Saturday, May 25, 2013

A French Open Prediction for Federer

I think it's time I got back to tennis talk.

With the French Open's first round starting later on today, there's a lot to talk about. Namely, Roger Federer.

Roger Federer on the red clay of the French Open last year

Let me give you some background on the topic. Roger Federer, holder of the most major trophies (17) in the history of men's tennis in the open era (when tournaments became open to professional players, in 1968), has a less than remarkable record at the French Open for being arguably the most well-rounded player of all time. Well, that's what conventional wisdom and the majority of sports analysts say. However, in spite of only having one win at the French, his record there holds its own against just about any other player in history there outside the likes of Nadal and Borg, especially when you look at who his losses came against.

Lets look at some numbers. Over the last eight years, Roger has been in the final five times (won once). Every single time he lost in the final, it was to Rafa Nadal, who is unquestionably the greatest clay court player of all time (he's won the tournament seven times and he is only 26). The one time Roger won the tournament, he didn't have to go through Rafa (Rafa's only loss at the French was in the 4th round to Robin Soderling). The three times Roger didn't make it to the final, he lost to Rafa, Djokovic, and Soderling, who are all among the best clay court players ever.

There is a point to all of this that is relevant to the tournament which is about to begin. But not yet.

Roger is 31, relatively ancient for a tennis player trying to be a contender in majors (majors are also referred to as grand slams, though technically, a grand slam is the term used when a player wins all four of the majors in a single season, an extremely rare feat). He hasn't won a tournament so far this season, and he's slipping down the rankings as Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray continue to fight for the top spot. His playing has lost its consistency, and we see many more unforced errors than the Federer of years past. He's beginning to thin out his playing calendar, trying to focus on longevity and winning bigger tournaments rather than overworking himself. He's got a wife and twin daughters. He'll be 32 in August. What I'm getting at is that he may not be around on the ATP tour much longer. AND, he's a long shot for winning the French Open this year.

However... this may be one of the best shots he's had at the tournament in the last 10 years. First off, there is very little pressure on him. He's not expected to win. Rafa is expected to win for an 8th time, and Djokovic is feeling hungry to win his first French after a heartbreaking loss to Rafa last year. Second, is the draw. Roger has a relatively easy half of the draw. With Andy Murray out with a back injury, and Juan Martin Del Potro out as well, Roger's half of the draw looks very manageable for him, and does not contain Rafa or Djokovic, the two most dominant players right now. Those two will likely hammer it out against each other in the semi-final of the other half of the draw, with the winner quite possibly facing Roger in the final.

Here's my hope (and hesitant prediction): we see Roger and Rafa in the French Open Final. One last time. Roger shakes off the many losses to his opponent and plays as if his life depended on it. Roger can only beat Rafa when he is playing his absolute best, but this time, Roger brings it. The nailbiter match goes to the fifth set and Roger wins in extra sets, reminiscent of the Wimbledon 2008 final with Nadal (arguably the best match of all time). Roger wins the French Open through Nadal, a feat nobody thought possible, even Federer, except on this day. Those still hesitant to proclaim him the greatest player of all time (typically because of his losses to Rafa on clay) quiet down and let the champion savor his greatest win of all time.

Roger Federer wins his first French Open against Robin Soderling in 2009

Friday, May 3, 2013

Why is this blog titled "My Gurnal" you ask?

I've been getting thousands of messages asking why I named this blog "My Gurnal." Whoa, people! Relax. Jeez. I think your doctor prescribed a chill pill...

Hmm. Where were we? Oh, yes, why "My Gurnal" you ask? Well, the answer is unsettlingly profound, so be warned. Check out this clip from a documentary about a summer camp called Wet Hot American Summer*:

You should also know that much thought went into how to actually spell that word. As most smart people know, journal is spelled with an "ou" after the "j", as you can see earlier in this sentence when I spelled journal. However, when you start it with a "g," it throws off the rest of the word and when I saw gournal written out it just didn't look like it was supposed to sound. It looked more like gow-r-null, or gore-null (like gourd). So after much deliberation with myself, I went with what I felt was a more phonetic spelling that you find here: Gurnal. 

