I feel that tiny creative crevice – buried somewhere deep inside my turbulent and overactive mind – laboring to reignite idle synapses, long covered in dust, and thick with cobwebs from neglect and lack of activity. It comes slowly. Fleeting thoughts are grabbed out of thin air before they are lost in the blink of an eye. Like a blacksmith pounding on the glowing tip of an almost molten iron shank, an idea is painstakingly hammered into a recognizable shape – words into a sentence, sentences into paragraphs. Written and rewritten until the ring of hammer striking steel sings with a melody that pleases the blacksmith’s ear.
I will be meeting Megan and the kids at Minnehaha Falls later today. I stuck a bottle of bubbles in my backpack. When I went to Bolivia I was on a work project high in the Andean Altiplano. We worked side by side with some of the indigenous Amyran people. Their families would come watch. One day I saw this little girl watching me. She probably was confused by this sweaty, dirty white guy working with adobe blocks. She was very shy and always looked away when I waved at her.
During a break I ran back to my bunk and grabbed a bottle of bubbles from my duffle bag. I sat down on a pile of dirt, not too far from the little girl, and opened up the bottle. I started blowing bubbles and watched as her eyes followed them floating on the gentle breeze. It took a few minutes before our eyes connected, but then I watched a tentative smile spread across her face. Some of my teammates slowed down their work and watched. They began “catching” the floating bubbles. She giggled.
The little girl had one land on her and laughed when it popped at her touch. I waved her over and she turned away – but not for long. I offered her the bottle and wand. Her mom whispered in her ear. She got up slowly. Unsure. But curious. One step, then another. I held them out again. A smile grew bright and her eyes twinkled as she drew close and hesitantly sat next to me on the pile of dirt. The team slowly got back to their tasks on site, but the little Amyran girl and I blew bubbles in the Andes Mountains on a crystal clear day. That is a moment I will never forget, and I’m sure I will be telling Sawyer that story later today. Bubble Ministry at its best.
Yesterday we watched our grandkids (Sawyer and Ruby) so their mom and dad could sneak out for a brew and some time away from the chaos of parenting two toddlers. Seeing the smiling faces of Nana and Papa come through the door is usually the promise of laps, hugs, stories, and assorted antics.
The several hours passed quickly and the kids ran to the door when a refreshed mom and dad came in from the garage. Mike lit the grill for some awesome looking pork chops and Megan busied herself in the kitchen preparing the rest of the menu. The kids were munching on some fruit to tie them over until the “later than routine” dinner could be served. Sawyer kept an eye on Mike as he got the coals going. A gust of wind whipped across the deck and glowing embers swirled around for a moment. Sawyer watched intently as the sparks danced in the air before being blown away on the breeze.
A moment later Mike came back into the kitchen to get the pork chops and saw Sawyer watching the grill. “It’s breezy out there” Mike said. Sawyer smiled and said “I know! I saw all the candle crumbs flying in the air!”
Candle crumbs. The perfect words to describe what he saw. A 3-1/2 year old who already knows how to use his words to tell a story.
I don’t like working in the dirt. Or weeding. Or mowing. It brings back memories of being a kid and not being able to play with my friends after school until the weeding in front of our house, under the evergreen shrubs, where the mosquitoes were thick, was done. Then done again – done until it was done to dad’s expectations. If I forgot to mow, dad would huff out the door after dinner and I’d have to listen to the mower, through my open bedroom window, going back and forth across the lawn as the sun began to set. I had let him down. Again. And he knew how to make me feel very small.
I really didn’t have a real lawn until we moved to our home in Eden Prairie. Our small, shady yard in Newark, Ohio could be mowed with an electric lawn mower. And a short power cord. The kids were too small to help, so it was just a matter of keeping whatever was green in our yard short enough to look groomed for the neighborhood. Our condo in California was part of an association so our minuscule landscaped “yard” and assorted bushes were well maintained by a pickup truck gang of undocumented day laborers. That worked for me – I had better things to do with my time.
