I couldn’t think of a better name

What I saw: in the woods in late autumn, the somber palette won out over fall’s riot of color. It wins every year, taking hold as the days shorten. 

What I did beforehand: We had a second day of rain the day before and it seemed like we only had a couple of hours of daylight, around noon. It was pouring and dark before I realized I hadn’t walked the dogs.

What I wore: who cares?

Who went with me: the dogs.

How I got permission: I joined the local trails organization as soon as we moved in. I have tags for my leashes. I almost never see any other people out there. 

Why I saw this show: there wasn’t anything else on.

Where I sat (after): in the big bean bag chair in the living room, staring at the walls, wondering where the Bacon Provider was. Arizona? India?

Things that were sad: I got a tick bite on my leg.

Things that were funny: when we turned around and headed home, Cherry got a burst of enthusiasm for going faster. 

Things that were not funny: when the wind comes from the wrong direction, the freeway was louder than my thinking.

Something I ate: cereal, probably. Or toast. Maybe bread and cheese. A banana. Something like that.

What it is: gray. Brown. Brown-ish gray-ish. Dead leaf brown. Bark gray. Mushroom gray-brown. Dead moss brown.

Who should see it: persons with leashes and dogs attached to them. Subscribing members of the local trail system only, please.

What I saw on the way home: the weekdays (five deer that congregate on the property across the street).


I sent change of address cards, and if you didn’t get one, it’s probably because I don’t have your address. It’s all email or text now, anyway. You know, back when my kids were little, I’d sacrifice the daylight of a whole day to stage a seemingly spontaneous holiday picture. I’d dress them in matching flannel shirts and try to gather them into a group, waiting for that perfect combination of kid-ness and cute-ness, in the presence of decent lighting. It wasn’t easy when the days were as short as they were in Seattle in early December. And I had film in my camera, so it was not possible to know right away whether I’d gotten a usable shot or not. Back then, I sent holiday cards to a long list, over 100, including my friends, relatives, neighbors, and friends of my parents. The list of change of address cards I sent out this November was less than 40 names.
A friend whose kids are in their 20s still gets them to sit for an Xmas photo every year. Every year for the past four years I’ve been like, no way will she get them to do it this year, and then, blammo, she does. And their smiles last year were slightly less ironic than the year before. My kids aren’t all on the same coast, so I have no hope of being able to make it happen this year; I’m not sure when was the last time I got a picture of them all together. I think instead of feeling sad about that, I will put Xmas bows on my pets and pose them in front of the tree for a photo. They will enjoy it. It might be old dog Cherry’s last Xmas anyway.
In response to our change of address cards, I got an actual, handwritten letter in the mail from one friend, and an email from the son of an old neighbor in Seattle. The old neighbor’s son was sad to report that our neighbor died in August. I have written about this neighbor before, because she was the one who so keenly reminded me what a bad neighbor I was sometimes. She was 88, and had a massive stroke.
Here in Bedhead Hills, the dogs are still learning the boundaries of our mostly wooded property. I’ve only let them out the door unleashed a few times; Captain got skunked in October, and a few nights ago he came back to the wrong door, so I was calling out into the dusk and he was barking to be let in, but we were doing it in different doorways. So, I leash them up and go out with them, and when time permits, I try, after walking them on leashes, to take them around so they can practice seeing where our boundaries are.
Yesterday, after a long walk, we took the little path into the woods on our property. We got tangled in the thorny bushes, and I unclipped their leashes. My timing was perfectly wrong. Though our yard is below a steep embankment on that side, the dogs saw a woman and her dog walking by, and charged up the hill, bursting out of the bushes and ambushing the pair on the road. The woman screamed with surprise and snatched up her little white dog; it was barking furiously. I shouted and shouted at my dogs; Captain came back cowering. Cherry, who doesn’t hear anymore, didn’t bother coming back down the embankment at all. She trotted around down the driveway and headed towards the house. So much for introducing myself to the neighbors. I don’t suppose she heard me screaming, “SORRY!” at the top of my lungs.
Captain has never been very good at anything but the most basic obedience, and with Cherry no longer offering him the model of nearly perfect sits, stays, and comes, I’m going to have to go back to daily drills with him. I don’t know how we’ll conquer his desire to chase deer or greet people who walk by with dogs, without having to risk him running into the road. He is fun to work with, though, because of his sweet and cheerful outlook, and he doesn’t get bored as long as treats are involved.

