Top of Piedmont: To Watch, Listen and Ponder — Then Write!

March 2012Monthly Archives


Lunch dates are almost always a pleasurable break from the grind of the work day.  A chance to connect with people you like and enjoy is rare.  The pace of everyday living does not always allow time to get together with people you like when you have to play taxicab for two hours after work.  While the point of these get togethers is conversation and communication – sometimes organizing the time and place for a rendezvous gets misunderstood and you end up at Tutto’s and they land at The Wild Hare.  Ironically you find that you have not really listened.

Basic high school biology pretty clearly lays out what the hearing process is like physically.  There are these stirrups, drums and bones that all pretty miraculously get us from sound waves to receiving, to understanding.  Listening on the other hand is a lot more complicated.

Trips to the store are a lesson in listening.  Volunteering to pick up something desperately needed for the evening meal and coming back with the wrong things does not play well.  There really is a rather large difference between rigatoni and rice when you’re eating Chinese.  Stir-fried rigatoni may be a new articulation of Italian eating, but  trying out fusion cuisine on an eight year-olds tastes ain’t gonna cut it.

Schedules with many busy families get thrown into chaos if you aren’t listening.  Logistics and moving bodies from point A to B to C illustrates the point.  This is Wednesday, Johnny’s at basketball and has choir at church and confirmation later.  You go to the middle school, wait and wait – and no Johnny – and then remember because you didn’t track well that morning, that you were to get him a drive-thru at McDonald’s, pick him up at the high school today instead, because of a replayed Snow Day game and then to the pastor’s house for a pot-luck which he may be late for anyway.  So its expletive deleted and drive 60 down 15th street hoping the police are involved with an accident on the other side of town.

If listening to and making sure that day to day events flow smoothly can so easily get confused, what happens when we don’t attend to more basic issues.  I’ve known people that drive themselves till they literally drop – failing to listen to the hammering headaches, upset stomachs, and skin rashes that signal systems on overload.  Likewise there are those that focus their energies in ways that ensure success but disengage them from friends and family, leaving them alone.

Listening to oneself is probably the hardest thing any of us will ever do.  It involves a clear picture of limits, capabilities and our own values.  The kind of schedule we set for ourselves and the commitments we make set the rhythm of our days.  If our lives are structured in ways that allow time for quiet, time for eavesdropping on our own internal cadences, we then begin to hear different things.  Perhaps then that extra meeting or catching up on work at the office or at home becomes a little less important.

When a person is not listening he’s only responding – allowing events to dictate how his or her life will be.  Real listening pulls things back to the center – where we can decide how life might be.

Doc – 1988

I have a dog.  She’s about a year older than my son.  He’ll be eleven in January.  The way I’ve always heard it, one dog year is more or less equal to seven human years.  So that puts her somewhere in her early 80s.  While I’m partial to my son, my feelings about “Doc” have been at best ambivalent.  I suppose that’s why those 80 years have seemed so long. 

The pup we got some eleven years ago was meant to be a replacement for another dog that got clipped by a pickup on an icy street.  For a few days we didn’t have a name for her.  Our first dog’s name was “Mac” after my wife’s brother.  Not wanting to break tradition we thought it appropriate that we name this lab-short haired pointer after another member of the family.  The logical choice was my spouse’s father, a medical practitioner in Northern Minnesota.  “Surgeon” seemed pretentious, “Physician” a little better, but yelling the name out the back door sounded as if you were yelling for medical assistance.  A friend said, “Why not Doc?” short, simple, and something I and a dog could understand.

Having a new puppy is a mixed bag.  The first night: the yelping.  We didn’t have any kids at the time, so disturbed sleep was not something we’d grown to tolerate.  “Don’t go downstairs.” My wife said, “If you do, she’ll just keep at it longer.”  So I didn’t. At dawn I stumbled downstairs to enthusiastic yipping, several puddles and a couple of brown deposits; fortunately the kitchen carpeting came later.

The house we lived in that that small Iowa town was about 90 years old.  We got a good deal on it; a “Handyman’s’ Special”.  I started tearing it apart and putting it back together.  Things went pretty well.  I learned some new skills, developed a sense of what was good plumbing and carpentry practice, and the outcome was generally pleasing.  I also learned how to cuss- – – profusely.

I had a good Catholic upbringing.  Cursing was not something I’d developed into a refined art.   A well-crafted cuss word has value

One day in the midst of a major sanding operation, Doc decided to exit the house.  I had sealed off the kitchen from the living room with a sheet of clear plastic and masking tape.  The dog was in the living room snoozing, and a friend came to the back door.  Remember those car commercials, the ones where the latest in automotive razzle- dazzle comes bursting through a large sheet of paper?  That’s kind of how Doc came through the doorway.

Standing there with a fine layer of sawdust all over me, the belt sander whining at warp eight, the air blue with various words describing Doc’s ancestry, my friend smiled sheepishly and said, “I’ll come back later.”

They had a leash law in town. Mostly it seemed to be enforced when people were planting their gardens in the spring.  We rarely tied up Doc.  She normally stayed around home, but there were times when she’d disappear for an hour or two.

On those occasions when she would return from her rambling, she’d carry back partial loaves of bread. We never figured out where she got the stuff.  She wasn’t very discriminating; one day whole wheat, another rye, a third day butterfly rolls.  The neighbors accused us of having a dog that was molesting a bread truck driver.

