The ??th Annual What I’m Thankful For List

Thanksgiving is still several days away as I write this. But the more I contemplate the fearful unknowns and the ugly knowns of my country, the more I feel like turning back into a third grader and writing my I Am Thankful For list. This is one is completely off the cuff; I’m not even wearing cuffs. Just letting my mind ramble over bright spots. Like…

–having a job where I get to work with interesting, supportive people, and to make stuff like this:

(Courtesy Stephanie Smith and Holly B's Bakery)

(Courtesy Stephanie Smith and Holly B’s Bakery)

–having friends to sing with at (very nearly) the drop of a hat:

(Photo: Anne Whirledge-Karp)

(Photo: Anne Whirledge-Karp)

–being able to enjoy other people’s dogs vicariously, since we no longer have one:

"Which hand has the treat?" "Both?"

“Which hand has the treat?” “Both?”

Road Trips to visit Cute Cousins (more on this later):

"Quick, hide their ice chest! Then they can't leave!"

“Quick, hide their ice chest! Then they can’t leave!”

Will I be doing more of this in the coming months? Yes. Does it help? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Count whatever blessings you can, and be careful of one another.

Oh, and if you’d like to share some of your blessings here, I would love that.

Live Long and Prosper…With Puppies

Forget multivitamins or fish oil, or whatever’s billed as the secret to longevity these days. The REAL secret is not just to live long, but to live long HAPPILY. Right? And I know the secret to that: puppies.

It’s true; I have proof. The other day I called back home to North Carolina, expecting a nice long chat with my 80 year-old mom. My dad picked up, but instead of the usual, “Hi–let me get your mother,” he said, “Martha’s at a meeting.”

“Oh.” OK, this is going to be a short phone call. “Well, how are you? What’s been going on?”

Plenty, apparently. He started talking–mostly about the two new puppies he and my mom just brought home. They’ve been sending pictures, so this wasn’t news.

"We couldn't choose between them, so we got them both!"

“We couldn’t choose between them, so we got them both!”

What WAS news was how much OTHER news my dad had to share. We talked about his recent trip. My recent trip. The puppies. A book he loved. A book I loved. The puppies. My children/his grandchildren. My cousin. Puppies.

When I hung up, my phone informed me we’d been talking on the phone for FIFTY-FIVE MINUTES. For my practically phone-phobic, 85 year-old, serious scientist dad? That’s a world record by more than double.

At first I couldn’t figure out what had made him so chatty. Then it came to me: he’s happy! He’s practically giddy with joy. And why wouldn’t he be? He has these guys to play with:

Don't you just feel happier already?

Don’t you just feel happier already?

I KNOW, right?

I’m not really suggesting anyone give up vitamins or fish oil. But I do think it’s worth considering the power of something utterly charming to boost the latter years of a long life. I’m going to remember that when I’m 85.

 

Life After Dogs: Is There?

I’ll have to get back to you on that one. This is a new phase for us.

As a couple, The Mate and I have never been without at least one dog or cat, if not two of each. As an individual, I have not been without a pet for 33 years, and then only for a couple of years in college when I was still going home to my parents’ farm during breaks.

Our sweet malamute Juniper left us Saturday morning, exactly the way we were hoping she would: she went to sleep under a tree. Since she had been diagnosed with cancer several months ago, and since she had stopped eating a week and a half ago, we had many goodbyes. I am still very sad and will be for a while yet. Juni was only ten, and I thought we’d have more time together.

J

I used to describe Juni as a mix between a malamute and a Persian cat, that’s how soft and fluffy she was. Especially the fur around her face. “Stroke her there,” I used to tell kids we’d meet on our walks, kids nervous of such a LARGE-seeming dog (how could they know it was mostly hair?). “Her cheeks are soft as a bunny.” And their eyes would light up when they discovered this was true.

