Spring in Motion

This morning shortly after rising I hear Canadian geese over head on a northward course back home. I go outside and feel a strong breeze from the southwest. It rattles the new baby leaves on the trees, shakes the pink and white blossom until they are dizzy, and buffets the birds up and down so that they first skim over the treetops, then spin earthward on the current.

Near the entrance to the park two men in orange vests carry slow/stop signs to control the flow of impatient cars. The giant arm of a steam shovel breaks the asphalt to reveal the broken sewer pipe beneath. A dark, squat, smoking barrel sits on the side of the road; the thick licorice smell of tar oozes down the sidewalk and across creek and over the pond.

An old blond cocker spaniel, partly blind and hard of hearing, lifts her head to sniff the wind. Her tail is too tired to wag although a spark of light flashes in her shadowed eyes. Does she perhaps remember other springs when the distant bird was clearly seen, the field an invitation to run, the sound of her master voice a call to action. Her limitations do not interfere with her enjoyment of this day and she rambles off behind her master.

Already the little creek lies low within its banks and fishermen are far and few between. The white crane seen last spring standing in the reeds along its banks will not be here again.The short rainy season has expired and another year of water rationing is certain.

Meanwhile, high plumes shoot upward from the pond, the wind blowing the water into a mist that carries across the wide expanse of lawn where a scattering of dandelions seem to be dancing. Except for the pines whose shade is thick and still and black, the trees that line the edges of the field cast a mosaic of dappled shadows that shift in an ever-moving mass of dark and light.

Three Chihuahuas, each on a leash, meet along a path. With sharp high cries they greet each other. Three tails wag furiously as smells are offered and exchanged. Owners walk away, dogs are pulled apart; they look back and give little yips of goodbye.

Having made the long looping circuit of the park, the blond cocker spaniel returns and is carefully lifted into the back seat of the waiting car. As it drives away, she sticks her head out the back window, eyes unseeing, ears unhearing, wind blowing her curling fur. I think, there is not enough time left to have all of the dogs I want.

In how many springs will the wind blow through our hair? How many more bright days filled with the scent of fresh cut grass will intoxicate us? How many more sunsets will we see?  Life is so short; love is so long,








The Cusp of Autumn

I hear the honking of the geese flying overhead on the way to warmer climes and the morning now has a crisp pinch in the air that fortells coming frosts.

I have not visited the park often this summer as I have in former years but today I place my chair in view of the dog park. The smaller dogs are preoccupied with scents and the threat posed by passing dogs which they meet with high pitched barks and aggressive stances.

In contrast it is play time for the large dogs. A recent arrival in the shape of a mid-sized black and white terrier has the shepherds, hounds and Great Dane in an uproar. This bi-colored bullet of speed drops into the pack with the subtlety of a firecracker and immediately had the other seven trailing in his wake as he tears in great circles through the field. Long legs scissor rapidly but are no match for the terrier who often looks back tantalizingly before putting on another burst of speed.

The larger dogs periodically drop off one by one, long tongues hanging out, sides panting and pumping. When a dog revives enough to rejoin the race it does not jump into the fray but takes up the last position as the pack speeds by. When the terrier calls a time out the dogs plop down in the cool grass with large smiles and wagging tails.

Then the romping begins and consists of bouncing jumps and hops. At times a dog flops down and invites another to wrestle. Is this where the expression “boundless joy” derived – the leaps and bounds of dogs at play is the personification of joy.

Meanwhile, the air is pierced with the ringing tones of “Little Brown Jug” playing incessantly as a rusting white ice cream truck slowly circles the parking lot. I wonder how appropriate it is to have a song about whiskey as the theme song for a children’s treat. As the truck passes by I check to see if the driver is wearing ear plugs as a precaution against insanity.

A young woman pulling a set of golf clubs briskly walks by and compliments me on my choice of seating and view. Moments later a man eating an ice cream bar asks me if I am drawing to which I reply that I am writing, and he quickly loses interest as writing is not a spectator sport.

Six dogs are sitting in companionable silence in the shade of a tall oak while two sniff the perimeter of the compound when the noon bells of St. Philomene chime. Nearby, the small dogs are sitting up, paws waving, for the small treats tossed by their owners.

In the larger playing field a large, lean black dog plays fetch with her master who flings the ball far down the open field, the dog flying in pursuit, her eyes measuring just where the ball will land and the trajectory of the rebound.

Soon, one by one, the dogs are escorted to waiting cars and trucks, all ready for a long afternoon nap in front of the TV while the family watches large men chase each other up and down the field trying to catch the flying football. Is this the human form of boundless joy?

Ears High, Tail Waving

“I had a dog once
Who liked to fetch,”
I wanted to say,
To the man with the white beard
And the baseball cap
As he flung the ball
High in the air
And the lumbering lab
Barked twice and ran,
Ears high, tail waving.

