Category Archives: Walking the Dog

Spring Beauty & Easter Cheer

This year, Easter in Northern Virginia coincided with perfect spring weather. That’s a rare gift, one that was even more appreciated after a year of covid anxiety, sadness and death. Easter’s hope of the resurrection was made palpable in the beauty of new life in nature that surrounds us.

Bradford pear and cherry trees were in peak bloom, fluffy with clouds of white and pale pink.

The bright red camellia at my mother’s was bursting into flower. 

The weekend’s festive, sunny warmth prompted me to bring our collection of big bunnies out for a top-down ride with Kiko.  Our skeleton friend Slim, currently slumbering in the basement, would approve.  Such a lovely day, he would say, needs to be seized and enjoyed.   

Kiko could hardly contain his happiness.  He did what he typically does when overcome with joy.  He fell asleep. 

Last Easter is a blur.  I remember little more than a bare-bones version of online church and an unseasonable meal.  We were avoiding the grocery, and we hadn’t yet got the knack of online food shopping.  Easter dinner consisted of what we had on hand, which happened to be pot roast, instant mashed potatoes and canned vegetables.  Deep in the freezer section of the fridge, under some forgotten Popsicles that had melted and refrozen a couple of times, I’d discovered a cylinder of frozen crescent roll dough.   It was a relic from the Witch’s Finger pigs-in-a-blanket my daughter made for a Halloween party during her first year in high school.  The use-by date was 2015.  Why not bake up this five-year old dough?  Let’s give it a try, I thought.  Evidently, it wasn’t a health hazard.  And while the rolls were rather flat, they were not actively bad.  Still,  I do not recommend them.

I don’t think I bothered with Easter decorations to accompany last year’s lack-luster meal.  But cheered by this spring’s lovely weather and the hope that an end to our covid odyssey may be in sight, I dove into our Easter-themed goodies and colored eggs from years past.  We have boxes and boxes of eggs, decorated in various ways. (I wrote about these in several posts from 2012. See here and here.) Unless they’re cracked, eggs boiled for a long time over low heat can last for ages.

For example, some of these reddish brown eggs, dyed by boiling with onion skins, are approaching the twenty-year mark.    

Our daughter, finishing up her final semester at the University of Virginia, couldn’t join us.  She would have appreciated my decorating efforts, and she’d have been happy that we had Easter dinner in the dining room rather than the kitchen.  In her honor, I set the table for four, using my grandmother’s old Noritake china, painted in delicate Easter egg colors.  Our daughter would also have found the meal, which included our typical Easter favorites, baked ham, scalloped potatoes, fresh asparagus and deviled eggs, far more satisfying than last year.  When we spoke with her that evening, she was finishing a tricky engineering problem set and running low on food choices.  But at least she wasn’t reduced to baking crescent rolls from 2015.  And we should be able to see her before long at an actual in-person graduation ceremony in Charlottesville.  2020 has made us grateful for pleasures we once took for granted. 

May spring’s annual renewal of life bring you hope and joy!

Spring arrives. . .and time warps

These recent March days here in Northern Virginia have been cold, windy and sunny. It looks like spring but still feels very much like winter. This is the March I remember from Easter trips to visit my grandparents in Kentucky during my childhood. How different it was from March in Atlanta, where it usually had felt like June, humid and overly warm, off and on since February. I loved the Kentucky version. I remember the white and green speckled look of the slowly awakening grass, the clumps of daffodils dancing in the bracing chill, the fast-moving clouds against a brilliant blue sky. It felt exotic, yet it also felt like home.

And that’s why it feels so right to be here in Virginia during these frosty March days. As I sit at my desk, decades later, I look out on a landscape that evokes happy times long ago, of memories glimpsed and sensed, not fully seen. Much as when I look at my daughter and see both the little girl she once was and the young woman she has become, the co-mingling of past and present is especially tangible in the bright briskness of early springtime.

Spring in Virginia is typically slow-moving, a deliberate and measured progression. Each development can be fully appreciated in its own time. The first tiny green shoots among tangled vines stand out against winter’s dominant palette of brown and gray.

The aptly named Lenten roses have been blooming, amidst their lush green foliage, since February, impervious to the cold. With their bowed heads and subtle coloring, they’re the perfect floral expression of humility.

