Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Price of Vanity

Duncan got a bath this afternoon, a nice one with mint shampoo and lavender conditioner so he'd smell nice. The sun was still high and peeking through the windows above the mountains, bathing the apartment in bright, honeyed light, perfect for hunkering down for a good long brushing and pampering. He's never been afraid of the tub, perhaps because he loves the toweling-off part of the bath the best. He leans forward, nose to the floor, rump high in the air, tail wagging, and snorts and grunts while I wrap the soft towels around his head and rub hard through his ears and over his face. And afterward, when he's fluffy and his red hair is standing on end, he likes nothing more than to lay down in a sunny spot and let me brush him out, first with The Rake, and then with the soft bristles of his other brush, which smooths everything out, lays it flat and makes him look his most handsome.

And then, of course, there's the walk which comes afterward, allowing him to prance down The Run to show off for Jeffrey and Cindy and Pepper, Soldier, the Shepard mix in the balcony he torments from below, and the two new bony little female Boxers which have moved in, Bruno and Barry Manilow. After that, it's time for a quick gallop through The Glen and a walk around the park where he can find a nice pile of leaves (of which there aren't many as it still feels like Summer here) to roll around in.

I was watchful on our last walk, careful to keep him from getting too dirty, wanting to enjoy the softness of his coat and its sweet smell when he cuddles up to me tonight. But as he brushed by some low shrubs a yellow, twisted leaf caught in the hair below his ear and jiggled as he walked away. I reached down for it to pull it free and only when it was captured safely between my fingers did I realize it wasn't a leaf at all but a spider, the kind that tormented me in my youth, a big yellow and black garden spider, also known as a writing spider. It writhed and wriggled, twisting until its legs caught on my thumb. I shrieked, as I'm known to do in such situations, and shook it free. It bounced into the grass and scurried away into the shadows while Duncan just looked at me in that way he has, like he wants to shake his head in exasperation.

After my adventure with the snake and the fly a few months back, it's all I can do to get Ken to join us on our walks down The Run. Perhaps its best if he doesn't find out about this little incident. Agreed?

Thursday, September 20, 2012


While I have never been shy about my politics (see the entirety of Fall 2008 or visit my Facebook page any moment of the day for the latest zinger), Duncan has never really announced his. In many ways we are opposites: I prefer to stay inside and mind my own business while Duncan loves nothing more than traipsing through the outdoors sticking his nose in any and all business he can find; while I am steadfastly nonathletic, Duncan is a bit of a jock, running every morning, bounding through the snow, swimming any chance he can get, doing anything and everything I've worked my entire life to avoid. Because of our differences I always sort of assumed he'd be a Republican (just to spite me, even though he's far too giving and compassionate), or worse, a "Libertarian" (as if such a thing really exists. It's like bisexuality, it's a myth that's perpetuated by chronic indecision. Make up your mind already!). 

So I was shocked this morning when he led me across the street, over the soccer fields and straight to the skate park, a place we hardly ever venture near. He had one of those purposeful looks on his face, ignoring the tall clumps of grass where the last traces of discarded food remains from last weekend's Summerset festival. He was a dog with a mission and he wouldn't stop until he'd taken me where he had to take me. And then once we arrived I completely missed what it was I was supposed to be looking at. I was focused, instead, on the man riding the giant mower which kept coming closer and closer, and the hoodlums who'd chosen to skip school in favor of a morning spent on their boards. But Duncan, ever patient and persistent, barked once and wagged his tail to get me to turn in his direction and finally spy what it was he wanted to show me.

And there it was. He was coming out as a good and decent Democrat, a believer in the power of the people (all people, not just some of them).

I couldn't have been more proud.

How could I not love a dog with such a clear message for his papa?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


The season is turning, slowly and with hesitation, and surprisingly I don't seem to mind. After a grueling hot summer the cool, nearly cold mornings are a welcome relief. The helicopter seedlings are starting to shake loose of the maples and only a few leaves are beginning to change. The mornings are sweet and moist, and sometimes smell like mornings I remember from my childhood when my family camped overnight on the edge of some lake and I awoke in the stale, cold air of our tent. At this time of year I spend half our walks lost in some memory, revisiting the past, blissfully unaware of the dew that gathers on the cuffs of my pants even as it saturates Duncan's paws and belly. It is all glorious and exactly as it should be.

