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Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Butterfly Moment

A Butterfly moment

A Butterfly moment

 

Sometimes, especially at night, Butterfly likes to do a walking meditation. She’s not overly energetic by then, or full of poop, and she’s sniffed as much as she’s interested in for the day, so while Cricket drags one of the humans up the sidewalk to sniff the world, Butterfly gently but firmly leads the other human to a quieter place in the yard. She walks slowly and with intention. She listens for the wind and the shaking of the leaves. She sniffs the smells that come to her on the air. She takes this time to unwind and let go of whatever didn’t work out from her day so that she can sleep well and wake up refreshed and ready for a new adventure.

Walking meditations are full of joy

Walking meditations are full of joy

Meanwhile, Cricket is practically flattened to the ground to get better traction as she pulls mightily on the leash. She always wants to go towards the street and the cars and the noise. She wants to make every pee trip into a three mile walk, uphill, into traffic.

Cricket is so strong she pulled me back to the Fall

Cricket is so strong she pulled me back to the Fall

When Cricket returns, Butterfly tries to share her calm with her sister. It’s like a Reiki master who warms her hands to build energy before sending energy to someone else, but Butterfly uses her nose. She breathes in the fresh air, paces herself, rests her mind, and then when she sees that her sister is overwrought, she offers a nose to nose check in, and inevitably, Cricket calms down, somewhat (we can’t work miracles here.)

nose to ear, close enough

nose to ear, close enough

Whereas butt sniffing is about curiosity and checking in, nose to nose sniffing is about sharing breath and offering peace. It’s like when you take the hand of a friend who is grieving or in pain and you offer your energy and warmth and life to the other person, as a bridge.

Butterfly really listens to the birds when we go outside. The birds I recognize (with help from my nature loving mom) are the red breasted Robin, the Cardinal, the Baltimore Oriole, and the cowbird. Mom is not a fan of the cowbird. There were also starlings at some point, and a bird whose feathers were left in a pile, like a quickly discarded coat, white with black polka dots.

Butterfly's indoor birdie friend

Butterfly’s indoor birdie friend

I’m not sure if Butterfly knows the differences between the birds, or gets a sense of what they are singing about, but she listens carefully to all of them, and to the sound of the airplanes overhead, or a bus passing by, or the train stopping at the train station. She’s a connoisseur of different sounds and songs, but she doesn’t sing them herself, She just likes to listen.

I wonder if the extra birds hanging out in the yard this summer have been drawn here by Miss Butterfly. She has such a Zen feeling about her that we now have Robins and starlings sitting on the lawn, having their own Butterfly moments, as if two fluffy dogs are not inches away from them.

Even the white cat with brown patches who used to run up the retaining wall at the sight of a dog, has become more relaxed, watching us walk in her direction, even coming up to our front door, and only running away when the dogs make eye contact with her.

Maybe there’s an ad in a newspaper only animals can read, inviting everyone to our backyard for meditation class, and that’s why Butterfly has been barking more often, impatient to get outside to her students.

Butterfly has the ability to dissociate from her body too. She spent eight years in a puppy mill perfecting this skill, so that nothing happening to her or around her had to penetrate her heart and soul. She does this less now, but it’s been a process. When Cricket tears around the room like a pinball, Butterfly will freeze and her face will go blank, for a moment or two, and then she will come back. When my youngest nephew (or his father) decide to drag Butterfly around by the neck, she lets go of herself for a moment, until it’s over, or until she hears me screaming.

Dissociated Butterfly, waiting fro Cricket to stop barking.

Dissociated Butterfly, waiting for Cricket to stop barking.

This is different from meditation. Dissociation is absence, from the mind or body or self, a way to survive, but meditation is something else, it’s sparkly and kind and full bodied and it lets in noise, but not so much that it’s overwhelming. And Butterfly is mastering meditation in our backyard, and, little by little, teaching it to me.

Butterfly's favorite form of meditation - on food.

Butterfly’s favorite form of meditation – on food.

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My Blond Dogs

When I was five years old, I loved my blond-haired, blue-eyed Ginny doll. She didn’t have breasts or hips, like Barbie, thank god. Instead, she wore jeans and sneakers and braids in her hair, and, best of all, she had a pair of roller skates that really rolled. Of course, because I had openly shown my adoration for Ginny, and marveled at her roller skates, my brother had to grab her out of my hands and make her skate across the street. I couldn’t catch up to him; he was a worldly seven-year-old after all. And somehow, with all of the chasing and racing and grabbing and skating, Ginny lost one of her roller skates and no amount of searching could help me find it.

