Crowz Nest

Because it's time... as it was once before.

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Location: Port Murray, NJ

I'm a bit old to be starting out in life again, but that's where I am. Sadly. Or gladly. It's where I am. Come along. Watch the fun. Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Belated Catching Up

I see that we have gone neglected here for more than a year.  Much has happened.  My wonderful Crow was lost to me in December 2012.  I see, as I read my last post, that on some level, I knew we were nearing the end.  As was her wont, she left suddenly, without lingering, on to the next adventure.  Hudson, who had presented with an emergency on December 3, was diagnosed with a splenic hemangiosarcoma.  He had a splenectomy on December 5th, and came home on December 7th.  As we all came back into the house, Crow lost control of her hind end.  Initially, we thought she had tweaked her spine over the course of the few days of traveling back and forth to the animal hospital.  She recovered quite a bit over the next two days, though she seemed a little more frail and wobbly to me than she previously had.  It had been a hard few days for all of us, with little sleep and less rest, so I didn't think too much of it.

Sometime around 4:00 a.m. on December 10th, Crow woke up in a panic, agitated and whining, and unable to settle down.  My dear friend, Suzanne, had come down to stay with me to assist with Hudson post-surgically.  Since I have only one bedroom, she was in my bed.  Crow and I were sleeping on the couch.  Crow had pushed her leg down beneath the cushions, down into the crease between the deck and the back of the couch.  I thought that was the problem, but once Suzanne and I had freed her, she commenced pacing and whining and would not stop.  So, exactly a week after Hudson's trip to the emergency room, we were off again.

Hawk's Hunt Crow Creek  April 2, 1998-Dec. 12, 2012
To make a very long, very sad story shorter, after some diagnostics, it became clear that the undetermined mass that had been found in Crow's abdomen had already metastasized, and that there was involvement in her brain.  Over the next day and a half, which she spent hospitalized as we tried to determine what was going on, and tried to stabilize her, there were increasingly dire neurological symptoms.  On Wednesday, December 12th, I made the decision to release her from her failing body.  She had largely left it on her own, anyway.  For one brief second, she met my eye, was fully there, and told me she wanted to go.  She died in my arms.  She is still with me, in the memory of the weight of her there, the warmth of her up against me, the slowing breaths we shared.  She will be with me always, one of the golden, shining treasures of my entire life.

And Hudson?, you ask.  Hudson has beaten all the odds of his prognosis.  Nine and a half months out from his surgery, he remains.  He remains with me, remains the guardian of his domain, the keeper of the beloved Cuz, and the benevolent big brother to his new housemate and nominal sister, Rhapsody (who came to join us early in February, to sop up the echoes and fill the gap that neither Hudson nor I could tolerate.)  It is clear we are in the end game, but he is comfortable and comforting, and we take every day as the gift it is.

More later.  That's the update for now.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reflections on Lives Shared

Beckett, Hudson, and Crow, April 2002
I've had a lot of reasons lately to reflect on loved ones present, past, and future. One of the primary reasons is Crow's age.  Watching her grow older, adjusting to her shifts, I can't help but reflect.

 Back on April 2, she turned 14. I came home from work, and grabbed my camera, heading out back with the dogs, intending to document the occasion with some nice head shots and still portraits.

Crow's 14th birthday portrait - a dead gallop
Here's what Crow thought of that idea. She galloped. She cantered. She raced laps around the yard, because "Mom's home!" And I realized, she'd been doing that most of her life, and, unlike me, she wasn't feeling particularly limited by what the calendar indicated. I followed her around the yard, and attempted a couple of times to get her to sit and stay and look pretty in the sunlight.  She played deaf (which is fair, since she is,) and did a great job of ignoring me.  I got a couple of shots of her, but nothing approaching the portrait I'd envisioned.   After initially feeling a little frustrated, I finally gave in to her joy and, laughing, admitted she had a better idea; a portrait of a 14 year old German Shepherd expressing happiness at a full gallop was going to be a fine picture to have, and a wonderful way to remember her.  Not every GSD who reaches this age is able to walk across the floor unassisted, and here I'd been, trying to slow her down to take her picture.

Finally, slowing down and coming in for a talk
She finally did slow down to a trot, and came in to perform the next part of the daily greeting ritual.  She pushes her way through my legs, and weaves back and forth through them.  As she did so, I had to adjust my balance to keep my right hip from going out.  Ha!  Who's old and decrepit, Ma?  Point taken, old friend.  Weave away.  But be careful to give me some warning, please.

Crow and Hudson's grandma, Carson
Now it's late August.  The summer was long and hot.  Some time in June, Crow began to refuse her meals.  I upped her pain medication, and for a short while that seemed to address the problem.  Then I began having to add flavor enhancers, and ultimately, to have to spoon feed her every meal.  I thought it was a one way street from there, having been put through the same sort of geriatric inappetence with other dogs in their dotage.  I was willing, though once again my own aging body had some things to say about both crouching down or leaning over for as long as it took to feed her.   In the last week or so, Crow has rebounded unexpectedly, and is currently eating all of her meals with gusto and enthusiasm.  I don't know how much longer she'll stay with me.  Certainly not forever, but maybe another couple of years.  Both her mother, Otter, and her grandmother, Carson lived to be older than Crow is now.  Or, she could go tomorrow.  When it's time, it will be time.  Ultimately, though it's a cliche, it's completely true that all we have is today.  Of all my dogs, Crow has been the one who's been most adamant on that point from the very beginning.  And so, we proceed, day by day, maybe a little more aware each time we part that it might be the final time, but never focusing on that.  In this moment, she is fine.  At this time, we are together.  It is all I can ask of this day.
Otter - the last time we were together
I didn't live with Crow's mother, but she was very special to me.  The last time I saw Otter, I knelt down to greet her, and she came into my arms.  Such a dear soul.  Such a treasured friendship.  For the last year or so of her life, I made certain that each time I went to the farm, I took the time to let her know what she meant to me.  There was really no reason to think that the last time I saw her would be the last.  She'd toddled up to the barn on her own power, at her own speed, and, as she had all her life, she'd chosen her own path.  That she chose to come to me, to greet me and welcome me back to the farm, was a gift.  And because it turned out to be the last time, it remains a moment I treasure.  When I think of Otter, though, I remember more than those final moments.  I remember her first litter, when she was just a young dog herself.  And I remember her inviting me in to kneel at the box while she showed me her second litter, how she nosed in and licked my hands and face while I cradled for the very first time the tiny, dark puppy who was Crow .  I remember what a funny girl she was, and her quiet, considered conversations with cats.  I remember the night she volunteered to accompany me back to my room, so I wouldn't have to spend the night alone, even though it meant leaving her own home to do so.  When I remember Otter, it is not a snapshot, but a movie, a series of frames that flow smoothly, one into the other, and tell the story of a life.  I know that this will be so for Crow, too, once she is gone, and that our moments together now are the single frames of the story we share.

I have a long list of beloved friends and family who have died, something which we all inevitably compile.  They are with me all the time, sometimes nothing more than a quiet backdrop of memories, sheer curtains stirred by the repeating currents of life; sometimes loudly clanging cymbals, clamoring for a nod when something we shared becomes relevant again in the moment, when something that shaped me or taught me demands to be acknowledged in the here and now.  In the final week of my mother's life, no one was with me more powerfully than Beckett, my greyhound who had died 7 years earlier.  It was his illness and his courage that taught me what it is possible to survive, and how we survive it by taking it head on, one step at a time, fully present and available to the moment and all its potential, unwilling to turn our face away, whether from life or from death.  These were the cymbals, ringing the lessons learned side by side with Beckett, lessons which had been mined and refined into the strength I called upon at my mother's bedside.

The future will surely bring me more heartache and loss.  It's a part of the deal, after all.  Both of my dogs are, as they say, "getting up there."  Well, heck, so am I.  We take it one moment at a time, grateful to witness joy, however expressed.  If my 14 year old Crow can say it with a gallop, I will hear it.  If all that's left are whispers, I'll hear those, too.  When I find myself in my own future, I know one thing: there will always be teachers, friends, and companions.  There surely will be a German Shepherd to travel with, maybe a Greyhound to watch sailing across a field, a rat on my shoulder, or a bird to talk to me.  Or, maybe there will be nothing more than curtains, stirring in the currents of my life.  I will take what comes and be happy for what's been.  Of one thing I am sure: having had all this love, having shared all these lives, I will never be alone.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Surprises at my door ...

When the knock came at the door around noontime, I had no idea who could have come knocking. When I got to the door, the post lady was already walking back to her truck, having left two packages on the step. Packages? I'd ordered a few essential things recently, but they'd already come. I couldn't imagine what these might be.

I brought them inside. One was a priority mail package, and the handwriting tipped me off. It was from a very special friend, and contained something I desperately needed, but for which I had not asked. It was another mark of our friendship, and of a connection that continues to amaze and move me. I stood there for a moment, grateful for the presence in my life of such a friend, of a relationship that has endured for more than 45 years, which gives me both a sense of continuity and continually renews and refreshes my heart.

The larger package, light for its size, came with a printed label, and no return address. It was clearly in a re-used box. I had no idea what it might hold as I carefully cut through the packing tape.

Inside was a note, which, while it shed some light on the source, still did not fully prepare me for the contents I would find beneath the wadded packing paper. When I first saw this item, it was in a preview of items being auctioned to benefit Friends of Pets in Anchorage, Ak. I fell in love with it, but declined to bid on it due to some financial pressures. But there it was on the preview page, and though I would not be bidding for it, I kept going back to look at it over and over again, enchanted by its whimsy, and, of course, delighted that it depicted a crow.

While I know who sent this to me, I don't know specifically everyone who was involved. I am the co-owner of a computer mailing list, and a bunch of the folks on the list saw my comment on this item on Facebook, and got together and made pledges toward the winning bid for it. I'm moved and amazed that they did this, and I love this little piece of folkart.

I sat at the kitchen table for a long time, with the contents of these two surprise packages in front of me. I felt stunned. And humbled. And, oddly, a little guilty, as I almost always do when someone gives me something. I kept touching the gifts. I picked them up, and put them back down. I stroked them and turned them over in my hands. I wondered what I had done to deserve such unexpected and generous demonstrations of friendship. Further, I wondered if, in fact, I did deserve them at all.

My tea grew cold as I sat there. And while I sat there, Crow came over to me and interrupted my thoughts by poking her head under my hand. I looked down at her and saw again the age on her dear face, right alongside the always-present, and ageless brightness in her eye. She was not, as one might expect, asking for me to pet her and bestow my affection upon her. She was, as I knew, asking me to take a moment to make space to allow her to give me hers - her regard, her friendship, her joy in our relationship. My hand remained resting on her head while I lowered my face to hers so she could, as was her desire, lick me. It would crush her to have me deny her this frequent ritual. I have learned, whether I am busy or not, to take that moment she's requesting, that it isn't about her wanting something from me, but instead, about what she wants to give to me. I never occurs to me to ask if I deserve it. I simply accept it. It is resident in our regard for one another. It is something that she wants to do, maybe even needs to do, and clearly something that pleases her in the doing.

Once again it is Crow who leads me to a deeper understanding. As I cleared away the packing materials, and picked up my lovely surprises to put them in a safer place, the gratitude I felt was clean. Instead of asking why, I simply bow my head and am grateful for the kindness in people, and for the wonderful, always slightly surprising, gift of friendship in my life.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's been wet ...

August brought us hurricane Irene, followed by tropical storm Lee, followed by the wettest September I can remember. Though I have nothing to complain about compared to what many suffered in the northeast, my backyard has been permanently recarved by water. I have a swale running through it, which became a stream, which remodeled my patio. The pictures are nowhere near as dramatic as it appeared in person, but whether you saw it in person or not, it's just water, water everywhere.
The plus side is that I haven't been able to mow the lawn without wrecking it permanently, so I haven't been mowing the lawn. In my life, having a legitimate excuse not to mow the lawn counts as a very good thing. You simply cannot run a lawnmower, let alone a garden tractor, over a lawn that looks like this. Yesiree, Bob, I am excused.

The downside is that stone retaining walls will only retain so much water. And probably won't stay standing too long if this keeps up.

The other downside is that I never had a problem with mosquitoes here, but I do now. And they're big. And hungry. Oh yeah. Very hungry.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Crow's Thirteenth Birthday

Sometime in the middle of the night last night, Crow crossed the line between 12 and 13. Thirteen years ago, in the wee hours of the morning, I sat on the phone with Suzanne and got the play-by-play report while Otter gave birth to her second litter.
I was waiting for my new male dog to be born. First pup - a female. Second pup - a female, quite small, very black. Third pup - a female. Fourth pup - a female. So far, an easy delivery, all four black and tan, three very similar, one smaller and darker, all girls. "Ok, maybe Otter's not done. I'll go to bed," I said, "let Otter rest, but call me when my little boy is born, please."

Taken in December, 2010, Crow looks good for an old girl.
First thing the next morning, the phone rang, and before Suzanne could speak, I said, "All girls, right? That's ok. I can live with a baby girl. I think the little dark one is my Crow." Until that moment, I hadn't considered a girl, and I hadn't really thought of naming a dog Crow.

Nine days later, we arrived at the farm to meet my little girl for the first time. The minute I put my hands on her, I knew I had my dog. It was a "never look back" moment. She's been the most challenging companion I've ever had. There were times when I didn't think I"d survive her activity level, and there were certainly times when I knew for sure I wouldn't survive her intelligence. I often wondered if I was good enough to clear the bar she set. But I have never for a second doubted that we belonged together. She's stretched me, and taught me more than any other dog ever has. She's always known exactly who I am and, seeing all my warts, has always fully accepted me and and been tolerant of my flaws. She's led me to compromises and shown me that there's always a way to see things from the other side. Together, always together, we worked things out. She was my second husband's first puppy, and she taught him everything he could learn about raising a dog. She loved her "dad." And when he and I split up, she missed him keenly, but let me know that she was mine and I was hers, and if we missed him at all, we'd do it together, as we did everything else. She is my best friend, and my right arm, and my mirror, my critic and my biggest fan.

She's 13 now, and though still doing very well (better, in fact, than she was doing last year) she is clearly my little old lady dog now. Sometimes she sleeps so soundly, I have to put my hands on her to wake her. Though I can feel her heart beating and I can feel her breathing and know she's all right, the depth of her sleep grants me an unwelcome glimpse into some of the things that lay ahead for us as we travel the final years of her time here together. Then she wakes, and blinks, and sees the concern on my face, and looks at me like "What's the matter with you? What do you want? I was just sleeping!" And I tell her, "You're 13 now, and in all the years I've shared with dogs, of the German Shepherds, only Annie lived longer than you have, and then only by a couple of years, and you just don't understand. I want you with me for another 100 years. Or until one minute after I die. Whichever comes first."

And Crow stretches and yawns and says, "It is what it is, and we have what we have, and today is today. Now open the door."
Happy birthday, Baby Girl. I have never had a friend like you before. Today is today, you're right. Thank you for being with me. I love you with all my heart.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Land of Flying Cows

I'm home again, from the land of flying cows,

where old dogs become young again,

where the sun is gold,

the mornings cold,
and where everything slows for me. It was a quick visit, just two nights and two full days. It's late now, and I'm finally ready to go to sleep. But I came home replenished, and able to count my blessings properly again. That's no small thing. It is, in fact, huge. It's what I've poking and picking at for most of this year. I needed to stop watching the clock of my life as the hands moved inexorably over the face of the year, to move into the moment and stay firmly rooted. She knows. And now I do, too. It was a good rest. I listened. When I do, Crow never leads me wrong.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

FB Thoughts

I never thought I'd like sites like Facebook. Yet, when I stop to think about the friendships I've formed through the years through the evolution of the Internet, I really shouldn't be surprised that I have forged new relationships and rekindled old ones through Facebook. I signed on a few years ago because my friend Betsy at work said I should, casually shrugging and indicating because "it's fun." And initially, that's all it was, and I used it primarily to "poke" colleagues at work, and post oddly cryptic status lines that let others know I was there, alive and kicking. I tried to avoid blatant bids for sympathy if I was in a cranky mood, or venting too much aggravation - keeping in mind my own reaction to the status lines posted by others. And it was. Fun.

Like any other social networking tool, Facebook is just what you make it. I've found Tweeting to be something that doesn't really work well for me. MySpace felt like the Commons, a break room in my high school where kids gathered to snipe at one another or bury their noses in their own concerns. Neither of those spaces worked for me. Yet, as I reflect on my life as this moment, at who is in it, who is on my mind, the things I am doing with my time and energy, I find that Facebook has replaced the old Bitnet Relay in my life. It keeps me in touch with a wide number of peripheral acquaintances and casual friends. And it has allowed me to deepen friendships where I wish to, and make new ones when they resonate.

I am sitting here right now, sipping a last cup of coffee. It's snowing lightly outside - just flurries. And in a few minutes, I will rouse myself to get moving and get out of the house to make my way into NYC, where I will meet my real-life friend and possible cousin, Carolina. Carolina is from Guatemala. We may be related, or not. Who knows? We share a surname. I met Carolina when her sister, who shares my name (or at least a portion of it), Virginia Servent Palmieri, friended me during the early days of my having joined Facebook. Slowly, the net grew, and I added many of the Palmieris who live in Guatemala to my Friend List. I discovered a kindred soul in one of Carolina's cousins, Carmen, who also lives in Guatemala. Our life stories are eerily similar and our instant understanding of one another was stunning. And when I met Carolina in person for the first time last January, even though there are years between our ages, continents between our lives, and vast cultural differences, I made a real-life friend. The connection was instant and has only been deepened each time we have been together.

Me and Carolina, friends and presumed cousins, moments after first meeting in NYC
in January, 2010
I have some friends who malign things like Facebook and say they have no use for them. Interestingly, they have never so much as stopped by these sites to see what they're like, but believe they know what they're all about. They criticize me, and think I'm crazy for using it. I just shrug, knowing that I have also heard them criticize people who have strong opinions about them and their work without having taken the time to familiarize themselves with it. They are right: you can't judge a book by its cover. Just like the Internet itself, Facebook can be a door to misuse, as can anything else in life. It can also be a very pleasant place to stop by for a quick visit. Some people use it to play games. Others use it to broadcast news to a large number of people at one time. But for me? I use it, instead, to update myself on the comings and goings of a large number of people I care about. I've heard people say that they don't have time for it. Oddly, I use it as a time saver. I can tell in a moment if something important is going on with one of my friends, and then I am free to follow up on them with an e-mail or a phone call, or simply to wait for another update from them so I know what's happening. In an age when none of us have enough time to do all the things we'd like to do, when few of us can afford to travel the globe, where most of us can't (or don't) even make time to pick up a pen and drop a card in the mail to a friend in need, Facebook has served in an amazing capacity. It has broadened my horizons and expanded the scope of my world.

I have recently had lunch with a woman who was my best friend in kindergarten. I hadn't seen her in 40 years, and wasn't close friends with her after our earliest elementary years together, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her again, and was instantly aware of what drew us into friendship when we were 5 years old. Right now, I realize I haven't seen any activity from her since before Thanksgiving and I'm about to contact her to make sure everything's all right. Without Facebook, we would not likely have reconnected.

As I get ready to go have lunch with Carolina again, all I can say is, "Thanks, Bets. You're right. Facebook is fun."