Calhoun’s Cannon, For The Bay New, Tolosa Press, SLO, CA for Dec 5, 2008
Bwana Nusu Hadithi
In the whelping box, during the dark, bloody process of birth, the pup’s new mother mistook his tiny tail for an umbilical cord and nipped it off, leaving only an upright stump. It wasn’t until I took the puppies in for a vet check that I knew something was wrong. “Where’s his tail?” she asked. Which is how he came by his name: Bwana Nusu Hadithi – Master Half Tale—a play on the Swahili word “hadithi,” since he did have a story to tell when asked why he, of all the other Basenjis, was missing that signature tight curled tail with its distinctive white tip.
On the other hand, his terrier-like upright, sprightly wagging stub suited his personality perfectly. A handsome clone of his beautiful uncle, Rafiki, whom he loved with an unseemly idol worshiping ardor, he had a sweet nature that can best be explained by what one duck said to another duck: “Don’t worry. If it doesn’t rain, we’ll walk.”
That tail also earned double-takes and annoyed queries from AKC judges when I showed him at several dog shows. After an endless stream of letters, it was finally determined that since the Basenji Club of America didn’t list a missing tail as a disqualification, the AKC would (eye-rolling, reluctant) have to allow me to show him. No frowning judge took Bwana seriously, but then knowing what I know about the AKC’s registration “papers” fraud, which is the driving engine of the puppy mill trade, I never took them seriously either.
Bwana earned a few meaningless blue ribbons and thought it was all a hoot. For him, the world was a gentle oyster full of pearls for the little dog with half a tail. And his life was long and healthy for all of his 14-plus years. Until luck and time ran out.
Even now I’m not sure just what happened. Perhaps he was caught in one of our rapidly arriving, unseasonable hot spells and while out in the back yard soaking up the warm sun on his old bones, didn’t realize the heat was rising dangerously and, age-befuddled, he didn’t come in out of the sun in time. When I got home, I realized something was seriously wrong and the battle to re-hydrate him started. He seemed to recover for a while, but eventually his old body just wasn’t up to the climb.
Once again it was time to make the terrible call. Once again, time for the last bit of refused food and water, the last tummy rub. When I carried him out of the car at the vet’s office, we stood for the last time to gaze out over the Chorro Valley. Bwana gazed placidly at the scene, turning his head to look with rheumy eyes at the sun drenched fields and hills, and sniff the scents coming in on the wind to his twitching nostrils. I held him tightly and watched him for a long, long time. It was one last look for me.
But not for Bwana. For dogs, there are no “last things.” For him, that soft view of the fields was only one more nice moment among many, and then it was on to the next moment. But we humans are not so lucky. Even in beginnings, we know the endings -- the last cry is there in the first cry of a puppy in the dark of a whelping box. That terrible, sharp sorrow is the awful penalty we pay for memory.
Bwana’s ashes mingle now with is brother, Kifani, in “Kifani’s Corner” of the yard, and will soon be part of the beautiful grapevine now climbing up the newly installed trellis. Their sister, battling cancer, will likely soon join them both; more blossoms in my dog-blossom garden. The younger dogs think my sadness is silly. For them there are only splendid moments of Now as they blissfully revel in their doggy lives, enjoying each moment as if it would never end. There are no lasts for them, even though age and time and endings are chasing us all.
They’re right, of course. It is Bwana’s final message, too. Right here, right now, the sun is warm, the lavender’s scent is sharp and sweet. And this sacred moment in this sacred Now will be followed by another and another, each as beautiful and as endless as heaven.