WHEN THE WHOLE WORLD IS HAPPY

I have to admit to you that there are days when I rely on my crazy dogs to remind me what it is to feel alive.

The other day I walked with them along a pond, Harry skipped close to the water and fell in. He clambered up, water dripping from his whiskers, and I laughed. He grinned. No face-saving devices, none of that I’m still tough, don’t make fun of me, routine. He grinned and I laughed. Moments of spontaneous connection.

Other days I feel groundless. In Zen cosmology that’s considered a good thing, seeing that things lack their own permanent identity and substance and instead co-arise and fade with everything else. But this groundless hasn’t felt good.

Left to my own devices at home, I walk from room to room and feel that nothing is really important. I have my discipline, the things I have to do, but there’s little enthusiasm. I feel wide awake and asleep all at the same time.

I know the explanations. It’s not just that Bernie and I were married, it’s that we were in the same world, the same group of people, the same work. At every dinner we talked about Zen Peacemakers or Greyston or people we cared about. I worked hard to have my own life, and to some extent succeeded. But there’s no denying that our lives were enmeshed, that we talked the same language and loved the same things day in day out. After his stroke, when he needed care, our days became even more enmeshed.

So when I walk around the house and wonder who I am now that he’s gone, who and what is this person that’s survived, surrounded by trees and troubled by a malfunctioning car, nothing brings me back to life like the dogs.

I saw Aussie through the office window walking towards the backyard gate. I watched her probe the ladder that I’d laid down horizontally against the gate. She sniffed the rungs—there wasn’t much space between them–and probed through with her nose, finagled her body between the rungs, contorted it up to reach up to the latch with her black nose, applied pressure, it gave, and she was out.

I shook my head, thinking: Aussie, you are something else! How could I not cheer her on inside? Go, Aussie! Figure it out. You can do it!

It was a gorgeous late Sunday afternoon, the sun beginning to come down but still splashing us with plenty of rays. I’d taken them out in the morning for a long jaunt, unleashed, in the Montague preserve but 7 hours later she wanted more.

She came back and I greeted her in the yard: “You are a nu-nu-nu!”

She grinned happily, showing her beautiful white teeth.

“I saw you do it. You are a nu-nu-nu, Aussie Moss! That’s your dharma name from now on—Nu-nu-nu. Breaker of All Rules.”

She positively glittered with joy. She was proud of herself and knew I wasn’t angry this time, that I was even happy for her. It was a burst of joy for both of us. Other days I’ll get angry and yell, but not then. Harry got into the act and started chasing her around, two green hummingbirds flew around the feeders, the wind chimes rang under the tree, and the whole earth was happy.

MOVE-COUNTERMOVE

Item from the Montague Police Log, as reported in the Montague Reporter:

“Wednesday, 6/11

10:32 pm. Caller from Randall Wood Drive advises that their miniature pinscher got loose earlier this evening. Caller reports that dog is uncatchable; MPD may receive some complaints that dog is barking and running around the neighborhood. They do not want an officer to respond because they know that they will not be able to catch the dog; this has happened before, and she will come back eventually. Officer advised.”

 

“You win again, Aussie.”

“That’s 4-0, girl!”

“4-0?”

“Twice I managed to run away through the side gate by the garage before you even noticed.”

“You moved, and I counter-moved. I wired that gate shut!”

“So I counter-counter-moved, and ran through the other gate that the gardener was using. At first she was being careful, opening and shutting the gate behind her as soon as she was finished, but I watched and watched; I was sure that eventually she’d make a mistake. Sure enough, she left it open when she took her wheelbarrow through and I went for it. Check!”

“So I pulled our big ladder over and leaned it against the shut gate so that nobody could open it again, Auss. And then this morning I was getting ready to take you guys to the preserve. I put Harry’s collar on and then I looked for you so that I could put yours on, and you weren’t there. I opened the front door and there you were.”

“Checkmate! You looked so silly, with that surprised look on your face. What are you doing in front of the house, Aussie? you asked. Is that a dumb question, or what? I’m free, is what I said. I’m free to run where I please.”

