[This is a re-post from 3 years ago; 9 years ago today I had to put my first dog down. Glenna changed my life forever.]
When I was 37 I moved to Boise, Idaho, where I knew nobody and didn’t have a job. I rented a house, my first time living in a house since I left my parents’ house after graduating high school. It was a small house, with a small backyard closed in with a white picket fence and a one-car detached garage. Six months after moving in, I’d skin my first deer in that garage, my experienced younger brother driving from five hours away to teach me how to do it. My right index finger bears a scar from one of my slips with a sharp knife. That night, we grilled some of the meat and ate it with his wife and two boys.
I shot that deer with a friend of mine who was also on his first big game hunting trip. We stayed at my dad’s cabin in eastern Idaho, which I’d visited nearly every summer since I was 10, and whose existence and setting served as the primary reason I chose to move to Idaho. I wanted to hunt birds and big game as a resident because it was much cheaper, and Idaho had lots of public land and our cabin. Boise was a big town and I figured I could get a job and make a living.
It was a big change for me, and scary. I was lonely at the beginning when I was trying to figure out what I’d done, and why. The frame made sense to me, but the canvas was still blank. I bought a bird dog puppy from a backyard breeder in Mountain Home, my first dog, a few weeks after arriving at my rented house. The girlfriend from whom I was slowly separating helped me move from California, she helped me unpack, helped me buy sundries from Target, helped me absorb the weirdness of moving ten hours northeast. But she left after a couple weeks, and I got the puppy to stamp some kind of seal on my new life.
Glenna challenged me. I read the book my brother had used to train his remarkable first dog of the same breed. It sort of made sense, but the puppy didn’t, and I wasn’t a good trainer. A scar from her baby incisor on my left palm, near the thumb, reminds me of her jubilant puppy play. A decade after getting her, during which time I rarely hunted with her because she ran too big and hunted for herself, she was buried in my brother-in-law’s yard in the mountains not far away. Dave dug the hole, which, empty, looked excessively deep and wide, but just barely held her and her first toy, a stuffed cougar the size of a burrito. Dave had lots of experience digging dog graves, with several interred nearby. I dropped dirt as gently as I could on Glenna while my three-year-old dog Angus ran around, seemingly oblivious. I didn’t understand what I clearly saw.
Those first new months here, I told myself that this is my new life. I still tell myself that, despite all that’s happened since. It’s been sixteen years. There’s still the fluttering in my stomach, and the questions. And the images. The one that haunts me, the one that is among the richest and brings back smells and shapes and a certain humidity, is the sight of Glenna, white and orange, sitting upright patiently and eagerly from young puppy to full-grown dog in the middle of the green grassy backyard, bordered by white pickets she could easily have leaped over but never did, late in the July afternoon heat, fragmentedly shaded by huge catalpa and silver maple trees, waiting and looking and watching for a glimpse of me coming home from work on my bike.