Cabela, my fourteen-and-a-half-year-old standard poodle, has been moving slowly over the past two days. But she has a good excuse. She treed a big raccoon on Friday evening. Then she stood under the tree and barked at it, warning it to stay put. She barked some more to alert my husband that a big raccoon was up the tree, but that he didn’t need to worry about it. She had it all under control.
My husband brought Cabela into the house, then he watched the raccoon through a window. When the raccoon finally decided to come down the tree, its descent took twenty minutes because it inched its way down while keeping an eye out for Cabela the Mighty Hunter.
After the raccoon skedaddled down the road, my husband took the dogs back outside. Cabela ran hot laps around the house, probably looking for the raccoon. It’s the hot laps that she’s paying for. She’s moving like an old athlete who needs an anti-inflammatory and a heating pad after a rowdy game of touch football.
“Old enough to know better, but young enough to do it anyway.” That’s what my father would’ve said about Cabela’s escapade with the raccoon. It was one of my father’s favorite expressions. When someone asked him how old he was, he answered, “Old enough to know better, but young enough to do it anyway.” If someone did something foolish (and that someone was often my father), he would repeat the mantra, “Old enough to know better, but young enough to do it anyway.”
Years ago, Jelly Bean, the first dog my husband and I owned, spent a night on the lam. One of my nephews had let her outside, and I didn’t realize it until a couple of hours later. I drove all over the neighborhood, several different times, but I couldn’t find her. I was upset when I went to bed because she still hadn’t returned.
Around midnight the temperature dropped and heavy rain accompanied by thunder and lightning rumbled through the night. I kept dreaming that I heard Bean barking. I’d wake up and listen, then sad and disappointed, I’d go back to sleep. Finally, at four o’clock in the morning, I heard a loud bark outside, and I knew it wasn’t a dream. At the backdoor stood my soaking wet, black lab mutt with her tail between her legs. I dried her off and wrapped her in a blanket. We both went to sleep. The next day Jelly Bean was sick, so I took her to the vet.
During the exam, I told the vet about Bean’s night in the cold and rain. He asked to be reminded how old she was. “She’s ten,” I said. “Old enough to know better, but young enough to do it anyway.” He laughed. This was a big deal because that vet barely smiled let alone laughed. Additionally, he didn’t like small talk, and he could be cantankerous. Most people didn’t like him, but he was a good vet. His demeanor hadn’t ever bothered me because he was just a milder version of my father. In the past when I had to take Bean to the vet, I gave the pertinent information and refrained from talking about the weather.
But after I made the quip about my old dog’s youthful folly, the vet and I had a different relationship. My father’s expression must have struck a chord with the vet because during future visits, he smiled and made small talk with me. Perhaps, his father had used the expression, or maybe he often felt that way about his own life.
My Cabela isn’t keen on small talk, and she still thinks she’s young enough to do whatever she wants. She and the cantankerous vet would’ve understood each other. And my father, who knew Cabela, would’ve been proud of her for treeing the raccoon and doing hot laps around the house, age be damned. I don’t think Cabela would like using a heating pad, but I gave her canine anti-inflammatory medicine last night and this morning.
I hope the raccoon is old enough to know better and stays away.
I’m away from home, and I’ve been taking lots of walks. On day two of my amblings, I noticed a couple of signs had been posted with a picture of a black cat and the words: Lost Cat Please Call w/Sightings. There is, of course, a phone number.
When I’m walking, I look for the cat, but all I’ve seen are deer, woodpeckers, crows, small birds, rabbits, geese, ducks, turkey vultures, and two foxes frolicking in a farmer’s field. But I haven’t seen the black cat, so I haven’t used the phone number.
Several days have passed and the notices are still up, so the cat is probably still missing. I like to think if the cat had been found, the owner would have removed the signs. I leave for home tomorrow, but I expect to see the signs on my morning walk before I go. I hope the owners find their pet, but the longer the cat is gone, the less likely it will return.