But the evenings are my favorite because there is this moment when we walk through the park, weeding our way through the soccer hoards, blocking out the infernal noise of the Columbine High School marching band with an Autumnal song I whistle over and over at this time of year, when the sky changes moment by moment and I am reminded every second how fortunate I am to live on the edge of the Great Plains at the foot of the Rockies. As the sun dips behind the tall peaks everything seems to go silent for a moment and the world sighs. The earth seems to open up in relief and all the fragrances which have baked there throughout the day are released: the sweetness of the grass, the coolness of the water, the heavy scent of the bark, from the stringy elms to the whispering aspens, from the gangly, awkward poplars to the regal cottonwoods. As we walk over the grass we pass through pockets of shivering cold air mere feet in diameter, like stepping in October, and then back out into the summer warmth of the day. They are like invisible polka dots that bring a smile to my face.

Duncan loves all seasons equally and plods ahead merrily, unaware perhaps, how inspiring his delight is to me and how much I love him for it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

One More Feather

We are getting through this the best way we know how. It helps to believe we did the best thing possible for Winnie every moment of her life––from the moment she stumbled into our laps, her Dalmatian spots and graceful, careful steps around her scampering, awkward litter-mates, including Pip, to the moment she closed her eyes for the last time while I held her in my arms, wrapped in my baby blanket, whispering close in her ear, "Papa is here, Bean. I'm here. It's okay. Find me again. I'll look for you." Our apartment is small and plenty full between Ken and me, Duncan, Olive and Pip, but the enormity of her absence is felt every moment, creating a much bigger space than I remember before.

Aside from myself Pip seems the most effected. I assured Winnie that he was safe, that I would look after him and make sure he always knows he is loved. We had the vet, Dr. Jason Cordeiro, come to our apartment to assist in her passing, sparing her the anxiety of being moved to an unfamiliar, sterile place away from the others. After she was gone, curled up on my lap, each of her siblings came to her, touching their noses to her nose, sniffing and then moving on. Only Pip lingered, standing over her protectively, his body taut and straight, unmoving, for a long time. He has stayed close to me ever since, snuggling to my chest, climbing onto my hip where she once laid, constantly reassuring himself that I am nearby. The night her ashes were returned to us and we placed her in the beautiful urn we picked out, Pip lingered long moments nearby as though understanding that his sister was back home where she belonged but unsure why he couldn't see her. Wednesday night, long after Ken and I had tucked ourselves into bed, Pip's screams pulled me, running, down the hall to him. It was a sound I'd never heard him make, a tortured yowl that was pained and desperate. I found him curled up on the arm of the couch looking at her urn, his body trembling. He ran to me when I appeared and let me carry him back to bed where he stayed curled against my shoulder all night. I stayed awake long after he and Ken had fallen asleep, each of them snoring in the soft way they have, stroking his back, running his paws between my fingers, kissing his ears and telling him he was safe, just as I promised I would.

I cannot tell you how fortunate I feel that Dr. Jason was the man who assisted Winnie in her transition. He was empathetic and kind, patient and sincere. He stayed with us for several hours, letting us take our time, laughing as we shared memories, holding our hands and hugging us when we needed it. Tonight I received a heartfelt condolence card from him that brought me peace even as it brought tears to my eyes. He is a good man, the kind of person I'd like to know better, and I am grateful for his presence at such an important moment in our lives. You can read more about the work he does on his website, One Last Gift. If you live in the Denver area and are in need of such services, I cannot recommend him enough.

We bought Winnie's urn at Hero's Pets, from a local artist, Lee Wolfe. Despite being larger than we needed, Ken and I knew the moment we saw it that it was perfect in every way, especially because of the feathers that were hand-painted across it, one more to give me strength as I move forward. 

