Friday, September 30, 2011


I have never been a fan of Autumn. You can keep your layered clothes, your baggy sweaters, your crisp mornings and the far-away sky, your dying leaves and the blossoming bareness of the trees overhead, the stale, cool earthiness of the air when you breath. These things mean nothing to me.

I will say this, though: there is great delight to be found in stepping on the leaves, cracking their yellowing backs between your heel and the sidewalk, listening to the delicate melody of their shattering as your weight crushes them to dust. It is a percussion unmatched, except perhaps by heave and meaty slip of those late winter ice racks that gather along the edge of the sidewalks, shattering as you step across them. 

I do not like Autumn one bit, but I love my dog's place in it, especially the sound of him kicking up its wake as he moves forward, ever forward, his propeller tail stirring their air behind him, his smile and amazing eyes pulling him forward.

There is music to be found there. Duncan is its maestro and all I can do is learn to listen and try as hard as I can to allow his tune to carry me along.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


The mornings and early evenings are getting cooler and but while the sun is still up it is perfect weather for some Frisbee in the park. Duncan has never been much of a Frisbee dog, preferring to fetch balls or sticks, which are also good for chewing, but for his birthday I bought him one and thought we'd see how it would go. I haven't tossed a disc in a very long time so it took a little longer for Ken and me to remember how than it did for Dunc to learn to chase and catch it. After only a few weeks he's made remarkable improvement.

Ken and I obviously still need some practice.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Even under the best of circumstances four-thirty is early. And with a dog whose belly has been disagreeable and cantankerous, whose belly has demanded several trips down the stairs, first at eleven and then again at one-thirty, across the parking lot to the patch of soft grass its proprietor prefers, four-thirty is a truly horrific time to find yourself any place other than under a set of nice soft sheets and blankets with two new pillows smooshed under your head, a couple of warm cats curled around you and the one you love snuggled up beside you, the sweet sound of their breathing like a lullaby.

It is not often Duncan wakes me in the middle of the night, and when he does it is under the most dire of circumstances. The second he sidles up to my side of the bed and pushes his cold nose against my forehead, a plaintive and nearly silent whine in his throat, it's almost too late. There is no time to think or delay. He has been kind and gracious in not wanting to rouse me from my slumber to deal with his petty troubles and grievances, but as all dogs know, even the good ones, there is a time when consideration gets tossed out the window and a state of emergency must be declared.

And so it has been the last two nights. Duncan, with his pleading and apologetic eyes and sensitive belly, has whimpered into my pillow and urged me from bed and out the door. And I have followed, grumbling and discontent, knowing I won't be able to find that same cozy spot among the pillows and comforters, cats and Ken, that I will be up, worrying with him, laying with him on the couch, rubbing his belly and playing with the wisps of hair that grow so unruly from his ears while he snores and folds himself back into his dreams. It is my least favorite part of being the human with whom his care has been entrusted (second only to the same chore but under the frigid and unforgiving January stars), but I love him so I do not hesitate and never frown at him even though my only reward is the relief on his face as he climbs the stairs, his tail wagging softly, sleepily, the warm nudge of thanks he gives me once we find ourselves back on our side of the door.

But last night, tired and wanting to have a word or two with this digestive tract of his, I was treated to the most incredible sight, a four-thirty sky so vast it pulled the breath from my chest and sat me down on the edge of the curb, my knees too weak to support me while I gazed up at it. It was a dark sky, the same as all the other dark skies, but it was clean and clear, its color deep and concentrated, the same but somehow more than any other sky I have seen. The stars had spread out across it, around the moon and beyond, as though savoring all that space and my eyes seemed to look further than they have ever looked before, both in space and time. It was an Idaho sky, a clear mountain sky, a sky that belonged to the most remote regions of the earth, and it seemed it was all mine. And so while Duncan tended to matters more pressing, I stared up and out and did not breathe, afraid that the sound of air moving from my lungs out into the world would disrupt the tranquility above me.

Four-thirty is an hour no one wishes to see, but every now and then we should all give ourselves the gift of its immensity and divinity.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


On this, one of the last days of Summer, at least according to the parks and rec department, the rain finally broke despite the lingering, smoke-colored clouds, and Duncan and I ventured across the street for some time out in the fields we love so much before the vendors and visitors of the annual Summerset Festival gouge them up and litter them with their discarded turkey legs, sweet-smelling wrappers and wax-covered soft drink cups.

It is a merry occasion but Duncan generally prefers its aftermath, when he can sniff and root through the grass and shrubbery for the goodies left behind after the crowds have departed. And because I'm extremely cautious about what he eats that means he doesn't get to play unfettered by his leash, at least not for the first few days after the revelry has ended. So tonight, under low skies, we practiced catching the Frisbee and chasing the bunnies in solitude and simply walking side by side in the quiet and solitude. The staff at the park were busy today, though, spray painting the grass with squares and numbers where each of the vendor tents and trailers will sit for the next three days, setting up the hand-washing stations and port-a-potties, the chemical smell of which already permeates the air. Tomorrow, thankfully, the scent of grilling corn and all sorts of goodies will waft across the street, along with the sounds of the bands at the amphitheater. 
It is a three day celebration of summer, but inevitably the final hours are spent in a downpour with people running madly for their cars while the vendors close up and dismantle their shops and tents. And just as inevitably, it signals the full, brutal onslaught of Autumn, which means nostalgia and melancholy for me.

