Saturday, July 19, 2014

Just a Leaf

It is just a leaf. A Plains Cottonwood leaf to be more precise. But that morning it was much more. That morning I was sitting in the backyard with my dying dog. The cancer had finally closed it's fist around her body and was squeezing hard. We knew out time together was reaching the terminus of the arc projected that April day we were joined together 12 1/2 years ago in central Alberta.  

I was spending a few last precious moments with her that morning reminiscing over the overlap of our lives and what she meant to me and my family. She joined us when our family was composed of me, Laura, Kiela our golden retriever, and Luna the border collie. Benton joined us less than a year later and Crean a few years after that. She was the youngster causing problems with the old dogs and eating baby socks. Then she was our only dog. My boys have always had her as a companion and that was about to change. 

As I stroked her back I noticed a cottonwood leaf next to her. It had also reached the terminus of its life and fallen from our backyard tree. That connection in death - my dog and this leaf -  struck me and I placed it on her side. The fallen leaf triggered autumn memories of days hunting sharptails in the Eastern Montana wooded draws and sage-grouse in the barely green washes of the dry sagebrush flats (where she always amazed me by finding water to immerse herself in no matter how dry it was - she was a water dog). Then the bitterly cold morning when she retrieved three Canada Geese from a slushy Missouri River and then stood in the river, decked in jeweled ice waiting for more. 

Then it dawned on me that I was looking at a golden heart with a black hole in it and the leaf became even more. It was me and my family. We have lots of family memories that include that dog. Her little walkabouts in Fort Peck that left us scrambling to find her only to have her stroll home when she had had enough (or announce her presence in the back of the pickup where I had forgotten her when we got home) to a week on a Minnesota lake where she spent 90% of her time either leisurely paddling around the cove or flying off the dock to retrieve something the kids had thrown for her.  She had integrated herself into our hearts from the first five hours of crying during our initial ride home to her last hours crawling into the backyard pool for one last dip (she was a water dog). She is gone now. There is a hole in our lives somewhat filled by the spunky pup Sage, but she is gone.

I got up and the leaf slipped off her back and into the grass.