The white schoolhouse with the sage green roof stands on a rise above the almost non-existent town of Cleveland, Montana. Cleveland is my hometown and shelters in the northeastern foothills of the Bear Paw Mountains of north central Montana. It used to have a saloon, dance hall, a few residents and a school house. Today it has the school house, a part time saloon, hunting lodge and the shop building and corrals of a local rancher. The original saloon and dance hall are gone.
This is ranch country, and where I grew up. I attended the one roomed Cleveland School from my first day of first grade until I graduated from eighth grade.
A gravel road passes by the schoolhouse, and as intrepid country kids who noticed all, us students could guess with great accuracy who drove by on occasion, even though there were no windows on the road side of the building. For our one teacher, usually hired just after college thus new to teaching and even more foreign to a roomful of ranch kids who ricocheted around like hyperactive atoms colliding and parting over and over, this created a huge distraction. A truck would roar past and all of us (generally 8 to 10 students of ages from 7 to 14) would pause in our work, raise and cock our heads. As the sound faded, we would stage whisper something like, “There goes Russell Faber!” We always could identify him and his pickup from the speed, spraying of gravel and throb of his engine. In fact, I swear he often caught air as he flew down the crest of the hill. We heard that, too. A half hour later, just after the teacher got us settled, he would fly back past the schoolhouse in the other direction and the same scenario played out in the schoolroom. I wonder, now, if the teacher would lay in bed at night in the small attached teacherage and identify vehicles that went by.
Times at the Cleveland School are a subject for future conversations. Today I mention it because it is where I first learned about Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727) and the three laws of motion he formulated. Though our teachers over the years at the Cleveland School dealt with isolation and students of different ages and grades all in one room, we received a strong, well rounded education. Part of it was from the teachers themselves who were creative in their teachings and part of it was how we lived close to the land. The laws of motion made perfect sense to us, and we saw examples of them every day.
We will begin with the first law of motion as it has related to a time in my life.
Translated from Newton’s book, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosopy (first published in 1687), he states: “Every body perseveres in a state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed.” In other words, “Every body continues in a state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is acted upon by an external (unbalanced) force.”
On a late June evening this past year, I walked in the Bear Paws. The gilded light and green of spring grass were almost too exquisite to bear. I had to remember to breathe, as if breath would tear the fragile canvas masterpiece of the evening and leave me to stare into a ragged void. This being a short walk, I brought my old dog, Rowdy, along. We had covered many miles in horseback rides, hikes, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and road trips together over his 15 years. Though still fairly healthy, the stiffness in his body did not allow for long times out on the land. These days, 45 minutes of sauntering was enough. We walked along a ridge and followed a trail made by the four old horses that lived here. Rowdy sniffed around and made sure I was safe from dangers, as always. While I climbed a rather steep knoll, he waited below. He knew this was the turn around point for our walk and did not care to climb it himself.
In an attempt to capture a figment of the beauty of the evening, I took a few photos. Then Rowdy and I wandered back to our log cabin, to finish out the evening on the porch as the birds chorused their end of day songs. I scrolled through the pictures I had taken, and saw I had captured a sunbeam that shone right down on Rowdy. At the time, I thought it was a happy accident.
The sunbeam shone down on Rowdy and illuminated every particle of who he was. Rowdy was a Blue Heeler, properly called an Australian Cattle Dog. His blue speckled medium haired coat was highlighted by red speckled legs. His ears were of the softest black fur, and stood upright. Between his ears on his forehead was a small white blaze which is common in Heelers and is called a Bentley mark. He was of medium height for a dog, just right. In his younger years he was slender and rangy for a heeler, who tend to be muscular dogs. As the years went by, he got a bit stouter through the body. His beautiful brown eyes were slightly slanted upwards in his head and just before the tip of his tail there was a permanent kink in his tail bone. He had a furry white tip on his blue tail that vibrated with exuberance.
Over my life so far, I have had three previous Blue Heelers. Yes, my favorite type of dog. They have each been unique, yet contained those traits common to heelers: extreme loyalty, intelligence, athletic, tough, wary of strangers and, of course, a strong instinct to work cattle. Or herd anything else that may move.
