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As Of Late

Goodbye, Cougar: Last week, I set crystals in the window to catch the light. Because in the late evening of late August, Cougar died. She died of old age, quietly, at home. As partners, we rode together for 19 years. Another lifetime ago, at an apartment on 12th street in my senior year of college, she used her pin-sharp kitten claws to climb the curtains while I tried to sleep a hangover off. What a privilege to be present for a entire life from beginning to end—and all the places that took us. She’s lived in the mountains, she’s lived by the sea. She’s lived in a small town, she’s lived in the city. Cougar, you were a great friend. You never let a lap go empty. You never let a puppy get you down. You came on dog walks at your leisure. You opened the bedroom door I’d latched shut. You, a mouse-killer with rabbit-soft fur. You, forever tidy in a grey tuxedo. You, curled up on the couch—a sense of peace brought into the room by your sleeping form. Cougar, you will be missed.

Homesteading, Labor Day edition: The thing with building things is that it takes time. I’m impatient. After a day of breaking every-known OSHA law on the tippy top of a latter with a nail gun clutched in my spindly arms, I lie in bed staring at the stars, and my heart bursts with wanting it all done right now and Wifi installed so I can sit at my desk before the window writing, while outside, happy trees repose.

Holiday speed wobbles: To wind up the weekend, we bombed the long hill from the Portland Zoo through the city to the Willamette River and the beers beyond. It was a national holiday and so the sidewalks were stacked with many shiny souls. It was an unflinching cruise through cars, humans, greenery, grit and grime. While I dislike driving or even riding my bike in traffic, skating through the human sea is different altogether—I find it’s a fine way to invite the anarchy of the city.

 

The Days Of Piney Past

The heat here continues. All sense of freshness gone. Out with July and the tiger swallowtails. It was this time last year when Piney first learned to swim. At the Sandy, in a pool between the rocks, he discovered—you can float and paddle and make waves and it’s fun. He spent that afternoon swimming in circles, splashing a storm and biting the water as it rained down on him. Thus began a great career in watersports. Piney swam for joy, not fetch or concern for others’ safety. It was wonderful to behold.

Piney passed away in the spring. On Friday, April 30that 5:30 p.m., we “put him down,” that old euphemism for ending a life that I’ve used and worn like a suit of armor against the awful truth—that we stopped Piney’s life at a year and a half old because he had become suddenly angry and fearful, scary and aggressive. He started attacking us around the house. Whenever he felt nervous, or threatened. I quit bringing him to work. We called in a pro trainer. Life at home became tense and unpredictable, alternating between violence and silly joy—when he force-snuggled us in bed and spent laidback hours stretched out asleep in the sun by the cat.

We never knew what to expect.

Then came that last week. That last attack. Before Mark could get outside to pull Piney off me, the dog had pulverized my forearm and left a toothmark so deep in the palm of my hand you could see the pale pink muscle fiber squeezing through. I was bleeding. I was terrified. I loved Piney, and I knew couldn’t live this way anymore.

There aren’t many options for animals like him. We looked. We tried. We cried.

The last night we were all together was sweet-scented and summery. Mark and I took Piney to Mt. Tabor, laid out a blanket and drank cans of beer as the sun set, throwing morsels at Piney from a pile of treats so big his eyes grew round when he saw it. Liminality was in the air all around us. You are here now. You will be gone tomorrow.

I know we did the right thing. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Ending his life, it was the hardest decision I’ve yet to make. Everyone—the vet, the behavior therapist, our families—reminded us that Piney wasn’t healthy. We heard their advice. But. It was our decision and ours alone to make. We learned a hard lesson—how deeply responsible we are for our animals. After all they’re not teddy bears but sentient beings with minds and freewill. We bring them into our world, and we are responsible for them. This responsibility is really just the other side of love. The stronger the bond, the heavier lies the weight.

We measure our lives through our dogs. Family visits. Friends that came and went. First skatepark business. First real job in a decade. I remember the dog I had for all of these.

I remember Piney as the dog who we housetrained in the middle of an ice storm. The dog who spent the night on a mountain in a blizzard and kept us warm. The dog who made a parcel of land in the woods near Bend feel like home. The dog who loved my elderly cat Cougar so much he nearly exploded every time she walked in the room. I remember a life-affirming sunrise hike to the rim of red-rock cliffs with him. I remember the time we splitboarded up Tilly Jane. The wind on the ridge was fierce and he cowered against the leeward side of my legs. On the ride down, he chased me so close I nicked his paw pad with the steel of my edge.

I remember a lot about him.

I hope I always do.

Montana Mega-Weekend

In Montana, the plains are soft with grass and the mountains are always standing watch. At dusk, the details flatten out and all you can see is shapes, triangles stacked up North to South—each peak cast sharply against a prism of golden light. During dinner at Catherine’s house in the Bitter Root Valley, in the shadow of St. Mary’s Peak, I squashed mosquitos and sweated through my jeans while Jedda, the pup, barked and chased. She loves Montana because of all the space. No leash. No rules. It’s nice to be wild.

