the dogs

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When Manda spoke, it paid
to listen, though at times
I didn't believe a word, not for a minute.
But the last time she ever spoke
before she went to sleep beside me
under a heaven of white oaks, she said
it's not so much where the trail
ends up that counts, but what you smell
along the way. My funny Manda.

– Randy Wilson
Manda, or more formally, Amanda McBlue, was the last alive of the puppies of 1985, my own personal year of the dog, my 1776, my 1917, my revolutionary war, my Bolshevik uprising, after which the old ways dissolved, and new ways were cobbled together by committees and commisars as I took up a new and much more communal life.

But enough about me.

Manda was an early hiker, and a favorite one, but it soon became clear that she suffered from that malady common to Irish setters, hip dysplasia, and that she really wasn't physically up to the rigors of long hikes. So for most of her life we contented ourselves with walks.

She was, I think, a prime example of the fact that a dog can just about outlive her ability to be a dog. In her last years her eyesight became progressively worse, and arthritis took a devastating toll as well, all of which made our walks much more circumscribed than the free-ranging and vigorous rambles of her better years.

I remember being a little amazed, all those years ago, at the determination, almost fierceness, with which Manda and her littermates approached the business of suckling. Believe me, they were not gentle babes at the breast. In those days before they even had names or discernable individual personalities, often I would observe a toothless and eyeless pup latch on to a nipple like prey and jerk it from side to side as if determined to seize every last drop of the milk of life.

And 15 years later, there was Manda, the last of those pups still alive, almost blind, but somehow always able to pick up on the subtle cues that I was about to go out, and up until almost the very end, waiting at the door with her nose practically on it ready for it to open. Still chomping at that teat.