Joy in a growl

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 24, 2013 11:41 PM

I am in love. It has happened gradually and yes, a bit unexpectedly. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to love again but it snuck up on me and now I can hardly stop smiling. I whistle during the day. I find myself singing sometimes and I don’t sing. I laugh out loud for little to no reason at all. It is joyous, this love, for it is new and bubbly and fun, and growing.

The love of which I speak? My Cooper.

When we lost our Maguire last March, I could hardly imagine ever having another dog let alone loving one. And yet, within months of losing him, I was lost. I was lonely. I missed the jazz feet on the hard wood, the drool across the floor, the toys, in various states of disarray all over the house. The wonderfulness of fur. Everywhere. I missed my Maguire, and I still do, but by October of last year, I was ready to try again. To heal my broken heart. To fill the empty place with a beautiful new face.

I found Cooper on Pet Finder. He was a rescue and I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. I looked at him for weeks before I even told Kevin that I was thinking I was ready. Kevin, of course, was not ready. He was prepared to never be ready again. He loved Maguire fiercely and the thought of another made him almost angry. No one could replace Maguire.

I explained that I didn’t want to replace Maguire, that no one dog could ever replace such an amazing animal, the love of our lives. But I needed to have a dog in the house. I had found one. Would he at least take a look? Begrudgingly he agreed. We met Cooper, then Andy, and made the decision to take him. It was not love at first sight. It wasn’t even love after a week. For a short time I worried that I’d been too hasty. That I shouldn’t have gotten another dog so soon. The memory of Maguire and his Maguireness was still too fresh. After all, I could still smell his fur if I tried hard enough, and truth be told I didn’t have to try very hard.

We had our fair share of issues with Cooper. I worried and stewed. I wasn’t feeling the rush, the heart palpitations, the sheer bliss of seeing his little face and hearing his feet as they danced across the floor.

But then something happened. Things changed. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was kiss his nose. And hug him close, and rub his belly. And play with him. And take care of him, to let him know that after years as a foster puppy, he had finally found his forever home.

Tonight, I met my friend Connie for a glass of wine. We laughed and talked and exchanged stories about family. We had a great time. While I was there I got a text message, from Cooper, relayed through Cooper’s dad, that he had gone for a walk, that he and dad were doing fine and that he’d even had dinner and it was good. I smiled.

When I got home and came in from the garage, a little red and white face was anxiously awaiting my arrival. His tail was thumping against the wall. We exchanged a pet and a hello, and then he took off like a shot, looking for a toy, any toy but most likely Wubba. He was excited! Mom was home! Life was as it should be! His family was complete! And he needed to share his joy via his toys.

Wubba was still in my office so he couldn’t quite find him, but he found two other toys that he proceeded to growl at as he tossed them round the room with great joy. I watched it all with amusement and, yes, love. As I watched him racing around the room, throwing his toys through the air with wild abandon, all because he was just so damned excited that I was home, I was suddenly overcome. I realized that I had fallen completely and totally, head over heels in love with my dog. I don’t know exactly when things changed but they did.

Maybe it’s the complete happiness he has in playing with his toys with both me and his dad in the room. His life is complete. And now, again, ours is too.

Somebody once said something along the lines of “once you have loved a dog, your heart will never truly be full again until you allow another in.” It’s a bad paraphrase but the sentiment is a good one.

I have allowed another in; we have. And my heart – our hearts – are all the better for it. Maguire would understand. And I think celebrate it with us.

Even though he was never much for other dogs. 

And the eyes are wise

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 6, 2013 7:47 PM

One of my loyal readers, Fred, commented on a recent blog post that he just needs “to look into an animal’s eyes … to gain clarity.” It got me thinking and thus writing. I, too, have spent much time looking into the eyes of my dogs, the late, great Maguire, our vintage puppy, and the new addition to the family, one Mr. Cooper, our pre-owned puppy. Interestingly both of them have similar eyes. Brown, alert, and clear. Looking into them was and is like looking into their souls.

Kevin used to hold Maguire’s head in his hands, one hand cupped on either side of his ears, and pull his face close so they could have a conversation. Maguire allowed it because he loved his dad so much. Kevin said that he had absolutely no doubt that Maguire understood everything Kevin was saying; that he could almost hear Maguire answering, with his eyes.

The eyes of an animal, especially one who is older or even just growing old, can tell us so much. They are wise with life and love. They look at you with such astonishing clarity they can almost make you self-conscious. It’s as if they can see if you’re being honest, if you’re a fraud. And they love you anyway. This is the power that comes through the gaze of an old dog.

Last week, Roy and Bobbi gave us a book to commemorate the anniversary of Maguire’s passing. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year today that he left us. The passage of time – and the wonder of our dear Cooper – has made it easier to bear but we still miss him all the time. We miss his big furry self sprawled on the floor, his drool drying on the wood, his stretches and his noises. We miss his patented three-woof announcement for everything from “I see you” to “there’s someone at the door” to “yes, I would very much like that piece of chicken, thank you.” Woof, woof. Woof.

