Ursula Carlson: Treasuring a canine connection

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It's been a month and three days since my golden retriever Hennie died. Her ashes are in a soft velvety black bag which rests inside a fine handcrafted wood box decorated with engraved flowers, courtesy of the veterinarian who euthanized her.

Before placing the box beside my bed where she usually slept, I took her for a last ride in the Jeep that I bought with her in mind back in 2003. (I'm tempted to take her ashes with me whenever I go anywhere in the Jeep for it would be comforting to imagine her beside me, but then I might begin talking to her, which might lead to bringing along her tennis ball - and her collar - and that's probably going a bit too far.)

We had been together for more than 141⁄2 years. Technically she was my son's dog, but Sev went off to college when Hennie was a year old, so she not only filled the "empty nest," but her spirit became closely aligned with mine. We hiked mule deer trails leading up from Timberline, Hobart Road, Ash, King, and Voltaire canyons. We ran along Washoe Lake, swam in Tahoe, the glory hole in Tuscarora, Lake Michigan, and the Arkansas River in Colorado.

Hennie waited in the Jeep while I shopped for groceries and did other errands. She lay on the floor beside me as I read, wrote, or graded papers and played her favorite classical music. When I went to work, I'd leave the radio on NPR, because that was her preferred station, especially the programs "Car Talk," "Science Friday" and "Human Kind."

Hennie taught me to see, not merely look. Once while walking in the foothills above the college, she stopped in front of a fairly large, scraggly bush and stared. I could see nothing worth looking at, but a moment later Hennie lunged forward and I was stunned to see the bush virtually evaporate into hundreds of birds as they rose and took flight.

Chief Seattle asks us, "What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit." I do not want to imagine a world without animal life: Without the wild swan, the horse, the buffalo. Chief Seattle goes on to say, "Whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man. All things are connected."

Loving Hennie was like having an apple blossom in my heart. We had our own communion: Whenever I'd eat an apple, she ate the core. She became the seed that nourished my spirit in a more humane way. For after all, I agree with Chief Seattle. We humans need constant reminding of our connection to all living things.

• Ursula Carlson, Ph.D., teaches writing and literature at Western Nevada College.


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