Thursday, June 30, 2011

Long, Long Moments

Several years ago, when my little outpost on the internet was still somewhat new, when I was at the tail end of my first year of learning the seasons in this place where we'd moved––an education that persists to this day, as Duncan seems to lead me deeper and deeper into the more subtle nuances of our world––I discovered the Linden trees, which, while not a replacement for my Russian Olives, have become a unique and greatly anticipated part of my year. They have become a marker for the days I have spent in Littleton and are worth the distance I choose to live away from Denver. They are the things I will miss the most, should I ever choose to leave, nearly as precious to me as the fireflies I left behind in the Shire-like Midwest all those years ago.

They are everywhere in Littleton and the air is just beginning to fill with the scent of them, a perfume that is as light and sweet at the Russian Olives are heady and sticky. It is tinged with traces of lilac and gardenia and candied plums, and does not saturate but wafts, like the settling balls of white which drift down from the tallest branches of the grand Cottonwoods. It is an odor that does not invade but waits for an invitation like a demure and blushing schoolgirl. There should be candles and perfumes built around it, and poems written about it, but sadly, the world is lacking in these things. So I must content myself with the brief weeks when I can sit on my patio, which looks out on four of them, and the one grows quite close to the window in my office so that when I sit at my desk and the breeze blows, as it is tonight, the sweet smell drifts over my face and soothes my spirit.

Duncan has been very patient with me these last few days, as the golden blossoms have opened up and exploded with the yellow bells of the flowers. They have pulled me to them and so we have stood beneath their shade for long, long moments, eyes closed, breathing them in, washing our pallet with them, dreaming of all the years of Lindens still to come. The passing of June could not be more sweet.

Away I walked for hours
whence stands the linden tree,
and still I hear it whisp'ring:
You'll find your peace with me!
(Wilhelm Müller, "Der LIndenbaum")

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Kind Rain

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done? 
(The Summer Day, Mary Oliver)

It was a simple request Duncan made, tugging as he did on his leash and leaning far away from me, as horizontal to the grass as the physics of my grip on his leash would allow. The sky had darkened in many but not all places and a surprisingly cool summer rain was beginning to fall, its big drops making loud, almost obscene smacking sounds on the pavement around us, refusing to evaporate in the golden, early-evening light and scattering the diligence of the ants working there. Duncan tugged again and looked parkward, where the sky was considerably darker and the grass beneath it had turned a sort of menacing gray. North of us it was vast and blue and I knew if we waited only an hour we would miss the rain and return home for dinner unhurried and dry, content. But the imploring eyes and wishes of dogs are stronger than physics so I relented and let him lead me across the street, the big rain falling on my cheeks, running cold trails down my neck past the collar of my t-shirt where they slid onto my back.

It was a good rain, though, the kind where the sun has somehow managed to find itself trapped above the horizon but below the line of clouds and mountains, its last gold concentrated and sweet, radiant and crisp in the haze of rain. Duncan's tail and head were high and I found myself not minding the wet in my hair or the diamond glitter in my eyes. We walked through it, and ran occasionally, without self-consciousness or even the desire for shelter. And when it passed to the south and was gone, when the sun had returned and the sky blued before us once again, calmly and without show, we spread out on our bellies on the cool grass and played together, rolling and talking, both of us smiling, one of us chewing a stick the other watching the storm move away, the light receding after it.

Sometimes, when the day has been long and I am very tired, I reflect on my life before the obligation of a dog, before I was faced with the choice of staying dry or allowing the rain to soak my clothes, when my days were my own and I could come and go as I pleased, and I think, That life was so much simpler; what happened to it? But this one, this incredibly beautiful life I have chosen, is far richer and I would not trade it for anything.

There really is no choice to be made at all, is there.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Happy Pride

"A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon."
(Napolean Bonaparte)*

Duncan wanted to take a moment to wish people all over the country a happy Pride Day, especially those in New York.

