I have made the decision to stay away from even possible sources of CoVid transmission on the advice of my good doctor.
He is right. Lifelong respiratory vulnerability is an open invitation for an infection. And being superannuated reduces the strength of the immune fresponse: a second reason to keep away. So I do it.
It is the right thing to do. If I get it, ipso facto I will have exposed others. Maybe even people I know and care for, although most of them are also my age or somewhat younger and staying put at home. But the nobility of it all has faded into….silence filled with the noise of troublesome thoughts and frustrations.
When we lived on the ridge on the side of the mountain in South Asheville, I could deal with cabin fever just by going outside. And if that didn’t work, I could watch Bruno and Zora and then after they died, Kaiser and Titan play.
(First row, third picture: me with Bruno and Zora at the Biltmore Estate. I would exercise them off lead==they were very obedient–and in the cooler weather, I wore a blue baseball cap with a German Shepherd insignia on it, a blue jacket with a Michigan patch on the front, khaki pants, and leather boots. People would gather to see the dogs do their routines and then ask us for directions. They though I was Security…. Second row, first two pictures TItan chasing or hovering, Kaiser leading Titan in chase or lolllygagging on the ground for more play–Titan really never got the lolllygagging.)
People places and things to visit and see — lots in the course of my life’s wandering journey. Lots of gratitude.
Bottom line, however, has been lifelong: antsy, bored, restless? Get out the camera and see what you can shoot and do better than the last time. that has led to Photos libraries of so many digital shots I’m embarrassed to name the number. The point is: taking pictures is, has been and always will be me.
The trouble is, off the mountain, in .8 acres rather than 6, in really unimaginative house a bit less than half the size of the mountain house, (it was all we couid get) is very practical for us and Roxy and Lutz, but quite sleep-inducing .
Just less to see and do. Life on its terms: accept it and adapt.
OK. Maybe I can get some shots of that woodpecker who hammers away out in the trees around us.
I’ve been trying since April of 2017 — he or she makes a large racket but no image! It got to the place where I was sure, absolutely certain, that he knew I was down there with a camera and bigtime zoom lens. And just to spite me, he would always peck his tree caves on the other side of the tree from me.
Until two weeks ago, that is. It seems his arrogant self confidence got the better of him and he came out, onto the top of a couple trees on the neighbor’s lot, maybe 100 yards from me as the crow flies. And he came out into silhouette, perched on the top of one of those trees and even somewhat with his back to me. As if he were saying, come on, here I am, just see if you can get a good shot of me. I am, after all, very much worth it.
The shot at the top of the page is the result, the sad result. It was (yet another) foggy, soggy, misty greysky day. So my results, even with a good deal of photoshopping in Photos, did not get any better than this:
I was happy I got that shot and that it could be improved so much — that one came from an almost black and white silhouette. I had a bit of my passion back, but it is addictive: I wanted something better, more interesting, more colorful, more revealing of this boy’s character.
In the meantime, I began to realize that if I want interesting bird shots from .8 acres and little flexibililty about shooting position, I’d have to find ways to make them come to me. And I have some ideas.
Two weeks later I was taking it easy (from what?) in the am with mly absolutely necessary cup of Aldi Coffee Store, when N out on the front porch called out, “he’s back”. I dashed out in bath robe and iPhone… and jhere he was. It was a clear, dry, blue sky and The Boy was showing off from the top of that same tree. His royal Aves Highness had bestowed his presence upon us once more!
It was a big risk, but I dashed back into the house to get the Canon with the Zoom Lens. To my utter surprise, he was still there, surveying his kingdom from his highwire throne:
When your photo quarry won’t move and it just a ibit too far away and you have very little position flex, then there are only so many pictures I at least can conjure up. So I wound up just watching, feeling a bit dissatisfied that I could not get any other more interesting shots,
And then he took off, hell bent for leather iln the air, headed to his next pecking place.
My lens is a sports lens basically. It is made for action shots and the Canon has a program for that. And I was using it for shots because it is not as persnickety about light as some other settings. So I aimed the camera by dead reckoning, line of sight guesstimate at where I thought he might be as he rocketed out of sight. But I expected not to have caught him at all, the odds were against me.
Later in the morning I was down here on the iMac, downloading the pix from the am into Photos. Boo. Nothing but blue sky and green leaves with lots of shadow.
But wait a minute. In those two shots there, the two before him against the blue sky came out with him as a blur in the heavens–what is that dark shadow? Lets try some adjustments in Photo…
Wow. How grateful for having lucked out and gotten those two shots. They made my day. He is beautiful. And beauty is so utterly consoling. Mr Canon: what a good job! the Gods were with us. Still just a tad indistinct but again, I’ll take it.
