Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems. From where I stand.


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The Quest for Home, Part 4: The Boot

Have you opened your email yet? came the text. I’d heard the notification, but I was still snuggled up with Bodhi, my big red Golden Retriever, and hadn’t wanted to dive into the day just yet.

Nope, I texted back.

Well, hang onto  your hat, came the reply. I just sent you some information from the seller’s realtor. You’re not going to believe this.

Intrigued, I opened my email and found the message from Pat, my realtor. There was a PDF attachment, so I opened that with only a glance at the body of the message, which was pretty much just, “I found this and thought your client might like to see it.” The PDF, on the other hand…

I bolted upright in the bed, nearly rolling Bodhi onto the floor. I’d just opened a preliminary design document for the 63 acres that included the 11-acre parcel Pat and I had looked at the day before. The last page of the document was a hand-drawn map of buildings and features and pastures and plantings…and for the first time, I saw the boot-shaped outline of the land I’d become increasingly interested in buying. It wasn’t just any development design.

It was a permaculture design.

The woman who owned the land had had big plans for the properties. And they were plans that spoke to the very heart of my own hopes and dreams. As I flipped through the 23 pages of the report, I could barely believe it. The spaces mapped on the 11-acre plot for intern cabins could easily be for guest yurts. The grey-water marsh could still serve the main house’s needs. The greenhouse could be the geodesic dome I wanted to use for winter gardening. Clearings were marked for passive and active solar, a bath house, a humanure composter, a cistern for rainwater collection.

I think I just peed the bed, I texted back to Pat.

Well, get yourself cleaned up and call me. We have work to do.

Walking the Boot

The day was grey and threatened rain, so I’d left Bodhi back in our room which also afforded me time to focus on something other than keeping track of his whereabouts. I parked my 4Runner near the entrance to the tractor road, which turned out to be a right-of-way separating a small stream from the main part of the property and ended at a farmer’s gate at the very back of the boot-shaped parcel. The area around the stream — or, more likely, drainage ditch — was choked with thorny brush and weeds, so it was impossible to know if it ran. The trees to the east of the drive stood tall and stately, silent and waiting.

I pulled the hand-drawn map out of my backpack and unfolded it. I told Pat I wanted to walk the land using the map as a reference, a way to envision a future in this forest. The seller’s realtor wasn’t able to accompany us because she had training she needed to complete that day, so Pat and I had the place to ourselves again.

I stood for a moment, trying to ground myself. Energy seemed to buzz up through the ground, mixing with my excitement and muddling my thoughts. The place felt strangely electric, magical. I closed my eyes and breathed in the pine-scented air, then started to walk toward the place marked as the main home-site on the map. Pat dropped in beside me then, suddenly, out of view. He popped up a moment later, holding something in his hand.

“For you,” he said. “I think it’s a hawk. No…a turkey. I always get them confused.”

As the feather crossed my palm, I thought I heard it say Barred owl. I stood staring at it, my head spinning. I managed to thank Pat in a hoarse whisper before moving on.

Summer’s exuberant growth slowed us as it had on our last visit. Blackberry thorns and multiflora rose canes tugged at our clothes, and we stepped carefully around healthy swaths of poison ivy. Here and there, we spotted tattered flags of colored landscape tape clinging to trees and marking goodness-knows-what. The sketched map was not to scale, so it was difficult to pick out the places the permaculture designer had designated for buildings and infrastructure. We followed the contours of the land, stopping now and then to peer at the map, point at a space, and imagine how my small yurt complex would nestle into the folds of the rises and hollows.

As we followed the line of the land down to its lowest point, I noticed the large colony of bright green crowsfoot I’d previously taken as a sign that this might be my Place. Then I saw another. And another. The pines and hemlocks swayed and creaked in the breeze as the sky darkened. The woods seemed so big, so…untamed. I suddenly felt intimidated by the place, by my own audacity. What am I thinking? I asked myself. I can’t do this! I can’t make a home out of all this wild space. I must be out of my mind. But as I walked, the idea of the place — its beauty, its quiet, its strength — began to take hold of me.

Touching the Tree

When we reached the lower edge of the property, we stopped. I looked back up the gentle rise, along the flat ridge bordering a neighbor’s property. I could just make out the roof of their pole-barn and a white flash of siding from their house through the undergrowth. My entire body was buzzing with energy.

“Well, what do you think?” Pat asked quietly, searching my face.

A light rain had begun to fall. I held my face up to it, letting it run down my cheeks and onto my neck. My head was still spinning — with questions, with answers, with fear, with excitement.

“I…I need to think,” was all I said.

“OK,” Pat said simply and let me stand there for a moment silently accepting the rain.

I heard a rustling sound and a small thump nearby. I opened my eyes and glanced in the direction of the sound to see that Pat — my absolutely perfect realtor — had taken a seat and was meditating. Excellent idea! I thought, and I found a place by a big pine to fold my own limbs as best I could in my hiking boots and close my eyes, leaning my back against the tall, rough trunk.

I slowed my breathing, focusing on the feeling of the rain still sweetly falling on my face. The woods was silent, still. When we first walked up the tractor road, it had felt like it was waiting. I got the same feeling again as I sat and tried to collect myself. I put my hand down into the dirt and felt for the tree’s roots.

I have nothing to offer you, I told the forest. But will you accept me? Will you allow me to build a place here for healing myself and others?

I breathed deeply and felt a small opening, a shift in my chest. The rain slowed, then stopped. A warm breeze lifted and played with my hair. My head began to clear. A calm knowing seeped up through the earth and into my palm.

