It’s July and Henri dog is lying curled against my side, fuzzy black and white head resting on my belly, as we sway in the hammock. He dozes and so do I, my hands lazily rubbing a pattern on his head. Over his ears. Down his nose. A fat bumblebee buzzes above us and I wave it away. Purple columbines and pink clover below us bend in the breeze and tall pine trees above us creak against each other. The scent of wild raspberries and roses floats in the heavy summer air, melding with the more earthy scent of decaying plants and the mushrooms that thrive in them. The nearby creek, still swollen from the springtime snow, rushes onward. A cloud passes over the sun and for a moment we shiver in the unexpected shade. Henri is old and I am realizing he won’t live forever.
Summer continues to drift by, in long days and short nights. We stand at windows as families of bears trundle through the area. Cubs clumsy and then sturdier, climbing the apple trees, which bend under the weight of their bounty. We watch fawns become deer and kits become foxes. The river, so swollen before, begins to lose its waters. The Perseid meteor shower blazes through the atmosphere and we sit on the hood of our car on the peak of a mountain. Henri cozies in my arms while we ooh and aah at the shining streams of light. Soon after, Henri goes deaf and one eye takes on a shine that wasn’t there before. He paces at night. At first, just the darkness brings on his anxiety.
The days grow shorter and the nights grow longer. An autumn chill sets in and the night is tinged with the scent of rotting leaves and bonfires. Squirrels and chipmunks and birds move with urgency, gathering the food we have left out for them. The bears have moved on, but the deer and foxes continue to meander around, sleek and round from their summer of plenty. Fallow fields are yellowing and the aspens are golden and we have gathered all the berries and rosehips and sage and mushrooms that lingered from the summer. Henri’s anxiety begins to creep into the daytime hours and for the first time, he runs into a wall and isn’t easily comforted.
Winter arrives in a flurry of storms. I’ve forgotten how cold it can be, how heavy the snow is. Henri is diagnosed with dementia and the heaviness spreads to everything until some days it feels easier to stay in bed. He has panic attacks and he won’t eat and he wants to be held all the time. I pray to whatever god or goddess watches over small dogs that Henri will make it to summer. I don’t want to lose him in this dark season. I can’t stand the thought of him dying on one of these sunless days, all of us weighted down by the snow and our grief.
Spring replaces winter, ushered in with too much rain and too much mud. The first crocus appears in the backyard and I almost weep at the site of its little purple bud. Henri perks up and then I do weep. We take him hiking and he naps in the grass, tongue sticking out, blissful in the sunshine. I hope this is enough, to know that he had this day. He sleeps most of the time now, seeking what comfort he can as his brain deteriorates.
And now it’s the second week of May and summer on Colorado’s Front Range is making its typical early appearance. The days are filled with sunshine and the nights don’t carry the same cold. Not that it will last — at least one more snowstorm lurks up Mother Nature’s sleeve. But for now, we enjoy the almost summer weather.
Henri sleeps on my lap. I am trying to keep track of the stars as they appear, but now they are shimmering into the blackness too quickly and I have lost count. The campfire is too hot, so I try to scoot back in my camping chair, but it starts to fold and I am debating whether I should just endure the five minutes until the fire dies down again because I don’t want to disturb Henri, who is rarely at peace these days. I endure. My husband hits a burning log with a stick, making a bright shower of sparks fly up. He chuckles to himself, which makes me smile. Do it again, I say. He does it repeatedly and for a moment I am lost in the primal beauty of the flames and the firefly quality of the sparks.
In the window of our RV, a black and white cat with a silly mustache is pawing at the window. He sees us and wants to be included, but not really, because he doesn’t like the fire and the little sounds of the woods behind us. His daytime leash training has not yet prepared him for the tiny terrors of the night. So we wave and occasionally go in to give him some attention, but for now, he is separate from the family.
The night air still carries a hint of winter and we sip beer that grows warm as we huddle around the fire and sink into the silence of the forest. The half moon rises and my husband seeks the comfort of our home on wheels. I can’t yet raise myself from the chair, my desire to continue to be in this moment of calm with Henri too great. I am lost in the sensation of his small body resting on my legs, the feeling of his fur under my hands a constant comfort, the fire and our blanket keeping the mountain chill away.
Henri doesn’t make it to the summer solstice. I don’t know if those in-between days of not-quite-summer count. But the season is fully upon us now and the grief is easing. Summer is for dogs and there are plenty who need rescuing, but we aren’t ready for that yet. We decide to wait until our first thought isn’t how painful it will be to lose another dog. Until all we will feel is the bittersweet joy of watching another four-legged friend run through a summertime field of wildflowers.
(This was written in 2018, just after our sweet Henri dog passed away. We did wait, a whole year, before adopting another dog, Faybelle Sage. About 10 months later, we also adopted Theo Bear. They have helped to heal our hearts immensely.)