By the time we moved back to the Midwest and bought our home in Eden Prairie our kids were old enough to need some money and our thick growing grass provided a great summer opportunity for the kids to earn their allowances. Three daughters, well spaced out in age, provided years of domestic yard help. I mowed, too. Occasionally. When I had to. There were times I enjoyed it when we first moved back and I was in pretty good shape, but as the years passed, and I gained weight, whatever “fun” I got out of mowing quickly faded away. Thankfully, our neighbor had a grandson who was starting to mow yards, and the transition after Kayla went off to college in Duluth meant our yard had uninterrupted 3rd party care. And it still does to this day. Once Nik goes off to college I will have to figure out a new plan.
For the last few years the two flower beds in front of our house have literally gone to seed. A few stubborn flowers still poke up through the thick weeds, and the Hosta plants are like cock roaches – they could survive a nuclear winter. But the rest of the beds looked like the overgrown space between two abandoned tenement buildings on the south side of Chicago. I finally decided that the front of the house was “our space” and if I wanted it to look nice I’d have to get in the dirt and get my hands muddy. Veloice could do more to make it look nice if I got dirty and weeded, edged, pulled out old roots, raked out the old rocks, and spread 11 bags of cedar chip mulch to give her something promising to work with.
Yesterday I went out and got started and this morning I was out the door and in the dirt without reading the Sunday paper, watching the morning shows, or having a 2nd cup of coffee. As I sit here writing this, while taking a break and drinking some tea, with still muddy hands pecking away on my iPhone, I realize this has actually been enjoyable. Not only doing something together with Veloice that completes a long unfinished project that led to much frustration, but I was amazed at how good I felt bending, digging, sweating, lifting, raking, and sweeping – even with my shirt off in the sun and not worrying about a fat belly anymore. Down 62 pounds and in great shape after daily walks and occasional bike rides has given me a new sense of enjoying physical work. Seeing the results with two pretty flower beds that have transformed the front of our home brings satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. For once I’m proud of the dirt under my fingernails and what Veloice and I completed together.
When Nik goes off to college, maybe I’ll have to buy a used lawnmower and make that a part of my new summer routine. The sound of a lawnmower no longer reminds me of my dad grudgingly finishing my unfinished chore, and muddy hands no longer remind me of those mosquito infested evergreens that had to be weeded before I could go out and play. Muddy hands and dirty fingernails simply mean I found my way through the weeds back to the basics of what’s really important.
“Mosha! Mosha! Where have you gone? You’re always running off. I think you’re more trouble than you’re worth! Mosha, where are you?” Jacob wrapped his scarf around his neck and left the warmth of his fire to go search for his missing lamb. The night air was cold and he felt even colder when he left the glow of the campfire. The rest of the flock was gathered together and resting from the day’s journey. Hopefully, they would stay put allowing Jacob time to look for Mosha.
Mosha was Jacob’s favorite lamb. She seemed to have a mind of her own, always looking to go her own way – never one to be content with staying with the rest of the flock. Mosha reminded Jacob of himself. There were so many things that he would like to do, but it was his father’s flock that he had to tend. With no brothers, it was up to Jacob to care for the animals now that his father was too old to care for them himself. Mosha never seemed to tire. There was always something over the next hill that would catch her attention and off she would go. Sometimes Jacob thought about letting her go – “what’s one lamb?” If he could get the rest of the flock safely to Bethlehem he would sell them for a small profit and return home to his father’s praise. The money would see them through the winter and provide enough to buy some young animals in the spring to start another flock. Jacob was a shepherd like his father. He knew nothing else.
“Mosha! Come back here.” Jacob knew he couldn’t leave Mosha behind, so he set off to find her. The moon was full and the sky was bright. The countryside was lit up by the nighttime glow. Jacob paused to look around for Mosha but she was nowhere in sight. He continued up the hill and hoped she hadn’t strayed too far. He needed his sleep, too. It had been a long day and he wanted to get back to the flock and the warmth of his fire. Tomorrow he would take the flock into Bethlehem where they would be sold. Caesar had ordered all people to return to their home villages to register for a census and the marketplace would be busy. It was a great opportunity to sell their flock of 30 lambs. But the thought of selling Mosha brought tears to Jacob’s eyes.