Something might have killed the cat. It also might have found a new home. Cats have been known to do that. I had a good friend who gained a gray cat that way when it showed up at her house. While she tried to find its owner, she fed it and took care of it, and the confident cat made itself right at home. Then the cat disappeared for a couple of days. Then it returned, only to disappear and reappear again over several weeks. Finally, she discovered the cat lived across the alley and down a few houses. The cat, like a bigamist, had been keeping two families. Plenty of jokes were cracked about its behavior, and both of the cat’s families kept in contact in order to keep tabs on their mutual pet. Eventually, the cat dumped the other family and settled in with my friend. She felt badly and kept asking the owners if they would like their cat back. Sure, but only if the cat wanted to come home. They were pragmatic about the situation because it turned out that was how the cat had come to live with them the year before.
But that’s not much comfort to the owners of the missing black cat because they wouldn’t know if their pet was safe.
We had a black cat when I was ten years old. My mother brought it home. I’m not sure if it was because my siblings and I wanted it or if she wanted it. She didn’t need much prompting to bring home animals, and what little kid doesn’t want a playful kitten with a soft, rumbly purr.
My father wasn’t happy when he came home and was introduced to a black kitten named Lucifer. He claimed he didn’t like cats. Lucifer, sensing my father was his enemy, joined ranks with him. That cat greeted my father when he came home from work, sat on his lap when he read the newspaper at the kitchen counter, and curled up with him when he fell asleep on the couch. My father grew fond of Lucifer, the cat with a name that belied his personality. Dad had a soft spot for animals too.
Lucifer was full grown but less than a year old when he died. No one noticed that he was missing because he hadn’t been gone long enough. One of my siblings discovered his body floating in our above ground pool in the backyard. The sides of the pool were four feet off the ground, but cats have leaping superpowers. However, once he’d gotten in the pool, he was unable to get out.
We were all upset about Lucifer, especially Dad.
A few months later, the pool, too, would have a sort of death. My father flew skydivers, and one weekend afternoon, Dad and some of the jumpers thought it would be fun if a couple of them were to land in our pool. Boredom was probably the mother of this crazy idea because the skydivers normally aimed for a small metal disk in the middle of much larger circle of pea gravel back at the airport. I can picture the scales in their adventurous brains as they weighed their options: Same gray pea gravel, again? Or a Caribbean-blue pool filled with chlorinated water? Tipping the scale was the much smaller size of the pool, twenty-five feet in diameter, making it a more challenging target. The skydivers were thrill junkies. Besides, the pool’s water was only three feet deep. No one was going to be in over his head.
We lived out in the country on two-point-two acres, and our land was surrounded by sprawling fields of tall grass. So, if the skydivers missed their target, they had plenty of grass to land on. Also, my father had a certain reputation in the neighborhood, and if someone saw a couple of guys with parachutes drifting toward earth in our backyard, well, that kind of thing was business as normal at our house.
But like many good ideas hatched in the heat of a Saturday summer afternoon, this one was a near miss or a near hit, depending on your point of view about the half-a-glass-of-water personality test. One of the skydivers didn’t land outside the pool or inside the pool. He landed on the edge, crumpling the side. Skydivers don’t float like dandelion seeds landing gently on terra firma. They come down a bit fast, so part of their ground school training covers proper techniques for landing to avoid injuries.
The skydiver wasn’t hurt, but he took some ribbing for “riding the fence.” The pool was totaled because once metal is bent that badly, there is no unbending it, so my father dismantled it and took it to the dump. That fall we got another cat, a Siamese kitten we named Cleopatra but called Cleo. A few months later, sadly, she was run over by a car. We didn’t get another cat for several years, and we never got another swimming pool. My father kept flying skydivers, but there were no more landings in our backyard.
I hope someone finds the cat on the poster, and it returns home. And if not, I hope the cat finds a nice second home. I’d like to think of the cat as keeping someone’s lap warm.