Juni 2

In temperament, too, Juni was more cat than dog, preferring to curl up on my feet –literally–than to go for walks. She was pretty darn lazy, really. Sometimes in response to people’s questions, “What IS she?” I’d throw “part Yak” into the mix, or “Snuffleupagus.” That seemed to capture her table-wide, fluffy profile and her badger-like gait. Our older son called her “Trundle-Bear.”

Besides her fluff, Juni’s main striking point of uniqueness was her vocalization. Malamutes don’t bark, people say, they talk. In Juni’s case, when she was excited to see you, or to eat dinner, it was more of a roar: “Rrrrooooohhhhh!” My friends Dia and Bert would sing trios with her. “Rrrrooooooooooo!”

Damn, I miss her.

Junifur

 

But we are not talking about getting another dog. In fact, we are talking about NOT getting another dog.

Four years ago, our youngest child headed off to college. We moved away from our suburban house with its enormous garden and started our new lives on this small island. No children. And no garden: I decided to take a break and let the island’s many farmers grow my veggies for me, and I’m still okay with that decision. But we still had our dogs.

The similarities between the three have always struck me. Gardens, like children and animals, have their seasons of neediness, where you can get pretty cranky with their demands. They have their time of independence where you sit back and watch them romp and grow. And then there are those wonderful harvests: armloads or moments of pure, delicious joy that you gather and hold onto, savorable months and even years later.

Freedom is not a word that you use with kids, nor gardens, nor pets. The Mate and I have grown used to our freedom to come and go as we please during the day, and not to have to worry about watering or weeding when we take a trip. But we’ve always had to find a dogsitter. Now…we look at each other and say in slow disbelief: “We could go camping if we felt like it. Whenever we wanted.”

A young friend of mine, like me, bred to think that life without dogs is no life at all, insists, “You could get a small dog and take it with you whenever you go somewhere!”  Maybe. But I’ve always been a large-dog girl. That’s a switch I don’t think I want to make.

Juni3

I used to think I knew exactly what I’d do when our older malamute, Molly, passed away a year ago: we’d get another older dog as a companion to Juni. But Juni didn’t seem to want a companion; she wasn’t interested in other dogs. Part cat, remember? So then I thought, okay, when Juni passes, I’ll go to the shelter and find another dog who needs us. I even had a great name picked out: Skagit (the name of the closest county on the mainland, and a beautiful agricultural valley–but also a great sound: “Here, Skagit!”)

Now, though? We’re thinking we will let someone else adopt that potential “Skagit” and name him/her whatever they want. We are going to investigate the question of Life After Dogs.

I’ll keep you posted.

But I’d also like to hear from you about your pet/no-pet lives. Have you made the transition from one to another? Have you lived long with, or without? What’s it like out there?

“Hey World, Look How Flawed I Am”: Why I Love Reading Anne Lamott

I need to call our vet this morning, and tell him I may be calling him again in the next few days to put our sweet malamute, Juni, to sleep. She hasn’t eaten since Tuesday morning, and I think she’s telling us she’s done.

We went through this exactly 11 months ago with our other malamute, Molly. But Molly was 15; Juni just turned ten. I thought we’d have a little more time with her, but cancer thought otherwise. I am sad.

So I’m doing what I tend to do in this situation: not thinking about it. I can’t WAIT to get to work, where my brain will be too full of bread and pastry to think about big furry dogs and how much they may or may not be suffering.

DSC02055

At the same time, I’m ignoring another unpleasant (though in a completely different way) set of thoughts. (Yep–I’m a multi-tasking avoider!) Apparently the Kindle version of The Flying Burgowski is riddled with formatting errors, which I only discovered this week, a month after the Kindle upload, because of the kindness of a friend. Not my own scrupulousness in CHECKING the Kindle version THOROUGHLY, which any normal author would do. I don’t particularly like Kindle, so I managed to avoid doing that too. So now I’m…let’s see: humiliated, aggravated, fearful (of the work I’m going to have to do fixing the formatting, AND of failure, AND of the inevitable buildup of aggravation/desperation/self-loathing that will ensue), and…sad.