As Jacob continued up the hillside he remembered the day Mosha had been born. There was something different about Mosha from that very first day – something special in her eyes that Jacob never saw in the other lambs of the flock. They quickly became friends and Mosha followed Jacob everywhere he went. Mosha was full of mischief, always getting into trouble, but whenever Jacob’s father would get angry at her, Jacob could always find an excuse for her behavior.
The gravel crunched under Jacob’s sandals as he walked up the path toward the top of the hill. The stars were brilliant in the night sky, but the chill was taking its toll on Jacob. He could see his breath with every step he took. From the top he hoped he would see Mosha chomping on some grass or the leaves of a bush. One glance at Jacob’s expression of disgust and Mosha would realize she was in trouble – but would she quickly return to the flock or decide it was time to “play” and run the other way? Jacob was in no mood to put up with Mosha’s antics tonight. She had better come quietly!
Jacob made it to the top of the rise and stopped to look around. Off in the distance was the village of Bethlehem. The lights still twinkled in the marketplace and in some of the homes. The activity would continue into the early hours of the morning, but from here Jacob could only see the lights – not one sound carried the distance to his hilltop. In the silence he listened for Mosha. He could see clearly in every direction, but unless Mosha was moving she would be lost in the night shadows. After watching carefully for several minutes there was still no sign of Mosha. Jacob sat down to rest.
“Baaa! Baaaaa!” The sound floated through Jacob’s brain for a moment before he slowly opened his eyes. For a minute he stared quietly at the lamb standing on the path in front of him. “Baaaa.” Jacob shook his head, realizing he had drifted off to sleep. Mosha was standing in front of him.
“Mosha! Where have you been? Come on, we have to get back to the flock and I want to get warmed up by the fire.” Jacob turned and started to walk down the path back toward their campsite. “I could have been sound asleep right now, but you had to go wander off again. Was it worth it? Did you find what you were looking for? Just one more night – tomorrow you will be someone else’s problem…” Jacob stopped. His tears were back at the thought of tomorrow. He would sell the flock and Mosha would belong to someone else. Jacob wiped his eyes and turned to look at Mosha. To his surprise, Mosha was still standing quietly at the top of the hill looking down the path at Jacob. “Mosha, we’re going back to the fire – now! Come on!” Mosha stood looking patiently at her master. Jacob was in no mood for this. He looked around and picked up a stick that was lying by the path. “NOW, Mosha!” Mosha turned and walked the other way, out of sight. Jacob dropped the stick and ran back up the path.
Once Jacob made it back up to the top of the rise he saw Mosha trotting down the path. Where was she going? He chased after her, but her trot was steady and it was apparent that she was not going to let Jacob catch up to her. Finally, at the bottom of the hill, Mosha stopped dead in her tracks, and turned back to look at Jacob. “This is not a game, Mosha. We have to get back to the camp – come on.” But Mosha stood in silence, looking over Jacob’s shoulder, back toward the top of the hill.
The crunching sound of hooves on gravel caught Jacob’s ear. He quickly turned and stared in astonishment as a rider came over the hill. First one, then another, and then a third! The men were dressed like kings, in robes that were colorful – even in the moonlight. From the packs they carried, it was apparent they had journeyed from afar. They were riding camels whose steps were slow and sure under the burdens they bore. Jacob stood in amazement as they approached.
“Young man! What village is that ahead of us?” asked the second rider.
“It is Bethlehem, sir” Jacob responded. “Where did you come from?”
The lead rider replied, “We are Magi from lands to the east. We are looking for the one who has been born king of the Jews. According to the prophets, this child would be born in Bethlehem and we have followed a star to this village.”
