We’re back on the road! It’s been almost three months since Leo’s accident and emergency surgery. Just to see him without the medical harness walking down the dirt road for the first time, heals my own heart. His recovery has been hard work – we’ve spent a lot of quality time together under the dining room table, his safe spot – but feeling the wind in our faces, hearing the rustling of the trees, and seeing the sun shining is a gift. His coat is not fully grown in since the surgery but his wiggle is full of spunk. I have to admit that I cried when he looked at me at the start of the road as if to ask, really Mom? It’s okay to walk again? I am so grateful for the care he received and for the love of this sweet faithful boy. Actually, I’m just plain grateful….
We walked yesterday up the dirt roads around the Menemsha docks. The sun was brilliant, just warm enough to remind us that summer only just ended and autumn was beginning, and the air was calm.
We took our time walking up the road to the Coast Guard Station. No rush this time. This walk wasn’t for exercise, but just to enjoy the late afternoon. We passed the sweet cottage up there, a very special place, almost like a storybook house, and little boats, some still moving out and others coming in.
And then we walked on the dock that ran behind the quaint food stand that was closed and the little general store. There was a stillness, a certain peace. Leo kept a good pace, stopping occasionally to sniff patches of grass where other dogs had stopped. But it was on the way back to the car, while still on the narrow cement slab dock that he surprised me.
A car was creeping towards us. I moved closer to the side of the dock and pulled Leo nearer to me. There were only a couple of slats of wood between my legs and the boats lined up in the water below a good eight to ten feet down.
Leo looked at the car, then at me, and he moved around me so he was right there between me and the edge of the dock. There was only a small open space between him and the boats and water below. And then he did it. He leaned his entire body, all his weight against my legs and pressed hard towards the inside of the dock to keep me from getting too close to the edge.
Oh Leo, once again, you put me first. You protected me. To think, you’ll be six later this week. Happy Birthday sweet Leo. Happy Birthday dear boy.
Leo and I were walking on the cliff overlooking the sea, enjoying the brilliant sun and lovely breeze refreshing the hot air, but I kept thinking back to the previous afternoon while we were waiting for his vet to see him. Ours was a routine visit, nothing to worry about, so I was spending the time looking at the other animals in the waiting room with their people.
The young man who walked in carrying his motionless dog sat next to us. He asked if Leo was friendly because his dog was very old. Yes, I could see the dog’s white face and the large tumors protruding from both sides.
“Leo’s very friendly and very tolerant,” I said, and the man put his dog down next to us. Leo immediately sat down, then lay down with his head on the floor. He couldn’t get down any further if he tried. I knew he was showing not submission this time, but reverence for the old sick dog.
The old dog sniffed Leo’s face and front paws, licked his nose, checked out his forehead. Leo stayed quiet, calm, perfectly still, accepting the dog’s overtures. The man kissed his dog’s head, said, “You be good now, okay?” And then they were called in to see the doctor. They called for ‘Honey.’ The old dog was Honey. Sweet.
Twenty minutes later the man came out of the back room, no dog, just his dog’s red leash in his hand. He was wearing sunglasses and I could tell he’d been crying. Leo sat up. I sat straighter. That’s when I realized that Leo was Honey’s last dog experience. How fortunate for Honey to be with Leo those last minutes.
I kissed Leo and thanked him for being such a caring, loving dog. He must have known the dog was dying, the tumors too big, too far gone. Not me. I didn’t get it until the man came out without Honey. I wept for Honey and the now dog-less man.
Oh Leo, you are a smart, spiritual being. What a gift you are!
45. When I hurt my knee a couple of weeks ago I worried that I wouldn’t be able to walk with Leo.We both counted on our walks, so I decided to try to take walks anyway. Like I said before, Leo’s more Muppet than canine. Other dogs pull. Other dogs rush ahead and repeat what they’ve always done. They keep up the brisk pace. They don’t ‘think’ about mom back there limping along trying to keep up. They don’t make it easy for her.
But that’s not Leo. I explained to him that I had to go slowly. I showed him my sore knee.
Now dogs can’t understand that sort of thing, can they? I didn’t think so, but sure enough, Leo got it. He rambled along at a very slow careful pace. He stopped every few steps and looked back at me to make sure I was okay. He seemed content to stop, sniff around, wait, proceed. He never once pulled, never rushed along at our usual clip. And he didn’t ‘complain’ about turning back too soon like he would if we were really walking our regular walks. He just accepted the new way and made the best of it.
How can a dog be such a best friend? How can he be so connected to me? It comes with breeding, great breeding and a lot of love. Bless you Leo. And thank you Sunny for giving us these beautiful pals.
44. So the best part of walking right now is the awakening, the way the trees are budding and the daffs are finally in bloom.We walked on East Chop again, our favorite place, and not only was Nature bursting, but there were people opening houses, taking boards off windows that face the northeast winds, sweeping porches.
It feels hopeful to see life coming back like that. This winter was hard, grayer than most, cold and dreary, nuclear winter, I called it. But now, Leo pranced along and I felt my own body picking up the speed, breathing in more deeply, appreciating the sun’s glint on the sea just a little bit more.
Today was the memorial celebration of my best friend’s life, the friend I lost in December. I struggled with the juxtaposition of her life gone and this sense of awakening. Perhaps that’s all there is though, this particular duo, this ending and beginning. But it was the music that got me, the way the family sang and played and I could not only hear their hearts calling but I could hear the heart of my dear Chris, so far away and yet so much a part of all of us. Rest in peace dear Chris. I miss you.
It struck me, as I watched Leo trotting across the smooth sand at Menemsha Beach yesterday, that I could learn something from him, something about life being short and staying in the day. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and bright and very warm, unusually so considering the winter we’ve had. The sea was crystal clear, the beach deserted and just perfect. We were happy.
Leo is five now, enjoying middle age, a gentleman, wise and well trained and especially loving. Bred to be a therapy dog, he has that special something that keeps him connected to me in a way my other dogs, real canines, never attached. Sometimes I think he’s more Muppet than dog. He doesn’t live to run away like the Springers did. He doesn’t have that ancestral canine calling to catch birds and bring them home to my doorstep or to chase deer.
Leo’s calling is to be present, to be with me, to understand on some gut level that I need his love. He doesn’t worry about the future, what will be, what will happen, when, where, how. He is content in the day, more than content really. He is exuberant in his joy, with his love and attention. He reminds me that today is important, that depth of connection right now is vital. He reminds me about trust and loyalty. He reminds me about sharing beauty and love and gratitude.
41 – No walk today except to take Leo out to the beech grove. Strong winds throw the flakes in our faces, heavy wet snow plops from the tree limbs onto our heads. Leo does his thing and we run inside. Well, we don’t exactly run. The snow’s too deep to move that quickly.
Leo loves the snow, loves eating it, jumping in it. It’s beautiful, a winter wonderland the way the white limbs hang down, the way the bamboo bows to touch the drifts, but lately I really need our walks and sitting by the fire doesn’t quite cut it.
Breathing in, breathing out, I tell myself to stay in the moment, in the snowy day. I pat Leo, stoke the fire, sip some tea. And take him out for another go of it. Everything is coated white now, but in a few days the crocuses will be uncovered, the snowdrops, the daffs. That’s the thing about March snow. It comes and it goes.
40 – Herb and I and the Springer Zeke were walking on the beach, January 2007, an icy, windy afternoon. Herb’s cancer hadn’t yet returned and we were feeling blessed. We knew it would return, but we had this day, this time…. The sun was brilliant, the air salty fresh.
We held hands and walked while Zeke scampered ahead chasing a tennis ball. Herb dropped the towel he was carrying in case Zeke’s feet got too wet. He wouldn’t need it. He was throwing the ball so the dog would stay on the sand. But then wait, Zeke started running ahead and then he turned and ran straight into the sea! Just like that he was swimming hard away from the shore.
We ran to catch up, to call him out of the water. But he didn’t respond. He was searching for the tennis ball in the water, but the ball was still on the sand. Zeke bobbed in the choppy sea, turned round and round in circles searching for that ball and then he started swimming out even farther. I was screaming for him by then, pretty panicked.
Herb never panicked. He knew what to do. He picked up the tennis ball and threw it so it landed right in front of Zeke’s nose. Zeke, thinking he finally found it, took the ball in his mouth and swam to shore.
Herb ran back for the towel while Zeke shook the freezing water off his body. Then Herb wrapped the shivering pup in the towel and carried him all the way back to the car. It was a long walk and Herb was tired, but he wouldn’t put Zeke down. He held him in the car and rubbed him dry while I pumped up the heat.
Something that could have turned awful ended up being loving memory. That’s how it was with Herb. Beautiful.
Rest in Peace Herbie (10 years March 9) and Zeke (who died after Herb, of a broken heart.) Rest in Peace my sweets.
39 – So I give myself permission this week to be sad if I need to feel the grief, to rejoice when I feel like it because of the depth of that love. I give myself permission and with that allowance comes the barrage of memories, short videos in my head, waves of emotion in my heart. It’s very physical, the heart thing, like a weight sitting there where the beating comes.
Our walk on the muddy post-storm road is quiet. We keep a brisk pace. It helps me to sprint, to test myself, to keep going. But I have no words, just sensations of loss, heaviness, darkness.
Change it; I call to my innermost self. Remember the positive. Remember the love not the pain. Remember the blessing not the loss.
And I raise my face and let the wind push against me. I take in the fresh damp air. I breathe because he can’t, because I must, because I promised I would. And I remember him. Over and over again, I remember him.