and I held my breath as I caught sight of a pale, round butt running forty or fifty feet ahead. Her laughter was answered by shouts from men and more women. Duncan stopped and watched them, his ears raised, his foot firmly planted on someone's boxer shorts.

The group of kids, fourteen or fifteen in all, were darting quickly back and forth, oblivious to our presence, caught up in this moment of theirs, one each of them would remember for the rest of their lives, like the afternoon I spent running naked through a meadow of wildflowers during one of the fiercest storms I've witnessed in southeast Idaho.

Mostly I only saw dark shapes and the whites of tennis shoes hurrying through the grass and muck, but occasionally the moon caught the streak of other body parts, quick glimpses that made the blush rise on my cheeks. I leashed up Duncan and pulled him back. We walked hurriedly back the way we'd come and circled around to the sidewalk to avoid detection, Duncan pausing occasionally to look back at them and whine at the Frisbee cutting through the darkness.

I have been witness to many strange things in the park, which is normally a very ordinary place by the time we walk across it, but I have never seen such strange games under the light of a half sleeping moon.

Good for them. A warm November night is a good time to make a lifelong memory.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


There are times on our walks, when Duncan is off-leash and the park is dark and entirely our own under a mostly-clear and starry sky, that we wander far and wide from each other. While I stare at my feet, plodding heavily and loudly forward through the snow's thick crust with the soft layer of stewy slush beneath, Duncan skips along, loping like a coyote, head down and back arched, sometimes stopping to investigate things unknown to me, and sometimes sprinting vast distances, his feet barely disturbing the surface. I keep my eye on him and listen for the musical patter of his feet, and wonder if he's forgotten me entirely, if some completely wild side of his nature has taken control and steered him far away to  place where I don't exist.

Tonight, after one of our these walks, with fifty or sixty feet separating us, he suddenly came back to me, leapt up and did a little sidewise jog around me, pushed himself against my chest and forced me onto my back in the not unpleasant cold of the snow. When I was down he threw himself into me, did a snow angel on top of me, rolling across my belly, his tail slapping my face, slid away, then ran through his complete repertoire of tricks, rolling three times one way and three times back the other, standing up only to bow at my side, raising first one paw in a high five and then both to give me ten, all while I laid on my back, my breath a cloudy halo above us. And when he was done he stopped, stared at me a long silent while then barked the three words he can speak, "I love you."

My dog has never forgotten me. Not for instant. And he loves me always.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sit a Little

Even in winter an isolated patch of snow has a special quality. (Andy Goldsworthy)

And so we did. We sat, with the wind and snow in our faces, and listened to the crunching of the tires and the sound of flakes catching the branches and mingling amongst themselves as they were tossed about by this early winter dance.

And it was very good.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

For Ken

Two weeks ago, when the season seemed confident and strong, unwavering in its commitment to the final traces of Summer, before the clouds crept low and the snow came, knocking most of the brown and brittle, rattling leaves from the trees and carpeting the ground with their mottled slippery bodies, Ken and I took Duncan on an evening stroll along the edge of the property and across the street to the park. While Duncan tended to business, I caught Ken––who is a quiet sort of fellow and doesn't offer his opinions on things except when pressed for them––eying the buoyant red leaves of a bush I pass by several times a day, one I have taken countless photographs of––some of which have even been posted here. He didn't say anything about it but on our return he paused again, even though Duncan had no business to tend to, and said, "That bush is very pretty. It makes me happy."

It seems a silly little thing but his words brought a smile to my face and I thought, "I love it, too. I have loved it for as long as we've lived here." But I didn't say anything, just nodded to him and watched him admire it.

And then he had to go home to the upper peninsula of Michigan to be with his family during a difficult time. A week ago today we were driving to the airport thinking of the rumors of snow and watching the clouds slink in, a great white, billowing mass that consumed the plains to the north and the peaks of the mountains to the west. He was silent most of the drive, thinking of his long trip home and the grief his family was suffering, but he spoke up and said, "I'm sad that I won't get to see the first snow." He watched the yellow tips of the grass bend with the wind as we sped past. "And all the leaves will be gone when I get home. I wonder if that pretty red bush will still have its leaves or if it will look like twigs sticking up out of the ground..." He trailed off, so I reached for his knee and squeezed it.