Our beloved Maguire a year ago, watching us from the sunshine of the backyard. 

The book is called Old Dogs are the Best Dogs and it’s by Gene Weingarten with photography by Michael Williamson. In it, Weingarten writes: “They find you brilliant even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you even if you are a genocidal maniac: Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

“As they age, dogs change, always for the better. Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing – his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness, his unequivocal love. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce.

“Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these things are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But above all, they seem at peace. This last quality is almost indefinable; if you want to play it safe, you can call it serenity. I call it wisdom.”

So do I. And it is most visible in the way the eyes of an old dog follow your movements without the head following along. It is how they look at you, how they see you, how they express their love and knowledge of all that you are completely through their eyes. Old dogs don’t wag their tails anymore. The mechanism either doesn’t work or it takes too much effort. All of their expression comes through their eyes and even their ears; through a kiss on the nose.

Maguire used to watch us both at nearly the same time. He would be lying on the floor, with his head tucked between his two front paws and his eyes would move to Kevin on one couch, and then switch to me on the opposite couch. His eyebrows would arch as his eyes tracked first one way, then the other. After doing this six or seven times, the eyes would begin to close. He’d fight it a little but only half-heartedly. Soon, he’d be sleeping. He had secured his people. Life was good.

Cooper, just a few days ago, in the kitchen, gazing

Maguire was 15 years old when he died last March. We still feel his presence, we still speak of him all the time; sometimes I still hear his tags on the floor, the heavy sigh as he’d lie down, letting the world escape through his nose. I can still smell his fur. I can still see his beautiful brown eyes.

I see them now; I see them in Cooper’s brown eyes. The depth isn’t there yet, the wisdom hasn’t come to him – he’s still in that loopy middle age nutty stage, still doing the helicopter tail wag round and round and round – but it will. Just give him time. 

Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:16 PM

For a good part of my adult life, I have lived with only males. When Justin lived here and Maguire was still alive, I was surrounded completely by testosterone. I was also surrounded a bit by snoring. Justin snored very softly, it was more like heavy breathing. Kevin snored and still does but mostly when he’s just exhausted; otherwise he sleeps quietly. Maguire sighed heavily every once in a while.

Enter Cooper. He snores. A lot. He also talks in his sleep. He growls and semi-barks. When he lays down, he expels air loudly with a harrumph.

Last night when I wasn’t sleeping – an occasional malady that is quite frustrating especially when I’m so tired because of the holidays and the shopping and the dog and the work and the and the and the – I was listening to the sounds of my two men, the husband next to me and the dog in the kennel in the corner of the room. Kevin’s sounds were small and crisp; Cooper’s were low and guttural. Since it’s the holidays, naturally I couldn’t help but think of the Christmas song Let it Snow.

Oh the music inside at nightfall
Is noisy and not right for all
So since I’m waiting for sleep ‘n more
Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore

It doesn’t show signs of rebounding
And I’ve brought some sheep for counting
The lights are off which I adore
Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore

When we finally said goodnight
How I loved snuggling down to sleep
But if shuteye refuses, alright
Cause tonight I’ve got my sheep

The night is finally slowing
And my boys have sounds they’re sewing
But as long as I can I’ll implore
Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore 

I’ve been told that I, myself, don’t snore. I puff. According to my husband. But I come from a long line of snorers on my father’s side. My grandmother used to fall asleep on her couch at night while watching the news. She’d be bundled up in her bathrobe, her face all slathered with Ponds cold cream, bobbi pins holding her sideburn curls in place, and her head will gradually drift back, her mouth would fall open and she would exhale the loudest snort. She rarely woke herself up. My father was much the same, though his snorts were enough to crack the drywall and peel the paint. My mother used to sleep on the couch in the living room when it got too bad. When my dad came to visit me right after the dissolution of my first marriage, I had a small townhouse with two bedrooms upstairs. I gave him my room and I took the smaller guest room. I, too, ended up downstairs on the couch. I could hear him through the two closed doors and down the hall. 

He used to tell my mother that it never kept him awake. He’d say it in jest as she would snarl at him. Interestingly, when I puff, it wakes me up almost every time. Kevin sometimes snorts and it wakes him up; mostly I just give a gentle nudge, he says “what?” and I say “you’re snoring, roll over.” I haven’t yet figured out how to get Cooper to shhuuush. He doesn’t tend to snore for long, which is good. I suspect I’ll just have to whisper his name. Dogs are notoriously light sleepers.

Until then I’ll just let him snore, let him snore, let him snore. And when I’m good and tired, and the sheep are all counted, I’ll finally drift off with a puff.

Life is good living it out loud with my guys, even when it’s supposed to be quiet. 

