A powerful and compelling post from friend and follower: John Hurlburt.
Anyone who can compose phrases such as “an enlightened interest in the quality of the harvest of our transitory lives” deserves to be listened to! Our friend, John, from our Payson, AZ, days, is a regular author of essays that arrive here in Hugo Road via the mail. It’s always a pleasure to read John’s words and frequently I feel the need to share them with you, dear reader. So it was with John’s latest.
I’ll say no more except to promise you that you will be enthralled.
Arrogance ‘R Us
We hear the drumbeat of steadily increasing global, national, state, regional and local problems every day. When common-sense solutions are offered for any of these problems, the solutions are immediately demonized as actions which would aggravate the problems they would logically solve. This sort of nonsensical circular argument is both a paralyzing paradox and a guaranteed death spiral for our relatively young biological species.
We imagine that we know far more than we do. The Earth doesn’t need living species in order to regenerate life. Human beings continue to need the Earth from which we are made and which sustains our consciously aware being. Some of us believe that having money is the answer to all our problems. Actually, the imaginary power of human “money” is killing life on Earth from the bottom of the food chain up.
Every government in the world competes with every other government in the world for power and control to one degree or another. The richer the nation, the greater it’s illusion of power. We’ve forgotten about responsibility, morality and faith in the power of Nature. Change is a constant. Failure to adapt to change is a death knell for living beings.
We live to learn. Why? Is death a finality or a new beginning? Both classic and quantum physics recognize Conservation of Information and the exchange of energy and matter at the level of fundamental forces. How much of the energy of our lives is absorbed by the cosmos and how much is recycled as life energy? We have no earthly idea of the answer.
Aye, there’s the rub.
We do know that everything fits together. Otherwise, we’d be random atoms. We also know that the cosmos does not exist for the pleasure of human beings. To the contrary, if the cosmos were even minimally different, life as we know it would not exist. We are an infinitesimally small part of Reality.
Statistically, we’re not alone as consciously aware life forms in our universe. When we release ourselves from the bondage of our biological limitations, we connect with the living energy of our planet in harmony with the geo-magnetic network of our planet, our living galaxy, and our living universe. We realize that other life on Earth shares conscious awareness in varying degrees.
Don’t believe it? That’s a matter of choice. Consider that denying the facts of reality is a foundation for ignorance. Letting go is a gateway to enlightenment.
Those who do not accept change profess to believe that the immensity of a universe beyond our inclusive comprehension has existed since the beginning of time solely for their personal benefit. Their corporate slogan is “Arrogance ‘R Us”.
More precisely, the statistical probability of human conscious awareness being unique in the universe is so infinitesimal that it would be laughable if it weren’t for our present species peril.
Not only have we amassed enough fire power to turn the earth into a burning sphere overnight, we are now proceeding to systematically and efficiently eliminate the natural resources we need to live.
We can’t eat computers or opinions. Clean air, clean water, clean food and clean energy are more than slogans. They’re essential for human life. Are we a swarm of predatory locusts or are we stewards of the blessings of a life we don’t fully understand?
Money has dissolved the human contract with Nature which began about 14 million years ago on a planet that’s been around in one form or another for roughly the last 14 billion years. Preservation, sustainability and natural efficiency are enemies of our present delusional global economic system. No living species on Earth is safe from the ecocide being committed by human insanity. We’re experiencing a systemic failure and treating it as a side-show.
We’re suffering from a fatally immoral addiction to what we may personally consider to be the good life. It’s time for our conscious awareness to transcend self and species. We need to combine our spiritual awareness, our natural awareness, our moral awareness, our cultural awareness, our social awareness and our common sense for the immediate purpose of preserving, sustaining and accepting the natural efficiency of our pale blue dot in a universally remote solar system.
So, where do we begin? We begin wherever we are. Today is the tomorrow we dreamed of yesterday. What is our vision of tomorrow? Is it an Earth that is unchanging in the midst of constant change? Is it an Earth that is scorched and barren? Perhaps it can become an Earth that continues to grow and nurture our existence.
