More than once I’ve seen a dog waiting for its owner outside a café practically implode with worry. “Oh, God, what if she doesn’t come back this time? What will I do? Who will take care of me? I loved her so much and now she’s gone and I’m tied to a post surrounded by people who don’t look or smell or sound like her at all.” And when she does come, what a flurry of commotion, what a chorus of yelping and cooing and leaps straight up into the air! It’s almost unbearable, this sudden fullness after such total loss, to see the world made whole again by a hand on the shoulder and a voice like no other. ~John Brehm from “If Feeling Isn’t In It”
We all need to love like this: so binding, so complete, so profoundly filling: its loss empties our world of all meaning as our tears run dry.
So abandoned, we woeful wait, longing for the return of the gentle voice, the familiar smile, the tender touch and encompassing embrace.
With unexpected restoration when we’ve done nothing to deserve it- we leap and shout with unsurpassed joy, the world without form and void made whole again.
The next morning I felt that our house had been lifted away from its foundation during the night, and was now adrift, though so heavy it drew a foot or more of whatever was buoying it up, not water but something cold and thin and clear, silence riffling its surface as the house began to turn on a strengthening current, leaving, taking my wife and me with it, and though it had never occurred to me until that moment, for fifteen years our dog had held down what we had by pressing his belly to the floors, his front paws, too, and with him gone the house had begun to float out onto emptiness, no solid ground in sight. ~Ted Kooser “Death of a Dog”
God… sat down for a moment when the dog was finished in order to watch it… and to know that it was good, that nothing was lacking, that it could not have been made better.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke
Twelve dogs have left pawprints on my heart over my sixty five years. Each dog of my childhood was my best friend to confide in, take walks with, to cry into the ruff of their furry necks. They always listened compassionately and never judged, even when I was in the wrong.
There was a thirteen year long dogless period while I went to college, medical school and residency, living in inhospitable urban environs, working unsuitable dog-keeping hours. Those were sad years indeed with no dog hair to vacuum or slobber to mop up.
The first dog in our married life on the farm, a Tervuren, rode home from Oregon on my pregnant lap in the passenger seat, all sixty five pounds of her. I think our first born son has a permanent dog imprint on his side as a result, and it certainly resulted in his dog-loving brain yet he has lived ten years in the largest city on earth, sadly dogless.
Six dogs and thirty four years later, we are currently owned by two gentle hobbit-souled Cardigan Corgis who are middle-aged and healthy. I hope they stick around with us for a few more years, but we have felt the unmooring of our home’s foundation when we have lost, one by one, our dog friends in the past, usually in ripe old age.
Dogs could not have been made better among God’s creations because they love unconditionally, forgive without holding a grudge and show unbounded joy umpteen times a day. It’s true–it would be nice if they would poop only in discrete off-the-path areas, use their teeth only for dog designated chew toys, and vocalize only briefly when greeting and warning, but hey, nobody is perfect.
So to Buttons, Sammy, Sandy, Sparky, Toby, Tango, Talley, Makai, Frodo, Dylan Thomas, Sam Gamgee and Homer: God sat down for a moment when He made you and saw that it was good.
You’ve been good for me too, holding fast my foundation to the ground..
One day thru the primeval wood A calf walked home, as good calves should, But made a trail all bent askew, A crooked trail, as all calves do. Since then three hundred years have fled, And I infer, the calf is dead; But still behind he left his trail, And thereon hangs my mortal tale.
The trail was taken up next day By a lone dog that passed that way, And then a wise bell-weather sheep Sliding into a rut now deep, Pursued that trail over hill and glade Thru those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out, And dodged and turned and bent about, and uttered words of righteous wrath Because “twas such a crooked path” But still they follow-do not laugh- The first migrations of that calf.
The forest became a lane That bent and turned and turned again; This crooked lane became a road where many a poor horse with his load Toiled on beneath the burning sun, And traveled some three miles in one.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet, The village road became a street, And this, before the men were aware, A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon a central street was this In a renowned metropolis; And men two centuries and a half Followed the wanderings of this calf.
Each day a hundred thousand strong Followed this zigzag calf along; And over his crooked journey went The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led By one poor calf, three centuries dead. For just such reverence is lent To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach Were I ordained and called to preach.
For men are prone to go it blind Along the calf paths of the mind; And work away from sun to sun To do what other men have done. ~Sam Walter Foss “Cow Path”
Each day and night fly by more swiftly than the previous. It is as if minutes are exponentially more compressed than in the past, hurtling forward to an inevitable destination, but the estimated time of arrival is unknown.
I struggle in late middle age to keep perspective while traveling this road of life, looking back at where I’ve been, and hoping for the best about where I’m headed, and trying to stick to the winding path ahead without deviation. My regret about this journey is that I haven’t stopped nearly often enough to simply take in the scenery, listen to the birds, smell the orchard blossoms, and feel the grass under my bare feet.
