The dog I grew up with was not at all like the large hairy mutt I live with today and he lived a much different life too. Duke, or Duke Ellington III, as was his show name, was a white, miniature purebred poodle, that my family adopted when I was about seven.
My parents found him through friends. He belonged to a single woman who loved him fiercely and showed him in dog shows, but could no longer keep him. She lived in Vancouver and would leave a window of her ground floor apartment open so he could go in and out as he pleased while she was away at work during the day. I remember that she cried when we took him home.
We were not interested in Duke as a show dog, but benefitted from his excellent manners. He had a deep bark that made him sound more like a German shepherd than a small poodle and I think he believed he was bigger than he actually was. It being the 70s and early 80s we simply opened the front door and let him outside to walk himself through the neighbourhoods. We moved around a lot and I have vivid snapshot memories of Duke in some of the places we lived. He always came back after we let him out, except one time.
When we first moved to Calgary, he went out and didn't come back. I don't know how long he was gone, but at least a week. We thought that was it. We'd never see him again. One morning my mom heard a scratch at the front door (his open-the-door cue) and there was a small black dog on the doorstep. Upon closer inspection she realized it was in fact a much filthier version of Duke, who was now a completely different colour, smelled badly and was thoroughly exhausted. Duke kept the mystery of that Calgary sojourn to himself. Though I suspect it involved unspayed female dogs and alley way garbage cans.
Also in Calgary, the first time Duke went to a groomer there, my mom received a call shortly after she dropped him off. The groomer needed to know if Duke had been given a sedative, she was annoyed that that information hadn't been disclosed. He hadn't of course, he just enjoyed his grooming sessions and would simply lie down on the table, close his eyes and let the people begin to serve him.
When we moved to New Brunswick, to save money, my dad drove our furniture and belongings across the country in a large moving truck. As you do. The rest of us flew there like normal people, but Dad and Duke took to the Trans Canada in a semi. The only problem for my father was when Duke would jump out of the cab at truck stops and pee on the tires of the large burly looking professional driver's trucks. They were probably just surprised to see an elegant white dog hop out of a truck, and not annoyed about the urine at all.
One time we were visiting family in Nova Scotia and left Duke for a few days with my aunt and uncle. We hadn't gone very far down the highway, when an announcement came on the local radio station that a small white poodle answering to the name Duke was lost somewhere near Yarmouth and if found to please call Norman. My uncle.
At this point in his life Duke was still not neutered. So he was roaming around impregnating the ladies. This came to end when we moved to Kamloops and my parents got an angry call from someone who lived several neighbourhoods away. She had a dog in heat and every time we opened the front door, Duke would race the 15 to 20 minutes it must have taken him to get there and then scratched the lacquer off her new front door. Being a responsible family, we did put an ID tag on our un-neutered dog so luckily she could contact us. That was the end of Duke's stud days.
Years after he died an old dog, I still carefully positioned my feet to not step on Duke when getting up from the couch and could feel the exact weight of him in my arms. So it is with these animals we love. Although Bixby, my dog now, leads a more tethered life, before we adopted him I know he spent his early randy months on the beaches around Tofino on Vancouver Island, half starved and running wild. Bixby still asserts his independent spirit, so I won't forget he lives with us, but he is very much his own dog. Just like Duke was.
If you need to transport a live fish or cricket somewhere by plastic bag, I can help you out. I can grab and tie the bag so fast that there is a bubble of air trapped at the top, thus giving you time to hurry home and add your fish to an aquarium or feed the crickets to your tarantula.
I forgot that I knew how to do this because it's not something required in my current day to day. But I had to do this recently while working a rare nature house shift (oh how I've grown). The salamanders needed their crickets and the crickets had to wait under someone's desk for just a few more hours. Thus I saved them (temporarily) with my nifty plastic bag manoeuvre and also the office was saved from crickets running wild.
Cricket containment and oxygen is not so funny, but that I have an ingrained body memory of doing this task is funny to me, because with it comes a flood of memories.
Cast your mind back Dear Reader. It was the 1980s and the radio was thick with New Wave and Kenny Rogers duets. A heady time indeed. A time for me that was infused with the hopes and dreams that a first job in Canada's suburbs entails. Fittingly, I asked myself not, "How can I plan for my future and save this money for my education?" but "What will I buy at the mall next week with all the money I made at the mall last week?"
Orange Julius - Check
MIcrowave pizza from the counter next to the Orange Julius - Check
Chocolate covered coffee beans from Debbie at the kitchen store - Check
The new Bob & Doug album from Sam the Record Man - Check
A Goody hairbrush from K-Mart - Check
And of course oil for my Pinto that was getting me back and forth to the mall, because it was the burbs in the 80s and busses and biking were unheard of and frowned upon. That Pinto went through a lot of oil.
