May 11, 2009
Rich: By a chance encounter last week, we heard the news. Jane and I walked Boomer and Daisy at the county's East Branch off-leash dog park, taking the long way around. It was a quiet day there, just a few scattered cars and SUVs in the parking lot. Threatening weather suppressed the turnout among the regulars who frequent the park on Saturday mornings.
We chose a mowed path to the north, turned west, finally following the river south. Boomer and Daisy ran, played, sniffed, and chased, oblivious to dangers. We came to a narrow neck of water; the plank bridge that spanned it was washed out by recent rains, so we had to turn around. As we backtracked, a man with a Golden retriever approached. He was some distance away yet, so I called out, "Is that Max?"
I didn't need to specify a last name; Max was an East Branch legend. He and his owner, Melinda, spent uncounted hours here every weekend exploring its secrets and wonders. Park newcomers quickly made their acquaintance. Melinda and her reddish, regal Max were fixtures at this park.
This stranger approaching would know which Max I meant. He didn't hear me the first time, so I asked again, "Is that Max?"
He gave me a surprised look. "No," he said. On closer inspection his dog was older than Max, his muzzle displaying signs of gray. Max was only four and half, just reaching his prime. The man searched my face to recognize me, as if to ask, How do you know Max?
It would be unusual to see Max without Melinda. Some weekends they roamed and explored here three or four times a day for hours at a time. But if Melinda was away for the weekend, she could have found someone else to take Max to his park.
This park is where Max's senses and instincts came alive, where Max was fully Max. Under the setting sun, when the afternoon winds die and the waters calm, Max swam the lower pond with the beaver. He'd trampled every half-worn, rutted footpath of this 100-acre park thousands of times, left his footprints in the mud on every shoreline along the ponds.
He didn't tangle much with the other dogs, including Boomer and Daisy; he'd dismiss them with a simple look of his eye. He kept a distance from the other dogs waiting as Melinda gathered a walking group, then sprang ahead to lead them. He--like Boomer and Daisy--led the simple life of a contented dog: walking, sniffing, swimming, with senses alive, then doing it all over again. Over and over with his best friend.
He continued, "You haven't heard the news?"
"No," I replied. "What happened?" I didn't want to hear the words that flashed to mind.
"Max was hit by a train a few days ago."
In the moment when hearts stop, words fail. "Melinda must be devastated," Jane said.
"She is," he replied.
Max, we miss you. Somehow the words of Albert Camus I heard at church the next Sunday seemed to fit, reminding me of life's fleeting beauty:
“Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.”
Max lived a life of simple beauty. His life was full but too short. In the pain of this loss, we're left with a longing to touch once more his unbearable beauty.
Posted by Rich, Jane, Boomer, and Daisy at 12:01 AM