I could wax eloquently on soggy but succulent springs (have you any idea how many dozens of greens can be counted in your average forest?), and golden summers with the whispering crackle of corn growing Icarus-like to the sun. I could speak poetic lines of crunching leaves, and the crisp fragrance of wood burning and the difference between soft maple and cherry. And then there is winter, that awful yet beautiful expanse of weeks that both draws and repels. Satin splendor replete with diamonds sparkling in drifts a swirl, butting up against howling (always howling) winds and searing cold that creeps into the walls and makes “being warm” something to be sought rather than a thing attained.
And we, Him and I, we have lived here near on to twelve years, and we too have changed with these seasons. Hair has been lost, changed color, been shorn, waists have expanded and shrunk. Knees creak, and backs ache, and ears and eyes sometimes strain and bifocals are common fare. Yet, somehow, I can’t remember any of that as well as I can the change of other things.
What I can remember, and measure with striking exactitude are the changes that have occurred in our companions. I have measured and watched with sadness and with an increasingly aching heart, their march to old age. I can point out every nuanced difference in gait, in height of leap, of hours slept, of the growing repugnance to cold and snow.
I remember the exuberance, when the day could barely contain them, I’m speaking of our two dogs, Brandy and Bear. They hit the porch flying, not even , leaping to the ground, skipping the stairs entirely. Off they went, ears a flap, tails ruttering their way as they galloped across the fields, under fences, through creeks, chasing phantoms on the air. Hearing what only they could hear, what only they could smell, perhaps what only they could see.
Running and running, with tongues lolling, eyes so alive with glee, collapsing, rolling, deliciously wiggling, and napping in dappled light under porches and in dirt pits dug to ward off bugs and heat. Scarfing up seeming shovels full of food, drinking the creek near dry, and then napping for minutes before they were off again to new adventures. Always to return, always to show us the “prizes” found, always to check for the reassurance that we were still here.
The meadow never disappointed them. They loved the snow, the mud, the grass, the dirt, the wind; they complained not of drifts of snow, or rain. They loved the coons, possums, rabbits, pheasants, hedgehogs, coyote, and of course the deer. They marked their territory and left their kills to warn other of the dangers of trespass.
Brandy was a tank, quite literally, with short legs and a massive chest. She took time to get up to speed, but she had the endurance that Bear lacked. Bear was light, and could change direction with lightening speed. He would give chase, and she would circle, and catch confused meadow denizen on the curve. Between the two of them, nothing much survived to tell the tale.
The deer laughed– I swear I heard them. They laughed so hard I thought they might just keel over from losing their breath. Those dogs chased deer a good thousand miles all told over the years and never caught a single one. A deer would flick its tail, as if it were a middle finger, and leap like a gazelle, then stop and laugh, and wait for the dogs to get close again, and then, off again, replaying the scenario
They ran deer for sport, until they stopped. . .the dogs that is.
Until they found it too tiring to engage in hopeless running. Until it was no longer fun.
And now, one runs no more, and the other, well he hardly runs at all, as if he knows that he’s but running to the grave.
In August, with suddenness (is it ever not?), we lost our Brandy. She died quickly and painlessly. That boisterous happy heart simply gave out, as if it decided to go out on top, having had a favorite meal and a car ride the day before. We awakened that morning with two dogs, and we went to bed having buried one. And Bear was beside himself, and tried with all his might to be her, to be both of them at the same time.
He is better now, but he still takes on her “responsibilities,” a behavior made for the word bittersweet. He is pushing through his fourteenth year, and such is ancient for a border collie. We dug his grave last fall, before the ground froze, should he need it. There is something coldly reasonable about such a thing. I guess. Or so it seems.
As of late, we have found that we are not only feeding birds at our feeder, but a very snooty possum, who visits day and night and munches sunflower seeds and suet with an arrogant nonchalance. Bear has spotted the intruder. He has stared at it. He has walked around the base of the feeder, sniffing its unwelcomed presence.
There was a time when he would have howled for hours, and sat stoically at the base, for as long as it took. That possum would be dead by now, as so many other critters are, whose bones litter the meadow, testimony to his kingship. (I used to collect the skulls which He always found macabre for some reason. He also chuckles at the idea of some far future archaeologist scratching his head at the collection, wondering what matter of living went on here).
Bear, who never took kindly to any animal even passing through his meadow, now “lives with it.” The wildlife seem to mock him now, this possum does for sure.
He stood out there a good while today, looking at that possum. It was cold, and I urged him in. “Come on Bear, come guy,” I urged. He looked at me, and his eyes questioned a moment, then giving up, he trod slowly up the stairs. “Good guy,” I intoned.
He came in, tail down, head down, looking dejected.
“it’s okay old man, in greener days you ran this meadow. It’s okay to take a rest. They were good days. The best. Don’t take it so hard, old man. . . . it’s the way it is. We all are old now. It’s a one-way trip old man, a one-way trip.
And so it goes.