They have their own agendas

Early last January, when we still lived on a big farm, far from the busy road, I let the two dogs out to go potty on a snowy day and Captain did not come back. Because I envisioned the skunk he was tracking or the herd of deer he was chasing, a half an hour passed before I got worried. Was he lost? Had he chased the deer too far to find his way back? Ten more minutes passed. Had someone taken him? My imagination ran away with scenarios: he is a hunting dog, so maybe he’d been stolen. Or what if he’d been dog-napped? I concocted a tale of how it was the revenge of my Twitter troll, trying to threaten and intimidate us. Could she have figured out where I lived? The longer he was gone, the more outlandish my ideas became about what had happened to my dog.
I got in the car and drove slowly down our long, frozen driveway, calling out the window into the cold. I drove to a neighboring farm where our housesitter said the dog had gone once to play with one of the dogs who lives there. As my tires crunched in my steady ascent of the long, straight driveway with snow banked high on both sides, four separate texts arrived on my phone at once:
“He’s back.”
“He’s back.”
“He’s back.”
“Where are you?”
The narrowness of the drive meant I had to go all the way to the top to turn around, or back out the way I came. I backed out the whole way.

Snow Days

The kids looked forward to them like they were more special than Christmas Day, and in all the years we lived in Seattle it seems like we never had more than one or two, but snow days are snow days, eagerly watched for the night before, groaned over when the night’s accumulation only yielded a late start at school. The snow day is not loved by adults, certainly not by anyone who must get to work and can’t just phone it in.
 Snow days for some adults are like fretful days spent at home when a child is sick and a sitter can’t be found. Snow days are when the office building is being fumigated for rats, or when there’s an acquisition rumor, or the boss quits abruptly, or the project is cancelled, but, in any case, all the meetings are rescheduled and no one is getting anything done. Snow days are the whole day taken off work for a teacher conference that lasted twenty unproductive minutes and won’t lead to the kid being one bit happier or more adjusted to the school.
Some people seem to know just what to do on a grown-up snow day. They hit the gym, or the spa, or do some sort of whiskey tasting or a day-long iPhone photography seminar. Or, they get new tires, or clean out the garage, or completely reorganize their sewing room, with enough time leftover to can a dozen jars of bourbon roasted-cranberry relish. Some people live like they’re waiting for a snow day, and they know just how they’ll spend it.
Before it began snowing in earnest (we were awaiting Juno), I took the dogs out for the counterclockwise tour of the property. There was thick ice under the current top layer of snow, and the top layer wasn’t quite deep enough for snowshoes, so I went out in snow boots and took a pole. The dogs went fast; they just don’t mind as much as I do the scrambling and slipping. I fell on my ass, once.
We came upon a dead fox that made me sad. Who kills a fox? A bobcat? Bear? Coyotes? Old age? Lover’s quarrel? Turf war? Was it poisoned by neighbors? Should I freeze it and take it to the vet for an autopsy? We’ve been watching a fox all year. We could see it hunting along the bushes. Crouching, pouncing. The cat liked to watch it. The dogs hated the fox, and barked their angriest intruder alerts when it trotted across the upper field in the late morning sunshine. Was this that fox?
By the morning the storm had come, and we’d been promised as much as two feet of snow. I awoke to the bright whiteness of daylight without sunshine. The snow was falling, hard, but the flakes were tiny, light, and seemed determined to stay in the air and never land. Outside the windows facing east and west the snow flew by, horizontally, soundless. It gave me the impression of motion, the way that snow would look from a speeding car. Except we were in the house, and the house wasn’t whizzing along at 26 mph. The dissonance, the mismatch of perceived motion to sensed stillness made me feel a little sick.

