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Sunday, December 27, 2020

More Dog Tales -- and Dog Tails

At an earlier time in history in the British Isles, 


...[D]rover’s dogs and many farm dogs were referred to as ‘curs’ by reason of having their tails cut off or ‘curtailed.’ The tail docking ceased but the name remained until the beginning of this [20th] century. At one time [in England] all dogs were liable to a tax, but a shepherd’s dog was exempt if it had its tail docked, and should these dogs trespass en route or in the course of their normal duties as sheep or farm dogs the distinctive mark of the docked tail would save them from the wrath of the gamekeeper, as it was believed that docking slowed down their agility when chasing or killing game. However, this tax failed in its purpose and was abolished…. A new tax on dogs was introduced in 1796 … revised in 1878, and again the shepherd’s dog became exempt.


-      Iris Combe, Border Collies (Faber & Faber, London & Boston, 1978


Isn’t that an interesting bit of historic lore? It really puts to rest all the specious reasons given for docking tails in modern times, explanations shown up by this historic note as nothing but after-the-fact rationalizations for doing something that was done for a very specific financial purpose at one time in English history. You can still read, online and elsewhere that the tail of, for example, an Australian shepherd is at risk in the field and that docking is done to avoid injury. Ha! Why wouldn’t the tails of all dogs be at risk in the field? It never made sense to me.


I am reminded of a story. There was once a housewife who always cut off the end of the ham before she put it in the oven. When her husband asked the reason, she said her mother had always done it. Finally she asked her mother for the reason. “Oh, my roasting pan was too small for a big ham,” the mother replied. 


With a bigger roasting pan, the end of the ham need not be cut off. 


Without the general dog tax and exemption for farm dogs, there is no reason to dock dogs’ tails.


Tail docking and ear cropping has been illegal in England and Wales since 2007. In the U.S., anyway, the AKA breed standard for the border collie includes a moderately long tail, set low and sweeping upward at the end; the standard for the Australian shepherd, on the other hand, is for a tail “straight, docked or naturally bobbed, not to exceed four inches in length.”


Border collie: long, sweeping tail

Aussie: short or no tail


Both are working breeds, so why the tail distinction today between the two? Despite the old tax, it seems peculiar that any dog bred and used for farm work and driving livestock and geese would have its tail bobbed if indeed the tail were as important to the dog’s work as Iris Combe clearly considered it.


This [the tail] constitutes the extra braking and balancing power of a collie moving and stopping at speed.  … Shepherds often remark that the brains are in the tail.


Our Sarah, though I always thought of her as more Aussie, was a mix of Aussie and border collie and had what filled out to become, as she grew from puppyhood to maturity, a beautiful plumy tail. I was always glad that her tail had not been docked when she was a puppy. My sympathy is all with English law on this matter. 

Peasy does not have much of a tail at all, but he may not have suffered having his tail docked. A naturally bobbed tail is less common in border collies than in Aussies, but sometimes there is a DNA variant in one of the genes, and that could have been the case with Peasy. Then, if he is a border collie – or more border than Aussie -- since border collies are supposed to have tails, and since breeding two dogs with the variant can be lethal to puppies in utero, little Peasy’s short, stumpy tail would have made him less desirable.

Do naturally bobtailed dogs or dogs with docked tails do less well in agility? Are they at a disadvantage when working with stock? I’ve read opinions both ways on that question. One disadvantage of tailless dogs that does seems probable, though, is the part that dogs’ tails play in doggie social signaling. Both Iris Combe and Temple Grandin make this point.


Back to the question of why breeders want to see tails in one working breed and not in another, we have to remember that “purebred” show dogs, outside of the world of livestock, are a very modern concern. At one time, every sheep-raising region in Great Britain bred its own regional strain of sheepdog. ‘Sheepdog,’ a generic term, needs no explanation, but what about ‘collie’? Here is another gem from Iris Combe:


The old Gaelic rural term for anything useful is ‘collie’ and for anything black is ‘coly.’ I refer here to the sort of Gaelic dialect as spoken among farming folk, not the true Gaelic language as found in textbooks. … So a collie dog was a useful farm dog, and in Scotland the names of many farm utensils are prefixed by the word ‘collie.’ 


