I took my Ziggy to the property on Sunday, a 22-acre piece of land in rural Harvard, Illinois, that our mom left to my sister and me when she passed three years ago. It’s beautiful land, woods and virgin prairie; sacred land where family members died in a horrible fire and where indigenous people lived and died a century before.
This was only the second time I’d brought Ziggy here. He came to live with me four months ago, two days before Christmas. It was too cold for this Jack Russell from Kentucky to be spending more than short spurts of time outside, and anyway the snow-covered, quarter-mile driveway would have been impassable. We had to wait for the snow to melt, for the air to warm, for Ziggy’s fear of cars and open spaces and new experiences to subside—not disappear altogether, they may never do that—just subside enough for the trip to be fun, to not make him tremble with anxiety.
A balancing act, this. A tightrope walk.
My Elika, the mini American Eskimo who was my dearest friend, my spirit sister, my co-teacher and co-healer, the beautiful being who was, who is, the beat of my heart, loved this place so completely that she asked to be buried here. And she is. Right over there, under those trees, the headstone gifted by a student: “Elika, Forever in My Heart.”
In her last months, when she was being bludgeoned by bladder cancer, this place pulsed life into her.
My little Ziggy has suffered at the hands of humans. He told me that he’d had a family, that one day they put him out by the side of the road. The shelter I removed him from had gotten him from another shelter in Kentucky, who had rescued him from a hoarder. What kind of nightmare must that have been? How long was he alone without his family, how long living in a tangle of canine bodies?
This was our second visit to the property. The first had been the week before. Ziggy knew right away that the property is special. He had been tentative about walking into the cottage. OK, more than tentative; he had cowered at the door. It took much coaxing to get him to come inside, and then he had turned around, pushed open the screen door, and let himself back out.
But he wasn’t afraid of anything else—not of the crackle of the bird seed bags, not of the sight of me lifting the feeders off the poles and placing them on the ground (he is most often afraid of things moving above his head), not of the whoosh of seed filling the feeders. When we walked in the woods, he stuck close to me, not dropping back or running up ahead, but he wasn’t overwhelmed by the newness of this place, by the deviation from our safe routine.
This time, this second time, he was even more relaxed, maybe even happy to be here. He jumped out of the car and began exploring. He walked into the cottage a bit less tentatively and even followed me into the storage area where the bird seed lives in a metal trash can that made that hollow metal-trash-can noise when I pulled off the lid.
He watched me fill the feeders with curiosity, and then, in the woods, dropped back to explore, to sniff a large tree trunk that had fallen across the path—normal doggie things, you are probably thinking, but for this formerly trembling, terrified little one, this sweet exploration was a precious gift.
We came out of the woods at the head of the driveway and kept walking—all the way down. Halfway back up, I sat down. Ziggy sat, too, and let me take his picture, which he ordinarily doesn’t like. “What is that thing in your hand?” he seems to ask. “I don’t like it.”
We talked a bit about this and that. I told him how much Elika loved this place.
Relaxed, grateful that Ziggy was, too, I dozed in the sun, allowing daydreams.
It was spring, and there was Elika digging a hole along the wall of the cottage. There was no point asking her to stop. She was oblivious to anything else around her when she dug, her face a mixture of intense concentration and joy.
Years before, when she was just a pup, we had gone to the beach near our apartment in Chicago. It was spring; dogs were allowed on the beach in the off-season. Elika started digging a hole in the sand. I had never seen her do this before. She dug and dug and dug and dug, devoted to her task. Digging not just down, but sideways, deepening and then lengthening the hole, swiping sideways with her front paws, left then right, left then right.
A man walked by with his little boy, five, maybe six. The little boy walked over to Elika. He stood next to her, watching her, then dropped on all fours and started digging next to her, mimicking her strokes, deepening, then lengthening the hole. Kindred spirits flinging sand.
My precious girl, the beat of my heart, gone two years but not entirely gone. Sitting halfway up the driveway on that spring afternoon, my heart ached with love and loss. I smiled at the precious black and white dog curled at my feet. “Come on, little one,” I said. “Let’s go.”
Pam Sourelis is a writer, animal communicator, and Reiki practitioner.
You can learn more about her work with animals at WingedHorseHealing.com