The choice is made by our daily actions. Time is not currently in our favor. Freedom is not the exclusive privilege of wealth. Freedom is everyone’s responsibility. Poverty is the deadliest form of violence. Seven trillion dollars of worthless derivatives tick like a time-bomb in dank Wall Street sub-basements. Environmental bankruptcy threatens all life on Earth. It’s more than past half-time to face our shared Reality. There’s no place to hide.
We grieve our former lives. We begin with the suppressed anger we have self-generated through fear until it has become a traumatic syndrome. The antidote for fear is faith. What do we believe? What are our values? Are we moral, semi-moral, immoral or amoral? Do we believe we are the purpose of the Cosmos or a relatively young animal living on a garden planet far from the heart of an emerging universe? Is our immediate gratification more important than any long-term purpose?
Global recovery depends upon inclusive personal recovery and the ability to recognize the urgency of our common purpose. Personal and cultural recovery begin by surrendering the illusionary cocoon of “self”. Stepping stones include daily humility, hope, study, acceptance, inventory, amends, sharing and compassionate service. The result is a new lease on life.
We surrender our politics. We learn to think for ourselves. We question authority. We test our ideas and follow the evidence. Science belongs to all of us. We reserve judgment. We realize that our imagination is nothing in comparison to the majesty of the truth of our shared Reality. We become creative rather than destructive.
We build a global resource management system based on the concepts of common well-being, strategic preservation and strategic efficiency. Our objective is to maintain, grow and recycle natural resources utilizing our technology as a constructive tool rather than as a weapon.
The concept of ownership needs to be replaced by the idea of strategic access to what we need as opposed to what we may superficially believe or think we want. We stop competing and start co-operating as the result of an enlightened interest in the quality of the harvest of our transitory lives.
As we live and learn together, we realize that love is as important to life as air, food, water and shelter.
Peace beyond all understanding,
an old lamplighter
Fabulous essay! Breathtakingly so! Making it clear that there is so much for us humans to learn! Yet offering a clear pathway to that learning. Starting with unconditional love and openness! Now where’s a dog to learn from!
If you do a search on Learning from Dogs for Terry Hershey you will find that his name comes up from time to time. Way back in March, 2011, I published a post announcing a visit by Terry to Payson, AZ where Jean and I were then living. Having had the opportunity to listen to Terry speaking and to meet him in person, I have maintained a subscription to his weekly Sabbath Moment ever since.
Thus it was that last Sunday in came the regular missive from Terry. They are always good but last Sunday’s was spectacularly good. In response to my request to publish the full Sabbath Moment here on Learning from Dogs, there was a prompt reply to the affirmative.
Thus with no further ado, here is Terry’s Sabbath Moment for May 5th, 2014, in full.
May 5, 2014
It seems that in the spiritual world, we do not really find something until we first lose it, ignore it, miss it, long for it, choose, it, and personally find it again–but now on a new level.Richard Rohr
Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise. Julia Cameron
I was born fragile, farther said. I was just born that way. He said I was a nervous baby. Just born like that.David Helfgott
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.Michelangelo
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson began her career as an accomplished viola player. While on tour in Europe (in the late 1980s), her viola was stolen. She could have replaced it. As would be imagined, the theft threw her into a state of feeling lost and uncertain. She stopped playing. After awhile, Lorraine began to work with only instrument she had, her voice.
When asked, Lorraine stresses that her decision to go into singing happened quite naturally. “There were a lot of encouragements along the way, but no individual, earth-shaking event that made me change,” she says. “But, back in 1988, when my viola was stolen, I took that as a sort of omen.” (And although she hasn’t yet replaced her stolen viola, she avows that “the viola is always with me in spirit when I sing.”)
Interestingly, Lorraine is shy about being interviewed; she has no press agent. But when she sings she is known for an ever-widening swath of ardor and awe that she leaves in her wake. An intensity. Her voice–her singing–touches hearts and lives. The irony is that the gift–the artistry–she has given us all, began when life turned left.
Ask any class of kindergarten students, “How many of you are artists?”
How many raise their hands? Every single one of them.
Ask fourth graders. Maybe half.
Seventh graders. A handful.
Seniors in high school. Maybe one.
It’s quite the educational system we have created. We begin with artists, and we slowly wean it out of them.