There you have it. I hope that answers everyone's questions so I can get back to watching informative and educational documentaries.

* If you use Rotten Tomatoes, the giveaway that this is indeed a special movie is that critics gave it 31/100, and audiences gave it 79/100, and if you know how to add fractions, you only add the top numbers, so the final score for this movie is 110/100. Unprecedented. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Canyon Country Hangover

Leaving Utah, I could already sense there was going to be a lot of processing about my adventures there. It was one of the most deeply and profoundly impacting experiences of my life. And as I was driving away I felt like I had only barely begun to understand its impact on me. Things were brewing deeper in me, and I knew that given some time to consciously and subconsciously let things settle, I'd have some realizations about my time there, and of course, myself.

But I wasn't just leaving Utah. I was leaving the West. I was heading Northeast, to a new home. And getting on the road toward the rising sun, in addition to beginning to process my trip, I felt a mixture of excitement and uncertainty about the life ahead of me and deep sentimentality about what I was leaving behind.

Bellingham had been home for the previous 15 years, and other than a couple brief stints, Northwest Washington had been home for my entire life. I loved it there. It was in my bones. The evergreens, the mountains pressing right up to the sound, the cleansing rains, the perfect summers.

But we felt we hadn't quite experienced the world as much as we'd dreamed of. Jamie and I had talked about our desire to experience living in different places, experiencing new perspectives and cultures. We loved travelling and the feeling of returning home and seeing our community with new eyes, fresh perspectives, and typically, a greater appreciation of the place. We'd always envisioned that we'd live overseas, but when Jamie received a job offer from upstate New York, we decided to jump at the opportunity.

I had a seemingly endless amount of time to think on my drive alone across the continent. My thoughts wandered between processing my time in Utah and wrapping my head around an array of issues surrounding our move to upstate New York. For one, I hadn't seen Jamie for a month. That was by far the longest period of time we'd spent apart from each other. I really missed her. She was my best friend. In this sense, I did feel like I was returning home, and I was relieved to be back in that familiar place.

I was also grappling with career direction; an issue that had been a consistent thorn in my side for as long as I could remember. I'd always had a lot of interest in many different areas, and had a hard time narrowing the focus down to one thing at the expense of the rest of the world of opportunities out there. Yes, I was often referred to as a jack-of-all-trades, but the other side of that coin was also equally accurate: master-of-none. I thrived in situations where I was able to learn new skills, but once I got to a point where I had a good grasp of it, I felt anxious to move on and hungry to learn something else. The result was that I knew a little about a lot of things, and had a moderate level of skills in many areas, while not being an expert in any one area.

I'd told myself that once on the East Coast I was going to do some deep digging about this. I wanted to find out what really motivated me and if it was possible to support a family in a way that was in line with my own values and that invigorated and inspired me. I didn't know how I would start that process, but I was determined to get to the bottom of it.

I also daydreamed about what life would be like on the East Coast, and how it would be to start from scratch, knowing nobody. Over the years, Jamie and I had slowly built up an amazing friend group in Bellingham, and felt like invested members of the Bellingham community. It was intimidating to think about starting that process over again. I worried that our love for Bellingham would keep us from fully investing ourselves in this new place.

While my thoughts on the drive during the day cycled through memories of the desert and thoughts about the transition to the East Coast, at night, my subconscious returned to the canyons. Whether I was in a cheap motel or a tent, every night as I drove across the country, I'd wake up in the middle of the night thinking I was in a canyon. Street lights through a curtain became moonlight on the canyon wall. A chair in the corner was a boulder in the wash.

I've woken up disoriented before, and it can sometimes be scary trying to make sense of your surroundings. But these nights, as I drove across the country and settled into my new world on the East Coast, I never felt scared. I'd slowly take it all in, knowing something wasn't right but still taking comfort in feeling wrapped up and protected by the canyon walls, safe in this sacred space.