Jacob turned and looked back at Mosha, who stood there, knowingly, looking back at Jacob. What did she know about all of this? The riders thanked Jacob for his information and slowly moved on down the path to the village below.
“Is THAT where you’ve been? You look like you’ve been up to something.” Mosha cocked her head as she listened to Jacob, then turned and started walking back down the path toward Bethlehem. “Mosha! We can’t leave the flock! We’ve been gone too long already!” but Mosha continued down the path, oblivious to Jacob’s pleas. Then Jacob followed her, slowly at first, but gathering speed as the two of them began to run down the path toward the village below. Boy following lamb, running in the moonlight, wondering what event had happened on this cold, winter’s night in the town of Bethlehem. Could the Magi have been right? Was a child born that would become the king of the Jews? Where would they find him? He must be in the biggest building in town. There would be many people gathered – wealthy people who had come to pay their respects. How could they get in? How could they even get close? Surely a poor shepherd boy would not be allowed to get near a newborn king!
As Mosha and Jacob drew closer to Bethlehem they began to pass small buildings along the road. Mosha trotted along as if she knew where she was going. Jacob followed. Turning off the main road, Mosha walked between two small buildings. One appeared to be a small home and the other was an inn. Peering through the window Jacob could see that several of the travelers were still sitting at a table drinking wine and talking with each other. Did they know about a king being born? “Where are you going, Mosha? Town is that way.” Jacob said as he pointed back toward the main road. “We need to look for a crowd in order to find the baby. Come on, let’s go!” But Mosha turned and walked toward the back of the inn.
There was little light and Jacob felt his way along the side of the inn until he found himself standing in an open area behind the building* He was afraid of making noise, sure the innkeeper would take him for a robber. What would a young boy be doing outside at this time of night unless he was up to no good! In the distance Jacob could see a faint light coming from another building. The stable. “Mosha,” Jacob whispered, “come here! There’s nobody back there except the animals that belong to those staying at the inn!” But Mosha persisted and Jacob ran up the pathway to follow the lamb.
Mosha stopped at the entrance to the cave. The candlelight spilled out from the entry way and illuminated the area in front of the stable. As Jacob walked up toward the stable he saw the Magi’s camels standing off to the side, tethered to a tree. Jacob stood next to Mosha in silence. Neither knew what to do next. Slowly, the lamb took one step forward, then another. Jacob stood still, his feet frozen to the ground. At the doorway, Mosha stopped and looked inside. She turned and looked at Jacob, as if to tell him everything would be alright, then walked into the stable and out of Jacob’s sight.
“This is not a place for a king to be born. What trouble has Mosha gotten us into now?” thought Jacob. “But the Magi’s camels are here. Could this really be the place they were looking for?” Jacob slowly walked toward the entrance to the stable.
Inside the stable was a small gathering of people and animals. The Magi, dressed in their magnificent robes, had gathered around a manger full of straw. Next to the manger a young woman was kneeling and another man was standing with his hand on her shoulder – all were looking intently into the manger. Mosha had made her way to the manger and she, too, was gazing at whatever, or whoever, was there. The woman looked up at the boy and a smile formed on her lips. “Come in, young man. You are welcome here.” His eyes never left the manger as he walked over to the huddled group of people. Laying on the straw, wrapped in an old cloth, was a newborn child. He was asleep. He did not look like a king.
Jacob stood in silence looking at the newborn child. There was a peace and serenity in his face that Jacob had never seen before. There was something special about this child – of that he was sure. The Magi broke the silence as they presented his mother with gifts they had brought from their countries: gold, frankincense and myrrh. They told the child’s parents how they had traveled to Jerusalem and met with King Herod as they searched for the child whose birth had been foretold by the prophets. Their journey led them to Bethlehem where they have found this child. They knelt to worship the one who would become king. With glad hearts they could return to their countries. The Magi bid farewell and departed.
“What is his name?” Jacob asked.
“Jesus” said his mother.
