Tag Archives: Darla

Walking with Darla

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I’ve been on the run lately. With company here, even my days off were spent out of the house, off and running. I was able to include the dogs, sometimes. They came along in our trip around the island to explore all the different beaches. They did not come with us the day we took in all the gift and novelty shops. Or the day we went to the museums. I’ve been feeling justifiably guilty.

Rushed to get out of the house in the morning and exhausted when I got home, their exercise was often limited to following me to and from the clothesline. Then dinner. Then bedtime. A great big canine sigh should go right here. What a life for a dog! Now, Rosa Parks is still nursing a bum leg (which, it turns out, is not the ACL tendon that I had diagnosed before taking her to the vet…her little kneecap had popped out of place! We are hoping it will stay put, without surgery, but she has to be careful), so is enjoying a lazier version of normal life. A little extra attention and a couple extra treats will allay most guilt where she is concerned. Darla is another story.

Darla likes a good walk, and usually gets one at least on Sundays (which is a shorter workday for me) and on my days off. To make up to her, I got up early this morning. I set the coffee pot to brew, and we headed out the door. It took her a moment to catch on. First, she stopped to pee, and looked to me for approval. Next, she headed for the clothesline (a good guess, considering…). When she finally realized that I was headed for the road, and that this was going to be a genuine good walk, she bounded out ahead, with a big grin.

Clover used to wear her ears like a gangster’s fedora: her mood was evident by the way she arranged them. Alert, curious, happy or threatened, the ears told the story. Darla seems to have no such control over that part of her body. Her ears flop on either side of her head in a manner that shows her calm and friendly disposition. As she walks, they flap up and down, like the wings of a little bird. Her tail, with its white tip, is held aloft like a flag for the entire distance. I’ve had dogs that would give up the walk for the chance to chase a chipmunk, or to roll in something disgusting. Not Darla. She shows mild curiosity to movement and smells, but nothing deters her from her path. When Darla is out for a walk, that’s exactly what she’s doing!

Riding in Cars with Dogs

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On the way home from work on Sunday afternoon, faced with the balance of the day plus two days off, my mind runs through the possibilities.

I considered bringing some plants home, the sorry, leftover specimens that have been too long in their starter pots: tomatoes, peppers, cabbages and eggplant. Could I dig up a patch of garden yet? What about that sweet peach tree, with tiny fuzzy fruits already on its branches? How nice it would be to spend the day in the garden! I sensibly – though with remorse – talked myself out of it. Too much to do, to allow myself to go off in another direction.

The entire lawn needs mowing, but the back yard – that didn’t get done last week – is desperately in need of it. I brought home 50 feet of rope, with intention of restringing my clothesline.  It was a nice warm day with a slight breeze: a good day to wash sheets and dry them outside! A good day, too,  to shake out the rugs and open all the windows, give the floors a good sweeping and get the cobwebs out of the corners.

I have several hours (days??) of writing and computer work to do. I have stacks of notes from meetings and interviews to turn into stories. I have others to edit and organize. There are letters to write and phone calls to answer. The subscriber database always needs updating as the checks or changes of address come in the mail. I need to set up a filing system for advertisers, and bill out the classified ads. If I were to get all of that done in a timely fashion, my taxes are still waiting to be filed.

The studio, yes, a dozen things to do there, and the back closet where I started sorting seasonal clothes, and the kitchen cupboards to get ready for the new counter top, and weeding, dead-heading and watering the flower beds…by the time I got home, I was exhausted just from thinking about it!

The dogs greeted me when I got home. I made a sandwich, and wandered the yard while I ate it. It really was a beautiful day. Chance of rain or thunderstorms for Monday.

“Do you want to take a ride?” I asked.

Darla jumped up from where she was laying in the grass. Rosa Parks gave a series of yips as she ran for the car. I grabbed the can of mosquito repellent, my camera, a book, and one bottle of beer.

“Let’s go!”

Darla jumps in first, and takes the passenger seat in front. Her posture is impeccable as she sits tall watching out the windows. I pick up Rosa Parks and take the driver’s seat. Rosa scrambles across to position herself on my lap, with her nose out the window, her chin resting on my left arm. Darla smiles benignly across at me, to let me know that she believes that spot on my lap should be hers, but that she’ll make the sacrifice.

It’s one and a half miles to Fox Lake, down a barely traveled, narrow gravel road. The breeze is nice. Every now and then, I point out a bird or squirrel or chipmunk. If they were on foot, they’d be very interested. Riding in the car, they pay no attention to the wildlife. They know when I come to the drive that leads down to the lake. They murmur and shake in anticipation. If I accidentally drive past it, they turn to look back. Still, they each politely hold their places until the car is parked, and I open the door to let them out.

