It is summer shedding season for Bella, my female Newfoundland; hairy hummocks of black fur drift around the kitchen as I brush, and brush, and brush. I, too, lost part of my protective undercoat of warmth when Dad died in his sleep last week. I groom my shaggy young dog, cataloguing life’s losses. Behind Bella’s ear is a tangled trouble spot of easily matted, still soft puppy fur. These wispy strands are like silky swirls of snow on the underside of a cornice. An irreverent ski instructor friend at A-basin calls this softest snow ‘angel hair’ — skiing on it is being in heaven. I consider losses happily jettisoned – baby teeth, baby fat, and virginity. I’m happy to lose Lexulous to one of my sons, although I hate to lose to my husband. I will gladly lose a ski in the silence of crystalline new powder on a perfect ski day. Bella, now two years old, lost her cuddly puppy cute dimensions last year and is now a powerful 122-pound teenager. Finishing combing the softness behind her ears, I start to work on Bella’s ruff. Pausing to give her a treat, I admire her sharp white teeth and contemplate the capitalist, competitive things Wall Streeters lose — a client, a consulting contract, a monopoly, a pinstriped shirt; a deposit, or a fortune.
Making long sweeps of the “Furminator” brush down Bella’s flanks, I list various quotidian, annoying losses — of car keys, flight reservations, checks, deposits, a train of thought, a page in a good book, my wallet, or another call on my lousy Verizon cell phone service. I’ve regularly lost the illuminating evening light trying to capture a sunset photo, bets, or a post-menopausal good night’s sleep. Scanning the newspaper headlines, I grab another chicken treat to entice Bella to roll over. The New York Times chronicles a range of big and small losses — New York City’s loss of its supreme self-confidence and its twin-towered skyline; Iraq’s loss of civilians to another car bomb; Abductee Jaycee Duggard’s lost of her entire childhood in a backyard tent; or the Bronx Zoo’s lost Egyptian cobra. I sigh. Bella echoes my sigh, wiggles on her back, and stretches out, luxuriating like Cleopatra. I brush the thin hair on her belly, careful to avoid the dark double row of nipples on an unneutered body ready to mother a litter of puppies. Motherhood, whether human or canine, brings both immense happiness and nagging worry about loss. My mind wonders to the future loss of my eye’s macular muscles, my Mom, and maybe my marbles. I compile a list of previous losses — family pets before Bella; the unanticipated fading of an old friendship, and, inevitably, Dad’s death. He was like a shaggy, happy golden retriever – a joyous life lived large in a small upstate city. A physician married to the same woman for 59 years, he loved opera, skiing, scuba diving, photography and dogs.
I’ve soon gathered a mound of airy fur, like licorice flavored cotton candy, piled high on the kitchen floor. I let Bella out in the backyard and she joyously follows squirrel smells in crisscrosses until she loses the scent. By December, her coat will once again be a glorious, thick double layer of warmth. She’ll nose under the snow searching for field mice, blissfully unaware of the cold. I shiver; standing in the sun, aware that my summer tan is fading. The New York skyline is permanently altered; but I’ll somehow manage to grow a new warm undercoat.