I do know this: it is easy to lose sight of that artist that resides inside of each one of us. Whether lost or buried or stuck or forgotten or dismissed or ignored… or “stolen.” (Whenever I lead a retreat, Crayolas are mandatory–because it is an unwritten spiritual principle that you cannot learn about life unless you color. It is curious then, how many–otherwise secure adults–will say, “I’m not very good at coloring.” I will say, “Who said anything about being ‘good’ at it?” Our mind has already morphed from play and wonder to mastery and proficiency.)
When we tag or label or describe ourselves, “artist” is seldom used. Where I was raised, artist was a phase you went through (a dream), you know, to grow out of, to, move on to something more useful and sensible–in order to get a real job.
Yes, of course we are all inner artists, but the cynical part of me tells me that it all sounds too much like a mantra meant to be chanted standing in a circle at a “be all you can be” conference. Sure, it all sounds good.
But I’m not sure what it really means.
In the opening scenes of Shine, we first meet the middle-aged David Helfgott (played by acclaimed Australian stage actor Geoffrey Rush), babbling to himself incessantly and wandering in the rain, in a state of transition. Behind him is the isolated existence as a child piano prodigy whose emotional turmoil led to a nervous breakdown, and a series of stays in various mental institutions. Ahead of him is his eventual reconnection with the world around him, guided by both love and his virtuoso talent that has been long abandoned. We witness the awakening of the artist. In the movie (and in real life), David eventually moves toward that which gives life.
So, what is this artist? It is the place in our spirit that births…
creativity, enchantment, imagination, play, risk and wonder.
There is no doubt that we hide it. We don’t believe it. Or we judge it as inadequate.
But here’s the deal: The artist in David did not reside only in the talent or prodigy or genius, but in the spontaneity, vitality, innocence, passion and delight. And the artist in Lorraine wasn’t detoured by life’s unkindness.
For me, the tragedy is that (in the name of love) David’s father (Peter) squeezes the artist out of the prodigy. But in truth, it doesn’t always require a pathological “love” to hide or extinguish the light.
In the movie rendition, there is a scene that stops my heart. David and his father are walking home after a competition. David has placed second.
(In his father’s eyes, anything other that first is a failure.) The father is seething, and there is no hiding his disgust. David has lived his entire life absorbing his father’s pathology, doing his very best to make his Daddy happy. The father walks ahead, hurried, his spirit heavy. David follows. On the sidewalk, in chalk, there is a hopscotch pattern.The camera follows from behind, and we see young David unconsciously, intuitively, childlike, hopping and skipping and jumping — the joy and the light (and the artistry) of his childhood still alive.
I don’t want to lose sight of that childlike artistry inside of me. I’m home for a week or so, and the garden is abounding and teeming with life and color and enchantment. The peony buds profligate, the bearded iris blooms beguiling, the columbine exquisite. The branches of the Japanese Maple, heavy with spring rain, deferentially bow. I once asked my analyst why I was in therapy. He told me it would make me a better gardener. Gardening can be strong medicine–an elixir that nurtures and shapes the soul. For that reason, it is a tonic seldom taken straight with no ice. Gardening has way of seeping into your soul, and one day you find yourself, in the words of poet May Sarton, spending the first half hour of the morning “enjoying the air and watching for miracles,” the joy and the light still alive.
I dip my pen in the blackest ink, because I’m not afraid of falling into my inkpot.Ralph Waldo Emerson
Hope you all enjoyed this just as much as I did!
But I can’t close without mentioning something that struck me the very first time I read the essay. It is this.
That list that describes artistry: creativity, enchantment, imagination, play, risk and wonder. It’s not a million miles from describing the way our younger dogs behave when we take them for a walk around the property most days after lunch.
In yesterday’s first part of my recollection of having Pharaoh in my life for over ten years, I focussed on the early days. Today, I want to take a more philosophical view of the relationship, right up to the present day.
The biggest, single reward of having Pharaoh as my friend goes back a few years. Back to my Devon days and the time when Jon Lavin and I used to spend hours talking together. Pharaoh always contentedly asleep in the same room as the two of us. It was Jon who introduced me to Dr. David Hawkins and his Map of Consciousness. It was Jon one day who looking down at the sleeping Pharaoh pointed out that Dr. Hawkins offered evidence that dogs are integrous creatures with a ‘score’ on that Map of between 205 and 210. (Background story is here.)
