verge (vʉrj)
the edge, brink, or margin (of something): also used figuratively the verge of the forest, on the verge of hysteria

to tend or incline (to or toward)
to be in the process of change or transition into something else; pass gradually (into) dawn verging into daylight

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Cody showed up in the doorway as a gift.  I don't mean that he is mine--I only met him once.  But he came quietly and left me the gift of abiding companionship.

It had been a strenuous journey.  Exhaustive trips to doctors and hospitals were now over, but inwardly the effort had intensified. In the last few days, my ear had become fixated on Diane's breath, and each inhale was noted and evaluated.  Each exhale was noted and evaluated.  Each single breath was its own accomplished performance and each commanded attention.  I wondered at what point the breaths had become voluntary.  What was impelling each new inhale--the body or the soul?

By early Saturday morning, her fatigue was beyond relief.  I sat on her window seat wrapped in a blanket, staring at the bed rail, fixated on the breath. Hers, then mine.  How separate they were. After years of meditation on the breath, never had I experienced such a sense of now-ness.  The next breath didn't yet exist, and the last one had gone by.  I was struck that I could sit so intimately close to her and yet do nothing to shatter the loneliness of her work. Powerlessness.

As I sat listening to Diane, two women appeared at the door and asked if my friend would like a visit from a dog therapist.  Diane was not able to respond, but I certainly could and I gratefully accepted their offer.  I was utterly delighted by the surprise of this unexpected visitor!  A dog!  A dog! I hustled out into the living room where I met Cody, a very sweet young Shtizu who skipped introductions and immediately began his work.  I sat on the floor, still wrapped in my blanket, while he wrapped himself around my ankles and feet. For an hour I silently kneaded his ears, belly, and back.  Without any sign of boredom or fatigue, he patiently worked with me while I played.  He took his work in stride--he seemed to effortlessly shoulder the weight of my fatigue.  His eyes were bright.  Unafraid.

After our visit, I was at a loss as to how I could thank him.  How does a human being say thank you to a dog? Did he know what it meant to me?  Did he understand how he had soothed me? Humbled by his skill,  I trusted he already understood.  His companionship had shattered the loneliness of my work and with that, I resumed my perch.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gentle Giant

This Gentle Giant is named Remy.  He's a puppy, not even 6 months old, but he's already the size of a Volvo.  He's playful but benevolent.  The other day I had the unexpected pleasure of an extra visit while his moms were away.  As soon as we were in the yard, he began to tango with me, and as most of the the dogs know, the best way to butter me up is to ask me to dance.  We whirled and twirled and boogied, and in my joy and excitement, I called him Guthrie. Gasp--what a slip!  Guthrie was his predecessor who died last year, rest his soul.  How I loved Guthrie!  But here I was, having fun with this very young and eager Newfie who deserves to claim his own identity and to be called by his rightful name.  I made my apologies and he graciously agreed to continue our dance without holding any grudge.  On the sidelines sat old man Buddy (see Fenway Faithful from 8/23), still trying to come to grips with Papelbon's last inning and when invited to join us, he worked up enough energy to break a little sweat and bury the curse.  The three of us had a lovely visit and enjoyed what may have been the last day of fall, given the amount of snow we are accumulating today.

Remy never knew Guthrie but he certainly echos his traits.  It's incredible how both dogs could be so gigantic and at the same time take up so little space.  I always get a sense of their size by the way they guzzle water from their bowls.  Both manage to get water everywhere.  A bathtub isn't big enough.  And when walking in the back yard, watch your step!  That's huge, too.  Their collars can double as snow tires, and they don't chew wittle wittle treats, they chew logs.  And as massive as their size is their gentleness and loyalty.  They are meek.  Humble. They would never harm you, or call you by the wrong name.  They don't overwhelm others with incessant demands or yapping.  They assume a quiet place and act small, in spite of their mass.  I miss Guthrie, but I'm happy to have a chance to dance with Remy.

And why would a dog want to butter me up?  Why would any dog put his canine-hood on the line with a tango or cha-cha-cha?

Because he's also very smart.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dog Walker Tip #3

Wear the right shoes.  But now just hold on a minute.  Before you go looking for your beat up 1974 Bean gumshoes or your smelly old sneakers, consider your dog.  Your dog is down there near your feet. Your dog has to look at your feet.  Your choice of shoes carries huge psychological, emotional,  and physical implications. After all, your feet connect you to the earth.  They ground you.  Your head may be up in the clouds, but it's your feet that carry you forward.  What you think might be sensational, but it's your feet that get you there. Our entire cultural progress may quite possibly be carried forward in your feet.  Simply put, your shoes matter.

