Life on the Rocks

If I had a blog, today I would share an image of my favorite fall flower: The Aster.

September 27 - Life on the Rocks

September 27 – Life on the Rocks

My creative flow has been a trickle the last day or so. Our border collie, Owain, and his buddy, Hank, the labrador, have come to the last days of their journey with us and hard decisions are in the offing. I want to keep my spirits up and enjoy the bright fall days, but for now, I can only manage quiet reflection on autumns past. Fourteen years goes by in an eye-blink doesn’t it?

Lighting the Way

If I had a blog, today I would share with you my synchronicity for the day.

The Lights of Home

The Lights of Home

As you know, my family is going through a very hard time right now, coping with the news that our border collie, Owain, has cancer. His prognosis isn’t good: Two or three months at best, and I find myself struggling not to fall into despair. The ever-present voice of the Ego whispers morbid, soul-wrenching thoughts about abandoned dog-toys and empty places by the dinner table and while I’m determined to not to fall for these destructive ploys, some days its just plain hard to keep going. In an effort to raise my spirits, I decided to blog about a very special book, one that I discovered almost thirty years ago, during another summer of duress. The book, called Light from Many Lamps, is a collection of essays, poems, and quotations – some well-known, some little-known – compiled and published by Lillian Eichler Watson in the early 1950’s. It was Ms. Watson’s intention that her book be a source of inspiration for anyone who is facing hard times and her hopes were certainly realized where I am concerned. In today’s blog, I intended to share my past experiences with you, but Light from Many Lamps had another agenda entirely.

As I prepared to write, I brought out my dog-eared, well-worn copy of the book and laid it on my desk. I noticed a Post-It note stuck to one of the pages, so, before I started my blog, I opened the book and read the essay I had marked some years ago. It this short piece, rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman writes:

“I often feel that death is not the enemy of life, but its friend, for it is the knowledge that our years are limited which makes them so precious. It is the truth that time is but lent to us which makes us, at our best, look upon our years as a trust handed into our temporary keeping. We are like children privileged to spend a day in a great park, a park filled with many gardens and playgrounds and azure tinted lakes with white boats sailing upon the tranquil waves. True, the day allotted to each one of us is not the same in length, in light, in beauty…but there is enough beauty and gaeity in the hours if we will but treasure them. Then, for each one of us the moment comes when the great nurse, death, takes the man, the child, by the hand and quietly says, “It is time to go home…It is your bedtime child of the earth. Come; you’re tired. Lie down at last in the quiet nursery of nature and sleep. Sleep well. The day is gone. Stars shine in the canopy of eternity.” 

I laid the book down and reached for a Kleenex. Once again, Light from Many Lamps offered me not what I expected, but exactly what I needed. That is the way of synchronicities.

This afternoon I will sit down with my book and draw strength from those who have gone before. I will trust Marcus Aurelius when he writes, “Nothing happens to any man which he is not formed by nature to bear,”and I will take heart that Epicurus knew whereof he spoke when he encourages us that “…pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting – if thou bearest in mind that it has its limits, and if thou addest nothing to it in imagination.”

I don’t want to face what lies ahead, but I have no choice. I can’t run from it, frighten it away, or deny its existence. My only alternative is to face it, without resistance, and rely on Light from Many Lamps to lead me safely home.

Take Joy

If I had a blog, today I would reflect on the words of a 14th century monk named Fra Giovanni, that he wrote to a friend on Christmas 1513.

Owain - Our Mr. True

Owain – Our Mr. True

Life is hard. Some days too hard. Earlier this week we learned that our beloved border collie, Owain, has cancer. He is fourteen years old, well beyond the normal lifespan of his breed, and it has been a joy to travel the road of life with him from the day he came to us as a pup. Owain is family and his passing will bring many, many days of tears, but I am lifted up by the words of Fra Giovanni, who assures me that behind every trial is the hand of an angel, outstretched to lift us up until we can stand on our own two feet again. All the wonderful things in life are before us, offered freely, for those who have the courage to believe in the light when all the world grows dark.

