Friday, February 8, 2008

In Memorium: Spud

When I left the farm and went to Canada several years ago, intending to be there a couple years, I learned a lot about myself. One thing was the deep connections I form with animals--whether mine, or other peoples', or no one's in particular.

In Winnipeg, in the first few months of being alone in a big city (850,000; 10 times larger than Lawrence), culture shock, losing my job, unexpected moves, losing contact with friends back home, being abandoned by my church...I realized how important dogs had become in my life. One doesn't see many animals outside in Winnipeg in the winter; it's too cold for them to stay out in the yards. When I first saw someone walking a Border Collie, a week after my arrival, I actually cried with a crazy mix of joy and homesickness.

So imagine my delight to make friends with someone who had cats AND dogs, one of them a Border Collie. She lived a long ways away from me, so I only visited her home a few times. But oh! the joy of being greeted by her charming, rambunctious, doting BC, Bear. So many of the familiar BC mannerism, body language, etc. reminded me of my beloved Toss so far away.

In Bear's exhuberant shadow was Spud. Pretty much mutt, partly spaniel, the color of carmel. A bit gray around the muzzle, a bit slow-moving, perhaps a bit dim-witted...but knowing her only briefly, and in Bear's shadow, it's hard to know what was age, what was unfair comparison with a younger BC, and what was the real essence of Spud.

But of all the dogs I've known in my life, what other (non-BC) dog have I only met maybe 5 or 6 times, yet remember so clearly?

My friend e-mailed yesterday morning to say that Spud was failing, and they'd made plans to have her euthanized soon. Knowing how bereft my faraway friend would be feeling, I wrote back a note of condolence that evening, including:

Distance is a mixed blessing...I know the universe will feel just a little bit different because Spud is gone, and at the same time Spud won't be any more gone from my life than she already is...

After walking out with the dogs to get firewood, I realize that last sentence is pretty vague. What I mean is that she's HERE/THERE, part of my memory, immortal as long as I can feel her soft ears and see her smiling little face in my mind.

It was in writing those words that I realized, to my surprise, how much of an impression Spud had made on me, with how little fuss about it. We had a connection that wasn't about effusive greetings, bodily contact, chasing thrown objects, or really any other form of focused physical interaction...I regret to say that I pretty much ignored Spud other than perfunctory pats on arrival and departure. After all, how can an ordinary dog compare with a BC?

But Spud didn't need to compete. Spud just WAS. Herself. She had no doubts that that was enough. And in hindsight, that was pretty awesome. As I wrote those words, her presence was so palpable to me that I felt I could have reached down and patted her, standing underfoot among the snow boots in the tiny back entry way (did I even ever visit that house in the winter?). I felt her presence HERE with me.

This morning I learned just how connected Spud and I really were, when my friend wrote to tell me that Spud had died of natural causes, peacefully in her familiar kitchen, just about the time I wrote those words of comfort...and how comforting those words were to her. Maybe Spud really did stop by my heart on her way out.

Maybe it's because the local Shape Note Singing group met last Sunday...I keep thinking of Spud as having "crossed over", not "passing on" or "dying" or any modern conventional words. We had had a conversation at a previous singing about the old tradition of "singing people over" when they were about to "cross over", and one member described being part of such an experience. What a powerfully moving mental image I have of that, friends and family gathered at the deathbed to sing favorite hymns of comfort and hope. And I like that "crossing over" doesn't make any pretentions about where or what is "over" honoring of the fact that beyond a certain point we can never know, until we are never to return. A journey whose end we
we cannot see, an adventure with unforeseeable outcomes.

Each time I hear of the death of a friend's dog, even a dog I've never met, I think of the unknown approaching day that my beloved Toss will cross over. I can see her aging, little by little, though she still loves to work sheep and play with sticks. She doesn't seem like a 12-year-old dog. But she is old. I try to cherish what time I have with her.

I'd love to be able to sing her over when she goes, together with friends who have known her. She loves music, and will creep as close to the piano as she can to listen whenever I play, laying nearby for hours in blissful, relaxed contentment.

I hope when she goes, she'll pay my friend a visit along her way, like Spud did for me.

And I hope my friends can sing me over some day in the far, far future. How could I be afraid to cross, with the singing of friends to lighten the journey, and all those good dogs waiting on the other side?


Catlady said...

Thank you (those words somehow look so inadequite right now)

Yes, Spud was one of a kind. She was a sheltie cross, as far as we knew... and she did have a quiet intelligence. Not anything like Bear, of course, but she did learn quickly, and did have a repetoire of "tricks" we could get her to do - crawl, sit, shake either left or right paw... many more things. And, she often figured things out for herself... No, this is not an admonishment for not knowing - she was, by the time you met her, living up to her name (Spud being a slang or regional term for potato, and Spud was very much a couch potato LOL)as a result of age.

As you said, though, as long as we keep her in our minds and hearts, she will live forever.

Not sure if you've had the chance to read it, but I wrote an obituary for her myself, over on my blog.

Oh, and I told Bear tonight, that he has to live forever...he's not allowed to die too. And - I know, a long comment, should have just written an email or phoned you - for what it is worth, I have been thinking of Spud as having crossed, not "died", myself.

Catlady said...

Ok, first of all, I need to correct my spelling - I should know better than to try to write/type through tears...

The words "thank you" seemed inadequate to describe how I felt after reading your lovely tribute. What I should have stated, is that you truly captured Spud's essense - she was the quiet, always there one. Not as boisterous as Bear, but always there, willing to lick a hand if needed, or to softly growl/whine a sentiment of love.

So - since there aren't words to suffice, I'll just have to say, again, Thank You.