Spring, traditionally, is the season of rebirth. Where living things, whether they be animal or plant, shake off the cold gray dregs of winter and bask in sunlight. They turn their faces or their leaves and soak. It's not normally a cruel season but for this spring, for me, it certainly is.
Before I was cook or foodie, before I ever snapped my first picture, I was a dog person. I'm not sure how it happened. Maybe it was the Ribsy character in the Beverly Cleary books that I first proudly checked out at the library. It could have been Jack London's Buck who finally yielded to The Call of the Wild. Maybe it was our own wild beagle Skipper, who made our lives as adventurous children much easier by getting into so much trouble we looked like angels in comparison. Or maybe it was the neighborhood mutt who really belonged to no one but appreciated the love of a small girl who would pick nasty ticks from his blond coat. Or the smiling little Schnauzer Cindy who even went to the beach with us. All I know is that having a dog in my life is natural and right. There is a price to pay though. We all know it, we dog people, that the moment you sign those adoption papers or pick up that stray, that the moment comes when you have to say goodbye. That moment came recently for me as I said goodbye to not one, but two members of my little pack in the space of two months, ending a journey that spanned sixteen years. Winter may have been long and cold but my spring is bitter and dark. I need the comfort of routine.
I need activities to busy my brain and my hands. Judith Jones, the woman with the legendary eye for plucking diamonds from the pile of rejected manuscripts, has written her own cookbook. Following the passing of her husband, she finds herself adjusting to a new life of cooking just for herself. I need something intensive yet comforting. Mushroom risotto with it's close attention to the stirring details should help. I have yet to achieve that creamy, spreading plate of risotto. So it begins, with the mincing of some shallots and heating them in a pan with some olive oil and dehydrating whatever dried mushrooms you'd like to use with your risotto. Don't throw out the mushroom soaking liquid, it's good stuff that you'll heat up with your stock. Once your shallots have cooked about 4 minutes and before they get browned, add your rice. Just a little glaze in the pan for the rice, about a minute. Next a bit of wine, cooked until it's absorbed. Now begins the process of adding hot liquid and stirring and moving your rice around. It's here that the memories crowd out the present.
We had a dog. That dog was Bear. But as most dog people will tell you, while most dogs enjoy the company of people, they much prefer the company of other dogs. That is what dog people will tell you to your face. What they fail to mention is that this Dog Truth also allows dog people to stuff their homes with more dogs without having to admit that you're getting another dog for you, not your poor, lonely, pining away for a companion, dog. Thus it was decided that Bear would enjoy the company of a sister dog. This is how my partner and I ended up standing on the cold concrete floor of a windowless garage where a small, sable colored German Shepherd cowered in abject fear in a corner. I'm not sure what the man's purpose was in buying this Backyard Breeder special, all I know is that she needed someone with a huge soft heart. I could feel my partner's NO in her mouth even with my back to her. I told the man Yes, even before she had a chance to speak. The man asked if we wanted the tiny towel he had given the dog to sleep on in that cold garage. I couldn't get her in the SUV fast enough. Even in the truck, my partner still tried to comprehend what had just happened, how the "just going to look" trip turned into an adoption so quickly. All I know is that Sarah owned my heart from the moment she rested her head on the cushion between the front seats as if to say, I'm ok now, I'm with my right forever family.
While she may have owned my heart, she tried my patience to boundaries I didn't even know I possessed. She was a submissive urinator. People terrified her. Luckily none of these traits turned into aggression. Plus she was great for the economy and the local dog trainers. We went to many classes and cowered under many chairs in a long fought battle to socialize with the world in general. The world of people may have been something she avoided at all costs, it was the world of dogs was where she was happiest.
She loved the Beardog, certainly more than Bear loved her. They ran and played and eventually Sarah settled into a truce with the world of people as long as she could be safe with her own little family. I, on the other hand, was convinced that she was some sort of freakish DNA, species splicing experiment let loose in the Heartland. You see, I believe that Sarah was part goat, part beaver and part owl all stuffed into the body of a German Shepherd.