For the moment, Owain is as happy and energetic as ever. He’s outside this morning, barking at the songbirds, his voice drowning out our breakfast conversation. Such things might seem an annoyance, but under these circumstances, Owain’s eccentricities are a joy. A few days ago, it seemed as though happiness had slipped through away forever. Sitting at the vet’s office, hearing the awful news, I couldn’t fathom how I could face the days to come, but then I read Fra Giovanni’s letter and I began to look beneath the veneer of gloom for even the smallest glimmer of hope – and I found it. My time with Owain may be shorter than I had hoped, but they can be good days, days of richness and depth of feeling that I can store in my heart forever. They will be my touchstones on days that are more difficult to bear.

We live as mortal beings, our days numbered from the hour of our birth. Mortality can be a curse or it can be a blessing; the choice is ours to make. If we are have the courage to set aside our fear and grief, we will find moments of joy in even the darkest hours of our lives. Thank you Brother Giovanni for showing us the way.

I salute you.

I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
But there is much – very much – that, while I cannot give,
You can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.
Take Heaven!

No peace lies in the future that is not hidden in this present instant.
Take Peace!

The gloom in the world is but a shadow;
Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
Take Joy!

There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see;
And to see, we have only to look.
I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver.
But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard.
Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor,
Woven of Love,
By Wisdom,
With Power.

Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty. . .
Believe me, that angel’s hand is there;
The gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence.
And our joys: be not content with them as joys.
They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering,
That you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.

Courage then, to claim it. . . .that is all!
But courage you have,
And the knowledge that we are pilgrims together,
Wending our way through unknown country. . .
Home.

And so at this Christmastime, I greet you
Not quite as the world sends greetings,
But with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you,
Now and forever,
The day breaks and shadows flee away.

A Keeper of Dogs

If I had a blog, today I would write about being a keeper of dogs.

As many of you know, I am a devoted cat-lover and I’ve shared quite a few stories about my feline friends in my blog. You may wonder why its taken me this long to profess my love of the canine clan and share some stories about that branch of the Fur Family, but the truth is, I don’t know where to start. Dogs have been my life-mates since I was old enough to say “puppy” and after forty-some-odd years its hard to carve out a tale that is shorter than War and Peace. However, because yesterday was National Dog Day, I’ve decided to give it a go and introduce  you to my wonderful world of dogs.

These days, my life with dogs revolves around caring for the needs of an aging pack. Owain, our border collie, and Hank, my nephew yellow lab, are thirteen years old and Bree, our Great Pyrenees, is ten. Caring for an old bunch of dogs is one of those situations where laughter is the best medicine, for both woman and beast. A sense of humor keeps at bay the frustration over irregular bathroom habits, food-fights, and a variety of somewhat neurotic behaviors. Getting old isn’t for sissies, whether  you are a human or a dog.

Owain - Our Mr. True

Owain – Our Mr. True

First we have Owain, who, despite his innate intelligence, can’t hear at all. Our morning ritual, is a game of “herd the birds.” Owain comes to the window by the breakfast table and barks at me. Then I say, “Wow Owain! Get the birds!” and he bounds off in full cry, scattering cardinals, goldfinches, and chickadees as he goes. After a few minutes, he returns to the window and we play it again. It worked just fine when Owain was a sprightly youngster, but now he can’t hear my rah-rah’s unless I shout and exaggerate my facial features so Owain knows I am overwhelmed with his awesomeness. Add to that the fact that Owain has a bad hip and our game looks more like aerobics for the insane. I only hope no one outside the family sees us or we’d both be put in a padded room.

Do I Smell Burgers?

Do I Smell Burgers?

