Archive for the ‘sabrina’ Category
This evening marks the second anniversary of Don’s death. Over the past two years, I’ve written about the attempt I’ve made to carry on alone with my dogs Sabrina and Sage. Today, I’d like to write about Don, to give those of you who never met him in person, a better idea of who he was and why he still means so much to me.
Don and I met through our work and married very young. He was 21 and I was 18. Here’s an old photo of us working on our first vegetable garden. My childhood dog, Frisky, is in that photo – a theme that is repeated in just about every photo that I have of Don – there’s always a dog, a horse, a cat, a goat, or even a chicken in the picture. Don loved all creatures great and small. During our time together, we had 6 dogs, 2 horses, a rather large herd of dairy goats, several cats, geese, ducks, and chickens.
When I first met him, he did not really know how to ride a horse, but before long, he was loping around on my horse and enjoyed that so much that we soon bought him his own horse. As in almost everything he attempted, he learned quickly and had a natural athletic ability. One of my favourite anecdotes concerns a work-related convention in Arizona which he attended a couple of years before he died. One of the social events was some kind of barbecue at a ranch. Part of the event involved a hay wagon ride, or the option of driving some cattle with the ranch wranglers. All of the managers with the exception of Don and another one or two fellows, rode the hay wagon. Don rode with the wranglers and had a great time, reporting to me on how they gave him a wonderfully trained cutting horse and that the wranglers were wowed at his riding abilities. I guess they weren’t too accustomed to convention goers who were so at home in the saddle.
I had hoped to find the photo album with our dairy goat photos, but it’s stashed in a box somewhere upstairs. I’d wanted to post a photo of Don showing one of our dairy goats. A couple of you who are reading this post will probably be able to remember the days when we showed goats throughout eastern Ontario. Don was an excellent showman, able to show any goat to look its very best. He frequently pitched in and showed for friends who needed an extra showman and would do his level best to win, even when he was competing against me showing one of our own animals! He enjoyed participating in and quite frequently won the showmanship class whenever there was one offered for adult competitors. We had a lot of fun and made many friends during the 20 or so years that we exhibited our herd.
All of our animals loved Don. He was an exceedingly kind person and I think that most creatures knew this. At one point, we had a little hen that we named Chik-Chik and made a pet of as she was so tiny and something of an outcast from the flock. She took to wandering up to the house and perching on the front porch railings and would sit on Don’s shoulder or arm whenever he sat outside on his lawn chair in the shade to read a book. In the above photo, Chik-Chik is rubbing her head on Don’s arm (click on all photos for larger views).
Don and I were both dog lovers and kept mainly Rough Collies for the 34 years we were together. Over those years, we did a great deal of hiking, snowshoeing and canoeing and our dogs were an important part of our very active lives. The dogs in the above photo were about 3 and 5 when we lost both of them within the space of 8 weeks to a very mysterious and aggressive form of lymphosarcoma. It was a very heartbreaking experience for both of us. I make mention of this as the loss of these dogs, and another to bone cancer, and another to a non-specific form of cancer, then my father’s death, and then Don’s death to cancer, has left me with strong feelings of the ephemeral nature of our lives and how seemingly healthy humans and animals can be gone in just a few weeks or months. This feeling has changed absolutely everything about my views on life, living, and death. I now find it impossible to take much of anything seriously, or to hope or care too much for the future.
Anyhow, back to Don, the topic of this post. I worked with Don occasionally over the years. We both started out in the automotive parts business and for a number of years, we even worked on the same parts counter in a busy car and truck garage. He went on to become the parts manager at a car dealership out near our farm. I worked elsewhere, managing the office at an auto parts recycler. Later, I went back to university to earn an M.A. and used to do freelance writing under contract to organizations and government. However, occasionally Don would ask me to come and work with him when he had employees on long-term leave of absence for illness. That industry is fast paced and often difficult – a lot of stress and everyone wanting their stuff yesterday. Don had a great attitude and regardless of how unreasonable and annoying other people behaved, he rarely treated anyone badly, although I did see that change in later years when he felt he’d had enough of that business. After deciding that the time had come, we made plans to retire in 2008. We intended to sell our farm and move to Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, a few months before all of this was to take place, Don was diagnosed with cancer and our plans were immediately destroyed. The rest is history – Don fought the cancer for several months, but died in September 2008. And, as you know from reading this blog, I have struggled to pick up the pieces of our shattered lives. I did sell the farm and did end up buying a place in Nova Scotia. Everything else about my life is still just a strange and murky shadow, but I carry on as that’s about all you can do when these kinds of things happen.
