Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘Chuy’

The Call

This is the first of a 3-part journal entry. Read The Longest Ride (November 2014) followed by One Step of Our Journey (December 2014) for the rest of the story. -Paz

My puppy

My puppy

I identify myself as a “dog person”. This must be understood as a preface to this entry. To many folks, a dog is a fine pet. To dog people, they’re barely a notch below children as members of our family, the beings we choose to love. I have had the privilege of having dogs accompany me in my journey throughout my entire life.

This one, Chuy, is a rare, once-in-a-lifetime canine companion. I’ve known many dogs, but none such as he. He’s very loving, smart, well-behaved (mostly), and has become the neighborhood dog. We live in the country, and he has always known total freedom to come and go as he pleased. He heads across the road to Tom & Lynn’s house, where they feed him hot dogs at their cookouts. He meanders up the road a piece to Mike & Michelle’s, and they were delighted when they could finally get him to come into their home.  If you’re a regular reader of ACZ, you know many entries include Chuy, and our lives together.

Last Wednesday I received the call.

“You’d better come home.” my wife said solemnly. “I think Scoob’s had a stroke.” (While my name for him has always been Chuy, others know him by the name my son gave him: Scooby Doo. Scoob for short. Scoober as the neighbors call him.)

At thirteen and-a-half years old, I can’t say I haven’t thought about the end of our trail together. In a way, though on the brink of tears, I was relieved in some sense that this end would come in a natural and peaceful fashion at home.  Not some terrible calamity, such as being hit by a car. (To understand my devotion to Chuy’s right to liberty, including the crossing of the ever-dangerous road, see ACZ archives Reply to a Senior Samurai, October 2013).

When I arrived home, Chuy was in the kitchen, lying beneath the kitchen table, one of his favorite spots. A typical greeting would include his trotting over to me, tail wagging, or perhaps walking slowly if he’d just arisen from an afternoon nap. Dog people know how a dog expresses emotion. Taffy actually smiled, as I’ve seen a few other dogs do. They imitate humans by pulling up their noses to bare their front teeth. It’s fun if you’re lucky enough to experience it. It’s scary to strangers, as they think your dog has rabies.

This evening, Chuy did not give me his happy face. In fact, he didn’t even lift his head as I knelt beside him to kiss the top of his furry head. His left eye twitched, highlighted by the eyebrow mark on his fur. He could not stand.

We’re never ready to say goodbye.

I was glad for Chuy that, in spite of this strange occurrence that must place him somewhere between confused and scared, he was in his own home with his favorite people. I spent a long time lying on the floor beside him, reminding him that he had done a great job, how he was the best puppy ever.

It saddens me that we can’t explain things to our animal friends. This is the Vet, you’ll be okay. You’re recovering from anesthesia, which is why the world is swimming. I’ll help you ambulate, and you’ll be okay. Thunder can’t hurt you, you must know by now, after all these years. I’m here, you’ll be okay.

Tonight I could not tell my fuzzy friend that he would be okay. Well, maybe I could. Maybe I did. Truth is, while dying and leaving and death and illness are scary or even painful sometimes, once we’re past that, everything is okay. At least for the one leaving.

It was with a heavy heart that I kissed the top of Chuy’s head and said “Good night, good puppy.”. We couldn’t know for sure where we were headed tonight, tomorrow, but we expected Chuy would leave us, silently in the night. What more could any of us hope for?

I slept on the couch so I wouldn’t be far away if he sniffed for me or perhaps cried out. I didn’t want to go to a bedroom where he would be unable to do so.

A great calm overtook me. Not that I wasn’t saddened or heartbroken. Anxious about what the morning would bring. But this is what we do. For our animals, for each other. I’ll put on my brave face, I will smile for you. Whatever needs to be navigated now, I will do so with clear and sober devotion.

I could feel a change in my world already, and knew that when we greeted tomorrow’s sunrise, things would be irreversibly different.

It was a quiet and uneventful night. In the morning, light would streak through the windows of a silent home. There would be no jingling tags on a collar. There would be no wet nose waking me.

Next time: The Longest Ride.


Be at peace,

All beings with hearts.

Human animals, and otherwise.





