Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To the Missus

Sheri,

You don't know me, but knowing Christian, and loving him as I do, I'm sure I would instantly fall in love with you. He is a good man, one of the first truly GOOD men I met in my life. His smiling face was one of the first to greet me as I walked across campus at Lake Forest College alone for the first time. His was one I sought out in crowds before we were officially introduced. He was someone who radiated warmth and kindness and generosity and all the things I sought out in people and wanted to improve in myself. I love him very much.

It has been a joy to reconnect with him after all these years on Facebook and I'm looking forward to the day when I can see him again and receive one of his famous hugs, hear that musical laugh of his and see that lop-sided, open-hearted smile he wears. I would do anything for him.

Which is why I'm writing. He recently discovered my blog, While Walking Duncan, a little outpost I keep on the internet that is dedicated almost solely to my Golden Retriever, Duncan. Duncan is my best friend, my rock, my guide and mentor, everything and more you could ever want in a dog. Christian mentioned that he wanted one too and playfully suggested I try to sell you on the idea of letting him have one.

So here I go: you know all those things you love about Christian? his smile and the way he dances and the sound of his voice, the depth of his empathy for others, his sheer, unabashed exuberance for life and all those other things for which we haven't invented words? That is what a Golden will bring you, and even more importantly, that's what it will bring to him.

Several years ago I wrote this post, "After," which, I believe, captures the importance of sharing your life with a Golden, the magic and adventure they can bring to it, as well as the quiet and comfort where salvation hides. Your life can only be improved, your love strengthened, not just for one another, but for the world and all the creatures which share it with us.

Christian is probably the most Golden-like person I have ever known. You are blessed, indeed, to have him in yours. Now go find another to share it with.

Thanks for humoring me by reading this little message. I hope you are well, that you are happy, that you are unable to count your blessings because their number is greater than all the stars in the sky.

Sincerely,

Curt Rogers

The Swarm

It started small, little more than a pancake-sized stain in the parking lot where Duncan and I walked this morning after a good game of fetch in the park. In fact, I didn't notice it until an hour later when I made a quick run to the market for milk for the blueberry pancakes I wanted to make for breakfast. By that time four big orange cones had been set up around it, which a small group of groundskeepers were redirecting traffic around. By then the pancake had grown bigger than a short-stack––beyond even a tall-stack. It no longer even resembled anything you could find on a breakfast plate. No, this was a tire-sized, undulating mass, brown and gold, and the air outside my window was filled with hovering bees, their gossamer wings translucent in the sun. By the time I returned ten minutes later there were two more equal-sized mounds on the pavement and the grounds crew had vanished entirely, leaving the bees and whomever happened by to fend for themselves.

With the exception of the swarms I saw on Creature Feature on Friday nights in my childhood, I have never seen so many bees in my life. I quickly rolled up my windows and slowed as I drove past, marveling at the size and sound and weight of the things. Like clouds the mounds continually changed shape, elongating into strange ovals, then growing taller, like an ant hill, then flattening back out into a thin, oil-stain shape. The air was thick with them and I could hear them bumping gently against the window and bouncing away.

Duncan and I stayed away for the remainder of the morning, but hours later, on our afternoon stroll down through The Wrangle, I paused, well out of the way, to investigate. There were no bees to be seen at all. The air was clear of those yellow-diamond wings, silent and still, and I worried that perhaps someone had called pest control and had them gassed. When I stopped by the leasing office to inquire, I was told they were honey bees which appeared out of nowhere and left as suddenly as they'd come. They'd been spotted down on the east end of the property last week and had vanished again. No exterminator had been summoned. Protected by law they'd been left alone, free to do as they wished. And this morning the only thing they wished to do was interrupt the flow of traffic out of our complex.

While many might see this as alarming, I take great comfort in it. On all my summer and spring walks with Duncan for the past two years I have seen hardy a bee, except for the wasps which sometimes lurk around my patio. This morning's display more than made up for it. It is a good thing that the bees have reappeared or recovered or returned or whatever it is they have done. They are a vital part of this world we live in and the disappearance of their colonies has been deeply troubling, not just to myself and the poets, but to scientists and farmers as well.