This routine continued for another week after I made it to our new home. In all, I was immersed in the world of canyons every single night for two weeks. During the day I'd sense it in the background, behind the curtains of consciousness. But at night I'd return to the canyon. I felt like I was hovering in-between worlds, resistant to let go of the desert. It was as if the place opened up an awareness in me, a portal to another reality.

On that drive, I spent a lot of time filtering through memories of my time in the desert, replaying scenes from the trip, the images still fresh in my mind. Early on there was already a very special feel to these memories. I knew this was the trip of a lifetime, and that the magic of the experience would stay with me for a long time. While some of the lessons and perceptions remained a bit cloudy, some became clearer on that drive.

Something that kept surfacing was the way I felt protected on some of our hikes - like there were eyes on us, or an awareness of our presence. A sense of cautious trust that grew over time. At times I felt we were being looked out for by the desert and it's inhabitants.

On our very first hike in the desert, my hiking buddy and I started the 40 mile traverse with some anxiety about what lay ahead. Neither of us had spent much time in canyon country, and we'd been repeatedly and profusely warned of the danger of flash floods. It's true, ultimately, we were at the whim of nature. If there was a thunderstorm a hundred miles away in mountains we couldn't even see, we could get washed away.

As we stood in the middle of the river, with the canyon walls arm-width apart and towering hundreds of feet above, we could see the high water marks from previous flash floods. Brush, branches, and trees were deposited on shelves fifty feet above our heads. We wouldn't have a chance. But we'd done our research, we'd kept an eye on the weather, and were relatively confident that we would be safe. Light rain was forecast, but no thunderstorms.

Still, entering the canyon had a finality to it. We'd left our car at the opposite end of the canyon, 40 miles away, and gotten a shuttle to the start. The only way out of this was through to the confluence with the Colorado River. There was no communication with the outside world. Cell phones were useless.

As we approached the narrowing of the canyon walls, a duck flew down and landed in the river in front of us. It felt a bit out of place, almost humorous. We watched it land and then look back, as if waiting for us, inviting us to follow. As we got closer, the duck flew to the next bend in the canyon, looked back and maintained its place in the river, waiting for us. This happened again, and again, with each bend in the canyon for the entire afternoon - just myself, my hiking partner, the duck, and the canyon, with the duck leading the way.

We walked silently through that narrowest stretch of the canyon, in awe of the scene and the sounds, with the duck right there as our guide. Sounds of the trickling river reverberating off the canyon walls, the dropping sun casting shadows, the walls still radiating a warm glow. We soaked it up.

Five hours later, we found a sandy shelf to set up our camp. The duck continued to wait for us at the next bend, but we weren't going anywhere until morning. Grateful for its company and support, we thanked it and hoped it'd be there in the morning, but it was gone by the time we got started the next day.

I'm not an especially spiritual person, but I am certain that this duck was acting in some sort of protective way, as it guided us through the canyon. It felt like a gesture confirming that the path was safe and that we were welcome in this place. And not only that we were physically welcome but that we could have access to the place on a deeper, spiritual level. We had gained its trust and were allowed to experience the most intimate parts, the depths, of the canyon.


I tossed these thoughts and images around my head on the drive, already beginning to wonder if it all really happened. The further I got from Utah, the more I felt myself slowly slipping back into the modern version of the "real world." The one with work and roles and responsibilities and pretenses and cities and traffic and global warming. The one with little room for mystery or magic.

I reached our new home in the Northeast and started the process of settling in. I unpacked my bags and put away my camping gear. I washed the desert out of my clothes and put my guidebook back on the shelf. On the surface, I was saying goodbye to the desert.

In the past, I'd mostly been attracted to hikes that ended at mountain tops or ridges where you earn a good view after an elevation gain. And I'll always love a good vista. However, I feel drawn to canyons on a deeper level than I can quite understand. There is some dichotomy there involving fear counter-balanced by intrigue, curiosity, mystery, wonder.

The fear feels deep seated but subtle, like a distant voice which I can't quite make out with my conscious mind. Like there is something ominous down in the canyon but it has cast a spell on me creating a powerful sense of curiosity and wonder which ultimately will get the best of me.