So this blog, Learning from Dogs, and my attempt to write a book of the same name flow from that awareness of what dogs mean to human consciousness and what Pharaoh means to me. No, more than that! From that mix of Jon, Dr. David Hawkins, experiencing the power of unconditional love from an animal living with me day-in, day-out, came a journey into my self. Came the self-awareness that allowed me to like who I was, be openly loved by this dog of mine, and be able to love in return. As is said: “You cannot love another until you love yourself.”
Trying to pick out a single example of the bond that he and I have is practically impossible. I have to rely on photographs to remind me of the thousands of times that a simple look or touch between Pharaoh and me ‘speaks’ to me in ways that words fail. Here’s an extract from my celebration of Pharaoh’s tenth birthday last June 3rd; written the following day. It comes pretty close to illustrating the friendship bond.
For many years I was a private pilot and in later days had the pleasure, the huge pleasure, of flying a Piper Super Cub, a group-owned aircraft based at Watchford Farm in South Devon. The aircraft, a Piper PA-18-135 Super Cub, was originally supplied to the Dutch Air Force in 1954 and was permitted by the British CAA to carry her original military markings including her Dutch military registration, R-151, although there was a British registration, G-BIYR, ‘underneath’ the Dutch R-151. (I wrote more fully about the history of the aircraft on Learning from Dogsback in August 2009.)
Anyway, every time I went to the airfield with Pharaoh he always tried to climb into the cockpit. So one day, I decided to see if he would sit in the rear seat and be strapped in. Absolutely no problem with that!
My idea had been to fly a gentle circuit in the aircraft. First I did some taxying around the large grass airfield that is Watchford to see how Pharaoh reacted. He was perfectly behaved.
Then I thought long and hard about taking Pharaoh for a flight. In the Cub there is no autopilot so if Pharaoh struggled or worse it would have been almost impossible to fly the aircraft and cope with Pharaoh. So, in the end, I abandoned taking him for a flight. The chances are that it would have been fine. But if something had gone wrong, the outcome just didn’t bear thinking about.
So we ended up motoring for 30 minutes all around the airfield which, as the next picture shows, met with doggie approval. The date was July 2006.
Moving on again. This time to another flying experience. To the day when Pharaoh and I flew out of London bound for Los Angeles and a new life with Jeannie and all her dogs (16 at that time) down in San Carlos, Sonora County, Mexico. The date: September 15th, 2008. Just ten months after I had met Jean in Mexico and realised that this was the woman that I was destined to love! (Now you will understand why I described earlier the Jon Lavin, Dr. Hawkins, Pharaoh mix as the biggest, single reward of having Pharaoh as my friend!)
There followed wonderful happy days for me and Pharaoh. Gorgeous to see how Pharaoh became so much more a dog, if that makes sense, from having his own mini-pack around him. Those happy days taking us all forwards to Payson, AZ, where Jean and I were married, and then on to Merlin, Oregon arriving here in October, 2012.
I could go on! Hopefully, you get a sense, a very strong sense, of the magical journey that both Pharaoh and I have experienced since I first clasped him in my arms back in September, 2003.
Both Pharaoh and I are in the Autumn of our lives, he is 11 in June; I am 70 in November, and we both creak a little. But so what! Pharaoh has been my greatest inspiration of the power of unconditional love; of the need to smell the flowers in this short life of ours.
Last week, I wrote about Hazel. The week before Jean wrote about Casey. This week it’s back to Jean writing about the one little dog we have here at home: Sweeny.
On that day we lost Poppy back in February, 2011, when we were still living in Payson, Arizona, it was as though she had been vaporised! Dear, sweet little Poppy. A ten-pound Poodle mix I had rescued in Mexico. She had been living in and around a Mexican construction site and when I rescued her she was very scrawny and without hair. But Poppy, as I named her, soon blossomed into a little, blonde, beauty and I grew to love her very much. Prior to Poppy, I had always liked the bigger dog but Poppy taught me the pleasures of a ‘lap’ dog that also happily slept under the covers at night with Paul and me.