Their drone, muffled as it was behind the safety of my window, was music to my ears. This surely means there will be more flowers and fruit for our future walks, and magical yellow and black zeppelins whose work is a marvel and a mystery.

His labor is a chant,
his idleness a tune;
Oh, for a bee's experience
Of clovers and of noon!
(Emily Dickinson)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Killing Curt

I do this thing when I take Duncan outside. Neither of us particularly like it when I put his leash on so I drape it behind neck and over my shoulders, a bit like a very long untied tie. It hangs across my chest and down to my waist. Sometimes jogging down the stairs behind Roo the ends bounce so I tuck the clasp through the handle to keep it all together so it doesn't slip off and trip either of us up. A bit like a very loose noose.

Duncan also has this thing he does when I take him outside. Often, before I've had time to slip the leash around my neck he'll grab the end in his mouth and carry it as he leads me down the thirty-seven steps and outside. A bit like taking his papa for a walk.

It was an early morning. Olive woke me up a little after five with the hitching, gear-stripped sound of her retching at the foot of the bed, then again in the hall and once more out in the living room. I pulled myself out of bed, donned some shorts, a t-shirt and some socks and went to her. She'd already recovered enough to find her food dish and scarf the last of her leftover dinner. While she seemed to be doing fine, the carpet was not so I quickly sprayed it with cleaner and covered the spots with paper towel in case Duncan ambled out of his bed and down the hall and mistook her leavings for a pre-breakfast snack (he eats a strictly raw diet so I can see where cat puke might confuse him). Just as I finished he appeared, bleary-eyed and with a tousled mohawk adorning his head. He bowed and stretched and looked at me as if to ask if it was too early to be taken out. I turned the kettle on, scritched behind his ears, slipped into my shoes and grabbed the leash. I secured it around my neck and bent to tie the laces of my shoes and just as I opened the door Duncan grabbed the handled end of the leash, thus tightening it like a noose, and dragged me out the door, into the breezeway and down the stairs.

I choked and sputtered, laughed and didn't know if I should attempt to save my life or grab my camera to preserve the moment. Needless to say, I grabbed the camera but only managed a shaky, blurred shot of my calf and arm as I was whisked down the stairs, Duncan's tail merrily swishing against my face and into my laughing mouth, causing me to choke even more.

Luckily I've trained him to stop at the foot of the stairs before heading into the parking lot. He always gets a treat and this morning was no different. He came to a dutiful halt, dropped the leash and waited for his purple, panting papa to fetch a coconut cruncher from his pocket.

Good boy.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Maybe Tomorrow

Duncan rolls almost constantly now. He's always been fond of rolling in the grass, especially when it's wet and he's just had a bath, but now that he's mastered the command he can't seem to get enough of it. When we're practicing his tricks and he gets very excited he has a tendency to do them all at once. For instance, if I ask him "Who do you love?" the correct response is a short series of barks that sound like "I love you," but sometimes he gets carried away and will offer a high five, then a bow, then he'll lay down, jump up, bow again then up the ante by giving me ten instead of the usual five. He's now started throwing in a roll or two for good measure. He's quite the master.

Except when someone else is around or the camera is on. He'll roll and roll for the fun of it, but the minute I give the command with the camera ready to go, or even acknowledge that he's rolling as a means of marking the command, he stops.

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See what I mean?

We'll keep trying. Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

Jeffrey's stray cat is getting at the baby bunnies and I don't like it one bit. This is the time of year when Duncan sits in the windows and on the patio staring down at the grass below us so he can keep his eye on the bunnies which emerge from their nests and roll across the yard like small brown balls, their ears tucked down low against their backs, their hops sudden and full of exuberance but lacking in grace and style. They are awkward, fumbling things which haven't quite figured out who is friend and who is foe. And sadly, because of it, this year there are fewer of them dotting the lawns like misplaced stones than I have ever seen before. And the cat, beautiful and tenacious and deserving of my respect after surviving the bitterly cold winter, has been spotted lurking around their shrubs. Duncan whines and barks when he spots her down there and on occasion has startled her away from her prey, but even Dunc can't keep her at bay all the time.

