Thursday, March 31, 2011

Not a Squirrel

Jeffrey has been feeding the stray. He's the nice, talkative fellow who lives mid-way down The Run. He works from home and spends his mornings sitting at the enormous oak desk he's set against the window so he can look out on the golf course and the squirrels which congregate in his tree, conspiring new and inventive ways to attack the bird feeder he's hung there. The stray is a cat, sleek and dark with stubby little legs and a suspicious saunter who has taken up residence on my end of the complex. She appeared suddenly––and dramatically––last winter by announcing her presence with the murder of one of the little grey and brown birds Duncan chases through the shrubs. I worried about her in early February when the temperatures dropped down below zero but discovered that good-hearted Jeffrey had set up a small box with a blanket inside on his patio, a heat lamp and a dish of food for her. Since then I've spotted her slinking across the parking lot, usually just after the sun has set or early in the morning before people begin walking their dogs, always crouching low and staying close to the cars of the bushes, slinking here and there, cautious and careful in that way that professional strays have perfected.

This morning Duncan and I headed down The Run, as we do every morning. I'd left his collar on but removed his leash so he could run free behind the buildings, sniffing the trunks of the trees, nosing along the fence line, chasing the squirrels, which has become a well-established part of our morning ritual. The hot spot has always been outside Jeffrey's apartment where Roo has been known to tree up to thirteen squirrels at one time, leaving them crowded in the rather small crab apple tree raining a litany of squirrel-curses down on his head.

This morning our routine took an unexpected turn when Duncan burst onto the scene, leaping over the bushes and straight at the squirrel that was not a squirrel. The stray, minding her own business, perhaps watching the squirrels in the tree overhead, jumped into the air, hissing and sputtering, hardly able to comprehend what happened to her morning, her little legs struggling to catch onto anything. She came down on the air-conditioning unit but Dunc, still operating under the assumption that he'd found the biggest, gnarliest-looking squirrel on the Front Range, chased after her. She dodged right, feigned left, leapt through the patio bars, climbed Jeffrey's screen door then the brick around it, jumped back down, ran right past Duncan into the shrubs and vanished across the parking lot.

Roo stopped and looked at me his eyebrows cocked in an expression that could only translate into "What-the-hell-was-that???

Saturday, March 26, 2011

For Chloe

So much* depends on the first buds of Spring and the delicate tendril of a silk spider web that connects one to the other, catching the precious rays of the new season and all the wonders and bounty it has yet to offer.

* My friend Traci said farewell to her companion yesterday. I am in awe of her courage and strength and marvel at the resilience of her spirit. What a gift Chloe gave to her, crossing The Rainbow Bridge in Spring when the world is turning bright and wondrous and each day can be a reminder of all the walks and memories they shared. I hope that each bud and blossom yet to come will offer Traci the consolation and love she needs to get through this difficult time, and that the memory of Chloe running through the sunshine and grass, staring up at her tree at the squirrels who may or may not have been there will ease her heart and keep her spirit open to the joy and magic of this world.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Twenty-Four Hours

It snowed a good windless snow late Thursday night and into Friday morning. The air was calm and quiet enough that the snow was able to pile up on each and every naked tree branch, the top of the fence that divides The Run from the golf course, and even on those narrow brick nooks along the edges of the building. We awoke to a marvelously white new world that felt as though our old one had been both intensified and erased. The brittle grass and rough bark of the trees had been replaced with smooth, clean lines that moved elegantly against the clear sky.

By the time we ventured out the storm had long since passed and the sky was an incredible bright blue and the ground was gold in those few spots the rising sun could reach. Already the air had warmed enough that the snow high in the trees, balancing on the power lines and along the edges of the roofs was beginning to slip from its precarious perches to fall in thick clumps that wafted out and sprinkled down on us in a dazzling glittering shower as we passed beneath. Duncan turned his face into it, snapped it up and licked it off his muzzle but did not question it. I knew that it was supposed to be in the high 60's by the afternoon and that it would soon be gone, but Dunc did not care where it came from or how long it would last, only that it was there, fresh and clean and perfect for putting his footprint into and kicking up in thick clouds behind him, gossamer-like and airy enough to slide down the hillside in The Glen without it matting the blond fur on his belly.

