Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Last Sunset

It has been a lovely day, rising early, before the sun was up, two cats curled up around me, one on each shoulder, Ken warm beside me, and Duncan in a tight little ball in the center of the bed, taking up a fairly sizable portion of my sleeping space. We went out while the sun was still low, chased hundreds of geese from the ground back into the morning sky, ambled about through the last bits of remaining snow, then came home to cuddle on the bed with the cats and Ken until they were ready to get up.

We have been out several times since, to play with the new puppies that have suddenly appeared, to chase squirrels, to visit Jeffrey, and to walk silently beside each other as we do several times a day every day.

Today was filled with simple moments, the kind I live for and love the most.

And now, as the sun dips down on the other side of the horizon, the air still warm on my patio where I sit, Duncan is once again curled up close, his chin resting on my foot, his breath warm and loud. 

I am not one to make resolutions at the end of the year, but I promise not to take a single moment with my boy for granted, to love him as much as my heart allows, and to accept the love he has to offer, in late night head baths while I'm trying to sleep, or even when he takes up most of the bed. He is perfect to me. I could not ask for a better friend and won't even try.

My little family may not be traditional, but I am proud of it, happy being a part of it, and in love with it with every fiber of my being.


Thank you for the wonderful memories of 2013. May the new year be filled with countless blessings for each and every one of you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ding Dong

The witch is gone.

I'm not sure when it happened but I can only assume it has been a fairly recent occurrence. Her broom hasn't been seen parked in front of her apartment and the local children don't seem to be behaving as though they've been turned into gingerbread.

Her patio––a monstrous place––was nearly empty of her strange, maroon decorations, the wicked creatures with open mouths as bird feeders, and the twisted, stick art reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project. The only thing remaining was a bizarre sculpture that hung above her patio doors, a skull with blood red wings shooting out from it like flames, reminiscent of the Día de los Muertos masks worn in Mexico the day after Halloween. It was exactly where it has always been and even though her blinds were open and I could clearly see the entire apartment was empty, it made me nervous, as though she was somehow watching us, waiting to lock Duncan and me up in a cage to fatten us up before tossing into a cauldron.

Duncan, who has not been allowed anywhere near her for years, seemed to know she was gone and walked right up to the patio. I hung back, even whistled at him out of habit, to come back to me and steer clear of the entire cursed area. But he was impervious to whatever spell she had cast over her property, and sensed no power remaining in the watchful black eye-sockets of that dreadful mask. He was so confident in himself that after sniffing around for a moment or two, he ambled up to the edge of the railing, raised his leg and shot a steady stream of pee right across the cement, a faint of steam rising up where it landed. And when he was done he looked up at me, grinned in that Golden way of his, wagged his tail, and gave me the all-clear.

The witch is truly gone.




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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Num!



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Sunday, November 10, 2013

A High-Five Can Make All the Difference

I have not had a good day. In fact, it's been downright unpleasant. So I did what comes naturally at such times: I pouted and took a nice long nap, but upon waking discovered that the day was just as crappy as it had been before I laid down. I snacked and cleaned and did laundry, listening to music loudly––almost obnoxiously so––but nothing seemed to make me feel better. The only things keeping my sane today were Ken's patience and general good nature, and Duncan's unconditional love, the way he rests his chin on my foot even during my ugliest moods.

So I decided to take him to Hero's in the hopes that his excitement and joy would rub off on me. From the moment we walked in the door we were greeted by happy, smiling faces, and people who love Dunc almost as much as I do. They tossed cookies and treats at him, rubbed his belly, went through his entire repertoire of tricks, gave me big hugs and a shoulder rub, and a whole bag of free kitty food. In short, they did nothing out of the ordinary, because they always make us feel good when we go there.

It wasn't until a little boy and his nanny walked in, though, that I felt my mood begin to lighten. Dunc normally runs around the store off-leash, greeting each customer at the door when they enter, merrily following them around in the hopes of earning another treat, smiling and wagging his tail in that way that I love so much. He did the same for the new customers until the nanny informed us that her companion, small and blond and no more than four years old, was afraid of large dogs and was a bit nervous by Duncan's attention. So I set Roo down in front of him, asked him to give me a high-five and then ten––two of his favorite tricks––and then asked the boy if he wanted to give Roo a high-five. I handed him a treat, a big, fat, golden pumpkin cruncher, and taught him how to give the command. Dunc waited patiently until the boy stepped forward and bravely held up his hand. Dunc immediately gave him a nice, gentle high-five, then leaned in close, licked him sloppily on the face and took the treat when it was offered. The boy giggled and clapped and threw his arms around Dunc in a brief hug.

It was at that moment that my foul mood broke and the world seemed a pleasant place once again. Dunc came to me, nuzzled his head against my leg like Pip and Olive do when they're hungry and have decided I'm late delivering their dinner, and thumped his tail against the floor. I scritched his ears and thanked him, and the smile on his face seemed to say, "See, I'm still here. I've got your back. Always."

Bless my dog, my amazing, wonderful best friend.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Song for Autumn

There was an empty spot on our walk this morning. And although my heart broke, just a bit, and my eyes searched--if only briefly--the ground for the simple leaf with the heart-shaped hole, so much so that even Dunc joined in the search, I took a deep breath, sighed and smiled all at once, and took comfort in the presence of my good--my best--golden friend, decided to enjoy the morning, the nakedness of the trees and the wider glory of the sky and the sun, unencumbered through the branches, casting wider swaths of honeyed light across the day.


There is much to be thankful for on an Autumn morning and even though my leaf is gone, my heart is full and content, and ready. My heart is always ready.

Song for Autumn

In the deep fall
    don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
    the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
    freshets of wind? And don't you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
    warm caves, begin to think
of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
    inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
    the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
    vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
    its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
    the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.




