With the recent passing of my beloved Anana I’ve once again learned the grieving process is not the same for everyone and the pain of loss can be extended far longer than one might assume to be ‘normal’. Another facet of my grieving involves doing routines or rituals which were associated with the recently departed; I think I get some catharsis by doing so. It was this inclination which encouraged me to take a walk up the unmaintained portion of East Barge Drive to the crest of Bonanza Ridge which the locals also call ‘Exercise Hill’. I’d made the hike many times in my first few years living up here as this ridge is maybe six tenths of a mile (0.97 km) east of my house. It appears to involve an elevation change of around 300 feet (91.44 meters) and this happens in a fairly short horizontal distance hence its local moniker.
Anana, Qanuk and I had made the crest many times and sometimes walked further east to some of the small clumps of houses; we did so in muddy spring conditions, hot mosquito ridden summer afternoons and cool overcast autumn days. Last Thursday saw a partly cloudy early morning with gentle (8-12 mph or 12.87-19.31 kph) breezes and an air temp of 42° F (5.56° C); as such it was a perfect morning for a walk. I was missing Anana and wanted something to occupy my attention so a trip up Exercise Hill seemed like a good choice; it would be the first time I’d made the trek without my ‘little’ angel so doing it would mark a ‘first’ since her passing. I put on my walking gear, grabbed my walking staff and Qanuk and I headed out.
The walk to the swamp at the base of Bonanza Ridge was familiar territory and we covered that in no time even with its rolling terrain. I was pleased to discover there were no mosquitoes or similar in the swampy area; this bode well for our climb! Qanuk ranged far out in front of me and crossed back and forth as I continued up the ever-steepening incline. As mentioned this portion of the road is unmaintained and the surface is often composed of loose rocks which can make footing a bit tenuous. I carefully picked my way through some of the rougher sections while Qanuk continued to range further and further out in front of me. I could tell he was impatient with ‘his’ fat old human who just couldn’t make the climb with any speed! Thanks to my fifteen months of daily stepping – I now target 12,000+ daily steps – my legs didn’t have issues with the climb but my aerobic conditioning just wasn’t up to the same standard. I was forced to briefly stop twice to catch my breath; this further frustrated Qanuk whom now was running down to me and then back up the ridge (Oh, the strength and energy of the young..!). But I persevered and finally made the crest of the ridge. Even with the cool air I was sweating profusely and made a note to myself I needed to start adding some real aerobic conditioning. I paused for a time to take in the views and throw a stick for Qanuk. We then walked a bit further east onto the Borough maintained portion of East Barge Drive; the walking was much easier on this segment.
I took some time to reflect upon the beauty of the suddenly green boreal forest against the blue sky, the snowy ramparts of the Talkeetna Mountain foothills to the east and listen to the songs of numerous birds. I watched Qanuk spending so much time investigating all sorts of odors and noises; while doing so it occurred to me without Anana he was exhibiting many more of his German Shepherd Dog traits. When Anana was with us he could rely on her nose and ears to share in checking out the ‘wilds’ but now it was completely up to him. As we started back down the road towards home I watched Qanuk more closely; he was much more alert than ‘normal’ and was continually leaving the road to investigate all kinds of signals. I came to realize just how much influence Anana had upon his behavior; her Mal characteristics really ‘smoothed out’ a lot of his GSD traits like being hyper-alert, protective and barking to alert unknowns. I remembered back to the first six months after I brought Anana home; that awkward puppy had so much to teach me and I needed to understand her motives and drives. I had raised a number of GSDs before work related travel forced me to forgo such companions for over three decades so I did know a bit about canines but the breeder was so spot on when she warned me Mals were not like ‘other’ dogs! I had to re-learn a lot of what I thought I knew regarding canines in order to do justice to Anana’s upbringing. This was a slow and often frustrating process but probably more so from Anana’s perspective than my own. However, we slowly learned from each other and eventually came to understand what battles we could fight and which were best left unchallenged.
As I headed west on East Barge Drive towards home I realized I was going to have to go through another ‘realignment’ process with Qanuk but at least this time it would mainly be just remembering so many of those former learnings. As I considered this concept I remembered all those wonderful times with Anana along with all the hilarity and love she brought into my life. My ‘little’ angel has been removed from our lives for just three and a half weeks yet in some ways it feels like forever. I will never forget ‘my girl’ but I also owe Qanuk the best life I can give him and that means once again becoming aware of ‘my boy’s’ wants, needs, desires and requirements. It is a task I take seriously as well as a labor of love.
Such a great tribute to your little angel.