Part of the fear may be the claustrophobia, and part of it likely has to do with the threat of flash flood. But there is more to it than that. The shadows and darkness, the depth, the feeling that this is an intimate place, deep inside the earth. It feels like I'm a visitor in a place where I shouldn't be.

But after a while in a canyon, I feel that the canyon begins to understand me and me it, and I feel not only welcomed but also protected, that there is an intimate sense of trust that we have developed. Maybe even love.

All told, I was in Utah's canyon country for two weeks. While I was there, I was often in a state of awe and wonder. Even so, I didn't realize how deeply I had been impacted by this trip. My subconscious was processing it long after I'd left the canyons behind. Much of it was played out in my dreams and accessed by me in the space between waking and sleeping. My conscious mind can only really guess at what it all means. I'm sad that I now wake up knowing I'm in my apartment. I miss that feeling of being wrapped up in and protected by the canyon.

I'm looking forward to my next canyon county hangover.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

On how I became a tennis junkie

Note: there is no moral or inspirational message contained in this post. It is simply a recitation of how I came to fall in in love with tennis. This will set the foundation for what will likely be many future posts on the topic. You have been warned.

This Monday I'm heading to Palm Springs to watch a pro tennis tournament. Most Americans probably have not heard of it, because most Americans don't pay attention to tennis*, but it's called the BNP Paribas Open, and typically referred to by folks that go there as Indian Wells. It's classified as a Masters 1000 tournament, of which there are nine per season. They are one step down from the four major tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open), and feature all of the top pro players in the world. The 1000 refers to the amount of points that the winner of the tournament receives, which goes into his/her points total to determine ranking, and therefore seeding at tournaments.

I started playing tennis as a freshman in highschool because I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t into team or contact sports and running was boring, so tennis was the only sport left. I played poorly (but loved it) for three years and worked my way up to number one on the JV team. I would play and go to practice, and then go home and not think about tennis. It was like recess for me: a fun break from the monotony of school. I never watched tennis matches on TV, or read books, or sought out lessons, but I did love it while I was playing. My senior year forced me to play on the varsity team. That team felt way less fun and much more serious, so I decided to start a band instead and quit the tennis team.

Fast forward to January, 2011 (16 years later. I had casually picked up a racquet about five times in this span). Some friends that have maybe even less tennis in their blood than I do mention an epic tennis match they recently watched online. I'm not sure how they found it, but it might have to do with a David Foster Wallace article they'd come across which may have inspired more research into the subject of that article: Roger Federer.* That is speculation, of course. (This article, by the way, may be the most eloquent article ever written about Federer or tennis ever, and is a perfect example of the effect Federer seems to have on anyone that watches him play [which is something between falling madly and dumbly in love and dropping to your knees in reverence to a god]. I highly recommend reading Wallace's article to do full justice to the topic). The video was none other than Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's epic 2008 Wimbledon final - a match that many consider the greatest match of all time. There is indeed even a full book written about this single match by L. John Wertheim (which I also highly recommend reading). This was a rematch of the previous year's final, which was a rematch of the previous year's final (they met in the finals at Wimbledon in both 2006 and 2007, with Federer winning both of them).

The enthusiasm with which my friends spoke of this epic match convinced me that this was indeed worth watching. So one January night, I sat down at our kitchen table, looked it up on YouTube, and proceeded to be blown away by what I saw for the next five hours (again, I highly recommend watching this video on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Or right now. But plan on not going anywhere or getting anything done for five hours. I guarantee you will not be able to leave until it is over).

As I said, it had been about sixteen years since I paid any attention to tennis, which even at that time was mostly peripherally. In the mid 90's it was hard to miss the fact that Agassi and Sampras were two of the top players in the world, mostly because they were American. Other than that and since then, I knew exactly zero players on tour. I'd heard the name Federer, and Nadal also sounded familiar, but had honestly never seen either of them.

