Letting go of our family familiar

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SIMBA … You know how there are some things that you firmly don’t want, but that you end up getting, anyway, which then become great gifts? Simba was like that … The kids named her because she looked the part of a lion. A sheep-white Chow with a leonine jaw, black tongue and a proud tail ruff curled above her rump. A Hurricane Katrina rescue dog. Mary picked her up from a foster home in Denver. I had told her and the kids I didn’t want a dog, but they promised me they’d take care of her. It wouldn’t be my responsibility … Hah! Life! I should have known better … Simba was exceedingly loyal to the kids & Mary. Me, not so much. She barked the first couple years every time I drove into the driveway. Chows aren’t affectionate dogs anyway. More independent. Almost like cats … And she had reason to be aloof. Stories about Simba pre- Colorado suggested she had to be captured before being rescued in Louisiana. Must have been tricked with food. Would never eat when I filled her bowl, until I walked off. Had traveled with a partner, they said, living off the land after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast Aug. 23, 2005 [CE]. Above all, she was a survivor … For me she was untrainable and restless. On the move. A ferocious hunter, if she smelled small game. And she didn’t like fences. Or boundaries of any kind. But I kept her as an outside dog. Hantavirus with the mice. Bubonic plague with the prairie dog fleas. The vectors for disease via a traveling family pet at Cloud Acre made this old pre-school teacher nervous. Mary & the kids always let her roam inside and out. And she deserved that. Loved that. If Mary hadn’t died in 2012, her life would have been easier. With Mary gone, Sara took her for a year, living with her godparents in Telluride. But then Simba bit a little boy who was pulling on her hair. And she ended up at Cloud Acre for the second half of her life … She became my responsibility. I fed her daily. Had to arrange her feeding whenever I left for a couple days. She was the burden I didn’t ask for … But I came to love her irascible soul. She was a good guard dog. Her bark always alerted me to visitors – from her pen under the largest of the three Siberian elm along my place’s fenceline with Lone Cone Road … Another consistent bennie over the last decade and a half, as Sara always pointed out, has been taking Simba for a walk. Although that stock phrase gets it all backwards. She ran and pulled me along – at as fast a pace as she could manage, tugging a slow human behind her. I came to think of her as my trainer (especially in my Sixties) … Because her sense of smell was fine-tuned, I learned to use a retractable leash. Otherwise she would literally knock me over, changing course abruptly, especially at night. But most often we’d race along the county roads of Wrights Mesa at dusk, watching impossible constellations of clouds circle round a Sun sinking into the La Sals. The landscapes were spectacular. As was the dark sky, if we got our exercise in the evenings, particularly if there was some kind of Moon teasing us along … But gradually her eyesight went. One eye. Then both eyes. She could barely hear at the end. I’d have to yell her name and whistle and beat the garbage can cover on the fence to rouse her from her doghouse. And then she’d shuffle around the pen, bumping into things, the trunk of the tree, the fence. Before eventually finding her bowl of food, as if for the first time. Her bowl of water … The kids & I took her to the vet this morning. They were very nice at the clinic. Explained how it would go. Let us all be there with Simba. And it was quick. Her head cradled in Sara’s lap. I’d dug a grave and had warmed topsoil and a large stone to rest atop her resting place. Resting at last. Dear Simba.

Art Goodtimes writes from Norwood, Colo.

The Talking Gourd


Today I sat outside
in the purple shade
on a warm summer day
sipping cold coconut milk
on the Ghost Town patio
and watched, transfixed
as two birds hopped around
taking turns pecking crusts of bread
And then feeding each other, putting
their desire for companionship
ahead of their hunger.

— Stephanie Osan, Telluride

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From Art Goodtimes.