Things came to a head one night.  The Police Chief called and said he’d gotten a report of an older lady walking home from the super market with a couple  bags full of groceries who had been knocked down by a Black Lab.  Bread wasn’t missing,but a five pound roast was.  Did I have any ideas where my dog had been at 5:30 that evening?

I thanked him and told him I’d call him back.  After figuring out that the dog had been out a short time, I called my neighbor, the city attorney.  No, they hadn’t seen Doc running from the vicinity of the grocery store either.

Well, I was mortified, embarrassed, and getting a little hot until I went next door to tell my neighbors the story.  They smiled, listened attentively and burst into gales of laughter. 

Yeah, it was funny, but not that funny!  I was still worried about the old lady!!  The next thing the woman of the house came up to me, put her arm around my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “You’ve been had.”  Needless to say, my confidence in law enforcement and city government were greatly diminished.

Hunting has never been a strong point with me.  Living in Pheasant country however, I thought I’d give it a try.  After all, I had the Black Lab, right?  I invested in a .20 gauge, bought a license and started scouting some abandoned rights of way.  It’d been a good year for birds, so I had some hope.

I’ve always heard friends talk how they can’t keep their dogs out of an automobile.  Doc was different.  We had to make sure she was tied up before we started packing the car for a trip or she’d disappear.  Getting her to go hunting involved a strong grip on her collar and a heave-ho into the back seat of the station wagon.

Once she got to where we were hunting, she jumped out of the car, tail wagging, ready to go.  The trip, the anticipation, worked negatively on her gut.  My companions accused me of spiking her “Ken L Ration” with mineral oil.

Things went well until one of my buddies scared up a big rooster.  We took aim and let go with a couple rounds each. The dog was gone.  No birds, a little exercise and no dog.  She went to the car.  This time she willingly crawled in the back seat for the trip home.

As I mentioned before, the house I worked on was a “Handy-Man’s Special.”  I rebuilt much of it.  One of the areas that needed some attention was the front steps.  The old ones had rotted through, so I fashioned some new ones out of sturdy pine boards.  They lasted two weeks.  A stray rabbits worked its’ way under the porch and Doc was determined to find it.  My first clue that something was amiss was a grinding, crunching sound followed by a splintering rip. I got up from some afternoon reading and walked to the front door.  Standing there, looking through the screen, I saw the carefully assembled steps in pieces that would make good kindling.  In addition, several lengths of cedar siding had been munched to oblivion.  The training I referred to earlier in refined cussing held up well. I was out of the door, blood pressure on the rise, hurling epithets and accusations at a retreating black figure.

Doc has slowed down a lot.  She’s a lot more arthritic, groans when she gets up, and outright refuses to go out if it’s below zero.  I don’t blame her.

There was a time I clocked her running alongside the car at 22 miles per hour.  She seems less inclined to destroy things and more disposed to protecting the home front, a much appreciated behavior.As I have grown older I have grown a little more tolerant.  Things that were big deals before don’t seem so large.  Doc and I have had our differences, but we patch them up and go on.


March is here again.  To me it is about the most unusable month of the year.  It for sure is a teaser, like some burlesque dancer in a tacky dance hall.  A little off here, a little off there and then when you think this is it – – – it snows ten inches.

Occasionally the temperature soars and things get slushy and gunky.  Paving our driveway has never been a family priority, so when things start to thaw out, it seems the whole drive begins migrating to our kitchen floor.

Little paw prints on the kitchen counter signal a time for vigilance with the wash cloth before guests arrive for a quick cup of coffee.  With the return of more benign conditions, the nocturnal nature of our cats begins to emerge.  They begin to wander at night, and drop a little of their winter weight.  At least they aren’t hassling us at 5:30 AM, whining about how undernourished they are.

I never worry much about the snow melt off the roof this time of year.  With an older house I’ve usually been up there a month before, lashed to the chimney, manhandling the big snow scoop pushing a two foot accumulation over the side.  A late March storm is of little concern.  It will most likely disappear in a hurry.  What doesn’t go away are the wrecked shingles from breaking up ice dams.  Undoubtedly I’ll have to piece and patch together the places I’ve managed to destroy, “saving” the house from water damage.

Up here we know its March and spring is coming by the resurgence of runners from the college.  Most of them are disgustingly tanned cavorting down the street, freshly returned from pilgrimages to far off lands to the south with exotic names like Cancun, Mazatlan, or Fort Lauderdale.  The really tough natives here don’t leave, but revel in the chance to haul the garbage out with a t-shirt when it’s 30 degrees.

When March gets real serious about its’ teasing ways, more snow melts and the remains of the season begin to emerge.  Miller Lite cans, old Hardee’s hamburger wrappers, and sure enough, land mines from the dog of the lady who lives a block away.

Christmas decorations, (the season dies hard around here), need to be stored.  The thousand and one Christmas lights can finally be pulled from their perches.  Getting out on a steeply pitched roof in front to yank them in mid-February is not my idea of good time. There are better ways to die. It is time, and we don’t want to tempt fate any more by having a late May blizzard.  The final touch is taking the Christmas pictures from distant friends off the refrigerator door.

It is about this time also that we can start to sleep with the window open at night.The nights are cool, but not brutal, and there is a primitive pleasure in burrowing under the quilt when the alarm sounds and awakening slowly to a room full of fresh air.

The Bald Eagles return too, hunting for discarded Perch on the lake.  Their return and the whistle of the Chickadees bring a sense of anticipation about greener days ahead.

The burlesque show of March begins to fade.  Spring comes in earnest, the daffodils rise, and the driveway stays in place.  Moving through March was worth it after all.







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