Today, the water felt like the softest velvet, gently caressing my skin as I pulled myself the length of the pool. I was gliding with just the right amount of effort to keep it interesting. 52 laps and my best time ever, I crushed it, 52 laps in no time at all...really, the clock was broken at the pool. So, it was my best time ever.
As I swim, I think about life. By the time I haul myself out of the pool, I've got it all figured out.
Life boils down to a thick sauce of sadness and pain which is usually in need of seasoning. You can't season the sauce without tasting it. You've got to have done it many times to know what to add to make a lively sauce from a bland, sad mess. With a pinch of salt, some thyme or maybe lemon zest, you can make it sing. In my experience, it will never be the same, no matter how many times you reduce it like this, it's unpredictable to a degree.
Standing on the edge of the pool, dripping, thinking, rejuvenating mind and body, I watch a group of 13 year old boys attempt to impress each other with their speedy swimming. Heads up, swiveling in time with their madly splashing arms, they get nowhere fast. The swim lesson hasn't started yet. I remember as a kid watching my mom in the pool. She'd never submerge her head, never put her face in the water, for fear of messing up her hair.
For me, a high point of life, my lemon zest, is swimming. I put my face in it and I was eager to learn. This...this right here is the key to making a great reduction sauce of life. Do not be afraid of putting your face in it and be eager to learn. And keep doing it.
I screwed my hat down tight on my head then cinched the stampede string snug under my chin.
One, two, three circles around my hand with the rope, I pulled it as hard as I could. I checked it and pulled it tighter.
A deep breath to center myself, then with a confident nod, "BANG!" the door flew open and we tore out as if shot from a cannon.
No, I've not lost my mind and taken up bull riding as a new hobby. I'm merely taking my dog, Topper, for a morning stroll. She's a bit of a puller on the leash. She's got more pull per square inch or torque or however you measure extreme pulling power than a tractor, more than an ox or a draft horse or sled dog. She could pull my car out of a ditch, which will be handy in the winter, but not so much fun for morning walks around the neighborhood.
She leans into it, pins her ears back, digs in with her claws, pushes with her hind quarters, never looks back or side to side, never stops to smell the roses. This is work for her, it's a job to get done. I've tried every "no pull harness/leash" combination ever made or sold. I've tried stopping every time she pulls, (those 45 minute walks turned into 2 hour ordeals.) I've pleaded, yelled, made annoying loser noises like they have on game shows when you get the answer wrong. I've clicked and treated, treated and clicked. Nothing works. I find myself saying, like a mantra, "Cutter didn't pull like this. Cutter walked nice on the leash. Why can't you be more like Cutter?" She hates that. It probably makes her pull harder.
A few times, I just dropped the leash and watched her trudge along. She realizes pretty quickly that I'm no longer attached, the extreme resistance is gone, it just doesn't feel right, so she comes back to me and waits for me to reattach myself at which point she pulls ahead.
We've all got places to go, things to do, but she's a dog. What could she possibly have on her schedule that makes her push ahead so strongly to get this walk over and done?
So, to all my dog walking friends out there who do not suffer regularly from shoulder dislocation and deepening frown lines, can you offer some advice? I'll give you a treat if it works. Click, click.
My Working Dog
I told Cutter that he was going on a great adventure. Best of all, he would have a job to do. A working dog needs a job.
I asked him to scout out all the good trails. I told him, don't wait for me, I'll be there soon enough and we'll have a big ol' time.
Then, I patted him on the head and said goodbye.
Cutter Bill died March 9, 2017
He was 15 or 16 years old.
One of a kind, he was my constant companion for nearly seven years. He was the best dog and a good worker at the gallery.
I lucked out when I walked into Teller County Animal Shelter (TCRAS) looking for a border collie. He was a regular there, he'd been in four different times, twice as a surrender, twice as a stray. They called him Nelson and said he was two or three years old.
I named him Cutter Bill and the vet said he was more like eight or nine. I wish I'd had him from day one, but it still wouldn't have been long enough. However, someday soon, we'll be together for an eternity...and it still won't be long enough.
And, in case you're on the fence, dogs do go to heaven, (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21.) If they don't, I wouldn't want to go.
Velocity is a topic I would hear my dad and his friends discussing, bullets and guns. All of the technical jargon was way over my head. But the concept of velocity is suddenly of interest to me.
My dad has pancreatic cancer.
It's taking him fast, as it's known to do.
Just four months ago he seemed fine, riding his motorcycle, shooting at the range, volunteering at the museum, enjoying life as a healthy, strong man who always had a yearning for knowledge and adventure.
Now he lies on his bed, so thin he barely makes an impression on the mattress, fearless eyes, huge in his head, unflinchingly staring death in the face. Even like this, he's an inspiration in his strength of character. He's a blue-eyed cheerful skeleton, grateful for every little thing.
Looking through old family photographs, trying to banish the skinny vision of him from my mind, replace it with a healthy picture, I came across a photo taken by my Grandpa McFadden. It's a lovely photograph of my Grandma and my dad and a horse in Kansas, circa 1942.
Even if I didn't know the subjects personally, I'd love this photograph. It's got a tenderness, a sweetness, a warmth that is timeless and so beautiful. So, this is the image I'm keeping in my mind now. I'm going to think of him at the start of his life, surrounded by good people and good animals, just the way my life is now.
Remember that sweet John Denver song, "Sunshine on My Shoulders?" Having been a member of his fan club when I was 8, I do. I know every verse, every note of not only that song, but most of his. And, go figure, I end up making my life in the Rocky Mountain State. Yeah, now you've got "Rocky Mountain High" stuck in your head, you can sing it out loud, but don't try to hit that high note unless you're all alone.
Springtime in Colorado comes along right about now, second week in May. Donning the year's first tank top, I hook up Cutter's leash and out the door we go for a long walk.
I'm so grateful, not just for the sunshine and warmth, but for Cutter's new lease on life. He is getting up there in years, 14 or 15 is a pretty accurate guess. I don't know for sure because he was "mature" when I sprang him from the pen up in Divide, which is right next door to the county jail, appropriately enough. Right at the top of the hill, a good place to put errant people and dogs, I guess. We've been together for almost six years now. Not nearly long enough.
Arthritis was hitting him hard, slowing him down, taking his Border Collie edge away. He ignored balls rolled his way, choosing sleep over play. I took him to a holistic vet who prescribed massage, acupuncture and muscle relaxants, which sounds like a good prescription for anyone for anything, anytime. We tried three weeks of that and as he worsened, I took him back to his old vet, a horse doctor who put him on some real deal arthritis medication, better living through better chemistry.
He's a new dog, or rather, he's my old dog made new again. The doc rolled Cutter's clock back five years.
I don't know how long I'll have him, but I know I appreciate every minute that I do. While I'm having grateful thoughts, I'm so grateful to be back in business! The new gallery is proving to be a good home for my work and me. My new darkroom is a gem, very functional (translation: I've got some new silver prints to show, come see.)
So, spring moves into summer quickly here, short growing season, even shorter tourist season. If you're headed to Colorado again this summer, be sure to stop in and see the new place, the new work, the old dog. And, on a sunny day, if you see a gal in a tank top being led by a border collie with a bounce in his step, wave, it's probably me and Cutter with John Denver ringing in our ears.