Now that’s the sort of bird shot I like. Maybe I have been looking to shoot the birds in all the wrong places. Mr Pileated Woodpecker is telling me that the richness of nature does not end just because my yard is smaller. Keep on doing your ‘tog stuff, Mr G!.
Heavens, how we miss our home. We put our backs and our souls into it — it looking so confidently and, for us, welcomingly down the ridge, oveer the edge and out into the cove far belowl What a treasure it gave us in living the Blue Ridge mountain life.
Today, we are in a small home that is functional and right sized for us and Roxy and Lutz, our two German Shepherds (#s 6 and p7 since 2001 when Bruno came to us). This house fits our ages, but our hearts ache for the beauty, adventure, peaceful coexistence with nature — of almost 20 years. It was and will always be home for both of us.
A wonder and also a fright at times was winter on the Ridge. It drew out of us special efforts, at times more courage than we really wanted to summon up, and for me, advengture in service. And that is because winter brought me, The Old Plowguy, outdoors on this:
Me on my Yamaha 660 Grizzly ATV with 5’ steel snow plow blade
For most of my years there, the Grizzly and I plowed the snow off our 1.6 miles of asphalt and gravel. Sometimes I did another stretch of about ½ mile (guess) on a second stretch of rough gravel road.
Over the years, the exhaustion of several hours muscling around 800 pounds of Grizzly and blade wore thin. Sometimes it was admittedlly dangerous. I plowed when the first snow fell at temperatures just above freezing, in order minimize the inevitable re-freeze ice pack forming under the second fall. If you were out and about on that day, you had to be back coming up the mountain by 3 PM. Otherwise, you would be trying to drive on an uphill icerink under slippery snow.
Meanwhile, I would be out there dodging those who thought that they could handle uphill icerinks in rear axle drive cars. Their cars would be found either stuck in the inside ditch, off on a turnout patch, or just abandoned all the way down by the mailboxes. I gave lots of folks an interesting ride going up the icerink on the atv. Griz never needed chains, but my passengers did not know that. I think they found the ride invigorating at least.
I found it tiring. The atv with blade is front heavy and in total weighed about 800 pounds. That means that the atv could easily become dangerous with the blade down, under power that is just a teen big too fast and without that sense for what the snow would permit that only experience could impart . Too much gas, too much speed, not having figured out where to dump the plowed load safely and all of a sudden the atv becomes a pendulum attached to the pinned down blade. That is 600+ lbs swinging across an icy road that is max 12 feet wide. And swinging towards a sheer drop of lots of vertical feet. You could easily wind up down that slope and have the atv come down on top of you.
It was hard work that took skill and experience. I would come home soaked through the underclothes and into the snowmobile suit I wore. And at temperatures sometimes near zero. Then the next day out I would go again to plow it all over again, but this time pushing a good depth of snow off of the thin ice underneath.
Somegtimes the first of the double snowfalls would start at dusk. So, avoiding the accumulation of two snowfalls occasionally meant nighttime plowing with no lights except the two and (later on) an led light bar on the front of the Grizzly.
That was what led me , Griz’s to our nighttime near catastrophic, amazing victory over mountain and weather.
To roll the tape back a bit first: The Grizzly was a wonderful machine. I got it out of self defense and used it with great pride and joy, When we first moved up on that ridge, there were no neighbors at all anywhere near at all. You have to understand: we moved from New Jersey where one neighbor’s house was almost close enough to touch, the other housed a guy who thought it really cool to run the truck engine he was building — right: building — outdoors at 7AM . Two houses away was the fire station, where rhe guys thought is just hunky-dory to sound the alarm at 3 am fire or not. And then there was the collection of unwanted large items. If you wanted to lose something, you just put it on the curb in front of your house and the five finger discount folks came by at night while you were either asleep or distracted by the fire siren and took it. There was no such thing as no neighbors nowhere to be seen or heard where we had lived in Joisey.
It all changed so fast. One day we were sleeping our last night in a Civil War house in Joisey: —one we liked despite all the intrusion of our all too up close and personal neighborhood. Two nights and some hundreds of miles later, we were trying to sleep in our new house up on the ridge at about 3000 feet. No friends, no dogs in the house, no way out in bad weather and lots of hints of Unseen Things in the woods just outside our windows.
OK, so we were no heroes. It was an adventure but also scary at times, occasionally ridiculously so. LIke seeing at night the two red eyes peering into our solarium from outside and not going away no matter what we did. We knew what the dangers in Joisey were, but here, in the woods, at night, there could be Things Unknown. And for nights on end we sat up scared stiff at the two red eyes staring, staring, boring in on use from the woods maybe 15 feet from our bedroom on the main floor..
