This evening we stepped outside for sunset. The light was that spectacular low, late light after rain, sun slicing along the horizon under a heavy blanket of stratus clouds, air crystalline cool after a long drizzly day. I’m grateful for this wet respite, and grateful for the spectacle of sunset.
As I stood at the west fenceline snapping images, Wren sat and trembled at my left heel, watching horses in the pasture beyond, itching to investigate them. I lost myself for a moment in the clouds and light. When I turned for her Wren had disappeared. I’ve learned not to panic and yell, because she’s never far and she comes instantaneously when called. I’ve never had a dog like that. Even wonderful Stellar took a few seconds to lug his big beautiful body my way. Wren turns on a dime and goes into warp drive when I whistle or call even softly. So I looked around close, and then farther away.
I felt a frisson of fear when I saw those two big white rogue dogs I lost my hearing over, trotting single file through the woods fifty feet away, heading south toward their home, oblivious to me. Then they moved into a lope, and behind them ran my fierce little watchdog chasing them out of her territory! I laughed aloud as they picked up their pace, and when I whistled she turned and sped over to me, so proud of herself.
It’s been a challenging few weeks. Between internal and external events, I’m tired all the time. It’s hard to rise to each occasion. But from this glum place, I’ve reached a conclusion: I need to return to my daily gratitude practice. And why bother with a thousand words, when a couple of numerals and some pictures can do the job? So, catching up for the past couple of weeks, here are just some of the things I’m grateful for…
42+ is a gratitude practice from the Active Hope course I just completed this evening. It’s freely available online, and one of these days I’ll probably facilitate a group engagement similar to the one that just ended, hosted by a friend. Today, I’m grateful for (4) having been given the opportunity to take the course, having made the commitment to take it and participated in it fully, and for the wonderful classmates I shared the eight-week journey with. I’m grateful to (2) Deborah Sussex for offering the course for free, and for her skillful and open-hearted facilitating of it through an increasingly difficult time in our country, when active hope is needed more than ever. The + part is how I will express my gratitude: right here, right now. Many thanks, Deb, Denali, Kes, Renee, and everyone else, for the inspiring experience of virtual connection.
A. She doesn’t like snow! She did everything she could to avoid going out in it yesterday. Fortunately for her, it didn’t accumulate much, and fortunately for all other living things, it actually carried quite a bit of moisture, leaving good puddles when it all melted this morning, and soaking into the ground pretty well.
B. She got traumatized at the vet this morning. The good news is, she isn’t diabetic; and, she didn’t fight the blood draw as ferociously as she did the other procedure. She’s had loose stools since she arrived almost a month ago, to varying degrees. She got treated a few weeks ago at the Delta vet for ‘stress colitis’ and put on a special, very expensive, short-term diet, which seemed to improve things for the short term. But it’s just been getting worse since we transitioned that diet a week ago to a high-end small-dog kibble. I wondered if maybe she had picked up coccidia from snoofing the kittens, or had not been thoroughly wormed at the shelter she came from. So off we drove to the local vet on this gorgeous, damp morning, Wren snapped into her new carseat, nasty bagged poop sample on the back floor.
I brought them both in, dog and sample, and held her on the exam table as we waited for the doctor. When he approached her behind, I naturally thought he was going to take her temperature, so I tightened my grip. She screamed, thrashed, screamed, bit me, screamed, writhed, latched onto my ring finger and ring (Please don’t swallow that stone!), and screamed some more. She fought every bit as hard as Raven did whenever she was on the vet table, and I was grateful Wren only weighs eleven pounds. The vet grunted “Move her up, move her up.” I didn’t know what that meant or why, imagined the thermometer stuck in her butt, but I scooted her up the table and looked over my shoulder. A stream of poo ran down the table and he stood there with a dry swab.
“Jesus!” I yelped. “What are you doing?! I brought in a sample!”
“Oh, you brought a sample?” he muttered.
It took me a few minutes to regain my composure, and Wren a bit longer than that. I handed her to the assistant, and went to the sink to wash the blood and shit off my hand. OK, that sounds worse than it was, there wasn’t much of either, it was just a couple of small tooth wounds on my pinky and a little smear of poop on my wrist. Though I remained disgruntled, I managed to be pleasant for the rest of the visit as he ran the Giardia test and listened to her heart and lungs. Despite her occasional little cough, her lungs sounded good, and her heart strong. He drew a few drops of blood from her foreleg and found her glucose to be safely in the normal range. But the Giardia test turned up positive.
