We hiked the trails yesterday evening, as a foursome again, but I kept feeling S's spirit walking behind me on the trail. He used to walk directly behind me, no matter what. In fact, near the end of his life, I had to choose my path carefully, especially off-trail, so that he wouldn't try to climb a big boulder or jump a downed tree in his quest to be my shadow. Last night, it felt like S walked softly in my footsteps and stood quietly to gaze at the stormy sunset with us. As the sun arced low in the sky, its selectively sought out certain clouds, illuminating them over the mountains.
As K hiked, I noticed that her head hung low and she seemed to slink, low to the ground. Her body language exuded sadness yesterday afternoon and again today. I'm scared that she's starting to slide into a bottomless pit, like she did when her big brother died years ago. The photo below shows her depressed body language.
When we returned to the house, I decided that K needed to resume our usual rituals, even if my heart didn't feel ready. One ritual is that we do a couple of agility runs on our homemade course after our evening walk. K zipped through the weave poles, over the jumps, through the hoop, and kerplunked the teeter-totter with her usual zing. I smiled. At least she can find a spark of enthusiasm for things that she loves.
As we navigated the course, I noticed deep hoof prints next to the weave poles and momentarily felt dismayed, falsely believing that my horseback-riding friend had pock-marked our course just after a big rain. Then, I realized that the 1-3" deep tracks had two toes (you can see that most obviously on the bottom of the track) - indicating that a deer, elk, or even a moose might have made them. They measured 6" long and 4.25" wide, too huge to be a deer track and outside the range cited for elk. To my astonishment, the measurements shouted moose. Moose were reintroduced west of the Divide a years ago, and they've started crossing the towering mountain range and visiting our neighborhood. I think that one might have lumbered past our house, but avoided our wildlife camera (I'll write more about that camera later). Pretty amazing!
As promised by last night's sunset, the vicissitudes of mountain springtime led to winter-like weather this morning. K and I rolled out into rain and 35 degree air for our mountain bike ride this morning. Falling raindrops and slightly above freezing temperatures constitute the most miserable mountain biking conditions. So, I harbored no illusions that we'd do an epic ride. We just toured our local trail system, enjoying each other and the beauty of nature. K's incipient depression seemed to linger but not grow. Perhaps that's a good sign.
Rain gently showered us and low-hanging branches soaked us throughout the ride. Raindrops accentuated usually mundane aspects of nature. Some Pasqueflowers, successfully pollinated, have metamorphosed into seed-heads that glow silvery when raindrops adhere to them. Here's a cluster of blooming Pasqueflowers on a sunny day.
And, here's a metamorphosed Pasqueflower that captured my attention today.
As I glided through the soaked green world, the Whiskbroom Parsley (Harbouria trachypleura) jumped out, bright yellow in the ocean of green.
As we rolled through the phantom forest, so misty that the details of the green sea eluded me, I wondered if I've become stronger as I've experienced the puppyhoods, adulthoods, senior years, and finally the deaths of my dog companions. I wondered if each crack in my heart, corresponding to each loss, eventually healed stronger than ever. After some free-floating thinking, encouraged by the ghost-like forest, I concluded that my spirit has indeed grown stronger, but not due to the deaths of my dogs, rather due to their lives. Their lives are too brief compared to ours so I've learned to hug them often, enjoy their quirks, and appreciate each day with them.
S, in particular, taught me by example to take life as it comes and embrace whatever each day brings. Even as a puppy, S couldn't truly romp like our other dogs due to a congenital joint disease. But, he joyfully embraced each hike, soaking up the scents, rolling in snow and grass, wading in lakes, and reveling in our attention. So, although I'm struggling with grief now and healing will be inexorably slow, I think that knowing and loving S strengthened my spirit, not just for facing life's vicissitudes, but for finding ways to embrace them.