My dog Clara was born 10/28/95, when the sun was conjunct my Scorpio 5° moon, on the eve of Pluto’s entrance into Sagittarius (my sun sign). She lived with me for 13 years, and was my best friend and constant companion.
Clara’s mother, a hideous little brown mutt, who looked to be a cross between a beagle and a long-eared bat, was a rescued stray who showed up at the stable where I took horseback riding lessons in Anthony, NM. Clara was one of a litter of eleven puppies, who all appeared to be purebred black labradors. I adopted Clara and her brother Jax, and we moved up to Albuquerque. When Jax bolted into the street on 4th of July and got hit by a car, I drank 1/2 a bottle of whisky, and cried myself into a stupor, and neither Clara nor I could eat for two days.
So, Clara became my sole muse and studio companion during the long hours of working on book projects (and Clara would go on to make a cameo appearance in every single book I’ve illustrated). For breaks we’d go on hikes in the desert, or up into the mountains, swimming in the warm springs, or off for play-days in the snow. When we moved to LA, she helped me survive the most difficult relationship ending I ever experienced. We stuck it out in LA for couple of years, hiking with new friends in the Hollywood Hills and taking trips to the beaches. Apartment sitting in Venice and picnics on Leo Carrillo, made life in L.A. relatively enjoyable; but it never felt like home there. Finally, in 2000 we moved back to New York/ New Jersey.
I was working for a toy company on 6th Ave & 20th on 9/11, but I made sure I caught the only train back out to New Jersey, before the city got “quarantined” to keep Clara from getting stranded in my New Jersey apartment. We walked along the ridge in Montclair, NJ in those hard weeks afterwards, the big column of smoke always visible on the south/eastern horizon.
When I moved back into NYC itself, Clara became the office mascot at the design studio where I worked in the Flatiron district. Every day I walked across town and we stopped in Madison park where she would go for a dip in the fountain or a quick romp in the dog run. Once Clara strolled out of the studio and went for little solo joy ride on the elevator. Someone in an office on another floor called to tell us that Clara was sitting in their lobby. On weekend mornings she’d run wild with my friend Esteban’s two beautiful Dalmatian dogs in Central Park.
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, Clara and I moved back to El Paso. Clara squeezed herself under my mothers bed, whimpering, and it took an hour to coax her out. Clara was by my side during that whole hard spring and summer, during the hospice; and afterwards. My only breaks from home were the walks we’d take in the arroyo: she’d run off leash after jack rabbits and quail. Clara was never an overly cuddly dog, but during those months she always curled up in bed with me at night: a warm Labrador teddy bear.
Back in New York, and a freelancer again, I decided to move up the Hudson to Westchester. Metro North allows dogs on the train, so Clara and I could commute on public transit together. When I stayed up late on deadlines, Clara insisted I go to bed by three am. When I broke my ankle, Clara tolerated the neighborhood kids I hired to walk her around the block. She became an office mascot again when I took a job managing a small church office in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.
In the twelfth year of her life Clara was diagnosed with a neurological degenerative disease (DM), seen mostly, but not exclusively, in shepherding breeds. That part of the story is too sad to tell here now, but about a year later, Clara died – during the eclipse season of August 2008, and on the cusp of Pluto’s departure from Sagittarius to Capricorn. I was never sure if I could survive Clara’s death. I’ll never forget the moment she took her last breath. One moment there was my beautiful, black dog, terribly sick, but still all shining light, and in the next moment – there was just a Clara shaped pillow. To echo the words of Temple Grandin,
“Where do they go?”
Whatever Clara was, she was not that body, and with a sigh she was gone. Her body really was just an empty shell: the vibrant spirit that was her life, departed.
