GHOST-WALKING

The storms began on Thursday.  Around 7 1/2 inches of rain arrived that day, with about 5 inches in what seemed like 20 minutes, testing the capacity of the gutters.  One nearby county had 12 – 15 inches.  As I drove over the bridges at the Spring River, brown water flowed, carrying part of our farmland with it.

I had been driving to town since we lost Banner, doing what had been ordinary things, trying to take walks regularly as we would have done together:  walking along the sidewalk on the right edge so she would have plenty of room, speeding up at corners, keeping a brisk pace as she had done before she entered her golden months, even entertaining a little adventure in the path on one walk.  This time, with my peripheral vision, I could see her moving happily, head up, eyes bright, smiling, with a tongue hanging out as though it was 80 degrees when it was only 60 – and realizing that I would need to leave earlier for walks.  I began to think about other dogs and owners we saw at the park who aren’t there now, realizing that those dogs are probably also on the other side of what we know here as life.  The more we walked, the more I began to feel the memories, if not the presence, of other Newfs – Banker on my right doing the kind of antics that charmed others around him, Jade moving up on my left side because the left side is their spot – each of them.  It could get crowded.  Parker was coming up behind me and stepping on the back of my shoes, trying to get past the compact group.  I didn’t want to turn around to look.  It was comforting to remember and I didn’t want to disturb the memories, and I didn’t want anyone wondering about the lady who was talking to “herself” to take too much interest.  So I looked ahead and kept walking, left hand in leash position.  As we walked, I thought about Jody, a Yorkie with a big presence.  He was also in his golden phase, and his mom had been pushing him in a stroller after he got tired.  I regretted telling Banner to not get any ideas, because if that option had been open, I may have done just that.  At a National long ago, an older couple pulled their senior Newf in a small wagon with a bed.

I thought about how graciously Banner had moved out of the way for the kid in a wheelchair.  I thought about the elderly gentleman with the even more elderly black lab, wondering how he was doing.  Jazz, the blind Shih-tzu, hasn’t been at the park recently either.

After walking past the corner where there is activity on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the feelings became more vacant again.  I wondered how many other people were doing ghost-walking now.  I explained to Banner that losses are harder when their presence has been such a gift, that without the joy of the experience, there would not be so many tears.  So, really, the tears are a symbol of joy.  She would have been listening if she had been present.  Whether she would have agreed, she would have responded as though she didn’t disagree.  This was not one of those discussions that would generate disagreement.

Doing ordinary things seems necessary as a part of the healing and the readjustment process.  Today I had an appointment in Springfield, as I would tell Banner, “with my veterinarian”.  It was a routine appointment that followed most of the same path as we would take for Banner in the past few months.  To make her experiences a bit more positive, I had begun stopping at a Popeye’s for their classic chicken on the way out – her latest favorite.  When I could see that one of the vet visits had left her a little uncomfortable, I changed her focus by asking, “Would you like to go to Popeye’s?”  Her attention was instantly optimistic.  So, we ate a lot of Popeye’s chicken over the past few months.  On the way back today, I went to the same Popeye’s.  I think the chicken tasted as good, but shortly afterward, I was thinking again.  The weather was warm and the sun was bright, following several days of mostly rain.  I decided to leave the air conditioning off and the windows up, to think about how it may have felt to Banner, who always thought the temperature was too high unless the ground was 40 or below.  The humidity and the sweltering warmth inside the van reminded me of the area where I grew up.  There was a detour to follow on the way back, and the damage of the heavy rain to crop fields was evident.  Hopefully enough water will soak in to restore, or partially restore the water table, but there will be some impacts to overcome.

Any drive is a good opportunity to have some reset time, so like Banner, I watched outside the windows, in between thinking.  I thought about the goodness of childhood times and my parents, when life was made comfortable, and when starting life on my own was new, that glorious phase when you begin your adventure on your own, about the horses who have also played roles as teachers, and about the depth of love from a mare for her foal, for her lifetime, and about the gentle and dedicated cows whose calves are being weaned, and the so-called cycle of life.  I thought about the long black snake that I tried to straddle to avoid running over it as I left town, and about a turtle that was crossing the road.  Ordinarily I would have stopped to hasten the turtle across the road.  I thought about how raising and losing a Newf is like a parent whose kid leaves for college and doesn’t come back.  I thought about how life must end at some point for all of us, and how that end is rarely the fairy tale we would prefer of dying peacefully during sleep.  Passing is tough.  It is hard on us, in ways that only the person who knows this event could describe, in the many ways it arrives.  There have to be endings for all of us, and we need to look ahead with some planning but without obsession.  We don’t have a choice.  It will arrive whether we are ready or not, when it arrives.  So the best you can do is to make life as good as you can for those around you while they are here.

Looking ahead, I thought about how we would handle our farm in the next 15-20 years, at what point we may need to think about different living conditions.  Our home was built for living with Newfs and aging-in-place, but the farm needs attention that at some point we may not be able to sustain.  If we moved to an area that was better suited to retirement, with a smaller home, where would I put all of my boxed memories and Newf things, those things that refresh memories for each Newf?  How much downsizing would be needed?  I’ve been thinking about recipients for some things.