My dog Cabela is fourteen-and-a-half-years old, so in human years she’s ninety-and-a-half. Living with Cabela these days is like living with a very senior citizen. (I’m not sure I like that term. Maybe I’d prefer aged person. But maybe not. It’s February and I get cabin fever in February so I get moody. What sounds good to me one day, sounds awful to me the next day. But this post isn’t going to be about what to call old people. And by the way, winter doesn’t bother me. I don’t care how much snow falls or how many days it has been since the sun has made an appearance. But the quality of the daylight changes in February, and it awakens something in me, and I get cabin fever which recedes sometime in April when I return to ignoring the weather. But this post isn’t going to be about weather either.) It’s about living with an old dog whom I love dearly. And a hardworking grandfather who lost his sight when he was eighty.
Cabela often enters a room and stops abruptly. She stands still, not looking in any direction, and hangs her head, pondering. She’s asking herself, “Why did I come in here?” or “Where was I going?” It takes her a bit to figure it out. I know, I know, sometimes when I go into the basement, I forget why I went down there. But I usually remember as soon as I go back upstairs. And most of the time I don’t forget why I went downstairs.
At night Cabela’s more confused and she often paces. It’s called sundowning, which is not a disease, but a condition that can occur with dementia, and yes, dogs can get dementia. Sometimes I think Cabela has a touch of it. She knows all her people. She hasn’t forgotten when it’s time for her meals, treats, and walks. And she doesn’t mistake the floors for the yard. But she has changed.
On most nights, somewhere between midnight and two in the morning, Cabela begins the restless pacing, the waking up and wandering from the bedroom to the family room to the bathroom. The first time she does it, I get up and let her outside. Lots of older people need to get up during the night and pee, and if Cabela needs to go, she needs to go. It’s not good to hold it. But after she comes back inside, she can’t decide if she wants to sleep on her bed in the bathroom or her bed in the bedroom or on one of the couches in the family room. I hear her paws swoosh on the carpet as she walks by the bedroom on her way into the family room. I hear her walk by the bedroom again on her way to the bathroom where her nails click on the linoleum and her body thuds onto the sheepskin bed tucked between the end of the toilet and the cupboard. I hear her rise up and once again her nails click on the floor, but instead of walking by the bedroom, she enters it. I know she’s looking at me, wondering why I don’t get up. Because I believe she thinks it’s time to get up. Finally, she settles down for a few more hours, but eventually she begins pacing again before my husband and I have to get up.
Last night Cabela was more restless than normal. The only one who slept through it all was Ziva, our other younger dog.
So my grandkids and I took Cabela and Ziva for a walk this morning before it started raining. Cabela can’t walk far, but we went slow. We walked three blocks up, one block west, three blocks down, and one block east. My idea was to give her more daytime activity, hoping she’d sleep better tonight. But we’ve only managed one walk because it’s still raining, and it’s cold, soggy, and windy. It’s not good weather for a “ninety-year-old” dog.
On our morning walk, I thought about my grandpa George who went blind at eighty years old. He didn’t have dementia, but he was restless at night. He kept waking my grandma Olive and asking her if it was time to get up. He’d fuss about who was taking care of his garden or about something that needed attention at his gas station. In the darkness of night, things are always a worry. And for Grandpa, who’d lost his sight, I imagine those worries became terrors.
Before Grandpa George went blind, he still went to work at his station six-and-a-half days a week. He pumped gas and tinkered in the garage. He’d been going to work at his station for over sixty years, rarely taking a vacation or even a day off. He planted a large garden and grew raspberries, strawberries, green onions, sweet onions, new potatoes, russet potatoes, corn, peas, beans, beets, asparagus, carrots, and a few flowers between the rows of fruits and vegetables. He did the sowing and the harvesting, even at eighty years old.
But after he lost his sight, his life screeched to halt, like a pair of rusty brakes on a customer’s old car that he once would’ve fixed. Grandpa George, who got up every morning before six, ate at seven, and opened his station at eight, couldn’t walk from his bed to the bathroom without someone to help him find his way. Grandpa George, who raised the finest garden in town that provided food for his family throughout the summer, fall, winter, and spring, could no longer read the rain gauge or sort his seeds for planting.
