Category Archives: Walking the Dog

Fall, Offered Sparingly

The look and feel of fall has been slow to arrive in Northern Virginia this year.  The brilliant hues of autumn, in skies and foliage, have been largely absent.  Thanks to persistent and soaking rains, the landscape is washed in the dullest of grays and browns, like those of an old trench coat.  Like the one that hangs in my closet, ugly but utilitarian.  And during these frequent fall downpours, too often worn.  It’s only within the last week or so, now that many trees have lost their leaves, that others are finally beginning to show some color. 

When the sun does emerge from the clouds and lend its brightness for a while, we’re not accustomed.  Above, Kiko appears bewildered by the glowing golden vision ahead.  Below, a few images of fall’s all too rare and fleeting glory.

Yesterday Kiko enjoyed the unusual luxury of morning sunshine on my mother’s deck.  Today the rain is back, and a winter-worthy chill is headed our way for the weekend.  Gather ye sunbeams while ye may.  And hold onto that old coat.   

Halloween Update

Things have a way of working out swimmingly for our skeleton friend Slim, especially on Halloween.  Merrily and swiftly, he piloted his pack to Charlottesville without incident, arriving at UVA with plenty of time for trick-or-treating on the Lawn.  In a costume-wearing crowd, the unadorned authenticity of the group stood out.  Slim was greeted as a celebrity (as he typically is, wherever he goes).  Our daughter, who was there with friends, soon spotted her old buddy, the center of attention in a multitude of admirers. 

D was dressed as Barf the Dog from the movie Spaceballs.  She wore my 1980s Banana Republic khaki jumpsuit, furry ears and the appropriate make-up.  Slim approved, as he’s an avid Mel Brooks fan, and the pack welcomed her as one of their own.  


Kiko rapidly got his fill of the festivities and the press of the throng.  He retreated to the shelter of a stately column and resumed his nap.   And as for costumes, he says no.  Since submitting reluctantly to an ill-fitting red fleece vest (made by my mother without access to any actual measurements) for his first Christmas card photo, he wears only his own fur.  Should he encounter a costume-wearing canine, more than a trace of condescension is evident as he sniffs a greeting. 

Slim, ever the people person, could have mixed and mingled until the wee hours, but he honors his commitments.  Just as his faithful lead dog, Fluffy, was about to point out the time, Slim began to say his goodbyes.  The Crew was needed back in Northern Virginia.  They would not disappoint.  I’ve learned not to doubt my friend’s word.  His integrity is beyond reproach.  Plus, he seems to be able to bend time according to his whim.  Just as I was putting the tea lights in our jack-o-lantern votives, the car zipped up the driveway. 

The gang hopped out and assumed their places.  They’re good at freezing in position, so as not to frighten the unsuspecting.  Kiko looked out the storm door to assess the situation, sighed and retired to the sofa.  The night was only just beginning for Slim and the Crew.  But Kiko can only take so much Halloween. 

Until next year, folks!  Goodnight! 

Skeleton Crew 2018


Halloween season is in full swing, as is our Skeleton Crew of merry mirth-makers.  In early October, Slim and the pups emerged from eleven months of quiet repose and restorative rumination in the shadowy comfort of my mother’s basement. 

For the past few weeks, they’ve enjoyed roaming from our house to hers, snacking, lounging, soaking up sunshine as well as rain.  They savor weather in all its forms.  Slim, widely renowned as a scintillating conversationalist and acute observer of the human condition, has considerable wisdom to impart. 

With the tiniest bit of coaxing (or sometimes none at all), he delves into his endless cache of beguiling tales and truly ripping yarns.  As my father would say, that skinny guy “really can talk.” 

When the month is winding down, the gang is gearing up.  They’re  more than ready to let loose their insouciant charm and plunge full-throttle into fall festivity.  High-jinks ensue. 