Border collies are said to be wary and reserved with strangers. Peasy is certainly wary and reserved, to put it mildly, when meeting new people for the first time -- which has only happened twice so far in these strange COVID times -- and that could be another reason he was in the county facility for so long. I thought it could take days or even weeks before he would trust us. But, surprise! Peasy took to having a family the way a duck takes to water! He is inordinately cuddly, extremely affectionate, and could hardly be more eager to please. He is getting the hang of basic commands and has learned to “Wait!” for permission before going through an open door or diving into his dinner. 


It is a big responsibility, adopting and raising any dog, but especially one of the herding breeds, and Peasy is much more of a challenge than our laid-back Sarah was. Here are parting words of advice from Iris Combe:


…Your puppy was born with a certain personality which he will possess all his life, but the formation of his general character will, through training and association with you, reflect some of your personality as well. It is very true to say that some dogs are like their owners; see to it that this is a compliment in your own case. The choice and opportunity lie with you.



Thursday, December 24, 2020

Season's Greetings From Mr. Oblivious


Not only is Mr. Peasy clueless about holidays, he doesn't understand about a photo shoot, either, so when I finally got this one, both showing the Christmas scarf and his typical look, I called it quits, even though the crate would not have been my first choice for background. Initial attempts, however, having him "Sit!" didn't look right at all. He had his ears down in that submissive way, not the cute, perky look I wanted. Also, the scarf had slipped around and looked like a bib.

Then came happier, Peasier pictures, but the scarf didn't show at all -- or just barely.

Maybe Mr. Peasy realizes that it's really Sarah's scarf and that she was the star. Be that as it may, all of us send best wishes for the best possible holidays we can all muddle through this year.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Peasy Saga: Week One

Part I. Thursday, December 10, 2020

We have adopted a new dog, and her name is Peasy (and we are arguing about which of us had the idea for the perfect name first.) We'll pick her up from the vet clinic in Thatcher, up in Graham County, where she will be taken this afternoon from the Graham County Animal Control facility, for shots and (if necessary) spaying. She is a very shy little Aussie-border collie mix, which is to say, Sarah’s breed hybrid with Nikki’s temperament, which is to say further, a pretty girl but “a dog with issues.” 


Peasy was picked up as a stray in August and has been in the shelter since then (last night her last night “in prison,” as I think of it), so skittish that personnel were afraid (at least one guy was) to let anyone near her, for fear she might bite — which of course meant no one was ever going to adopt her, and the first time I saw her, which is to say got a brief glimpse of her, she immediately retreated and exited the door to the outside, repeating that escape maneuver several times. She wouldn’t come near the front of the cell. I squatted on the floor but sideways to her, making eye contact with and talking to only the dog in the next cell (a very friendly, sweet one who looked to be a recently nursing mother), but she was still not brave enough to approach.


In other words, “a dog with issues.” “You don’t need a dog with issues,” said Ron at the Double-R Ranch, shaking his head when I told him about her. “Thank you, Ron!” was the Artist’s response when I told him what Ron’s advice had been. David’s point of view then was that suitability for bookstore life should be the #1 priority. But I couldn’t get that little Aussie girl out of my mind. There since August!


Tuesday morning I looked online and saw a new dog’s photograph on the Willcox Animal Shelter Facebook page, called to ask if we could come see her, and we jumped into our clothes and sped to town. Well, she was little (6 lbs.) and cute (in a funny kind of way) but — not a dog I could see as our dog, although after David had picked her up and put her in my arms, I didn’t know how to “reject” her kindly and was near tears when finally David took her back and put her down again. Then I showed the woman in charge (Marlo, a wonderful woman with a huge heart) a photograph of our Sarah, and she assured me that the little Willcox dog I didn't want would find a good home (being little and female and young and spayed was highly in favor of her finding an adopting family quickly) and that it was perfectly fine for us (me) to keep looking to find the right dog. Sigh!


The Artist and I went for coffee and sat outdoors in the fresh air on the porch at the new coffee house in Willcox, talking. My heart was heavy. I wanted my Sarah back! Then David asked if I wanted to go up to Safford and look at the Aussie girl again, I said yes right away, and off we went.


