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.