An Unconditional Life for all Seasons: A Remembrance

Cooper Birthday 12; KMHuberImageAutumn is my favorite time of year, and when Thanksgiving is all but-on-the-doorstep of December, I begin my review of the year in preparation for a final toast on December 31.

This time in-between, for me, is one of reflection, a time of note writing or even a phone call just to say, “I am thinking of you.” Being thoughtful and having compassion for all sentient beings is peace on earth regardless of the season.

I remind myself of that every year but this year, the memory of Thanksgiving of 2012 with beagle Cooper James loomed large. Longtime readers of this blog may remember our adventures together.

Mine is a mostly vegetarian home for I am mostly Buddhist. Yet, in 2012, I could not let go of the thought—even through meditation—that I needed to purchase a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving.

As is often the way with these nagging thoughts, it was not about a mostly vegetarian/Buddhist human purchasing a turkey. It was about canine Cooper being on turkey watch, his personal aroma therapy.

It would take me two years to make the connection.

Cooper was curious about life, always willing to explore, yet he had a respect for boundaries, especially when it came to human food. He had learned treats come from behavior that humans like.

He was a master of canine kitchen behavior; always, he waited until I left the room. I was grateful for the way Cooper kept the floor clean–I hated sweeping and mopping floors more than any other chores–Cooper seemed born to both.

Thus, Cooper on turkey watch was at a respectable distance from the oven door but in full view of every possible Cooper James; KMHuberImageangle of the kitchen. He quickly mastered the timing of turkey basting. His low, beagle keen was within minutes of the timer’s announcement.

From afar, he watched in complete contentment as I basted the turkey. It was as if he loved the aroma of anticipation as much as the turkey he knew would come his way. Cooper was in the moment, and it was one of his best.

Food was Cooper’s first love. I never minded playing second fiddle. He was not greedy in the way he ate or how much he consumed. For a beagle, he was remarkably patient.

He simply got through moments as they were presented to him, no matter how familiar or beloved the scent. He met each one as if it were for the first time. He lived with an enthusiasm I have not met again.

KMHuberimage; larch in autumnThe aroma of life is heady in itself for life is a banquet, and we need not starve ourselves with conditions or certain ways to partake of it. It need not always be set up like a Thanksgiving dinner eaten off plates used once a year.

The zest of life is in each new moment we have, whether it is the aroma or the actual bite of turkey, there need not be conditions or expectations.  We need merely experience the joy of the moment.

Cooper had an unconditional love for living life unconditionally. I do my best to remember this on all the days of these years I live without him.

His last Thanksgiving was that November 22, 2012, the year that some believed the world would never begin as all others had. As an ever-present, sentient being, one day or forever were the same to Cooper. His presence on this planet ended on the last day of 2012.

I do think of Cooper on New Year’s Eve but it is on Thanksgiving that the heady scent of Cooper’s memory wafts through my mind. And yes, there is the aroma of roasting turkey.

********

A Kindness Note for All Seasons: The awesome August McLaughlin is hosting the first #SparkleFriday kindness event on November 28, Black Friday. Check out her blog post or RSVP the Facebook event page.

 

Opening to a New Wind, the Sea Oat Nods

Sea Oat 1013Sometimes, it is merely a matter of bending with the breeze, opening up to what is available, allowing a new perspective. As Mark Twain said, “Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.” Nor will it ever for “openness is like the wind. If you open your doors and windows, it is bound to come in” (Chogyam Trunpa).

Openness is the stuff of adventure, and if given a choice, some step back from it. It is the unknown, the uncertain, the unproven so unlike all the labels to which we cling. Yet, at one time or another, the air in our lives grows stale, and we open to a new wind.

Every year, fall is my fresh air. It has long been my favorite season. Even when I lived in the West, I preferred fall to spring, which was an infrequent visitor to the high plains desert. Yet, the rare Rocky Mountain springtime meant seemingly endless prairies of wildflowers.

