April 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
Today 2 years ago I had to let go of my first ever dog, my beautiful little kelpie girl. I still miss her at my feet every day. She was perfect and sweet, and she brought a lot of friends into my life. Many, many years back, one of my friends wrote a story about her after a weekend trip.
Thank you Michelle, for agreeing to post your story on my blog.
And my beautiful Fin, I still will never forget you or leave you behind. Ever.
The bag was on the verandah and that could only mean one thing – we were going away! I’d often see Angi pack and my tail would droop lower and lower as she moved about the rooms packing and shutting things up. Would I get to go or would I be under the house with a chicken wing for company? Sometimes she would drag my bag out at the last minute, putting my food and leash into it as if I was some sort of afterthought. But not today! Today there was no doubt that wherever she was going, I was going too.
I gave the bag a sniff while she pottered around with last-minute human things. My bag still smelt like our trip to the sea, which could have been years ago or just yesterday. Sometimes having a short-term memory was a blessing but it could also be very frustrating, particularly if you were hungry and no one was about. It could feel like days since you were fed but it might have only been two hours ago.
Angi’s friend arrived in the blue car and gave me an absent pat on her way through the door. She always seemed in such a rush, and way too excitable. I know all about excitability being a kelpie. They fiddled around for ages trying to tie their bikes on the back of the car. Angi would occasionally turn to me and say, “Fin – stay”. Like I was going anywhere! I kept my eyes glued to them just in case they forgot me in the rush.
Finally they bundled my bag into the car and I got a prime spot on the back seat. There is nothing like the wind in your ears as the car goes along and I’m glad they remembered to wind down the window for me for a change – they could be so thoughtless sometimes. But this was turning out to be a great trip.
We drove for a while and then stopped to pick up another person who smelt vaguely familiar. She called my name and showed me her teeth in that way humans do when they are pleased. This reminded me of wonderful times past. I licked her face with enthusiasm but she responded by pushing me away with her arm. Some people really do lack decent social skills. Never mind – it isn’t their fault if they aren’t brought up properly I suppose.
I settled down on the back seat while the car rocked back and forth. The humans seemed to be doing a lot of looking through the back window at the bikes on the bike rack but no one seemed to want to stop the squeaking. Was I the only one that heard it? I tried a couple of times to see what was going on by squashing my face against the back windscreen but all I got was, “Fin – down” from Angi. “Fine,” I thought, “I won’t help!”
It was dark and I woke from a snooze when I felt the car slow down and turn into a driveway. The smells were unmistakable. This was a fun place for sure. Hazy memories of exhausted bliss were linked to what I could smell. The car stopped and the humans piled out of the car calling, “Come on Fin”. They didn’t have to say it twice.
–Michelle Riedlinger, 2004
July 1, 2013 § 2 Comments
While procrastinating, tempted to do so by an article by Bruno Latour, I clicked my way absent-mindedly through the Facebook news feed until a post of a friend: Actor Jimmy Steward recites a poem to his beloved dog. That got me. It’s a touching and sweet and funny recitation.
It’s comforting to see that I’m not the only sentimental one who wrote a poem for the dog they lost. Jimmy Stewart is of course much more of a writer of poems than me, but still. It made me dig out the poem I wrote about my first dog, my kelpie Fin, when she was dying. I wanted to let my friends know where she was at; I had had an emotional day, struggling with the knowledge of what the impending loss would mean. Back then I was reading Patricia McConnell’s book For the Love of a Dog. In it she encourages dog owners to see themselves through their dog’s eyes. If the dogs could write down what we do around them (and sadly often to them), what would they write. I had started out trying to do that for Fin, but I ended up just wanting to write about Fin and me. And I wanted to share it with my friends. So I wrote that poem and emailed it to my friends back then.
While out for a walk with a friend and the dogs today, we talked about soul dogs. This made me think about my kelpie. It’s been more than a year since I lost her, and it still hurts. I still feel her. I still look down at my feet on walks and I still startle when she is not there. So here it goes.
Fin, to her human
I’ll be at your feet
While you write, while you read, and while you sleep.
Until I smell
an antechinus, or a mouse, or a cat.
Until I hear
the waterhose, with my neighbour,
waiting for me to come and play.
