19 June 2012

Hoover as Wise Sage

Ian and I are both feeling better today than yesterday. In part, the huge outpouring of support from our friends and relatives, many sharing Hoover stories with us, has filled our hearts with sweetness. For another part, though, I think we’re feeling better because of some help I got from "Amelia" last night. I have named my home-processed medication Amelia because it ameliorates all sorts of cancer symptoms, and I can refer to it--her--more openly without running any risk of the wrong person hearing me, which isn't a worry of mine, but is a worry of some of the dispensaries. The laws recognizing the medical benefits of a usually illegal drug are still pretty incomplete. 

One of the things Amelia helps me do, in addition to taking away my chemo-induced anxiety and nausea, is to quiet down my left brain—the short-term memory part, which can be tiresome since I frequently can’t hold onto the thread of a story long enough to tell it—but more importantly, the judging, doubting, problem-creating part that pulls me, ever so easily, out of the moment, and creates troubles for me so subtly that I’m only now, after several months of friendship with Amelia, starting to recognize those troubles as self-created, and therefore entirely within my control. 

Anyway, as my left brain's grip on my reality lessened last night and my right brain kicked it up a notch, the thought came that, instead of seeing Hoover as something I should feel guilty about—
because I insisted we get a puppy when I knew, deep down, that my health
was failing;
because therefore Hoover had a disjointed, rootless, anxious beginning in
our family;
because he needed more exercise than either Ian or I could provide for him in
the city;
because he pissed me off every time he opened his mouth to bark hysterically
at other dogs;
because Spackle felt marginalized and reproachful—wasn’t he enough dog for
because regardless of how he appeared to adjust, I wasn’t able to give Spackle
enough attention, because Hoover demanded so much;
because I couldn’t hug and pet and cuddle them both at the same time;
because I was afraid every time we went out at Jerome Creek that Hoover would get lost in the Idaho woods and we wouldn’t know what had happened to him;
because I wouldn’t be able to save him from himself and he’d be hit by a car
on Orcas—
instead of all that guilt and anxiety that I was carrying around—which added a malignant self-destructive feeling of personal responsibility to my grief—I could see Hoover as a teacher, who was in my life only as long as he needed to be for me to learn the lessons he came to teach.

Presumably every animate thing in our lives has the potential to teach us; presumably we're learning from these things all the time, whether or not we have any awareness of it. In the case of Hoover on the land Saturday evening, less than a minute after I said to Ian "there's nothing I can do," i.e. "I cannot control this dog any more than I can control any other aspect of life, much as I might try," Hoover "coincidentally" leaped right in front of a huge van and disappeared from our lives. I had passed my class. 

EVERYTHING was set up for a quick and easy demise for that dog: our proximity to the Copse, his joyful and complete (read: reckless) abandon, the particular van driver (although Jorgen probably still mourns his role), the cleared patch of ground inside the Copse with the mossy headstone within easy reach, the pick-ax and shovel close by, and the islander to drive Ian while I stayed with the dogs. The shovel handle broke on Ian's last scoop of dirt from the hole, and we covered Hoover up by hand.

Hoover taught me about more than just the illusion of control: he taught me the necessity of making careful decisions, and listening internally to more than just egotistical desire. He taught me how my own angry outbursts--at other drivers, at recalcitrant objects, at hysterically barking dogs--affected the energy of the beings around me. He taught me that one can deeply love something that one has a lot of issues with. He taught me that pretty much everyone has redeeming features. He taught me that all I can do is live to the best of my own abilities.

That dog was a huge benefactor, and we were lucky to have him in our lives. And now, guilt assuaged, I can mourn cleanly the loss of his chin on my knee as I play the piano; the loss of his glossy, silky coat and his chinchilla-soft ears (oh, to pet those ears again! My palms ache!); the loss of my comforter in times of sadness (Spackle comforts by staying calm and collected on his bed; Hoover comforted by resting his head on my body somewhere); the enthusiastic—frequently too enthusiastic (the roof of my mouth DID NOT need to be cleaned by a dog tongue)—kisses; the clarity of his desires: to RUN! to CHASE! to CHEW! to EAT!

Hoover, as Ian says, was a bit like James Dean—beautiful, troubled, talented, loved—and he went out like a bottle rocket.


17 June 2012

Dog Gone.

We went up to Orcas Island this weekend planning to have an easy time of it. We brought along some recycled Sten (Ikea shelving that has since been replaced with the infinitely inferior Gorm), to set up in the Dacha so that we would have a place to put things other than on the floor, or on our loft bed. It was graduation weekend on Orcas on Saturday, in addition to Father’s Day Sunday, and so we were expecting a lot of traffic for the morning ferries. We left Seattle at 6am and made it to Anacortes just after the 7:35 boat had sailed; slightly too good of time. We circled back into town and had some breakfast quiche, then got in line at a more reasonable 8:45am.

Ian took the dogs out to walk on the beach; I stayed put in the warm, comfortable car.

On the island Hoover, as usual, squoke continuously from the time we left the ferry to the time we arrived on our land. As usual, he exploded out of the back of the car as we opened it, side-swiping Spackle (who was, geriatrically, trying himself to explode out of the car), and raced along the beaten-down grass we’d been driving on, heading back up toward the road. He always does this, but recently we’ve been trying to call him back to us sooner, in the hopes that he’ll respond better if he hasn’t put quite the distance between us. He circled back, we unloaded the car, and we went about our business putting up shelving and organizing the interior of our little cabin.

We had a leisurely lunch at Rose’s in Eastsound, then a lively conversation with John, the proprietor and fellow West Sounder. After a couple more errands we were back on the land, in time for a brief lie-flat on our loft bed, dogs lying below. True to form, Spackle was comfortably dozing on one of the dog beds. Hoover made himself at home on the little “sofa” I’d made for myself out of a folded camp mattress.

