By Louise Ure
Happy New Year, ‘Rati.
Here in the Hunter Valley, overlooking vineyards and the spine of the Brokenback Mountains, I’ve come to realize that I have been living in the wrong time zone for the last nine months since Bruce’s death.
In San Francisco, I was in self-induced solitary confinement. I spoke rarely and went outdoors even less often. I didn’t sleep well, or eat well and I measured my good days by whether the nausea and hand tremors would allow me to raise a glass to my lips.
Here in Australia, I’ve found peace. No jet lag, no nausea, no tremors, no sleepless nights. I can sit on the back porch in a sleeveless shirt in the evenings – something that can be done in San Francisco only one day every two years. I’m sheltered here under the wings of a dear friend, Maggie, who has walked this path of widowhood before me, and a half dozen other old friends who remain strong, caring and exciting women whether in states of singleness or marital bliss.
I can feel my bones knitting.
We had a glorious Christmas dinner with turkey, ham and pork served after a five course seafood tasting platter. I haven’t cooked that much in a year. New Year’s brought the Harbour Bridge fireworks and then a bit of stargazing with a bottle of champagne. I’ll be off to the Gold Coast and Queensland in a few days for coastal breezes and more friends.
Rather than tell you about all these wonderful people and days that have brought smiles even if no laughter yet, I thought I’d tell you about their dogs. Everyone I’ve met here, every old friend I’ve connected with, has their dog with them. And the dogs tell you more about this trip than any travelogue I could do.
Let me introduce Saffi. That’s Saffi as in Bombay Saphire Gin, of course. She’s Maggie’s dog, an elegant ten-year old Rhodesian Ridgeback with eyes like a cheetah and the regal demeanor of a dowager queen. She does not lie on the floor; no, that would be too doglike. Instead, she perches on the edge of a seat with her long front legs still on the ground. She keeps her ankles together like a proper lady and disdains to notice if there are any other dogs around.
Then there’s Kelman next door. A sturdy boy, full of bluff and swagger until you call on him to prove it. Then he fesses up to just how much he’d really like to be friends. He’s half Cavalier and half Shar pei, a combination that’s given him the heart of a lion and the face of a loveable old man. Kelman’s owners are new friends to me but they have been the heart and soul of welcome and warmth. I think we’ll be friends for a long, long time.
Next come Ian’s mates, Digger Dog and Miss Lily. Digger is an Australian Cattledog, a stolid plodder who does as he’s told and never says no. He’s always up for a game of ball or a ride in a car and understands perfectly well why he has to spend the night outside on a tether. Miss Lily (full name: Miss Lily Marlene) is his partner and his boss. A Kelpie Coolie, she’s the brains of the operation, herding Digger with nips and barks as he brings the ball back, streaking in from a tangent to take the ball away from him and take credit for the retrieval. She’s smarter than most people I know and she has her owner, Ian, trained beautifully.
Teddy (and Santa)
New Year’s weekend brought Di and her Teddy, a Bichon Frise who taught me more about my old friend than I ever knew before. Twenty years ago when Di and I worked together, I knew her as a daring, flinty young woman who rose to all challenges and took no guff from anyone along the way. Then came the first Teddy (she’s had several, and each has been named Teddy. A good system for both dogs and husbands it seems to me) and Di’s heart melted like good chocolate. She bought him fancy dog outfits. He has more jewelry and dines better than she does. Now I see the softer side of my old friend.
I have more friends to catch up to, more new dogs to meet. But I’m loving these Dog Daze in Oz.
Have any good dog tales/tails for me today?
P.S. A special thank you to whichever of you wonderful ‘Rati commenters suggested I read Peter Temple. He’s my new author-god; each sentence so sleek and necessary that it is a knife cut with language.
Hearing you sound so rested is a New Year's gift in itself, Louise. And I'm delighted you're enjoying the Peter Temple. He's a wonderful writer, isn't he?
Loved the descriptions of the dogs. I put a Rhodesian Ridgeback called Friday into my second book, RIOT ACT. He was supposed to have a merely walk-on part, but rewrote it when I wasn't looking and became an integral character. My early test readers had only one question – "What happens to the dog?"
