Intimations of Immortality (via my dog)
I recently had what William Wordsworth called a “spot of time.” A moment when perception happens through some imaginative faculty you didn’t know you had. Something you have no name for turns and cracks and you suddenly, briefly “know” reality as if you’ve just made an exciting new friend.
I know the phrase is from The Prelude (Book 12, line 208, if you care), but Worsdworth’s “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” also frames what happened. Specifically the lines:
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
So forgive my sloppiness. I’d simply call it a Wordsworthian moment but I’m not in the mood for emails blasting me, unworthy nobody that I am, for daring to suggest in my humble blog that I actually felt the sort of half-mystical stir that Worsdworth describes in his poetry. How dare I, really, feel anything remarkable, because that sort of enthusiasmos got railroaded out of the culture in the 1990s in favor of nonstop irony? What’s the pejorative here? Overwrought! Yes, I had an overwrought, Romantic experience, I did. So sue me!
Anyway, here’s what happened. On December 9, 2012, Ruskin died. He was 15 years old.
A good run for any dog, an incredible run for poor Ruskin, who outlived all of his littermates. Like a lot of field bred English springer spaniels, he was a living oxymoron: half country gentleman, half clown; independent as a ghost and loyal as the crumpled old socks you can’t get unstuck from your favorite boots. He managed these oppositions without contradiction. That is, he knew how to charm. Ruskin was utterly himself without apology, a feat few humans achieve, and even fewer get away with. He had a limitless heart and the most fervently authentic personality I have ever known in any creature. To say he was almost human misses the point. He wasn’t. He was entirely dog. He loved my spouse like he was terminally confused as to whether they had separate existences. He loved me because, for some reason that only makes sense to canines, I amused him.
Ruskin’s favorite antic was stealing toys from our Cardigan Welsh corgi, Coda. Whenever one of Coda’s toys went missing, it was sure to turn up in the back of Ruskin’s kennel, usually in back of or underneath a grinning Ruskin. Coda would retaliate for these good-natured thefts by stealing Ruskin’s food whenever she knew he was looking. Unlike most dogs, he’d let her, watching her empty his bowl without protest as if he appreciated that fair’s fair. A good time was had by all.
A day or two after Ruskin died, after we removed his kennel, I saw Coda bringing toys to where the kennel used to be. She would approach the “gate” of the former kennel, and sit with one toy in her mouth and one on the floor in front of her, as if she wanted to give them to Ruskin. She would sit waiting for minutes, with her toys, staring plaintively at the space the kennel used to occupy. Then she would slink away, tail and head lowered, leaving her toys. She has never done this before.
I could feel the silence around her plain as sunlight in a dream.
She did this several times over two or three days, this silent offering of her prized possessions to the dead. Then she stopped.
It was sweet and sad and odd and profound. It was a spot of time. I’ve been carrying it with me. I don’t know what to do with it. So I’m offering it here.