In that video, I learned a lot about the character and style of both of them. Federer: smooth, graceful, relaxed, elegant, finesse, fluid. He came across almost regal on that court. And some would say he had every right to act like he owned the place; he'd won the tournament the previous five consecutive years, which tied the record with Bjorn Borg for most consecutive wins at Wimbledon in the Open Era. Here he was, seeking to beat that record and further define himself as the best player in history. Federer glided around the court, moving deceptively quickly with seeming effortlessness. In spite of the intensity of it, he didn't seem to break a sweat.

Nadal seemed to be the polar opposite: powerful, intense, energetic, focused, quick, relentless. Nadal wore what looked like a white t-shirt with cutoff sleeves, bulging muscles everywhere. His energy could not be contained; he paced, fidgeted, fiddled with his shorts, his hair, his shirt. When he paced, he avoided lines, so he seemed almost like a wild animal in a cage. Even while sitting his feet continued to tap intensely. Nadal's tennis strokes seemed to be composed of everything he had, and as he swung he'd grunt louder with each hit, sweat would fly, his whole body would convulse, and his forehand would finish high above his head, imparting extreme spin and speed on the ball at the same time. It looked almost painful. Some understandably compared him to a raging bull.

In spite of these seemingly stark visual contrasts, Nadal could place his shots as elegantly as Federer, and Federer could rip a forehand as powerfully as Nadal. While their appearances and style were in many ways opposite, they both had such well rounded games that it seemed there was nothing that either of them couldn't do on a tennis court.

Watching this match, it felt like every other point would have a rally where one would hit a shot that was undoubtedly a winner, but the other one would some how retrieve it and not only get it back over but return it as a winner. Sometimes this would happen multiple times in one rally.

Well, needless to say, I was transfixed. Jamie came in about halfway through, and she was sucked in as well. We watched the rest of it laughing, taking the lord's name in vain, and generally ooohhh-ing and aahhh-ing in disbelief at what we were seeing. This was a completely different level of tennis than I had previously been able to comprehend. I was inspired. Tennis re-entered my life.

Two months later, Jamie and I are getting away for a week to Palm Springs to escape the endless clouds and rain of the Pacific Northwest. We touch down at the airport, head into the baggage claim area, and decide to stop at the visitor's booth to see what we can do while in town. The elderly woman at the desk asks if we're here to see the tennis tournament. No, we say, we didn't know there was a tennis tournament. Oh, yes, she says, it's a pretty big deal here. Cool, we say, figuring this is expensive or sold out or something distant and unreachable for us poor kids in this wealthy place. We pick up some info about things to do locally, and go to pick up our bags.

At our condo, we haven't had an opportunity to go to the grocery store yet, so we head out to look for a place to eat. We find a Mexican restaurant, have a seat and order some fajitas. I hear some people at a table next to us talking about tennis. They have lanyards around their necks with tickets on them. I ask if they went to the tennis tournament. Yes, they have.
"You guys?" they reply.
"No, we didn't even realize it was happening until we arrived today."
"You should go, it is amazing."
"Hmm. Maybe we will."
"Hey, we're done for tonight but our tickets are still good, and the tournament goes till like 11pm. You're welcome to use our tickets for the rest of the night if you want."
"Yeah, for sure."

So that was how it happened. We finished our meal and raced to the courts, which happened to be just a few blocks away. We arrived in time to see someone named Maria Sharapova beat someone else I didn't know. Seeing these women playing in person was thoroughly engaging. Seeing them alone, dealing with the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of this match, felt extremely intimate. And watching the intensity of their groundstrokes, how much energy they put into each shot, the sounds that those pure tennis strokes made gave me the chills. I was hooked. We came back the next day. And the next. And decided to come back the following year with friends, and the next as well.

Yes, that is Federer, Wawrinka, Malisse, and Dolgopolov right behind us

Since watching that tournament, I've played as much tennis as my schedule and my friends schedules will allow. I don't know exactly what switched in me to make it a different experience than it was in high school, but something changed, and I cannot get enough of the sport. I've read multiple instructional and biographical books on tennis and tennis players, I regularly watch matches online, and religiously search for news about Federer and Nadal and tennis in general.

