Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

Let the River Run

Turns out, my sleep last night wasn’t as restful as I thought. I needed to close my eyes. I put my head on the arm of my couch. When I woke up a few minutes later, I heard the humming of engines. Our trash/recycling pickup was canceled this week. I wondered: could they possibly be here on a Sunday? What else could be the cause of that noise?

I looked out the window. I saw was big pickup truck. It was idling.

I looked longer. I spread the proverbial curtain. There were trucks and cars as far as I could see.

As I write these words vehicle are lined up on my street and they are similarly lined up on another street a block over.

People are bringing food to Sanford Middle School.

If they are not driving to the school, they are walking to the school, carrying bags of food under their arms.

One man just passed my door with three grocery bags under each arm.

Some 170 children who attend Sanford, many with younger siblings, are without food and other basic supplies.

Public transit is closed.

Walkable stores have been destroyed by rioters.

School Nutrition Services is closed.

Some members of these families have, it has been reported in the media, tested positive for COVID-19.

In the sixty or so minutes it’s take me to compose these words the line of cars has not lessened and quite possibly it has lengthened. The sidewalks are busier now for certain

Like that: I’m not feeling nothing anymore.

Tassels and Plywood

He stood tall in full cap and gown.

He smiled. A camera would, no doubt, soon be aimed in his direction. Maybe more than one.

Family had gathered.

Hands were around his shoulders.

They were on the front step of a house on 42nd Avenue.

I saw his carefully combed hair and intuited from the wideness of his smile that this was a grad who was more proud than most of what he had achieved on this Saturday night.

I snapped this impression in a flash, driving at twenty-eight-odd miles per hour on his side of the road.

I had just turned onto 42nd a half block before. This after filling my gas tank. This is detail — the attainment of gasoline for my fourteen-year-old Civic — is noteworthy in that the first gas station I had gone to was newly burned down. The second gas station I went to was barricaded, the lone car present marked all over with the words “Hennepin County Sheriff.” The third gas station I went to — by now I was down to two bars and the orange light was on — was shut down. I could not pay at the pump.

As I was breathing a little easier while pumping at the fourth gas station I went to, a thankfully still-in-service BP suddenly doing brisk business — the front of which had been plastered with plywood, just like the jewelry store nearby and, well, most other joints on this strip — I heard and oversized man walking out of the gas station store say loudly to someone still back inside, “that is why I always pack heat.”

The grad smiled as a grad deserves to smile.

Back home — I do not live far from the grad I passed — having removed everything from my backyard that isn’t permanently attached to the ground — the neighborhood alerts said the riots will look for trash cans and anything they can easily set aflame — I packed a bag in case the little buddy and I would soon need to immediately make use of the gas we had just acquired.

It is one thing to stash the dog’s meds and a fresh pair of underwear in a bag so you can be away from home for a night. It is another when the same bag will only be used during a scenario in which a mob of protesters torch your neighborhood.

What goes in the duffle takes a different tenor when the only reason you would leave is because you might not be able to come back.

The neighborhood was organized. This fact was comforting. Another fact was less so: someone on the group text mentioned that 15 gallons of kerosene had been found a block away from my house. As I read the message images that streamed live on my computer screen, scenes from New York, Nashville, and my own city flickered against the dark night in the form of flames and teargas and stormtroopers donned in black masks.

I write these words the next morning, after an abbreviated but surprisingly restful bit of sleep, after the little buddy and I got back from a walk that began minutes after the curfew ended. We did not, mercifully, ever need to flee our home. During the walk, I checked the time several times as he peed on poles and sniffed bushes; it was so quiet — we had the neighborhood to ourselves — minutes went by before so much as a single moving car could be seen — I worried we had re-entered the world too soon.

The coffeeshop on the corner was perhaps the last building in Minneapolis to be boarded up before the curfew. It looked like it would never again be open.

The theater on our block, too, looked like a Menard’s turned inside-out. The red-block-letters that are supposed to tell me what is playing today said only “Justice for George.”

Only the first name.

I have been struck over the last week by how detached from the world I have felt since Mr. Floyd’s international news-making death. Some blocks into our walk tears finally appeared.

Only the first name was needed.

I am now sitting on my porch. My belly rises and falls as I search for words.

I am not going to even try to find the ones that would make sense of it all. I don’t have access to those. If anyone does.

I am aiming much lower, much closer to home.

Justice for George.

I am grateful that at least I am finally feeling something.

Only the first name.

It helps when I think of that grad smiling.

After

I took care of my fallen friend (tree) on Memorial Day.

I sawed her limbs. I broke off her branches.

I crushed up her twigs. There were twigs everywhere.

I held in my hands her stump, which weighed more than it looked.

I piled her logs, which were more in number than it appeared.

