There’s no way around it. Indigo is getting old.
Time steadily steals her enthusiasm for tag, thwarts her agile leaps to catch a ball. Deafness eases her thunder phobia, but also ruins her nightly reunions with my husband. She no longer hears his approach, so misses his entrance. Failing eyesight slows her pace, and a few terrible crashes have turned her tentative in the dark.
Her age hurts. I ache when she stumbles on the steps or staggers stiffly through what was once an exuberant dance of greeting. I’m doubly wounded when she snaps in frustration, compensating for growing weakness with the only defense left to her.
It’s a dreadful miracle, this loving of dogs. Their lives are so short compared to ours, traversing so many different paths to inevitable loss. Even so, I’m not sorry to have loved this dog, to love her yet, despite her spectacular array of bad habits and neuroses. She’s a deeply flawed beast, but aren’t we all?
The woods of my youth grew complete with creek and wildlife. I knew every nest, den, and footprint. In summer briars, snakes, and mosquitoes swarmed into the woods. In winter they retreated, surrendering a fey, brittle place where I got lost for hours without ever getting lost. Escorted by a pack of dogs, sometimes by the bravest of our cats, I chased over and around and through the creek, straggling home at dusk muddy and matted with burrs.
In early spring lamprey came to spawn. I gloated over the lamprey, certain they lived nowhere else of consequence. Each March I knelt for hours beside the shallows where they dug their nests. I counted them and marveled at their spots and stripes. I cupped my hands under them and watched them wiggle free over my fingers.
I’m sure I did other things, had other habits and hobbies. But my memory is overgrown, buried in underbrush and fallen leaves, forever snarled in the woods. Should I return now, I don’t believe I’d find my woods. Only a few acres of trees and a little stream.
So where does my nostalgia lead? Not back into the woods. But spending time with these pictures feels like an invaluable luxury in my busy world of adult anxieties.
I wrote this piece a few years ago. I’m reposting it now because these pictures have been calling to me. They are more than shadow and light, more than pixels. They rustle like leaves and smell like wet, happy dogs. (All four dogs are long passed and well grieved.) I can almost taste the crisp air from that misty day in 1992, a rare elixir of youth and solitude and happiness. Perhaps, despite my earlier claim, this nostalgia DOES lead back into the woods.
In June of last year, I happened upon a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers toiling to feed their raucous young. The parents visited the nest in turns, each arrival heralded by peals of plaintive screeching from the insatiable nestling. As I watched the parents flit from tree to tree, probing bark with sharp eyes and beaks, I wondered at their dedication. Is it love that moves them to such labor? Or couldn’t it, at least, be called love?
After all, who wouldn’t love a face like this?