Mary Oliver is my favorite poet. Do you have a favorite poem? Share it in a comment. The world is so much better when people comment.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Changed Heart, a Necessary Sadness

It is no secret that I prefer Spring and Summer over Autumn and Winter. As the season warms and the world greens, I have always felt my spirit change––a thrumming in my blood and bones and a calming to my ever-racing thoughts––as the leaves unfurl on the trees and the blossoms emerge from their brown, bark cocoons, their sweet fragrance wafting across the fields and into my open windows. And then in the fall, when the world turns orange and red, and a perpetual sunset seems to hover over us, a necessary sadness overtakes me with the realization that the birds have fallen silent and the tufts of dandelion and cottonwood snow are an eternity away.

This year I have kept my eye on a single maple leaf that hangs directly in our path when we walk down The Run. Sometime in June a six-legged critter, possibly one of the fat green caterpillars that I marvel at, paused on its journey and snacked a heart-shaped hole into its perfect surface. That shape became a symbol of the joy that overtakes me each Spring, of the love I feel for the season. I have watched it daily, reached with my hand to gently push it out of my way and peer through the heart at the blue sky and green cottonwoods on the other side. I have fallen in love with that lone leaf and have watched for it each and every time Duncan and I have ventured outside on our walks.


This past week, when the weather turned consistently cold and the wind found its bite, I have watched it yellow and then turn orange. This morning I discovered that most of its sibling leaves had been pulled free of their mooring and lay scattered on the ground at our feet. While Duncan peered in Jeffrey's window for a sign of the cats he loves to play with, I rushed forward to check on my leaf with its heart-shaped hole. My stomach dropped, my mind raced. I should have plucked it free and taken it home to keep with me always as a reminder of these days and these walks Dunc and I have shared. When I finally found it, I ran my thumb across its surface and watched it flutter in the wind, its skin, once thick and juicy, now brittle and dry as an old woman's foot. I wanted to pull it loose but then changed my mind and decided to let it be, to allow the wind to carry it at the time of its choosing, at the moment it was destined to fall, flying briefly, rejoicing in a sudden and exhilarating freedom before the hand of gravity pulled it to its final resting spot. Such a simple decision, and one most people would regard as unnecessary, but it took all my will power to let it go, to look back one more time not knowing if I would see it again. And while Duncan ran blissfully across the park, rolling his face against the stiff, frosted grass, my mind kept wandering back to the maple, back to its fate, and that necessary sadness claimed me once again.


There is a fierce wind out tonight, loud and cold and tireless. The branches are beating against each other like old enemies and while Duncan lays curled up at my feet, his chin resting so gently against and warming the top of my foot, my thoughts are out there in the dark, worrying for my heart, wondering if it will still be there in the morning.




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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dance

We have had frost and then Indian Summer, and then snow and a second sweet Indian Summer again, with the grass still green but crisp, the leaves––orange and gold and amber––still clinging to the boughs and branches, their silhouettes perfect against the early evening sunset, as they should be at this time of year. The air is cool on our walks but heavy with the fragrance of tired, brown earth, and the steadily falling and drifting Autumn quilt from above.


Autumn is not my favorite time of year, but it is rich with poetry and magic.

This evening I watched a timid and delicate breeze, maple-scented and playful, pluck a single leaf from the ground, spin it around on its invisible axis, and flutter it across our path, flapping it like the wings of a golden butterfly in the last rays of the sun. Duncan stopped, his ears perked high, and watched for the emergence of a mouse or one of the small birds that like to dart from the shrubs, flapping a moment before his dancing nose before hurrying for cover among the deep shadows of the trees. When no creature appeared, he seemed content, as I was, to witness the mystery and delight of the season and relish something far beyond his comprehension.

At moments like these I wonder if it would be wrong to have the power to explain it to him, or if it would be a blessing to see it through his eyes, to watch without question or hope of explanation, and simply experience it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday: Duncan's Commercial Promos for Hero's Pets Part 1

Last Summer Chelsea at Hero's Pets asked if Duncan and I wanted to make more commercials for her store. Two months later the results are finally in. Unfortunately I can't post all three spots in a single post so there are two more following this.

Duncan and I make only the briefest of appearances in this first commercial so be sure to watch the other two.






(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday: Duncan's Commercial Promos for Hero's Pets Part 2

Here's the second promo Duncan and I did for Hero's Pets last summer. We play a much bigger part in this one but be sure to watch all three. And be sure to let the good people at Hero's (my friends) know how great you think they are!

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday: Duncan's Commercial Promos for Hero's Pets Part 3

Here's the longest of the three promos Duncan and I filmed for Hero's Pets last summer.

Be sure to visit their website, stop by if you're in the area, or give them a call to let them know what you think. Hero's is Dunc's favorite place in the world. Make it yours, too.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Where's the Waldo?

Can you spot the fresh, warm goody someone was inconsiderate enough to leave behind after their dog tended to its Big Job?


Neither could I. And I and my new shoes are most perturbed, thankyouverymuch.




Not leaving a comment is almost as inconsiderate as the mess I wandered into this morning. So be a chum and say something nice.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

(A Not So) Nearly Wordless Wednesday: "Every Fair Face"

Never lose an opportunity to see anything that is beautiful.
        It is God's handwriting - a wayside sacrament.    Welcome
        it in every fair face, every fair sky,  every fair flower.
                                                                             (Ralph Waldo Emerson
)

It was a gorgeous day, warm and blue and bright with a cool breeze which danced with the bees and the little flying things that love it more than even I do. The grass had been mowed and the air was sweet with its moist, green fragrance. So on our walk, after the soccer hoards and the new volleyball hoards had quit the park and left it to Dunc and me to enjoy all to ourselves, I did what nature demanded, which to quietly lay down on the grass, heedless of its clippings, which wanted nothing more than to inch their way into my shoes and under my socks, climb into the sleeves of my shirt and work their way against against my skin. I did not mind, though, because the sky was too blue not to marvel at, the world around me too perfect not to rejoice in.


And Duncan, being a Golden Retriever, and a lover of all things, did what his nature demanded, which was to forget his ball and amble to my side where he could lean over me, where he could drool for a moment, obscure my view, and then slobber my nose with a great big kiss.