I think it is fair to say that in some ways it has changed my life. In the past couple of years, I've learned a lot about myself through tennis. I can't think of anything to say that wouldn't sound like one of those cheesy inspirational posters, so I'll just go with it: focus, dedication, the will to never give up, letting go... especially letting go.* There'll be more on all of this later, but in a nutshell, I am a better person because of my relationship with tennis.

Needless to say, I am very excited to return to the tournament next week.

* - Will be discussed in depth in a later entry.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Her birthday is just around the corner. March 4th. Actually, March 5th. But her siblings were all born on the 4th. Incidentally, my mother was also born on the 4th. Her name is Betty. Not my mother. I'm speaking of Betty. Betty's name was Betty.

I dreamed of her last night. I hadn't seen her - awake or asleep - for a long time, other than in pictures. She was my best friend.

Apparently my wife also dreamed of her. This "coincidence" seems suspiciously uncoincidental. My wife was very close with Betty as well. Betty may have played a major role in bringing my wife and I together. Ironically, my wife and I being together and advancing through stages of college and working world is what separated us from Betty.

I believe our relationships with animals often transcend the depth of our relationships with fellow humans. Channeling thoughts through our left brain in order to communicate with language muddles things up with my human relationships. My left brain is constantly working hard in my interactions with other humans. With animals, it feels the opposite. Language can be a tool, for sure, but what's more important is intent - the energy surrounding actions (or stillness).

A dream I had about a year ago about Betty was so simple, but also so powerful. All I remember is stroking her fur. The feel of her fur stayed with me for days. There was nothing else in that dream. I don't even recall any visuals. Just the tactile sensation of my hand on her fur. I cried that morning remembering that sensation. I cry now, remembering it again. Stroking smoothly in the direction of the fur, then back against it, her thick hair resisting and piling up between my fingers. The warmth of her body. The rise and fall of her ribs with her breath. The sense of complete surrender and trust.

When that dream released its hold on me, I didn't think about Betty for awhile. Consciously, anyway. Until today, recalling my dream of her last night. This one was much lighter. I'd brought her to a movie theater. This didn't feel unusual in the dream, but I was aware of the need to keep an eye on her. She was handling the situation very well, hanging out by my seat the whole time. Until she wasn't. She hopped up and started racing around and barking, jumping straight through the middle of the audience from front to back, hopping into and out of people's laps and over empty seats. I tried to stop her while also trying to be quiet and not distract people from the movie any more. I woke before I caught her.

This dream so accurately recreated a feeling I often had with Betty. Substitute hiking trail or logging road or park for movie theater, and the rest is pretty much the same. We'd start out cautiously (or more accurately, I'd start out cautiously), testing the waters to see what kind of mood she was in and how tight of a leash she needed to be on. She'd gain my trust, being respectful other people and other dogs, and so I'd let her off leash. As soon as I'd relax into thinking we got it figured out, she'd take off after another dog or a squirrel or a kid or bird and that connection we maintained was snapped.

I don't know how many times I promised myself I would never let her off leash again, but inevitably, I couldn't keep that promise. Partly because I'd think she'd settled down and gotten more disciplined and better behaved, but partly because it broke my heart to leave her on leash. She was so wild and free off leash. She'd be transported to that other world. One where somewhere in the distance she could hear me but the call of her own nature was too powerful. She'd fly through the woods, and while I often couldn't see her, I could almost always hear her. She sounded like a tornado crashing through the forest, leaves crunching and branches snapping. I feared she'd impale herself on a fallen tree branch, or run off a cliff, but she always made it back safely.

I lost her once. We were hiking some logging roads behind my house. It was a great place to take her, since there were rarely any people or other dogs out there, and I could leave her off leash. On this day, we were going for a full day hike, and she carried her own snacks in dog saddlebags someone had given us as a gift. While I would hike on the road, Betty would spend most of her time crashing through the forest, reappearing every few minutes to make sure we each knew where the other one was. Well, one time, she didn't reappear. It took me awhile to realize that she really wasn't going to pop out of the woods. I hiked back up the road, back and forth over the area between where I'd last seen her and where I turned around. No sign. It got dark. I walked home.