Most afternoons in Payson, we took some of the dogs for a walk along a trail hike of about 2 miles. The dogs were allowed to be off-leash and loved it. Poppy always came and stayed with me, never leaving the trail as did the other, bigger dogs. That February, it was a chilly Winter’s day (Payson and area were at 5,000 feet above sea-level) and we were all dropping down into a dry wash when I glanced behind to check that Poppy was handling the slope. To my total horror, she wasn’t in sight. Indeed, Poppy was never seen again.
Despite days spent scouring the terrain, notices in Payson shops, radio announcements on the local radio station; it all came to nought. Poppy was gone! Locals that we spoke with and who knew the area of desert where the trails were, the Granite Dells, were all of the opinion that Poppy had been stalked by a coyote that would most likely have grabbed her in an instant. Such happenings had been known before.
I was inconsolable with guilt. I had let Poppy down by not giving her enough attention and it lay heavily upon me. For weeks and weeks I moped, missed her snuggles and that cute, little body crawling into the bed with me. One day, I broached the idea with Paul of adopting a small dog from the local Humane Society. Naturally, Paul agreed in an instant and in next to no time we had jumped in the car and were heading to the Society.
I wanted an older dog but the two small dogs that the Society had were really only suited for adoption into a one-dog household. The Society did, however, have two puppies from a mother that had been taken in by them when that dog was heavily pregnant. The pups had been born and raised at the shelter.
It was love at first sight when they handed me the puppy that was destined to become Sweeny. Sweeny Todd to give him his full name was a two-pound bundle of fluff.
Today, Sweeny is a twenty-pound terrier mix. A very ‘sassy’ little dog that is as much loved by his doggie brothers and sisters. Sweeny, too, sleeps on the bed, laying alongside me and the edge of the bed so that he isn’t between Paul and me. Sweeny has developed the habit of waking me in the morning by laying, full-bodied, over my face; to the point of me not being able to breathe. Guess I shouldn’t have called him Sweeny Todd! 😉
No dog will ever take the place of Poppy or fully assuage me of my guilt that I still feel to some extent. But ‘The Sween’ has helped beyond measure.
In yesterday’s post about meeting Dhalia, I spoke about a story that was written three years ago. It was the Summer of 2011 and Jean and I had signed up to a Creative Writing course that was being run at our local college in Payson, Arizona where we were then living. This story was a course exercise. While it was published a couple of years ago on Learning from Dogs the fabulous response to the Meet the dogs – Dhalia post yesterday merits it being offered to you, dear reader, for a second time.
The story is fictional. However, the idea for the story was triggered by an event when we were living in Payson, AZ when Dhalia did run off and was lost for a couple of hours, thankfully finding her own way back to the house. Thus while the event did not take place, the location and names of all concerned are real! The photographs are genuine and selected because they seemed so apt for the story, fictional or otherwise. Hope you enjoy!
Messages from the Night
“Jean, where’s Dhalia?”
“Don’t know. She was here just moments ago.”
“Jeannie, you take the other dogs back to the car and I’ll go and scout around for her. Oh, and you better put Pharaoh on the leash otherwise you know he’ll follow me.”
“Paul, don’t worry, Dhalia’s always chasing scents; bet she beats us back to the car. Especially as it’s going to be dark soon.”
Nonetheless, he started back down the dusty, dirt road, the last rays of the sun pink on the high, tumbled cliffs of granite. This high rocky, forest plateau, known as the Granite Dells, just three miles from their home on the outskirts of Payson, made perfect dog-walking country and rarely did they miss an afternoon out here. However this afternoon, for reasons he was unclear about, they had left home much later than usual.
There was no sign of Dhalia ahead on the road so he struck off left, hoping she was somewhere up amongst the trees and the high boulders. Soon he reached the first crest, panting hard in the thin air. Behind him, across the breath-taking landscape, the setting sun had dipped beneath faraway mountain ridges; a magnificent sight. Suddenly, in the midst of that brief pause admiring this perfect evening, a sound echoed around the cliffs. The sound of a dog barking. He bet his life on that being Dhalia. Just as quickly the barking stopped.
The barking started up again, barking that suggested Dhalia was hunting something. The sound came from an area of boulders way up above the pine trees on the other side of the small valley ahead of him. Perhaps, Dhalia had trapped herself. More likely, he reflected, swept up in the evening scents of the wilderness, Dhalia had temporarily reverted back to the wild, hunting dog she had been all those years ago. That feral Mexican street dog who in 2005 had tentatively turned away from scavenging in a pile of rubbish in a dirty Mexican town and shyly approached Jean. An approach that forever more changed the futures for both the dog and Jean. Jean had named her Dhalia.
