I got nothin’ today, so here’s a picture of Summer curled up on the love seat.
The wind chimes were a present from our dear friends who witnessed our at-last exchange of vows almost 20 years after we met. The chimes hung from the eaves outside my window in the old office and provided a tuneless melody that played during these musings for most of the last nearly six years now.
For that reason — and the fact that Red can’t sleep with a tuneless melody constantly ringing along — the wind chimes had to migrate with the rest of my office to this end of the house. Alas, Red will not let me mount the 20-foot ladder that would be needed, or let me on the roof to approach from the top so I can hang the chimes from the eaves at this end. Before, I could casually reach from the deck and hang them by the window.
And so I bought a shepherd’s hook and hung them in the garden underneath the window, It turns out the melodious no-tune is just as soothing from below as from slightly above. And there’s a gale warning tonight, so it’s quite a tune.
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Summer needed a walk, so we went out on the field, up on the mound, beside the old irrigation trench, and into the woods, where she sniffed around and found the perfect stick, which she carried all the way back to the house, passing occasionally to lie down and gnaw at it.
I wondered if she would still love it after it had lain on the porch for a few hours drying in the sun. Not only did she still love it, but for the past four days, every time we go out the front door, she has picked the stick up and carried it into the yard for more gnawing.
Quite a few years ago now, I bought a pack of Uni-Ball Jet Stream Sport pens and fell in love with how they fit in my hand. It’s the most comfortable pen I ever owned. I have not written with anything else since, and I routinely buy refills so I can reuse the pens over and over. It feels weird to wield any other pen.
There I was, writing with my ever-present Jet Stream Sport about Summer’s obsession with one particular piece of wood. I know all about finding the perfect stick.
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I was browsing through an old journal and found a reference to an adventure story I was working on that I’d completely forgotten. And so there’s another item on my list of unfinished projects. Strangely, instead of raising the same old frustrations, I felt a jolt of pleasant rediscovery.
Not: “OMG, I can never finish anything! It’s miserable!”
But: “OMG, look at all these stories I have yet to tell! It’s wonderful!”
I’m finding that wonder is more fun than misery.
She had been in this body for a little more than a year, and the colding time was starting to return. She had trained her human to take her outside, when she gave the signal, to let her deposit waste on the edges of their yard. He always attached a length of cord to her necklace so that they wouldn’t be separated, for his safety no doubt, because the wheeled machines that sped along the smooth path up the hill looked like they could be lethal.
Sometimes, before the ceremony of the waste, the two of them would stand side by side in the dark, staring up at the sky or across into the darkness, which was quieter now with the colding on its way. In warmer times they would listen to the cricket and frog song together and contemplate the width and breadth of the universe.
Tonight, after the ceremony, he started toward the door to their abode, but she pulled him toward the smooth path. A short length of smoothness led off the main path and into the abode, and her humans owned two of the lethal machines. They had all ridden together in the machines, which were quite comfortable inside and took them to strange other worlds. The machines reminded her of other vessels, but these did not fly.
She walked her human to the top of the hill, then sat back on her haunches and looked up. The moon near the horizon was due to set in a couple of hours, and stars by the million twinkled in the cloudless sky. He sighed, and she too was overcome by a sad homesickness.
They looked up at the tiny lights in the sky, and he spoke for the first time.
“What do you see out there, girl?” he said. “Do you see your home? Are you from the Dog Star? Lord knows there are times you don’t seem like you’re of this world.”
She raised her eyebrows at that. It was almost as if he knew, but of course he couldn’t. For all he would ever know, she was born on this planet, one of many wrigglers who scattered to different homes with different humans, all of them charmed by their wriggliness. They sometimes seemed to suspect, just like her human had just now, but they never really understood. They couldn’t.
She was on a mission — a mission to bring peace to a troubled world — a mission that millions before her had been a part of. “Are you from the Dog Star?” He wasn’t capable of knowing how close he was to the truth. On the other hand, he did seem to be more intuitive than others of his species, so — no, she was crediting him with too much intelligence.
