A nose for stained glass

The dogs have left their marks on the bottom panes of the kitchen window.

The kitchen windows of our early 1900s farmhouse stretch from just above the pine floor almost to the ceiling. So far as we know their rope weights and big panes of wavy glass are as old as the house. One faces south and is first to catch the morning sun. The two on either side of my desk here look west, coming alive as the evening light pours in across a green expanse of hayfield. Just before the sun slips below the tree line, every speck on the four big panes pops out in vivid relief.

Averse to curtains or shades and loving that light, we clean the windows every few months – with the exception of two ovals on the lower panes liberally decorated with the nose prints of beloved dogs past and present.

When we were all indoors, our canines took to sitting at the windows to the left and right of me, watching what transpired through the pane. Sometimes they paid rapt attention (squirrel scrambling up bird feeder! deer crossing hayfield! visitor in drive! visitor in drive!!). Other times they attended the scene with only casual interest (leaves falling, wind parting grass, more birds, yawn).

Whenever we'd motor off leaving the dogs behind, they'd watch our progress down the gravel drive from those windows, eyes full of longing, noses pressed to panes. Print by moist print, the bottom foot or so of window glass became smudged and clouded with patterns of watchful canine exhalation. Oscar, Susie, Ace, Alice, and Allie have all passed away, but their jumbled signatures remain. For now, Omaha – a lively 1-year-old with a sizable nose – carries on the partly learned, partly instinctual tradition quite capably all by himself.

Neither Charlie nor I ever voiced a conscious decision to preserve those nose prints, but both of us clean around the sacrosanct clouds. The pane has become our private, albeit humble, home version of the outer paved courtyard of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., where generations of Hollywood stars left their hand and footprints for posterity. Our canines have no claims to fame, but we think they are no less deserving of having their prints honored than Tom Mix's "Tony," Gene Autry's "Champion," Roy Rogers's "Trigger," and "Lassie" – all of whom have left a hoof or paw impression at Grauman's.

Even better and more appropriately, given our canines lack of worldly renown and experience, they left their more ephemeral, but still enduring, marks right here at home.

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