Hearing things that aren’t there and other random acts of weird

by Lorin Michel Monday, July 30, 2012 1:07 AM

Yesterday we found an HTC phone on the road just up Lindero, past Kanan and by the apartments. It had lost its red cover though both pieces were lying close by. We picked it up, tried to turn it on and were largely unsuccessful. So Kevin snapped the cover back into place and put it in his pocket. We thought maybe the battery was low and if we charged it when we got home, the screen would magically appear. We thought wrong.

We had a charger that fit and it took the charge but the screen seems to have completely lost its mind. We had good intentions of seeing if we could call one of the numbers, maybe even one that said “home,” and tell whomever answered that we had their phone. Again, wrong. So then we figured we’d just take it to a local Verizon store and see if they could extract any of the owner’s information to contact them. There’s really nothing else we can do short of putting up signs and I really reserve that for lost dogs and cats.

We left the phone in the kitchen on the counter. Big mistake.

At 7:30 this morning, just after I had fallen back to sleep and had entered the realm of a deep-don’t-wake-me-for-hours snooze, I was rudely awakened. I heard something strange, something mechanical, something irritating. At first, I thought: birds. But it was too regimented to be birds. Birds tend to be noisy, yes, but never noisy in a completely uniform, chirp every 2 seconds from soft to loud to pay-attention-to-me-now way. I got up. Kevin still appeared to be sleeping.

I walked to the window thinking maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was going to see a merry band of mariachi birds out there, serenading us. At 7:30. On a Sunday. I wasn’t entirely sure what I planned to do if I actually discovered mariachi birds, but I was for sure going to give them a stern talking to.

The sound wasn’t coming from outside. Nix the birds. I started toward the living room, made a left at the stairs and thought: could it be the car? I haven’t heard the new car alarm yet so I don’t know what it sounds like but then I thought: if that’s the car, it’s not very effective. Sure, it got me up. But it’s not going to deter anyone trying to steal a huge SUV. Just as I started to turn toward the garage, I stopped. The sound was coming from the kitchen.

I hear things a lot that aren’t there. So does Kevin. I hope this doesn’t make me eligible for a 5150 psych hold. If I said I hear voices, I realize it might. The fact is, sometimes, in the dead of night, when I wake up and I’m a little out of it, and I lay there in the dark, listening for dog-knows what, I could swear I hear the whispers of people out in the backyard, trying to break into Kevin’s studio.  [Bobbi’s on the phone to the police right now calling in that 5150. USC, here I come.]

I get up and pad softly to the window to look out, again not knowing just what act of heroics I’m going to pull in order to chase away said voices, but I do it anyway. There’s never anyone there, and that’s a good thing. I did this the other night and Kevin woke up and asked, reassuringly: “What the hell are you doing?” I told him; he told me it was probably the fan. He was probably right.

Phone on the Porsche in the garage

Both of us have been known to gather in the kitchen for lunch – if two people meeting for lunch can be called a gathering – and one or the other or both of us will stop mid-munch and cock an ear toward the door, asking: “Was that a phone?” Invariably, it was not.

It is not uncommon for Kevin to come in the house from his studio and ask me if the doorbell just rang. It did not.

I often hear, still and wistfully, Maguire as he shifts his weight and his considerable girth on the hardwood floor, the swoosh-slide-thud-clank-sigh as he turned over and lay back down. The clank is his tags. It is obviously and sadly no longer him, but I hear it all the time. I no longer get up from my desk to check on him, or the sound, because I know I’m hearing things. I wonder if I’ll hear him forever.

As you’ve probably deciphered, this morning’s phantom sound was the rescued street phone, the phone we so carefully placed back together in hopes of returning it to its owner. The phone who just yesterday was mangled and in pieces, waiting to be run over by an unfeeling car or worse, SUV. That phone repaid our kindness by setting off its alarm at 7:30 am. Because I was slightly discombobulated, I first tried to answer it. Then I tried to shut it off by hitting the buttons. Remember, there is no display so turning something off when you can’t see the “off” is nearly impossible and difficult at best. But it shut up and I went back to bed.

For 10 minutes.

Then it started again. I hit the power button. 10 minutes later it went off again. I was now wide-awake and did not want to be wide-awake alone. “Tell me you’re hearing that,” I said to my husband making sure to raise my voice above the cacophony emanating from the kitchen. He asked why I couldn’t turn it off. I told him I did. The next time it went off, he got up with it and decided to make coffee. Evidently, he also decided that the best place for the phone was the garage, on top of the Porsche. I know this because 10 minutes later, I was once again, hearing the phone. What I was not hearing was my husband silencing its incessant chirps. Once again, I got up and this time, the sound was indeed coming from the garage. I took the phone from the top of the car, and just kept touching the black screen until it went silent. It has not dared to speak since.

This is what I know. Turning the power off on a traumatized smartphone does not deter it. It is too smart for that. This is also what I know. Phones should not be smarter than people. I am proud to say that I triumphed on the sixth time the phone and I met for combat. Tomorrow, I will be ready.

Because in the realm of the weird, this phone seems to like living it out LOUD.

