She was named after Lena Horne, that icon of suave, sophisticated jazz, and she is as thoroughly unlike her namesake as a bitch can be.


She is energy and power and speed, her preferred mode of movement is the all-out sprint, she leaps and spins and tears across lawns and through thick forest with equal abandon.


When I go into the woods to work with limb lopper or chainsaw, she plunges enthusiastically into the effort, digging with her paws, yanking on root and branch with her jaws, leaping to grab high branches and vines, yipping and squealing and barking with a cheerfully weird intensity, and when I move to the next work spot, so does she.


When she chases a squirrel, it's more like a race than a hunt, though she has caught and killed one, and with Goon, a fawn, but if the squirrel runs up a tree, the other dogs will besiege it while Lena will sprint a victory lap around the field.


She is the joy of muscle and movement, the ecstasy of speed, a whirligig in a windstorm, a bouncing ball of happiness when you come home.


When she chews a stick too successfully and a piece gets wedged in her upper jaw, she runs to me and lets me yank it out, and then she leaps up to kiss me in the mug before racing off to chew another stick.


She leaps into any pond or stinking muck puddle she can find, heedless of your screams to get out and threats to bathe her when we get home.


She eats more than the other dogs, and yet she hasn't an ounce of fat on her, just lean, hard muscle. Pound for pound, maybe the strongest, fastest, and most durable dog I know, and she will take a morsel of food from your fingertips with perfect gentleness.


She has a weird obsession with patterns of light that the window in the door to the garage sends across the utility room when you open it. She is at her most still when she hides in the shadowy room, waiting for the lights, like fleeting angels, to move across the wall. And when they do, she explodes into action, but never catches them.

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Updated: May 11

In the summer of 1974 I left my home in the Canal Zone to go to college at Kings Point, NY. Stopped over in Alabama to see some of my dad's family, then flew from Atlanta to New York on my own. It was in the days before the feds deregulated the airlines, and certain routes and schedules were required, regardless of whether there were enough passengers to make it economically feasible.


It was a 747, and it was almost empty. The emptiness made for a hollow, cavernous feel that made my mind reverberate with a weird mix of anticipation and melancholy. The airline gave us plastic earphones, and as I listened to the music, two songs dug into my brain like permanent ear-worms.


One was Rikki Don't Lose That Number, by Steely Dan. The other was Sideshow, by Blue Magic. Both had been released in April of that year.


There's some combination of age and emotional state that softens the ground to let certain songs dig real deep into your psyche and stay there like buried treasure. Years or decades after the burial, a chance encounter on the radio unearths them, as fresh as ever.


Here they are:






Also called "Memorial Day," but not the federal holiday. And it has nothing to do with celebrating Confederate heritage, as some maintain. Maybe it did once, I don't know. Doesn't now.


The individual churches choose a Sunday, usually in the Spring, to memorialize those in the congregation who have "passed" in the past year (aka kicked the bucket, bought the farm, up and died). And to decorate the graves in the church cemetery with fake flowers. Ours is the third Sunday in May.


Often they host a speaker who has a family connection to the church, but is not a member of the congregation. Not always, though. My first year here, about 9 years ago, they asked me to speak. They have not requested a repeat performance. I wouldn't read too much into that. After all, they asked me to be choir director. And I suck at that job.


Back in that day I wrote a song that dealt with this day. It was called "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John," and it goes like this:


Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Sometimes I don't know what page we're on

My mind wanders as God's holy word

Rolls like thunder or sings like a bird


The preacher's voice fills the room

Like a tapestry rolling off of a loom

I stare at the portrait of Jesus in prayer

As stained glass colors fill the air


I stand and sit as the hymns come and go

My voice as soft as down falling snow

And when we bow our heads in prayer

I close my eyes and imagine you there


Everyone said that you had gone home

But my heart went with you, down in the loam

Days into weeks, months into years

I drifted away on infinite tears


Wonder of wonders when once I did pray

Down on my knees one Memorial Day

I stood and walked back to the pew

And the place that ever reminds me of you


Your grace was His, and His never ends

To these clouded eyes, an immaculate lens

And though chapter and verse may fly off like a dove

The Word I can see and again know your love


So it's Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Sometimes I don't know what page we're on

But these four friends, so wise and so true

Make me believe I'll come back to you


Yes it's Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Sometimes I don't know what page we're on

But these four friends, so wise and so true

Make me believe I'll come back to you


Yes they make me believe I'll come back to you