Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems. From where I stand.


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Beginnings: Meeting “Bo”

From the original posting on the G.R.R.A.C.E. website:

Bodhi GRRACE photo

Photo courtesy of Dan and Barb Lawhorn

Hi! My name is Bo. I’m a 2 year old Golden whose family lost their home; I came to GRRACE by way of a local animal shelter. While I was at the shelter, I was really anxious – lots of noise and barking got me really excited. But the moment I left that place, I became a totally different boy – calm, easy-going and so very glad to be back in a home again. It seems that in a laid-back place, I’m a laid-back guy.

Adoption standards

I was decidedly nervous.

This was a very different process for me. In fact, when I’d adopted Sachi, my first Golden Retriever, from the Humane Society about a decade before, there was a whole lot less process in the process. I happened to wander in the day they released her from quarantine for adoption, and she stole my heart. After filling out an application and enduring a short waiting period, I took her home — where she promptly turned my life upside down in the most welcome and wonderful ways.

As it turned out, adopting Sachi from the Humane Society was a fluke. The Golden Retriever Rescue and Community Education organization, or G.R.R.A.C.E., usually snapped up surrendered Goldens before they could be adopted out. The organization’s members considered themselves not only breed enthusiasts but also stewards —  loving protectors of these friendly, sensitive, goofy dogs. In addition to an application, there was a questionnaire and a phone interview, followed by a home visit.

G.R.R.A.C.E had high standards. I was reservedly hoping to measure up to those standards today. I wasn’t ready for another dog, but my Coyote needed one.

In the nine months since Sachi died, shattering my heart and my world, Coyote, my sweet old husky mix, had lost her spark. Without her partner-in-crime to scheme and play with, she became withdrawn and depressed. I tried spoiling the old girl, taking her for extra walks — even feeding her from the table — to cheer her up. But while it was clear she loved me, she was desperately missing canine companionship. She’d sometimes gaze up at me with a sigh as if to say, “Oh, human…you’re so dear. But you’re just not Sachi.”

I couldn’t stand it anymore. I felt like I’d lost two dogs, not just the one who died. So, I’d taken a deep breath, filled out and submitted the forms, and steeled myself for the impossible task of replacing Sachi.

Almost two months later, I received an email: G.R.R.A.C.E. had a dog they thought might be a good fit for me. He was a robust two-year-old Red Golden. Would I agree to a phone interview with his foster mom?

I glanced over at Coyote where she laid napping on her cushion. It had taken her a full year to bond with Sachi, and I felt certain I’d be doing a lot of interviews, a lot of home visits, before she’d accept a new dog into our home.

Sure, I thought. Sure we can do an interview. But I’m not the one who will be making this decision.

“Bo” makes a home visit

Entry from Barb’s journal:
Dec. 31, 2013 – We took Bo over to meet a potential adopter. Denise Dilworth, who lives near Butler University. She has a beautiful white female Husky mix named Coyote, and both of them are still grieving over the loss of Sachi, their other Golden who died in March…Dan and I were on the verge of deciding whether to adopt him ourselves, but we know Denise is the perfect match for him.

The phone interview had gone well. Barb Lawhorn, along with her husband, Dan, and their own Golden Retriever, Trooper, were fostering my prospective adoptee, who was recovering from a case of kennel cough he’d contracted at the shelter. Barb seemed nice. She had a sweet voice and a lovely laugh. She decided I was worthy of the hour-long drive it would require them to make a home visit. In fact, she and Dan would be bringing the dog along with them to see how he interacted with my Coyote.

At the appointed time, just a couple of days later, Coyote barked to let me know they’d arrived. I peered out the front door to see two kindly-looking people with a big red-coated Golden Retriever nearly dragging one of them across the yard on a leash. Despite my promise to myself, I immediately started comparing him with Sachi: big and muscular vs. small and delicate; red vs. blonde; thin feathers and skirt vs. full ones; broad, masculine head… I took a deep breath. I needed to stop.

I greeted the Lawhorns by waving them in while I held Coyote’s collar. Barb came in first, shaking my hand by way of introduction, and Dan followed with the dog they called “Bo,” straining at the leash. After a moment or two of swirling excitement, we let go of the dogs to let them get acquainted.