*Perhaps not the best person to be quoting but the sentiment is what counts, right?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

June Hymn

The tragedy of the Russian Olives, so precious to me, is that they do not endure. Last night, after an afternoon with heat so heavy my feet and chest ached walking through it, I caught what was surely the last hint of perfume from the tree that saturated my apartment only two weeks ago with its lemon-honey, mint fragrance. Duncan and I strolled down The Run as the sun was setting and the world was beginning to turn blue. I'd hoped the evening had cooled but was wrong. Not even the grass could offer consolation to Roo when he plopped down in it and rolled onto his side, his tongue hanging out.

I have been watching those magnificent yellow blossoms darken and plump up, their weight enough to pull the limbs of the tree low to the ground as they do when a heavy, wet, late-spring snow falls on them. But slowly, over the past week those flowers have bleached under the scrutiny of the sun's light and those branches have begun to cast them off and rise back up. Their fragrance has diminished and I have felt that space in my spirit which has been so fulfilled by it begin to ache with a longing for next June.

I stood a long time at the fence and breathed it in, closing my eyes with the hope of not wasting a single cherished ounce of it. Finally the breeze off the golf course changed direction and it was gone. I stood a long time watching the shadows gather around the base of the tree and turned my thoughts to July when the Lindens blossom and the world is sweetened one last time before the brutal charge of August and the inevitable cooling of September.

As beautiful as the summer solstice was I could not help but feel melancholy at its arrival. For six months my eyes and heart have watched the sun rise higher and higher in the sky, staying longer each day, tasting sweeter on the tongue and caressing my skin more tenderly as it did so. There are still many months of summer left, especially in Denver where it can sometimes last into late October, but its too easy for me to forget that and focus on its passing. So tonight I let Duncan lead me down Leawood, the quiet neighborhood that almost feels as though it's a part of my past, the kind of place where I wish I owned a porch and could oversee my children and grandchildren as they play in the yard under the grove of Aspens I have planted and watched grow for thirty years. We have not been there lately and it seems we only go when I need to be reminded of something or when I feel detached and wandering. It is a place of found objects so I knew that going there would ground me in these last days of June and reignite my passion for the remaining days of Summer. As we passed through it I began to softly whistle "June Hymn" by The Decemberists, and I felt the exuberance of the season return with each step we took, with each bunny Dunc wanted to rouse from their lazy loungings in the shaded grass, with the color bursting all around us, even from the sidewalks that held our weight as we passed across them.

It was enough to make June fresh and new again, to liven my step and remind me of the magic still so strong this summer. It is too early to mourn its passing despite the yellowing of the white blossoms and whitening of the yellow ones. The freckles are still strong on my cheeks and arms, and the low vibrato of bee song among the symphony of the flowers is still joyous and lively.

A barony of ivy in the trees
Expanding out its empire by degrees
And all the branches burst to bloom
In the boom
Heaven sent this cardinal maroon
To decorate our living room

And once upon it

The yellow bonnets
Garland all the lawn
And you were waking
And day was breaking
A panoply of song
And summer comes to Springville Hill.
(The Decemberists, "June Hymn")

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Hawkling: Post Script

This morning Ken and I took Duncan for a walk before the sun had climbed too far up the sky, when the shadows were still long in The Run and the heat of the day was still sleepy-eyed and bleary and too lazy to get out of bed. The mowers had come through ahead of us so the air was fresh with the scent of their work and the moist clippings clung to our shoes and Duncan's soft feet. We took turns telling each other about our adventures over the past week while he's been gone, and although his tale of the Nebraska tornado he'd miraculously survived yesterday while driving back to Denver from Michigan was quite a bit more dramatic than mine, he was still excited to hear about the hawkling Roo and I rescued on Sunday. As we moved down The Run I pointed out the various places where our adventure unfolded, from the grassy spot where Duncan first found him to the last place I'd seen him duck for refuge. Duncan plodded ahead, sniffing here and there along the dark shadowed bases of the shrubs and at the fence line where our hawkling had vanished.

