Spreading Frisco's Ashes
The first couple of days after his death had been horrible, but by a couple of days later the pain of his loss had faded some. He still haunted my dreams for a few weeks, but those were almost pleasant experiences — like getting a few extra minutes with his company. It probably helps that I was moving to a new apartment the very week after his death, so my eye would no longer be drawn to the spots where he liked to nap, expecting to see him there.
But picking up his ashes, in the last place I had seen him alive, brought all the pain back full-strength.
The staff at the Austin Veterinary Hospital had known Frisco for only a couple of months, but (like everyone he met), they fell in love with him immediately. So it was a sad day for them, as well, when they received the small white box heavy with his remains. I thanked them once again for the wonderful care they had given us through his final days.
Frisco touched so many lives, but I think it was appropriate that Darlene and I shared the evening alone, the night we put him to rest. Of all the places he had lived, and all the wonderful experiences, there was one place on earth that he loved more than any other: the swimming hole underneath Barton Springs Pool, in Austin's Zilker Park. It was only fitting that he return there one last time.
The pool is an Austin landmark. It isn't a conventional pool at all, but a spring-fed creek that has been dammed up to form an ice-cold swimming hole perhaps a quarter-mile long. And just under the dam, there is doggie heaven.
It is an unofficial but tacitly recognized dog park with a broad concrete bank from which to throw a ball into the water. Frisco, of course, loved to swim. (He was a golden. It comes with the territory.) But this isn't just any swimming hole. Far up the bank, where the dam ends, there is a spillway that opens into a long concrete chute running down the base of the dam and into the water, where there is another spillway. The combined churning of those two courses of water makes for a rumbling, turbulent area perhaps four feet deep in the midst of a broad, shallow area where people wade with their dogs.
Frisco used to beg me to drop his ball at the top end of the chute. He would scamper down the slope with tremendous agitation, watching its path and stabbing his mouth after it. Sometimes he would end the game early by catching it, but most times he chased it all the way down to the roiling whitewater spot, where it was immediately driven deep underwater. He would plunge in after it, swimming in place and waiting for the ball to pop back up again.
On a good day, when the rains have been feeding the river, it is easy to imagine a dog being sucked under and never coming back. But not Frisco. He would fight the current for long minutes, sometimes missing the ball and forcing it back under the water, sometimes swimming in circles in case it re-emerged behind him. When he had caught it and made his way up the bank, he instantly began pestering me to throw it in again. Even in his later days, he could go in and out of the water for an hour or more.
Darlene and I arranged to meet there now, near sundown on a warm Sunday evening. The water is low and slow-moving at this time of year, so the reflection of the fading orange sky was crisp on the creek. We sat for a time on a low rock wall, talking about what a wonderful life he'd had and swapping stories that began with "Do you remember that time when??" I cradled the box in my lap, stroking it as if it were
A group of college-aged swimmers had arrived just after dark, so we sat for a while in silence when all the stories and all the tears had run out. Eventually, they moved on. There was still a young couple in the water opposite us, but we decided that his ashes weren't likely to affect them.
I took the bag of ashes from the box. But as soon as he was in my hands, heavy, soft and solid, I was paralyzed. The bag seemed so soft, just like Frisco, and I didn't want to end my last moment holding him. I talked to him for one last time, thanking him again for all the wonderful times. Darlene laid an understanding hand on my shoulder. She had only lived with him for his first two years, so she was able to be a calming presence for me.
Then I felt it was time, and I carried him to the water chute, as I had carried so many racquetballs. The stadium lights from the pool next door gave a kind of eerie, shimmering light to the fast-moving water. I bent down to the water quickly, so I wouldn't have time to pause again. The water ran white for a moment, then he disappeared. I thought of Frisco, running sideways down the side of the chute to get his racquetball. Now he had made his last run.
Darlene had brought flowers. She knelt next to me, and laid them silently in the water. They sped down the chute, and separated, and bobbed slowly around the broad area under the dam. The couple across from us were standing together, waist-deep in the water, holding each other. The young man reached down and grabbed a mum that was floating by, and he gave it to her. I have been told that the mum is a symbol of hope for the future.
There is a flock of swans that live on the creek, and they used to have a mutually-teasing relationship with Frisco. He swam after them and sent them scattering, and they would swim back and forth with their tails flipping water into the air in big arcs whenever he was on the opposite shore. Tonight, they were huddled in a little cluster across from us. The swans were curious about the flowers and took to the water, swimming slowly downstream with them. Like an honor guard.
Darlene and I watched the flowers slowly disappear down the blackened stream, until I grabbed her hand and said, "he's gone." We shared a long, firm hug, then walked up the long, darkened hill and separated.
Darlene had wished that some of his ashes might sink to the bottom, so that they will be a part of the place for as long as possible. If there were such thing as a soul that survives the body, then Frisco would grab hold of that bottom as tightly as possible, so that he could continue forever, playing in his favorite spot.