In the comer of the stable a donkey became restless and the noise awakened the sleeping child. He did not cry, but he looked at each of the faces that were looking at him. Jacob laughed. “He’s so little!” His mother picked Jesus up and began to sing softly to her child. Jacob reached out his finger and the child squeezed it with his hand. Mosha came closer and put her nose up against the child’s head, nestled in the crook of his mother’s arm. The moment Mosha’s nose touched the little child a soft glow radiated all around, coming from Mosha! Jacob was startled at first, but watched with awe as Mosha’s fur became as white as new fallen snow! It glowed in the dim light of the stable. The lamb seemed unmoved by the change, in fact, Jacob was sure Mosha was aware of the change and even seemed to understand. Before long the child had fallen back to sleep and his mother laid him back in the manger. By now, Mosha was laying at Jacob’s feet. The father, his name was Joseph, told Jacob of the things that had occurred during the last 9 months. Jacob listened intently, hardly believing his ears. He watched the child’s mother, Mary, as Joseph continued with the story. There was a peace about Mary. A calmness. Love. No wonder God had chosen this woman to bear such a gift to the world!
“He really is the Messiah, isn’t he?” Jacob asked the child’s mother. “The one that the prophets said would come?”
“Yes. He is.” she answered softly.
“Mosha knew that you were here. She was the reason I came. I don’t have anything to give to you, but maybe he would like this…” Jacob took off his scarf and laid it over the sleeping child. “It will help keep him warm.” Mary smiled at Jacob and he realized he felt warm for the first time since he left his campfire.
“I have to get back to my flock” Jacob said, “if they are still there!”
“Thank you for coming, Jacob. And for bringing your lamb.” Mary said.
“My lamb brought me!” Jacob answered. “Mosha. come on. We really have to go. Good-by little one. Good-by Mary, Joseph. Like the Magi, I’m glad we found you tonight.”
“Jacob, go and tell others what you have seen here this night,” said Mary. Her smile was as warm as the candles that provided the glow in the stable.
As Jacob and Mosha left the stable, they walked together in silence. The night sky had started to brighten in the east. As Jacob and Mosha arrived at the top of the hill, they turned to look back at the village they had left only an hour before. The sky was filled with stars, but one shown more brightly than all the rest. This one appeared to hang over Bethlehem as a jewel in the sky. Hadn’t the Magi said they had followed a star? Had this star pointed the way during their long journey? In the twilight, Jacob could see the village below. A few lights still twinkled from small windows, though not a sound could be heard from below. Jacob felt the cold again and put his hand out for Mosha who was lying by his side. When Jacob looked toward his friend, Mosha’s fur was still luminescent! She glowed with a soft radiance. He recalled the stable. A warmth flowed through Jacob as he remembered.
“Thanks, Mosha. You knew, didn’t you?” Mosha put her head in Jacob’s lap as they looked together at Bethlehem below. “I’m not sure what we saw tonight, Mosha, but I think we were supposed to be there. I’m not sure what a poor shepherd and a lamb could have to do with the birth of a king, and I guess we will never know the answer, but I know we were supposed to be in that stable, and hear the story that Joseph and Mary told us. Mosha, you can help me lead the rest of the flock to Bethlehem tomorrow, but I’m not going to sell you at the market. You’re coming home with me.”
Jacob and Mosha got up and walked over the hill, back to their flock. Mosha never lost her glow, neither did Jacob.
If you are lucky, your life will include a dog.
I’ve had more than a few cross my path and I remember picking out each one. While maybe not up there with saying “I do” to your best friend on your wedding day, or watching your life change in the delivery room as your wife brings your child into the world, picking out a furry puppy from a lively litter – all vying for your attention – is a moment that will become a lasting memory as the years drift along. Life is made up of moments and the best of them include a dog – maybe not always in the center of the action, but certainly close by.
