Our Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:       
           Praise him.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Pied Beauty")

I have always had a weakness for spots, and soft fur, for animals of all kinds.  I remember walking down a country road one day as a young mother.  I was serving at a youth retreat, taking a few moments for myself.  I was lost in thought, as I often am,  aware only of the road in front of my feet.  Suddenly, a large horse came up right beside  me and whinnied softly in my ear. It startled me, delighted me! And I realized all at once how lonely I would feel if humans were the only inhabitants of this planet. Thanks be to God for Brother Horse and Sister Bird!

When we bought this land in Elgin we had a small dog named Greg. A Catholic dog, in fact,  who had many adventures with Japanese soldiers, Roman gladiators, angels and demons - but that is another story. In real life Greg was a self-assured, dashing 9 pound rat terrier-chihuaua mix.  He was a pint-sized pied beauty and we loved him.  But we didn't know if he was suited to country life.  We had heard rumors of coyotes and birds of prey that could carry off dogs his size.  And, moreover, we were now caretakers of a retreat house.  As much we as we loved Greg, we realized that he was a high energy, yappy dog - not always conducive to quiet contemplation.

Thankfully, my sister and her husband adored Greg. She volunteered, most enthusiastically, to take Greg out to Marfa while we got settled here.  Greg quickly bonded and settled in to life out West.  He was having new adventures in the desert, and he was well loved. When we mentioned the possibility of bringing him back, Adam cried, and we knew Greg was now his dog.

But we were feeling the loneliness that an animal fills. I wanted a hiking and gardening companion.  Peggy wanted  a furry friend  to pet while watching late night movies.  John was needing a new hero for his literary adventures.  And a large piece of land just cries out for a happy canine patrol.

Our first attempt at a new dog was rather heart-breaking.  We found a beautiful terrier at the Bastrop animal shelter who looked just like Greg, only two sizes bigger.  Joy seemed  shy and quiet, gentle - the kind of dog a retreat center needed.  But we were naive, ignorant.  We mistook her quietness for peace, when really it was terror.  When we first took her outside on a leash, she bolted - pulling the leash right out of our stunned son's hand.  We chased.  We called.  Our neighbors joined in the hunt.  Friends stayed until it was too dark to see. But Joy would let no one near.


We spotted Joy several times in the next few days.  And though we felt terrible about losing her, and we worried about her well-being, it gave me some pleasure to see her running free with her tail up - so unlike the cowering dog at the pound.  She at least had an outlet for her fear.  She could run, and she did.

I think that sometimes, when we are too afraid to be touched, God also lets us run.  Run off our energy, our fear, until we are exhausted.  Until we can no longer resist  the love which heals.  "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem... How I often  would have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but you were not willing."

Joy would not be caught.  We still set out food for her and keep our eye out.  We would love for her to allow us close.  But she does not trust humans.

Murphy is an entirely different animal.  He was a well-loved companion dog for 6 years before he came to us.  His owner moved to Elgin recently, and a dog at her new place was threatening Murphy.

Murphy won my heart when he came to visit.  He wagged his tail, rolled over, sat and smiled winsomely.  But I knew he was the dog for us when my mother came to meet him, moving carefully behind her walker.  He rose to greet her and walked ever so slowly around her, gently sticking out his nose for petting.  I could tell he was a true gentleman!  A perfect retreat house dog.  Even the grumpy cat likes him!

Murphy is a joy to this house. And he is gorgeous.  Praise be to God who "fathers forth beauty!"