Bo dwarfed Coyote, and I watched closely as the two dogs circled each other, hackles up — Bo stiff-legged — but tentatively wagging their tails. Bo was the first to break away, running to Dan, who’d seated himself in a chair, and burying his head in Dan’s lap for comfort. He was nervous, unsure. Dan suggested I call him, so I did. Bo ducked his head and wagged submissively as he trotted obediently over to where I sat on the floor. After briefly sniffing me, he turned plopped himself unceremoniously into my lap. Barb laughed, snapping a photo of us.

“Well, he looks right at home!” she said.

Just then, Coyote did something astonishing: With a wide, mischievous husky grin, she bounded into a deep play-bow.

Coyote makes her choice

Continued, from Barb’s journal:
Bo made himself right at home, and Coyote even perked up a little bit. I thought Denise was going to cry she was so happy to see that! I think she is going to be the best adopter we could possibly find.

Bo responded immediately by springing on her, and the two of them played so raucously that I had to shout above the din, “Okay, all dogs outside!”

Coyote darted for the back door, with Bo in hot pursuit. I let her out, then closed the door behind her, trapping the rambunctious Golden inside for a moment. While Barb and Dan waited behind us, I told Bo to sit, then softly called his name…and waited.

It took a moment for him to realize I was waiting for something. He broke his laser focus on the doorknob just long enough to do exactly what I’d hoped he’d do: make eye contact. I smiled at him and told him he was a good boy before opening the door to let him join Coyote in the yard.

I’m not the only one who has to pass muster in this deal, I said to myself.

Once outside, the two dogs enthusiastically played a game of chase, stopping only now and then to pee on a tree or a clump of grass, each trying to outdo the other. I stood transfixed by the change in Coyote. She leaped and darted about, her bottle-brush tail stretched out with the joy of running, her eyes happy and shining, not quite able to outmaneuver Bo as she had our less nimble Sachi. I hadn’t seen this much energy in months.

“I feel like you’ve given me my dog back,” I whispered through a throat choked with tears.

Barb and Dan smiled, watching the pair as they disappeared at full speed around the corner of the house, then back again into view.

“I forgot the paperwork at home, or I’d leave him with you today,” Barb said, beaming at me. “I think this is a very good match, don’t you, Dan?” Dan nodded, smiling.

I drew a deep, quavering breath, stilling myself a moment. “That’s okay,” I replied. “I’m not quite ready yet. I have a lot to do.” There was a bed to buy, a new bowl, a leash, a collar, food… And there was also preparing my heart for moving another Golden into our little pack. A not-Sachi.

Watching the two dogs streak across the yard and down into the trees, I knew that particular preparation was something I’d be able to manage much more easily than I’d anticipated.

Bodhi gets comfy

Photo courtesy of Barb Lawhorn


My deepest gratitude to Barb Lawhorn for sharing her journal entries with me and to her and Dan for providing loving support, especially as Bodhi and I adjusted to each other. (Yes, I’m referring to the “inappropriate ingestion” incidents.) I loved that you both continued to care about him, to welcome with enthusiasm the photos I sent you as he grew into himself, long after your relationship with him in an “official capacity” ended. Bodhi adored you both, as our visit to you just over a year ago clearly illustrated. In the beginning you were his rescuers. In the end, you were also mine.


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A Miracle in Death’s Clothing

I had to read your text 20 times because the words made no sense. Bodhi was awesome. You two were great for each other. My heart is broken for you.

— from a text from my brother-in-law, Jeff Kaczanowski

Why did she keep saying unfortunately?

I’d brought Bodhi to the emergency vet because he’d halted, swaying, at the beginning of our evening walk and refused to go any farther. Earlier that day, he’d been to his new veterinarian for a tick bite, for suspected Lyme disease. I’d caught it early, so we were confident he’d be all right. But he wasn’t. He hadn’t eaten, hadn’t evacuated, and suddenly hadn’t been able to keep water down. Then he refused to go on his walk, and I had to lift him into the truck to get him to this…place.

The vet tech kept reassuring me: “I’m no doctor, but I’ve been in this business for almost 10 years, and I’ve seen a lot of Lyme. All of this is consistent with Lyme. Don’t you worry.”

She was young. Very young and earnest.