The Friday exhale

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 28, 2012 1:53 AM

My husband tells me that he’s ready for my little experiment to be over; I think he’s right. So after today, I’ll get back to regular weird, obscure, hopefully sometimes profound, and even more rarely positively brilliant posts. I thank you, dear reader, for shuffling along with me this week. Please allow this final indulgence, and tomorrow – well, in the immortal words of Scarlet O’Hara – is another day.

So in last night’s dreamland, I was in a helicopter flying over Las Vegas, getting ever closer to the water so that I could see the boats, some of which were dangerously close to each other. I was looking for dolphins I think but finding none, I turned my attention instead to the buildings that seemed abnormally small but maybe that’s just because I was so very high. A crowd had gathered and as soon as I reached out toward them, the entire scene appeared to dissipate, like fog lifting quickly to reveal a blue sky.

I wondered if it was because it was Friday, that the week and all that went into it, with work, files, meetings, clients, getting my hair colored, and more was represented by the boats mostly going in the same direction, since each day is essentially moving toward its logical conclusion and to the week’s end.

The dream was bizarre for the fact that it didn’t seem to have any people in it, other than a faceless crowd. I couldn’t see anyone on the boats, couldn’t make out anyone on the ground. Perhaps my dreams are getting lazy; perhaps I’m just tired. I’ll go with the latter.

After a night without a great deal of sleep, I’m glad to exhale on this Friday, to have a bit of down time coming with the promise of tomorrow. A day when I can do all kinds of things that don’t require a lot of brain power. Physical versus mental things. Stuff around the house things like cleaning, maybe even cleaning out a closet. Washing a car or two. Perhaps a bit of laundry. I’ve come to realize that I cherish my Saturdays simply because they’re so easy, so physical. So visceral. The only true thinking I’ll have to do is to come up with tomorrow’s blog post but I consider working on my posts to be fun and fulfilling; real.

On this Friday, as I sit here in my office, listening to the easy sounds of the afternoon, I am struck, as I often am by how easily the days fly by. Just yesterday it was Monday. I look back at the past five days and I take stock of what was accomplished and what still has a place on the to-do list. For having worked steadily, I’m sorry to say there is more still in place than has been crossed off, but that’s OK. Much of what I do is long term and steady. Like the tortoise in the infamous race with the hare, I know I will one day cross the finish line on each. A deliberate focus and the end-goal is what makes it happen.

Outside the wind chimes are gently touching, sending soft songs into the late afternoon air. On my computer screen, in the lower right corner, the puppy cam is still on. I’ve had it on all week. It serves as a reminder of all that is good and innocent and wondrous, still. In a world constantly entwined in brawls and nastiness, there is nothing more simple and simply profound than six golden retriever puppies romping. Perhaps only six golden retriever puppies sleeping in a pile. It is my definition of life itself.

I’ve always felt this way about puppies, at least as long as I can remember. I think puppies and dogs remind us all of what we should strive to be. Maguire used to do that for me. Every time I would descend the stairs from my office and he’d be laying there, looking up at me, I would remember: this is life. We sleep, we eat, we play, occasionally we get to go for a walk. I learned much from my vintage puppy. His ability to exist in the moment is lesson 873 of the many lessons he taught in his 15 years.

The six puppies are being raised by the Warrior Canine Connection, a group that teaches members of the military suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder how to train service dogs in order to be partnered with veterans with mobility impairments. They’re based in Brookville, Maryland, where these five little blonde girls and one little blonde boy were born on June 24 and are quickly growing. The group’s tagline is ‘serving humankind for 30,000 years….’ a reference to how long humans have relied on dogs.

There’s longevity there, peace. There’s also truth and again, wonder. Watching the puppies I can feel any stress dissipate, and feel the warm sunshine filtering through a blue sky. It’s Friday. There are puppies. Let’s live it out loud.

The Tuesday episode

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 24, 2012 11:35 PM

In today’s installment of Lorin’s weird dreams, I was in my old college Toyota, having chosen that over my mother’s much sleeker Supra and I was driving one of my clients and her little girl to the beach. My sister was also with us but she was about 5. It was raining like hell, I couldn’t see but I was driving straight ahead as if I could. My brother was there, too, at the front of the car, telling me which way to go – to the right! – like he was on the bow of a boat – starboard! – so as not to hit anything or go off the road. But I hit something anyway and then I had to get another car and the beach was too crowded anyway.

To which I say, huh?

The human mind is an amazing place to visit but I’m not sure I’d want to live there.

On this Tuesday, I have spent some time watching a service-puppy-cam. I do this sometimes simply for the smile value. It’s addictive, watching puppies frolic and eat and sleep and play. There are six particular puppies on this one live cam, and one mother, all golden retrievers. The puppies are in training to become service dogs. They evidently start this training at a very early age, conditioning them to certain things. I don’t know what all was done, but I watched the woman I’m assuming is Holly since the cam’s name is Holly’s Half Dozen as she lifted each up onto a table, removed their collars, maybe trimmed their nails, fed them something off her fingers and made sure they stood up. There was no sound on the cam; I wish there was. I would like to have heard the little puppy yips and yuks as they pounced and chewed and acted all kinds of puppy-tough. I’ve had the cam minimized, down in the lower right of my screen, most of the day.

