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


Wildlife Painting and Website Update

I’ve been in a slump since losing Rowan and haven’t done much painting at all. I have been filling sketchbooks, one with nearly daily sketching of birds, people, and life in general; and the other with stories and sketches from Rowan’s life, but I just couldn’t manage to do a full painting. However, I did finally get my brushes wet last week, and a tiger came to life on my easel. I’ve often found that when I’m feeling stuck as far as art goes, painting wildlife gets me going again, and this was no exception.

I wonder if one reason wildlife inspire me is that they struggle for survival every day, all on an individual level and some on the species level, and they don’t give up; they just keep on doing what they were made to do. That’s what I am ready to do again, and I’m especially hoping to do a number of paintings of endangered, threatened, or vulnerable wildlife and then donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of those paintings to an appropriate wildlife conservation organization, sometimes a local group (for example our local bird club or the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, where I sketch wolves) or to a larger organization, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society. I figure that allows the purchaser and me to be partners in supporting the cause of species needing help.

I’ve also just updated my website. A number of people have asked whether I’m listing new paintings in my ETSY shop, and for now I am not planning to. It’s a bit of a hassle to list them there, and I didn’t get much traffic, so at this time I’m planning to focus on my website (including this blog) and on facebook. So, if interested in something you see on my facebook page or this site, please email me ( or contact me on facebook. Most pieces are for sale, even if details aren’t listed with the image.

Tiger! Watercolor & Ink 8″ x 8″ $250 Tigers are the largest members of the cat family and are generally solitary for much of their lives. Several species of tigers have become extinct in the last century, and the remaining six species are endangered due to habitat destruction and poaching.


Musings on Grief and Advent

I thought I was doing a little better about losing Rowan, but I’m not. I think I was just distracted by preparing for my art show and also a bit numb, and now reality is hitting hard, really hard. No matter how tired I am, when I lie down to sleep, my mind starts going and going, and sleep is impossible for hours. I know it was Rowan’s time and he needed me to let him go. I did it for him because I never wanted to take the chance he would suffer or panic, and we were coming very close to that point. I will always be thankful for the clarity I had about the timing, so that I could give him the gift of a peaceful, gentle departing, but I can hardly bear it that he’s not here with me anymore.

I know it could be much worse. Stephen is here with me. My family and close friends are alive and, for the most part, in good health. As incredibly hard as it is to have lost Rowan, I know that losing any of them would be much, much more devastating. But, while that does help me keep some perspective, it doesn’t lessen the intensity of my grief for Rowan.

Unlike any of those people, Rowan was with me almost all the time for most of his thirteen years, so I feel his absence acutely throughout the day (and night, when I’m not able to sleep). Nearly everything reminds me of him, like the loud sound of my electric kettle lid closing, which bothered him, so I automatically look up to reassure him. Or the early dark of these late fall evenings, when Rowan and I would often go outside, just the two of us, to walk and play in the dark yard together. Or every time I head out the door to go someplace and start to think that it’s cool enough out to take Rowan in the car with me. Even those words, “with me,” which almost always got Rowan to leap up and dance in front of the door so he could go “with me” wherever I was going. And so much more, all day, every day.

Several wonderful people have reminded me that grief is grief, whether for a person or a beloved dog. I know that is true, and I know it’s going to be a long time before the sharpness of this pain softens and the many good memories cause me to smile rather than sob, but it is hard to know how to be and do life in the meantime, especially in this holiday season. I’ve been busy with show prep, matting and framing paintings, which has required a lot of focus. While I’m doing that, I can feel fairly normal at first, but a fog of sadness gradually creeps in, almost without me noticing, until finally the fog obscures nearly everything and I am exhausted and overwhelmed once again. And if I stay busy too long or too late in the day and don’t spend time feeling and processing the grief that is always there, I am all the more likely to churn wakefully through long hours of the night. I know this will get better someday, but right now that someday seems a terribly long ways off.

So I guess I need to take extra time to ponder and be and journal and process, and I guess this year that is going to be a big part of my focus for Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Not my usual Advent focus, but maybe not entirely inappropriate, as I think of Jesus, who came to live and die and show us God’s love, God’s comforting, redeeming, renewing love. In my calmer moments I can turn my thoughts to him and be thankful for his many gifts, including the wonderful gift of his love expressed to me through Rowan. And I trust that in my less calm moments he is right here with me, caring about and understanding my grief, because he came to live life on this earth, experiencing the pain and grief that comes with being human.

My sweet boy on his last morning


Farewell, my sweet Rowan


At Artists Bluff, NH September 2010

Bright, golden eyes, watching me everywhere; a little bob of his head, as he sat figuring me out; silky, soft fur, soothing to my soul; gentle whiskers, brushing my face ever so softly; sweet, steady presence by my side, walking through thirteen years.

