Eleven years ago, Candy died from leukemia. She was an abandoned black Lab we adopted after taking her for a week’s worth of daily walks, her respite from being cooped up in the pound. Daily, she greeted us with great enthusiasm and grasped the rope in her mouth to indicate her eagerness to go for a walk in the woods adjoining the pound buildings. We couldn’t resist her and gladly took her into our lives. She was then 9 years old, and we were to find great joy in her for only two more years.
At the outset of this adoption, Rumpole announced rules for tolerable doggish behaviour – no being fed at the dinner table, no lounging on couches with human folk and, most definitely, no getting in bed with people to cuddle. Naturally, as such things go, he was the first to breach all of these permissions, in spite of trying hard to be firm and stern. Candy had the most endearing habit of mugging with grins, so that his rather serious side slid away to be replaced with increased permissiveness. Candy became our 80 pound, grizzle-faced, four-legged child. She sat beside Rumpole at the dinner table, patiently waiting for the choicest bits of meat he would slip to her. She reclined on the couch with her head on his knee as they read together in the evenings. She snuggled her bulk up to me in bed at night, heaving great, contented sighs.
Candy’s great joy was to take long daily walks with me on the dike, where she had her favourite swimming hole populated by frogs and turtles that basked on floating logs. We always started with a long leisurely walk during which she chased her ratty tennis ball and brought it back for more throws. Whenever she heard the noises of birds down near the river, she would make a mad dash into the thickets of tall grass and flush them out. She would return from these little exercises bearing a great satisfied grin, and occasionally a large stick which she then would carry to the end of our walk’s destination, the swimming hole . Here we would play for an extended time, me throwing the stick, her fetching it back to shore. When she tired of the stick fetching, the tennis ball would go into the same service, and as she grew bored with this, she would find a pebble and bring it to me, indicating that she wanted to play fetch with it. Amazing, no matter where I tossed the chosen stone she would find it under water and bring it back. When she grew tired of all the running, swimming and fetching, she stashed the pebble in her cheek, grabbed the stick with her teeth, waited for me to retrieve the soggy tennis ball, and led me back to the car for the ride home. Once we returned home, she deposited her found treasures in her customary little pile of collected sticks and stones beside the back steps and waited patiently to be rubbed down with towels.
We were bereft when she became very ill and died. Our familiar black companion was no longer shadowing us around. There was a huge emptiness in our daily doings. I kept up the daily walks on the dike, sat by the edge of the swimming hole throwing stones into the water, recalling the pleasure Candy had taken with her activities at these places.
One day, on the drive home, It suddenly occurred to me that I had to make some art work to celebrate and memorialize Candy’s impact on our lives. On returning to the house, I was completely abstracted and aimlessly wandered about outside and inside, casually assembling stones, sticks, studio materials and got hung up on the idea of maps as a way to show where our meandering walks had taken us in our little shared corner of the world.
The very next morning, I beetled down to the Municipality offices where in planning and engineering I asked to look at site maps of my immediate neighbourhood, and of the diking systems. The clerk printed out a number of largish blueprint maps which I then carted home. These treasures, spread out on the dining-room table, the coffee table and the studio table were available for Rumpole and me to study, to follow routes taken on walks with Candy.
On my solitary daily walks I carried a trash bag to collect samples of vegetation from places where Candy would stash some of her rocks. These samplings I would press in wall-paper sample books, then take to my local printer’s to colour xerox. I collected cuttings form the local newspapers – anything to do with activities on or near the dikes, leisure and agricultural. I applied layers of powdered graphite to stones Candy had amassed at the side of the house. I painted with white paint to look like ghost-sticks some of the sticks from her collection. Brought a bucket of sand and gravel back from the marge of the swimming hole.
For eight months, the maps became a departure point for a series of collage paintings. The making of these was a meditation on the time and places which the companionship of this wonderful four-legged entity made as an indelible experience, to be savoured for a long time. Every act of selecting and combining materials became a small ceremony.
I learned much from making these map memorials.