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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Singer and Aiden

Singer’s best friend in Minnesota was Aiden, a young male Irish setter. They used to run together through the pines, weaving in and out, in an intricate pattern that only they knew how to create. And recreate, day after day.

Aiden would dash out of the kennel first, daring Singer to follow him. She took him up on the call every time, her paws scrabbling on the concrete kennel, anxious to run. He would glance back at her, and just seeing her follow gave him a charge of energy, boosting his pace. The wind carried their ears aloft like birds swiveling sideways in a head wind. She tucked her head down and sped up to his side, then he sharply turned to the left among a copse of pine trees, and expertly jumped over a rotting log. Her feet turned also, and she was soon right beside him again. Their noses twitched as they entered this small forest, bursting with animal, decaying plant and other verdant scents. Singer became distracted and slowed a little. Aiden was right up ahead, but he turned to see if Singer was still following.

Then the bewitching scent of squirrel seizes Singer by the neck, as if a giant leash were snapped taut around her neck. Now her head is set back a few degrees, her body frozen in a graceful attentive posture--tail up, one forepaw held up, and she begins to mesmerize. Out of the periphery, she sees Aiden, nose to the ground as he tries to follow a scent. Her body is still but her nose shivers as it becomes flooded with the delicious scent of squirrel. It makes her heart tremble with joy, but she keeps those secrets hidden as she concentrates.

The squirrel tries to make a dash for the large pine tree just ahead, and Singer gallops to catch it. She almost makes it, her bronze coat flashing in the patches of sun that skitters through the boughs, its delicate lacy texture splashed on the ground. Singer is so close, but the squirrel escapes by leaping halfway up the trunk and disappearing among the top branches. Singer puts one paw on the trunk of a nearby oak and tilts her head up, unwilling to let go.

Meanwhile, Aiden has followed the scent of rabbit out of the forest. He suddenly notices that his companion, his best friend, is not beside him. He looks back to see Singer, poised on the trunk of an oak, and shakes his head. This action slows him down considerably and he loses the rabbit. But no matter, his friend Singer has now started to run toward him, and he eagerly looks toward a field, where they will run companionably, side by side, noting the pleasant rush of smells in the wind until the sun sets later that afternoon.

Writer’s note:  This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual or living characters is merely a coincidence. [Hah! That’s what I always say when I read this disclaimer…]

Friday, April 20, 2012

Caramel Sundae and Sweet Potato Pie

Have I decided to write about desserts in this blog? No, actually, these are desserts that remind me of my pets—Dakota is the color of a caramel sundae and Singer the color of sweet potato pie. The latter choice is really from my vet, who called Singer “Sweet Potato Pie” yesterday when she went in for her annual exam. So, thanks Dr. Pam!

Dakota is a rich creamy tan color, topped with fudge sauce for his ears. The tan fur seems to melt into his vanilla fur and he is so soft and creamy looking, you just know if he were ice cream he would taste buttery sweet! But then if his fur does get into your mouth, the image explodes. More like bits of cigarette tobacco—yuck! His sharp claws dig into your thighs like needles when he braces himself for a leap down off your lap. Yeow! He’ll look back at you with his owlish crystal blue eyes and blink once or twice. I wonder what he is thinking? Does he want something from me? That stare never ceases to lure me into his private world of cool assessment, calm confidence.  I am suddenly in the middle of a forest, surrounded by thick trees while Dakota sits in a circle of light. I want to be in his good graces. Like a woman desperate for her lover’s approval, I will go where he leads. To his dish or outside on the deck, it’s usually one or the other.

My son has decided that Dakota is really an accounts manager who is rich. He has figured out ways to finagle money out of the biggest corporations and is now fabulously rich, all due to his ingenuous ways of funneling money into secret accounts. Of course, it’s all legal, just very, very secret. And no one suspects a thing, especially when they see him. How could such a pretty kitty do anything illegal? Perfect cover.

Singer’s bronze coat matches the brown sugary sweet potato filling and the flaky crust provides the accent of salt and crumbly fat that melts in your mouth. Come on in and sit down for awhile, enjoy a cup of coffee, put your feet up. Yum, just looking at her you see how perfect the analogy is. There’s something inherently old fashioned about her, and I would venture for all Irish setters. They have gingham in their souls, and the smells of baking pies from Grandma’s kitchen waft over their top form. They are the American classic car--not the clunky Chevrolet, but the 1950s Pontiac with sleek chrome tail lights. So anachronistic in today’s canine world. Where have all the Irish setters gone? The slant of their eyes twist your heart just a tiny bit, and you can lose yourself in the shine of the bronze coat. But the smell of brown sugar and sweet potatoes keeps you grounded in the past and present all at the same time.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Collars and Leashes, Males and Females

Symbolically speaking, collars and leashes are anathema to the very nature of our pets—the freedom to roam untethered as their nose dictates is now limited. Symbolically speaking, collars and leashes are necessary items of safety as seen through the eyes of their owners. And finally, symbolically speaking, collars and leashes are quite the fashion statement these days. Have you seen the kitty aisle lately? Rhinestones aglitter, colors galore, cute icons abound, my oh my! And then there is the hunter’s aisle for doggies—bright orange, camouflage, olive green. So female, so male.

The bright pink collar Singer came with marks her as female. She may fool people with her confident prance, her head held high, although her slight body build gives her sex away, I think. I also think she sashays a bit when she walks…But Saylor was very confident as a young dog, too, and many thought she was a male. I guess there’s no sexism in the world of dogs? Females are allowed to be who they want to be, and Singer is very feminine in many ways—she curls up in a dainty ball on the couch, giving everyone in the room one last glance before she allows herself to fall asleep. Dakota doesn’t do this. He just falls asleep, his family could be dead or unconscious for all he cares…

Singer also cares about Dakota. She will perk up when he utters the mildest of coughs (could be the beginnings of a hairball, or just his allergies) and jumps down from the couch to give him a caring lick or two. She is so maternal. Dakota barely registers the gesture and continues to snooze in my lap. 