Then there’s Hank-A-Dog. I can’t make light of Hank’s issues because his health is in a steep decline. He has a type of neuropathy that has taken away all feeling in his hindquarters and impinges on his breathing. What keeps me going with Hank is his utter dedication to table treats. In his youth, Hank was a real-life Hamburgler. More than once we caught him with his feet on the counter, snarfing unclaimed hamburgers, hot dogs, or ham steaks like there was no tomorrow. Even now, on a day when we’ve had to support Hank’s back legs just to get him into the yard to do his business, one whiff of frying bacon or broiling steak and he’s up and at ’em. If my brother comes to get Hank before we’ve finished our dinner, Hank pops up and, instead of running to the door to greet his best friend, he affixes himself to the table, ears up and eyes bright, as if to say, “Hurry! Feed me the good stuff before I have to go!” Its comforting to know some things never change.

Go Team Bree!

Go Team Bree!

Last of all, there’s Bree. We got Bree and her sister, Emma (who passed away this spring) to guard our flock of sheep, but Bree retired early, after she developed epilepsy at age three. Since then, Bree has been a house-dog, protecting our family from villains like  the pest-control guy, UPS and FedEx deliverymen, and the garbage man. This summer she got a hot-spot on her front leg and became quite obsessed with licking it. We gave her antibiotic, used a number of topical agents to help with the itching, and even bandaged the area to keep her idee fixe under control, but Bree refused to leave well-enough alone, so we got an E-collar at the vet. That plan was abandoned after three days of leg-bashing by our walking satellite dish. We were at our wits-end when I spied Anna’s sweatshirt. My ten year-old niece, Anna, had stayed with us the week before and as I was putting away the farm-gear she’d outgrown, I saw a hot-pink sweatshirt, with sequins and glitter paint, that looked just the right size for Bree. After making a few adjustments, Bree was decked out in a get-up that would make any cheerleader proud. We’ve drawn a few stares from passers-by, but Bree has stopped licking her leg, so I say, “Go Team!”

I know hard days are coming. It is the price we pay for loving deeply and loving well. I dread the decisions we’ll have to make and the emptiness that will come after, but I will have my memories to keep me strong. One day, when my grief has abated, I will be walking to the barn and I will feel a presence beside me, a familiar face will come to mind, and I will know my friend is with me once more. Then I will tell their stories and we will laugh and remember and be glad for the days when I was a keeper of dogs.

Chaos Theory

The Morning Buzz

The Morning Buzz

If I had blog, today I would write about the fact that when I am running the farm by myself I don’t have time to blog. My day starts early, around 7:00. My first order of business, after starting the coffee, is to let the dogs out and feed the hummingbirds. I swig my coffee and down a bowl of cereal while the dogs circle like sharks homing in for a feeding frenzy. I could feed them before I eat, but I’d pass out from hypoglycemia before I got my own breakfast. Feeding three, very opinionated, elderly dogs, is quite a process.

If you can't be smart, be regal.

If you can’t be smart, be regal.

Bree, the eight year old Pyrenees whose motto is: “If you can’t be smart, be regal,”  won’t stand up to eat. If I put the bowl down before Bree has positioned herself, she will lay down on the dish and end up wearing her food. Even so, I often have to wash her shaggy neck after breakfast, especially if wet dog food has been involved.

Owain, Hank, & Mom

Owain, Hank, & Mom

Hank, the eleven year-old yellow lab, is a grazer. When he’s at home with David and Kindra, he has free-choice food and nibbles all day, but when he’s in Doggy Daycare at my house, its eat or be eaten, so I have to keep encouraging Hank to return to his food before Owain descends. Owain, the eleven year-old border collie is the smartest, and fastest, dog in the world. Even with hip dysplasia, he can whip in and clean up everyone’s leftovers in just a few seconds. That might not seem like a problem, but since we’re dealing with geriatric dogs, everyone takes medicine and no one takes the same kind, so there’s no sharing of food at breakfast. So, in the end, my job is food referee. Once  the dogs have gone out again and are secure in the knowledge that the proper scent is dominating the yard, they crash for a morning nap. That’s when I go to the barn.

Where have you been?

Where have you been?

