Sorrow for the families of the slaughtered in Connecticut and anger at the political factions that enable such outrages have left me feeling that perpetual mourning might be the sole appropriate undertaking for these sorry times.
But while I mourn I must live, and life is made up of a hundred routines--walking the dogs, feeding the hens, writing posts. Oblivious to newscasts, Bisou has crammed herself under my right elbow as I sit by the woodstove with the computer on my lap, and is causing many typos. I might as well write about her.
A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Bisou is technically a lap dog. Her 17th century ancestors were known as "Spaniels Gentle" and "Comfort Spaniels" by the mistresses of Charles II. In the damp English winters these ladies (some of whom were, by royal edict, the first allowed to play female roles on the stage) warmed their hands on the little dogs' exceptionally silky fur. In the damp English summers, they used the dogs to lure away the fleas that infested their wigs.
History, however, doesn't say anything about these dogs when they were outdoors. Maybe this was because, whenever a Spaniel Gentle was let out the door, it vanished.
That's what Bisou does whenever I let her out. In an instant, by the time I've closed the door, she is nowhere to be seen. Especially now, in stick season, when the ground is covered in russet leaves, she vanishes into the wilderness. This sets off my frantic calling (Are the dreaded fisher cats diurnal? Are the bears in hibernation yet?) But because she is after all a Spaniel Gentle, from somewhere beyond the horizon there comes a rustling and a crackling and pretty soon a small red torpedo lands panting at my feet. "Yes? You wanted me?"
And then she's off again, into the next county, scarfing up deer poop, baying after squirrels, on and on until the sun starts to set and the evening chill sets in and I say "Bisou, inside!" and she flings herself into the warmth.
Then my work begins, because she is wreathed in a potpourri of dead oak leaves, burrs of various sizes, and sticks that have wound themselves around her soft belly fur and are stabbing her nether regions, though they don't seem to have slowed her down any. Did I mention the ticks? She brings in whole families of those, who are attracted to her warm little body and must be picked out, exclaimed over, and drowned by me.
After the combing comes dinner, at which she behaves like a tiger, and after that comes the great transformation. Once she's had her run and her belly is full, she becomes a Comfort Spaniel--though the comfort in question here is hers, not mine. If my lap is not available, because there is a book or a computer on it, she jams herself as close to me as she can, under my elbow (hence the typos)and sleeps.
She sleeps like a stone until I stand up, when she immediately moves over onto the spot I've just vacated, to suck up every last degree of warmth. And when I return to the sofa or chair she pretends that she is dead, and I have to lift her eighteen-pound corpse out of the way.
If I am gone more than a couple of minutes, though, she rises out of her stupor and comes looking for me. If I'm in the kitchen, she waits while I cook. If I'm in the bathroom, she bides by the door. If I meditate, she sits motionless until I'm done. Inside the house, whenever her little red form is not in sight, I know to check the bedroom closet. She often follows me in there when I go to fetch a sweater, and gets locked in when I walk out.
She is the ultimate nap dog. If I lie on my back, she stretches out on my abdomen, her ears splayed out fetchingly, her muzzle towards my face. If I lie on my side, she curls up neatly against my stomach, under the blanket, groaning ecstatically.
But as she sleeps the wild dog takes over, and she kicks out her legs and stretches her body and lashes out again with all her might, as if she were running full tilt across the woods to catch and kill some critter. I absorb her kicks, and wonder that the same small dog can be so utterly wild outdoors, so cuddly and cozy indoors. And as I fall asleep I think how people too, you and I, can be so loving one moment, so deadly the next, so magnanimous, so petty, so unpredictable and mysterious.