What a lovely view I have. And what a lovely day.




Leave a comment and make the day even better!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"The Journey-Work of the Stars"

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars. (Walt Whitman)

They mowed the grass today as they do once a week. It's a chore I have been without for the past seven years, and have somehow grown to miss. There is something nice about kicking off your shoes and feeling those long blades working their way between your toes as they paint the soles of your feet muddy green and leave them sticky and sappy with their sweet juice. It's easy for me to feel nostalgic about such a tedious act having not done it for so long, but I miss the smell and the sweat and the sun on my back and face, the feeling of accomplishment when it's over, and the icy sting of cold beer sliding down your throat as your reward.

Tonight Duncan and I walked through the grass after a very long and trying day of work. Dunc rolled among the clipping, joyously and without care, sniffing and huffing while I kicked off my flip-flops and kneaded the small, dry piles into greater ones with my bare feet. The smell was luxurious and intoxicating, and as the moon rose orange and as fat as a too-ripe peach in the east, and stars ignited around and beyond her, I couldn't help but feel the passing of the summer in the coolness of the evening air and the quieting song of the crickets. There is very little grass-mowing left in our immediate future, perhaps only three or four more times if we're lucky. Autumn is coming, with its own parade of fragrances, but I will miss the grass and all the loveliness it brings to my small corner of the world.

I am green at heart, a child of summer and wonder, who loves watching his good red dog roll among its blanket, a smile spread wide across his face.

 There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.
(John Calvin)



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Monday, September 16, 2013

The Rains

The rains brought a wet and soft kind of silence, a faint rhythmic thrum––on the leaves, dripping down the rough bark of the maples, mingling like familiars among the bowing blades of grass––a silence felt rather than heard. The mornings were sweet for Duncan and me, with a sprinkling so fine it could hardly even be called a mist. The drops were motes: silky, invisible, and delightful on my cheeks and throat, gathering as they did, like sunshine along the line of Duncan's back, extending from the tip of his nose, gathering together sweetly on his eyelashes, parading all the way down to his golden strands at the end of his tail.

It has been a long time since we have walked in such silence. The air had turned cool––nearly cold––and all those people in all those home around us were doing what I had done when the drowning heat of the week before had finally passed: they flung open their windows and turned off their air conditioners and allowed the first fresh air to mingle among their things and themselves. The Run seemed almost empty without the constant whir of machines, the lurching clap clap clap of motors coming suddenly to life. The only sound was the dreamlike drizzle off the trees and the soft squish of our feet in the soft earth. We walked slowly, without purpose or hurried pace, afraid to stir the silence even slightly for fear that the morning would shatter, which it eventually did, but by no fault of our own.

For many these rains were anything but peaceful. Homes have been lost, as have lives, and it will be a very long time before things return to the way were only a week ago, but for Duncan and me, in our little corner of the world, in their own way they were wondrous, not for their cacophony but for their serenity. That seems almost unfair to admit, but not to marvel at them would be a lie, and to ignore even the smallest drops would be a crime.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

More Than a Thousand Miles Later

Ever wonder where you'd end up if you took your dog for a walk and never once pulled back on the leash? (Robert Brault)

Six years ago tonight, after a long day of work, I took Duncan on what was certainly our two-hundredth walk to the park to unwind and clear my head. I'd dabbled with blogging, writing a short-lived fiction series called School Daze, but it was difficult work and my heart just wasn't in it. I'd been searching for a new idea, something that would be easier to manage than a series of connected short stories, something close to my heart and relevant to my life. While Duncan was tending to business, I noticed one of the little leaguers struggling with his own business much to the horror of his mother. Almost instantly I knew what my new blog would be about: the places Duncan led me, the adventures we had, the things we taught each other.


It's been quite the journey: 964 posts and 55,157 page views, countless magic feathers, six pairs of walking shoes, one sturdy pair of winter boots, and hundreds, if not thousands of miles later, we're still here. It's always been about Duncan and the journey, of course, but tonight I wanted to take just a moment, as I often do on this anniversary, to thank my readers. Your support and encouragement over the years has been a blessing I never anticipated. I never expected that people from every state in the country and from nearly every country in the world--from South Africa to Chile--would join us on our walks. Readers have come and gone and many have stayed. I value each of you, especially those who leave comments and kindness when they visit. You, and my good red dog, have brought more pleasure and wonder to my life than I can express. Thank you.

I hope to see you out there, among the trees, be they green and full of leaves, or cotton-covered by snow, be the air sweet and fragrant or wet and filled with the breath from our bodies. Duncan and I will greet you warmly and with great tenderness. There is always a place for you at our sides.

If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking.  Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk. (Raymond Inmon)





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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Celebration!

While there are countless things in this life that make me happy, few make me as happy as bringing joy to Duncan. And tonight, in honor of his ninth birthday, I got to do that with a trip to Hero's. Caught in traffic I called in a panic and alerted them to the fact that it's Roo's big day so they offered to stay open until we got there so they could help him celebrate.

And celebrate they did!

video

They gave him all sorts of good treats, danced with him, sang to him, and Retta, who he loves dearly, cried at the sight of his joy. Her kindness and generosity to Dunc is limitless and I love watching him play with her. She even gave him a couple of very meaty raw bones to enjoy for dinner tonight.

All in all he made out pretty well, what with the new dragon friend we brought home, the bag of apple cranberry treats, the birthday cupcake, a dried catfish skin, and a candy bone.






The people at Hero's are some of the finest I have ever met, as are the good people who wished him a happy birthday on Facebook today. I would be lost without him and thank The Universe daily that so many people have been able to share in our walks these past seven years, loving him from near and far.

Happy birthday to my good boy, my best boy. Blessings to you, Dunc. If you receive half as many as you have bestowed upon me, you will the luckiest, happiest dog in the world.


Please be sure to leave a comment and tell Duncan happy birthday!

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Happy Birthday, Duncan!


Happy birthday, Roo! Nine is sublime!



Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: A New Friend

Recently some neighbors of ours lost their black lab Clancy to cancer. Clancy was a good dog, strong and muscly, a bit more vocal, perhaps, than his neighbors would have liked, but good nonetheless. He fought a good fight and left his family having touched their lives deeply.

Recently they were able to invite a new dog into their home, a stocky little yellow lab named Bentley, who loves the grass and Duncan, my pocket full of treats, and showing us his pale pink belly. Dunc, who normally doesn't pay much attention to other dogs, is quite taken with this new pup and both consented to getting their picture taken together.


 Roo made a goofy face for the first one, startling Bentley, but agreed to pose politely for the second.


Our walks down The Run just got better!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Feathers for Flight for a Friend

“Every fear hides a wish.” David Mamet

Recently an old college friend, Koko Cooper, who directed me on stage in David Mamet's Duck Variations––the performance of which I am probably proudest––announced that she'd accepted a new job, the training for which would require her to fly here to Colorado for a few days. Koko was a good friend, kind and patient, and incredibly generous, so when I read about her fear and the experiences she's had flying, I knew what I had to do. She had to have one of my magic feathers. They did wonders for me when I was preparing for my flight to Buffalo last year and I figured maybe all she needed was a little extra magic to get her off the ground.

So last week Duncan and I dumped all the feathers I've collected over the years onto the coffee table and went through them. The table, a heavy and dark tiled thing, turned into a rainbow of memories and inspiration. I took a long time going through them, running my fingers along their sleek bodies, strumming the music from them, holding each up to Duncan for his inspection. Finally, he seemed to settle on a nice red one, bright and vivid, a parrot feather my friend David had sent me. I picked out a simple card with a puffin on it, a bird most people falsely believe doesn't fly despite the fact that it does, and slipped it into the mail.


It has arrived safely in Chicago, ready for Koko to carry with her onto the plane that will bring it back to Colorado. It will not bring her luck but the kind of magic that is familiar with the air, with its currents and calms, with the serenity of boundless blue space, and the strength to accomplish whatever it is she sets out to do. She doesn't yet know that that magic resides deep within herself, but I have faith the feather will whisper its secrets to her as it whispered them to me. 

Koko, you will be fine. And if we can see each other after these eighteen long years, I will experience the magic of that feather again. Be strong and brave, my friend. The feather will carry you far.

"Ducks!"

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Friends and Storms

The clouds rolled in early this afternoon, high and dark, without much of a wind, but with tremendous drama. I had just enough time to take Duncan out for a quick walk before the thunder and lightning started right overhead. We ducked inside and while I turned on the fans, cranked the stereo up high, and slipped him into his Thundershirt, the rain started. It was not a shy rain, but came suddenly and with great force, turning the day into dusk, scenting the air with that lake smell I miss from my days in Chicago. Dunc put on a brave face, staying close and not hiding, but making sure I was always close enough to touch. It rained and thundered for an hour or so and then was gone. The skies opened up, the air became muggy, and afternoon slipped quietly into evening. Duncan and I sat on the patio, he snoring while I read for a few hours, and all seemed right with the world.

And then it started again. This time the lightning was much lower and closer, the thunder shaking the apartment. There was little I could do to drown out the rumble, so I cuddled with Roo on the couch and slipped him treats and praise for as long as he could stand it. While I straightened the apartment he seemed busy darting back and forth between the living room and the bedroom on a hurried and secret mission. He vanished as the storm reached its peak, the rain roaring, the flowers hanging from my patio swaying in the wind, lightning somehow making the daylight even brighter. When I finally went to investigate I found him in the bedroom, his nose tucked under my bed. In days past he took great comfort in crawling under the bed, his belly rubbing the carpet, his tousled head occasionally bumping against the underside of the box spring. The arrival of my new bed several years ago put an end to that as it was much too low for him to crawl under. Since then he's contented himself with squeezing his nose and a paw or two under it. It's not much but it makes him feel better.


While I'd been preoccupied with weekend chores he'd been busy between thunderclaps collecting his friends and hurrying them into the bedroom where he could cuddle with them and wait the storm out. I curled up next to him, stroked a paw, and whispered encouraging words into his ear. He stayed there long after I left and didn't come out until the storm had passed.

As I sit on the patio again, the sun long since set, the crickets and night critters chirping, the wind is picking up again. The leaves on the Lindens and cottonwoods are brushing against each other, trying their hardest to sound like the waves I miss on Lake Michigan, and I can see flashes of lightning in the north. Dunc will most likely sleep on the bed with us tonight, and that's just fine. Sometimes we all need a little extra help to make it through the difficult times.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Winnie Day Update: Together

Earlier this afternoon I set Winnie's urn out on her chair where she spent much of last summer laying on the little blanket my mother crocheted for her. Almost immediately Pip, who rarely sits there, crawled up and laid down next to it and hasn't budged once.


I'm not waiting alone.

Winnie Day

It was a year ago today that Winnie left us and I can honestly say not a single day has gone by that she hasn't been in my thoughts. I have dutifully refilled her glass of water on the coffee table and each time I feed Pip and Olive I call out, "Come on, Bean. Come on, Mouse." For a very long time I kept her feathered urn on the kitchen counter where she liked to perch and watch me cook but recently moved it to my bedside bookshelf where she can sit next to me while I sleep, which she also liked to do. I'm as loyal and dedicated to her now as I was every day of her life. And I miss her more than I thought possible.
 

I would be lying if I said I hadn't spent portions of the day crying. I look at her spot on the chair and tear up. I feel an emptiness on my hip where she used to perch. But I've decided I'm not going to be sad. Instead I'm going to make a bowl of popcorn and eat it. She loved popcorn more than just about anything else, so much so that on that last afternoon together, when she'd stopped eating, I was desperate and made her some, which she eagerly devoured one last time. So I'll make my popcorn and think of the day Ken and I brought her and Pip home and all the good days in between, and celebrate her life as it deserves to be celebrated.

video

I'll remember the last time I took her outside, the last time I held her little paws in my hand, and that beautiful face of hers, with the diamond on her nose. She was my most precious girl, my Bean, my Mouse. And I was her Papa. And someday I'll get to see her again. I know it. I can't believe anything else, but that just wouldn't make sense.