I grew up with a black poodle named Mimi. Dad was against getting a dog but relented when mom convinced him that poodles didn’t shed (and we convinced him that we would be responsible for taking care of her). Mimi kept her bargain by not shedding, but she ultimately became dad’s dog. When I left home to join the service I missed my dog but my life was soon filled with new adventures and the newfound freedom of being a young independent adult. I met Veloice after returning from Vietnam and we moved to Colorado to start our lives together. A year later we got married. College, work, and friends filled our days. Apartments grew in size as did our young family when Megan arrived just before my graduation in 1977. We relocated to Illinois for my first real job and four years later were transferred to Ohio where we bought our first home on Kibler Avenue. Within weeks of moving in and unpacking the boxes we decided to get our first dog and found a miniature black poodle that we creatively named Bucky (for the Buckeye state). Emily was born and we became a family of five – funny how a dog quickly becomes an equal part of the family, but they do. As I leaf through old photograph albums of our family’s early years, when the kids were small and we were taking snapshots of every mundane event, Bucky is somewhere in the shot.
After 6 years in Ohio we moved to California for a couple of years then relocated to Minnesota. Veloice got pregnant again and Kayla joined our family. Bucky was slowing down and starting to show his age. Veloice and I discussed how hard it would be to not have a dog if something happened to Bucky and we started to look for another dog. We found a female apricot poodle that was a little older and fell in love with her at first sight. We named her Chelsea and brought her home. While Bucky may have felt threatened at first, he sure got a second wind having a young lady in the house and began to thrive in our new family of seven. During those wonderful years our family of 3 kids (whose ages covered a 15 year spread) and 2 dogs under one roof filled the house with endless laughter.
Megan went off to college in 1995. Bucky’s health slowly deteriorated and we sadly decided the time had come. I simply couldn’t take him to the vet and watched as he left our driveway for the last time with Veloice and Emily. I still regret not being there. We bought a tree and planted it in the front yard. Bucky’s ashes were buried in the soil and his collar was hung on a branch of the spindly little Maple tree.
Emily headed off to college in 2000 and the house seemed so much emptier. My dad finally succumbed to Alzheimer’s in 2002 and several months later I noticed blood in Chelsea’s urine. I took her to the vet for tests and was informed that she was quite sick. Veloice rushed over to say goodbye and this time I stayed while Chelsea gently passed away in my arms as I cried and thanked her for being such a good dog. I wish my dad could have passed as easily as Chelsea – I sometimes wonder why we are kinder to our pets during this last stage of life than we are with our own family members. Chelsea was cremated and her ashes were also buried under the growing Maple tree. Her collar was hung on a branch next to Bucky’s.
For the first time in about 20 years we were suddenly without a dog. Veloice went online that night and searched for a chocolate brown poodle. She found a breeder south of the Twin Cities that had some older puppies for sale. We drove down the next day to take a look. There were dogs and puppies everywhere and we were directed to a pen with the group of puppies that were for sale. I watched each of the puppies – some more animated than others – and waited for that special connection to get made. Little noses poked through the chicken wire. Tongues licked. Bigger pups climbed over smaller ones to get a better look at the humans who could be their ticket out. My eyes kept going back to one who wasn’t trying quite as hard. She was a cute puppy with very good poodle traits and I think she was checking me out as much as I was checking her out. The connection was made, the transaction completed, and we walked out to the van with the newest member of our family. On the ride home we settled on the name “Hershey” for obvious reasons and I remember laying on the floor with her when we first got home and telling her “You don’t know it yet, but you just won the lottery!” Our home felt complete again.
Of course a new puppy quickly gets everyone’s attention and we were delighted when our oldest daughter, Megan, convinced Mike that they should get a puppy, too. Or maybe it was Mike who did the convincing? About a year later they went down to the same breeder and came home with another cute chocolate poodle named Bailey – and she happened to be related to Hershey which explained all the embarrassing sniffing and joyous barking when they first got together!