“But how did you get out, Auss?”

“I won’t say.”

“I notice a widening hole in that big tree in the corner, but it’s not big enough for you to get through.”

“I won’t say, I won’t say.”

“Later on I examined the gate and noticed that while the ladder was still leaning against it, the latch was now open. Don’t tell me that you were able to jump over the ladder and lift up the latch all at the same time!”

“I won’t say.”

“You’re doing better than the US women’s soccer team, Auss. Do you know that there’s a koan about I won’t say? A Zen master and student pass by a coffin with a corpse in it. The student knocks on the coffin and asks the teacher: Is it dead or alive? Guess what the Zen master says.”

I won’t say, I won’t say.”

“Exactly, Aussie. And why wouldn’t he say?”

“For the same reason that I won’t tell you how I manage to break out. If I do, you’ll go right to the spot and fix it, tie it up, make adjustments, and shut me in again. No, your practice is to keep on looking and looking and looking. You can’t take anything for granted.”

“And what’s your practice, Auss?”

“To find the hole in the fence. Never stop looking for the hole in the fence–or in the tree.”

YOU’RE A NU-NU-NU!

“You are a nu-nu-nu, Aussie!” I tell the irrepressible dog when she bounds into the office, looking immensely proud of herself.

Nu-nu-nu is a babyism from Israel that has stayed in my bones. It’s what you say to young children if they do wrong. Aussie has heard nu-nu-nu from me from the day she arrived here, and for only one reason: She won’t stop running away.

Last night I tried to do what I usually do, put the dogs indoors for the night and block up the dog door. Aussie was nowhere to be found. Housemate Tim went out and clapped his hands, but she didn’t come. At 6 in the morning I find her fast asleep on her favorite living room chair. “You’ve been all over the world this past night, haven’t you?” I say.

“Go away, I need my sleep.”

I go outdoors and find it. The side gate from the back yard has been opened. It has a latch, but what’s a latch for Aussie? She nuzzles it up and then sidles sideways and through, and she’s outa-here!

I had to go out so there wasn’t much I could do but shut the gate. Sure enough, when I returned there was no Aussie. Then I heard a bark and turned around. Harry was on the inside of the back fence, and he was looking straight across at Aussie’s face barely a foot away from his, with the fence in between. She was out, he was in.

Harry barked shrilly, then stopped. Quietly they looked at each other, uncertain how to proceed. I could almost hear their thoughts:

Harry: “How can you be Aussie if you’re on the other side of the fence? It’s always you and me against the world, only now you are in the world. Where does that leave me? Who am I?”

Aussie: “Oh Harry, you got to join me and see the world.”

Harry: “We have a big yard, Auss.”

Aussie: “A big yard is not the world, Harry.”

Harry: “We have trees, we have grass, lots of flowers and plants to pee on.”

Aussie: “It’s not the world, Harry.”

Harry: “We have worms, caterpillars, salamanders, toads, snakes, squirrels, and lots and lots of chipmunks.”

Aussie: “But it’s not the world. Don’t get attached to all these local forms that make you comfortable, Harry, don’t be a typical Zen student. The yard may look like it’s got everything, but it doesn’t.”

Harry: “What doesn’t it have, Aussie? I have the earth here.”

Aussie: “I have more earth. I can run and run and cover far more earth than you.”

Harry: “That’s true, Auss, but I got lots of earth under my paws, in fact as much as you. And I have sky.”

Aussie: “I have more sky.”

Harry: “You may think you got more sky, but when I look up the sky goes as far as my eye could see. Who needs more?”

She must have pondered the conversation, because half an hour later she came bounding into the house, full of rain and high spirits.

“You’re a nu-nu-nu!” I told her.

“You’re a control freak,” she told me.

Just to confirm her diagnosis, I immediately walked outside with two pieces of wire and fastened them tight around the gate entrance. “You can raise up the latch all you want,” I told her when I came home, “but that gate won’t open.”