The man with the cold manner from the week before was gone, and a different guy, a very nice, calm, friendly guy went back with me to see the little Aussie girl in her cell again. He, it turned out, had developed a relationship with her, giving her treats, and he had earned her trust, which showed me that she was not beyond redemption. For him, she not only came to the front of the cell but even licked his hand. After running outside a couple of times, she came back in and up to the front of the pen and licked my hand! Deal! David left the decision completely up to me, despite his skepticism about “a dog with issues,” so I filled out and signed the forms and gave my credit card number over the phone to the people at the vet clinic, and she was mine and had a new name, and we will pick her up from the clinic tomorrow and bring her back to the ghost town. What have I done? Am I out of my mind?


The Animal Control people thought she might be two or three years old. She has pretty coloring and brown eyes. Only a stub of a tail, sadly, not a pretty plume of a tail like Sarah, and she’s smaller, maybe 40 lbs. or less to Sarah’s 60. She is not Sarah, of course, and no dog ever will be. Sarah was “the gold standard” for us, as my neighbor Therese puts it. I didn’t even want to give this new one a “girl” name — no Sadie or Lucy or anything like Sarah. Peasy is a name that will make people smile, I think, and Peasy needs to learn to be loved and to love in return.. 


It’s only been three weeks and a day since Sarah died. I look at pictures of her and think, if I could have my own, old Sarah back instead of a new dog, I’d take Sarah without a moment’s hesitation. But that isn’t an option.


One good thing about taking on “a dog with issues” at this time, December 2020, is that I have all the time in the world to devote to working with her. We will be here for months, and with rising COVID numbers, staying home as much as possible is pretty much the plan of all my Arizona friends and neighbors. We are also relieved that the search for a dog is over, as it was so heartbreaking and discouraging that I can’t imagine how we would have survived had it gone on for months, hard as I was trying to act like a normal human being.



Part II. Friday, December 11


We brought Peasy home to the ghost town yesterday, and she was restless all night, pacing and exploring. I hardly slept but got up and came out to the reading corner so that David could sleep in the bedroom corner, which he appreciated. The dog shows absolutely NO sign of aggression, though, not even fear aggression. In fact, she can’t seem to get close enough to us. “Don’t stop petting me, please don’t stop petting me, and can I get up on the bed with you?” No, Peasy, you have to wait until you’ve had a bath, 2 weeks from now!  There is no problem about making eye contact with her, either:  she makes eye contact with us! She is skittish but not fearful. I had been envisioning days of a dog hiding under furniture while I sat on the floor at a distance, my back to her, treats on the floor beside me, waiting for the dog to get up the courage to approach. Did not have to go through anything like that!


There was a second big surprise this morning. I was feeling underneath her for stitches and encountered something very different. Peasy is a boy! Of course, s/he looks and acts just the same as yesterday, but we are thrown for a loop! We would never have adopted a boy dog (David is more disturbed than I am), but now, here he is! 


Wasn’t there paperwork at Animal Control? Yes, but I’m the one who filled it out, and I thought the dog was female. I swear that’s what the guys said! Had they never gotten close to — the dog? What about the clinic where the dog was taken to be “spayed”?  Well, any dog from AC is neutered, so maybe the women at the clinic thought I thought “spaying” was a term for both sexes. Didn’t I get paperwork from the clinic?  No. The place was crowded, and Peasy was nervous, and I didn’t get a receipt or a rabies vaccination confirmation or anything. Called today and asked them to mail the paperwork — but called before my surprising discovery! Was I charged for a spaying? Time will tell!


This dog is amazingly good on a leash, though. She hardly needs one. — Oops! We can’t help mixing up pronouns, and we keep saying “Good girl!” and then correcting to “Good boy!” Anyway, on a leash, she – I mean, he is practically stuck to the back of my left knee — moves when I move, turns when I turn, stops when I stop. When he is eating (and he is wolfs down anything offered as if starving), I can pet him and even handle his muzzle with NO sign of aggression whatsoever. No snarling or growling or even the lifting of a lip.


He is a love bug, a snuggler. And it just looks so right, having a dog cleaning out the last of a near-empty sour cream or yogurt container. For three weeks I have hardly been able to handle little things like throwing away an empty yogurt container!


