The Gift of Confidence

A Tribute to Two Special Dogs

I’m perfectly comfortable roaming about the forest without other people. Of course, I almost always have one or both of my dogs with me. Finn and Conall are quiet yet steadfast companions, letting me play inside my head while we’re running, no interruptions, no need to carry on polite conversation. Dogs are the perfect trail companions, in my estimation.

Friends worry about me, though, sure something bad will happen to me out in the forest. Some worry I’ll be attacked by a wild animal. I tell them I’m for more worried about an attack by a bad human. Others worry I’ll fall, hurting myself so badly (in an area without cell reception) that I’m unable to walk back to my car. That’s possible, of course. I’ve taken plenty of tumbles over the years, but scraped knees and elbows – and once a broken tooth – have been the worst injuries. I actually worry more about one of the dogs hurting themselves, how I would get them back to the car. Negative encounters with wildlife or humans, possible injuries, these are all calculated risks I’m willing to take for the physical and mental health – and sheer joy – that being in the forest almost every day of the year with my dogs brings me.

Life is full of risks. I could get into an auto accident. Fall at home. Be diagnosed with a life-ending illness.

I prefer to focus on actively living without fear rather than on the things that could – maybe – interfere with living.

I wasn’t always so confident and unafraid, however.

I credit my father, a Boeing test pilot who passed away in 2009, with giving me a solid foundation that included a love of dogs; a fascination and respect for the natural world; being physically active; acquiring competence at whatever I undertake; knowing how to assess the risks and benefits of an activity; and confidence in my own common sense and abilities to be and stay safe.

Yet it was bringing Maia into my life in 1999, and two years later Meadow, that truly expanded my world. Until then, I never ran trails without at least one human companion. The girls boosted my confidence on forest trails by being the keenly aware and protective dogs Alaskan Malamutes are known for. As they and I spent more time out in nature, as I learned their body language and cued into their alerts for wildlife and humans, my fear of being “alone” in the forest decreased until it disappeared altogether. With every passing year having them beside me, my delight in experiencing the forest with them and through their senses expanded. I was never bored with their company. They made me laugh at their antics. Without the distractions of other people, I was more observant, learning so much about the forest’s plants and the wildlife they showed me.

So you can imagine how devastated I was to lose them both, just six weeks apart, in the summer of 2013. In my earlier post A Heap of Stones I wrote about the impact of saying goodbye to the girls, and how building cairns as memorials to them helped me handle my grief and eventually heal.

Today – July 22nd – is the sixth anniversary of Meadow’s passing. Maia passed on June 6, 2013. By sharing the girls’ eulogies, each written the day they passed, I hope to give a sense of just how responsible both dogs were for shaping me into the adventurous person I am today. Dogs do so much more than love us unconditionally. If we let them, they mold us into far better human beings than we were when we first let them into our hearts.

MaiaApril 9, 1999 to June 6, 2013

Today – a mild sunny afternoon with gentle Idaho mountain breezes bringing bird song through the window – I gave my best friend the last gift of love I could: freedom from suffering and pain. Her spirit now runs again, free of old age and cancer.

There is no death. Only a change of worlds.

Chief Seattle

Maia was my teacher: showing me how to be brave, kind, joyful, curious and adventurous; to live with integrity and grace; to trust and love unconditionally; and to end one’s days peacefully with acceptance and dignity.

Maia was my guide: when running and walking forest trails, she showed me the wildlife – deer, elk, moose, bear, coyote, fox, cougar, and most memorably, a wolf. Without her alerts, I would have missed most of it; I learned to see through her eyes, ears and nose. Maia knew safe from unsafe and always had my back. She taught me to be goofy and silly and not care who sees, to appreciate the sheer delight of playing in the snow.

Maia broadened and enriched my world: exploring forest trails together without fear of getting lost (I swear she was born with a GPS in her brain); drawing people to us as we strolled through the neighborhood (“What a gorgeous dog!”); inspiring me to create Maian Meadows Dog Camp and become a writer for The Bark magazine; convincing me with her generous heart to bring Meadow and Finn into our lives.

Most of all, for fourteen wonderful years Maia has been my constant companion, loving me uncritically and forgiving me my every mistake. Holding her as her heart slowed and she took her last breath, telling her I love her, was more grief than I thought I could bear, but I owed her no less after her lifetime’s devotion to me.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Dr. Seuss

I am so lucky to have had her in my life.

***

Meadow – May 19, 2001 – July 22, 2013

This morning – just after sunrise in the cool mountain air – I gave Meadow the same gift I so recently gave Maia: a loving, gentle goodbye so she can be free from the pain of bone cancer.  A passing so unexpected and much too soon. She was courageous – and sweet – ‘till her last breath.

“… what we have enjoyed, we can never lose … all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

Helen Keller

My only consolation is that the girls are once again side by side as they were throughout their lives. Memories of their love for me, for each other and for life lived well and full of adventures will allow my heart to slowly mend while Finn remains by my side.

Meadow was our goofball, comic relief, and spirit-lifter. She was sweetly silly, a jester with a keen sense of humor bringing laughter and frivolity. She loved rolling on her back and kicking up her heels, especially in the snow. She delighted in cutting trail switchbacks, just for grins. She graciously accepted the haircuts I gave her – “She’s a Maladoodle!” She slept with her tongue peeking out.

Meadow always had our backs. On forest trails, she brought up the rear, allowing me and Maia to enjoy our surroundings without fear or looking over our shoulders. She protected Maia from mean dogs, skunks and raccoons, and me from mean people. Her keen sense of smell allowed her to find the scattered bones of wildlife, treasure she delighted in showing off. Her favorite smell: elk. 

Meadow was uncommonly tender. A fluffy gentle giant, stunningly beautiful, she was a Malamute goodwill ambassador. She loved greeting strangers, especially babies in strollers and the elderly. Running in the Payette Forest I once found her in a play bow in front of a stern cow shielding her calf. She cautiously and oh-so-gently tasted the tail nubbin of a llama. On trail rides, she let my horse sniff her fluffy tail, gently nudging her if she stopped in the trail ahead of him. She groomed Maia’s ears, a bonding ritual they both enjoyed. She released any creature she caught unharmed.

Meadow was empathic. She nuzzled crying babies. She brought a teddy bear to a distraught victim of domestic violence (and always kept her own teddy bear nearby). She licked tears from my cheeks. She always let Maia win. She slept beside my bed. She showed me who to trust.

Meadow and Maia – the girls – enriched my life in countless, amazing ways. What a journey they took me on, opening my eyes and my heart to a bigger world. So many adventures! Beyond my cherished memories, their most enduring legacy will be the dog camp they inspired me to create and name after them – Maian Meadows Dog Camp – a place where I and others delight in the unconditional love and uncompromising bond that only our canines give us. With that legacy, they gave me the family I will lean on as I learn to navigate the world without them beside me.

I can hardly grasp saying goodbye to Meadow so soon after Maia. Perhaps they needed to be together to keep watch over me and Finn, as a team. I always said Meadow bonded first to Maia, then to me; I know she missed Maia terribly. I will always think of them running eagerly together down single track forest trails, tails high over their backs, ears, noses and eyes alert for wildlife, looking at me with shining eyes saying, “Let’s go! There’s so much to explore!”

“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

Mary Oliver

I shall carry Meadow – alongside Maia – in my heart forever. I am a lucky woman.

Cover photo: The girls enjoying Hard Creek Lake, Payette National Forest, June 2007.

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