Taking Care of the Dogs, and What a Reading can Teach You.

Heather Lende reads from her new book at 49 Alaska Writing Center’s Raven Place.

For my first reading in Anchorage the microphone was broken. One thing I learned from the accident I write about in Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs is to expect the worst and plan for surviving it. I pay very close attention now to the safety talk on airplanes. I know where the exits are and which way the door handles turn. I know where the fire escapes are in my hotel. I was walking on the Anchorage Coastal Trail following a reading at Title Wave this morning and mentally platted an earthquake escape route.

But I hadn’t imagined a reading with a broken microphone.

At the same time, I didn’t come all this way not to read. And since it was the first stop on the tour, I didn’t want to begin on a bad note. So I stood in the middle of the crowd and used my best stage voice. I have been in enough community plays to understand the importance of projecting so they can hear you in the back row.

But reading loudly about your mother dying is a challenge. I chose to read that chapter because it explains the title. “Take good care of the garden and the dogs,” were my mother’s last words. It is hard to read about that softly. I wasn’t sure I could do it loudly. It helped that I had some friends there. I must have done okay, because they sold all the books they had ordered, and there were piles.

I have also read from Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs in Haines, and that was the hardest audience. I guess it’s natural to want your friends to really like what you do. At the Haines event, I learned some things about the pieces I read that I hadn’t realized. For instance, the whole garden theme, and the whole taking good care of dogs (and people) theme. I am sort of embarrassed to admit this, but I was surprised when reading aloud, how much that all came together in the title chapter, which I had written more intuitively than thematically.

The Title Wave reading brought that even more to light, since I read the Good Neighbors chapter, too, and realized that it contains a bad dog, and gardening details, and a discussion of how we respond to the proverbial bad dogs among us. (My answer? We take good care of them. At least that’s what we must do if we are all to live in peace and harmony someday.)

Then, this morning, on the Coastal Trail, I heard fireworks, and a golden retriever puppy raced by me dragging a leash. I heard children screaming, “Holly, Holly, come back!” So I took off after the puppy, and some folks on bikes passed me and I asked them to catch the dog and wait, and I’d run her back to the kids. About a mile and a half later, I found the bikers and Holly, and I picked her up and trotted toward the sounds of children calling. (They had found a dad, and bicycles and were coming my way.) I handed the pup over to a freckled little boy whose face was wet with tears and he hugged and kissed that sweet, scared puppy.

Sometimes when you write things down, they have way of happening. Often, words gain meaning the more times you read them, even words you wrote yourself. On my way back, I thought of my mother’s last words, and of that little boy’s face, and how I just did what she said to do, and how that advice had made someone very, very happy, and I started to cry.

4 thoughts on “Taking Care of the Dogs, and What a Reading can Teach You.”

  1. Heather, I was at Title Wave Thursday night at Title Wave and I think we all felt for you (along with a bit of irritation at Title Wave for not having checked out the microphone before hand and for not having an extra battery….) but you were grace under that pressure – which I am sure did not surprise your readers in the audience. Your blog about the puppy on the Coastal Trail made me cry too – take care on the rest of your tour.

  2. Thank you for sharing this story – now I need to run and get a tissue… I'm looking forward to reading your new book.

  3. The story about the runaway puppy was a lovely bonus for those of us who heard your reading at Raven Place on Saturday evening. Thanks for that, and thanks for your always entertaining and always exceptional writing.

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