Today I said good-bye to a big piece of my heart. My sweet Rowan has been in my life for a little over thirteen years, but it feels as though he was never not with me. How can he be gone now? It doesn’t seem possible, and yet the emptiness of the house tells me it is true.

There is so much to say, so many stories he wrote on my heart, like no other dog I’ve ever known, but they will have to wait for another time. Right now my heart is broken and still trying to grasp this new reality.

I am so thankful for the past two and a half months since Rowan’s diagnosis of nasal cancer. He had been declining for a while, but when we started him on prednisone in August, his life, energy, and joy were renewed, and we had a marvelous fall together, walking, hiking, playing, hanging out. And this past weekend he had a wonderful time with our grandson, Paul, something I had always hoped for him, since Rowan always adored children, and I knew he’d love our grandchildren.

Today Rowan’s time ran out. I knew the time was drawing near, and I wanted to let him go in peace before his joy in life was gone. He was tired but still happy. He chased a ball one final time (only a few feet, but he grabbed it and held it happily); walked with me in the driveway looking up with his wonderful smile of connection; and rode in my car– one of his most happy places, because he always knew I was near if he was in the car. He was in the car with his head on my lap as we said good-bye for now.

Here’s a poem I wrote about Rowan a few months ago:

He’s always been more human than dog,
holding my heart within his frame,
mirroring my soul in his golden eyes,
small fleck of blue a hint of heaven.

When I’m broken inside but don’t know to cry
he bears my pain and helps me feel it
hurting with my hurt till I seek healing
and we both are whole again.

Hide and seek, approach and retreat,
his favorite games the play of my life.
Disconnect, reconnect, laugh with delight,
my soul in Rowan’s eyes, my joy in his smile.

Rowan, thank you for all you have been for me. I thank God for bringing you into my life and teaching me so much about His love through your sweet presence with me. You have touched my soul in ways no one else could have, and I will always carry the imprint of your soul in mine.

Rowan and me

Connection and relationship– Musings and Prayer

My sweet Rowan most likely has nasal cancer. I say “most likely,” because I’m not going to put him through the stress of a biopsy or other diagnostics, but his symptoms point to a nasal tumor. We’re giving him prednisone to keep him comfortable as long as possible, and I am cherishing all the time I have with this wonderful dog, who has been by my side for thirteen years.

A few months ago, though, I was having a harder time enjoying time with Rowan. He has been declining for a while with cognitive dysfunction (dementia), and as he became at times confused and disconnected, I found myself distancing myself from him emotionally. I think that was an unconscious response on my part to my fear of losing him, as if distancing myself now would somehow protect me from the hurt of losing him.

Then a friend told me that perhaps Rowan, who has always taught me so much, is now teaching me about life and death. He encouraged me to stay connected, fully experiencing both the joy of Rowan’s presence and the sadness of impending loss. I realized that distancing myself to protect my heart wouldn’t work anyway; the loss will come, but I will be better off if it isn’t mingled with regret. And as I am finding now, through moments of joy and moments of tears, there is a unique sweetness in this time with Rowan.

As is often the case, lessons I learn from dogs make me think about other relationships, and as I ponder this connection, disconnection, and reconnection with Rowan, I am thinking also of my connections with other people. This week I’m hoping to cultivate peace and gratitude in my heart and in my relationships of all sorts. This passage is rich with encouragement on how to have peace in our relationships with one another, so let’s meditate on it together this week.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.                                                                                 Colossians 3:15-17 The Message


Monday: We need peace in our own hearts in order to be able to be in tune with one another, but sometimes we choose to go our own way, avoiding the peace and joy of connection for whatever reason. Let’s think today about whether our words and actions lead to greater or lesser connection, along with the peace that connection brings.

Tuesday: Gratitude is essential to having peace. Throughout today, think of what you have for which you’re grateful, and thank God for those things and for the time to enjoy them in the present.

Wednesday: God’s word imparts wisdom and points the way to peace with God and one another. Ask God to give you a growing hunger for his word. Spend time today mulling on a passage of Scripture, allowing it to dwell in you richly. This week’s passage is one I meditate on frequently, allowing it to deeply affect my attitude.

Thursday: When we give each other any kind of guidance, it must be done wisely and sensibly. Pray for wisdom and grace to be able to do this humbly, lovingly, and respectfully.

Friday: Whether or not we sing aloud during the day, we can have an attitude of praise and thanksgiving, based on our knowledge of God and of his amazing works. Praise him today!

Saturday: In all we do or say, we can it in the name of Jesus, faithfully representing him to the people around us. Thank God for the awesome privilege of representing Christ and pray for the ability to do it well.

Rowan and me

Happy 13th Birthday, Rowan!

