June in 2001
Yesterday we said goodbye to Junebug.
Since I picked her in 2001 from among sixty inmates at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, where she’d been living for twelve months, we never really knew how old she was. According to the lady at the shelter, the scrawny black and white dog was one or two when she’d arrived, which would make her fourteen or fifteen this year.
Friends and I in Idaho’s Wood River Valley joked that she was a genuine Wood River Retriever. The product of ne’er-do-well parents sporting substantial doses of Labrador and Border Collie in their questionable pedigrees, these middle-sized, athletic, poorly trained hounds are ubiquitous in the Valley. The B.C./Lab mix gave Junebug webbed toes, an unquenchable desire to run far, far away, and a dense, fluffy undercoat protected by a long, oily topcoat, with which she performed Olympian feats of shedding.
Junie was as strange a dog as her appearance suggests, by turns cripplingly empathetic and discouragingly aloof. In spite of her flipper-like feet and waterproof coat, she did not like to swim. Instead, she preferred to wade, and after our first month as a team, during which together we watched dozens of tennis balls bob downstream and out of sight, she finally succeeded in training me not to throw tennis balls.
But if I demonstrated undue optimism in the early days, I wasn’t alone. Every morning she woke up knowing that this–this!–would be the day that she would finally catch a squirrel.
She chased cats (although it’s important to note that not once did she chase Tesserwell), and she chased foxes, but her quarry of choice was the squirrel. Idaho, where she spent her first seven years, is ideal for such pursuit, boasting thirteen species of ground squirrel. All of them were faster than June.
This morning, teary-eyed while tying his sneakers, Mbot asked me to tell another Junie story. “Juniebug woke up every morning,” I began, “knowing–just knowing!–that that day would be the day she caught a squirrel.” I zipped the bots into sweatshirts and we shuffled over the new Bermuda grass, glowing green around our shoes, to the car. “But she never did.”
“Well, there was one time….We were housesitting at Nanny and Poppy’s. Now, you know how Nanny and Poppy don’t like the smell of onions, right? For some reason I can’t remember now, I had one with me, and put it on top of my car overnight instead of bringing it inside. Then I did some gardening at Nanny and Poppy’s and Junie spent the morning racing around in the grass and woods after squirrels. Now, Junie was fast–fast as a cheetah on the African plains. But not as fast as a squirrel.
“Well, just as I was getting ready to get in the car and go home, Juniebug prances up to me, and by jigger if she wasn’t carrying a squirrel in her mouth. Oh, she was so pleased with herself! She was prancing and dancing. Can you imagine Junie prancing and dancing? I, on the other paw, was horrified. By the look of the squirrel, it had probably been dead for a day. That would explain why it was so stiff, and also why it couldn’t outrun Junie. I took it out of her mouth–she didn’t care, she was still dancing and prancing with glee to finally get a taste of squirrel–it tasted just like candy to her–Squirrel Skittles, and Squirrel Duds–and I put it on top of the car next to the onion.
“Then I went to get a bag to put it in. I didn’t want it stinking up Nanny and Poppy’s garbage. But I got distracted, and forgot about it, and finished up the gardening, and called Juniebugs out of the trees, where she was looking to double her score, and she leaped into the back of the car–can you imagine Juniebugs leaping? Just like a gazelle on the African plains. And we drove home.
“And out on the road, I said to Junie, ‘I must look awfully lovely today! Everyone we pass is looking at us. Aren’t we a couple of beautiful girls?’ And it was true: heads were turning on the highway the whole drive home.
“And then we got home. I climbed out of the car and Junie jumped out and sat looking at the car. ‘What?’ I asked. ‘It’s time to go inside.’ But she just sat looking past me, and so I turned around, and what did I see? There on the top of the car were the onion and the squirrel. I had driven all the way home with an onion and a dead squirrel on top of my car! Everyone we passed must have thought I was going to make squirrel soup. Junebug particularly wanted me to, because after all it was the first squirrel she’d ever caught. Oh, that was a happy day for Junebug!”
By that time, we’d reached school. We bundled out of the car, navigated the parking lot holding hands, hugged and kissed goodbye, Junie temporarily forgotten in pursuit of the day.
I have told the bots that we need to be thankful that Junebug was part of our family. I can’t with a clear conscious tell them that she went to heaven. Unless heaven is our collective consciousness, the narrative through which we navigate past and present and future, as real and powerful and invisible as oxygen or gravity. We’ll tell Junebug stories.
And so Junie’s having a good day, today, chasing squirrels, and catching them.
Nope, no squirrel here any more….