“May the goddess of speech enable me to attain all possible eloquence,

She who wears on her locks a young moon,

Who shines with exquisite luster,

Who sits reclined on a white lotus,

And from the crimson cusp of whose hands pours

Radiance on the implements of writing, and books produced by her favor.”

I can’t say that I get up early in the morning, go over to my desk, chant this invocation, and start writing, though many consider early mornings prime creative time. Before that there will be meditation, study, service, a little reading, and a few sun salutations, not to mention feeding the dogs. Only then will I approach the statue of Saraswati, Bernie’s gift to me so many years ago, sit down in front of the computer, and get to work.

First thing will be coffee. Well before 6 am, before activities pile up one after another like boxcars, I will stand on the upstairs landing and hear Aussie’s tail striking the sofa where she lies downstairs, playing guard. Harry likes to sleep late, preferably in my bed. Aussie’s station is usually downstairs, ever alert to the encroachments of deer, bear, coyotes, foxes, etc. I come downstairs and her tail keeps on pounding the sofa, an invitation to our daily morning hang out.

“How are you doing, Auss?” I ask her.

She turns onto her back. “You can talk and stroke my belly at the same time, can’t you?” she says.

“You’re a Zen dog, Aussie. Don’t you know it’s better to do one thing at a time?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” says she, and turns even more, exposing the big tan spot of her belly.

Later today we were in the woods together when the two dogs ran into a porcupine. You can imagine the rest. Harry was the first to come back to me, spitting and gnashing his teeth at the needles around his snout (I finally saw a live physical example of the phrase, gnashing one’s teeth).. Aussie wouldn’t come back no matter what. When I finally went to get her I found that the dead porcupine had reincarnated itself in Aussie; she had so many quills in her she looked like the critter she’d killed, providing the perfect example of the punishment that befalls you if you hang on and hang on. She had them all over her snout, one right under her eye, inside her gums and tongue, and under and around her front paws.

“You look terrible,” I told her.

She cried. Harry was tough, not a sound out of him except for the gnashing of teeth. Aussie cried, even screamed with pain.

“Okay,” I said, “straight to the vet.” Later I would hear from the vet that they pulled out over 200 quills from Harry and more than 400 from Aussie.

It takes us a long time to leave the woods, and as I pull Aussie forward I think of two dogs I’ve known for a long time, both of whom died on Saturday, leaving their human companions bereft. You want life? I said to myself. Well, here it is, this is life.

Yesterday Harry and Aussie had been in the weekly dog party that takes place in our local preserve every Sunday. They’d splashed into the water with a young Golden Retriever. Aussie chased her to the other side while Harry stood, halfway in and halfway out, afraid to cross because the water was a little deep for him, but by the time the outing was over he’d gathered up his courage and splashed his way after the two dogs, proud and happy. This is life! I thought to myself, watching them have the time of their lives.

This is life, too! I told myself, pulling Aussie after me, crying and whimpering, Harry trudging grimly alongside, both dogs looking like Cujo. Yesterday was grand, today is suffering.

The people who lost their dogs on Saturday would do anything to keep on taking care of them, give them their medications, continue coaxing them gently into an older and older age. They would tell me that this life is good regardless of how it manifests.

Yom asal yom basal,“ I told Aussie in the early morning as my hands made circles on her belly. “Arabic for a day of honey, a day of onions.”

“A little lower,” she said, oblivious to the misery ahead of her. “Nothing like a good scratch first thing in the morning.”