BC’s Anonymous

Owain's FIrst Day at Home

Owain’s FIrst Day at Home

If I had a blog, today I would write about my secret addiction. They say the first step to overcoming a problem is admitting you have one, so here goes: I am addicted to border collies. When my fourteen year old BC, Owain, passed away a few weeks ago, I knew I would eventually get another dog, but I had no intention of getting another border collie. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that life with a BC was unfulfilling, its just that these are seriously high-maintenance dogs. They are brilliant, energetic, and demand entertainment from everyone around them. I thought one small consolation to losing my dear Owain would be a quieter, simpler life where I could do things like watch TV without also playing catch, sit at the river without my dog asking for a running commentary on the sheer awesomeness of the hold he’d dug in the sand, or have breakfast without shouting, “Wow! You’re the man!” every time my furry friend chased off a flock of songbirds. I thought life would be easier that way, but boy, was I wrong.

Finding the First Leaf

Finding the First Leaf

It appears that once a BC has installed himself in your life and become your best friend, workmate, and entertainer, you simply can’t live without that glorious energy humming around your life. I know I am grieving for the individual who was Owain and regardless of what kind of dog I get, it won’t be him, but even in studying other breeds (labs, corgis, golden retrievers), nothing but a BC can fill the empty place in my heart.

Ordinarily the solution to my problem would be: Get a border collie, but our farm has changed since Owain came along and I worry he (or she) wouldn’t have enough to do. At present, the only livestock we have are five horses, two old Jersey cows, one ancient sheep, and an assortment of poultry. We might get back into sheep in a few years, but would that be soon enough? Would I be able to provide enough stimulation to satisfy a border collie’s startling intellect. If an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, then a border collie without a purpose is the inner ring of Dante’s Inferno.

Owain Working Sheep

Owain Working Sheep

So here’s the issue: Do I go with my feelings and look for the next BC of my dreams or do I wait? My thought is to approach this as I have all my animal friends: I will send out a request to the Universe and trust that when the time is right, a border collie will fall into my life. It has happened with all four of my cats and my horse, so there is a good precedent to work with. I will set my compass towards all things BC and follow the arrow as it flies from my heart.

The Ocean of Grief

If I had a blog, today I would write about grief.

By the Sea

By the Sea

Life is hard, often too hard. Losing a loved one to death is the hardest test we face. It is the price we pay for being human, and sometimes that price is too high. On October 20, we lost our border collie, Owain. Owain had shared our life for almost fourteen years and he was family. Owain’s intellect, his zest for life, and his boundless love made him as “human” as a dog can be. Owain not only shared our home, he was our partner in every moment of our lives. Whether we were working sheep, herding cows, playing at the river, or watching television, Owain was there – all day, every day for thirteen-and-a-half years. And now he is gone. My mind can’t seem to wrap itself around the fact that his absence is permanent; that until I make The Crossing myself, I will have to live without my most beloved friend.

Since Owain died, I feel as though I am afloat in an dark and perilous sea.  I am overwhelmed by endless waves of emotion that send me down into darkness; a darkness where I can’t breathe, can’t see, can’t tell which way is up and which way is down. At first I thought i could keep myself atop the waves, but strength died with hope and now I just let the sea do with me as it will. If I was a selfish person, I would simply breathe in the icy flow and become bones on the sea-floor, but there are people and animals who depend on me, so I will do my best to keep my head above water until my rescue comes.

My Owain

My Owain

Today I found a glimmer of hope, a fleeting glimpse of  the beams from a distant lighthouse; today, instead of talking to God, I talked to Owain. I told him how bereft I was, how sad and lonely and unbearable my life had become. I told him I didn’t know if I wanted to go on without his shining face to greet me and his boundless love to guide me. In the silence that followed my catharsis, I felt him. I felt Owain’s presence within me, filling a corner of the empty space his passing left behind and I considered the possibility my life might go on.