He set off down to the valley floor and after fifteen minutes of hard climbing had reached the high boulders on the far side.
He whistled, then called “Dhalia! Dhalia! Come, there’s a good girl.” Thank goodness for such a sweet, obedient dog. He anticipated the sound of dog feet scampering through rough undergrowth. But no sound came.
He listened so intently. There were no sounds, no more barking. Where oh where had she gone? Perhaps past these boulders down in the next steep ravine beyond him, the one so densely forested with pine trees. With daylight practically gone he needed to find Dhalia soon.
He plunged down the slope, through tree branches that whipped across his face, then fell heavily as his foot found empty space instead of the expected firm ground. He cursed, picked himself up and paused. That fall had a message. The madness of continuing this search in the near dark. This terrain made very rough going even in daylight. At night, the boulders and plunging ravines would guarantee a busted body, at best! Plus, he ruefully admitted, he didn’t have a clue about finding his way back to the road from wherever he now was!
The unavoidable truth smacked him full in the face. He would be spending this night alone in the high, open forest. It had one hell of a very scary dimension.
He forced himself not to dwell on just how scary it all felt. He needed to stay busy, find some way of keeping warm; last night at home it had dropped to within a few degrees of freezing. He looked around, seeing a possible solution. He broke a small branch off a nearby mesquite tree and made a crude brush with which he swept up the fallen pine needles he saw everywhere about him. Soon he had a large stack of needles sufficient to cover him, or so he hoped. Thank goodness that when he and Jeannie had decided to give the four dogs this late afternoon walk, he was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, a pullover thrown over his shoulders. Didn’t make Dhalia’s antics any less frustrating but he probably wasn’t going to freeze to death!
He lay down, shuffled about, swept the pine needles across his body, tried to find a position that carried some illusion of comfort. The air temperature was sinking as if connected to those last rays of the sun. His confidence was sinking in harmony with the temperature. The isolation and loneliness of his predicament was enveloping him like some evil, dark cloud.
No matter the physical position that he adopted with his body, he couldn’t silence his mind. He couldn’t silence the screaming in his head; his deep, primeval fear of this dark forest about him, imagination already running away with visions of hostile night creatures, large and small, watching him, smelling him, biding their time. Perhaps he might sleep for a while and give his imagination a rest? A moment later he was struck by the absurdity of that last thought. Caused him to utter aloud, “You stupid old fool. There’s no way you’re going to sleep through this!” His words echoed back from unseen cliffs nearby in the darkness reinforcing his sense of isolation.
He was very frightened. Why so? Where in his psyche did that come from? He had spent many nights alone at sea without a problem; solo sailing a thousand miles from shore. But, of course, then he knew his location, always had a radio link to the outside world. Being lost in this dark, lonely forest touched something very deep in him. He started shivering.
The slightest movement caused the needles to slip from him and the cold night air began to penetrate his body. He mused about how cold it might get and, by extension, thanked his lucky stars that the night was early October not, say, mid-December. So far, not too cold. But soon it was the fear rather than the temperature that started to devour him. What stupid fool said, ‘Nothing to fear but fear itself!’ His plan to sleep under pine needles, fear or no fear, had failed; he couldn’t get warm. He had to move.
He looked around, faintly saw a boulder a few yards away, like some giant, black shadow. No details, just this huge outline etched against the night. He carefully raised himself, felt the remaining needles fall away from him, and gingerly shuffled across to the dark rock. He half-expected something to bite his extended hand as he explored the surface, ran his fingers down towards the unseen ground. Miracle of miracles, the granite gently emitted the warmth absorbed from the day’s sun. He slowly settled himself to the ground, eased his back against the rock-face, pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs. He felt a great deal less vulnerable than he had when laying on the forest floor and let out a long sigh. Moments later he burst into tears, huge heart-rending sobs coming from deep within him.