I still call out her name, especially when I'm in the shower, where she liked to join me in the mornings, sitting safe and dry behind the liner, watching me, occasionally talking and rubbing up against the plastic while she waited for me to finish so I could spank her gently on her rump while she rolled on the bathmat. I still see her from the corner of my eye, especially in those places she spent her last days with us, curled up behind the guitar, sleeping peacefully on the chair, perched on the table drinking from her glass of water.

It's still there. Waiting for her. As am I.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


It was five years ago tonight I gave up my previous, short-lived fiction blog, took Duncan for a walk and thought, "Hmmmm. What if....."

An hour or so later, thanks to a little boy who couldn't wait, While Walking Duncan was born.

Eight-hundred seventy-one posts, forty-thousand plus page-views, and countless feathers later I'm still going strong. Readers have come and gone and come again but every day Duncan and I walk. It's what we do.

Thank you not only for tagging along but for the support and encouragement you've offered over the past five years. My life has been forever changed by your presence in it.

If you'll allow me to share another poem from Mary Oliver, who seems to know exactly how I feel every moment of my life, I'd be most grateful.


What did you notice?

The dew snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark;
big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;
the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;
the sweet-hungry ants;
the uproar of mice in the empty house;
the tin music of the cricket’s body;
the blouse of the goldenrod.
What did you hear?
The thrush greeting the morning;
the little bluebirds in their hot box;
the salty talk of the wren,
then the deep cup of the hour of silence.
What did you admire?
The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;
the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;
the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the
    pale green wand;
at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid
    beauty of the flowers;
then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost.
What astonished you?
The swallows making their dip and turn over the water.
What would you like to see again?
My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,
    her language beyond all nimbleness of tongue, her
    recklessness, her loyalty, her sweetness, her
    sturdy legs, her curled black lip, her snap.
What was most tender?
Queen Anne’s lace, with its parsnip root;
the everlasting in its bonnets of wool;
the kinks and turns of the tupelo’s body;
the tall, blank banks of sand;
the clam, clamped down.
What was most wonderful?
The sea, and its wide shoulders;
the sea and its triangles;
the sea lying back on its long athlete’s spine.
What did you think was happening?
The green breast of the hummingbird;
the eye of the pond;
the wet face of the lily;
the bright, puckered knee of the broken oak;
the red tulip of the fox’s mouth;
the up-swing, the down-pour, the frayed sleeve
  of the first snow—
so the gods shake us from our sleep.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Monday, September 3, 2012

This Light, These Clouds

I have spent the day watching clouds, either from behind my window or out in the world with Duncan, where they are at their best. They have sped and lingered across my field of vision, occasionally obscuring the blue almost completely, especially to the south and west of here where they are known to amass in the late afternoon, their darkness threatening the calm of the day. But by the time the afternoon is done they have grown fat and lazy and seem to have reached some sort of agreement with the mountains and the sun in which they achieve the kind of magnificence known only to butterfly wings or hummingbird feathers.

Duncan's birthday is tomorrow but tonight, when he chose this moment to venture out, it felt as though he was giving me a much needed gift. Bless him. We lingered long in the grass, stopping every few feet to admire their ranges and valleys, to allow their radiance to pull the air from our lungs as we stood in awe. Others passed occasionally with their own dogs, but none looked up. Even when I greeted them and said, "Can you believe this light? Can you believe these clouds?" They only looked up, pausing but a moment before turning back to me to smile politely. I'm not sure what my neighbors think of me, with my dog and my camera and my perpetual astonishment at the world, but I'm grateful that I'm at least tolerated. As long as I can view the daily blessings of this small corner of the universe unhindered, with Duncan at my side, there is little else that matters.

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, 
but to add color to my sunset sky.  (Rabindranath Tagore)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Waiting Glass of Water

I have taken you on many walks since last we visited, and although I have not spoken much since then there has been a great deal I've wanted to share with you.