While Kiko enjoys smallish doses of the company of his furless friends, their boundless enthusiasm tends to grate on his nerves.  In the very top photo, he has sought out an isolated patch of sun by the garage.  Before long, though, the pack is upon him again.   

These puppies will never grow up, he sighs.  How tedious it is to be the object of so much unbridled adoration.  What’s a senior dog to do?  

Perhaps with an absence of encouragement, they’ll lose interest.   

And then Slim suggests a spin in his favorite vehicle.  Top down, of course.  Gotta feel the cool autumn breeze in one’s silky locks.  With a knowing look he turns to Kiko and asks: Why not head down to Charlottesville and check in with your sister, old man?  We’ll be back before the trick-or-treaters arrive.  

The college kids love Slim.  Plus, he’s an architecture buff.  And a tad vain.  The Lawn and Rotunda, dressed in fall foliage, will serve as a striking backdrop for photographing his good looks.  Also, he and Mr. Jefferson were kids together, back in the day.   

Kiko needs no further nudging.  He’s stirring and stretching, preparing for a full-body shake.  He remembers why he loves this garrulous guy after all, and why it bodes well to tolerate his pack of yippy beasts.  Halloween joyride!

At last, the top dog can finally get some serious shuteye. 

Happy Halloween, everyone!


For previous Skeleton Crew posts from years past, see here

Those Rosy Roses

It’s been nine years since we transformed our concrete dessert of a back yard into a place where roses grow.  Every May, the vines burst forth in riotous profusion.  This spring’s long cold spell delayed peak bloom for about two weeks, but once the buds began opening, the flowers were as spectacular as ever.  The pale pink climbing roses on our garage trellis are subtle in color but especially flamboyant in abundance.  After their fabulous spring fiesta, they continue to bloom, but only sparingly, throughout the summer and into the chilly days of fall.  Even early December sees  a few persistent blossoms. 


The red double knock-outs along the fence stage their main event in May, as well.  They bloom throughout the summer and fall, with greater frequency than the climbers. 

Kiko’s good looks merit a handsome backdrop, but he cares little about the appearance of his surroundings.  This is, of course, one reason dogs are so well-loved by their people.  A dog is happy to be his human’s sweet prince, whether in a shack or a mansion.   

The battered appearance of our old garage doors didn’t hurt Kiko’s self-image. 

He could sit, proud and regal, on our old porch, even during the squalor of demolition.

But he hated the constant presence of a tether.  No matter how long, it typically stopped short of where he wanted to be. We revamped our porch and back yard not only to add some beauty to our little corner of the world, but also to give our beloved animal a space in which he could roam freely.  Our bounty of roses means even more to me because it represents the process that brought Kiko a greater measure of liberty.  My pursuit of happiness is tethered to his.  Everyone who shares a life and home with a dog recognizes this truth. 

May the roses keep blooming.  May my little dog continue to ramble from sun to shade, from squirrel to fox watching, in his pleasant domain. 


For earlier posts on our back yard transformation, see Up From the Concrete, Roses, May 12, 2012; and This is the Way the Roses Grew (And a Daughter, Too) Parts I, II and III, June 2015

Fall’s Last Blast

On today’s sunny afternoon walk, the colors were dazzling.  Seemed like we could feel it in the air:  fall’s final, fleeting burst of intensity.  I thought of a light bulb that glows suddenly brighter before it sputters out.  It won’t be long before icy winds whip these last flamboyantly hued leaves from the trees.  As November yields to December, nature’s grays and browns are mustering forces. 






We’ll counter by filling our homes with twinkling lights and sparkly stuff, with evergreens and berries.  The Holiday Season will be upon us, ready or not. 

Cherry Blossom Time in DC

Throughout the DC area, the blooming of the cherry trees in our nation’s capital is a much-discussed topic beginning in late February or so.  Will the bloom coincide with the actual Cherry Blossom Festival?  Usually not, but there is always hope.  Over 3,000 trees, a gift from Tokyo during the Taft administration in 1912, border the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial.  At their fleeting, elusive peak, they are a truly remarkable sight. 