She shook herself hard, getting all the rain on the rug, and jumped up on the sofa, part of her strategy to get all the furniture as wet as possible. Next, I knew, was my bed upstairs. She lay her head down between both paws and pretended to go to sleep, but I knew she was already plotting her next big escape.

SELF-PORTRAITS

 

I saw a documentary on Rembrandt over the weekend, and specifically his later works. The camera hovered lovingly over his self-portraits. Someone said that Rembrandt wrote his autobiography in his self-portraits; I think they are the greatest series of self-portraits done by any artist.

When he’s young they show him handsome, smooth-faced, somewhat arrogant, he could be a nobleman, a man of leisure. By the end there is the flabby skin, the pouches under the eyes, the sinking of the lower half of his face. Only the eyes look deeper than they have in previous self-portraits, contemplating a life. Everything is exposed, if not explained, on that canvas.

A young girl took a photo of me on Sunday (see below). We were standing in the kitchen. She was making Mac-and-cheese and I was wearing a sweater because it was a cool, rainy morning. This photo is no self-portrait, and it’s certainly no Rembrandt. He was looking in while I was looking at her, because she was smiling so prettily, without any questions or ruminations about life. The only thing my face has in common with Rembrandt’s is that I, too, have pouches under my left eye.

I’ve never liked to see photos of myself, and especially of close-ups like this one. But when I see it, I feel that what I want to do before I die is fully accept that face, fully accept myself.

When I run into messes or failures, or what feel like failures, I don’t want to start thinking what was wrong with me that I could make such a mistake or such a decisions. Nor do I wish to idealize anything.

I have kept a few goals but have let go of personal vision. I don’t want this human being of Mondays or Thursdays conforming to some image, some static, abstract dream that doesn’t take into account the added weight, the pouches under the eyes, the tiny hairs that appear occasionally on the face,

Other people might find a personal vision helpful, I understand that, but in my life those ideals have often been a trap, squeezing me into a tube where I stay contorted and uncomfortable. I’m not anyone’s idea of a teacher or a writer, including my own. I’m done with conforming to anything.

Over my life I have spent some time, through personal reflection, therapy, and the give-and-take of relationships, looking at my conditioning. It’s always a temptation to say, I’ve been there, done that, and now I’m wiser. But I’m not sure I’m that much wiser. I suspect that, years of practice notwithstanding, I still act within certain deeply ingrained parameters. Even with the opportunities for freedom and spontaneity provided by each moment, there’s a very basic knowing that continues to act within me.

Can I accept that person, too? I know she changes, but how often do we say that as an escape from the present moment rather than full acceptance of it?

Rembrandt saw himself—a genius painter out of favor, a bankrupt, a man who lost a wife and children, impoverished, ignored, and even reviled at this last stage of his life—and he didn’t look away. Instead he used all the hard-earned skills he accumulated over a lifetime and his native genius to express the totality of what he saw.

I am no Rembrandt, but I would like at least to have that kind of integrity, to see and listen as well as I could, not look away.

NOW WE KNOW WHO WE ARE

“Now we know who we are.”

Those were the words, my friend reported, that a neighbor said to her as they discussed the reign of Donald Trump.

And who are we? People talk about the emergence of blatant racism, the hate of immigrants, anti-Semitism, misogyny. What came up for me was: money.

Who we are, as a society, is money.

Friends from other countries have talked to me in the past about how Americans loved money more than other people. I must admit that for years I didn’t believe it. We all like things, I thought; some want more, some want less. Simpleton that I was, I didn’t think that Americans were so ahead of the game when it came to money. So I must thank Donald Trump for unveiling just how much money defines us as a society and a culture.

Money is a language that Trump seems especially fond of. While other presidents have said it was important for them to be compassionate, kind, and even God-fearing, Donald Trump loves to point out what a great business negotiator he is.

Even in nonbusiness matters, money is his way of doing things. How to stop the flow of migrants? Impose tariffs on Mexican goods. How to redefine our relationship with China? Impose tariffs. What to do about the farmers who then suffer from tariffs on China? Give them more money. What is he (and fellow Congressional Republicans) immensely proud of? The great tax break they gave to the wealthy and to businesses.