Me and Ginny

Me and Ginny

I don’t know what happened to the Ginny doll I had at five, but recently I looked Ginny up online, just to see if my memory of her was accurate, and I found her on eBay, pristine in her original box, with her roller skates. I could even buy her some new (old) outfits and a new dresser, with hangers, to keep it all in. But that would have been going too far.

Ginny likes to read.

Ginny likes to read.

I’m not sure what to do with her, now that she’s here. I was never quite sure how to play with dolls as a kid and I’m even more stumped now, but it’s a relief to have her back, and on a high enough shelf so that Cricket can’t chew her head off.

When I looked for Ginny on eBay, though, I found out that there was a brunette Ginny too. I thought all of them were blond. I assumed all dolls were blond when I was little, because I never saw one with brown hair like mine. As an adult, I thought maybe I should buy the brunette Ginny, to correct the past in some way, but I really wanted the Ginny doll I remembered. And that made me think, Oy, really? After twenty years of therapy, unresolved issues still have to pop up?

My best childhood friend was blond and looked a lot like my Ginny doll. Her family had more money and more stuff than we did, more games and toys and clothes and food and an in-ground pool in the backyard. Her mother took pity on my doll-less-ness and bought me a cabbage patch doll one year, another blond, and later on, she gave me a hand-me-down two foot tall plastic doll with long blond hair. My childhood friend and I weren’t really friends anymore by then. I still loved her, but, it’s a long story. One day when I was alone in my room feeling some inexplicable anger, let’s call it rage, I saw that two foot tall plastic doll with long blond hair sitting in the corner, and I took a pair of scissors and cut her hair down to the nubs. I can’t explain why I did it, or why I did the same thing to my own hair a few years later, but when it was done, I felt a little better.

Later, when my brother and his friend were into making videos, they stole my short-haired doll and made her the star of a movie called “Ten ways to kill a baby.” They hung her from a lamp post, drowned her in a pool, dropped her out a window and shot her with an arrow. I don’t remember the other things they tried. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one with anger issues.

My associations with blondness weren’t all negative, though. Around the same time as Ginny, I was enamored of Olivia Newton John, especially the version of Olivia from the movie Xanadu. She was a blond-haired muse come to life, on roller skates. She got to skate with Gene Kelly, and sing Xanadu and Magic and I loved her. I loved the other worldliness of her, with her blond hair and wispy white dress and spacey electronic music. The first record I ever owned was one of hers. The album itself, that big round black disk, felt like a magical thing. I held it out in front of me and twirled in a circle and felt like I was flying a plane and escaping from the down to earth world I had so little taste for.

Olivia in skates!

Olivia in skates!

I still had mixed feelings about this blondness thing when I went looking for a new dog eight years ago. I grew up with black dogs. We had a lot of mutts and even our two pure bred dogs were Dobermans, mostly black with brown patches. I felt a kinship with the black dogs, maybe because I understood, without realizing it, that black-haired dogs had even more of a self esteem issue than I did, in a world where black dogs were usually the last to be chosen from the shelter. But after my black lab mix, Dina, died, I needed a change.

My Dina

My Dina

I wasn’t quite ready for blond, though. I met the most adorable little red-haired Cockapoo at a pet store and when I could not choose her (because she cost $1300, and was clearly from a puppy mill, and I was just starting to have an idea of what those were), I went looking for a reputable Cockapoo breeder. I chose Cricket over the red heads because I liked her breeder more, and felt better about how she’d been raised, and I tried to ignore her white blond hair because I loved Cricket right away.

Cricket surrounded by her favorite toys!

Cricket surrounded by her favorite toys!

The day we went to the shelter a year and a half ago was an impulse, not a plan. We thought we were going to volunteer to foster a dog, but I also had in mind a sister for Cricket, and we got sidetracked. I was looking for someone small, and calm, and older, but I had in mind a brown or black dog. And then I met little white-haired Butterfly and she smiled at me, and I was hooked.

Butterfly's first day (before bath).

Butterfly’s first day (before bath).

I’m afraid that people will look at my pretty blond dogs, and then look at me, and think I don’t fit. Clearly, these girls are adopted. But they carry that childhood magic for me, that Olivia Newton John, Ginny doll magic that made me feel like I could fly away.

I still feel disloyal to the dark haired girls and dogs like me, but I also know how lucky I am to have these particular blonds in my life. Seeing my dogs each morning is like looking at sunflowers, or eating a cupcake with a mile of frosting on top. There’s a chemical reaction when I see them that raises my neurotransmitters from their daily slog. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

But, still, the temptation to put them in roller skates is extraordinary!

"We want roller skates, Mommy!