Grandpa’s days and nights somersaulted. He dozed on the living room couch during the day when he should’ve been filling someone’s gas tank and checking her oil. He listened to the evening news when he should’ve been checking the corn and pulling potatoes in the garden. At night when he would’ve been sleeping after a day’s work, his mind raced and he kept his wife up with question after question, starting with, “Olive, you awake?”
Grandma Olive tried to keep Grandpa from falling asleep on the couch during the day. At first people came to visit, and he told them what to do at the station in order to close it down, and there were the last crops to reap from the garden, all activities Grandpa oversaw while sitting at the kitchen table, his calloused mechanic’s hands resting on a white oilcloth decorated with nickel-sized cherries.
Someone came and tried to teach Grandpa to read braille. Perhaps books would entertain him. But his hands shook slightly, and he couldn’t track the raised bumps on the page.
Someone decided pecans were the answer. Grandpa sat at the kitchen table and cracked pecan after pecan. He sorted the meat from the shells the best he could, but someone else, usually Grandma, needed to pick out the stray shells. Another job for her to take on, along with all her other chores that needed completing on a short night’s sleep. The pecans were stored in jars and given to family and friends, all of whom soon had more pecans than they could ever use.
Grandpa kept cracking nuts, but he didn’t sleep better. Nights were restless and his mind paced, although the rest of him couldn’t. Grandpa was certain dawn must be coming soon, even though it was hours away, and he would ask, “Olive, you awake? What time is it?” And Cabela, certain the day should begin even though it’s hours away, stares at me most mornings as if to say, “You awake? It’s got to be time to get up.”
Christmas morning used to be about the children. I would hope they’d sleep in longer than they did on school mornings, but they’d wake up and be ready to open their presents before any school-morning alarm clock would’ve rung.
This Christmas morning it was my two dogs, Cabela and Ziva, who woke me up around six o’clock. They weren’t interested in presents–they wanted to go outside in the windy, windy snowstorm and pee. After we came back inside, my mother’s dog, Bogey, wanted to go outside, so back out I went, but I left Cabela and Ziva in the house.
I never take all three dogs outside at the same time. Doesn’t matter what the weather is like or what time of day it is. Bogey tries to run down the back hill through some bushes, hoping to reach the golf course and look for golf balls. He’s not put off by the snow. He plants his nose into the white fluff and comes up with a golf ball. He can smell them under the snow. And Cabela tries to exit the front yard and trot down the road. I have no idea where she thinks she’s going, but something wild in the air calls to her. I can’t chase Bogey and Cabela at the same time in different directions. Bogey won’t listen unless I’m right next to him, saying, “Stay here.” Cabela can’t listen because she’s mostly deaf. Ziva never tries to leave the yard. She keeps her eye on me.
After the dogs had a chance to make yellow snow, I decided to do some writing. The other humans were still sleeping and Bogey went back to bed. I turned on my computer and sat at the kitchen table. My dogs began pacing around the kitchen on the hardwood floors, clickity clack, clickity clack. It’s amazing how loud dog nails clicking on a wooden floor sound when a house is predawn silent. While pacing, both dogs stopped periodically and looked at me, as if to say, “Let’s go back to bed.” I tried to ignore them, but they can be relentless. They wanted to be with me, but they didn’t want to lay on the hardwood floor, not when there were couches to sleep on.
I gave up on writing and joined the dogs in the living room. I curled up on a large stuffed chair with a soft ottoman. Cabela and Ziva commandeered opposite ends of the couch, and we all went back to sleep for an hour. Then I got up, but my dogs kept sleeping.
I gave Bogey his Christmas present, a colorful stuffed octopus. He played with it for a bit, then napped with it on the kitchen floor. With all three dogs in the house fast asleep, I made coffee.
I’m in Petoskey, Michigan, just thirty miles south of the Mackinac Bridge. We came over on Wednesday, threading the needle between stormy weather in northern Wisconsin and stormy weather across the Upper Peninsula. It was a smart choice. We had nice driving weather for our nine-and-a-half-hour trip. It was, however, bitter cold, which my dogs didn’t appreciate during their potty breaks.