Giardia is a nasty one-celled parasitic organism that passes through feces and contaminates water and soil. It’s almost impossible for a human to drink from wild water anymore, even in high mountain streams, without getting infected, because domestic grazing animals have contaminated source water. Giardia is not uncommon in kennels and shelters, it turns out, especially if cleaning protocols are inadequate. Not making any accusations, but the most likely source of Wren’s infection is one of the three shelters she passed through on her way here, or else she arrived at the Shiprock shelter with it from her previous home. Fortunately, it’s unlikely that Topaz, Biko, or I will get infected from Wren, as various strains of Giardia infest different host species. But, it’s possible, and we’ll be doing some more thorough cleaning than usual this weekend.
By the time I left the vet, their tiny waiting room had gotten crowded with unmasked people despite the “One at a Time” sign on their door. I was still shaken and grumpy. I carried that grump with me as I drove back to town and went into Farm Runners for a couple of groceries. The mushrooms weren’t in the cooler where they should have been but were in a counter drying out; no one in there wore a mask; the first clerk coughed so much she had to leave the counter; the second clerk nattered on about how good the tortillas are–Like I don’t know that? Like that’s not why I’m buying them?!
I had to laugh to myself about my poopy attitude. I didn’t manage to muster a smile behind my mask, but at least I didn’t voice any of my irritation or act it out. I was, as usual, so grateful for my mindfulness practice, which in this case allowed me to understand why I was impatient and grumpy. Everything in the store that annoyed me was exacerbated by the residual experience of anger, trauma, and frustration from the vet office. I could see clearly that I was in the grip of an emotional refractory period, and was able to get through it without any regretful reactions. Once home, I showered off the bad attitude and ate some delicious spring risotto topped with crispy baby shiitakes, while Wren curled up in her bed and licked her wounded pride.
I am too tired to write much, except to say that when I was finally ready, so was she!
I found her on Petfinder when I was shelter surfing online a couple of weeks ago, and the stars finally aligned for us to meet. I’m so grateful to GB, who drove me up there so that I could cuddle her all the way home from Grand Junction, and was more optimistic than I that it would work out. She’s very timid, having been first a stray on the Navajo reservation, then in a shelter down there, then shipped up to GJ with a bunch of other puppies and dogs since there aren’t as many dogs available in Colorado.
She was billed as a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix, but I think they got it very wrong. Chihuahua I can see, but not Pom. Pamela thinks maybe she has some red heeler in her because of her freckled paws; I think she may have Basenji because I haven’t heard her make a sound in more than 24 hours! David says she has coyote ears. Coyotihuahua! We’ll know more later, because I’m interested enough to spring for a DNA test somewhere down the line.
You might think a new little dog for a day wouldn’t exhaust me (even with the slight and dissipating tension of monitoring her interactions with Topaz), and you’d be right. I was already tired when she joined the family because I’ve been ‘fostering’ three little kittens for a different shelter in GJ for a week, up at least once in the night to make sure they get adequate feeding. Two have graduated to canned food but the littlest, Tigger, is still on a bottle, and not thriving.
He’s what they refer to as ‘a fussy eater.’ I don’t think it’s really his fault, or even mine. The shelter didn’t give us ideal nipples at first, but yesterday we took the kittens with us to the city, to get a lesson from the foster coordinator. That didn’t go so well, but we did get a better bottle, and today he’s latched on a few times if only for a few seconds; an improvement, however slight, and I think he may have gained a few grams by morning.
Certainly, he’s gained a friend. I was beyond delighted this morning when I had fed Tigger, and Ready jumped into my lap and curled up, letting him snuggle. As tired as I am, I’m realizing the nourishing potential in physical connection with these warm little lives. If I had four new mechanical things or four new work projects that required this much time and energy, I’d be thoroughly depleted. But I get a lot back from caring for these animals, and am soothed by a steady two-way flow of oxytocin. And bless little Topaz, who has tolerated these intrusions with surprising equanimity. I’m making sure she still gets all she ever wanted from me, which is a couple of walks a day, full food bowls, a treat game in the evenings, and to sleep in bed with me at night. It’s a little challenging right now, but I’m confident it will smooth out over time into a new, sweet, balanced family.
Today, Stellar would have been fourteen years old. He almost made it! It’s been a contemplative day and I’ve missed him a bit more than in recent weeks. But I’m okay, and celebrating what a wonderful life he had, we all had together. In mindfulness, we talk about the importance of choosing where to place our attention. From the moment Stellar arrived in my life, he was always a joyful and restorative focus for my attention. Hours at a time passed when I was occupied with other things, work or people or other obligations, but even then he was always present in the background like a bass rhythm, my anchor, my rock.
When he had been with us about eight months, serious Mr. Brick was diagnosed with cancer and declined quickly. In the last week of his life, I’d sit inside with him doing Reiki. The energy flow between us was palpable to me, and also to little Stellar outside; at a certain point in my session with Mr. Brick, when the energy hit a particular frequency, each time at the same level, Stellar would come tap at the window. That’s how strong our connection was. I don’t think he ever thought of himself as separate from me.
