(“Dog” by Myron Wood, May 1972. Copyright Pikes Peak Library District. Image Number: 002-3002.)

The Middle Distance 8.26.11: The Dog Ate The Pizza

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photo by Sean Cayton

Last night the dog ate the pizza, and I didn’t get upset. I had a free afternoon, so I cleaned out the fridge and concocted a roasted green chili pizza. Cooked in a 500-degree oven, it came out nicely browned, a little charred on the edges. I boiled the rest of last week’s farmers market sweet corn, and left all of it on the stove to cool while I ran out to fill the car with gas.

I returned about 15 minutes later to find the pizza gone and the floor licked clean. Also missing were four half-ears of corn; around the house, a few corn trails. Our golden retriever smiled at me and wagged his tail, as if hoping for more.

I’m telling you this not because I’m shocked at the dog’s gluttony and nerve. It’s my reaction that surprises me. In another era, in life preceding the middle distance when my world was crowded with kids and marital and ex-marital relations and a demanding job, I might have sworn to kill the dog, and though I wouldn’t have actually gone that far, I would have been mad at him and cursed him for days. But in the moment of the missing pizza, I mostly just marveled at the dog, at his pleasure, at his apparent lack of heartburn, at his innocence despite being caught in the act.

I associate this leveling off of emotional volatility with aging, knowing it doesn’t pay to sweat the small stuff. And I associate it with something unexpected that has recently happened, a subtle mind shift that has altered my point of view.

I’ve noticed that after 20 years in Colorado Springs since bringing my family here in 1991, finally I think of this place as home. It might seem obvious but it is not. I have been one of those transplanted southerners, displaced and nostalgic for the sight of a wet deciduous forest and the smell of a roadside barbecue stand. I spent years yearning southward and eastward, to the traditions and people and tastes and sounds of my childhood and early adult years. Hell, I spent years searching the real estate ads on the internet for my ideal country home in central Tennessee or Kentucky, a place where, in my fantasy, I’d return when I’d finally served out my sentence here, on the harsh, high plains in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.

It didn’t come in a flash of recognition or as an act of will. I didn’t put my foot down and resolve to be a Coloradan; I wasn’t blinded one day and knocked to my knees by the exquisite beauty of the red rock formations and bluebird skies. It was more, as Flannery O’Connor called it, a “habit of being,” her definition of faith. I knew that I had stopped searching and was no longer looking back toward home, that I was already there. One day last week I woke up tired of summer, ready to let the garden go to seed, and felt that twinge of excitement that comes with wishing for cold weather. I smelled it in the air, or imagined I did. Wood smoke, fallen leaves, roasted chilies. I recognized this as a particularly Colorado longing, and here I was feeling it as deeply in my bones as the memory of a hymn.

When I first felt the settling down effect taking place, last winter, I feared I had grown lazy or afraid or complacent, that I had lost the urge to roam that I equated with a healthy imagination. But here I was, contented throughout the long, dusty winter, snug as a bug in a rug in the house I was settling into. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I wasn’t homesick, I was at home.

The other night I read in bed until nearly midnight. Just after I reached over to switch off the lamp, a sudden boom in the house jolted me awake. For a second I could hear the windows rattling, as if a heavy door on the first floor had been slammed shut. I glanced at the sleeping dog and knew that this was no human intruder or he would surely be growling and racing for the door.

The next day, a radio announcer said there had been an earthquake centered near Trinidad just before midnight and shocks could be felt across the state. I felt small. I felt a strange sense of humility for my precarious placement on earth, and gratitude for the rock of Colorado beneath my wayward feet.

 

7 Responses to The Middle Distance, 8/26/11: “The Dog Ate the Pizza”

  1. Vickly19 says:

    Ha, I remember us talking about your dream house somewhere in Kentucky… here’s to finding where you belong! xo

  2. Rose Enyeart says:

    Kathryn, I loved it and am glad you’re home. I too am longing for autumn. Who knew that it was something to be treasured? This long hot summer, I do wait for the cool and the dark days.

  3. cathy reilly says:

    as always, BEAUTIFULLY done! Reminds me of a dog we had that ate pie once…and more recently, my gone two and a half years Chesapeake Bay Retriever and her thieving of an uncooked steak one time. She was SO thrilled with herself! From the look of unadulterated joy on her face as she looked at me from the yard, wagging her tail and dining on her treasure, she savored that delicacy. And it is one of my many happy memories of her goofy self. Just hope your friend didn’t get indigestion that you had to deal with!

  4. Teresa says:

    My first visit to Colorado was late May 1976… From that time until November 2006 I longed to move, permanently, to the mountains. I grew up just outside Baltimore City so the small mountains of western Maryland were my comfort far more that Ocean City. I’d travelled through the Great Smokies and Applilachians but none has touched me as the Rockies. Despite missing some of the childhood favorites of the east and being separated from other family members, November of 2006 I came “home”.

  5. Sandra says:

    This resonated with me, too, Kathryn. I yearned for the GREEN of southern Missouri for many, many years. Having children over a decade after I moved here began to bond me to this place, and after thirty years I have grown to love it and appreciate it (as my children do), but still . . . sometimes I wish for fireflies and toads and the lush, sweet breathing of green.

    As for the dogs–thanks for the reminder of what naughty and delightful spiritual messengers they are!

  6. January says:

    LOVED this story! Long ago, I was getting ready for my 12th birthday party. I set a bunch of snacks out on the coffee table. As I made my way to the kitchen, my dachsund Max sat complacently by the coffee table, almost directly in front of a plate of cookies. When I returned, Max looked exactly like he had when I left, almost like a statue. But the plate of cookies was empty! I started to get mad, but when I looked at Max’s innocent face, as if he’d never gobbled a cookie in his life, I had to laugh! Here’s to our silly dogs and the things they do to keep humor in our lives. : )

  7. Christian says:

    Enjoyed this, and it caused me to reflect a bit, and made me a bit envious. I have been here since 97, courtesy of the Air Force, minus a year in Alaska (heaven) and one in Greenland (hell). It’s the longest I have ever been in one place in my life (dad was in the AF, too), and I still ache a bit to be elsewhere. Through 3 bases (one of em twice), two kids, divorce, and a new life with a wonderful woman, it’s familiar, tho not quite comfortable. It’s still just not home. But then again, where the hell is home anyway?

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