It’s cold ( -1 and blowing a gale.) The wind sounds like distant thunder and the dogs don’t like that, or the squeak coming from a wire or maybe a gate hinge so they woke me up at five, and I fed them and let them out, and visited with Chip while he did sit-ups in the living room, and now the dogs are back asleep at my feet. Chip is pedaling to nowhere above the garage, Papa Bob came out of his room for a minute, blinked down at me, and went back to bed, too.

Pearl is nine now, and fuzzy faced. She is stiff when she wakes and she sometimes doesn’t climb the stairs with us.  Last night she slept on our bed and wedged close. Did she know her pal Madi died?

Madi was thirteen, and had been, as we say in the obituary world, in declining health. She was a howler, grinner, and a protector of children. Madi never slept on the bed. She was my daughter Sarah’s dog, and Sarah taught her to be more polite than the dogs she’d grown up with. To walk on a leash (which she soon did not need.) Not to scratch doors. Madi never begged at the table. She did not climb on the couch when no one was home. (Well, maybe once in a while, when there were fire works.) She walked herself. She took daily patrols around her neighborhood. She was car saavy and always found the trail, even in deep snow, and her bloodhound side kept bears at bay literally — she smelled them long before you saw them and threw her head back and bayed and bayed. Her Lab side gave her a big heart for her family, and meant she sometimes chased chickens, and once ate a whole one, at Easter. Feathers, feet, and all. We thought she might die then, but she didn’t.

She did die yesterday though, and with her, a lot of big family years. Madi was already full grown when Sarah’s first daughter, and our first grandaughter was born. So much happened in Madi’s thirteen years. A lifetime full of birthdays, Christmases, weddings, and picnics. And this year has been so lonely. I’m sorry Madi won’t be at the party when we finally gather again. Tomorrow, we all get our second dose of the vaccine.

Which is a long way of saying that we didn’t mind that Pearl slept on our bed last night. Even though she spread out sideways, legs stretched, in that golden retriever way, not tucked in a ball, nose to tail, like a proper Alaska dog on a very cold night. Trixie, (four) slept on the floor by my night stand, so that when I woke to run the water and check on the stove, I had to be careful not to step on her. That’s when I thought about Madi, and how, I still step over all my dogs in the dark long after they are gone.