Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Mission

This afternoon, when the temperatures had risen until it felt as though there was nowhere left for them to rise, when the grass seemed suddenly brittle and flat, with a thin layer of burnt yellow beneath it where there had been dark, wet earth only yesterday, when the sun had reached its zenith and even the shadows had taken refuge to whatever sleepy place it is they go, Duncan decided he needed to walk. He'd tired out early this morning when the sun was still low but hot, choosing instead to roll in the shaded grass beneath the elms. I wondered at his decision but he was insistent and I could tell there was someplace he needed to be.

He led me across the park, pulling me behind him in the same way he has pulled on frigid, white winter days when he has somehow figured out there is a ball buried in a drift waiting for him. I trust him on these missions and so I followed, the leash between us taught, barely bouncing with each step we took. His path was straight and determined, unwavering and without pause. Nothing interrupted his focus: not the squirrel sitting at the base of a tree we passed, nor the big yellow butterfly that danced just above his head for a moment, not even my occasional pleas for him to slow down. He led me to the lake, disinterested in the other walkers and their dogs, or the small children who stumbled over their own feet and called, "Goggy! Goggy!" as they held out their awkward, splayed fingers for him, fingers he usually loves to lick for an stray residue that might be concealed there.

And then we were there, at the cool, shaded spot behind Hero's Pets where the honey locusts grow over the wide cement steps and the bench mounted there that looks out over the lake trail and the mountains. Two people were sitting close together, each holding a cup of build-your-own yogurt from Nella's, the mom and pop place that opened earlier this summer. Duncan sat down not far from them and simply watched, finally yipping softly and wagging his tail until the woman turned and noticed us. Her face immediately lit up as she set her cup down behind her.

"Hi, boy," she cried. "Oh, he's beautiful! Can I pet him?"

Duncan was up and rushing to her before I could respond. I nearly lost my grip on his leash and staggered after him.

"He's so dark," she said, running her hand across his back, entwining her fingers in the curls that beckon to be played with. Duncan leaned up against her, tail flapping madly, a whine in his throat. He shuffled back and forth between the two of us, turning this way and that, putting on His Best Cute, licking her hand, then spinning around and gently slapping her with his shaggy tail. She cooed at him while her grinning boyfriend looked on. "I love Goldens," she said. "They're the best dog. So loyal and so smart."

And that's when I noticed his face buried in her cup, his pink tongue hurriedly lapping up her French vanilla yogurt and the bananas and strawberries she's topped it with.

"Duncan," I cried and tugged on the leash. His tongue held firm, though, and the cup stayed in place long enough for him to lap up at the last of its contents, gulping down a strawberry, red juice and vanilla foam clinging to his chin like water on a tall, icy glass.

I don't know how he knew she would be there and that she'd be such a sucker for him, but he did. Mission: Accomplished.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wishful Summer


The world is drifting and the air is full of dancing and movement as the thistles, once tall and proud, vivid and purple, now hunched and brittle and graying on their crowns, release their seedlings onto the wind to be carried far across these hills and green fields. This morning I stood a long moment at my window while the world blinked its eyes open, stretched and slowly sped up and watched the wispy tendrils of fluff drift past me, their many arms splayed wide like the fragile, pale bodies of spindly spiderlings carried on the new breeze of dawn. They hovered and spun, competing with the paper wasps for the sun's favor, and then whipped away to dance unseen before other sleepy windows and dreaming bodies.

While Duncan roams the grass, chasing these alabaster whisps and pouncing on wiry, red twigs, the shape and curve of grass snakes, I have stood motionless on the gentle slope of the hillside, listening to the doves silhouetted on the eves, reaching out my palm to catch passing bits of fluff as they drift past, cradling each gently in the curve of my hand and making wish after whispered wish before releasing them into the air once again.


I don't know where the idea came from but I have somehow convinced myself with the certainty of a child, that if the seedling is borne aloft and is carried away into the haze of the sun, if it travels far without touching the ground or skimming the surface of the sharp grass or catching itself on the severe, dark iron of the fence, that the wish will come true and that my daydreams will drift forever across this land, waiting to be seen by new eyes and touched by other, gentle hands.