He came home today and although the weather has been beautiful and sunny, warm nearly every day since that first snow, it is cold and the wall of clouds is descending once again. It will snow again tomorrow and his poor bush was indeed emptied and abandoned, twiggish and vulnerable, alone along the fence line. It will be a year before those leaves burn as brightly as they do every Autumn and because we are considering finding a small house with a fenced yard in another part of Denver, it is doubtful we'll be here to see it like it was just a few weeks ago.

So this post is for Ken, the man who brought Duncan into my life, the man I have spent more than fifteen years loving, and man who has a heart that burns even brighter and more fiercely than all the colors of October and just as beautifully as those fragile leaves that stood guard on the edge of the place we call home.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Well-Worn Friend

At the park this morning, chilled because I'd only climbed out of the shower thirty minutes before, but clear-headed and content in the newness of the sun and the freshness of the cold air, I threw Duncan's bright new ball as hard as I could across the park and watched as he scampered after it, his coat deep red with a distinct golden line around its edges. I watched the ball land and bounce before turning and walking in the opposite direction, an act, I've learned, that encourages Roo to chase after me even quicker. I'm careful to wait to see where the ball lands because occasionally he misses it and needs a little help in the search. But this morning he saw it bounce and hurried after it. I turned toward the east, the sun in my eyes, and listened to a chorus of crows in the bare elms along the sidewalk.

It took a bit for Duncan to return and when he did he dropped his ball at my feet, his grin wide and beautiful, his tail erasing the white smudge of the morning's frost. I reached the ChuckIt down to scoop it up when I noticed the ball he'd brought back was not the one I'd thrown, the bright new, shiny green one he'd traded it in for yesterday. It was his old ball, the ball we've played with for years, with the tear and scuff in the side, its green faded to a pale, almost tan sort of yellow from afternoons bouncing in the mud and the minutes spent bobbing along the surface of the river before Duncan returns it to the shore where I stand waiting. Its seams are dull and not as pronounced, but it has held together well, even overnight, abandoned in the park.

"Good boy," I told him, handing him a treat and scratching behind one ear. "You did good."

I don't know where that new ball is, lost among the leaves, waiting for another dog to find it and bring it home, but I know that even dogs recognize the value of an old, well-worn friend.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Sentimental Fool

There are more balls in this little apartment than you'd think possible and nearly every day our collection grows even bigger. It seems we cannot leave the apartment without Duncan stumbling upon a golf ball right below my window (the golf course is about thirty feet from where I live and quite often we're jolted out of our peace and tranquility when some errant golfer knocks his ball right into the side of my building, rattling the windows and scattering the cats). During the summer it's not uncommon to return home after a quick walk with four or five of them filling my pockets, which I then empty into the small bureau where I keep all of Duncan's toys. I pick the golf balls up because I worry about their size; they're just small enough that a dog could easily choke on one. I don't throw them over the fence because if I did our walk would cease and Duncan would sit and pine for the ball beyond his reach. And every walk thereafter he would pause and look longingly out in the tall grass at the edge of the course and whine at what could have been.

And so, reluctantly, I've turned into a bit of collector. The bureau gets more and more full each day and I'm not exactly sure what to do about it. You see, I'm a sentimental fool. I'm not a hoarder, but I do tend to hold on to things longer than I should. Not big things––those are easily disposed of––but the little things, which are quite often more important than the big ones. I have nearly all of Duncan's toys, even the ones chewed beyond recognition (remember Percy, the penguin Duncan disemboweled which I never got around to repairing? He's tucked away should I ever decide to fix him up and reintroduce him to the gang). I have the baby blanket he was sitting on when Ken first brought him home as well as a single unused puppy pad that's been lurking in a box since 2004. I have all the food and water bowls we've fed him from and each and every one of his collars. I have nearly everything, especially these drawers of balls and balls and more balls.

I took Roo out for our morning excursion to the park while it was still dim and very early, when it seemed only the birds were up, lazy and drowzy in the uppermost branches of the trees. I grabbed his tennis ball and the bright blue Chuckit Launcher I keep by the door and we walked across the street for our usual game of fetch. We played for nearly an hour: me throwing the ball as far as I could and Duncan chasing after it, returning it to my feet for his reward. For a Retriever fetch was not a game that came naturally to him so I worked long and hard on training him to bring the ball back by bribing him with goodies. He drops the ball and waits patiently for the treat he's earned. And if by chance there are no treats he very clearly lets me know there will be no game of fetch by running to the ball and laying down on it while he looks at me like, "I've got this thing you threw away. Better come and get it if you want it back."

