Dogs, bats and memories

Look at this dog. See how he’s aged. I got a shock the other day when he came back from the clippers with a summer coat. To see how thin he was underneath his thick winter overcoat of the past several months. 

The other day, I took both dogs out for their morning walk down the road to Fritz Holzer park, which my family prefers to call the Rose Street tip, this park of reclaimed land that forms a swamp and was once used as a tip for the cast-offs from Hawthorn and surrounds. 

Over the years, I’ve watched the park turn into a green oasis in the middle of our suburb one that now attracts visitors and dog walkers in their droves, given the constraints of life under Covid.

When my girls were young, we used to cut through this park on Friday nights on our way to dinner nearby at a Thai place and on our way home in the evening twilight we took to counting the bats that flew through the sky. 

The bats were such a novelty but soon they became a nuisance and people resented them for the way they stripped the fruit trees and buds, looking for food and they all but destroyed fern gully in our city’s Botanical Gardens. 

Our governments soon introduced policies to deter the bats and drive them off course away from the Botanical Gardens a well-manicured museum of plants, to the edges of the Yarra River where the gum trees and willows could better cope with the burgeoning colonies of bats. And as far as I know they’re still there. 

When the dog first came into our lives, I was resistant. I did not want this dog. I did not want the additional pressure of another vulnerable creature in my house, a creature whom I would undoubtedly need to take some responsibility for. I had forgotten the pleasure that animals can bring even in an over full household.

It’s taken over a decide to adjust to life with this dog and two years ago another dog to turn me around. I’m not an official dog person, one who cares about dogs, about breeds about their antics, their personalities and the struggles dogs endure with us humans as their carers. It took some work for our daughters to persuade us to take one on. I’ll try to attach a pdf to prove the point.

I’ve written before about our back garden which when our children were young became a grave yard for dead rabbits, birds, frogs, ad guinea pigs. We still have gravestone plaques dedicated to one cat, Tillie and to another cat Pickles. To the mice Frida and Alexandra. 

The naming of pets, the chance to go through a lifetime with a creature is good preparation for the fact of death. But it’s never the same when a person goes. At least not for me. 

I was going somewhere with this story when I talked of the other day, but every other day that lies behind me merges into another, even more so these days under the weight of lockdown, I wish I was able to delineate one moment from the next and create a clear storyline that goes up and down, creates that narrative arc so beloved by story tellers that has people on the edge of their seats only to come down the hill slowly at the other end through a satisfying epiphany and sense that something’s changed.

It’s not so easy when things can seem so much the same and yet they’re in constant flux.

I realised this when I turned forty and looked back on my life as if I’d only just realised I was in one. 

Now twenty years plus later, I look back and see things more clearly and yet my memory is not what it was when I first reflected on the meanderings of my childhood. Once I took to writing down my memories, they changed in shape. They lost their intensity. It’s as if a memory when first encountered shines with brilliance but then on revisiting again and again it loses its lustre and potency. And yet more and more I sense the bodily flash of the newness of things when I was small, in a smell, or a photo or a flash of colour on a walk.

And the look of the dog now. His visible rib cage, his sharp shoulder blades where his upper leg meets his hunches are a reminder of death. The skin and bones of our humanity that is lush and full at birth only to fade as we age. 

4 thoughts on “Dogs, bats and memories”

  1. I was reading your blog post on ageing on someone else’s WordPress which led me to get interested in anything else you might write. You look gr8 by the way! As far as pets, I have an ageing cat, of 10 years now in human years, a ragdoll who I can’t imagine living without. Glad the dog was okay. I’m Vickie, nice to make your acquaintance, Elisabeth. I too, am turning the corner into retirement age, however even though I look old I don’t feel old, wished I could live on my retirement, sadly I will have to work until Mr. Right walks in? haha…fat chance of that happenin’. Anyway I look forward to snooping through 🙂

  2. I’ve been around dogs all my life but I definitely a cat person. The bird was not a choice; he was in need and that, in my book, gave us no choice. I threaten him with recycling—“I’ll get the men to take you away and turn you into a kitten cat”—but he doesn’t care; I’m a soft touch and he knows it. When he does die—and he’s probably got another ten years in him unless he dies of fright in the next week or so—I might get a cat. We’ve got used to having something to care for. But not a dog. Dogs are too needy. Cats accept affection but they don’t have the same need for it as dogs. Birdie doesn’t tolerate much human contact and when I see videos on Facebook of owners petting their birds I do get a bit jealous. Maybe if we’d got him when he was younger.

    His name is Poirot but we’ve never called him that. From Day One he was Birdie. Same with the goldfish; he was Fishy and that was that. My mother was never very adventurous when naming her cats: Snowy, Blackie, Sooty, Minstrel (he was black and white), Tigger and, lastly, Biggie because he was big. If I did get a cat I’d probably call it Kittie.

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