It’s fitting that Sirius, “the dog star,” is the brightest star in the night sky, since I am out with Thomas and Maya before dawn. I look for the constellations first, sighting Orion, standing guard with his bow ready to the west, and Ursa Major in the southern sky. (Okay, well, maybe just the Big Dipper; I can never see all of the bear.) Then I walk along the side of the house until I get a clear view of the eastern sky, and yes, there is Sirius on all the cloudless mornings, shimmering away. Seriously someone’s sun, I think, and chuckle to myself.
If we are out before first light—and we are not so much anymore, as the season waxes on toward summer and the light comes so very early—we may hear one, two, or all three of the venerable residents of the neighborhood gossiping loudly from tree to tree, the Great Horned Owls that will sometimes answer if I mimic their call. (If you'd like to hear what we hear, click here.)
We are long past the days now when Thomas would spring up out of bed at 4:00a.m. as soon as I set my feet on the floor. He prefers to sleep in until 5:00 or 5:30, and I let him; old dogs need their sleep. Sometimes, if he’s had a bad night, he will sleep as late as 6:00. He started this, of course, right around the time I brought Maya home, so that the opportunity for me to sleep that late seemed almost possible, a dream come true! But no—the new dog needed to go out early, so even though the old dog snored on, I had to clamber out of bed and get dressed anyway. It is with a grateful sigh that I wonder—Will my life always be blessed with a good dog to wake me early and take me outside to see the night sky? I hope so.
Maya is the one now to literally bound out of her bed when it’s time to go out in the morning. This is the only time of day in which she is animated, and it is a joy to see. Out she pops from her crate—her den inside my den, where she hides during the daylight hours, even though the door is wide open, and she could venture out at any time. She chooses of her own volition to remain where she feels safe, until I come to take her out several times a day, and in those times she emerges reluctantly, dragging her feet, stretching, cautiously stepping out to the patio, her nostrils flared as she sniffs for danger.
But not in the predawn hours. When I am dressed and striding down the hall, I call to her as I turn on the kitchen light, grab my jacket from the hook in the laundry room: “I’m coming, Maya,” and I hear her scramble up. If Thom is up, he trots along with me, his tail wagging. Not like hers, though. In these fleeting moments, Maya’s tail wags her, her toenails clicking as her body tap dances across the floor.
I slide the heavy glass door back, and she leaps down the steps, then hops and skips to the grass, her tail still wagging as she finds the right spot to squat, leaving the old man and I to amble along behind.
While the dogs sniff and snort and pee and poop, I listen for the owls, look for the stars, and think about the tasks before me in the new day. Often, this is a time of affirmations for me.
“You can do this, Kay. Just pick up the phone and call and get past the first few awkward sentences.”
“You can do this, Kay. The quality of your writing is not defined by one person’s criticism or rejection. Get back to work. You know you can write. You know you can.”
It is also, often, a time of gratitude.
“I’m up! I’m ambulatory! I’m functional! Thank you!”
“The marine layer is gently dropping liquid sustenance on my garden! Yay!”
“Maya is happy! Thom is alive! Jenny’s warm little purring body was a comfort last night. I am blessed.”
“All my children and grandchildren are well and safe right now. I am so, so grateful.”
Always, it is a time of meditation, to take deep breaths in the still, quiet air before we go inside to the frenetic energy of feeding and watering and walking and training, to the pseudo-urgency of needing to check messages, check email, check Facebook, check Twitter, start laundry, make lists, pay bills, get groceries, pick up mail, ship books, return calls, and oh yes, maybe just sit and write for a while if I can bring my brain back to equanimity by then.
Those few moments—gazing at the stars, watching Maya hop and spin and dog bow to Thomas (who ignores her), or standing with my hand on Thom’s soft shoulder while we wait for her to finish taking bites out of my rosemary bush—those few moments before the sun ushers in birdsong and traffic noise and all the chaos of the day—those moments are priceless.