That night, I made up flyers on my computer. I bought plastic sleeves to put them in to protect from the never-ending rain of the Pacific Northwest. In the morning, I posted these flyers around the neighborhood, describing in depth this dog that was my best friend, with a color picture of Betty on a hiking trip. Nothing. Later in the next afternoon, I went back to the logging road. In the place where the road splits to two separate mountains, Betty was standing in the middle of the road, blue saddlebags still attached. She hesitated, seemed unsure of whether to really believe her eyes. When she realized it was me she started to run toward me, then hesitated and got bashful, maybe uncertain of how I was going to react, maybe embarrassed by the situation. I kneeled down and she again ran toward me. We cried and hugged each other. Me with tears and arms, she with her whole body. I was wet from the rain, but she was miserably wet, cold, and dirty. The saddlebags, still mostly intact, were drenched and covered in mud. I thought it must have been torture for this dog to go through the night without food, but knowing that she was carrying food on her back and she just couldn't reach it. We cried and laughed about this as I opened up the bag and gave her her food.

Betty was the 10th of 10 puppies. Her mom (Inga) had been in labor for a full day before I got there, and the pups had started being born in the late afternoon. When I arrived, the 9th had been born stillborn and that was a couple hours before. They thought she was done giving birth. About an hour later, she started straining again, and it appeared another puppy was to be born. Inga was exhausted and seemed like she could barely handle it. She finally forced out a puppy, but in her exhausted state, didn't have the energy to lick the puppy clean to allow it to breathe. The puppy wasn't getting oxygen and we saw its tongue and mouth were turning blue, so we brought it to Inga's face so she could help it. She couldn't. She didn't even open her eyes. We were all inexperienced in this process, but tried to replicate the mother's role, wiping off the puppy's face and body. Sarah, my girlfriend at the time, wiped off the puppy's mouth with the hope that it would simulate the natural process and induce breathing. Puppy turning bluer. We turned the tiny puppy on it's back in our hands, and did the only thing we could think of: CPR. We gave it breaths and pumped it's little chest. Whether it was due to our intervention or that puppy's desire to live or some greater intervention, eventually, the little puppy started breathing. It was after midnight.

Betty was born on March 5th. The rest of her siblings on March 4th. Betty was the runt. She was recognizable because she had a tiny white dot of fur on the top of her head (it made me think in a previous life she'd had a horn there). Otherwise, she was completely black. She was crowded out from feeding from her mother, as all nine of them couldn't feed at the same time. We had to intervene for her to get food. Eventually she was strong enough to take care of herself, but she retained a fear of abandonment and as well as an intense urgency about eating.

I couldn't let Betty go to another home. It felt like everything pointed to Betty and I staying together. But I didn't know if I was ready to have a puppy. I was 22 years old, my future completely uncertain. It wasn't easy, trying to finish up school and working while taking care of a puppy. But both of us and our neuroses complimented each other well.

Early on, I left her in the bathroom when I went to school. I came back to find the bathroom covered in her hair. Somehow she'd gotten everywhere: on the toilet, in the bathtub, in the sink, on the walls(??). She was in a panic that I'd left her. And there were times when I did leave her. For extended periods of time. She went back to live with her siblings and then with my ex-girlfriend when I went to work on an island in the San Juans teaching environmental education for a year. I felt like a horrible father. I hoped she'd understand and still trust me.

Betty went on many adventures with me. Hiking and backpacking and camping. Even river rafting. She hated rafting. She jumped into my lap as I was rowing us through the rapids. She wore a life jacket but that didn't make her feel any safer. We took her on canoe trips to Ross Lake. She'd sit in the middle of the canoe, her head darting around at the sound of a fish jumping, or the sight of a bug on the water, or a squirrel in the trees.