Now living near the Gulf of Mexico, I find fall comes gradually, mostly, a cooling down to allow another crop of vegetables, another round of blooming bedding plants. This year, fall feels as if it arrived over night, perhaps an afterthought of Tropical Storm Karen who managed to puff herself up a bit but was too disorganized to do much other than blow in autumn. Or at least that’s when I first felt fall.

It is my first autumn without Cooper. We enjoyed every season but when fall temperatures became the norm, we took to the road, sometimes every day of the week.  I smile at the flood of memories, ever grateful for each one. They open me to the fall that is, and I am ready for an outing.

Cooper Going on a Bye-Bye

It is easy to see Cooper in my mind’s eye sitting in the passenger seat as I drive to Mashes Sands, one of the few places on the Gulf coast that Cooper and I did not explore, although I cannot think why.

A day of sun and blue, the Gulf sparkles at low tide. The breeze is slight as I admire the sea oats so long absent after previous years of hurricanes as well as some recent tropical storms. Breathing in the salted air, I open to the moment of sun, sea, and me.

Sitting on the sand, I close myself to the openness always available in the gap between thoughts, in the pause that awakens awareness. All around me there is sentient movement, coming and going, ebbing and flowing. The fragile but flexible sea oat nods, finding it not difficult to bend, to open completely to possibility.

I hold sand in the palm of my hand as I squint to “see the world in a grain of sand” for I know it to be true. Thoughts fall left and right, like the sand flowing through my fingers, until each grain of thought mingles with all the others to become one. And that, too, is impermanent.

Before this fall ends, there are more breezes, gusts and maybe even gales to come. It is a matter of throwing open the doors and windows for whatever way the wind may blow, and like the sea oat, nod in acceptance.

KMHuberImages
KMHuberImages

Refuge in Winter

Yesterday was not the day I anticipated—it was so much more–always is, no matter the day. Anticipation is never present and always future, sometimes tinged with memory. In these days of living life without Cooper, the memories are abundant, like driving to St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge to purchase our annual pass.

Often, our February trek coincided with the fairly recent but also annual event, the Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors Festival. The luxury of living so close to the Gulf of Mexico, less than a thirty minute drive, has never been taken for granted. It is a beauty still wild.

KMHuberImage; Gulf of Mexico, FL; St. Mark's Wildlife RefugeLow humidity, low 50s in a slow breeze, warm by any Nordic standards, it is a winter’s day in Florida. The crisp air is a refuge in itself, an annual visitor to a subtropical climate.

Not a wisp of cloud can be found in the blue sea that is the sky, yet in the shade of a towering Ponderosa pine, it’s not uncomfortable for me to wear two hoodies—a fleece from Seattle over basic black cotton from Florida—cushy winter vests are popular, too. Gloves of any kind are welcome.

Hot Tamale, a favorite musical group of mine, braves the briskness of February to entertain festival goers, breaking only for the turkey calling contest. For all afternoon, the music of Hot Tamale wafts through and around outdoor grills of sausages with grilled onions, down the single lane of exhibits and over the heads of children not always running with twigs in hands.

I marvel that Craig, Hot Tamale’s guitar player, manages to keep his guitar in tune, song after song, as he and Adrian sing us through Motown, Jefferson Airplane, Brooks & Dunn, and my all-time favorites, Hot Tamale originals. For two hours, I immerse myself in this winter’s day’s music, a refuge medley.

The shade from the Ponderosa pine broadens as the sun moves closer to 3 o’clock. It is time to begin the drive KmHuberImage; St. Mark's, Florida Gulf of Mexico between the festival site and the shores of the Gulf. Memories of past trips are quickly displaced by every image that is. It happens every time in this place primeval. The refuge diminishes all human presence for it is raw with life.

As I drive, Cooper is with me as much as he is not: heart-centered is a term I remember someone giving me. I liked it so much I wanted to discover its meaning on my own. And in that moment, I do: it is joy absorbing physical absence, fleeting but nonetheless felt.