(Music by Abel Korzeniowski, from the incredible film, "A Single Man.")

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Longest Moment

It was an ordinary walk around the lake, the sun bright, the wind and waves stirring the low muck and turning the water a choppy, ruined green. Neither of us were paying much attention to where we were going so I let Duncan lead the way, unconcerned about direction or duration. It was the kind of late afternoon when my legs desired nothing more than to walk and stretch and forget the chair I'd sat in all day, moving wherever Duncan led, to enjoy the cool warmth of the sun on my face and the sweet lake breeze washing over my skin. I wished this evening could somehow be put on pause, that the mottled, playfully clouded sky would not change color and the sun would be content to hold its place above the mountains until we were ready to turn toward home. So we moved slowly and lazily, without an agenda, which is the best way to walk with a friend.

The rabbits were sitting on the very edge of the lake trail, balanced in the grass inches from the sharp concrete line of the sidewalk. Duncan would not have seen them at all except that the mother saw him first, raised her head, turned her ears in our direction and then bolted for shelter in the willows. Her kit flattened itself out, narrowing its body and holding its breath, brown eyes wide and alert as Duncan and I approached.


Duncan stepped forward cautiously, not wanting to startle the thing, raising each paw slowly as he advanced. I tightened my grip on his leash even though I knew there was no reason. He is on good terms with the rabbits of the area. I watched him move, stepping slowly each time I moved, the two of us in perfect, silent sync. The wind rustled his hair and the sunlight inflamed it, casting a vibrant golden aura around his head.

The bunny did not move, merely laid quietly in the grass and let us come forward until we were standing nearly on top of it. Passersby paused and watched until a small crowd had gathered around us, many of them placing bets on who would win. "My money is on the dog," one man said with a hint of blood lust in his voice. I smiled, knowing that unless he was prepared to see Duncan lick the rabbit into submission, there would be no violence this evening. Duncan paid no heed but stayed focused. Eventually he crouched down, paws extended inches from the rabbit and simply watched, his tail twitching a merry every few seconds, barely stirring the grass behind him.


Eventually they came to a silent agreement. The bunny rose and stretched, fluttered its ears once and turned nonchalantly, and ambled into the tall willows where its mother had vanished ten minutes earlier. Duncan climbed to his feet, sniffed the warm, matted patch once, turned to me and smiled wide. The man who'd laid odds on the rabbit's death sighed in disappointment as his wife pulled him back onto the trail to continue their walk. The gathered crowd murmured in awe and nearly everyone praised Dunc for his restraint. I suppose it was a remarkable thing for them to see, but I know him, know that he only wanted to witness the thing and appreciate it, leave it at peace and unafraid, to turn his back on the passing of time and savor a moment that felt as though it should last forever.

He is magical, my dog. He makes wishes come true.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beyond Words

I mean no disrespect, and I admit I am biased straight to the core of my being, but I do believe I have the most handsome best friend in all the world.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Afternoon Rain

It was sunny and calm and warm all day, not too hot and perfect for strolling through the long grass in the sweet-smelling shade of The Run. The sky was blue and calm until Duncan was ready for our evening walk, sidling up to me from where I worked on the couch, raising his eyebrows, flapping his rudder of a tail and smiling in that way of his. I'd no sooner grabbed the leash and was filling my pockets with treats and bags when the first roll of thunder shook the apartment. Five minutes later the sky was nearly black, the Lindens outside my window were swaying and deep rivers of water were rolling down the windows.


It was nearly an hour later before we could step outside. Ken was home by then and the mosquitoes had come out in thick clouds. They hovered around him, pricking his arms, getting him twice on the neck, favoring him over Duncan and myself. But Duncan was happy to have the two of us with him and I think Ken thought a few bites were nothing in exchange for a nice quiet walk.

Few things are better.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"The First Brights of Dawn"

There was a time I wrote poetry. I was younger then, and more optimistic, with eyes and a heart a little more open to the world and the wonders concealed there, quiet but visible and willing to be found with only the slightest of effort. I fell in love with poetry in college, casting aside bad, angst-riddled, self-consumed verse written late at night in coffee shops, surrounded by drunks and sad-smelling, grounded truck drivers in favor of more serious work, educated and with a sincere appreciation for the specifics world.