Until I sense
a tennis ball—somewhere, anywhere
Then I chase.
I come back and get you. Drop.
And your feet and my paws run together.
And later, when we sit down and look out at the world together
I lean into you
and you rub my belly
while I smile my kelpie smile.
June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
We made our way back on foot. For both of us the walk proved too long. Downcast we strode on in the autumn sunshine, side by side. The houses of Kritzendorf seemed to go on forever. Of the people who lived there not a sign was to be seen. They were all having lunch, clattering the cutlery and plates. A dog leapt at a green-painted iron gate, quite beside itself, as if it had taken leave of its senses. It was a large black Newfoundland, its natural gentleness broken by ill-treatment, long confinement or even the crystal clarity of the autumn day. In the villa behind the iron fence nothing stirred. Nobody came to the window, not even a curtain moved. Again and again the animal ran up and hurled itself at the gate, only occasionally pausing to eye us where we stood as if transfixed. As we walked on I could feel the chill of terror in my limbs. Ernst turned to look back once more at the black dog, which had now stopped barking and was standing motionless in the midday sun. Perhaps we should have let it out. It would probably have ambled along beside us, like a good beast, while its evil spirit might have stalked among the people of Kritzendorf in search of another host, and indeed might have entered them all simultaneously, so not one of them would have been able to lift a spoon or fork again.
(WG Sebald, 1990, Vertigo)
The large black Newfoundland. One of the many dogs in WG Sebald’s work.Here the dog is menacing. But not as the dog that rushes the fence (although that seems to be a deeply ingrained fear for many), but as the black dog that figures depression. The narrator in Vertigo visits his friend Ernst, who has lived most of his life in a mental institution. Both are dealing with mental illness and in this episode they literally walk into the terror of it.
In Vertigo, as in Sebald’s other work, the dog mostly is a melancholy omen of actual or potential illness. As someone living with dogs, I find this aspect of Sebald’s work difficult to reconcile with that so much of his work is inspired by dogs. In an often quoted interview Sebald talks about how he has always had dogs and how the dog running in the field, following his nose, has taught him about writing and about walking and finding things.
For me, my dogs bring so much happiness and fun and laughter into my life; I cannot think easily of dogs as harbingers of bad things. But there is, of course, a long tradition in folklore of the dog as bad omen. And particularly the black dog.
There is also a dog in the cover photograph of my Penguin Books 2005 edition of Campo Santo, a collection of Sebald’s writings published after his death. It is a Kertesz photo of the church in Piana, Corsica, 1932. Men clad in black and in hats are lined up sitting outside the church, in the shade. It is probably a Sunday. A yellow, or white, dog shares the shadow of the church with them.
The photo is so Sebaldian in its style that I wonder whether it might have been one of the remembered images at the core of Sebald’s writing process: “[…] and on a walk there a remembered image came into my mind”, he writes somewhere in one of the pieces in Campo Santo. I can’t remember where, but it might have been the title essay, based on Sebald walking in Corsica. André Kertesz, of course, was a poet among photographers, observing the everyday, the easily missed moments. So here a dog as part of everyday life. No matter whether white, or black.
Interview by Joe Cuomo with Sebald talking about dogs and writing
W.G. Sebald and the Writing of History (ed. by Anne Fuchs and J. Jonathan James Long 2007)
June 4, 2013 § 3 Comments
Signs, signs, signs … signs. This week’s photo challenge is signs; check out the link for photos of some really funny or just beautiful signs. I have so many photos of signs. I love signs. Funny, silly, stupid, aggressive, informative … often story, sometimes poem.
Here is one of my favourites:
August 13, 2012 § 7 Comments
This week’s WordPress.com photo challenge has a serious tone — and a serious photo on the original post. The challenge is to share a photo that means WRONG to us. Well, there are very many things I can think of that are just wrong (like cruelty to animals, violence generally, a lot of current politics, John Key, …), but I’m not sure I would want to show a photo of any of these.