At one point I had first Bobbi and then Kevin completely hooked. Kevin was even doing a running commentary. Hey, guys. Watch this. Hey. Where’s mom? Hey, did you see what’s happening over here?

A still from Tuesday's puppy-cam episode

Watching these little balls of fluff on puppy TV made me remember my own ball of fluff when he was just 8 weeks old. So much energy, bounding around the house, bouncing instead of running, eating his food in mid-air as we were pouring it into his bowl, terrified to go too far on a walk, even on his leash. We kennel-trained Maguire, and each night, after he had been fed and taken outside for a small puppy walk, we’d let him run around the house. Each night, that meant a gradual emptying of his kennel. His house, we called it. It was his den, his sanctuary. There was a blanket, his toys. And one by one, each thing inside would be carried outside and deposited in a nice little Maguire pile on the rug in the dining room. Then the playing would commence.

When we first got our beloved boy, we still lived in a two-story town house with a sunken living room. There were two steps down and he handled those well. The stairs up to the second floor were another tail all together. They were split, with three up to a small landing, then a 90º turn to the left where the majority of the steps loomed and led to another landing. Another sharp 90º turn to the left, up two and you were in the hallway that separated the two bedrooms. He could get up the first three, make the turn and then get up one. Then he’d stand there with his front paws up on the next step, rear legs on the first step, and cry that wonderful little puppy cry that said “it’s too scary; I can’t do it.” One of us would pick him up, assuring him that everything was just fine. He tried and tried.

One night, after I’d gotten home and taken him out, he was tearing around the dining room with his blue bone in his mouth. I dashed upstairs to get something and as I was up there, the phone rang. I was in the master bedroom; I grabbed it. It was Kevin. We talked for only a minute or two but as I was standing in the bedroom, suddenly this little black ball of fur popped around the corner. He had made it up all the stairs. He raced down the hall toward me, little legs moving as fast as he could make them, his ears flopping in his created breeze, tongue hanging just to one side of his mouth; a big grin on his face. He was so proud. He had braved the mountain to get to mom and he had conquered.

I’ll never forget that moment. Even now, as I type the story, I’m smiling through my tears. Dog, he was cute.

On the web cam, mom has come in. She’s eating as the puppies feed. She looks sad, in that beautiful way that dogs do; I suspect she’s over this motherhood thing. They’re getting too big; she’s tired.

There are seven dogs on this show, all of them that sweet honey color, all of them well-cared for; loved. It’s crowded like the beach in my dream but the weather is fine. It’s naptime now. One just tipped over his brother, another stood in the empty food bowl. Another one is curled on what I believe is the equivalent of the puppy litter box. Mom is lying in the middle of them all, surveying her pups. Now her head, too, goes down. Soon the feet twitch; the dreams have begun.

Another episode comes to an end. Roll credits.

As the crow flies: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 1, 2012 1:35 AM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here. We've been having some issues with birds lately. Well, maybe not birds. Birds aren't so bad. When I was just a pup I was really good friends with a little tufted dude. I think his name was Birt and we used to play in the trees. He'd sort of flit from one branch to the next while I scrambled around the trunk. We used to have a really good game of tag. His family flew south one winter- I think that means Mexico. Or maybe it was San Diego. They never came back.

We still have nice birds but we have a whole bunch of crows and I really don't like crows. In fact, I don't think I've ever met a crow that I liked. They're big and loud and think they own the trees. Plus they're mean. They’ve chased me, which is bad enough, but the other day, Mrs. Squirrel was on her way to the market, otherwise known as the next street over, looking for some dates, and they started after her. Totally uncool. Lately they've been squawking up a storm. I heard Hey Kevin yell at them two days ago with an equally loud Hey! So I guess they're Hey Birds.

Hey Kevin doesn't like Hey Birds. At. All.

Even Hey Lorin doesn't much like crows and she's usually much more patient with all things in my little kingdom. But today, I was sitting on Hey Kevin's roof, in a square of shade. Those crows were squawking something fierce. I tried barking at them but it didn't work. So I put my paws in my ears. They sounded like they were fighting, just yelling back and forth. I have no idea why they seemed to be so mad. I mean, it was a beautiful day. And there’s lots of stuff to eat, it being summer and all. All of the fruit trees and stuff are there for the swooping. Hey Kevin closed his windows; he was on that phone thing. I guess he was having trouble hearing. From inside the house I heard this rumble and then a sharp yell: HEY! Out comes Hey Lorin. I guess they were even bothering her and she was in the house! She sort of stormed across the patio toward where that Kobe dog lives, waved her arms like some sort of nut - I like nuts - and those crows flew up and away, squawking the whole time.