Walking back tonight, through the crisp air, my eyes couldn't help but pick out the yellows and reds already appearing among the cottonwoods and the hedges where the little birds roost or the lowness of the sun in early evening sky and the absence of shadows on the sidewalks and grass at our feet. Duncan finds the cool moist of the grass delightful, especially when he can push his face into it, his rump and tail high in the air behind him. But I can only look at the colors and wonder how in the hell I'm going to find the endurance for another six months of wet and cold.

I'm sure Roo has it figured out already. His joy always manages to buoy me through the dark.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Clinging to Gold

Duncan and I just returned from our evening walk. It is a perfectly lovely evening with the sky turning from the kind of vibrant blue known only in September to a bashful pink and a glorious, nostalgic gold right above the jagged dark line of the mountains. The crickets have struck up their familiar tune, almost drowning out the unsteady but blaring notes of the miserable marching band practicing on the far side of the park. And although my spirits are light and content (I came home to discover Ken had cleaned and made dinner before leaving for work, which makes the night that much sweeter, freeing up my evening for time well-spent on the patio, reading and sipping a cold drink), I can't help but think that this sort of night, the kind I treasure most, will soon become a thing of the past, something looked fondly back upon while I gaze out the window at the naked branches that crowd against the pane and shiver around the first whispering flakes of snow. It is difficult for me to relinquish Summer to Autumn, afternoons spent wading in the river while Duncan swims to cold mornings standing in the hollow light waiting for him to get his fill of the wet and the mud and leaves that cling like soggy tissue to the hair on his belly. Summer is when I feel most alive, existing entirely in the moment, while Autumn is a waking dream, spent hovering like a ghost in the past. I prefer t-shirts and flip-flops to sweaters and scarves, the sounds of people playing volleyball to the patter of wind and rain on the windows, the rich scents of meat and corn still in the husk on my grill to the simmer of soup.

But tonight, with the sight of the leaves beginning to change, the air cooling and the dark coming on sooner than I like, I will sip my drink and keep one hand resting on the back of my dog, who is golden and delighted by all the days of the year. Few things are better.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Act of Opening

It was a long time ago, when I was perhaps eight or nine, during a weekend visit with my father that I discovered one of the simpler joys of life, one that I still practice and have adapted and enjoy to this very day. It was a seemingly inconsequential thing, one I'm sure he does not remember, but each time I'm afforded the opportunity to do it I think of that morning in his kitchen in Blackfoot, Idaho.

I'm not sure what I was doing––maybe watching television or playing with my Star Wars action figures, or reading Beatrix Potter sprawled out on the couch––when he called me into the kitchen where he was sifting through one of the drawers in search of a can opener. On the counter before him sat a short, squat can of coffee, dark green with a bright yellow plastic lid. This was long before the days when the best coffee came in vacuum-sealed bags and cost an arm and a leg. In fact, I didn't know coffee came in anything but a can until I was in college when my best friend John scowled at me the first morning we hung out and I opened a can of MJB my mother had given me for my new coffeepot. Being raised in quiet, safe southeast Idaho occasionally had its advantages but we always seemed to be ten years behind the rest of the country. Idaho, where men are men and coffee comes in cans.

"I want to show you something," my father said in his dad voice, which is very different from the radio voice he uses to make a living. I stood next to him, thinking he was going to try to teach me to use the can opener, something I already knew how to do. But I waited while he removed the lid, set it aside and knelt before me. "Lean in close," he said. I did as I was told while he slipped the opener onto the lip of the metal can and squeezed the grips. There was a pop and a crunch as he turned the knob once and then thrust the can into my face. "Close your eyes and smell," he told me. I followed his instructions and breathed deeply through my nose, the rich scent of coffee wafting up at me, enveloping me and imprinting itself on my young brain. "That," he said with a certainty that left no room for doubt, "is the best smell in the world."

And from that moment I was in love with the smell of coffee and have made a point of relishing each moment when I unseal the bag and release its trapped fragrance. Even though I gave up coffee six years ago when I was diagnosed with my anxiety disorder and was told I needed to stay away from caffeine, I stood at Ken's side while he opened his coffee and inhaled its dark, earthy scent. It wasn't until last Spring that I finally dipped my toe back in the coffee pool and started drinking the occasional cup of decaf brewed in my under-used French press. But during those dark coffee-less years I still enjoyed its aroma and pined for the flavor dancing across my tongue, its warmth seeping down deep into my body, spreading out through my limbs and making life so much richer.

I took my father's lesson and applied it to many other things, like cans of hot cocoa or loose-leaf tea, jars of pickles, packages of cheese, candles, lotions, after-shave, the first slice of a big ball of pink grapefruit, and countless other magical and heady every day items. I am a scent junkie and live much of my life by its dictates and its close association with memory. As this blog readily attests there is not a day I am not entranced by some fragrance or other.