Part III. Sunday, December 13


Peasy had his first off-leash run. It was astonishing and breathtaking. That little boy can RUN!!! He is faster than Sarah, and Sarah was no snail, and he was so good about not going too far and about coming back when called that I let him run free two or three more times the same day. We went down into the wash, away from the highway, so that meant I got at least a few walks, too (though I did not run). I will be getting a lot more much-needed fresh air and exercise with Peasy as part of our household.

Also, now that we’ve seen him run, we’re pretty sure, despite the Aussie-like stub of a tail, that we’re dealing with a border collie! Border collie! Such a high-energy dog, and young and male to boot! I thought border collies were only black and white, but it seems they have as much color variation as Aussies, and this one, I conclude after an online search, is clearly a black tricolor. Oh. My. God.


Part IV. Wednesday, December 16, 2020


Some, though not all, of Peasy’s paperwork came in today’s mail. Not a receipt for care given (information I’m eager to have), only a certificate of rabies vaccination, and there is so much wrong information on it that it made my head spin: (1) His age, for instance, was listed as 0 months. Well, that is not right! Clearly, he has been born! In fact, it looks to me as if he has his adult teeth, which would make him at least seven months, but he is only just starting to lift a hind leg (sometimes) when he pees, so I don’t think he’s much over a year old, but I was hoping a vet would have a more educated guess than mine. (2) Sex checked is female! Hardly! (3) Under “predominant breed,” the form says only “MIX,” which is to say absolutely nothing. Peasy may well have a mixed heritage, but it sure looks like Aussie and border collie, with border (even we can see now) clearly predominant. (4) His name is on the form as “POUND,” because that’s where he came from, but on the form from Animal Control I had put “Peasy” down as his name. (5) The vaccine given can be checked as either an “initial dose” or “booster dose,” with an initial dose good only for a year, booster for three years. Well, the form says the next vaccination is due on 12/10/21, but “initial” rather than “booster” is checked, so which was it? (6) And here’s the weirdest one of all: under “predominant colors/markings,” someone put brown. It doesn’t take a veterinarian to look at a dog and see that it’s a black dog with white paws and some brown markings!

I called and talked to a receptionist, who confirmed that Peasy was castrated (therefore, male) and was given an “initial” vaccination (not “booster,” as the form indicates), good for one year. She corrected that information, and I had her further correct information to list him as a black tricolor border collie, about one year of age.  


A neighbor has an old crate she hasn’t been using that will be plenty big enough for Peasy so that we can occasionally leave him alone in the cabin, which we wouldn’t dare otherwise, as he might decide to have my library for a snack. Or the Artist’s cowboy boots! Or – who knows? He is a darling little boy, very affectionate, very responsive and obedient, as long as he can figure out what it is we want him to do. If he’s annoying me with nonstop kisses, I just say “Go!” and he backs off. He comes right away to a call or a whistle. He doesn’t understand “Sit” or “Wait” (for dinner) yet, but we’ll get there. 

As to his future in Michigan, I don’t know if he is cut out for bookstore life. Right now we're just taking one day at a time. And dreaming perhaps of sheep, although not the electric kindHave you ever heard of Baxter Black, the cowboy poet? One of his pieces is called "Border Collie Soliloquy." My favorite line is "Makes coyotes cringe!" Peasy could do that, I'm sure, but it isn't the kind of thing that happens in a bookstore. To be continued.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

What Is Happening Here? You May Be Surprised.

We have had the heat on for about a week now. That’s new. We had one long, noisy night’s rain on the metal roof, with a little more the next day, and that was good for the dry land. What's not new is that social life, even with neighbors here in the ghost town, continues to be carried on by phone, text, and e-mail, as we all endeavor to "stay safe."


I’m about two-thirds of the way through the John Lewis book, with every page amazed by and in awe of the perseverance of those who demonstrated for the right to vote in the 1960s South. I’m also about two-thirds of the way through Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin, which has a lot of interesting brain science, as well as specific information on dogs, horses, and other animals. Have read a few chapters into Penguin Island, by Anatole France, satire with a gentle, light touch. But this morning I picked up a comforting, undemanding book, the first in the series about the fictional woman detective in Botswana: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, beginning again at the beginning of Mma Ramotswe's story. And then I go back to the 19th century on a regular basis --


