UNEXPECTED

 

We reached more verdant and temperate America a week or so ago and began to enjoy being sort of typical tourists. From Pendleton, Oregon we drove north across the Columbia River. I knew it was big but not that big – like the Mississippi but with clear water. No wonder Woodie Guthrie found it so exciting. And I suppose the Columbia he sang about was the rolling torrent that existed before all the dams.

The Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge has lots of vineyards but few people. I didn’t expect that, and I drove right past a sign that warned “next services 63 miles.” In Washington? Nah. As the van’s gauge was nearing empty, we came across a couple of gasoline pumps at a crossroads. No attendant and no attendant building. Just pumps and a sign that announced something about their being for commercial use. I investigated and found a place to insert a credit card, and we were soon on our carefree noncommercial way.

A couple of days in Portland included some of the expected – lots of drugged-out homeless people and obvious progressivism (you can decide for yourself whether there is a connection)  and the unexpected – a perfect  Sunday lunch consisting of two hours at a quiet sidewalk table, smoked salmon, Caesar salad, local wine, conversation with a couple at the next table, all against a background of a joyous civic event. For several hours on Sundays in summer, automobile traffic in downtown Portland is directed by volunteer crossing monitors in order to give bicycle riders precedence. Hundreds passed by a few feet from out table. Old and young, Some in costumes. On tandems. On tricycles. Slowly. Quietly. Radiating a sense of comradery.

From Portland we drove for a couple of days around the Pacific coastline and into the Olympic Peninsula. It’s extravagantly beautiful, and we enjoyed it greatly. Our pleasure was marred, however, by BK looking weaker than her long-term kidney disease could account for. In the small town of Port Angeles, we stopped at the first veterinarian who would see her, thinking maybe a booster shot of hydration would pick her up. Less than an hour later, her life was over. Incurable complications to the kidney problem had made euthanasia the kindest course.

The extent and rapidity of her failing had not been apparent to us. In retrospect, it seems she knew her time was up. For several weeks, she had behaved in ways we had not seen before, ways that told us she was grateful for a good life with us and that she was reconciled to it being over. We too are grateful, but as yet, far from reconciled.

The death of a pet is complicated. You’re surrounded by the common view that no matter how dear, the creature was “just” a pet, and so what’s all that grief about? No one who has actually lost a pet takes that view.

For almost seventeen years, Ann had rarely opened her eyes in the morning without finding BK on her breast. She spent so much time on Ann’s desk or lap while Ann worked, she probably could have passed the bar exam. Ann is a self-identified grouch, but never, ever, not once in the presence of that kitty. I usually enjoy an afternoon nap. and BK almost always joined me. If I got too busy, she would seek me out and all but motion with her head toward the bed. Likewise when it was time to have a cocktail and watch the news.

Just a pet?” Not at all. She was our “working week, our Sunday rest.”

The trip goes on, our lives continue. At the moment we are staying in a VRBO apartment in Seattle. Yesterday, a neighbor cat slipped through a door I’d left open and made her way into the bedroom where Ann was just waking up. He didn’t stay. Just said hello, reminded us of important things, and left.

Tomorrow, we’re off to Lopez Island in Puget Sound for ten days of hiking and reflection.