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It was going to be hot; which meant I needed to mow the lawn early in the day; although mowing the front lawn near the edge of the road mainly consists of creating huge clouds of dust and sending across the road the various pieces of gravel which the department of public works had spread all winter long. Those same yahoos who invite me to play “hide and seek” with my mailbox every winter storm; and I pay them well to do it too. Cody was lying underneath one of the trees in the front yard, his paws in the air, squirming on his back in the cool morning grass. Lesson here; deeply enjoy life’s little pleasures whenever you can.

Comet; painting the skies with love.

She caught my eye from a distance up the road. I noticed that her gait was much slower than her usual daily walk around the neighborhood. She was alone; the empty space beside her obvious and hurtful. I continued mowing away from her, in the same direction she was headed. When I turned around to make a return pass facing her, she noticed me and waved. I killed the mower and took off my earmuffs and safety glasses. Yeah, safety spaz; hell, I can end up bleeding by just sweeping the sidewalk. A real practicing klutz.

She glanced up and noticed I was still watching her. She raised her hand to wave again but quickly brought her hands to her face. She tried to wave me off as I approached her. No, I don’t think so. The distress on her face was clear, painful to see and quickly shot to my heart. She tried to explain through sobs and broken words that she couldn’t talk about it. Just couldn’t and tried again to wave me off. Bullshit. I reached out for her hands and pulled her in and hugged her, as much for me as for her. It was hard she said, so hard. It came so sudden; they certainly weren’t prepared. They were all devastated. He was such a big part of their lives; the kids were taking it okay, but everyone was lost in their own way. They loved him so much and he loved them back. The hole was huge. They miss him so.

For those who aren’t animal lovers, it may be hard to understand the impact that the passing of a beloved pet has on those of us who consider them our furry children. To some, we all look like the crazy cat ladies we always hear about; so be it. Guilty as charged. But those who are fortunate to have the priceless love of an animal understand it fully. Try to find anything on two legs in your life that will show you the dedication, the devotion, non-judgmental love and the willingness to let you be the center of their universe; far and few between.

No, these are our furry toddlers; it takes that kind of dedication. Often, it’s another damp carpet; maybe pieces of your favorite shoe spread across the living room. Sometimes it’s those dammed dead spots on the lawn or the wonderful piles of humiliation that you can never seem to completely clean from the nooks and crannies on the bottoms of your sneakers. But they’ll still look deeply in your eyes and let you know that you are the only human on the planet that matters. Have a horrible day at work and they’ll wag you back to peace. Don’t feed them; they’ll forgive you. Be an asshole; they don’t care. Heap unwarranted abuse on them and they’ll still look deeply into your soul and tell you that it doesn’t matter; as long as they can feel your hand between their ears, hear your voice, be in your presence, tug on the other end of that rope, their life is complete. They’re not here to judge, to accuse, to demean. They’ll still love you, often well beyond any measure that you should be entitled to; they’d be willing to die for you. And not once would they demand anything in return.

Comet meant that much to her and her family. He meant a bit to some of the rest of the neighborhood too. He was a rather large dog; long legged, loopy gate. He seemed to be the type of dog that you would swear was smiling. He was a “Golden Doodle,” a breed whose name would bring a smile if not outright giggles. I’m quite sure that “Golden Doodle” translates in some places around the world to “Shetland Pony.” He was usually covered in curls, soft and deep. The occasional shearing made it even more obvious that he was a large framed animal, not just a bunch of hair for show. His pinkish-brown, wet nose seemed to have the circumference of a baseball. I’m sure that some found his size intimidating; for others it may have been his high level of enthusiasm. But in the end, he was he was large vessel of love and happiness and I was always prepared with treats in my pockets when we passed. And he knew it. I for one will miss his commanding voice, a bark that would resonate across the neighborhood. Some may have found this too, to be intimidating. But it was his way of telling his family, and those who were walking by that he was keeping an eye on anyone who might approach those who he would willingly die for.

As with any comet, he was rare. Comets shine brightly but briefly and we’re left with the memory of how they painted the dark skies of our lives. So it is with Comet. And I’m sure that Lisa and Peyton and their kids will have these brief moments in the future when something will jar their memories and they’ll recall the Comet that appeared briefly in their lives and touched them all. The pain will eventually fade and the memories will be far more joyful than they are now. And in whatever sky he is streaking across now, with his wet, pink baseball-sized nose I’m sure he loves them as deeply as he did when we was laying at their feet. One would imagine he’s in the fields of heaven giving the local squirrels a hard time.

God Speed Comet; I hear the angels love a good game of tug-of-war.


Okay, time for a mini rant.  I’m usually not one of those “boycott them out of business” kind of people, but I can’t let this one go. Chef and restauranteur Russell Ireland needs to hear from as many former customers as possible.  The operative word being former.

Drop into face book, but drive by this dump.