On our way back home I heard the call of the kestrels from up high. We stopped and I pointed out the tall shapes of both the mother and father perched on the tallest gable of the apartment building. They looked down at us and called again and a swift shape plunged from another corner of the roof, swept right over my head causing me to duck and came to a soft landing clinging to the brick on the side of the building, not five feet above Duncan's head. Roo jogged forward, his tail tall and dancing, and stopped as the familiar face with its big round eyes swiveled in our direction.

"There he is!" I cried and hurried forward, Ken following behind.

The hawkling barked at us, scooched across the brick, looking down at Duncan as his parents took flight and circled over us, their voices loud and clear in the morning. Our bird looked on a moment longer then leaned forward, unfolded its wings and swept down right over Duncan, across the distance between us straight toward me, then veered effortlessly up just as I moved out of the way. I watched his eyes––looked right into them––saw the delight in them at his newfound ability to fly so gracefully and bravely, watched him alight in a young aspen and take cover among its branches to call back at us with a voice that was vibrant and strong.

He was magnificent and I can rest easy knowing he is safe and healthy, that with a little help from those of us bound to the ground he has conquered gravity and will spend his days casting a glorious shadow as he passes overhead.

Sometimes Nature has a way of thanking us for passing through her realm, walking her paths and tending to her charges by simply reminding us how remarkable she––and we––can be. I know in my heart it will be a joyous summer for my eyes and ears will be trained on the skies and all the possibility that resides there.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Hawkling

It has been a long day, in large part because my dog has a keen eye, an enormous heart, and a papa who pays attention to him when he needs him to do so.

I was up a little before six and even though I tried to stay in bed and pretend I was still asleep, Pip and Olive, who must know the sounds of my breathing, both awake and asleep, were quite insistent about having their breakfast at the crack of dawn. So, after much coaxing and chin nuzzling, I climbed out of bed, fed the cats, who scurried around my feet and yowled in a near-perfect cacophony, got dressed and took Duncan out for our morning gallop through the park where we tend to the bunny roundup and play fetch until our bellies get the best of us and summon us home where we can eat our own breakfast.

It was a cool morning and the clouds were low but busy melting away as the sun rose higher in the bleached white sky. We had no shadows when we ventured out but by the time we returned an hour later they had grown into dark, solid things and the heat of the day was strong on my arms and cheeks as we ambled down The Run. The clouds had slunk away over the eastern plains but I could see fresh, white ones, whose bases I knew were dark, gathering just over the tallest peaks to the north and west of us. There would be good weather for much of the afternoon, but I knew the clouds would return before the sun would set on the other side of this day and from the look of them they would not remain silent.

The bird was sitting in the grass, unmoving and doing its best impersonation of a squat, round stone or a protuberance of Aspen root. I stepped right over it and continued on my way. It was only when I'd gone fifty or so feet that I noticed Duncan was no longer beside me. I turned and spotted him laying in the grass not far from Jeffrey's patio, his tail wagging, his ears up high and his eyes bright enough to catch the morning sun. I whistled and patted my thigh, his signal to come back to me, but he didn't. He barked softly and leaned his nose down into the tall grass to nudge something resting there. I saw a small brown shape lurch up and back uneasily away. I thought it was another bunny and hurried to him where I saw the baby hawk looking back up at me defiantly. Duncan's tail thumped again but he did not move and I did not think to put his leash back on him. After all, this was the dog who was twice kissed by a rabbit and then rescued another last year, carrying it like a kitten in his mouth.

When I leaned over it to check for wounds, it spread its wings and hissed at me. It's bright feathers looked fine, his legs strong and solid, his eyes bright and alert. His only fault, it seemed, was his reticence for flight. Still, with Jeffrey's adopted feral cat lurking about I thought it best not to leave him in the middle of the grass so I scooped his soft weight into the palm of my hands and placed him in the deep shadows of the low shrubs where the gray and brown little birds roost and sing. I logged a call with the Wildlife Division of the State Highway Patrol and told them I'd found an injured hawkling and then spent much of the next two hours sitting near the shrubs, my eyes scanning the shadows along the edge of the building for the cat. Duncan sat next to me, rolling on his back, his paws scraping away the last of the morning's clouds, his big pink tongue lolling out. Once or twice he peeked his face into the shrubs to check in with our little friend, his tail wagging happily when he'd found him. But he never lunged, never barked and always moved very cautiously and deliberately. And the bird somehow sensed that we intended no harm, that even fox-colored Roo had only his well-being in mind, so he climbed slowly so as not to be heard, up through the thick growth until he could peek his head through the green and watch us while we watched him.