Crocuses, another early herald of the season, have been popping up for a couple of weeks now. Their small size and delicate appearance contrasts with their hardiness and stubborn determination. They push their way up into the light, through layers of dead leaves, and through the snow if necessary.

The first of the daffodils to bloom in our yard are always the tiniest ones. These spunky miniatures test the waters for their taller, grander sisters.

On a recent morning walk with our pack, we noticed a fresh, lemony fragrance in the air. The source was the yellow bell-like flowers of spiky mahonia, a plant I know well from Atlanta. By the time my mother relocated to Virginia, what had begun as a couple of isolated plantings in our back yard near the garage had developed into a veritable and formidable mahonia hedge. This is a shrub that requires no encouragement before seizing new territory.

Kiko enjoys these cold, sun-filled March days because they offer a wide variety of cozy choices for inside napping. This week I found him in a new spot. Until recently, the carpet beneath him had been rolled up in storage in my mother’s basement. For forty years or so, its location was the dining room of our Atlanta home. It was a favorite resting place of Popi, my childhood dog. (See here and here.) During family meals in the adjacent kitchen, Popi would lie on the rug, his head facing away from us, partly because we taught him not to beg at the table, and partly because he had too much pride to do so. Because I’ve noticed that Kiko, as he ages, tends to slip on bare hardwood floors, the carpet is now in our Virginia dining room. Seeing him lying there on that old familiar rug, I see sweet Popi, as well.

Popi in the dining room in Atlanta, December 1971.

The earth turns and tilts on its axis. Spring comes. The past is alive within the present. I can feel it outside in the chill of the breeze and the warmth of the sun. See it in the radiant grass around the old silver maples. Smell it in the fragrance of mahonia. And sense it in the calming presence of my sleeping dog. Is it 1971 or 2021? Somehow, it’s both.

Popi enjoys a rawhide from his stocking on Christmas morning 1970. Our family rarely took photos except at Christmas.
Popi, at his endearing best, 1970.

Thaw

February has been true to form this year. The snow that fell at the beginning of the month has been largely with us since, with periodic refresher doses every week or so. Sleet and freezing rain have made regular appearances, also, turning most surfaces into treacherous sheets of ice. Even grassy areas have been dangerous to negotiate. The white coating on our lawn was impermeable to a human boot-clad foot and as slick as a hockey rink. It reminds me of royal icing that dries to a rock-hard finish, the kind I used when making gingerbread houses years ago. Largely thanks to that icing, those houses are still with us, decades later, boxed up in the basement. This February snow threatened to be nearly as long-lived.

Rising temperatures were therefore very welcome when they arrived at the beginning of the week. Road surfaces gradually became visible again, but the shoulders only increased in perilous iciness. Morning walks with Kiko were difficult going. He seems to understand when I say “Slow, slow” in an urgent tone. So I repeated the mantra nearly non-stop as we made our way out and back (very slowly, of course. )

The snow retreated throughout most of our yard, leaving big frosted circles around the wide bases of the old trees. Fallen maple buds are all the more distinct on the white ground, assuring us that spring is, indeed, in the works.

Several days this week, we’ve had winter in the mornings and spring in the afternoons, a March specialty that arrived a bit early. On Monday, Kiko and I were out early enough to see the grass frosted to a pale gray-green.

My fastidious dog wasn’t sure what to make of the frost and snow combo.

We were treated to a couple of days filled with glorious sunshine that melted away all but the most stubborn traces of snow. The outside world appeared revived, refreshed and joyful, teeming with the essence of early spring. Robins dotted the yard and circled in the trees above. Beneath our bird feeder, gray juncos, cardinals and white-throated sparrows scratched in the pine straw. They mixed peacefully with doves, squirrels, (including Bobtail) and the chipmunk.

The bright early mornings were especially alive with the sounds of the birds. High in the trees, all around, the woodpeckers, drilling for breakfast, seemed to be engaged in songs of call-and-response.

The sun often got so warm on Kiko’s bed by the window that he became periodically overheated. Every hour or so he pulled himself laboriously to his feet, jumped to the floor and collapsed in the shade at the base of my chair, evidently too sun-saturated to move further.