I dug up her roots.

I pulled out what felt like the equivalent of the tree’s heart. I don’t know so much about trees but that is what it felt like as I held a forearm’s length bit of the base, turning it over in my hands. This is the part that had, when she was alive, combined with the earth — a brown and buried part in which it was not possible to tell where the tree began and the soil ended.

When I was done, I mowed over the grass that had grown underneath, in the time between the fall and the burial.

I gave away some of her wood to my neighbor. He has helped me more than once in recent weeks. He has a fire pit. The pyre.

There is now nothing left in the spot but a hole in the ground.

Rest In Peace (Just Not on the Walkway, Please)

Only took one punch.

I kid because I can. Not because I should.

Sarcasm masks something. Oh you go ahead and figure it out.

I had known this friend had fallen. Now I know she can’t get up.

This was the view as of yesterday when I went outside for lunch.

So sad.

I had thought there was a chance my crabapple was making an improbable comeback. Spotted several budding limbs early this spring …

… alas.

My tree expert assuaged my fears that whatever caused her demise is not going to affect the health of my maple on the other side of the yard. Better not!

To clarify, this is not believed to be a COVID-19 causality. I recall an expert I consulted with two falls ago say that had not been a good spot for a crabapple. He had suggested I get rid of it to make room for something else. I guess I will now have the space. But I don’t know what I will do with that space just yet.

Too soon.

Two Lists

“Character is destiny.” I had heard those words before. Last night I read that they were attributed to Heraclitus, a Presocratic philosopher who was said to practice social distancing several thousand years before it was cool. He was a hermit.

There is a lot of wisdom in that view.

Character is not a word you hear much about theses days. Used to be one of the two major political parties made it part of its platform. You heard it about it — a lot — every four years. That sort of went away when that party’s de facto head turned out to be someone with little to no moral standing on most matters of import.

I think character is important. I think it should be valued more.

I don’t necessarily wish for people or groups to decide for the rest of us what public character is. This can be in the eye of the beholder — somewhat. I do wish that the common values — honesty, integrity, virtue, the willingness to admit mistakes, decency, kindness — were prized more than they seem at present to be.

Personally, this statement — getting back to Heraclitus — speaks to me. I like that it empowers me to think of my own actions.

Our own actions are under our control.

My own actions are under my control.

Certainly, we act often without first consciously thinking through our words or behaviors. This is human nature and it is necessary. You could not get through the day if you weighed and considered every moment before acting on that moment.

Yet we also have the ability to reflect on what we do and that process of reflection can lead to different words and behaviors in future moments.

I do not always take the time but at the end of the day I think it’s useful to open my notebook and make two short lists.

The first: What I did well.

The second: What I did not do well.

I then resist the temptation to scold myself for the items that appear on the second list. They are done; there is nothing I can do to change the past 24 hours.

Yet I think there is great power in seeing. That is often more than enough. The unconscious takes it from there.

The pitfall for me is that as soon as I think of that word, character, in moments of stress or moral ambiguity in the course of a day I immediately strive for perfection and, tend to initiate self-inflected mental punches for falling short of perfection.

Which, of course, does not exist and is not possible.

Yet by not taking a look at my failings, I am more likely to repeat them.

And, thus, they are, as Heraclitus might say, more likely to steer my ship.

That is the crux of character for me. It’s about wanting to do well — yes — but mostly it’s about wanting to do better.

Let It Rain

Give me the smell of wet dog. And the sound of pitter-patter on my helmet. Let us walk, little buddy, until water squishes between my toes.

I checked my go-to weather app this morning and, as I thumbed across the hours, and saw the rain showers icon appear, hour after hour, uninterrupted, I said go-baby-go-baby-go.

Sundays are made for Miles anyway. The rain is an atmospheric bonus.

Let’s go for a long one, little buddy. We can pee on as many trees as you want.

I love when your snout looks like the working end of a dipstick. When we have the sidewalks to ourselves.

Look at that robin on the fence with her bright orange beak. Greetings m’am. Just smelling the greening grass. Good day, m’am.

Yes, give me this rain. Give it to me all day. Yeah.

Corona Jujitsu — Not

Turns out, I was wearing it upside down.

My mask. My N-95. My first one. As I stood in line to get into the grocery store, I snapped a selfie to send to my friend as I thanked him again for the gratis covering. He politely pointed out my error. I didn’t receive his gentle admonition, however, until after I had gotten the nod and gone in and filled my cart. Not, actually, until I got home, and started unpacking my goods.

He asked if maybe I knew an especially good way to keep the Coronavirus at bay.

Unfortunately, my mental powers do not make me an antiviral Jedi master.

You mean that pretty lady in produce wasn’t checking me out — she was, in fact, looking long in my direction in an attempt to count the number of ways in which I am stupid?

