It was a gorgeous summer here at the mountain retreat, and the fall has been sublime, the foliage spectacular shades of reds, yellows, magentas and browns, and the hills alive with the sound of chainsaws, and thankfully not deer hunters' rifles. But the big news as we celebrate the winter solstice is that the lights have gone out for Jack.
We're not exactly sure when that happened, but as our lovable lug of a chocolate Labrador retriever
slowly recovered from a close encounter with death around Thanksgiving 2014 from just-diagnosed canine diabetes, it became obvious that he was beginning to lose his sight.
Jack had not been feeling well for some time. Had we not realized that, his sister Nicky certainly would have let us know. Bloodwork and a urinalysis revealed that he had a urinary tract infection and was diabetic, which he may always have been. The Dear Friend & Conscience began giving him insulin shots, which we continue to administer twice a day (29mg doses, if you must know). The infection cleared up but he began to show hindquarter weakness, almost certainly a form of neuropathy, which grew steadily worse and prevented him from jumping on the couch, chasing squirrels and doing other things he's not supposed to do.
Was this a result of diabetes? Probably not. Was it genetic? Possibly so, but because Jack and Nicky were adult rescues, we know nothing about their first four years or lineage.
Jack was not ready to move on. By the beginning of January of this year, he was showing signs of rallying, in part because of his insulin regimen, protein-rich food and supplements, including a Tibetan kidney cleanser which he gobbled up in spoonsful of wet catfood.
Jack continued to rally through the late winter and spring, but it became obvious that he was going blind, a frequent result of canine diabetes. No matter, Nicky was there to lead the way, and we to help him to address stairs and other obstacles. The house, yard, walking paths, fields and creek and river were familiar even though he could barely see them, and we substituted his blue rubber ball with a slightly larger day-glo ball which he seemed to be able to kind of see for a few weeks.
We would not have hesitated to row Jack out to sea, figuratively speaking, if the quality of his life had become seriously compromised, but it hasn't. He swam in the mountain creek through the unseasonably mild autumn just past, his ball gripped firmly in his mouth, alert for our gentle admonishments -- "careful," "there you go," "good boy!" -- called down from the bank so he was able to have some sense of where he was.
We didn't think Jack would be with us last Christmas, and now we're about to celebrate another one together. That will be our best gift of all.
The reason there weren't the usual reports of deer hunters' rifles echoing through our valley this fall is because there aren't any deer.
While I respect the right of people to shoot game for food -- and there are too many people hereabouts who live deep in the woods, barely scrape by and must
supplement their meager diets with wild game -- the vast majority of hunters with their expensive sighted rifles, lavish orange garb and big over-accessorised pickup trucks are in it for the thrill of the kill, and that I don't respect.
Deer hunting is a linchpin of the tourist industry and so popular that schools still close on the opening day of the fall rifle season (there also are bow and flintlock seasons), but this year all hunters could do was stand around and brag about whose pickup truck had more chrome before retiring early to the nearest bar for rounds of beers and shots. There simply are no more bucks to be slaughtered to speak of, while doe season was severely limited so that population could be replenished and in a few seasons the bang-bang carnage can begin anew.
"Our" doe hasn't reappeared yet, but we have to assume that she is okay. This beautiful lady has been coming out of the deep undergrowth on the mountainside over the past few years in the late spring to show off her foals to us and graze at the foot of the yard before slipping away to hide during hunting season. She returns after the New Year when bow season is over and we put out cracked corn and a salt lick for her when there is a substantial snow cover. Shh! Don't tell.
Let's call it snow insurance.
We've been hand shoveling the mountain retreat for years. This includes a long driveway, turnaround, access to the wood shop and coal bin, as well as walks. There have been some pretty big storms in recent years because of global warming, not despite it.
By the end of the winter of 2011, snow was stacked four feet high, and we had snow walls nearly that tall at the end of last winter, which made lugging buckets of coal from the bin to the basement or navigating the walk from the front door to the driveway and mailbox kind of like walking through tunnels.
And so we've invested in a powerful two-stage snow blower that throws the white stuff into the next county.
We had to do it because Jack, of course, can no longer see, and we need to be able to clear a safe path for him no matter what. Then there's all those achy backs.
Besides which, having a spanking new snow blower guarantees that it'll be a light winter. It's gonna be 70 degrees on Christmas Eve, so we're off to a good start. Right? Right.