It’s a sight I can’t recall seeing at close range during the nearly seventeen years we’ve lived in Northern Virginia.  My husband says we were there once pushing our new baby in a stroller, but I have no recollection of the visit and no photos to prove it.  Our daughter certainly has no memory of it.  Once, on our way to Atlanta for Easter, she and I saw the pink fluffy trees as our plane followed the line of the Potomac on takeoff.  In the spring of 2008 we were at the Tidal Basin, with our daughter and puppy, about ten days too late, as the photo below shows.  001 This past weekend, the trees were at peak bloom.  After a winter that threatened never to end, the weather was almost unbelievably perfect.  Sunny, warm, slightly breezy.  Not hot.  The ideal time to go blossom watching.  Ideal, at least, in a less populated world.  When I suggested a jaunt into DC, our daughter was enthusiastic.  But my husband groaned as though he were suffering grievous injury.  He had taxes to finish, yard work to do, work emails to face.  Traffic would be beyond horrendous.  And it was our first chance all year to relax in the comfort of our back terrace.  

I didn’t press the matter.  I agreed with his traffic prediction.  We live eighteen miles from DC.  Once, when we drove in during the early hours of Thanksgiving morning, it took us a mere twenty minutes.  More typically, it means creeping along for an hour or more on I-66 or the George Washington Parkway.  The Metro should be the obvious choice, but parking at the station, especially during cherry blossom season, is problematic at best.  Better to stay home. 

Around mid-morning we were all in the car, about to run some necessary errands, when H suggested a sudden change in plans: he could drop D and me off on the Arlington side of the river.  Maybe he’d been thinking about what a wonderful, understanding wife I am and how I didn’t protest when he flew off to Aruba over Valentine’s Day.  “I know what the trees look like,” he said, “but since you two like to look at pretty stuff, I’ll drive you.  We’ve gotta go right now, though, because the traffic will be really bad this afternoon.” 

My daughter and I didn’t need further persuasion.  I dashed back inside to get Kiko.  Walking through a beautiful landscape is not quite complete for me without my little dog.  (H and D, however, disagree.  They have a lower tolerance for Kiko’s habit of constantly pausing to smell every twig and blade of grass.)  Kiko had just settled down to nap.  He was lying on the playroom floor looking pathetic, his front paws tucked up under him, like this. 


The dog appeared stunned when I popped back so quickly and asked his favorite question, Wanna take a ride?   It took him a moment, but he roused himself and stretched.  Oh yes, he’d gladly take a ride.    

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My husband dropped us off just before the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  He headed to Crystal City where he could take care of errands and avoid the crowds of cars and pedestrians.   

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And then, there they were, those justifiably famous cherry trees.  They resemble puffs of pale pink cotton candy sprinkled among the white marble monuments.  Or paper trees in the magic crystal kit my daughter discovered in her Easter basket one year.  Almost too pretty to be real, especially when set against a baby blue sky and reflected in the water.  Worth enduring the slow-moving throngs.  Perhaps even more often than every seventeen years.      

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The Dog Loves His Girl . . . The Dog Loves Her Not . . .

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As I’ve said before, our dog Kiko doesn’t go in for expected over-the-top displays of doggy devotion.  This may be because, as a Shiba Inu, he believes he’s a cat.  The breed is known for its independence and regal aloofness.  Kiko likes his own space.  Once his needs are meet, he prefers undisturbed solitude.  When he decides it’s time for a walk or treats, he beams a persistent, focused stare in my direction.  This is a far cry from the loving, entreating gaze of a Golden Retriever.  It’s a willful obey-me-or-else eye lock.  And it works.   I toe the line, because the Shiba stubbornness is a force of nature. 