Regardless of the weather, the horses are waiting at the gate when I drive into the barn lot. Their long night of grazing has tired them and they are ready to come in, stand under their fans, and eat hay during the hot part of the day. If I am late, my big paint horse, Rain, will be six inches taller than usual, boring holes in me with her stare of desperation. Before I bring the girls into the barn, I fill their mangers with hay and put a handful of feed in their bucket. If I fail to do this, Nika, Mom’s Arabian, squeals and bangs on the wall with her hooves until her needs are met. It reminds me of my first job, working in a daycare. If only horses responded to “time-outs.”

I love you! Feed me.

I love you! Feed me.

Once the equine contingent is munching hay, I feed the barn cats. Toby and Miranda want their breakfast, but they also want their morning tete-a-tete. It often comes just before I leave the barn, but I always make time to sit on a hay bale and love on my two tiger-cats. Miranda is the last surviving member of three siblings I adopted in 2003. Her brother Viggo and sister Tasha have passed on, but soon after Tasha left us in 2012, a new yellow cat entered my life. His name is Toby and I suspect he found me after his owner, an elderly neighbor, died. Wherever he came from, Toby is a sweetheart and his soft, tawny coat matches Miranda perfectly.

Edward & Fardinand

Edward & Fardinand

Then its off to meet the needs of the poultry. Two of the feathered-folk live at the barn: Edward, the huge, black and shiny rooster and his life-mate, Ferdinand, the white and fawn runner duck. Ed and Ferdie have their own digs because they were a little too randy to live with the lady-birds. Edward is too big to “tread” my smaller hens and ducks just have a different sensibility when it comes to romance. Feather-pulling is a integral part of the ducky love-dance and since all of my lady-ducks perished in the coyote massacre of 2010, Ferdie was turning my hen-house into a nudist colony. Fortunately, Ed and Ferdie are very happy together and, in today’s world, I think it is lovely they can live together without fear of discrimination.

My Ladies Fair

My Ladies Fair

Once I’ve filled Ferdinand’s swimming-pool and offered Ed some mealworms, its off to the hen-house. My girlie-birds used to be free-range, but after the massacre, when I lost fifteen beloved hens in twenty-four hours, the flock is now restricted to getting their fresh air in the safety of their coop. Every morning, they are waiting at the little chicken door, like a group of nuns called to morning prayer. I let them out, feed and water them, and head back to my house, where I have one last family member to feed.

Telly in the garden with Mom

Telly in the garden with Mom

Because having the standard fare of domestic animals was not enough, we also provide living quarters for a three-toed box turtle. Mr. Turtelle (Telly for short) has been our friend for almost twenty years. Until 2011, Telly was a wild turtle who summered in our yard. He’d arrive in May, patiently waiting by the back door for a handful of grape-tomatoes or apple-bits. We fed and watered him through the heat of summer days, then, with the coming of frost, Telly would vanish into the forest to hibernate until spring. In 2011, that changed. One fateful night, Telly got into the garage and when Dad went to work the next morning, he accidentally backed over our beloved Turtelle. Telly’s shell was cracked (thank goodness it wasn’t fully broken) and one leg was almost torn off. It was an awful day, but thanks to a very kind veterinarian, we pulled Telly through the worst. The only lasting damage is Telly’s inability to retract his injured leg and it is because of this, he cannot return to the wild. The leg would make Telly vulnerable to predators during the summer and to frost-bite during the winter, so now he lives with us. He has a spacious terrarium in our spare room where we keep his humidity and temperature at optimum levels year-round. He has a UV by day and a infrared heat-lamp by night, a bathing pool, a basking stone, and his own iPod that plays bird songs during the day and night sounds after dark. Telly does quite well for himself, dining on earthworms, tomatoes, and apples. He is my Turtle Prince and I am The Worm Goddess, dispensing bounty from on high. I am honored to serve such a noble creature.

Now, with the morning round of animal care is done, its almost eleven and time for lunch. After that I’ll start watering the yard and feed the hummingbirds. Soon it will be time for afternoon chores to begin, but, to be honest, there’s no where on earth I would rather be.