The thaw continues this weekend, although less scenically, with gray skies and rain. I’m relieved to see that no snow is predicted for the first week of March.

God speed, Spring. We need you more than ever!

Back Again: Snow Season

It’s snow time once again here in Northern Virginia, as it is in many parts of the country. While 2020 brought much in the way of unexpected and unwanted developments, it brought very little snow to our area. What did fall was fleeting. It didn’t linger. The white stuff began here early Sunday morning, and it hasn’t stopped. Fine flakes have been floating down, without haste, but steadily, for three days now. We’re not used to it.

Kiko was understandably irked by the crunchy ice coating on Day 2 that collapsed with his every step as we attempted to cross our front lawn. After a few belabored attempts at progress, he refused to move, looking up at me plaintively. I had no choice but to carry him. After that, we avoided grassy areas. But the edges of the street are problematic, too, as the salt stings his paws, again stopping him in his tracks.

He’s apparently decided that the best way to enjoy the snow is from the comfort of his raised bed by the window. The local wildlife stands out distinctly against the white background, providing hours of comfortable entertainment for an elderly lounging dog.

It’s a pretty, puffy, fluffy snow, exuberantly frosting leaves, branches, and tree trunks. . .

. . .and dramatically coating the evergreens.

Other parts of Virginia were treated to a similarly beautiful snow. Our daughter, now back in school, sent this photo of the grounds of the University of Virginia. Because her coursework continues exclusively online, she needn’t trek through the snow unless she feels like it. A rare pandemic plus. We’re learning to appreciate these when we stumble upon them.

Will this be our last substantial snow of the season? Is there a blizzard, like the one from 2016 pictured above, bearing down on us soon? Will we have an early, gorgeous spring?

2020 taught us that many so-called certainties are not, in fact, certain. So whatever happens, through snow and snow melt, we’ll continue to look for pandemic pluses.

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

–Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelley

Halloween 2020 with the Skeleton Crew (and bigfoot, too)

The annual Halloween joyride was on. “Come on, kids!,” beckoned Slim. Our pack is a pod, so let’s go!” This may be Kiko’s favorite event of the year. He loves nothing more than to ride shotgun with with Slim.

To Kiko this means settling in for a cozy doze in the passenger seat, the top down, the sun warm, the wind refreshing. He can count on Slim to take his time with the drive; this will be no quick there-and-back trip, but an unhurried, meandering cruise over roads hitherto unexplored.

I can rest assured that Slim and the gang will be back with plenty of time to set up for the Halloween festivities, which this year, thanks to the foresight and organization of young parents, involves a neighborhood parade and safely distanced candy give-aways.

Nearly every year the Halloween joyride yields some unexpected pleasure. This year it was the spotting of one of Slim’s more reclusive pals who happened to be walking along a woodsy section of road. “Trevor!” Slim yelled, braking so suddenly that the chihuahua twins Ruth and Rocky ended up atop Kiko in the front seat, briefly waking him from his nap. “I can’t believe it! Is it really you?,” asked Slim incredulously.

“Indeed, it is I. Trevor Wildermann, III, at your service,” replied the tall, hirsute figure, barely visible among the shadows.

“Unbelievable. I awaken to a covid pandemic and run into the true King of Social Distance, the original wild man himself!,” Slim exclaimed. “What brings you to the suburbs of Northern Virginia?”

“I just returned from early voting. It’s the last day for it locally. I’m a citizen now, of course. Have been for some time. My house is just there among the trees. Mostly quiet eccentric types in this neighborhood. They’re discreet. And they know not to refer to me as “Bigfoot.” The vulgarity of the common parlance offended Trevor to his core. His feet weren’t even especially big, considering his height. “I’m confident that the secret of my whereabouts is safe, unless perhaps you, Sir, decide to reveal it to some goofball at the Travel Channel. You wouldn’t, would you?”

After Slim pledged total silence regarding his friend’s Virginia residency, Trevor invited him to pull the car around back and join him on the open-air courtyard for drinks and snacks. While Kiko and the pack explored the artfully landscaped gardens and drowsed in the sun, the two old friends indulged in a leisurely catch-up. Luckily, Slim had planned the joyride for early in the day.