“You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting.” 
 (J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Little Vistors: (A Not So) Wordless Wednesday

We have made some new friends this summer without doing much of anything to gain their favor and win their trust.


The hummingbirds first appeared in June, darting nervously around the feeder I hung on our patio. For a very long time there were only two, one quite small and dark, with tiny little feet curled under his sleek body, and a bigger, sandy, desert-dirt colored one, feisty and vocal, and intent upon keeping the smaller one away. They were afraid of our presence as I sipped tea in the morning and then again in the evenings when I relaxed and read or just sat with Duncan, listening to the crickets and enjoying the cool breeze. But recently there have been as many as six attempting to feed all at once, diving at each other, chirping loudly, each defending the territory they saw as their own. I have sat quite still and called out softly, "Hello, little bird" each time they appeared, and now they don't seem to care about our presence at all. Sometimes, in fact, they slip right into the patio, bypassing the feeder entirely to float a foot or two above Dunc's upturned head, hovering before my face where I can look directly into their dark little eyes while they look back. When I have cleaned and refilled the feeder they have darted back and forth in front of the patio doors, anxiously calling at me, ignoring Dunc below them. And there have been times when I have rehung the thing that they have buzzed around my head, actually brushing against my arms to drink from it while I rehang it from its hook.

They have become quite precious to me and I never tire of their regular visits. I will miss them when they are gone, but for now I am quite content to sit back and enjoy their busy little movements, the buzz of their wings, their delicate voices, and the simplicity they bring to my days.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

No Good Deed

It was late when Ken got home last night, well after midnight. I'd fallen asleep as I always do, on the couch watching Netflix, with one or more cats cuddling against me, and Duncan snoring softly from beneath the coffee table. The storm had departed but not before depositing a nice pocket of cool air above our corner of the world and I'd flung open the windows and patio doors and arranged our collection of tall and narrow or short and squat fans to pull that air inside and chase away the heat that had lulled me to sleep.

Duncan knows the sound of Ken's truck well and is quick to jump up, give me an excited kiss––more like a brush of his nose against my cheek, really––to wake me up, and then hurry to the door where he plops down, his rear end wiggling under him while he chirps and coos softly awaiting  the familiar sound of the key in the lock. Last night was no different, and while Ken took Dunc down for his last walk of the night, I readied his dinner and waited for them to return.

Fifteen minutes later the door opened and Ken asked, "There's a little dog––a collie puppy––just sitting outside our door. She seems to know Duncan. Do you know her?"

Apparently they'd gone downstairs and the puppy had appeared from out of the darkness, playing with Duncan and following them for a bit until she scampered away, her human companion never appearing. When Ken and Roo climbed the thirty-seven stairs to our door, she was sitting there patiently waiting for them.

When I opened the door and peeked out she was still sitting there. She jumped up and wiggled happily at the sight of me. "Joy!" I cried and opened the door. "What are you doing out so late?" She leapt past me, danced around Dunc then jumped up for a treat. I was very familiar with Joy, a miniature Border Collie who lives in the building across from us. And she knows me well, too. Each time I see her she drags her two-legged companion, Bridgett, across the way to visit with me and snap up the treats I'm more than willing to hand out. I'd never seen her off-leash and without Bridgett and was immediately worried.

"Do you know where she lives?" Ken asked.

"Somewhere in the next building," I told him as I moved out onto the patio to look for any signs of Bridgett. It wasn't long before I saw a car gliding slowly through the parking lot and knew it's occupant was looking for a lost dog.

I hurried into my shoes and socks and skipped down the stairs to intercept her as she passed. She was sitting behind the wheel of her car, sobbing hysterically but pulled over and hugged me when I told her we had Joy safe upstairs. It was quite obvious she was very drunk and it took awhile to follow her up the three flights of stairs to our apartment. She burst into a fresh round of tears when she saw Joy, who seemed far more interested in the treats Ken was still handing out, and Olive and Pip, who had gathered behind the couch to peer out at her, their bodies and faces concealed in the shadows but their eyes wide and curious at our unexpected guests.

It took some doing but eventually they departed, after more sobbing, some slight staggering, and more than a little careful negotiating of the stairs. If they lived any further than one-hundred feet away I would have driven the car for her, but she managed just fine. Joy was home safe, Bridgett was happy, and Ken and I didn't get to bed until after two in the morning. Duncan remained indifferent to the entire episode, more content with the company of people than dogs, and stayed under the coffee table out of the way of Joy's ecstatic energy.

The cats, however, took more convincing. They were a long time in coming out from behind the couch and needed to inspect every inch of the apartment before they were content that the adventure had passed them by safely. And by the time they came to bed they were more than convinced that it was time for breakfast.

Needless to say, it'll be an early night for me, and hopefully there won't be any more midnight surprises.

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Wisdom

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dark Clouds and Courage

The first crack of thunder came just after we stepped outside. When I'd leashed Duncan up the sun had been shining at the front of the apartment but once we'd stepped outside I discovered it was no longer doing so on the back side. The sky had turned dark, the clouds had swept in, some of them low while other stayed very high, and the wind was pulling the yellow Linden leaves from the trees and was making them dance haphazardly across the parking lot. Dunc stopped dead in his tracks at the low rumble and then turned to look at me. "It's your call," I told him. "But I want you to know you're safe. I'll whistle you a song to listen to while you ignore the sky and everything that's happening up there and look at the grass and the little bugs that dance above it. And that's how we'll keep you safe." He took a moment to decide what to do and then slowly took a step forward.


And that's how we found our way down to the patch of flowers at the end of the property. While a dark cloud formed and hovered over our building and the trees swayed sometimes violently across out path, Duncan kept his nose to the ground while I whistled a Nina Simone song I often find myself whistling on rainy days.