It has been a long time since I have written a poem but lately I have been listening to a great deal of them, purchasing audiobooks of poets reading their own works in voices that hold complete command of the turning of a line and the cadence of words, holding them like one holds a small bird openly in the palm of your hand, with a selfish desire to keep it––this precious, vibrant warmth––for yourself while wanting nothing more than to feel and see it pull itself forward into empty space, pausing a moment to taste gravity before defying it and leaping into the void. I listen to poems in rapt silence, each word stirring me, making me marvel at the poet's choice in the much the same way I marvel at clouds or the blackened silhouettes of mountains outlined by bursts of nighttime lightning. I hang and hold my breath and wonder at the talent and magic of such folk and wish only to walk with them through the worlds they inhabit, where things are more than them seem, infused with what they are and more importantly, with what they are not, so that they become real, as tangible and solid as a river stone, slippery but secure all at once.

I was listening to Mary Oliver last night, her voice worn and softened with age, brittle at the edges but comforting in its command and her confidence with the experience of all those walks she has taken through the wilds of her world. And then this morning, with Duncan in the early hours of this day, feeling his still-sleepy weight against my calf as we walked across the street to the tame green of the park, the bodies of the trees painted a safe red with the delicate brush of dawn, I wondered if the poet I yearned to be had died or was laying dormant somewhere in me, asleep and waiting, safe but impatient in the silence. I listened to the doves hidden among the mourning drape of the willow vines and inhaled the newness of this day and wondered what the poet in me could possibly say about them and why he hadn't spoken up.

And then Duncan tugged and looked up at me, eyebrows raised in silent question. I removed his leash and watched him pull loose of his tether, to gallop across the grass and thrust his face into its damp delight, skewing the soft hair––bed-rumpled and wild––of his long ears. My heart burst at the sight of his thoughtless joy, his disregard for what could have been and perhaps should have been. This moment was his and mine I suppose, too, for standing witness to it. And I no longer cared that I was not writing poems because Duncan has taught me how to live them.

Trying to Be Thoughtful in the First Brights of Dawn
 
I am thinking, or trying to think, about all the
imponderables for which we have
no answers, yet endless interest all the
range of our lives, and it's
 
good for the head no doubt to undertake such
meditation; Mystery, after all,
is God's other name, and deserves our
 
consideration surely.  But, but -
excuse me now, please; it's morning, heavenly bright,
and my irrepressible heart begs me to hurry on
into the next exquisite moment.
(Mary Oliver)


Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Surprise Package

Most of my bills are electronic and because hardly anyone writes letters anymore––myself included––I don't get a lot of mail. Once a year I receive the traditional round of Christmas cards but even those have begun to wain. Then there's the birthday but even most of those well-wishes have been replaced with Facebook messages. And once or twice a year Mom sends me a small care package with candy and treats and sometimes goodies for Duncan and occasionally there's even packing paper for Olive to play with and scatter around the apartment. 

Naturally the shortage in mail has necessitated fewer trips to the mail room to check my box so you can imagine my surprise yesterday when I stopped in after work and discovered a large package waiting for me, or rather, waiting for Roo. I piled the new Ikea catalog and my Netflix movie on top of it and headed home where Dunc was waiting for me at the door, all waggy and prancy and impatient, as though he knew something had been delivered to him. My presence hardly mattered; he ignored me completely as though the box had somehow managed to carry itself home and was hovering in mid-air waiting to be opened.

The package came from our new friends Bert and Vickie, who we met through their wonderful blog, Four Legged Views. Bert is a handsome Golden who doubles as a search dog as well as a therapy dog. His human companion, Vickie, tends to a kennel called The Canine Country Club just outside of Ogden, Utah. Not too long ago someone abandoned a small, sweet-faced dog at the kennel and Vickie was kind enough to take her in, have her health checked and give her a brand new life as well as a new name. She asked her readers to help out so I submitted one I'd been sitting on for a long time and thought would be perfect for the poor thing. Bert drew the winning name, Willa, which was the one I'd submitted. The box was Duncan's reward for helping little Willa start her new life.




