Reggie


Ashuelot River from footbridge

The Ashuelot, like any river, has two sides, and last Wednesday, Reggie and I took a quiet walk on the wild side.

Tattered and turning

I typed that opening line because I liked the music of it in my head, then I did a quick blog-search to review the other times Reggie and I have walked along the Ashuelot River. Sure enough, I’ve used this opening line before, more than six years ago:

The Ashuelot River, like any river, has two sides. You can access the east side of the Ashuelot River by parking in the lot for Blockbuster Video on West Street, where you’ll find the river tumbling over a dam right behind the long-out-of-business Taco Bell. There is a landscaped park on this side of the river which culminates in a smooth gravelled fitness path. This path enters the woods and skirts the river all the way to Route 9 on the edge of town, where it crosses the river on a walkway and then snakes under the road toward Wheelock Park, where it ends.

Dried Queen Anne's lace

They say (and I’ve blogged) that you can’t step into the same river twice, and indeed the wild side of the Ashuelot Reggie and I revisited last Wednesday is not the same river we walked six years ago. Blockbuster Video has gone out of business (although locals still refer to its parking lot on West Street by that name), and the long-forgotten Taco Bell is now (and has been for years) a successful Starbucks. More importantly, both Reggie and I are six years older than we were the first time I blogged the Ashuelot River’s wild side, and although I don’t feel substantially worse for the wear of six years, Reggie’s changed. Last Wednesday Reggie and I walked on the wild side of the Ashuelot–the side that doesn’t have smooth, improved paths, where fewer dog-walkers, cyclists, and joggers go–because the paths there quickly peter out into underbrush, and as slowly as Reggie walks these days, I’ve learned to measure our walks by depth rather than length.

Buckthorn

When Reggie was younger and more energetic, we’d walk from the so-called Blockbuster parking lot on West Street to the underpass of Route 9 and back without a second thought: that was a moderate, easy stroll for us. These days, Reggie walks far more slowly, and he spends far more time stopping to rest and sniff: it’s impossible, I’m learning, to hurry an old dog. Reggie and still take our morning (and sometimes evening) walks around the neighborhood, but now that Reggie’s more than thirteen years old, we take those morning walks much more deliberately. We aren’t in a hurry to cover ground; instead, we’re intent on appreciating the ground we cover.

A few weeks ago, for example, Reggie and I went to Goose Pond, where the two of us have walked (and Reggie has waded) many times in the past. I knew it was unlikely we’d make it all the way around the pond, a walk that took us a few leisurely hours in the good old days when both of us were younger, but I figured we’d have a good time walking to the pond and back, if not further, and I was right. This time at Goose Pond, Reggie and I took our good, sweet time walking from the parking lot to Reggie’s favorite wading spot, where he muddied his paws and sniffed while I did a quick scribble-sketch in my journal: walking with a pencil and sketchbook, I’ve learned, is something that goes quite naturally with walking an old dog. When we both were done, Reggie quite naturally turned back the way we came, toward the car, as if to say “That’s enough for today, Mom,” and indeed it was. We squeezed an entire pond’s worth of looking, sniffing, and appreciating into a slow, half-hour walk there and back, and nothing more was necessary.

Sumac leaves

This summer, my upstairs neighbor in Keene had to put her thirteen-year-old German shepherd to sleep; this past week, one of my teaching colleagues said goodbye to her similarly aged Basenji. Each of these and other losses remind me that any time spent with an elderly dog is golden. For the time being, Reggie’s spirit is strong even if his energy is diminished; for the time being, we’re not yet ready for talk of the rainbow bridge. Still, I’m not naive enough to think that time won’t come, eventually; as J mentioned when the film version of the book Marley and Me came out, “I don’t need to see that movie, because I know how it ends.” When you know where the winding path you trod leads, you can make a conscious choice to enjoy every step as a time to cherish and reflect.

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, Reflect. I’ve been remiss when it comes to posting recent pictures of Reggie, so let me make up for that by linking to a lovely set of photos J took with Reggie in our backyard this past spring: proof that the Old Dog is still pretty damn handsome, and very experienced when it comes to lounging.

Reggie wades

Now that it’s already August and the dog days of summer are here, I took Reggie for a walk and swim at Goose Pond on Tuesday afternoon after I’d taught my morning summer school class. This is the last week of the summer term at Keene State, which means in a few weeks my students and I will be headed back to school for the fall term. These days, time seems as slippery and elusive as a wet dog.

If you don’t believe me when I say it’s only a few weeks until fall, don’t take my word for it. Listen instead to the mute testimony of the season’s first changed and fallen leaf.

First changed & fallen leaf

Click here for a brief photo-set from Tuesday’s hike at Goose Pond. Enjoy!

Win this Subaru

As a satisfied Subaru-owner, I always notice other Subarus on the street: it’s like recognizing fellow members of a fraternal organization through a secret handshake. This particular Subaru, parked along Main Street in Keene this afternoon, grabbed my eye, though, because of the decal on its back window: a Reggie look-alike!

Reggie lookalike!

Surely the designers of the vehicle decals advertising Subaru of Keene‘s current car giveaway were inspired by this photo of Reggie in the backseat of my own Subaru, for the resemblance between the decal-dog at left and the real thing is too striking for mere coincidence. Apparently Reggie has a twin, and that twin also is a fan of Subaru car-rides.

As much as I love my Subaru, Reggie might love it even more than I do, for he contentedly sprawls across the entire backseat whenever we drive anywhere, whether “anywhere” refers to our frequent commutes between Massachusetts and New Hampshire or our annual trips to Ohio and back. What dog wouldn’t love having the vehicular equivalent of a couch on wheels while Mom zips to and from any given adventure?

