Two Kindred Spirits

Perhaps, for a time, our journeys will coincide, and our two kindred spirits will become as one...

Location: Maunawili Valley, O'ahu, Hawai'i, United States

Thursday, July 10, 2014

So Here's the Thing - July 2014

Making Room for Love

I thought when ‘Opihi, my 16-year-old malamute-chow mix, died that I would not allow myself to mourn her passing. That I would go right out and fill that hole in my life with a puppy in order to move on. That would be the healthy thing to do.

Plans like this tend to look good on paper and actually sound convincing when talked about. But the truth is, other than the loss of my infant son, (which ‘Opihi helped me to survive), her passing has hit me harder than any other death I have experienced, and two years later, I seemed no closer to healing. Time did not lessen the loss. In fact, missing her had become this entity that had entrenched itself so tenaciously, that it grew stronger over time. I finally realized, for my mental and emotional health, I had to get another dog. I acknowledged that nothing would ever replace this wondrous spirit that had so seamlessly enmeshed her life with mine. And for that reason, I needed to find some way of healing.

In looking back, this is the only reasoning that can logically explain my current ownership of a 120 lb. malamute “puppy.” And explains why, although I gave her a beautiful Hawaiian name, Mahealani, meaning the full moon, I most commonly refer to her as Cujo, and sometimes, Baby Huey. After many emailings and countless litters I had viewed online, I finally drove the three hours to Vermont to visit the breeder to take a closer look at a new litter of Huskies, and one 11-week-old goofy looking malamute no one had selected. If you’ve ever been chosen by a dog, then you know the ending to that trip.

In fact, I could almost wonder if the family hadn’t trained this gangly thing with raccoon-masked yellow wolf eyes and spindly tail to come bounding directly over to me on sight and promptly sit down. There was no masking the exchange.

With the surreal trepidation of a parent driving home with an adopted child - I talked soothingly to her all the way home, more for my emotional needs probably than hers, as she lay quietly still on the front seat, occasionally looking up at me with these incredibly trusting eyes.

At 11 weeks, she already weighed about 45 lbs. That was a little startling since, full-grown, ‘Opihi averaged about 55 lbs. Reality check. How much bigger would this dog get? Her paws were bigger than my hands. They flopped around like clown shoes when she walked. 

Each day I’d return home from school to discover some new aspect of my living quarters that had been chewed, eaten, or swallowed whole. I couldn’t crate her since I wasn’t able to get home to relieve her, so various rooms of the house were barricaded to contain her. One morning, as I was reversing out of the yard, I saw her huge bear head with that goofy grin looking out the front window, with both front paws leaning against the original paned windows of my 1800’s farmhouse... Sure enough, I pulled back in, but not before she had busted out one of the panes, and was quite willing to keep on going had I not run into the house to stop her. I needed something big to block off the window and realized I had an old door out back that wasn’t being used. I dragged it’s full heaviness through the house and leaned it against the front window to block it off until I could get the window fixed. I said my goodbyes, hopped back into the car to leave for work, and before I was out of the yard, I could already see her nose poking through the window, pushing the door aside. I pulled back in, hopped out, ran back into the house, moving two smaller pieces of furniture aside and slid my six foot long dining room table to butt up against the door which is butted up against the broken window. There. That worked. For now. 

That first summer it seemed like I was constantly side-stepping, hosing down, or picking up dog crap in the yard. I was amazed at the pure size of her bowel movements. It seemed like one in particular was this artistically perfect Dairy Queen swirl of poop that I noticed whenever I sat outside on the lounge chair. It dawned on me that it had been there for awhile, and that neither I nor the rain had impacted its perfectly swirled shape. Intrigued more than anything, I got up to give it a closer look. Peeking out from the brownish-yellow swirl were these petite pink flowers on a blue background. One of my socks! 

She’s inhaled an unguarded steak, two pots of pasta, a whole bag of cherry cough drops, a box of individually wrapped packets of hot cocoa, a container of butterscotch ice cream topping, toothpaste, cranberry juice, coffee, and one of a pair of my favorite earrings, for starters. 