On Thursday the temperature in Petoskey rose to 35°, the sun shone, and the Lake Michigan winds kept their breezy nature tucked away. My husband and I took my mom out for a drive in the morning because she wanted to do some shopping. After we dropped her off, my husband and I went to lunch and did some shopping, buying gifts for her, a bread pan for me, and caramel corn for him. Although a winter’s day, it was beautiful for walking in and out of shops in downtown Petoskey. I reminded my husband about the last time we had such beautiful weather for pre-Christmas shopping in Petoskey. Shortly after nightfall, temperatures sank; thick, wet snow blanketed trees, power lines, and the ground; and winds whipped into gale force strength. We lost power at 2:30 in the morning.
Once again, the nice weather we had on Thursday was the calm before the storm. By 7:00 p.m., the wind revved up its motor, the temperature dipped fifteen degrees, and the snow flew in horizontally off Lake Michigan. Fortunately, we haven’t lost power, but the water in the toilets sloshes back and forth and side to side like we’re on a ship in rough seas.
Each time I take the dogs outside, including walking my mom’s poodle, Bogey, I bundle up from head to toe–hat, goggles, down coat, long underwear, and boots. Yesterday morning I walked Bogey, and we had to trudge through knee-high snowdrifts. He likes to walk to the cul-de-sac to poo. He has a favorite spot. Sometimes as we walked the wind would gust, stopping me in my tracks and shoving me a step or two backwards. Later in the evening after dark, we repeated our trek through knee-high snow drifts, the wind pushing us around again. I thought about Jack London’s story “To Build a Fire.” I have a fine sense of the dramatic. But mostly, I wondered why anyone would set out for a long walk in subzero temperatures or blowing blizzards. I wasn’t going any place where I couldn’t see house lights.
The snowstorm bellowed all through the night, and the winds blew harder. This morning the snow is lighter, but the winds continue to roar off Lake Michigan. This weather front isn’t forecasted to loosen its grip until after Christmas Day.
So, it’s inside entertainment. I’ve watched a little bit of football, lost two games of cribbage, finished a five-hundred piece jigsaw puzzle, and I’ve done some reading and writing. Last night my mom and I watched Flawless, a movie starring Demi Moore and Michael Caine, which we both liked a lot. Today I wrote this blog while sitting in a second-story window seat, watching the white caps on Lake Michigan, listening to the whooshing winds, and being chilled by the cold air leaking through the windows. The winds are gusting at 45 mph. The snow is still falling. And because I’m very cold now, this blog must be done. I need a cup of hot cocoa with whipped cream.
Snow began falling around 8:00 a.m. today. The forecast predicted a trace to one inch, but it snowed all day, and four fluffy inches covered the ground, roads, trees, and cars. Snow can be that way, making weather forecasters look foolish.
This isn’t the first snow of the year, but today’s snow has a good chance of staying on the ground, making it a white Christmas. That’s why I call it the first real snow of the year.
I loved snow as a child, and I haven’t grown old enough yet to resent or fear it. The first real snowfall of the year evokes childhood memories of snowballs, snowmen, snow forts, and sledding. Swaddled in snow pants, jackets, hats, scarves, and mittens, our joyful shouts, squeals, and laughter bounced off the trees and houses.
I love to walk my dogs, Ziva and Cabela, in the evening after a fresh snowfall when the air is still. My dogs love the first real snow too. They prance. They stuff their noses in the snow, tossing it in the air or eating it. Sometimes the snow tickles their noses, and they sneeze. Even Cabela, who’s now fourteen-and-a-half, becomes youthful. When they were puppies, the first snowfall of the year gave them the crazies. They pounced and dashed and rolled in it, creating doggie snow angels. They reminded me of a gaggle of children unleashed into the first good snow of the year.
Perhaps snow sparks something primal in my dogs and myself, something that lights up ancient places in our brains, something that is more complex than our happy memories of youthful frolics in the snow.
