Nova: A Blog in Which I, Predictably, Talk About My Dog

This is Nova.

She’s sleeping, curled in a crescent, on my bed. Half in a sun beam. Every once in a while, her toes twitch as if she is running, chasing rabbits in her dreams.

Are you real? I ask her.

She moves awake, turns to look at me.

Of course I am. Why would you ask such a thing?img_2124


I ask such a thing because I have been waiting for her for so long. Ten years, approximately. More than a quarter of my life has been spent waiting.

And now I get to say it: this is my dog.

I get to speak these words over and over again. This is my dog.

The day I picked her up from her foster home, she greeted me as she greets everyone: silently, at the door, pressing her face and shoulders into my hands to be pet. She leaned into me. And I took her home.

In the car, she looked politely out of the window as I talked to her, nervously, as one does when there is too much silence to fill.

You’re coming home, Nova. And I won’t let you leave.


I don’t remember exactly where the name Nova came from. It’s been on my list of dog names for ages, but it was close enough to the name her fosters had given her that it wouldn’t be difficult to switch to. And, it is also the name of one of my current Shadowrun characters. And, more importantly, the week before I picked her up, I dreamed of her every night. In my dreams, her name was Nova.

I gave her a middle name. It’s Popcorn.

She’s named after my parents’ first dog together, a mutt they found in their barn in upstate New York.

Popcorn found her way into my parents’ life.

I went looking for Nova.


I am a dog person.

An introvert. The kind of person who thinks maybe the anchorites have the right idea.

But I am also a dog person.

Maybe it’s because I was a lonely child. Don’t misunderstand me – I was happy. I was always happy. But I was lonely. I created a rich and wonderful world in my mind, but I had no real way of sharing it.

I didn’t have a dog when I was young. Popcorn died when I was a toddler. We didn’t get Sophie until I was 11.

Instead, I wrapped myself up in books. Books of horses in the desert. Of hawks in the Catskills. But best of all were the books that took place someplace cold. I read them at midnight under the covers with a flashlight. They were books of sled dogs and wolves and the northern lights.

And I dreamed of a dog that would be my friend.


It must be a family trait.

Once, I found my brother’s journal. In it were Robert Frost poems and one entry about Popcorn the First. In it, he wrote that she was his best friend and companion.

I wanted a best friend and constant companion.


I remember the first moment I saw Sophie. She was a puppy, her ears still folded over. A little strawberry blonde and white ball of puppy barreling down the hallway to greet me when I opened the door.

I was sweaty from soccer practice.

My father walked in after. He had no idea that we would be coming home to a puppy.

We’re really good at communicating in my family.

When I turned 16, I’d help Sophie into the passenger seat of my Geo Tracker and we would drive. Usually just to the drug store, where usually I would park for a few minutes just to turn around and drive home. Just for something to do with her when I was bored and lonely.

I would take her hiking, a girl and her corgi, when no one else would go.

My mother sometimes calls me Sister.

I called Sophie my little sister.


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For some reason, the dogs in my daydreams were always male and either pitch black or blue merles. Sheepdogs, the lot.

Instead, I have a white female husky mutt. She is strikingly beautiful, her coat pointed with red like a Siamese cat. Her features foxlike.

Another strawberry blonde. It must be a family trait.

Her eyes are brown. But in one, a smudge of white like an iceberg adrift in a murky sea. Or, maybe, in her eye is the reflection of a mountain peak only she can see.


I mentioned it briefly in an earlier post, but I had foot surgery in September. 18 days later I had a dog.

I’m two weeks away from the day when the bone they broke will be fully healed. Two weeks away from the day when I can run and jump.

I can’t wait to run and jump with her.

I can’t wait to disappear again into the high alpine, this time with her by my side.

I can’t wait to see how far we’ll go.

You should see her smile when she’s on trails. Like me, she isn’t made for concrete. She’s made for dirt and snow and the high alpine.


On Saturday, the two of us drove up to Breckenridge to visit with family friends. We ended the trip with three circuits of a tiny .7 mile loop. I stubbed my bad toe three times. I was limping long before we stopped back at the car.

On the way home, she slept in the back seat and I played Blind Pilot as I drove on mountain roads.

And I wanted to cry from happiness.

Because I was a lonely child.

Now that Nova is here, that little girl never has to be lonely again.

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Nova takes up almost the entire bottom half of the bed. She’s sprawled out with a squeaky Kong ball that her godfather, my roommate Kenny, bought her this afternoon.

She’s not a cuddler, but she must be warming up, because she’s using my shin as a pillow. Every once in a while, her toes twitch.

I don’t know if she’s ever seen snow before.

This thought struck me the other day. Prior to coming to Summit Dog Rescue, she was a stray in Arkansas. There is a chance that she has never seen snow.

I drove by snow on Loveland’s slopes. Low enough down that even I, gimpy, could reach it without a problem.

We’re going to find snow this weekend.


 

A friend asked how I felt just a few days after I found out I was getting Nova.

I told him, it’s scary. But not for the reasons people think. I’m not worried about the responsibility or the cost or any of that.

Rather, I have been dreaming about this dog for years. Thinking about her, wondering about her, planning for her for a decade.

And now she’s here.