This is why I was so comforted by reading myself to sleep last night in Annie Lamott’s book, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.

I know, her author name is Anne, but everyone in the book calls her Annie, and that’s how I think of her too: like this crazy, loving girlfriend you can call when you’re feeling sad or down on yourself or both, because, girl, she’s been through way worse than you.

She’ll make you laugh. She’ll say stuff like, “bananas are great, as they are the only known cure for existential dread” or mention emergency errands “for milk and ice cream sundaes.”

She’ll comfort you with advice, all of which comes directly from the people she credits with the strongest guidance in her life, Father Tom Weston and Veronica Goines, the pastor of her church in Marin City, California. If, for example, you’re feeling put upon by the world, or a co-worker, or your partner,

I tried to look at each person kindly, because I believe that we are family. I don’t always feel it, but I know it. My pastor Veronica often quotes whoever said that it’s not what we’re looking at, but what we’re looking with, so each crooked smile could be like a minimal dose that, however small, helps the healing. Just as a doctor can help you relax for a moment during a spasm, and you remember you’re going to be okay at some point.

See? Helpful. Annie is my kind of religious person.

Her greatest gift, though, to a multi-tasking flaw-avoider like me, is in the way she holds out her flaws to the world. She has many, many struggles (some of which can be handled by her friend’s suggestion, “Drink a glass of water and call a friend,” or her father’s most “spiritual” advice, “Don’t be an asshole.”). The most poignant of the essays in this book, I found, are about her struggles as a parent. In “Samwheel,” where she suddenly–and for the first (and last) time ever–slapped her 17 year-old son in the face during an argument, Annie takes us with her on the drive she immediately took, running away from the house and her shame and rage and fear.

I wept at the wheel on a busy boulevard. At first people were looking over at me as they passed in the next lane. I wiped at my face and snorfled…I started calling out to God, “Help me! Help me! I’m calling on you! I hate myself, I hate my son!” I wanted to die. What is the point? What if the old bumper sticker is right and the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about?

Me? I barely have the courage to admit publicly that I don’t properly proofread. I can’t imagine the kind of guts it takes to write about feelings like that. So I went to sleep humbled, and grateful, and woke up ready to think about the things I don’t want to think about. I stroked my dog for awhile. Soon I will call my vet for that first, sad, preliminary conversation. Then I will start working my way through the ultra-polite advice of the Kindle rep and my friend Michelle, who have emailed me instructions to fix my mess.

But I may take a break to re-read another one of Annie’s thoughts on faith, on flaws, on dealing with being human.

How about sharing some of yours? Not flaws, I mean, but strategies for dealing with them. “Drink a glass of water and call a friend”? Go for a walk? Take a nap? Write? Maybe I can steal from you too.

 

 

Dare I Say It? Dogs Off-Leash?

I try to stay away from controversy.  Anyone who knows me knows I have my correct opinions and like to argue, but here in Wing’s World, I try to keep it sweetness & light.

But it’s summer. Tourists are flocking to my island. And since the chunk of federally-owned land adjacent to my house has been declared part of a National Monument, they seem to be flocking in, well…rather larger flocks.

With their dogs. Who may or may not be leashed.

See, here’s the thing. I hate leashing my dog, Juni. Off-season, when no one’s around, I used to set her free to romp with her buddies along the wind-swept shore.

Juni romping with her buddy Jess

Juni romping with her buddy Jess

"Oops, romped myself right off that trail! Meant to do that..."

“Oops, romped myself right off that trail! Meant to do that…”

Then I became a volunteer BLM Monitor. That’s Bureau of Land Management, a sub-agency of the Department of the Interior. As a Monitor, I get to do what I do every day anyway, only carrying a clipboard and noting things like birds, plants in bloom, numbers of people, and dogs on or off leash. Including me, and mine. And, oh yeah, if I see someone with an off-leash dog, I’m supposed to ask them to leash up.