She can stand, placing her enormous paws on my shoulders, and look over my head now. So it’s increasingly more difficult to “hide” things from her because she’s taller than I am, so anything I put up out of reach, isn’t.. I went through three trainers before I found a gem that continues to teach me various tricks to appear to be the one in control. It’s all smoke and mirrors. I’m not fooling anyone, least of all, her. She’ll heal and sit and lay down, but mostly it’s a pretense to the fact that she can knock me off my feet before I know I’ve even been hit.

This past spring, at two years of age, I finally set up a 10‘x20’ outdoor kennel for her in an attempt to reclaim ownership of the house. I worked with her all through one weekend, acclimating her to it. She wasn’t scared but she wasn’t joyous about it either. I left for work Monday morning, the kennel holding some of her favorite toys and bones to keep her amused throughout the day. I pulled into the yard when I got home. No dog loose in the yard. That was a good sign. I gathered my things, got into the house, and was promptly greeted in the dining room by a very happy dog, quite proud of her accomplishment. I stood for a minute trying to remind myself that I had indeed put her outside in the kennel that morning, right? She had not only broken OUT of the kennel (by tearing the chain link away from the frame), but had broken INTO two outside doors in order to get back into the house. Her look was all of, “Look at what I did, Mom! You forgot me outside, but that’s ok, I solved the problem!”

Smart Puppy - 87   Dumb Human - 0

So here’s the thing. She is filling a place of joy in my life that has lessened the pain of losing ‘Opihi. She is a huge headache at times - a puppy, what was I thinking?! But she’s also a big love bug and every day we learn more about each other. Her birthday is the day before mine. I love the serendipity, but it also means we’re both stubborn Aries vying to be the alpha dog. As my friends like to say in their sarcastically, semi-sympathetic way, “Good luck with that.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

So Here's the Thing - June 2014

"Getting Away From It All to Come Back to Ourselves"

I drove for four and a half hours from Maine to bucolic and beautiful Cornwall, Connecticut to meet up with two dear old friends who were visiting and touring the east coast. I found a campsite in a nearby state park which I had located online, where I would stay for the first two nights, then would follow them to Mystic, where we’d stay another two nights in the same hotel.

It’s amazing the amount of work that goes into both the prep and the return of a camping trip. Getting away from it all sometimes seems like Bringing it All With You. I grew up in the tradition of old school camping: off the beaten path, cooking over a self-made fire, sleeping out under the stars. My parents eyed parks suspiciously (as not being rustic enough, with too many people) and accepted outhouses as true luxuries when it came to camping. Camping in the 60’s and 70’s meant stowing the heavy green canvas military-style tent in the back of our Volkswagen van and heading out in a general direction. We'd pass other similarly loaded VW vans going in the opposite direction on the highway. Our two disparate groups, privy to the secret life of camping, waved wildly at each other across the wide median strip, as if we knew each other. No longer strangers by virtue of our rustic, nomadic, VW lifestyle. It felt like we were all part of a larger family. I loved that.

Today, I embrace that minimalist style of “true camping,” as I like to call it. No electricity or technology. Period. So I was thrilled to discover a campground close enough to the rendezvous point with my friends. It was the official first day of my summer vacation and I couldn’t wait to get away from it all. With the exception of surfing, a few days alone in the woods always breathes new life into my spirit, more than any other experiences in life seem capable of doing. It grounds me. I can’t breathe in deep enough all the scents of pine and balsam and pure forested air. It had been too long since my last camping trip. I couldn’t wait to get there and get my camp set up.

When I arrived though, I quickly discovered a city park-like setting with closely mown grass and numbered picnic tables designating lot sites that were laid out suburban style, clustered around a loop. My heart sank. In looking at the online map, I had chosen an isolated site “in full shade,” meaning to me lots of trees. What I didn’t realize was the site sat on a little knoll, about 50 feet from the highway! I looked at the map again. Yep. There was a tiny line designating the highway. I saw what I wanted to see. It never dawned on me that I would be in full view of all passing motorists with not a tree or bush for privacy. Ahead of me, across the loop and through the woods, I could hear the gurgling flow of the Housatonic’s fish-laden waters rushing between the ebb and flow of speeding summer traffic below me.

So here's the thing. I wasn’t happy. My expectations of what a campsite should be and what was, did not match. I was hot and sweaty and tired from driving in interstate traffic for almost five mind-numbing hours. I was angry and hurt and let down. I drove back to the check-in office to express my disappointment.

