Monday, December 13, 2010
After the recent loss of our old Kelpie cow-dog MiMi, I received a lovely condolence letter and some poetry from one of my readers in Albion, NE. She said I wouldn’t know her from a bale of hay but that they had raised farm dogs since 1945 and she wanted to share a couple of pieces of poetry with me. They couldn’t have come at a better time. It has been a month since MiMi passed through the gates and it is finally hitting home that she is really gone. The opossums have grown bold and come up to feed from the cat bowl and we miss having her warn us of approaching storms. There is a hole we can never fill.
No, I don’t know Donna from a bale of hay, but is because of people like her that I write each week. Our lives as stewards of land, livestock and ranch critters are filled with stories worthy of being told. These tales of truth document people and animals that comprise rural America and preserve a way of life vital to this country of ours. With this in mind, I dedicate this week’s column to Donna M. and I thank her for her lovely expression of sympathy.
*Tuff pads across the hot gravel at the end of the drive, his shadow following long and lean. He is old this dog. I do not say “this dog of mine”, for he is independent; owns me more than I own him. No longer youthful, he has long ago given up chasing rabbits, so Mr. Bunny sits among the nasturtiums and gobbles the bright blossoms.
At the corner of the garden Tuff pauses to drink from the old turkey roasting pan left just where the leaky faucet can drip fresh water all day. I could fix it, make it like new and save on the water bill; but then who would make sure he has a cool drink when I am away? My day job is in town now; an office position taken when the horse market went thin and kept ‘just in case’.
Tuff used to lie at my feet where-ever I was. His rhythmic panting setting the pace as I went about my chores. We were constant and consistent comrades and I missed him once the job started. I snuck him to work once when I thought the Boss would be gone all day. Tuff lay beneath my desk, his head on the toe of my boot, content like the old days to just be touching me. As co-conspirators we’d have gotten away with it too, if the Boss and his son hadn’t showed up late in the afternoon.
Tuff could ignore the Boss, but he doesn’t like the son, so he stuck his head out and growled real low. I made the excuse that I had to take him to the veterinarian immediately after work and needed to save gas and time by not back-tracking home. The Boss said it was ok just this once and petted Tuff, while his son said he never could understand why dogs don’t like him much. I allowed that some dogs are just that way and they went on about their business. Tuff and me, we know the truth and agree that some folks just deserve growling at.
I watch as Tuff settles on his rug on the side porch and stares off towards the east pasture where the cows and calves used to stand in the shade. Sometimes I think he misses them and that he is reflecting on the old days, when he was a real jaw-snappin’ cow-dog with the world by the tail. Maybe it’s just me, sliding into old memories of when I was just as young and bullet proof.
The sun shifts and I realize it is getting late. I drive on down from the top of the hill where I have been watching and stop at the gate to pick up the mail. Tuff’s ears go up and he races across the yard and circles the fence to meet me. I open the truck door and he jumps up and wiggles in next to me. As I shut the door he sticks his head out the window. To anyone coming along our road it looks like he is driving; our little joke on passers-by.
I park by the chutes and like a young pup Tuff bounds out of the truck, barrels full speed across the yard and barks at the rabbit in the flower bed. I smile at his attempt to fool me into believing he stays on guard all day. I praise him, call him ‘good dawg’ and laugh as he picks up his rug and shakes it.
He dashes a few feet ahead of me as I follow a nightly routine of walking to the barn to feed the horses. His shadow and mine mix together and form a creature of mythological proportion. Looking back to where I lag behind, he pauses and waits for me. I envy his patience, his contentment with his life as it is; find comfort in his unconditional companionship. I catch up and we walk on, two shadows before us, touching now and then in that familiar way of kindred spirits.
I like to think that the road to Heaven’s gate is like this; an easy walk along a frequented path with a good friend. In these long-shadow days it is comforting to know there is someone there who loves us for no other reason than we are consistently there. As evening falls and the shadows stretch out far ahead of us I realize something. They do not show age. They are as we were. And with Tuff by my side, that is enough.
RIDING DRAG with DEBRA COPPINGER HILL is featured each week at ALWAYS COWBOY where Debra is a Resident Western Poet. Join her and her Cowboy Friends for Cowboy Poetry, News & Events. http://alwayscowboy.net/debra_coppinger_hill_poetry.html