We finally threw in the towel and moved the bedroom to upstairs. But there they were, thjose two red eyes had followed us and knew where we were higding out. What if now it could get in while we were upstairs asleep? That may have been when I cast off my Northeastern liberal refusal to have weapons in the house and bought a 12 gauge shotgun with buckshot at WalMart. And for what? It turned out that the red eyes were lights from the breaking glass sound detector we had ADT install on moving in. They were reflecting off the inside of the solarium windows which we could see from the main floor or upstairs.
After all, in Joisey, They could be coming to break in. Right? When we told the off duty Sheriff Deputy, who checked on our house after closing but before we moved in, that we had an alarm system installed (No Deutsche Schaeferhund dogs yet at that time), I thought he would have a heart attack laughing. And over time it was very clear: where we were and with the steep, narrow old logging road we had, having al alarm system was as useful an addition as a life saver vest would be for a fish.
There’s a lot more stories where that came from, but I digress – -which by the way I do very well. Back onto the trail here.
Ol’ Griz Saves Ol’ Greg
We moved into our house in December. Not too long after that, In our very first Blue Ridge winter, we had our first Blue Ridge snow and sleet storm. It started later in the afternoon and kept on coming and coming. We could see it filiing up the abojut 450 feet of our drive, from the windows of the library room over the garage.
Now you need to understand: I grew up in Michigan. Snow? So what! Walk miles back and forth to school in blizzards, deliver a Detroit newspaper from a one speed Roadmaster bike in the wintertime dark, in ice storms, in snow storms: the paperboy always delivered. And it was an article of growing manliness that you delivered never dismounting, never missing a porch throwing the rolled up papers. And I shoveled out our home drive and walks. So: I could shovel with the best of them, I had my monster snow thrower which I”d brought from NJ, I had the right gloves and winter clothes. Ice, sleet, freezing rain, fog on ice, snow? No problem, you can take the boy out of Michigan, but you cannot take the Michigan out of the boy. Yep, I know snow, can handle snow.
Except that in MIchigan the boy knew snow that was much more on relatively level land, the boy relied for any help on the neighbors all over the place. I was not used to dealing with snow on ice on slopes so steep that even some pro-plowers would not come up to help us out. And God, being the ever aware instructor that He She They is/are, made sure I got the right tools for mountains, a powerful awd atv with locking differential, and then learned fast how to use it. By the time we moved, I modeestly say with full confidence, I knew it all about atvs on snow. The boy had added to his snow management repertoire..
As I watched the ice-sleet-snow stuff cascade down onto our very long gravel drive, that knot of fear began to tie up my guts. The slush was piling up on the drive and would turn to ice overnight. And I had no way to remove it: my showthrower brought from New Jersey was very heavy, unwieldy on slopes, and would have simply slid down the drive and over the edge just across from the apron of our drive several hundred feet down a sharp incline. And no way could I have shoveled any of it away.
This was apparently God’s first immersion course lesson in mountain life. As a friend once said, if you just can’t live any more with a chainsaw in one hand and your atv keys in the other, it’s time to move off the mountain. I was just learning that you had to do that.
Next morning our drive had 3 inches of ice on it. Three inches of frozen slush,– that much, I’d never seen before. How on earth were we going to be able to get out? Our supplies would soon dwindle away and, Oh my Gawd, WE WILL STARVE UP HERE AND NOBODY WILL KNOW IT !
I wish I could find pictures I am almost certain I had taken. Living up there brought endless and unexpected just great photo ops: that camera had very quickly almost attached itself to me as a new appendage. Which was just fine by me and has bought me wonders of gratitude now.
Long story short, across the cove, which was several thousand yards away from us, mostly nearly straight down from the outside edge of the road at the bottom of our very long gravel drive, Bob B who was building a log house a stretch up the mountain from us. Bob had an atv with a plow. I had heard him buzzing alonmg down on the road. He had established himself as The Lone Plowguy for our scattered, “gently sloping” (real estate-ese for steep inclines) community.
So, holding onto trees and frozen tall vegetation, I’d managed to get down to the road without falling. After waiting for a long time and freezing my you-know-what off, I saw him and hailed him for help. He’d been plowing a bit where the ice was not that thick but his atv would not handle that drive. Someone had in the meanitme hired a guy on a backhoe with a blade to scrape uphill…. After ;more frozen waiting, we got in touch with him when he came up our way and asked for his help plowing me out. He said no. He could not plow that but with the forks on the backhoe bucket,he could rip up the drive to let the chunks then melt over time. So he ripped up the drive surface in to large ice chunks and the pushed them over the side.
