Monday, September 8, 2014

We Went Awalkin'... Again

Prelude: I turned sixty last week and, quite honestly, I've spent the past several days trying to come to terms with it. I've started a handful of posts - some humorous, some more introspective - but I simply have not yet wrapped my head around this milestone. My mind keeps returning to something I'd written nearly three years ago, so, with apologies to you who have been around that long, I think that I'll fall back on it now. It's as true today as it was when I wrote it, and just a little bit closer to real.



We went awalkin’, Sammy and I, up the ridge, along the narrow gravel road that passes our woods, over the ridgeline, and through the tunnel of redbuds, so robust and full in the spring yet now so gaunt and so naked in winter's approach. We went awalkin', Sammy and I.

His vet would be pissed.

We’d taken Sammy to the local country doctor, fearing that age, arthritis, and the effects of a life-long liver condition had finally begun to squeeze the joy from the feisty little terrier. She made the expected pharmacological recommendations to ease his aching joints and suggested that, with limited activity, he should be comfortable for the foreseeable future. But she knew.

We know.




He sleeps a lot. And we carry him down the steps to the back yard so that he might sniff the 'coon tracks, stare into the woods, and unsteadily mark his now meager boundaries. It’s still his turf, after all, though he squats like a girlie dog, his leg-lifting balance gone the way of eyesight and stamina. And, at the end of each constitutional, he stands and looks up the drive, towards the road, up the ridge, to the redbuds, where we’ve walked together a thousand times - but walk no more.

Today, instead of just looking, he began to climb the hill, like before.

I called to him, to steer him back to comfort and ease, but he did not hear. Maybe he can't. More likely, he pretended not to. I called again, more urgently, and he stopped, but did not turn. Instead, he paused, then looked back over his shoulder as if to say, “Are you coming?

I sighed. And I came.

For a half-mile he was Wilderness Dog Sammy again - scourge of squirrels, chaser of deer, defiler of tall weeds. There was spring in his step and sparkle in his eyes, his ears and tail pointed to the brilliant blue sky. He led and I followed, noticing that his haunches, once as sturdy and full as the redbuds in spring, were as thin and bony as the stark, bare canopy above. But, for a half-mile, he was the alpha dog once more. For a wonderful half-mile...

… until he slowed. I called his name, like before, and he stopped, waited, and allowed me to pick him up – a concession unimaginable in times gone by. His walk was complete, miles short of his good days, but he accepted my bearing without shame. His ears remained perked, his nose thrust forward as if to lead us along the path, his spirit taking us where his legs could no longer. We walked our old haunts together, one more time. Even in my arms, he was still the Wilderness Dog.

And, on occasion, he looked up and licked my face, his eyes still sparkling despite clouding lenses, and he seemed to say “Isn’t this glorious?

It was.

This evening I expect that Sammy will pay for the excursion, the drugs unable to blunt the ache as it does most nights. He’ll lie in his bed, at out feet, and hurt a little more than usual, but I’m certain that the discomfort will be more than compensated by his restored canine dignity, by the walk through his old woods. I regret his pain, but I’m glad that we went for we both were able to remember the Wilderness Dog, if but just for a little while.

And, if you please, do the same for me. When my vitality wanes, when my life is diminished by whatever prostration chips it away, I hope that on that day when the woods call to me once again, you allow me to answer. Allow me to follow that ridgeline as far as I am able - wisdom and doctor be damned. I will accept assistance, if offered, on return, but first let me go. I will accept the inevitable pain, the price, but first let me go. Let me relive the fullness of my spring, the redbuds in bloom, for just that little while, and then I will again accept my limitations, accept the arrival of my winter. But first, let me go.

We went awalkin’, Sammy and I, up the ridge, through the tunnel of redbuds.

15 comments:

Corey Beavers said...

Poignant.

Kevin Frank said...

Dang dude, one of your best posts yet.

Ross Brecke said...

Great post, mortality is something no one can escape, but to accept it with grace and dignity now that is the challenge.

Mike Sepelak said...

Thanks Corey.

Kevin, after 450ish posts here, it remains one of my very favorites. I'm glad you agree.

I've always heard that growing old is not for sissies, Ross. I hope that I can accept it as you suggest. Thanks for the reminder and the challenge.

Mel said...

Mike, very, very well stated. Let me take this opportunity to welcome you to Geezerville. It is just up the trail around the bend..........

Mike Sepelak said...

Thanks for the welcome, Mel. I've had a bit of the geezer in me for many years, as well as more than a dollop of whippersnapper. The two have coincided quite nicely, most of the time. My goal is to keep a grasp on the best (and perhaps a little of the worst) of each as I continue to move along that trail. Time, as always, will tell.

Josh Mann said...

Very well written and touching, Mike.

Mickie said...

Well said. Our sweet old pit is going through this now. And our Dane & Rottie last year. It's a tough balance.

Mike Sepelak said...

Thanks Josh!

MIckie, a tough balance, indeed. Wonderful to hear from you and I hope you are doing well. It's been a while.

Kirk Werner said...

Splendid bit of wordsmithery, Mike, and a nice tribute to a tough little trooper.

Mike Sepelak said...

I appreciate the kind words, Kirk. And that tough little trooper is still with us, even though this piece was written almost three years ago and I was certain that his days were numbered. He'll be 14 on the 12th of this month - 98 in dog years and I hope that I'm going as strong...

Justin Carfagnini said...

One of the best pieces I have ever read, and really awesome to hear he's still with you. Great photo of the Wilderness Dog. Such tough and resilient beings they are.

Mike Sepelak said...

Thanks, Justin. And terriers are as tough as they come. No doubt.

Jeff Holberg said...

Mike that was an excellent piece of writing! Reminds me a lot of an article Gene Hill wrote many years ago about his dog's last outing. Impressed enough as a mere lad that I can still recall the essence of the story. Congratulations on reaching 'junior geezer' status. Do not worry, there are those of us about seven laps ahead of you, closing in on true geezerdom, just keep looking toward the next hill, just don't stop.

Mike Sepelak said...

I'll have to chase that article down, Jeff. Pieces like that tug at me in ways that few do. Tom Reed has also written a few shorts about his old dog that hit me directly in the heart, old softie that I am.

As for geezerhood, your advice is appreciated. I'm looking at that next hill and keeping the feet moving forward. No stopping me now.