When you think of Mar-a-Lago, his weekly retreat, as opposed to rural Camp David where other presidents went, what comes up? Money. When I look at the fake hair color, I think of money. Gold is what matters. It’s a stand-in for self-respect, self-fulfillment, and a balanced perspective on your true proportions.

I suspect that’s true not just for Trump, but also for much of our culture. Sociologists tell us that the reason Americans don’t connect with socialism or communism and haven’t had revolutions despite the outrageous proportion of our GDP that goes to the rich is because, in our heart of hearts, we want to join the rich, and even the super-rich. We want to be on the other side of that gap.

I was at a chain store one early evening with only one cashier handling many customers. We waited a very long time. Just as I, at the end of the line, got to the cashier, a second one arrived and made the loud announcement—“I can take the next person”-though there was no one there. “Why is she here finally when there’s no one on line anymore?” I asked the young woman who was finally checking out what I’d bought.

In reply my casher gave me a card, photo above.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Next time you get $2.00 off because you had to wait,” the young woman said brightly.

I was taken aback. “I don’t want your money,” I finally said. “Just say you’re sorry.”

Only twice have I written negative customer reviews of a product I bought online. Instantly I was inundated by offers of discounts to take off my negative comments. Nobody apologized, nobody said it won’t happen again, just: We’ll give you money if you take it off.

There was a time when such offers were considered bribery; not anymore. Do we even blink when this happens? Haven’t most of us learned to talk this oh-so-American language?

In Citizens United vs. FEC, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are like human beings in terms of right to free speech, including political spending. I think we’re returning the favor and, in this country at least, human beings are becoming more and more like corporations.

 

COMINGS AND GOINGS

Yesterday I walked with a friend and our dogs in the southern part of Wendell State Forest, beginning with a wide, flat meadow. We could hear the sound of two heavy riding mowers behind us.

Leeann pointed out a stick standing upright in the ground, and next to it, a box turtle. She was a beauty, black with yellow rings. She’d dug up a hole in the meadow and was getting ready to jettison her eggs. We watched as she rose up like a flatbed truck, front part up in the air while the back tilted down to unload cargo into the ground.

“Not a great survival strategy,” Leeann said as we both heard the relentless chugging of the big riding mowers coming our way.

When we returned later mama was gone and the hole was covered up neatly. As yet, the earth hadn’t been turned up.

And then came last night. In the zendo we’d done a Renewal of Vows ceremony, in which we renewed our vows to the Buddhist precepts, confessed where we’d fallen short, and asked for forgiveness. Driving home, I saw deer everywhere. A narrow, white trail of clouds seemed to stretch out of the moon in the dark blue sky like an umbilical cord and then disappeared, and I thought of the trails of dust, some hundreds of light-years in length, that connect galaxies.

As soon as I came home I knew this had all the makings of a wild summer night. The dogs ran from one end of the yard to another, barking shrilly. Fireflies blinked on and off at the far end by the tall birches, where it’s especially dark, and I recalled a story I’d heard that fireflies are often accompanied by porcupines.

“Harry! Aussie!” They barely listened. It was a night of hunt and prowl; everybody who was anybody was out, and they weren’t going to miss it. They’d come indoors to lie down, then jump up and run out the dog door again and again, barking madly. Who wastes a gorgeous summer night on sleeping? Finally they stayed in and I fell asleep.

At quarter to three in the morning I opened my eyes. Both had shot like a cannonball down the stairs and out again, Aussie with her longer sentry warnings, Harry’s barks more shrill and clipped, two of his to every one of hers. I closed my eyes: When will this stop?

Something shrieked. I lay still. The cry started low and rough, then became a scream that pierced the air, and then silence again.

I grabbed my robe and ran downstairs, put on lights. “Harry! Aussie!”

Harry ran towards me from the very end of the yard where laundry lines hang. Aussie, as usual, was nowhere to be seen. I looked for light. Where’s my flashlight? Where’s my phone?

Found it, hurried out quickly but carefully. Were there sounds of chewing? Of a satisfied growl? Where’s Aussie?

