The old dog no longer walks beside me. She fell behind, unable to breathe well enough to climb the hill at my slowed, patient pace. Then, thunder sleet and snow sluiced through limbs and branches, spreading like fondant frosting, slick and smooth and treacherous. She wanted no part of it and, I think, gave up. The world had turned arduous. Chat and rock below an alien, impassable field, an asphalt trail that climbed up and up until it gave way to dirt and leaves and tinder now hidden and frozen out of sight.
I began to bribe her with chicken broth, canned chicken, baby foods, cottage cheese, hard boiled eggs. At first, she ate eagerly, grateful for the treats and new flavors, but these pleasures faded as the joy of walking uphill had. She adopted the posture of Eyore. Her head hung low as she labored to please, her tail tucked, not wagging or alert, just defeated. I began to repeat like a mantra, “Come on, Emma; you can do it. Good girl! Fine dog!”
Now and then in the last days, she seemed to believe me. She picked her head up and let her ears engage with the sounds. Her pace quickened, but only for a few steps. On her last day, she staggered on the return. We’d only traveled a few short steps from our door, but even this was too much. She trotted, then stiffened, unsure on her feet, unsure even about which one to move in order to advance. When she tried to walk back through the door, she missed and butted her head softly into the frame.
Now I walk alone and mourn her as the eagles fly overhead. I hear their coming in that sharp high-pitched keen fading on the air, the sound Emma no longer heard, her sight and hearing gone before her body. I smile and wince in their presence, and I follow them as they lift, catch the current, dive, fishing and feeding. I continue to watch them as they lift again, effortlessly, to the hills and into the sky beyond.
I wish now that Emma could have soared away as effortlessly as they do. I see them above the trees, circling, held aloft by currents unknown to those of us held below, and I know I will miss them every day of my life.
I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting.
The words above are the first in an essay by E. B. White titled “Death of a Pig,” published in The Atlantic in 1948 (http://www.theatlantic.com/ideastour/ animals/white-full.html). He captures the confusion and angst of caring for an animal.
A song or an eagle or a certain slant of light can transport us to another place and time. Our memories overtake our present and define our mood. Tell about that song or the eagle or the play of light that sends you back in time.