Though I am still at the mercy of the Ocean of Grief, there are moments when I feel hope; hope that one day I will see a shoreline and the high hill on which my lighthouse stands. Someday the waves of emotion will lap at my ankles, unable to pull me out to sea. Someday The Spirit of Owain will fill the hollow cavern in my heart and I will begin to live with joy again. Someday.

Until then, I will keep talking to my Mr. True, keep remembering the beauty he brought into my life and years of bliss we shared. Those memories will be my guiding light, the beam of hope that steers me through the reefs and back to safer shores.

Best Friends

If I had a blog, today I would tell you that, this morning, I lost my best friend, Owain, the border collie.

Owain was part of our lives for thirteen years and from the day Mom and I brought him home, Owain and I were buddies. He respected Mom as his trainer and companion, but Owain saw me as a littermate – someone to pal around with, someone who was always up for a game of catch or tug-of-war. I am thankful for every second Owain and I spent together and although the house has an empty place tonight, my heart is full. I can feel Owain’s presence everywhere I go and for that, I am so grateful. The days ahead will be a mixture of joy and tears; of funny stories and touching remembrances. The love of family and our other pets will help us find our way and I have no doubt that one day, Owain and I will be together again. Godspeed Mr. True. I’ll see you soon.

Owain - Our Mr. True

Owain – Our Mr. True

The Voice of the Wilderness

If I had a blog, today I would write about the healing power of the natural world.

October 11 - White Throated Sparrlw

White Throated Sparrow

It has been a hard week. On Friday, I lost a dear friend: My nephew-dog, Hank the yellow lab. Hank was with us for thirteen years, most of them spent living next door to us with my brother and sister-in-law. For the last four years, we were Doggie Day Care for Hank when his people were at work, so his absence from our life has left a great empty place, a place even our own dogs, Owain and Bree, can never fill.

Yesterday it was chilly and overcast, the weather making my sadness deeper. I tried reading, watching a movie, and even attempted some writing, but I couldn’t focus; couldn’t stop my mind from going deeper into dark places that pronounced life nothing more than a long string of sad goodbyes. I felt hopeless and depressed, too bereft even to sleep, so about noon I packed up my camera gear and went for a walk in the woods.

Given my state of mind when I started, I figured my walk would be short, but I thought maybe some fresh air would do me good and I needed a photo of the day, so I headed down towards the little valley just beyond the barn. When I got to the gate, I felt a little better and decided to go a little farther.

Down by the creek, I came upon a gathering of cardinals, white-throated sparrows, and juncos – all feeding on rose-hips, the berries of the multiflora rose. I took a few photos, then a few more, and before I knew it, two hours had passed and I was watching kingfishers down at the river.

About mid-way through my walk, I started to feel better. The dark cloud in my mind lifted as the sun peeked out and warmed the landscape with it mellow light. I still carried the weight of grief, but out in the woods, it was a weight I could bear, and I realized as long as I have Nature, I have refuge from life’s heavy-handed blows.

I can’t put my finger on any one event or sensation that eased my pain, so I can’t offer a ten-point plan to finding peace in the natural world. All I can tell you is: Being surrounded by the beauty and abundance of life made me feel part of something larger, more eternal, and more substantial than fragile, mortal life.

I returned home in the late afternoon, sweaty, tired and covered in stick-tights, but my mind was quieter, my thoughts less troubled. As I tended the barn-cats and chickens, settling them in for another night, I had hope – hope for myself, for my loved ones, and for the future. With that hope came thoughts of a passage from one of my favorite books, The Singing Wilderness, by naturalist Sigurd Olson. In it, Olson writes:

I have discovered that I am not alone in my listening; that almost everyone is listening for something, that the search for places where the singing may be heard goes on everywhere… We may not know exactly what it is we are listening for, but we hunt as instinctively for opportunities and places to listen as sick animals look for healing herbs.

Amen.

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.