I love to read stories of those who have struggled, begin to peek out their door, feel the sunshine on their face, and step into life again. While doing a New Years purge of my office, I found a card in the file cabinet. It reads ,
Peace….it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work…..it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart….
Calm in your heart. Now there's a resolution.
Louise, I was overjoyed to read this. Thank you.
Love the dog pics and your description of them. You're a great wordsmith. Perhaps you'll be inspired to write a novel with Australia as the backdrop. Hope none of your friends are effected by the terrible flooding down under.
Louise, I have some photos of our Corgi pup in the snow that I think you might enjoy. I have two of them up on FB at the moment – they should go up on my blog later this week.
I'm so happy to read that you're knitting yourself back together down under. With all those amazing canines, I can see why it's such a potent time!!
Louise thank you, that post lightened my heart. There is nothing more uplifting than hearing that somebody you care about is doing better. I'm glad you are connecting again with dear, not old, friends! 🙂
Dog stories: I wrote a beagle into my second MS and promptly fell in love with him. I constantly have to remind myself that he doesn't exist! Because I am wholly dog ignorant, and because I already have two cats and a husband who knows I'm in love with the idea and not the reality of a dog, I'll have to live vicariously through my fictional pup.
Very happy that Oz is being what you need and what you want….
Happy New Year, Louise! I'm so happy to hear how beneficially this trip has been for you! It's great to hear the smile in your words again.
Just when I thought I had opened my last Christmas present I have your post. Tears in eyes; happiness in heart. I miss the wonderful way you have with words. You transport me to your side and I see with your eyes. Ah Louise. Please hug Maggie for me and tell her I said Thanks.
Sorry. Forgot to say HOORAY
Louise, knowing you're healing heals me as well. What a wonderful, generous post you've given us today. May the sun continue to shine (or at least consent to rising in the mornings…)
Have two dogs now, a beagle named Skittles and a golden retriever named Cooper. Family dogs, not really 'mine', but still. Skittles has gray hair and arthritis now (and liver problems) but when he was younger, and we took him on walks, he'd bury his nose in the snow while he walked. We called him our little snow plow. Smart little devil- he won't run away until your arms are full of groceries and it's over 40 degrees!
It's wonderful news you have shared with us. It gives me hope that we may see another of your books in the future – you are so talented – love your work – would give anything to write like you do but then, it wouldn't be the same. Your talent is unique. Happy New Year.
Louise, this welcome healing change in you shines through everything you write, lately, I am so glad.
(Adorable photos but these days dog posts just make me realize how much of a cat person I've become. Ducking…)
I'm still laughing at Teddy's photo – such a darn cutie and he knows it! I have had and loved dogs and cats of all sizes but little dogs are especially merry and silly (and thank God for them being that way, the little stinkers!).
Going down under has helped you come out from under! That's terrific!
Yesterday, I met three-month-old Cookie in a pottery store in SoCal. She rode around in my arms as I looked at stock. I fell in love, AND I bought a pitcher from Cookie's dad. You really can tell a lot about people by the dogs that keep them company.
Continue your journey in expectation and health.
Louise, you sound wonderful, and that's a great thing at the beginning of 2011.
Favorite dog tale lately is after my divorce had to rent out the downstairs. Had too many potential tenants apply via Craig's list (I guess I priced it too low) and I love dogs, so I weeded folks out whether they had a dog or not, and asked for dog photos. Hence my tenant is the lovely Ms. Polly Jean, 14 year old Rottweiler/Labrador who now knows my voice through her door and stops barking when she hears it. The couple that came with her are very nice, too.
Loved your dog descriptions. Keep your feet up and your glass full, it's doing you a world of good.
The tales you tell, all you've endured this past year, the wonderful company you describe, both human and canine, it all reminded me of this poem–forgive me if you already know it–which always raises a tear or more but which also reminds me of something deep and noble and, hopefully, true. (And, given how you sound, I don't fear for you, or worry that a tear or two will send you into a tailspin. Rather, I think this will echo in your heart, which clearly is healing, even though you no doubt wondered if such a thing could ever happen.)
P.S. Don't neglect Peter Carey, as long as you're nosing through Aussies. THEFT is brilliant and wild and funny and like nothing else I've read.
