Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Farewell to Summer

Leawood seemed a perfect place to walk tonight, this last night of August, when--even though the calendar says otherwise--I always feel the finality of summer. It is a neighborhood much like the one I grew up in, where the people seem to know each other, a man is always puttering around the garage while his wife tends to the flowerbeds that line the narrow sidewalks and some child or another rides a bike in endless circles in the driveway, their tires smoothing and softening the pavement as they go. It is a comfortable place, always somewhat nostalgic and sad, like something remembered rather than walked through, a place left behind, caught in the amber of time. Duncan loves it for its bunnies and for the sweet fragrance of barbeque. I love it because I sometimes imagine buying a house there, a small one with a nice yard where Dunc can run and chase squirrels as they dart across canopy of aspens, hiding among the palm-sized leaves of the towering cottonwoods. I would be happy there because it would be home.

For a long time I have felt homeless, without a place to call my own. Denver never seemed to be the place I belonged, but truthfully, I don't know if there is a place for me, other than memory and daydreams. But that's okay because as the sun sets on this day, as the cicadas fall silent and the crickets take their place, as the stars come alive in the emptiness of the evening sky, I feel at home with reflections of this summer, spent with an incredible man and an incredible dog at my side, playing at the river, taking long walks around the lake and through the park, driving to Idaho to climb the sage and juniper-covered hillside behind my mother's house, spending time with my family, laughing and talking, cooking great meals, rediscovering the art of adventure and togetherness. That is home and that is where I take my comfort as summer slips away and the cool nights of September blow through the window.

Where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
(Oliver Wendell Holmes)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Double Rainbow

We, fortunately, have not had to deal with the hurricane (although there was an earthquake a bit south of us earlier in the week if that counts for anything). But when Duncan and I ventured out this evening, in the perfect kind of rain shower, when the sun sits just below the line of clouds and each droplet is liquid gold, we found a double rainbow and thought we should share it with all our friends who have hunkered down in the rain and thunder and wind to weather the storm out east.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Starring Duncan

I proudly present Duncan's road trip video. He was gracious enough to include Ken and me as well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

This Face

It was a very long day at work and by noon I was already thinking about how I wanted to spend my evening: sipping a Guinness a friend left in my fridge a few weeks ago, making pesto chicken salad sandwiches on a nice Jewish rye, perhaps putting some final touches on the forthcoming road trip video and, of course, walking with Roo as the afternoon clouds scattered and the sun bid us all a pleasant evening as it climbed under the covers of the mountains in the west while the crickets in the hedges began their lullaby.

This is the face that watches me leave in the morning and the face I get to come home to. Despite being exhausted and hungry, I couldn't ask for more.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Making of a Once-Leaf

I am not sure where the clouds came from or when the weather changed. My drive home was blessedly shorter than usual, the sun bright over the mountains, the afternoon heat holding steady but somehow lovely blowing through my open windows. It was a leisurely drive and I was looking forward to getting home to Roo, to walk down The Wrangle to the small enclosed dog park at the end of the property. School has started and the Soccer Hoards have invaded our park again, which means no more chasing the ball until after the sun has set, quiet has reclaimed the land and they have retreated back into their caves. The Wrangle, though, is a quiet spot, small but shady, cool with long grass and well protected from the evening heat. We do not go there often, especially in the summer, when we have the wide open fields of the park to run across, so it's sometimes a treat to sit on the lone bench and watch Duncan be a dog without my interference.

On our way down the sloped hillside of The Wrangle, under the twisted pine which bends over the path, forming a sort of arched doorway, a sweet-smelling wind picked up, shaking the leaves of the Elms and Ash above us, obscuring the sky. The temperature dropped quickly and as the clouds moved in, the hillside turned dark, the kind of light that changes the world from color to black and white. The trees and shrubs and grass lost their green, became silhouettes of themselves against the grey above and behind them.

We stood a moment feeling as Dorothy must have after departing the dazzle of Oz and finding herself back in the black and white sepia of Kansas, all color gone, with only the safety of home and family to comfort her. And then a curious thing happened. A single shaft of brilliant gold penetrated the glade at the exact moment a lone and tumbling leaf toppled from a bough above. It had belonged to an elm, which are always the first to give in, changing and falling long before the others decide the time has come. As it spun earthward, its shape bending the air around it, fluttering and spinning as it went, the wind shifted direction and quieted, rose from below as if exhaled from the damp, dark earth, caught the leaf and suspended it mere feet from where I stood and watched. It hovered a moment then dropped suddenly, reeling in circles, then was lifted up again, bobbing before my eyes, a splendid nugget of color in the bland wash of evening. Duncan leapt up, pulling gently on his leash, his tail dancing behind him as he attempted to catch it. The breeze played with us, bouncing the leaf just above his nose and smiling face, pulling it up, up and out of his reach, then dropping it again. Duncan barked softly at it and chased it as the wind whipped it away, pulling it over the grassy slope, its fluttering gold fierce and defiant in the dimness around us, back under the bent pine and toward a narrow clearing where it hung a moment longer then dropped silently and without spectacle to the moist bed of grass below.