I had Clara’s body cremated, and moved back to Texas. A few months later, I was offered another job back in NYC, but I left Clara’s ashes behind. All this while, back and forth from Texas, New York, and New Jersey, Clara’s ashes, but not “Clara” remained in a storage closet in my sister’s house. Where to put these ashes? If I had one home, I could bury them there, but I didn’t. I thought of the Hudson; but the winter I left NYC there was a foot of snow on the ground, and the shore was all ice, and it seemed too cold and lonesome a place to leave the residue of Clara’s material existence. A river or the ocean seemed right, though; but, where? And which one? I did think of the Rio Grande, but in West Texas, the Rio Grande is often more like mud flats; and these days, it’s mostly a sandy dry riverbed.
In 2009 my sister Armida, her husband Sal, their kids and grand kids, and I celebrated Christmas and their 40th wedding anniversary in Tulum, QR, Mexico. Tulum was … something else. I’ve never felt so moved by a “place” before. It felt like a holy place: a sacred place. I thought,
“Maybe this is where Clara’s ashes belong. If I ever come back… maybe?”
A couple of years later, Armida and her family decided we should spend our Thanksgiving, 2012 in Tulum, and reservations were made.
Since her passing, Clara had become a regular visitor to my dreams. In these dreams she lived in heaven, where she spent time with my Mother and Father, and took voice lessons and sang in a choir of heavenly animals (AWESOME dreams). I asked her what she thought of my idea: leaving her ashes in the ocean near Tulum. Could she please let me know? And help me pick the right time and place, if she liked the idea.
So, we went to Tulum, and I packed the ashes in my bag and took them with me. Seeing Chichen-Itza was on my bucket list, and the Yucatan is a slice of paradise to my mind. Interestingly, I seemed to see dogs everywhere I looked. The hostel next door had a dog, the house we stayed in had two dogs on premises, with lots of doggy visitors. The puppy next door had the kind of life Clara and Jax had in the first few months of their lives: running free with no fences on acres of desert and farm land. The Yucatan is a kind of dog heaven, in lots of ways (though not all ways). Unfortunately, the days of our visit flew by, and before I knew it, the day of our departure arrived.
Up to this point, on every single day of our trip the skies dawned clear and cloudless. The sun rose, blazing fire right into our east facing windows, over the Carribean sea. We couldn’t sleep late if we wanted to. That last day, though, was cloudy. The sun rose in a red flame along the horizon where the ocean met the sky, and brilliant shafts of light shone down onto the water like scenes from medieval paintings of the Holy Spirit shining down on Jesus. One brilliant clear shaft of sun illuminated the reef break where I’d told Clara I thought her ashes might go. I felt like I had my answer.
I gathered a selection of flowers from the trees and bushes that grew around the house and placed them in the top of the bag of ashes. I got in the kayak, and paddled, and paddled, and paddled out to where the waves of the open ocean broke on the coral reef of Tanka Bay. It seemed to take forever, but once I got “there” I set the paddle down on my lap, and remembered my beautiful furry friend. I can’t count the times she saved my life – those dark days in the Hollywood Hills, the comforting friend in the face of incomprehensible tragedy on 9/11; and later, my constant companion during the lonesome path to death and the mourning of my Mother. I opened the bag, and the ashes slid neatly and cleanly into the ocean beneath me. The flowers bobbed back up onto the water’s surface: red, pink, and gold on the glassy cobalt waves. Clara’s ashes were gone.
Now the molecules of Clara’s physical body are part of the ocean. Since all oceans are connected, her body is connected through all the oceans, to all the planet. As the molecules of moisture rise into the sky and fall back again everywhere as rain: wherever I am on the planet, Clara is there also.
There is a belief in Hinduism, that when the cremated remains of a body are given to the sacred waters of the Ganges, the spirit is released to a better incarnation. The waters of the ocean and the Yucatan are sacred to me, so my hope and prayer is that Clara’s spirit will also be released to a better incarnation: where ever she wants it to be. Maybe she’ll come back again as a dog, or maybe just remain a doggy angel singing in a heavenly choir. Where ever she is, I can’t wait to see her again, and I know I will, someday.