This haunting long exposure shot was taken one year ago and seems to predict my current mood, quite accurately. A deep sadness, loneliness, and haunted by the memories of my girl. She was always with me, regardless of the project, but most always, any photography setting. She was often the subject of the photograph, but inevitably, she would find a way into the shot even when she was not. In this case, it was just after midnight, with a full moon lighting the area, I was surprised to see how a long exposure produced an image looking much like daytime, shadows and all. Initially, a little annoyed, Sophie got in the shot yet didn’t stay still, I now cherish it as a reminder of how she was always close by -and perhaps her spirit is still.
It’s Saturday morning… and Saturday mornings suck now.
They used to be a special time for us. You would let me sleep in a little bit at least (until your cancer had us up at specific times for medicines), so it was less rushed than a workday. But when it was time, you would do your stretches, shake yourself awake, and head for the front door. I’d grab your collar – often having to go back to the bedroom and get it from where it was removed for your bedtime brushings and sleep, and snap it in place with a loud, reassuring click.
Grabbing your extendable leash, I snap that to the collar loop with another reassuring click. That seemed to be your cue to get feisty! Now it was time to bite things. The leash, my leg, my pants, my shirt, my hand, looking for a Frisbee. I grab your Frisbee and hold it out so you can snatch it with your teeth. Occasionally you would drop it and stuff your head in the bench storage to grab another Frisbee – there were several, all pink. Drop, pick another, drop, pick another, but you usually ended up with the same one in the end. OK, you’re ready!
I snatch a roll of poo bags and open the front door -charge! Your spirit was wonderful! Every walk seemed like your first and your last, you were always that excited. We’d head out like you owned the neighborhood. Head high. Quick steps. Frisbee firmly out front. A quick pee in the front yard and lookout sidewalk, here we come.
These chilly Fall mornings were the best for walking. You had an extra jump in your step, an excitement in the eyes, alert, looking for something, anything -hunting. Occasionally we would see one of the many rabbits around. They would always freeze, hoping you didn’t see. Sometimes you didn’t, and I’d nod to them as we passed. But usually it was “point” time and you would freeze, with the trademark golden retriever in you displaying. Straight back, body crouched down, tail straight out back, one foot forward, and slowly inching towards your prey. I in turn grip the handle of the retractable leash firmly, thumb hovering over the lock button, anticipating the lunge. “Sophie, be nice” I’d say. “Just leave him alone baby. Come on, let’s just go.” But the next actions largely depended on the rabbit. Sometimes they really would sit frozen, and if they were far enough from the sidewalk, I could often coax you to walk on by, with their eyes tracking us the whole way.
But more often than not, they would eventually dart away and you would lunge after them. My grip on the leash handle would be strained as I managed the feed of the line like hauling in a large fish on a reel. If I held too tight, you would strain and choke close to me. If I let you go too fast, I risked too sudden a stop at the end of its length injuring you or losing grip entirely. this had to be a gradual managed feed, slowly restricting more as you got further in the grass. This was a known safe and best-case scenario tactic, based on years of failed attempts. You remember how those ended.
Some rabbits were particularly annoying when their attempts to flee led them directly down the sidewalk where we headed. The hunt just kept repeating over and over, “ugh – come on man,” I’d plead. But eventually, we’d be on our way, and back to sniffing feverishly and looking for the next bit of excitement. (note to self – detail the squirrel version of our encounters!)
You liked a pretty standard routine. We’d head out the door the same direction each morning (south east) and most days, but especially on Saturdays, it was up to you which way we went from there. No rush, no agenda. The neighborhood was somewhat limiting, but you had options after the first block and as we’d get to the first intersection, you would let me know by just stopping and looking at me – Frisbee still firmly in your mouth, that we needed to change direction. “Which way we goin’?” I’d ask, “It’s up to you, this is your day”. You’d look the direction and start there with excitement as if it was a whole new discovery.
The walk continued on, varying from the quick pace that you normally went, pulling me just enough at the extended limit of the leash, or we’d be almost stopped as you investigated at length, new smells discovered deep in the grass. I was wary of those sniffs especially though, and would only allow a few seconds of what was apparently something very interesting. The more you dug your feet in anticipating this, the more determined I was to pull you away from whatever “it” was.
