Saturday, January 3, 2009

One Dog

I haven’t written in a little while. I’m hardly regular in putting up entries, and there have been far longer gaps, but this time is nonetheless a little different. There are photos from walks and even a trip to the zoo since I last posted, but I couldn’t bring myself to write again.

I wrote twice after Gus died about Comet-specific things, investing in his life, rather than playing it cool, as a way of thanking Gus for all of his lessons in joy. And Comet obliged by being quite silly. But, it’s been a couple of weeks since Gus died. We picked up his ashes from the veterinary hospital, and they’re sitting in a lovely sealed wooden box on the bookshelf, waiting to be scattered someplace he loved.

Now, it seems almost disloyal to go along with business as usual, to take pictures of one dog where there once were two. Just a walk, no special event, no particular Comet silliness to report on. But nothing would be less loyal to Gus than to forget to take joy in wind and fur and snow, so I’ll take another crunchy cold step, snap the shutter a few times and sit back on the couch and write about it.

Photographing Comet has become the art of capturing his expressions, since every stride of a run offers the whole range of canine emotion from snarly to droopy. My favorites are the ones, like this one, that defy easy anthropomorphism. He’s certainly not angry or in pursuit of some poor prey; he’s just bringing a stick that he picked up and thought I would like when I whistled for him. I think the closest English, my impoverished mistress, can come to describing him is as fiercely happy.

What thoughts roll through the mind behind that brown eye at these moments? Capturing an expression means capturing a moment from a motion, and when he puts his head down to roll in the snow, there’s a whole range of shapes his face takes. There’s attention on me, but there’s plenty more attention to the soothingly cold powder he’s grinding into his coat.

When I was a kid, you had to squirt flavored, colored corn syrup into snow to make it this exciting to me. I think this is nose-cleaning rather than lip-smacking, but the principle is the same.

And now the nobility. Pay no attention to the small amount of frothy slobber collected on his lip. That’s simply the price of the intensity with which he lives. Still, the overall effect is quite handsome and respectable. When I think fondly of Comet, this is the dog I see.

This, however, is much more like the real Comet who, even when he’s still, is always in motion. Hair, ears, mouth all akimbo, caught in the wind and in the momentum of his head’s turning.

The real Comet is one part noble and one part dopey, with plenty of other stuff thrown in, but it’s not the dopiness that sums him up here; it’s the motion. He lives life without a break. Even when he sleeps, he dreams running jungle dreams. When he waits, it’s with an anticipation of motion so strong that it’s a kind of motion itself.

So how could one watch him, photograph him, and reflect on him and stay frozen in grief?

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