Tuesday, 27 November 2012

In Praise of Collies

Nel wondering why I've stopped to eat on Moel Siabod
I have measured out my life...not in coffee spoons but in border collies. Since I was twenty I have lived in the presence of collies. They have all shared an intelligence, intensity and curiosity, a deep affection and loyalty while retaining their unique personalities.

Two have been the most amazing pathfinders. Megan was my second collie. I remember taking a compass bearing aimed at the cairn about a mile or so away before setting off across Blackstone Edge in snow . Megan ran a little way ahead, in an unwavering line straight to the cairn. I have trusted her instinct when caught in a white-out while running the Kentmere Round in the Lake District and on many occasions when I thought I would easily retrace my steps through unknown dense forestry.

Megan's strict abiding to paths sometimes led us into bother. When I lived in West Yorkshire our local regular run was the path up to Top Withens, considered to be the inspiration for Emily Bronte's novel, "Wuthering Heights". One morning we set off up to the ruin but decided to run on a good few miles further. On our return a couple of hours later, having reached the top of the path that looks down on Bronte Bridge, I saw that a film crew had set up there. Standing in the middle of the bridge was a woman in crinolines, holding a parasol. This meant nothing to Megan who was racing towards the bridge to cross it, regardless of who might be on it. I looked on aghast as  the woman spotted this wild-eyed and thoroughly bog-drenched collie heading at speed towards her on the narrow bridge. She just had time to catch up her dress and bend herself backwards to give Megan the room she needed to cross. Megan's habit was to then sit the other side of the bridge to watch for me. This she did amidst all the film equipment, while  a dozen or more pairs of eyes, including Megan's, watched my descent to the bridge - not all with love in their hearts.

Nel, my current companion has the same talent for path finding. There is one route that we run in the forest where we live that takes in two lakes - Llyn Hafod y Llyn and Llyn Mair. At two points around Llyn Hafod y Llyn, Nel takes her own short cuts, although I have never run or walked on these paths with her. I call these her Desire Lines.

All of my collies have lived into ripe old age but it hasn't made losing a dog you have loved so long and so well any easier. This is a Found Poem I wrote with the original works cited at the end.

A Small Dog

She was a small dog,
neat and fluid –
She flowed through fences
like a piece of black wind.

But suddenly
she was old
and sick and crippled.

 I’ve made the call.

All day we sat with her
making our farewells.
We ease her out
of that worn-out
with a kiss.

She’s gone
like a whisper.
The easiest breath,
unmitigatedly awful
and not so at all.

And when it was over
we gave in to grief
as though we were rushing
to basins
to bend over.
Hands held
to faces,
we stumbled
and stooped

We try our best.
A good end, we tell ourselves.
The best we could do.
A long life.
A fine life,
and not nearly enough.
“Dog Years – a Memoir” by Mark Doty
“On The Euthanasia of a Pet Dog” by Elizabeth Smither
“Praise of a Collie” by Norman MacCaig


  1. Our Collie Bella died suddenly on Thursday night. We found her, to all intents and purposes, asleep under our bed as always.

    Only she was gone.

    I never knew that an absence could be such a physical thing to bear.

    She was the leader, the gravity for Leo and Poppy. The world tilts with a jerk and you find yourself scrabbling to get your footing.

    Thank you for writing this.

  2. Steven, I am so sorry for your loss of Bella. It's such a blow.