-- still at the job of transcribing an old diary from that era and interspersing the young man’s entries with my own observations on his time and reports on my own, 166 years later. Every now and then, too, something I read serendipitously connects (for me) to that project. For instance, simple as the Mma Rmotswe stories are, they are filled with important and touching truths, and in this first book of the series the author gives us the history of the main character and her father. The second chapter, “All Those Years ago,” begins like this:


We don’t forget, thought Mma Ramotswe. Our heads may be small, but they are as full of memories as the sky may sometimes be full of swarming bees, thousands and thousands of memories, of smells, of places, of little things that happened to us and which come back, unexpectedly, to remind us who we are. And who am I? I am Precious Ramotswe, citizen of Botswana, daughter of Obed Ramotswe who died because he had been a miner and could no longer breathe. His life was unrecorded; who is there to write down the lives of ordinary people? 


-      Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency


An ordinary person myself, an obscure, seasonally retired bookseller, like everyone else I am the center of my own life experiences. Silas Durand achieved a certain public status in his adult life, but back in 1854, when writing the diary I have in my possession, he was only one more young man starting out in life -- looking for work, meeting people for the first time, exchanging views with others, and forming his impressions of the world as his own views and character formed. In other words, an ordinary person. A young person writing a diary for his own eyes alone. 


In his diary, Silas recorded his life’s ordinary events, tried out ideas, and clearly worked on expressing his perceptions and responses. To me, this is fascinating. To me, ordinary lives and the ordinary events of those lives are fascinating. 


Now I read news of a memoir that will be a must-read for me. Mary Othella Burnette, age 89, was born and raised in Southern Appalachia. After attending a writing workshop for first-time authors, she wrote and self-published the story of her father’s favorite first cousins, a man who died before she herself was born, in the form of a letter to that man she never knew, not wanting community stories that were only preserved in her family’s oral history to be lost to future generations.


If only I had realized that I was living in the last days of the old Black community and had kept a diary of what I experienced. If only you or my father could have written a book for us. What a marvelous history we would have inherited.


I’ve read several books of life in the Southern hills, all of them fascinating, but none before about African-Americans in Appalachia. 


Note that wish – to have “kept a diary of what I experienced.” Again, I think of all the ordinary people, as Alexander McCall Smith’s fictional character muses, all the ordinary lives gone unrecorded. My own grandmother comes to my mind (as she does so often), someone with very minimal education, who worked hard all her life and loved with her whole heart and whose earthly possessions when she died filled only a single cardboard box: some flannel nightgowns, knick-knacks, and snapshots of grandchildren. Or my Aunt Bettie, who died a few days after giving birth, the year before I was born. Bettie died in Nuremberg, where she had been working as a transcriber at the Nuremberg Trials. What must that have been like, hearing those stories of nightmare inhumanity while carrying in her belly a child soon to be born into such a world?


Some people ask, Why keep a diary if no one else reads it? The thing is, no one ever knows on any given day what lies in the future. Young diarists have dreams but no knowledge of what their adult lives will hold. None of us knows what may happen in our own small, ordinary lives or in the larger world around us from one week or year to the next. Even if nothing earth-shaking occurs, there may be value for another generation. Although the 5-year diary my father kept in his late teens has only the briefest of entries and nothing of interest to anyone beyond our family, my sisters and I enjoy word pictures of our father and uncles when they were boys, such as the day one of them got his “first pair of long pants.”

The sun rises, the sun sets. The moon rises, the moon sets. The stars shine. We wait for rain -- or snow. 

What we are not waiting for any longer, however, is a dog. 


Sarah, as everyone knows, was irreplaceable. Sarah was the gold standard of dogs, the standard of excellence, and always will be for us. But while there can never be a replacement for her, life without a dog – it was just too hard! I couldn't bear it! So we started reading newspaper ads, looking online, visiting shelters, and then we came home with Peasy. Peasy needed a home. I needed a dog. It was that simple.

There is quite a story attached to Peasy, but I’ll save it for another time. Suffice it to say for now that while Peasy is no Sarah, he is a good-looking, sweet, affectionate, and biddable little boy. Yes, a boy. Not what we were looking for. Not even what we thought we had adopted! Big surprise! But there’s no way I could take him back to the prison cell he had occupied for so many long weeks, and for his part, little sweet Pease seems very grateful to have a family at last. He has no idea I still look at pictures of Sarah with tears in my eyes. Sarah, "the big sister he never knew"! Life goes on.