Thoughts arise almost every day about getting another dog, and I know I will eventually. But each time those thoughts come up, after I follow the fantasy (which varies widely) for awhile, I settle into the memory of my big beautiful boy, the best dog ever on the whole planet, and realize that I’m still not ready, yet. There is too much of him still with me, the body memory of his giant presence, the clarity of his gaze into my eyes, the total belonging of us together. I miss all my past dogs, memories of each of them colored to a large or small degree with some regrets; but I miss Stellar with a pure, clear love untainted by doubt or rue, one connection unsullied by human errors, misperceptions, judgements. He was one true thing I did right in life. I’ll be grateful forever for the solace and joy of this little bhodisattva who graced almost fourteen years of my time on this planet.
I’ve had a series of dog dreams since Stellar died. Symbolic or otherwise, they have featured greyhounds, a Great Dane, others I’ve forgotten, and dear old Stellar, younger. People ask me now and then if I’m thinking about getting another dog. Of course, I reply. But not until after winter. What kind, they ask. I don’t know. Whatever kind shows up at the right time. Maybe a puppy, maybe an old dog, or maybe two whose people died and they need to be adopted together. Maybe a dog that just shows up in the yard, or on the side of the road, or maybe I’ll go to a shelter–when I’m ready. But for now, I’m enjoying not having to get up at the crack of dawn and go outside in the freezing winter morning; enjoying lots of quiet time while no one is depending on me.
And frankly, I’m still recovering from the intensity of the mutual devotion during Stellar’s last months, even years; in fact, of his whole life. He was like no other dog, no other relationship. We were continuously connected at the heart and the soul from the moment I first held him. I still look up from the kitchen counter sometimes expecting him to be lying there across the living room; I still jolt a bit when I drive home from somewhere and he isn’t here to greet me. So I’m not in a hurry to get another dog. So don’t send me anymore dogs on Facebook that need a new home, or even mention a catahoula pup.
However, there’s been some comfort in the dreams. I had another one this morning. Stellar and Raven and the new dog were romping in a field as I watched. Suddenly Stellar took off like a streak across the field and I called after him but he didn’t stop. Raven looked at me, then took off running after him, and the new dog followed them both. “Hey!” I yelled, “Stellar! Raven! Come back here! Hey–!” I realized I didn’t know what to call the new dog. I didn’t know his name yet! He looked a lot like Stellar, almost a clone, just a lot younger and a tiny bit smaller. “Hey! Come back!” But they all disappeared over the hill.
Fred and Mary pulled up in their blue VW bug, and I got in, and we started tracking the dogs. We drove for endless miles up the east coast, catching sight of them once in a while and then losing them. Hours… We drove by a big-box store parking lot, and saw a few people around a couple of pickup trucks who were trying to round up three dogs and collar them. “We’ve gotta check,” I cried, “those could be my dogs!” But they weren’t. We drove on through the parking lot, and there on the far side, frolicking along a stream, were Raven, Stellar, and the new dog.
“Stellar, come!” I called, and he did, and I called Raven, and she came, and I tried to call the new dog but remembered that I didn’t know his name yet, but that was okay because he just followed the other dogs right into the back seat of the VW bug, and they all piled on top of each other with me in the middle, and I was so relieved. We were all laughing. I said, “I don’t even know this guy’s name yet.” Fred mentioned a friend who had looked after him a couple of times, and said, “She told me his name.”
Today I’m grateful for sweet dreams of Stellar. I’ve had a few. They make him feel not quite so gone. This morning’s was the sweetest so far. We lived in suburbs much like where I grew up, houses with backyards connecting, streets that meandered in neighborhoods. Stellar was gimpy but okay and we went for a walk to a little park nearby. Across the street and up the hill a guy came out of his house with a greyhound on a leash. Stellar took off running to see the new dog, and I followed, assuring the guy that it was okay. I was delighted to see him moving so well. He got there and greeted the greyhound and then wagged and pranced around as another dog came out. As the neighbor and I stood talking, Stellar got excited about something and ran over to a tall tree.
For a moment there was both Stellar on the ground and a bald eagle leaping into the tree. The eagle was gimpy too, so he had to hop up the birch tree from branch to branch. Higher up there was a hawk, and the two of them danced around from limb to limb for a few minutes cordially assessing one another. Then Stellar hopped up farther to the hawk’s nest. I worried there might be chicks in the nest and he might eat them, but he poked his white head into the nest and sniffed, then stepped away.
