Rowan’s tree– My Mountain Ash

Rowan’s registered name was My Mountain Ash, and last fall after we lost him I ordered a mountain ash tree, also called a rowan tree, to plant in his memory. I had given Rowan his name both because his coloring was red like the berries of the mountain ash and because in Celtic legend the rowan tree is supposed to ward off evil spirits and protect the home. I expected that Rowan would be somewhat protective, being an Australian Shepherd. As it turned out, my social, friendly dog who loved pretty much everyone did, on a couple of occasions, warn people away from me, and I always trusted his judgment about people.

What I hadn’t expected was the way Rowan was so tuned in to me that he helped me recognize and face the inner demons that threatened me in more ways than anyone else could have. As is so often the case, I was blind to many of the obstacles that bound my soul and hindered my way forward in life. In various ways, Rowan helped me see where I was hurt and didn’t know it. And since my hurt so obviously stressed my sweet dog, I was all the more motivated to work through that which was difficult to face. And then he was always there with me, lovingly walking with me, snuffling me gently with his whiskers, bouncing with joy when he saw me, all the way through the darkness.

I’ve been missing Rowan so, so much, and a big part of the grief for me has been the horrible emptiness that I’ve felt whenever I think of his name, that name that for over thirteen years signified so much presence and strength for me but that since he left has reminded me more of absence and emptiness. I was hoping that planting this tree in Rowan’s memory would help bring me some degree of closure and comfort, and it seems to have. My sadness is of course still with me and I’m sure will remain for a long time, but now when I think of his name, I also think of his tree, a living, growing tree that bears his name.

Yesterday I finally was able to complete a portrait of Rowan that I started months ago but wasn’t able to keep working on. In the end I found it soothing to work on, almost as if I were spending time with Rowan, though when I painted the eyes I burst into tears, because it felt like he was looking at me again.

Rowan- My Mountain Ash

Here’s my first sketch of Rowan’s tree; I’m sure I’ll be sketching it many more times.

Rowan’s mountain ash tree three days after we planted it- buds just starting to open
Rowan’s tree with the flowerpot he would have loved to play with


Musings on Loss and Longing

A couple of weeks ago I had a dream about Rowan in which I felt the strongest longing I’ve ever felt. It wasn’t just missing him; I’m not sure it would be possible to miss Rowan more than I have so much of the time since he passed from this life three months ago. In my dream I had left him with someone because she needed some help or company, but after I got home, I realized I couldn’t bear to be apart from him, and I was determined to go back and bring him home as soon as possible. It was an overwhelming feeling that was different from the abject grief I’ve been feeling, in that it was intense missing combined with an urgent drive to go to Rowan.

The intense longing of that dream has stayed with me. I have lost many dogs and cats and some people dear to me, and have deeply grieved, often for a long time. My grief for Rowan has been even more overwhelming than most of those other losses, but the longing that dream awakened was on a whole new level for me. Then a few days ago I started reading Psalm 42 and got as far as the third verse, when I suddenly recognized that I was reading a description of the longing from my dream.

  As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night…

To be sure, the psalmist was speaking of longing for God, not for a dog, but I realized that the intensity of the psalmist’s longing was the same intensity that I had experienced for the first time in my dream.

It’s been somewhat comforting all along to remind myself that Rowan was a gift from God to teach me more about God. Actually, not so much to teach me as to help me experience more of God’s love than I had previously been able to experience, through the ways God worked through Rowan in my life. But now I’m wondering if perhaps Rowan wasn’t here just so I could know God better only through Rowan’s presence, but perhaps also, through his absence, to open me to a greater longing, as in my dream, and then realize that in some way, that longing is actually my soul’s deep, and previously unacknowledged, longing for God. A longing that will keep me actively seeking God with all my heart throughout this life.

My longing for Rowan remains and makes my heart ache and my tears flow day and night, but I pray that it will always keep me open to longing for God, the ultimate source of all that Rowan was for me.

Photo by Arielle Fischer Wellons