It’s a tough shot — not so much because of the distance (from where picture was taken) or the small target, but because the missile has a tail (we use long, plastic newspaper bags) and the ballast is weighted unevenly. You can’t throw overhand or at least, I don’t, and hence you have very little control. How satisfying to nail it!
Was my aim improved by an hour long walk through sunny, summery, quiet neighborhoods? Three-quarters of the way along a sour knot in my gut disappeared. Just by walking. In the sun. With my dog.
We saw lavender blooming on Ripley Street, two Chinese brothers heading to the T in matching pj’s and yellow caps on Braeland with their dad, people out jogging, cycling and walking their dogs. Closer to home, the lavender has yet to blossom, but on Walter Street we were treated to sun-illumined rust-vermillion Japanese maple leaves and a morning dove perched up on a cable backed by blue sky.
Finn had a Training Victory on our walk, too — a trifecta. Some other time.
Given the TV’s current state, I’m plowing through a memoir called, “They Left Us Everything” — a book recommended by a blog reader a couple of weeks ago. This was Plum Johnson’s debut effort and it came at age 68. Sixty-eight!
The book won an RBC Taylor prize, an award for literary non-fiction that “best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception.”
The memoir is interesting and well-written. Doesn’t hold a candle to “H is for Hawk”, but then, very few memoirs do (that’s like comparing debut historic fiction to “Wolf Hall” by Hillary Mantel — it just isn’t fair — but I think it’s the last memoir I’ve read?)
Johnson crafts nuanced portraits of complicated parents, not just their late, declining years, but their more vibrant youth as well. Both of her parents led interesting lives — informed by tragedy, travel and unusual circumstances. Johnson gets at the essential unknowability of parents by their children, something made plain as she sorts through their belongings.
Her mother was a piece of work and her father over-reliant on military experience as a benchmark for parenting. And yet, whatever wounds linger they scarcely show up on the page. Whether this is a testament to Johnson’s person or her writing style is hard to judge. It does strike me that building a narrative around the objects of her parents’ lives may have kept a certain kind of self-reflection at bay.
I like memoirs that get down and dirty too, but the absence of grudges, whining, or blame is notable.
I don’t know nearly as much about my parents’ courtship or their early work lives as Plum Johnson does about hers.
On our second walk, Finn and I rounded the corner to find a huge heart-shaped cloud, like a blousy kiss from the sky.
And now it’s gonna rain again — no wonder I’m ecstatic about puffy white clouds and doves backed by blue sky. Man! Meanwhile, the catalpa blossoms that seemed celebratory days ago now clump in wilting piles of rot, four inches deep in places. Sweep. Sweep. Sweep. And grab. Good thing I’m totally into sweeping these days (seriously into sweeping). And good thing this old bod can still squat with ease.
Well, I might have shingles, the country’s gone belly up internationally, I had to order my sister a commode because she’s having trouble walking to the bathroom, and the sound of trucks beeping in reverse is unceasing, but there are iris!
And, unbeknownst to me: four regal and giant lions on a barely traveled industrial cut through behind the Needham Pet Co.
Dog people are stalwart, good communicators, aware of personal and canine boundaries, committed to the task of training. Many of their capabilities are nonverbal and barely register to the human eye, meaning they are sensitive and subtle, too. They tend to be kind. They tend to be patient.
I am not a dog person. Not yet, anyhow.
This post catalogs a few encounters that Finn and I had this morning (plus one remembered incident). If you don’t have time to read 1,100 words, you might want to skip to the end and at least read about the German Shepherd and his guy. They were kind of amazing.
It’s 98 degrees out now, but even this morning before nine, it was brutally hot. So I decided to take Finn to Crystal Lake where I hoped to exhaust him without inducing heat stroke. To get to the lake, we cut through an off-leash park. We’ve played fetch there on occasion with mixed results. It’s okay as long as the other dogs are far away and their people are paying attention, but it’s always a little bit of a risk.
This morning we happened to get pinned by two incoming dogs, both off leash.
After I alerted the closer woman that Finn was reactive, she immediately abandoned the stroller she was pushing, grabbed her yellow lab by his harness and hooked him up to a leash. She then quietly put some distance between us. A dog person.