A few minutes later a little hawk chick stuck its grey spiky head out. Then it fledged, and another chick fledged–they were bigger by then–and Stellar approached the larger chick and put his beak on the chick’s neck. I worried he might grab it and shake it, but he simply touched it gently with his bill and looked down at me. He had that same look in his eagle eyes as he does above. We stood below and marveled at the four raptors in the tree.
It was time to head home, so I stood beneath the tree and patted my outstretched arm. “Come on down, baby, time to go home.” Eagle Stellar hopped down branch to branch and landed softly on my arm, and we turned to leave. He was still happy and rambunctious after his adventure in the tree, and of course he couldn’t fly because of his gimpy wing, so I cradled him in my arms as we crossed through back yards on our way home. “Gooood boy,” I crooned, “I’m so proud of you…”
Then the damn alarm went off, jolting me out of the dream. But I woke with a smile, and the sweet sensation that Stellar is out there in his bardo trying on potential new identities, thinking he might like to come back as an eagle in his next life.
I was going to write about gratitude for propane, a natural gas/petroleum derivative that I hate having to use to live on solar power but have relied on for thirty years to fuel my backup generator during cloudy stretches in winter. I’ve also been using it for my cooking stove, and for about fifteen years for my refrigerator, until I bought a high-efficiency Sunfrost. This winter I have to use the generator almost every night to keep the batteries charged until morning; they are on their last legs, but the new batteries on order have been delayed for months because of ubiquitous supply chain issues. Now they won’t arrive til “after the first of the year.” That could mean May, as far as I know. So I am grateful for propane, which is currently giving the sun a big assist in electrifying my house, enabling the refrigerator, freezer, water pump, lights, TV, radio, etc., to function in the manner to which I have become accustomed. And I’m grateful to have been getting my power mostly from the sun for the past thirty years.
So, I was going to research propane and write about it. But when I opened Photos to search for a relevant image, for some random cosmic reason this one showed up, mama Raven and her baby brother Stellar shortly after he arrived here almost fourteen years ago. And that melted my heart and rendered me useless for the rest of the night. I am so grateful to have had these two remarkable, beautiful, brilliant dogs as my companions for the most recent quarter of my life; I’m grateful that I recognized and celebrated that gratitude almost every day of their presence in it.
I’m grateful that cats have nine lives. Ojo burned through his pretty fast, but at six-and-a-half, Topaz may have used up only three or four of hers. I’m grateful that she is almost back to normal after her catastrophic tumble a few weeks ago. The past couple of mornings she’s gone for a short walk with me in the woods, and I was thrilled to see her lay back her ears and run to catch up and keep on running past me. That’s when I knew she was… well, out of the woods. She’s still a little bit extra spooky, but more like herself each passing day.
She used up at least one of her lives when she got kidnapped right before the pandemic started. We figure she may have lost one or two more during the month she was missing, living all alone in late winter over in the wilds around Buckskin Pass, surviving on what she could catch and possibly stolen kibble from nearby farms.
At the risk of seeming maudlin I am remembering, reviewing, calling to mind the details of Stellar’s last days. How time lost its linearity.
I shared my life with him. There is no one now to turn to and smile. I would finish writing a bit at the desk, and turn to him, and smile. Wanna go for a walk? I’d stoke the fire, close the glass stove doors, turn back to the living room and there he is watching me from his bed, and I smile. Sometimes I’d move on to my next step in the day, or the evening, or sometimes I’d drop to all fours, crawl to lie down beside him, stroke his luxurious living coat, and notice, really notice, the feel of his scruff, rolling the folds of his neck flesh in my fingers, his thick silky fur… the pliability of his white chest star… the specific warmth of the breath from his nostrils across my skin, the hairs on my own forearm… I savored every living moment with him. I’m grateful for how much I learned during this extended interaction, this meditation with death.
I may have made mistakes, made some choices based on less than accurate understandings of reality, but I believe I did the best that I could: stretching, giving, surrendering, loving with less and less condition… What I did next always involved him, whatever choice I made, to go in or outside, a short or long walk, watch TV or read, what I ate sometimes, where I was at every waking instant always involved him. I’m grateful to be able to recall vividly now, because I paid attention at the time, how he slowly settled when I stroked his shoulder, his back, how he relaxed onto his side and lay down his sweet head; how I held those acupressure pulses in his feet til he stretched his back legs with a big sigh. Later, that last month, how it soothed him when I whispered the mantra. And my attention was riveted on him even in my sleep, waking and analyzing the slightest sound from downstairs. Living in dedication to him brought out the best in me. He made it easy to embody my highest values. He was an inspiration, a Buddha dog.
May Stellar enjoy positive conditions,
High rebirth, happiness and peace,
May he meet the perfect teacher,
And quickly attain perfect enlightenment
For the benefit of all living beings without exception.