This is how Autumn begins. This is how Once-Leaves are born. It shone brightly a moment longer, and then as the sun was pulled behind the mountains, the gold of its life faded and silence claimed it. Roo sniffed at it once, pondered its sudden stillness and then moved on, pulling me after him.


It is coming––faster than I would like–– this Colorado Autumn. But Duncan is happy and he loves the leaves and the cool air and that is what gets me through.

"Summer's lease hath all too short a date." (William Shakespeare)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Discovered Things

There is so much of the world to be missed that it's almost overwhelming. Not just places, but time, too, as the world shifts minute by minute. Like the clouds perpetually reinventing themselves above us in the sky, those things wanting to be discovered at 8 AM may be gone forever fifteen minutes later, their colors changed, their crisp edges or dewy backs altered under the slow progression of the sun or moon across the blue canopy above. Perhaps this is why Duncan is ever eager to venture outside, his nose deep in the grass. These lives are brief and there is much to be witnessed and relished. And so I've learned to walk with watchful eyes and careful feet.

I am a conscientious walker, one who steps around the ants tending to their frantic industry on the hot pavement or along the edges of the forests of grass. In The Run I have learned to watch for stray golf balls, either resting like discarded eggs in the shadows of the shrubs or slicing loudly and sloppily through the branches overhead, the result of poor swings from the players on the course mere yards away. I step around the webs that catch the dewdrops in the morning and under the ones that appear overnight, their single strands, only slightly larger than illusion, running between the fence and the bough of the maple tree we pass under. I watch the reflection of the sky in gathered puddles after an early evening rain and imagine the upside down world where a red dog and his blond-headed human imagine us peering back at them.

This morning Duncan led me to a mushroom, a delicate ghost of a thing, with a stem hardly able to sustain the upturned umbrella cup of its cap and no wider than a blade of grass. I stopped and marveled at it, bent down low––laying in the grass before it and held my breath for fear of felling it with a casual exhalation. Duncan crouched beside me, his paws almost cupping the thing and watched me watch it. His eyebrows rode high on his face but his concentration was dedicated and true. He failed to notice a buzzing dragonfly, red with a body as narrow as a cinnamon stick and wings as green as a Christmas tree. We stayed there a long time and when I finally climbed to my feet I saw that the dragonfly had settled on Duncan's back and seemed to be looking at me. Soon four more joined it and as the sun penetrated the branches of the big elm that rose above us, the air was filled with shimmering wings and lithe bodies dancing around us, strange fairies who wanted only to share in our discovery and awe of the moment. I could not move as the dappled light caught the darting shapes of the things in their concentrated on their flight around us, moving in close, brushing against my hand, playing in the long blond hair of Roo's tail. Duncan sat back and seemed to smile at them, and the sun and the sea of green around us, all bathed in the cool air of morning.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


We're home from our road trip to Idaho and that can only mean one thing...

Stay tuned!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Wish

On the far side of the lake, in the corner furthest from the stairs where our walks begin, where the trail splits, one path always seeming to turn toward the sun while the other angles away, where the sound of the traffic and the businesses and the quiet residences cease and the wind can turn the leaves of the Russian Olive grove into sharp fingers that point and whip––and, if you didn't know better, accuse––Duncan and I settled down on the dark shore, just before the unsteady line where sand turns to mud, and watched a lone pelican glide in from the north, spread its vast wings and slip gracefully into the water. The poet in me wondered what else could that pelican be, its shape out there on the rolling blue, its body fat and tall, enormous beside the geese and miniature bodies of the ducks which curse and scurry out of its way; the serene curve of its neck with the long orange beak protruding from the pale globe of its head. What is it out there; what is it like?

While we watched, the milkweed pappas drifted past carrying their toothpick seeds and––more importantly––hundreds of wishes waiting to be dreamed up and cast back onto the currents of air. Duncan watched a trio of honeybees skim the purple-flowered clover, pausing momentarily on each to catch the pollen on spindly legs hardly wider than thread. The wind culled the surface of the lake, taunted it until it reached up to curl foamy, empty fists around it. The gnats and mosquitoes, golden motes in the congenial glow of early evening, hovered just above the grappling surface as fish after fish breached and snapped at them, their backs a prism, their bellies aloof and blanched. I turned at their sudden surgings but saw only an echo of their presence, a rupture and surge of water and mist and expanding undulations across the choppy surface. From somewhere came the memory of a voice telling me, perhaps when I was very young and the voice was already very old, that if the lake was kind enough to show you that fish, if your eyes were quick enough to dance across the rainbow of its scales before it slipped back into the depths, you would be granted one wish.

