Tuesday, March 26, 2013


In the days following Bear’s passing, my mood controls the weather. On Sunday we are flush with memories, the thought of her being gone so suddenly still fresh and unprocessed and the day is beautiful. Full of sunshine and blue skies and the most magnificent sunset that stops us in our tracks on the road between our house and the neighbours’. Golden light floods the road, pure gold, edged with the deepest pink, casting solid blue shadows on snow banks and the white of the snow-covered road. It would have been a perfect day if Bear had been there to share it.

Monday it is grey. The sky so low I think the treetops might brush against it. It snows, slowly at first, white flakes drifting sadly down through the air. Bear would have loved this, we think, fresh snow to traipse through on her morning wander.

On Tuesday, by late morning, it is blowing an angry gale. At the barn where I work, I fight with sleds all day, my breath is sucked from my lungs. I have to sit on a pile of hay in the middle of the paddock on my way to feed the horses, so it won’t blow away. I almost blow away instead.

The wind sweeps right in to Wednesday. More stolen breath, but this time the sun shines brilliantly, blindingly off the fresh white snow.

And then the wind is gone as we stumble into the end of the week. By Thursday the sun appears early morning from behind clouds that started out thick and grey, thinning quickly until wispy and pink and then gone completely. It is a day for finding warm nooks for napping.

“Has anyone noticed that Bear’s gone?” Morgan asks when a week has almost passed. We had hoped for some kind of sign from the rest of the animals that the star of our show was no longer there. But they all carry on as before. Except, at first, the cats moved back upstairs to sleep on our bed after months of crowding in with Bear. I awoke in the night to an immovable weight at my feet.

Perhaps there would be a reaction from Murdoch, I think, if he and Bear had been playmates, but they never were. The two of them lived under the same roof, shared mealtimes and walked together every day, but everything they did was decidedly separate.

“Where’s Bear?” I ask Murdoch one day, just to see, and he stands tall, cranes his neck to look out the window up the trail down which Bear would wander every morning, appearing out of the forest like some kind of wood spirit. Sometimes she would come at a trot as if she just had a thought that she must be missing something inside, like a second breakfast or toast dropped on the floor or peanut butter.

Well, I think, at least he hasn’t forgotten.

It snows again by the end of the week. Dampness in the air holds on to the bite of winter even as fresh fallen snow melts into dirt roads, turns them into a soupy mess. We forget what it looks like here in the spring, we forget that it is green, and that early pink flowers come up in the garden, and that birds besides grouse and ravens appear in our trees, sing with the sunrise. We forget these things. But, I suppose, soon we will remember.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

In the end

In the end, there is relief. Somehow, Bear made the decision so easy. For the last ten months after her cancer diagnosis we agonized over when we would know the right time.

“I’ll just know,” I said, repeatedly, believing it completely.

“But what if I know sooner than you?” Morgan would always ask. And I would shake my head because how could I say that he would be wrong, knowing his sense of doom is much greater than mine.

And so, as we stare at each other with tragic faces, eyes red and streaming over Bear’s body convulsing endlessly on the kitchen floor, there is no hesitation, no question. This is it. Of course that’s how it would happen. Bear has always been our glue, and in the end she took away all of the potential for argument, the possibility of a rift.

The vet is called, 9:30 at night, and we wait.

For a time the sadness is shuffled aside as the longing for it all to be over sets in, and the relief of finally knowing. So this is how it is going to end.

Bear spent months skipping around the periphery of death. This headlong rush into it is not what we expected. The last two months of her life she was better than she had been all year. Her new medication was a miracle, even banishing the side effects of her other medication. She was steadier on her feet, the tired head-jog that plagued her for the previous eight months was gone, the glazed look that sometimes passed over her eyes was no more. There was talk of us making it to spring, and plans for another trip to the beach.

Through the window I see the vet materialize in the yellow light outside our door. It has been close to an hour, this wait out in the country for the on-call vet. Bear has been in a seizure state for almost the entire time. It is like a switch has been flicked, Morgan says.

Just the day before we followed our usual circuitous route through the forest, Bear leaping ahead, ears flapping with each rolling bound as Murdoch flashed away around the bend. Our path is a well-worn groove in a blanket of snow that must have accumulated to almost three feet in spots. We have picked out a winding trail over the last few months, avoiding major obstacles for smaller ones made navigable by the depth of the snow so Bear could clamber more easily over them. We walked this every day.

