Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A New Feather

It has been a difficult week and tomorrow Duncan and I will climb into the car  once again and make an unexpected return to Idaho. I have spent much of the day packing and cleaning, getting organized, running errands and grieving.

Last night my grandfather passed away, the last of my four grandparents, and my heart has been breaking ever since. Duncan was with me, on a walk through the dark and quiet when the call came. Almost immediately my good, red dog was at my side, standing so that his head stood even with my hand, gently resting his weight against my leg in reassurance, a reminder that he was there for me. The sky was brilliant and clear and vast in a way it hasn't been as of late, and as my mother and I cried softly and tried to be brave, I tilted my head back, turning my face into the darkness above. "Look for that new bright star," Mom told me. And so I spent much of last night doing exactly that, standing with Dunc in the dark watching the heavens, wondering what a world without grandparents would feel like.

My grandfather was an amazing man and I wish I could have introduced each of you to him. Perhaps, in a way, I did when I wrote about him several years ago. He would've made you laugh even if you didn't want to. And so tomorrow as Dunc and I drive the six-hundred miles back home, I'll be thinking of all those stories and laughing even when it seems so hard, smiling against the bland miles of Wyoming, through the winding snow-covered hills of southeast Idaho until I arrive home and can receive the hugs I've been sorely missing these past few days.

But we won't be alone. Grandma and Grandpa will be with us. Perhaps all four of my grandparents will be there, magic feathers, strong and light and able to carry us across the distance to the home they built on the edge of the Idaho desert, to the family they loved so very much.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Quiet Place to Rest

The moon––hanging over my shoulder as it does at this time of the month, not quite fully round but close, bold and coy all at once––was the color of the streets lamps in the park, pale and transparent, sifting through the high wisps of clouds like a dirty light in a dark aquarium. Duncan was as oblivious to her presence as he was to the goose droppings that littered the sidewalk, and plodded along ahead of me, his ears raised into the dark of night around us, his nose low, skittering over the place where the cement and grass met.

It was a long day and as tired as I was, I knew that the short winter walks were beginning to take their toll on Roo. We stay away from the park on winter nights because I can't see to steer us around the green goose tootsie-rolls. Instead we've been spending our time down at The Glen or exploring the sidewalks that line the perimeter of the apartment complex. It's not ideal, but it's the only option I have in the cold and dark. Tonight, though, exhausted and grumpy, I figured the best thing for both of us was a long walk through the park, down around the northern edge of the lake, still frozen despite our warm January weather, and back up past the golf course toward home.

It is difficult sometimes, after a long commute and a stressful day, to put the needs of Duncan ahead of my own. My mind was screaming to stop for a burrito rather than cook the Tilapia waiting at home for me. I kept imagining a glass of wine, which I rarely drink, and a long hot bath, the steam rising up around my face in comfortably suffocating clouds. I wanted nothing more than to read a chapter or two in a book and climb into bed, but Duncan needed a long walk more than I needed an early night, and I knew that afterward I would feel better as well. I'd be ashamed to admit how often I resist, but every time I relent he reminds me that a good walk, a quiet one at a slow pace, is always the best medicine and that more often than not there's something waiting out there in the world for us, something The Universe has put in our path for exactly that reason, something waiting to be discovered.

And so we walked. The lake water was stiff and unmoving, the light from the shops that ring its shores trapped on its frozen surface, preserved as though burnt in amber. The air was nearly sweet and clear as the traffic began to die down and in places, where the clouds had cleared, the red and green lights of planes coming in from over the Rockies blinked against the darkness of all those miles of space between them and the ground.

Duncan pulled me around the baseball diamonds. My pace had begun to slow but he led me steadily along, occasionally looking over his shoulder at me, his eyebrows bunched up in that familiar way of his when he wants to take me somewhere and asks only that I trust him. So I followed, too tired even to whistle. When we'd rounded the diamonds and came back along the path past the picnic pavilions, he suddenly stopped, looked at me once more, and then guided me through a ring of scattered picnic benches to a place where someone had brought a single recliner, a La-Z Boy, golden under the park lamps, its surface smooth and clean, one arm slightly loose but in good condition. He led me to it, his tail wagging softly. My first instinct was to stay as far away from it possible, but I trust Dunc, and so we wiped the once-leaves from its mottled velour surface and sat for a bit. He climbed up on my lap, placed his head on my arm and looked up at me. We were warm there, watching the traffic thin out on Pierce, the moon bright and bold before us but still not quite fully round, the stars emerging from behind the clouds, all the world perfect as only a dog can show us it can be.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Picture of His Papa

When I came home tonight, after a long drive in the cold and ice, Duncan was curled up on the couch as he often is, his chin supported on the arm-rest so that he can look out the patio doors at the world below. I've seen him there more times than I could count, but what made me smile and broke my heart all at once was what he'd brought with him.