It is the conundrum of following the cow path laid down before me, traveling the well-worn pathway of precedent.
Nevertheless, as with all cow paths, there may have been no greater reason for the bend or curve than a patch of tall appealing grass at one time, or a good itching spot on a tree trunk or a boulder obstructing the way. Still I follow the curve, dodge the boulder, tread the zig zag. My path may appear random without focus on the destination and that’s okay: I need to stop once in awhile, settle down for a really good nap, enjoy a particularly fine meal, read an insightful book, or play a lovely hymn. It is not which path I’ve traveled to my eventual destination but the quality of my journey along the way.
I enjoy the twists and turns of life if I take the time to appreciate them. Just maybe – I’ll throw in a few curves of my own for those who are following behind me.
Remember that meadow up above the ridge where the dog ran around in circles and we were tired from the climb up and everything was tilted sideways including the running in circles of the ecstatic dog his bright tongue lapping at the air and we were leaning into the heart of the field where no battle ever took place where no farmer ever bothered to turn the soil yet everything seemed to have happened there everything seemed to be happening at once enough so we’ve never forgotten how full the field was and how we were there too and full ~Tim Nolan “The Field”
This hill on our farm is for running, for sunning, for lolling, for rolling, for pondering, for wandering.
With dogs or without them, our time spent here is full and fulfilling.
Coyotes have the gift of seldom being seen; they keep to the edge of vision and beyond, loping in and out of cover on the plains and highlands. And at night, when the whole world belongs to them, they parley at the river with the dogs, their higher, sharper voices full of authority and rebuke. They are an old council of clowns, and they are listened to. N. Scott Momaday in House Made of Dawn
On summer nights like this, with light just fading from the sky at 10 PM, it will be only a few minutes before the local coyote choristers begin their nightly serenade. This can be a surround-sound experience with coyote packs echoing back and forth from distant corners of farmland and woodlands below the hill where we live. Their shrill yipping and yapping song, with hollering, chortling and hooting, is impossible to ignore just as it is time to go to sleep. Like priming a pump, the rise and fall of the coyote ensemble inevitably inspires the farm dogs to tune up, exercising their vocal cords with a howl or two. It becomes canine bedlam outside our windows, right at bedtime.
Coyotes send a mixed message: they insist on being heard and listened to, yet are seldom visible. In a rare sighting, it is a low slung slinking form scooting across a field with a rabbit in its mouth, or patiently waiting at a fence line as a new calf is born, hoping to duck in and grab the placenta before the cow notices. They are not particularly brave nor bold yet they insist on commanding attention and ear drums.
Irritating not only for their ill-timed concerts, they also have a propensity for thieving sleeping chickens from coop roosts in the night. Despite my disgust for that behavior, I have to grudgingly admire such independent self sufficient characters. They do know how to take care of themselves in a dog-eat-dog world, primarily by eating whatever they can get their jaws around and carry away, no matter who it may belong to.
I can just envision this old council of clowns gathered around giggling and sniggering in the dark at their own silly stories of the hunt. As I listen from a distance, sometimes just a few yards, sometimes miles, I wish to be let in on the joke.
Just once I want to howl back, plaintive, pleading, pejorative–another bozo adding my voice to the noisy nocturnal chorus– hoping somebody, anybody might listen, hear and join in the laughter.
“Somehow the question of identity is always emerging on this farm. I found the body of a barn swallow lying just inside the barn the other day. There was no telling how it died. I noticed the intense particularity of its body, its sharply cut wings, the way its plumage seemed to glow with some residual celestial heat. But it was the particularity of death, not the identity of life, a body in stillness while all around me its kin were twittering and swooping in and out of the hayloft.” ~Verlyn Klinkenborg from “A Swallow in the Hand”
Stumbling across death on the farm is always startling. The farm teems with life 24 hours a day: frogs croaking, dawn bird chorus, insects buzzing and crawling, cats stalking, coyotes yipping, raccoons stealing, dogs wagging, horses galloping, owls and bats swooping. Amid so much activity, it doesn’t seem possible that some simply cease to be.
Yet, as often as it happens, there is a unique particularity about the end of life. The stillness of death permits a full appreciation of who this individual is, the remarkable care that went into creating every molecule of its being.
The sudden presence of absence is a stark and necessary reminder of what I myself want to leave behind.
In truth, we will glow with residual celestial heat, still warm even after our hearts cease to beat. We are distinct individuals in our own particularity: living and dying at a particular time and place as a unique creature, given a chance in the cosmos of infinite possibilities. The Creator knit us together specially, every feather, hair, bone and sinew a unique work of His Hands, and what we do with what we are given is the stuff between our first God-given breath and our last, handed back to Him.
May we not squander our particular role in the history of the world.