The Dog Star winked at them from all those light years away, and she had a pang of sadness because she would never be there again.
He sighed again. “Well, let’s go back to the house. It’s getting cold out here.” And she led him back to shelter.
He seemed calmer than he had when they woke that morning. One day at a time, they said. Slowly, slowly, one human at a time, the mission was accomplishing its purpose.
She follows me around the house, sleeps at my feet, and drapes her front legs over my back when she wants to play. If I get up and walk from one room to another, I may find someone walking so close behind me that her nose bumps the back of my leg.
Half the time when I let her out to do her doggie business and close the door behind her, she turns and waits for me to reopen the door and come with her, as if I’m supposed to stand guard.
But we can’t let her out of the house without a leash dragging behind her so that we can catch her when it’s time to come in. When we say, “Come, Summer, come in the house now,” she suddenly acts as if she’s deaf.
I have never known a dog who so adamantly refuses to learn the command “Come.” Even when I have the leash in my hand, she resists coming into the house. If she starts sniffing something foul on the ground and I say, “No, leave it,” she will pretend to obey and go sniff elsewhere, but eventually she’ll circle back to the original foul thing, or else she’ll ignore me altogether.
Summer is not a stupid dog; she just has no respect for authority. She is happy to be by my side, but she’s not going to obey arbitrary orders like “It’s time to come into the house.” Her movements have to be on her own terms. No one else is going to be her boss. It’s her life and she will live it as she pleases.
The word anarchist, of course, has its roots in the Greek word anarkhia, meaning “without a ruler,” and the word fits this beast. She is unruled and unruly. If someone tries telling her to do something, if she wants to do it she will, and if she doesn’t she will not. She is the sole boss of her. Anarchist is a perfect word to describe her.
I’m starting to think I really love this dog.
The pads on a young dog’s feet help you know that you’re dealing with a young dog. A puppy’s paws are soft and smooth, and she slides across a smooth floor. An older dog’s paws are rough after many years of running and playing and dancing across rough and ready ground.
Dogs are important to heart health, because a heart needs to melt at least once a day to remain resilient and fend off things that go bump in the night, politicians, and other scary stuff.
Summer lay next to me while we watched Jeopardy! Tuesday night, lost in whatever REM adventures were keeping her entertained, and I took several photos of her from odd angles. The one that featured her soft, smooth paw pads lingered with me the most, for some reason, at least in the first review.
We all start out soft and smooth and get filed down to worn and calloused. Every so often we need a reminder that we were softer once, so that we can hang on to a remnant of that blank slate that was our bundle of opportunity, that youthful enthusiasm, and that readiness to take on the world. That is why we adopt puppies, to be that reminder.
Sometimes Summer waltzes over and insists that I pay attention, leaning into me with an eagerness to hug and be hugged. Most of the time, though, she curls next to me or sprawls on the floor. I think she is sleeping, but sometimes I reach a hand down and stroke her shoulder or neck, and she sighs, almost as if all that time lying there she was waiting for my touch, just that brief connection that says yes, I’m here, and I know you’re there, and I’m so grateful for it.
I’m still shaken by the sudden loss of Summer’s predecessor, with whom I had one of those magic bonds between human and canine that you read about. But the end of that life set some sort of cosmic clock in motion that determined that when we were ready again, and looking for a puppy, Summer would be there. Without the ending this sweet animal would not be named Summer, she would make connections of a different nature with a different set of humans, and the world would not be the same in so many ways.
We drove down the road on the way to pick out a puppy, trying dozens of names out for size. We didn’t know what name we wanted, but we trusted we would recognize the right name when we found it. Sure enough, when the name Summer rose into our consciousness, we both got lumps in our throats and tears in our eyes that said, “Yes. We’re going down to find Summer and take her home.”
And here she is, curled up and comfortable, and this is home. Her paws are smooth and soft and her journey has barely begun, but one thing at least is certain: She is home. She is surely home.
