Walked the Labs along the river early this morning. We surprised a great blue heron, one standing stoically in shallow water, hunting breakfast. It squawked its displeasure, then flew low along the Potomac, transforming its body into flight. It is cold, but clear here.
When I returned, I received an email from my brother Fran with the sad news that the clan has lost one of its own. Her name: Barley. Her form while on this earth: Wheaten Terrier.
Years ago, when she was a pup, Ms. Barley would come to Aunt Mary's Summer Canine Camp, to play with the Labs for a week while her family went south to the beach. At that point, Barley was unaccustomed to stairs, afraid to go down the six in this split level to the freedom of the yard. Ms. Margaret, ever the teacher, took over.
Margaret ran down the stairs to the landing by the front door, turned and woofed at the nervous wigglin'-tail Barley, who whimpered at the top step. "C'mon, Barley. You can do it."
Nope. Not yet.
Margaret ran up the stairs, nudged Barley on the side of her face, as if to say, "Watch," and bounded down the steps once more. Barley cocked her head, then put her front paws on the second step.
This lesson didn't take very long, as Barley had both beauty and brains. A few more minutes of this tutorial in motion gave Barley the courage to plunge down those stairs to the joy of running around the yard with her instructor. After that, traveling up and down was no problem.
"I mourn the hole in my soul without her," my brother wrote in his letter this morning. Yes, I am reminded about that in the sound of Margaret's more-labored breathing as she walks along country roads at dawn. And how it is noticable that Walt has a few more grey hairs on his chin these days when he places his head on my leg as I sit working at the computer.
These dogs are our teachers. They show us that it is OK to bark when something isn't right, that there is nothing wrong with making a fool out of yourself when you care about someone else. That treating others well is the respectful thing to do. And that loyalty never, ever goes out of fashion.
Image: Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier from The Faithful Dog