If he’s been left alone for a while, Kiko usually ambles into the kitchen unhurriedly upon my return.  Exultant jumping and frenzied face licking are beneath his dignity.  After a sniff to determine where I’ve been, he sidesteps me to paw at the door so he can check out squirrel activity in the back yard.  As for close human contact, he’s warming up to it somewhat as he ages.  (He turns eight this August.)  Occasionally I can put him on the sofa with me and he’ll rest his head on my knee.  But it’s still generally true that he consents to cuddle only if he’s asleep or frightened.  He fears nothing but thunder and fireworks.  (See here and here).  We knew to expect this sort of temperament before Kiko joined our household.  Because simply looking at my little dog makes me smile, I’m content to take him on his own terms.  If I need to be gazed at devotedly, I can visit a neighbor’s Lab or Golden Retriever.  Or I can get that sweet look from Ziggy the Rhodesian Ridgeback, Kiko’s walking pal. 

My daughter has learned to be less offended by the depths of Kiko’s reserve.  She still finds it annoying when she lies down beside him on the floor and he gets up and re-settles a couple of feet away.  But what may ignite her fiercest ire is his tendency to ignore her when she calls him for a walk.  Of course I’m the one who walks the dog most frequently.  He’s not sure D means business.  Sometimes, hearing her calling, he bypasses her to seek me out expectantly.  Typically, by the time she’s out of the house with Kiko on the leash, my daughter is furious and the dog is confused.  I’m not very happy, either, although I’m relieved to see them leave. 

During the recent snow days she took him into the woods several times.  A meandering, exploratory woods walk, whatever the weather, is one of Kiko’s favorite activities.  He was starting to hop up quickly at the first sound of her invitation.  One afternoon when D got a chance to meet friends for sledding, she realized there wouldn’t be time for a woods walk.  I wasn’t up for wading through the deep snow, so Kiko and I would start off with D and then continue on our regular neighborhood walk. 

Snow days still find D sledding with the same neighborhood friends today as in years past. Here she is with a buddy in February 2007.

The three of us set off together.  All was fine until the point at which D veered off course toward her friend’s house.  Kiko couldn’t believe we weren’t joining her.  He tugged hard at the leash.  He stared at me.  Come ON! Why are we NOT GOING?   Where is SHE going?  I tried to persuade him to carry on with our walk.  He splayed his legs and ducked his head.  He wouldn’t budge.  He sat down. 

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Surely she’ll come back.  I’ll wait right here in the middle of the frozen street. 

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I don’t see her.  But I’ll keep waiting.  She’ll come back. 

But she didn’t. 

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If I can’t go with her, we might as well head towards home.  But slowly. 

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If I sleep in the road for a bit, maybe she’ll be here when I wake up. 

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All the way back home, and still no sign of the girl.  So sad. 

When my daughter returned that evening, I told her how her dog had so wanted to accompany her.  How he had waited, and wanted to keep waiting, there in the snow.  How that maybe, in his own narcissistic, catlike Shiba way, he does really love her. 


Further proof of Kiko’s devotion to D may be his willingness to remain placidly in the strange places she puts him, as in the knothole of this maple in our yard.   


March 1

March is here.  It looks just like February, only bleaker.  A wintry mix is coating all surfaces with ice.  The snow is topped with a clear, thick crust, and tree branches are frosted and heavy.  Walking the dog is treacherous business.  On the bright side, it’s not windy. 

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Even snowmen find the icy surface tough going: this surprised-looking one in a neighbor’s yard seems to be frozen in the midst of a topple backwards.  

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Sick of February Yet?

This month is notorious. Fortunately it’s the shortest. Here in Northern Virginia, as in much of the country, February is all about the snow, or all about the cold, or the wind. Or some uncomfortable combination of the three.  I’m trying not to complain. I know it could be worse. I could live in Boston, Buffalo or Sioux Falls. But the frigid whiteness of this mid-Atlantic winter has lost its luster. It has become tiresome. 

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Here in our area, the last half of the month is the worst. The week before and after Presidents’ Day tends to usher in our deepest snows and fiercest cold snaps.   The best-laid plans crumble. Why do we continue to make plans in February?

