Luna, a wary animal by nature, placed her paws on his arm and stretched her head to be scratched by this shambles of a man in a torn coat, his camo cap pushed up — his soft eyes, the center of him, and his soft voice had brought her to him. He smiled and said, “Dogs know that I love them.” He cradled his coffee in both hands and told us about his life In Maine.
Mick had worked at the fish hatchery in Ellsworth for years. Then he had built homes, pushed roads through the forest, cut fire wood. He had been the caretaker of three cabins on this family lake for over 40 years. He and his wife worked together. They fed birds all winter long. He had not hunted since his wedding in 1972. He told a story about a dog that sounded like a parable: One night many years before, he and his family had been eating dinner. They heard barking and scratching at the door. When he opened it, he saw a female Husky holding a puppy in her mouth. It set the puppy down on the porch, looked back up him, held his gaze for a long beat of time and then disappeared out of the light and into the cold woods. He and his son searched for two days. They never found a trace of her presence, not even hair caught on low branches or weeds. No one in CherryField had ever seen her. They kept the puppy. He had always wanted a Husky. A few days before the ‘knock’ at the door, he and his wife had been talking about looking for one. On a winter night, one appeared.
Climbing Tunk Mountain, our dogs return to us unbeckoned after running ahead. We hoisted them up and carried them down an eight foot rock face, Patti standing above embedded iron rungs and guiding them. Standing below, I first hoisted and then received their bodies. On top, they collapsed against us, their heads on our legs and revealed their faith in us through their easy breathing and closed eyes.
In Maine forests, on beaches, in fields at home, they accompany us. We are younger because of them. All that we provide them — food, medical care, hours of attention, money by the wheelbarrow load — all of it is a pittance as measured against their restorative affection. Like unspeaking spirits, they seem posted to watch over our foolishness.
They respond to gentleness. They endure. Their very nature is to resist meanness. We cannot say that about human beings.
Mick finished his second cup of coffee, brought in more kindling and walked to the door, ready to leave, but he had one more story. He told us of the death of his 17 year old Black Lab, Rosie, and that he could not bear to drive her to the vet when she began to pitch to the side as she walked and her eyes turned white and blind, and at his telling of her end, he turned away for a moment, unwilling to reveal his eyes, his back showing me what he felt a year after her death, grief still coming up in him like water rising in a well after a storm.
painting by Sunny West of Maine