I don’t like life goals. I don’t like bucket lists. Even my birthday lists are sort of haphazard and half-assed. I barely have dreams.

But Nova has been on my list. On every list. For a decade.

And now that I have her.

Now that this dream has come true… I can’t help but be afraid.

What else can I do?


We are going to go find snow.

And in two weeks, we are going to go to the high alpine.

A human and her husky. And we’ll never be alone.

 

 

Desiderata

I want a dog.

I want to live where the color of summer is green.

I want a quiet dirt road where I can feel the mountains in the air.

Where the spring snows cling to the shadows.

I want a place on this road that will always feel like home.

And in it, a room full of books.

I want to work hard.

But, I will find joy in that labor. To write words that will – in some small way – help. To rake mountains of leaves in the fall and cut wood for the fire that will – on some winter nights – feel like a treasure stolen from the gods.

I want to play.

By this I mean to be in motion. To climb trees and behind their leaves pantomime hide and seek until I am very, very old and very, very gray.

I want the freedom to wander away, to disappear for days on end.

It may not always matter where or when, but simply that I can and, most of all, that I can always, always come home to warm my fingers on a cup of black coffee…

With a dala horse watching from the windowsill.

––

These are my desired things.

That which I will seek until I find.

Everything else is negotiable.

∆∆

Dog Borrower

corgi girlI’m an unabashed, unashamed borrower-of-dogs.

From Sophia, my old corgi girl. My first dog and my litte sister. A quintessential corgi personality. Impossible to photograph, impossible to train out of begging for food at the dinner table.

To Joey, my brother’s Norwich Terrier, who conquers hearts and gains admirers wherever she goes.

Or Tanner, the English Shepherd mix who might just be the perfect dog. A rescue, too, who’s found his forever-ever home.norwich terrier

Then there’s Hailey, the most opinionated dog on the planet. I have never met another dog more convinced that she’s right and you’re incredibly and incurably wrong.

Ella, my dog-cousin. She looked me in the eyes one afternoon, and the wordless knowledge passed between us that she owned me and there was nothing I could do about it.

Younger than the others, though fast growing out of her gawky teenage years, is Clover. A free spirit and mountain dog with a soulful face and a hound dog’s bark.

english shepherdThere are others, too, that I’ve held and held back. And still more that I’ve stopped on the streets to say hello. Corgis that have brought tears to my eyes. German Shepherds that won me over in a matter of moments. A Chow-Chow-mix who was the sweetest dog I ever did see, but who definitely did not understand the concept of me spending a night on his sofa. And my parent’s first dog, who I know only by pictures. A protective mutt they found in a barn.

Here a mutt, there a pure bred. From rescues, puppy mills, pounds, breeders, accidental litters.

lab border collie queen

Dogs who evolved to stand at our sides. Who we brought into our tents, homes, families. That lick our fingers and faces. That leave marks on our lives, and maybe even our skin.

I still have the scar from when I was bit in the face as a child. An accident on both our parts – mine and the dog’s. Neither of us meant any harm, and there were no hard feelings. I loved that dog, Oscar, before and I loved that dog until he passed away, a very old man, years after. When someone tells me they don’t like dogs because they were once bit, I lift my chin and trace the thin mark of stitches against my jaw.

Like a dog, forgive. And love again. Other lessons: stop to admire the leaves on the ground, the grass. Appreciate a blanket and a sofa. Stay hydrated. Stretch you legs. When it feels good, lean in to it. Sigh with contentment. Love your work. Love your play. Get dirty. Shake when wet. Kiss the ones you love every day.

Mine is a life lived in dog-years, a heart marked by paw prints.wistful mutt

Goodbye to this girl’s best friend

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Just a dog and her girl

14 years ago, I opened a door and a tiny, strawberry-blonde barreled into my legs. She was a ridiculous little thing – tiny legs, a stump for a tail, and two soft ears folded forward… I was a a sweaty 11 year-old just getting home from a soccer game. The last thing Dad or I expected to come home to was a puppy.

I got the news last night – Sophie was put down. Her degenerate spinal disease had progressed to the point where she could no longer use her back legs. To walk her, Mom looped a long scarf under her stomach.

In short, I knew it was coming.

Sophie was my friend and companion. Then, when I turned 16, she would sit in the passenger seat of my first car, her head on my hand as I shifted gears. We’d go for walks in the woods together when no one else could come along. She’d follow gamely along in our tracks as we went snowshoeing through snow deeper than she was tall. She slept on my bed every night.

When I came home from college, she ignored me. She jumped all over my mother, but took one sniff of me before walking away. I was devastated the first time this happened. But, just like old days, come bed time, she slunk into my room and I lifted her up. The next day, we were friends again.

She was terribly bad behaved. Barked incessantly. Had a sick obsession with toys that squeaked. Not a meal went by where she didn’t put her front paws on our laps desperate for handouts.

And death i think is no parenthesis
Sophie Grace Millikin 1998-2012

Oh, and she never got along with other dogs. She wasn’t a dog’s dog. She was a people’s dog.

If we lived in a world where Philip Pullman’s daemons were born with us, Sophie wouldn’t be my daemon. From the start, she was my mother’s. While Sophie loved us, her family, she loved my mother best. Truly she was my mother’s dog… but she was my little sister.

I love you, girl. I’ll miss you always.