Moment where you feel something

Mechanical grinding opens the garage.  A chain driven start – always the same opening for what the day has to offer.

Cool grey, warm light, biting dark, wet air, wind?  All possible varieties of a new day experience.

The wonder of a dog as the door rises… leads this human spirit down the path.

Magic of Rain

Seeing them standing under their umbrella as we walked by; feeling the rain made me wonder if they knew what they were missing…

Mist in their hair, drops hitting their faces, fresh water running down their necks – No they missed all of this.

The Magic of Rain isn’t for everyone rinsed through my mind every time I said, “Come on, let’s go get wet” as we headed out the garage door to walk in our weather.

Reckoning Freedom

Having spent most of my almost half-century of living in the Pacific Northwest has given me the experience of watching people crowd into an area.

Observing as humans wade through the economic tides and refine the process of developing land, starting with the easiest and taking steps into the more difficult and less desired parcels.

A sort of reckoning takes place.  No change goes unpunished. Our natural environment has evolved over time into one that had its way of dealing with rainfall.  As human needs replace what was, weather dictates what will be.  The more hilly earth becomes smooth and paved, the more concentrated needs become for dealing with excess water when the rains fall.

An evolving complex formula has come about for building water retention sites.  These man-made ponds are camouflaged scars to the earth.  Displaying some examples of human bargaining with a blend of indigenous “natural plant-life” (cattails, grasses and trees) for wildlife and often some kind of appeal offering to the local payer of taxes (landscaping, trails and/or a park) to gain the right to develop, creating monuments to appease the gods of rain.  These places of reckoning are hotly debated for long periods of time, constructed relatively quickly, celebrated briefly and then quietly slide into being largely ignored.  Not Sarrah, she always spotted these places of reckoning and insisted that we investigate.

Two of these places evolved nearby in Sarrah’s lifetime.

The first one is located at the low point of a community college campus hidden behind a tennis court; it has a labyrinth of paved trails through trees and a bridge over the fluctuating pond.  I recall reading that some college classes were involved in the layout designing and choosing plantings, some studies probably continue.

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Another was constructed so that a three-field baseball park could be flat and dry.  This park is behind our re-located local Post Office.  The land was probably swampy pasture with some scrub trees and blackberry bushes before our International Airport grew making it too noisy for human habitation.  This water management creation has a fenced-in small pond, a rocky “dry river bed” and a much larger water retention pond below (we saw it seasonally dry out and fill to the top).  At times a choir of frogs fills the air with hypnotic notes.  The trails here are simple paths worn in the grass by shortcutting kids and dogs with people.

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When Sarrah discovered this place it became part of going to get my mail, the best part.

If it were up to Sarrah we would explore both of these typically quiet places on the same day, when freedom from commitments allowed, we did.

Salted Air Freedom

We continued to discover and frequent gems of common interest.  A favorite was a park, nearby.  We became regulars to Salt Water State Park, a nice mile plus round trip walk from home.  Here, the small public beach is choked by privately owned beaches, sea walls, rock cliffs, logs and rules.  The semi-sandy beach is about forty yards by twenty at high tide.  Currently it’s more than half covered by the naturally occurring, growing log pile gifted by storms and kept in place by law.  In the summer months the tide recedes further and if lucky enough or planned you can carefully walk out another fifty yards or so on the Barnacle covered rocks amongst the tide pools.  Here at an edge of the Puget Sound, where the ocean’s water works its way around the San Juan Islands, the small waves are more like swells.  These tired waves sort of heave themselves, splashing, thudding and pounding against the rocks.  Despite its shortcomings, Sarrah loved this place instantly.  She would often insist on going there by taking a hard right, instead of the left turn on our usual daily trek down Marine View Drive.  I am certain that my occasional “giving in” further fueled this action, but making time to enjoy small victories is good for all.  We probably hoofed that all terrain trek at least five hundred times over the years, and around one hundred shorter versioned, driven in stops.

Sarrah loved the Puget Sound, especially all of the creatures and smells that come with it.  She happily stole bits of clam, crab and mussels from harassed crows and seagulls, who had dropped them onto the paved pathways to break them open.  We walked the beach in search of sea glass (to collect) and sand dollars (to throw back), along the gurgling creek looking for fish, around the grounds and trails for less crowded nature.

Sarrah seemed to have an affinity for salted air, in all of its forms: warm and strong, crisp and bright, cold and damp or even the bone soaking driven by wind.  She led me to find and appreciate the less popular versions of marine air, which are highly addictive and ultimately better.

* * *

On her last day here I carried her down to the beach, sat on a log and held her so she that could see the view and smell the air one more time.