It’s hard to believe that Rowan is thirteen years old. It feels like he’s always been with me, so it seems as though he should be much older than thirteen. Some days he seems older than thirteen, when he isn’t really on the ball, but then other days he is more his old self (and thankfully there have been many more of the latter recently). This spring we’ve been spending hours outside just enjoying the fresh air, sunshine, and scents on the breezes. Rowan loves to lie in the grass watching whatever I’m doing.


Recently when I was gardening he decided to help…Flowerpots have always been some of his favorite toys.

And occasionally he’ll still play tag with me…

Waiting to play tag around the hay rake- our favorite game
Ready, Set… Go! (I only caught his feet and chin in the photo since he leaped just as I took the picture)
Ready or not, here I come!
I can still catch you, Mom!

And then we sit on the deck watching the world, Rowan with an ear always cocked in my direction.

Watching the world; listening for Mom

I know all the time I have with my Rowan is a gift, and I cherish each day with him. Happy Birthday, my sweet boy, and I hope you have many more years to share with me.

Happy 12th Birthday, Rowan!

My Rowan is twelve today. In some ways it is hard to believe he’s that old, but then I see him get up slooowly from one of his frequent naps, and I’m reminded that he is no longer a youngster. We spend more time snuggling than playing these days, but every now and then Rowan looks at me with a gleeful glint in his eye and then leaps into the air and darts back and forth in front of me. He did that yesterday when I walked to the car and back; he was overflowing with joy that I hadn’t gone away without him. I overflow with joy and gratitude every time he does that.

No matter how deeply Rowan is sleeping, if I say the magic words, “Do you want to go with me?” he leaps to his feet and runs to the front door, where he dances impatiently until we go out together. He flops into his spot in my car (the floor of the passenger side), always facing me, and happily stays in the car until we’re back home, sleeping some of the time, but frequently opening his eyes to check on my. If I reach down at a red light, he rests his chin in my palm, and sighs contentedly. So do I; it feels so good to have my boy with me wherever I am. Now that the weather is warming up, he can’t go out with me often, since he is retired from formal Service Dog work for the most part, but whenever I can, I schedule errands for cool mornings.

Rowan in his spot in my car

As I type, I hear Rowan snoring behind me. I know no matter how quietly I get up to leave the room, he’ll open an eye to see what I’m up to. If I turn off the light as I leave the room, he’ll get up and follow me. If I don’t turn off a light, he’ll wait in his comfortable spot on the floor to see if I’m coming back, but inevitably within just a few minutes he’ll come find me, flop down near me, and fall asleep again after watching me closely for a minute or two.

On a recent walk– my faithful, happy shadow

These days with an older dog are challenging both due to aging health issues and because of the backdrop of uncertainty that hangs heavy at times, but they are also wonderful in a way unique to a connection forged over years of time growing together. Rowan has long since shed the reactivity of his younger years and has become the most connected, intuitive dog I have ever known. I have grown in more ways than I could write, thanks to what he needed from me to help him learn and grow from an impulsive young dog to a steady Service Dog capable of traveling around the country with me and thanks to his faithful, loving presence in my life. I don’t know how much longer Rowan will be with me, but I treasure every day we have together, and hope we still have years to enjoy the connection and partnership we have grown.

Happy twelfth Birthday, Rowan! I am so thankful for you.

A Reprieve and a Gift: My Dog is Back

A warm breeze whispered across my face and, looking down, I saw it rumpling Rowan’s red fur as he glanced up, then smiled his wide doggy grin as he caught my eye and held my gaze. My dog is back and I am happy.

A few weeks ago I didn’t know if Rowan would still be with me much longer. For months I’d been feeling like our bond wasn’t as strong as it had been and, as is my wont, I figured I was to blame. Was I so distracted and fulfilled by having a grandchild that I no longer valued my relationship with my dog as much? Maybe I was too preoccupied with my search for and then delight in my new cat, Acadia. Or was I just too busy training other people’s dogs and getting ready for my February art show?

Whatever the reason, there seemed to be an increasing distance between Rowan and me, and he seemed less and less interested in being with me. Whereas previously, when I would ask if he wanted to go somewhere with me (“with me” being the magic words), Rowan would leap up and run to the door; in recent months when I’d ask, he’d skulk into his crate and lie down with his back to the entrance. He’s always been eloquent in his communication with me, and that was a pretty clear message. I would leave the house alone, with his place both in my car and in my heart empty.

Additionally, we’d been seeing some odd behaviors from Rowan from time to time. Startling more and more often for no apparent reason. Some inexplicable housebreaking issues, and this from a dog who always used to ask to go out even when he just needed to pass gas. Disorientation and indecision in the house. Repeatedly getting “stuck” under the picnic table right outside the door. A part of me knew I was seeing early (or perhaps not-so-early) signs of dementia, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, but I really wasn’t ready to put it all together.

