Winter, Old Dogs, Motherhood
The line leapt at me: “The art of the drought is to reduce all things to their outlines.”¹ Yes, I thought as I read a lovely micro-essay about drought and life, that’s what winter does, too. The cold reduces everything to its essence, the essential structure that generates heat, life. Bare trees, milkweed pods with mouths frozen open and silk stripped away, ice probing cracks in the bird bath basin.
My mind went further. Drought. Cold. And aging. The winter of our lives. Things left to dry up, lose warmth, die. Chapped hands and lips. Neglected houseplants, relationships, dreams. Absence as artist, sketches that are crisp, blunt, unmistakeable. Revelation of inner structures.
I think about nourishment. Sustenance. Care. Skeletons hold up the living flesh, the mass that teems with warmth, blood, heart. When all is stripped from a skeleton, bones rattle and clank against each other.
Our old dog Ruby, clearly in the winter of her life, is slowly losing her mass. I feel her bones beneath my hands on her haunches, notice how much more pronounced they are of late. She still prances like a puppy when there is new snow and the temperature hovers in the upper 20s. The rest of the time, she drags herself along, so slow to move around our block that we have cut back the length of her daily walks. She tries to sniff nearly everything, sometimes refuses to step into the garage as if we were trying to shove her off a cliff. She growls at things that aren’t there, hears ghosts. She has begun sleeping by our bed now for the first time in 13 years. With our kids gone to their own apartments, Ruby has no one else to shepherd except for Truffles, our eight-year-old dachshund. Truffles usually obliges, barks when Ruby barks, whines when we take Ruby to the vet, looks for her at bedtime.
As I write this, soft, fluffy, end-of-the-day snowflakes fall and make me long for dinner guests, a pot of good stew, a fireplace. Ruby waits at the top of the stairs near the front door, Truffles right next to her. Mick will be home soon, and we will cook dinner. A cornish hen thaws in water in the sink. One hen will feed both of us and I cannot get used to cooking such small meals. I miss my kids terribly at this time of day; feel like this house holds a skeleton of a family without them here. I did not know that I would be incomplete without my children when I had them, but know it now that they are grown and my mother-self has lost part of its substance.
Ruby seems to understand that. She finds me every morning as I think about the day’s work. She puts her paws in my lap, looks at me with her cloudy old-dog eyes, and insists I pay attention. As I scratch behind her ears and notice how pronounced her skull has become beneath her fur, I mourn how time speeds up. I have so much to do before my skeleton is laid bare. Ruby is right to insist I pay attention. She sits nearby while I write things that make me cry, contemplate droughts, miss my kids, try to find the beauty in winter’s icy art.
¹”The Art of the Drought” by Catherine Jankovic. RiverTeeth Journal’s Beautiful Things blog, January 25, 2016.