On our last throw Duncan returned with a different ball, a bright green one, new and unscuffed. He was a bit dodgy about dropping it and meandered around me in a lazy, distant circle, his head down, the ball firmly and selfishly clasped between his jaws. When I finally wrestled it from him I asked where his old ball was. He rolled on his back, indifferent to my question, and tried to distract me with his bright pink belly instead. I tossed the ball for him and then walked back in the direction I'd thrown the original ball. I found it among the frosted grass, buried among the leaves, its color long gone, its surface old and matted from years of being tossed and retrieved, poked and gnawed on by Duncan's teeth

"What about this ball?" I asked him, kicking it beside the new ball. He looked down at them then back up at me. "Don't you want your old ball? It's been so good to you." He looked back and forth between the two, laid down, mouthed one then the other. "Think of all the miles you've run to get it and bring it back? It has been there every time you wanted to play and has come home with you, waiting by the door until you're ready to take it out again." He mouthed his old ball, his tail stirring the leaves behind him. "It's been a good ball, Roo. Do you really want to exchange it for this newer, prettier ball, a ball you hardly know?"

He whined at me, pawed at the old thing then looked nervously at the new one.

"The choice is all yours, Dunc. It's either the reliable, trusty old ball who has been your friend for a very long time or this shiny, new one you've only just met. And who knows where it's been! You decide. You can't have them both."

I watched him and waited, knowing in my heart he'd do the right thing. He went back and forth between the two, picking them up, biting once or twice then spitting them out to be replaced by the other. He pawed at them, sniffed them, rolled across both of them, marking each with the sweet smell of his back. He looked up at me for guidance then stared at them both.

And then he made his choice. He grabbed the ball, stood up and trotted away to the edge of the road where he waits for me to leash him up, the bright, new one firmly held in his mouth, the old one abandoned and forgotten. 

"Well, old friend," I told the ball we've played with for years. "The decision is made. It looks like it's up to you now to find a new home." I stared at it a moment longer, fought my urge to pick it up and put it in my pocket and bring it back home where it belongs, but turned my back and walked away, leaving it tucked among this morning's hard frosted grass.

Duncan, no sentimental fool, didn't look back once. And so I think the day is soon coming when I'll be cleaning out those drawers and getting rid of our many balls.

Unless I go back and rescue it later, an act that will certainly doom me.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Dog Way

The good thing about the snow is that the park is all ours once again. Our mornings are free of the runners who sprint back and forth across the fields and our evenings are clear of the dreaded Soccer Hoards and that wretched high school marching band. The cold and snow and subsequent slush have removed just about everyone except Duncan and me, one or two snow-shoe enthusiasts, who I never see except for the tracks they leave behind, and the few parks department workers whose job it is to de-ice the sidewalks and empty the garbage cans. So it was nice tonight to wander the trails and meander around the baseball diamonds, whistling my Autumn songs and having very one-sided conversations with Duncan until he stumbled upon the bright green softball resting in the mud on the opposite side of the fence.

Normally when the park is empty I remove his leash and we walk, sometimes side by side, sometimes with one or the other of us leading the way. Often Dunc ambles far aside to investigate the hedges near the fountain or to mark the trees, especially the scarecrow-looking dead ones with the neon orange stripe spray-painted around their trunks marking them for removal. And when I've ventured too far ahead he always stops what he's doing and rushes to my side, the sound of his tail alerting me to his presence, his nose poking the palm of my cupped hand for the treats I hold there. Then, once he's checked in, he ventures off again, to the puddle that needs a good tromping through, or to a pile of leaves that beg to be rolled in, good and hard.

It took me a minute to notice he was gone. I'd moved up the walk to the center of the four baseball fields where the concession stand sits empty, the bathrooms locked, the chemical-blue port-a-potties left as sorry substitutes, their odors repellent except to Roo. I turned and looked all around, didn't spot him, whistled once, waited for the sound of his hurrying feet and propeller tail pushing him forward, heard nothing and whistled again, louder. Still nothing.

