She died five months ago, Rose, my miniature black-and-tan dachshund. Now, there’s a long story. How a big guy with a bad attitude and a 4WD pickup truck (Alaska plates, still) wound up with such a little dog. She was eight weeks old when I met her, mangled, broken tail, epilepsy, terrified of humans — someone had abused her. How I came to keep her until she died of old age is another long story. We’ll skip all that.
Rose was a tiny dog, which meant every other dog and most cats were bigger than she was. So, when Rose came across a cat or dog, as she did every time we went outside, she’d panic and bolt. Instantaneous bolt. You’d be surprised how fast that creature could run the first 40 yards.
So, I never let her off-leash, which was a problem for me. Every dog has a right to run off-leash once in awhile, but where could I let her run? Keep in mind that dachshunds (at least my dachshund) do not come when called. Dachshunds conduct their lives as they see fit.
Dog parks are out. She can’t be around other dogs. Parks are out. People frighten her. Ditto beaches. Drive out to the countryside and let her run? If Rose ever got loose in the woods, I’d never find her. I needed a place where we could be alone — no people, dogs or cats, no bushes or forest. Something easy to get to and always available. Free. Did I mention free?
Just stumbled upon the answer one afternoon, driving around looking for a place to walk Rose. Behold, dead ahead, a cemetery!
Most, many, maybe all cemeteries are open every day. They’re free. I’ve never seen a sign that read “No Dogs.” Never had anyone question what we were doing there.
Nobody hangs out in cemeteries. We usually visited on a weekday, in the afternoon, but I walked Rose on weekends, too. It was rare to see more than three or four people. Come to think of it, it was rare to see one person. Usually there is a crew of Latino caretakers...two or three times I saw a grave-digging crew; like number of times saw a burial.
Rose and I walked cemeteries from here to Atlanta, from Baja to Alaska. San Diego cemeteries, Escondido cemeteries, Sierra Nevada cemeteries, Mojave Desert cemeteries, downtown cemeteries, river-bank cemeteries, sea-coast cemeteries.
Cemeteries are a testament to human delusion. Few headstones are looked after, only new headstones have plastic flowers set before them. Rainwater stains 20-, 30-year-old tombstones. By 50 years, tombstone etchings are worn and blurred. By 75, 100 years, gravestones are hard to read and often found pitched forward or to one side. Cemeteries are built around the hope of what cannot be — that someone will remember you in 50 years’ time.
Saying that, burial in a cemetery does comfort people and comfort is worth money. I appreciate the fact that cemeteries are important to humankind. Rose and I were respectful guests; we do not disturb anything.
We had these parks to ourselves, save for thousands of dead people, but I must say they were the best of companions. I’d set Rose down and she’d be off. Very few things are as joy-producing as a happy dachshund. I loved to watch Rose run as long as she wanted to, her long ears flapping, nose sniffing, peeing, rolling, jumping. Because cemeteries are beautifully landscaped, I could always keep her in sight without intruding on her private dachshund time. And so it went, years of cemetery frolic.
Last November — November 1, in fact — I was driving over to Nevada. Rose was riding shotgun, sleeping on a pillow. She was not in pain, she was old. I wanted a stretch and decided to take a walk at the Lodi cemetery.
Three Latino men, middle-aged, wearing gray work shirts, jeans, and brown work boots huddled around a pickup truck packed tight with shovels, rakes, and tools. They were listening to what turned out to be the last game of the World Series on the truck radio. The game stood at 0–0 after five innings.
I parked 20 yards away, got out, put Rose down, listened to the game for a little while, then began a set of tai chi while keeping one eye on Rose. She dragged her back legs, eyes glazed from cataracts, pulling herself up to a bush poppy. She sniffed. Rose was enveloped into that sniff, utterly merged into that moment...no Zen master has ever done better.
It was a trifecta of cemetery sports, all of us pursuing our tiny entertainments. I knew this was our last visit.