Saturday, October 1, 2011

365 Photo Project - Day 273

Taken: August 1, 2011
Location: Avenue of the Giants, Humbolt Redwoods State Park, Northern California.

Hello again.

I wanted to continue this 365-photo blog by putting up photos I take on the day of each post, but circumstances have conspired against me once again.
I'm actually posting this from Washington, D.C., where I'm staying with my brother and his family as we care for my Mom who is recovering from major surgery. I've been here since September 16th and originally expected to be home earlier this week but while my Mom is improving every day, I was asked to stay and so here I am, hanging in the Nation's Capital for another week or so. I am armed only with my iPhone for a camera though as my fancy DLSR is at home. So in the meantime, I'm going to put up some photos from the last year instead.

This one was taken in one of the coolest places I've ever been -- Avenue of the Giants,  a 31-mile road that winds through 51,000 acres of redwood groves that are surrounded by the Humbolt Rewoods State Park. This was one of the stops on a road trip to Calgary, Alberta my husband and I took summer. Our stops included Eureka, Ca.,  Portland, Or.,  Spokane, Wa., Fernie, BC., Calgary, over the Canadian Rockies down to Salmon Arm, BC., back across the border to Seattle, to Portland, Ashland, Or., and back home to Sonoma County.  We drove more than 3,000 miles in 13 days. I love road trips but it's been a long, long time since I've taken one this ambitious.

I usually take my road trips for a purpose -- like the time I moved across the country and decided to visit as many friends and cools places as I could on the way out West. This one was no different. As many of you know, I had to say goodbye to my beloved pug Louie on May 20. I have written about him a lot on this blog because he was such a big part of my life. Though we were together for only a few short years and he was sick for a good amount of that time, we had a true bond and he was a great friend to me. I loved him as much as I loved any person I've ever known, perhaps more. I know some people think that's nuts. I just think they don't understand and that's okay with me.

It's hard to quantify this loss -- Louie was a part of our family, a constant companion, a true friend, an original.  He came to us as a rescue, sick and half-blind but proved to be stout and full of life, defying some pretty good odds to have made it as far as he did and as well as he did. He went deaf a year ago and was slowing down a bit but he continued to patrol our deck barking at birds, squirrels and all forms of invaders, kept our younger pug in line and never lost his appetite, even at the very end when we fed him some of my husband's grilled skirt steak.

He suffered a Grand Mal seizure, seemed to recover at the vet's overnight and came home with us. The prognosis wasn't good -- the general thinking was a brain tumor and we hoped to have a few months left at least. But that night, it was clear his neurological functions were already compromised -- he could barely stand up, cried and whimpered and trembled the entire night, and the next morning couldn't even lift his leg to pee. I stayed up the whole night with him and uncharacteristically he buried his chin in my arm and did not move or complain, even though he always grumbled in the past when his space on the bed was disturbed. I took that as a sign that he had had enough.

That Friday, my husband and I made the hardest decision we've ever had to make and we drove to the vet's office, Louie in my lap and the window open -- just as we all were when we first brought him home. This time, though, he could barely lift his head to catch the breezes he loved. It's moments like that when you know it's time, as sad as that is. He died in my arms with a belly full of steak. It was peaceful. I cried a river into his fur and said my goodbyes.

It's still so hard. I cried a little as I wrote this. I am fortunate to have so many wonderful friends and in the days afterward, many reached out to me with words of kindness and wisdom.  Two stood out. One said,  "I’m not one of those people who says “it’s for the best” because it’s fucking awful and unfair. But I’ll bet Louie knew how horrible you felt about leaving him…. and who wouldn’t want to die with a belly full of steak in the arms of their favorite person in the whole world? A true friend even in the end." All I can say is I hope that's so.

What else can I say about the King of All Pugs, the dog who we thought we'd rescued but who, if truth be told, really rescued us? He was as good a friend as I've ever had in this world and his loss is like an irreparable crack in my heart. Over the last few months, the pain is easing a little. I'm starting to think of the good days more than the last horrible days and I'm making peace with the decisions I made, only stopping occasionally to ask myself if I did the right thing, that question for which nobody has an answer. 

Another friend said "the heart is big enough for the whole world." When she wrote this to me, I was in the first days of grief and a pug person I know (who bred my other rescue pug Chamuco) had offered me a 2-year-old pug that had been returned to her. I couldn't believe I was already considering another dog, a "replacement" was how I put it. But my wise friend said Louie could never be replaced, that it would just be a new pug to learn to love. She was right of course. 

That pug happened to be on a ranch outside Calgary, Alberta and that is why my husband and I decided to take a road trip. It's been a long, hard year for us, full of personal challenges, family illness, new and difficult responsibilities to take on. We needed a vacation and I convinced my husband that this road trip would be just the remedy we needed, especially since waiting at the end would be a new friend. My husband was reluctant and we had some things to do before setting off -- weeks went by and then one morning, I noticed my 16-year-old cat had seemed to lose a lot of weight suddenly. Then I realized she had lost her eyesight -- just a few days earlier she could see just fine. I tried to get her to eat even brought her out to the deck for the sun she loved to roll around in. There was no rolling around, just stillness and a few sad meows and, eventually a trip to the vet. She had kidney failure. There was nothing I could do except say another goodbye.

That evening, I told my husband is was time to go on the road. We packed up my car and set off, most of the trip not knowing where we would sleep until we got there. It was crazy, ridiculous, liberating and invigorating and we picnicked and laughed and saw mountains and vineyards, valleys, winding roads and highways, towers, rivers, lakes and, when we pulled into our driveway on the evening of the 13th day, the pug we named Ulysses snoring peacefully in the backseat, we both knew the journey had been worth it. Even the bad parts.

See you tomorrow.

Note: I realized in prepping to restart this blog, I've missed a few days. I will fill them in as I go along. 

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