Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In the Wake

This is the closing week of September, a day born in a green cast of a thunderstorm with its rolling booms and the sounds of a gentle rain. Finally it is a day to stay inside and get a few things done that fall into the rainy day category. Another cup of tea might help to get it started, maybe.

In the wake of sweet Memphis’s passing on to her next astral plane, the days have not yet resumed any feeling of normalcy. My habits still include her and I still expect her appearance in the typical places I would normally have seen her. I had no idea just how much her being here interacted with my every day goings on in my barn world. Never intrusive, but always there to accept a belly scratch if offered, Memphis was just the happy Buddha that colored my days with her optimism.

She was only one of the dogs to follow and join me whenever I rode my horses out into the woods behind the house or out into the big field below the pond dam. When I rode out yesterday it was my first time out without her since she passed, and it was quiet and lonely without my buddy trotting along side. I catch myself expecting to see her laying at the front of the barn, waiting on me to mount up and go. I also still impulsively go to the feed can to get her feed to put in her silver bowl, and then stop myself and remember that, she is gone.

In reflecting on my own loss of her and how it has affected my mood on the farm, I have watched the rest of the pack and how her disappearance has affected them and how it has changed the hierarchy left behind. They have all reacted differently and positions have changed. Do they know that she died? I do not know that, nor in what concept might they perceive her being gone means. I can’t pretend to think that they miss her in exactly the same way as I do, but in watching them it is clear that her absence has disrupted their patterns and they seem to be at a loss, too.

The shepherd was the only one who directly asked what happened when we brought the body home from the vet. Heidi had raised her nose when we had opened the door to the truck where Memphis’ body lay, now in repose, and gave a worried look. We then went into the house to gather our thoughts about where best to bury the ol’ girl and Heidi rushed in and went directly to the last place where Memphis had lain. There was a blanket under the steps where Memphis spent her last hours here at home, now vacant. Heidi stood on the blanket and scratched it to pull it back as if to reveal Memphis underneath it. She then lay on it herself and nudged it with a serious few bumps with that long nose of hers and again looked as us with those big intelligent eyes, asking the question, “Where did she go?”, but I had no answer for her.

Of the rest of the pack, Marley the mighty Yorkie, was the closest buddy to Memphis and regularly followed the yellow dog across the pond dam behind the barn to the gate that joins our land with our neighbor to go visit their dogs over there. Occasionally though, Marley remained behind and waited for Memphis to go and then come trotting back. Recently Marley has spent long periods of time lying under the big oak at the edge of the pond keeping her eyes toward the trail they used to share, waiting for the yellow dog to return.

Heidi still rules the floor, her bowl, and her bed, but of all the ironies of life, the Jackapotomus, has now put himself in charge of patrol detail and has become first sentry in the line of defense of the home place, barking bravely at the slightest hint of an intruder. This former shy, cowardly little terrier has risen to the self appointed ranks of Alpha. There seems to be a brighter candle burning in the mighty little dog that was not there before. He still cowers at the sound of a bicycle pump, or any type of air hose, and runs to hide, but for the most part Jack is now the Man. There is a swagger to his trot now. The tail is high, and his hairy ears bounce and blow in the wind. At long last, Jack rules, for the most part, and at least in his opinion.

September’s passing also brings a thankful end of summer. The days have begun to lose the misery of the heat, and while the humidity remains for now, it is bearable. Out along the edges of the fields, trying to stay in the shadows of the tree lines, deer are starting to move around getting ready for the rut season coming soon. They also seem to be aware that the yellow dog is gone, who used to chase them out of the yard, and now they brazenly pass through, grazing on the leaves of the pear trees and picking up the wild grapes that have dropped on the patio.

Hummingbirds, in huge numbers, have invaded the area and I have fed our visitors over five pounds of sugar in the past two weeks, and that is even at a low ratio of four to one, of water to sugar. We have never seen the vast numbers of the little buzzers like this year and we have been thoroughly entertained watching them buzzing around the yard, fighting over, and quickly draining, their easy sugar source from our feeder.

Sadly, it also the end of another sugar and water source, from our pear trees. Our pear trees this year were absolutely filled with these hard fruits, so much so that many branches were broken with their weight as they grew. These fruit are a favorite with all of the animals around here, but the horses are particularly fond of them and trot towards the tree when I walk past it so that I can lob a few over the fence to them. The look on their faces as they slobber and crunch on the orbs is one of pure bliss. What once seemed to be an endless supply is over now for this season, and the horses will have to be satisfied with boring carrots as their treats. Jack, too, will miss eating the pears, but it will certainly make keeping his diabetes and insulin under control easier without his supplementing on this yummy sugar source.

September had a full slate and October looms ahead, with many days already filled on the calendar with things to be done. Football season has begun and our team is looking good so far and, hopefully, will prevail through the rest of the season. I also look forward to flannel and fire in the fireplace, and the chillier weather ahead that will bring them on. . Fall, is my favorite season, a closure to the stress of summer, a resolution of sorts that would be nice if it could last a bit longer before passing again into winter. There is a garden to clean out and re-plant, and a last time over with the lawn mower before putting it away for several months time. Seasons continue to come, and then they go, a cycle of perpetual repetition keeping the rhythms of my days.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Sweet Clown Takes her Final Bow


Memphis, our old yellow Lab, has now come to the final days of her life, and her bright smile will soon cease to greet me, ever again. Memphis has in fact, not smiled her bright, showing all of her teeth, with her glimmering eyes and her thumping fat otter tail, for several days now. Last night was particularly hard on her and she spent the night and most of yesterday, withdrawn and sleeping under the steps in the foyer, she laid on her fluffy pillow in the shade, responding to very little.