I wondered what that nice police officer would say, the one who stopped us for “walking a bear” in town, if he knew that a ghost was driving a van.

There was another stop to make in Carthage, and I wanted to follow some of the walking paths that were familiar to different Newfs on the drive home.  Feeling prompted, I turned on the radio.  “Ooohh, child, things are gonna get easier,  ooohh child things are gonna get brighter”.  “We’re gonna walk in the rays of a beautiful sun.”

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ONE LAST BANNER STORY

originally published 4/15/24

There was a list member who had a Newf named Piper, one she was especially close to.  She said that if this Newf had wings, she could fly, so she named her Piper.  Banner was one of those too.  I built a confinement like a large pen inside the van behind the driver and passenger seats, and I had a small gate installed so she would have to come out slowly.  Because:  without it, she would launch like a rocket.  Landings were, of course, hard, and there was no safety net (not that she thought she needed one).

Long ago, Greg said that when one of the Newfs passed, they passed the baton to the next.  When we lost Holly, there was no other Newf at the time.  Banker arrived several months later.  He was the first one that I described as walking in and turning all the lights on.  Holly’s loss was a very dark one, and it was an uplift to have a personality arrive who carried that much Light.

We lost Banker almost 7 years later.  At the time, there were four Newfs, including his son, Parker.  I sat on the sofa with Parker next to me going through photos and videos.  When I opened a video that included Banker barking, my big, soft 3-year old bud began trembling.  Sometimes when you are in grief, it is hard to realize that others are also experiencing grief, including non-human residents.  This morning, the mixed breed terrier is subdued.  This is the one who fiercely defends us from every leaf or snowflake that strikes the window and every delivery driver who brings good things to our doorstep.  But today, she is quiet.

So, my lovely Banner, who always met life head-on, is now on the other side or in transition.  She has certainly earned her wings.  And I hope that there is someone there to catch her if she doesn’t actually have wings, someone who passed the baton and is now receiving the pass.  But perhaps these are angels, whether they have wings or not, who have done their tour among humans, gifted and contributed toward their lives and left them as better humans, who are now being assigned to another post.  They have taken the training wheels off, and hopefully they will be present in spirit helping us to be aware and keep moving in the right direction.  Maybe it is better not to speculate at all, and just to appreciate the time we had together, but she was my charge as much as I was hers, and letting go is a hard hill to climb.

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YOU KNOW HOW

originally published 2/12/24

Someone who loves you wants you to share in their experiences of joy?  From our perspective:  You find a good restaurant, you want to take a friend.  You read a good book or see a good movie, you want to tell people you care about.  You find a good xxx, you tell your friends.  Etc.  So when you live with a Newf, and they want you to experience something that gives them special joy?  They go outside and come back in, check on you, go outside and come back in, go outside and bark for you to come outside too, come back in, get a drink, look directly into your eyes and eye-point to the door, go back out, come back in, repeat, repeat, repeat.  “Is it wonderful outside?”  “OK.  I’ll join you, but just for a moment.”  “I need to make my coffee first.”  “OK, I’ll start the water, then come out with you.”

Brrr.  Banner:  “Humans are perplexing.”  “Pfssssh!  I’ll lie down and keep my eye on her until she gets it.”

Happy Snow Monday.  It looks short-lived, back to 55 tomorrow & 60s Wed.  Better not let this moment pass.

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DOGS, HEALTH AND VELOCIRAPTORS

originally published 11/21/23

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and I expect that most of us will be counting the blessings we have experienced from Newf companionship.  Banner’s menu will include everything but turkey and dressing, as none of my Newfs have tolerated turkey well and dressing has onions.  The apples are ready for either pie or candied apples, most likely candied sweet potatoes and apple pie.  I love the food but dread the eating holidays.  Banner doesn’t dread the eating holidays.

I ran across an article this morning with some good points, most that we are already aware of, and some excellent descriptors:

https://www.axios.com/2023/11/21/dog-research-mental-health-stress

The author has Golden Retrievers.  In the section on Christmas puppies:

“. . . many dogs given as gifts for Christmas are returned by the next holiday season because “nobody trained them, [so] they’re super cute for three months, and then they turn into velociraptors for about three years, . . .”

That is a great nutshell!  My skeptical side says that she forgot to include “. . . rinse, repeat. . .” as I know that many are serial puppy buyers.  This makes me appreciate those breeders who carefully qualify and screen the prospective homes for their puppy buyers.  I think I’ll add that to the list of things to be Thankful for.

The thoughts outlined in the “Thought bubble” ending are some of the most significant, in my opinion.  Banner plays the role of chief priorities monitor, exercise program director, social engagement assistant and supervisor of groundedness, in addition to her other duties.  So, living with Newfs becomes a sort of value-added lifestyle.  These are roles that have been fulfilled by many Newfs over the years, including one who also stopped to smell the jasmine (or whatever that waxy yellow flower on a vine was).  When it comes to the Newfs, I still feel a lot like that toddler many decades ago whose dog took her hand in its mouth to show her the wonders of nature.

Many Thanks for all of you who share your stories and questions with other owners, and to your Newfs, who make a dimension of learning accessible to all of us.

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