Saturday, October 29, 2011


My sabbatical, or pilgrimage, or retreat, or rehab...whatever it was, it's been over for better than a month. That month has flown at triple-time -- catching up, negotiating the present reality, and chipping away at goals that must be dealt with in the near future for the sake of the longer-term. The internal balance I sought during my trip was tenuous at best, and is getting a real workout.

It's so unnerving and disorienting to be this groundless. To maintain any equilibrium, I turn more often to the dogs. Tonight, just flipping through the photos of Ella on the trip, I see the expression in her eyes as she looks over her shoulder at me from her vantage ahead on the trail, and I recall how that look urged me on over miles and miles of trail. I had no real impetus for continuing to move. Even surrounded by grandeur, immersed in the living, breathing wonder of wilderness, my heart didn't respond. But the zest in my dog's eyes prompted me forward, to keep pace with her, to follow her to trail's end. No real inspiration, just a desolate commitment to each step. I'm reminded of a line from a book I read to the kids when they were very small: One foot, then the other.

I've read a lot of Buddhist writings, especially lately. Just finished an anthology called Right Here With You, and previously Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart. I devour the words like a starving person, needful of the sustenance they provide, but immediately depleted when I set the book down and try to grapple with Here and Now. What do to with this being called Beth, whose life mate finds her unworthy of commitment?

I'm surprised and dismayed to realize the intensity of my dependency on the affirmation of others. Or is it not others, but a single other? Shouldn't I value me, trust me, care for me irrespective of his lack of commitment to our promises? It feels like weakness to want his eyes to mirror me as I wish he still saw me; instead they reflect a despised demoness. Must I be that, simply because it's what he sees? To avoid that incarnation, I'm told I must embrace this flawed, weak, wreck of a person, this impostor answering to my name, hold onto her until some semblance of self is restored. But how long must I feel empty and aching and unworthy and directionless?

Does Ella need affirmation? I think not. I had plenty of time to ponder as I dogged after her steady trot, mile after hundreds of miles. She is what she is, always. Aware, attuned. She doesn't know where we're going, but she knows where she is.

I can aspire to the same. I can commit to life as Ella sees it. All of it-- the rugged climbs, interminable descents, numbing cold, biting wind...they're the journey, but the journey is the process. It has its share of blessed moments -- the arc of a bird's flight, the glimpse of a pine marten, the dance of dozens of butterflies on larkspur, a jumble of sweet scents when merely breathing is to taste ambrosia. So long as Ella, or any other fully-present sentient being, will walk the path with me I can commit to this. I'm not ready to solo, but whether I want to or not I do realize that's how it is. We just persuade ourselves to believe otherwise.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Galadrielle vom hohlen Huegel

Being "in dogs" for nearly three decades, or a lifetime if you want to count all the years with dogs that had nothing to do with shows or titles or breeding, there simply aren't enough hours in the day to recount the anecdotes of heroism and humor and hilarity that these dogs have brought me and the hundreds of loving homes into which I've entrusted my puppies.

Today one of those folks paid a visit for the first time in many years, to become acquainted with the next generation of Hollow Hills' dogs. Her beloved Star v Hasenborn daughter, Gala, had passed away. Like her father before her, this was a dog who inspired superlatives. I have my own memories of Gala, who was born here and spent her first four years with me, but let me share the memorial that appeared in the Spring 2011 newsletter published by Southern Tier Hospice and Palliative Care:

"Remembering Gala
For many people, their dogs aren't just pets, they are members of the family. That's true here at Southern Tier Hospice and Palliative Care. It's not uncommon to run into a canine pal in the office hallway as they pay a visit and sniff out the people with the treats.

But some dogs are more than friends
, and that was true of Gala, a noble German Shepherd who died recently. Gala was our first therapy dog, working alongside her favorite person, retired hospice nurse Joni Pirrozolo. She visited patients and offered what dogs do best -- unconditional love.

Says Joni of Gala's work with patients, "It was just the medicine they needed, comfort and unconditional love."

While not all patients are interested in visits from a therapy dog, Gala brought many a smile to those who loved her. She made such an impact on Donna Mashanic of Horseheads that when Donna died, her family asked that Gala attend the funeral.

"I would get out of the car, and the family would ask, 'Where's Gala? You can't come in without her," Joni Said. Gala would go directly to Donna's room whenever they visited and gave both Donna and her family something on which to focus besides illness.

Gala also helped people talk about loss and express their grief, a difficult task that can be eased by stroking a loving companion."