Thankfully there are bunnies to play with near the grounds-crew office at the park. Yesterday one little bunny––a short fat one with a dark brown smudge on his chin and a white belly––mistook Roo for one of his playmates, albeit a larger and more drooly one. He squatted in the grass not far from the new lamp posts which have been left on the grass and are waiting for someone to install them. He let us approach and when Dunc was only a few feet away and leaning toward him, his big tongue lolling out of his mouth, the bunny gave a quick jump and lunged at Dunc, who startled and took a few cautious steps back. The bunny hopped at us but stopped once his mother appeared from her vantage under the shed. He seemed to understand exactly what she wanted to tell him ("That's a dog, you idiot!"), spun in a frantic circle then scrambled down the long narrow pipe of the nearest lamp post where he crouched, a dark shadow against the light coming through the far end.


Duncan darted after him, stuck his nose in the tube and huffed and snorted like a fat pig, hoping to lure the thing back out, alternating between one end of the pipe and the other.

Needless to say, the bunny did not reemerge and it was twenty minutes before I could talk Roo into forsaking his efforts and continuing our walk through the blessedly deserted park.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Panic

It came suddenly, the storm that rocked our neighborhood this morning, shaking the apartment and igniting the sky south and east of us with tall lightning that razored the dark morning with brilliant streaks like outstretched fingers. It was not the kind of storm I remember from my days in The Shire-like Midwest, and it wasn't even the worst I've experienced here, but it was enough to make me nervous. Pip scrambled under the couch to take comfort with his gang of dust bunnies while Winnie hunkered down deep among the pillows on the bed. Olive was hardly fazed and slept through it in the center of the floor throughout the entire thing. Duncan, however, did not do well at all.

He began whining long before I heard even the first distant rumbles––little more than the sound of heavy trucks on Bowles––but by the time it arrived he was pacing and panting and trying to climb into my lap. I moved my computer to the couch so he could crawl up next to me and take comfort by leaning his full weight against my body, but even that wasn't good enough. He wanted to crawl onto me, maybe even push himself all the way through me.

I am no stranger to anxiety. I have been well-acquainted with the terror it brings since the Spring of 2005 when it changed my entire life. I remember driving to work and feeling the horrible flush of adrenaline course through my body, grabbing me by the knees first, then moving upward, flooding my joints and muscles, terrorizing my stomach and bowels, finally grabbing me by the brain and shaking me until it was all I could do to keep from passing out. That Spring was the worst of my life because we did not know what the problem was, but even now that we know and I have been trained to manage it, behind the safety of therapy and prescriptions, it occasionally has its way with me. Duncan was there with me through the worst of it, still only a puppy, less than a year old, but courageous and wise enough for the two of us.

Pressed against me as he was this morning I could feel his heart racing and every muscle of his tight little body quivering. He big, pink tongue lolled out of his mouth and desperation ignited his eyes. I kept hugging him, pressing my lips to his cheeks and brows, whispering soft words of encouragement and comfort. It was the least I could do after the days he laid with me, leaned against and supported me when I was so dizzy I couldn't walk to the bathroom, or the time he stood on my chest, stared straight into my eyes and matched his breathing to my own until he eventually calmed me down.

When I finally had to climb into the shower (something I rarely do because of my not-entirely irrational fear of being electrocuted while bathing) Duncan followed me to the tub. My voice was not enough, nor my constant conversation with him. I showered as quickly as possible while he continually tried to climb in next to me, peeking around the curtain and sliding it away, lifting his paws onto the edge in an attempt to pull himself in.

I know that fear and know there is little reassurance anyone can offer. Ken was with me during many of my attacks and tried his hardest to comfort and calm me, and while I knew I was not going to die, I wasn't entirely convinced of it. There was little I could do for Duncan except hold him and offer him two droppers of Animal Apawthecary Tranquility Blend herbal tincture which Chelsea at Hero's Pets had recommended for our long road trips to Idaho. It's foul smelling stuff, brown and syrupy, and I don't even want to imagine what it tastes like (we always wash it down with a nice treat afterward) but it does the trick. Duncan soon found a cool spot on the linoleum in the kitchen and relaxed.