So Long, snow




Half the world lives in places that never see snow.  Some people live in places that are never without snow! I have the great fortune to live in New York State, almost dead-center. Here we have exciting, adventurous, beautiful snowy winters. We’re fortunate also to witness a true spring. It lasts a couple of months as bit-by-bit the effects of winter fade. Red Osier Dogwood and Pussy Willows are some of the earliest signs. This year I discovered Pussy Willows on the branches in February! (We had an odd warm spell). The dogwood practically glows red in the fields as it flushes in preparation for a spring bloom.

Last fall we planted more bulbs on the south side. We placed them in the ground directly in front of the kitchen window. Looking ahead, it seemed like a good plan to be able to see these first signs of spring at our earliest opportunity. Last week, a couple of little shoots pushed their way up through the frozen soil, surrounded by snow.

The next thing to watch for is Colt’s Foot, a small, short-lived flower that looks much like a Dandelion. Colt’s Foot is the first flower we’ll see here, and usually it makes its début in late March. Looks like it will be April this year, ’cause I haven’t seen one yet. This is truly an elixir, the signal to start the bursting of spring.

Saturday, Chuy and I took our hike to the top of Nishan’s Hill. Where just a few weeks ago I needed snowshoes to traverse the trail, now there are oval slabs of ice on the grass, frozen echoes of snowshoe-footprints. Now we can step around snow and walk on the grass, hidden beneath its frosty blanket for months.

As we hiked, I was avoiding the snow. What a “new” and refreshing experience to be able to walk on grasses. To move almost silently up the trail. Chuy walked as he pleased, sometimes in the snow, and sometimes not. At the top of the hill, I noticed he was walking mostly in the snow. He loves the snow, and burrowing his nose deep within it, sniffing for rodent life beneath the snowpack. A few bites of snow are as good as a drink of water. Then he turned and looked at me with his “C’mon!” look.  At that moment, I imagined that perhaps he wanted me to be walking in the snow, sniffing and biting too.

Gleefully I stepped into the snow drift, now barely a foot deep at its best, not more than two inches where we walked. I kicked up the snow at Chuy, dusting him with a spray of crystalline water drops. He seems to enjoy that. Just another form of play. If we gently throw snowballs at him, he likes that, too.

That’s when it struck me, that this is the end of the snow. I felt a little twinge. It’s been such a long, cold winter, with record snows. We should be glad to see the snow gone. Still, the snow is our special friend, mine & Chuy’s. Snow walks are intimate affairs, just he & I. Who else would go out for a “walk” at 16 degrees with a fifteen-mile-per-hour wind blowing, snowshoeing through two feet of snow? It is the very essence of solitude.

I paused for a moment to look at an impression in the ice. Today it was not springy, at about 18 degrees (F).  Ice had preceded the snow, and in this spot I found two prints in the solid ice, like fossilized footprints in the sand. Looking like glass, there was my footprint, a boot print prior to snow shoe time. Centered in my boot print was Chuy’s paw print, perfectly rendered in glass crystal. It spoke so much to my heart that I wished I had a camera with me, to capture that image.

Chuy turned 13 in January. His once-black and tan face is half-filled with white. The top of his head, too, is going gray. Each day I spend with him, each walk in summer or winter, feels precious. Numbered.

I danced about in the snow with Chuy. I kicked up snow with my boots, he flung snow with his nose. We sank deep in soft spots and we slipped and slid over icy spots. We gave Winter, the snow, the ice, a great send-off, a bon voyage, a “See You Next Year, Old Friend”. I savored the last moments of this simple wonderment. The millions of pine needles that litter the snow at the edges of the forest. The tiny and not-so-tiny tracks in the snow. Deer, mice, rabbits, fox…maybe a bobcat. Little tunnels dug beneath the snow in the depths of the season of darkness were now revealed, looking like the canals of Mars.

Snow Fossils

Snow Fossils

On the way back, I made it a point, went out of my way if needed, to keep walking in the snow.

Back at the house, enough snow had melted to expose several squeaky green balls on the lawn. Lost to the snowfall half a year ago, now they have returned. Ready for spring.

We’re ready for spring, too. Me, Chuy, the pines and the rabbits.

Winter can be hard work. Perhaps that’s why spring has such an appeal, such excitement around the change of season.

We’re going to miss the snow.

It’s moments like this that make me look to the big picture. Savor those memories of the snow. Shining brutal winter days. Ice storms like crystals. Snow Geese. A footprint.

Cast our eyes to the spring, and try not to think about the return of the snow. Another winter. People will think you’re crazy.

In my wishful dream, we’ll all still be here when it arrives.