She came running, not a mark on her, and I remembered that I hadn’t heard any snarls of struggle, just barking.

In the morning I went out and searched. Not a sign of anything anywhere. I looked out beyond the fence for a carcass, for crows landing on flat, bloodied fur. Nothing. But I knew that something had lost its light in the early hours.

“Comings and goings, comings and goings,” Bernie used to say sleepily on these occasions, if he even heard them. He often talked like that, as if he had death handled.

For me, nothing is handled. I couldn’t sleep for hours after that, the sound of horror and desperation ricocheting in my mind long after I’d returned to bed, while the dogs slept deeply.

GOING WILD

“Aussie, the fence is back up. They sawed off the big tree that came down and fixed the fence.”

“Darn it, Harry, we can’t go wild anymore!”

My dog Aussie wants to go wild.

Not in the back yard, now thankfully intact, but in the woods, to which she runs every chance she gets.

In the woods, the two dogs espy a few deer up the hill heading towards the state preserve, and both run after them, Harry barking joyfully. Five minutes later Harry comes back; Aussie doesn’t come back. A half hour will elapse before I see her again.

On the way home, coming down to the car, they see a doe bounding down towards the creek. Off they chase again, Harry barking ecstatically. He comes back and drops on the ground, out of breath; Aussie doesn’t come back. More than an hour will elapse before a pair of young women text me that they see her, and I rush into the car, drive down the road, and bring her home.

In the car she sits in the middle of the back seat, panting. Her eyes are narrowed, nostrils flared like they never are in our back yard. In fact, Aussie’s eyes seem to get a little yellow, like the eyes of wolves, after a run of hours in the forest. She looks straight ahead, but she looks at something other than the road, I’m sure. Watching her from the corner of my eye, I can almost feel the drape of drooping leaves as she runs between the trees, smell the warm scent of deer, the flutter and whisper of small critters, the gurgle of the creek, the high-flying shadows of hawks. Call of the wild.

Common sense tells me that she’s not wild, she’s a domesticated dog, and my job is to take care of her. That means that Harry’s chase of deer, ending with his return five minutes later, is fine; Aussie’s foray for hours is not. Harry’s happy, shrill barking is fine; Aussie’s yellowing eyes, ears listening to long-ago, primal sounds, her obliviousness of me and other humans (she usually stays away from men, but on these occasions women too)—these aren’t fine at all.

“She’s used to the sounds of the house,” a trainer told me, “so the sounds of the forest are far more interesting to her.”

Is it just my imagination, or is she also listening to some wild, ancient voices inside, when home meant something very different from a front door that shuts behind her and a fence that keeps her in a large, enclosed yard? They say that humans like to listen to seashells because the sounds of the sea remind them of their own remote origins. Aussie in the woods is a dog following instincts thousands of years old and a primeval landscape only she can distinguish.

“She’s beautiful when she’s like this,” someone said to me.

“I can’t let this go on,” I replied.

After every escape she gets a leaner, more restless look in her eyes. She wants to follow a destiny not limited to three dead squirrels this past spring. Out there is bigger prey. It will outrun her, but she won’t give up. She has glimpses of her true nature and no one can tell her otherwise. She doesn’t miss humans, she doesn’t miss the pack.

Eventually, she comes home, drinks water, eats some dog food, and has a rest. Then the eyes turn to slits, she goes out through the dog door, approaches the repaired fence, and sniffs the air. Freedom is so close she can taste it.

WHO TOOK THE TREE DOWN?

“OK, Harry and Aussie, who took the tree down? I want to know which one of you did this?”

On recent Friday mornings I chauffeur a young illegal migrant mother to various appointments. Today I came home and found that an enormous tree, consisting of three big limbs each of which could be a tree of its own, had crashed down in the back, taking down power lines, cable lines, and the dog fence.

There was no electricity and the dogs were nowhere to be found. They weren’t under the fallen giant, nor had they been electrocuted by the live wires.

As usual, Harry was the first to return, tongue hanging out, and made a beeline to the water bowl. Aussie sauntered back hours later, when the electrician was finishing restoring power.

