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.
Not a wolf, I know; though catahoula leopard hounds derive from centuries of wild canids breeding with “tame” dogs. And they sure can howl!
The howling, at night, of the wolves; the howling in the past week of the wolves seemingly all day long, or at least every time I go outside to bring in firewood, or walk the dogs, or drive to town, or watch the current supermoon rise. It seems there is always, these days, another supermoon; when I first heard the term a few years ago, it was the brightest supernoon since 19whatever and it won’t happen again for twelve years; then, “another 34 years!”, then, in our lifetime… The frequency of super moons seems to increase with a variable definition, an arbitrary portrait of statistics, like in baseball.
Our UPS man, delivering a package yesterday, mid-afternoon, stopped in mid-sentence and asked, “Doesn’t that bother you? I can’t stand it…”
“What?” I ask, senses seeking something that might bother me in the beautiful expanse of outside, finally settling on only one sound coming from the direction he’s waved his arm. There are no trucks, drills or saws. “The wolves?”
“Yes!” he says, “the howling!”
“You don’t like wolves?”
“They don’t belong here! They’re wild animals. They shouldn’t be fenced in a yard! She’s got three of them!”
I guess I’d rather hear them than a fracking drill venting day and night, I think. Or a quarry going on. “I think they’re rescued from somewhere,” I ventured. “Maybe they’re not whole.” I actually love hearing them. They should be here, wild, and if not wild I still love hearing a sound that’s been missing from this landscape for a century.
“They don’t belong. I’ll never go up there again. I took a package up to the gate one time, and all three of them were pacing the fence, never took their eyes off of me.” He shrugs with the willies. He loves my dogs, and gives them cookies every time.
I wonder who he voted for. We are friends who don’t know each other well. I know he eats what he hunts, including fish, and he almost won the ice fishing championship last year. In a delivery sense, I can trust him. I know he’s got a sense of humor. I love his smile. I know it makes him very happy when I give him a bottle of Crown Royal at Christmas time.
That I live where I can hear wolves at all, no matter they’re fenced in a yard, makes me very happy. And other wild canids, too. This summer and fall we heard more coyote choruses, and closer to our homes on this mesa, than many of us have heard in years. The past few years we’ve watched with delight as one or more fox litters has grown up before our eyes, knowing where to see them along the roadside, playing in dormant irrigation pipes still laid out from winter, or dashing to and from their burrow on a hill. And the foxes yipping we heard this spring and summer, barking and laughing in our fields, more than usual. It’s been a good year for wild canids here.
Stellar full-throttle through the aspens up Kebler Pass.
The other day, before the big snow, I ran the dogs up the driveway in a drizzle. Stellar lifted his nose and took off from his usual casual lope into a dead run, and I saw a large red fox flush from the tall dead grass. Raven spotted it and made a mad dash to catch up, but I called them both off, slowed them down, gave the fox a chance to get far ahead, then started up the car and let the dogs run again. Sniffing and poking into grass and ditch they ran in fits and starts up the rest of the driveway hot on the trail. We turned around at the top and my calls dragged them back to me; they continued back down the driveway racing from one pungent scent to the next. My own wild canids.
A few days later, a bunch of us went to our wonderful Paradise theater for the Wednesday matinee of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Some of us seeking distraction from a political world that depresses us, and some, maybe only me, because I’ve been waiting six months since the first trailer to see this film. I loved the movie. I loved the fantastic beasts, and where they lived in his suitcase, and the mischief they got into when they escaped, and everything about the film.
I got home just before dark, to a houseful of my own magical beasts. My first sight of each of my pets that evening gave a deeper glimpse into the wonder of their being: at all, and in my house, and each in their unique way in a complex relationship with me. I saw each of them more thoroughly, body and soul, than I tend to day after day in the comfortable complacency of our staid lives. Such a wonder that they live here, with me!
And that made me celebrate their lives, again, reviewing pictures. No matter the money their vet visits cost, no matter the glassware they break, the paper towels they pull from the garbage and shred, the hairballs they puke up onto the occasional rug. The truth of them is the warm hefty shoulder against mine in bed, the purring on my chest, the bounding joyful greeting when I come home, the happy glance back to make sure the pack is all together on a walk through the woods, the quivering nose knowing something I can’t, the proud trot home carrying a shed antler, the cat chases up and down stairs, the certainty that the dogs have my back.
There’s more and more science coming out proving that dogs have cognition, sentience, and other formerly-considered exclusively human qualities. Anyone who has lived with animals they love, of any species, is way ahead of the science on that score. We know that animals are conscious beings. All animals, domestic or wild, are sentient beings. The question of sentience can take us down a rabbit hole (and has! like, is an amoeba, then, sentient?) but that would be a detour from my point here. And I guess that is simply this: that I consider myself blessed beyond rationale to know now, and to have known in my life, such an extraordinary number of remarkable animals, wild and domestic, each a fantastic beast in its own right, and it is the greatest joy of my life to wake up each day and share it with them.
Raven, newly arrived at six weeks old, discovers the laundry basket and makes it her own.
Shortly thereafter she discovers the rim of the canyon, under the watchful eye of her uncle Mr. Brick.
Mr. Brick and Mocha raised her well, though she always knew her own mind. She often wore her ears on backwards as a pup. The individual character of each dog is evident in their expressions in this image.
Brick doted on Raven, little Miss Chiff, and let her do whatever she wanted with him.
Teenage Raven curls up with Little Doctor Vincent, who showed up under a juniper tree bleeding from his mouth just three days after Dia the Psycho Calico lay down and died inside the back door. Five years later, Little Doctor lay down and died outside the back door. Renal failure and cancer seem to take out so many of the animals who show up here.
Raven in her first snow. Clearly she has some questions.
Raven was traumatized after I had her spayed. Too late, I realized the only thing she ever wanted in life was her own puppy. So I got on the list for the next bobtail male from her parents, Sundog and Feather.
When Feather finally invited Raven into the puppy pen, she watched her approach where I sat with Stellar on my lap. As Raven stretched out her quivering nose, Feather gently clamped her teeth over Raven’s muzzle, to make her pay attention, saying somehow without words, Do not hurt this; this is our young.
And she never has hurt him. See how he holds her skin in his little mouth the first time they play.
And how she groomed him from the moment she was allowed to touch him.
She taught him every little thing about everything, and they remain inseparable.
Grumpy Uncle Brick, who lived only eight months after Stellar arrived, taught him everything he needed to know to be a good mama’s boy.
Raven makes sure he learns all the skills he’ll need to know living in the high desert, digging good deep holes among the most important.
She’s kept him clean from the first…
…and grooms him daily still, almost ten years later.
Raven and Stellar sleep on the floor below Uncle Brick on the couch as, unbeknownst to us, his days wind down. Below, the face of a matriarch.
Then last year those kittens showed up, horning in on our place in front of the fire.
Stellar the Stardog, Son of Sundog, can be a very big dog…
…or a very small one.
Stellar and Raven and I wish for all beings to be happy, and peaceful, and free from suffering. We wish for all humans to recognize the souls in other species, the individual in each living creature that we meet, the sanctity of all life. We wish for all humans to honor life on earth, respect and love the land beneath their own feet, recognize that water is a precious thing, share and protect our fragile planet for the good of all species, without greed. We wish, for the sake of all species, for peace on earth.