Gradually the tears washed away his fear, restored a calmer part of his brain. That calmer brain brought him the realisation that he hadn’t considered, well not up until now, what Jeannie must be going through. At least he knew he was alive. Jeannie, not knowing, would be in despair. He bet she would remember that time when out walking here in this area of the Granite Dells they had lost little Poppy, her adorable 10 lb poodle mix, never to be found again despite ages spent combing the area, calling out her name. A year later and Jeannie still said from time to time, “I so miss Poppy!”. First Poppy and now him! No question, he had to get through this in one piece, mentally as much as physically. Presumably, Jeannie would have called 911 and been connected to the local search and rescue unit. Would they search for him in the dark? He thought that unlikely.
Thinking about Jean further eased his state of mind and at last his shivering stopped. Thank goodness for that! He fought to retain this new perspective. He would make it through, even treasure this night under the sky. This wonderful, awesome, night sky. Even the many crowns of the majestic pine trees that soared way up above him couldn’t mask a sky that just glittered with starlight. The Granite Dells, just outside Payson, were at an elevation of 5,000 feet and, frequently, had beautifully clear skies. Tonight offered a magical example of that.
Often during his life the night skies had spoken to him, presented him with a reminder of the continuum of the universe. On this night, however, he felt more humbled by the hundred, million stars surrounding him than he could ever previously recall.
Time slipped by, his wrist-watch unread in the darkness. Above his head, however, was that vast stellar clock. He scanned the heavens, seeking out familiar pinpoints of light, companions over so much of his lifetime. Ah, yes! There was the Big Dipper; Ursa Major to give the constellation its formal name, and there the Big Dipper pointing the way to Polaris, the star that was so closely aligned to North Pole. Great! Now the rotation of the planet became his watch, the Big Dipper circling around Polaris, fifteen degrees for each hour.
What a situation he had got himself into. As with other challenging times in his life, lost in the Australian bush, at sea hunkering down through a severe storm, there was never a choice other than to work it out. He felt a gush of warm emotions that flowed from this changed perspective.
Far away, a group of coyotes started up a howl. What a timeless sound. How long had coyotes been on the planet? He sank into those inner places of his mind noting how the intense darkness raised such deep thoughts. What if this night heralded the end of his life, the last few hours of the life of Paul Handover? What parting message would he give to those that he loved?
Jeannie would know beyond any doubt how much he had adored her, how her love had created an emotional paradise for him beyond measure. Then his son and daughter, dear Alex and Maija. Oh, the complexities he had created in their lives by leaving their mother so many years ago. He knew that they still harboured raw edges, and quite reasonably so. He still possessed raw edges from his father’s death, way back in 1956. That sudden death, five days before Christmas, so soon after he had turned 12, that had fed a life-long feeling of emotional rejection. That feeling that had lasted for 51 years until, coincidentally, also five days before Christmas, he had met Jean in 2007.
His thoughts returned to Alex and Maija. Did they know, without a scintilla of doubt, that he loved them. Maybe his thoughts would find them. Romantic nonsense? Who knows! Dogs had the ability to read the minds of humans, often from far out of visual range. He knew Pharaoh, his devoted German Shepherd, skilfully read his mind.
He struggled to remember that saying from James Thurber. What was it now? Something about men striving to understand themselves before they die. Would that be his parting message for Alex and Maija? Blast, he wished he could remember stuff more clearly these days and let go of worrying about the quote. Perhaps his subconscious might carry the memory back to him.
He looked back up into the heavens. The Big Dipper indicated at least an hour had slipped by. Gracious, what a night sky in which to lose one’s mind. Lost in that great cathedral of stars. Then, as if through some stirring of his consciousness, that Thurber saying did come back to him: All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why. As last words they would most certainly do for Alex and Maija!
He reflected on those who, incarcerated in solitary confinement, had their minds play many tricks, especially when it came to gauging time. What a bizarre oddment of information to pop up in his head! Where had that come from? Possibly because he hadn’t a clue about his present time. It felt later than 11pm and earlier than 4am, but any closer guess seemed impossible. Nevertheless, from out of these terrible, heart-wrenching hours of being alone he found his calm, a calm that had gently arisen from within. He slept.
