Friday, June 6, 2014

Holding On, Letting Go

Holding on.  

Sometime around early January a few inches of malleable snow fell. It was perfect snowman-making snow, or better yet, snowball-making snow. While it was still fresh I brushed off the backyard woodpile and replenished the wood rack inside the garage. In the winter I keep a stock of dry split wood there for stormy days when going outside to fetch fuel for the fireplace is too bitter a task. Before heading into the house, as my dog Charlotte was still sniffing about, I chugged across a pristine swath of snow to make a large heart shape. It wasn't perfect. From my upstairs window it looked balloon-ish, as if squeezed from a bubble pipe.

Snow Heart

A few days later there was another snowfall, a few more inches, and, in another fit of spontaneous artistry, I trudged along the heart-shaped path again. The wind blew and temperatures sank in the coming days, pulling the last of the leaves off of the beech trees in our area. These are always the most tenacious of our local trees, holding onto their coffee-tinted leaves long after all other trees are bare. The wind blew beech leaves into the heart shaped trough and, with a gentle contrast, the heart continued on, visible across the white field during gray days and moonlit nights.

Valentine’s Day arrived and my backyard theme lived on. A few days afterward we were inundated with successive snowfalls. We concentrated on keeping a small path clear between backdoor and driveway. Our lives shrunk as the severity of the season closed in on us, no more whimsical snow designs or snowmen or snowball fights. We spent a few weeks struggling with the basic business of life. The snow heart disappeared under a frozen mantle. Ice encrusted our roof and filled the pathways.


By mid-March the strong sun of spring began working on the layers of snow. A determined crowd of daffodils emerged under my dryer vent, satisfying and hopefully green. Bustling about upstairs one day, gathering up a basket of laundry, I glanced out from behind our insulated curtains. The snow heart returned, leafy outline intact, materializing from the thick cloak of winter.

Holding on. 

March 2014
Charlotte is a very old dog. I adopted her as a puppy. There was a notice in the paper about a young dog thrown from a car at the train station, a beagle.

A new resident in a strange town, a single mom with one child in college and the other starting in a new high school, I thought a dog for my younger son would be just right: a furry friend to ward off the loneliness of being the new kid at school and keep him company while he was home alone during my long commute. We had beagle experience. We knew beagles. We could do this. Only, she wasn't a beagle. When I went to interview and meet her, I knew she was something else. Her perfectly-lined eyes and fine bones spoke Border collie. Only her color patches of black and caramel brown on a white background looked beagle-ish. Her eyes sparkled with curiosity. Her ears were lovely and soft.

I took her home.

That was over fourteen years ago. She saw Trevor through high school and college and grad school. She loves us and we love her. She is a dirt road dog. We thought Charlotte would become Charley, but she is ever the girl; Charlotte she would stay. Nothing makes her happier than a hike in the woods with her people. Throughout the many roads and trails in our town she romped, circling ahead of us, coming back to see if we were okay, stopping to investigate smells and chase chipmunks, but never letting us out of her sight. She sported a merry, prancing walk.

Aside from occasional visits to a canine friend of hers down the road she never roamed, preferring to keep watch on our yard and driveway from a sunny vantage point at a corner of the house. When I remarried she celebrated as my bridesmaid, encircling and herding our small wedding party into the wide hay field we chose for our ceremony.

Bride and Bridesmaid

Now she is old, in her dotage. This winter was hard on her, the slippery paths and bitter wind. She has arthritis and weak back legs. You can feel delicate hipbones through the fur on her rump. Her eyes are fuzzy and she no longer alerts when you call her name. She groans modestly and hauls herself carefully up to standing. She walks stiffly, carefully. We make her poached chicken and broth and cheer her up the one step from our deck into the kitchen. We give her dog treats at the slightest hint she might be interested. We carry her down the stairs and, lately, up them as well. Now she spends her days on the soft bed we’ve placed near the baseboard heater. I worry every day I keep her here selfishly. I don’t want to let her go. I hold on.

Postscript: June 3, 2014

Letting go.

Charlotte fell on the kitchen floor on Memorial Day and couldn’t get herself up. She gave us the look. After months of carrying her up and down stairs, of not being able to sit down or wag her tail, it was her time.

She was the best dog I ever had – sweet, gentle, patient, loving, smart, happy, merry. Her schedule described my life for the last year or so, especially since last August when she became crippled with aging hips and legs. It was a brutal winter for her but she never showed signs of crankiness or resentment. Other dogs would get that low growl. They would look up at you with a warning in their eyes. Not Charlotte. She was, as we whispered to her when she drew her last breath, a very good girl. 

I remind myself of the lessons she taught me: to take every opportunity for a walk or a hike, to always be curious, to be patient, to nap in the sun when you can, to love your people unconditionally, and to live fully in the moment – the moment you are in right now.