More often than not his toys are scattered on the floor around him, Bash, the blue hammerhead laying under the coffee table, dropped when Duncan dozed, a fuzzy green tennis ball not far away. Sometimes one or two will be resting near his head or propped on his hip in the same manner that Duncan cuddles against me when I lay on the couch. None of his toys were near him tonight, though. Instead, he'd pulled my sweater from the doorknob where I'd lazily hung it last night, carried it down the hall into the living room, placed it on the couch and laid on top of it, using it as a sort of pillow while he slept away the afternoon waiting for me to come home.

I have several pictures of him on my desk at work so that every time I look up I can see him grinning back at me, but he laid on my sweater all day, breathing me in and perhaps dreaming about the moment I arrived home to take him out to play in the snow. Sometimes the evidence of his love for me is overwhelming and I am reminded again to count my blessings.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Good Hunter

On Saturday, when the snow and plunging temperatures were still only a rumor, something whispered between people passing on the sidewalks behind their dogs, when only the lightest dusting still clung to the northward sides of the buildings, the rabbits and squirrels were still plentiful and playful. Duncan had learned all the treacherous spots in The Run––those places in the snow where my footprints had packed tightly and frozen into ice––and so gave little thought to where his feet fell as he jogged ahead of me on the gently sloping ground, hardly seeming to touch it at all, gliding above it somehow, a low kite riding the lazy tide of air hovering just above the yellowed grass which still protruded through a thin layer of crisp snow. As I do every winter, I plodded behind, my booted feet heavy, the air evading the gravity of my lungs, the morning cold like a set of fists pushing against my progress. But not Roo. He bound ahead and straight into the thicket of shrubs, scattering the little birds and rustling the squirrels out of their earthbound hiding places and up into the trees, his delight wide and ample on his face. Unlike every fisherman or hunter I have known, he cares little for quantity or size but is content in the doing. He was just as happy Saturday with the five squirrels he treed as he was on Friday with the thirteen he chased into the branches above his head. And as we all know, his happiness does wonders for my own.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Playing Dead

When told Duncan can sit with the best of them. He doesn't even need my voice; a closed fist held in front of me is enough to drop him where he stands. He can stay moderately well, unless he sees a pretty girl or Brady (there is no correlation, believe me). He can shake, although he always does so with his right paw. He can give you a high five, and ten, even, if he has change and you ask nicely. Sometimes he'll deign to lay down when asked but only when he knows you've got a treat or when the ground is wet and he knows a soggy belly will require a good rub down when we return home. He's very good at bowing when you bow at him and seems to expect the same of me when he bows at me first thing in the morning. And when asked he's more than happy to tell you he loves you. He's even taken to saying the blessing before meals. He is quite smart and learns very quickly.

The one thing he steadfastly refuses to do is roll over and play dead. I have spent countless hours trying to teach him but he won't budge. He does not like being on his back and playing alive has far more to offer than laying motionless at my feet. And yet I continue to make the attempt. Every so often we spend a few days a week working on it, to disappointing results, before I give up, only to return, optimistic and idiotic, a month or so later.

Last night was one of those nights. After a long game of tug with Bash, his bright blue hammerhead shark, we started all over again. The cats lined up on the back of the couch to watch. Winnie seemed to shake her head in disappointment before turning her back on the whole affair. Olive, too lazy to move, stayed on the couch and blinked her wide eyes at us. Pip tried to get involved, jumped down next to me and immediately threw himself on his side, arched his back and sprawled, reaching his paws and tail out as far as he could and lay motionless. I offered him one of Roo's treats as a reward but that didn't seem satisfactory so he decided to just get (and stay) in the way. Duncan merely sat in front of me and listened to me repeat the command. He'd lay down, but rolling over was not in the cards. Pip did it once or twice more, mewing softly in pride, but still didn't get a treat. After an hour or so I gave up, scritched his ears and settled down on the couch with a book.

This morning on our walk the the air cold around us, the snow refrozen and crunchy and almost brittle underfoot. We'd just passed the triangle of aspens halfway down The Run when a particularly nasty squirrel in a tree started chittering and bellowing at us. Yesterday Duncan had interrupted an important rendezvous among the local rodents and they seemed not to have forgotten it or the way his sudden appearance had forced them to cancel the meeting and scatter in countless different directions. The squirrels here have been known to be somewhat aggressive and when this one came down the tree at Dunc, screeching and grunting at the top of his little lungs, I stepped between them and said very sternly, "Oh why don't you roll over and play dead!" The squirrel jerked his tail at me once or twice, pooped and scampered back up to the nearest branch where he could curse us in safety.

"C'mon, Dunc, let's go," I said and started to march away. I didn't hear him behind me so I turned to look back, expecting him to still be leaning against the side of the tree. Instead he was laying on his side, almost on his back, his two front paws curled up, his eyes fixed on me but not moving.

He got nearly an entire bag of treats for that one.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Blessings of the New Year

Happy new year, from a boy who doesn't like the cold and his dog, who loves nothing more than to gallop and roll through the snow.

May the blessings of the year be as numerous as the snowflakes that have fallen on Denver, may your troubles be as few as the degrees that have appeared in our thermometers the last two days and may your path always be free and clear.

Thank you for walking with us. We look forward to all the journeys the future has to offer.