Anyhow, one thing I’ve learned over the past two years is that it’s best not to think too much about how things turned out. Instead, it’s probably better to focus on what was good and try to ignore the bad. What I now remember most about Don is that he had his priorities straight. People he worked with probably never realized that, when he shut the door behind him, he tuned out all of the crap and did whatever he felt like doing. To him, his job was just a job and nothing more. Once he was home, that was it — he would do what he liked. He loved nothing better than tossing the canoe on the roof of the truck, or packing a lunch and taking off to go canoeing or hiking somewhere. Even the coldest days of winter would not deter us from snowshoeing for many miles at favourite haunts. Mill Pond Conservation Area, Murphy’s Point, and Charleston Lake, were just a few of the places that became our second homes. Over the years, we paddled everything from the narrowest creeks to the largest lakes in eastern Ontario. We were both strong hikers and flat water paddlers and could cover many miles during a day. I’m very glad that we had all of those years spent on the trails and waters as those were very special times for both of us. We often talked about just that thing when Don became ill and could no longer get out and about. I don’t think two people could have squeezed much more out of our lives than we did, so at least we were not left with the kind of regrets that haunt so many people whose priorities are badly misplaced.
I should mention that a side of Don that few people knew about, was that he loved theater and enjoyed taking in everything from local fringe festival performances, to Shakespeare at Stratford. He had a wonderful knowledge of art, and more particularly of Inuit art. He could often recognize the sculptures of one or another Inuit artist at a glance. He also became an excellent naturalist, knowing the names of many of the plants and animals that I photographed. In time, he became incredibly adept at finding even the smallest creature when we were hiking the trails.
On a personal level, what I valued most about Don was that, for the most part, he was a very easy-going person. Although he was quiet and serious, he also knew how to have fun. He was always ready to drop everything and go somewhere – anywhere – in a minute. Some years we would decide it was too expensive to go to Nova Scotia for our vacation, and then on the day that he was to start holidays, one or the other of us would call and say, “Hey, let’s just take off and go to Nova Scotia. What the hell.” I’d spend the afternoon packing the van and making salads, and within hours, we could be on our way out east. Vacations were always great fun – camped in our tent with our dog, walking the beaches, hiking favourite trails, and stopping at roadside stands so that he could buy a big order of fried clams (I was a vegetarian, so skipped the clams and went for the fries). We were not only husband and wife, but best of friends and had so many terrific adventures together over the years.
Of course, all of that has ended now. Anything I do from this point onwards, I do alone with the dogs. Our canoe is loaned out to friends who, I hope, have been putting it to good use this summer. Next year, I’ll probably see about picking it up, but things won’t be the same without my most excellent canoe partner. In truth, nothing is, or will ever be the same again, but I attempt to carry on as that’s what Don would have wanted.
To Don. I miss you. I will always love you.
NOTE: A few more photos of Don may be found in this gallery.
ALSO NOTE: Comments seem to be taking awhile to actually show up on my blog at the moment. I think it’s some WordPress glitch. Just go ahead and leave them. I ‘m seeing them in the Admin screen, but just not below the post. I expect they’ll all show up later. Sorry about that.
Work continues at the house here in Nova Scotia. Repairs and painting of the exterior seems to have reached a tipping point. In spite of frequent interruptions by heavy rains, I do believe the job will be wrapped up by the time I’m ready to bug out of here sometime in mid to late September. Part of me continues to contemplate the day to day stuff, trying to figure out how to solve each problem as it arises. However, another part of me — maybe 45 percent (?) — is already thinking ahead to life on the road this autumn, and of the coming winter in Arizona. Which route will I take this year? What will I do differently? How can the van be made more comfortable or efficient for this year’s trip? How can I cut costs further by finding free or cheap places to boondock during my travels? What will I do once in Arizona? Will I see about doing volunteer work this winter? What about next year? Should I think more about starting a business? In case it isn’t apparent – yes, I do always have a lot on my mind even as I quietly work on this old house each day.