No charge. Mountain folks, real mountain folks, help each other –they are a very cooperative clan of highly individual, skilled, economical and just wonderfully friendly folks. All they ask is that you be willing to listen for a half hour after you greet them with Hey Billy, how’r yew? I came to value that immensely.
No charge that is except for paying another guy a lot to come up and regrade the whole drive.
So right then and there I decided, I was going to have an atv at least as powerful as Bobs, and then split up the road for plowing with him. I got the atv all right, — actually more powerful than Bob’s, but Bob would not share plow duty. He wanted the Lone Plowguy role for himself. He moved away however very shortly and that’s how I and the Grizzly became The Lone Plowguy. And came to feel just like he did about sharing the plowing on My Mountain Road.
The big test for the Plowguy and his old pal, Griz, came one evening some years later, in a two stage snow+ice+sleet storm. The weather guys had reported the Lone Plowguys Nightmare: wet semi freezing heavy snow with sleet and some ice coming down in buckets, starting at about 5 pm and going till about 9. And then starting up again in the morning with colder air and snow, a number of inches.
If that froze at night and then got covered in the morning with newfallen snow, we were cooked. Under that white blanket would be an icerink on a narrow, downhill slope. Not even chains would get you down. And we had had our fill of Florida residents who thought, no problem, I’ll just stoke up the Sequoia, hop in with my coffee traveler, and lope on down to the road which I know will be clear. Snow and ice? No problem, we will “adjust” –was how they put it the first time they tried it.
It did not happen twice unless they were unusually stubborn and had had their brains fried by too much sun and too many Pina Coladas,.
I had gotten real tired of getting either a cell call or having some snow covered Floridian knock on my door, after having trudged up the Ski Slope and up our drive, in deep snow, to ask me to stoke up mmy Sequoia or the griz and help him get his Sequoia out of the ditch halfway down thje ski slope. Because they had no idea at all how to shift the Sequoia into all wheel drive that could back that SUV backwards up a greased telephone pole. And ofcourse always blocking the road. Always before I’d had a chance to plow it despite my frantic pleas to wait till I let them know the road was plowed (also because packed tire tracks are hard to plow up without ripping up the road itself).. And always seemingly at some inconvenieent hour.t.
So at 4 PM I began donning the long johns, the insulated undershirt, the snowmobile suit, the cloth inside helmet head cover, the snowmobile gloves, the yellow goggles for evening, and the tall insulated rubberized boots that kept the feet from freezing sitting on the metal runners of Griz. It was a lot of work, and then I trudged out of the house, across the yard in deep snow, and down the flagstone path in deep snow to the unheated shed where Griz awaited –sweating like a dray horse on a hot day even before putting the key into the Grizzlys off and on switch..
You checked Griz all over: were the bolts on the plow tight? the contacts on the electric motor that pivoted the plow snug and still waterproofed? How about the winch rope that attached the 3,000 pound lift weight rated winch to the hundred pound steel 5 foot snow blade? Was the tank full and did I have extra gas, a shovel, some gravel, a rope with clamps, an engineeers hammer and steel spikes, a winch rope repair kit, my coffee traveler, and an extra set of keys? Was the bluetooth headset inside my helmet working to call Nancy if I slid into the ditch? If I slid over the edge, I woild not have to worry to call because 800 pounds of atv wouild tumble onto me as we fell and, well, you can guess the rest.
It always took Griz a long time to start. The shed was not heated and Griz’ oil was often like molasses in January. It seemed that he always decided to start just when I was about to kick him and give up. I think the profanily gave that extra needed spark.
Well all of the above transpired on that fateful evening. I have to admit, I’d never before plowed the whole road in the dark with snow and sleet falling. Nonetheless, I got down our drive and just plowed a lane through the near freezing slush, down the ski slope part of the road down to R’s house, cleared the left hand turn so that it would be less to push coming back up, and , went down that slope to tke hairpin turnaround, and from there, now on asphalt. down the hill — plowing all the way, with occasional turns to the left to push the snowmound I had accumulated in front over the drop off. I once calculated that Griz and I moved of tons of snow in a typical plowing episode.
I pushed loads of wet snow carefully over and down the outside road edge, often very near 90 degree straight down to the cove. Yes, cautiously, to be sure, but also confidently as I had done it all so often before. The lights on the atv to my infinite relief really lit up the road well.
I went down to the mailboxes –turnd around and stopped to take the dusk picture of the single lane you saw abo ve.
