Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Happy New Year to the Neighborhood

iStock_000018581868XSmallHelen sits in her garage with the door open, smoking a cigarette. She never smokes in her house and instead has created a living space, replete with chairs and a rug,  in the third of the three-car garage attached to her home.  She lites up several times a day. Raspy voiced Helen tells whoever will listen that she only smokes because she is so psychic, and the smoking grounds her. All who hear the story, myself included, smile and nod and don’t have the heart or the balls to tell her that psychic or not, she smokes because she is addicted to nicotine.

The woman lives next door to me and I often see her when I pull out of my driveway or when I am walking back from the lake and we smile politely and call out “hello” to one another.  In the summertime she cruises the front lawn and stoops over to pick dandelions from the grass, because she doesn’t want to use “toxic chemicals” to get rid of them. She usually has a cigarette in her hand.

Last spring, we had an especially big snow. In fact it snowed for several days. When the sun finally came out, I heard the familiar sound of scraping on the driveways and walkways of the neighborhood as people moved the snow before the sun melted it and the night turned it into ice. I realized that the scraping I heard, was coming from my driveway. I looked out the window and there were three young men doing a job that held a slight amount of dread for me. I opened my window and yelled out “may I help you?” No, I actually didn’t mean could I help them…just one of those not -so-articulate phrases one uses when you wonder what the heck someone is doing in your yard. The boys let me know that they were there because of Helen. Helen had paid them to shovel her driveway, the driveway across the street and our driveway.

I stopped rolling my eyes when I heard her tell people that cigarette smoking grounded her. Having my driveway shoveled was a very kind,  a very neighborly thing to do.

The neighbors on the other side of me are young and work a lot. He travels for his job. She pulls out of the garage every morning with kids in tow and arrives back in the late afternoon. Work is demanding enough, and then coming home and feeding a family and caring for them is a lot extra.  I know a lot of people do it, but it amazes me.  In the warm months I hear her kids squealing and playing in the back yard. It’s a pleasant sound. Somehow, in spite of the work and the long days, I often hear the parents hanging out with the young boy and girl in their back yard and they seem like a happy family. Last fall, the dad had spent a long time raking all of the leaves into piles that cold be bagged and taken to the curb. Not and easy task with so many cottonwoods in our neighborhood. About the time he finished, the kids discovered the piles of leaves and all joy broke loose. A lesser man might have yelled at them for messing up his work, but instead the dad dropped his rake and romped with his kids through the leaves, tackling them into piles of yellow-gold as they all laughed and screeched. Later that night, I heard him raking up the piles again and bagging them for the pickup the next morning.

Across the street from me lives a little girl named Susan. She is growing up too fast in my estimation.  There should be some way to shrink her down and keep her in the open-hearted munchkin size that is so precious. My best days  have started with pulling out of the driveway to leave for work and seeing five-year old Susan dressed as a princess jump up and down as she yelled “bye Stephanie, bye Stephanie, bye…” What a way to start a day.  She is too old for the princess costume now.  She gives me a wave now and then, but mostly she is absorbed in her friends with whom she walks to and from the school bus.  To me, she will always be the princess across the street.

I have become more aware of my neighborhood since hubby and I retired this year. No longer tethered to a desk, I am home to watch the comings and goings; the parade of life; the children that march to the morning bus accompanied by family dogs and fathers with steaming mugs of coffee–the familiar sight of people taking their dogs to the lake, and brave mothers who manage strollers along with dogs and toddlers is all one big happy production. And once a day now, I load our dog into the car and drive to my favorite trail head where I know the names of all the dogs, but not their owners, a part of the constant movement and reaching of living.

At the barn up the road, hubby and I buy fresh eggs and things from the field. The stoner at the cash register is a Spicoli  kind of character, right out of Central Casting, who offers me my favorite cookies. My sense of smell and moderately keen observations tells me that the young man suffers from the “blind munchies,” brought on by something other than beets growing in the field–but he is always willing to share whatever it is he is munching on with a kind “here you go man.”