“I had a dog once,”
I wanted to say
As I remembered
Boulders round a blue lake,
Pheasants rising
From red bushes,
Deer tracks in new snow,
And Beau running to me
At my call,
Ears high, tail waving.


dog-open-mouthA friend sent me an email yesterday saying that he had to put his dog down. He added that the dog was gentle to the last and ended with “No more dogs for me.” I could tell that his heart was broken.
Our pets touch us like no one else does; perhaps it is because their love is so unconditional – which is a rare experience for most of us. A dog’s loyalty and devotion are hard to find in our everyday world. Our pets do not judge us or try to ‘improve’ us. They accept us the way we are, warts and all.

When a pet dies and that source of love is gone, we can feel bereft and like my friend, say we will not let our hearts be open to that kind of loss again. That is the big drawback to pets – we almost always outlive them. But it is also their greatest gift to us for they can teach us how to face death with acceptance if we are strong enough to stay till the end.

Over the years I had many dogs and cats but it has only been in the last ten years or so that I was strong enough (brave enough?) to sit beside them as they died. Before that I was too afraid. It is a privilege to be there at the end for what can be more intimate than the moments of birth and death – and these our pets are willing to share with us.

It seems as if death can be a long time coming but when it does arrive it is very swift and sure. Towards the end, the eyes are already traveling homeward while the body waits in stillness. Then as suddenly as a stolen kiss the light blinks out and the soul flies. Ah! … and we are left to continue without them.

And yet they ask: does a dog have a Buddha nature.

My little dog, a heartbeat at my feet. Edith Wharton


After several weeks of fairly constant rain, the sun arrived a few days ago and in response the trees are in leaf – a million shades of green from chartreuse to apple to emerald. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night to push the comforter from the bed and today the temperature is expected to hit 80 (where are my shorts!). We are getting a taste of the summer to come.

The little Russian Mister who lives upstairs came down yesterday with a smile on his face. The kidney stone he was suffering from has either passed or is in abeyance. He patted his stomach and said, “Good, good.” I congratulated him and waved as he started off on a walk around the block.

Speaking of walking, another phenomenon has recently arisen along with the clement weather and longer days. About four o’clock every afternoon a parade of dog walkers emerge from their various apartments. Armed with plastic poop bags, water bottles and sun hats these intrepid exercisers make numerous circuits around the complex while loudly chatting to each other about the other residents.

The old observation about dogs resembling their masters is mostly true, the exception being those who are the exact opposite of the owners in which case it is perhaps an anima/animus thing (no pun intended); to whit, the very large, mean-looking lady using a walker who has a small black submissive Silky Terrier. (I don’t think I got all the commas and semi-colons right in that sentence).

Then there is the short, sprightly, gray haired lady who owns a small, sprightly, gray haired Airedale terrier; the large, sort of sloppy guy who wear Bermuda shorts and black nylon socks with oxfords who drives an extra large, floppy King Charles Spaniel; the skinny fluttery lady who is in charge of two excitable Chihuahuas; and the slim, Asian lady who furtively scoots up and down the sidewalk with her black and white Lhasa Apso.

Sweetie Pie enjoys viewing this daily parade from the comfort of her patio seat and I often join her to share observations. Yesterday I had to gently remonstrate when she loudly sniggered as the King Charles Spaniel sat down and yawned mid-walk and her owner wagged a chubby finger trying to overrule her intractable behavior.

Then there was the time the two Chihuahuas circled and criss-crossed so many times the fluttery lady was completely tied up with leashes. That provoked a guffaw on both our parts as we happily traded anecdotes about other tie-me-up, tie-me-down scenarios we had experienced in our younger days.

The parade also has its runway aspect which is not to be confused with any kind of air travel unless you’re flying to Paris. The submissive Silky Terrier and the gray-haired Airedale Terrier are both Fashionistas, which is like being a Fascist but without wearing black shirts and tall boots although there is an obvious European connection particularly when you consider the pedigree of the dogs in question.

Both Terriers sport an array of costumes, from cute emerald green jackets with four leaf clover designs for St. Patrick’s Day, to bright plaid overcoats suitable for a day at links, and not to mention the yellow slicker a la Paddington Bear for rainy afternoons.

In fact, Sweetie and I noticed, with some astonishment and raised eyebrows I might add, the rainy day the Silky Terrier rode in the big lady’s walker and cast a jaundiced eye, which is similar to being supercilious but more yellow, on the slightly soaked King Charles Spaniel that was now dutifully trotting beside his owner.

Now that summer is just around the corner Sweetie Pie and I are both looking forward to long lazy afternoons spent drinking mint juleps on the patio and making snide (which is related to supercilious but sneakier) comments to each other as we watch the every changing parade pass by.


(Encore essay written when my best friend Cassie was still here)

I discovered on this morning’s walk that I have lost my whistle. It happened just as we were rounding the corner and coming down the home stretch. Cassie had stopped to investigate the wonderful smells emanating from a fireplug while I had continued down the block. When I looked back and saw her still lingering, I puckered my puss and got ready to let rip a few trebling notes.