Since last writing to you, I drove out to Big Sky Country for a long weekend—our annual swim mission, skate mission, dog mission, beer mission, BBQ mission, bike mission, sunburn mission, heatstroke mission, hike mission, camp mission, everything-that’s-good-about-summer mission.

I bought a cowboy hat. I saw an owl. We got to skate two new Evergreen parks, one of which had ponies galloping by and both of which served up stupid beautiful vistas. We got to drink straight from streams and swim in the most lovely lake. I ate the best-tasting PB&J of my entire life next to an ice-cold plummeting waterfall. We hung with friends and their family, and we laughed a lot and baked in the sun.

I was very at home in Montana. It felt effortless and natural to be there. The sweeping scenery relaxed me as we drove along. The high-country smells of dust and pine bubbled up a sense of peace from my kid-hood in Colorado. When we drove by tidy farmhouses for sale, I saw myself buying them, selling off my Portland possessions, disowning my city life, and moving there to chop wood, grow vegetables and walk in the snow. I could do it, I swear. Not yet, though. Not yet.

As Of Late

Go Skate Day: Old news but good news: Go Skateboarding Day happened, and I skateboarded. It wasn’t exactly a satisfying session, as skate sessions go, but it was a premium hangout with my old-time skate buds. For me, that’s what it’s all about these days—that good stuff that happens when you do something you love with people you love. Rolling. Laughing. Falling down. We’re humans. All we have is each other. So, another GSD spent with Scott and Ashley and Derek and I couldn’t ask for more.

 

Work train to Seattle: I rode the train up past the Puget Sound (destination: Seattle) to do a fancy ad-agency pitch for Nemo. It was a fun and adult-y thing to do. I like train travel even though it makes me a little bit car sick. Train sick? Anyway, it’s very hassle-free. A throwback from another time. Also, train stations are beautiful, and I always take time to appreciate beauty in my travels.

 

Holiday crowd avoidance: For the third year in a row, we went into the woods for a couple days, walking far and high, sleeping in tents, and then returned to town on July Fourth afternoon so dirty and dog tired that there was no need felt to celebrate, to light things on fire. Instead, copious food was eaten, and day beers drank at George’s house, and then home to watch TV as the mortars blasted through the evening cool. This has become my “America day” ritual, and I am not sorry.

 

Homesteading: Like a boss, Mark framed up a shed/living quarters AKA shedquarters in two days. I tried to help. I moved some two-by-fours from one pile to another and also tacked up plywood with the motherfuckin nail gun. It feels good to be building, building something real made from tangibles like wood and nails and windows, but also building a life—a potentiality of future days spent easily and peacefully off in the forest.

My Wandering Days Are Over

It makes sense that we would go back to the forest to get married. At the altar of fern-laced trunks—the big, ancient trees that teach you how to grow and stay—Mark and I conspired to celebrate binding our two lives together last Friday.

Family and closest friends embarked on a journey to meet us there. It was far. They navigated traffic, paid bridge tolls to cross shimmering waters, and bravely left behind LTE and 3G to follow written directions to a dirt parking lot in the woods.

By the river, on the brink of a waterfall, I said my promises to Mark, and he said his to me. We talked not of chains but of the freedom in standing together. We talked not of giving things up, but of gaining strength and certainty. We talked about what love might look like—then, now, forever.

Plummeting water was the music. Garden blooms veiled my head. As I spoke, a strange salty water sprang forth my eyes. We both felt weird—light and full of vibration, floating and spinning like plumes from a dandelion. The only thing holding us to earth was the crowd gathered round. Without our people, we might have wafted clear off into the ether.

After the ceremony, we drank cups of champagne, then drove in a big caravan back to the city and into the storm. The rain fell in a curtain beyond the tents while we ate and drank. It was a soggy feast day, but warm with love and friendship. Kids played, defiant of the wet weather. The puppy turned into a feral creature—biting the heels of revelers as they walked by with heaping plates of food. Magick was all around.

People ask if it feels different. It does. It is different. We’re bonded for life, by symbolic rites carried out in front of pine fronds and faeries—but also in reality. In our purpose. In our finances. In our house. In our hearts.

3 Gratitudes

Puppies: Apropos of last weekend when I went over to Jesse’s house and met his new dog, which made my day—my world. This young, sleek fellow is a parvovirous survivor. You can’t keep him down. Convalesced from his ailment, he now likes to hang with the big dogs, nipping at their heels, and then fall over spent to nap amidst cool shade. I can’t explain it but I just feel better—more tethered to earth—when I’m near a sleeping dog.

Josh Brolin on What The Fuck: A great actor who shines in person, too. There’s a deep satisfaction to knowing that a guy you gravitated towards on screen due to his rough wit and hard-boiled-ness is, like, really that guy.

My garden at 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday: This weekend I sat out in the yard looking, just looking. There was a wonderful heat. There was so much noise—bees and blue jays, kids and cookouts. I could see the blue, way up there in the place you can never really go. I felt comforted. I felt confident in a future.

The Northwest-est

Piney’s gone. There, I said it. He’s on the other side. I’ll tell you more about it sometime, but for now I thought I’d get out of town. Get moving. Move on. I never did know anything else to do.

