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Three Days

An old one

On Sunday evening, I drove to pick up a set of used tires for the truck, passing through a northern Vermont landscape on the cusp of spring, struck as I often am by the co-mingling of poverty and affluence in these rural hills. And also by the evident decline in our capacity (or is it desire?) to inhabit structures of grace and beauty. To be sure, the latter lives forever the eye of the beholder, but how else to describe the multitude of old barns that dot the land in varying stages of decline, many sitting atop foundations of dry-stacked stone, only a few in use for anything but storage of old furniture and discarded tires, dotted by the ubiquitous condiment of such buildings:Pigeon shit.

And the farmhouses: Even needing paint, rooflines sagging, first-floor windows covered in plastic to thwart the winter winds, porches flaking off like crusted scabs, yards warted with the detritus of rural northern living (snowmobiles, gas grills, oil drums), even in such a state prettier by far than most anything built over the past half-century. To each his or her own, I suppose, but still: Give me the old farmhouse and its accompanying barn, let them be falling right down around me, force me to thaw pipes every sub-zero morning and consider the leaks in the roof every spring rain. I’ll curse it, I know, but like most things I curse, I’d love it, too.

•     •     •

A day or two prior to that, I’d driven a couple of miles up the road with my younger son to do a little wandering. We live near to an 11,000-acre wildlife management area, as near to wilderness as one is likely to find in Vermont, and for us one of the main attractions to living where we do. We set off for a beaver pond we’ve explored many times over, a jaunty 20-minute hike from the truck, and then, because the weather was fine, and our moods commensurately buoyant, we kept walking, following the pond’s feeder stream. Higher and higher we pushed, hopping from one side of the stream to the other, circumnavigating another small pond, then another, now wallowing through patches of snow that in places lay thigh-deep in the shade of spruce and fir. Everywhere beaded piles of moose dung and the deep depressions of their cloven hooves, far enough from the road to have erased any signs of humankind: No footprints, no beer cans, no spent shotgun shells. Not a car to be heard, just the rustle of flowing water, the pond peepers, and the soft whistle from the wings of the mallards we flushed.

•     •     •

Then last night, in a misty rain, just before dark, we buried our old hound dog, laid her in a hole with a meaty bone and sent her on her way. This morning, for the first time in nearly a decade, I was not awakened by the sound of her toenails on the wooden floor.

31 thoughts on “Three Days”

  1. Bummer.
    I’ve got one seems close to being on his last legs.
    Inevitable, but still.

    We know from the minute we let them into our hearts, that one day they will break them.

    The joy we gain by loving them will, in time, once again outweigh the sadness they can bring to our lives.

  2. From your beautiful descriptive imagery that is simple a picture is easily created in my mind. And from that your joy of fatherhood is evident. Rest in peace sweet hound.

    1. ooh, this made me cry, Renee-Lucie Benoit. Beautiful description.

      So sorry for your loss, Ben and family. We love them. They love us. A beautiful symmetry.

  3. Ben, your description of Vermont paints such true-to-life picture, it really transports me back there. Glad you were able to find moose tracks, and the little critters perhaps that make those tracks their home. It is fascinating how each place has its own very distinguishable character, complete with its mood, breath, smell, sound, and color scheme, and somehow, people intertwine into that network both affecting it and absorbing it. Even after we spent decades of mixing it all up, moving people around, moving plants around, replanting species, transporting animals, lumber, minerals, transporting soil with all its inhabitants, yet still, the place reclaims her own coat, time and time again. That power is what really gives me faith.
    Great photo, great memories. I just have one question: why were boys covering their noses? 🙂

  4. So sorry for your loss of a faithful companion. Words don’t really help but our hearts are broken with yours.

  5. Oh Ben, I’m so sorry to hear that. When we were up at your place in January and we snuck out back to see the pigs, she (Daisy, right?) had wandered back there too and was snout to snout with the pigs, barking at them. They didn’t seem fazed and she seemed to be enjoying it.

  6. Ben, I so enjoy your writing. I’ve read most all your books and love the posts when they appear.

    My condolences on your dog’s passing. It brought to mind a Robinson Jeffers poem:

    The House Dog’s Grave (Robinson Jeffers)
    (Haig, an English bulldog)

    I’ve changed my ways a little; I cannot now
    Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
    Except in a kind of dream; and you, if you dream a moment,
    You see me there.

    So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
    Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
    And you’d soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
    The marks of my drinking-pan.

    I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
    On the warm stone,
    Nor at the foot of your bed; no, all the nights through
    I lie alone.

    But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
    Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
    And where you sit to read- and I fear often grieving for me-
    Every night your lamplight lies on my place.

    You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
    To think of you ever dying.
    A little dog would get tired, living so long.
    I hope that when you are lying

    Under the ground like me your lives will appear
    As good and joyful as mine.
    No, dears, that’s too much hope: you are not so well cared for
    As I have been.

    And never have known the passionate undivided
    Fidelities that I knew.
    Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided….
    But to me you were true.

    You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
    I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
    To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
    I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.

    1. Surely a first, Richard. Jeffers on Ben’s blog. I visited Tor House in Camel just before this past Christmas. We climbed the stone tower, and I read a Jeffers’ poem to small group of strangers. Insanely beautiful the view out to the ocean.; .

      1. So neat, Will. Jeffers has been in my readings for the last few months, and Tor House is on the horizon here soon too. Good to hear you were reading there.

  7. Your trek into the woods sort of reminds me of my son and I wading across the Mississippi River were it begins its journey to the Gulf of Mexico at Lake Itasca in MN.

  8. So sad, I shed a tear for you. Reminded me of all my beloved pets that have had the luck to share my life with over so many years . Are we not blessed to share our lives with such wonderful souls

  9. So sorry to hear of your loss Ben, Penny and boys. Our furry creatures are gifts given to us. They forever live in our memory.

  10. I remember you writing about her long ago and feeling yet another draw to your family as we have a Daisy in ours, as well. Our Daisy is a beagle and a hound through and through. That nose gets her into mischief from time to time but I do not look forward to the day when I no longer have a reason to say, “Oh, Daisy, what did you get into this time?” Perhaps that is why the boys have their noses covered? 🙂 Peace and Blessings to all!

  11. It’s always hard losing a dog. Best wishes to you and your family.
    Your hike with your son sounds fun and restorative, and your ode to old farm buildings sounds ill-timed.

  12. Having buried two dogs myself, including my almost 16 year-old canine best friend I raised from birth, I know how difficult it is to shovel earth onto their dead bodies. I’m a truly sorry. And for your sons, too: growing up with a dog when you are little creates a special bond.

  13. So many facets to life, and wouldn’t we be poorer without them. I’m sorry about your dog; it’s obvious she had a wonderful life of love with your family. I hope you’ll again soon find the comfort of exploring a place that feels like you’re the first humans to see it.

  14. I love reading your blog. So sorry about your loss. Never easy saying good bye. Wishing you and your family peace…

  15. A good dog. I was a WWOOF’er at the place–for only a week, but Penny helped me me feel at home. I was in the Russian black current patch, picking the black berries, and the dog started barking (someone said that her name was Daisy, and I think that it was) She could not see me, but was warning the family of danger. When I came out, to show her that there was no problem, and she saw me, she stopped barking. She was a good-hearted dog.

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