“We want roller skates, Mommy!

 

Bathmat Art

 

A few months ago there were suddenly little pieces of yarn everywhere, sticking to the rugs in various rooms, looking wilted and lonely and very fat next to the long multicolored threads and tiny pieces of jagged fabric Mom leaves everywhere from her quilting projects. The green of the yarn was very pale, so I didn’t connect it right away with the more pronounced green of the gradually balding bathmat. At first I assumed it was Cricket tearing up the bathmat, making a nest for herself the way she does on my bed, scratching holes into my sheets. But then I woke up early one morning, and there was little Butterfly, curled up in a corner of the bathmat, cooling her forehead against the white bathtub.

The artist at rest.

The artist at rest.

I should have noticed the signs earlier, when I discovered her ducky on the mat in the morning. But there was no bathmat art to go with the stuffed animal, so, I thought maybe Cricket had brought it in there or it had been kicked across the threshold by mistake. There also must have been early works that I did not recognize as such, small smushes of the mat from one side or another. I probably assumed it was my fault, that standing in front of the sink, brushing my teeth, I’d moved the mat out of place. But then there was the abstract rose. Butterfly must have spent quite some time nudging that mat into the shape she’d dreamed of in her mind, an abstract, three-dimensional green rose, with no stem or thorns.

I think each work of art starts as a practical attempt to achieve coziness. Often Butterfly actually prefers to sleep on the hard wood floor, eschewing beds and rugs and all manner of soft things, but sometimes, and I don’t know when or why, the bathmat calls to her.

"This work is not yet ready for viewing, Mommy."

“This work is not yet ready for viewing, Mommy.”

Bathmat art is full body art. Butterfly doesn’t rely solely on her paws or her teeth, she uses her head and shoulders, and she kicks it with her back legs and even pushes it with her belly. Her first love was paper art. She ripped and chewed magazines and crossword puzzles and even books, if I was silly enough to leave one within her grasp. But maybe she started to get paper cuts on her tongue and the inside of her mouth, or maybe she had trouble seeing her artwork in the dark and decided to go to the bathroom over night, which is where we leave the light on. (Mom has tried to turn it off, but I need at least one light on or else I will bang into my treadmill in the dark, and since the most likely place for me to aim myself in the middle of the night is the bathroom, I figured, that’s the light that should stay on.)

I wish I could capture Butterfly in the act of creation, but she guards her bathmat art process very carefully. There’s an architectural quality to her latest works, a sense that she’s designing tunnels and bridges and maybe a highway overpass.

The Fat Inchworm

The Fat Inchworm

Abstract Tree

Abstract Tree

Bridge and Tunnel

Bridge and Tunnel

She hasn’t figured out what to do with the loose pieces of yarn yet. They seem to only be a by-product of the larger works, spread across the apartment for future use, but given time, she may decide to collect them into little bundles and make fiber art. That’s something Mom has wanted to try for a long time; using bits and scraps of thread and yarn and fabric to create something new. This could be a project for them to work on together.

Recently, when I had to go into the city for new medical tests, I was anxious. I was especially concerned about the closed MRI, being fed into a dark metal tube head first, and immobilized for forty five minutes or so. Not fun for anyone, but especially not for someone with claustrophobia. I had my prescription of valium, and a Ziploc bag filled with chocolate, but I was missing something.

I really wished that I could bring Butterfly with me to the MRI. The space would have been too small for both of us to fit inside, but if I could have just felt her leaning against my feet while I was inside that dark tunnel, that would have been comforting. But she gets anxious in the car and they’d never let her into the hospital, because she’s not small enough to hide in my pocketbook.

I was missing her very much, and then I sat down in the prep room where the nurse was going to put in the IV (for the contrast), and I saw a small, bent, piece of green bathmat yarn on the floor. I must have had it on my jeans or shoes without realizing it. And yet, it didn’t drop off as I walked to the car from the apartment, or from the car to the hospital, or anywhere I wouldn’t have noticed it along the way. No. It dropped right there on the floor as I was sitting in a chair, waiting to get a needle stuck in my arm, contemplating small spaces and certain death. It was as if Butterfly was sending me a message, that she was there with me in spirit and I wouldn’t have to be in that dark tunnel alone.

My girls.

My girls.

I tend to be a pretty logical/rational person, but I always keep my heart open to the possibilities, to the little messages the universe likes to send out to let us know that not all coincidences are just coincidences. I don’t quite believe that I have angels following me around stopping trucks from barreling into me, or turning off the flame on the stove when I forget. But I do believe in some sort of electricity that connects us to the people we love.