[This essay was published in Red Cedar Review, Volume XXIV in the fall of 2022. Red Cedar Review is published by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire through its Barron County Campus. It’s a print- only journal, and its editors and staff consider art, prose, and poetry from northern Wisconsin residents.I decided to post this essay in honor of Thanksgiving because when I reflect on my childhood, I’m very thankful for our old farmhouse and our wonderful neighbors.]
Wrapped in thin white clapboard, the two-story farmhouse built in 1907 was 57 years old when my parents, my two sisters, and I came to live there in October 1964. It looked older to my five-year-old mind, much older, in the way a person of thirty or forty seems very old to a small child. My parents sold their duplex in Milwaukee where rows of houses sat a handshake apart, fronted by sidewalks and busy streets lined with parked cars. They moved their dysfunctional marriage and children to a country road with a smattering of houses fronted by rural mailboxes and a narrow road, on which no one parked. From age five to seventeen, I lived there with my parents, two sisters, and a brother, born in 1967.
A week after we moved into our farmhouse, a knock rattled the front door that opened into our large kitchen, the kind where a farmer’s wife could cook a hearty meal to feed her husband, their children, and the farmhands all in one shift. Mom was working in the kitchen while my sisters and I played on the floor. She was twenty-four. Her face, scrubbed clean of makeup and her chestnut-brown hair pulled up into a pony tail, made her look far too young to be the mother of three small girls. She gave birth to me, the oldest, when she was eighteen.
Mom opened the old wooden door and on the other side of a modern aluminum screen door stood John Giese, Sr., whom we’d soon come to refer to as “Old Man Giese,” distinguishing him from his son, John Giese, Jr.
Old Man Giese stood on our front stoop, clutching two dead chickens by their feet, one in each hand. He and his three grown children, John Jr., Mildred, and Leona, lived across the street in a white farmhouse as ordinary as ours. But the Giese farmhouse, surrounded by fields to be planted and harvested; by cows and chickens to be fed and tended; by cherry trees, blackberry bushes, and current bushes bearing fruit to be picked and preserved, appeared grand. Our farmhouse, surrounded by two acres of mowed grass then acres of overgrown farmland, looked tired. Giese’s bright red barn stood proud in contrast to our barn layered with various shades of washed out red, which made it appear mostly pink.
“Ma’am,” began the old gentleman, for although he wore a frayed cap and shabby blue denim overalls, he exuded a dignity the two dead chickens and his working clothes couldn’t erase. Old Man Giese was the first real farmer I ever met. My previous knowledge of farmers came from watching Mr. Green Jeans on Capitan Kangaroo, and in my five-year-old mind, Old Man Giese was the opposite of Mr. Green Jeans in every way.
Mom, a city girl, gawked at his welcoming gift of two dead chickens. She knew nothing about cleaning them.
“Your dog,” Old Man Giese continued, “killed my chickens.”
Fritz, our six-year-old German shepherd, lay on the family room floor and made no move to join the conversation.
“I’m so sorry,” Mom said. “Can I pay you for the chickens?”
“No, just keep the dog off my farm, ma’am.” Old Man Giese put his back to us. A lifeless chicken in each hand, he descended our front stairs and returned to his farm. He never called on us again, and a few years later he, too, would be dead, gone to join his wife who died before we arrived.
Mom, relieved she wouldn’t have to clean chickens but mortified Fritz might have killed them, shut the door and strode into the family room. “No chickens,” she yelled at Fritz. “Never again.” He understood and stayed away from the Giese farm, but he still ran loose, up and down the country roads, chasing female dogs in heat.
That evening at dinner, she told Dad, “At first I thought the chickens were an apology for his cows chomping on our lawn the morning after we moved in.” But the chickens had been an indictment, not an apology.