"Duncan," I called. "Come!" That usually does the trick but tonight I was met only with a distant whine and a meager, sheepish bark.

And there he was, sitting in front of the fence staring at the fat softball on the other side. The gates are locked nightly, with thick, heavy chains and a big padlock, and the little clovers of snow still resting on the shady side of the locks told me they hadn't been opened in days. The fields were a mess of mud and slush no one would play on and the ball must have been left behind earlier in the week, before October turned treacherous and bitter. I couldn't get through the gate if I wanted, and climbing over the fence, as I've done on more than one similar occasion, was out the question with my tender back. There was nothing I could do for him, and knowing there were two drawers full of literally over a hundred tennis, base and golf balls waiting for him back home, I didn't feel all that guilty about not heeding his wishes this one time.

I whistled again, called again, but he merely sat and stared at me, and when that didn't work he crouched down low along the fence line and attempted to reach one feeble paw under it to scoop at the ball, which was easily six feet away and well beyond his reach. And when he glanced back up and saw I hadn't moved he began the soft whining, which soon escalated into louder whimpering which eventually transformed into a full-bellied, echo-inducing bark. He was like a child at a store, who, after demanding every shiny thing within reach, resorts to a full-throated temper tantrum, the kind that hurries a parent from the store, jaw clenched, whispering curses and threats. Only we had the park to ourselves and the sun was beginning to set so I couldn't have cared less how loud he barked.

On and on it went, and when I finally walked away, assuming my absence would hurry him after me, it only got louder. I ducked to the other side of the concession stand and waited, counting off the minutes, expecting silence followed by the clatter of his nails on the cement. But Duncan can be quite stubborn and his barking only got louder and more desperate. After nearly fifteen minutes of waiting I walked back and tried to explain to him that he couldn't have that ball, that there was a multitude of them waiting at home for him. I pushed the gate open as far it would go––no more than four or five inches––and watched as he attempted to squirm his way through it. I sat with him, I tried to distract him, I bribed him with treats, I tossed snow at him, but his attention would not leave that softball.

Finally I did the only thing I could: I leashed him up and dragged him, kicking and yapping, away from the fence, across the courtyard and down the other side of the baseball diamonds toward the wide field where he loves to run and roll. Once we were a fair way away I took the leash off and watched as he turned and headed right back the way we'd come. I used my loudest, sternest Papa Voice and told him no, which froze him in his tracks.

"Get back here," I demanded and watched as he slinked past me, head down low, eyes aimed anywhere but at me. "Now go be a dog," I said, giving him the command that really means "hurry ahead and get out of my hair for a few minutes." He did exactly as he was told, huffing and snorting once over his shoulder as he went. I watched him scurry down the path and head straight to the mucky, moss-laden drainage ditch at the intersection of two sidewalks. He glanced once over his shoulder and just as I opened my mouth to tell him to sit and stay he jumped in, swished his tail angrily in my direction and stuck his face right down into the water.

And when he came up, clutched in his mouth was a pristine, white baseball, smaller and more practical than the softball he'd spent nearly thirty minutes pining for and pouting over. He scurried away as I ran up to him and dropped it in the snow where he threw him down on top of it and rolled all around it, smearing its cold, mossiness across his back and belly, keeping as far away from me as possible.

One way or another he was going to come home with a ball. It was either the easy way or the dog way and there was nothing I could do about it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A New Place

There is much to be done the day after a snowstorm here on the edge of the Rocky Mountains so Duncan and I ventured out early, moments, it seemed, after the sun first peeked over the horizon, painting the snow a lazy shade of lavender with the faintest trace of orange. I pulled on my boots and coat and the gloves which have been so kind to me these past few years but will soon need replacing, grabbed a pocket full of treats and led Dunc down The Run.

The trees, still covered in their Autumn attire although markedly more naked than they had been just two days before, were bent over themselves under the weight of the snow. As Duncan sniffed and snorted below the crystalline cave of their boughs, I reached in, grabbed their icy limbs and gave them a few quick, hearty tugs, raining bright, fluffy flakes down onto his red head. While I'm not too fond of the inevitable cloud that finds its way under my gloves and creeps down my back, Duncan thinks its a magical event the weather has churned up just for him. He dances on his hind legs and snaps at the air, turning in circles and hopping like a trained poodle. The trees seem to breath a sigh of relief as I let go and watch their heavy limbs stretch back into the air, free of the added weight of the snow. Over and over we did this, all the way down The Run and throughout The Glen, tending to the cowardly and noxious elms who shed their leaves far too early, the low branches of the Japanese Maples and aspens, even the pines and junipers got a good shake down.

