“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.” Luke 12:6
No drive to Billings, MT from the Flathead is an easy one, any way you slice it. I always plan an 8-hour drive if I take the high traffic 93- Missoula- Butte route and 7 hours of playing road warrior if I take my preferred, no-man’s land, 2-lane route on the back roads of MT on Hwy 89. Given my lead-foot tendencies and the grace of God, I can usually make it home in about 6.5 hours when I go this way.
My most recent trip home found me on this solitary road winding my way through the mountains, over rolling grasslands uncannily more rain-washed than wind-swept, under wind turbines, and across spring fresh prairies dotted by tiny towns with sketchy gas stations, towering grain silos, and odd fossil museums. Such places make one wonder how and why they manage to have a stoplight and at the same time give thanks that places like this still exist and force me to stop and observe their existence. I did not mind the stops in fact I rather relished them; the drive time was a much-needed therapy for my soul. I was in no hurry to arrive at my destination as this time I was accompanied by Reminiscence.
Along the way, the rolling grasslands displayed their hidden gems, in fact, quite a few of my favorite game birds – pheasants – showed their brilliant colors! Oh, so many caught my eye with their goofy head first bobbling runs and even though I had my windows rolled up due to rain, I could hear their calls. The same calls that serenaded my Eastern Montana sunrise runs with my Brittany Spaniel, Tucker, who although he came from field champion bloodlines and flushed many a pheasant on our sojourns in the field (along with squirrels, rabbits, sparrows, and leaves) never scored one for a pheasant feast. There is something magical about those moments with your dog, when it is just the two of you enjoying the quiet of the morning and the occasional bird song, be it a morning dove or a more awkward pheasant call. Tucker’s ears were always cocked and his curiosity always provided me a good arm workout.
As the ribbon of highway stretched before me, so did the some of the best memories of my life spent with my sweet boy, Tucker. You see, I was traveling home to send my sweet boy Tucker, my steadfast companion through so many monumental moments in my life, into the loving comfort of the arms of God. Tucker brought so much laughter, consternation, solace in times of stress and sorrow, and complete joy to my life.
Tucker was a handful from the beginning. His name truly suited what he did to his mistress in his formative years. Tucker was my fifth dog and the first to require the assistance of an expert trainer to quell his innate sense to hunt and flush whenever the front door opened. He was a constant digger in search of a way out of our backyard for fields afar. However, once we harnessed that urge to run and roam into more constructive endeavors like parading around the kitchen table with his blanket cape while we ate dinner, he truly worked his way into the fabric of my family. In fact, my father went from being more than slightly stressed over his antics to being sorely lonesome if Tucker didn’t find his way onto the foot of his bed.
Tucker had amazing intestines and an even more amazing talent of running up large veterinary bills in his quests to consume. A few of his gastronomical feats left me bewildered at times and often broke! There was the time he managed to devour all but a few telltale signs of the $100 bill hidden inside a Christmas card without getting a drop of drool on the card and then had dessert in the form of the lower branches of our pre-lit (no longer) artificial Christmas tree – just in time for Christmas Eve. His tastes ran the gamut from wire (eyeglasses) to fabric (dishtowels) and still the sneaky snacker survived!
Tucker redeemed himself when he became the ultimate therapy dog for my mother who suffered a stroke. His presence gave her the will to keep going and eased her anxiety and the distress of her newly limited reality. He charmed the nurses in the hospital when he came for a visit and didn’t venture far from Mom when she came home.
While Tucker’s intestinal fortitude amazed me (and the Vet), he created a sense of awe in all of us as he adapted to his sudden blindness at age 6; far better than any of us ever could or would. Showing the resilience of steel, he managed to maneuver his way around the backyard and house with aplomb due to his keen senses of smell and sense of feel in his paws. He was a fighter through it all, and a very sweet and silly one at that!
He loved people, especially his people. With Tucker at my side, I became the neighborhood welcome wagon. Everyone knew and loved Tucker, especially the kids. In fact, during one of his runaways, an entire squad of neighbor kids and parents set out in search of the traveling Tucker and whoops of delight could be heard along the street when he came sauntering home. I was known as Tucker’s mom long before anyone knew much about me.Yes, the life of this little one that was the ever-ready extension of my right arm for thousands of walks (I still have phantom leash syndrome) and brought so much silliness and crazed laughter to my life was now in its much too early sunset. He was not even 9 years old. Being apart from him for the last almost 2 years does nothing to ease the pain of this goodbye.
The hardest part of loving a dog is knowing someday you will have to say goodbye. The decision of when to say goodbye is one not easily made. How does one play God? How do we go about scheduling death?
These questions became even more difficult to answer as my sweet boy Tucker warmly greeted me as I came in the door. There he was with his wiggling tail (it wiggled, not wagged), the usual puppy sniffs up my dress, and even a hug with his paws around my neck and his head on my shoulders as I knelt down to embrace him… one last time after a long trip home. In his last days in my presence and on earth, Tucker showed the same desire for life that he did in chasing squirrels. He seemed so very much alive which made my heart ache at first sight, but as I spent time with him, I knew he was very much ready to be free of the discomfort and fatigue caused by the invasive tumor growing behind his eyes. The foe that attacked suddenly, within a matter of weeks really, and began sucking the light and life from his eyes.
We went for a final walk on his last morning, greeted the neighbors, and spent the afternoon in contemplation. I played the piano for him, one final concert with the notes coming through my tears and shaking fingers on our ancient Baldwin upright as my sweet boy Tucker lay listening beside me in his last hour. All of our dogs liked music but the last three had a special affinity for it. Hunter would bark non-stop during Also sprach Zarathustra (2001 A Space Odyssey) and Scouter would howl right along to the full melody of Moonlight Sonata (both of which made practicing an all out laugh fest) but Tucker was always my best audience and, if I do say so myself, loved to hear me play (right, sweet boy?). If he was outside and heard the melody of a few notes, in seconds he was pawing at the screen door, wanting to come in, and then hopping on “his” foot stool, to settle in for his own private concert.
To some (but none who knew him) Tucker was just a dog but to me he truly was a friend and love like no other.
As his mistress, I did my part in being there for him when he needed me the most. I will never forget feeling his spirit soar as he fell asleep in my arms. The battle was over. Love won.
Going home will never be the same again. The sunrises I have witnessed of late have been accompanied by tears… there is still so much emptiness in my heart, and yet, I know that finally, Tucker is enjoying a Flathead sunrise with me.
Rest in peace doesn’t seem appropriate for Tucker… more like – run jubilantly, sweet boy – run free and with abandon into the arms of our Lord who will delight in your wild for miles ways, find love like the Lord himself wants us to love – unconditional, marvel at the strength of your ever-sniffing-for-rabbits nose, and cuddle with the best snuggler that ever lay upon His heavenly comforter.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. ~ Isaiah 40:31