Doug Bruns

12.25.2016

In Dogs, Memoir, Travel on December 25, 2016 at 7:56 pm

There was a surprising number of people at the trailhead this Christmas morning. Some of them wished me a Merry Christmas, which I returned. A few simply nodded and smiled. It was a beautiful morning, crisp and clear. Yesterday’s rain in the valley dropped as snow in the Catalina’s in front of me. These are rugged mountains, not particularly tall, but jagged and naked. Over the ridge is a Bighorn sheep refuge and dogs are not allowed. So Lucy and I kept just shy of that. I had her tethered to me by a rope I’d stowed in the truck. I’ve kept her leashed in this manner since coyotes paraded through camp two days ago, heads down, eyes glancing here and there, totally insolent and bold. It’s a long rope and she gets to sprint every so often, as is her nature, while I have the comfort of keeping her safe. A month or two ago, it was in Colorado, I think, she was off leash and lost to my sight when I saw a big eight-point buck come storming out of a little copse of woods down by the water. Lucy was giving chase. She was easy to spot, a little black dog against the white field of snow. The buck wisely headed up hill and Lucy’s short legs soon gave out on her. She has the heart of a giant but the body of a simple dog.

I’ve had dogs all my life and I’ve written about them here plenty. Where it not for my dogs I would probably not have the morning walks. It’s as simple as that. And my morning walks are close to a fashion of prayer for me. I guess, if logic holds, my dogs have been personal prophets, pointing a way, sparking a thought, instilling wonder. Before Lucy was Maggie, and before her, Cleo, and Punkin before that–all assured of my morning attention, thankfully. Emerson said of Thoreau that his thought and writing was in direct proportion to the length of his daily walk. Thoreau himself claimed a need of at least four hours of sauntering. He called it sauntering which I particularly appreciate. He did not need a dog to make him get up and get going, but then he was a different type of human being altogether. Me, I prefer the companionship of my dog. I am never far from the thought that they, my beloved canines, are rushing through life by a factor of seven. Such future sadness is, for me, a motivation to remember each morning and moment.

Two mornings ago I hiked up to ruins left behind by the indigenous people of this valley fifteen hundred years ago. When the sun crested the ridge the plateau came alive. Birds sang around me. The sun suddenly warmed to the point I took off my down jacket. The morning light turned from steel grey to warm amber. I don’t go to church but if I did it would have to be like this, out of doors and without doctrine, pure and undefiled. These people, the ones who existed here, I’m told, had to make multiple trips down to the valley each day to get water and forage for food. I’m sure their existence was hard and my morning ritual would have been lost on them. Modern existence is not without challenges but the rudiments of existence, for most us, have been addressed and for that I am grateful. Merry Christmas, friends.

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  1. Thanks for the image of Lucy darting through the snow. Big game hunting!

    Lucy’s boundless enthusiasm reminded me of a book you recommended last December, “Ongoingness” by Sarah Manguso. It did not grab my attention then and has been languishing, guiltily- if that’s a word, next to my chair all this time. I gave it one more try before donating it to some starving poet and found it to be quite fascinating this year. Perhaps it has aged like fine wine…for sure its reader has.

    Specific to Lucy and your motivation to remember each moment, Mancuso says:

    “Perhaps all anxiety might derive from a fixation on moments – an inability to accept life as ongoing.”

    And, close to the end:

    “And I’m forgetting everything. My goal now is to forget it all so that I’m clean for death. Just the vaguest memory of love, of participation in the great unity.”

    Thanks for your thoughts and the beautiful image of your Christmas service.

  2. As always, Susan, I can count on you to illuminate my very own perspective. I remember the book (Ongoingness) but have no recollection of reading it, except recalling it as being beautiful in words and ideas. What those words and ideas were escapes me, so your reminding notes are greatly appreciated. What a phrase, eh, “clean for death.” That is so powerful. I have only considered such a thing in relation to things and possessions (as you know). She takes it to an entirely different plateau. My notion of origin/birth and destination/death, would look more like origin/birth to origin/birth, to flesh out her logic–be clean and empty for death, like you were clean and empty at birth. There is the circle, no? Damn that linear progression to hell!

    “Christmas service”–that is a lovely frame to put around my little essay. Thank you and happy new year.

  3. A circle…exactly. Consistent with: we didn’t fret over our non-existence before birth, why do so around our demise? (p.41 of Black River)

    One more gem from Sarah Manguso which takes linear progression to hell, or at least its final resting spot:

    “My life, which exists mostly in the memories of the people I’ve known, is deteriorating at the rate of physiological decay. A color, a sensation, the way someone said a single word – soon it will all be gone. In a hundred and fifty years no one alive will ever have known me.

    Being forgotten like that, entering that great and ongoing blank, seems more like death than death.”

    Damn that linear progression is right!

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