The Hotel Wilder Mann in Passau.

The two had met in Bavaria during one of Slim’s Grand Tours of Europe in an earlier century. Trevor’s family has owned and operated the historic Hotel Wilder Mann in the Danube River town of Passau since the mid-1500s. It’s his custom to spend the spring in his charming hometown, where the Easter season, very dear to his heart, is so beautifully celebrated. The covid outbreak prevented his return this year, much to his disappointment. The fortuitous encounter with his old friend offered a welcome bit of consolation.

The ornate Wilder Mann sign at the Hotel.

As the afternoon shadows lengthened and the pups began to get restless, Slim felt the tug of duty. It was time to get back to prepare. The two friends said their goodbyes with reluctance, yet rejoiced in knowing that this time next year, they would meet again.

Upon his return, Slim got to work. We had decided to greet trick-or-treaters from my mother’s house this year, as it’s more easily accessible for the parade. Slim placed two tables near the street on which to lay out a wide array of candy. He made sure to include goodies that the nut-allergic could enjoy. He set up chairs for everyone at the top of the driveway, so we could watch the festivities from a safe distance. Kiko, who didn’t know he’d be spared the constant doorbell ringing of a typical Halloween, had retreated upstairs earlier to his night-time bed.

Before long, the first vehicles of the parade began to approach from the nearby cul-de-sac. While there were plenty of walkers, other kids were conveyed in decoratively festooned golf carts, cars and SUVs. There were riding mowers and Radio Flyer wagons carrying puppies and toddlers. Parents and kids were masked and careful about maintaining distance between family groups. Most neighbors participated, with candy-laden tables set up at the base of driveways. The happy, expectant spirit of Halloween flourished, despite the unusual circumstances.

Slim was buoyed by the treat of seeing his dear friend, the elusive Wildermann. Even if that chance meeting had not occurred, he claimed, he would still have dubbed the evening a satisfying success. As he reclined again on the swooning bench, his mood was one of jubilant calm.

Before he retired for the night, our wise October companion offered these reassuring words: “Never underestimate life’s capacity to surprise you and to cheer you, especially when you least expect it. I’ll go back to sleep soon, and I’ll dream sweet dreams. Meanwhile, you’ll get through this thorny patch. I’ve got a good feeling about it. Cheers to 2021!”

Dog Days, This Summer

Who had a good summer?  Who had a good summer?  This boy! He’s such a good boy, isn’t he?  Yes, he’s a good boy.  

Imagine the above spoken in “puppy talk,”  that silly-sounding person-to-dog gibberish. The goofy cadences, the redundancy of needless repetition. I fall into it sometimes, and Kiko either turns away in embarrassment, or looks at me with an even greater degree of condescension than usual. 

But if my dog were able to answer the question, he’d probably agree that he did, in fact, have a good summer.   A very pleasant summer.  If anyone’s life was improved by the unusual circumstances of the pandemic, it’s likely the beloved companion dogs whose humans’ activities have been so drastically curtailed. 

It was Kiko’s good fortune that Covid numbers spiked here in Virginia during the final week of July, so that Massachusetts wouldn’t let us in without a negative test result or a two-week quarantine period.  Until that point, we’d been planning on our annual Cape Cod vacation, even though much of what we enjoyed most about it would no longer be possible.  Instead, at our daughter’s suggestion, we bought a ten-foot inflatable pool, set it up on our back patio and reminded ourselves of the long and painful drive we were avoiding.  With sunshine and a big pitcher of margaritas, we almost felt like we were on vacation.  

Of course, our dog doesn’t fully appreciate the unexpected blessings that came his way this summer. He doesn’t realize how narrowly he avoided the usual period of solitary confinement at the animal hospital. Instead of facing long hours in a cell and a few circumscribed outings in a featureless enclosed area, he remained free to pursue his favorite activities, without interruption, on his home turf. Kiko maintained his role as canine king of the castle grounds, languidly roaming the outdoor spaces between our house and my mother’s, napping in the sun, napping in the shade. There were so many delightful choices:  the baking heat of the deck, the coziness of dusty mulch beds, the cool flagstone beneath the hydrangeas, or the sofa on the screened porch. Occasionally he’d jump up to chase a chipmunk or squirrel.  More often, though, the little furry ones, like the mice in an old Tom & Jerry cartoon, tiptoed behind and around him as he snoozed. Sometimes he’d disappear on very hot humid afternoons. I’d find him around dinner time in a deep, coma-like sleep in his bed in the chill of my mother’s family room.  Often Mama wouldn’t even realize he was there.  Evenings were his to spend watching the fox and deer as they made their neighborhood rounds. On the rare occasions when Kiko sought company, one of his pack members was always around. Always. 