The House Dog’s Grave
Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)
I’ve changed my ways a little; I cannot now run with you
in the evenings along the shore, except in a kind of dream;
and you, if you dream a moment, you see me there.
So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
where I used to scratch to go out or in, and you’d soon open;
leave on the kitchen floor the marks of my drinking-pan.
I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do on the warm stone,
nor at the foot of your bed; no, all the nights through I lie alone.
But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet outside your window
where firelight so often plays, and where you sit to read
– and I fear often grieving for me– every night your lamplight lies on my
You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard to think of you ever dying.
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope that when you are lying under the ground like me
your lives will appear as good and joyful as mine.
No, dears, that’s too much hope:
You are not so well cared for as I have been.
And never have known the passionate undivided fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided…
But to me you were true.
You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.
Friggin' cool, Louise, friggin' cool.
Saffi looks very much like a dog I owned named, can you guess it? Kerouac. Looked just like Saffi, but didn't have the style. I'm so glad you're in a place that is good, which should bring you to a good place. I'm glad you're experiencing the kindness of friends and animals. Miss you.
Thank you all, my friends for checking in. I was traveling most of the day and am now with other old friends (dogless!) in Byron Bay. Lovely, lovely Australia.
Wow. It sounds like a soul-healing trip, Louise. I'm happy for you!
I have a dog tale to share . . .
About four months ago, a lab found her way to our house. We're in the country (sort of) on two acres and it was pouring rain and she was hanging out on our back porch where it was dry (we have easily by-passed fences.) She hung out, and my husband figured she was about 2. We went to all the neighbors (not many–but two had just moved in and we hadn't met them.) No one owned her. The kids loved her. She was happy and sweet and we talked about keeping her. But she was a lab, and she looked well-cared for, so Dan took her to our vet to see if she was chipped or if there was a posting with her picture. She was chipped, and we contacted the owner, secretly hoping he didn't want her anymore. Her owner was a twenty-four year old rancher. Kallie had been stolen from his front yard (he lived in the country, but it was fenced) — the thief took the dog, her bed, her water bowl, and favorite toy while the rancher was in the shower. He cried when he came to pick her up, and she totally remembered him, even after ten months. He said he was just now looking for another dog to replace her, because he didn't think he'd find her.
Proof, to me, of divine intervention.
I should add that the owner lived nearly 30 miles away from us. He thinks that the thief was a guy working on a pipeline project that started over near his ranch, and it ended up near our house.
So glad you're having a good time in Australia, Louise!
Louise, I forgot. Remember what the good witchsaid. You always had it, my dear. I'm glad you found your OZ. Love love love. I am truly envious. I do hope you write lots about your travails so I can share it with you. Judy
Thank you. Your post made me feel so good, so loved and content. I'm elated that you're finding peace Down Under. What a gift that you shared it with us.
Delighted to hear your tales Louise and loving that I can feel your smile once again through your writing.
Best to you in the new year.
Ah, Louise, you make my soul sing. What a beautiful post. And thank you for re-mentioning Peter Temple–I've just gone and downloaded his most recent after reading a sample.
So beautiful, Louise Thank you. My servy dog, Kendall, is my dear friend who helps me negotiate the world, physical and spiritual.
Louise it's so good to see that you're benefiting from your trip down here. I love your description of Peter Temple's work…it's spot on.
Although I was raised with cats (to the point that my mother would put them on the phone when I left home) dogs have a way of burrowing into my heart. My youngest daughter fell in love with a red border collie (Bart) on a trip to Tasmania earlier this year. He didn't do well as a farm dog, so she and her then boyfriend( who looked like the human equivalent…a gentle tall rangy red head) arranged an interstate adoption. Bart has never had it so good. I volunteered to watch him on New Year's Eve in case the fireworks bothered him. At 9pm when the child friendly first wave of fireworks started he didn't panic. He just leaned into my knee for comfort. Same again at midnight.
The weather in Queensland remains dodgy leaning more towards rain with the occasional tease of sunshine. I'm glad you've been able to soak up some rays in NSW.
It's hard to be an author-god but someone has to do the work. And we are always profoundly grateful to be liked by intelligent readers – well, any readers. Thank you, Louise.