COLLARS IN A TREE
My hair has turned gray and the pages of the calendar seem to flutter to the ground like leaves in a stiff fall breeze. The spindly little Maple tree that we planted so many years ago is now a stately shade tree in our front yard. Its full leafy canopy is a colorful autumn tribute to Bucky and Chelsea – that broomstick of a tree was fertilized with love when we placed their ashes in its care. Every spring, when the snow finally gives way to a greening lawn, Hershey and I walk over to the tree and look for the two collars that still hang on their neighboring branches. Well, actually, the tree limbs have grown around the collars so only the buckles and tags remain visible today. But they are still there, and while Hershey sniffs around the trunk of the tree I spend a few minutes thinking about all the special moments that became enduring memories with our two family pups. Remembering always brings a smile, and usually a tear or two, when I recall their similarities and their differences, but mostly their unconditional love that got us through so many ups and downs over the years as furry companions and full-fledged family members. I’m afraid it won’t be too long before a third collar is placed in the tree and I feel a lump in my throat when I think of that day with knowing dread. For now, with Hershey at my side, we’ll keep looking for ways to make new memories while we still have time – the tree will just have to wait a little longer for that last collar.
The dull metallic thunk of the trailer tongue falling into place on top of the hitch ball, followed by the jangle of the chains securing the trailer to the Nissan, were familiar sounds that foretold the start of another day on the lake. I stopped for a moment and listened carefully. It didn’t take long before I heard the excited whimpering and sniffing on the other side of the door going from the garage into the kitchen. Hershey had lost much of her hearing these past couple of years, but the sounds of the trailer being hooked up were still registering and immediately put a youthful spring back into her step. I put my hand on the knob and turned it, opening the door slowly, but Hershey was already through the narrow opening and out into the garage – pacing back and forth along the length of the boat. Shaking with anticipation, she watched as I finished connecting the lights and threw the life preservers, towels, and the boat bag with water and snacks, into the back of the Nissan. Over the past few years, since the kids had all grown up and left home, it was usually just Hershey and me taking the boat over to Lake Minnetonka. She had become my boat buddy and I looked forward to our time on the lake together as much as she did. I picked her up and put her on the passenger seat, walked around the vehicle and got in, turned the ignition key, put it in drive, and slowly pulled out of the driveway.
It was a 20 minute drive over to Grays Bay and Hershey knew the boat launch routine by heart. Once the boat was off the trailer and tied up to the dock, we parked the vehicle and walked back to the boat. Hershey would stay by my side until we got close to the pier, then she would run ahead, straight to our boat (even if there were others tied up to the dock), hop onto a seat in the bow, and wait for me to get us underway. We would cruise slowly through Grays Bay, then make our way into Wayzata Bay, where – once past the “No Wake” buoys – I’d crack the throttle and yell “YeeHa!” With Hershey’s ears flying in the breeze, and her pink tongue visible in her happy dog grin, we were throwing a wake, jumping waves, and heading out into Main Bay at full tilt with the pirate flag on the stern snapping in the wind.
Our first stop was always the beach in Maxwell Bay because the overhanging branches offered some shade from the hot summer sun. Once the bow of the boat slid to a stop on the sandy shore, Hershey would jump from her perch in front and run up and down the shore – sometimes in the sand and other times in the shallow water. While not the water bug that our other dogs were, Hershey nevertheless loved being at the lake. Sometimes our lazy days would include floating in the tube together – soaking up the sun while enjoying the cool water. Once back in the boat we’d share a snack and she’d lap up some cold water from my Thermos.
I’d crank up tunes on the radio and we’d stretch out to relax while the boat gently rocked with the waves lapping up to the shore. Sometimes we’d spend time playing with any passengers who may have joined us for some time on the lake. Regardless of the day’s activities, it’s hard to not enjoy an afternoon on the boat with your dog.
