Sunday, January 3, 2010

At Junior's Tree

I've been to see the squirrels. I've told them about Phoebe. At Junior's Tree, I found the squirrel who trusted us. He learned, when both he and Phoebe were new to the ways of the park, that Phoebe's interest in him was wholeheartedly friendly and that I, under her influence, was equally harmless.

We met Junior early in Phoebe’s introduction to squirrels. He fell out of a tree, his yelp as long and dramatic as his plunge into a privet hedge. His parents rescued him, bundling him up the trunk as Phoebe wimpered and I reassured her. She watched as the three squirrels vanished far above our heads.

We met regularly thereafter, watching Junior master his squirrel skills and become a confident, robust, and thoroughly engaging character. He often greeted us with a chirp and an extended paw, which I report only because there were occasional, and astonished, witnesses.

One dawn last spring, we came upon Junior pawing through a patch of newly risen seedlings. He paused, seemed to notice us, and went back to work. We didn't move or make a sound. Soon Junior tugged two shoots from the ground, roots intact, carried them toward us in his mouth, and placed them across my feet. Standing beside me, Phoebe crooned and wagged. I thanked Junior as he darted up his tree. Those gifts grew on our balcony all summer.

I can no longer go home from an encounter with Junior or any of our other fine squirrels and read about them to my friend Phoebe. So after I announced that their canine admirer and student had died, I read to the squirrels, a few entries about them from Phoebe B. Dackel's journals.

Phoebe learned so much from those squirrels. And I learned so much from Phoebe. In our parting, she reinforced the lesson I’ve been tutored in by many beloved dogs: the bond is unbroken, our good-byes are merely physical, the insuperable tragedy would be if we had never met.

“Thank you” to all you dear, kind people and dogs who have commented on Phoebe. She would reply with her heartiest “woof!” and her sensible “let’s get on with our day” gestures, which always steered me back to the books that needed mending, or cataloging, or packing and shipping, when what I really wanted to do was give her another dozen hugs. While I worked I often talked to her about the stories that awaited us when work was done. I’m not entirely alone when I open those books.

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