"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dog Wings

Toby comes flying across the yard to my come command. He's actually coming for the treat, but these days it's the behavior, not the motivation, that we care about. I've gotten as far away from him as possible before calling. Not to test him. But so that I can have longer to watch his Dumbo ears dancing in the wind of his sprint.

I am madly in love with Toby's ears.

 The day we picked him out, his ears were the third thing I saw. The first and second were his color and his size. The darkest and biggest of the litter. And his ears. Oh his ears. Hanging like angel's wings on either side of that sweet face. Two of his brother's ears could have fit into one of Toby's.

Toby loves his ears, too. He'll lie on his bed not quite awake, not quite asleep, and suck on the end of whatever ear is on the bottom. The comfort of it is so great that he lathers the tip into a slimy dripping mess before he's satisfied enough to let sleep carry him into doggy dream fields. 

I find similar comfort in his ears. To bury my face in their warm buttered toast fragrance and airy eider down softness is enough to smooth the jagged edges off most any day. Flopping them playfully up and down, back and forth, up and down again, makes me happy in an unreasoned and unfathomable way.

These ears have their own language. 

Hung softly against his face as he wakes up they say, "Good morning. I missed you. The night was long."

Hung low and long during and after correction they say, "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be bad. I won't ever do it again. Please love me."

Pushed forward to frame his face in full glory they say, "I am a force to be reckoned with. Wanna play?"

Alternating soft and full glory when he sees us after we've been out of sight - no matter whether it's been a minute or hours - they shout, "I've missed you so much. I was afraid you weren't coming back. I'm so glad to see you."

Then there's the pushed back, aerodynamic look that occurs when he's tearing circles through the bird area and we're making it clear he's in for it when we catch him. Those ears are singing, "Look at me go! Isn't this fun?!"

He arrives at my feet, ears in the full glory position, bottom planted firmly on the ground, ready for the treat. I give him what he's come for, flop his ears and say, "good boy Toby-Tobe, what a good dog you are." 

Before he has a chance to finish his treat, I slip away - as far away as I can get in our yard - and call. "Toby, Come!"

My heart lifts as his Dumbo ears fly him to me again. And just as it does every time we play this game, a tiny flicker of my heart expects to see big air beneath his feet.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tears for a Thrush

The early morning stillness is shattered by a percussive thunk against the bay window. It brings the pup onto all fours out of a sound sleep and sends the cat flying from my lap for the high protection of the counter. 

I don't need to look up from the paper to know what I'll find. Don't want to look up, but can't not. This was not a gentle ting against the glass that might result in a confused fluttering back to the bird feeders. This was too hard. Too hard to be survived. Too hard to be a siskin or junko.

My eyes rest on two small gray breast feathers clinging to the window. Backlit by the light blue promise of a sunny day. Nothing else. 

I get up reluctantly. Hoping to see nothing. Hoping against hope that whoever hit has flown. Hopeless hope.

A varied thrush twitches on the ground where she landed. Eye closed under an orange brow. Long black beak opening and closing in an almost peaceful rhythm. Tangerine and gray body heaving, struggling. Impossibly thin feet curled against the winter-dull grass. Her one exposed black and orange chevron wing spread but oddly still - the pattern strikingly beautiful.

I don't know what to do. I say I'm so sorry over and over. But I don't move. Anything I might do will only increase or prolong her suffering. And so I stand witness. I watch her body struggle to hang on to life and then gradually release life. I open my heart to share her pain. I wait with her until there is no more movement. 

As I turn away I'm surprised by the tears that tumble out of my open eyes. I wonder why I'm crying for a single winter bird when I can't cry for much larger suffering. Much greater loss.
My childhood suffering. The suffering of friends and family. Suffering inflicted globally, intentionally and ignorantly in the name of gods and power and right and wrong.

I move back into the day with the tears as companions. A day spent home to rest my voice which has been hoarse for the last week. I'm carried by the ebb and flow of the tears and surprised by what calls them into fresh surges. A gift from a new friend. Thoughtful words of kindness from an old friend. The sweet comfort of Toby's kisses.

The day is only half gone. My voice is stronger. The thrush's gift is received.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Toby by the Numbers

Here is some random  and rather unscientifically gathered statistical data about the puppy.

1 - Toby's weight in pounds when he was born

20 - Toby's weight in pounds a week ago

80 - Toby's expected weight in pounds as an adult

4 - Number of weeks he's lived with us

4 - Weeks since I've had a full night's sleep

11 - Weeks he's been on the planet

11 - Years minimum we hope to share our lives with him

4 - Number of cats who are tolerating his presence and demanding equal time from their humans

3 - Times a day one of the cats will saunter up to him until he notices and then take off like a drag racer

3 - Times a day he gets yelled at for chasing cats

0 - Number of accidents in the house (since the first week)

15 - Words/phrases in his human vocabulary (Sit, Wait, Go Potty, Come, Shush, Bring it Here!, Eat, Treat, Off, Where's Dad/Mom?, Get a Toy!, LEAVE!, Give, Toby, You Do Not Chase Cats!)