Following on snowshoes

Later that day, we timed our walk to catch the end of the day and the falling snow. The young dog took off at a run while I struggled with the straps. I enjoy everything about snowshoeing except putting them on; I’m beginning to think I should strap my snow boots into them and leave them strapped in. Out on the property, I have to walk behind my husband, and he is faster and fitter and has longer legs. The old dog will follow closely behind me in the snow if I’m alone, but with my husband here she fills the space between us.
Towards the end of my parents’ marriage they took a last trip to Europe. My mother came back with a week’s worth of Kodak Ektachrome slides mostly featuring my father from about 30 feet behind; she couldn’t keep up and he wouldn’t wait. In a few years, my father moved on to a new career, and a new wife and kid. My mother moved on to a new career, and a new husband and step-kids. While I follow my husband I wonder what he is moving on to. I stop him and ask him to slow down. He is happy to. The dog gallops off to join the other dog.
We passed the dead fox. It was a simple lump, covered completely in snow. The dogs quietly sniffed it again, and moved on.

Dear Dogs, or, Why I Forgot to Feed You This Morning,

I got up and got going, you know, feeling ready to tackle the problem that had emerged last night, but when I let you out and found the driveway impassably icy, I got sidetracked. I know I don’t need to tell you how I felt about it because you know everything about how everyone feels, including the cat, even though you might never have the first clue about why anyone feels the way they do. You knew I was worried, and my concern was about getting down the driveway today, given the ice and the scary trip I had doing it yesterday. I got on the phone and spoke to three or four people, trying to figure out what was the best way to proceed, given the sanding that was already done yesterday.
So, then, I got busy figuring out if a dinner could be made with the ingredients in the house. We have had leftovers at least three of the last four nights and though you eat the same thing at every meal, you know I can’t do that. I unearthed a forgotten bag of stew meet in the freezer and just enough carrots in the fridge, and embarked upon the making of beef stew for beef pot pie. I fed the sourdough and stole some to start the sourdough biscuit and also started a bit of fresh soup stock from the bones I also found in the deep freeze. You know how I like to cook when I’m worried! 

Next, I went to moan over the problem that emerged last night: my sewing machine. It had stopped working so suddenly, causing all that evening’s woe and heartache and anger. I retraced my mental checklist of threading and settings and power-cord possibilities and found this morning that, lo, and behold! I had overlooked something when the machine stopped sewing last night, and it was a simple cord, unplugged, dangling impishly near but not in the socket where it should have been plugged. And, so, after returning the phone calls and texts about the driveway and the continuing some steps of the cooking process and eating my breakfast, of course, and then being able to finish not only the sewing project I had been working on when I was interrupted yesterday but also to get that much closer to finishing the audiobook I’m close to the end of, I got distracted.
Dogs on snow

The walk was pretty good, wasn’t it? With the property quiet and no one else around, we made the perimeter in record time, counter-clockwise, which is my favorite way to go, and yours. When I sat down at the end to look at the fuzzy buds on the tree and generally take in a mild moment of winter, it wasn’t because I was upset or even pensive, it was an impulse, it is ten degrees warmer today than it’s been in a while, but I guess I don’t have to tell you that either.
Anyway, when I got back in and took off my mittens and your jackets and my hat and scarf and boots and jacket and hung up your leashes and put the mittens and scarf and hat back in the basket and changed out of my long underwear and waterproof pants and put on my corduroys and realized your kennels were still standing open with your food bowls on top, it was then that I realized you hadn’t gotten any breakfast at all, even though it was already three o’clock.
So, I would like to apologize for being distracted and pre-occupied, about the kind of  stupid people-problems that go way beyond icy driveways and ,“do we have a dinner plan?” and into, “what are we doing with our life?” and, “how the Sam Hell did we end up here?!” and, “what are we going to do about that?!”
I love you, dogs. You are good dogs, and mostly obedient, and you’ve done nothing to deserve having to wait so many hours for your breakfast. Dinner will be soon, and you may not even want it, now that your tummies are full.
You could come and whine at me, next time, if I forget. That would be ok.
P.S. I finished the book and it was very good in the end, even if it had that sort of modern dissipating-smoke ending rather than an aha!-ending. It was a fine book.

P.P.S. Would you look at that? Here comes the sun.