Sunday, November 1, 2020

To All Dogs, And the People Who Love Them

by 2020 Creative Nonfiction contributor Kurt Caswell

I wrote “Reading Emily Dickinson to a German shepherd during the spring bomb cyclone in west Texas” to honor my German shepherd, Kona, who was then in her last months of life. Kona was with me just over ten years, a rescue from a local shelter here in west Texas. During her life, she traveled with me in my truck camper to nineteen US states, and four Canadian provinces. We climbed a 13,000-foot peak in New Mexico together. 

And she was with me throughout my four-year journey researching and writing my most recent book of nonfiction, Laika’s Window:The Legacy of a Soviet Space Dog (Trinity University Press, 2018), the story of a thirteen-pound stray from the streets of Moscow, Russia who became the first living being to orbit the earth. Kona was with me when I read in the archives at the New Mexico Museum of Space History, when I accompanied researchers scanning the night sky at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas, and when United Launch Alliance (ULA) invited me to witness the launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida of an Atlas V rocket on a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Thus, I think of my Bacopa Literary Review 2020 piece. “Reading Emily Dickinson to a German shepherd during the spring bomb cyclone in west Texas,” as not only a tribute to Kona, but by association a tribute to Laika, and to all dogs and the people who love them. 

     When the bomb cyclone hit west Texas, I was reading Emily Dickinson aloud to Kona, the German shepherd who shares my house. "It will be summer--eventually," I read to her, whose ears stand so tall, and whose eyes, as she turns her head to one side to hear me, are so dark and alive and awake, even as her body is falling apart . . .
     Poor Kona. What happens to a German shepherd and her hips and back legs: the strength that once propelled her on a coyote-run across the mesquite-covered Llano Estacado has drained away, and she can hardly rise from her own bed now . . . "To die--takes just a little while," I read in Dickinson, but not to be morose, as thrust into this world as she is--Dickinson and the German shepherd--she happily appears in it, and as she is in it, she's in it to ride it out as well as the body will ride it: "I am alive--I guess-- . . . How good--to be alive!" . .

*   *   *

Kurt Caswell teaches writing, literature, and outdoor leadership in the Honors College at Texas Tech University. 

Read his creative nonfiction, “Reading Emily Dickinson to a German shepherd
during the spring bomb cyclone in west Texas,”
pages 2-4,
Bacopa Literary Review 2020

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