And each time the thunder shook the ground and the heavens I whistled louder for him. His footsteps picked up and even though we were trotting by the time we reached the bright pink and purple and yellow and orange flowers he seemed relieved to find them there waiting for him. Soon the first warm drops began to smatter the sidewalk but Duncan did not mind because his face was buried deep among their welcome and comforting hues. I smiled and thought, "That's what you do when you're afraid. You press on, you whistle a little song, and you keep your head low to the ground."



He made it through the walk and I'm still smiling, still marveling at his courage, loving him more than I did an hour ago.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

To:

Ken,

I was on the patio last night, Duncan curled at my feet, when the wind picked up. It began without even a breeze. The Lindens did not rustle and stir and the chimes hanging above us did not sway softly and release their few precious notes in preparation. One moment the world was quiet and warm; the next the trees were bending and bowing to the voice of a cold wind that frightened away the clear sky and turned our peaceful patio into a clanging discordant symphony of bamboo and aluminum bars. Duncan jumped up to see what was happening, whining at the sight of the bunnies below scattered among the tall grass, scampering across the parking lot, dodging bouncing leaves and twigs as they sought shelter under the shrubs. But then you were home and Duncan chirped and danced and we took him for a walk, the three of us navigating the night, safe and happy, together.

This morning, with you still sleeping, the blankets pulled up around your chin, the fan in the window blowing cold air into the bedroom, I slipped on my sneakers and a hoodie and took Duncan to the park to play. The parking lot was wet from a night of steady rain and the puddles reflected the cloudy sky above. The world was sweet-smelling, like pea pods plucked from the vine, and as quiet as a December night. We crossed Bowles and walked the wet grass at the park. I'd brought Dunc's squeaky ball but he seemed far more interested in the branches that had fallen from the elms and cottonwoods during last night's storm. But he stayed close and nuzzled my hand for the treats he knows I hold there whenever we venture out.

It was a lovely morning and I wished I'd coaxed you from bed to join us but you were breathing so deeply and your eyes were moving slowly back and forth under your closed lids so I kissed your warm cheek instead and left you to your dreams, hoping they were as lovely as the day.

The sky was sparingly blue but the clouds, rolling in on stripes of grey and darker grey, didn't seem in the least bit ominous. No, they were like a blanket, the kind you were smiling into when I kissed you, and they were kind enough to allow the sun to peek out and turn the cold morning suddenly hot, forcing me to take off my hoodie and tie it around my waist while Duncan sought relief by rolling in the wet grass until his hair was matted and dark. And then the rain started. Not a rain like last night, not loud and steady, but lazy and quiet, and each drop, illuminated by the sun, was pure gold. Duncan and I stood a long time at the edge of a cracked sidewalk that had been swallowed by a large puddle and watched the infrequent honeyed drops strike the surface, sending up golden ripples that barely shook the reflection of the sky above. The sidewalk, wet and silver, spread out before us and wound away in the distance and I felt like this day contained every possibility imaginable. Warm sun and golden rain all at once. It was like walking in a dream and I thought, "You are dreaming and perhaps in that dream you are walking a resplendent sterling sidewalk when up ahead you spot a golden dog and his friend, both smiling at you and waiting for you, and the music of the rain's patter in the quiet of the world is the sweetest sound you've heard."

I hope your dream was as lovely as this morning. I'm sure it was.


We have a long journey ahead of us, and there will be as many cracks and puddles as there will be glorious clear skies and sunny afternoons. And that's okay. I wouldn't have it any other way. The journey is where the magic happens.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Monsoon Season

It has not been an easy couple of weeks, for Duncan or for me, and I now understand more than ever why he prefers Winter to Summer.

In addition to the Independence Day holiday, which dragged on for five miserable days, the monsoon season has returned to the Front Range in full force. When Ken and I first moved here we scoffed at the idea of a "monsoon season" but summer soon proved to be a far wetter season than we anticipated. Each day dawned bright and clear, sweet-smelling and warm, with fat drops of dew bending each and every blade of grass, but by mid-afternoon the skies in the north would turn treacherously dark and ominous and bleed southward, and the thunder would echo off the mountains, reverberating across the plains. Soon the wind would pick up and the tornado watches and warnings would start, and we'd find ourselves in a torrential downpour that rivaled the storms we'd experienced in the green Shire-like Midwest. It was a blessing because the clouds shielded us from the brightest sun of the day and by evening, at dinner time, the birds would resume their flutterings and the mourning doves would reclaim their lookout on the eves, lowing softly as the sky swept clear and the cool of a perfect evening returned.


It has been several years since the monsoon season has been as severe as this year. I used to look forward to afternoon storms but in the past couple of years Duncan's anxiety at loud noises has increased and I find myself tending to and reassuring him more than anything else. The Fourth was loud and explosive and sent him running to the bathroom to seek shelter in the tub. The following four days traumatized him with the remainder of the bottle rockets and firecrackers and then the nightly storms. It has been so terrible that he's refused to go out at all. Where he used to jump and dance and chirp at the mention of the word "walk" he now cowers under the table, and when I do manage to get his leash on him he refuses to walk, except in the mornings, when the world is at its most quiet. Walking down The Run has turned into a frustrating exercise as he continuously attempts to seek shelter in each of the breezeways of the buildings we pass and the things that used to bring him great pleasure, like chasing Ziggy and the squirrels, visiting with Jeffrey, dancing below Soldier's patio, are now ignored in favor of staying right by my side, startling and stopping at the sound of a golf ball being hit on the course behind us. He is miserable and it's all I can do to keep him calm. His Thundershirt and CS Drops, which I also take for my own anxiety, help, but he is not himself and I am beginning to miss him terribly.

So I lay with him under the coffee table, my head resting on his belly, one paw cradled in my hand, and whisper to him, stroke his ear, slip him treats and tell him how brave he's being, how safe he is. And together we wait for the storms to pass, for the mourning doves to resume their tranquil song.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Humans on Board: While Driving Duncan

And now, I present Duncan's big summer adventure: Humans on Board.


Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

This Day

One year ago today I wept because my life was changed forever by simply putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where my journey led me.


This morning when the Supreme Court struck down the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act, I wept again because the lives of millions of LGBT people in this country have been changed for the better.

Who knows where I'll be a year from now, but that's the wonder of life. You never know what magic it will throw at you and how transformed you'll be by simply vowing to keep moving forward.

Always move forward.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Second Day of Summer

I love waking early, especially on weekends, when there's no need to leave my pillow, my blanket of cats, or the soft snorings of Ken and Duncan. Because it was cool last night, the windows remained open and a cacophony of perfumes have crowded into my little space, a collection that wakes me better than even the smell of the tea that simmers in my mug: the fading Russian Olive, the long grass––wet and bent––that rises along the edge of the golf course, the green depth of the pines and junipers, the first powdery, sweet traces of the Lindens. On mornings like this you will find me standing alone in the living room, my eyes closed, my head tilted back, just breathing, long and slow, with perhaps a faint smile curling the corners of my mouth.

Duncan and I walk quietly in the mornings, moving from one shady spot to the next, where the light is scarce and the grass underfoot is still dark, the drops of dew catching my ankles and gathering up Dunc's skinny legs like silver, iridescent ticks, fat and undulous with each step he takes. I wish I knew the names of all the birds that sing around us for I would construct a collection of their dawn songs and the way they muffle and echo across the wide fields: the robin, the chickadee––which I like to mimic––, the meadowlark, the sad lowing of the mourning dove. On cool mornings the air-conditioners are blessedly silent and each line and note of the bird chorus is clear and crisp, a garden of sound as rich as any planted in the earth.

After playing in the park, tossing the ball in the shade of the cottonwoods, greeting each of the workers who know Duncan by name and wave at me as they drive past in their little carts on their way to adjust the sprinklers or repaint the baseball diamonds, after rolling in the wet grass, we headed home, the sun higher than when we'd arrived. On the edge of the street, the curb before us, I paused to watch a single sparrow chase a hawk away from its nest. The hawk hardly noticed, content to spin slowly on the thermals rising up from the golf course, its wings fanned out wide, barely flapping as it rose higher and higher and coasted in the blue. The sparrow was frantic, though, flapping and calling furiously, diving and bouncing off the larger bark brown body of the indifferent hawk. On and on it went and I stood a long time until their silhouettes were lost in the glare of the sun and the traffic on Bowles began to pick up, drowning out the birds and the chikka-chikka-chik of the sprinklers behind us. There was some sort of metaphor there, I'm sure, but I didn't care to ponder it and thought only of getting home where I could enjoy the last of the Russian Olives and the tease of Linden outside my window, where a single hummingbird graces me with its presence at the feeder on my patio, where Roo could eat his breakfast and then rest his chin against my foot.

Friday, June 21, 2013

One Year Ago

A year ago tonight I was sitting in East Aurora, New York, surrounded by new family and friends, marveling at the distance I had traveled the night before, writing on my new iPad, wondering what Duncan was doing in my absence. It was the first night in years I had been without him near me, and only the sixth in our shared time together.

It was a long road getting there and one I have not taken for granted in the three-hundred, sixty-five days since. It started in Atlanta, when my anxiety first manifested on a business trip and continues to this day. But the real turning point was the morning Duncan presented me with his magic feather, when I kissed Ken farewell at the airport, and climbed aboard that red-eye flight to Buffalo. That was the night I finally understood how much control I had over my fear, that anything is truly possible if we work hard enough for it and believe in ourselves, and if we have the company of a good dog at our side to share in the journey.

And of course there were all the magic feathers sent to me by people across the country and from around the world who believed in me even when I doubted myself. I do not know whether I could have made that journey without their support and encouragement and faith. And I just want you to know that I remember, that I am still thankful for the gift you gave me, that there is not a day I haven't drawn strength from your generosity and kindness.

Thank you all. You got me there and back and have walked in my heart every time Duncan and I have ventured out since.


Friday, June 7, 2013

On This Day

I am officially on vacation but despite the feeling of laziness that crept into my bones late last night there are things that needed tending to at work and at home: from my annual evaluation to the laundry and chores, the packing to the prepping for the traditional road trip video. I've been very busy and even thought it's 11PM now I just realized I forgot to eat dinner. Duncan has been sprawled out on the patio diligently gnawing at his dinosaur bone, trying hard to distract himself from what he recognizes as the familiar signs of a very long day in the car tomorrow. I have been running back and forth, tripping over the cats, who decided that tonight was the perfect night to become even more affectionate than they already are. It's been a hectic day, but not so hectic that I failed to notice that this happened:


The Russian Olive behind the apartment came into bloom. While the flowers are still small, their fragrance is anything but. I've had the windows open and even while tending to the myriad chores that need tending to before we depart for Idaho in the morning, I have stopped often, caught up in the sweet fragrance, and stood still in the living room, just breathing and letting memories wash over me.

It has been glorious. And it happened today, the first official day of vacation.

Life couldn't be better.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Groomed

I have been trying to prepare Duncan for today for the past week, ever since I made the appointment with the groomer to get him all handsome for our trip to Idaho and his visit with Grandma. He doesn't like the groomer––the driers frighten him––so I knew it was going to be a difficult afternoon. Before we left I even gave him a shot of Valerian root to calm him down but he's smart and the instant we arrived he wasn't happy with the situation. So I sat with him a moment, reassured him that Papa would never leave him, that I would always come back for him, gave him a treat, a kiss on the nose, and stood to leave. His whole body was shaking and he started screaming––screaming!––when I turned away. His groomer is a perfectly nice woman and her business has very high marks on Yelp! so I wasn't afraid for him or concerned about his safety. I just know how much he hates the roar of the driers and being away from me.