Officer Joe finally arrived at ten. By then the hawk had climbed through the shrubs and was perched on top of them, looking around, the sun painting the rich feathers on his chest and tail a vivid red, keeping us within its sights, occasionally hissing but not moving. Joe pointed out that it was not a hawk but an American Kestrel, which, despite being quite common around here, I have never seen but hear almost every time Roo and I venture out. (Also, I'd like to add, a Kestrel is a hawk, the smallest North American hawk, in fact, and is also commonly referred to as a Sparrow Hawk.)

With Joe looking on and telling me what to do, I scooped the thing up, holding it in my palms on its back. We stroked its head and belly and even though it hissed at us it never snapped or bit. In fact, it was quite calm throughout the entire ordeal. With Duncan plodding along beside us, I placed the bird into the Maple below Brady's patio and watched as it stood steady a moment and then slipped out of the tree, opened its wings and flew fifty or so feet, alighting on the ground near the fence, which he quickly darted under, vanishing into the long grass not far from my favorite Russian Olive tree.

"He's hours away from flying," Joe explained, turning his head and scanning the roofs and trees nearby. "Mom and Dad are probably around here somewhere, so you shouldn't worry too much. They'll look out for him. That's what they do." We shook hands, he left and I knocked on Jeffrey's door to ask if he'd mind keeping his cat in for the rest of the afternoon.

A few hours later we ambled down The Run again and who should Duncan bump into, perched at the very edge of Jeffrey's patio––his feral rescue and her three kittens sitting on the other side of the sliding glass door, their tails thumping––but our Kestrel friend. Duncan barked softly to catch my attention and then sighed loudly, as though annoyed that the little thing had willingly returned to the most dangerous spot in which he could seek shelter. I scooped him up again, placed him at the edge of the fence in the deep grass and watched as he trudged away, indignant and Hobbit-like, into the dense and shadowed green. Mom and Dad were indeed watching. They circled above my head then swept down low to where he settled and called back at me. I hurried to Jeffrey's door to urge him once again to keep the cat indoors but he wasn't home, so I rushed back to my apartment––Duncan tagging along, his tail swishing up wakes in the grass––to write a note, which I taped to Jeffrey's door.

And now that the clouds have come, turning the sky dark and mountainous, and the rain and thunder are rocking the apartment and igniting the evening sky, I can only sit at my desk and look out on the place on the other side of the fence where I saw last saw him huddled in the tall, unkept grass, his parents skittering nearby, their cries piercing the storm. I hope he is safe, that Jeffrey's cat will stay indoors, and that by the time the sun finds Duncan and me on our walk tomorrow morning, he will have found his wings and will be perched atop one of the nearby buildings watching us, the smell of my hands still clinging to his feathers, the tender smile and gentle eyes of Duncan still fresh in his memory.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Luxury of June

On this perfectly warm evening, as the sun was setting behind the mountains, pulling the blue from the sky and replacing it with the gentlest and softest of golds, as the birds began their final song of this lovely June day, when our walk was winding down and we'd exhausted the number of times he wanted to demonstrate how well he's mastered the art of rolling, Duncan settled down in the cool of the newly-trimmed grass, smiled big and allowed me a single photo. The moment he heard the camera click and felt confident the moment had been captured, he leaped up, leaned into my face, past the camera, gave me a quick, wet lick on the nose, and pushed himself down onto my lap. He looked up at me, smiled again and then, as I settled back, watched the light fade from the sky and savored the quiet simplicity and luxury of this night. His paw rested in the palm of my hand and the hours I spent driving across Denver to and from work, as well as the long day in between, were suddenly worth that single moment.

