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.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Once again, the passage of time

I have been remiss. I have been absent. I must be forgiven. While blogging has been, for me, something like journaling, I carry the awareness when I post here that this is not my leather-bound journal, lying on my nightstand, written in with a fountain pen, known only to me. This is public, and as such, I come here only when I'm willing to be public. And since my last post, much, if not most, of what I have had to say has been too personal. It still is, but I've gained some distance, and can finally record here what the last 21 months of my life have held. Following Crow's death on December 12, 2012, Hudson, who had been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma on Dec. 3, and had had a splenectomy on December 5th, recovered well from his surgery, but developed symptoms which were eventually diagnosed as Cushings.

 It was a rough few months. The diagnostics from his cancer, Crow's final illness, and then for identifying the source of Hudson's new symptoms added up to a considerable financial drain. I was dealing with the grief of losing Crow, with deep concern for Hudson's condition, with the horrible burden of knowing I would soon lose him, and with struggling to get him some quality of life for the time he had left. It was also devastating to witness his struggle with the loss of his lifelong companion. Though I was exhausted, it was not a month after Crow's death when I began to realize that, for Hudson's sake, I had to consider getting him a companion. The prospect was not an unwelcome one, but it was going to have to be the perfect companion. Hudson could not be stressed. And, as I said, I was exhausted. We needed to find just the right girl. I poked around some rescue sites, but I couldn't find a dog I felt confident would suit our needs. I was looking at random, gazing at photographs, reading histories. And coming up empty. I needed a plan, a more systematic approach.  Finally, I sat down and wrote a list of all the things that we needed in a new companion. It had to be a "she." "She" needed to be between 3 and 8 years of age, housebroken, and house safe, bombproof with Hudson, good with people, good with children, spayed, not a fence-jumper or a barker. Blah, blah, blah, without, as they would say in a horse ad, vices.

 Once I'd written it all down, I sat back and realized the chances of finding this paragon of canine virtue were virtually nill. And the next day, on Facebook, a handler friend of mine posted a message that she was looking to rehome several dogs. Most of them were Beagles. There was a toy poodle. And a German Shepherd bitch, 8 years old, who met all of my criteria, and turned out to be the litter sister of a show dog I co-owned with the breeder.
So on February 1, 2013, Hudson and I drove to Binghamton, NY, and brought home Rhapsody. And we loved her. From day 1, we loved her. Sadly, she was not here a month when I noticed the first symptoms of degenerative myelopathy. This is a progressive disease that ends up crippling dogs, and will ultimately kill them. If you are unfamiliar with it, a closely related condition would be Lou Gehrig's disease in human beings, as it follows a similar course. Rhapsody was a good companion to Hudson for the rest of his life, and, while her disease was progressing, she enjoyed a wonderful spring, and a good summer, and was still on her feet in October, when Hudson finally lost his battle.

By late summer, I knew we were on the final road with Hudson. He had another mass in his abdomen, an aggressive, rapidly growing mass that was about the size of a grapefruit when I first palpated it. There was nothing more to be done for him. He was happy and comfortable throughout the summer, and into the early part of the fall. But on October 15, the mass began to impinge on his diaphragm. The day I came home from work and discovered him slow to get up, and demonstrating difficulty breathing was his last day. Rhapsody and I were with him at the end. Her sweetness and gentleness with him, and with me, made it all the more difficult to witness her decline.

On November 1,2013, Rhapsody and I brought home her litter brother, A.C. I had co-owned him since he was a puppy, but he had lived his life with his breeder and co-owner. He had spent some time in a new home after his championship was finished, because I couldn't bring him home while I had Hudson, and it seemed better to get him out of the kennel and onto a couch, but, ultimately, that didn't work out for him, and when Hudson died, the timing was right. A.C. was back in the kennel, and in need of a new couch. So, A.C. joined me and Rhaps. And quickly ensconced himself on our couch and in our hearts.
Sadly, Rhapsody declined very quickly in the new year of 2014. By the middle of February, she could no longer use her hind end at all, and was no longer able to get outside to use the potty. On March 26th, 2014, the vet came to the house, and Rhapsody died peacefully in my arms, no longer afraid of what was happening to her body, no longer anxious about trying to get herself around. I wish I could have stayed home with her every minute, to care for her needs every hour of the day, but it was not possible. I promised her one thing at the beginning of her symptoms. I would keep her safe from injury, and also safe from fear. When I could no longer do that, I would help her go. And I did.  It was harder than I thought it would be.  It's been hard every day since.  She had come to soak up the echoes left by Crow in Hudson's and my hearts, and she ended up taking up residence in mine.

 And so, once again, I found myself with only one dog. Unlike Hudson, who had never known a day in his life as an only dog until Crow's death, A.C. did not appear to be bothered being alone with me. This time, I was the one who needed the addition of another dog. On Saturday, April 5, A.C. and I went to get Halle. Halle is sweet, and silly, and the perfect soul to restore balance in our lives. The last almost 2 years have been emotionally arduous. Just writing down these dates of deaths and additions has helped me understand how fast and furious the changes have been. I have my two German Shepherds again, which was the shape of my life for the better part of 14 years.
There have always been dogs, sometimes as many as 8 at one time, but the longest stretch of my adult life was spent with Crow and Hudson. They were my heart and soul. A.C. and Halle do not replace them. They cannot. But these new relationships are rich, and satisfying, and full in and of themselves. I adore A.C., who is such a gentleman, and a gentle soul. He is easy company, sincere and endearing, and I am totally smitten. I love Halle, too, who is silly, and soft, and sweet. No, they are not Crow and Hudson. They are A.C. and Halle. They are who they are, and they are what I need. And spinning and tired and dizzy as I sometimes feel, I have them, and they have me, and it's not a substitute for anything else. It is itself. And it is good. And together we'll go on, figuring it out step by step, living our lives the best we can. There has always been a dog beside me, each one perfect for the time and place in which we found ourselves, each one perfect for who I was when we found one another. And every single one of them is woven into me, a part of me which I cannot and will not put down.

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.