In our new neighborhood, Fritz had committed the first faux pas, setting the standard by which my family’s behavior could be explained. When my parents fought in the middle of warm summer nights, their shouts crawling in and out of open windows, the neighbors could say, What do you expect? Their dog kills chickens. When my sisters and I threw apples at passing cars, but the parents of two older, well-behaved children, from down the road got a visit from the police, their parents could say, They can’t control their dog either. When Dad sped down the country road or set off cherry bombs in our yard, the neighbors could say, What do you expect from a man who lets his dog ignore good-neighbor etiquette?
Our existence in the neighborhood was like a hoppy beer—an acquired taste. Some people come to love the taste of hops, but others can’t force it past their taste buds. Most of the families up and down our sparsely populated road came to accept us, and we were welcomed into their homes and yards. Only two families never warmed to us, not bad considering our parents’ occasional nocturnal fights, dad’s shenanigans, and our string of dogs that never stayed home.
Dad, despite his bad-boy-James-Dean manner, was handsome and charming. An excellent mechanic, he was always willing to lend a hand to neighbors and offer them a beer. Mom was hard-working and friendly, and if she borrowed a cup of sugar or a roll of toilet paper, she always repaid her debt. My siblings and I stopped throwing apples at cars, and we behaved ourselves so no one had to call the police on us again. We were polite or Mom would’ve walloped us or grounded us for life, depending on the prevailing winds of her mood that day. Most of the neighbors decided we were okay.
And the Gieses? They didn’t hold Fritz’s chicken incident against us. After all, their cows had grazed in our front yard the day after we’d moved in. Old Man Giese and his son fixed their fence, and the cows stayed home. Fritz defied fences, but he obeyed Mom’s command and stayed out of their yard and away from the chickens, easy for him because they didn’t own dogs. To prove there were no hard feelings, when my siblings and I were old enough to cross the road, the Gieses gave us an open invitation to play in their yard, to eat fruit from specific trees and bushes, and to cross their fields in winter to ice skate on the frozen river running through their property.
None of Old Man Giese’s children had youngsters of their own. Looking back, I believe they enjoyed seeing us run through their yard, roll down the hill by their barn, and eat the fruit they grew. I believe they smiled when they heard our voices on the winter wind, echoing through the trees as we skated on the frozen waters just behind their fields. And I wonder what they thought, when as a teenager, I sat on a large tree stump near the barn and talked to their cows, who gathered by the fence, eager for gossip about my teenage troubles.
[I want to thank the editors and staff of Red Cedar Review for selecting my essay for their Fall 2022 issue. The ending of this essay is slightly different from the version that appears in their 2022 issue. I added the last two sentences because I felt the ending was too abrupt. As a writer, I often see ways to improve something I’ve written, even after it has gone to press.]
Bogey, my mother’s dog, loves Lake Michigan, so this afternoon I took him to Harbor Springs, a small summer town snuggled up along the eastern shore of the lake. It’s Bogey’s favorite place to walk. He knows when he is going to Harbor. The only place he loves more is a pet store, where he tries to shoplift anything he can fit into his mouth.
First, we stopped at his favorite clothing store. He got lots of hugs from a woman who works there, but she was out of dog treats. He kept holding up his paw and pleading, but only received another hug and another apology. He was clearly disappointed, reminding me of a little boy who tells his great-aunt, “But I wanted a toy train, not fuzzy footie pajamas.”
After we left the store, Bogey enjoyed his water-view walk. He sniffed the grass, did his business, and watched a pair of ducks swim along a beach. Dogs get over disappointment quickly.
Next, we headed back to Main Street, where I noticed boney visitors who’d stopped by Harbor Springs dressed for Halloween. Bogey had to wait for me while I walked up and down the sidewalks and photographed twenty-seven snappily-dressed skeletons. I know I didn’t get pictures of all the skeletons, but I had fun trying to find as many as I could. Excitement lurked on every block and around every corner. Costumed skeletons have become a Harbor Springs Halloween tradition. And this year there are seventy-five skeletons creaking about.
Tonight the wind howls off Lake Michigan, and it’s raining in spurts. In the hours before dawn, snow is expected before turning back to rain. The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory. And I wonder how the skeletons will stay warm in all this weather–they don’t have any meat on their bones.
