Life with Red is different than life with any other dog I have had. Dr. Karen Thompson told me that God wanted me to have Red and she is a person of faith and I did not believe her at first, but now I know something of what she meant. Life with Red begins at 6 a.m. He is a restless soul, and he needs quiet and focus, so he spends the night in his crate. I open the gate and he rushes out, tail wagging. He does out into the dog run with Frieda and Lenore. I get dressed and come downstairs. It is time to move the sheep from one pasture to another, so they can eat their hay away from the greedy donkeys. I tell Red “come by) and he zooms off, and in a few seconds, the sheep appear at the gate and move to the other pasture.
In the pasture, Red is transformed. He becomes a wolf, rigid and focused. He becomes something different.
At first, the sheep panicked at the sight of this dog, butted and charged him, panicked and threw themselves into walls and the sides of barns, but now it is a beautiful ballet, a connection of ancient instinct, great stamina and the intelligence of the working dog. After the morning chores, Red becomes a different kind of dog, and he and I walk together in the woods, sometimes alone, sometimes with Maria and Lenore and Frieda. He walks off leash, instantly responsive. He walks ahead, but never runs away. Then home, and under my desk. I work, he curls up at my feet. After lunch, chores, we go to the bank. The teller in the drive-by says hi to Red and shoots him a biscuit in the pneumatic tube. We visit Connie Brooks at Battenkill Books, and he goes behind the counter to say hello. We go to the hardware store and he goes inside to see a different Connie.
The UPS man has biscuits for Red. He is from County Tyrone, like Red, in Ireland.
He comes with me to the chiropractor, lies on the floor under the table, quietly. We go to the vegetable stand and he goes inside to say hello to Sylvia. In and out, in and out. Then more work at the computer, while I blog, write some more. Then afternoon chores. At night, he vanishes, usually under my desk, until bedtime. When I turn the lights off, he goes up ahead of and is waiting for me in the crate.
Sometimes we meditate and when the three bells sound, Red gets up and goes to the door. He doesn’t get up for the two bells in the middle, only the three at the end. Dr. Thompson was right.
I think the greatest gift I can give another is encouragement, the lighting of the creative spark. Today I had the great gift of being able to help Maria paint the new storm windows for her Schoolhouse Studio. It is a creative space, and this something Maria and I do for one another and for anyone else we can. The gift of encouragement is an easy gift to give, I have learned. It’s free yet valuable, sometimes the most valuable gift somebody can receive. When Maria encouraged me to take photos, I became a photographer. When I encouraged her to return to her art, she did. These were precious gifts, and both of our lives were changed.
I woke up this morning and said I was so lucky to be able to paint her windows, and she looked at me strangely, as if I had to be kidding, and said it was sweet. I blushed. Every day I try to encourage someone – to start a blog, paint a picture, take a photo, write a poem, start a novel. A gift to me, every time.
Rocky’s time with us ended Thursday shortly after I took the last video of him and the other animals, which I called “The Call To Life.” He was the sweetest boy, and we are ever grateful he led us to our new home. My life with animals is a continuum, I believe they are spirits who come as they wish, and go when they are ready. His time with us has ended, I believe a new time for him will begin, in a new place doing new work. Animals like Rocky do the most important work, they open human beings up to ecstatic experience, give us the gift of marking our lives, appear as magical helpers in our journeys, open us up to the amazing range of human experience and emotion. His end was comfortable, fast and very beautiful thing. He was so ready to go.
It will remain a private thing for us. We will miss his presence here, as will the many people whose lives he touched, and whose loyalty and endurance he symbolized. I was so touched by the great connection that sprung up between Rocky and Red, and Red was present for Rocky at the end.
Maria and I are so grateful to the thousands of people who sent us messages of support and understanding. Those who sent different kinds of messages have to follow their own lights, and be faithful to their own Gods. That is the way the world works, that’s what freedom is. The messages of love and understanding meant a lot, more perhaps than you know. I have learned that as a writer I can capture the emotions of animals, but not yet my own. Something work on. Rocky was only our pony for a short time in his long life, but he did the work he was meant to do. He saw Florence through to the end of her life, he saw us through the beginning of our new life. I wish the same legacy for myself.
Enough said, more than enough. A writer has to learn when words touch and inspire, and when they do not. Time to move on, for him, for us.