This is our 1-year-old, Summer. Today is the 363rd day that she has resided with us; Sunday is the anniversary of her coming home. Puppies turn into dogs so quickly, but yes, they are here and gone faster than you can imagine.
This is a stubborn beast. She absolutely will not respond to “Summer, come!” although she does look up when you call her name, so she understands that the word is a code meaning “me.” She just doesn’t care whether we want her to come.
The good news is that when I feed the dogs, I sing a variation on the old song by the Jamies, “Summertime Summertime.” It goes “It’s … Suppertime, Suppertime, sup, sup, suppertime, Suppertime Suppertime sup sup supper time, Suppertime for Summer time, Supper time for Dejah too, Supperti-i-i-ime.” When she is reluctant to come in from the back yard, I sing the Suppertime song, and up she roars. Of course, I must give her a dog treat when she arrives, but it’s a small price to pay for her company.
She loves to tease her 9-year-old sister into a tug of war by literally nipping at her heels. Dejah is a good sport who usually gives a big sigh and enters the fray.
There have been dogs in my life constantly for about 40 years now, and retrievers have been in the mix for well over half of those years. They do love to retrieve; Summer is a stereotypical ball chaser and/or ball catcher, although she is sometimes reluctant to bring the ball back in a straight line or surrender it: see the above reference to “a stubborn beast.”
They teach us how to love. Summer is never very far away, and she has assumed the space on the bed that was usually occupied by her predecessor. In other words, she has come, she has seen, and she has conquered. It seems like Summer has always been here and always will be, the latest in a line of beautiful animals that love us at our best and worst, in sickness and in health, and are always willing to provide a pair of puppy eyes and a boatload of snuggly love to comfort us as needed.
So, Happy Anniversary, Summer. Come! or not.
[Note: Sharp-eared listeners will notice a discrepancy in the opening paragraph. When I recorded this I thought it was Thursday night already, so I said “364th day.” I plead temporary insanity, or a senior moment, or some such.]
Summer and I have begun taking walks through our land of late. For now I have to keep her leashed, but I try to let her lead the way for the most part.
We may wander near our wildflowers, up and down the septic mound, or as we did Wednesday morning, through the woods. Summer was most intrigued by an old plastic Adirondack-style chair, which we used to sit in, but is now well on its way to being more or less reclaimed by Ma Nature.
Dean Wesley Smith wrote the other day about walking through a mall and seeing a couple of toddlers delighting in the exploration of it all, with their mothers watching carefully but smiling at their kids’ fun. One ran over and lovingly petted a stone elephant. Smith used it as a metaphor for the creative process.
The kids are the creative voice, having fun running this way and that and finding new ways to love life in every corner, and the moms are the critical voice, keeping a watchful eye out that the kids don’t get in trouble but, for today, letting them run and play.
“So next time you sit down at your writing computer, just let the creative voice run and play and pet the stone elephants. You might be surprised at how much fun you have writing and how good what you write turns out to be (if you leave it alone.)”
Perhaps Summer is her own metaphor for the creative process.
As she and I amble through the woods, Summer sometimes wants to run like the wind and I have to hold the leash with both hands. Sometimes she stops to sniff an old tree or nibble on some grass a little too long, and I give her a little tug. She may willingly yield and come along with me, or she may stand her ground and keep sniffling.
I look forward to the day when, like her beloved predecessor, I can just step outside with Summer and she will run and play and sniff and chase off-leash, because I can trust her to come back to me when I call her.
There is a feeling here that the day I let my creative juices off the leash is when the real magic will start happening. But, to extend the metaphor, before you can fly and be free you must first learn how to fly. Summer must learn how to stay in the yard before she can be free to run around the yard.
They say the great improvisational musicians know their instruments and the music so well that they can soar off the written page and create something new and inventive on the spur of a moment. If I want to write something that perhaps breaks the rules and takes the reader to a whole new place, I first need to know what the rules are and master working within those rules.
Those kids and Summer (the creative voice) will someday run and play without Mom or the leash (the critical voice) needing to hold them back. And what a day that will be.