Betty rode in the backseat of a car with my future wife (Jamie) and I as we drove across the state to a friend's cabin. She sat in between us with her head on my lap, then her head on Jamie's lap. The three of us bonded there and on that trip. We had free flowing conversations. I felt as connected and alive as I ever had, the three of us on this backseat adventure. Jamie and Betty took a nap together on the couch at the cabin. Betty loved it.

Betty was in our wedding. She seemed stressed and I was pretty preoccupied, but I loved that she was there. She got a lot of attention, but she only wanted to go home with us.

When Jamie and I both started working full time, I began to feel intense guilt. Betty would stay home all day by herself in our 900 square foot home. She was an energetic dog and loved running and playing. I felt like it must be torture for her to stay inside all day. But she was so loving and understanding when I'd return from work. She didn't hold any grudges.

Still, the guilt began to feel unbearable. Jamie and I talked about it. She was feeling the same way. We loved this dog to death, but felt like we were keeping her imprisoned, and when we got home we were often so tired that we didn't have the energy to take her out running, or there wasn't any daylight left to get out in. One night, I posted a craigslist ad, sharing Betty's nuances and beautiful characteristics and my favorite pictures of her. It was just a feeler, to see if this was even a possibility. A couple days later a family called. The lived just a few minutes away. They had a young boy, about 8 years old, and wanted a companion for him. The wife was a vet's assistant. This seemed like it might be a good situation for her, with a boy to give her endless attention, and the mom to take care of her.

We brought Betty over to get a sense of how she'd feel at that home. We hung out, Jamie and I trying to avoid really feeling what might be about to happen. Betty exploring this new place and not sure what to make of it. She finally lied down in the living room. The boy pet her and got more comfortable with her, and tried to cuddle with her but she growled at him. When Betty was at all overwhelmed, she didn't like it when new people got in her space. A couple times she'd snapped at kids. Never viciously, but just to send a message. It made me love her even more.

In spite of the growl, they called us back the next day to say they'd like to come pick her up. We quietly put together all of her stuff, cerebrally knowing what was about to happen, but still not wanting to let ourselves feel it. Her new family took her bed and food and the couple toys she had that hadn't been touched by her (Betty was the most determined chewer of toys I've ever known. As soon as she was presented with a toy, she maintained complete focus and would not stop tearing apart the toy until it was strewn about in tiny unchewable pieces strewn about on the floor. She especially loved toys with filling. She'd instantly rip a hole in it and then start pulling out and flipping up in the air bits of cotton filling until it was empty. She even chewed up tennis balls and golf balls with this determination. I never found a toy that she couldn't destroy).

The new family left with her. Betty was a good sport, going on her next adventure. Whether she knew what was happening I don't know. I think she probably did.

The family called a few days later. Betty had bit the boy on the head. Nothing serious, mostly just a defensive snap, but they were concerned and wanted to keep me in the loop in case it wasn't going to work out. I didn't know if I could handle doing the whole process again if that were to happen.

Our house felt empty. I felt a different guilt. I felt like I'd disappointed Betty, and not lived up to my responsibility as her father. I'd abandoned her, and realized her worst fears. But after a week of no calls, then another week, I started feeling guilt lift a little. I realize now that I'll never lose the guilt of not being a good father, and handing Betty off to another family, but I didn't feel the daily guilt of her life wasting away in an unhappy situation. Betty loved us, and we loved her. I can't say if our love was enough for her to be happy living with us. My hope and my belief (on good days) is that she got both love and a healthy environment with lots of attention and time outside with her new family.

I tried to get in touch with the family a couple times just to check in and see how she was. The last I heard, the parents had gotten divorced but the mom and son were doing well and Betty was doing great.

In a little over a week, she'll be 13. It's been five years since I saw her. I don't know if she's still alive. My more recent attempts to get in touch with the family have received no returned calls. I respect their desire for privacy. They don't owe me anything. I wish them the best.

Betty will always be a part of me. We knew each other so well. Just by looking in each other's eyes we knew where the other one was. We grew up together. I wonder if she remembers me. Part of me hopes she does, and part of me hopes she fell in love with her boy and forgot about me. I will certainly remember her forever.

Happy almost birthday, sweet puppy.