Drop into the Facebook page, but drive by this dump.

When veteran James Glaser stopped by to have breakfast at the “Big I” diner in Oxford Massachusetts, he was accompanied by his loving service dog Jack.  If you’ve ever witnessed the love one of these animals provide to their disabled owners,  you’ve truly witnessed the love of angels. Disclaimer, I’m an animal lover and have a sweet spot for dogs.  I also come from a military family and cannot stand those who disrespect our vets.  So Mr. Ireland has managed to piss me off in two directions. Sweet.

Apparently, Mr. Ireland felt that James and Jack were a little to close to the kitchen so he asked him to leave.  Actually, he commanded James to “Get that f%&#ing  fake service dog out of here.” When James presented Ireland with Jack’s certification papers, Ireland balked and out the door Jack and James went.  Not to another booth, not away from the kitchen, out.  Bye-bye.

James suffers from PTSD.  That thought is not lost on Mr. Ireland, though.  He doesn’t want either James or Jack in his restaurant.  “This is a post-traumatic stress dog to give him emotional support. How much emotional support do you need when you’re eating breakfast?” asked Ireland. You’re kidding me, right?

Ireland wants us to accept his apology to “any veterans I might have offended.”  Excluding of course, James who spent 21 years in the service and did two tours in Iraq. Even though James and Jack are living with that stress, Mr. Ireland wants to elicit sympathy for his own stress issues, claiming he was “stressed out” and “snapped in part, because he was having a bad day.” A bad day? What, was the toaster firing rounds at you across the kitchen?  Got wounded opening one of those silly little plastic jam packets on the table? If this wasn’t meant to be a crude swipe at James and PTSD in general, and I have to believe it was, then Ireland is one of the dumbest punks we’ve ever encountered.  let’s make sure he gets treated that way.

if you have a chance, let ’em know how much you’d like them to go out of business.

Big I Diner Oxford, MA 01540 (508) 987-2224

 

 


breaking a trail, then coming back to check on me..

 

I am learning to be still.  Maybe it’s no coincidence that it happens mostly when I’m with Cody.  I’m obviously not talking about physical still either.  That would be little hard to do with flat-coated retriever, border colie mix, 70-pound puppy.  (He has the joy of an innocent creature and the strength of a bull.)

I first noticed the stillness when we would go for our late night walks, at speed.  I walk fast which is okay for him as his natural gate is “I want to run like heck.  Did you say squirrel?”

I can get so wrapped up in training him that everything else just goes away.  He takes a lot of attention to control off leash as his mind wanders and you have to keep him focused and commanded, meaning you have to try to see what’s in his line of sight and sometimes try to out-think him.  Most of the time he’ll look over his shoulder at you and you can see he’s waiting for the next command.  We communicate very well, but we communicate very often and intensely.  Our walks are usually a series of commands, reactions and response, with each of us concentrating on our roles and expectations.  And not thinking about much else.

Several weeks ago I took him onto the conservation land that surrounds our neighborhood to explore the large beaver pond we normally use for skating and kayaking.  As soon as I stepped off the pavement and onto the unmarked trails, I knew it would be challenging.  We just had some fresh snowfall, maybe 18 inches or so the previous night and no one had broken trail so far this year.  Odd, the kids will usually trek down to the pond to scrape out a nice hockey rink.  Not so today.  Five feet into the woods and I was already up to my back pockets in deep powder.  Cody was gone, already breaking trail about 50 yards ahead of me.  Three whistles and two hand commands to get him back to the pavement so we could return home for the snowshoes.

Second try, I have a thermos of hot tea, Cody’s water bottle, a bag of dog biscuits and my camera.  I step into the trail again and off he goes.  It took me 20 minutes to get about 50 yards in the woods, the snow was that deep.  I was bringing snow up from the tail of my snowshoes under the back of my jacket.  Who cares, this is a blast.

About 30 minutes into the woods, I sat down on an old dead fall to catch my breath.  Cody was still surfing the snow, his every step was jump up, sink down.  I was giving him direction and he broke most of the trail for me, every once in a while heading off to explore on his own.  I noticed the small tracks that had gotten his attention and he had found a few deer beds too.  I let him explore as I caught my breath and watched him play and learn.  I couldn’t hear another sound. The snow was very deep, very soft and made no noise at all as I sunk into it with each step.  It was the same with Cody.  He must have been 10-15 yards away from me and I could hear his breathing, nothing else.  I could tell he was working hard to swim through the powder, a small furry dolphin breaking the surface, his panting the only sound in the forest.

It must have taken at least 45 minutes to get to the pond.  The edge of the pond is littered with very old trees and up-roots that were knocked down by a micro burst a few years ago.  The shoreline looks devastated in the summer.  It’ll be years before nature takes these trees back into the pond and creates a new shoreline.  Unless the beavers get to it, but they already have a dam now about 7 feet high and at least three large lodges, each probably twenty feet around.