And I’ve become a great supporter of bathmat art.

Bowtie?

Bow Tie?

 

The Pop Up Camper

 

We used to go camping when I was a kid, instead of flying to Europe, or wherever the upper middle class kids I grew up with tended to go. At first we had a tent, a big blue tent that could have held a dozen people, but then my father got a deal on a pop up camper and that became our home away from home.

We stayed at campgrounds, with hundreds of other tents and pop ups and Recreational Vehicles. I’m sure there are people who go camping with no water or electricity hookup, alone in the wilderness, but that was never the kind of camping we did.

Parking the camper in our designated camp site was the kind of torture I wouldn’t wish on anyone. First my father had to back the camper in, with Mom standing outside the car to direct him more to the left or right, so the camper wouldn’t hit a tree. Then the camper had to be stopped in place with wooden blocks, and the car detached from the hitch and parked at a distance. Then we had to make sure the camper was level, with jacks at each wheel well to make up for the varying levels of the ground underneath.

I remember my father screaming at my mother, “The level isn’t straight!” even though I could see the little bubble was right in the middle where it was supposed to be.

Then we had to pop up the camper and snap in the door and attach the water and electricity and lift out the two wings for beds.

By the time we were done all my brother and I wanted to do was go home, but instead we all went out for dinner and then stumbled back to the camper to go to sleep.

Mom says that Delilah, our dog, slept on the floor of the camper at night, but I’m not sure she’s right about that. There were three beds set up, one for me, one for my brother and one for my parents, and it seems strange that Delilah would have been inside the camper with us and yet not sleeping on my bed, where she often slept at home, at my feet.

"We're going where?"

“We’re going where?”

"I'd rather drive than pull, just saying."

“I’d rather drive than pull, just saying.”

During the day, we hung a rope between two trees to attach Delilah’s leash to, so she could swoop along the length of that rope, with an extra six feet of leeway. She wasn’t much of a barker, but she looked intimidating to strangers, which was what my father was going for. She was a statuesque black and brown Doberman Pinscher, with the forced ears and snipped tail of a dog meant to fight. But she was a scaredy cat. If someone came to our house, she would bark, as required, but slowly back her way up the stairs and out of sight.

For the most part, there is a dog-shaped hole in my memories of camping.

I don’t think Delilah could have enjoyed camping. She was a home body by nature. She liked sleeping at the foot of my bed, exploring her backyard, and resting in a ray of sun for a nice long nap in the afternoon. She was also a fan of dinner time, when table scraps magically fell to the floor, where she was waiting.

"I'd like my dinner, and a pillow, and a couch of my own."

“I’d like my dinner, and a pillow, and a glass of Chardonay.”

She wasn’t used to being on a long lead, or even a leash for that matter, because we rarely took her for walks at home. We’d just let her out in the back yard, either in her private run, to poop and pee, or with us in the rest of the fenced in yard, to play.

Maybe Delilah came with us on the nature walks we took at the campground. Mom would take me and my brother out while our father grumbled to himself in the air conditioned camper. Sometimes we’d find wild strawberries or raspberries, sometimes we got lost in the woods, sometimes we saw mushrooms and met very old trees. The idea was to leave the people-world for a while and smell and hear and see different things. The air was cooler and the birds had more to say when they weren’t drowned out by the sounds of humans and cars.

"Time to smell the... what are these exactly?"

“Time to smell the… leaves?”

Delilah and my brother, waiting for snacks.

“My brother loves me, and he smells like peanut butter.”

The smells of the campground itself depended on the time of day. In the morning there was often the pervasive smell of bacon. In the heat of the day the air smelled of plastic, and freshly cut grass, and chlorine from the swimming pool nearby. Towards evening there were campfires, with baking potatoes and hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks.

I liked the sound of rain on the canvas of the camper more than the sound of the rain on the hard plastic roof; splotch was more comforting than plink. And I loved the wet dirt smell of the rain hitting the trees around us.

I’ve tried to imagine taking Cricket and Butterfly camping. We could never use a tent, because no tent would hold Cricket. She’d be busting out of the sides and digging through the fabric of the tent to freedom (you should see what she’s done to my sheets). It would also be a good idea to have more sound baffling than a tent could provide.

I could also never leave them tied to a rope outdoors, the way we left Delilah. I would be very worried about someone coming by to steal my babies, or at least trying to steal them, and suing me when Cricket ripped off a few fingers during the attempt.

And I could never leave the girls alone in the camper. Butterfly would pee on the bed, and Cricket would scratch the door down, or chew through the canvas walls.

The girls wouldn’t mind a campfire, though. And bacon for breakfast would be their idea of heaven.