I have shared my passion for it with Duncan, who has learned the lesson my father taught me all those years ago, that things smell best when they are fresh or newly opened, before anyone else has had the chance to breathe them in. Each time I open a new bag of food for him, Roo runs into the kitchen and sits himself in front of me, his tail sliding manically back and forth behind him while I set the bag on the floor between us and slowly cut into its paper and pull the packaging apart, releasing the aroma of chicken or salmon or venison for his pleasure. He greedily thrusts his nose into the small opening and sniffs it up, closing his eyes and never making an attempt to sneak a bite. It has become a tradition with us, one he knows well and loves as much as I love the scent of coffee and the memory of my father teaching me about it three decades ago.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Summer seemed to end last Saturday when the weather turned from bright and almost unbearably hot to miserable and wet, gray with low clouds and a steady mist of rain. September, that wretched bitch of a month, took over with a dreary vengeance and my health followed suit.
I have been sick for the past several days and Duncan has had just about enough of it.

I am one of those people who chooses to bask in whichever bug has taken up residence in my body. I am not like my friend David, who gets dressed and goes about his day as though nothing is wrong, tending to chores and taking sensible care of himself. No, I am exactly like my friend Kevi, who, like me, has somehow managed to turn illness into an art-form. First I construct a nice little nest for myself on the couch, selecting only the softest pillows from my bed and a nice warm blanket to wrap myself in. On the coffee-table I assemble a wide variety of brightly-colored medicines, juices, water bottles, balms, ointments, tissues, syrups and inhalants, regardless of whether or not I plan on using them; their rainbow colors are somehow soothing and invigorating and it is comforting knowing they're there should I need them. I bring whatever book I'm reading and lay out several DVDs, usually television shows, which are quick and easy to watch and easier to fall asleep to and wake up without feeling as though I've missed anything. The blinds get drawn, the tea kettle is always on low, maintaining a nice steady simmer should my mug require a refill. The cats are invited to take up their perches on my hip and against my chest while Duncan nestles down on the floor below me and we all settle in for what always proves to be a miserably wonderful convalescence.

And then I proceed to moan. Moaning, regardless of whether or not anyone is close enough to hear, is a morbid and delightful remedy and I find I enjoy it very much. The cats don't seem to mind; in fact, sometimes it encourages them to be extra lovey and snugly. Even Dunc is kind enough to whimper along with me, occasionally finding the perfect harmony for an afternoon of misery.

After days of witnessing his papa languish on the couch, and nights hearing him gurgle and moan and sputter under a pile of pillows and scattered sheets and blankets, this evening he decided he'd had enough. The weather has turned nice, my cough has finally subsided and my fever seems to have settled down a bit so I humored him, climbed off the couch, scattering cats and tissues and vapor rubs in one quick motion, dressed myself in something other than sweats and a ratty t-shirt, and took him outside. He's been anxious to practice catching the muslin-covered Frisbee I bought him for his birthday so I donned a hoodie, grabbed his new toy and walked with him down The Run to The Glen. I wasn't feeling well enough to venture across the street to the park where the Soccer Hoards have assembled again, and where the frightful Columbine Marching Band has taken up their horrific mangling of music (and you all know how I feel about marching bands!) so we settled on the lip of the earthen bowl of The Glen, Duncan sprinting down one side, his head craned back keeping his eye on the Frisbee, then back up the other side to catch it (or not, as the case seems to be, although his aim is improving). The cool evening air felt wonderful and the last light of the sun was refreshing in my eyes and on my skin. Finally, when we'd both had enough of the Frisbee (it seems I need as much practice throwing the thing as he does catching it) he settled down in the cool grass and watched me close my eyes and turn my face into the setting sun. After a few minutes he ambled up beside me, pushed his cold nose against the palm of my hand and licked my wrist. I patted his head as a dragonfly zipped between us.

Duncan jumped after it, his tail high, his eyes wide with wonder, a delighted grin wide on his face.  I watched as the dazzling metallic green of its wings and its impossibly slender blue body darted back and forth around him until it came to a standstill before him, just above his nose. The two seemed to stare at each other for a long moment and I was reminded of that scene from Bambi, the one my grandmother quilted onto my baby blanket, with Bambi watching the butterfly flutter about before settling quietly onto his tail.

It was a lovely evening, and even though my chest still feels thick and heavy and my fever hasn't quite decided what it wants to do for the night, I believe I won't be moaning and Duncan will be content with the medicine he fed my spirit today.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lucky Number Seven

It was a great birthday for Duncan, starting with a nice game of fetch, a big breakfast of salmon and blueberries, a serenade by Chelsea and the good folks at Hero's Pets (although he actually sang more to them than they did to him), a trip down to the river for a nice swim, a couple of new toys, an oatmeal birthday cake, Frisbee in the park and a sturdy bully stick with which to wash it all down. All in all I'd say this seventh birthday was a success. The sleeping Golden on my couch is testament to that!

Happy birthday, Roo! Papa and Dad and all your friends love you very much!