Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Very Real Scare

Duncan's trick or treat came a day early. It was a pleasant afternoon, warm and sunny, without a breeze, only golden light, caught between a low bank of clouds and the mountains, reflected off the leaves both below and from those still hanging on above. We walked without jackets, Ken and I, enjoying the warmth of the sun on our bare arms as we talked about our dinner plans, while Duncan ambled not too far ahead, sniffing for sticks to chew and spit out as he passed by.

And then it happened. We'd stopped to chat with a woman and her new chocolate lab puppy when Duncan, indifferent as always to other dogs, bit into a stick that decided to bite back. Somehow or another, as we talked and played and fed the puppy pumpkin treats, Duncan's stick got caught. He coughed and hacked and when that didn't dislodge it he began to paw at his face, twisting his head this way and that as he rubbed it against the grass where we all stood. We grabbed him and while Ken held his mouth open I reached in and felt around at the back of his throat but wasn't able to find anything. I scraped a few remnants of bark from his tongue but he continued to sputter and wheeze.

At that point I began to panic, suddenly very aware that I didn't know how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on my dog. Ken gave me one of his calm and reassuring looks and asked me to hold Duncan still while propping his mouth open. I did as he asked while he peered inside and noticed a small twig had lodged, not in his throat but against the roof of his mouth, caught between his teeth. He reached in gently and pulled it out as Duncan sputtered one last time, coughed and then buried his head between the two of us as though thankful we'd been there to help.

As we walked home I couldn't stop shaking. My knees were weak and all I wanted to do was get home and hug my boy to me. When I asked Ken, who's schooling as a vet tech originally led us to Denver, about the Heimlich Maneuver for dogs he said he couldn't remember. So I came home, looked it up online and thought it would be a good idea to share it here. Make sure you learn it and are ready should the situation arise. Thankfully it didn't in our case, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


The landscape belongs to the person who looks at it. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

There is something about the sound of snow––the first real snow of the season––that, despite the change in temperature and the bland whitewash of the world, that seems to make it alright. It is a crisp sound, not quite musical so much as rhythmic, a delicate whisper as it alights on brittle, yellow leaves or sidewalks where only a few days before ants scuttled back and forth in their blind way, their evening shadows long and dark on the sunset gold pavement. It is a sound I have learned to love these past eight years on my walks with Duncan.

I did not want to go out. It took all my energy to get dressed this morning, to pull on my coat and mittens and take Duncan out into it. But he was sitting in the window watching it come down, his tail twitching anxiously, a very soft whine in his throat. He didn't want to miss a moment of it. So I knelt down beside him, put my arm across his shoulder and leaned in close to his ear. "I have never liked winter," I told him. "You can ask anyone who knows Papa and they will tell you I have always favored Spring, but winter is beautiful when you're out in it and I can't help but smile when you make snow angels. So we'll go outside and we'll both be happy together."

And we were.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Change of Season

And so as Autumn comes on, as the nightly winds rattle and shake the leaves and needles from the trees, pulling their colors from the boughs and littering the ground with them, our morning walks have changed, too. Flip flops and t-shirts have been replaced with good, solid walking shoes, and jackets, sometimes even gloves. The frost crunches beneath our feet as we plod along, Duncan jogging ahead, his warm, little imprints a trail for me to follow along the hedges and fence line. Jeffrey's cats are no longer granted free reign and his patio door is closed, leaving Duncan confused by his absence. Jeffrey has been there waiting for him nearly every morning for the past five months, a handful of treats, a herd of squirrels eating the nuts he has scattered, the jays squawking in the ash tree above. Dunc waits for a minute, his paws propped up on the rail, his tail swishing softly back and forth until he realizes Jeffrey is not coming. He'll sniff around a bit, search out the nuts, and then amble along. It is sometimes difficult for me not to project my own feelings onto him, not to feel disappointed at this change in his routine, but Roo is quick to bound away, his ambling through the leaves making music for me to follow. There is much for him to investigate: the branches that have come down in the previous night's gale, the golden pile of leaves that have gathered around the trunks of the aspens, the silence of the golf course.

It is a beautiful time of year to be walking early in the morning, when the sun is still new and the air is crisp. I could not count the number of such mornings I missed before he entered my life and am thankful each day for the ones his presence has granted me.

An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day. (Henry David Thoreau)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Afternoon Drive

Ken and I decided to take Duncan for a drive up to the mountains in the new car yesterday. It's aspen season, which is nice but not quite like I remember Autumn in the Shire-like Midwest, with its myriad shades of red and gold and oranges. Autumn in Colorado is nice and the aspens are certainly beautiful, their leaves making the most beautiful music as they sway in the afternoon breeze, but the color palette, with its two shades of red and the single gold of the aspens, is rather conservative compared to northern Illinois, and I haven't seen a single shade of orange.