My random surveys and the empirical evidence indicate that contrary to public opinion, the attitude of the shoe has a greater impact on the quality of the walk than the actual physical make up of the shoe.  Just pause a second and  absorb that idea: attitude over practitude.  My theory is this:  dog walkers know they must be assertive and in command.  Dogs want this.  It gives them a sense of calm to know you move the pack. One of the ways we convey our alpha-ness is in our walk.  Thoreau sauntered; we strut. Every trail, sidewalk and roadway is your runway.  And you can't strut if you're wearing shoes that say hunched-over garden mulcher, dazed grocery shopper, or lazy bum.  And that, my friend, trickles down to poor Spot.  He'll slump, he'll drag, he'll look away. Worse yet, his tail will droop. Remember, Spot has been waiting all day to see you get out of your chair and take the leash in hand.  He's patiently waited while you've emptied the garbage, checked your email, snoozed in front of the game. At last, this is your moment together--a dance atop the surface of the earth that only you two share.  Dress it up!  Be stylin'! Leave a trail! Make him proud!

I suggest cowboy boots, black patent leathers, or gold-toed flats.  Try purple suede clogs. Wear shoes that go clickety-click down the street.  If you're a hot ticket, your dog becomes a hot ticket. Watch and see.  And when other dogs approach, notice as his head is held a little higher and he is especially well-heeled.  When your shoes have the right attitude, your head will follow.  And wherever your head is, so goes your dog's.  Do it for you.  Do it for your dog.  Do it for the world.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


No, Juggles is not one of my dogs, but it could be a clever name for one. I'm talking about actual juggling.  The thing clowns do.  Except that I'm not juggling tennis balls or bean bags.  I'm juggling water.  Cold water.  Water that's loose, not contained. Water that comes out of nowhere and seems to be going everywhere. The kind that you wish to contain, hold, and reroute, to get into an organized, reliable flow.

As part of my work, I got called to respond to a tragedy in NH this past week.  It was the  kind of story that sticks to you.  To my immediate left was a view of humanity at its worst.  To my right, on that very same line and in that very same arena, was the kindest of humanity.  It was like standing with one foot in icy cold water with the other in a gentle pool of warm.  Paradoxical truths. I am not capable of explaining some atrocities or making sense of them anymore than I am able to account for the goodness of people. Some things you just have to hold.  Or put down. But I came home from that experience and needed the company of Artemis and Biscuit.  Arty is a particularly attentive listener, as her picture illustrates.  We walked, I talked, they listened.  They hold it.  Where dogs put the things they hold for us, I don't know.

This picture does not show how in the background the furnace wasn't working.  It wasn't.  It absolutely wasn't.

And during the weekend while the furnace wasn't working and I was finding creative ways of restarting it (kicking it and then dusting it in a complex sequential combination), Diane's condition grew urgently worse.    It's hard to decipher whether it's the tumors themselves or the side effects of her medications that are causing her such difficulty and confusion, but again, it's like water.  We were once able to contain it and put it right where we wanted it.  There was some choice, some control, some method. Now, it's containing us--calling the shots, choosing the speed and velocity of the current, seeping in from all directions.  And like an ocean tide, no amount of will can keep this water from rising.

When I got home the next day, the furnace had stopped responding to my kicking and dusting.  It seemed to just take a seat in the basement and smirk at me.  "Say goodbye to your hot water, sister.  Kiss your 62 degrees goodbye." "Fine. Whatever." I said to It.

Fine, my foot.  Whatever....

With a college tour scheduled that same day, Meredith and I set off for the city.  We ventured forward, hoping our showerlessness would be masked by city distractions.  For a few hours, the power was all ours.  She and I ruled the show, and during our reign, we ruled out this particular college on the basis of a very boring and unimaginative tour.  We assume most colleges have libraries.  And dorms.  And writing tutors.  And Wi-fi. And security.  And activity clubs.  Tell us something about this college.  But I digress....

The next day was a day of hope, change.  The furnace people were coming.  My car was finally getting its estimate for last week's Big Truck Clobbers Little Corolla event.  Diane was feeling better.  Still unshowered, I went to school to do my work and regain control of all things.  The friendly furnace man came and gave me the kind of pastoral reassurance that says "There, there now.  It's all better.  That furnace will never pick on you again. Everything--every single Thing--is now in order."  I nearly bowed down to him.  From there it was on to the body shop where it will only be about $4000 to fix my little car (my little new car).

And then again last night, a bigger wave crashed down on Diane.  Another temporary solution is in place but oh, this water is surging fast.  There are people who help--whose job it is to deal with rising waters and know how best to navigate futility.  They are all on board, and they know best their own powerlessness against this tide.  It creates a sort of fellowship whose purpose is to go with this flow.

On my drive home, I ran through my small list of gratitudes.  These, I can juggle.  I can summon them on demand.  I have some control.  I have a handle on these.  They go right where I place them. The next day will be normal again.
Furnace: check.
Hot water: check.
Heat: check.
Car dents: check.
Job: check.
Quality time with Tucker and Boo: check.
Nursing care for Diane:  check.
See?  Everything is in order.

I walked in to my house at 11:30 pm.  Meredith was standing in the middle of the kitchen.

"Mom, the furnace isn't working."


Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Truck, a Furnace, Some Sky, and a Pair of Boots.

Today the weather was ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...just so oh-oh-oh.

