Two years ago she left. Who she was, and why she came or went remain enigmas, unsolved and unsolvable puzzles that click and grind in my heart, and prick the backs of my eyes.
I still look for her on the mountain ridges when the clouds pull back from the peaks, even though she whispers to me not to. The black dolmans of the vultures overhead remind me. This is the way of the planet. Its calico of atoms and molecules and cells and organisms is in a perpetual flutter, existing and vanishing through time.
Some think animals don’t possess souls – as if anyone knew what a soul was. As if anyone knows what anything really is. A few decades ago we thought we knew a rock was solid. Then we learned about bosons and quarks, and were suddenly not quite so sure. Tomorrow we will think we know something different. Next year something else. So much opinion in a world of flapping uncertainty. Such desperation to be right, and to claim to have it sewn up.
Yet knowing is what we don’t. Why we live. Why we die. What the fundamental essence of our reality is, and whether it has a point. For all our hot air: We. Don’t. Know.
So she crossed from life to death, and whatever and whoever she was no longer inhabited that canine body, leaving it inert and cold, a heap of fur-covered matter. Other life reproduced within her corpse, moved in, took over. Bacteria, flies. But they weren’t her. They were something or someone else.
Two years on I’m still baffled. How is it that another species became my best friend and provoked such love and sorrow within me? How is it that I could emotionally connect with an animal at all? Whether you believe there really was a connection, or that I simply projected it, is almost irrelevant. Both my inner and outer realities were transformed more powerfully by an animal stimulus than by a human one. Yet instead of quickly inserting an ‘answer’, I’d rather sit with the question. Because questions are alive. And answers are dead. Nowadays I know the difference.
Today I find myself moving still, climbing into a new reality which in itself is alive and transforming. Roots and rocks and stalks and hands intertwine in a thick bed of mud. I’m simultaneously dying and being born. Each rock I shift evolves me. Each tree I plant is a new world within a world.
Nonetheless something still haunts me.
I often wonder, did my dog know about here? In some non-verbal animalistic way, was my life plan playing out within her, just as hers continues to do within me?
I haven’t mentioned it publicly until now, but by chance or design my land lies at the very place on the road where Rotty the dog first became sick. It is as unsettling as it is true. Back in 2017 we stopped here for three days to visit a vet, before setting off on the final journey to Santiago de Compostela. After she died, I never wanted to return to this place. So I didn’t, for a while. But the mysterious mind of life seemed to harbour another idea.
Thus last year I traveled the length of the Iberian peninsula searching for my new Eden. I could smell it was close. There were so many choices, yet nowhere was ever quite right. Then one day I took a deep breath and drove back to the very same town my dog first began to crumble into dust. Staring into an estate agent window, I saw a rugged plot with three cabanas...As we drove up the mountainside to view it, I think it was the stone walls that drew me, lining the road like a brigade of square-jawed gnomes. But it could equally have been the rippled mantle of the sierra existing and vanishing with the clouds.
On the 21st February 2018 – a year later to the day after my dog died – I put in my first offer for this land. It wasn’t accepted. But somewhere I knew it was still mine because a dog angel was beside me, whispering.
So here I am another year on, guardian of that same piece of land. And I'm remembering still. The humus of new memories heaps upon the old, and from there new shoots emerge. Yet the knots in my heart remain unsolved and unsolvable. I drive 1000 metres into the sky, to the same peaks I visited with my fur companion two years ago, ever hungry for answers. It’s another planet up here, one where certainty never existed, and mystery is all anyone knows. If souls exist anywhere at all, they are here.
As I stare across the skyborne lake and into the whipped white peaks, reality squeaks on its hinges. The silence is so piercing, it shatters every thought. The cellophane of human consciousness is stretched as thin as the air, existing, and vanishing simultaneously. Is it physical matter that arises before me? Or is it my imagination? And where exactly is the frontier that separates the two?
Yet it is in this snow-capped place of unknowing, that I stumble again into what I’m always searching for. The magic. The wonder. The tenuous vitality of it all. Who cares about our clever theories, our beliefs or our hypotheses? The smartest answer in the world will never satisfy our souls. Life is everywhere. And no one understands it. Why or how we all exist. Who we really are. We. Don’t. Know.
Perhaps this is why I love wild nature so much. When I look into her eyes and breathe her spirit, the question and the answer finally merge. And when they do what I’m left holding is not the closed box of a solution, but an unsolvable, inexplicable creation.
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Atulya K Bingham
Author, Lone Off-Gridder, and Natural Builder.
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.