He’s clearly noticed that his people are ever-present. On a recent afternoon, Kiko was curled up on my bed.  I opened my closet door and took out a casual (a very casual) dress on a hanger. He looked at me with a sudden, heightened interest. He stretched, shook vigorously and leapt onto the floor.  Was I, perhaps, going out?  Maybe in the car?  Whoo hooo!  Count him in! One of the things we love most about dogs is that they have no fashion sense; they don’t care how, or even if, their humans dress. My husband gently suggested, the other day, that I consider wearing something a little less lived in than the extra-comfy dog-walking gear that has become my standard, all-purpose wardrobe. It’s been about six months since I’ve dressed up.  I’ve even realized, on occasion, that I’ve worn some distressed item of clothing inside out all day long.  No one has noticed.  Certainly not Kiko.  But he’s evidently observed that a change of clothes involving a search through a mound on a chair has no impact on him. But the now rare opening of the closet door followed by the emergence of a hanging garment–that offers a hint of promise. One of the drawbacks of such constant human presence is that it offers far fewer opportunities for car rides. 

Now that summer has officially ended and school has begun, the pandemic has granted Kiko yet another gift.  Because classes are being conducted exclusively online, there are no buses to roar menacingly past our windows. This time last year I wrote about my dog quaking with fear in the early mornings when the bright flashing lights atop the school buses suggested the approach of a terrible storm. See here.  Unlike the rest of us, he has one fewer trauma to grapple with.  Kiko greeted every dawn last fall as though it might be the end of the world.  Now it’s just us humans who wonder if that’s the case.

Raccoon Encounter

One recent evening, when my husband went to get our dog for his last walk of the day, he found Kiko in his bed by the window, gazing placidly at the fox that typically curls up under the maple tree around dusk.

Kiko and the fox have become accustomed to one another. Lately it’s part of their routine to stare silently at one another as the sun sets. It’s almost as though an invisible thread links each red furry pointy-eared critter to the other, one inside, one outside.

Glancing out another window, my husband spotted a less expected wild visitor. A plump and furry raccoon was intently pawing the ground beneath our bird feeder. Since we moved into our house twenty years ago, this is only our second raccoon spotting. My daughter and I dropped what we were doing and joined my husband to watch with interest as the raccoon staked out the territory around the bird feeder and explored available options. For a while, she* continued to use her little hands to sift the earth for sunflower seeds.

Clearly this method wasn’t yielding enough bounty. She ambled over to the pine tree, climbed up unhurriedly, and perched on the stump of a branch below the feeder. Last year’s dry, brown Christmas wreath, (which I hung on the stump in January when it was still green) almost caused her to lose her footing. After regaining her balance, she took her time to assess the situation. She appeared to consider a leap onto the feeder, but evidently decided against it. Another approach was in order.

Up until this point, the raccoon had appeared to be a slightly clumsy, slow-moving creature, an unlikely athlete. As she grasped the branch from which the feeder hangs, this all changed. Suddenly, she was the picture of fluffy agility, using all four feet to make her way easily, upside down, along the branch.

Once within reach of the feeder, she curled her white hind paws around the branch and suspended herself vertically, in the manner of a trapeze artist at the circus. She grasped the feeder with one front paw and used the other to fish out seed from an opening. She hung on like this for quite some time. The squirrels that routinely attempt to outsmart our supposedly squirrel-proof bird feeder are far less successful.

The raccoon then flipped gracefully and dropped lightly to the ground, where she continued feeding on the seed she’d spilled from the feeder.

And soon she began the process again. 