Rowdy came with a spirit of life that included such a deep love that developed for me that sometimes I would fail to remember how intense it was at times. It was quiet and bottomless. Unusual for a heeler, he was not suspicious of people he did not know and everyone was his friend. As one person said, “Rowdy smiles all the time.” He was active, even for a Heeler, and retained his puppy-like liveliness into his early teens. One day, just like that, it was gone, after his second ACL surgery on a hind stifle joint. He became elderly, but still took care of me the best he could and was always my constant companion whenever we were near one another.
Three months after the sunbeam photo was taken, I lost Rowdy to a sudden onset of liver failure. As I looked into this photo afterwards, I realized Newton’s first law of motion was indeed a law in my life, too.
The first law of motion spoke of my life when it included Rowdy. “Every body continues in a state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line… ”
The straight line of the first law of motion represents the 15 years we had together. These years, and the changes we both unconsciously adapted to as Rowdy aged, and I did too, were a steady trek forth that I knew at some point would end. But why mar the living of it with worry?
There were the young years of intensity and adventures of all sorts and in all weathers. On snowshoeing expeditions, Rowdy would bound from the track behind me and disappear completely under several feet of deep powder. I would be able to see his progress underneath, like a huge snake was slithering along under the snow, then he would fly up and out like a torpedo to land back on the trail, grinning from ear to ear and shaking the feather light snowflakes from his hide, almost like he was losing his own white speckles. There was the morning he could not restrain himself and chased the horses as they galloped in for feed and was kicked right on the end of his snout. This resulted in one canine tooth extraction, removal of several smaller teeth that had been shattered and one root canal on a partially snapped off canine tooth. Also, leaps into cold mountain lakes after sticks thrown, over and over.
In his middle years, Rowdy settled down somewhat, but I still had to watch that he didn’t knock things over in the house when he would jump and spin out of sheer happiness. Rowdy and my black cat, Taz, had a routine every morning while I did horse chores and cleaned corrals. The two of them rambled out in the pasture and sniffed around, then sat together, then sniffed around some more. Rowdy would sit with Taz next to him, then Taz would rub against Rowdy, purring and wrapping his tail around Rowdy. Rowdy didn’t seem too happy about the tail wrap, but he tolerated it. At ages 8 and 13 Rowdy had ACL surgery on his hind legs. The recovery was long and slow, weeks of leash activity only and restricted movement. Through it all he kept on, though many days I know it was painful and frustrating for him.
In our last two and a half years together, we moved from Montana to Oregon, and Rowdy handled it well, though by now he was old. He settled into our new life and made friends with people wherever he went as he always had. As long as we were together, life was good. When his liver began to fail in his last summer, it was trips to the vet almost weekly with many pills and blood draws. He tolerated it with grace. Eating became difficult for him as his appetite became erratic. We soon found that raw hamburger, premium canned food and the best of dry kibble was enticing, so that is what Rowdy had for every meal. When we made the two day journey to Montana for visits, Rowdy and his groceries came along, too. Of course.
Reminder of the first law of motion: “
Every body continues in a state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is acted upon by an external (unbalanced) force.”
When Rowdy left this realm, the timeline of our together existence became unbalanced by the force of his leaving and thereupon changed. For me, it shifted into a time of spaces where he used to be and spaces of memory where he still does his happy dance and nestles as close to me as possible.
The end of Rowdy’s life came quickly and with as much peace as I could possibly provide, for which I am thankful for every day. I miss him fiercely, still, and at least one day out of each week when I unlock the door and walk into my house I expect to see him rising stiffly from his waiting spot on the floor where he could keep an eye on the door to say, “Hello. I am happy to see you and here is my heart for you. What are we going to do now?”
I say Rowdy was my dog, but in truth I was as much his as he was mine.
Here is where I borrowed the quotes of Sir Isaac Newton from.
There is a plethora of information about Sir Isaac Newton on the internet. This site gives an interesting overview of his life.