Memphis had been losing weight very gradually over the past year, but this weekend signaled a major change as she just began to be disinterested in eating. She was led into some nourishment by way of canned chicken, raw eggs, anything that we could coax her into eating. This morning, she absolutely refused to even examine our best offerings, and so, it was time to see the vet.

Her blood markers were not good, and indicated a near total kidney failure. Poor Memphis was reaching a toxic level in her bloodstream that very little could be done for to correct. To give her a little more time I left her at the vet’s to get a flushing of fluids to re-hydrate her somewhat, for one more night, before she takes the big sleep tomorrow.

Tonight she will be offered whatever she might think palatable and we will say our good byes to a great dog and long time friend.

There is no easy way to deal with death. It is a fact that is the same for all of us, crossing all species. The death of a sweet animal, however, who has shared its life with you, who has looked to you for food, shelter, companionship, health, and love is no easier for having had practice in going through it all many times before with others that died before. The fact that I do have an option for Memphis is a good thing, as I have had with other dogs and horses, that instead of letting her slowly starve and become filled with the toxins created by her own internal failings and then die, I can give her a peaceful send off to avoid the suffering that will come with this deteriorating situation. Euthanasia is a cruel angel of mercy. Memphis will calmly go to sleep, and I will cry and miss those sweet eyes and her ever present happiness.

Memphis, I am convinced, is a creature who achieved a level of enlightenment of some sorts, by the path her life took with us some eleven or twelve years ago, when we picked her from a litter of bouncy yellow pups. Chosen as a possible hunting dog to replace another departed yellow Lab, Memphis soon turned out to be a total clown, and played dumb to the point of never having had to do one thing of work in her entire stay here. She was impossible to teach anything to because at the first thing she did that I could reward, was to roll over on her back and wave her legs in the air for me to scratch her white belly, and smile. She just never would be serious. I soon gave up on her education and left her to just be a farm dog, which pleased her just fine.

Left to her own, Memphis was quite an avid and patient hunter, choosing her own prey, with a strong preference for moles that had high squeaky noises for high entertainment value. Possums were found frequently on the front porch with a very nonchalant Memphis laying close by pretending she was oblivious to the get away plans of the not yet dead possum. She also brought in a shoulder and head of a spotted fawn last year and proudly displayed it for the other dogs in the pack to take notice of her prowess.

As a young silly puppy, a period which lasted until last week, well more like until her second birthday, Memphis loved to chew leather, a lot. Living on a horse farm, a dog could easily find oneself tempted by all manner of things hanging on hooks, or laying on benches. I can’t count the leather halters that were victims, and gloves pretty much fall into that category too. There were chair legs, extension cords, boxes left by the brown truck deliveries, seat cushions, and many more things much too numerous to add to the list of the mangled, chewed, and departed. Making it to her third birthday was a milestone. Punishment did nothing to deter this beast of destruction, so we just hung stuff on higher pegs, and hoped she would soon outgrow the silly stage.

Memphis did finally quit the chewing part but never lost her puppy outlook on life. There have been few creatures I have had the pleasure to be around than this totally optimistic, dog, and I will miss her smile and will look for it in all the places she used to lay. I will miss too, how she used to lay against the wall of the house while on the front porch, and she would roll mostly onto her back. Then if she saw you and started wagging her tail she could get some really good rhythms going as her tail whapped onto both the floor and the wall, sounding like a full drum line corp. Any further encouragement got the sounds ridiculously funky. The dog could get a serious groove going with that big tail.

Memphis also liked playing games, with us, and with the shepherd, Heidi. Ball chasing was pretty high up there but the game of messing with the Nazi was more fun. In the evening we would let all the dogs in to spend time with us chilling out. Heidi liked to rule the bed in the living room, and by default, Memphis’s bed was under the stair case close to the front door. Through the course of the night, Memphis would somehow get closer and closer to the living room, and never actually be seen moving. First there was the white foot crossing the threshold, then the next foot, and finally she would somehow ease herself into the room. This game just drove the German crazy because she was defending her rights to rule and Memphis would push the limits of this control freak’s boundary issues, and just smile and play dumb doing it. Memphis never fought because she never had to. She was the real alpha, because no one took her really seriously and she always smiled, and got her way.

What a happy clown. Memphis was always happy, no matter what. Hers has been a pleasant and fairly utopian life, for any creature’s standard, and it has been my pleasure to have known her and shared her time in this existence. How life would be so different if we could all go through life wearing her glasses. In the past few years that have been pretty rough on many fronts for me, it has been a treat to head to the barn on my daily routine, with my pack of dogs, led out by this silly white dog, with her fat wagging tail and eternal optimism. This, will be hard to replace.


The night was not good, not bad, but no change and no miraculous recovery. This morning Memphis did wag her fat tail, but still refuses water and the most tempting of morsels, and there was no smile. The quality of her life is nil, over, and done. Today is the day she will live no more. It is my choice for this, because I can make it. If left to her own, would she really want to live another several days in this pitiful condition? I think not. The Memphis I knew will be asleep, soon, and forever. In my mind and heart she will remain as long as I can remember, and perhaps she will reincarnate into another bouncy puppy for some lucky person to know. I don’t know about that, but wishful thinking never hurts to ponder. Farewell sweet, sweet clown, my Memphis. RIP