In our focus on the raccoon, we failed to notice that Kiko’s attention had been roused. He’d emerged from his bed and left the room. At first we thought he might have retreated upstairs for the night, as he often does just before it’s time for the last walk. But no. He’d pushed open the kitchen door to the screened porch, plunged through his doggie door and dashed out into the side yard. By the time we arrived, he was at the base of the pine tree, looking up at the raccoon high above him in the branches. See, I can still hunt, he seemed to be saying, as he looked at us, even more condescendingly than usual. And he, like the raccoon, can be surprisingly quick on his feet, should the need arise.

Seven years ago, Kiko had a brief encounter with a raccoon that also ended with the fuzzy masked visitor peering down at him from a tree. (See this post here from November 2013.) I wondered then if that would be the start of more frequent raccoon sightings. It was not. Will it be the case now? We’ve seen the memes promoting the raccoon as the perfect Covid-19 mascot: it’s a mask-wearing hand-washer, and the letters of racoon can be rearranged to spell corona. Our visitor returned the next evening, around the same time, and went through the same feeding process. We haven’t seen her since, but I’ll continue to look for her around dusk.

We could use the distraction. During the past four months, our family has rarely left the house. We’ve had no guests. No friends inside the house. (And therefore we’ve abandoned all but the most minimal efforts toward tidying up. The surrounding clutter encroaches daily. Chaos looms.) It sure would be pleasant to be able to count on visits from such a charming acquaintance. One who abides by the pandemic rules of social distancing, entertains us briefly with acrobatic feats, never expects to come in, and then quietly disappears. Unfortunately, it will be a while before we can expect to enjoy the company of any other kind of visitor.

 

*I’ve recently realized that I tend to refer to most animals I see in nature with male pronouns.  I know our most frequent fox visitor is a male because he lifts his leg to pee.  I have no evidence of gender for this raccoon, but I’ve decided to go against my instinct and refer to it as “she.” 

 

What do you know, it’s Christmas Eve!

December, always the quickest month, has flown by with even greater speed than usual this year. Suddenly, our daughter is home, half-way through her third year at the University of Virginia. We’re wrapping presents. And it’s Christmas Eve.

Kiko, as usual*, has positioned himself squarely in the center of it all. (He’s the Milford Plaza of dogs.) Evidently, he suspects something very good is brewing. If only he could stay awake But the pull of sleep is strong and inviting. His head nods, and his body sways as he attempts to resist.

Sleep wins out.

Rolls of decorative paper make a comfy pillow on a sun-drenched carpet. I finish the wrapping, walking carefully around him. Soon I’ll wake him up and we’ll head over to the live nativity at our church. And that means it’s really, truly Christmas Eve.

*See the post from last December: Holiday Advice from Kiko: Just Chill

Halloween 2019 with the Skeleton Crew

Halloween dawned gray, warm and humid. Slim studied the forecast with a practiced eye.  He consulted the experts at the Capital Weather Gang.  Stepping outside, he remarked ominously, “Feels like tornado weather.”  But then, with a flippant wave of his elegantly bony hand, “I tend to exaggerate.  We’ll be fine.”  Much like my dear late father, whom he adored, Slim believes firmly in keeping on the sunny side of life.   

Yet with rain most certainly on the way, he summoned the pack for their annual Halloween joyride a bit earlier than usual. “Let’s get a move on for a morning ride, friends!  And Kiko, old man, how bout you drive?  I wanna sit up high and feel the wind in my face!” Kiko obliged and settled into the driver’s seat, where he typically feels most comfortable.

But Slim had to go back inside to search for his ball cap.  “Wish it were a red Nats cap!,” he mused.  Having stayed up late the previous night to watch the historic World Series win by the Nationals,  he was in a particularly buoyant mood.  Seated in the back of the VW, he remarked, “Hey look, we’re in the championship parade!  I’m Rendon!  No, I’m Strasburg!  No, I’m Kendrick!”  The pack looked up admiringly, delighted to bask in Slim’s glory.  Golly, they all felt like champions.  Slim has that effect on those around him.  That’s one reason we all love him so.  And why he reminds me of my father. 

But after our morning walk, Kiko was a tired champion.  He was already asleep.    

Of course, there’s no raining on Slim’s parade.  There would be a Halloween joyride.  And it would be exhilarating. 

May your Halloween be merry and bright, come rain or come shine! 