Yesterday, Ziva, Bogey, and I went for our first walk at 8:00 a.m., our second walk at 1:30 p.m., and our last walk at 4:30. We let the 20-mph winds off Lake Michigan push us down the road, until we had to turn around, then we leaned into the wind and pretended we were walking to school, uphill, in a snowstorm, for five miles. A bit histrionic but fun.
Ziva’s and Bogey’s ears flapped and fluttered in the wind, but my ears were tucked under my stocking cap. I liked stocking caps when I was a girl who played in the snow, but when I turned thirteen, I wouldn’t wear a hat in winter, no matter how cold it was. I wasn’t going to mess up my hair. Instead, I arranged my long, not-so-thick hair over my ears, trying to keep them warm.
Now I have four favorite knit stocking caps, and when it’s cold, I wear one. I even have a knit hat with earflaps that ties under my chin. I’m not letting my head or ears freeze. My nana always told me, “Keep your head and your feet warm, and the rest of you will follow.” I think about her when I put on a stocking cap and a pair of wool socks. Nana repeated her “warm head, warm feet” advice to me a lot when I was a foolish, hatless teenager, dashing through cold winter days.
Yesterday’s picture theme: autumn-colored leaves. I took oodles of photos of newly fallen leaves because I could see that each one was unique, deserving to be photographed. If my granddaughter had been with me, she would’ve collected the leaves, oohing over each one, handing them to me to hold as she collected more to use in art projects.
Around 9:00 p.m., I took the dogs out in the yard for their last potty break of the day. The swirling wind whipped up a smorgasbord of scents, stirring something primal in Ziva and Bogey. They sniffed the air and the ground, weaving in and out of bushes, looking for little critters. Under the full moon, they chased each other, zooming in circles, like a couple of young pups with the crazies. Autumn makes me feel that way too.
When I walked Ziva and Bogey this morning shortly after sunrise, the sky was a jumble of dark clouds and bright blue patches. The sun illuminated gold, orange, and red leaves, giving the impression they were lit from within. Of course, the dogs had to wait while I snapped pictures, and I never tire of taking pictures of trees dressed in fashionable autumn colors. When the dogs became impatient, I reminded them that I spend lots of time waiting for them while they smell blades of grass, tree trunks, and mailbox posts.
Finally, we turned down another road, and I spotted part of a rainbow. Out came my camera phone, again. As I alternated between walking and taking pictures, the rainbow became an arch, one end appearing to dip into Lake Michigan and the other end appearing to stand in a field about a half-mile away, giving the impression that if the dogs and I set off across the field, we would find the end of the rainbow with a leprechaun and a pot of gold.
As a child, I knew about leprechauns who guarded their gold at the end of the rainbow from people who tried to steal it. My sisters and I fantasized about finding the rainbow’s end and the leprechaun with his riches, but we knew it was a folktale.
If the tale had been true, I’d have picked the leprechaun over the gold, which I knew meant wealth, but only in the way a six- or seven-year-old understands wealth. Besides, I lived in a comfortable home with plenty of food in the cupboard. But a leprechaun was a magical two-foot-high man with orange hair, dressed in green, smoking a pipe, and speaking with an Irish brogue. According to folklore, if we would’ve caught a leprechaun, he would’ve granted us three wishes in exchange for his freedom.
This morning while walking on the country road, watching the rainbow form a half circle through the sky, I wished that the fields and trees in this enchanted place would stop disappearing. In the eight years I have been visiting my mom, ten new homes have been built, and each one stands on an acre of land. Each new house means a loss of trees and fields. A loss of habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, and small critters that I don’t see, but the hawks who perch in the trees are evidence of their existence.
Today, looking at the rainbow arching over the still undeveloped fields, I don’t wish for gold or to meet a magical leprechaun protecting his stash. I imagine a leprechaun at the end of today’s rainbow protecting a field, keeping it safe for insects, birds, and small critters, and I wish that each homeowner in this neighborhood would leave a strip of field along their lot lines.