I was in New Hampshire visiting Diane for the afternoon and the landscape was incredible.  New Hampshire in the fall can be nearly perfect if the weather is just right and today it was just that.  I am not able to describe just how beautiful it was because I would only wreck it by trying so I am left to just leave it to a sigh.

It had been the kind of week that leaves a bit of an aftertaste.  I had a couple presentations and I was short on time at all turns.  To add to the fun, a big grizzly truck clobbered my innocent little car (my innocent little new car) and hit it with enough force that my innocent little new car now needs a new back end and probably a new side panel.  It might actually be easier to list what it doesn't need.  But no one was hurt and the big truck was driven by a very nice and honest man, for which I am grateful, if not inconvenienced.  Ahem...

And then the furnace joined in my fun and for one morning refused to produce hot water.  Believe me--I'm not a furnace guy.  I venture down into the basement cautiously, admittedly because I'm still a little unsure about whether the boogie man exists or not.  And when I get down there, I'm not always entirely convinced I know which gizmo is actually the furnace but I know that when there's no hot water, it involves machinery in the basement.  By some stroke of luck, I identified the appropriate equipment and followed the directions posted on its front.  Voila! Noise!  I stood back--in fact I got way across the basement and cowered in case I had just pressed the Blow Up button and then, seeing we would survive, I called my furnace people.  They are coming to check things out but in the mean time, that button trick got the whole rig moving again and we have hot water, for which I am grateful.

In the midst of all this, I happened to pull on my cowboy boots and wore them to everything--my presentations, my dog walks, my Corolla accidents.  I thought I was wearing them to look smart. I'm not sure how they made me look but I can tell you this:  you can cop one heck of an attitude if you wear them.  And that's what happened. They could hear me comin' alright,  and I didn't get lip from anyone.  Even the dogs were a little more serious when we walked.  These boots meant business and somehow in spite of the sideshows, I got through all the presentations and meetings, for which I am grateful.

And then I got to this day.  As I started to say, the ride to and from New Hampshire was beautiful.  The combination of colorful leaves, the sky, the granite, the weathered shakes--beyond words.  My time with Diane--very dear.  We sorted papers and did some recycling which, in New Hampshire, is painstakingly detailed.  As I drove home, I got to just look again at the view.  I felt so comfortable all of a sudden.  My car (yes, the innocent little new car is drivable) seemed to fit on the road just right.  I fit in the car just right.  The trip fit into my day just right.  The way the landscape fit against the sky--just right.  I can't say why exactly because all my circumstances were exactly the same as they had been, but everything seemed to be the right size, the right shape, and the right time, for which I am grateful.

As I drove along, I looked down and checked my feet.  No cowboy boots. Go figure.

Dog Walker Tip #2: Be the Dog Walker

Don't be the cell phone talker, the ipod shuffler, or the concord grape picker when walking a dog.  Be a dog walker.  Your dog partner knows the difference and will respond in kind.  Own the role, walk the talk, lead with the heart, and use your common scents.

Penny for Your Thoughts

This is Penny.   She's an old girl who carries herself with dignity and elegance.  But there's something else there. She's got a story, I can tell. Yes indeed, I'm highly suspicious of this old girl. Her manners are impeccable, yet I'm convinced she skated on Roller Derby back in the day.  Take her to the Ritz and she knows what all the forks are for and how to properly sip soup, and she can also say that whole Rain in Spain thing, but look more closely. She also has that "Been Around the Block a Few Times" look in her eye that hints at days of chain smoking, shots of scotch, and motorcycle riding. Somewhere under that coat is a tatoo that says Bubbles. Clearly she's been banged up and burned out a few times--her fur is matted and she's got a constant tremor in her hind end (probably nerve damage from one too many body slams against the boards).  But it's also clear from her expression that she has put that life behind her and isn't impressed about much except the day's weather and what you might have in your pocket for her.  Talk with her a bit about the state of the world and the latest in designer dog production and she just sighs, shakes her head, and murmurs 'yeah, yeah, yeah....'.

I don't know her in a formal sense but during my visits with Reilly, Penny can always be found hanging out on the street, or, like the other day, sleeping on Reilly's front stoop.  I thought she was waiting for Reilly but then I realized she was actually waiting for me. As I've gotten to know her through these more informal terms, we chat about the weather or the dampness of the grass or the abundance of worms on the driveway.  I have not met her family--she seems to have free reign of the streets but I can see how they trust her and don't worry too much.  Penny would probably ignore whatever curfews are issued anyhow.

I am particularly fond of her.  For most of my life I've kept a small Steiff airedale on my bureau.  I think my grandfather gave it to me. When I see Penny it's as though my Steiff has come to life and so it feels as though we have known each other for many years.  I like to believe this kind of thing is true.  So I eagerly talk with her and catch her up on my latest news. She'll listen and occasionally have a few comments. And using this familiarity in the way I approach her, I am pretty sure I know what she really, really wants. With a hushed and raspy voice, she'll mumble something about a whiskey and a smoke, but what she truly wants is a cookie.  And it would be so lovely if it could be served it on a plate.  Yes, that's what Penny wants--a little cookie, and a little respect. Please, and thank you very much.