It was loaded with all sorts of goodies, including a giant red lobster Duncan can add to his collection of underwater pals: the blue hammerhead shark, Bash, the orange catfish, Bubbles, and the hyper-green seahorse, Buck. We think we'll call him "Bobster." There was also a nice bright Kong toy, perfect for throwing and retrieving and playing tug with, and a bunch of treats, all of which I had to sample because they smelled so good. And because the box was stuffed with wads of newspaper, even Olive reaped the rewards of the trip to the mail room.

Dunc could hardly contain himself so we headed across the street to the park to play with his Kong.


It was a good evening thanks to our new friends, Bert and Vickie. Please visit their blog and if you're in the Ogden area be sure to stop by the kennel and tell them Duncan and Curt sent you! And while you're doing that Dunc and I will be at the park for some much needed practice in the art of retrieving.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Strange Melodies

Mosquitoes have never bothered me (except, as my father will be quick to point out, in North Dakota, where the things are as big as hummingbirds and bleed me like an over-zealous, rookie lab technician). In the quiet, northern Shire-like suburb of Chicago where Ken and I lived, where the air is often more moist than the ground, the mosquitoes are thick and relentless, but they ignored me in favor of Ken, whose Yooper blood must be sweeter and flow easier than mine. Often in the early evening we would take our two Goldens, Nikki and Ashley, out to one of the many nearby swampy forest preserves for an quiet walk along the tree-lined trails, only to find ourselves drowning in swarms of frantic, biting bugs. Ken would hurry ahead, the dogs running along beside him, his arms and legs flailing while I merely brushed them aside, away from my mouth and eyes, without worrying about my exposed arms and legs, an amused smile on my face. I'm quite proud of the fact that they find me unsatisfying because I never have to worry about their irritating and itchy aftermath.

Tonight, after the sun had set and the world was busying turning from blue to grey, after the air had cooled from 95˚ to 88˚, Duncan and I trekked down The Run hoping the moist grass on our feet would cool us off. Despite the unmoving air a low bank of dark clouds had moved down from the north, trapping the day's heat and cooking us slowly. There was little relief and so we hurried through the long grass. Almost instantly we stepped into a thick cloud of mosquitoes. Duncan dodged below them, but I felt them brushing against my face, sliding over my glasses, hovering near my ear, alighting briefly on the back of my neck. I paid them no heed, brushed them away and pressed on in the hope of passing through their city-sized population once we reached the clearing below Brady's balcony.

We paused a moment for Duncan to run his snout along the line of shrubs and through the fresh, red mulch which had been spread out just last week. I stood nearby, watching him and looking out on the last of the day's light when something big brushed along the top of my head, barely stirring the hair. I swatted at it and turned as a dark shape swept down from one of the three aspens that grow there. It buzzed past my chest, close enough to feel the passing of its wings and then spiraled awkwardly back up into the night. I followed it as best I could and was shocked to discover that we'd stepped from a cloud of mosquitoes directly into a swarm of bats.

They were small things, jittery and even less graceful than the hovering mosquitoes, but their numbers seemed just as vast. Duncan sat back and watched them spin and collide around us while I stood dumbstruck as they circled and brushed against me. I could hardly see them through the dark until they were right before me, in my face, stirring the night around me, snapping at the insects that seemed to have lost interest in disturbing our walk. I could hear them, their high-pitched voices rising like strange, synthesized harmonies, nearly inaudible around us. Eventually, though, as their numbers increased and they came closer, I tightened my grip on Roo's leash and pulled him from our spot under the decades-old aspens and out into the parking lot, which was warm but clear, tame and silent. We walked slowly home, Duncan focused on each and every pebble before him while I scanned the dark sky and listened for strange melodies.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Deep Summer

It thundered again this afternoon while Duncan and I slept on the couch, the blinds drawn, cocooning us in, the fan turning softly and humming a sweet low note that somehow made the trembling of the dark outside less menacing, something felt rather than heard, the day's pulse. When we pulled ourselves from our afternoon dreams, which are sweet and rich and difficult to shake away, the storm had moved on, leaving a great, vast blue swathe between it and the next line of low, mottled clouds. We ventured out, enjoying the wet our feet kicked up from the dampened grass, the pearly drip of the rain's remnants from the ash and maple and elms in our path, the slow-to-rouse song of the birds rising cautiously from their shadowy hiding spots. Duncan led me to the park, to a place where, if you stand in the right spot, you are are afforded a view of the green hillside rising above you and the setting sun and the mountains below it, without the clutter of the strip malls or the ill harmonies of the traffic congesting the roads beyond. It is a quiet place––a listening place––where you can look out over the freshly trimmed baseball fields and the eastern sky or you can hush yourself and watch the new bunnies explore the tall clover while their mothers stand guard and the crows in the bone branches of the aspens warn of our presence.



