Owner of Carolyn
Frank is curious about the strange noises he hears coming from the neighbor's yard. On his most recent walk through the neighborhood, he caught a glimpse. There was a small red structure and through some wire mesh he saw something -- a strange feathery creature. Incidentally, his human, Carolyn has been reading a book called Locally Laid. Frank reads the line "the chickens spent their days in our mostly fenced-in yard, walking about with their jaunty, robotic manner while absurdly chattering on CO-KE . . . . coke coke coke coke." That's when Frank realizes what his neighbors have been keeping next door... CHICKENS! The Duluth-based writer Lucie Amundsen raises chickens with her husband but on a much larger scale than Carolyn and Frank's neighbors. Their business is paving the way for more farm-based businesses that are not nearly as large as the industrial models, but are also much bigger than farmer's market ventures. It's something that North America has lost, but is being regained -- it is called "middle agriculture." Among other things, Lucie makes clear the difference between the terms, pasture-raised and cage-free. The book is like a crash course on the egg business told through the narrative of her family's harrowing story of starting this business. Carolyn was engrossed and amused from the first page to the last, and Frank is satisfied to know more about those sounds that have become the background to his daily life.
Frank is getting old. He turns 11 this November, but unlike his human, Frank doesn't think much about death. He finds it odd that humans have both a simultaneous fascination and fear of death. He also notices that you never do see dead human bodies like you might see a dead bird after having flown into a window or the occasional dead dog lying by the side of the road. He finds out why in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty-- a book it seems his human cannot stop reading. It seems that every chance she gets, she is reading it. Humans certainly are peculiar creatures. From the book Frank and Carolyn learn about Caitlin the mortician; the cremation process; the history of embalming, why it is still practiced today and whether or not it is ever necessary. They also learn a little about Indigenous death rituals and practices and how modern Westerners no longer engage in these rituals nor do they care for their dead; how they hire people like Caitlin to deal with their dead for them; as well as a lot of other valuable information in a very straight forward and often humorous way. This book has given Carolyn a lot to consider. It has given Frank some insight into human behavior but mostly he still just hopes his human will take him for a walk, play fetch with him, and give him lots of love and lots of treats all while avoiding the dreaded swat in the face from his cat friend, Mary.
Frank has just gotten his first squeaky toy ever. It's suppose to look like a dinosaur, but it has fur that is all matted down with Frank's saliva and fur and dirt. But Frank is awfully proud of it. He carries it around in his mouth and brings it to bed with him at night while Carolyn thumbs through the pages of the book Transformation and Continuity in Lakota Culture: the Collages of Arthur Amiotte. Arthur Amiotte is an Oglala Lakota artist from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. He is the great-grandson of Standing Bear (1859-1933), an artist, historian and leader in his community who is mostly known for the illustrations he provided for the book Black Elk Speaks. "Through his collages, Amiotte comments artistically on a people in transition: the Lakota during the reservation period." Amiotte is influenced by his great-grandfather's drawings just as his human, Carolyn is influenced by her grandmothers' weavings. Frank has a very basic understanding about ancestry and the continuation of family traditions. Frank is continuing his father, the Border Collie's tradition of obsessively playing the game of fetch and he is continuing his mother, the American Staffordshire Terrier/Black Labrador's tradition of chewing up large branches and tree stumps. Additionally, he is starting his own tradition involving squeaky toys.
Frank has had a lot of challenges and changes lately. He moved-- always a major adjustment for an animal as territorial as a dog. A week later, he got an ear infection, which lasted several weeks. And now he is resigned to wearing a cone on his head due to a skin reaction. Through his latest read, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami, Frank has learned that life isn't always easy for dogs or humans. The book's protagonist, Tsukuru, mysteriously loses his group of childhood friends and with that loss comes grief. In order to live and love again, Tsukuru must come to terms with this loss and transform his pain. Murakami is a master in writing about subconscious realms and reveals one lonely soul's struggle for self realization by gradually unravelling the mystery of his loss. Frank ponders how a lesson might be gleaned through life's challenges, though he's still not quite sure how ear infections or skin reactions come into play.
Rocky is no Spring chicken. He's coming up on his 13th birthday this May. The baby of the family, Frank, turned 8 last November. Even though he is the baby, the white hairs on his muzzle are coming in nicely. Once a solid tan, Rocky's muzzle is nearly all white now. Time is a funny thing. As dogs, Frank and Rocky live in the present moment, so they don't mind time, but as they age they start to feel it. Especially Rocky, who can no longer jump up on the bed to wake his humans in the morning. Instead he slowly pulls and scratches and struggles his way up. It makes him wish he were something like Luca Bastardo, the protagonist in the book Immortal by Traci Slatton. Luca ages very slowly. At age 90, he looked as young and was as strong as a man in his thirties. On the other hand, Rocky and Frank don't have any worries, and Luca has many. His life was more tragic than most. Though these two spoiled mutts don't know the first thing about hardship and therefore cannot relate to Luca's story, the book helped them to see the value in life's challenges and the way that Luca is transformed through his suffering. Set in Florence during the renaissance, a time when great thinkers and artists flourished, this is a book to savor in its beauty and profundity.