See, she would do this thing with her head. I swear she could put Linda Blair to shame. You ask her the right questions and she would swivel that head so much trying to figure out an answer for you that you couldn't help but love her. That was important because Miss Sarah had some powerful bad habits. The top of the list was the chewing. Now before you think that Sarah chewed for lack of dog appropriate objects to chew on....you would be right but only because in Sarah World there is never enough to chew on. Most dog toys were merely an amuse bouche to Sarah. A warm up, a teaser to the grand feast that was the world in general. Sticks, logs, wind ripped branches were fun. Dog bones were good. Paper was particularly tasty. Grandma's knitting projects. Rugs, throws, pillows, comforters, dog beds, hats, socks, t-shirts all fell under her grinding jaws. The dog gnawed on the corner of a wall. How does one decide that a wall would taste good to chew on? And yet despite all the crap and junk she chewed up, it always came back out. Her stomach capacity and intestinal tract were legendary.
Her conscious? Uncluttered by guilt. She had other weaknesses, such as being easily manipulated by her love of peanut butter.
A little dab behind the ears of a willing participant and dog kisses will flow like honey. Could life get any better than this? Depends on that big soft heart tripping all over itself again.
Our friends were out puppy searching. Finally they had found exactly what they wanted. Poloroids were whipped out and it was love at first sight. Two pairs of enormous ears sitting on little blond shepherd bodies. "Somebody dropped these two brother puppies in a dumpster and we're taking one, you want the other?" Der! Does Paula Deen love butter? Do Americans love cheap gas? I was the easy one of the couple when it came to dogs. I tried a little reverse psychology on Bear and Sarah's other mommy. "Don't look at that picture" I warned. "Not if don't want to get another dog, you will NOT look at that picture." Of course she looked.
There's just no fighting the incredible cuteness of the brothers, Jacob and Tucker. I mean, c'mon on, look at those ears?? Jacob was the last puzzle piece that easily fit into our wicked little tribe.
Big sister Sarah taught him the ropes of the ways of the house. Which direction the car comes from when someone comes home from work. Of not being allowed in the kitchen, when it's time to eat and when it's time to wake the humans for the important dog duties they are in charge of. Jacob took it all in stride. He was smart and quick and was the only one of the three to earn his Good Citizen award. He did have a style all his own when forced to live in a house full of females.
It was this laid back attitude that made him a favorite of his cousins. Yes, Jakers, somehow vaulted into the familial hierarchy with alarming ease, writing letters, learning to read and generally becoming the dog equivalent of a Rock Star.
Glasses and reading aren't so scary when your best dog bud is doing the same. Sarah adored him too, finding a more energetic playmate to help divert her chewing energies.
Whether it was playing in the snow or peeing on the big fish, we had a blast. The giant dog park had to be our most favorite activity in the whole wide world.
The dog park was our heaven for so many reasons. Freedom, adventure and drama, not to mention fantastic exercise for all of us. It was where we all got in touch with our inner dog and if a deer happened to cross our path, well, we all might take off running after it. ALL of us. Some of us usually didn't make it far but we did get our heart pumping.
We never "caught" a deer. There was even one time when they (they being the three dogs with incredibly sensitive canine noses) didn't even know the deer was close enough that I got the picture above. Let's face it, that deer wasn't worried at all, he knew he could outrun all of us with a flick of his tail. Descendants of mighty hunting wolves my ass.
This was about as close as Jake got to a real deer.
I've stirred all of my hot liquid into the rice and I have failed again. Perhaps I've cooked it at too high a heat or maybe my hearts' just not into it. It's not loose enough and now I hear Tom Colicchio's voice in my head berating my risotto. However because it's my head, I tell Tom to shove it. Maybe I should have made the dog's favorite, Beef Barley soup. I was the rock star whenever I made that, especially searing all the oxtails. But now the house is too quiet. There's no click of nails on hardwood floors. There's no constant lapping of water from the dog bowl. A dog bowl that sits there still because I don't have the heart to take it up. I taste the risotto.
It sits like ashes in my mouth and is quickly disposed of into the trash. There is no handbook, no instruction manual to deal with grief. It is just something that must be endured. Slogged through. I realize that Jake and Sarah and Bear's suffering was quickly over with a little needle prick and sleep. Whatever pain they had is over. My pain exists because I'm left behind. My selfish need to have them, touch them, just to scratch their big silly ears. For now I must be content with my photos and my memories.
If there's a heaven where there are dogs (because it's not going to be much fun if there's not) then I wish to be hiding behind a big tree in the dog park and just wait for the inevitable pounding down the trail of twelve dog paws, sniffing me out of my hiding place, just like they always did in real life, quickly planting dog kisses on my face before urging me back down the path to our new adventures. That my friends, is a heaven I look forward to.