What a difference a day can make. But that's Spring on the edge of The Rockies. Duncan takes nothing for granted and lives each moment to it's fullest, dragging me along behind him, be it through thick, new snow or the mud the day after. His joy is not dependent on the weather.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This Was the Day Spring Came

This was the day I wore shorts on our walk, and a t-shirt, a loose, white one with a faded logo on it. And in The Run the sun was blinding and warm on my arms and I could hardly see Duncan through its glare. I shielded my eyes and was happy to see the dance of a million small flying gnats no bigger than motes hovering in the air and taking delight in the warm rays and blue skies. As we moved forward they brushed against my cheeks and through the hair of my arms and bare legs, catching and then pulling free, spiraling downward for a moment before they remembered their new wings and caught themselves before meeting the earth.

This was the day the sky was still brilliant blue when we walked in the park and the wind played with the few white fluffy clouds, coursing over and around them, smoothing them out and laying them flat like fresh linens settling onto a bed. And down where we walked, the wind––if it could be called that, for it was little more than a precocious breeze––was warm and soft, barely stirring the newly greening grass, caressing us as it passed over, its fingers tip-toeing across us and brushing the back of our necks like the familiar caress of a lover playing.

This was the day the sun settled behind the mountains and the wind and the walkers in the park along the edge of the duck-laden lake paused as though to listen to the sound of it sinking behind the horizon, the mountains turning black below the orange and honeyed sky, the lake reflecting and memorizing every moment, precious and perfect.

This was a glorious day, the first, as far as Duncan and I are concerned, of Spring.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


It was a damp morning in the park, the remnants of last night's rain evident on the sidewalk and in the streets, in the drops still slowly slipping down the trunks of the trees or dripping from the branches, their impact making soft smacking sounds on the mat of yellowed grass and once-leaves below. The clouds were low but moving fast away toward the south and east, as though embarrassed at being caught in the act of doing something illicit. There was a chill in the air but not enough to keep Duncan and me from the park, or the Little League players from the first game of the season.

As we strolled around the baseball diamonds, we sized up the players, all of them twelve or thirteen, the most awkward of ages. Some of them were surprisingly tall and husky for their age, while others were still scrawny and bony and hardly looked ten. Their voices were as varying as their builds. While they warmed up, their uniforms still crisp and white, they shouted and called to one another, some in deep baritones, some in gravelly awkward cracks, and others in tones and timbres that had not even considered puberty.

Duncan was indifferent, of course, sniffing his way along the line of the fences, using his nose to turn over discarded potato-chip bags, until an occasional stray ball rolled toward us, and struck the other side of the fence, then he perked up and watched intently while the player retrieved it. I watched and listened, though, because the world of sports and thirteen year-olds are things I have never understood, even when I was that young.

A group of four small boys were warming up on one side of the field, throwing a ball back and forth between them, all of them eying their competition, who––looking much older and larger––were doing the same on the other side of the field.

"Do you see that big one," one of them asked conspiratorially. His teammates followed the jerk of his head in the direction of a tall, dark-haired boy across the field who was barking at his team in a deep, confident voice.

"Taylor Mitchum?" another asked.

The boy, gangly and small, nodded. "He looks old enough to shave," he marveled.

Another boy nodded. "Yeah, but check this out," he said, lowering his voice. "My cousin goes to school with him. Not only does he shave, but he has pubes."

There was a strange silence and I had to fight to keep from laughing.

Finally another boy spoke up. "Dude, I have pubes."

"Me, too," another confessed.

"Yeah, I do, too," the third admitted. They stared at their teammate in silence, sizing him up, the ball frozen in his mitt. "Dude! You don't have any pubes yet? What's wrong with you?!"

"Shut up!" he protested. "I got one!"

I still don't understand them.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Crack of Ball and Bat

The lights above the baseball fields in the park came on a few nights ago and their bright glare and the dark shadows they cast behind the trees and benches summoned not only the players and their spectators, but summer as well. Under their radiance I could clearly see the slow but determined greening of the grass as very thin but sharp blades cut their way through the yellow mash Duncan and I have been walking on since October. Not even the chalky crust of the tootsie-roll droppings left by the geese could hold them back. Winter seemed to sigh and loosen her hold on us a bit even though she doesn't even really show her true face until March and April around these parts. And so Duncan and I have walked in the warm evenings, sometimes without even a jacket, and when we return home I sit on the patio and watch the glow of the games and listen for that crack of ball and bat, the low cheer of the crowd and the shouts of the players yelling each other into home base. Our bodies are still in Winter but our hearts and spirits are far away, our faces turned toward the sun.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

At This Moment

On a night like tonight after a day as sunny as this one, when the air is still warm and you can walk without a jacket through the park, mounting the low hills and descending into the cool pockets of cold in the shallow valleys along their base, when the geese are flying low overhead, their bodies nearly invisible except for the pale of their bellies, which catch the last of the day's sun and glow orange as they pass overhead like slow-moving ball lightning, there is not much to do except sit on the patio and listen to the children play in the parking-lot below and the slow wane of the traffic noise from out on the street, a good, forgiving dog at your side, his chin resting on the slope of your foot, the gentle rise and fall of his breathing the perfect replacement for the crickets which will begin singing lullabies soon, although not as soon as you'd like.