* * *

Saltwater Park was one of Sarrah’s favorite places to taste some freedom.

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Fog

August 2012 I attended a writing workshop titled “Making a Personal Metaphor from the Natural World” by the writer Matt Love at the Alder Creek Farm Conservation Site in Manzanita, Oregon.  This one-day experience was packed with many memorable moments, but the last couple of days keep bringing me back to one of the last writing prompt lessons of that day.

From Matt’s “Nature Metaphor Inventory List” prompts – we were to write down what first came to mind (and a bit why it was chosen):

Animal –

Bird – Eagle (don’t flock)

Water Creature –

Tree – Cedar (stay consistent)

Season – Autumn (cooling time)

Landform – Mountain (largely impenetrable)

Form of Precipitation – Fog (hard to see thru)

Astrological –Comet (flash & go away)

Element (gold, copper, etc.) –

Some I didn’t have a strong answer for in the short time given for each, so I skipped them.

Then we were to choose the one that best describes our individual writing style and expand on it, I chose Fog.

Here’s my list of why, because I:

–      Use a lot of questions (many go unanswered)

–      Don’t follow a linear path

–      Use punctuation… approved and Not, to affect! Cadence

–      Confuse those not paying attention

–      Like to intrigue and cause readers to wander and wonder

–      Find mischievous pleasure in drawing a reader in (once you start walking in fog, you have to keep going)

–      Hide small treasures for those who think

I’m not certain how accurate this was/is but it has been very foggy here for a few days and I kinda like it.

Winter Walking

The Pacific Northwest offers dampness in the longer evenings, the kind that makes bones ache a little, in the aged and the damaged.  These cold night walks were my least favorite, but also became part of our routine.  I found that ending each day with a stroll does let mental junk settle and unwind springs.  Living near the Puget Sound often brings moist cool marine air induced fog.  This heavy, thick, ‘cotton like’ mysterious air requires a little more caution when walking amongst distracted moving vehicles, due to poor visibility as it shrouds depth and changes perception.  Sarrah and I typically walked three times each day; we experienced all flavors of the weather that come to the Pacific Northwest.  Some varieties were appreciated more than others, but we grew to enjoy all of these experiences, together.

Snow!

Despite her lack of cold weather fur, Sarrah excitedly danced in our rare snow.  Many years, we do not get any snow near sea level.  Some winter’s we get a trace, others an inch or so as we did for Sarrah’s first, possibly instilling a lifelong zest for snow play.

On extreme occasion we get Buried with several inches, those heavy snowfalls were delightful, for Sarrah.  Her eyes got bigger; she made whimpers of excitement, when we finally got outside she would buck and bounce, jumping into the thick of it.  I used the longer leash, usually reserved for parks and beach walks, extending a fifteen-foot roving radius of restrained freedom for galloping through yards.  Like a kid off on a snow day I would bundle up and head out for the best, to turn her loose in the backyard to run, roll, dive and play.  She would gallop through the thick bright white fluff and occasionally stuff her nose into it, snorting with excitement.  It seemed that the huge fluffy flakes were her favorite kind, when the opportunity to get out into it came falling, we did.

Sarrah discovered regardless of the amount of this mysterious cold illuminating white stuff, it only stays here for a few days and then as quickly, it goes… away.

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Frost

Regardless of what the calendar tells us, our winter weather shows up (or doesn’t) when it feels like it, displaying another perk of living with our northern marine air.  During this time of year most things have a steel grey tone as the night takes a larger portion of the day and the sun often fails to shine through.  Even our evergreen plants seem darker, lacking in their color.  The once bright signs of Fall lose their color and clump into soggy piles of last years’ leftovers in the corners, becoming dreary coverings of decay and dormancy.

In the lower elevated, more populated areas of the Pacific Northwest we tend to be cold and often damp.  But on occasion, ready or not we have freezing temperatures and wake up to a bright fresh glazing of frost.  Sarrah discovered this crunch of frozen grass under paw to be a treat, loving to run with her nose right on the sparkling tips of the frosted blades.  Consumed with excitement by the mischievous spirit of Jack Frost tickling and tingling her snorting nose she would gasp for air while zigzagging the leash, dragging me around the block.  This annual random occurrence under the glowing streetlights was always good fun and warmed me with a smile.