Therefore, here something less serious. We were driving behind this truck somewhere in New South Wales, I can’t remember where exactly. We were on a road trip from Brisbane to Sydney, stopping all places that had taken our fancy, that is beaches, bookshops, and cafés on the roadside. Apparently by driving from Brisbane to Sydney, we did the legendary 900 km Pacific Coast drive. But I didn’t ‘know’ that on our road trip. Probably because I was with my Aussie family — just going from Brisvegas down to Sidders.
But on the road, I did notice this truck. We laughed when I pointed out the blue writing on the nice yellow … but then we went “eeeeew” …
I still think it’s quite a funny, if slightly odd, idea to advertise one’s septic pumpout business. Gotta love the Australian sense of humour. But spot the missing apostrophe. Now there’s something I do find just wrong. Missing possessive apostrophes drive me crazy. There must be a new species of apostrophe-eating goblins out and about, because it’s getting worse and worse. Seriously.
August 10, 2012 § 5 Comments
The other day I had to get a plumber. The floats in my ancient copper header tanks in the roof gave up, and the overflow turned into a domestic waterfall. So here we were, the plumber and I, crouched in the narrow space under my roof, him exchanging ball cocks & fixing aluminium plates to the outside of the tanks, me handing him tools, and both of us chatting away about everything under the sun. My dog Tuhi was sitting in the hallway, wondering about our feet dangling from the trap door. When we were suddenly joined by her eager little face, after she had decided to join us and, somehow silently, clamber up the ladder, our conversation, naturally, turned to dogs.
“I had a dog once”, the plumber’s story of his little, loyal fox terrier x began. And it ended on how, when he died, the plumber was “really cut up about it, eh”. “To be honest”, he said, “I was more upset than now, that my grandmother is dying. And I really love my grandmother. There’s just something about dogs that somehow makes it different, worse in a way.”
After the plumber had left, I cried. About the dog I once had. Fin only died recently, less than 4 months ago. I still hurt with the shock of this still-there-but-just-not-there-any-more feeling after the death of a loved one. I’m still not used to Fin’s absence, and it still often just suddenly hits me and makes me cry. (I actually scribbled the draft for this post in the car in the supermarket car park, after one of those moments.)
Since Fin died, many people have shared their stories of how sad it is when a dog in our lives has to go. Or a cat. It still amazes me just how touched we are by the loss of our four-legged companions. The many different and deep ways of animal-human friendships.
When Fin was dying of cancer I was struggling. I was reading around, looking for comfort in the experience, and for how to help a sick and ageing dog. I stumbled over a blog post by Patricia McConnell (a most wonderful animal behaviourist and writer) about when her dog Lassie passed on. She was inspired by the famous story about Hemingway challenging his friends to write the shortest story possible. He won the challenge.
Hemingway had written: For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.
Since then, summarising one’s life in six words has become part of life writing and storytelling.
Patricia McConnell wrote six words for her dog Lassie, and she invited her readers to do the same for their dogs and share it on this blog post. When I was hand-feeding Fin and we were in our grace period of being able to say goodbye, the many responses really helped me. Fin was my first dog, and I was shocked with how intense the experience of losing her was. I think losing our pets hurts so much, is somehow ‘worse’, because they are so much part of our being — just there, with us, around us, without words, without logic — that when they go they leave behind the memories of all the other losses in our lives.
People are still replying to McConnell’s invitation today — more than two years after the post. Recently, I added my six words for Fin and my life with her to Patricia McConnell’s post “Six Words”. Response # 335 :) Somehow it feels good to be on this site with so many beautiful expressions of the love dogs left behind — for us to continue to give.
I was going to add a photo of Fin in here. But then I remembered this drawing I made of her. A quick gesture drawing, done in maybe half a minute. In the evening of one of our last days together. She had had a good dog day. Snoozing in the sun, a day full of the pleasures of plodding at her favourite beach, being able to eat.
When I look at that drawing now, I can still feel her in my hands. My beautiful, beautiful kelpie. I hope I never lose that.
More stories about losing a dog and about how dogs touch our lives
A couple of weeks after I wrote this, I read this fine post about men and their dogs on Michael Baugh’s blog, about how the way men love their dogs might be different from the way women love their dogs.
A powerful piece of writing by Neil Gaiman about losing his first ever dog, Cabal, is here.
And then there is of course Fiona Apple’s Handwritten Letter About Her Dying Dog.