Now this was an old signal between the Cass and me. It consisted of five short blasts upon the tooter and more or less meant, “Heads up, old girl, we’re moving on.”  Imagine my surprise when I puckered and instead of those clarion calls of old, a few feeble puffs issued forth.

I picked up my aplomb from the sidewalk, blew out my cheeks a few times to loosen said labials and let loose with another go round. Poof, poof, poof. Nothing!  I was thrown into consternation, which if like being concerned only more confusing.

For the next few minutes, I huffed and puffed, I puckered and pursed, all to no avail. My tweeter was definitely on the fritz. When had this happened, I pondered? Was this a result of all those torturous years of playing the clarinet? Had Benny Goodman put a curse on me from on high? Why hadn’t I noticed the five warning signs of whistle loss?  As my eyes glazed over, I threw back my shoulders and contemplated a whistle-less future.

I would no longer be able to converse with the birds in the morning. Iranian taxi drivers, with whom I had already had a tempestuous relationship, would regard me with even deeper disdain. I would not be able to hail old friends, should I happen to see any, from across the street. I would no longer be able to show my connoisseur’s appreciation of some young man’s prowess. I would no longer be able to join in the chorus when the dwarfs set off to work. I would never be able to watch Bridge on the River Kwai again and feel the same camaraderie.

With the picture of that bleak future before me, I suddenly understood the origin of dirty old men. They, too, had whistle dysfunction. When a pretty girl went by, their aging lips failed them, leaving them silent and emasculated. What used to be communicated through the old wolf whistle in the end degenerates into the leer and pinch. Was this the future that awaited me, I shuddered. Was I destined to hang around neighborhood parks and malt shops? In fact, when was the last time I had seen a malt shop?

As I pondered these and other weighty matters, Cassie had joined me and, in fact, had moved into the lead and crossed the street. After waiting there patiently for a moment or two, she let loose with one of her famous howls. That snagged my wandering attention and I trotted to her side. Soon we were walking up the path where Roxanne the Cat was waiting, heavy disapproval at our absence visible in the set of her shoulders and the tilt of her tail. She gave a few imperative meows to hurry us up, then flipped her tail and led the way to the back door.

Then it hit me! This lip lassitude can be directly traced to a marked deficiency in my kissing quotient. When was the last time, I asked myself, that I took these lips out on the freeway and really blew out the carbon, so to speak. Too long, I answered. Aha! I responded, no wonder I can’t whistle.

So, this morning I am setting off on a regimen of low-impact, labial aerobics to get back into fighting trim. For my background accompaniment, I shall perhaps play some Jean Luc Ponty or Bela Fleck, the themes from The High and Mighty or Waltzing Matilda, or perhaps some Andean flute music. When I’ve gotten back my wind, I’m signing up for an off-site, intensive, hands-on, weekend seminar in whistle rehab.

That way, whenever anybody asks me if I know how to whistle, I’ll just put my lips together and blow.

“Rich men never whistle, poor men always do.”   Stephen Elkins



Champ, Beau, Cassie, Miss Emmie, Kelly

Just the other day I read a post on Face Book by a pretty young woman who said, “I miss having a Valentine. I don’t like being alone.” And then there is the example of Charlie Brown and the little red-headed girl – always just out of reach.

Valentine’s Day is second only to Christmas in its potential for depression. Everybody is looking for the Other, that missing half of themselves that will complete them and usher in a Golden Age of happiness and contentment. Or, so they say.

I must admit my forays into valentinehood have not been all that successful. I was married once for about six years and followed that with a few select relationships afterwards. But these relationships never lasted. I was a clumsy student in the art of love.

In contrast the time I spent with each of my individual dogs was measured in lifetimes – from puppyhood to death. In the process I learned a lot about how to love and be loved. In fact, if I had had my dogs earlier in my life I would have been a better wife and mother. Here are a few of the lessons Champ, Beauregard, Cassie, Emmie and Kelly taught me.

Be loyal: this is the ‘for better or worse’ part. My dogs stuck by me when I was sick, broke, depressed or having a bad hair day. As long as we were together they were satisfied.

Be patient: no matter how badly they wanted to go for a walk, or chase the ball or get a treat, they knew how to wait until I was ready. They trusted me to take care of them.

Be yourself: dogs never pretend to be anything but what they are. No pretense, no games, no surprises.

Be grateful: just adopt a dog from the shelter and you have a friend for life. They appreciate what they have and show it.

Be open: dogs are ready for any adventure. Just open the car door or get out the leash and they’re with you no questions asked.

Be quiet: a dog knows how to listen when you’re feeling bad or need a hug. No words are necessary. They can absorb that sadness and give you back peace.

Be happy: dogs are naturally optimistic and happy. The depressed and neurotic ones have become that way because of their owners.

My canine companions taught me responsibility, compassion and loyalty. I’m still trying to live up to the examples they gave me. So this year my valentine is for them.