In our ambition to flee, we thought about driving south to California—but ended up heading north and west—the northwest-est—to the Olympic Peninsula. Here, is where the trees are so old and tall they meet in a perfect V overtop the road. Here, is where arctic oceans end in glassy bays at the feet of a razor-sharp range. Here, depending on who you are, is the promise land.

Pic by Mark.

Camping without my dog, or any dog (who is “my dog” anymore? I’ve had many …) was strange. After making camp, I didn’t have anything to do, no one to keep an eye on or worry about (except Mark, and he doesn’t need eyes keeping on him). I just sat in the sun and drank wine and read while the tide rushed in. Darkness fell, the stars came out—stark, distant, beautiful. When I looked up, a vast loneliness harpooned my soul. Guys, I’ve always been searching for something and never really found it. Maybe it’s the big “why.” Maybe it’s the definition of “me.” Having no real answers for you, I do know that the path to self discovery is a way full of desolate wonder. I leaned in and stoked the fire.

Pic by Mark.

Pic by Mark.

Sunday morning we awoke to whale spouts past the breakers and a pale, slippery head emerging from the sea. Rising and falling. Curious, but not too curious. An intelligent eye looking solemnly our way. I don’t have particularly eloquent words for what it feels like to see and be seen by a whale. Special? We felt special. It was everything you could hope for. We packed up and went home.

Pic by Mark.

I WATCH THINGS

Bone Tomahawk: A western told in a new strange voice. The most gruesome. The quietest. The scariest. The subtle/funniest.

 

King In The Wilderness: I make no claims to the rite of Martin Luther King Jr. history aficionado-dom but did watch this film and felt punched in the gut because he is, newsflash, a human.

 

Isle Of Dogs: The “new Wes Anderson movie.” A little piece about dogs and people and power and love and all that that encompasses—which is everything. Let it wash over you. Watch the toylike critters come alive and try and fail like we all do. Wait for the theme song “I Won’t Hurt You,” which is very weepy/beautiful, to link up with your pulse. It’s cool.

 

Arthur Miller: Writer: On the one hand, it’s a doc about an iconic writer, the voice behind Death Of A Salesman, a victim of the Blacklist, the one-time husband to Marilyn Monroe. On the other hand, it’s a doc about a daughter interviewing her dad and trying to unravel the family truths we all struggle with and search for and never really find. “Art is long. Life is short. I forgot the latter.”

 

The House: I theorize that if there’s a comedy featuring the world’s favorite funny actors that plops into your streaming service without having first taken your notice in the theater, it’s gonna stink. This important Will Ferrell/Amy Poehler film did not.

Where-Ness

A while back after my boss returned from sabbatical in Europe, we had a conversation about the thing we really remember and hope for from a trip. Those encounters of “where-ness.” This has nothing to do with all the stuff you saw or plans you made, but rather a single experience—often just a flash—where you felt like you were an authentic part of a place.

He told of a sunset walk through Madrid with his wife, the air all warm and glowy pink, when they sauntered into a medieval square and were greeted by the student choir sitting on the fountain steps singing “Hey Jude.” The tune rose and fell as the pigeons flapped for scraps, and people milled around in a relaxed fashion—on their way home from work or out for an aperitif.

This moment had a live-in magic, and he thought he might remember it forever—or for a long time at least, long after he forgot the train rides and museums tickets.

It got me to thinking about trips of my own. What were the highlights? The squishy candy middles?

My rally through Canada last summer was full of them. Like: our first morning in Nelson—a laidback mountain town on a cold-water lake. My old friend Mark who lives in Nelson advised us on a morning wander. “Hike up the Pulpit early before it gets too hot,” he told us and we listened. Straight from the café with paper cups of dark roast still in our hands, we began our ascent on a morning of dazzling heat and beauty. The trail to the Pulpit—a big rock looming on high over the town and lake—was essentially just a steep set of stairs carved into a plummeting hillside. We climbed and climbed. Soon we were high on caffeine and lung-fulls of warm, tree-scented air. I nabbed a sweet, mealy saskatoon berry and popped it in my mouth. The temperature rose. We sweated into our tee shirts. Less than an hour later, we emerged onto the precarious sun-washed rock AKA my forever happy place. Overhead, bluer than blue sky. To either horizon, steep green valleys. Directly below, the city and of course the lake—calling us back down for an afternoon swim.

March-ing

The dreamer in me loves every season. The realist knows life is better in the summer. I do do winter though. Me and the cold know something about each other, like on horrendous wet days splashing around in the streets when the foul weather reflects my inner gloom, or all the solitary walks through snow I use to cultivate quietness of mind.

Then spring comes and life’s just a grand fucking party.

THINGS I FORGET ABOUT IN THE WINTER

Pink drinks.

Painted toenails.

Front stoops.

Sleeping with the window open.

Sunday mini-ramp sessions.

The magnolia.

Feeling fresh air against the freckles on my arm.

Strawberries.

Asparagus.

Enough daylight after work for the pursuit of happiness.

That BBQ smell.

Bicycles as transportation.

Ankle socks.

Doing nothing and feeling good.

The warm air currents—a love letter from the sun.