I have been working on my book like a fiend. Like some little witch nestled away, brewing her magic. Which doesn’t leave much time for very nearly anything at all.
That being said, I was thinking about dogs the other day. About what they mean for adventure and for life. I was thinking about my first dog growing up, Kiley. She never cared much for me. Like any little girl, I was a bother to her.
But I remember when she ran away, how many nights I woke up dreaming we had found her in the bushes up the street. The one with the soft maple-shaped leaves. Purple flowers with their yellow centers. The same bushes that I used to hide in on the days I wanted getting gone.
Then there’s Copper, who breaks through the fence and chases men and only men. We have to put a padlock on the gate, or else I’m told that animal control will come to take her. I won’t let them. I never leave her side.
In the winter, when it rains, she goes in the garage. My mother does not want her smelly shape inside the house, with all that curled gold fur. I sit in the garage with her and cry because it isn’t fair. We both eat dog food. It is wet and gray and my father puts out sleeping bags for us to rest on. I still remember how the dog food tastes, the kiblets crunching chalky in my mouth.
When Copper dies, I miss days of school. I remember a dramatic sobbing in the shower. I remember making my father drive back to the shelter to reclaim her body. Screaming at him. Adolescent rage. She should be buried here, like all the rest. Like rows of hamsters. Like Kiley never got to.
My father does. He makes the drive. Argues with the animal control officer at the front and drives around the back. Scoops up her hardening cold body from the cooler, and brings her back to me. I kept my promise. I told her that I’d never let them have her.
We bury her. I make the most beautiful bouquet that you have ever seen, and toss her hot pink collar in the grave.
When I load Maizee in the car, with her harness and her pack, we are setting out for more adventure. I know that she is older now, a year or two past ten. I think about our time in the Sequoias. How many ticks I pulled off her body. Driving down the canyon, the itch on my stomach, lifting up my shirt to see the army of their parasitic bodies on my belly. Looking back into the review mirror, to where she scratches at her skin. On the side of the road, for an hour with tweezers, plucking at her fur.
Death Valley. Where she pants with heat from the backseat. Where we run through the desert, hot paws hot toes burning in the sand.
Utah. Bryce Canyon. Running up the mountainsides at dusk and dawn. The view, beside her. Angel Falls entire canyons spreading out before our eyes.
Exploring the Grand Canyon. All the places where the dogs are not supposed to go. Chasing moose and running through the grass.
Look at all of this adventure we have had.
Now this. Her, a year or two past ten. Me, a few long years past that. Embarking on adventure.
I wish I could tell you how we sleep, together in my one-man tent. How she curls up right beside my head, how we both wake at every sound inside of night. How, when I am crying with the memories I need to flush, she lifts a ginger paw and places it upon my arm.
When she gets the limp, on that last night and after all those miles, I cry because I know I’ll be alone come morning. That I’ll have to bring her back to safety. Massaging feet, rubbing salve into the worn-down pads, soaking them in salt water cooked on a small camp stove, I know that it will get no better. Worse, I know I’ve hurt her, in a way. Over-estimated her capacities. My grief was bigger than my life, and so I thought that she was also.
The journey through my grief was always something I would have to do alone. I knew that, even after leaving her with my brother. Even after carrying on. Even while watching the waist high grasses all around me for a sense of movement. Still rustles. I do not have her nose or ears. I listen, but I lack the keenness.
When I make it home; when I finish my journey and I spit in the face of all that baggage that I carried, she was waiting. Yelping for me, frantic. Her little limp threatening her pace. She doesn’t let it stop her, though. The way a dog moves, with love.
I will say that there is one steady in my life that has brought me through the pain of aging. A good dog. A lot of good dogs. Even when I have to make the go alone, there was always knowledge of the things I would get back to.
If you do not have a dog to take with you on your travels, then I am sorry. There is no better friend. All you humans are a bit too loud at times, but dogs, there is something quiet in the way they lick at faces. There is something in their love.