Roberta Branca

Archive for the ‘Living in New Hampshire’ Category

Sweet October

In Living in New Hampshire, Private Musings Gone Public on October 12, 2010 at 5:07 am
You have to physically experience Fall in Northern New England to truly appreciate its beauty. Bright sunshine, mild temperatures, and the resplendent orange, red, and yellow leaves are a heady mix. It is beguiling, leading one to forget the harsh, icy, snow-bound winter that lies just beyond October.

This year, October  is poignantly bittersweet for me for several reasons. For the first time, I followed my mate’s custom of taking the entire first week of October for an at-home vacation (well, almost the entire week — several days in a row, any way.) That’s the sweetener — a few days to really enjoy the weather, the colors — even rainy days can be relaxing when you are surrounded by magnificent fall foliage.

That’s the sweet-sweet part: weather plus color plus vacation. The bitter-sweet part is the one year anniversary of our dog, Nestle’s, diagnosis of cancer. Nestle’s decline last year followed the seasons of Autumn and Winter down to the time of day. She first collapsed from fluid on her heart on All Hallow’s Eve. As Autumn’s color gave way to November’s leafless grey and cold, Nestle experienced days when she was tired, and other days where you could believe nothing was wrong at all. Her second collapse was on the night before Thanksgiving, and she died of heart failure at 7 a.m. on Christmas Day.

Her death was the second dog loss we experienced that year; our other Sheltie, Laddie, was put to sleep on Sept. 25. The anniversary of his death hit our household hard, although I was slower to acknowledge it than B (my mate).

So while I’ve always associated October with the end of summer and the beginning of the holiday season, this year is marked with some internal apprehension. What sort of celebratory mood will we both be in as each holiday/anniversary approaches? It will be especially hard for my life-mate, who had been with Nestle since her puppy-hood.

As for me, the week spent leaf-peeping, hiking, and movie-going was interspersed with memories of Nestle barking at falling leaves; running with golden sun shining on her fur; jumping like a jack-in-the-box as I scooped her dinner food, which I now do for an entirely different dog.

When this new dog, Cosmo, came into our lives, I thought we were “replacing” the two dogs we’d lost. There is no such thing as replacing one living thing with another, though. Although the three dogs share a common heritage as purebred Shelties, their personalities make them as different as night and day.

Laddie and Nestle were proud and independent, bestowing affection only occasionally but content to lie nearby and provide companionship at all times. Cosmo, while affectionate, crosses the line into “neediness.” If he receives a pat on the head, he will immediately throw himself into your lap and roll over to have his tummy rubbed. If we are watching a movie, he will jump up on the furniture and insert himself between us. If he curls up next to you on the couch, he either licks your feet or scrambles up toward your head for extra attention.

Nestle was a stealthy problem-solver when it came to stealing food. She used her wits to defeat a child-proof cabinet lock and a cardboard barricade to get at the dog food we keep in a kitchen cabinet. Cosmo merely waits for opportunities, such as food left out within his reach. He is tall enough to pull a pan of chicken off the counter, and probably smart enough to get into the food closet if he was so inclined.

Laddie’s preferred form of play was to hid under blankets, or slap at you with his front paws. Nestle enjoyed tug of war and would bring toys to you to indicate her desire to play fetch. She did this sparingly, though, maybe once a week. She would deign to play fetch if you initiated it, and our level of interest in the game was usually well matched.

Cosmo, on the other hand, drops a ball in front of you several times a day, never tires of the game, and eagerly (over-eagerly) engages when his humans initiate the play instead of him. When you play with Cosmo, you can guarantee you are going to tire out before he does.

It is safe to say that Cosmo is more energetic, with too much energy, than the dogs I was so used to. What is less clear is how much of this is due to his younger age. Cosmo is only four, after all. Time will tell whether he calms down a bit as he grows out of doggy adolescence.

There are times when I think we got a new dog to early in the grieving process. Other times, of course, I just enjoy Cosmo for who he is. At all times, I feel grateful to have the ability to have a dog in my life. It is only in the past few months, though, that I have been able to separate my old grief from my new dog-owning responsibilities and experiences.

October, therefore, will be both easy and hard this year. Easy to enjoy the warmth and color around me as I walk my dog. Hard to continue letting go as memories of Nestle will inevitably flow through my consciousness this month. Easier to enjoy this new dog who is no longer “new” and is becoming familiar. Harder than usual not to think of the absence of Nestle and Laddie.