After a week of beautiful Rocky Mountain weather people are already talking of spring, but Duncan and I know better. There is still all of March and April to get through, and those are Denver's two snowiest months. There will be plenty of snow to roll in and tromp through and then the low spatter of rain against the windows which will lull us into sleep. But until then there are nights like this, perfect in almost every way, and all I can do is sit and grin up at Orion, who is already slipping lower into the horizon, pat my glorious dog on his glorious head, whisper, "Good boy," to him and be thankful for what I have at this moment.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Crime & Punishment Redux

It was a beautiful morning, nearly 50˚ degrees by the time we went for our first walk of the day. Duncan was quick to climb from bed, and eagerly pranced around the apartment while I made his breakfast and opened the windows to let the day's warm air waft through the apartment. I sang one of my favorite Poi Dog Pondering songs to him while I scooped out the dehydrated salmon from the box  and into his bowl before pouring warm water over it. He sat at the edge of the kitchen, ears up high, tail swishing back and forth while he watched me and waited.

"Dreams dreamt and thoughts thunk
Tooth brushed and watch wound
Before toast and tea
Before toast and tea
Breakfast! Good morning everybody,
The sun is up and there's
lots of toast and jelly.
Wash Wash, you gotta wash the dishes
If you're gonna eat upon 'em, 
ya gotta wash 'em.
You can get it if you really want,
you gotta try hard, try hard. 
Keep on the sunny side."

We walked down The Run, which, after a week of temperatures in the 60's, is nearly free of ice. Duncan galloped ahead, scattering the squirrels and sniffing among the low shrubs for the little brown birds hidden among their branches. I strolled idly behind, watching his propeller of a tail cut through the bushes, pushing him forward. On the low branch of a scrawny and young maple a single squirrel, fat and talkative, perched and watched me carefully. Duncan had prowled ahead and seemed caught up in his own business so I reached into my pocket and took out a bit of one of the papaya and mango coconut crunchers I keep there. The squirrel leaned far forward as I held it up. She sniffed cautiously then crawled slowly down the thin trunk toward me, reaching out two tiny paws, the nails long and dark, cupped the thing and pulled it from between my fingers. No sooner had she chittered softly at me and put it in her mouth than Duncan was at my side, practically standing on my foot glaring up at me contemptuously.

"We have plenty to share," I told him but he barked and leapt and chased the squirrel up the tree, far away from us.

"That wasn't very nice," I scolded. He stared at me a moment longer, huffed then turned his back and stomped away.

After we returned home he refused to sit still while I said the blessing before he ate, turning his head away from me and refusing to add anything after I'd finished, as he does every morning. After he'd eaten and I'd packed my bags, he hid in his kennel and refused to come out to give me a kiss. I said a soft farewell, wished him the cats a good day and descended the stairs. I glanced up at the window, expecting to see him perched there, the sun on his face, his tongue lolling out, but saw nothing. He was mad that I'd given one of his treats to a sworn enemy and wasn't about to let me off the hook easily at all.

Tonight when I came home there was no chirping dance, no playful tail wagging, only patient waiting while I changed clothes and grabbed his leash. Once we'd crossed the street to the park he sauntered on ahead, careful to keep his back to me and stopping every three or four feet to tirelessly examine every fallen leaf, every gum wrapper, every twig and branch which had come down during the weekend's wind. I tugged on his leash and encouraged him to move along but to no avail. He had taken control and was not going to allow himself to be rushed. I took him to the nook where the bunnies roost, I led him to the field to chase geese into the sunset sky, I offered him treat after treat but his will has proven unbreakable. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Beau, the puppet double who played him in the holiday video. After dinner, while I rinsed dishes and put away food, Duncan forcibly removed Beau's tail, both ears and a sizable portion of a leg before I was able to rescue the poor fellow and put him up some place high, far from Duncan's wrath.

I'll make it up to him tomorrow. Somehow. Any suggestions? I've certainly learned not to feed the squirrels.