People say over and over that this country is no good. Fallen wires and no power (which in our case means no water as well) are no fun, and the company had someone here within the hour, and power was restored within two. I don’t take that for granted.

The live cable wires will be fixed tomorrow. Meantime, dogs aren’t going anywhere in back.

In human terms, Harry’s about 8 and Aussie’s 12. I’ve adopted a kid and an adolescent; no wonder I’m so tired. What was I thinking of?

Last year at this time I lived with two old, sick guys named Stanley (a canine) and Bernie (human). Bernie after the stroke had a hard time getting around and needed lots of help. Stanley maintained his good spirits even while blind and deaf, but at times I looked around me and wailed: Is there anybody young here? I need some youth around me!

Right now I look at both dogs and say: “I need somebody to grow up—quick! Harry, would you stop barking so much?”

“I’m so excited to be alive, yipeee!”

“And would you stop jumping on me?”

“I’m too excited, I can’t stand still.”

I could use a couple of old fellas for balance.

If Harry is deeply loyal to me at home, he clearly sees Aussie as his guide outdoors. For a while there he was scared of the plank bridge in the woods and positively bawled after us when we crossed. When he finally crossed, it was to follow Aussie. And when she went into the water for the first time he whined and whined, then followed. And yesterday when she went into deeper water, he whimpered in resistance, and then followed.

As you can see in the photo below, they’re taking a water route to run away from home.

 

MOTHER WENT UP A STEPLADDER

The house is gorgeous now. I sit at the picnic table and look up at the very tall trees that circle the back, the lilies and large-leaf hostas, and the incredible assortment of shade plants. In front, the rhododendrons have begun to sag but the young irises are opening their eyes for the first time.

Out of the blue it hits me that this may be my last summer here.

There isn’t a day that the beauty of this home doesn’t ambush me, summer and winter, and there isn’t a day when it doesn’t feel big, burdensome, expensive, and lonesome.

“Patience,” a voice counsels inside.

I wish I knew what I’m going to do, I snivel.

“Patience,” says the voice again.

Whatever happens, I think I will stay around here, where we will be visited by thunder beings tonight. “Don’t stay in the center of cities or towns; do not be friendly with rulers and state ministers; dwell in the deep mountains and valleys to realize the true nature of beings,” said the teacher of Eihei Dogen, the great 13th century Zen mystic, to his protégé.

The dogs, too, are learning patience after their encounter with the porcupine and removal, between the two of them, of some 800 quills. I looked it up to discover that porcupines have as many as 30,000.

“Stanley died,” I texted my brother and sister in mid-August after we ended the life of my dog of 14 years.

“’Stanley died?’ That’s how we find out about it, just like that?” my brother said. “No warning, no advance notice?”

“Bernie died,” I texted them both in early November.

There’s an anecdote. Henry phones his brother, David. “Mother died,” he tells him.

“’Mother died’? Just like that?” David says. “Couldn’t you have made the news a little easier on me?”

“How?” asks Henry.

“You could have started with a story. Mother went up a stepladder to get the cat. The cat had jumped on top of the closet and refused to come down. When Mother reached for the cat, the cat jumped. Mother lost her balance and fell. It wasn’t serious but she decided to rest anyway. She woke up with a headache and made an appointment to see the doctor the next day. She went back to sleep and died.’”

“That’s not what happened,” says Henry.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you help me prepare for the bad news. What else is new?”

“Dad went up a step-ladder,” says Henry.

Yesterday marked 7 months since Bernie died and in that time I’ve had only two dreams about him. The first came two months after his death. I dreamed that we were both in the house; he was well and healthy, talking to some students or people he worked with in the office, and I was going away somewhere overnight or for a weekend. When I was ready to leave I went into his office: “Okay, I’m off,” I told him.

“Have a good time,” he said in that light, jocular tone he often adopted. “See you soon!” He got up and gave me a peck on the cheek, sat back down and continued to talk to the others, while I left.

MAY THE GODDESS OF SPEECH

“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.”