I was backpacking and staying in a small lakeside campground on Orcas Island. Moss hung from the trees, and my campfire seemed like it was the only one on the entire island. It was a rainy spring, and while that weather chases away most folks, it is precisely the kind of weather that calls my soul outdoors to watch the world refresh and start anew. It was all the more surprising when he walked out of the woods, soaking wet, to sit next to my campfire.
He was a blonde lab with the most fascinating blue eyes. Almost intuitively, he joined me under my lean-to out of the rain, circling up next to me. We slept the night together, listening to the raindrops dance on the lake. We sat the next morning over oatmeal and bagels, asking him what his story was. I reached out to pet him and he leaned in strong against my hand, communicating back how good it felt to be there with me. We walked into town and discovered that George had been left at a gas station, his owners getting on the ferry to the next island and never returning. He’d become a wandering mascot of sorts, with the local grocer setting out a bowl behind the store each morning and night like something out of Lady and the Tramp; doggy dinner for one. There was never really a question about whether he wanted to come home with me. For the rest of my week on the island, we were inseparable.
I explained to him that I had been left too, that she’d left me after 14 years together. My sense of solitude some of the time had chased her away. I told him we’d found each other on this island and perhaps we should hike together and become better friends. That night in the tent, he moved from the foot of the mattress and, despite his size, circled up against my chest. He returned with me to my small bachelor home on campus.
Back home, the sadness of the divorce returned. Despite having found a new home, there were reminders of the failed relationship everywhere in my life. George tolerated my morose dumpiness for a couple of days, but woke me up on the third day bouncing up and down on the bed early in the morning. He licked my hands and my neck and my ears. When I tried to hide under the blankets, he followed me there, finally finding my face. He licked ‘til my beard was wet, finally collapsing next to me, pawing at my face playfully, but so very gently. It was the first time I saw that look in his eyes, “Come on; there is so much more to see.”
Over the next few months, he pulled me through the world, to farmers markets, through art festivals, making new friends at the dog park. Each morning, I’d ring my meditation bell, put on soft music and meditate. He decided that next to me, head down in his paws was where he belonged during that spiritual time in the morning. He decided if it was important for me, it should be for him too. We’d breathe together and set our intentions for the day amongst the redwoods. This was the kind of moment that bonded us together so tightly. He understood my need for quiet and solitude, but became the exception to the rule. Even if we spent a quiet night in by the fireplace, he’d lay in a circle making sure I could feel him there. We’d make the walk to campus and he’d circle up on his bed at my desk. I have students that still write me asking about him, and always commenting on what an empathic dog he always seemed to be.
We’d spend Saturdays down at the coffeehouse sitting outside, sneaking him torn bagel pieces dipped in creamy coffee. He was never one of those to jump on people. He always approached, and particularly with small children, he learned this adorable little bow. You could feel the tension on the lead that he wanted to say hello. He’d approach and very slowly lower down to a sit. He’d then bow his head, welcoming them closer. He offered them peace and love like no other being I’ve witnessed.
He became such an integral part of my life that when he started slowing down I was in a bit of denial about it. The vet was compassionate with me explaining that George was sick, and wasn’t going to get any better. She gently explained that we could take care of things at our home, and not have to make a big scene of it all at the office. The vet came by, we shared a cup of tea on the deck, and then she helped me give George the calmest send off possible.
On our first anniversary together, we had packed the car which always caused George to run around the house, wild with excitement. In the old pickup he’d ride along, his head on my leg, watching the trees go by through the window. We went up in the mountains. I knew a campground with a beautiful creek running through it, with a hike up through ancient trees. He would run ahead of me, always staying in sight, and turning his head back to me as if to say, “Come on, there is so much more to see.”
It was on our twelfth such anniversary, that I stepped out of the woods to the shore of the small pond. I set my pack down, reaching inside for the small wooden box. The not-quite-springtime mountain air swirled down around as I paused for a moment. “You loved it here,” I said as I opened the box, examining its contents. It was remarkable to me that a blue cloth collar, some off-white dust and a few small pieces were all that could be left. I ran my finger through the fine dust, then in a single motion, propelled it all over the surface of the quiet pond.
He had seen me through the largest changes in my life. He never gave up on me, despite times where I’d done so myself. I smiled to myself, realizing that he was my most successful adult relationship.
This post is an excerpt from my book “Brief Moments: a collection of short stories” available on Amazon.com in paperback & Kindle eBook.