The Old Gods
I woke up next to Gibson, like I always do. I was under the sheet and light summer comforter with a fan blowing on me from the open window. Gibson was sleeping aside me, on his back, with all four paws akimbo and his head facing the back of mine. He is always so close. I rolled over to face him and asked him if he wanted to meet the morning. His eyes opened slowly, focused on mine, and he huffed and rolled over. For all his energy and that famous Border Collie Metabolism—Gibson likes a slow morning with a fan on his hinder parts. I reached over to pet him and noticed the light touch of underarm to comforter hurt and upon closer inspection I saw the fat, little, deer tick. I pulled the swollen tick off easily and thought nothing of it. Ticks are just a part of life around here. I made a mental note to hunt down some Doxycycline later. I kissed my dog on the back of his head and told him there were chickens waiting for us to let them out of their coop.
The morning was the usual happy chaos. Chores were done in anticipation of the weather. I check weather the way models check eyeliner: every thirty minutes. I knew it would be a humid blast and then a series of storms. Some were supposed to be very severe. So I went about the normal morning routine of feeding, watering, bedding, mucking, and general critter maintenance and headed inside for the office. Gibson has to stay inside these mornings after a brief morning relief session due to his healing paw. He stares at me from the French Doors with a strong ennui.
Then the doctor appointment happened. I thought we were just going in for a routine post-paw-surgery check up and a routine heart worn test. Finding out about this positive tick disease made my stomach turn. I was so worried, so entirely terrified. I know I have friends, amazing friends. I know I have family that loves me. I know I have a readership, and a good community, and solid neighbors and a loaded shotgun. I have all this support but there is a huge difference between knowing you have access to possible human comfort and the certainty of a good dog. If life falls apart there are people that I can drive to and share a bottle of wine, or even people that will come to me, but this is not the same as the raw access of a dedicated animal. Gibson is always there. Literally. He is always with me, or damn close. There is a broken part of me that knows that people are never a sure thing. Men do not return my feelings, family does not understand, friends move away, fall to entropy, or life changes too much to keep the threads together. But a dog is brick and mortar comfort. An animal created by man, not gods, to help us live our lives better. It is the greatest story between two species ever told. And so when I heard there was a chance Gibson could die in his prime, when I needed him most, I was crushed. All I could think of when she told me was "but he is all I've got…"
If any of you live alone with a good dog, you understand that entirely.
A storm did roll in shortly after that vet visit. I was downtown in Cambridge when the wind tore through down and all the power went off. The hardware store told me to take my feed and settle up tomorrow, so I loaded up a hundred pounds of chicken and sheep gain and headed home. My head was stormy, as well. It was a tornado of fear, mostly about Gibson. As I headed North on route 22 the thunder really made itself known. The wind moved the truck a little to the east and I tried to remember if the meat birds were situated in a place they could run for cover. Farming does this to your brain. You could find out your Aunt has three weeks to live and still worry you left a gate open and if the water levels were high enough in the troughs. Routines of care become automatic knee-jerks. It can't be helped
Patty stopped by shortly after my return from town with my unpaid feed. We visited for a while, talking of small things with the power still out. I took some Doxy with a big sip of water and she told me not to worry about Gibson, that he was in the pink of health and I believed it but didn't know that yet. I wanted the vet to call and prove it with science. I am a believer but I need proof. If that sounds contrary just here me out a while longer.
Evening chores were much like morning chores, but now with milking and turning the horses out into the pasture to clip the grass and escape the bugs. I knew I would be visiting Livingston Brook Farm that evening and I wanted the lights on in the barn and the radio blaring to deter the predator that has been pilfering poultry. Just in case I missed sunset. The storm clouds had left and the sky went into that over-saturated blue I think only exists here on this mountain sometimes. I looked up at that clear sky and said a prayer, one I remembered from my morning devotional.
In the center of the storm, there is clam.
In the center of confusion, there is peace.
In the center of exhaustion, there is rest.
…Lead me to the center.
When I got the call that Gibson's red blood cell count way beyond healthy I hugged him and cried into his black mane. I will take this extension, take it with fervent gratitude. I've said this before and I mean it more than you realize, but when I love someone it is not gentle. It's powerful—a perfect storm of hope and force. But that power is all in the part I control, my loyalty. I have no control over the ticks and weather, as they happen to us. I guess the trick to life is realizing you have no ability to control anything really, but to refuse to be a victim. Life does not get to happen to me. I happen to it.
At least that's the plan. Today I had dog hair stuck to my cheeks by dried tears. I'm a work in progress.
And so the day came on, and the sky stayed blue a while longer. I was buoyed by the good news with Gibson and was happy to spend time with friends after chores. I spent a few happy hours just talking with a good friend, sharing stories over a glass and catching up. We got to rest in the hot tub and getting into that hot water was the release I needed. I am still sore from haying on Monday (four of us humans moved 6 tons of hay in three hours, by hand) and had a welt on my arm from archery practice on Sunday. I had a thousand cuts, scrapes, and bruises from my life and in the water I looked like a leopard with a thyroid problem. I did not care, for that hot water was sweet as prayer on my sore, sore body.
When the sun was almost set, and the last bit of pink was in the sky I was ready to head home. Standing on the porch outside the kitchen I looked over the endless fields of hay, corn, barns, and forest. This shire is my home, and in that moment of dying light it was stunning. Two horses, one black and one white, grazed calmly next to the ancient threshing barn. The fireflies were out in full force. In the distance a black cloud, startlingly dark and large, started to parade across the sky. It lit up from internal burst of lightening and thunder started to roll across the waving grass and find its way into my nostrils. I could smell the electricity, see the storm. I had been told three people had died south of Cambridge today from Lightning strikes. Died. Their lives were over and their loved ones were flooded with grief and my biggest fear was the loss of my sheepdog. I felt small and lucky.
The clouds swirled and I could see the horsetails sliding around inside it, arial tornados. I shuddered. Open land like this makes me nervous. I have lived my whole life alongside or on mountains. To be in a place where weather could steal everything from me like a song dog pup steals a hen made my blood drop a few degrees. This was an exposed place, but also a beautiful one. I could never see this giant black mass of clouds, swirling and dancing just so like this, not from my mountain farm. I noticed how the cloud was moving southeast, and the front section looked just like the front of a viking ship. I could see the masthead, curled and fierce. I watched it sail across the sky with that same force and hope that runs my farm and I smiled. Of course people believed in Old Gods that ruled the skies, isn't that what I was watching right now? A power that brings life to crops and strikes men dead... What a show.
I am a very religious person, devout as all get out. When I watched those storm clouds I did see the rolling chariot of Odin, The hearthfire of Brigit, the wrath of the Old Testament, and the gateway to Other Worlds of mind and spirit. I also saw ionization, dancing atoms, and electrons doing what they do. It's all the same to me, Science and Religion. That is how I was raised and what I loved most about my childhood. My mother always told me that the more we learned about the scientific world the more we were learning about God's plan. Understanding the complex and beautiful creation as it was in reality, not in mythology, but never discounting the myths as mere parable. Truth was in science, meaning was in myth. Put them together and you got a team that can not be beat.
The last line of my favorite short story rang like a bell in my lungs:
Of course God is the sun. Everyone in the life before was cranky, I think, because they just wanted to know.
I know that is a rare stance on how things are but I hold it close. It got me this far. And watching that storm roll in I was proud that Odin and Ionization hold hands in my feral life. Grateful that I keep an altar and antibiotics and am equally dependent on both. I smiled. I said that prayer again, but now I had the proof.
I just had to stand in the center a little.