This year a mini-blizzard roared in on the evening of Saturday the 14th at 6:30, a dirty little trick on diligent Valentine date-nighters. Within minutes, all was white, the air and ground alike. Snow piled up and swirled wildly as the wind howled and the temperature dropped to zero.  Typically, in the face of such weather, I would happily retreat to the warmth of the sofa with a movie. But my husband was out of town (that’s another story), my daughter had two parties to attend, and I had said yes to a neighborhood gathering. All activities, unfortunately, required driving.  My focus for the evening shifted from enjoyment to getting out and back without injury or incident. When I picked up my daughter and a friend from their final party, the snow-coated roads glittered with chunks of ice resembling broken glass. When the tires lost traction at an especially slick intersection and the anti-lock brakes kicked in to no avail, luckily we were the only car around.  

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The following icy, windy Sunday morning, Kiko and I suffered through possibly the most miserable dog walk ever. (No matter how inhospitable the weather, my fastidious little dog requires three walks a day for his mental and physical health. See here.) I wondered if we should brave the roads for church.  A blinking light on the answer machine put that worry to rest: church was canceled, despite special preparations for a one-of-a-kind community children’s service.

Monday, Presidents’ Day, was a holiday and day off school. We managed to get in a dentist appointment for my daughter before more snow began falling steadily that afternoon. Storm Watch Accu-Weather-on-Your Side teams were breathless: this storm would be the Big One. No doubt there was not a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread to be had on any grocery shelf in the DC metro area.

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We got snow, perhaps six inches or so. It was too bad that H wouldn’t be around to clear our long driveway with the powerful snow blower he bought after the blizzards of 2009 and ’10. As a boy growing up in Rochester, New York, he made money shoveling driveways and the occasional roof. He dreamed of one day owning a truly prodigious snow blower. That dream had come true, but once the big red contraption took its place in our garage (alongside a variety of mowers and other items for suburban lawn and garden maintenance), the snows stopped. Last year they resumed, in a big way.  On most powdery white mornings H is out with his monster of a machine. He clears our driveway; he clears neighbors’ driveways. He’s a local Snow Day hero.

But this time he wasn’t here. I have to say it: he was in Aruba, perfecting a windsurfing move, the elusive jibe, a complicated change of direction done while continuing to skim the water. It was something he’d been wanting to do for years.  It required perfect conditions, namely strong, steady wind, which can’t be found just anywhere. We’d agreed that he should take the long Presidents’ Day weekend and just do it. But I hadn’t considered that he was leaving D and me here to face the dastardly February weather on our own.

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H suggested we FaceTime him so he could coach D on using the snow blower.  He’d shown her how to work it last winter, but the details were hazy. Numerous attempts to start it up failed.  We were about to give up when H realized that one little knob wasn’t turned in the right direction.  That done, the machine roared to life and D set off down the driveway. Thank goodness she’s her father’s daughter.

And while the accumulation wasn’t as dramatic as expected, it was more than enough to shut us down. Further cancellations rolled in. No school on Tuesday. No Fat Tuesday Pancake Supper at our church. No school Wednesday, and no Ash Wednesday service at our church and many others.

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That was just the first series of February snow cancellations. Since then, they’ve continued, requiring the ongoing reshuffling of plans. Today, for example, with snow beginning early this morning, school was first delayed, then canceled an hour later. With so many days off school, extra-curricular activities are postponed repeatedly.  Rescheduling is tricky, as events pile atop one another. During my daughter’s elementary school years, snow days for her were exactly that: unstructured free days to play in the snow. Now they involve the stress of wondering if and when the student-directed One-Acts will take place.  How will they impact previously scheduled activities? And then there’s the thorny problem of when to do AP World reading and pre-calculus problems when there’s a beautiful snow on the ground and friends who want to take the day off to meet for lunch in town.

Oh, February, aren’t you over yet?

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