I wonder what Delilah would have thought of Cricket and Butterfly. I think she would have been protective of them, the way she was with her own puppies. Maybe she could have kept Cricket in line, with a look, or a growl, to get her to quiet down.

Cricket, in need of much training.

Cricket, in need of much training.

And she and Butterfly would have snuggled together for warmth, with Cricket harrumphing from a safe distance.

I could have found room for all three dogs on my bed in the camper, and maybe that’s what would have made me feel safe. I was usually so lonely on those trips, with no idea what to do on my own, and my brother only reluctantly spending time with me.

Maybe if I could fill all of the beds in the camper with dogs, instead of people…I’d be willing to go camping again. But probably not.

The campers!

The campers!

The Sniffing Science

 

Cricket takes her sniffing seriously. Some dogs sniff the air, sniff a few potential pee spots, and feel satisfied with that, but Cricket has to do a grid search. She seems to have the backyard broken down into plots, invisible to the human eye. Her brain keeps track of where she smelled what, and in which combinations or concentrations. She chooses only a few zones to check during each walk so that she can do a thorough survey of the territory throughout the day. I’m sure if I were more observant, I would discover that after certain weather events, and at certain times of day, she checks specific areas of the backyard.

Cricket follows the sniff trail wherever it takes her.

Cricket follows the sniff trail wherever it takes her.

In any weather.

In any weather.

I am not a scientist. The idea of taking a chemistry class makes me want to vomit. But for Cricket, this sniffing science is nirvana. She has a lot of projects going at once. She has to check how the scent of her own pee decays as the hours pass, and then see how long the trace of squirrel scent lives on the base of the big tree, and then she has to see whose been pooping in her leaf pile – but that’s not so much an experiment as a territorial guarding maneuver. No one should be pooping on her leaf pile, except for her.

She also likes to check in on the plantings our neighbor has put into the plot by the front door. She’s sure he’s made mistakes in his watering times, and soil usage, and the distance between seedlings, and she tries to get her paws into the dirt to rearrange things to her specifications.

Cricket guards her knowledge closely and only shares a few tidbits with her sister Butterfly, and none with me. I think she whispers her findings to Grandma at night, but I can’t prove it, especially because Grandma sleeps through the recitation. Though maybe that’s where Grandma’s been getting all of her new gardening ideas.

Cricket tries to be disinterested in her sniffing. She covers each area equally and gives me the evil eye when I try to speed her past one location to another without allowing full computation of data values. But some things break through her scientific objectivity. Like a dead mouse. She doesn’t just want to smell the mouse and record its notes of moss and rot and ripe just-dead-ness, she wants to absorb those elements into her own skin, by rolling her head and neck into the carcass.

Science is supposed to be so orderly and logical and impersonal, to guard against subjectivity and assumptions that could spoil the accuracy of the results, but I’m pretty sure Cricket isn’t the only scientist who breaks out into a passion of excitement every once in a while.

Mushrooms!!!

Mushrooms!!!

I’d like to get Cricket a Go-Pro camera to strap to her head, with smell-o-vision and a good microphone to capture ambient sound. I think, if we could create a set up like that, we could re-play her walk videos for her whenever we have to go out and she’d be so busy studying her science projects she wouldn’t even notice that we were gone.

Does this dog look happy about wearing a camera? (not my picture)

Does this dog look happy about wearing a camera? (not my picture)

Or we could set up a lab for her in the big closet in the living room (sorry Mom, you’ll have to move your quilting stuff out of there), and there’d be Petri dishes on all of the lower shelves so she could check in with her smells whenever she wanted. We could have a shelf for types of tree bark, and a shelf for creepy crawlies, and a shelf for clumps of grass peed on by various animals at different times of the day.

Creepy crawly caterpillar for Cricket's collection

Creepy crawly caterpillar for Cricket’s collection

Maybe Butterfly could have a small shelf in the closet where she could press a button and listen to the birdsong of one or another of her friends while acting as Cricket’s lab assistant.

Cricket and her loyal assistant.

Cricket and her loyal assistant.

Butterfly's birdie friend

Butterfly’s birdie friend

I think Cricket might even be willing to learn how to climb the plastic doggy steps if it meant getting closer to her experiments on the higher shelves. She could also use a microscope, and a bright bulb to wear on her forehead for nighttime investigations, and that white lab coat; and if we could find Dog-to-English word recognition software that could translate all of her observations and insights for publication… Clearly, I have been remiss all of these years. If only I had been more proactive, Cricket would already have her PhD.

 

Cricket's first step

Dr. Cricket’s first step