The past couple of weeks, I’ve made more than my usual number of trips to Annapolis Royal. In July, I made an appointment to take both dogs for their vaccinations. The veterinarian suggested that Sabrina might benefit from laser therapy for her arthritis, so I decided to give that a try. Why not? We scheduled six half-hour appointments spaced over the past two weeks. This morning was the final treatment. Although it’s difficult to be sure, I think Sabrina is getting around better and probably feels less pain. She’s been playing with Sage a lot more this week – their canine form of sumo wrestling where they push each other around the garden. She has managed to climb up on the bed in the back of the van unassisted – something she has not done in months. One thing I do know after spending the spring and summer here in Nova Scotia is that the higher humidity is playing havoc with our arthritis (mine and Sabrina’s). I can tell you that I’ll be very glad to go from the moist air of the Atlantic coast, to the arid environment of southeast Arizona. It’s been wonderful to be here by the ocean, but will be equally wonderful to be back in the desert this winter.
Yesterday, I took a break from working on the house, and spent the morning hacking a new trail down to the river. This one descends closer to the house. It’s steeper, but emerges on a section of shore with granite cobbles and a bit of coarse sand. I’ve already nicknamed the tiny sandbar, The Beach, and will walk down to it with the dogs at least once or twice a day. The uphill grade will be good for Sabrina, helping to strengthen her hind leg muscles in preparation for the walks I hope we’ll take during our travels. These weeks of hot, humid weather have sent both dogs fleeing for the shade. It’s hard to get them interested in walking anywhere, but both of them seem willing to scrape up the energy to visit the river.
But for a few conversations with neighbours, and with staff at the veterinary clinic, I’ve spent much of this summer in absolute solitude. Occasionally, I speak with people in the hardware and grocery stores, but otherwise, most days are spent silently sanding or scraping wood, or brushing on paint. However, for four days in late July, I did share my place with an unexpected visitor. About three weeks ago, I realized that my profile on couchsurfing.org was outdated and still showing me as living at my farm in Osgoode. Although I don’t have a place for anyone to stay, I thought I’d better update things a bit. Much to my surprise, a few days later, I was emailed by a young man from France who is traveling around Canada on a one year work visa. He asked if it might be okay to pitch a tent in my garden for a few days. I emailed back to say that would be fine so long as he understood that things were rather primitive at the moment. He replied to say that was okay with him and that he’d arrive in a couple of days.
As it turned out, the visit was quite fun and interesting for all concerned. Antoine was a very willing worker and a great help around the place. One morning, while on the way to the local lumber yard to buy kiln-dried pine, I asked Antoine if he had any experience building furniture. He said not much – just assembling flat-pack furniture from Ikea. When we arrived home, I asked if he’d like to try his hand at building a new bed frame for the back of my van. He was keen to give it a go, so I described the changes I would like to see. He listened intently, then went to work, creating a frame that is a little different but much nicer than what I’d had in mind. At the end of the day, we were both quite pleased with his handiwork.
Of course, it wasn’t all work. On one very hot day, I suggested that we take a break and drive down to Mavillette Beach on the south shore. We loaded both dogs into the van and took off for the entire day. The breeze off the ocean was cool and refreshing after the heat and humidity of the past week. Antoine took Sage running far down the beach, disappearing into the mist. As I watched, I could not help but think of my last trip to the beaches of the south shore in August 2007. Don and I had decided to make a trip to Nova Scotia to get away from the heat and pollen at the farm. He had been bothered by a persistent cough all summer long. We thought the ocean air would be a good change, and in fact, it did seem to help. Of course, the problem was far more serious than anything we could have imagined, but we weren’t to learn that for another three months. For us, it was one of the last truly happy times together.
Waiting for Antoine and Sage to reappear from the mist, I thought of how strange it was to be sitting on the beach with Sabrina resting beside me, watching a new dog running with a visitor, instead of Don running with Sabrina. In less than a month, it will have been two years that I’ve been alone with my dogs, and three years since I walked the beaches of the south shore with Don.