And then started pushing the heavy load in short bursts uphill and again off to the side. Griz was lifting, pivoting and lowering that blade like a champ..
At the top of the rise coming up from the mail boxes, on the left, was a friend’s house, He had a very steep and angled drive which was hard to shovel off by hand. He’d also had abdominal surgery and I knew that he would not be able to cleaf that off at all. He and his wife were also German Shepherd dog people — as were we, they also were owned by a couple of those great dogs. So I thought, what the hell, I’ll just take a moment and scrape it off for him.
At the top of his drive, where I’d first gone to get a bit of gravity help to plow down the sides, I raised my blade to back up and there was a loud WHACK noise and the blade slammed down hard onto the asphalt.
At first, belileve it or not, I was embarrassed and hoped that nobody would come out and ask, what’s wrong? I had no idea. The Lone Plowguy is, by definition, always in charge, always prepared, always cool calm and collected. That must have been another Lone Plowguy. The only thoughts in my mind were: what the hell just happened and how can I finesse this in front of my admiring crowds (none of which were out there of course)?
A quick inspection showed that the winch rope had snapped,and backlashed its frayed, wound cold steel lines into a Gordian knot inside the winch housing.. Now why peojple call that wound steel cable a rope I will never know. I sure could not tie it together like rope. I do know that men like that term and that it is especially a favorite of men who pronounce [asphalt’] as “ash-fault”, and with just a little bit of arrogant authority. Anyway, in a panic to see if I could repair it, I found that I had all the repair tools I would need, but none of the right cable clamps. Moreover, my cell was not reaching home from there, so I could not get a ride and leave Griz on trhe road to –do what with tomorrow: the damned blade was down, the cable snarled on he winch, and the socalled wintry mix was coming down harder. And really, was I going to remove my gloves in freezing sleet to try to unwind gnarled steel winch cable (take that ash-fault snobs) inside a still installed winch housing? Was I nuts?
Slowly it dawned on me with a bit of a combined chill and thrill: I would have to drive up 1.6 miles of road, ascending somewhere near 1000 feet, pushing through very weighty and unwieldy semi-frozen snow and ice mounds i’d left along the inside of the road coming down, on ice that had formed under rhe slush, on Griz without his ice chains and with 100lbs of blade locked onto the ground uphill in front of me. I was scared stiff that at some point the pushback from the accumulating onto the pinned down blade would cause me on the Griz to pendulum and slide backwards over the outside edge of the road.
Griz was about to show me his mettle or at best, I’d have a very long walk back home without a flashlight on ice.
I locked the differenrtial, put griz inro gear and shoved the throttle, as WW2 fighter pilots said about going into war speed in emergencies, “balls to the wall.”, (plastic balls atop the two engine throttles all the way to the firewall — sorry alpha males and imaginaative females, but it had no physiological meaning),
All I can say is: wow. Old Griz did not even-grunt in pain.! My boy just dug his rubber claws into the pavement, leaned up into the slope, and wrestled, punched, pushed and slammed the snow all over the place all the way to rhe garage door at home and in record time. After about one minute riding with complete trust in Griz, I just leaned into the incline with him and we had just a unmatchable victory adventure up that dark little narrow old logging road, riding in complete harmonious mutual control.
Man did I love it: the Lone Plowguy Rode Again! It never got better than on that night.
In all this story telling, however, I have missed one part of my life with the Griz: the sense of thrill going up and down the slopes on a bright, cold morning, slopes in such pristine, clean, white blankets of snow. I wished old Griz could ferry me and my cameras but leave no tracks:the newfallen snow is so utterly soothingly beautiful.
Hail, from the Victors
Well there you are, now a sort of digital Tonto to my equally digital Lone Plowguy. But you know, as I’ve been immersed in writing this, figuring out how to get video into a block but mostly closely examining my pictrures and videos to see where I want them to fit in this narrative, there has been very little thought angst about the maelstrom of maladies swirling around us these days. Mostly I feel–have emotion–and it is the emotion we call gratitude, although I guess there is thought there too. Do I care? No. It is just great relief. Thanks for reading my sharing.
I walk with Roxy each day in the local municipal Cemetery.
It started out because anywhere else, our self absorbed fellow citizens walk with their dogs off leash.. And the do it wherever they please. I suspect that many of them really get a kick out of scoffing at the leash laws right in front of all the signs that say, All dogs on leash all the time.