I park the car, and the tide of memory rolls in: I am taking a photograph of the lighthouse, believing it to be a view I did not have. Cooper is content to remain in the car; perhaps, he knew it was just another picture of a lighthouse with trees. Cooper was tired is what I remember as the image of our last trip to the refuge fades.

The sun is now lower than three in the sky but not yet four as I walk down a path Cooper and I never did walk. It is a shortcut to the path he and I always walked, a new way to the path’s end where we always rested.  I realize path’s end has been my destination the entire day.

For a moment, I am awash in memory again: I am missing Cooper’s curiosity, his constant enthusiasm for the present, no matter where we were. No matter where we were…the realization of what that means jolts me.  I had been clinging to the memory of Cooper’s curiosity rather than rediscovering my own, as he had shown me time after time.

Just as Cooper found joy and enthusiasm in recognizing and rediscovering the scents of the refuge, I started taking photographs of the point, the palm tree, the “island” that is only another point of land, all images I seem to record every February’s  first trip to the refuge in winter.

They are the same and not the same, as Cooper is heart-centered, new and familiar with the scent of life ongoing.

KMHuberImage; St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge; Florida; Gulf of Mexico

And Then Death Returned

Cooper Birthday 12; KMHuberImageAs I write this final post about Cooper James, there are more tears of joy than of loss for he and I did a pretty fine job of making the most of the time we had, which really was not that long but to be honest, it would never have been long enough for me. Yet, the fact that we were together is what comforts. Gratitude always sustains.

Cooper died on New Year’s Eve, and I have not been able to write this post until now for with his passing, a chapter ends but also, a chapter begins. Right now, I’m straddling the pages but as the days pass, the new chapter will begin to write itself. It always does.

Publishing a final post to sum up Cooper’s life just didn’t seem to suit. I seemed to recognize that early on so I began publishing occasional posts about our life together. I wanted to capture as many moments as I could, for Cooper was truly curious about his world. All dogs are completely present all the time but Cooper’s curiosity seemed to enrich his experience on the physical plane.

Cooper was not a dog that everyone loved nor did people see him as a perfect kind of dog. He was handsome, and he knew it, and he was a charmer, albeit a quirky one. Originally named Snoop, he lived up to his name. In Day of Freedom, I relay how he and his cat friend, EmmaRose, came to live with me. Then, I did not know that freedom resides in every moment, if only we are aware.

In Trailblazing, I wrote of Cooper’s intervertebral disc disease and further explained the consequences of a lifelong love of Cooper, EmmaRose; KMHuberImagesnooping:  Cooper has enjoyed reasonably good health, other than taking a daily Pepcid for most of this last year. Essentially, Cooper views the world in terms of how edible it is, often deciding to take a chance. This lifelong habit seems to have caught up with him. Cooper never missed taking a chance, and I began to understand how limiting hesitation is.

Shedding, which proved to be my most popular post for 2012, recounts our first visit to Waverly park. Spring was just starting. Everywhere, everything is coming to life as Cooper snores….There is a lifetime in this moment, as always.

In What Abundance Knows, Cooper, EmmaRose, and I, once separate, were now together enjoying abundance. How we lived before does not define us nor does it measure who we are.

KMHuberImage; Cooper JamesThe first sign of real decline was apparent In the Moment: Even with disk disease and deteriorating joints, Cooper strives for the handsome gait that has all but left him. In seeing his ramp with his car for the first time, he took that in stride as well—allowing me to guide him in—bearing the grace of the being he is. Once in the car, I buckled us into our seats. With hand and paw on the gear shift, we moved into yet another moment.

By summer, we were celebrating Waverly Mornings as an idyllic frame for every day’s possibilities. I am grateful to Cooper for these Waverly mornings for it is his heart that holds us fast to our ritual. He has taught me the forever joy of “bye-bye in the car.” It is a lifetime gift, of course. Already there are times that we must settle for the memory of Waverly but for every day we are able, we have a Waverly morning. 

However, as the winter solstice approached, Waverly in Winter was one of our last visits: I watch him more than he realizes. KMHuberimage; larch in autumnEvery time, I am glad that we are at Waverly on this day and that he is engaging with every scent he can find and even in winter, there are many. I do my best to stay as present as Cooper for far too easily my mind wanders to spring and whether or not Cooper will be with me at Waverly, gazebo or no. On the afternoon of the winter solstice, he had his first seizure.

The day that As Death Brushed By posted was Cooper’s last full day on the physical plane. What a visit we had at Waverly that day. The humidity was non-existent, and Cooper walked the circle that is Waverly pond. For the last time, he made his stiff, little legs trot just a bit in celebration of the day dawning. That evening, he suffered another seizure more severe than the first.

Once again, I watched over him through the night, and in the morning, he went for his last “bye-bye in the car,” a 2.5 hour ride, his last trip to Gainesville where he would cross the Rainbow Bridge. I thanked Cooper James for all that he gave me as he drifted into sleep, his last, and for me, the last time I would watch over him.

Regular blog posts will resume January 10, 2013.

As Death Brushed By

Waverly Bridge; KMHuberImage
It does no good to make an appointment with death for death has its own schedule. In other words, death knows its moments. That said, death may give us a glimpse if we are observant and completely present.

Cooper James; KMHuberImageOn the afternoon of the winter solstice, Cooper James was jolted from his sleep by a spasm/seizure so severe and so long in duration, I thought death had stopped for him completely. Not so. Cooper was more than content to let that moment go and get on to the next.

I could not, however, let it go. With more ease than I care to admit, I abandoned the freedom that is in every moment and tried to secure every moment that remained for Cooper as if I could know when his death would be, as if I could make an appointment for it.

St. Mark's Refuge; Gulf of Mexico; KMHuberImage
I wanted to be ready but by looking to the future, I was missing what was occurring: Cooper was approaching his life as he always had, a little slower, perhaps, but with just as much interest. In fact, he took advantage of my rather dazed nature by sticking his nose into the cat box, something he hasn’t done since…well, I can’t remember when.

My head stayed stuck in the future, creating and re-creating it, as I cleaned up the cat gravel without giving it any attention. Of course, Cooper seized every moment in which I was not present and that included scoring extra portions of chicken and rice.

Cooper steadily improved but my head remained in the future because of what had occurred in the past. My head was trying to decide what was best for him while my heart went unheeded, as if it did not beat.Rose of Waverly Park; KMHuberImage

By Christmas Eve, my head was so restless there was no chance for sleep so I watched Cooper sleep and listened to an NPR broadcast of A Christmas Carol. His seizure/spasm had altered our lives but Cooper stayed present–it is all he knows—while I was stuck in the moment that death brushed by. Disregarding the present, I anticipated the future when death would make a complete stop.

As Christmas Eve turned into Christmas morning, I did not hear sleigh bells or angels singing on high but I did receive a gift. As my heart tucked my head under itself, the joy of being filled me with gratitude for what is.

I realized that my best is always in being completely present. That is what assures a future and heals a past. I have written about being present in so many blog posts but it seems I required a winter solstice event and a Christmas Eve carol to experience it completely.

St. Mark's Refuge; egret; KMHuberImage
The moment is always free, neither attached to the past nor future. What we are in each moment will frame our past and color our future. If we will tuck our heads under our hearts, we will not get caught within the ego web of our thoughts.

In keeping an open heart, we know joy, love, gratitude and compassion, the emotions the ego cannot know. This I wish for each and every one of you for every moment you have.

Blog Format Change

Beginning Thursday, January 3, 2013, I will begin publishing a weekly Thursday Tidbits post in addition to my regular Sunday posts. True to the definition of tidbit, these posts will be some choice bits of information that I find curious and think may interest you.

Often, I come across information that does not warrant or merit a full blog post but is worth sharing with my readers. Obviously, I am quite enamored of the idea of all of us connecting with one another—oneness meets technology—so my thinking is that Thursday Tidbits will provide us another avenue to do just that.

Other times, I discover blog posts that I would like to share but re-blogging has its issues so I’ve decided I would rather direct people to those blogs and blog posts. Thus, I will provide some introductory information and possible background information regarding the post and then you can decide whether or not to click on the link.KMHuberImage; writing

I may also include some videos and at times, these Thursday posts may be a forerunner for the Sunday posts. At times, I may ask for your thoughts on a subject before I write a blog post. Clearly, the Thursday Tidbits format is fluid.

This week, I am celebrating my one year anniversary of blogging. I have thoroughly enjoyed this past year. Obviously, that has a great deal to do with you, my readers, who have been so constant. I thank you and look forward to another year together.

Waverly in Winter

(Regular blog posts will resume December 30, 2012; happy holidays to all!)

The light and dark of the days leading into the winter solstice are ones I observe closely; the actual date is the darkest day of the year, and it is the day of fewest hours of light. But after the 24 hours that is the winter solstice, every dawn that follows  offers more light and less night.

The autumnal sleep culminates in the pivotal moment of the winter solstice, as the slumber stirs toward the light, day by day, growing and warming to the spring solstice. For me, there is an ending of one in the beginning of another for what is an ending if not a beginning.

KMHuberImage; Cooper; Beagle mixAlmost daily, Cooper and I meet day’s first light at Waverly pond. It is Cooper’s favorite time of day and these days, his best time, for the drier winter mornings are preferable to the usual humidity of northern Florida. His discomfort from arthritis is increasing as is his inflammation but there are still mornings when he tries out a bit of a trot, which forces me to keep up. He has taught me that any day improves with movement.

Waverly is a marvel in any season but this is my first winter with her.  Her waters have receded so that the turtles no longer feed under the bridge, which Cooper and I still cross more often than not. He is in the winter of his life but not yet in the deep sleep of the solstice, while I remain on the edge KMHuberImage; larch autumn needlesbetween autumn and winter.

Jack-o’-lantern orange needles thicken Waverly’s diminishing green carpet of earthen brown leaves, tamped with damp. Even on overcast mornings, brown, green, and orange are vibrant, showy even. The needles are from what may be a golden larch–so very like a pine with swooping, willow-like limbs—its needles an elegantly rich blanket for winter.

KMHuberimage; larch in autumnBy the spring solstice, the larch’s velvet needles will re-dress every limb and branch in sweeping splendor–such is the life of a larch–slumbering in these days preceding the winter solstice, assured of what is and what will be.

On this morning, Cooper takes us across the bridge and into the gazebo where I am to sit while he roams but not far. If we make it to the gazebo, we stay longer, especially if I have brought the camera. From Cooper’s perspective, the camera keeps me occupied with the colors of the day as he seeks the scents.

In the winter, the geese return to Florida and Waverly pond is a favorite. This year, a pair of wood storks visited one morning; a crane, possibly a sand hill, also stayed for a few days. It was a wet year for Waverly and the pond offers much to its residents as well as travelers.KMHuberimage; Great Blue Heron

In the last three weeks, a Great Blue Heron has come to stay as has a snowy egret, which Wikipedia says is a white heron. There was a time when I thought such distinctions important but now I’m happy just to see them. Cooper is a Beagle and other kinds of hounds–I am German, Russian and French at least—waterfowl, canine and human are simply living out who and what they are in the shadows of the winter solstice.

Even as I attempt to photograph the images of the egret and the heron, I am only able to capture their mirror images softened in the morning mist, their clarity beyond my lens, more a painting than a snapshot. In my autumn years, my focus blurs distinctions in any species.

KMHuberImage; Snowy EgretOn another morning, one when Cooper and I do not cross the bridge to the gazebo, we watch an anhinga drying its feathers on turtle row. Outside the gazebo, Cooper and I are more observable–I like to think that our daily presence makes us a known scent but that is human silliness—Cooper keeps us at what seems an agreeable distance, much more interested in trees and shrubs than the water or fowl.

I watch him more than he realizes. Every time, I am glad that we are at Waverly on this day and that he is engaging with every scent he can find and even in winter, there are many. I do my best to stay as present as Cooper for far too easily my mind wanders to spring and whether or not Cooper will be with me at Waverly, gazebo or no.KMHuberImage

He is twelve in human years and increasingly, there are recurrent bouts of colitis, gastritis. We work with his diet but he pays it less mind than I. In the winter of his life, Cooper is ever present, reminding me a walk around Waverly provides another perspective on whatever is. No matter how many mornings we have, we are always changed.

The Long Goodbye

This past week has been one of goodbyes. As one goodbye piled upon another, I began to pay attention. I was reminded of a piece I wrote with another writer years ago called, “The Long Goodbye,” a wife’s farewell to her husband who lived more in the realm of Alzheimer’s and less in their sixty year marriage. For me, “The Long Goodbye” was always more about living than moving into another realm of existence.

Dudley

Nowhere is that truer than at an animal sanctuary where I’ve been a volunteer for the last four years. Mostly, I send out monthly updates to animal sponsors–it’s easy and fun–I relay stories and pictures of animal antics, always a welcome email. As the sanctuary is for elderly and medically needy animals, goodbye is often on the horizon. At times, goodbye is said so often it is hard to catch one’s breath.

In the past two days, three sanctuary residents crossed the Rainbow Bridge, one goodbye after another. Two of the residents were elderly canines, Snapper and Rocky, and the other was a very human-friendly rabbit, Dudley. For the remainder of their lives, the sanctuary provided them the security of home, a daily routine they came to trust. Lives regained. No matter how long or short their stay at the sanctuary, each of their lives ended in arms of love. Would that every one of us lived a life with such a long goodbye.

Cooper

As I have learned from Dr. Mac and the residents of the sanctuary, the long goodbye is unique to each and every being. On the very morning the long goodbyes played out at the sanctuary, Cooper reminded me the  moment looms for us as well.  Like his friends at the sanctuary, Cooper lives in the moment, devoted to routine. For now, he is still willing to accommodate the physical changes his body is undergoing but he will let me know when the end of the long goodbye is here. There won’t be much notice, just enough. Until then, we go on as if life has always been this way, and after a while, we believe what we tell ourselves.

For some time, Cooper and I have been witnessing a long goodbye between a woman and a canine that live in our apartment complex. Alice has Alzheimer’s and her hair is white just like Buddy’s, her West Highland Terrier. In the two years we’ve known them, the two have been the best of friends but for a while now, Alice hasn’t been able to remember their routine. While Buddy does his best to remind Alice, Alice remembers routines with other Westies. Buddy does his best to keep up.

Snapper

We learned that Alice and Buddy are moving, and while we know it’s a fact, the actual date is never mentioned. At first, Alice told us that all of her sons were moving as well and the whole family would be living in the same state. First it was Colorado and then it was Connecticut but now the most frequent moving destination is an assisted living center in a small Florida town not too far away from us.

Of course, none of these moves involve Buddy living with Alice anymore. Alice’s sons have dogs of their own, and they seem genuinely fond of Buddy and he of them. He is a fairly young dog, smart, but he has had to fend for himself a lot lately, and he is not as trusting as he once was. Buddy and Alice have done the best they can for each other but the change they face may not involve a long goodbye, at least with one another.

Rocky

I am reminded that the long goodbye is not a guarantee but a gift as I re-read the sponsor updates of Snapper with her tennis balls, of Rocky’s kiddie pool antics and his chomping at the hose water trying to fill his pool. Even little Dudley felt safe again after what seemed a hopeless situation. I cannot know what will be for Alice and Buddy but the long goodbye is often the reward of a life regained.

(AWARDS: Recently, this blog received some awards exchanged among bloggers, and I am humbled. Thank you, fellow bloggers. It is a true honor to have one’s work appreciated by one’s peers.)