You had your favorite yards to take care of your business in. And without being too obvious, I would try to spare repeat yard bombings, by varying our pace or switching sides of the street – I think you noticed though, as I would get that look from time to time out of you. Towards the end of your life, these walks were shorter, and the yards fewer, and I came to call it poop-bingo, as we picked a winner each morning. Thinking back now, I feel bad that I don’t know where your last poo went, which yard. I knew it was your last day, and I was burning as much into memory as I could. I have a suspicion, but am not sure.
Other things changed about your walks towards the end as well. You started out with the Frisbee, but it was quickly dropped for me to carry. You used to hold it in your mouth even as you peed, dropping only to poo. But now breathing was a priority, and I carried the Frisbee for you most of the time. We still had to bring it, mind you. This retriever did not leave without something in your mouth, and a Frisbee was still better than letting you attack the leash the whole way.
All roads eventually led home though, and you knew where that was. As we came in the door, you dropped the Frisbee, waited patiently to be de-leashed, I got my big Sophie-hugs and you went to rest on the tile, “Good girl, good walk”. It was a great start to the weekend, and we would spend most of them together.
I miss my Saturdays so much. I miss my Sophie so much.
You sure did love a comfy chair… I don’t blame you. Big girl like you with bad front ankles and sore hips. I didn’t mind. I loved your personality. How you imposed your attitude, your will on others. I’d see you sit wherever you liked, even if it was someone else’s spot, and I’d beam like a proud parent. You go girl, gitcha some o that chair!
Love you Sophie!
I soooo miss your loving and usually inquisitive gaze. We seemed to always keep an eye on each other. Every time I looked at you I could tell you cared about me, you were concerned with what I was doing – or about to do- and just generally wanted to know where I was. I have to know that you saw the same in my eyes looking at you. I loved you so much and just wanted to know where you were at all times, and that you were safe. I still look for you constantly and cannot accept that you aren’t here, aren’t safe, aren’t by my side protecting me too. The pain is duller now. I am able to bury it deeper, but it continues to bubble up occasionally and I don’t see that it will ever stop. Even when I don’t stare at the many thousands of images I have of you, I see you in my mind, clearly, crip, with detail and texture, lighting, color, scent, touch, tactile, so real. I hear you. Your sounds. Your breath. Your snort, snores and excited barks. The jingle of tags on your collar, them hitting your water bowl as you slurp and swallow. That shake- oh that shake. It was your call to action, and something was about to happen. But even then, those eyes. Talking to me just by looking. Want to go outside? Want to eat? Want to play? Or just need a hug? I need a hug. I need a hug, bad. Sophie gave the best hugs. I loved my Sophie hugs.
She did always like a good couch view. I have seen a lot of online evidence that it is a trait of doodles – maybe all dogs. Ha. I sure miss petting that silky soft fur baby.
I do love finding you unexpectedly, in other people’s photos or, like today, while cleaning out old msgs…
There she is!
5 years ago…
“Big day in Sophie’s world! Time to open a fresh bag O dogfood! Mmmm the aroma is intoxicating – don’t need “sprinkles” today! No sir”
Yup, another vivid memory- new food bag day was a big day indeed… Just threw out the container yesterday after rebagging the food and giving it with all her treats to friend, Tracey, for foster dog needs.
Facebook said this pic was taken a year ago, apparently right after the groomers. It was always hard leaving Sophie anywhere and one of the few times I had no choice, was the groomers. I tried to eyeball the employees, watch their behavior with other dogs and look at online reviews and check with friends, but I was still always leery. They just don’t know her like I do. As I did eventually allow them to take her, I spewed reminders as gently yet firmly as I could. She has two bad front feet, especially the right one- they turn out, and are weak. She has bad hips too so don’t let her jump up or down. Her skin is sensitive so please use the medicated shampoo and watch her ears- she gets ear infections easy – put some cotton in them before her bath. She was, I suppose like all dogs, extremely happy when I picked her up. Ready to run to the car right out of the gate. But when she got home she was very subdued, almost like she held it against me, and you see a bit of that look in her eyes here. I did tell them she’s not prissy so no more ribbons in her ears and stick with the bandana for this Tom girl!