These were not the salad days, but they were the formative years, I realized while recently bagging up those crickets. I didn't know then I wasn't just learning how to bag fish, I was learning how to live. And that is why I recommend Waldorf schools and homeschooling in the country for your children. Keep them away from the malls!
How can you not love a book that comes with a little sticker on the front that says "Win a magical stay in an Irish Castle!" All right don't get all judgey. I loves my Can Lit and my chewy nourishing literature too. But sometimes, I need to read a Nora Roberts novel and pretend I'm in her version of Ireland. Some days a person just has to believe they could win a magical stay in an Irish castle, even when the book is from the library and the contest has long expired.
Also, I've been to Ireland and was lost in Dublin with my cousin upon leaving the Guinness factory (unrelated events). So, it's not like I actually believe Ireland is a land of magical castles.
What it is, is a land of magical dairy products. The first morning, at a coffee shop, there was only milk on offer for my coffee. I was about to ask for some cream, when Angela said, "Just try it with the milk. You don't need cream here, the milk is so thick." And she was very right. Magic.
My cousin Angela lives in Ireland, but we're not Irish. Unless you count the time another cousin and I were mistaken for being Irish in a Halifax pub by some of the US Coast Guard.
"I love the Irish!" I overheard the drunken officer say to one of his men, as he watched us dance our improvised jigs and reels to some classic Privateer's Wharf booming celtic tunes.
It is an exquisitely beautiful, warm, sunny May day here and I for one will be enjoying it outside while reading my Nora Roberts amidst the smell of rioting Victoria blossoms and the sound of Violet Green Swallows fighting over nesting material. It's not an Irish castle, but it's magic.
I recently took a beginner pottery class and created the bunny shown in Exhibit A. (See Exhibit A). I also made some bowls and dishes that I am actually, genuinely pleased with, but I'm not going to show you those. I want you to see this bunny, because the bunny has no soul. I slapped it together quickly in the first class. I was longing to get straight to the wheel and feel the clay slipping and spinning between my hands, something I had wanted to do for a long time.
In exasperation, I created the bunny. This clay rabbit will soon find itself outside in a garden somewhere, but for now it's a reminder to myself of what happens when you do things half-assed. I rushed through, pushing it's little life together all the while imagining what I'd do when I got to the wheel. Poor creature to have such an uncaring, unfocussed Creator.
The bunny reminds me of a story I wrote in a creative writing class in high school. The story was about a chocolate Easter bunny factory where one of the bunnies finds out that the conveyor belt, the bunnies, the factory, the whole thing is a great conspiracy kept hidden from the rabbits. They are all being created to be eaten by humans. There was a heated revolt and you know what happens to chocolate around heat. It wasn't pretty, but there was a nice story arc, and the deeper underlying existential implications are obvious.
I went to high school in Langley BC, about an hours drive east of Vancouver. My family moved there when I was 13. I figured we would move again in a year or two, as had been my experience, so I pointedly told my new best friend not to get too attached as I would be leaving all too soon. We didn't move, and last fall she reminded me of this line. (See! Happy ending. We're still friends!)
I ended up graduating high school in Langley. But my approach to the stickiness of time and goodbyes had been formed: Save yourself the heartache and hold back a bit of yourself because it's all going to come crashing to an end eventually.
I don't advise this as a life approach at all. I'm just saying that has been one of my survival tactics. We've all got them. The problem of living half-heartedly is when you miss out on the painful stuff you also miss out on the good stuff. Life is bittersweet. I think this is what Joseph Campbell is talking about when he says "Say yes to the adventure." You have to say 'yes' to all of it, not just the sweetness. And even while you're dipping deeply into the darkness, life, if you let it, finds a way to remind you that there is also wonder and delight. As Leonard Cohen aptly says, "I've studied deeply in the philosophies and religions, but cheerfulness kept breaking through."
Speaking of Leonard, I was watching his brilliant "Live in London" concert DVD last week with my 11 year old. After a few songs she earnestly said, "It's too bad he's Jewish, he would make a really good Christmas album". After just a few songs in, what she heard told her that this man's voice could handle the only sacred songs she knows.
On the surface, it's a funny line, in an 'out of the mouths of babes' kind of way, but I didn't laugh, because it was a, thoughtful, astute observation. To me, that's the best stuff, when language can cut to the heart of life like that. That's why kids are so wise and closer to the poets, not judging every thought that comes out of their minds. It's what Picasso meant by "Every child is an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up."
Since this has become a blog of quotations, the Dalai Lama said: We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid or we can let them soften us, and make us kinder. You always have this choice. "
With that in mind maybe I shouldn't be so hard on my half-assed, soulless bunny? Maybe soulless is a little strong?