Friday, March 6, 2009

Comings and Goings, Part 2

Other memorials at Dog Park are more traditional. When a first-generation Dog Parker died suddenly a few years ago, people got permission to plant a tree on the grounds of the company where we walk. They planted a mountain laurel close to the buildings and near a hose so walkers could water it. As a sign of how much the woman was missed, the tree was nearly overwatered its first year. Later, a short wire fence was added to protect it from mowers and dog piss. This year, it has deep purple blooms that smell like fruit-flavored candy--Sweetarts or Smartees. 

Closer to the creek is a small clump of trees where dogs' ashes are often spread. Two Dog Park favorites, a Basset and a Bisenji, both named for precious jewels, were memorialized there. Services were held, words were said. The Basset's owner also placed a small white cross at the foot of the trees, a move that puzzled and, to be honest, offended me a little. Since when do dogs go to church? We don't stamp religious affiliations on their tags as we do on soldiers', right? And it bothered me, too, on a visceral level—although it has been many moons since I have darkened the door of a church—that the cross would get a regular dosing of pee. It also seemed an imposition of sorts of someone else's values in a spot where they ought not be. The outdoors are supposed to be a neutral zone. The law of the jungle, the rule of dog, I thought, are really all that we needed. Dogs live in the moment, so why shouldn't we? Why litter our Park landscape with human symbols of loss? 

Except the thing that I keep forgetting is that Dog Park is also a human community. We put our mark on it literally and symbolically. Our feet, as much as the dogs' paws, have worn the paths permanently into the limestone and clay. We yack about politics and the state of world affairs while the dogs tussle over sticks. We watch the dogs sniffing around the cross and wonder aloud what they think of the smell, if any remains, of the ashes. What sense do they make of it? Do they realize that their time, too, will come--as I had when I glimpsed that cane hanging in the trees? Ridiculous, really. Dogs care about what dogs care about--food, water, treats, pats, tennis balls,  a good poop, space on the bed. What I eventually  realized was that, as always, funerals and memorials are for the living, not those who have passed. The Basset's owner was doing what good people do when they lose someone dear--they plant symbols, shed tears, share stories, and keep walking. A year later, she still checks on that cross, straightens it up, brushes the leaves away, and tells her girl she loves her. And when Roma, my Old One, goes (13 and still cranking; my friend Sarah says Roma will outlive us all, like some post- apocalyptic mythical beast), I will probably do the same. --zia

Comings and Goings, Part 1

When the weather is good, I leave open the big patio door that leads from my bedroom to my desiccated backyard, and the dogs flow in and out as they want. Muzzy, my young one, has until recently been a bit of a clinger, sitting right behind  my desk chair, lifting her head to check every time she hears the keyboard stop clicking or my desk chair squeak. With our new open-door policy, she can widen her range of watchfulness. She goes outside to check on Roma, the Old One, who is usually dead asleep in the sun, or to chase the few squirrels that are brazen enough to walk along the tops of the privacy fence. Everyone is happy with this situation, and it will last until the weather gets hot and buggy, and we have to close the doors and the blinds against the raging Texas summer heat. Our house, sunny and open and breezy in the late winter and spring, with almost permeable boundaries, becomes a dark bunker during the summer. We go out only when we have to. 

Dog park is also a place with permeable boundaries. The fluidity I mentioned yesterday also applies to the population. Months can go by before someone says, "Whatever happened to so-and-so—and her owner?" And then we all scratch  our heads. As in any community, people and their dogs come and go. One dog was lucky enough to move to London. (Lucky Monkey!) A bunch have migrated to Seattle--a place where a dog can enjoy summer for a change. Of course, dogs get old and die. So do their owners. Dog Park is full of little memorials for those who have left us. 

I'd  heard tales of the memorial to a woman who died before I discovered Dog Park. She'd died of cancer, I think. I don't know what kind of dog she had. In her last months, she'd hobbled around the park with a cane. After she died, one man told me, as a memorial, her friends had tossed her cane up into the trees. Surely I had seen it. For years, I looked for it. I assumed it had fallen down or been removed by the tree trimmers who occasionally come through and decimate the live oaks, pecans, and wild plum trees that line the trails. Then one day, for no particular reason, I looked up into the trees, live oaks that form a canopy over a steep and rocky part of the trail, and there it was—a thick wooden cane with a rubber stop on the bottom, stuck like a fish hook in the thicket of branches. I actually felt a  little zing as  unwanted thoughts of mortality injected themselves into the place I go to chill out and socialize. It was like seeing a tombstone sitting on a stool at your favorite bar, or a death notice in the middle of the comics page of the newspaper. Then, of course, I forgot all about it. I went back to looking down, watching my own feet on the rocks, because I'm a bit of a clutz, and it seems safer somehow.  But I'll look again to if it is still there, having survived yet another season or two or three hanging silently above us. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Welcome to Dog Park

Dog Park is like high school, only better because it's run by a different kind of mob rule, the rule of dog.There are, as you might expect, the super-athletic, the pedigreed, the shy and submissive, the smart-asses, and the ditzy but friendly types. They mingle and mix, chase balls and each other, as well as the occasional biker or runner. They get along amazingly well. When there are disputes, a well-aimed nip or an insistent growl seems to resolve the problem without intervention from the bipeds.

The bipeds—the owners—or companions—or whatever term you use (a newbie [new to dogs and to Park] once asked if my dog was my “partner.” I considered my husky mix, Roma, and scoffed, “She’s my partner when she helps pays the bills.”)—are really what make Dog Park feel like high school. Again, only better because the nerds (comme moi) now have interesting careers, decent cars, cooler glasses or Lasik surgery, credit cards, and fewer zits. Our job is to chaperone the dogs, but we can’t help “packing up” ourselves. I particularly enjoy walking with a group of single, professional, smart women. Most of us have slipped over the cusp into middle age. (From what I can tell, our demographic is the majority. Men are fewer and tend to be married.) We prefer dogs to men (though perhaps I speak out of turn), and we have a lot to say about the way the world is run (more on that in future posts). This pack, however, like all the packs at Dog Park, is fluid. We drop back on the trail to scoop some poop and find ourselves walking with the guys who watch basketball or program computers or strolling with a microbiology major who studies her dog’s poop with the intensity of an ancient Greek oracle. Mobility is the key, really. Dog Park, unlike tenth-grade math class, is en plein air. If you don’t like the conversation, you keep moving.

I hope that’s what this blog will be about—the issues and conflicts and discussions that come up during my daily walks along the two intersecting loops of trails at my Dog Park, a dusty patch of undeveloped land in the heart of central Austin. I spend hours there every day with my two dogs, and it occurred to me recently that it was time to document a place where so much happens even as it always stays the same. I hope to post regularly. Stay tuned. Thanks for reading.--zia