As we trudged across the frozen pond, it started to drizzle.  The snow was only slightly less of a challenge on the pond but we made good time anyway.  Again, there was no sound at all, barely a crunch from the snow in the middle of the pond that had obviously taken a melt during the daylight hours and had developed a crust sometime during the week.  The drizzle was just making it heavier to pull my feet up through.

By the time we got to the end of the pond near the beaver dam, we were a little tired and wet.  I found the old bench we had carried down last year when we cleared the area for skating.  It was buried quite a bit, somewhat broken, but it came in pretty darned handy given its condition.  I treated myself to some Oolong and watched Cody track whatever he imagined he was tracking.  Tail up, nose always down, never in a straight line, I watched him for 15 minutes.  He’d occasionally peek up at me to see if he was in trouble and I’d point him in a direction to keep him thinking.  I said nothing to him.  I heard nothing.  Just the sound of the size of the drizzle getting bigger and dropping onto the crust of the snow.  With the new snow insulating the trees, the low clouds and drizzle covering us like a blanket, we were separate from everything else in the world.  It was then that I realized that I hadn’t a single thought in my head at all.  Nothing.  For me, that’s a change.

I took him to the beach yesterday.  Again, it’s tail up, nose to the ground and a couple hours of zigzag.  The beach is a little different for him though, dogs are allowed off leash and it’s a haven for owners to come and socialize their dogs.  I like to let him run ahead, but he’ll usually realize I’m out of voice range and he’ll turn around.  Today however, winter was struggling to fight off spring.  The mist that was hanging over us made it hard to see either end of the beach.  I looked out over the water and the waves appeared to be rolling out from under a slate grey backdrop where I couldn’t distinguish the ocean from the cloudy sky above it.  I hear the gallop of paws as he trots by me towards some unseen goal and he’s off another 50 yards.

I walked to the end of the beach and towards the path of the point that separates the town’s two beaches.  No one was on the south beach.  The tide was only a half hour above high, so there wasn’t really much beach; hence there weren’t any beach goers.  Just the two of us.

I climbed the rocks out to the point with Cody right behind.  Well, ahead.  Wait, now behind, but slightly off to the side.  Ah, the attention span of a puppy.  I sat down on the boulders just to admire the view, but there wasn’t much.  The mist was boiling in the slight breeze and the farthest end of the north beach was already hiding in it.  I could see only a couple hundred yards out to sea.  And again, the sound of the waves was the only thing I could hear.  Or so I thought.

I heard his paws on the stones and shells that make up the beach.  Coming from somewhere in a direction that I couldn’t pinpoint, I heard the disagreement of two gulls.  There was a subtle background symphony of pops, snaps and squeaks as the water receded from the seaweed and kelp the tide had stranded on the rocks.  I could hear the small rivulets, sprung from the melting snow of the beach path, splashing onto the boulders just above the beach on their way back to the ocean.

Other than that, nothing. There was absolutely nothing.  My mind was busy taking input; I was thinking of absolutely nothing.

I have spent most of my life multi-tasking, always thinking of things at the speed of light, as many things as I could, all day every day until I closed my eyes at night where I let them invade my sleep in order to dwell on them further.  I am the master at hearing two conversations at once, a cell phone in one ear, the speaker phone in the other while reading a text from some client in another part of the world.  No, I am not proud of this.  I am not bragging.  I am a little embarrassed about the fact that I can’t hear over the cacophony of my own thoughts on a regular basis and it’s basically because I am trying too hard to focus on work.  The last time I remember the ability to turn off my own thoughts was when I first got my piano and spent hours late at night with my eyes, ears, fingers and mind all focused on the little black and white doohickeys in front of me, desperately trying to figure out the secret pattern and their relationships to each other.  I know I’ve had this ability before.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I believe we all have too much to ponder now days, too much on our plates, worried about our jobs, about our kids, trying to focus on work, yaddi-yaddi-yadda. This is what kills us, what makes us age, what robs us of the awareness of the beauty around us.  Stop and smell the roses.  What a quaint thought.  I too can stop and smell the roses, think about next month’s budget reconciliation, the 5 year strategy due next week, the deadline for the next campaign and five minutes later I have to ask someone “where the heck are those petunias I stopped to water?”

With so many things coming at us, all seemingly at the same time with the same level of import, it’s hard to be able to take the luxury of emptying one’s head, learning to be still.  The clarity one achieves with it is amazing; maybe it’s a matter of focus.  When you get the luxury to focus on just one thing, it all appears that much simpler, that much more interesting.  If we had the time to give that much focus to each task we had to execute on, how much better would we perform, how much more effective and accurate?  This is my new goal, to learn to be still.  To regain my ability to focus, to lose the clutter.

And chances are, a puppy will train me.

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