All In A Dew Drop
Breathe in and then out and it all changes. Homage to a family member.
One sunny morning in Panama. The sun had begun its ascent, just barely six am and already the humidity was like a thick cloak.
Beagles truly are a special breed. His passing was of the kind that his presence only grew in value rather than in the more usual fading away…
As these things go, it was all in an instant. So much is contained in one atom of measure, expansive, unending. That morning it was Max telling me things from his past. I watched as a giant dew drop rolled at first hesitatingly down the side of banana tree leaf that hung pointing downwards. It then picked up speed as it reached a steeper incline on the leaf. Suddenly rolling down to the leaf's’ pointed tip, there the dew drop hung and there reflected in wondrous, diamond like ways the sun light.
It was in less than a second, just before it fell, as the crystal ball like drop of dew hung almost in mid- air. That Max told me more about his past.
He’d often start with riddle like mind puzzles.
‘Here we are yet again. How are you? Are you in fine fettle? Are you feeling as if this day is yours to do with as you wish? Can you hunker down and take the storm head held high? What’s all that mean? You can guess as you wish. Time to reconsider, time to take another glance, see if you can breathe through.’
There was a time when waking up might have been a challenge. Unlike so many on this planet, I’ve been doubly blessed. My life has been one big cherry pie. Why would I say cherry pie? I don’t even like the stuff. It’s the symbolism friend: get on the bus.
‘Get with the program, understand the vibe. Can you?’ Max would chide.
‘It doesn’t even add up enough for it to be called a dare. There’s a thing where one says it’s time to go, time to climb on and yet really the opposite is wished for.’
Fast forwarding for a moment, years later, now in Guatemala, as Max rots away next to me. This was just before, of course. He’d just reached that stage where even his hip bones seemed to cave inward changing the way he used his back legs when walking. An painfully obvious degeneration.
The insurmountable sores on his once rich, tri-colored pelt now smell of slowly passing meat, sweet, ageing. One grows used to it. It’s the changes they all speak of… He doesn’t suffer, though. We watched very carefully. My pal and our son Max, our Panamanian Beagle.
Back in Panama. He thinks he’s British. Believes it with all his heart. At this advanced stage of his life, I would not disabuse him of that notion.
Perhaps he’s more British than most beagles. How should I know? I tell him so. After I assure him of this, I swear his ageing, sad eyes reflect a glow, a warmth, appreciative that I’m giving him that distinction.
‘Max, what part of England do you hail from, anyway?’ He looks at me, those soulful eyes that go back centuries. Oh, of course I’d asked him this many times. Each time never failed to produce yet another version of his Britishness.
‘I’m from London. I’ve told you this before. Just outside of London, a small town, now a burb called Follinsworth, where people still insist on heating the water. Tea still mattered.
‘That’s why salespeople stay away from my town. They never get away from the first house they knock on the door of. ‘Oh, do come in, won’t you, ma’am? I’ll get the tea ready.’ Conversation goes from how Follinsworth used to be gentry and nobles, well, small nobles, to the now, the young ones have jobs in London town..’
‘The old, grass roofed houses have been around for centuries. There used to be quite a pocket of romantic writers who called it home too. As though a creative aberration. They all used to gather at the Hounds and Sculls Pub for a nip of absinth every afternoon at five.’
He went on.
‘This was something apart from the English customs, as absinthe was considered mostly French. Never failed. This was a time for tireless conversation, fueled by the drinks’ mysterious elements. Usually ending in an inevitable difference of opinion having to do with politics or the girl who broke the other’s heart.’
‘Life was lazy in a way. Unpredictably so I could add. But I don’t want to be predictable, so I won’t. As an example one late afternoon people placed bets. Even the constable was always on the watch, what plants would grow tallest on Old James’ grass roof. There were some five varieties of roof weed that will grow if left unattended.’
Max said he always opted for the one called, ‘yellow sprig’.
‘That’s exactly what it sounds like. A green stem shooting upward, leaving behind the flat, old, discoloring grass roof, tipped by brilliant yellow flowers not unlike dandelions only much smaller. The ‘purple ivy’ was a close follow up and would normally over take the ‘yellow sprig’ later in the spring.’ But Max recalled when the bets were being placed. ‘This time of year it was going to be hard to beat ‘yellow sprig, unless of course it was ‘Brazilian Carmen’, a scandalous roof plant.’
‘Brazilian Carmen’ shamelessly leaving behind all others for approximately three days. Again. Like Max, one had to be a most keen observer of the whims of nature during that nascent spring phase.’
‘As bets were placed, everyone picked up their glass of absinthe, their brains already buzzing comfortably with ideas to set down on paper later on as everyone went back to their homes to write away the evenings. As a group out they’d go. A loud and rambunctious bunch, some smoking sweet smelling pipe, others sharing ‘bushy weed’ which made you pleasantly pleasant.’
‘That one, late afternoon, early evening as the crickets really started in welcoming the end of the long winter, it was a collective sigh, some shock as they rounded the corner at Bessies’ place. More aptly called: ‘Bessies’ Ladies’ if you can gather my meaning? There was Old James place, as resplendent as it had always been. A classic old English homestead that was one of a handful of homes tour operators from London made a big deal over.’
‘Some even went too far, telling the visiting Scotts and Americans that Shakespeare wrote three plays inside the old house. ‘See that window up there, with the tiny balcony? Yes, well, that was the bards’ room.’ Of course, it was untrue, but what was the mostly uninformed tourist going to care?’