Suddenly, a sound slammed him awake. Something had made a sound. Something out there in the dark had made a sound fairly close to him. Now his whole body was totally alert, every nerve straining to identify what might be out there, so close to him. It sounded like animal feet moving through the autumn fall of dead leaves. He prayed it wasn’t a mountain lion. Surely such a wild cat preparing to attack him would be silent. Now the unknown creature had definitely paused, no sound, just him knowing that out there something waited. Now what? The creature had started sniffing. He hoped it was not a wild pig. Javelinas, those pig-like creatures that always moved in groups, could make trouble. He knew they had no qualms at attacking a decent-sized dog and crouched down like this he didn’t offer a much larger target.
Should he get to his feet and run? Almost immediately he answered his own question. In the dark and in this terrain he would harm himself within seconds and that would make him an attractive meal for any meat-eating animal out there. No, he chose to stay still. Feeling the ground around him he closed his right-hand around a small rock. The sniffing stopped. Nothing now, save the sound of his rapid, beating heart. He sensed, sensed strongly, the creature looking directly at him. It seemed very close; perhaps ten or twenty feet away. The adrenalin hammered through his veins.
He tried to focus on the spot where he sensed that the animal waited trying not to think what it might be waiting for. He pushed that line of thought straight out of his head. His ears then picked up a weird, bizarre sound. A flap, flap sound against something like the trunk of a small tree. Surely not! Had he lost his senses? It sounded like a dog wagging its tail. A dog’s tail flap, flap, flapping against a tree-trunk. If it was a dog, it just had to be Dhalia!
Then came that small, shy bark! A bark that he knew so well. Unbelievably, it was Dhalia. He softly called, “Dhalia, Dhalia, come here, there’s a good girl.”
With a quick rustle of feet Dhalia leapt upon him, her tail wagging furiously, her head quickly burrowing into his body warmth. He hugged her and, once more, tears streamed down his face. Despite the darkness, he could see her perfectly in his mind. Her tight, short-haired coat of light-brown hair, her aquiline face, her bright inquisitive eyes and those wonderful head-dominating ears. Lovely large ears that seemed to listen to the world. A shy, loving dog when Jean had rescued her in 2005 and all these years later still a shy, loving dog.
Dhalia licked his tears, her gentle tongue soft and sweet on his skin. He shuffled more onto his back which allowed her to curl up against his chest, still enveloped by his arms. His mind drifted away to an era immensely long ago. Back to an earlier ancient man, likewise wrapped around his dog under a dome of stars, likewise bonded in a thousand mysterious ways. He was unaware of slipping into a deep sleep.
The morning sun arrived as imperceptibly as an angel’s sigh. Dhalia sensed the dawn before Paul, bringing him out of his dreams by the slight stirring of her warm, gentle body.
Yes, there it came, the end of this night. That sun, ancient beyond imagination, galloping towards them across the desert lands; another beat of the planet’s heart. Dhalia slid off his chest, stretched herself from nose to tail, yawned and looked at him, as much to say it’s time to go home! He could just make out the face of his watch: 4.55am. He, too, raised himself, slapped his arms around his body to get some circulation going. The cold air stung his face, yet it couldn’t even scratch the inner warmth of his body, the gift from the loving embrace that he and Dhalia had shared.
They set off and quickly crested the first ridge. Ahead, about a mile away, they saw the forest road busy with arriving search and rescue trucks. Paul noticed Jean’s Dodge parked ahead of the trucks and instinctively knew she and Pharaoh had already disappeared into the forest; undoubtedly Pharaoh sensing the way to them.
They set off down the slope, Dhalia’s tail wagging with unbounded excitement, Paul ready to start shouting for attention from the next ridge. They were about to scrabble across a small, dry creek-bed when, across from them, Pharaoh raced out of the trees. He raced up to them, barking at the top of his voice in clear dog speak, ‘I’ve found them, I’ve found them, they’re safe, they’re safe’. Paul crouched down to receive his second huge face lick in less than six hours.
Later, when safely home, it came to him. When they had set off in that early morning light to return back to civilisation, Dhalia had stayed utterly pinned to him. It was so out-of-character for her not to run off ahead. Let’s face it, that’s what got them into the mess in the first place. What came to him was that Dhalia had known that during that long, dark night, it had been he who had been the lost soul.
The message from the night, as clear as the rays of the new day’s sun, the message to pass to all those he loved. If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found.