It is tempting to skewer that behavior with the long thorns of acidic sarcasm and wicked wit. Let me just dismiss that path by saying that we are merely seeing another manifestation of the heads in the sand, I’m entitled Unites States of Narcissism. It is our culture now.
i was struck by the quiet in the cemetery. Expecting to be put off by being around dead people, I was surprised. No smell of rot. No hands reaching up out of the grave to grab Roxy and pull her, screaming, back down undergroud. No apparitions being exhaled like thin smoke by the grave. Not a thing from Hollywood at all. Just quiet and grey stones in varying stages of wear stuck at tottering angles, like uneven teeth in an old man’s mouth, On brown grass. Gothic trees reaching with concentration camp limbs silently to something we cannot see, lording their powerful shadowed presences over us lesser mortals.
Nancy had found this place after having been frightened by dogs off lead while walking Roxy also. She had urged me to go, but I was reluctant. Why?
We had made a memorial to our three beloved German Shepherds Zora, Bruno and Kaiser. All three died in our house on the mountain with us right by their sides. I took to heart what Butch, our deceased Schutzhund trainer had said was his moral commitment to his GSDs: he would make certain that the last thing any one of them saw on this earth was his loving face. Amen. Me too.
We had found a cross shaped piece of wood, the day after Bruno died, on a spot in the woods where he loved to lie. More than coincidence, random chance? I stained it, found rocks and spray painted them gold, and made a little memorial mound on that spot. I loved to go there, sit on the bench I’d made of cinderblocks and boards, remember them while loving the beauty of the woods and feeling, still achingly sorrowful for their absence, grateful for their lives.
On the last night we were in that house, a really perfect cool clear night on last March 29-30, we took the urns with their ashes, and spread them in our woods memorial chapel. I read a farewell passage and prayer we had written for the occasion. We did the same at all their favorite outdoor spots.
That was supposed to have tied off the loose ends of grief. It did not. It did not because it was aimed,ever so subtly, at relieving me, at least, of my grieving for them — which I still am doing and most likely will do until the day when I die too. I had not gotten the message.
The cemetery is not colorful, and the plastic flowers or wilted real ones just emphasize by contrast the grey, colorless ness of a whole bunch of old and new graves. It is clear to me that there will always be loose ends, that I could well be one of those headstones one day, and at 76, not too far off. My memorial spot back up on the mountain– well, it was not an acceptance of life on life’s terms. And that was a well meant mistake, an act of American pretend. It was a way to hang on. You cannot hang onto anything gone from this world, it’s like trying to grab and hold a chunk of The Present.
What’s left? For me what’s left is the realization that this life, which seems so hard and sturdy with its atoms and molecules and thumbs that hurt when hit with my hammer, is just an illusion. When you cannot stop the show and cannot hold onto the present, how can it be otherwise? A glorious, beautiful, super ultra high definition movie which we crate as we act out our roles. A moving feast. What a theater, what a chance to grow!
So: Memento mori–remember that I too must die. And I’ve discovered that in doing that, I find much much more of rich joy in that ephemeral elusive thing we call the present. Heavens, today is a great day to die on! I now know that native American wisdom to be a statement of gratitude for reality, not a morbid preoccupation with Holllywood’s contorted view of death and dying.
Thank heavens for my cemetery walks. I have my beloved Roxy with me, sometimes my dear, patient, loving and long suffering Nancy — and being there above ground provesI’ve got one more day on which to enjoy the abundance of God’s earth. Carpe diem and memento mori.
I keep beating myself up with self-recriminations. Why didn’t I read the signals clearly and get help for Titanoman earlier?
It began after we gave him a bit too little food with his morning Augmentin on Wednesday. He walking into another space from his bowls and vomited. He repeated vomiting until it was dry heaves in the vet’s office in the early afternoon. An exam, more blood drawn and a hypothesis: his stomach was upset by the powerful anti-biotic.
But he needed to calm things down so that he could continue the Augmentin, the supplement which protects the liver, the prednisone and if he had any pain, the combo of Tramadol and Gabapentin. He needed all that to keep the lymphoma at bay and keep his blood count normal. He needed all that with this his third chemo protocol, the “rescue” chemotherapy, to give him maybe another two to six months, outside, to live.
And on Wednesday he refused to take any medications or eat any food after the regurgitation spasms. He had been given a shot of Cerenia and it helped with nausea, but something else was going on: not eating and hobbling on the left rear leg. The vet said take him home and let’s see if the Augmentin’s absence and the anti nausea med does the trick.
By mid afternoon he was having troubles getting up and walking. We were at wits’ end about what to do until we found that our former vet here in our new hometown offered home care! Unbelievable. Nobody offers home care any more as a routine part of a medical or vet medical practice. But she does. And she did.