I think this might be an opportune time to consider writing a book about all the trials and tribulations you’ve experienced in your new homeland. You are so articulate and have such a wonderful way of expressing your thoughts. It would be cathartic for you and insightful for others considering such a move. Love ya!
Thanks Kiddo! I might just consider a book once I get myself back ‘in balance’. Anana’s loss really threw me for a loop and I’m still discovering just how unstable I am in terms of my emotions. Anana was an incredibly special canine companion and her loss was equivalent to losing a family member. I know it’ll take time but there’s so much I need to get busy doing yet I often just do not have the strength to get started. I’m sticking to my low carb lifestyle and still doing my 12k+ daily steps but right now that seems about all I can handle…
What a beautiful memorial. Anana lives on in your words. I’ve been thinking about you two and wondering how you are doing. When will you start traveling? Everyone else is…..shudder!
That is one heck of a hill. I’m pretty sure I’d make it about 1/8th of the way before total collapse! Good work on getting to the top and beyond.
Thanks Kris! I was hoping to get into the Kenai in later April but as Anana’s condition worsened I didn’t want to stress her. By the time she passed it was already into May and the tourists were filling up the roads; in addition, construction is underway on a ten mile stretch of the Parks Highway just south the junction with the Spur so anytime I drive south I have to deal with that mess. I plan to try to get down that way in late September to early October in between visit from friends coming up from the lower 48…
Yes, there is a LOT of construction!!!! One of my friends took 5 hours to get to ANC one day. Shudder-
I am also thinking what a great tribute to your angel. We have had a big adjustment since losing first our Trusty and then our Fred to close together. I really think Fred valiantly hung on and fought to stay with us until he felt our Misty had grown up enough to take over for him. He couldn’t leave until he knew we were being properly taken care of. I sometimes think the loss of a beloved dog can be harder than losing a lot of the people in our lives. People are around us but we don’t typically get awoken by them, have them beside us all day, have them joining us in virtually all our daily activities, having them always listening and giving us attention and love. Maybe with a spouse or child but not otherwise and often not even then. So losing a dog means losing more than just the dog. It also means losing everything you shared with the dog and the part of your life routine that the dog was integral to. A lot of people say one should not get another dog until you have properly grieved the one that has passed. I am not that kind of person. For me having a dog, any dog, around me, is important to my happiness. I will never get Fred or Trusty back. Nor Boukie, nor Princess nor Farfel or any of the other precious dogs and I miss them all but at least today I have Misty and she is a great comfort to me in my grief. The grief doesn’t go away it just kind of shrinks and takes up this very small but very special place in my heart.
THANKS so much for sharing!! You are spot on regarding the enormous impact our four legged friends can have on our lives; my dogs and cats were all family members and losing them was just like dealing with a death in the family. I’d grown accustomed to Anana’s need for minimal attention during the day; she’d visit me every few hours for some love and maybe a bit of rough-housing but then she’d find another cool spot and stretch out. Her only requirement was she could keep an eye on me not for protective purposes but to insure she would be right at my side if I was starting to undertake some activity. Qanuk is very much a German Shepherd Dog in that he needs lots of attention; with Anana’s absence he is looking more and more to me to provide him with mental support and stimulation. I’m having to readjust my lifestyle to try to accommodate his needs; he deserves the best I can give him. I can also see he is sometimes a bit melancholy so I’m not the only one struggling with Anana’s absence. I haven’t thought much about another canine yet; I am still struggling to come to grips with Anana’s departure. But I’m also watching Qanuk closely and I am already pretty sure he will need another canine in his life. Of course I want another Mal just like Anana but I know this isn’t possible; she was truly ‘one of a kind’. I do believe I will adopt a ‘shelter dog’ at some point; a friend who works at the local health clinic volunteers with a local group in the Mat-Su Borough whom help rescued canines find new lives. If a Mal or a Mal-mix was to be available I’d look at it very hard but my only real requirements are it be at least a year old, in reasonable health and display that amazing inner spirit all canines seem to share.
How nice that you can walk in beautiful places and remember your beloved pup. They are family, and we miss them forever. I’ve always found that a walk in a lovely spot is needed to deal with the trials of life.
Hi Pam – Yes, being able to just wander in solitude is a balm for my soul. I’ve been retracing the routes I shared with Anana; this helps me grieve and seek out the fond memories of our time together. I’ve always loved the ‘immense silence’ of semi-rural Alaska; it is tough to explain but the absence of sounds almost has an auditory quality of its own. I’ve always hated noise pollution and, sadly, for most of life in the lower 48 I was surrounded by urban noise. Getting away from extraneous noise is a wonderful way to calm one’s mind and seek serenity..!