It is over. Done. Finished. It cannot be anymore. Big dog is gone. Why? Abe, the big springer spaniel, died under my desk. No injuries. No sign of sickness. He was lean from running in the winter’s deep snow, but he seemed healthy and happy.
He spent my working days in the office, stretched out one place or another, a black-and-white hulk beside the wood stove, big as the average white-tail deer. His favorite sleeping place, though, was under the desk. He’d sleep there while I was turned to the typewriter. Then, when he’d hear the wheels of the chair sliding toward the desk, he’d unwind all 100 pounds of himself in a hurry. His tail had several run-ins with a chair wheel.
This time he didn’t move. “Hey, you old fool,” I complained. “Move!” He just laid there, eyes closed. I reached down and wrapped my hand around his snout and shook it - our invitation to play. Nothing. I knew he was dead.
It is still hard to accept. Can’t walk any place without seeing him, long tail curled up in that peculiar way he had it, snout taking gulps of snow and scent like a vacuum cleaner, a bark that hearkened back to wild ancestors, starting in his gut and ending somewhere down the valley. The howl that made you dig your toes deeper into the snowshoes and feel that primitive oneness with wildness that makes a man instinctively more aware of his surroundings.
There are places in the woods hereabouts that Abe and I once “owned” in the winter. Quiet, lonely places, where I made pets of chickadees, while he plodded down the track of a fox. There was a smile he packed when the scent was hot and the fox was up and running. If you haven’t seen that smile on a hard-running springer, you’ve missed one of the real important things in life. But those were times that we haven’t had in several years. First, the city people took up skiing and the back roads had to be kept open in winter. Then, the snowmobilers came. There were no longer any quiet places.
Fox took to running snow sled tracks - easier running, and the exhaust covered their scent and confused and sickened even old Abe.
Hunting became something we did for the exercise and because we were “supposed to.” It was fun, sure. The years would still melt from consciousness when Abe wailed over the hills. Then the chop, chop, chop, chop, as he let the fox know it was time to turn on the afterburner. Abe was a bird dog, but he loved to hunt, and he would hunt anything. I took to leaving the rifle on the wall. Abe didn’t mind. He never was impressed with a dead fox. It was the live ones he lived for.
Shoveling four feet of snow off the ground, then digging a four-foot, five-by-five hole is never an easy job. But it is hell when every move brings an aching scream, when your eyes are full of tears the wind didn’t make. Sure you’ve done this before. It is part of the cost of grabbing life by the throat and shaking it for all you can get out of it. And no matter the hurt, you’re pleased somehow that the hurt is as deep and the tears as blinding as they were more than 30 years ago when you lost your first dog.
Why does he lie there? Why doesn’t he get up? How am I going to throw that first shovel of dirt on him? Take that final step that says it is over?
When it was done, the hole filled and the snow piled back on it, the sun was gone behind the ridge to the west. The tears were freezing on my face.
And then, God, it is true. I saw him, then heard him, coming down the east side of the ridge through the hardwoods. Still think I did. Hard to believe he will always be out there, waiting for me beside the stump where I often built a fire and we rested on those never-to-come-again days when the winter sun was bright and there was no one else who came to this place. It is done. But, Abe, old friend, the memories are rich.