June 16, 2013

North Cairn: Let summer soothe dog's disabilities

In the cool days and nights following the rain, the air, heavy and wet, lightened; our worries cleared like fog lifting; and the birds by dawn and the moths at dusk drew closer.

Summer, with its heart still in cool spring, had come.

We were working our way through the last of the winter wood pile, stoking fires in the wood stove for a few nights to dismiss the damp chill that clung to the cabin even after the rainfall relented and allowed us a brief chance to walk in the soggy, green-going world of the evening.

The dog was still with me, had made it to the other side of her epileptic spell, but was as slow as ever, struggling on bad hips and hind legs as awkward as crutches. I knew the tottering look -- been there, done that -- and felt her old age moving in like the tide.

But she kept her mood up, always ready for an additional adventure, willing to take any drive that ended at the water, even if all she could do was raise her snout out of the half-cranked window and snuff into the salt wind, dreaming of better, faster days gone by. Then she'd stretch out on the back seat, big and heavy as a sack of cement, fall heavily into sleep and wait for home.

But by the week's end I knew that despite the signs of impairment, she was feeling better. She showed a more independent spirit, quitting my side and lumbering upstairs to the comfort of the bathtub, lined with a thick quilt for a mattress.

One early evening when I was working late, she tired of my tedious routine and decided to press me to take a break. She retrieved an empty half-gallon tub of Hood chocolate ice cream from the trash, got it fitted like a beggar's bowl between her incisors and labored over to where I was typing.

She sat down beside me and gnawed the rim of the cardboard container between her teeth so that it flopped up and down crazily. Her eyes were full of life -- playful and teasing -- as I tried to grip the box and pry it from her jaw. But she had long ago perfected the feint-and-switch head swing and evaded my grasp, so we rehearsed the old ritual like the dance of sparring prize fighters, till she had me laughing and distracted.

I knew the drill.

I was so grateful that she seemed a little more like the dog I have known for 10 years that I let her win a few rounds before turning to deception and false promises: Busy Bonz and a walk at the fairgrounds.

She's winding down, and I have followed suit in my way, moving even more languidly toward acceptance of her age and disabilities. I'm not running any marathons either these days, since ankle surgery hobbled me like a horse, and, like her, I am still trying to regain my former gait. I have been confined to a handicap parking permit and two pairs of lace-up athletic shoes, in hopes of gently re-educating my paws to a stability and strength they had before a surgeon sliced open my shin and ankle to fix a torn tendon.

But I take my health cues from the dog. With the beauty and determination of a wild animal, she has no interest in being a victim of the physical body. If it is up to the task, she hauls it through another day; if not, she is unmoving, sleepy and still, a prelude of mortal conditions to come.

But until then we go on together, tracking the days, time slipping away like sand from an eroding dune. We settle for simple things, the drama of the ordinary, perching our rumps on the back steps and watching summer arrive.

The phoebe is back and throwing its little weight around, quite aggressive in nesting. I find it comical, because no one here has any interest in raiding the nest, before, during or after eggs have been laid. The dog's disinterest is global; she could not care less about activities taking place in the canopy or along the edges of the roof.

But early summer, aside from its blessings of cool nights, ideal for sleep, is producing more surprises than I had anticipated or planned. We are getting a Broadway production's worth of activity from songbirds pecking the rotted railings on the deck, enacting something like high-wire acrobatics while they look for burrowing insects and dislodge the wooden joints.

Their voices -- always a drape of sound pulled from the dawn, suspended during the day and drawn again at dusk -- are punctuated by the keening cry of a hawk who, I believe, may have chosen a nesting site in this area of the forest. Every now and then, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse a large bird and try to discern whether it is hawk or owl, or if it matters. The woods go on, with or without us.

This is the sentiment I entertain happily now, as mortality lays a heavy hand on my shoulder to remind me of the dog's frailty and all the inevitable endings that are racing toward us. Moths, with their abbreviated lives, cling to the screens, trying to reach the lamplight indoors; mosquitoes hum and hover.

We have only today, this work, this play and hearts brimming with love and gratitude for the world that goes on and on, no matter our speculations or signature. We are not writing history here. We are footnotes of creation.

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ncairn@pressherald.com

 

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