Sleepy dog

Although this contribution to the Photo Friday theme “Pet” is more than a week overdue, I purposefully waited until I got my new camera (a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28) to shoot a flash-free, indoor shot of Reggie in his usual “snooze” mode. Who could refuse a face like that?

Reggie on railtrail

It sometimes happens that I spend an entire day speaking to no one other than the dog, and then only rarely: just the two of us, without words.

The Abominable Snow-Dog!

When I say that neither snow nor rain stops intrepid dog-walkers, I mean it. The above image shows Reggie in his guise as the Abominable Snow-Dog on this morning’s walk, and this image shows the tell-tale hat and ponytail of the Abominable Snow-Dog-Walker.

Snow-hat with ponytail

Obviously I can’t shoot photos of the back of my own head, so thanks to J for snapping that second photo.

Steps to Echo Bridge

When Leslee, a mutual friend, and I decided to explore Hemlock Gorge on Sunday, I initially thought I’d ask if they’d mind my bringing Reggie, but I quickly reconsidered. Even if we’d figured out a way to carpool three women and a squirmy dog to the Gorge, there’d be the Echo Bridge steps to navigate.

Silk mill as viewed from Echo Bridge

Reggie has never been fond of steps: even when I adopted him in 1998, he was reluctant to climb stairs. When my then-husband and I owned a two-story house in Hillsboro, NH, Reggie could climb the carpeted steps, but he did so only reluctantly. At my parents’ house, it’s something of a production to get Reggie to climb the slick linoleum stairs to the basement apartment that serves as their guest room, and on the handful of times over the years I’ve tried to lure Reggie up open stairs–the kind with horizontal steps but no vertical step-backs, a style common at motels with outdoor stairways leading from one level to the next–he’s balked and downright refused. At dog-eye level, open steps look like no steps at all, and who but the most enthusiastic dog would actually believe you could climb from one level to another on thin air?

Charles River as viewed from Echo Bridge

In the past few years, now that Reggie has resolutely aged into the double-digits, stairs have become even more of a problem. Although glucosamine and chondroitin supplements have minimized his overall creakiness, it still takes a while to coax him up the slippery hardwood steps in J’s house, where a dog’s attention is as likely to be distracted by passing cats as it is to be focused on the scary steps at hand. Slowly, slowly, slowly Reggie and I climb the steps after every walk and bathroom outing–and now that Reggie is older, the frequency (and, sometimes, urgency) of bathroom outings has increased. But learning to respond gracefully to an inevitably aging dog offers many lessons in how to respond gracefully to an inevitably aging self, with neither one of us getting any younger. If climbing from one floor to another takes longer than it used to, well then, what really is the rush?

Literal and metaphoric passings

J and I have an ongoing tongue-in-cheek joke about the “Rainbow Bridge,” the otherworldly place where dearly departed pets presumably go to wait for their eventually mortal owners. Although Reggie is my first dog, J’s already weathered the passings of a dog and several cats, so he knows from experience it takes more than a warm and fuzzy poem about heavenly reunions to quiet the sting of pet loss. Reggie’s not ready to cross the Rainbow Bridge, but I have no illusions about his lifespan, either. Already, we’ve crossed the dietary Rubicon toward “Active Maturity” dog food, and once those glucosamine and chondroitin supplements aren’t enough for increasingly creaky joints, I’ll learn how to administer stronger medications: it seems the least I can do. But in the meantime while Reggie and I both have our wits and relative health about us, we’d both prefer to explore actual rather than rainbow bridges, our time together being precious exactly because it is (eventually) finite.

One recent reminder of Reggie’s eventual mortality involved an incontinence scare where several housebreaking accidents had me convinced that Reggie was suffering from diabetes, kidney failure, or worse. A vet visit and subsequent blood-work proved my imagination is more active than Reggie’s bladder. According to test results, Reggie’s kidneys, liver, and other necessary internals are normal and healthy, which means a handful of inside leg-lifts really were the result of an Old Dog being confused by the New Trick of J’s house with its feline distractions (and an Old Owner’s slow realization that a senior dog’s request to go “out” really means “now,” not later).

Echo Bridge

I know death is a passing we all make eventually, and lifespans suggest Reggie will cross that bridge before I do. But really, what’s the rush? During that vet visit where I described Reggie’s recent housebreaking accidents, the vet’s subsequent questions pointed to how youthful and (relatively) healthy Reggie still is. “Does he still remember where the front door is,” the vet asked, “or does he try to out ‘outside’ through the closet?” Yes, Reggie still has his wits about him; he still knows the sound of my laptop powering down means “Walk!” “Can he see well enough to recognize you across the room,” the vet continued, “and can he hear well enough to respond to his name?” Again, I answered yes, twice: the way I find my car in a crowded parking lot is to look for the bushy tail that starts wagging in the backseat as soon as Reggie spots me across multiple car-lengths, and although he’s in the habit of ignoring my calls when he wants to, Reggie’s sense of hearing is still acute enough to recognize the sound of a treat-bag being opened.

Echo Bridge

So Reggie, it seems, is as ready to cross the Rainbow Bridge as he is eager to climb a whole story’s steps to get to the top of Echo Bridge, and that’s just fine. Now that Leslee, our mutual friend, and I have done our advance scouting at Hemlock Gorge, I now know the precise parking lot I should head to the next time I want to walk Reggie on that side of the Charles River rather than this: no bridge-crossing or step-climbing necessary. Saving my best four-legged friend from the indignity of having to struggle up steps a boisterous puppy would take in leaps and bounds is a small price to pay for companionship. It seems the least I can do.

Click here for Leslee’s account of our dog-free outing at Hemlock Gorge, or click here for my complete photo-set of images. Enjoy!

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