I see.

Occurs that if I were to want to don anything more ridiculous on my next bimonthly trek I might wear over my nose what during my days as a hockey player we referred to as a nut-cup.

The Eyes

We had a rough patch because of a sore spot.

Something got lodged in my little buddy’s back right paw. Must have walked over something. Or scraped something. Anyway, it didn’t look right. Or at all comfortable.

I have been learning about stoicism from books and talks and lectures of late. But, of course, I live every day with a master stoic.

Ninety minutes before I noticed the paw problem we had gone for a 45-minute walk.

He had just been on squirrel patrol.

No hobbles. No wobbles. No limps. Or gimps. No whining. Or whimpers.

What he did was scratch. And lick. He licked and then he licked some more. Like dogs do.

The cone was used, more then he and I (especially he) would like, there for a spell. Cone wearing does not for a happy house make. I don’t think that can be found as a framed sign like the kind people put on their kitchen walls and I know it’s not a bumper sticker. Still, it’s true.

Then we saw the vet. Got that paw cleaned right up. Got some pills for the infection that had been brewing. Ahhh.

Almost immediately, he was a new dog.

We ran in the park. And later around the block.

Even more for me, I have found, is the change in his eyes. Last night we sipped up some last dribbles of evening air. He found one of his favorite spots on the grass. I was in my chair. We sat there with nothing else to do but breathe.

I loved the way he looked up at me just then.

We imbue companion animals with human traits and emotions that aren’t always fair and often are not accurate. The depth of their inner lives is not the same as the terrain of those of us who use words. You know you don’t know. Yet you do know the energy that passes between you. Especially when you look at him and he looks long at you. Love is maybe best not parsed but experienced.

Some of those experiences are contained in specific moments you know you will carry forever. Mental snapshots form — those of the sort that are more vivid than could be captured with a camera. You don’t have reach for a tool. It happens automatically that a new image is taken and stored in the permanent drive only you have access to. It was in the 8 o’clock hour with the last light of day. Slight breeze. Cool but comfortable air. Green grass. His torso twisted slightly up and toward me.

Click.

Quarantine Crankiness

I go along thinking shelter-in-place hasn’t affected me much. For every adverse effect, I can find a positive. For every downside, I can see an upside. As one who is neither sick nor unemployed, it is, frankly, hard to muster a complaint. With so many in true duress, I am, by comparison, fortunate. No doubt. Yet maybe I missed something. Yesterday I got irritable in a hurry. Not for the first time in the last couple of weeks, I should add. There were triggers, different ones at different times, and I won’t here dig into the particulars except to say they were garden variety — no major life developments. In that moment yesterday, I paused. I self-scanned. I mean, it happens. It’s a human response. Everyone knows what it’s like to be cranky. Yet because emotions can be valuable teachers I am thinking about yesterday’s irritability today. Is there something I need? Something I need to do? Something unsettled in me?

Sometimes when I ask myself such questions I get rapid responses. Usually, and in this case, it takes a little longer. Initially, I reached for answers that seemed to be perfectly plausible yet also not suitable to me at this time. One of the best things I have changed about myself over the years is resisting false clarity.

So the answers may take time and that is OK. I think there is value in simply asking oneself good questions. Answers come up. Not unlike moments of irritability that way.

Makes sense, though, to consider those areas in which I am most likely to have gotten in my own way — to get some readings.

Exercise. After initially adjusting well to home-based workouts, my frequency has stalled some. Intuitively, last night the little buddy and I jogged during our walk. I also got a quick workout out in while he was enjoying his dinner outside. I woke up in a better place this morning. We shall see.

Diet. I have been eating more or less well — not eating out — but one thing that comes up is that I haven’t been as on top of my thyroid-boosting foods of late. Maybe I will have some kelp with breakfast. (No, I won’t pretend it takes good.)

Sleep. I have been so engaged in things during my free time that I am often still fired up into the evenings, resulting in shorter nights of rest, now that I think of it. This could be a big one.

Social. Well, yeah, break down alert here. Not surprising, talking up the checkout clerk at Trader Joe’s once every 11 days doesn’t a social life make. I have been good at Zoom meet-ups with friends and other emotional-intellectual counterparts. I love snuggling with my dog, but very possibly I could use some human touch.

Spiritual. My studies of philosophy have been feeding me for sure. Yet this could be an area of expansion during this time.

Reflection on a Reflection

An hour after I drafted my previous post I had a dream during which I realized I had learned my own lesson about assessments all over again. It was like a paradox inside of a paradox. Like dreams often are, the moment didn’t make sense, not literally, not in waking life, and yet in dream life was so sensible it was silly. While sleeping I was smiling.