Close to five, we fed the dogs partial meals (they think they’re starving after 3:30pm every day. They’re fed at 6:00), and left for the West Sound Community Barbeque, a charmingly low-key and quirky event, marking the beginning of the summer season and the end of the monthly potlucks for the year.

We walked back to the Dacha a little after 7:30, and, even though we were completely worn out from our day of driving and being outside with mostly-strangers and getting very wet—either from above or from the grass we walked through—we decided to take an evening stroll with the dogs up to the north end, to look at the nut trees and just walk the land. The day, while not sunny, had been very beautiful, with mists and fogs drifting and coalescing all over the islands, shrouding familiar sights in diaphanous veils. Mournful tones from the ferries added to the atmosphere.

The dogs gulped down their second half-dinners (with a little more added because they were getting more exercise than usual), and we left for our walk. Hoover, who had had a difficult Friday in Seattle with very little attention from us and a lot of time outside in barker mode, vociferously ranting at neighbor dogs who happened by his domain, was delighted to be out and free. He tore through grass so long that we frequently lost sight of him as we trudged along, wet vegetation soaking my knees and thighs so completely that water ran down my legs and into my boots. Spackle stayed in step with us but Hoover cavorted, galloping in large loops, his location sometimes identifiable by his curved tail and a hint of sleek back, but sometimes only by the rhythmic clacking of tags. We tried to keep him around, calling occasionally or giving a whistle so that he wouldn’t forget completely that he was a domesticated dog, but aside from one brief visit when I held his collar long enough for Ian to take a picture (Hoover was sopping wet and covered with grass seed), the dog was in his own delectable world.

As we walked, Ian and I were occasionally searching the ground for tansy, checking the places he’d sprayed at Memorial Day, and in general enjoying this beautiful place, and after the pictures of the wet dog, I was briefly distracted by something, and when I thought about Hoover again, I couldn’t find him. There are deer all over the place right now on Orcas, and Hoover has always had a weakness for chasing anything that would run away from him. I thought he had probably chased a deer across the road; we were meandering up the middle of our northernmost 10 acres and I didn’t see any sign of the dog. “I think there’s nothing we can do,” I said to Ian, and he agreed. It was after 8:00pm; everything was quiet.

Suddenly I heard a car coming down the road, and I had two thoughts in quick succession: Don’t call Hoover, in case he’s gone across the road, and “HOOVER STAY!!!” with all my mental might.

And then I heard a loud WHUMP. And then I was running. Up the hill. Through the long, desperately clinging, sopping wet grass. Straight through a rose bush and up a rock embankment to our northern driveway. And onto the road. Where my puppy lay still and broken on the other side of the street.

I screamed, and screamed, and screamed as I ran to him, his body warm and soft, and his heart still beating. A car stopped, Ian and Spackle were there, a van drove up from the other direction. The driver of the van jumped out and ran over as my screams ran out, and said “OH NO! I never saw him! I thought I hit a deer!” and burst into tears.

“He’s not dead,” I wailed, “he’s not dead!” and the man sobbed “Do you want me to finish him?” and I said yes, yes, please, and he was into his van and back in seconds with a really sharp knife, and he slit Hoover’s collar and his jugular. Hoover’s heart stopped.

The first man who had stopped directed a few cars around us, then, after we were across the road and Spackle was settled with me, he drove Ian down to the Dacha to get our car and some tools. The van driver, Jorgen, about our age, helped me carry Hoover across the road while we cried together. “I’m a hunter,” said Jorgen. “But I only hunt deer! I’ve never killed anything that I didn’t mean to!”

“But you didn’t mean to kill Hoover,” I said, and it made sense at the time. Jorgen stayed with me for a little longer, and I told him how utterly joyful Hoover had been that evening, how manic, in fact, how irrepressible. I told him how much Hoover hated living in the city, how he yearned to run but couldn’t abide strange dogs, and so couldn’t run unless we were out, free, on Orcas or in Jerome Creek or Maple Valley. I told him, over and over again, how sorry I was. How this was not his fault. How sorry I was.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry! I never saw him,” said Jorgen. We hugged one final time and he left as Ian drove up.

Ian and I buried Hoover in the Copse. We carried him in and set him on the overgrown trail; it was dim inside the circle of trees and wild rose, and we wanted to get him buried before dark. A perfect place, probably cleared by the deer he’d been chasing around minutes before, presented itself to us and we dug down deep, curling our puppy into a button at the bottom and covering him with a thick blanket of dirt and a mossy rock.

Spackle, after puppyhood, became a solid, calm dog who teaches us that there’s no point in getting worked up; things will be okay.

Hoover, who at 4 ½ was still very much a fly-off-the-handle youth, nevertheless taught us to embrace life’s joys utterly.  

Rest in exultation and unbridled enthusiasm, Hoover.

Rest in your peace.

03 June 2012

Too Delectable to Keep to Myself

A sure sign that days are long and summer is approaching is the appearance, in the filtered light of the local forests, of tall canes bearing light orange-colored, blackberry-like berries. These berries, which seem to mimic another local delicacy in tint, are called salmon berries, and one can see the resemblance to fish eggs. Although they can be eaten in their light orange state, they are more enjoyed as they darken to deep red-blacks, individual seed cases rimmed with orange, giving the fruit the appearance, really close in, of molten lava. Then you start to taste the tannins and the sugars, sweet and wine-dark. Ian and I got lucky with salmon berries over at Discovery Park today, and, although I really do think these pictures need to be shared with the world (Hi, Joel!) because of how objectively beautiful they are, I will also be honest and admit that I'm thumbing my nose at you and saying "Nyaa, nyaaa!" Because, you can SEE how lucky I am!