That day Bear dug out of the snow a giant stick we had played with earlier in the week. It was at least four-times her own length and she wrestled it out on to the trail as Murdoch and I walked ahead, returning home. When I looked back, Bear was a small figure in the spot where we left her, chewing on one end of the stick while the other disappeared into the snow. I called her, then laughed as she picked up the stick by its middle and carried it along the trail, turning her head this way and that to get the length of it around trees in her path.

Now she has disappeared into a seizure and isn’t coming back. The vet has a hard time getting an IV started because Bear’s legs will not still, the repeated administration of muscle relaxants do not work. Time ticks on, a vein in one leg is tried, then another. It is finally in the third attempt, with all of us hanging on, that it is done. We kiss her nose a million times. “She’s my baby,” says Morgan with a sad smile. “No,” I say. “She’s my baby.” A silly game we have played from the beginning.

Afterwards we are set upon by a state of disbelief. It all happened so fast. She was fine, and then she wasn’t. “What happened?” I say to the room, feeling ill.

In the morning we lie in, because we don’t have to dash out of bed at the crack of dawn to administer pills and accommodate a restless bladder. We watch the ravens fly loops around the house, call to each other in their deep, rattling voices. The sun shines, the sky is blue.

We gather up memories. Remember the time when she ran the entire length of that beach to chase off one tiny seagull? Remember when she impaled herself on that stick at Cap Lumiere? Remember covering her in a blanket against the bugs on Superior? Remember teaching her to jump off a dock on the Saint John River? Remember Cape Breton? Remember Montreal? Remember when we stuffed her and Max into the back of the little Suzuki and went camping and Max got motion sickness and Bear tried to make herself tiny and couldn’t wait to get out? Remember the giant sticks and the tennis balls and the rain puddles and canoeing? They tumble in, these brilliant memories; we wrap ourselves in them. Weren't we lucky, we say.

In the end there is an emptiness and the tremendous sense of the passage of time. For a moment I can hold it in the palm of my hand. Twelve years. Gone in the blink of an eye.

Thank you Bear, for everything.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Work? Surely you jest

We walk down the middle of the road, the three of us, three dark figures in the blowing snow. It is not a blizzard, not quite. It would have to be far more wailing for that, more gale-like. This is just a solid fall of snow, white and perfect, erasing signs of a tired winter, turning the trees in the near distance to grey shapes, that become ever lighter as they march away until they meld seamlessly into the heavy, cotton-wool sky.

The flakes fall with weight against my face, tingle as they melt, push down my eyelashes so I have to close my eyes against the storm. And then there is the sound of snow flicking busily against my jacket, the muffled creak of boots over the white road and the shush of the wood sled dragging behind. The wind in the trees, swooping playfully across the empty road, sounds like an approaching car and my eyes blink open quickly to see, but there is nothing.

Bear trots at my side. I catch her glancing at me as I squint down at her, making sure we are actually heading back to the house, that we are going somewhere and are not just going to stop and stand around and watch Murdoch leap over the small mountains of snow lining the road, built over time by the snow plough.

“Murdoch,” I shout into the white curtain at his black shape careening across the road from snow bank to snow bank. “This is supposed to be your job.”

I say this to him at least once a week as I haul another sled load of firewood back to our house, through the woods or over the road and he cavorts along the tree line chasing ghosts.

Murdoch is streamlined for running. He can run so fast sometimes I think he could catch the wind. But somehow in that sleek physique he has the power of an ox. His shoulders are deceptively narrow, but I have been dragged behind him plenty of times to know just how strong he is.

So we thought, way in the beginning, that first year he lived with us and had energy and attitude to burn, that one day we would put his power to work. When he was well in to his second year with us we bought him a sled dog harness, which is really not the right kind of harness, we discovered, for pulling a sled of wood. But we tried anyway, and there is always the possibility that some day it will work.

Whenever I take down the harness from its hook on the wall by the door Murdoch sits up tall and polite. His brown eyes grow huge and round with excitement and he rhythmically lifts one front paw, then the other, as if to say, “Ooh, yes please, put that on me.” And I do and he leaps out the door as though he is very important. But when I clip him to the empty sled, his expression becomes dubious. He takes a few steps, but the minute there is resistance on the harness where it crisscrosses his chest, he stops, wags his tail and flattens his ears. When I start running however, he can’t help himself and he takes off, awkwardly at first, but then, for a moment, he is flying over the road pulling the sled easily behind him.

