Archive | January, 2014

“Started Early, Took My Dog”

26 Jan

Remember Emily Dickinson’s poem that begins, “Started early, took my dog?”  Never mind the rest of the poem; I borrowed the first line decades ago, and will always keep it close to my heart. It’s what Robert Frost would call “My first line laid down.” (He thought a poem began that way and then “ran a course of lucky events,” and “ended in a clarification of life”–“Not a great clarification,” he hastened to say, “Such as sects and cults are founded on,” but  “a momentary stay against confusion.”  I’m not with him on the ending. For me, it’s the journey. But the beginning and the middle? Always. A wonderful way to write or live a poem or a life. Nothing confusing about it.  Often one rebirth after another, like Cummings, or Thoreau. “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” “We can never be born enough.”  It is the mystery “which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves.”

It bothered him that some writers thought of the end first and worked up to it. “No surprise in the writer,” Frost said, “No surprise in the reader”; “no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader”  either.  I’m with Frost there. The kinds of surprises he talks about allow feelings in and out.  Feelings are attached to tears, or vice versa. It shows that those feelings mean something.

I always referred to that no-surprise no tears way as “Poe’s way.” Poe, after all, had to pay his rent with what he wrote. He had to think about who would buy the thing. He decided he could remind them of their fears of death and torture and things like that, but it was artificial scariness. You put the book aside and went about your business afterward. Not so with Frost and me. The poem, or life,  lodged itself somewhere near your heart and stayed there forever.   Thinking Poe’s way about anything, I believe, changes whatever it is, makes it into a commodity.

Frost and I, and Thoreau and Cummings, and Isaac Singer, and oh so many others, take the non-commodity approach. What we create comes from our whole spirit, no matter how poor we are in the eyes of the bean counters  and the rent payers of the world.

We’re with Julia Cameron, and all those who can verify that, when you commit yourself to something,  wonderful things pop up like toast along the route less traveled by, and that makes , as Frost would say, “all the difference.” 

So–my spirit was my dog’s spirit’s best friend. When I found her, she found me at the same time. I happened to be walking through the dog section of the humane society, which was filled with guard dogs, at the time. I didn’t want a guard dog. I wanted a dog that loved  cats–in general–and my cats in particular,  a dog that cats could cuddle with, and  sleep with, and  think of as family.

 As I came to a corner at one end of a long row of kennels, I bent at the waist and looked at the black and white spotted floppy-eared, bushy tailed goofy dog spirit that, just at that moment was peering at ME from the opposite end of the row.

“Oh, my gosh!” I thought, as I headed for her.

“Oh my gosh!” thought the dog, as she watched me.

I eased myself into her kennel and sat on my heels just inside the door. She immediately came forward, sat on her heels next to me, and rested the left  side of her nose on my right knee. We adopted each other. I asked the attendant to please take our picture. “My old film Nikon is in the car,” I said. He obliged.

This is that day. It happens to be fifteen years ago, but, when I look at the picture, I feel its todayness all over again.

She was one year old then and, they said, had been found wandering in traffic on the Holly-Seabeck Road. No one even called to inquire about a missing black and white Springer Spaniel/Border Collie Mix.

As we drove home together, I said, “Well, Holly, this is what we should do: We should drive across the country together. Wouldn’t that be a nice way to ‘bond’?  And, after that, we could take short drives in the country, looking for cows and horses to bark at. And, after that,  we could  drive the back roads to the Grand Canyon, and tour a slot canyon together near Page, with a group of photographers, and then we could  just go for long and short and medium walks together, up the steep hill and down, and drive to Fred Meyer’s, or the Post Office, with the windows down, just sniffing the scenery  and enjoying each other’s company.” 

And she was all for it,  so, we did that, year after year, for  thousands upon thousands of miles, until neither of us was young anymore, and she, in fact, was wearing out so much faster than I was.

She reminded me of this many times. “I know,” I said. “I know. I do know. But I wish it weren’t true.”

“It IS true, though,” she said, as gently as she could.

“Yes,” I said. “I think, in fact, tomorrow is the day.”

“I think so too,” she said.

“Is there anything special you’d like to do?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe go for a ride.”

“We could look for cows and horses, on the way to the Montesano vet,” I said.

We started earlier than usual. Neither of us knew those back roads.

“Here’s one,” I said. “And, look! There’s a beautiful horse over there, by the fence, right next to the road. We can park right there and talk to it.”

I rolled down the passenger window nearest to her.

“Hello, horse,” I said. “This is our last day, almost our last moment. We’d like to share it with you. We love horses. We think you’re beautiful.”

The horse  put its nose over the fence and stood silently, listening.

Holly managed to stand up, and leaned a little closer to the window, talking quietly, telling the horse how things stood.

The horse listened intently,  without an ounce of uneasiness or fear.

“We both thank you,” I said, with a sigh,  and slowly backed the car up, and made the next left turn.

“Now’s the time,” I said. “Maybe we can take a little walk on that old road behind the vet’s.”

We did that–slowly, slowly, savoring the sky and the grass and the brown earth , and the trees, and the fallen fir needles, and the fence, and our white VW Rabbit. 

“Our last time,” I said. “I’m so thankful for all of them.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Me too.”        



Thinking About Spirits

21 Jan

I long to believe that all people have something I would call “a spirit.” I behave as if they do, but I don’t know how to know if my belief has any foundation in reality. By “spirit,” I don’t mean an invisible something that lives on after we die. I mean something that is in us as long as we are alive, and conscious–something tender and warm and genuine and  vulnerable and open and introspective and capable of growing in insight and awareness and a profound and unmistakable quality I would call love. 

 And, no, I don’t necessarily mean romantic love. I mean what Erich Fromm would call brotherly love–and self-love.

And, no, by self-love, I don’t mean self-absorption or narcissism or vanity or arrogance, and I certainly don’t mean nastiness and meanness and cruelty and violence and destructiveness and bullying.

If there is such a region, or quality, in all people, I wonder where it is when I and others can’t hear or  see or feel it. Is there an underground, undercover place where it hides out, watching and listening through a tiny peephole in a fence of some kind, like Frost’s poem about the creature with a two-door burrow? Is it asleep? Has it died of fright? Is it frozen solid?

As you see, I don’t know. And, frankly, I never hear people talking about this. Maybe there’s a better word. Maybe the word should be cut out of the dictionary–or should be marked “extinct.” I would vote against that, though, because I feel as if I have one myself. There is something in me that is not ever sleeping–for sure never asleep while I’m awake. I feel as if it is my constant companion. I listen to it, and it listens to me, my conscious self–with total attention, missing nothing–ever. It knows when I am sad, mad, indifferent, worried, pleased, hungry, delighted, anxious, resentful. It knows everything about my emotions and my memories, my tense and sore muscles, my relaxed, content muscles.  It knows all the songs I have ever sung, or thought of singing. It knows all my tears. It knows all my laughter, and smiles, and playfulness and silliness. It knows my sorrows inside and out, my questions, my doubts, my confusions,  my hopes, my longings, my simplicity, my depth, my complexity, my ambivalence, my everything,  

So isn’t there some corresponding something or territory in other people? And can’t that part speak to my part, and listen to it, and think about it, and puzzle over it, and send kindness to it, and realness, and tenderness, and all those things?   And can’t it think and think forever, without stopping, about all the things that really matter, all the things that are most urgently in need of care and consideration?

How I long for a sign.