He verdict was: probably his spine. Lets give him Gabapentin by mouth, Prednisocw by mouth, more Cerenia and then morphine just to be sure. And if he cannot or will not get up after the morphine wears off around 11 PM, then tomorrow we will have to end his agony and life: euthanasia.
His morphine rest was restless. He really did not sleep, he just vegetated and began panting in earnest. OK, that could just be sensitivity to morphine. We will know after 11 PM what the score is. (Come on buddy, you can do it, God, come on, don’t let this wonderful friend down, don’t make Nancy suffer what I suffered when you couldn’t help us save Kaiser from hermangiosarcoma that windy night out on our deck April 2 last year. Please, please, please…)
He stood by himself twice between 11 PM and 3 am today. By 3 am he could not stand unless we hoisted him in the Help ‘Em Up Harness which Bruno had and which the vet and vet tech had helped us get onto him. Otherwise he was struggling with episodes of heavy paying and open mouth breathing while on his side in the hall, struggling to try to move himself, failing back into exhaustion and not getting up.
(Come on bud, you can do this! You just need a little rest and you’ll rebound. After all your blood tests just 5 days ago were all totally normal and your lymph nodes all right sized. If you’d only just eat a little, just drink a little more water. Should we try to get you to an Emergency Vet? Don’t know if we can lift you into the back of the car. But I think you want to be in the car, which is your safe haven and favorite place. Right? How abou some sign of agreement? But if I get you into the car, am I doing this just so that I’ll feel better or is it really going to serve you? I’m so rightly strung that I think I;ll bust.)
At 3 we realize that we need help, even if it is for a euthanasia. (Large, hard lump in my throat, nerves screaming, mind whirling, fatigue pushing me hard but not overtaking me). The Emergency Vet Hospital 15 minutes away says get him here. We haul and hoist him into the Outback “trunk” area on top of an old, soft deep comforter. He smiles the car is one of his homes. He is safe. By 4:30 we are there.
This loss is especially hard for Nancy: Titan was one of the greatest loves of her life. She and he were, are and always will be one. that is a once in a lifetime inimitable gift. Precisely that, however, insures that she will feel even more sharply the aching emptiness of the hole beside snd inside herself where he used to be, while the healing process of grief takes its course.
As for me, as I write I am quietly rehearsing my habitual though basec on his being nesrby: “come here bud, lets play tug the ball”. In that very instant Inrealize with a feeling of almost nauseating bottomless falling, that his physical being cannot do that any more.
Then I’m knocked down by the very big disaster for me, on older fellow who found his only effective cure for lifelong very severe ADHD in the companionship not just of dogs, but especially and powerfully with trained GSDs. The big knock down is realization.that for the first time in 17 years there is no GSD awaiting us at home when we return is daunting. It ties up my gut in fear.
Ut at least helping him with his dying we got right in the end. We are so very very glad that he died while in the hospital; we took him there because we could not handle his struggle by ourselves. And we wanted him and his body to be treated with the utmost care and dignity.
Things got so unbearably painful for him and us that night. We filled God’s inbox with prayers, petitions, even outright commands in less than civil language. With just an bour left for him, We achieved that at nearby Western Carolina Regional Animal and Emergency just in time.
We are so utterly grateful for the unconditional love he brought us — just as Bruno,Zora and Kaiser did. We are grateful to German Shepherd Rescue and Adoption of NC for having brought Titan and Kaiser to us. Our GSD companions have lined our lived for 18 years with safety, steadiness, solace and sweetly intelligent companionship.
Titan came to us on the 19th of April, 2013 via Connie from German Shepherd Rescue and Adoption, a group of some of the most loving and tough people I’ve ever known. It takes a lot to have to face a dog whom some dead-souled human starved, intimidated, kicked in 3 ribs and knocked out a tooth while scarring his muzzle and psyche — all before dumping in the woods to die? Is that love exceeded anywhere?
That’s what happened to Titan and the context in which he had lived when I fist met him at GSRA’s Adoption Event in March, 2013 in Cary.
We know who did it from what he feared when he came to us: a slim person, wearing dark shoes or especially boots, jeans or especially cargo pants and a baseball cap,. We think this person, if such a lowlife can deserve the appellation of human implied in the word person, must have been a male: titan was terrified of me, cowering, baring fangs, growling at first. We think he was protected by a woman–he had no fear of any woman who is comfortable around him. And in some way the back seat or utility area in the back ofd an SUV type vehicle was his safe haven: even dying, one hour before his body gave out, you could see the realization and joy at being in the back of our Outback–regardless of going to his final vet visit.
