She lies in the woods just 100 feet from the house, under the crook of a young cedar which branches from an old nurse log. I can see her vertebrae she’s so thin. The lumps on the side of her neck are thick and growing. Her stomach rumbles very loudly, almost without end. She woofs out air to clear her lungs. Everything is going at once. Besides that, she’s calm and serene and deeply tired.
Two days ago Ruby entered this cave, after two weeks of not eating. Yet still she breathes, and occasionally opens her brown eyes. She’s an old dog and is dying and we are caring for her, but not trying to rescue her, and it’s hard. Planes rip across the dawn sky. Coyotes scream in the night. We visit often to stroke her bony head and rub her ears and paws.
* * *
“Where’s Ruby?” the Bearded One and I began to say to each other last week in greeting. In the high weeds under the plum tree? Behind the hut in the salal? Under the house?
The Bearded One knows dogs. He used to train sled dogs in Alaska, and he has had to put dogs down with a gun.
If Ruby shows signs of pain or distress, I’ve asked him — after he offered and after studying the euthanizing options — to take her into our woods just off the nature trail where we’ve already dug her grave next to her brother Jake and shoot her with his gun. She adores the Bearded One. He is her person. This is her home, and there’s no place like it. He has agreed to this.
But neither of us believes it will come to that. She is too far gone. “She’s trying to ride it out,” he tells me, and I get an image of her galloping into the sunset. In fact, the one thing Ruby seemed to enjoy this last week, before instinct pulled her under the log, was lying in the sun.
* * *
Our daughter the nurse knows about dying from up close and knows how long it can take. “She’s dying, but not dying fast enough,” she says. I laugh at this raw truth and take a breath. Dying is a process as consuming as marriage or divorce or graduation or any of life’s big transitions.
* * *
Saturday we helped our neighbor Brooklyn Man harvest his 53 meat chickens.
Weasels killed all of ours, 58 total, in just two hours in broad daylight on June 29, but Brooklyn Man escaped the weasels and he gave us 10 birds as a thank you for helping with the 6 hour harvest.
Momma Goose wasn’t there. She’s in her own empty-nest transition to some new life and, fingers-crossed, a job with her brand new license driving truck. Maybe a crane.
Their son, Jonah, was there, his new golden wedding band twinkling in the sun. He got married two weeks ago.
Our oldest daughter gets married in two-and-a-half weeks and I have finished the 235 half-pint jars of 4-berry jam she’s giving all the guests. The Bearded One has about 70 labels to go.
He also made the sign holders for the reception out of plum and alder and cedar cross-sections. Earlier he finished the 9-foot arch under which she’ll take her vows.
* * *
My reoccurring college nightmare forever, which thankfully I have just once or twice a year, is the Bearded One refusing to marry me. I beg and beg and he won’t do it. And of course I had it last week, on Thursday. I woke up crying. Weddings bring it back.
“Will you marry me?” the Bearded One whispers in my ear in the kitchen that afternoon.
Tears spurt from my eyes and drench my eyelashes, then my glasses, then drip down my cheeks onto my lips. I click my heels together and say “Yes, yes, yes.” So what if we’re not in Kansas anymore.
* * *
Ruby died at about 6pm, August 6, 2013.
The Bearded One was with her at 5:30pm. He held her close and sang her the Dogsology. He put an ice cube to her parched lips. We loved her and her litter mate Jake very very much.
Born 2/23/2001 — Jake died November 17, 2009