A long time we sat there, until the sun had bowed behind the curtain of the mountains and the air had cooled and the shade had drifted over us, wiping the sweat and glow from my skin. The wind hushed itself and the water smoothed. A moment later its surface was broken by the flash of a bone belly rising up, a body twisting in the air, translucent fins fluttering with the hopes of flight, a gaping pink mouth and a glisten of droplets escaping from the thrashing of dancing tail. The fish hovered a moment then drifted onto its side, lunging forward as the lake reclaimed it and left only widening ripples in its place.

Duncan, surprised by the rupture in our silence, looked toward the sound then turned to me, his ears raised, head cocked.

If he had asked I would have told him. 

I wish to know what else a pelican can be.

Waiting in the Window

I cannot count the mornings I have kissed each of the children on the head before heading out the door and off to work. Typically Winnie sits perched on the sill looking out on the birds in the Linden while Pip and Olive stretch out on the big pillows thrown across the head of the bed. Duncan often lays in front of the door and looks dejected and sad, especially after a weekend of long walks in the park, early mornings playing in The Glen or exploring The Wrangle. After I am gone, locking the door and descending the thirty-seven steps to the parking lot I can find him in the window looking down on me, his eyebrows raised and his head cocked quizzically. Many times, with a paw resting against the glass, he looks so broken-hearted I've climbed the stairs and returned just to give him one extra hug and a pep talk to get him through the day, whispering promises of bunnies and games of fetch, treats and belly rubs when I return.

This morning while I poured a cup of tea in the kitchen I watched as Ken gathered his things and left for work, kissing each of the cats and pausing in the door to scratch Duncan's chin before he went. "You be good," he said and was gone. Duncan turned and wandered down the hall to the bedroom window where he stood in the morning sunshine and waited for his dad to appear at the bottom of the stairs. Ken, unaware that I was there, turned and looked up at the window, waved at Roo and climbed into his truck. Dunc's tail thumped happily three or four times while he waited for the truck to back out, drive down the parking lot and turn the corner. Once Ken was gone he sighed softly and climbed into his bed, his chin perched on the edge of his pillow, his eyes looking out on the sky on the other side of the glass, as though counting the minutes until the far side of this day when we'll both come back home to him.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Grrroomed, Again

It has been three years since I've had Duncan professionally groomed. It's not that he hasn't had a ton of baths and good brushings since then, or even the occasional trim around the tail feathers, feet and ears, it's that his papa is cheap and lazy and didn't want to drive all the way across Denver to see Diane, the groomer who worked with him last time. I've managed myself, alternating between our tub and the ones at Wag n' Wash––which has had its share of adventure––just up the street, but I figured it was high time we got him cleaned up, especially because we'll be leaving for Idaho on Wednesday morning and Dunc needs to look extra cute for Grandma. Unfortunately Diane's schedule was full and we couldn't get him in to see her, so I called Chelsea at Hero's Pets to see who in the area she recommended. She praised It's a Dog's Life, which is right up the street, so yesterday morning, after a nice long walk and plenty of rolling in the wet grass trimmings at the park––one last opportunity to get nice and grungy––we headed over there to get the deed done. Knowing there would be plenty of treats involved and an opportunity to show off his rugged good looks, Dunc was more than happy to hurry down the stairs to the car and head out.

They were very kind and patient when I explained that there is almost nothing he hates more than the roar of the big driers and the best way to calm him is with the big fat bag of Coconut Cruncher banana treats and Gus's Green Bean treats I brought along just in case. They insisted they'd never had a problem with the driers but humored me and took them anyway. I gave him one last scritch behind his ear, kissed his nose and watched them lead him back into the grooming room. He paused in the door, looked over shoulder at me with an uncertain raise of his eyebrows and vanished inside. A moment later as the door closed behind him the relative quiet of the reception area was shattered with his loud wails and one or two plaintive barks. "Yeah, I think you'll need those treats," I told them as I hurried out the door.
I spent the next two hours getting the car detailed, figuring that if Duncan  deserved to be shiny and clean for the trip the car did, too. It took them forever to get rid of all the red hair that had collected in the backseat from Duncan's travel there but eventually they handed me the keys and I climbed inside. I hurried home to wash the blanket I keep back there for Dunc to sit on and then Ken and I got the call that it was time to pick him up. They led him out, bright and clean, a big wide wag on his tail and a matching smile on his face, a blue bow secured around his collar, the bag of treats nearly empty when they handed it to me.