I took my paws out of my ears and listened to nothing. There was a little chirp somewhere and I thought about Birt. Cars went by, kids laughed and screeched. Dogs barked. These were all sounds I like.

I don't really understand the need for crows. They're not very nice and they're not very pretty, and they're very very very noisy. Hey Kevin feels the same way. He came out of his house after the latest incident. I scampered down to the edge of his studio. Hey Kevin looked up and nodded at me, like Hey Squire. I nodded back. Hey Kevin.

Just then a crow landed on top of the tree above the studio. We both looked up and growled. Then Hey Kevin started to laugh and then I started to chuckle a little and pretty soon we were both having a great time. The crow flew off, like he was mad that he hadn't made us mad again. Or maybe it was because he didn't get the joke. I didn’t really get the joke either but I’m sure it was funny.  

Hey Kevin and I do not like crows. Not one bit. And we sort of made a silent pact to do whatever we could to chase them away from our yard. It was a really cool bonding moment.

The only thing that would have made it better was if the big dog could have joined us. We would've been like the three musketeers. Hey Kevin standing on the patio, the big dog patrolling the yard, and me, keeping peace in the trees. All of us keeping the neighborhood safe from crows.

I really miss that guy.

The bark of the dogs

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 27, 2012 12:31 AM

It’s Tuesday evening and I’m in the kitchen, standing at the table (it’s a pub table so it’s tall), listening to the sounds of the OP as they filter through the open bay window. The last shards of sunlight are highlighting the tops of the trees; the trunks are already in shadow. Across the street, Carter, the wheaton terrier, is outside in the backyard and she seems decidedly unhappy about it. She’s been barking steadily for at least 45 minutes. It’s not an obnoxious bark. It’s actually rather muffled, as if she’s ruffing through a pillow, the original bark silencer. There are two cars in the driveway at her house so I imagine someone is home but whoever that someone is evidently is not hearing what she has to say.

I believe that when dogs bark they are communicating. They’re not just barking because they can, any more than most people talk only because they can. Dogs bark to announce someone’s or something’s arrival, whether invited or not. They bark when they hear something they can’t see. They bark when they see things they can’t hear. They speak when we tell them and then we sometimes get mad when they do. I would think a great number of them get confused on a fairly regular basis.

Our neighbor Kobe, the terrier terror one wall over, barks all the time. It’s as if he barks to hear himself bark, though I’m smart enough to know that’s not the case. He barks for three reasons: he doesn’t know not to, because he can, and because he can’t see everything that he hears beyond the great wall of Kobe land. Kevin gets mad at him sometimes and to be truthful, I’ve been known to mutter “Kobe: Shut the f*&^ up” a time or two, but he’s not a bad dog. He’s just never been properly socialized. And he’s outside quite often, without any attention. He hears things; he barks. When he hears us on the patio, grilling, we get bombarded with RUFF, RUFF RURURURURURU!

The size of the dog is directly proportional to the size of the bark. Small dogs yip and screech, and are generally aggressive. Medium dogs have slightly more depth to their growl and ruff. Large dogs rumble with authority and huge dogs cause earthquakes. They don’t bark very often since they don’t really need to. The sheer size of them is enough to communicate nearly anything they might need to say.

Like Go. Away. Or Need. Cookie. NOW.

When we were walking the other day, up a fairly steep hill, we were both surprised by two huge barks coming at us from the wall above. We looked up, hearts pounding. Two Great Danes stared down at us. They barked in order to let us know they were watching us. They weren’t necessarily concerned, but they were there and needed us to know that.

The aforementioned Kobe the terrible has been known to bark as early as 5:30 am and as late as 1 am giving us a four and a half hour window of silence. Down the street and on the corner there’s a house with five small dogs. When we walk by on the sidewalk, they spew out tiny conniptions. We usually just look and shake our heads.

Maguire was never much of a barker. He was known to be more the strong silent type. He would bark three times, pause, and if it was needed again, like if we hadn’t yet attended to his needs, he’d bark three more times. When we would go for our mid-day walks, he would wait in the kitchen window. Somehow he could see us, even when he was older, as we were on our way back and he would bark. Ruff, ruff. (slight pause) Ruff. He was telling us he saw us and was ready for us to be home.

When he would go out into the backyard for a cookie or just to go on tour, he would let us know when he was ready to come back in with one sharp bark at the door. Then he’d wait and stare. If we didn’t come running immediately, he’d bark again, just once. If he was still forced to wait – the unimaginable horror – he would bark twice, nearly indignant. As soon as the door slid open and he bounded inside, he was fine.

Barking actually expresses the different emotions the dog is feeling. Loneliness, fear, suspicion, stress and pleasure. Playful barks are often short and sharp. Distressed barks are often high pitched and repetitive (see: Terror, Kobe). The pitch actually gets higher as the dog becomes more and more distressed. A dog left home alone might bark like this (see: Muffled, Carter). Some dogs, like hounds, bark when they’re chasing something. For some reason, this type of barking is often called singing because it’s more of a howl, longer and with more tone.