After a few moments, I stood and brushed myself off. Pat was standing off to the side, looking out toward the road. He turned when he heard my footfalls in the thick covering of needles on the ground and smiled at me, waiting.

“Well,” I told him, “it isn’t what I was looking for, and it costs more than I wanted to pay, but I think it’s Home.” Tears welled in my eyes and spilled down the tracks left on my cheeks by the rain. “And I’m a silly old woman who’s crying over a piece of land.”

“I think it’s beautiful,” Pat said smiling, and we made our way back to my truck.


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My Enlightened Goofball

“I was curious about his name,” she told me, gently handing me the tin containing his ashes. (How could my big, beautiful boy be contained in something so small?)  “I know there’s a story there,” she continued. “I think I know what it is, but I’d love it if you’d tell me.”

— from a conversation with Danielle Pratt at Paws, Whiskers & Wags


I rubbed my stinging eyes and rolled my head around on my neck, working out the kinks that had formed after hours on the computer. Coyote, my old husky-shepherd mix, was sleeping on her cushion in the living room, and I was in the dining room with the big, red Golden who’d just joined our tiny pack. “Bo” was the name on his adoption papers. I gazed at the gorgeous dog lolling in a sunbeam, thinking for the hundredth time that it just didn’t fit. He glanced up from his nap and caught me looking at him. Without picking his chin up from his paws, he thumped his tail loudly on the floor, his eyes questioning.

“You’d save me a lot of trouble if you’d just tell me what your name is,” I said.

Bo thumped his tail as an answer but was no more forthcoming than that. I sighed and turned back to the slew of bookmarked baby name sites I had open on my laptop. Years ago, I’d stumbled on Sachi’s name in a baby book. A kind of play on my own name, which often translates as “joy,” my sweet little Golden girl’s name had translated as “child of joy” — a moniker that also reflected her sunny disposition. I was hoping to get lucky with the online version of a baby book and find a name whose meaning resonated with this new member of the household. I’d given up any meaning-driven kind of search about 30 minutes ago and was now combing alphabetically through the names listed on the sites, one after another. Nap in a sunbeam - fade

When I said nothing more, Bo closed his eyes again, and I smiled. Even at only two years old, he was a good five or six pounds heavier than my little Sachi was when she left us, with the solid build of a big, strong boy. His vibrant personality made him seem bigger-than-life, so “Bo” wouldn’t have been far off, if that was all there was to him. But…there was also this mood: profoundly still, completely at ease, yet acutely aware of his surroundings. He filled me with a curious kind of wonder. How could this Being burst with such playful vitality one instant, yet be so gentle and calm the next?

“I have much to learn from you,” I said softly, eliciting only a lazy cracking of one eyelid and a sidelong glance. “But, then, my dogs have always been my greatest teachers.”

At that moment, my cursor landed on a name in the B’s. I paused, letting the name roll around in my head before saying it out loud.

“Bodhi.”

The big red dog lifted his head, yawning, then held me with a steady gaze. Yes?

“It means ‘awakened,'” I told him, excitement growing in my chest. “It’s also the first two syllables of the word bodhisattva, which is Sanskrit for ‘enlightened teacher.'”

As if in response, he wagged his tail and grinned at me, panting. Let’s try it, I thought.

“Bodhi,” I said again, decisively. And the newest member of our pack, the brother Coyote chose to share her space and her mom with, shot to his feet– wriggling with glee — to lay his head on my lap and look up at me. I like it, too, his sparkling, brown eyes seemed to say.

“And I can make the transition easier for you because I can still use ‘Bo’ for short,” I told him, scratching his silky ears for him before he dashed off to find a toy.

I texted Barb, his foster mom, about the new name, explaining my reasoning and hoping she’d like it. I didn’t have to wait long.

Thank you for putting so much thought and effort into his new name, came the fond reply as Bodhi bounded back into the room with his squeaky tennis ball and dropped it on floor at my feet. Staring at the ball with laser focus, he quickly glanced up to see if I’d noticed his invitation before boring holes into the ball again with his eyes, his body quivering with anticipation.

I laughed. Something told me that this big, glorious goofball was worth whatever effort I might make on his behalf. Because teaching me would be no small feat, even for this brilliant ray of light.

Bodhi barked. I pounced on the ball, and the game began.


“And so I named him Bodhi,” I finished my story, tears streaming freely down my face. “My dogs have always been my greatest teachers. But this one…this one was something special. He was the embodiment of joy,” I told the kind woman sitting in the chair across from me. 

“Bodhi…for Bodhisattva,” she said, smiling through her own misty eyes. “I knew it would be something like that. Even as I prepared him for his final services, I could still feel that energy around him. I could feel the gift he was.” 

Yes, I thought, wonder and love tugging at my broken heart. You and everyone who ever met him.

Pounce - fade


A note of thanks

If the experience in the veterinary hospital was traumatic, the experience with the crematorium they contracted with was downright horrific. Only hours after I’d left my sweet boy’s body at the hospital, waiting to be picked up for cremation, I received an automated — yes, AUTOMATED — phone call with a canned message regarding “understanding your grief after the loss of a beloved pet” and attempting to sell me additional services on a deadline. That call nearly broke me. Nearly wild with rage and anguish, I did something I rarely do: I reached out for help.

I’m deeply grateful to Jane Rose at Rose Pet Memorial Center in Indianapolis for connecting me with Carol and Danielle at Paws, Whiskers & Wags in Charlotte so that Bodhi could receive the kind of loving care in death as I tried so hard to provide him in life. These caring, devoted souls helped me rewrite the ending of the story in a way that honored us both. Thank you all — not only for what you do but also for who you are.


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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…