Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Paw prints of the heart

Today is the birthday of my old friend, Louie Louie, who left this realm in '04 at the almost age of 14. My companion and road trip warrior was consistently feisty with a touch of tenderness.

Some animals, like people, leave bigger prints in your heart than others, and there are huge ones all over my body from Louie. I get death, but the idea he would actually die on me seemed more fantasy than future reality.

I use to have this irrational fear. When Lou and I would go on our annual spring trek to Colorado from Minnesota, always through our beloved Badlands, I would envision getting into a car accident and as the ambulance pulled me out of the car, Louie gets out and gets lost and I can't help him. It never happened. After I put him down, I had similar irrational thoughts of him, somewhere, needing my help.

This dog could have had his own talk show or at least written a good memoir. He got out of a motel room once - by a maid's hand - while I sat eating dinner in the motel cafe. As I went back to my room, I passed the front counter.

"Hmmm, that looks like Louie, " I thought. It was. Louie was working behind the front motel counter, helping the motel clerks check in new customers.They found him a natural at customer service.

They say you don't fully understand a death until new life comes along after grief. On the farm, the lambs bring new life. Death walks side by side with birth here. The cycle of life and nature is natural and death feels like one stage of it rather than a jarring interruption. The body is just the holding tank like the water in the sheep trough that overflows and meanders to the river below. Louie's going on and on too. Somewhere.

I still would rather have his curly head below my feet as I type today, and a look up front his sleeping spot, as if to say, "What are you doing next?"

When I moved to Oregon in '02, Louie was already failing, blind and mostly deaf, loosing teeth, arthritic, and had had one minor stroke - but he was still
present and happy. He still loved my voice because it meant what it means to me when I hear my favorite person's voice.

I took him to the ocean for the first time. He probably could barely hear the waves, but as we walked on the beach, he trotted along like a kid, and as always, kept looking up at me every minute or so to say, "Isn't this great?!" When I look at this photo taken that day, I can just feel his course coat, and see his whitened, blinding eyes looking towards my voice.

His ashes are still in the box that I picked up from the vet that day. I hadn't intended to keep them. I planned to spread them on the farm he hardly got to know, so daisies could grow from him, and for me. But I can't bare to spread them as I'm afraid I might scare him.

"Where are you?" he might cry out to me.

It seems safer to have him by the nightstand, in his little box, with the lid closed, where I know where he is dry from the winter rains and safe from irrational car accidents.