When we first moved to North Vancouver (the North Shore) finding places to bring Reuben, our then 4 year old lab, was a real process of discovery. When we discovered the “Berkeley Trail” it felt like discovering a wild jewel in a well treed but orderly suburban neighbourhood. It had a winding path that was surrounded by a canopy of spruce, fir and pine trees. It led to a long hill that wound itself around natural vegetation under a beautiful thick canopy of trees. Eventually this led to the river and we would wander alongside the river until we came to the steep rickety steps that led to the beach. It was at this beach that we spent countless hours throwing balls for Reub. Admittedly unlike any other lab-ish dog I’ve ever met he often took his sweet time fetching them, as though he were weighing the options between us fetching the ball or him. Often the ball would slowly drift down the river, the three of us watching and wondering, “Who’s going to get the ball?”until it was too late and another ball would be lost. Other times we would sit on the large flat rock where sometimes Dave would skip rocks but mostly we would just hang out and talk. One year we celebrated my birthday down by our swimming hole. We brought wine and cheese and watched as Reub watched his ball float away. We did this for years and every season offered its own special magic. On beautiful autumn days the reds and oranges of the changing leaves and the crisp cool air made us linger longer taking it all in. Even on those mad, rainy westcoast days we would still go, slowly winding our way down the trail to the river thankful that the canopy could offer some protection. In the summer we would put on our shorts and be grateful that those same trees now offered shade. We didn’t always swim with Reuben but one hot summer day the water was running high and first Reuben went in after his ball and Dave and I both followed, swimming and laughing, as we raced him for his forever disappearing orange ball.
I’m not sure why we stopped going to the swimming hole. We almost lost him when he was five and there was a period of recovery where we didn’t take him anywhere too challenging. Then the trail got busier and we were no longer one of the few to wander these beautiful lost trails. There were too many bikes and Reub was oblivious with bikes. So we stopped and found other places to take him. But there were at least 4 or 5 years when we went every weekend both days and often Dave would just take him on his own and it felt like this place was our own. We had our own rhythm, our own way of being, alone and together. And that place more than any other just felt like us. The every day ritual bound us together in the smallness and the greatness of the measure of everything. It’s as close to what I imagine church is supposed to be that I have ever gotten.
It has been nine years since Reuben left and we haven’t been back until today. We thought we would return Reub to Berkeley where he seemed to belong more than any other place except home. Then we were like, nope, not ready. Can’t do it. Instead we went and visited and wandered down the trail in the pouring rain, turned right at the bottom that led to the rickety staircase that took us to his and our swimming hole. We looked at the rock where we sat, at the water where we swam and at the trees that watched over us all those years ago. For a brief time it felt like that place had been ours alone forever. The thing about grief is that it never really goes. You just come back and visit with it in different ways.When the time comes we’ll be ready to bring him there. Just not yet.