Out of sheer embarrassment at the hypocrisy of the situation, I began leashing Juni, even when there was no one around. It did feel better not to have her crushing all the pretty flowers in the spring.

"Look OUT! Here comes another DOG!"

“Look OUT! Here comes another DOG!”

It's called Common Camas. But it's really not all that common.

It’s called Common Camas. But it’s really not all that common.

Later, at a BLM monitors picnic, I learned about the sparrows who nested near the trails, and got reminded about some of the endangered plants that could easily get trampled.

The extremely rare Spotted Coralroot Orchid

The extremely rare Spotted Coralroot Orchid

So okay. I want to be a good role model. I got religion on leashing my dog…in this space, at least. But I’m still torn. Dogs have SO MUCH FUN off-leash! And when I meet friends with free-romping pooches who just shake me off when I give ’em my BLM spiel, I have a hard time feeling too upset with them.

So…here goes the controversy. Does LEASH YOUR DOG really mean what it says, or does it mean “We really wish you would keep your dog under control, and if you can do this without a leash, that’s cool”? What’s been your dog off-leash experience? Any horror stories you need to tell?

I got my clipboard handy. Fire away.

"OK...can you let me off the leash NOW?"

“OK…tourists are gone. Can you let me off the leash NOW?”

Stephen Colbert, Got a New Word for Ya: Cutiful

bringin' back that classic bandanna look

bringin’ back that classic bandanna look

“Truthiness.” “Grippy.” Those are just two of my favorite Colbert coinings. The man has a talent for creating words that make us wonder how we ever got along without them.

Well, I have one of my own, Stephen: Cutiful. It describes my dog, Juniper. OK, here she is with our other dog, Molly, who just passed away three weeks ago.

Classic beauties, aren’t they? In fact, whenever we walked in public, “beautiful” was the adjective I heard most often. (“BIG!” and “furry” tied for second.)

But look closer. Where Molly maintains that dark, malamute beauty, under scrutiny Juni dissolves into a sea of CUTE:

Why is this? Is it something basic, like fluffiness?

Fluffiness: Check.
Fluffiness: Check.

Or is it something more sophisticated, like the ratio of eye size: face size? (OK, I admit I stole that idea from the late biologist Stephen J. Gould.)

(plus more fluff)

(plus more fluff)

Or is it something else entirely? Something I’m missing? Help me figure this out! Give me your best explanation of what makes fluff-bucket Juniper “cutiful.” OR…give me your own favorite made-up word!

An Old Dog Teaches an Old Trick: the Solace of Poetry

Always the queen of the house

Always the queen of the house

We lost Molly last week, just one month shy of her 15th birthday.

Don’t worry. For a 93-pound malamute, 15 is off-the-charts old. She had a great, vibrant life. Only in the past two months did her walks shrink to the size of our yard, and only in the last night of her life did she suffer enough to make us absolutely sure we were doing the right thing to give her peace. That certainty was her last gift to us, along with the comfort of knowing we were able to comfort her during her time of pain.

Then I shared my loss with my friends, and got another gift: poetry. My friend Lorna, who collects poems for occasions, sent me this:

Old Dog, by William Stafford

Toward the last in the morning she could not

get up, even when I rattled her pan.

I helped her into the yard, but she stumbled

and fell. I knew it was time.

The last night a mist drifted over the fields.

In the morning she would not raise her head —

the far, clear mountains we had walked

surged back to mind.

We looked a slow bargain: our days together

were the ones we had already had.

I gave her something the vet had given,

and patted her still, a good last friend.

I read it. I had another good, necessary cry. And then I saved this poem in my computer so I could share it with the next friend who loses a good old dog.

How I’ll remember her:

How I'll remember her

Then I started wondering: what other poetry angels might be out there, besides my friend Lorna?

Do any of you have special poems that you like to send to friends for certain occasions, sad or happy?

Could I talk you into sharing one of them here?

PS: Lorna, you know I don’t mean YOU are an old dog, right? 🙂