We spread ourselves out on the moist grass, cool on my back, and watched our blue swathe drift ever so slowly south, chasing a storm while another chased it. The air turned golden for a moment and was sweet in our mouths. Silence descended as the evening's storm moved in and the tiniest drops began to patter on my arms and legs. Duncan lapped at the air with his tongue and turned his face away from the storm, looking calmly toward the south and east, a glow in his eye, peace in his posture. We stayed there a long time, watching the world be the world all around us, listening to the rapture of this quiet summer eve.

Listen, if you would listen.  There's no end to good talk, to passion songs,
to the melodies that say this branch, this tree is mine,
to the wholesome happiness of being alive on a patch
of this green earth in the deep pleasures of summer. ("Deep Summer," Mary Oliver)


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Unwordlessness

While many of the blogs I follow participate in Wordless Wednesday I never have. After all, while my photography is fun and has brought tremendous depth to my blog, words are my passion, and as anyone who knows me can attest, it's nearly impossible to keep me quiet. I could ramble at length about the minutiae of my walks with Duncan, from the fragile, twiggish little brown mushrooms which have sprouted up under the recent, seemingly endless evening rainstorms to the long shadows cast by the ants on the sidewalks as they finish the last of the day's frantic business. I could describe the shapes of the clouds––billowous and white, wider than cities and taller than mountains––or the smell of grass in the mornings, sweet and damp, clean and green.

It is no surprise then that my first attempt at wordlessness on my internet outpost, at letting the eyes speak for themselves, has been a complete disaster.  But these are the eyes that touch me daily, that greet me in the morning, fall asleep against my hip each night and follow me in rapt attention during all the hours inbetween. These are the eyes that have opened my own and forever changed my life. I just thought you should know.


"See how nature––trees, flowers, grass––grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... 
We need silence to be able to touch souls." (Mother Teresa)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

After the Storm

This week of storms seems unending. I sit at work and venture out every now and then to take a break and cast my eyes to the south and west, along the base of the seemingly ever-greening foothills, black against a treacherous sky, knowing that somewhere in that direction, under the menace of darkness and flashes of lightning, Duncan sits panting alone in the kitchen or on the floor of the windlowless bathroom, his body pressed against the cool of the ceramic tub. Sometimes it is all I can do not to climb into the car and race home to check on him, to kiss the top of his head and let him lay on my lap. But we have the Thundershirt and his herbal drops, and the music I sometimes leave playing on the stereo before I leave in the mornings, something just loud enough to drown out the sound of the thunder. I watch the flashes move from the clouds to the earth and see the gray smear that is falling rain and remember the last thing I said to him in the morning before I left: "Please know you are safe. If you hear the thunder it is only the universe saying––loudly so you're sure not to miss it––that your papa loves you, that he is looking out for you and won't let any harm come to you. It is the sky reminding you how greatly you are loved and nothing more."

I worked from home today so when our afternoon storm rolled in from the north, following the line of the range until it flattened out over our corner of the world, I was there for him. I pulled the blinds and turned on the fan, hummed "Nights in White Satin," a song Ruth put into my head last night, worked from the couch and let Duncan spread out under the coffee table, my feet securely tucked under his soft belly, my toes tickling his ribs while he snored. He did not stir, did not pant or pace, merely laid against me, breathing softly.

After it passed, dissipating and spreading thin over the east, a spill of milk on a vast blue table, the last of it lingering playfully against the mountains, painting the sky orange and vivid gold, we ventured out for a roll in the grass and a last look of the fading day glowing over the rooftops and the mountains.