He became noticeably more agitated at the vet hospital. It was hard to draw blood because it was thickening inside his veins. He began to breath with his mouth wide open, tongue hanging out, long, loose, pink in color but dry as a bone and oozing a sweet-rotten smelling green nd black gelatinous goo which had to be wiped from his lip: dehydrated saliva. He was alternately restless and almost senseless.
The vet was in a hurry to get his blood tested. Maybe there was something that could still be done.
(My God, is he dying right before our eyes? He isn’t even whimpering. Don’t worry bud, we’ve got you covered, we won’t let you suffer : dammitallanyway, the signs of all this were evident 5 hours ago at home, my God, my God, my God it was my need to keep him around and then to be his savior that made him suffer needlessly.)
I say that to Nancy. She says remember we did not think we could lift him into the car. (Yeah, I forgot, it took us one hour to move him basically two car lengths with the Help ‘Em Up harness and then every ounce of strength we two oldsters could muster to heft him, feeling like a burlap potato sack filled with lead potatoes, into the rear. Oh thank you God;, he looks so peaceful here. He seems to be smiling, and the panting is far less severe. He’s safe and we did it!)
The vet had sprinted with the blood to the testing area at about 5:15 am. He’d given T an injection of painkiller to slow the stress on the heart and lungs. Nancy was talking to him – T – and turned to do something at the counter in the exam room. I was sitting a bit away and behind where Nancy was standing. The instant she turned away, he raised his head, looking for a split second up towards the corner ceiling in the room to his front and left. He had not been able to raise his head or even react for hours now. And now suddenly he sits up?
But that’s not even the half of what I saw and cannot explain.
Just before Nancy had turned around, I had noticed that, lying there on his side, panting, those deep, large brown eyes had begun to shine a glazedgolden brown . Suddenly the great bear head raises up, just as if he were at home and had heard something outside that was not supposed to have been there: high alert. It was as if he’d seen something beyond that room. But his alert was suddenly ecstatic. We all know what our dog looks like when he is overjoyed to see someone he loves. Those golden brown eyes the instant he showed his joy glowed molten gold.And then, the golden light just stopped and he slumped slowly, head first and neck curved, as he’d been doing when tired from exertion all night to his right. My eyes went instantly to his abdomen: the lifting and falling of life was gone. He was dead.
I had seen something that we just do not get to see on this earth. Please don’t ask me to prove it — you were not there, I was. It overwhelmed me, I knew biblical awe in a flash, but my mind was kicking on my thoughts saying, tell her, tell her. God I did not want to tell her that but I did. She screamed for the vet — but more for her loss, and he came running. No heartbeat. Just a very very handsome boy lying there, eyes open but with a gentle far away stare, those large black coal nugget eyes that always had had that polish and questioning look, were dull and blank..
I am editing this on October 23. My oh my how that hole in my life still aches, how that empty hall still hangs dark with shadows of his suffering and last nights struggle. I’d do anything to get him — and Kaiser, and bruno and Zora — back. But I digress.
The blood tests showed that his kidneys had failed. We were right in deciding not to do resuscitation.
So it would not have made one iota of difference whether we had gone there earlier or not. He was on his way out all during those two days. He was trying to tell us that by not eating. He was trying to get, not to the hospital, but back into the car. At least just about his last experience was a 15 minute car ride. He wanted to leave from his safe place.
Of course now we are enduing the wrenching and lurching agony of separation, parting with no debrief afterwards. We are doing all the phases of grief. But they say that the brain remains active for a period after the heart stops. I am so utterly grateful that that night shift vet gave us 10 minutes with him and then promised dignified and caring treatment of his body. Indeed when he came back, he sat down in front of T, told him how handsome he was, and stroked his head, neck, legs and sides. But in those 10 minutes, when I now believe his true eternal self had made those eyes glow and was still gently hanging on to this world, he heard, saw, felt and knew a love song enough to break the bonds of death itself.
The miracle was that we wound up doing it all just right. Or more accurately: we were guided by him to take all the right actions at all the right times.
We are devoted to German Shepherds and after a pause to grieve and reorient ourselves, not only want to bring more into our lives. We feel strongly that we must do that, that it is our lot in this life to provide a home and a good life for GSDs misunderstood as “aggressive”, rejected, dumped, abandoned, beaten, starved and worst of all, ignored. We owe it to Bruno, Zora, Kaiser, Titan. Having our hand out for them is our responsibility.
Thank God he chose Nancy for his earthly commitment. Thank God that we had the honor and sublime joy of having been his companions for four years. Thank God that we gave him in return the best life we could. Thank you Titan for having given me just a quick glimpse of whatever it is that animates all life. Thank God for Titan and German Shepherds.