There are times, of course, when Veloice and I have places to go – to the store, maybe a movie, or out for an evening with some friends. There have been times when I’ve taken off for a week or two on a motorcycle trip out west with Larry and Mike, or over to Oshkosh for a week of camping with my Vietnam buddies during the air show. And there are the normal days when Veloice is working her shift at the hospital. The reasons for being away may vary, but Hershey always knows when one of us (or both of us) are gone and her world is not right. There is a window to the right of our front door that has a view of the front yard and the road in front of our house. Hershey sits by the door looking out the window for hours on end if one of us is away. If we are coming home after dark I always make the turn and come up our street slowly. The small light in the foyer is usually on making Hershey’s silhouette in the window clearly visible. Once she recognizes our car you can see her get up quickly and run into the living room where she will sit, head cocked – listening – and watch the door to the garage with growing anticipation. Once we walk into the kitchen we are met with a loud and exuberant greeting as if we had been gone for years. There is no joy better for Hershey than knowing we are all home together and her world is right once again.
It has been an exceptionally mild winter up here in Minnesota. I like motorcycles and boats, not snowmobiles. I like my daily walks at Staring Lake (rather than being forced to walk inside at the local mall when the paths get icy or the temperature plummets). The cross-country skiers are bitching this year. So are the pond hockey enthusiasts. Ice houses were pulled off the lakes early due to thin ice and more than a few vehicles breaking through. Snowmobilers grimace at the extended forecast while their covered sleds sit on trailers in their driveways – weekend plans ruined by trails with more mud and rocks than snow. Resort owners have empty rooms and daily cancellations, bars are quiet, restaurants have immediate seating, and ski areas can’t make enough snow to offset Mother Nature’s winter joke. Yes, this may be another truncated winter for those of us who prefer open roads and calm bays on the lake, but the other half of Minnesotans are a dour bunch these days.
The Masters Golf Tournament is only a month away – a sure sign of spring. Sometimes we have a foot of snow on the ground as we watch with envy the golfers playing on one of the most spectacular courses in the world. Other years the snow has melted, the windows are open, and spring is in the air. Augusta National’s emerald green grass, the brilliant white sand in the dreaded traps, and the beautiful pink Azaleas remind us that spring is just around the corner. But we still have to get through April and any Minnesotan knows that a spring blizzard can bury the colorful crocus flowers in a foot of snow. Oh shit.
Speaking of shit, even though the winter up here has been mild, my dog, Hershey, seems to be eating quite well and in constant need to go out. We’re not sure if her age has anything to do with her frequent tap dance in the foyer, or the fact that she has trained us in the fashion of Pavlov’s Dog to the stimulus/response paradigm, but I actually log a daily exercise in “MyFitnessPal” on my iPhone for climbing in and out of my leather recliner to repeatedly put her out – and she is definitely salivating, her pink tongue licking her chops, as she runs back to the house expecting a cookie. While standing in the doorway to keep an eye on her as she does her business, I am well aware that our front yard has become a minefield to anyone crazy enough to venture off the relative safety of the sidewalk and driveway. I cringe when neighbors take a shortcut through the yard to our front door for a visit – thank God they are also dog owners. However I’m fairly certain they look at the chore of picking up poop as part of owning a dog, whereas I’m not so inclined (preferring to wait for a new blanket of snow to freshen the landscape, or a good spring downpour to beat the recycled cookies and gourmet dog food into fertilizer for our spring lawn). It seems crazy to pick up dog poop and then run out to buy fertilizer (manure) to put on the yard. Hershey and I just streamline the process.
The reason I wrote about shit today is because I was struck by the similarity of standing in my doorway, coffee in hand, keeping an eye on Hershey while she adds to the countless piles in my front yard and watching the president of the United States spew more shit on the morning news. This is a remarkable time we live in – our winters in Minnesota are so mild that it’s hard to get enough snow to cover up Hershey’s crap in the yard, and we have a president who understands the mind of many who elected him and continually tweets like a tempestuous teenager enough bullshit to keep them riled up while misdirecting the press from other things his administration is doing behind the scenes. Unfortunately for the turd in the White House, the free press in this country is waking up and finding it’s soul again. It will keep chasing leads, reporting leaks, and pulling threads until the whole thing unravels. It will melt the snow that is covering up the shit just below the surface and the stench will be unbearable when it’s exposed.
Spring is coming, Donald. Spring is coming.