 

Walking vs. Working

I believed that by taking a break midday I would just have to add that time onto the end of my workday.  I was wrong.  This break away actually recharged my brain with fresh air and made the rest of the day more productive, noticeably better.  Time out in the sun removed the distraction of it through glass, much like being out in wet weather restores appreciation for indoor work.  Regardless of the weather, getting outside to walk a mile loosened my back and made an improvement to my workday.  Our typical midday walk evolved into including a long stretch of the road aptly named, Marine View Drive.  This million-dollar view makes for a great walk with a glimpse of the Olympic Mountains, behind the Vashon and Bainbridge Islands across the Puget Sound.   

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Along the route we discovered a few older wind damaged trees from where eagles like to watch the world and nest, one even cried for us one day.  In eagle speak, it was probably yelling at us.  Sarrah just looked up at it for a moment, and then went back to sniffing.  I had never noticed these majestic birds, living within a quarter mile of me, before we started walking this road.  For many of my workdays, our walk simply became the best part.  When my dad retired he would join us, typically on Tuesdays.  We would walk and then go to lunch.  I knew it and thought about it often, that these days would become fond memories.

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Puppy Shenanigans

From the beginning Sarrah did not like to be alone.  She could hear me upstairs working, instead of playing with her, and howled most of the day in a display of what I was told is called “Separation Anxiety”.   For such a little being she could make the loudest most heart breaking howls, for hours at a time.  She would wail, most of the day, while I tried to ignore her and worked.  Creating a habit, I started taking many breaks to spend time a little time with her; she rewarded me with clumsy excitement and delight.  Leah eventually tried a prescription for this anxiety, but gave up on it.  As like many issues there is not a magic pill cure-all.

Sarrah did not like to be outside, alone.  She insisted that I join her!  She actually delighted in being outside, but solitude was not a friend to her.  When the weather was less than wonderful, she wanted nothing to do with it, alone.  She would sit by the door and whine.  If joined she would rally a little, at least long enough to take care of business and inspect the grounds.  In an effort to make the backyard more suitable for Sarrah I got her a ‘doghouse’, one of those nice modern two-piece molded plastic types resembling those in the monopoly game.  It was a larger version of the ‘cat condo’ that was frequently used and greatly appreciated by Tux and Simon.  Apparently it never became hers, as Sarrah rarely used the little house, so it was merely a place to store her toys and clutter the deck.

I knew nothing about Dalmatians’ except for that they make a good draw for a children’s story.  It turns out that they are a high maintenance, high-energy breed of dog.  They require lots of attention and outlets for this energy (or they will destroy whatever they find), at least in the case of Sarrah.  She chewed, dug and clawed her way through many material possessions in her youth.  Later, I saw part of dog show on television claiming that they were bred to trot under horse drawn carriages ten to fifteen miles per day in defense of the horses and people.  This explains a need for exercise, fierce loyalty to chosen humans, intrigue with large animals and aggression toward other threats.

After a few weeks Sarrah discovered a way to preoccupy herself, without howling.  At first I was relieved and happy, for both of us.  Then I heard a strange digging sound and went downstairs to investigate.  The little monster was sitting down while feverishly scratching a hole in the sheetrock, another hole, in a series of them.  It became my evening activity to mud the damages of the day, to keep the little beast from digging all the way through the wall.  She gave up on this evil obsession, after a few months.

Sarrah had an appetite for destruction.  Her first “cute dog bed” lasted less than fifteen unsupervised minutes.  Sarrah discovered the delightful white fluff inside made for a good tug-of-war opponent, thru a nipped hole.  This synthetic fluffy stuffing was everywhere!  I gathered it up and stuffed it back in the hole from which it came.  The next morning it was mostly all pulled out again.  I reinstalled the filling again, and again.  This game lasted a few days until the bed finally gave up holding together and was tossed into the trash.

Leah special ordered a personalized engraved dog tag; it lasted less than eight hours, becoming a mangled bit (leaving what she couldn’t get to) of red and white plastic that now said “—rah”.

Tennis balls were quickly plucked bald, giving way to yet another mess and green fuzzy dog turds.  She would go crazy with these balls; grip them with her paws, chew and pull in a mesmerized frenzy that didn’t end until her mission was complete.  At least they were intended targets for destruction and easily replaced.

Despite a huge growing collection of toys; balls, bones and things that squeaked (for the approximate ten minutes that it took to tear out ‘the squeaker’) Sarrah seemed to prefer boring, regular everyday ‘around the house’ things to chew on.