I could have stayed there all night, and would have if he'd asked.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sweet Silence

Mornings after a storm are good for walking, good because the grass, which has not been mowed for a week, is long and is beginning to bend forward over itself, and when you walk through it, catching the moisture on the toes of your shoes, your footprints leave a deep trail behind you like the wake of a heavy ship that has cut through still, reflective water. Only a few scant remnants of last night's gale remain––thunderheads tall and wide but whispy as they dissipate to nothing over the unending grasses and silence of the eastern plains. The storm sent the world to bed early. Duncan and I strolled the grounds before it broke, watching and listening as the little birds swept frantically from dense tree to tree searching for the perfect spot to ride out the winds and the big drops which made a smacking sound as they struck the earth. The lightning rocked the clouds and the thunder was heavy and insistent but high up so the ground never quite shook even though it wanted to. The last of the sun's rays were trapped beneath the dense gray, reflecting off the moisture in the air and painting our faces, and the world, in golden hues.

The sun was not even up yet when we ventured out this morning. The birds suspected the promise of its arrival but only the trees seemed to remember it, their highest branches stretched upward and out, reaching for the first meager beams of light and warmth as they slid over the rooftops. There is a silence after a good storm that only the clouds of morning gnats appreciate as they hover low over the grass and crowd among the bottommost branches of the maples and ash trees that run along the fence-line. But Duncan and I appreciated the quiet as well as we slipped down The Run, ambling side by side, breathing the rich fragrance of morning and moisture and the newness of the day before the traffic sounds, the machine wails of the mowers and blowers and trimmers and the heat of the day sweep it all away.

Sweet silence is such a rapturous thing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Not One, But Three

At long last I was able to coax this strangely stubborn boy of mine into showing off his new mad skills. It's the one "trick" he's resisted learning after all these years. And he's never been reluctant to show off (he gets that from me), so I'm not sure what the holdup has been, but finally, for your praise and approval I submit Duncan the Rolling Retriever...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Every Precious Moment

My mother lost her Russian Olive earlier this spring. It was an enormous and stately thing, older and taller than any I've seen around these parts. Most young trees are reedy things that look like willowy, untamed and stubborn weeds, but Mom's tree was tall and wide, with branches that swept out low and long over the grass on the northern side of her beautiful yard. It's trunk was thick and gnarled and the boughs swayed softly in the wind, a perfect tree for laying beneath and watching the blue of the sky and the wisps of southeastern Idaho clouds meander lazily above its branches. Mom was heartsick and cried when they had to take it down but its roots had grown so large and had fanned out so wide that they were cracking and splintering the driveway and threatening the foundation under the garage. It was my favorite Russian Olive and looking at the empty spot in her yard when I return home later this summer will be a bit like touching your tongue to the place where a tooth used to reside.

There is one tree here, not far down The Run and on the golf course side of the fence, that has captured my attention. It is not a large thing, and I doubt it will grow much taller, but its branches have exploded in an abundance of dusty green leaves and tiny, yellow flowerlings, their color unmatched by all the other trees, grasses and blossoms combined. When my office windows are open its perfume drifts inside and fills my apartment with its heady lemony, butter-mint fragrance, hypnotic and sweet, never obtrusive. Last night after Ken and the animals fell asleep, I laid awake in my bed, eyes closed while I listened to the quiet slumbering around me and to the soft whisperings of the chimes on the patio as a quiet breeze danced with the tree and lured its scent through my windows where it could flutter softly around my head until I was sated and dreams took me. In the morning the perfume lingered on my pillow and I was a long time pulling myself from beneath the covers and outside where I could sip my tea and watch the color come into the sky from my patio.

Duncan and I strolled past it this morning and I thought, "Certainly it cannot become any more wondrous or beautiful. Surely there is a limit to such things, even in the wilds of nature." But this evening on our walk I could not help but stop and marvel at it again while Duncan sat in front of an open window and panted at one of Jeffrey's stray's kittens sitting wide-eyed on the sill batting playfully at him through the screen. I turned my back on him and breathed and breathed and breathed some more, the kind of smell that somehow manages not to dissipate but to grow stronger and more honeyed with each slow intake of breath. The gold of the petals caught the sun and reflected in my eyes where they were committed to memory.

