Delayed Gratification


Pete and Baby Moses

We are expecting a new puppy: a companion for Moses, and a respite–and new pupil–for Pete. My husband has misgivings about a third dog, and–although I generally keep it to myself–so do I. But, sadly, we won’t have three forever, and I want Pete, the elder statesman, to help train the puppy.

The puppy will be a special one, like Moses, carefully bred to be healthy, smart, even-tempered, gentle, and sweet. Also long-lived. These German Shepherds often live to be 13 or 14 years old, which is long for a big dog. Every day I check the breeder’s website, to see the current puppies, and look for news of the coming event. But today I found out it won’t be late fall, but early spring.

I am a little disappointed, but it gives me time to continue my ruminations on names. Leading contenders for now are Marcus Aurelius (guess why); St. Augustine (remember Augie Doggie?); Herodotus (I know); and George.

Official dog names are usually kind of pompous, with the kennel name in the possessive first, followed by the particular dog’s name.  Still, it’s always possible to have fun with the form. With Peter and Moses we have New Testament and Old Testament represented. But the truth is that Moses’ name, although he is officially Moses, Prince of Egypt, was actually the result of my watching The Ten Commandments too frequently in my youth. I wanted to be able to shake my head sorrowfully and say, “Moses, Moses, Moses.”

I’m kind of leaning toward George. But I am open to suggestions. Drop me a line if you have a perfect name for a big, beautiful, new German Shepherd puppy. Did I mention that he’s expected to be 150 pounds? He’ll need something he can grow into.

If I pick your suggestion, I’ll send you a copy of my latest book.


Moses, left, and Pete on Washington Island.


Moving Forward

So, I have been engrossed in writing the sequel to North of the Tension Line, and then, this past month, immersed in a long and lovely visit from family.

But it has been the writing, mainly, that has engaged my entire heart and mind these past eighteen months. I have done nothing but go to work and write, and in the process have ignored everything from friendships to laundry, and all the common attentions to little things that comprise daily life. The weight of a deadline was heavy, and I simply did not have room in my head for anything else.

With the novel finished and in the hands of my editor, I have begun the process of digging out. I am attempting to renew my connections to the people I care about, to do the laundry, sort the mail and the many dropped details of life, and to attend to this blog. The neglect has left a field strewn with casualties.

So yesterday, alone and unscheduled for the first time in almost a year, I sat down to re-engage here. In the process I re-read old postings, and began, with some dismay, to discover how heavily the theme of death marches through my thoughts. I suppose that I have played out my grief here more thoroughly than I had been conscious of.

I heard someone say recently that we get sadder as we get older. That is clearly the natural trend of things. We are battered by life, by the struggles and the losses, and as we lose our people we become less sheltered from it all. The multiple losses these past eight years have made me acutely aware of my own mortality, and it looms.

This is the struggle. I look back at my parents’ lives, at the lives of my godmother, my 95 year old aunt–who is still with us and struggling herself to find meaning in her loneliness–and I wish I had known enough to listen more closely to them. I did try. I did my best. I still do. But then we get caught up in our own lives. And that is right, too.

I am sure Fiona Campbell would have a quote from Marcus Aurelius to fit here.

So anyway. Getting older and facing loss requires strength and courage and determination and a whole lot of cussedness. We cannot succumb to despair. We must accept the new landscapes of our lives and get on with it. Not with sadness, but with joy and gratitude and, well, cussedness.

Damned if I won’t be happy today.

The Most Beautiful Day in the World

One of my favorite writers, the melancholy anthropologist Loren Eiseley, wrote an essay called “The Most Perfect Day in the World”. In it, he describes a day when, utterly impoverished and riding freight trains across the country, he and a friend stopped in a small town on a sunny day, pooled their resources to buy a case of grape soda, and lay on the grass in the shade of a big tree all day, drinking soda and watching the clouds. This notion of perfection would not suit everyone, but it strikes me as a fine expression of the pure enjoyment of living: when time stops and you can live in this one moment, freed from fear and worry.

Today I am home from the office, ostensibly to proof my manuscript. But I have not done much work.  It is a delightfully cool, breezy June morning, the first time that sunshine has combined with the full fresh bloom of early summer. The dogs and I lolled on the grass before attacking the long list of procrastination–I mean errands–on my list. I walked in the garden where the irises are an edible deep purple, the pink roses are in bud, and the peonies are tight balls waiting to burst. I rambled out to the garage to find the loppers to prune the dead branches from the climbing rose on the arbor, and wrestled them to the ground without too many thorn pricks.  It is impossible to breathe in the air on day like this without experiencing a deep sense of wonder and gratitude. This is how I would like to spend my mornings forever.

But the day’s beauty makes a hard contrast to the suffering happening in this moment in other parts of the world, of the people who are terrified, in pain, in fear of horrible deaths, in an agony of despair for their futures. Marcus Aurelius counsels the practice of these contrasts as a method of valuing each moment of life and of inuring the soul against too much dependence on the vagaries of fortune. I read his teachings, and I have tried to absorb them. And I believe that we must all do what we can to make what we touch better, and to broaden our reach to others. But I think that modern angst is the result of our knowing too much about the suffering we cannot control. We are bombarded by war and poverty and natural disasters in every corner of the world, by the sufferings of people and the sufferings of animals. There is no doubt that we are meant to endure the suffering around us. But the suffering of the whole world is not a burden a human being can bear.

And so, Pete, and Moses and I will go out into the orchard and play ball in the sunshine, grateful for our blessings. But I will also offer my prayers for the souls in the dark, knowing that I am helpless to give them any relief. For us, it is the most beautiful day in the world. And that is how it has to be.