“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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Part II, Day 50: An Hour in June

Zoe and I have said good-bye to two beloved dogs from our circle in a span of four days.  That's a lot to take in.
One we knew for seven years.  He and Zoe ran together, swam together, vacationed together, and would have chased sheep together if his people and I had been ranchers in a parallel life.  The other was Zoe's patient and courageous guide into the world of the three-leggeds.  All I can do now is sit and hold these two loving pups in my heart, sifting through memories of tails thumping, eyes gleaming, wet noses, butt sniffing and snorts.  I can still feel the comforting weight of one of those sweet dogs on my feet.  This fellow taught me the meaning of play.  Fun-loving and prankish in his youth, always affectionate and stout-hearted, his voice-over in the animation would be read by Albert Finney.  I can still feel the gravitas of the other one as he lifted his big head to meet Zoe and me and invited us into his world for this spring season of new life and change, endings and beginnings, telling us not to take ourselves and this situation we are surprised to find ourselves in too seriously, telling us not to be afraid.  When I think of him, I will remember how he chased sunbeams on his walks and looked for cool patches of moss to roll in.  A soulful Tom Hanks would do his voice-over.  Both these dogs taught those who loved them a little something about happiness, about feeling the earth beneath our paws and feet.  

I sit outside for an hour with Zoe, inviting the essence of these two dogs we have both loved to join us here in the green grass of June.  All we can do to honor their lives and their passing is to share some minutes here loving the life that beats in us still.

What looked like rain cleared early this morning and now the sky is a tranquil, flawless blue.  The dog and I watch a light wind stir up the willow leaves above us.  Some of them scatter to the grass and one falls on my lap.  Zoe leans against me.  We rest in one place like this for a long time, and then we find another. 
Earlier this hour I brought my lunch out to the big flat rock in the river.  The dog sat beside me in the tall grass and begged for bites of it.  She looked happy and puppyish, working it with her big brown eyes, and in my eyes she was every age she’s ever been: the scared eight-pound pup I brought home from the pound, who put the “dog” in the word “dogged” as in “dogged my footsteps” when we went on our first walks across the river.  The punk-ass year-older and terrible two-year-old who once ran from my side into the road to chase a kid with skates up the hill, causing the woman beside me to say, “Thank goodness; I thought she was perfect, and what a lot of pressure that would be for you!"  The three-year-old maturing dog who was part of a pack of four dogs that circled the table in our friends’ wedding banquet in a mad frenzy, causing us to suspend all toasts so that we could pay homage to that moment that not one of us who was present will ever forget.  And she is still the dog who for several years has run on a certain beach in North Carolina dodging jellyfish, the dog who has seen much of the Northeast and Midwest, Georgian Bay in Ontario, and perhaps more of Ottawa—a certain animal hospital—than she would have liked.  She is still the six-year-old voyager who traveled all through France and a bit of Sardinia and Spain and was shown to tables in fine restaurants where she was given a water bowl before her people got their drinks.  But above all she is a North Country dog, a dog of river trails and pine forests, snow and rain.

One of the dogs I mourn this week was present for many of these Zoe incarnations.  It is inevitable that this would be so because his person, a beautiful and wise woman, and I are very close friends. The other dog came along late in the game, along with his amazing people--generous, patient, and kind, my role models and guides through Zoe's cancer--reminding me that one of the blessings dogs bring us is that they make us meet human beings we would have no reason to know otherwise.  This has been true for Zoe all along, even now.  I have met some of you, gentle readers, because of this dog, in person, or through the blog, and I am so grateful to have made your acquaintance.

Now, on this June afternoon, we are just two living creatures feeling a gentle wind on our skin.  She turns her head from side to side in her “I’m cute and I know it pose” and then offers me her paw to hold, presenting it like a papal ring.  The leaves and grass are so green now and the sky, bluer than a dream of blue sky, brings out the amber glow of her eyes.  

What we have these days is very tender and sweet, even if it is the most sober kind of happiness.  Even when my heart is filled with sadness for the dogs who have left us in recent days and weeks and I feel a foreshadowing of loss and sorrow to come our good days like this one are miracles to me.   

The days lengthen every day now.  Just as on the solstice we know we are at the pinnacle, that all days thereafter will shorten in the lazy yawn of summer, I let the daylight do its work today.  Sorrow’s soft underbelly is the joy of every sweet memory.  When I pat that part of my dog, the soft white of her, the fur still shaved down where we once took pictures of her heart, I know that our lives will always be entwined. 

Thoreau wrote in his journal in January of 1855, “Perhaps what most moves us in winter is some reminiscence of far-off summer.”  Today in June I am remembering a day in winter when Zoe stared at the iced river for hours and I thought how lucky I was to share that afternoon with her.

Now I know because of writing and living “Winter with Zoe” that in the winter of our lives, a summer sun burns still.  And if we honor winter in summer we won’t let the warmth of June rush away from us without taking that sunlight into our bodies, feeling it on our skin in this cool green grass.

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