Then one day I came across a piece I’d written about Rowan a few years ago, and I started to cry as I realized that I hadn’t seen that dog in months. I finally recognized it wasn’t me; that Rowan really had changed and that he wasn’t the same dog who’d been inseparable from me, who used to go everywhere with me and who knew my moods and state of mind and body better than I did myself. I’d made the wrenching decision to retire Rowan from Service Dog work a few months before when it was apparent he was no longer up to going places with me, but I thought it was due to arthritis. Now I realized it was because he was no longer connected with me in the same deep way he’d been for the preceding eleven years.

With a mixture of fear and despondency I called my vet and was relieved when she was hopeful. She suggested I try giving Rowan SAMe, which is used for cognitive issues in dogs and cats, and also a nutritional supplement, on the premise that even though he’s eating a high quality diet, he may be absorbing fewer nutrients as he ages. She told me it would take about four weeks for the SAMe to make a difference.

I thought I saw some changes within a week, but knew it could be wishful thinking. But now, five weeks later, Rowan is back! Yes, he still seems a bit disoriented in the house occasionally, but he’s not getting stuck under the picnic table anymore, there’ve been no more housebreaking incidents (not that we’ve given him the opportunity), he’s startling much less often, and best of all, he is back to being my loving, connected companion. Now when I ask if he wants to go with me, Rowan leaps up and runs to the door, dancing with excitement. He follows me around the house again, and he comes to me often asking for affection.

I don’t know how long this reprieve will last, nor do I know whether he will decline gradually or depart from me all at once, but for now I am cherishing every day as a gift. And when I look down now, and I see those familiar, intelligent eyes and that happy smile that I know so well, I thank God for more time with this wonderful dog who has blessed me in so many ways.

Rowan in his spot in my car

Happy 11th Birthday, Rowan!

Happy Birthday to my wonderful Rowan, the dog who, in some ways, knows me better than I know myself. It’s hard to believe my boy is eleven, except when I remember how his face used to have much stronger color. He’s not really going gray, he’s going white (kind of like me). He used to have such strong reddish color around his eyes, and that has all faded, making his eyes seem darker. That just highlights for me how much Rowan watches me– those dark eyes are following me much of the day, with his characteristic head bob showing when he’s trying to figure out what I’m going to do next. I love seeing that subtle little bob, as he watches me walking along and tries to figure out which way I’ll turn.

He’s slowing down some, and often prefers to sit in the shade and watch Petra and Milo run, but every now and then he gets a spurt of energy and runs through the yard, his magnificent coat waving in the breeze.

If I say “Just Rowan,” he leaps up from the hearth where he’s usually sleeping and comes running, knowing that he’s going to be the only dog to go outside with me. We were just outside this evening having some birthday fun, just Rowan and me, playing one of our favorite games. I either tell him to wait or sneak around to the far side of something, in this case a bunch of flowers, and then turn to face Rowan. Rowan will sit or stand tall watching me for a moment, then race around to join me, while I try to beat him around to the other side. He always catches up to me, and we laugh together.

We’ve been playing this game for 11 years now and neither of us has
tired of it. I hope I get to play it with my boy for many more years and get to have him walking by my side watching my every move for a long time to come.

Happy Birthday, Rowan! You are a joy and a blessing in so many ways.

Happy 10th Birthday, Rowan!

Funny, brilliant, silly, sweet, watchful, and so much more. In some ways it’s hard to believe my furry boy is ten years old. In other ways, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t always been with me. Rowan takes his job seriously– to watch over me and remind me to take care of myself. If I am late for a meal, he comes to me, snorting loudly, to tell me I need to attend to something. If I don’t figure out what he’s talking about (or I ignore him), he’ll bark to let me know it’s important. As soon as I “get it” and walk into the kitchen, he lies down and goes to sleep, knowing that he’s done his job and communicated successfully with me.

I know Rowan can’t read, but one time I came into the room to find him lying with this pillow leaning up against him. It had been on the chair when I left the room, and no one else was home at the time. I don’t know how he knew I needed that message that day, but he made sure I couldn’t miss it.

Rowan also watches over the other animals in our home and runs to check them if they yelp or start throwing up or suddenly start to limp, and often has then run to me and led me to the animal who needs my attention. When I was visiting a friend a few months ago, he alerted her to her blood sugar being too high. I call him my EMT dog– he’s a first responder here in our family.

Life isn’t serious all the time, though. Rowan loves to play, whether with a toy or a an empty flower pot. When I’m gardening he hovers, waiting for me to get the plant out of the pot, then he grabs the flower pot and runs, cavorting like a puppy, sometimes with the flower pot covering his whole face.

Happy Birthday, Rowan, my wonderful boy, and may you have many more! I am blessed to have you in my life.