This is my small world; my community and I love it. Not everything I see is perfect, and in a strange sort of way it is all perfect. It is a touchstone for how people really are that is no longer reflected in our leaders or our media who have a poor understanding of who lives in the neighborhood. For me, I see kindness all around me and human decency and it gives me hope for the future. So happy New Year to my neighbors, all the four-legged creatures, to my hubby and to my Labrador retriever, Jeter. May we all continue to know and appreciate each other for our similarities as well as for our differences!

Happy New Year!

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Snog And Dog– Life Lessons From a Labrador Retriever

English: yellow labrador retriever in the snow...
A grey and windy storm lumbered into the foothills and left 6 inches of wet, spring snow. At 9:00 this morning it was still snowing, but the dog nudged my hand and did his doggie talk version of “it’s not a work day, so get your ass out of bed and let’s play.” A sane person, even a reasonably sane person would have told the dog to go lay down and made themselves a cup of tea. I am not a sane person—not on snow days and even though it’s the weekend I know that I have to get up, put on my snow pants and boots and go do “snog.”

The word snog is a combination made-up word, for which there is not another word, and that’s why it had to be made up. Snog equals snow and dog, thus snog. But snog is not just a description of the dog. It is, in fact, a state of mind and heart of both dog and person. In my estimation, snog is the most visceral experience of snow that you can get. It is prayer wrapped in great celebration. However, I found out that snog is a real word that has nothing to do with snow or dog it is a verb: 1. snog – touch with the lips or press the lips as an expression of love, greeting.  Okay, well my “snog” means to kiss nature then and be kissed back by nature and it has to do with a labrador retriever!

Eighteen degrees out and still snowing, the roads were snow packed and icy. The clouds hung low and tight next to the mountains creating the feeling of being in an ice dome instead of in open country. The snog, named Jeter paced in the back seat while we drove 10 miles under the speed limit to Dry Creek Trail. Past the Baptist church at 70th with all its dire warnings printed on their sign board; past the black cows that didn’t look their usual apathetic, oblivious selves encrusted in ice and snow; and past Mallard Pond Drive where the trust fund baby of a major seed company lives and does the best Christmas decorations in the county. We drove until we slid into our left turn and pulled into the empty parking lot at the trailhead.

Oh boy: snog and a trail all to ourselves. I opened the back door of the car for Jeter, who flew from the back seat to the gate, paws barely touching the ground. There was no one else around. A perfect snog day. Six inches of fresh snow and a trail unblemished by the sane people who lingered late in bed or the coziness of their kitchens. Snog ran onto the trail to the first spot where he could flip over on his back and make a snog angel in the snow. It was pure joy. Fresh snow is like walking in sand—you work it, but for Jeter fresh snow is like sailing among the clouds. He runs in circles. He burrows his head into drifts looking for old tennis balls left on the trail. He sticks his butt up in the air, wags his tail and barks. He fills himself with the moment. The quiet here is such that we can hear the snow fall.

The practice of gratitude comes in a lot of different packages. In this package, I am alone with my dog in nature, infected by the joy and delight with which he celebrates fresh snow on a March spring day. All around me is the beauty of the natural world, infusing my heart with happiness, easing and dissolving  the concerns and obligations that are my weekday baggage. In this moment, my snog has taught me to love life so fully that I too delight in this cold, white, wet stuff that has frozen my face and numbed my finger tips. I walk with a goofy smile on my face, laughing out loud at Jeter, calling out good morning to geese flying overhead. We are being kissed by nature, and we are kissing her back.

I walk at a good clip as far as the bridge, while Jeter runs in circles around me, breaking trail, occasionally stopping to create another snog angel. Enveloped in the joy of this appreciation, I know I made the right choice in getting out of bed to get us here. A group of birds sitting on the fence that follows the creek seem to sing the snow down harder, and the wind swirls the snow around us while we make our way back to the car. Wet dog, wet person filled with gratitude and joy. I learn a lot from my dog. He nudges me into nature on a daily basis. He keeps my heart and legs strong by demanding daily treks to various trails. And he loves life unabashedly with a contagious enthusiasm. We pull out of the empty lot, blasting the defroster, the car permeated with the smell of wet wool and wet dog, the great snog adventure in the rear view mirror and a stretch of  frozen road leading us home.