I have them for only two weeks a year and will relish every precious moment they grace my life.

When I die, I want to be planted under a Russian Olive whose roots can embrace me while the voice of the summer wind can sing sweet lullabies to me until long after my name and the sound of my whistle have been forgotten.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Impressions of the Blue Hour

So let it roll like thunder
With its deafening tones
Let it take away
All the words as they’re spoke
Like the muted voice of the rain
Through the blue hour
I can still hear you
(The Blue Hour, Liza Jane)

After an unexpected nap that crept up on me from the pages of the book I was reading earlier this evening, the three cats curled around me like warm balls of bread dough and Duncan snoring patiently at the side of the bed, I slipped on my shoes and took Roo out into the blue hour, that magical time of night when the world is dim and the light uncertain, when you must trust yourself to senses other than your eyes and allow yourself to be vulnerable to poetry and wakeful dreams.

The street was quiet and so I could hear the soft pad of Duncan's footfalls on the grass and the gentle chink of the tag on his collar bouncing with each slow step we took. Duncan seemed to relish it as much as I and watching him––or the dark shape of him ahead of me and low to the ground––I saw that we were aware of the same things, turning our heads in their direction: the crack of a baseball hitting a bat across the street at the park, followed by the cries of the spectators there, and beneath that, the rhythmic cheh-cheh-cheh of the sprinklers winding back and forth on their springs from the golf course. A bat fluttered overhead, its path spastic and clumsy and the swish of its wings as it swooped low past us impetuous and frantic, an echo of the very small and hurried flight of the ducks in the early hours of morning. The day had cooled and the air was filled with countless flying gnats and mosquitoes risen up from the freshly cut and sweet smelling mounds of grass underfoot, their touch against my face and arms as we passed among their populous clouds cobwebs strung along the hallway of this night. A frog cree-cree-creed in the reeds along the back fence and, unsure of our intentions, splashed into the water and was silenced like a sinking stone. The perfume from the Russian Olives was heady and rich and as devoted as the fragrance of a lover calling from bed. But there was also the scent of today's mowings, the fabric softener sheet air blowing softly from the drier vents on the side of the buildings and the sumptuous scent of the evening barbeques. In the fading light of the west, the dark shape and wide wings of an owl caught the last of the light and slipped into the dark tree-lined horizon.

There were countless other things, too, unseen but sensed, caught and hidden in the day's last blue, things only known when you walk among them, a loyal and kind friend at your side, rising up and fading low around us as we passed, rolling away like thunder.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Now and Forever

I remember many things and most of them are so clear and precise in their colors and textures, sounds and scents that often they sweep me away completely and leave me sitting or standing unmoving but wakeful and unable to discern what is past and what present. My childhood is frighteningly vivid, something that I feel so close to that at times its though I'm there––riding my little red tricycle around my Grandma Fuger's house in my terrycloth shorts and t-shirt, or playing alone in the cubby under the stairs in Grandma Rogers' dining room, or peddling my dirt bike across the hills behind our house on long summer afternoons. I know the names of each and every neighborhood friend who I wrangled into performing plays for our parents in my backyard. The rumble of our riding lawn mower is still a fresh tickle on my skin and the Miller Hi-Life scent of our backyard barbeques is as vivid as last night's dinner. I am consumed by memory and fear more than anything else losing a single one, forgetting some very simple bit of my past that has been like a precious gem to me all these years, something clutched tightly in my fist, leaving a mark that is red and deep and still the most beautiful and endearing of scars.

I do not know if there is a heaven, at least not in the traditional Christian sense of the word. More often than not I believe that just as in life, The Universe allows us to create our own perceptions of death. Whatever we believe in life is true in death, and so I cling to the idea that when I die I will be granted the power to revisit any day I choose, to sit with the ones I have loved so deeply, to talk with them again as I did all those years ago, to laugh and play with, to nap against, to set aside all the baggage of these days and receive and share again our pure, raw love.