K9 Magazine has translated barks so that we know what our canine companions are telling us. For instance:

  • Continuous, rapid barking means “call the pack. There’s a problem!”
  • Strings of three or four usually translate to “there may be an issue. You should check it out.”
  • Prolonged barking is asking the question “is there anybody out there?”
  • One sharp short bark is a greeting. Or it could be “stop that; I’m warning you.”

As I listen to the sounds of the dogs in the ‘hood, I miss my boy, naturally, but it also makes me smile. Because I love wondering and imagining whatever it is they all have to say.

The importance of toys

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 23, 2012 1:21 AM

I am a grown woman and I love toys. I have them all over my house and I’m proud of that. In my office, directly in front of me when I sit at my desk working is a Samantha Stevens/Bewitched doll complete with hat and broom. On top of the shelf is an antique croquet game. In the corner is an enormous stuffed bear from FAO Schwartz in New York. I have blocks, a Winnie the Pooh, a Piglet, an Eeyore and a Tigger. In the bookshelf are some stuffed animals; atop my bookshelf is a Scarlett O’Hara Barbie doll and a Scully and Mulder Barbie and Ken doll set from the X-Files. They carefully guard a Tasmanian devil and an old metal lunchbox like what I carried when I was in school. On the floor is an antique doll crib with two antique dolls, one a Madame Alexander, another a Heinrich Handwerk, both bisque. Which is not to be confused with Bisquik, another blog post entirely.

Walk down the stairs and at the bottom is a black, limited edition Road Hog tricycle that I bought for Kevin for Christmas several years ago. It has motorcycle aspirations, complete with a tiny saddlebag under the saddle. On top rides a stuffed dog in a leather Harley-Davidson jacket with matching sunglasses. He looks bad-ass. Miniature motorcycles, mostly metal, are on the stairs; miniature bicycles on the fireplace mantle. On the entertainment center is a Marshall Field Tonka truck from 1955 as well as a Smith-Miller Bank of America armored truck, complete with lock.

The real toy collection begins in the bedroom, though. Like typical kids, it’s where we keep most of our stuff so that it doesn’t get underfoot, nobody slips on it, and it doesn’t clutter the living room. A shelf across the sliding glass door houses some of our best toys. Actually, Kevin’s toys. There are countless trucks mostly from the late 1950s/early 1960s including a full set of orange Tonka road crew vehicles. The set even includes road signs. I bought that for him for his birthday some years ago. On the shelf up high is a menagerie of stuff: more trucks, a Sno-Cone maker, an army tank that actually shoots something, an original erector set, a set of Lincoln logs, a metal Snow-Flake sled and a fully-functional (as long as the battery terminals aren’t corroded) King Ding robot complete with his brain, a smaller robot that rides up and down inside King Ding on an elevator.

Pebbles, a replacement of my favorite doll from when I was a child, sits next to the flat screen TV. Kevin found her somewhere on the east coast and gave her to me when we got married. I always loved that doll; she may well have been the only one I ever did love. I suspect because she first belonged to my older cousin Kim and I idolized Kim. When Kim gave her to me, it was like she had given me a million dollars. I’m sure she didn’t think that; she simply no longer had any use for the raggedy piece of plastic with a stuffed body and bad hair.

I’m not sure when or why we got so into toys, and truth be told, we’re getting a little tired of some of them. Thank dog for ebay. Still, we have some pieces that are true collectors items and worth a good deal of money. We’ll keep many of the best trucks, including Marshall Field, Bank of America and all of the trucks above the sliding glass door. They’re all in mint condition. I’ll keep Pebbles for sure. The trike stays, too.

I think toys somehow makes us feel invincible again, they remind us of a simpler time when we had no responsibilities and the biggest question of the day was “when do I have to be home for dinner?” They allow us to use our imaginations, construct worlds that don’t exist except for that day, as we play and move around our trucks and our dolls and our stuffed animals. It’s a way to create, and even to problem solve. There’s also something kind of cool about having exceptionally old, working and pristine toys in your house as an adult when there are no children around. They make people smile.

Toys and games have been discovered at the sites of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations. These discoveries include dolls and animals, whistles shaped like birds and even carts with wheels. Egyptian children had dolls that sported wigs and even had movable limbs. Most of the world’s earliest toys were made from rocks, sticks and clay. Most were made by parents for their children or by the children themselves. There was care given; each toy was more personal than the mass-produced toys of today.

But the reason for being is the same: to develop the mind and the imagination. That’s something adults could use more of, especially during especially trying times. Toys allow us to escape and to play even if it’s just in our minds, even if it’s just for pretend.