Like the morning not too long ago, when the air was surprisingly cool, almost cold, and even though I wanted to wear a jacket I didn't because there was something invigorating about it, about how my skin puckered up and relaxed all at once, absorbed it and seemed to smile at the relief from the heat. And how on that very same morning, while enjoying the chikka-chikka-chikka of the big sprinklers at the park with Duncan, throwing the ball into their rainbow-colored arcs for him to chase after, a water main exploded, a strange pop-pop-pop, like champagne corks coming loose, and the ground beneath our feet seemed to tremble for a moment before an enormous jet of water broke loose from its containment and ignited the air above us with a brilliant rainbow. Roo danced on his hind legs and snapped at the cascade and didn't mind the wet one bit, while I smiled and laughed and felt my heart ease, if for only a moment.

I wanted to tell you about the lone balloon we saw moving slowly over the fields, low and bright in the evening light, its path seeming somehow careful and deliberate, and almost observant, but I kept trying to turn it into a metaphor that felt forced and grim and I didn't think you wanted to hear about that.

How some friends are not the kind of friends we need them to be and how it seems, especially in times of grief, that only our four-legged companions know what to give us and when to give it, which is what makes their love all the more precious and relevant.

Or the way the leaves are beginning to fall. They almost always begin in July when the Lindens are done perfuming the night air that wafts in through my windows while we sleep, coloring the mornings in my apartment with their honey-mint scent. The moment they are done and their blossoms turn to gold dust their leaves slip like husks from their trees, and even though we have been walking on them for months the appearance of the elms among them has been disquieting and upsetting. And because our nights have been occasionally cool enough to turn off the air and sleep with the windows open, the tips of the maple leaves have started to fray with red and delicate veins of gold. I have never been a fan of Autumn, but this year it seems an especially terrible change, like the passing of the summer means leaving someone behind, watching them fade away in the distance, wondering why you're going and not bringing them with you.

I wanted to tell you how especially handsome Pip looks sleeping on the window sill and in the patch of sunlight where his sister spent so many hours, how his little paws seem to clutch at the carpet as though he's dreaming of her and holding on as tightly as he can.

But then that makes me think of how he's suddenly learned to curl up on my hip exactly as Winnie used to do and how surprised I was when he first did it because he's never done it before and I wondered if she'd somehow told him, "Now Pip, this is very important so you must listen to me and do exactly as I say. Papa needs a soft weight on his hip when he lays down, to reassure him, even when he's fast asleep and it seems like nothing is important to him at all. Your weight will calm him and bring him sweet dreams. This has been my mission every night and now it must be yours. Do you understand?"

And that makes me think of the water glass, still sitting on the coffee table, the one Winnie drank out of, the soft pink of her tongue lapping at the edge of the glass and curling the cold water into her mouth. It is the same glass that was there the last time she drank from it and even though I know it should be washed I can't bring myself to do it because to do so would be like washing a part of her away and that thought frightens me terribly.

I am not a religious person. In fact I'm not sure I believe in God and Heaven the way most people do. But I'm not sure I don't believe either. I have always found comfort in the notion that death is a dream, the sort of place we invent ourselves and whatever we believe in life, whatever faith has shaped the roads and paths we have traveled, is there, waiting for us to make real. My childhood was a wonderful thing, something I miss often, and when I feel the fear of death creeping upon me I try to take comfort in imagining I'll be able to visit those days again, to walk through them and understand with the wisdom of an adult, how magnificent and precious those faces and voices and colors and fragrances were and are. I do not believe in God but in the power of The Universe and the life-force that resides in each of us, waiting to take us back to days when we were young and carefree, when our spirits were still gentle and not as fragile.

When Winnie left us it was difficult because even though I don't believe in Heaven I wanted––and still want––to believe in a Heaven for her. I want to believe there are sunny sills to sit on and delicious tuna to eat, and glasses of cold water waiting whenever she wants. Oh, how she loved cold water from my glass! I want to believe that there is a bridge and that someday, when I am dreaming the long dream, she will be there waiting, perhaps as a kitten, when she was all ears, or as the lean beauty she would grow into. She'll be there, ready to climb up on my hip to ensure all my dreams from that moment on are safe and happy and sweeter than the sweetest ones I've enjoyed on the wakeful side of my existence.

But until then I will keep a glass of cold water waiting for her. I will not wash her away.