Having a puppy has slowed me down. While my Norfolk Terrier tears around, naps, barks at trucks, dogs and joggers, waits for another walk, and naps again, I have had to reconsider how I pass my days. I’ve realized I don’t have to keep chipping away at THE TO DO LIST every waking moment because guess what? The roof isn’t going to blow off anytime soon if I don’t drive down to 2nd Street and have a bronze statue’s arm soldered back on. (Broken by my late cats who were panicked during a thunderstorm. My humble confession – it’s been broken for three years.)
As I’ve readjusted my schedule, I’ve had more quiet moments to notice things, to scrutinize, particularly while Dolly sleeps. The bluebirds and squirrels in my yard are less shy; I sometimes say in passing, “Aren’t you supposed to be scared of me?” only to have a very ho-hum glance and a slow shuffle off. More observations, a neighborhood update if you will: the neighbor’s Golden Labrador no longer barks at me and for the first time in three years, we have catbirds nesting in the yard; they meow constantly. Ants, I believe, are brilliant creatures and should open a chain of moving companies. Richmond has been drenched-flooded-soaked in rain for three weeks and the ants have moved into my flowerpots and even set up temporary shelter under the grill cover. They have also organized a response to my pouring vinegar and water on their nests; they just split up and built nests the size of nickels and dimes everywhere. Yard guerillas.
Of course, it’s cliché but it is a good idea to stop and smell the roses. (Even though I don’t grow any. Don’t want to deal with black spot.) So rather than tussle with THE TO DO LIST why not take a bubble bath? Or walk down the street and knock on a friend’s door? Maybe I can go outside and scour my garden bench with a square of steel wool, wave some black spray paint and later drag it over to the shade by the Hydrangea. Then get lost in my thoughts. No phones allowed.
When Dolly sleeps, I no longer rush around and do chores all the time. Nor do I turn on the news or check Drudge. Sometimes I just sit down and catch my breath. Maybe I’ll think about a book I’m reading. Or maybe I’ll fall asleep. Or remember when.
Why has time gotten the best of me? And why did it take a Norfolk Terrier puppy, a scrappy ten pounder, to teach me to slow down at this stage of my life?
I have a new attitude: I can control Lady Time better than she can control me. After all, the passing of the day doesn’t seem to bother Dolly much. She thinks there’s nothing wrong with a nap or staring out the window or eating slowly. These are just a few ways she whiles away her day and she is certainly more relaxed than I am.
I did yeoman’s work in the yard yesterday. Two and a half hours of laying mulch, carrying pots, trimming the arbor. By 4:30, I was zigzagging around the yard and could barely lift my arms. Perhaps, true to form, I had overdone it. I couldn’t help it! The sun was shining for the first time in a week and my yard was beckoning and color-jazzed. All the work made me sore and I slept fitfully. Just couldn’t get comfortable.
I always know I’m off when I wake up and I don’t want coffee. So, I cancelled a lunch and by 9:00, I was reclining on the sofa with Dolly. “What’s wrong with that?” the New Me asked. “Maybe I won’t do much today. It’s not a crime. Look at Dolly. She’s already had a good morning – rolled twice in something invisible, spent 15 minutes barking at a truck, sniffed half the den carpet, every inch, and ate her breakfast by carrying one kibble at a time into the den. For the nonce she’s having a power nap.”
I thought maybe I wouldn’t get dressed until my brother’s birthday party that night. And I actually looked forward to seeing the neighbors’ expressions when they saw me at 3:00 in my bathrobe in the middle of my yard, not a care in the world.
A month ago I started writing again for the first time in years and I sometimes look to Colette for inspiration. She was an extraordinary writer and a genius in the art of observation. I own many of her books, ten to be exact, and my favorite is Earthly Paradise, an autobiography drawn from her writings by author, translator Robert Phelps. It is one of my most treasured books and her crystalline prose wakes me up, encouraging me to observe. (“Discipline is the cure for everything.” Colette)
One morning I decide to re-evaluate time and force myself to listen. What does quiet in my house sound like? I stop. Focus. Wait. For a few moments I hear absolutely nothing and then finally, a click from the kitchen. I can see traffic on Pump Road, but I can’t hear it. I can see the wind rustle through the branches of the Japanese Maple, but I can’t hear it. Look! There’s my neighbor’s silver sedan gliding by; can’t hear that either. Silence. And finally, a bird twitters.
There is nothing wrong with just sitting in the quiet. There is nothing wrong with spending time wondering if I should drive to the nursery to buy a few Dreams Salmon Petunias because they will $%#POP*@# (my small tribute to Tom Wolfe) against the purple Bacopa and Lobularia.
Maybe today Dolly and I will walk down to the covered bridge. And I’ll make a few phone calls. Fold some laundry. That’s it.
But hey, wait a minute. I really should get back out in the yard and cut all the weed-killing plastic Granville laid by the back fence. Granted, we have few weeds, however, the plastic is preventing my Hydrangea, Lilies, Nandina and Hibiscus from growing. Plants need to breath and flex their plantly muscles.
But oh no! There’s the Tiger Balm Extra Strength Fertilizer staring at me from the candy table in the kitchen. I should be mixing up batches to feed the hanging baskets, 16 pots and my mailbox garden. Everything looks so tired and mud splattered from all the rain or is that just my imagination?
Dolly, My Friend, I am not very good at doing absolutely nothing.
I’ve noticed my terrier pup is completely absorbed in her task or amusement at hand. “Killing” her toys, biting her Kongs, cleaning her paws, staring out the window, trotting around the yard, hot on the trail of something I cannot see but imagine with a grimace. No multitasking for her.
Meanwhile, I have trouble sitting on my sofa with a book and not thinking about what I should be doing. Should be working on an apartment for my daughter while she studies for a semester in Chicago. Should be doing some banking. Should be calling the Virginia 529 to find out how they will pay for Elon’s Study USA program.
And then I look at the Norfolk Terrier asleep at my feet. If she has issues, she keeps them to herself, her chest rising, the utter quiet in our den her blanket. Occasionally, a sigh from this tableau of contentment. There is a lesson for me somewhere.
Five years ago I didn’t think like this. Two years ago I didn’t think like this. Age has taught me there is healing in reverie.
I have made some changes as I tackle the pressure of time and the interminable TO DO LIST. I garden more, watch television less. I read more, spend time with friends and I think it’s time to return to church. Some days I don’t even look at the list and Sundays, I can take off unless I want to work in the yard. I am thinking about reading an 810 page book on Napoleon. Who cares that my socks have holes and the silver is tarnished?
Dolly would agree.