Be The Guide You Hope to Meet

In Living in New Hampshire, Private Musings Gone Public on September 18, 2010 at 11:52 pm

I wrote this inner-thought-essay after a particularly grueling drive home one wintry night. I wrote a lot of these sorts of things that winter, with no real idea about what to do with them. They aren’t researched, so they’re not journalistic pieces. They’re not fully formed essays with a larger universal meaning, they’re just sort of private musings about the world outside my window.

So I’ve decided they are blog posts. Since my first blog post looks a little lonely, I decided to add this one.

December 2008. What a stormy, wild ending to a stormy, wild year.  An ice storm that brought 3 weeks of power outages to parts of New Hampshire. Two or three major snowstorms each week, including one or two Nor’easters.

Many times during this hard winter of driving in blinding snowstorms late at night, I asked myself, “Whose dumb idea was it to move to a coastal area any way?” The answer comes back to me in a whisper: “The decision was all yours, my dear. Yours and yours alone.” So I try to bear the burden as best I can. I try to take delight in the joys of snow tires, to rise above petty anger at motorists who think they are driving magic cars that won’t slam into others or rollover on a sharp turn taken at high speed. I try to remember they probably have children at home, or perhaps even in the car, and I pray they will not fall victim to the axiom, What goes around comes around.

Eventually I arrive home, the snow stops, and the roads get plowed. I make a point to drive to the shore on the weekends so I can gaze out at the ocean and think, “Moving to the coast was the smartest decision I’ve made in a decade.”

With the age of 41 just around the corner, it seems only right to assess decisions in terms of decades. In these trying times, I try to draw on my muse as I contemplate a plan to adjust to the newest chapter of collective history. I hope to retain strength and creativity in an age that will require practicality and hard choices. Lord knows I’ve faced hard times before – three recessions during 18 years in the workforce — and I hope to draw on my new maturity, given to me in an epiphany on the day I turned 39 and three quarters, for something approaching divine guidance. “Drive time” late at night is proving to be a peaceful to do this, even in a blinding snowstorm.

During those late night drives, I’ve taken to distracting myself by turning from one NPR station to another, comparing various news programs. Replays of Fresh Air, BBC World News, Diane Rheems, and some Canadian show that is folksy and smart. And I have to tell you; they are obsessed with The Economy. They all run an analytical feature about the same exact piece of economic news each night. Examples from include the housing bailout, the arrest of some sports-promoting financier, and the newest stock market crash.  How can something that’s already at rock bottom find room to crash over and over again? Ooh, it makes me wonder . . .

The NPR shows always include interviews with economists or public policy experts, and there is a definite theme developing: nobody knows the Exact Right Thing to do, but we are all in this together so we’d better just figure it out.

The Night of the Nor’easter was by far the most amusing Road Trip in the Snow. I spent 35 miles on the highway stuck behind a plow – I was several cars back so I couldn’t see it until it turned off – because I was not about to risk my neck in the “magic car lane” to my left. I exited the highway to confront a small snow bank created by a plow that decided to leave a swirly figure-8 path on the overpass.

The snow is fluffy and soft at this time of year and I drove through the “snow bank” with ease.  I negotiated familiar turns on the country highway I take every night until I saw blue flashing lights ahead, at the exact spot where the state police always pull over motorists who exit the highway and forget to slow down. I slowed to less than 5 mph, and drew just close enough to see this was a two-car accident, not a particularly bad one. Before I could redirect the car around the scene, a police officer with reflective yellow jacket and bright halogen flashlight ran out in front of my car, frantically motioning with his flashlight “go around, go around.” Which I was able to do once he took a few steps back from the middle of the road.

As I resumed my journey my attention was drawn again to the radio. Another analyst was again making the point that while savings was good for individuals, and entirely necessary at this time, the failure to spend was going to hurt our neighbors. He concluded his remarks with “We’re all going to need to find the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.”

This amused and delighted me to no end. God, grant me the serenity . . .

But my musings were interrupted by the sudden appearance of a school bus coming in the opposite direction. At 11 o’clock at night, in a snowstorm.

The trail of thought stuck with me, though, and this morning I followed it to its conclusion.

I offer this prayer for the Second Millennium:

Grant me the serenity to save my pennies when I can;

The courage to spend them when it is prudent;

And the wisdom to know the difference.