And, now, the vet was here in the examination room with me, talking in that measured tone. Bodhi was still in the back somewhere, waiting. Waiting for me to come and get him. And this vet was in here saying unfortunately.

Unfortunately, we think there’s a mass on his spleen…”

Unfortunately, the surgeon doesn’t feel comfortable…”

“Unfortunately, we need to do tests…”

I can’t focus on her words. I can’t make them make sense. I just brought my beautiful boy in because he was reacting to a tick bite. That’s all. He’d contracted Lyme disease, and he wasn’t feeling well. Consistent with Lyme, the tech had said. So, it was all going to be okay.

Unfortunately…”

And then I see what the vet is holding in her hand. She gestures with it, like it’s something normal, something I’d see every day of the week. A syringe, with a long, thick needle at its end. It’s full of something. Blood. Not the right color. A strange, murky grey tinge mars the red. It’s from his abdomen. Why is there blood in his abdomen?

I start signing papers.

“Anything,” is all I can say. “Just do whatever it takes.” Anything anything anything anything anything anything.

She keeps talking, this woman I don’t know, don’t trust — am forced by circumstances to depend on. I want her to stop. I tell her to stop. She calmly tells me she has to review everything on the papers with me, make sure I understand.

Understand.

There’s nothing here I want to understand.

I just want my Bodhi back at the house with me, curled up on his old bed, getting well in this place where I know virtually no one, except the few members of my family who live in the area. They offered to come out, to sit with me. But I’m here alone because I don’t know how to ask them to help me, to support me. I’m stingy with my pain. I don’t know how to invite anyone into this nightmare I’m having.

And why is this woman still talking?

“He’s just so young,” she’s saying now, on her way out the door with my signed papers, heading back to clear the way for me to see Bodhi before they start doing more tests, the “invasive procedures” necessary to tell me why my vibrant, strong, happy dog is so sick.

“He’s just so young,” she says again, pausing to beam sympathy at me with her eyes. And I read death on her lips.

He’s hooked to I.V.s when they let me into the back. It jolts me. But I’ve played this scene before. I’ve stood on this spot, said my lines. Except…

No, no, no, no, no. Not this one. Not this one. This one is special. This one is my joy, my heart, the other half of my soul. Please: Not. This One.

His eyes are a mix of fear and hope and pleading. I nearly faint. He wags just the very tip of his tail when I stoop down to where he’s lying, and it makes me laugh because that particular wag always makes me laugh. I pull his head close, whispering only for him — not for the crowd of gawkers who press in on us and stare and try to make encouraging noises. I whisper just for my Bodhi to hear, “Stay with me. Please, please stay with me.”

He struggles to his feet, and I realize my mistake: He thinks I mean he’s coming home with me. Someone says, “Oh! He can stand!” They’d had to carry him back. He hadn’t wanted to go with them. They don’t know what I’ve done.

“Oh, god,” I moan. “No, sweetheart. You need to stay here. You need to let these people help you.” I get him to lie back down. I fuss over him a little, trying to undo my unintended deception. He’s crushed, afraid. He knows. He might not be aware, but some part of him knows. As some part of me knows, too.

I somehow manage to start the car and get back onto the freeway. It’s well after midnight. We’ve been there, waiting, for nearly five hours. I drive back to the house — not home without him — to pray.

A friend texts me — the only one I’ve been able to reach out to through my shock and anguish:

If we can fill a room with [healing energy] for me, we can fill a room for Bodhi. Let’s focus on that.

I focus on that. I prepare my room. I prepare myself to hold space.  I light the candles. I call them all in — my ancestors and angels, my guardians and guides…

The phone rings.

Unfortunately…” she begins.

And the world implodes into a million jagged shards of pain.


On the way home to light candles and burn incense and say whatever words I thought might save my sweet boy, I sent a fervent prayer to heaven:

“Please, please give me a miracle.”

And, from somewhere in that blackest of nights, I heard an answer:

“You’ve already had it.”

A strange stillness came over me, cooling the heat of my desperation and lending me a moment of clarity.  I was suddenly flooded with gratitude. It was true. I’d had nearly four years with a luminous soul that was wrapped in a Golden Retriever’s body. Four years of laughter and adventure and play and sweetness and love. I’d had my miracle. I’d had Bodhi. 

And even later, when I wrapped my body around his and felt him leave me, I knew I could be grateful for that.