Saturday, December 5, 2020

And Now, at Last, the Post You’ve Been Waiting For

“We want adventure! We want adventure! We want new Western scenes!” 


Well, you have all been very patient with me the last two and a half weeks. I went on a trail ride and only gave you a single photo of the horse I rode, with no details of the ride! How could I? Finally now, the Artist and I explored a new-to-us mountain road, and I have the pictures to prove it. 


If you remember last year’s expeditions along Turkey Creek, that should give you a point of reference. We begin south of Chiricahua National Monument, and at the relevant intersection we go straight ahead instead of turning left (east) to Turkey Creek. 

Back in Leelanau County, Michigan, an unpaved road not regularly maintained by the county is called a “seasonal road.” Here in Cochise County, Arizona, they are known as “primitive.” By either name, they spell roads less travelled, and the signs advising us to “Watch for Animals” are entirely unnecessary in my case. Might we see a mountain lion today?


Along with all the other troubles and woes of the year 2020, the summer monsoons never arrived in southeast Arizona. Creeks and washes are dry, as are many of the seasonal ponds we have enjoyed seeing in previous years. The rocky streambed above is an example, but every wash and streambed we crossed, whether by “fording” (is it called that if there’s no water?) or bridge, was the same. It makes me hope for a very snowy winter in the weeks ahead.

Old, tall trees, however, have deep roots, and these giants tell us of a sometime-watercourse before we see the sign. The Kuykendall Cutoff and Rucker Canyon Road have many one-lane bridges, but we encountered only two other vehicles all day and were nowhere near a bridge when we had to squeeze past one another. 

Another dry wash

Oh, the trees, the glorious trees! It isn’t so much Michigan lakes that I miss in Dos Cabezas but trees, and the happy note on that is that all we have to do is drive up higher into the mountains to find them. Aspen, sycamore, pines, junipers, and beautiful, beautiful spreading oaks!

We are climbing now. And as we climb, we begin to get the misty blue long views, looking through peaks to the San Simon Valley that lies to the east of the Chiricahua range. Below is my favorite photograph of the day -- I think....

Although looking back is also beautiful….

Another cattle guard

I see the cattle guards differently since my trail ride earlier in the week. Now I note that gate to the side of the road, a gate to be opened by a rider on horseback or by someone driving cattle through, as the animals cannot pass over the cattle guard (this is their whole point) as can wheeled vehicles. I like the thought, and every time we come to a cattle guard, I cast a fond glance at the gate to the side.


Besides the long mountain views and tree-lined streambeds, the Artist and I like the stretches of open, savannah-like ground dotted with trees. It looks African, we think (though neither of us has ever been to Africa), as our road opens out before us.

“This would be a great place to shoot a Western,” the Artist observes. “No gawking crowds getting in the way.” 


At last we descend to the San Simon Valley (from about 7,000 feet above sea level to maybe 4500), and what to my wondering eyes should appear? Horses!

And beautiful cattle! 

We had been "somewhere else" and were not home yet, by a long shot.


There were more mountains to view up close as we made our way north through the edge of New Mexico to the expressway and a long ride home into the sunset. Just now, however, we were back on pavement – and sharing the road with enormous trucks, so the sense of discovery was quickly dispelled. 


The truth is that we hadn’t planned an adventure when we set out in the morning, and while I always make sure to have a bottle of water in the car, we had nothing else. No sandwiches, no granola bars, not even an apple or a carrot. Also, back at the cabin, when I looked online for Rucker Canyon, I learned that we had, somehow, completely missed seeing old Camp Rucker itself! Maybe if we’d taken that left-hand road with the sign that read DEAD END? Anyway, further adventures await. Not only Camp Rucker but maybe – if I can screw up my courage and if we don’t get snow too soon – Pinery Canyon and Onion Saddle itself! Stay tuned to find out --.


Meanwhile, back in the ghost town I repotted my Christmas cactus and followed the advice of blogger friend Cheri, out in Eastport, Maine, for rooting cuttings to make more plants. Cheri wrote such a touching post about my Sarah the other day, it caught me completely off-guard and made me cry again. But we do pull up our socks and go on, don’t we?