There are times, late at night when I lay awake staring at the ceiling, or in the frigid cold of washed-out winter, when I feel very alone and confused as to how I got here, when I worry about never having the opportunity to play Follow the Judge with my friends in the ravine behind our homes, or never seeing Grandma's face on Christmas Day, sitting with my grandfather while he tied flies or riding in the car with Grandpa Rogers while we drove down the dusty two-lane highway between Firth and Shelley, or falling asleep on the patio under the stars with my sister, or driving from Pocatello to Denver with my mother when I was ten years old and listening to her tell stories about her own youth and all the adventures she had. At those sleepless times I recite my memories over and over in my head, summoning them and living them again, moving through them as quickly and as precisely as possible, hoping that this will not be the last time I hold and turn these precious gems in the palm of my hand.

And then there are evenings like this one, when Duncan pulls me down to the lake and around the path to each of the Russian Olives trees, which have opened their blossoms to me and have scuttled away the smoke that hovered over us yesterday, drowning out their power and the peace they bring. These are the times that I am reminded that memories reside in our brains right next door to the place that processes scent and all I have to do is close my eyes and breath deeply and I can travel to any place and time I have ever been and live there as clearly as I did all those days ago.

How perfect that I am doing it with my wise best friend, my guiding angel on this earth, taking communion in the little yellow flowers that have become the stepping stones of my life. Now and forever.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Crimson Glow and a Lesson in Patience

I have been keeping my eyes and nose on the blooming Russian Olive trees that line Bowles and the ones that grow up along the trail around the lake. Friday evening Duncan and I ventured down there for a stroll around the unmoving water and were delighted to discover the tiny yellow butter-mint-scented flowers were beginning to bud but had not yet opened up. The sage-colored leaves were dusty and long but offered no smell whatsoever, even when I scooped them up in my hands and pressed my face into them. I figured a few more days and they'd be ready to go. I have waited long months for that fragrance that sustains me throughout the rest of the year, the one that reminds me of driving through the mountains of Idaho with April, of cool evenings sipping peach iced-tea and watching a yellow moon rise over the mountains, of speeding down the long, straight stretches of empty, late-night road on the reservation, following the line of the river and breathing in the intoxicating fumes of the trees that grow like weeds there. A few more days and I'd be good for the next eleven months.

I am like a junkie when it comes to the Russian Olives. I cannot get enough of them. I dream of them in the deep, dark winter months and as Spring begins its slow explosion around us my eyes seek them out the same way Duncan watches the grass for the bunnies and the branches for the squirrels darting overhead. The past two days have been impatient ones for me. As Ken and I ran errands yesterday, the windows down in the car, I could smell them in distant, contained pockets throughout the city and each time we passed through their sumptuous fog I had to restrain myself from jumping out of the car to seek them out and revel in their delight. Patience, I told myself. You have waited this long, another day won't kill you.

Today has been the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures exceeding 90˚. The sky is a searing white due to the fires down in the southwestern corner of the state and Arizona. The light seems pale and far away but the haze is thick and weighty and not easy move through. The shadows we cast are dark but ringed by a crimson glow, making me feel as though we're walking on some alien, red, grassy world where the air is smoke and does not move. There has been no breeze. The Tibetan bells and chimes that hang around my patio have been limp and silent and the water at the lake is as smooth as glass. This is not the June I have dreamed about.

We ventured out this afternoon in the heat of the day. Not even the grass, long and tall and soft because it has gone to seed, was cool. Duncan followed along languidly at my side, the leash hanging slack between us. We crossed the park, which was filled with families gathered for games of volleyball and cookouts, with fathers trying desperately to coax their child's kite into the unmoving, stubborn air, with walkers strolling the lake path like dazed, melting shadows of themselves. I hoped for the yellow blossoms on the trees and was rewarded for my patience, but while Duncan laid on his side, the leash coiled motionless around him and I breathed in the trees, all I could smell was that damn smoke. Over and over I tried but without luck. They are ready for me and I could feel them quaking with my anticipation, but the air would not cooperate and refused to yield even the slightest trace of a fragrance, only the tease of their delicate, golden flowers.