There is calm in togetherness, a reassurance that only silence in shared company can bring.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Thunder

I understand anxiety. I have been learning its language for the past six years, from its obvious, boisterous shouting to its more subtle nuances, all its I-before-E-except-after-C's. I am intimately acquainted with its peaks and valleys, its quiet tiffs and its full-blown temper tantrums. I know it as well as I know myself, but for all I do know, I do not know how to explain that to Duncan, who has suffered it tremendously the past few days.

In addition to the insane weeks-long revelry that has become July 4th, he has had to endure an endless stream of afternoon and evening thunderstorms, the kind that shake the house, rattle the windows shamelessly and knock things off shelves like an annoyed poltergeist. I have watched his body tremble uncontrollably, to the point of exhaustion, while his eyes remain wide and white like a fish caught on a line, alert and fearful. And there has been almost nothing I can do or say to soothe him.

I have learned little tricks, like running all the fans, the dishwasher, the air conditioner and the vent in the bathroom as well as the one above the stove. I have turned the stereo up to insane levels and attempted to distract him by taking out all of his toys and squeaking them. Ken and I have walked him miles around the parking lot, we have pulled him into bed and cuddled with him tightly, have given him herbal drops and treats. I have found him curled up in his kennel under his quilt, his face buried in the pillow, and have crawled into the tub with him, where he lays and pants loudly when the storm rattles the ceiling and sends even the cats scurrying for cover. We have done everything we could think of, even letting him crouch in the laundry room, packed between the washer and drier, the garbage can and the big bag of recyclables, the sketch of Winnie the Pooh and a bumble bee hanging benevolently on the wall above him.

And then there was the Thunder Shirt. After spending hours researching and applying treatment methods for him, including the absurd notion of rubbing him down with organic drier sheets, I finally settled on the Thunder Shirt. During a particularly nasty storm on Saturday we raced to Hero's Pets, where Chelsea was waiting for us with one already out of the package and ready to go.

The premise is rather simple: you put the shirt on and Velcro it around your dog, making sure it fits tightly, like a too small t-shirt. The pressure offered by the shirt soothes the nervous system and alleviates anxiety. I was skeptical but as soon as Chelsea had him securely fitted, his entire demeanor changed. The panting ceased, the nervous pacing stopped entirely and he was able to lay down and relax. I took him home and watched, astounded, as he napped away the remainder of the storm. And in the days that followed, as each new line of thunderheads piled up over the lush, stony peaks to the north and west of us, it took little to no convincing to get him to wear it. We simply offered him a treat and watched as he laid down calmly at our feet or retired to the cool linoleum in the bathroom for peace and quiet.


It is not a perfect thing. I will admit that Monday's firework celebrations all around us were a trial. While the cats slept peacefully on the bed, Duncan paced and whined and refused to stay far from me, but he did not shake and tremble. Friday's celebration was a nightmare and Monday was difficult, but his fear of thunder has been greatly reduced and I have taken great comfort in knowing I have done everything I can to help his anxiety as much as he helped mine. And watching him sleep calms my spirit more than I could ever explain.


I can only hope to be half the friend he has been to me. It is the least I can do.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Forgiveness

It was not a good night for Duncan and for most of it, after the terror that ignited his eyes and while I laid curled around him in his kennel, his heart beating rapidly and his whole body quivering, I felt like the worst papa in the world.

The City of Littleton has an odd way of celebrating Independence Day in that they never actually do it on July 4th. This year our festivities fell on the 1st, so around 8:30 I gave Duncan a dose of his Tranquility Blend calming drops and waited for them to kick in. After the sun had set and the last of the day's light turned into clear, cool darkness, I asked if he was ready to venture out. Several years ago, our first Fourth of July here, Melissa and Kona invited Roo and I to tag along to the park across the street where they shoot off the fireworks. Duncan did relatively well and I figured that this year would be the same. We crossed Bowles and trudged across the street, staying well away from the masses which had gathered on the upper level of the park overlooking the lake and the mountains. I told him, "Tell me when you want to leave, okay? No questions asked, we'll just go." So we found a nice quiet spot, hunkered down together, rolled in the grass and had a peaceful time laying near each other, the stars shining down, the air sweet with Lindens.