The other woman didn’t need a verbal cue because by then Finn was barking his head off. Nevertheless, she sauntered off toward the far side of the field. She sauntered off to the far side of the field while her poodle bounded toward us. This woman sauntered off to the far side of the field, pretend-calling her dog, while I restrained mine using a considerable amount of effort. I’ve done this many times before and have some confidence in my ability to restrain Finn, but she doesn’t know what I can or can’t do. If she bothered to look, she’d see a five foot tall woman working really hard to manage a dog that is hysterical because her dog is bounding toward us.
She kept chirping the dog’s name, as if she was actually calling the animal. But anybody could see that her dog was no more trained to come that I’m trained to do a Simone Biles gymnastics routine.
Most dogs aren’t trained to come, including Finn. It’s a 10,000 calls-kind of thing, with increasing amounts of distraction, so I didn’t judge her on that account. I judged her for acting as though she had trained him. Chirp. Chirp. She knew that dog wasn’t gonna come. La-dee-dah. Did I mention the bounder was a poodle with a pom-pom tail?
Not a dog person.
Needless to say, by the time we got to the Lake, I was a little wiped (that wasn’t the first episode of the walk). The heat was oppressive already and even though I’m practiced at these encounters, they’re still stressful.
The last time Finn and I were at the lake he attacked another dog, so I brought thirty foot leash. The sight lines at our spot are terrible and to make matters worse, I have to keep my back to the pathways to throw the ball. Up until the recent attack, I assumed that Finn’s intense play would keep him engaged. Oops!
He bolted past me that day and went after a dog just past the tree line. In her panic, the owner dropped the leash and backed away, leaving her dog to fend for himself. I got there quickly, of course, and pulled a crazed Finn away. Fortunately, he doesn’t bite in these episodes — just scares the shit out of everyone.
But to drop the leash? Really?
These bursts of ‘reactivity’ are terrifying, don’t get me wrong. And while I know that his behavior springs from insecurity rather than aggression, no one on the receiving end has any reason to make such a distinction. So while dropping the leash made this woman human, it also revealed her status : not a dog person. I’ve seen a fifty year old woman tackle a golden retriever to interrupt a snarling, teeth-gnashing encounter, for god’s sake. That’s a dog person.
Interceding that day took a few minutes, so there was a delay before I could turn and make an apology. To her it may have felt like an afterthought. I’ll take it as a ‘dog person badge’ that I didn’t care, recognizing as I do now that my primary responsibility in these situations is to Finn.
If I hated the poodle-lady just a little (did I mention it was another god-damned poodle?), it wasn’t because she wasn’t a dog person, it was the way her wilted, victimized response almost seemed like a prelude to a law suit. If you don’t live in Newton, Mass., trust me — this kind of reaction is not out of the realm of possibility. Even absent a bite.
So today things seemed to be working out. The leash let Finn bomb into the water with glee, grab the ball, and come bounding back in that joyful way of his and let me know that I’d be able to restrain him if necessary.
That’s when a beautiful one year old German Shepherd and his guy arrived. Right behind us. As Finn blasted through the water to charge the dog, I had to hustle to gather up the slack. I managed, leash-webbing burns on my hands notwithstanding. It was the usual wild barking, the usual me backing him up, the usual continued wild barking, me being stern and then generally, a semblance of calm. Usually the uproar ends because the other dog gets far enough away and not because of anything I’ve done, but today Finn settled even with the shepherd near.
That guy stood there, calm as a brick wall. Not surprisingly, so did the dog. Not a growl, no hackle peak, no returning volley of barks – nothing.
Then, the man actually asked me, “Do you think they want to meet?”
I was nearly speechless with admiration.
Because I don’t have the confidence to do this yet, never mind the fact that I’d already emptied my adrenals once or twice that morning, I declined. But what happened next was just beautiful.
This guy set up a game of fetch just down the beach a bit, at what, really, was a phenomenally strategic distance. Not so far away as to make the shepherd irrelevant to Finn, but slightly inside his comfort zone. With casual precision, this guy established a session of parallel play that doubled as training. I was so, so impressed.
You might think I’m going overboard, but I’m not. This man probably didn’t have to think overly hard about where to start throwing the tennis ball, but he knew enough about dogs in general and about our situation in particular to respond in an intuitive manner that was both respectful and useful.
Because that’s what dog people do.
