A gilded flicker perches in a palo verde in April, showing off his brilliant red mustache in the morning light. It was the day after Ellie died, I was thankful for the beauty around me as I started down the path towards healing.
Ellie waits for me to kick the ball in the fall of 2013. We spent countless hours playing in our backyard in Portland, either with one of her balls or one of her many hedgehogs. I’d either throw or kick them and she’d chase them down and bring them back and toss them at my feet. Over and over and over. She had a big black spot on her tongue, when her tongue was hanging out far enough to clearly see it I knew she was getting pretty gassed and it was time to call it quits. I think she would have kept playing until her legs fell off.
I woke up early the morning after Ellie died, trying to decide if I was going to go hiking or not, as while I knew the trails would help with the healing I didn’t know if I was ready quite yet. I expected there to be tears as I got ready but there were none but I knew that might not hold when I was out on the trails and alone with my thoughts. I decided to go to my favorite park and chose a short loop trail that I know well.
Sunrise was still a little ways off so I had the trail to myself and stopped at a banana yucca I wanted to photograph. But my thoughts weren’t focused enough for photography and I felt compelled to keep moving, so I picked up my tripod and continued on. It felt good to be in the desert in those wonderful moments as the night yields to the day, comforting, calming, but even so I had to keep moving. Further up the trail I noticed a large nest in a saguaro a ways off the trail. An adult Harris’s hawk was barely visible in the nest, sitting mostly in shadow as the sun rose behind me. It was the first time I had seen an active nest, normally I would have stayed longer but not on this morning, I just couldn’t stand still. Although it was hard to keep the tears at bay I did keep from breaking down.
Until I walked into the house, because for a moment I forgot she wouldn’t be there. I had gotten used to her not being at the door to greet me, she’d been deaf for a while and although she slept by the door I could usually sneak past her and put my things away so when she woke I could be there to help her get up. If she didn’t wake in those first few moments, she always did as I heated up a breakfast sandwich, a little routine I got into as a reward for getting some exercise in the morning. Ellie loved them and while she couldn’t eat them I’d always give her a little sliver of meat or cheese or egg as I finished it.
Even in a deep sleep you couldn’t get anything by that nose of hers.
I couldn’t eat my sandwich that morning, knowing she wouldn’t be watching me waiting for her little treat at the end, but I went hiking nearly every free morning afterwards, healing more each time. A month later when I hiked past the Harris’s hawk nest, with the sun about to rise, I set up the tripod and calmly waited for the light. Two furry heads, barely visible, peeked out from the top of the massive nest.
Welcome to the world, little ones.
When we adopted Ellie in 2009, fortunately for us her previous owners (who called her Sidka) filled in a detailed questionnaire about her when they left her with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington (who transferred her across the river to the Oregon Humane Society where we adopted her a day later). They had at least two kids of their own and it was obvious from their responses that Ellie had been dearly loved.
In the section on behavior with children, to the question of “How will your dog react to a child approaching while he/she is sleeping?” they answered “wanting love”, which brings tears to my eyes even now. To the question of “Would you recommend this dog live with children?” they checked yes and added “Good with kids. Very loving (good for slow or disabled child)”. I felt a little guilty upon reading that when we adopted her as we had no children of our own and didn’t need a dog who was so loving towards them.
We did need a dog who would be loving towards cats and they often go hand in hand, and it turned out Ellie had experience not just with children but with other dogs and cats and got along well with all. I was a little worried too that she would miss having kids around but looking back now, knowing how deeply she bonded to my wife and I, I needn’t have been concerned.
The picture is from the fall of 2013, some of the neighborhood kids had come over into our backyard and joined me in playing with her. Everybody loved her.
Nearly everyone. One of the elderly neighbors was afraid of dogs so when we passed on our walks I’d give her the heel command and she’d pull up tight to my side and keep watching me until she got her treat. I started doing the same with dogs who were afraid of other dogs and even though Ellie loved meeting other dogs, she quickly picked up on her own which dogs would rather pass by so I didn’t even have to give her the heel command, she’d immediately come to my side and watch me until she got her treat.
Which caused an issue when I realized some dogs would give her a wide berth at first until they saw that she was friendly, then would turn around and eagerly want to meet her. I had to laugh as she’d give those dogs the side-eye, trying to keep her distance, as she didn’t want to risk giving up her treat for having ignored a dog who didn’t want to say hello. I learned to quickly give her a treat so she’d say hello, then she’d want another treat for being gentle with the dog and not scaring it.
She always got the second treat.
I’ve photographed Harris’s hawks up close several times the past couple of weeks but I was delighted to make an environmental portrait of a distant adult as light from the rising sun swept over the desert. The palo verdes below it were in full bloom while some of the saguaros towering above it were just starting to flower.