"Got some use out of those, did you?" I asked with a smile.

And so he came home, happy and thirsty, smelling clean, his coat soft and smooth, ready for the long drive to Idaho and his grandma waiting there for him with treats and hugs and lots of love.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Return

When I sat down that afternoon in September 2007 to begin recording the story of my walks with Duncan, it had been a long terrible day, the highlight of which was witnessing a small, rebellious five-year old little-leaguer pee across the pristine white of second base to the amusement of his teammates and the shock and embarrassment of his mother. I'd been thinking about a blog based on our walks for a long time but hadn't quite decided what it would be like or whether there was much to actually say about walking with a dog. But that one defiant act seemed to crystallize everything for me, especially in the mood I was in, so I came home, logged into Blogger and typed the words "While Walking Duncan," not comprehending that that act would become such an enormous part of my life, or the experiences and opportunities it would present for the two of us. Our walks had never been just walks but suddenly, with the appearance of those words they became much more. They became magical. And so for the past four years I have dutifully reported on that magic, from the amazing to the minute, from the mountains climbed to the soft silences of standing alone together and simply watching the world be the world, a monumental thing that somehow goes unnoticed every minute of every day by so many millions of people.

The most magical thing, however, has been the people I've met because of Duncan and the blog. Occasionally they have approached me in the park to ask if we were who they thought we were and then gushed––actually gushed!––when they learned they were correct. And then there are the people and dogs we've stumbled upon through other blogs. I have spent more hours reading about other Goldens then I could count, have shared in their adventures across the vast distances and wept openly and unashamed when they have crossed the Rainbow Bridge, leaving a silence behind that is sometimes shocking considering we've never actually met. We have received gifts and condolences, cards and encouragement through challenging times, been buoyed by the hopes and faith of others. I am overwhelmed at how lucky I've been to discover kindred spirits out there in the deafening chaos of the internet and cannot imagine life without a blog, without these incredible people in it.

Last night was another incredibly magical moment for me. Lori, published novelist and author of Fermented Fur, and her wonderful husband, Tom, have been adventuring in Colorado and took the time out of their busy schedule to stop by and join us for a walk down The Run, through The Glen, around the lake, to herd the bunnies, climb the hill and relish the sweet golden cool of a summer thundershower, each drop a delicious blaze of amber against our skin. Lori is one of the first people who found my blog, one of my longest and most devoted readers, a person whose wit and heart I greatly admire. This was her second visit with Duncan, but it was Tom's first and I consider myself lucky to have met the man after all this time, to have thrown my arms around him and given him a hug as if we'd known each other for years and years. They brought gifts, we spent time chatting and drying off after our walk through one of Denver's daily afternoon, sunlit downpours, and then went to dinner together where we spoke like people who have known each a very long time. And when the evening was over, when they descended the stairs and their rental car drove away, Duncan and I stood a moment alone but warm, marveling at the strange workings of The Universe and, seven-hundred thirty-seven blog posts later, the magic that it weaves through us all.

Each friend represents a world in us, 
a world possibly not born until they arrive.  (Anäis Nin)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Walking Among the Silences

There are many things I don't know how to do, such as poke among the parts of my car and know what's wrong or how to fix it; or, despite coming from a rather musical family, how to play an instrument. I don't know a foreign language even though I made several attempts in junior high, high school and college. I can't tell you a thing about opera, or even find much use for it, even though I want to. I can't construct anything with wood and nails and tools and there were times when I was in the theater and was called upon to help construct sets that I felt like a prima donna when I explained, "I'm an actor; I don't build." I am unable to see the beauty in math and find linear thinking difficult. I do not know many things but I know how to walk.

I know you shouldn't be afraid of being alone among the silences of the world and that sometimes silence can lead to incredible discoveries. Many of the people Duncan and I pass on our walks pack their ears with music from their iPods, drowning out the subtle sounds of the water washing around the floating ducks that line the shore or the secret language of prairie dogs as they bark their warnings across the fields. And then there is the early evening breeze which strokes the yellowing wild hillside grasses, stirring them with its fingers like the strings of a harp, sometimes softly, like a lullaby, and sometimes into the crescendo of a symphony. Others talk on their phones, shattering the silence as they relate––to electronic ghost voices––the gossip and babble of their days, oblivious to the hush of the horizon as it swallows and extinguishes the setting sun. 

When you listen to the silence––when you really hear it––you may just discover there really is no such thing, that silence is the sound of the world turning, that silence can lead you to silver rays of sunlight slipping through peepholes in the clouds, or afternoon pre-storm rainbows or diamonds of water caught in the fragile spinnings of spiders in the grass.