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The Quest for Home, Part 3: Follow the Signs

“Found it!” Pat called out to me, waving a piece of paper over his head without taking his eyes from his computer screen. Bodhi, my big, red Golden Retriever, reached him first, all wags and smiles, and Pat reached over to scratch his ears and give him a good thump before handing the paper to me.

“Uh…this is a little more than I intended to spend,” I said, gaping at a number five times larger than even my new, doubled budget. “And I thought it was only 11 acres, not 52.”

Pat laughed. “No, that’s the property across the road,” he told me. “We’re going to use it as a reference for finding the one you’re interested in. They’re both owned by the same person.”

“Ah,” I said, pursing my lips primly. “I thought maybe you were engaging in a little up-selling. Like, ‘Hey, take a look at this! Oh, this one seems a little steep? Well, then…have I got a deal for you with this other property — at only half the price!'”

Pat smirked, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Nah,” he said, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder at a man sitting behind him. “That guy’s the used car salesman. I’m on the up-and-up.” His poor colleague glanced up from his phone call, cocking his eyebrow at the two of us laughing at him before deciding he didn’t need to know.

“Let’s go!” Pat chirped chirped to Bodhi, and we were off.

Looking for Signs

Discouraged by my explorations the day before, I’d nearly quit my quest for finding rural mountain land. Intimidated by the remoteness of the properties and unsure of how I would afford one that met my needs, I’d sent up a prayer for a sign that I was on the right track. Typically, I ask the Universe to send crows as messengers because they were few and far between in my Indianapolis neighborhood, so I could consider a sighting as reasonably significant. However, as I drove back to my Airbnb lodgings that evening, I noticed that crows were as common as country daisies.

“If we’re going to use crows as our signal,” I muttered under my breath as yet another black flash of feathers crossed the highway in front of me, “you’ll have to send a whole damned murder of them.”

Crow sightings weren’t the only sign I needed. Pat and I had tried to find the 11.6-acre parcel after our nearly vertical climb to the top of a beautiful but — from my perspective — not very usable mountain property. We’d driven up and down the road but had seen no realty signs, which I’d learned from another property owner was not uncommon out in the country. And, because the land we were looking for was undeveloped property, listed as “young pine forest,” there would be no mailbox sporting a street address, assuming the numbering proceeded as logically as one might hope — and it often didn’t. The listing for the 52-acre parcel Pat had brought with us as a reference was for a small farm owned by the same person selling the land I was interested in. We had both an address and a farmhouse with a mailbox to use as a landmark.

OK, so maybe there wasn’t a farmhouse anymore…

“Uhhh…I think this is it,” Pat said, indicating a tractor road roughly cut into the hillside across from a mailbox bearing the address of the farm across the road (where a heap of stones indicated a former farmhouse). I turned my truck onto the deeply-rutted track and parked. We decided it would be imprudent to go too far up the drive until we knew whether or not we could get back out again.

Pat and I hopped out, and I released Bodhi, who immediately galloped about, pausing to sniff before charging off down the tractor road. Pat and I kept a more sedate pace behind him, peering into the undergrowth at the top of the road bank.

“It looks like they started to cut a driveway in here,” Pat said, indicating a pile of brush next to a partially-cleared swath through the trees, about two thirds the way up the road. “Let’s start there.”

A Murder of Crows(foot)

We had to move slowly at first; the brush piles from the aborted road excavation created more of a barrier than an inlet. Once we got past the initial jumble, the going got somewhat easier, and I could get a sense of the place.

There was much more biodiversity than the listing implied. Beeches and oaks and poplars and hemlocks grew among the pines. On the ground, I spotted something that looked a lot like wintergreen, although the leaf shape and coloring were unfamiliar. Pretty swirls of silver-painted, dark-green leaves grew here and there. I glanced up at something Pat was standing ankle-deep in, a vague memory tugging at me.

“Hey,” I said, pointing to the fans of evergreen ground cover. “I think I read somewhere that the stuff you’re trampling is endangered.”

Pat lifted a Teva-ed foot to look beneath it. “I dunno,” he replied, frowning. “I see it all over this area.” He turned to take in his surroundings, gingerly moving off of to one side. “And it seems pretty plentiful here.”

A large growth of the stuff blanketed the slope in a brilliant green. It was breathtaking. I added its photo to the ones I’d been taking of the other plants so I could look it up later.

As we walked the parcel, a cautious hope welled in my chest. The slope was gentle, with one or two deeply-cut washes scoring its breadth. A nearly flat ridge ran along the eastern boundary, tapering gradually down to a large level area near the bottom of the plot before it dropped off to the road. There were numerous places to put a yurt. Pat and I darted about like wide-eyed children, calling out to each other with increasing excitement. “Here!” he’d yell. “You could put a yurt here!” “Check this out!” I’d yell back, waving him over to see a sunlit opening in the trees. And so it went for the better part of an hour until we loaded Bodhi — happily exhausted from his own exploring — into the truck and drove away.


Later, in my rented room, my head spinning with exhilaration and doubt and fear and hope, I found answers:

Striped wintergreen. Rattlesnake plantain. American holly. Partridge berry. Sensitive fern. Ladyslipper. 

Google returned a photo of the pretty evergreen fans that had, indeed, been listed as endangered at one time but were making a slow comeback. It was a ground cover. I gaped in disbelief as I read its common name, the hair on my arms standing at attention:

Crowsfoot.

It was a whole damned mess of crowsfoot.


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Because Bodhi: Finding Gratitude through Grief

From an email I wrote to a dear friend and mentor:

Shortly after Coyote died, you and I had a conversation about what she taught me about living and dying with grace.  As we were wrapping up, you asked a strange question of me: “What has Bodhi taught you about loss?”
Coming from my long-standing relationship with scarcity and loss, I recoiled at the question, retorting that I hoped he would teach me nothing about loss for a long, long time. I left shaken. But I vowed that from that time on, I would do my best to make every moment of Bodhi’s and my life together count. 
What I came to discover was that Bodhi had already been teaching me, even as Coyote lay dying, that loss and grief are impermanent, if I allow them to be. How does that saying go?: “Pain is inevitable; suffering optional.” He was teaching me, with his sunny personality and outpouring of joyful love, that the pain of loss is only one part of living a full life. He was teaching me not to hang onto the loss, not to cause myself suffering by clinging to it.
In the early hours of this morning, Bodhi taught me another lesson, this time about connecting to gratitude through grief. He taught me that miracles aren’t always about gaining more minutes and hours and days to spend with a beloved friend and companion, but about being grateful for the minutes and hours and days you’ve already spent together. Miracles are those shining things you don’t always realize you already hold in your hand. 
In the wee hours of this morning, I learned that Bodhi was bleeding into his abdomen from an untreatable cancerous lesion. When I desperately prayed for a miracle, the Universe wisely answered: “You’ve already had it.” And, through the most chest-exploding anguish of my life, I found gratitude. 
Oh, I’m mourning. He was my best bud, my constant companion, my healing and meditation partner, my heart. 
But he was also my teacher, my Bodhisattva. And, so, I learn. 
Blessings, friend, for providing that reflection for me. Blessings for speaking those words to me, waking me enough to treat him like the living miracle he was.

A note to you, my readers:

If you’ve read any of the dog dialogues here on my blog or follow me on Instagram, you might have encountered Bodhi. He was my gorgeous goofball, my dork-face, my very own personal clown — a true Golden Retriever. But there was also something indefinably special about him. A treasured friend of mine came closest when she described him as “luminous.” It didn’t require physically seeing us together for people to sense the deep, loving connection Bodhi and I had — they could feel it through my posts, my emails, my photos. What’s more amazing to me, though, is that he somehow forged his own connections with people — even the ones he never met — just by being Bodhi.

As I wrote in my email to my friend, above, my grief is deeply felt — and it will continue to be for a long time, as I adjust to the silence and stillness that used to be filled, instead, with his silly, joyful energy. But, outside of the ending, I can honestly say I have no regrets. Bodhi and I had a great life, full of adventure and fun and snuggling. He and I dared to do things we might not otherwise have done, had we never met. We were creating a brave new life together, moving to the mountains of North Carolina to learn about living in harmony with the land. We were road-tripping and hiking and making new friends all along the way.

I have much to be grateful for.