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

“You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille”

Living manzanita, Dragoon Mountains

(My emotions these days come to me through songs, hence today's title. "Sarah picked a bad time to leave us," I told the Artist. But then, there wouldn't have been a good time....)

I used to post to this blog more often. In the beginning, it was short pieces almost every day, usually with only a single photograph. Eventually that settled down to two or three posts a week, some image-heavy, others wordier. This past November, on the other hand? A mere four posts, from the day after Election Day to the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I have felt more than a little disconnected to the world without my Sarah. 


But one of my husband’s cousins, who has known grief far deeper than mine, posted something on Facebook that helped me through the Thanksgiving holiday. She wrote, “As the years roll by and challenges surround, it becomes clear that being thankful doesn’t require feeling happy. May it be the same for you as we walk forward.” She did not emphasize the words I have italicized, but those were the words I found profound. 


Because – haven’t you found it so? -- it is so easy for us to think, when unhappy, that we should be happy, which then piles feelings of guilt and inadequacy on top of unhappiness already within us. It is far too easy for us to view our unhappiness as a spiritual shortcoming or a lack of maturity, a failure to be grateful for what we have. Anne’s profound insight is that we can be thankful, can be grateful, without necessarily feeling happy. Happiness, after all, comes and goes. If it were a constant, we wouldn’t notice it at all.

Manzanita again: Life gone but still beautiful

I once attended a funeral for a young man who had died of cancer at age 23, and part of the priest’s message to family and friends was that the young man needed to “cross over the river” and that if they, the living, failed to rejoice over his heavenward path, they would be holding him back. Sadness, heartache, heartbreak – all these, the priest painted as cruelty to the deceased. My heart ached for the mother, wife, and brothers in their sorrow, being told their grief was harming the very person whose loss had already devastated them! I thought then (and have never thought differently) that the priest was the cruel one that day. 


“But your grief is over a dog! Don’t you think that’s a little exaggerated?” No one has said anything like that to me or scolded me for not “moving on” more quickly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one person had thoughts along those lines. I’m happy – yes, happy and grateful – to have the reassurance that Anne, who barely knows me, is as sympathetic to my grief as my oldest, tried-and-true friends.


Sarah was with me 24 hours a day, from puppyhood until her last breath. When a stranger in the bookstore asked teasingly if she was the watchdog (this would be after she approached the newcomer with wagging tail and smile), I always said, “She’s my constant companion.”  

Her first winter

Here’s something too that I thought of only during her last days: Sarah was the same age as “Books in Northport.” We found and adopted Sarah in January of 2008, but she was four months old then, which put her birth in September 2007, the first month of this blog. And anyone who has read “Books in Northport” since 2008 has had the opportunity to watch Sarah grow from puppyhood to young adulthood to maturity and then into old age.


And the Artist and I are going on without her. We have each other and family and friends. We had (although I did not photograph it) a turkey for Thanksgiving and have enjoyed since then turkey pot pie and turkey soup with homemade noodles. 






We made drove over to the Dragoon Mountains and explored on foot a short stretch of equestrian trail (where we observed those manzanitas).

The Artist

The bookseller

In search of animal therapy, the Artist and I made an expedition over north of Benson, Arizona, to the Double R Ranch to visit their twenty-three horses and nine dogs, and I went back today for a trail ride.

My beautiful and patient companion of the trail

And I am reading again: 


A fundamental principle of nonviolence is that there is no such thing as defeat once a conflict is justly resolved, because there are no losers when justice is achieved. - John Lewis, Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement


No defeat, no losers when justice is achieved! Isn’t that a beautiful thought? John Lewis’s death was a great loss to our country, but his life was a gift and an inspiration.

Times are not back to “normal,” either for me or for our country, but the sun continues to rise every morning and set every evening over the mountains, and the moon also rises and sets, and birds come to the feeding station in our mountain backyard, and there seems to be genuine progress on a vaccine for coronavirus, and one way or another there will be a new president in the White House in only a few weeks. And we will all keep getting older one day at a time on our journey “from the sweetgrass to the packing house” – or, as I think of it these days, from puppy breath to the last breath -- which sounds terrible, I know, but there would be no death without life, and life is a priceless gift.

Sunrise over Dos Cabezas, Arizona