Until the first rocket went off.

Almost immediately he crawled into my lap, resting his head on my shoulder and panting in my ear. I patted his back like a parent burping a baby and whispered in his ear. A moment later the second rocket exploded, painting the night in orange and purple, reflecting off the faces of every person sitting around us. The boom that followed was tremendous. While everyone began to clap and children danced and shouted in delight, Duncan pressed his head against my chest, whined, and pressed harder, using his back legs to force himself against me, as though attempting to push himself into me, to crawl inside my body and hide. "Duncan," I said. "Do you want to go?"

It was all he needed. He bolted away, his leash yanking my arm up and back behind me, turning it brutally in its socket. Before I could climb to my feet he took off running, the force of his panic pulling me onto my back where he dragged me for ten feet. I scrambled to turn over and stand up but he kept running and running, the sound of his breath loud and deep, frantic and more than just startled but absolutely terrified. And he stayed that way as we ran together as fast as we could through the crowds to the edge of the park, across the street, through the parking-lot and up three flights of stairs. No sooner had I opened the door and removed his leash than he darted down the hall, into my room and into his kennel where he turned his back to the window and shook almost violently. But the rockets, which I could see through the window, were bright, illuminating the room, and loud enough that we both felt their concussions in our chests. On and on it went. Just before the grand finale I climbed all the way in with him, curled around him and rested my head against his, covered his ears with my hands and hummed to him softly, hoping the vibration of the sound in my chest would somehow soothe him. It took over an hour before his breathing slowed and calmed but he refused to leave the softness of his bed and the quilt my mother made for him for Christmas two years ago. I felt terrible and kept whispering in his ear, "I'm so sorry. I'll make it up to you. I'm so, so sorry, Roo. Please forgive me." He licked my face once then hid among the pillows again.

He was reluctant to venture out this morning on our first walk of the day. He was fine strolling through The Wrangle, but once we left its shaded path and crossed the street, he lowered his head and began to resist my pull on his leash. It was slow going, but with many treats and soft words, scritches behind his ears and determination we managed to get there. I removed his leash to let him run free but he stayed steadfastly by my side, not venturing far even when we approached the cool hillside where the bunnies herd up. He ambled along, looking up at me as though to make sure we were safe, and brushed against my calves almost constantly. And when it was finally time to turn back home for breakfast he was more than ready to go.

Ken was late getting out of bed but by the time he opened his eyes and lifted his head from the pillow I'd decided how to pull Duncan out of his funk. "Get up," I said. "We're taking Roo down to the river to swim." Not thirty minutes later we were packed and out the door, Duncan following close beside me. He'd lost a bit of his timidity and by the time we'd turned off the street and onto the side road, he was leaning a grinning face out the window and whining excitedly. Once the car was parked and we'd opened the doors, he practically dragged us down the path to the familiar beach where he and I have spent so many warm summer mornings and afternoons together.


It was Ken's first trip to the river with us and the morning could not have been more perfect. We followed the trail under the freeway and down into the cool shade of the forested riverbank, Duncan running far ahead of us through the tall, green reeds while Ken kept his eyes peeled for snakes. I marched happily along and a bit behind them, a smile spread across my face, thankful to be there, finally, with the two of them. 

We found our sandy shore and spent over an hour tossing the ball into the deep water for Roo to fetch. He soon forgot the trauma of the previous night and got lost in splashing and rolling in the sand, hiking his ball between his legs and behind him, and playing with the other dogs. And Ken quickly discovered the joy of Dunc refusing to shake the water off unless he's standing right next to someone, be it either us or a complete stranger. I was happy just to sit back and watch the two of them, the warm sun beating down on us, the birds singing from high above and all around.


Last night, falling asleep listening to the troubled breathing of my restless and nervous dog, I felt as though I had done irreparable harm to his spirit, that his trust and faith in me had diminished and that perhaps we would never be quite the same. I worried that there was nothing I could say, no words invented, that could restore the bond we had. This morning, watching the reflections of the river dapple off his incredible face while his dad looked on with a smile of contentment, I believe I did right by my dog, which is one of the most important things a man can do in this life.






The language of friendship is not words but meanings.
(Henry David Thoreau)