And I'll be honest, it was just as difficult for me. I had tears in my eyes by the time I got to the car and talked to myself all the way home. "He's going to be okay. He's safe and it'll be over before we know it." Suffering from anxiety as I do, I understand the feeling, that all-over body fear, and I hated that I was doing it to him, just so he could look good.

But a few hours later I went back to pick him up and all was well with the world. They'd loved him, said that once I was out the door he calmed down and was a perfect gentleman. They're good people and I appreciate the job they do, but I appreciated having him back even more.


I'd promised him a trip to Hero's for a treat if he was good, so that was the first place we stopped on our way home. I told him to pick out anything he wanted, so of course he headed straight to the bones. The big ones. He grabbed an enormous Boo Lannie, a bone named after Chelsea's dogs, Boo and Lannie. Patty, the woman who makes them, is someone I actually introduced to Hero's several years ago when she was in nursing school and I was still at the college bookstore. She eventually stopped being a nurse and dedicated herself to producing high quality pet treats from local Colorado suppliers. You can read about her on her website, Patty's Patties

Duncan couldn't wait to get home to devour his treat but consented to a quick stop at The Glen to roll in the grass and pose for a picture or two to show off his fancy new look. But once we were done with that he was ready to get to work on his new bone.

video

He loves his bone but he loves being home even more. And in a few days, when my mother is slipping him treats and suckers, and playing with him in the yard among her flowers, he'll love it even more.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Carving a Trail Through Spring

After all our waiting, after the exquisite tease of a lingering winter and the slow delight of a reluctant Spring, I must finally concede that the blossoms are not coming, not this year. Diligently, on each of our walks––whether early in the morning when the grass is still wet and cradles diamonds of dew on the curve of their thick blades, or afternoon when the clouds roll in and rumble but rarely release any moisture, or our after-dinner runs through the park, dodging the myriad buzzing, hovering things that force me to squint and purse my lips––we have watched the trees, especially the crab apples, which are so fragrant, for the tiniest sign of their delicate pink and white flowers, and at the end of each walk we're forced to admit defeat. There are no flowers and there is no evening perfume to bask in while sipping cold beverages and watching the moon drift across the sky.

"It was the snow in May," Ken told me this morning while we sat on the patio, Duncan curled up between us, his nose hanging through the railing so he could watch the other dogs and their human companions passing by down below. Ken was sipping his coffee while I danced a tea bag in a cup of hot water, both of us looking out on the trees, resplendent in their new coat of green but without the flowery finery that usually graces them this time of year.

"And it's been cold at night," he added and squeezed patted my knee reassuringly.

But then, this afternoon, walking the perimeter of the property with Duncan, watching the cotton drift down from the cottonwoods––the good ones, not the terrible and inconvenient ones that plague this corner of the world––I spotted a single bunch of pink petals hanging onto a low branch of a young and gangly tree. I hurried to it, buried my nose in it but sadly did not smell a single thing. But that was fine because just to see it was worthwhile and made our cold and windy May bearable.


The Russian Olives and Lindens are slowly filling in, and if the Universe is willing they will redeem our dreadful, colorless and bland Spring, and bring the kind of smile to my face that lasts for weeks. Until then, though, the grass is high and Duncan and I have done our best to carve a trail through it. While he loses himself among the high blades I hold my open palms above them and caress each tip as we pass, humming a made-up song to myself, delighting in the give of the earth beneath my feet, the sound of a breeze running alongside us. Flowers would be nice, but carving a trail through the grass is a wondrous thing. Tame it early and it will carry you the rest of the year.



Spring has returned.  The Earth is like a child that knows poems. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Scourge of Seeds

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
     but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."  
(Mary Oliver)
 


There are few things more wondrous than a tree in Springtime, when it seems to move without moving, to grow and change in the span of an eye-blink. They are living statues, rejoicing so obviously under the tender ministrations and delicate kisses of the new sun. They speak a language only understood by the birds and flowers and insects, and yet one needs only gaze upon them and listen for a few moments to learn the melody they sing so surely with their silent voices. While Duncan tends to walk with his nose and eyes to the ground, my gaze is pointed up, at the dancing tendrils of the willows, at the slowly blooming Russian Olives, at the Linden outside my window that will transform entirely my apartment in a few short weeks. I am in awe of the trees––all trees!––even the scourge of Narrow Leaf Cottonwoods that plague my small corner of the world.

I do not hate them. These cottonwoods, different than the more common Eastern Cottonwood that most people easily recognize, are wonders of Summer, reflecting the light in a way that freckles the world in gold and shade and dancing green shadows, cooling The Run on our afternoon walks. They are never still, even when the air is, and the sound of their leaves brushing against each other are as sweet as the soft twinkling of the chimes that grace my patio. They don't grow as tall as their eastern cousin, and their cotton is fine and beautiful and something I marvel at and don't mind at all. In Autumn they are magnificent, their voices loud, their presence soothing as the leaves turn pale yellow and then fall away where they can dance wild and run in the wind. They are the sentinels of winter, standing guard over the park and The Glen, their pale, rough bark catching the snow and holding it close like a drapery of loose gauze. It is only in Spring that they are a challenge.

It's their seeds I loathe. They are everywhere, impossible to avoid: lurking among the tall grass, polluting the sidewalks as thickly as the spattering of goose-droppings we dodge in winter. They are thorough in their infection of both The Glen and the park. Long and yellow, the seeds are covered in a thick and sickeningly sweet resin that catch the hair of Duncan's feet and collect into a sticky clot under his soft pads. Dunc spends much of our walks laying down to nibble at his feet, pulling on them, tearing the fur from his feet and then sputtering to spit them away before they catch in his whiskers and collect along his muzzle. And once he's done, his belly is covered in the things, which, if left untended, turn into twisted mats that need to be cut away. They are miserable, contagious things and I look forward to the day they have dried up and been carried away by the wind.


They are a nuisance, but only temporarily. In a few weeks they will be gone and the trees where they originated will be more glorious than before. Until that day, though, when they snow magic and bring a warm winter, Duncan and I will tread carefully and await the return of our Lindens and glorious-scented Russian Olives.