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|Family Matters Mar/Apr|
By Michael Hoyt
Dust to Dust
Our pets are our most unassuming teachers
The first one was Rocky. He was a black-and-tan long-haired German shepherd, who went to college with me and then to graduate school. We were back in San Francisco. I was a postdoctoral fellow, and my father was visiting. When Dad and I came home after dinner, Rocky was lying on the doorstep. It was immediately clear that he was dead. He was peaceful, but he didn't move. We both stood there and looked at him. Then I went in and poured us each a glass of wine—which we never drank. We discussed what to do and, after a while, we went to sleep.
The next morning, we got up early. I carried the dog's body up the garden stairs from my hillside cottage and put him into the back of the car. Dad and I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County, got off 101, and took Highway 1 to Mt. Tamalpais. We drove quite a way up, until we were almost to the Mountain Theater, where I pulled off and parked. We walked up a little hill to a lovely spot, me carrying the dog, my father carrying the shovel. I set the dog on the ground, collected myself, and decided where to dig his grave. Dad said he'd take a little walk.
I set to work. I stomped on the shovel and it cut into the earth. I dug and dug and dug, carving out a hole not quite an arm span long, a couple of feet across, and maybe four feet deep. I climbed into the hole to do a little more. I lost myself digging, engrossed in my thoughts. Suddenly, I looked up. I was surrounded by deer—10, maybe 8, all standing around me, the closest maybe three or four feet away. We just stood there, looking. After a while, maybe 30 seconds, I became aware of myself. The deer did, too. They pranced back a couple of steps, stopped, and continued to stare.
My father came walking down the hill. He'd been up a hundred yards, beneath a tree. I climbed out of the hole. He said he'd been watching the whole time, and the deer had been there, around me, maybe 15 minutes.