Now, I know, in the past, in my 30’s and 40’s, I would have probably “made a scene,” openly expressing my anger to the two hapless summer hires that were manning the booth. I would have vented my frustration and anger, not specifically toward them, but they would have received the brunt of it. I would have been outraged by the situation, demanded a refund, and probably driven off in some self-righteous huff, most probably sleeping in the back of my car somewhere that evening, or worse, ending up in some hotel room - the antithesis of my desired camping experience.

What is it about our 50’s that we begin to forgive more easily? Or maybe, we’ve had the benefit of a lifetime of wonderful experiences, and are therefore emotionally better equipped to take the misfortunes in stride. Or, for some, like me, maybe it’s just taken me this long to accept all that comes my way as simple gifts in disguise. I've always held to that belief, but rarely gave it a chance to prove itself. I found myself explaining to these two strangers my surprise at how close my site was situated to the main road. “How unfortunate” the situation was. Were there possibly any available sites still open? Graciously, they clicked away at the computer, fingers paused as they scanned the monitor, both inhaling quietly together. I knew there weren’t other open sites, but this was me accepting a situation in which I didn’t get my way. And this was me not throwing a tantrum. How grown-up I’ve suddenly become in my 50’s.

I returned to the site to think it over. I was still upset, still pouting, still fighting with my old self about packing it all in and moving on somewhere else. Still wanting to feel victimized. Oh, that subtle nemesis. I drove my four-wheel drive up onto the site, parking it so that it blocked the roadside below. I stood there, looking at the fire ring and the weathered picnic table, imagining my tent set up across, creating that familiar triad. I toyed with the idea of staying but not setting up the tent, but that mothering voice of mine soothed the pouty, tired part of me by laying out a stepped plan. “Don’t worry about starting the fire, or unpacking the food. Just lay out the tent. Get the tent up. You can decide from there.”

So my maturity kicked in. My tired self was still grumpy. God, I thought. If anyone else had been with me, guaranteed there would have been a fight. Maybe this is why I enjoy the quietude of this solo experience. It’s less social than introspective. One of the attendants I had spoken with earlier walked up, explained that he had talked with the manager, and suggested that I could stay at their one overflow sight if that was more to my liking. I thanked him and he left. I took a walk to locate the new site number, which sat right beside the restroom/bathhouse. Some folks may have liked the convenience. To my mind, it's the most public of all sites, so I returned to my original site, with the car blocking out the road behind it, and half-heartedly put up my tent.

Before I knew it, my beach chair was out, the log fire was crackling with a steak sizzling over the grill and a pocket of aluminum foil filled with wild rice and broccoli steaming on the side. I started a pot of cowboy coffee. It would be ready to enjoy after dinner around the warmth of the campfire.

By now, other sites began filling up and in the early twilight, fireflies whimsically lit up between the trees. Kids pumping out the last bit of pent-up energy whizzing by on their bikes (which at first was also irritating me), became less noticeable as the fire, the circle of camp, the aroma of food, and the twinkle of fireflies hypnotically drew me into its fold. I quietly exhaled and sat back. I became aware of the quiet community that had sprung up around me. Like early pioneers, there was a singular focus: to create habitation. Each site had a rhythm of sounds and movement, from the clinking of tent poles to the crackle of a fire, to the hoots and hollers of kids chasing one another through camp.

Campers walked by on their way to the bathhouse or just out for a stroll. They nodded or waved, that silent acknowledgement of the larger family. When was the last time a stranger nodded or waved at me? The traffic tripping by below thinned as the evening lengthened. The fire’s warmth embraced my weary soul while fireflies gave off their own light to the world. The humidity of the day had left and had taken my anger with it. A refreshing coolness descended and I wrapped myself in the warmth of an old red and yellow plaid blanket in the same  colors of the fire. A few stray campers pulled into their sites long after dark. Solemn silhouettes unfolded themselves tiredly from within their cramped vehicles, stretching, then each person quietly went about the routine of setting up camp. As I crawled into the womb of my tent, I felt at peace, and comforted. I looked up through the screen to watch the night sky and fireflies mingle as I fell asleep.

So here’s the thing. It’s not the situations or events that occur in our lives that truly define us. It’s the way in which we define them. It is what we do with what is that makes all the difference.