Twenty years ago a feral cat gave birth under the house of one of my wife’s friends, the mother soon disappeared so the family raised the kittens until they were old enough to adopt out. We were offered one of the last of the litter and named our tiny tuxedo Scout. I’m close to all our pets but even so Scout and I had a deep bond, sadly cancer took her from us after 12 years but I’m thankful for every day we spent together. I’ve been having off-and-on trouble sleeping lately but it was never as hard as when I came back from a long hiking trip, she’d wake me up throughout the night either to reassure her that I was well and truly home or to tell me I was never to leave her side again, I’m not sure which.
She was four in this picture, sitting beside her favorite catnip plant on the back porch.
A squirrel peaks out from the neighbor’s bushes in the spring of 2007. Although Oregon has native tree squirrels in our urban Portland neighborhood you’d only find species introduced long ago, like eastern grays and eastern foxes. Our dog Ellie never paid them much heed but they were endlessly entertaining to all six cats over the years, with Emma and Trixie probably their biggest fans.
As summer turned to fall in September 2009, an adult fork-tailed bush katydid dined on one of our rose blossoms. Once I discovered they were eating the rose petals I stopped pruning the flowers after they lost their aesthetic appeal and only cut them once the petals fell off. Which worked out well for both the katydids and myself, as they loved the roses and I loved watching them.
Oh pup. It’s been one year since we had to say goodbye to Ellie, a year where I still miss her rather intently at times, not unexpected given the strength of the bond that formed over her long life. The picture is three years old, taken near the start of our morning walk on a lovely spring morning when we still had a year left in Portland and two years with her. She was such a comfort in difficult times, our time together was such a blessing.
During our time in Portland the city added a bunch of sand to a section of the dog park at Irving Park where the dogs played the most, which was wonderful as it let the field drain during the perpetually damp rainy season instead of turning into a soppy mess. Which Ellie loved, as we had a game where she’d run beside me up and down the length of the park, getting a treat if she stuck by my side no matter how I zigged and zagged, and now the game could continue all year long. Her running days were over by the spring of 2017 but she was still up for long walks, which we always started at this lovely park a few blocks from the house. After we played she got to choose the rest of the route.
On my first visit to Cavalliere Park as I started towards the dog park, which was more of a dog pond since it had been raining all day, I stopped in my tracks when it occurred to me that had Ellie been younger this in some ways would have been our Irving Park. We wouldn’t have visited every day since it’s too far from the house to walk but it has a dog park, a playground, basketball courts, picnic areas, and a walking path, just like our beloved park in Portland. One had lots of old oaks and maples and one lots of saguaros, but all that would have mattered was that they both had the pup. Except this park never would. She’s been gone almost a year so it wasn’t the sort of moment of unexpected grief that knocks you to your knees, just stops you for a moment until you catch your breath. I changed course to the hiking trail and had a lovely visit and returned the next day, smiling when I saw a handful of people and pups enjoying the sunny weather. This is Ellie at Irving Park in the fall of 2011, the dog park is right behind her, I made her stop for a moment for a picture before we headed back into the neighborhood, our walk just beginning.
With her mouth closed Ellie’s drooping jowls made her look sad and/or bored. In truth she was a bit bored on this occasion in the fall of 2011 and it’s why I didn’t take a ton of pictures of her on our walks even though I often took quick snapshots of the neighborhood itself. She loved going on walks with me and photos were an interruption in our fun time together, she couldn’t know I was capturing those fun times so I could look back and remember. My trick was to wait until she saw someone walking close or another dog approaching and she opened her mouth, for then the mix of sweetness and happiness that was our Ellie was on full display. These two pictures were taken less than a minute apart.
Uncertainty was the word of the day when I took this picture in February 2018. I was leaving the next morning for my interview in Arizona. Ellie’s health had faltered a bit and I silently worried her time was drawing to an end. Thankfully the snow didn’t keep me from getting to the airport and I got the job that brought us here. Best of all the pup bounced back and we got more than a year with her before age took its final toll. She gave me enough joy to last a lifetime, this pup, my hope is that joy finds you too not just this Christmas but in the years to come.
Ellie basks in the warmth of the rare winter sun in Oregon, taken in December 2017 at her turnaround point that morning, the dragon statue at Irvington School. My team had been laid off a month earlier, and though that threw us into a period of uncertainty and stress that at times it feels like I haven’t fully recovered from, I so loved getting to walk her every morning that I sometimes have to catch myself from remembering this period overly fondly. We always started our walks at the nearby dog park but after that I let her choose her path and thankfully since I started saving the GPS tracks of every walk that fall, I can look back now at the routes she chose, depending on what she smelled with that amazing nose and what her body felt capable of that day.