And, so, in collaboration with the people who witnessed and participated in our story — people who sent me texts and emails and messages and photos — I’m writing a series of posts about Bodhi and what we learned from each other, what we gave each other. It begins with a howl of pain, a reliving of the night he died — because, as my brother-in-law Jeff put it so well, that’s part of our story, too. But I don’t want to stay there in the pain. I don’t want us to suffer, you and I. Whatever I post about this season of loss will shift the focus to not only honor my grief, but also to reach through the grief to the gratitude and joy and laughter that glimmers like a guiding star behind it.

Because Bodhi.

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Climbing the Hill

I don’t want to climb this hill.

But the hill is what stands between me and the warmth and coziness of the cabin where I’m staying.

It juts up out of the forest, an abrupt swell of land, dropping steeply away to my left and sweeping gracefully into a deep bowl of trees and underbrush. The road here is well-traveled, deeply rutted by runoff and the tires of 4-wheel conveyances the hunters call “mules.” It’s not my language, the language of hunting and 4-wheel conveyances, so it might be a model, a make, a nickname for all I know. Right now, I’d be happy for a mule of any kind, for a shortcut to the top of this barrier to my comfort.

The hill is hard, unforgiving. Here and there, it lurches suddenly upward and makes me strain and stretch and gasp for breath. I have to pause several times as I climb it, sweat running over my body, the air whistling into my lungs. But there’s no avoiding the hill. I must climb it. It’s the only path home.

Beauty presses in on me from both sides of the road, distracting me from my climb. I let it fill the spaces  when I pause to catch my breath. Many of the leaves have fallen and turned to brown where they lay. The ones still clinging to their branches are molten gold in the afternoon light. I can see deep into the naked forest, finding rock outcroppings that punctuate the gentle undulations of earth out of which they burst. Shadows painted by the trunks of trees stripe the landscape. It would be easy to lose myself in the beauty, in the momentary respite of stopping.

But losing myself isn’t the point, is it?

I must climb this hill. I must return to the cabin and make dinner and wash out a few pairs of socks and do my reading and write — get on with my life. I know I can take this hill, know I can beat it, because I’ve traveled this road before, conquered this hill. I know, too well, the effort required and the rewards. So I push on.

—-

I don’t want to cry these tears.

But the tears are what stand between me and the warmth and wholeness of a healed heart…


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Hello there. I’m pausing for a moment in the flow of all the things I’m creating to note an anniversary of sorts.

On July 7, 2015, I launched this blog so I’d have a place to put my grief for my dying dog, Coyote, who quietly and patiently taught me more about grace than any human ever could. Nearly two and a half years later, I’m still (sporadically) writing about the things that are important to me, the things that amuse me, the things that catch my attention. And now, I’m also preparing to use it as a place to put my gratitude to and for another dog, with whom I embarked on one of the most exciting adventures of a brave new life we were creating together. That dog — my vibrant, goofy, enthusiastic, loving boy — my Bodhi — is also gone. But before he left me, he joyfully inspired me to start living the life I once only imagined.

So, the anniversary: This is my 100th post in a blog that’s as strange and unfocused as the mind that produced all that writing — more like a high school variety show than a serious literary undertaking.

And I’m not only okay with that strangeness, I celebrate it.

Because, dammit, I’m writing. And that’s what I was meant to do, in whatever form my Muse sees fit to forcibly drag out of me.

So raise your glass and toast along with me: To madness and musings and misadventures. To haiku and hilarity and horse-hockey. To love and laughter and loss. To all the things that make us know we’re alive.

To Small Conceits! Happy 100th, you reckless child of my heart.


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A Practice for Healing Grief

 

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”

— John Muir

A Walk in the Woods

I am grieving.

I recently lost a Being so essential to my experience of joy that it’s left me reeling in a deep, spiritual darkness. My Golden Retriever, Bodhi, was diagnosed several weeks ago with an untreatable cancer that had begun bleeding into his abdomen. He was only 6 years old, the picture of health and vitality one day, and suddenly gone the next.

Upon hearing of Bodhi’s passing, some dear friends offered me the use of their cabin on 200 acres of forest land so I could start processing the trauma of my loss in much-needed solitude. Here, after my morning meditation and yoga, after my breakfast and doing the dishes, I lace boots onto my feet and walk out into the woods to try to ground myself.

