Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Path Beckons

Duncan and I took our last good walk of the year just before the sun was setting, down the winding trail I've carved out of the snow in The Run. The light was golden, the snow was blue on the ground and my good dog was leading the way, ever onward.

It has been a good year for me, the best since that terrible Spring of 2005. I see on Facebook and in listening to my friends that many people were not as fortunate as I have been. I have a good job and a nice home. The love of my life has returned and we've been working on forging out our future together. My family is beautiful and perfect. I am aware of my blessings and do not take a single one for granted. And on windy afternoons such as this, with the world painted in the final exquisite light of the year, I count them again and again and turn my face toward the coming year and hope that it can be even better. Not just for me, but for everyone.

I do not know where our walks will lead but the path beckons and Duncan and I will always follow.

Blessings to you in the new year. And thank you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Thief in the Night

There are two trees in this home: the big one for the two-legged folk (although you'd think Pip and Olive had broken into our stash of catnip and were stoned out of their minds with the amount of time they spend laying under it staring into the branches and lights, not touching anything, just staring with wide eyes) and the small tree for the four-legged members of the household. The big tree is real and smells wonderful and is covered in countless fancy ornaments. The small one is fake and bendy and smells like the Rubbermaid container where we store it and is decorated with those ornaments that we've somehow acquired over the years––a few Precious Moments collectibles that hurt my teeth to even look at, a Boba Fett ornament, a gangly cowboy and a pastel pony for him to ride, just to name a few. They have been given to us by co-workers and misguided friends, or people who don't exactly share our taste in holiday decor. It's not an ugly tree by any means but it's not the one we display prominently. It can be knocked over with minimal fuss and should one of the ornaments break we wouldn't really be upset.

For the most part Duncan and the cats are very good about the trees. Olive does occasionally give in to her weakness for wrapping paper and bows, but generally speaking everyone has a very clear understanding that the trees are for looking at, not touching.

One member of our household, though, has taken an interest in a particular ornament and can't seem to contain his desire to simply look at it. The small, fuzzy Golden Retriever wearing the Santa cap and scarf has captured Duncan's interest and there's almost nothing I can do to stop it. It's not enough for it to sit under the tree, right up front, prominently displayed. No, it needs to be carried around in his mouth, tucked under his paws, hidden from view when he sits on the couch, carried to the food bowl and back, and buried among his other toys where it can't be easily discovered.

Duncan has learned our routine. At night he knows when the TV is turned off and the teeth are brushed and when we amble around in the dark turning off the lights that it's time for bed. Typically he'll either climb onto the bed or curl up among the blankets and pillows in his kennel. Since Christmas erupted in our apartment and the ornament has made its appearance, he has taken to staying in his spot under the coffee table and waiting until we're in bed before he joins us. It's when the lights are out that he sneaks the ornament out from under the tree, being careful not to disturb anything else, and retires to his "room," the Retriever cupped gently in his mouth. That's where I find it every morning, wet and scrunched down under the blanket Mom knitted for him or resting under one of his Pooh Bear's paws. Unlike his other toys he does not chew on it, merely slobbers it to death. And because it's so cute and he's so innocent about it, I let it happen. Whenever I take it from him he looks at me with his big, doleful brown eyes, somewhat embarrassed at being caught again, but he watches and waits for the next opportunity to snatch it away from the tree where he alone can appreciate its Christmas magic.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

First Christmas

It has been a busy week. Ken and I finally decided that we wanted to stay here together for Christmas, with Duncan and the cats, and start our own tradition rather than separate and go home for the holidays as usually happens. So we decided that in in honor of our first Christmas back together after a two year separation we'd go all out. We bought our first Christmas tree since 2005, dragged out all the decorations we've amassed over the past sixteen years, and have spent our free time making the apartment look as though the North Pole exploded all over it. Duncan and the cats have been quite patient and well-behaved. There have been no incidents involving the digestion of tinsel or marking of the tree. In fact, Pip, Olive and Winnie have spent much of their time laying peacefully under the tree gazing up at the lights and shadows among the thick branches. Duncan was initially a bit unsure of the Santa I put up in the window but he seems to have come to terms with his presence here.

We even put up the Christmas village my grandmother hand-painted. And Ken had the great idea of stringing icicle lights around the edge of the ceiling in the kitchen so they look like stars shining over it.

This Christmas will be the first in my life I haven't been home with my family in Idaho but I'm looking forward to the time with Ken and the new traditions we'll start together. Duncan will miss running across Mom's mountain and watching the herds of deer as they move across her yard under the pale Idaho moon, but we'll find a way to make it up to him.