The lake is an adventure unto itself, with water for wading and new smells to investigate. For me, it’s an hour of blissful relaxation. The ride home is a repeat of the trip there, only in reverse…and more damp. No matter what’s on the to-do list, riding in cars with dogs is an excellent way to spend an afternoon!

 

Adjustment

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One week ago, I brought Darla home to Beaver Island. I didn’t want a second dog for my own sake, but rather to enrich the life of my little dog, Rosa Parks. I knew she could use more exercise; I felt she’d be happier with a dog that – being of the same species – would understand her better than a human could. One veterinarian explained to me that only another dog would have the same acute senses of smell and hearing, and so would be able to share their experience. It all seemed very sensible at the time.

Well, we are all getting used to each other. No matter about shared experience, it seems that both Darla and Rosa Parks think they’d prefer to be an only dog. They relate to me – the human – better than to the other dog; they both love me…but are still deciding whether they even like each other. They vie for attention whenever I’m around.

They do relate to one another, though. When one hears a sound, they both erupt into fits of mad barking. When one pees, the other one runs right over to pee on the same spot. Sometimes that goes on so long, I wonder where they continue to come up with the pee! When one finds an interesting smell, the other one rushes right over to investigate. When one needs to go outside, the other one follows.

Darla is obsessive about food. She is mild-mannered most of the time, but takes issue when edibles are in the picture. Rosa Parks is an instigator. She’ll bark to announce the invasion of a bird, snake or chipmunk, then sit back while Darla does the chasing. Together, when they are getting along, they seem intent on mischief. It’s as if they are a couple of teen-aged hoodlums, forming a gang.

At Miller’s Marsh they sat together on the shore, barking at a flock of geese in the water. At Iron Ore Bay, where the smell of fish is in the air, and the beach is covered with seaweed, they both developed acute deafness. Neither one could hear me call, when it was time to go. Yesterday, with Darla for back-up, Rosa ran right toward the road, intent on chasing a car. Rosa has never been a car-chaser!

Just like with children, a second one is not twice as difficult; it’s more like ten or twenty times harder. The whole dynamic changes. I think we’re going to be fine…eventually…but right now, we’re all still adjusting.

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Wednesday

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Wednesday is the middle of the work week, for those who work Monday through Friday. For me, it’s back-to-work day. It feels just like Monday, only with more letters. After a long weekend away, it’s especially hard to get back into a work schedule.

I still have mounds of laundry to do. I have packages across the kitchen counter to find space for in my cupboards and on my shelves. I had a pile of mail waiting for me at the Post Office, that is now staring at me from the desktop. I have banking and other paperwork to catch up on.

This is the first day that the dogs will be alone together all day. I practiced a little last evening, while I ran to get the mail, pick up groceries for Aunt Katie and a couple packages at the airport. I gave them each a treat, a scratch behind the ears, and the instructions, “Take good care of things!” Rosa Parks is used to the routine; it’s brand new to Darla. They were both happy to see me come home, but both seemed fine. No panic, no damage…though it turns out my new dog tears into the garbage, when the opportunity presents itself. We had our first major altercation over dinner last night, and that makes me especially nervous. I hope it was just a food issue.

The newest issue of the Beacon came out. There are visible errors that make me cringe, but it’s too late to fix them. I’ll be distributing copies to the stores after work, or during my lunch hour.

My friend Sue is back on the island, getting ready to open her gallery for the summer. I haven’t had a chance to see her yet, but I’ll have to make time.

We’ve had a good share of cold weather this month, and it snowed here on Sunday. It seems to have leveled out though. The last couple days have been beautiful, and today is starting out nicely, too.

Happy Wednesday!

Dogs

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These dogs were good buddies. Clover and Rosa Parks entertained each other. Whether out on a chipmunk-chasing walk through the woods, a sniffing and swimming adventure at Fox Lake, or just sitting around watching me work, they kept each other company.

Ever since Clover died – just a little over a year ago – Rosa Parks has been a little down. She knows I’m her “pack” and she loves me…but I’m just not very much fun. I have no interest in finding the garter snakes that hide in the flower beds. I don’t chase chipmunks, or squirrels, or birds. Even walks have been less fun, without Clover. “What good is it to find smelly stuff,” Rosa Parks thinks, “without anyone here who wants to smell it?” Sometimes, when I am working at the computer, Rosa Parks lets out an audible sigh, and drops her chin onto her paws. I feel like she’s been bored, a little depressed and even sad without her friend.

