Monday, October 09, 2006
Pets and paddles
Today was a gloriously warm and clear celebration of Columbus who might be remembered most appropriately not for discovery (he really didn't), but for being bold enough to bumble his way across miles of monotonous sea in an effort to please a king and queen and to satisfy his boyhood urge to explore.
I drove down to the Pinchot Sycamore put-in again as I found that I was handed some time I did not expect. At a spot that I had previously lamented questionable use of water, I was heartened to see a rather eleborate memorial that had been erected for a favorite pet. The dog in whose memory the shrine was created must have been one of those golden retrievers that lived for splashing and romping in the shallows of the river's edge. I soon found myself thinking of our own aging dog, Belle. She has been with us for fourteen years. Belle came to us via an SPCA adopt-a-pet effort in Philadelphia. When we become her new family, she was just about two years old, puppy-like in demeanor, with an unusual habit of jumping into your lap when seated much like a cat. Not so idiosyncratic for a small breed, Belle was a forty plus pound cross between a Gordon and English Setter with some other mixes tossed in for curiosity. Belle joined our family of pets that included, at the time, two cats, a rat, and our first dog, Honey.
Honey was a retriever mix who loved to chase tennis balls. He would often continue running after a thrown or kicked ball even when his tongue was hanging out as far as it could. When thoroughly exhausted, he took the ball and dragged himself toward some shade to keep me from throwing it again - he knew his instinct to run would overwhelm his desire to rest. Interestingly, Belle had no interest in chasing balls. In fact, if you put a ball in her mouth she would respond by dropping it immediately and not give it a second glance.
After having been a member of the family for several years, Belle was present in our bedroom when Honey was put to rest by our kind veterinarian who made house calls. Honey had developed a brain tumor and quickly become too ill to support himself. At the vet's suggestion, we let Belle sniff Honey's body for a few minutes so that she would not be confused by his absence. We had all taken the day off from school and work and I later took Honey's remains to the SPCA for cremation.
The next morning we left Belle and the cats in decent spirits as we left for school and work. When we returned home later that afternoon we were stunned by what we saw and I became convinced that animals are very emotional and intelligent beings. Up in our room, in the middle of the bed, in the very spot where Belle had said "goodbye" to Honey, there sat a tennis ball. Honey had not been interested in tennis balls during the last few days of his life and they were all stored in a box downstairs in the mudroom off the kitchen. At some point during the day, Belle had retrieved a ball and brought it up to the bed as a memorial. It was the only instance of her holding a ball in her mouth for more than a brief second.
Now, in these rapidly advancing autumn days, Belle is reaching her end. She is a beautiful animal despite the arthritis which has all but crippled her rear legs. I wondered as I stopped to photograph this memorial, what memories the retriever had created for its family. Was her loss sudden, or did she live a full and contented life? Paddle on, paddle on, paddle on.
The leaves are changing by the day, now. Despite the near 75 degree warmth, I felt cool fall air whenever I moved the kayak out of the sun toward the shaded bank. The ground is now giving up considerable stored heat to the chilly night air and frosts are only days away. Not wanting to rush this beautiful time of year, I thought, today, about paddling in a snow squall and all the rigors of a New England winter which are upon us once again. But fall has just begun and I have many, many hours to spend on this mile of river before my attention will turn toward cross-country skis and blizzards.
Yesterday's reflections have yielded to the anticipation of full fall color and foliage senescence that opens views into the wooded areas along the banks. Perhaps the heavy acorn crop will attract plenty of deer which will have less cover and be more visible. The tracks that I saw today in the exposed sand of river bottom are telling a story of change and preparation. Autumn moves on inexorably and autumn is, indeed, a season of change.