‘We believe as we so choose.’ We both agreed.
‘In fact, the visitor from overseas was only too happy to add to his adventure credits when telling of his trip to Merry Ol, England, that they took the time to visit one of the great writers’ writing hide outs. No one cared. No one seemed the wiser from it and no one was offended. It was a fact that after many years of this false rumor started in the early 1900s, that even many of the younger Follingsworth citizenry believed the story.’
‘Anyway, as they passed Bessie's’ it was immediately apparent that Old James had beaten them all by trimming short all the growth on his roof! Some called out in complaint. Some begrudgingly handed over the money they’d bet. ‘You ol sob James!’ one called out, causing a collective and perhaps delayed, absinth besotted laughter. Slowly, the group started bidding good evening to friends as everyone walked to their homes, all near enough to walk to.’
Anyway, Max assured me he was a part of this reality.
Strange, because I distinctly recall my lovely wife bringing Max home with her one late Panamanian afternoon. The heat was overbearing. Sweat rolled off her pretty brown face as she carried a small, cloth bundle of something, her face one of hope and concern. ‘This is Max,’ she said as she set the bundle on the cushiony chair just inside our front door.
The flannel cloth moved, and shortly after, the most beautiful beagle puppy stood. His little tail slowly at first wagging as he looked me over. He smelled wondrous, as do all puppies. His warm, tiny body seemed to fit perfectly in my hands, I couldn’t keep myself from snuggling my face into the nape of his neck. A slight whimper as though asking me to go gentle. His eyes took my heart, however. Eyes that said simply, ‘I’m yours, you’re mine’.
Such was the case.
Now, as the years passed his age and many health issues, poor appetite seemed to have slowed him down. Still, no matter how uncomfortable he surely must’ve felt, he wagged his tail.
We’d say, Maxs’ time is rounding out. So we are happy to humor him with his England story. What’s the harm in it, anyway?
There’s just something about the way dogs age so quickly. They come into our lives as fresh as just squeezed lemon juice, then as if fast forwarding time, there stands our furry family member so clearly at rope’s end. Forces us humans to reflect on the fragile phenomena of life. Brings tears to my eyes more often now as I recall the obvious and how it became more and more inevitable.
No longer a thing of if rather when.
We’d say soon Max will go the way all other ageing dogs go. In three quick breaths, what had been a brand new puppy just yesterday now sits on life’s threshold.
The time nears when Max will take final breaths, smile with his impossibly sad eyes, tail attempting to assure the world of life’s’ general goodness. But time is so short. Isn’t it? Here today…
Lately Maxs’ friends in our Guatemalan neighborhood began to regard him as one who is although much beloved is progressively sliding down that irreversible plunge into warm memories contrived or otherwise. Harmless memories, certainly. Max seemed to have an uncanny insight into things British.
He enjoyed talking about his days in India!
The family travelled on diplomatic missions to the ancient land. The father was a high government official and reported directly to the Prime Minister and the Queen on matters of importance dealing with the unravelling bond between the two countries. Once a year they’d journey to India and resettle in the old stately house set atop a green, plush hillside bursting in green tea brush.
Depending on the time of year, the high elevation of the farmhouse could be quite cool. They were near the mighty Himalayas. A high elevation cool was often the case as their travels to India usually happened three months before Christmas. The tea growth was at its peak and one of two yearly harvests was on. The rolling hills of tea were busy with women dressed in colorful saris carrying baskets pulling the leaves at just the prescribed moment.
Before the Second World War, the British government had purchased the tea farm, allowing the original owners to live out their lives to the end on the farm. All done with an unusual compassion. Now the British diplomats stayed at the farm as they fulfilled differing overseas missions. It was unofficially called the Assam Station. These missions dealing of course, primarily with the growing stresses of the India-British relationship. Through the years the many diplomatic British families brought along their children who lived at the beautiful farm.
Max was a part of one of those families, he would say. It was surprising the neat detail with which he described life in the diplomatic world. The almost nonstop social gatherings in the cool evenings as the sun settled behind the rich green hills. As the evening slowly settled in the two most fragrant flowers of northern India were in full competition.
The never ending battle between the magnolia like Champa and the night blooming Jasmine produced a unique aroma never forgotten.
The sounds of the screeching peacocks competed with the virtuosity of the large mynah birds. Max once said he saw a mongoose kill a king cobra that came too close to the house. The harvesters loved Max and were so pleased when he’d venture out to visit them in the field.
‘Chhota Bhagavaan, come! Come here! Here is some Naan and Paneer for you, my little friend.’ His visits provided joyous relief to an other wise heavy day of picking and lifting. The mostly Hindu population on the farm accorded Max a special title. Chhota Bhagavaan, or little god, that suggested some sort of reincarnated great one.
Max was quite at ease with the way most harvesters almost bowed to him. He couldn’t control his nonstop wagging tail. For no apparent reason, there amongst the harvesters and the tea trees, Chhota Bhagavaan would sit, raise his beautiful head, soulful eyes partly closed, and bark, gently, mournfully.
My wife and I always wondered about Max’s stories. How she and I could pick up in a split second something he wanted to relate to us. Mary never believed in the veracity of such stories. She said it was the wine. I don’t drink wine and I heard the stories…