I have no doubt there is love enough in this home to make up for all the things that will be missed.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I Remember

I love the mornings, especially the snowy ones. I love the deep silence of the world and the sound of snow falling on other snow, through the branches of the Aspens and willows. I love that first plunge outside when the wind swirls around my ankles as though sniffing me out for weak spots, pulling dancing flakes around me as it goes. I love the music of silence and snow and the bass rhythm of my feet pushing through the soft sift, the crunch, as satisfying as walking through piles of leaves in October.

I tend to forget these things, though. Snow, it seems, like time, whitewashes my memory, ensconcing its rough edges and straight plains with the crystalline ivory of winter's down. But Duncan is here to remind me, as he did this morning when I woke before him, tiptoed down the hall and into the kitchen where I put my water on to boil. I pulled the blinds and looked out on the swirling white of this December morning and caught my breath. It was beautiful, looking over the golf course and the park and the mountains beyond them, the clouds low and white, the ground and trees the color of the sky. But it looked cold and I'd almost made up my mind to climb back into bed when I felt the cool nudge of Duncan's nose in my palm. He had crept out of bed, tousle-headed and quiet to stand with me at the window, his still-lazing tail making a feeble wag and thump against my calf.

"Do you know," I asked him, my voice soft in the quiet of the apartment, "how much I love you?" I turned and gestured out the window. "I love you this much, Roo, enough to go out in that." He nudged me with his cheek, like a cat, and plopped down to watch me change my clothes, make a production out of pulling my boots and hat on, struggle with the zipper on my coat, slide my hands into my gloves, still wet from last night's last walk. And when I was done he was waiting, his soft weight pressed against me, his eyes lit up as though to say, "You love this; you've just forgotten is all. We'll remember it together. I'll show you. Trust me."

And so I did. I stepped out into the breezeway, down the stairs and out into a world that was swirling and churning, cold on my face and those narrow places on my wrists that poke through between the coat sleeve and the glove. Duncan trotted through the snow, pushing it forward, little balls of it riding the crest like dolphins before a ship. He ran forward like I run on late Spring days when the Russian Olives are in bloom and I don't want to miss a single moment of their existence, a single fragrance or tiny yellow petal, when life seems so full but so short and there is much to be absorbed to earn my way into the next life. Duncan ran like that, here and there, from the fence to the low shrubs, to the patios where other dogs watched, dry but with the tips of their noses white and shiny with cold.

And then halfway down The Run he stopped, suddenly and sharp, the snow rising in cartoon-perfect clouds behind him. He turned his face up to the low sky, closed his eyes and breathed in the tumbling flakes, some of them falling on the soft skin of his eyelids. I was next to him wondering what it was that had caught his attention when the sound of the chimes from a balcony above us drifted into my ears. They churned softly in the spinning air, random, twinkling aluminum and bamboo notes caught on the wind, a quiet tune played only for the two of us. Duncan did not know them for what they were and I wondered if he thought, "Ah, the sound of winter." And his wonderment became my wonderment and it was then that I remembered I love these mornings, perhaps more than Spring mornings among the bees and the new grass bending up through dark earth. I pulled the hat from my head and turned my face into the falling snow and breathed it in as my dog was teaching me to do, and those chimes sounded like the way I imagine heaven must sound.

Where my dog goes I will follow. Always.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Snow is not an easy thing to forgive but the sweetness of December somehow makes it possible. Snow is supposed to fall in December and for that reason––coupled with the fact that I was able to work from home today and didn't have to drive on it––I was able to enjoy it.

A child of late Spring and Summer, it is difficult for me to find the beauty in a snowfall and were it not for Duncan I would have missed that beauty for the last seven years. Before he came into my life I tended to hunker down tight during the long, cold, dark months, venturing out only when I needed to, almost never for the enjoyment of it. I am not a skier, I do not snowshoe, sledding is something I haven't done since my college days, and it has been many years since I last built a snowman. But with Duncan at my side, ushering in the holiday season by walking through the snow has become a marvelous thing, full of discovery and delight.

Vickie, my friend at Four-Legged Views, issued a challenge recently in which she asked her readers to take a picture every forty feet of their walk. I do this quite often without the challenge but it was nicely timed with the first snow of December and I wouldn't mind sharing parts of that walk with you.

And for Ken, who had to work this morning and wasn't able to join us on our walk, the last leaves of his favorite bush, red like kisses melting through the snow.

It will be a good December as long as I have my dog, my cats and Ken at my side throughout it. I could ask for nothing more to keep me warm.