A month ago, I had a two dog life. It seemed like one day I was feeding, walking, and grooming two dogs, and the next day, I couldn’t get my older dog, Java, up off her bed. She went downhill so fast it was hard to take in. I’d sit, massaging her body and telling her it was okay (even though it wasn’t), until she stopped whining and slept.
I’ve always liked routines. They encase my days in a soothing rhythm, but the tempo had changed. It was more like a concert where you’re asked to clap along, but your hands meet a millisecond behind the performers’. I couldn’t make it right. Eventually, when nothing I did helped, I made the decision every dog owner hates.
How can the loss of one dog completely upend your life? Certainly I expected grief, but I wasn’t prepared for everything in my life to feel like a question. I wanted to find a new rightness—a rhythm suited for a one dog life and a different Maery.
Back when I noticed Java’s mobility problems, in my usual harebrained way, I sold my truck, bought a tiny Ford Transit Connect Cargo Van, and figured out how to outfit it with a bed, storage space, and the all important porta potti. I had hoped the sliding doors and low step up would make it easier for Java to get in and out, and that we would go camping this summer. Obviously, I’m a desperate dreamer, and that never happened.
If you have elaborate visions of a YouTube van conversion in your head (I know I did), click your brain’s refresh button and wait for metal walls, a cot with a mattress, and a bunch of camping gear smooshed under the cot to appear on your eyeball screen. I could have spent the rest of the summer trying to perfect what I had with pretty pillows and blankets, shelves and wall hangings, but the lesson of going from a two dog life to a one dog life is that time is short—don’t spend all of it overthinking and over preparing.
I had enough equipment for a brief test run to see what I liked and didn’t like about my half-ass setup. There were only about three campsites (the worst ones) available for the days I had free. No waiting for perfect conditions—just select, reserve, pay.
I loaded up the van, and off Latte and I went. Once at the campground, I figured out how to work the butane stove; that, yes, you can froth almond milk with a 12V frother (no plain coffee for this woman); that I can sit inside my van and read by my solar charged, inflatable Luci light; that having a battery to charge up your phone and iPad is great, but you have to turn ON the battery for it to charge anything; and how a survival blanket placed over the windshield with the reflective side out will help keep a vehicle cool. I was seriously proud of every little thing I did that I’d never done before.
I thought I was trying out solo van camping because I love nature and the outdoors, and I want to travel around North America before I get much older and less able, and Steve isn’t always available to go with me. But after just a couple days away, I realized I also needed to prove to myself that I’m still able to do unfamiliar things—things I fear are beyond my capabilities. As Marie Forleo says, “everything is figureoutable” (but then again, she’s younger and in better shape than me).
It was a bittersweet trip; we went to a state park that was filled with memories of Java trotting down trails and laying down in the Kettle River with the most blissful expression on her face. There were tears—a lot of them—but there were also laughs when Latte took over my camping chair, and when she would deign to walk at my hip in proper dog healing fashion, her toothy, smile looking up at me to say, Aren’t I a good dog? Doesn’t this angelic behavior deserve a treat or two? This look cracks me up every time, and she knows it.
Java was always my healing-heart dog, while Latte has been my clown. Maybe, right now, that makes her a healing-heart dog as well.