So I will be patient. Again. Perhaps tomorrow, which should be cooler, we can walk there and sit in the grass watching the ducks paddle wakelessly across the evening lake and receive the reward that will see me through the long dark winter, when their memory is nearly the only thing that pulls me through the night.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

This Public Park

The soccer hoards are back. With school out and the spring league ended the park has been blessedly quiet the past few weeks and so Duncan and I have spent a great amount of time there, both in the quiet mornings and then in the evenings before dinner. The wide fields, suddenly greener than I remembered them, have been clear of the kids and their refuse, and the sidewalks have been free of the clutter of their cell-phone addicted parents who seem more intent on Angry Birds or catching up on the neighborhood gossip than watching and encouraging their children. We have had it all to ourselves and each day has seemed like a gift because of it. Duncan has chased his ball unhindered and exuberant, we have rolled in the grass together, stalked bunnies and squinted into the darling face of the sunshine, forgetting all the while that the summer league is bigger and badder than its predecessor.

Today was the first day of the summer nightmare. The kids are out of school and that means Soccer Camp, which attracts a seemingly infinite number of participants whose brightly colored, garish jerseys obscure the green while their feet tear and mat the grass, which has grown thick and soft in their absence. The evening bird song is drowned out by their screams and the whistles their thick-necked coaches blow every few seconds. And the parents are everywhere, hovering around the perimeter, fat and bald or overly thin, bleached and tanned into leather.

It is no secret that I loathe them, but my animosity is born of both my respect for the kids who seem abandoned and a fierce love and devotion to the park that Duncan and I enjoy year round, long after summer has passed, when darkness comes bitter early and the tracks in the deep snow are the only indication and reminder of our devotion. But tonight I decided to take a lesson from Duncan, who could care less about the invasion. While not particularly enraptured by them, the scuttle of their bright balls across the field and the smell of their fast food do interest him, although I can tell that he's just as exasperated as I am by their seeming inability to step out of our way when we pass. Nonetheless, he doesn't let them hinder his love of the walk. He presses his cold nose against the back of their knees, startling them, and steps around them, eager to move on to a clump of clover, the sticks which litter the trunks of the trees and the tall, billowy tufts of dandelions gone to seed and waiting to wished upon. 

My resolve was short-lived tonight, though. The woman seemed to be waiting for us in the shade of the crab apple trees near the port-o-potty and the picnic tables. She had a scowl on her face before she spotted us, but when Duncan stopped to sniff the large rock placed at the junction of two sidewalks, a place a parade of dogs have paused and lifted their legs upon, her scowl darkened and she jumped up and hurried toward us.

"That is disgusting," she announced, jerking her head at Roo while he left a message splashed across the surface of the rock. "Children play there."

A million evil thoughts ran through my mind but I took a deep breath and smiled at her. "I understand," I said softly.

"I am so sick of dog walkers disregarding the behavior of their dogs when they're in a public park," she persisted, her face red, a shimmer of perspiration glistening across her brow, curling and frizzing the red hair at her temples.

"I understand," I repeated, never raising my voice or letting my smile falter. "I come here several times a day and nothing makes me more upset than seeing all the water bottles and fast food bags and forgotten socks left behind by these soccer people. It's really sad seeing how little regard they have for this public park we all share."

She studied my face a long moment and realized she'd been beaten.

"Maybe someday they'll learn to pick up after themselves and the dogs will learn to stop marking the territory they love," I continued. "But I wouldn't bet on it." Duncan was sitting at my side, his big, pink tongue lolling out, his eyebrows raised in that quizzical expression I love so much.

She could do nothing but turn away and slink back to her deep shadows under the crab apple trees where her cell phone waited. And Duncan and I turned back into the sun and walked merrily away.