I left shortly after that for a meeting and when I returned home two hours later he was fast asleep next to Ken on the couch. I understand the exhaustion that follows such episodes of anxiety, so I curled up next to him, around him, whispered in his ear, held his paw and took a brief nap alongside him, matching my breathing to his.

It was a tough morning for Roo and although I felt helpless to ease his fears I know I did all I could, which was not half of what he has done for me. We give each other what we can when we need it and that is why we are best friends.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Familiar Face

Last night, after the rapture of a perfect sunset, a good meal and a bath for Duncan, I was sitting down on the couch for an evening spent with a good book when I heard a familiar whistle outside my door. It was a short burst, quick and high-pitched, a tone I have tried many times to mimic with my own two lips but have been unsuccessful at matching. I stood up, turned down the lights and very slowly opened the door. It was as I'd hoped but somehow was better because this time it seemed magical, as if something in The Universe wanted me to be a witness and trusted me to stay out of the way.

Perched atop the bright red fire alarm, just as it had been all last summer, crouched a tiny mud swallow, its eyes alert and bright, its body firm and compact, the gold of its belly warm against the red alarm. It turned and looked at me, ordinary in every way. Just a bird. A dark little bird with an ordinary song and a drab name, but something magnificent because it had found me again and decided that my doorway was the best place––a safe, trusted place––to fulfill its promise to the world.

Duncan was at my heels and when I gasped at the sight of the thing, he pushed forward to investigate and then sat when he heard me coo softly, "Hi, little bird," as I did climbing the stairs every afternoon last summer.

It didn't ruffle or tense, but merely stared at me a bit, as if trying to place my face, then looked away.

My old friend is back, and even though it may seem an inconsequential thing, a silly thing to get excited about even, it means a great deal to me because, as I have said a thousand times, God is in the details, and this little mud swallow, is a fine detail indeed.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rapture

Things got bad and things got worse
Half like blessing, half like curse
It's these blessings so hard to see sometimes
Gotta little clearer about dusk last night
Ain't nobody got a blessing like mine
Ain't nobody got a blessing like mine

It's a red sky night and I'm doing alright

It's a red sky night and I'm doing just fine
("Red at Night," Gaslight Anthem)

While many in this world spent the day huddled together awaiting the moment when their God would elevate and save them, and many more laughed at such fear and delusion, I spent the afternoon under a sunny sky and a canopy of thick new green, walking my good, red dog, watching him stop to sniff the dandelions or chase the bees across the grass. He did not care one way or the other if the world ended, only that he be allowed to revel in the moment when the clouds made shadows across the fields, the kind he could chase and pounce on, rolling in the grass beneath them as though trying to pull them around him. And in watching him, running alongside him and rolling with him, I found myself caught up in the moment as well, the possibility of calamity and my utter bewilderment at those who had faith in such a thing became forgotten things, less important than the sun igniting each and every hair of Duncan's head or the way his face turns upward at the song of the birds in the trees.

Rapture came this evening as the clock struck six laying next to my dog in the tall grass on a hillside, the kind sun on our closed eyes, the wind playing harp in the branches and leaves overhead. That is all the salvation I need. 


 Thank God for a good dog.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Roll

Do you remember on Sesame Street, way back in the early days, when Mr. Hooper was still alive, long before Elmo, before Kermit had broadened his horizons and met Miss Piggy and Fozie, when John John used to play with Grover? Back then, Mr. Snuffleupagus wandered the means streets of the hood and Big Bird was his only friend. They spent hours together playing games behind Oscar's can and hanging out in the alley where Big Bird slept in his enormous nest. The only trouble was no one else ever saw him. Every time people approached, Snuffy got shy and wandered away leaving Big Bird confused and frustrated because his friends didn't believe him and were actually convinced that the enormous, talking, hairy elephant was all a figment of their friend's imagination.

That is how I'm starting to feel about Duncan's new trick. He'll do it in the park, he'll do it in The Glen, he even did it last night in the living room before Ken got home, but he simply will not roll over for anyone other than myself. To date he has done it dozens of times (and gotten fat on the blueberry Pumpkin Crunchers he gets as a reward, I might add) and yet I'm the only one who has seen it. I've praised him up and down and we've practiced it endlessly, but he simply won't perform except for an audience of one.