Is That the Light of the School Bus, or the Coming Apocalypse?

Another thing about the early-morning bus traffic outside our windows:  it has become a source of extreme anxiety for Kiko.  The school buses in our neighborhood have a white flashing strobe light on top.  I’m not sure if the light is new this fall, or if Kiko’s fear of it is new.  Whatever the case, the bright intermittent glare slices through the darkness, looking very much like lightning.   Kiko takes it as a sign that a monster storm is coming. 

Toward the end of the last school year, he typically snoozed soundly until well after full daylight.  It took a while to rouse him for the morning walk.  He tended to resist my various entreaties until I rattled my keys and told him, “OK.  You stay.  I’ll go on without you.”  It was only the threat of being left behind that prompted him to relinquish the warmth of his bed, stretch and amble slowly toward the stairs. 

So it surprised me, this September, to see my little dog wide awake in the pre-dawn darkness, alarmed and panting, in extreme go-time mode.  He’d pace rapidly on my bed, leap off to circle the room, stand on his back legs to peer between the curtains at the window.  Then he’d hop back atop my bed and attempt to settle in among the pillows.  During a storm, real or imagined, his usual place toward the foot of the bed offers no comfort; he has to be up near the headboard.  But even this offers no comfort, and he starts the entire process again.  Once I realized that he was seeing the lightning that presaged a powerful storm, I understood.   

At the start of the school year, Kiko’s trepidation began with the approach of the first bus and its flashes of light.  He’s come to anticipate the threat well in advance.  By 5:45 at the latest, he’s up and on the move, much the way he begins to fear a thunderstorm on a vaguely cloudy afternoon.  On weekends, when no buses are running, he’s making his anxious rounds well before 6 AM. 

It’s notable that Kiko has no fear at all of the school buses themselves.  On the contrary, he seeks them out.  For many years, our morning and afternoon walks began with time spent at the bus stop with my daughter, neighbors, and their dogs.  Still today, if given the opportunity, he settles in for a period of rest and observation near her old stop.  He seems to enjoy watching the bus doors open and the kids exit.  Many of the neighborhood children have come to expect to find Kiko waiting to be acknowledged and adored.  He’d sit directly in the path of the bus if I’d let him.  He has no dread of the thing that can actually harm him.   

I find it sad that my twelve-year old dog is discovering new causes for anxiety.  Shouldn’t he be growing wiser with age and experience?  As I considered this question, I found myself contemplating various scenarios in my life and that of my family:  what if this happens?  Or that?  Or, more ominously yet realistically, what will I do when this or that happens?  

And just like that, I knew the feeling.  My dog has outgrown the false invincibility of youth.  He’s grown into the vulnerability of age.  And so, I realized, have I.  A wave of pessimism swept over me.  Kiko is lucky, at least, I thought, in his faith that if he keeps searching, he can find a place of absolute safety.  He need never face the stark truth that there’s no hiding from many of life’s storms. 

In the last week or so, though, it seems Kiko has been a bit less worried in the mornings.  He continues to leave his spot near the foot of my bed well before daylight, whether it’s a school day or not.  But the pacing and jumping have lessened.  This morning, I awoke to feel his warm little form nestled in the curve behind my knees.  From my perspective, he was an image of perfect, cozy tranquility, curled up like a  fox.  Maybe his fear has vanished, I hoped.  Then suddenly, as the first bus of the day rounded the corner, the room was suffused with white flashes.  Kiko sprang to his feet, bounded off the bed and galloped from the room.

But he didn’t rush back in.  When I got up a while later, he was lying at the top of the stairs.  He didn’t appear to be alarmed.  He ran past me back into my room, where he found an overlooked mini-treat from the night before.  He gobbled it up, then looked at me expectantly, as if to say, “Got any more?”  He ran back to the top of the stairs in the way he does when he’s happy and frisky, anticipating the upcoming walk. 

At least today, my silent little dog, the four-legged reflection of my hopes, dreams and fears, is not gripped by terror of an unknown Apocalypse.  He’s just excited about the promise of a new day.  Suddenly, I felt the same way.  And from the window, I glimpsed a beautiful sunrise. 

Kiko does his power napping in the mid-day sun these days since he’s become such an early riser.