I’ve been thinking about adopting another dog. I’ve gone back and forth about it. There is the expense: sometimes it’s a struggle to cover the vet bills for one dog. I work long hours. Rosa Parks gets lonely, and I feel guilty. Would I be just doubling my guilt? Putting a second dog into the same boring rut? I’ve been advised that’s not the case. Two veterinarians, plus the dog boarder and several animal lovers have assured me that – even though they may not interact much when I’m not at home – it would be reassuring to have another dog around.

Last weekend, my friend Linda and I visited the humane society near her home. We were introduced to several sweet dogs, learned their stories and observed their dispositions. In all, we visited three days. Darla is a mix of Boxer and Pit Terrier, just as Clover was. She is good with other dogs, and good with cats. She – due to household situations, not her own behavior – had already had four homes, and had three times been brought to the humane society kennel. Before I left for home yesterday morning, I stopped and got her, to bring her back to Beaver Island with me.

Darla is a big, gentle dog who was anxious for a home. Every time I stopped along the trip to walk her, she’d look around, find the nearest house and, wagging tail, start to walk toward it. Every time I guided her back into the vehicle, she seemed disappointed. Finally, we made it to Charlevoix and, after a scary (for her) plane ride, we were home. She seemed happy with her new yard and house. She rolled in the grass, and got quite excited about the big basket full of hardly-used dog toys. She wandered through every flower bed.

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After getting Darla settled in, I went to pick up Rosa Parks from the kennel. We were happy to see each other. I was nervous, hoping that my little dog would like Darla as much as I do. There was a little grumbling on first meeting, and there has been some growling coming from each of them since then. I’ve been able to intercede, though, before it escalates. Rosa Parks spent some time letting us know her nose was a bit out of joint about the new addition.

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Eventually, though, after wandering around the yard and garden together, they seem to have reached a level of acceptance. Rosa Parks practiced her manipulation techniques all evening. She’d look out the window and give a sharp bark (“Bird!”). Darla would rush to the door; I’d open it and they’d both run out. Darla would run after the bird; Rosa Parks would go sit under the cherry tree, and look back toward me with a little grin that said, “She fell for it again! Silly dog – you can’t catch a bird!” Then they’d both come back in for a treat. I think we’re going to be fine!

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Low Points

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In the vast terrain that is Memory of my life so far, there are gentle slopes and curves, a few sharp turns, more peaks than I probably deserve…and four deep trenches.

I can name them.

1) When I was eleven or twelve years old, my baby sister, Darla, died. She was not quite two months old. I can picture how she was in life, her sweet cheeks and fluff of hair and Cupid’s bow mouth. I can see her, still, in the small casket, in the white baptismal dress each one of us wore before her. I remember how we clutched at each other in sadness and in fear, at her death. Fear at seeing our strong parents crumbling in their grief. Fear of our own newly realized mortality.

2) After fourteen years of marriage, I divorced my husband. I never planned for that turn of events. I didn’t see that as even the remotest possibility, going in. We had planned to grow old together.  In my Catholic family, I was the first to use that option. Divorce changes everything. It alters your past memories and future plans. It ruins holiday traditions. It changes the whole world’s opinion of you and the way your own children perceive you. It forced me to re-think the person I was, and the person I would become.

3) When my youngest daughter was fourteen and a half years old, she chose to go live with her father. It didn’t go well, or certainly not as I would have liked. I couldn’t make her come back and the courts wouldn’t force it, so I watched from a distance with great sadness and regret.

4) In the summer of 2011, my sister, Sheila, died – without warning – less than two weeks before cancer took my mother’s life.

These are the low points of my life, the trenches in my memory.

I’ve had other losses, other break-ups, other heartache…but none have shaped my life the way these have. None can pull me back in the way these can.

It happened just yesterday.

I was writing about my little dog.

I’d been running through it in my mind.

There was the walk in fresh snow, when we came upon the tracks of a coyote who had passed by. Both dogs – Clover first, then Rosa Parks – dipped their nose into each paw print, then, nose-to-nose, looked into each others eyes. “This is serious!”, I imagined was the message that passed between them.

I was going to write about the idea that Rosa Parks is about the size and weight of a year-old baby. That the heat from her body, when she curls up to sleep in the bend of my knees or around my feet, makes me question my resolve to spend the rest of my life alone. I didn’t realize how much I was missing the warmth of another living thing, until I got her.

I was going to tell how snarly Rosa is, how protective of her space when I go to get into bed. In the morning, though, with tiny baby noises, she crawls up to give me little nudges, to show me her belly and to let me scratch her ears.

I started to write it, but wandered, and before I knew it, the story was about my tragedy more than it was about my little dog.

I don’t live my life in grief. I’m quite happy most days. I certainly don’t plan to introduce my loss into everything I write.

Yesterday, I just strayed too close to the edge.