Friday, April 22, 2011

Springus interruptus

As we closed out the first month of spring, another 5 to 10 inches of snow fell on Northeast Wisconsin - the kind of thick, heavy snow that bends branches and strains backs. The only consolation was that street and road surfaces were warm enough that the accumulation was not as thick on concrete and asphalt as it was on the bare ground.

In fact our driveway didn't need clearing even though 3-4 inches of white covered the yard that just two days earlier had been showing its first signs of healthy green.

Last year at this time, the weather was so mild by April 20 that I optimistically planted a row of radishes, peas and beans in a corner of the garden. My foolishness became clear with the cold snap and flurries of the first weekend in May. But those flurries were mid-July weather compared to the scene in our yard Wednesday.

On this Friday morning, the only sign of the storm is the bent arbor vitaes that will probably never recover. All of the gunk that snapped branches, dropped power lines and sent vehicles spinning has now melted. The forecasters say sunny and 55 on Sunday, 66-70 by Tuesday. Like all cold storms that interrupt a promise of hope, this one has faded into memory, a diversion more fit for laughter than despair.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The freedom of a puppy's soul

One of the things that Willow likes to do is romp on our bed. It's sort of a wrestling match and sort of a doggie massage session. During these sessions she will either wrap her jaws around my forearm or bite down on my sleeve without actually connecting with my arm.

That's a remarkable decision on her part. It means we can play with a little more rough-housing because we trust each other not to cause harm. We both know that as the one with sharper teeth, Willow could shred my arm to pieces. We both know that as the larger beast, I could probably inflict some significant damage on her. But we choose to play in a way that avoids those things.

There is a philosophical theory that the difference between a human and an animal is that a human has a soul and the ability to know and choose right from wrong. But if Willow does not possess these qualities, how does she know not to chew my hand off? How does a beast with no soul develop the ability to play, and play safe?

No, this is a special creature with a sense of whimsy and a spirit of joy. Perhaps it's a stretch to conclude that my companion is a gentle soul based on the observation that my hand remains attached to my wrist. But I reject the notion that there is no soul behind those devoted eyes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The joy of joy

I enjoy joy. Embracing the thrill of living in all of its colors feels delightful. When joy is the default condition of the day, it’s a banner day.

Willow, our home’s golden retriever companion, is a remarkable example of how to live a joyful life. At 2 years old, she seeks out joy with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of the joyous.

When I follow her lead, I achieve an unmatchably warm and peaceful contentment. Therefore, any time I am in her sphere of influence, I make sure I throw her ball or her orange disk, rub her belly, hug her with all my strength, or whatever else the moment requires.

This late winter and early spring in Wisconsin have been short on moments of joy. An 18-inch snowfall on the third day of spring will put a damper on almost any mood, and the ghastly political puppet theater now in progress is so tiring that I will mention it here only to make my point.

But Willow has no such shortage. She pranced across the snowdrifts like a miniature whitetail deer, she plays hide-and-seek with the blue ball and whines impatiently when I haven’t found it yet, she is oblivious to the puppet theater, and she comes to me frequently with a look that seems to say, “Relax. Life is joyful. Just live it.”

And so I choose to raise my head and lift my spirits. They say when you have no control over externals, you still have a choice over your internal reaction. The choices are to laugh or to cry; I choose to laugh. The choices are grumbling through my work or pausing frequently to play with Willow; I choose the puppy. The choices are to sink into the mud or embrace the joy of the soaring eagle; I choose the sky.

I enjoy joy. And for my own mental health, as often as I remember, I choose joy.