Goose seemed to be the most appropriate name for him. After all he was silly as a goose and just as white. At five weeks of age he demonstrated a playful but determined demeanor, and I could not help but notice the size of his paws as he not-so-innocently swatted at his smaller siblings. Goose was going to grow up to be a big Yellow Lab.
The Early Days
Born and raised in South Carolina, and son of Oscar B and Lady Allison Guinevere, Goose was trouble from the start. I about killed him when one of his first acts consisted of tearing up my college text books and a very expensive pair of binoculars. Monks teach the practice of non-violence when raising puppies, but our relationship became the way of the wolf.
We eventually came to terms with one another, and I could soon trust Goose around anything. He and I would often observe, with great amusement, some spasmodic dog owner futilely shouting for their disobedient hound to heel. Patiently sitting at my feet, Goose would look up into my eyes with an omniscient expression that said, “Amateurs.”
While at Clemson University, I was fond of kayaking down the Chattooga River. Whenever I was in the process of gathering my gear, Goose would tactfully turn his convincing stare upon me, which said, “Take me with you.” When he would leap into the back of the car I simply did not have the heart to tell him to get out. Upon arrival, he would deftly use his powers to persuade me that he too could come down the river. I would let him, and he would rely on my hand commands to ferry the river currents and run the banks like he had been taught to do it.
Travels with Goose
After college we decided to strike out West together. Goose barely fit his bulk amidst the boxes and bags, but he did not care one lick. We often camped under the stars, and for Goose every day was an adventure. He marked his territory from Charleston, South Carolina to San Francisco, California, and together we discovered an America much greater and grander than we could have ever imagined.
When the money ran out we settled in Lake Tahoe where I took up a job with Patagonia. Goose was allowed to come to work with me but never inside. He spent his idol hours outside convincing athletically-inclined individuals to take him for runs on their lunch breaks. He must have gone on no less than three jaunts a day. When I had a free moment I would take the rogue to swim in the Truckee River just to be sure he still appreciated me the most.
When we were not at work we spent much of our time in the mountains. In the summer he dutifully carried his pack filled with provisions. In the winter he plowed through the powder like a pig. I would make arcing turns on my skis, and he would take the straight line. Together we made dollar signs down countless snow-covered peaks in the Sierra Nevada.
No Small Step
Goose’s unhinged energy was seemingly unparalleled. When I moved into a three-story house on Donner Lake I had the habit of throwing a tennis ball from the top of the porch only so he could run down the steps, and then up and down again and again. A friend once tried it and Goose surprisingly chose a different route. He leapt over the railing and all the way down to the ground. Despite notions of his demise, Goose returned to the 3rd floor unharmed except for a rather large manzanita branch jutting from his collar, dirt ground into his chest, and the tennis ball in his mouth. He would have gone once more, but I ordered him to lie down.
Best in Show
We were hardly the type for organized contests, but somehow we found ourselves one searing hot summer Saturday making our way down to Reno and the Sparks Marina for an ESPN dog jumping contest. We felt a little out of place amidst all of the traveling kennels, screen printed T-shirts, and choreographed routines, but we decided to give it a go nonetheless. When the announcer called for “The Flying Goose from Kings Beach, California” we approached the beach with uncertainty. I asked him to sit at the start of the dock and walked a few yards down. There was nothing but eager anticipation in his eyes and a look like he was born to be there. At the moment I yelled for him to Go Get It!, I simultaneously slung his straggly little leftover tennis ball into the lake. Goose exploded off the end of the dock and into the water, retrieved his prize, and swiftly and politely returned the sopping mass to me. Coming over the mic I heard, “that was a Biiiig jump for a Biiiig Dog!” Goose placed first in the semi-finals and third over all, only losing to a couple of lighter and leaner professionals.
Eventually the time came for us to beat our way back to the East and the place of our birth. But before returning to Charleston we took the long way home. We ambled through the mountains of California, Utah, and Colorado, stopping in places we had visited almost ten years before. I was reluctant to return, and I am not sure that I would have if it had not been for his companionship and boundless enthusiasm to move forward.
Time Moves On
Age is a thief that steals our most prized possessions. And with pets the work is that much quicker. It was not long after moving back East that Goose’s health began to decline. First, a slowness of gait, and then a dreaded tumor appeared. Nevertheless, the doctor’s prognosis was positive, and we went forward with the surgery. Afterwards, Goose looked as if he had been butchered; but he was undeterred. He barreled into my legs and moaned a greeting as I sympathetically patted his head. Over the course of several weeks we endured the medicines and the machinations that eventually led to his improvement. But full recovery was never meant to be.
The Final Scene
Goose lay quietly on the porch. It was late July in Charleston, but he barely panted. He had stopped making it up and down the steps and refused to eat. It was time. The veterinarian arrived at the house with his assistant. When she leaned down and asked his name, then repeated it, Goose sat up and licked her face. It was his last act.
The Big Jump
Death means they are gone even though it feels as if they are not. Memories of him are filled with adventure and youthful promise that took us across a continent and then some. I will continue on with out him, enjoying new experiences, and looking to take that next Big Jump. But his passing reminds me that we all grow older and eventually lose our closest companions.
All I am left with are his lifeless ashes, yet they pulse with the power of a former being. They remind me that no matter whether it is human, animal, or even a place, it is our proclivity to feel, an opportunity to relate, and our ability to provide support and protection that is truly important. Goose may have been just a dog, but no matter what he did in life he always gave his whole heart and asked for nothing in return but affection and understanding. He will be missed.
Go Big Goose!