View From The Top

View From The Top

Be at peace,



Rural Zen: Winter

 FEB2010snow 020

As the door swings open, Chuy races past to be the first outside. He pauses just a moment as he sees the new fallen snow, ten or twelve inches deep, then leaps headlong into it. A few rolls on his back, paws nearly straight in the air, a gleeful snow bath. Then the nose digs deep, sniffing out some industrious rodent eking out a life below the snow. Then he’ll pick the snow up on the top of his nose and throw it into the air and try to catch it in his mouth. Finally, a look over his shoulder at me, as I clumsily move through the door and down the step wearing snowshoes.

And we’re off! Chuy leaps and makes turns in the air, frankly somewhat remarkable for a twelve-year-old, seventy-five pound Akita mix. “Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch” sound the snowshoes as they make their way across the yard, past the apple tree, past the barn. The sound tells us it’s very cold, certainly below twenty degrees. The snow makes a certain sound when temperatures are far below freezing.

Blizzard of February 11

Fifteen-mile-per-hour winds whip up snow devils and try to drive the cold and flakes into the carefully sealed places around my neck and head. The bright, full sun’s rays can barely be felt on the skin, hardly registering as warmth.

We trek eastward, walking the side of the runways, crossing to the rifle range trail. Birds flit about, diving and perching, singing as if it was spring. How can those tiny things be so oblivious to the cold and wind?

Crystalline snow drifts and piles at the edges of footprints, paw prints, rock walls and shrub lines. Flakes dance like diamonds before me, as shiny as gemstones, reflecting the sun. A glittering field of snow unfolds before us as we reach the top of the trail and turn north.

It’s wearing on me now. After the first quarter-mile my legs remind me that they don’t often wear boats on their feet nor try to trod through foot-deep sand. As muscles call for more oxygen, the top buttons are loosened, the scarf comes off. Even at fifteen degrees, the hike starts heating the core, demanding ventilation. The blast of icy air freezes perspiration on the skin, yet the relief from overheating is welcome.


The last two hundred feet rises steadily to the top of the hill. Another thirty feet in elevation, another hundred steps in fluffy drifts driven by the wind. The lines, arcs, swirls and swells decorate the hill, cover our path in three-foot deep crests. By now Chuy, typically insistent on leading, is behind me. The first half mile requiring him to leap off the ground to take the next step is wearing on him. Now I am breaking trail for him with the snowshoes, and he’s satisfied with second place for a time.

Ten more steps, five, three. Each one is a bit of labor now. One more. Then one more. Then one more.

And alas, we arrive at the top of the hill. There is no sound but “the sweep of gentle wind and downy flake.”.

Here at the top, I’ll pause and rest. Three hundred degrees of views (60 are pines), all below me, radiate vast expanses of bright white. Here and there are patches of green, tangles of gray-browns, distant visages of human encroachments; barns, a road.

The wind seems to pick up, sweeping two miles from the lee of Victory Mountain to the west. Rolling down the steep grade and plummeting into the hills and hollows of Engleville, and all its 26 residents (and their pets).

It’s not really uncomfortable, though the only exposed skin on the face reminds us it is brutally cold. Five layers of fabric and a workout helps. I can feel the wind pushing on me, making me sway like a sapling. This is visceral and tangible and exciting and real. I could shout at the top of my lungs from here and be heard by none other than Chuy.  I take another moment, another 300-degrees drink of the pristine snow, the stark landscape dotted with naked deciduous trees, frozen grapevines and pines that scoff at winter.

Chuy comes alongside. It can’t be more than five minutes since we reached this place, our summit, our beautiful, silent private place. Our alter. He’s too encumbered by the deep snow for the usual twenty-minute exploratory escapades over to the tree line, back toward the woods, down the slope behind Maggie’s pond.

He looks up at me as if to say “Well, I suppose…”

The wind is whipping up the hill, blasting us in the face as we turn westward and toward home.

As we pass the pines, without thinking, I speak aloud.

“The woods are lovely. Dark and deep.”


As the evening sky turns February Gold and January Blue, it seems the greens and yellows of our Mays and Junes are but a distant memory, a folktale, a myth.

Yet there is in this moment, in this cold, in this wind-driven snow, a sense of peace and belonging. 

As shadows grow longer, we brace and bear down into the wind.

Well, one of us does. The other is throwing snow in the air with his nose, and catching it.

“Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch…”



%d bloggers like this: