“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Part II, Day 18: Senior Dog with College Seniors

Zoe once warned me that if I didn't lighten up, she would trade me in for a younger model.

This happened when Zoe and I took my first-year students from Thoreau Lives! on an end-of-semester hike at Lampson Falls.

It was snowing, and the students decided to wrestle.  Some got a little wet.  Others got much wetter.  Naturally, some built a bonfire.  Don't tell their parents.  It was extremely cold and we probably shouldn't have gone in the first place.  The students later said it was the best day of class, all semester.

My teaching partner was at a conference, and Zoe and I got a little stressed trying to herd all 32 of these students by ourselves.  Would some of them get lost in the woods?  Would they fall in the freezing water?  Zoe would run from one to the other, then back to me, defeated, her verdict being that these sheep could not be governed; they were anarchists.  But little by little, they won her over.  When it was time to go, when Zoe was confident that every sheep had made it back, she hopped not into my car, but into the van that had the fun, loud, rule-bending crowd.  For a moment she wasn't the Zoe I knew, the quiet dog who sits in perfect stillness by the river while her person reads Thich Nhat Hanh or poetry beside her.  She wanted to become a bro.

Now those students are all seniors.  In a month, they will graduate.

Zoe has tracked the students' progress all these years.  Even when one she hasn't seen in several months pops in to see me, she runs over and presses her head against his or her knees and it's like no time has passed.

This weekend we have left her in the hands of a trio of college seniors.  We haven't done this since she was maybe two.

It's a tough time for me to leave her.  After the check-up at the animal hospital on Tuesday, when we learned that despite her great overall condition, the lesions in her lungs had grown, the last thing I wanted to do was take a trip. But I know she's in excellent hands.

I was a wreck the first time I left Zoe in anyone's care, and Zoe was in perfect health.  The poor student in question, Kristin, was a seasoned dog person.  A pre-med student, she was doing independent research in the biology lab to test the canine sense of smell, and she was known in our circle as the dog-walker par excellence.  Plus, she had grown up with dogs.  As far as we knew, she had never in her life not had a dog.  And she knew Zoe well, having joined us on walks many times, just for fun.

I trusted her completely, but I had never left Zoe with anyone other than my sister before and my separation anxiety was off the charts.  The manual of instructions I wrote up for Kristin was probably longer than the honors thesis she would eventually write on the canine sense of smell.  It left nothing to the imagination.  There were helpful pointers in it like this: "Zoe is still teething, and she likes ice.  We have some ice in the freezer.  The freezer is in the refrigerator.  Which is in the kitchen."

You know that when a student in the ROTC who has been brought up to respect her elders to a rather extreme degree feels comfortable gently teasing the person who has given her a job to do--that the teasing is earned.

Kristin proved to be a lifesaver, literally.  I was out of town a lot that year doing book things, and my husband was trying to juggle both walks a day on top of working full time.  One day someone who was cleaning our house tied Zoe not directly to her collar but to the flimsy loop that held her name tag, and Zoe got away.  Kristin and her boyfriend, Georges, came over to walk her and figured out what had happened.  They searched for her all over town, and finally found her on Main Street, the busiest road in Canton.  She was right in the street, dodging traffic.  It's a miracle she wasn't hit.

When Kristin and Georges invited us to their wedding, we organized our summer around the event.  We couldn't miss the nuptials of the people who had saved our dog's life.

Zoe adores the three students who are looking after her this weekend.  Which is interesting, because none of these three students came to college as a dog person.

Take Sonya, for instance.  This poor girl was bitten by a dog when she was a child and it left a lasting impression.  The rabies shots: agony.  Then, a few years later at a friend's house, she slid in dog crap and it got all over her clothes, her hair, her skin.

When Sonya started coming to my office for meetings last year, Zoe sensed that she should take her time getting to know her.  She's a reserved dog anyway, so that suited Zoe just fine.  She worked up to just sitting near Sonya's feet over a period of a few weeks.  Now the minute she sees Sonya she makes a kind of keening sound, like, Where have you been?

Sonya's boyfriend, Alex, fears that he has been replaced by a dog at home. It's a small toy variety, I'm not sure which, but definitely a one-person dog.  When Alex is home, the dog thinks it needs to protect Alex's mother from him.  The good thing, though, is that when Sonya visits, the dog is nicer to Alex, because Sonya gets to play the part of the outsider/villain, and Alex enters the inner circle that needs protection.

Lettie grew up with cats because her mom is not a dog person.  Lettie wants a dog and looks like she was made to run with them through the woods for hours every day.  Just look at her face in the photos below.  Am I just projecting here?  Doesn't she look like she is meant to have a golden retriever mix?  Or a lab?  Or can't you see her with some mushers up in the Alaska wilderness? 

So my husband and I are spending the weekend with Art Son in the Midwest, and Zoe gets to relive her youth for a few days.  I can't wait to hear about her walks with them, and they may even tell you themselves.  (All three are wonderful writers.  If you are new to this corner, you can read Lettie's guest-post about a zen lesson she learned on her semester at sea right here.)

When Alex and Sonya came to the house just as we were leaving, Zoe rolled on her back and emitted the Sonya-inspired keening sound.  Then the trio played in the back yard while my husband and I ate lunch.  Zoe cried when she realized we were driving off without her, but Alex said, "Don't worry about Zoe.  We'll treat her like she's our own daughter." 

After we'd said our good-byes, I realized I had forgotten to fill my water bottle, so I slipped in quietly through the deck door to do so.  Alex and Sonya and Zoe were still in the wood stove room and I heard the two young "parents" speaking to her quietly, in soothing voices.  I think they were reasoning with her.  Telling her what good walks they would have.  The romps in the yard and in the woods.  The treats.  I slipped out on tiptoe so that I wouldn't interrupt the proceedings: the formation of a pack.

Lettie, Sonya, Alex

Zoe is getting quite a lot of attention

Lettie, Sonya, and Zoe

On another day Sonya, Lettie Zoe, and I went to Indian Creek.  Is this place not sublime? 

Sonya and Lettie at Indian Creek

Have a lovely weekend.  And if you see these young people with my dog out in the woods, please give them treats and a compass. 

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