For some reason Sarrah discovered a taste, an insatiable appetite, a gnawing fetish for… footwear.  She liked all kinds, new and old; chewy flip-flops’, tasty backed sneakers and the delightful tug of war promised by bootlaces.  Since we live with the household ‘no shoe’ policy, there is always a plentiful source, by each entrance to the house.  She would chew at least one of each pair, before time willing, going back for the second unmolested shoe.  The unexplained desire to chew off the back of the heel of sneakers and running shoes, rendering them useless, was exceptionally irritating.  Bootlaces are fairly inexpensive, but are not an easily obtained important part of the early morning workday.  I recall that she finally gave up her footwear compulsion after a couple of years and could finally be trusted to leave them alone.

One warm day, while taking a break I went into the kitchen to get some water.  I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye, and again, and again.  Each time I moved closer to see what was going on…it was flying dirt!  As I got to the sliding door, all that I could see was her hind end sticking up out of the ground.  Her tail wagged in a staccato that would impress a Jazz musician, as it kept time with the small explosions of dirt flying out of the hole in the ground, the current hole in the ground.  My once prized backyard looked like old war footage with holes throughout.  When she heard me open the sliding door, the dirt covered little terrorist came running over delighted in discovering her new digging skills and the endless supply of nice flat ground to practice on.  I filled them in, scolded her and went back to work.  I checked on her later and repeated my steps.  We did this frequently for days, weeks and months.

Fortunately Sarrah was only out when the weather cooperated and she did not like that I buried her ‘bio-hazard land mines’ that she left, in the new holes and eventually stopped digging.  My yard hasn’t been “perfect” (nor will it ever be again) since Sarrah showed me that ‘there is more to life’.

As the clumsy puppy grew more coordinated and discovered her birthright for speed, the backyard became an amusing ‘Speckle-job Speedway’.  The little black and white blur made for contrasting excitement.  She discovered that running a figure-eight pattern allowed for limitless distance and honed her skills at banking, in either direction.  She would hole-shot launch from zero to fifteen plus miles per hour, sometimes after the cats, but often for no apparent reason at all other than perhaps burn off steam or just to show off.  If the cause was High Speed pursuit of the cats, they quickly evaded and would taunt her from safe vantage points of the fence, smirking as she went wild with crazy puppy excitement.

Sarrah would instantaneously takeoff running on the deck that runs the length of the house; her gouging toenails would add yet more scars to the wood.  As Sarrah got stronger, she began to jump up onto the built-in bench.  It seems that Sarrah had learned a few tricks from Tux and Simon; she would sit and lay on the bench for sunshine, view advantage and I think mostly to pose, like a cat.  In time, with practice the bench began to serve as a launch platform into the yard, adding to her range for flight and to the collection of toenail scars.  Soon after she began to shoot under the bench at full speed, so often that she permanently wore the hair off of a small area on her chest from deck friction.  As the scars in wood fade into seasoned marks of character and distinction sealed between coats of stain, they become preserved reminders that ‘Sarrah was here’.

When Sarrah was old enough, Leah enrolled her in an obedience class.  She returned after the first class beaming with all kinds of pride because “Sarrah was the best behaved in the class” and everyone was so impressed with her mellow demeanor and cooperation.  I could not believe it!  After the second class, Leah came home in a huff.  Sarrah’s true colors came out and she was a disruptive menace causing many problems with the others, as she never really liked other dogs.  I laughed, that’s the Sarrah I knew!  The next class was their last.  The instructor asked them not to return.  Perhaps a lack of practice and homework was a part of the downfall of Sarrah’s school days (Huck Finn would’ve been proud).  Sarrah always seemed to be a quite, mellow observer until she knew enough of the situation and was comfortable enough to fly her real colors.

In addition to dealing with behavioral matters, there were other adjustments to my home.  Dalmatians have hair, not really much for fur.  This hair is like short little pins that they constantly shed, which in turn persistently stick into all things made of fabric and static cling to everything else.  The blend of white, black and gray hairs ensures that some will be noticed, regardless of clothing color.  I used to say; with a bit of disgust “I’ll be finding her hair, everywhere, for the rest of my life!”  Now I say to myself with a tinge of repose “I’ll be finding her hair, everywhere, for the rest of my life”.

Through the times of Mayhem and Destruction, I made a discovery or at least a bit of dark humor.  I began to joke, “The reason puppies are so Cute, is so that you don’t kill them!”  Sarrah caused many moments of all consuming anger, but I suppose the fault ultimately lies with the humans responsible for the situations.  She won me over with affection, made me laugh and earned forgiveness for those issues that became less significant.

Fortunately I salvaged some of the ‘dog bite enhanced’ items (moving blanket, flip-flops, pull start handles, misc. wooden handled tools, extension cords, etc.  These “damaged items” are new ‘signs of life’ or souvenirs’ (aka. Gifts) proof that I am able to live with less than perfect material things and am actually a little proud of it.