A monthly column in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Just Me and Calhoun and the Woods

This man’s best friend was the compass, the energy for life.

Only a year ago, he leapt through the woods with boundless energy, as graceful and confident as a buck, jumping over logs and rocks, tail high, eyes wide, panting and happy to be alive.

Now, as Calhoun lies on his cushion by the woodstove, his runs through the forest are over. Only a few days shy of 7 years old, my buddy is in his final hours on this earth. The vet will be here in two hours to put him down and out of his pain forever.

Cancer has eaten his bones. He has given up a noble fight. But his soul shines on. I can see it in his eyes.

He remembers as well as I do all of our adventures. The canoe rides on Nubanusit Lake. The daily morning jaunts. The long Saturday off-trail hauls. The walks up the road. The trips to the dump. The daily errands.

I Had My Doubts

Calhoun is my fourth dog as a grownup. First there was Carly, the beautiful brown golden retriever/Newfoundland mix I got in college. Then Brindle joined our pack, and was devastated when Carly died. So we got Pokey, an Australian shepherd to keep Brindle company. When they went on to the green pastures in the sky, we waited a few months, dogless, until my wife picked Calhoun out of a litter.

That day in 2007, Adine drove south from Madison, N.H., with my two sons to my office in Concord to show me our new dog, Calhoun. That was his given name. Calhoun was a rescue dog, supposedly from an abandoned litter in Kentucky.

I took one look at this lanky pup’s paws and knew that this was going to become a very large dog. I thought, “Oh no, honey. What have you gotten us into?”

I had my doubts whether Calhoun would work out. He chewed the furniture. He ate my money. He ran away. He was dumb about cars. He didn’t listen. He couldn’t be trained. He destroyed our screens. He ate too much and threw up. He growled at the kids when they went near his food. He needed therapy.

Adine would ask me, “Do you love him?”

My constant answer was a private joke to myself, always. I would say, “He’s not the dog I would’ve picked,” shaking my head. But every time, I would think to myself: “Oh yeah. I love this dog.”
At some point, Adine caught on to my inside joke. She knew how strongly we had bonded.

The Trust Sets In

Working at home for the past four years, Calhoun and I were together all the time, 24/7, all year long. We were inseparable, like twins who do and think everything together. We even started to look alike.
While he was perfectly happy at home – proving his distinction as our first dog allowed on the couch – Calhoun was in his element in the woods.

I worried sometimes that he would be mistaken for a deer, and tried various orange vests and dog attire to prove his canine-ness. None of it fitted right or lasted long.

On our early jaunts, when Calhoun was a wandering adolescent, I didn’t trust him in the woods. I leashed him for a long time, which was positively unwieldy when we were bushwhacking off trails. But gradually, the trust set in among both of us.

I trusted Calhoun that he would always stay with me. And he did. And he trusted me that we would always go somewhere fun. And we did.

My Leader, My Compass

His sense of smell was incredible, sniffing every log, every hole, every curious spot in the woods with scents that were invisible to me, but bright as day to him. His nose was like Google, pulling untold amounts of information from every source.

On those freestyle forest forays, I always thought I was leading the direction, even when there was no clear destination. Just me and Calhoun and the woods.

Over time I began to realize that Calhoun was leading me. He brought me to the woods. His energy drove mine. He was my leader, my compass. He kept me straight.

Now as Calhoun winds down his too-short life, I’ll always remember his wisdom, his strength, his boundless energy for life.

You taught me well, buddy. I’ll miss you.

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.