Also in the bedroom, in the corner, is Maguire’s bed. I don’t think he slept in it once during his 15 plus years. Instead, it became his toy “box,” holding all of his toys and they were plentiful. Each day, he would trot out anywhere from two to six, and after he was done playing and chewing, he’d leave them wherever he grew bored. He never learned the fine art of cleaning up after himself. Those toys are still in his bed. They allow us to imagine that he’s still with us, to pretend just for a minute that we can still hear the squeak of Pig or Moo or Hedge as he bites down for a chew.

Tonight I’m celebrating toys, celebrating the pretend. Living it out loud.

Kevin and Lorin's wildlife preserve

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10:48 PM

We have a very small piece of property here in the OP. Like many who live in Southern California tracts, our house is up against other houses, on both sides. We’re separated by six foot concrete walls that have been erected to provide some sense of privacy. Kevin likes to joke that when Dave, our neighbor on the right, sneezes, Kevin can reach out the window and hand him a tissue. I’m not complaining. We have a lovely little house on a lovely little piece of dirt. How little? 5039 square feet according to Which is what makes my news even more amazing: it appears that we have our own special wildlife preserve right here on Wiggin Street.

This is news because most wildlife preserves are bigger. The smallest one I can find that has received the official wildlife preserve designation is the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge in Mille Lacs County, Minnesota. It’s just over half an acre, around 22000 square feet, and consists of two small islands on Mille Lacs Lake where several threatened bird species like ring-billed gulls, herring gulls, and double-crested cormorants live and breed. The refuge was granted its official status on May 14, 1915.

We have not applied for such a status ourselves but given the happenings around here, I anticipate having to file the necessary paperwork any day now. To wit: a Red-tailed hawk who regularly perches on our wall, in various places. Sometimes he’s right outside the greenhouse window in the kitchen. Every time he does that and I walk into the kitchen not knowing that he’s re-established residence, he scares me. Or maybe he’s a she. I have no idea which and don’t really need to know. He/she also perches on the wall just outside Kevin’s studio, one time complete with prey. I don’t remember what the prey was and I didn’t look too closely. I’m suspect it was a bird. But he placed said prey on the wall next to him, and proceeded to survey his/her kingdom in that steely hawk way. Like a statue, the bird didn’t move. Only his head pivoted, in slow motion, from right to left. Then he snatched up his dinner and off he flew.

Then there are the coyotes. While they don’t spend a lot of time on the refuge they do spend a lot of time on the periphery. I remember taking Maguire out one night before we all went to bed. I always checked for other dogs in the vicinity since other dogs and Maguire didn’t get along. As we were standing there in the front yard, the vintage puppy and I, I was doing my best impersonation of the red-tailed hawk, my head pivoting from side to side as I continued to make sure no canines approached. My head stopped; I stared. Coming down the sidewalk was what looked to be a dog, sans its person. I grabbed Maguire’s collar, and he looked at me with disdain. He wasn’t yet finished. I pulled him inside the house and then went back out. If there was a loose dog, I was going to grab him and call his owner. But it wasn’t a canine; it was a canis latrans. A coyote. I stood on the sidewalk. He veered from the sidewalk and moved to the middle of the street, trotting along, his eyes never leaving me. He stopped in front of me. For a minute, I wondered: should I be afraid? I continued to stare and he continued on his merry way to wherever. In the dark, from the shadowed hills, we hear others like him cry.

There are any number of other species of birds who hop about the yard; Squire and Mrs. Squirrel live there. Many lizards dart across the patio; a collared lizard stuck in the track of the screen door got quite irritated with Kevin one Saturday and hissed his way into the back yard. A rabbit or two has been known to show his cottontail. One appeared the night after Maguire passed. I caught a glimpse of him as I wandered aimlessly around the house, looking for my best buddy knowing he was lost forever. I noticed something odd on the sidewalk in front of the house, illuminated by the soft light of the garage lanterns. I walked to the window; it was a rabbit, poised, beautiful, still.

This morning, just before 9 am, Kevin started to go out the front door and immediately closed it as if he’d been stung. He motioned frantically, silently for me to come, quickly. I set my coffee cup down and went to see what he was so excited about. I peered through the long window next to the front door, the window that had previously shown me the rabbit. Just off the front stoop, sitting in a puddle of sprinkler water was a mother duck and six babies. We were astounded. Kevin ran for the camera as I watched the mother duck rise, shake her feathers into place and turn toward the road. She glanced back. The little ducks rolled over themselves as they tried to get ready to follow their mother. In a nice line, they trooped off, no doubt looking for a bigger puddle.

We couldn’t help but imagine Maguire, who even in his vintage days would bound out of the house into the front yard. He would have started, and then stopped short. We could imagine him looking back at us, then looking forward, the ducks frozen in fear of the big dog. We could hear him say: Hey. Did you guys know there were ducks out here? I like ducks. I really like baby ducks. Hey. The sidewalk smells a little like baby duck butt. Ducks are kind of like chicken aren’t they? I like chicken. A lot. So I’m pretty sure I like duck. But Dad? Why are there ducks on the sidewalk?

We would give anything to have heard him say that today, here at Kevin and Lorin’s wildlife preserve.

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