By now, Prince is tucked in for eternity, lying peacefully in the resting place I dug for him Sunday afternoon in the rain. It almost always rains when I’ve got to dig a grave. Rained last year when I buried my cat, Gandalf, a.k.a. Pointy.
Once, though, when I buried a dog named Rain, it didn’t rain. That was probably five or six years ago. Rain was my friend Julianne’s dog, and he lived a good life. Ditto for Prince. Julianne’s daughter LizZ brought him home when he was two. In the 12 years since, he’d become a great and trusted companion to that family, which includes his two surviving adopted canine siblings, Annie and Kip.
People who live in or drive through the Valley probably remember seeing Julianne and Prince walking along the trail at the community center. And if you ever met him, you know that he didn’t bark. He spoke variations of the word “Arooo” through a pronounced ‘O’ in his mouth.
He had crystal sky blue eyes, not unfriendly (unless you were a chicken that one time I know about), but something wild, the eyes of an affable, mostly domesticated dog that ran with coyotes and befriended a skunk. Understand, he never got sprayed by the skunk – they were “let’s hang out together” friends. When Prince found his pungent pal lying dead on the road, he lay on the ground next to him, and mourned.
It was Julianne’s idea to dig the hole deep and wide and in advance – and make no mistake, she was out there, too, with her shovel, and her tears, which stood out from the rain on her face – because a good and kind veterinarian was planning to visit Prince on Monday morning, to ease him from his suffering, and Jules wanted to be ready, so Prince could make a speedy transition and pick up his backstage pass to the universe while safely ensconced in the Earth.
It was my honor on plenty of occasions to feed Prince when Julianne was away for an extended period. And without fail, roamer that he was, the dog was always there to greet me with a sincere “Aroooooo …” I will miss our conversations, and the way his thick fur felt. He wasn’t a dog that needed petting, but he allowed it and seemed to enjoy it.
Anyway, grave digging … I’d rather write about it than do it.
Who enjoys digging graves? I’m not talking about archaeologists or that kind of shit. I mean fresh graves. No one likes it. Guys trying to hide bodies do it out of necessity, not because they have a fetish for shovels. And professional gravediggers do it for a paycheck, not because they chose it at the high school job fair. And “dig graves, just like my old man” has never been the answer to, “what do you want to do when you grow up?”
You dig a grave out of love and/or respect, or out of obligation, or guilt, and like almost everything else, including altruism, we do it for ourselves, because even though it sucks to dig a grave, you’re helping a friend, and that makes you feel good, and it takes your mind off the grim inevitability of your own demise, all while you’re dealing in the traditional infrastructure of death.
But mostly, its love and respect … although I dug a grave out of pity once. A poor dog that I barely knew had been left tied to a tree in a thunderstorm, by a negligent (and devastatingly stupid) human, and got struck by lightning.
That was a pity dig. Oh, and it rained.
Didn’t rain with Rain, though. That was a tough grave to dig because it was hard, dry ground in the woods, among the roots. Fortunately, Prince was there helping, and he was more graceful than I, using the tools he was born with. But honestly, I was more impressed with his attitude than his digging.
Prince will be missed, and while his passing allows me to reflect on all the great (and not so great) dogs I have known, and friendship, and grave digging, it also allows me to say “goodnight, sweet Prince,” and sincerely mean it.