Two weeks ago, I was going down various paths on the internet which sometimes feels like going down a rabbit hole. Down and down you go! Poof! There goes the morning.
Some of the search terms: charms, voodoo, voodun, sigils, veves, Celtic knots, hemlock, protection. Remarkably enough, at some point using the query “veve, protection,” I came to a site with information about Yoruban cosmology that included a picture of the walking labyrinth at Boston College. It is particularly remarkable when you consider that by then I was specifically hoping to find a symbol from my own (Irish) tradition.
And there it was: not only my tradition, but my neighborhood, and even, my alma mater (which a friend reminded me means, “nurturing mother”) (BCLS ’89). This labyrinth is less than two miles from my home. So, of course I went.
Based on a pattern found at Chartres Cathedral, it is a unicursal — meaning that there is only one way in and one way out. The labyrinth was built as a memorial, dedicated to the twenty-two Boston College alumni who were killed in the 9/11 attacks.
The design was an aid to meditation because no choices needed to be made about what direction to pursue. As I walked it, I prayed for my sons, for the descendants of the enslaved, for justice and peace and healing for our country — the usual, urgent things. But braided in and around those other things, was the prayer that I could somehow come to more regularly believe in my own essential goodness. It took about an hour. Afterwards, I felt grounded and renewed.
I went into the library and found more lovely and potent Celtic images — I’ll save those for another time perhaps.
Here is the charm I came up with. It’s a first pass and not original.
I like how the photo on the right crops the door molding into a crucifix.
Before the labyrinth walk, we went to Montreal. After, Schenectady. This weekend we will lay down compost and mulch and I will cook chicken and wilt greens with loads of garlic and we will figure out where to put some of my son’s things.
And: I will finish the Hearts for Charleston quilt (she said, but really meaning it). The front has been done for weeks but the labeling continues. Liz Ackert helped out generously by supplying some very beautifully stitched names. I am writing up the cover letter and ‘legend’ and will photograph the piece as soon as the last labels are on. My goal — by Friday of next week.
The first anniversary of the Emanuel AME murders in Charleston is only five weeks away.
Yesterday, frigid wind made a current of powdery snow race along the field’s surface turning it into something like a broad shallow river. The field was rippled this morning as a result. Two acres of scalloped arcs no artist could have designed better!
The moments up there are bright: Finn and his happy retrieval; startlingly blue skies; sun glaring off an expanse of white.
This morning a single contrail divided the sky so that when I threw the ball with the launcher, it looked like it might arc up and over the vapors.
We lost the ball. Two days in a row. Even an orange lacrosse ball can bury itself to invisibility in a couple of inches of snow. But I found an African drum! It’s broken but still… looks playable, worth keeping.
Had all kinds of things to say, but as this day winds down I find myself tired, spent with writing elsewhere.
There is so much that I want to write about — storytelling, historic research and how synchronicity can make it exciting and affirming… recently discovered facts about the year right before the Lucas family left Antigua, which changes my view of their decision to leave the small Leeward Island quite radically and feeds later scenes with a specificity that I just love.
But for now I am literally snowed under. It just keeps coming. There are calling this steady slow accumulation an ‘event’ rather than a storm, but the mind boggling part is how much more may fall: POSSIBLY TWO MORE FEET!! I managed to get up to Salem yesterday, the first time in two weeks — the visit being squeezed between snow storms and snow events. (That’s my sister’s ‘sidewalk’ below).
It seems odd to write this, but there’s an upside right now to my sister being practically a shut in — and that is: this weather has very little impact on her. I arrange for groceries to be delivered and worry about her slipping on her iced up sidewalk should she go out to check her mail. But otherwise, not much changes for her.
The city will be shut down tomorrow (again). Schools closed everywhere (again). The T will run on an abbreviated schedule. K will work at home. This interim time of puppyhood / snowstorm continues weirdly unhinged from former routines — most notably sewing and writing.
But, this morning I was up at four and did write (I love the quiet of the early hours!) and was out of doors walking Finn by six-thirty. There’s a lot to be said for these forced marches, even if they are complicated by gloves, boots, specialty leashes, treats, dog doo, etc. The bracing air and the quiet streets have a way of feeding the soul.
Tomorrow is my birthday, which means I am thinking of my mother.