But it was still spectacular, something we haven't done in a very long time. The air was cool and the roads were windy and narrow, but the Outback held tight and was as smooth a drive as I'd hoped. We rolled the windows down, held hands and listened to perfect mountain driving-music while Dunc leaned his face out the window and grinned a wide, sloppy dog grin.

Duncan seemed a bit nervous at the start of the drive, whining and pacing in the back seat but when I realized it was that time of the afternoon when we usually venture out to tend to business, I pulled over so we could take a short walk along the roadside and let him take care of things, which he did almost immediately. And from that point on everything was golden. No more whines, no more pacing, only sunshine on a very happy face.

These are the kinds of afternoons I wish would last forever.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Not Everything Fades

There is something about riding in a new car, not just the smell or the quiet mobility, or the perfection of the pristine, fingerprint and smudge-free interior, but the way it transforms our perception of travel. I mentioned it to Ken yesterday on my first drive when we ventured out to Best Buy to grab a cable for my iPod, a drive we have literally made nearly a thousand times. The trees, now fully in the throes of their transformation, were exactly the same, the other cars were the same, the dips and bumps and imperfections of the road were all the same, but the drive was completely different, as though we were seeing the roads, the people, the color of the sky through the branches, for the first time, like discovering a new town, some hidden away, shady, quiet place discovered while on vacation. Everything about it feels new and wondrous, full of a sense of discovery and delight.

My forty-five minute commute to work this morning, and the return trip home this evening, were much the same way, and I found myself not minding the traffic or the delays or the noxious odors from the tow truck I followed for nearly half the trip. I listened to a podcast, as I do every day, rolled the windows down and enjoyed the coolness of air blowing through my hair. The sunset seemed spectacular and when my friend Sean called I urged him to look to the sky and the sun sitting above the mountains and shadows of those mountains resting on the clouds behind them. I told him, "It's a sad thing that in only a few weeks climbing into this car will be an ordinary thing, my drive to work will become a chore once again, and everything will be as it was only two days ago."

And then I came home, changed my clothes and took Duncan to the park where the baseball diamonds were full and the fields were dotted with the running bodies of the children's soccer leagues. The sun slipped away and shadows became darkness, the air cooled and the sweetness of the grass rose up around us. And then I remembered that even though those moments of adventure in my new car will fade, every walk with Duncan is as vibrant as our first, that some things never dull with the passage of time, that our blessings are not measured by possessions but the bonds that hold us to those we love and those who love us back.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

New Toy

So Duncan got a new toy this morning. Just a little sumpthin'-sumpthin'.

We took it for a spin before the weather got nasty and destroyed the shiny perfection and surprisingly, Dunc was not as happy as his papa was. Perhaps he takes after me a bit in that change doesn't always come easy. He whined and didn't seem too sure of his footing but hopefully it will grow on him. After all, there's a lot more room in back for him, enough for plenty of future road trip videos.

 Oh, and I like it, too. I think I'll keep it!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Wise Friend

Autumn is not my favorite season, although this year the change in temperature has been more than welcome. After seventy-three consecutive days with temperatures above ninety degrees, the recent coolness that has descended upon us has seemed like heaven.

But today, after two days of rain and snow, clouds and the kind of misty drizzle that paints halos around the moon––when she's visible––Autumn seemed perfect: cool but warm enough to walk slowly through the park, to lay in the grass with Duncan and roll around while he bombarded my face with so many kisses at times I felt I was drowning. It was a bright and windless afternoon with the constant rustle of golden leaves falling from the trees at their leisure, making a twinkling sort of music that makes it almost worth it. The ground is nearly covered in leaves, and walking through them, trailing Roo, who slices and gallops through them with the kind of joy only dogs know, was like walking on a golden cloud, the sun dappling us from above and reflecting off a million, curling amber hands, each of them waving farewell until next year.

Recently I lamented the passing of Summer on Facebook and my good friend Kemia was kind enough to remind me, "My dearest Curt -- take a lesson from wise Duncan and embrace it with every fiber of your soul. A season reviled is lost, and that is a tragedy. There is beauty to be found in the hardship and struggle of winter, as well as in the quiet, white beauty it brings."

She is right, of course, but the first snow is a bitter and difficult thing. But I suppose as long as there are afternoons like this, with my best friend at my side, there is more than enough to be grateful for and to delight in.

It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life. (P.D. James)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Good Morning, Winter

Duncan, of course, was delighted.

Needless to say, I was not.

Good thing this is the weekend I make my annual batch of French Onion Soup. That should make things better.