30 - Treats he receives per day - mostly as part of his training, partly "Cuz you're soooo cute!"

6 - Versions of his name that he responds to (Toby, TobyToby, Cute Boy, TubbyToby, Sweet Puppy, G*D DAMMITToby)

18 - Store-bought toys he owns (His preferred toy is a small log he dug out of an area in the yard he wasn't supposed to be in.)

6 - Average number of hours he sleeps a night

7 - Average number of hours of sleep I need to function 

9 - Average number of hours he's alone on a school day

9 - Average number of hours I feel  low level guilt on a school day

2 - Average number of hours he's alone every other day

2 - Owls who-ing at each other in our field in the dark morning hours

3 - Times I've seriously wondered if we made the right decision

0 - Conversations Walt and I have had since the middle of December that didn't involve Toby

0 - People he doesn't like

187 - Times a day my heart swells with gratitude and love as I think about him, play with him, nuzzle and inhale his salty-sweet softness

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lost in Transition

I have a tendency to get lost in transitions. I long for healing, for newness, for the adventure of change. I intentionally make choices that I know will be challenging because I know the resulting outcomes will be much more abundant and fulfilling than the results of taking the easy road.

But in the middle of things, when the past is too far back to return to and the outcome is too far forward to see clearly, I get lost. I forget.  I second guess. I question my hearing, my motives and my ability to make choices that will actually accomplish my dreams.

The transition of New Puppy has me tipped and mucking around in the ditch right now. Not enough sleep. Not enough down time. Not enough of me to go around.

What was I thinking? Adding a pup. Now.

Still in the tunnel of the 20th anniversary transition of my marriage. Still in the tunnel of healing childhood wounds revealed last October. Still in the tunnel of finding the end to a career and discovering a new outlet for my talents.

I was thinking about the warmth and joy I know only a dog can bring. I was thinking about the daily reminder of the importance of being in the moment - there is no being more in the moment than a dog. Especially a puppy whose attention span is only a fraction of a moment long. I was thinking about the feeling of celebration and love that comes from having a companion who lives to be happy.

I was thinking he'd be a perfect source of lightness and fun while I did the hard work of writing my book. 

I hadn't planned on not getting to write at all.  I figured his nap times would give me plenty of time to write. The four cats and the unbelievable extra amount of mess and a fatigue-soaked brain have more than filled that time. I'm grumpy, irritable and impatient.

This isn't what I planned.

What I realized this week, however, is that there is a surprise abundance to this time. The exhaustion has left me vulnerable and less able to contain the childhood feelings that have been waiting decades for a safe release. It's impossible to maintain  status quo in a marriage when routines are being rewritten on the fly and both partners are stretched thin. The career it's time to leave has become a haven of sorts. I savor what I know are lasts and enjoy the ease of the automatic.

The book is being written - just not in the time or way I had planned. My life is being lived - just not as neatly or safely as I'm comfortable with. Change is happening - never as quickly or smoothly as I plan. 

Toby is doing his job - well, thoroughly, and with no worries about not being enough.  He is all puppy all the time. And when he got me up at 4:30 this morning unbelievably happy to see my unshining countenance, I could be grateful and almost as happy to see him.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


Six o' clock on a Saturday morning. Drippy January Saturday. Cold wind-slashed air tries to chew through the layers of flannel pajamas, chenille robe and Walt's quilted flannel shirt. My toes are dry but cold-numbed in polka-dotted rubber boots. The search for socks forsaken in the need to get Toby outside quickly.

He slept through the night again - three in  a row now. My body isn't as grateful as the rest of me. It's still exhausted from two weeks of broken sleep. It's grouchy sore from hours of floor sitting and bending to puppy level and hurdling puppy gates. Hands stinging from encounters with the knife drawer that is Toby's mouth. Brain caffeine-starved and annoyed at having to wait for its fix for the fifteenth morning in a row.

While Toby teethes on a fir branch just out of my arm's reach, I stand in the back yard. Utterly still. Acutely aware of the clean sharp air scouring the remaining sleep from my core. Looking into my home and my life from the blanketing dark of outside. 

I've spent my life looking into lighted homes from the dark outside. Wondering if the people inside were happy. Aching to be a part of the families gathered within. Envying the warm glow on the other side of the windows I gazed longingly through.

As I look in the same way into my own home, I realize that in this moment I am happy. Happy and grateful and deeply content.  There is no wondering or aching or envy. This is enough. 

I like the people who live in this inviting country home - my home. I see sanctuary, haven, hope through the bay window of my dining room. My heart fills to overflowing with love, gratitude and joy. I have everything I've ever wanted. This is enough.

Enough becomes abundance and more as my sweet puppy, a faint ember blur in the last dark of this winter morning,  drags his branch to my feet in an invitation to play. I coax my reluctant back and aching legs into a response. Toby and I  run gleefully across the rain-slick lawn, our frolic gently lit by the glow from the house.