Rocky recently visited the vet because his allergies have been flaring up. Being in this other worldly environment made him very nervous and reminded him of a book Carolyn has recently been reading called The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi. It's about a young girl named Eva Nine who was raised by a robot called Muthr (Multi-Utility Task Helper Robot). She has never known another human being and she has never been outside of the confines of her underground home until it is destroyed. When she is forced to leave home she finds that the world is so much different than what she expected. Similarly, Rocky rarely leaves the confines of his dog bed in the living room. Though the people that raise him aren't robots, he was forced to leave the coziness and familiarity of his home and was confronted with a new and very different environment where some stranger in a white lab coat put some weird and futuristic-looking pointy instrument in his ears that reminded him of Eva Nine's Omnipod. The whole experience was disconcerting, but at least it was almost as adventurous as Eva Nine's journey...and he got lots of attention...and dog treats.
A good laugh is important. Well of course dogs don't laugh, at least not outwardly, but Carolyn laughs and it certainly brings Frank and Rocky's spirits up. Lately, these boys have been stealing up the last bits of extended outdoor playtime before winter moves in, but they jump at the chance to hear Carolyn read Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. An incredibly hilarious book about Sedaris's life. Frank and Rocky don't have words to describe how funny this book is. In fact, they can only express themselves using body language or in barks and whines and the occasional growl, so they urge you humans to read a couple of good quotes from the book. In one chapter Sedaris tells the story of the last days of his cat, Neil. "I took her for a second opinion. Vet number two tested her blood and phoned me at home saying perhaps you should think about euthanasia. I hadn't heard that word in a while and pictured scores of happy Japanese children spilling from the front door of their elementary school." In another chapter Sedaris describes his former life as a conceptual artist and drug addict. "Their artworks were known as pieces. A phrase that I enthusiastically embraced. 'Nice piece,' I'd say. In my eagerness to please I accidentally complimented chipped baseboard and sacks of laundry waiting to be taken to the cleaners." Rocky and Frank think Sedaris must have been a dog in a former life. He has a self-deprecating humor and brings attention to life's absurdities. Most humans are far too serious, which is why Frank and Rocky highly recommend this book!!
It's Rocky and Frank's favorite time of year. It's a season filled with activity. A lot of time spent outdoors, taking the occasional dip in the lake, lying at the threshold of the garden (because that's about as far as Carolyn will allow) or being out on the trail running. In the past few years running has become an increasingly important activity. Rocky comes along occasionally, but for the first mile Rocky is dragging Carolyn and every mile thereafter Carolyn is dragging Rocky. At 12 years old, Rocky is certainly an old dog and he prefers to spend his time sitting out in the yard absorbing the sunshine in quiet reflection. But in a short distance race, he can out-run an 8 year old Frank. And that is nothing to sneeze at considering that Rocky with his bowed legs and barrel chest looks somewhat awkward compared to Frank who inherited a sleek runner's physique from his pure breed border collie father. And speaking of running, Frank and Rocky highly recommend Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and Bernd Heinrich's Why We Run. Both writers are experienced ultra-marathoners. Murakami is a fiction writer who took up running shortly after he began making major lifestyle changes, which included beginning a new career as a writer as well as giving up smoking and a successful restaurant business. Heinrich on the other hand is a biologist and nature writer. His interest in the natural world and running developed in tandem when he was just a boy. These writers come from different experiences and perspectives, but they both give you an intimate look into their lives, their personalities and passions. Frank and Rocky highly recommend both these books whether you're a runner or if you appreciate a good memoir.
Frank and Rocky know that Winter means the lake freezes over and they get to run like mad dogs, bounding through snow, skidding over ice on unimpeded romps through a big frozen field. They also know that Winter means it gets dark very early and when Frank looks up over the lake, it reminds him of the month he spent in Diné Bikeyah (Navajo country) with Carolyn when he was just a youth. He once told his brother Rocky that the stars were so bright down there that he thought if he could leap up just right, he might be able to catch one in his mouth. At first Rocky thought Frank was an idiot until he realized what he meant on his last night walk on the lake. Frank's enthusiasm for stars might be contagious because Rocky was ecstatic when he ran across a book about the Diné night sky called Sharing the Skies: Navajo Astronomy. Since the Diné and many other tribes tell their star stories between October and February, it is the perfect Winter time book. It gives you an overview of each Navajo constellation and their Greek equivalents accompanied by breath taking photos taken by the Hubble Telescope and lovingly rendered depictions of constellations by Navajo artist, Melvin Bainbridge. A great accompaniment to this book is They Dance in the Sky: Native American Star Myths. This is a compilation of star stories from several tribal nations. Frank and Rocky, being the lovable but mischievous tricksters that they are, relate to stories about Coyote. They especially love the story where Coyote steals the star pouch from Black God and scatters them about the cosmos. This Winter will fly by for these brothers as they learn about Navajo astronomy, listen to Carolyn read star stories, and spend their nights gazing up at the bright stars over frozen water.