But Singer is not afraid to get her paws dirty. Yesterday, she finally decided to uproot that pesky chipmunk that’s been burrowing in our backyard for years, it seems. She dug a hole about a foot deep before I was alerted and stopped her. Her tail wagging, tongue hanging out just reminded me of a little boy who’s been playing in the dirt with his cars and trucks. Although I must confess:  I used to play in the dirt a lot when I was a kid.

When I brought her in the house to wash her paws, she patiently waited while I dipped each paw in warm water then dried them. I eventually decided to give her a bath, but I am still impressed by how patient she is with grooming. It’s probably her show dog background, but I also wonder if it’s her sex—little girls don’t mind all that primping and grooming stuff. Ah, but that’s really not true, when I recall how much Saylor hated to be groomed. Yes, I don’t think our pets have been constrained by sex roles like the ones we humans have created for our little ones. It’s another good reason to own a pet—they show us a different way that males and females can behave without artificial and somewhat neurotic rules imposed on them.

Back to collars and leashes:  I wonder how our pets perceive these necessary items? I doubt that the cats appreciate the rhinestones like we do. My cat tries to lick his collars off and usually succeeds. But I try to put his collar on anyway when we go outside, because it has his I.D. and my phone number on it. Same with Singer, whose collar is always on. But I know she hates her muzzle collar, the one called “gentle leader” (although I’ve heard that dogs can still hurt their necks with this if they pull too hard). She sometimes tries to rub it off in the snow. Like a little girl who hates her scratchy dress her mama wants her to wear…

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Paws Have It

Her paw comes up and rests on my knee. It is rough and the claws are strong when she puts pressure on them and they come out of their sheathing. I take her paw and massage between her toes, where the soft and fuzzy fur grows. She likes that, I can tell. If I stop, she paws me for more. So I oblige.

Her rough paws always smell like the earth, even in winter. She retains this scent of the ground as a way of keeping in touch with the earth. Like an oceanic animal retains the scent of the sea, she holds the essence of earth in her paws. Her paws are one with the earth, where she digs in pleasure and industry. Her tail wags and her crusty, strong paws find common molecules in that microbial soil while the loamy scent of minerals and decay seeps in. Her paws are sponges, soaking up information received by the moist, cool substance and she is savoring all that she can for later.

We like to think our hands are superior to paws, but I don’t think so. Dogs have a special gift in that their paws are extensions of the earth, pungent reminders of immortality. Dogs are practical, and use their paws for getting food, love, even the toy that is wedged underneath the sofa. Singer uses her paws in all these ways and more. She loves to paw the earth and leaves in the backyard, and certain smells that beguile her. Her paws tell her stories that she reserves for bedtime. They keep the scent of narratives secret until her mind is quiet and her eyes are closed to the world. Then she sees what the molecules of her paws have been transcribing all day long, and it unravels like a beautiful, fascinating story.

As she is dreaming, and her paws are working again, scratching the air and the wall, I understand that her digging has become a story retold in another language. Her paws remember. And the scent of her scratchings in the dirt will waft in the air and she will whimper in her sleep as the story comes to an end. I reach down to touch her, savoring the scent in the air, communing with her dig like characters whose story I have been following and have come to love. It is as if I am right there in the dirt beside her, and I too don’t want the story to end. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Dogs are Children, Children are Dogs

I actually mean that in a good way! Children are loyal and loving creatures, just like dogs. But of course, it’s an insult to hurl “You dog!” at someone. Sometimes it’s “you dirty dog!”

Yet it's okay to say dogs are children. It’s funny to see Singer scurry behind me when my son raises his arms, getting ready to swoop her up like a teasing big brother. She rolls over on her back and shows her tummy, but Nathaniel quickly lifts her in the air anyway. I tell him to be gentle and put her down, but he is now nuzzling her and saying her name. He calls her "Xinge". The startled look on her face melts and she realizes that he is just playing with her. I don’t know if she will ever get used to him and his boyish playing style.

But we have these creatures in our homes for generations, and we love them as if they are children. The lines blur and we do think of them as our children. Some cultures are appalled that we let such dirty animals in our homes and on our couches, even in our beds. But we take care of them, and give them baths, and groom them. Yet, they are not human. What is it about them that inspire such love and loyalty?

When I was a child, I had a teddy bear named Smoky that I loved with an intensity that scared me. I think the bear was actually my sister’s but somehow I took it over and it became mine. He had a plastic face with a big smile and wide eyes, in the style of the 1950’s when Smoky the Bear was a popular icon. I loved the way he smelled, like warm winter clothes stored in a closet. He felt firm, well stuffed, yet his fur was nappy from all the little kid hands and sliding around on the floor he did. He was two-toned—his arms and legs were a lighter tan than his body. His face eventually cracked, but his smile never waned. I would look at him at night in the moonlight, and hug him tightly, loving him even more because he never moved, and all the love I felt would pour into his dusty bulky body. He was an instrument that brought me balance in my childhood. I walked among the shadows of night, and Smoky was right there beside me.

Smoky is long gone, replaced by my pets, I suspect. Singer sleeps beside me, but she is alive with her snorts and her paws that scratch the wall while she wrestles with squirrels in her dreams. She puts her paw square on my eye when she wants to get me up before the alarm. If it didn’t hurt, I would laugh—she wants to press the button of my eyes open, like baby Nathaniel would try to scratch pictures of Mickey Mouse from his book and demand, “Out! Out!” Dogs are children, children are dogs. But in a good way.