After that, and because my back has been very tender as of late, the only other chore that needed tending to was a walk through the park where we could admire the remainder of the Autumn colors kaleidoscoping through the morning glow of the sun and the new Winter white which has laid claim to our corner of the world. These paths are paths we have walked thousands of times. These are the trees we have passed beneath and admired over countless mornings, afternoons and moonlit evenings. But there was something so wondrous about them this morning and the park seemed a new place, a place we either had never visited or hadn't visited in a very long time. Duncan trotted happily ahead and when he spotted something remarkable, like the jagged shapes of the uppermost crust of the snow, or a treasure of golden leaves protruding through the lazing slope of a drift, he'd dart back to me, bark me along and guide me to his discovery. Nothing escaped his eyes or nose; no tree-bound drift slipping free of the branches and leaves and thundering down onto the sidewalk escaped his ears. He did not walk through the park so much as dance and fly from one occurrence to another, his ears raised high, his eyes bright with wonder.

If this is how each and every walk will be from now until April, when Winter finally gives up and allows Spring to return, then I shall be happy indeed, for Duncan will guide me through the days ahead with a joy that is as unquenchable as the sun.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

First Snow

And so there it was, the snow, waiting for us, for our eyes to blink open after a long cold night. Ken has gone to Michigan so Duncan and the cats slept on the bed with me, curled around me, warm and soft, little mounds of dreaming heat around my feet and legs. It was a cold night, so I'd switched out the sheets for the new fleece ones and we slept heavy, with rich dreams, the kind that are warm and colorful but linger only briefly once the eyes flicker open, leaving a feeling in the head as though you were about to say something but forgot just as you opened your mouth to speak.

I expected Duncan to dash out into the fluff with all his exuberance but he wandered slowly as though still in bed, as though wondering if it was still Summer and this was some sort of long-lingering dream.  His steps were tentative at first and he kept his nose low, inhaling the stuff, turning his face into the fall and blinking against the flakes as they fluttered down onto his long eyelashes. Finally, though, he seemed to come awake and threw himself into it with all his spirit, running figure eights around me, his mouth hanging open so he could scoop it up and snort it out, the sound of his passage through it like music that echoed through the bowed branches bending under the weight of the first storm of the season.

Watching him I whispered my hopes for him into the cold air, the wind catching my breath and pulling my words out into the morning. May every flake be a blessing for him, of joy and happiness, long life and good health. May his joys and delights carry him through the winter and all the days of his life. And may I be there to witness every moment.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Tipping Point

Besides the autumn poets sing,
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the haze.
(Emily Dickinson

Duncan and I have spent two glorious afternoons wading ankle-deep among the leaves, their sound underfoot glorious and heart-breaking all at once, the fortune cookie voices they contained all summer finally given sound and reason as their bodies are broken by our passing steps. I have watched the colors change slowly, keeping my watchful eyes on the maples and cottonwoods, always the last to change. The elms, weak and without hope or courage, gave up their bounty in September, but the cottonwoods and maples have held true, their spirits more like mine––optimistic and full of dreams. But this morning I spotted their first changing, so I stood a long moment, plucking with my eyes, the soda can yellows sprouting among their lush canopy in much the same way I watch Ken stand at the mirror and pick out the very first graying hairs at his temples.

Two days of warm, windless afternoons and cool, pleasant evenings, the scents of burgers and chicken on the grills in direct defiance to the cold and snow that is coming, as early as Wednesday we are told. We have reached the tipping point and soon the color all around will be replaced with snow, exciting and bland all at once. Too soon there will be too few leaves on the trees and the wind will find our warmest spots, poking and prodding until it forces us back inside where it will howl curses of cowardice at us. I am not looking forward to it. As much as Autumn hurts my heart, Winter is even more difficult. Duncan will see me through it, though; his enthusiasm for the flakes and drifts and whitewash as tremendous as my love of the sun and sweat and Russian Olives.

Bless my good dog and his love of all things.