Frank and Rocky have been spending many mornings near Carolyn's feet as she becomes totally engrossed in Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West by Hampton Sides. Carolyn recently realized that her ancestor, Narbona makes a prominent appearance in this book, so she decided to pick it up. Mostly the book follows the very fascinating, on-the-go life of Kit Carson, but it also gives you an overall history lesson of the Southwest and describes the many characters who had a hand in colonizing the area. So much of Carolyn's attention becomes consumed by this book that Frank and Rocky start to feel a little jealous. The boys decide to make a game out of it to see if they can get her to look up. First they try doing various tricks. Frank sits attentively. Rocky, especially proud of a new trick he learned, tries rolling over several times. This doesn't work, so they try growling and barking at every car that drives by. Lastly, they try wrestling and knocking into every object contained within the living room, but when Frank bumps into that odd-looking, yellow monster that they call a "vacuum cleaner," his skiddish nature gets the best of him, and he bolts into the safety of the bedroom. Rocky gives up and curls into a ball, invariably alert as to be ready for whatever happens that might involve him, God forbid a walk!
Since it's gotten cold outside, Rocky and Frank have naturally been spending much more time indoors. Rocky has an inadequate fur coat; it is short and sparse compared to Frank's thick, dense coat, so Rocky cuddles into Frank for warmth as Carolyn reads Fatty Legs: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. It is a true story about a young Inuvialuit (Western Canadian Inuit) girl named Olemaun who is determined to go to boarding school so she can learn to read. This book is engrossing as well as educational. Frank and Rocky learn about the impact that Catholic boarding schools had on Inuvialuit people and what life was like for them in the mid-1940s. Additionally, they learn about Inuvialuit clothing including kamiks and Mother Hubbard parkas. The story leaves Frank with a sense of amazement for Olemaun's perseverance as she is challenged by the heartlessness of one particularly cruel nun that seems to have it out for her. Rocky is left in awe of the beautiful illustrations and the accompanying photographic references. He is also left wishing that he had one of those Mother Hubbard parkas to keep warm.
This past summer, Frank has been spending almost all of his time with his new brother, a 10 year old tan American Staffordshire Terrier named Rocky. Sometimes they get to spend entire weekends outdoors in northwestern Wisconsin. For the first few hours on these excursions, Carolyn watches with mixed feelings of unease and amusement as Rocky desperately attempts to prevent Frank from playing fetch, a game with which Frank is obsessed. Since Frank is passive, all Rocky has to do is charge towards Frank with a snarled lip, and Frank immediately drops it. Rocky then takes it from him and chews it into nothing, but it isn't before long that Frank is running up with a new stick, and of course, Rocky isn't far behind. At some point Frank gives up, which must be a relief to Rocky--twice Frank's age and obviously exhausted. That is when they finally decide to relax, to sit in the warm sun and appreciate the quietness and incomprehensible beauty of nature in Ojibwe country.
And what better book to read than Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country by Louise Erdrich. This book gives Frank and Rocky an renewed appreciation for the land. The wording and tone of the book is peaceful, personal and meditative, and soon Rocky has forgotten all about his jealousy issues. Another favorite summer read has been Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine. This novel blends stories of a family's history and traditional stories from the Middle East into a rich myriad of interesting characters, places and events. It is at once magical, serious, profound, funny, and even naughty--which is something that both Rocky and Frank can both relate to.
Inside he is a mild-mannered, gentle creature. During his down time, his mind becomes still and meditative, and he is likely to become enchanted by the deep and profoundly beautiful words of Sufi poetry. Like Carolyn, one of his favorite books is The Gift by Hafiz.
Don't be fooled, Frank is no angel. As soon as he hears the word WALK, Frank begins to whine and occasionally he lets out a defiant and impatient bark. As soon as his paws hit the ground, he becomes exhilarated and cannot contain himself. He loves to bark, run, jump, and play with such energy and ferocity that Carolyn sometimes worries that he might hurt himself. After expending some of that extra energy, Frank likes to read something with equal intensity and fierceness, and Flight by Sherman Alexie is a whirl-wind of a book that leaves both Frank and Carolyn awestruck.