Monday, 1 April 2013
Thoughts on a lost dog
Anybody who follows me on twitter (@JPicardie) will know that we have been searching for Bill since he went missing on Saturday afternoon. I had taken him for a walk -- although that seems the wrong phrase to use, given that it was Bill who taught me about the footpaths around Tillypronie; a loyal companion in the (nearly) four years since I first started coming here. Anyway, as I say, we went on a very familiar route -- down the top drive, cutting through the woods to the bottom drive, and then back up towards the house together. He rarely stayed at my heel, as was often the case -- like many cocker spaniels, Bill went off on his own adventures, chasing the scent of rabbits, disappearing through the snowy undergrowth and then reappearing as if by magic again; never gone for long, never less than joyful, always faithful. I crossed into the garden, and he was still within sight -- albeit on the other side of a fence, in a next door field, running fast, and then he vanished. Bound to run back up to the house, I thought, presuming Bill would be taking the swiftest route to return to his beloved master, my husband. But he was not there, and has not been seen since.
I have retraced my steps so many times since then (and as you can imagine, I feel terribly guilty, as he was lost on my watch). Bill loves (can't yet use the past tense) my husband with every fibre of his body; and they have been the very best of companions for well over a decade. One of the reasons I love Bill is because he loves the man I love, with complete unselfishness; with such dogged devotion that he also accepted me.
So, we walked and called and whistled and looked until after darkness fell on Easter Saturday, and then from dawn, just as the sun rose, on Sunday. The snow is still deep on the ground here in the Highlands, but it is no longer silent; we have heard the cry of birds, and the sheep as they shelter from the icy weather; we have seen the sun rays dazzling in the daylight, and the sky turn bright blue, then fading again, streaked with sunset pink; and then the dusk falling.
Today I went out again, following the path of our Good Friday walk; up through the snow-covered heather, to the hillside that Bill knew so well. We had walked along this track three days ago -- Bill running in front, my husband striding ahead, his footsteps making a path through the snow that I could follow, close behind. Half way along, we reached a stone known as the Laird's seat -- the place where Philip's father used to sit, looking at his favourite view across the mountains. We talked of the past, and of the future; of the trees that Philip's father had planted before his death, and how tall they had grown; of the trees that might need to be felled later this year, and of the planting that we had done, after our wedding here last summer.
Then we continued, along a track I had never taken before -- cutting across the hillside, to avoid the snowdrifts, and back down the house again. Bill had been happy -- just as he always was. This was his land, as much as his master's; this was his territory, where he had grown up...
A lost dog... such a plaintive, sad phrase. We have sought sightings of him, via twitter and email and the local radio station; registered his details with the police and elsewhere. Others have joined the search for Bill -- neighbours who were fond of him, and knew him well.
Now we are in limbo -- still hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. As I have walked, I have seen his paw-prints everywhere; clear in the snow, seeming to offer clues, yet apparently leading nowhere. If we do not see him again, then perhaps he may see us, sensing his master, yet running free as the wind; up on the hill, higher even than the Laird's seat, at the summit, where a cairn was built as a memorial for my husband's father. Up there, it seems closer to heaven; the mountains all around, the moss soft between the heather, the sky high and clear, the curlews calling, the lapwings soaring... just the place for a lost dog to find peace.