The crude forest road is broad and rutted. Fallen leaves flatten themselves onto its uneven surface, creating a brilliant mosaic of fall color beneath my boots. They’re slippery from last night’s storms, so I pick my way cautiously down the hill and around the wide bend to the creek crossing.

I’ve always looked to nature for healing. When circumstances allow, I seek out remote spaces where I can peacefully and privately soak up the energy of my surroundings and invite in whatever wisdom or comfort the Earth has to offer. I open myself, often by small degrees as I’m able, to connecting with the world around me: I breathe the air deeply to take in its scent; I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of insects and animals and the wind; I handle plants and trees and rocks to connect with their texture; I focus my attention on colors and shapes and shadows and light; I sense the vibrations of of the space. Most importantly, I silence the stories in my head, as told by the inner critic who nags and frets and complains and finds fault with me.

More often than not, I seek out forests.

Forests continuously, visibly reflect the rhythm of the Universe, the cycle of life that moves from birth to growth to reproduction to death and back again to birth. While they lack the raw, stimulating power of the ocean, forests offer a deep, restorative wisdom, a literal and figurative rootedness I find lacking in the ocean tides. Trees have always held me. Even as a little girl, I climbed their branches to read and dream and cry away hurts, up and away from the world and its noise. Although I rarely climb them anymore, I still find solace leaning against their strong trunks or sitting among their roots. Native Americans call them The Standing People, and they pulse with the quiet patience that comes from slowly growing and stretching and finding the light. I walk among them with the intention of engaging in what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” I walk in the woods to immerse myself in living energy.

Barriers and Flow after the Storm

As I walk, I see that last night’s fierce storms have wakened the washes that now trickle and twinkle with tiny rivulets of run-off from the enfolding hills. I arrive at the creek bed — just yesterday dry and littered with naked stones — to see water splashing merrily over rocks and turning fallen branches into delicate fairy-falls. Here and there small pools quietly gather, slightly murky with autumnal tannins from the oaks that grow here. A sudden splash captures my attention as one of the pools pushes its way out between the roots of a tree to form a new streamlet. I crouch for a moment and close my eyes, listening to the gurgling of the water. When I open them again, I realize that today’s lesson would be about barriers and flow.

I stand up, watching the deceptively placid surfaces of the miniature ponds reflect moss-encased tree trunks and the soft, mousy grey of the clouds, and I think about my habitual ways of dealing with difficult emotions: fear, self-doubt, anger, and, yes, grief. I usually distract myself from them or let them collect in some dark corner of my heart until I’ve convinced myself they’ve healed with the passage time — or, on occasion, that they never existed at all. But, like waters in rain-swelled pools, those difficult emotions eddy and swirl, becoming murky and dark until they can no longer be contained and leak into unexpected areas of my life, manifesting as illness, stress, insomnia, depression, anxiety.

There is wisdom in pools, and I value it. There are times in our lives when we need to let emotions collect for a while until we are ready or able to release them in healthy, intentional ways that support us. But we do need to release them. We eventually need to let them flow — sometimes in little trickles, sometimes in raging rivers — so they don’t fester behind the dams we construct thinking we’re keeping ourselves safe.

In receiving this gift of sanctuary from my friends, I’d committed to diving deep into the grief, rather than running away from it. It’s a painful practice. Uncomfortable. At times almost unbearable. I patiently locate the grief in its hiding places in my body and focus my yoga there. I resolutely sit with it daily in meditation, holding it, calmly accepting it without judgment, until — like everything else, including joy, tenderness, and peace — it slowly recedes and floats away. I pour it onto the pages of my journals, examining it, discerning for myself what truths it contains — and what lies I tell myself about it and about my relationship with Bodhi — until I find the glimmer of gratitude buried beneath my tears.

I take my grief for daily walks in the woods. And I listen.

Looking at the water skipping over and around the rocks and rotting branches criss-crossing its flow, I reaffirm that I would not carry this loss like a stone in my heart. I will not allow it to become so deep that I drown in it. I’ve done that before. It nearly ended me. I will honor the loss, care for the grief, and learn from it. Not all at once. Healing happens in its own time. But I am opening my heart and letting it flow out of me, in whatever dancing trickle or rushing flood it demands, until its course is run.

And then I will get on with living joyfully, as my Bodhi taught me.