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That is a firm "NO" at the end there.

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He is a butt, but with a face a like that, I don't think he cares.

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Like I said, maybe tomorrow. After all, eventually the whole gang on The Street did finally meet and embrace Snuffy, vindicating Big Bird and setting the world right again.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Indeed

This was the day the rain stopped, February retreated and May came back, if only briefly, to this corner of the world. The last of yellowing grass decided to green and the buds on the Linden trees, many of them still bashful and unsure, threw caution to the wind and unfurled themselves in magnificent splendor. This was the day sun reappeared and ignited the droplets of water that had gathered on the foot-tall, bending blades of grass that grow along the fence, just out of reach of the mowers. My frog, the one that hides among the cattails behind the building and loves to sing, rediscovered his voice––a clunky, wooden sound––and slipped into a perfect, chirping harmony with the creek and the rustle and sway of the narrow, twine branches of the willows sliding against each other. This was the day the world turned green––a hundred thousand different shades of it––and I noticed the scent of the lilacs drifting up from thick purple and white clumps in the neighborhoods all around.



And this was the day, after six years, that Duncan finally agreed to learn how to roll over. He did it in the grass at the park, turning this way and that on his back, pushing his feet against the sky as though trying to force himself down through the dark earth, down and down past the worms and the rocks, straight out the other side where dreams were still real and morning a few hours away. He did it over and over, an enormous grin on his face, eager to please, joyful and proud of his new trick.

This was a good day. A good day indeed.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Gift of Spring

I spent one of the first truly remarkable days of the season in the car with two work colleagues driving down to Pueblo and then back up to Colorado Springs for meetings. The sky was the kind of frenetic blue that only comes in May, a color that signals he birth of bunnies and boils the blood of high school and college seniors, alerting them to the ferocity of the coming summer only a few weeks away. What I saw of it, between the walk from the car to the dark cement and stucco community college buildings where our meetings were to take place, was from behind a sealed window, traveling at 75 MPH. I watched the ragged sweep of The Rockies rush by on one side and the budding washed out green and yellow plains on the other, wishing I was working from home, where I could sit in the sunshine on the patio with Dunc and work on my laptop in-between walks.

It was nearly a twelve hour day by the time I finally got home. The sun had begun to move down the horizon and the light had settled and cooled. The heat of the day had burned off and cool air was rising up from the grass. Ken had started dinner and fed the children and I could feel weariness creeping into my muscles. As I gathered my things and locked the car I looked up into the open window from which the music of Glee was drifting out and saw Roo's face, ears perked up and head cocked, waiting for me. His shoulders gave a little wiggle and I could hear the soft, trembling whine of his voice. Almost immediately my spirits were lifted. I bounded up the thirty-seven steps, my bag bouncing against my hip, the remnants of that morning's tea sloshing in my mug. He was waiting at the door for me, dancing and chirping, eager to take my wrist in his mouth and pull me inside. I barely had time to set down my things before he'd grabbed the tail of my shirt and was pulling me back toward the door.


It took no energy at all t walk him. It was a beautiful evening, with a soft, warm breeze sifting through The Run, the last of the white blossoms raining down around us from the crab apple trees, alighting like thumbnail-size snowflakes on the long, moist grass. The birds were singing loudly in the willows while the mourning doves were lowing from the eaves above us. I could not have asked for a better homecoming and Roo could not have granted me a better gift.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Return

After a terrible year in Milwaukee, Ken has finally returned to Denver. He's been staying with me while he looks for the perfect job and an apartment of his own. The family feels complete again. We have been walking Duncan often and together, something we rarely did in the past. And the cats have been overcome with joy. Olive, who was always his girl, has decided to leave her safe spot on the pillow in the bedroom and spends a great deal of time following him around or nuzzling his chin and cheeks. Pip, who I thought had perfected the art of cuddling, has outdone himself, and spends every moment he can on Ken's lap, or curled up against his chest throughout the night. Even Winnie, who is so composed and a proper lady, has been celebrating, stretching out in a long thin line down his legs. There is a hardly a moment he's home when he's not being adored by the children.

It is a wonderful thing to watch and I have been happier these past two weeks than I have been in a very long time.