We add some weight to the sled in the form of firewood, and everything changes. He’ll do it, just, if he is attached to a leash and I run a step ahead of him with a handful of treats under his nose. It is fun once in a while but sometimes it seems like a lot more work than just pulling the sled myself. Which I imagine was his plan all along.

And so, as this March snow piles higher, as tree branches bend deeper under the weight of it, as the air thickens with it to a beautiful grey, I close my eyes and walk towards home dragging a sledful of chopped wood ready for the fire with Bear at my side, while Murdoch chases ghosts along the tree line.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The brown box

The brown cardboard box sits on the scratched, worn wood of the kitchen floor. Two black noses poke at the smooth clean sides, skim across the top where our address is hastily scrawled in black pen, investigate the clear tape holding it all together. In the top left corner the words The Kong Company are neatly stamped in faded black ink along with the return address of Golden Colorado.

The box fit neatly into the space of the large parcel compartment of our group mailboxes around the corner and down the road from our house. I found the key in the snow at my feet, the bright red plastic label it was attached to glaring up at me where it fell from the armload of papers and envelopes hauled out of our own compartment.

“Did you order something?” I asked Morgan, handing him the box as I returned to the car.


At home we are greeted by wagging tails and stomping feet and then we are forgotten as the box is placed on the floor.

“Is that for you Bear?” I ask as she manically sniffs her way around the box. Murdoch works from the other side, creating a circle of dog, outside of which Chestnut tiptoes and sniffs the air and looks for a way in without getting trampled. Cleo watches from her box by the stairs.

Morgan reaches in, slices the tape with a knife. Three noses push aside box flaps and poke around crumpled papers holding in place boxes of treats, coupons and catalogues, a shiny new classic Kong rubber toy and a can of spray peanut butter.

We elbow in to the fray, pull everything out of the box, set it on the kitchen table, the table where Morgan sat just a few days after Christmas and announced, “Bear and I are going to write a letter to the Kong Company.”

“Okay,” I said, glancing up at the shiny red ball on top of the fridge, and then down to where Bear lay sound asleep on her bed.

The letter, I knew, would be about that ball, the squeaky one we gave Bear for Christmas that became unglued and fell apart within the hour and the squeaky green bone we got as a replacement that also fell apart after only a few good squeaks.

And so, the box.

Bear and Murdoch crowd the table. Big brown eyes implore us to open the treats, or at least put everything back on the floor because obviously these are dog things, not people things. Bear cranes her neck and stretches her chin carefully over the edge of the table, reaches forward and gently clasps the cardboard backing of the new cone-shaped Kong between her teeth and pulls it off the table. “Clearly,” she says, “this is for me.”

She’s right of course, this time. The Kong is for seniors, all swirly purple and white. It is exactly like the one she already has, except she stole that one. It was a present for Max four Christmases ago. The dogs’ gifts were all wrapped and placed under the tree the day before Christmas and about 20 minutes later, as Morgan and I stood in the kitchen contemplating dinner Bear marched purposefully down the stairs from the living room carrying the unwrapped Kong in her mouth and headed straight for her bed.

“That’s not for you,” we told her and we took it away, rewrapped it and placed it in its spot under the tree. An hour later Bear had unwrapped it again and carted it back to her bed.

On Christmas morning when the dogs officially opened their gifts, Max was not at all impressed by the Kong toy. Nothing ever seemed to compare to the old football he brought with him when he came to live with us, the one Bear eventually ripped to shreds.

So, Bear got her wish that Christmas. The Kong went to her and Max got her rope toy, with which he was also less than enthused.

But now Bear drops the new Kong on the floor, stomps her foot when I look at her, as if demanding the cardboard be removed, which it is, and then two black noses probe the edge of the table and drool puddles on the floor. We spray peanut butter in to Bear’s new Kong and then Murdoch’s Extreme Kong, and hand them over. Toenails clip-clip busily on the wood floor as they scurry away to their beds and settle in with complete and singular focus. They are no longer interested in the brown box that sits forgotten on the kitchen floor, flaps thrown open. It is empty now, except for a cat.