Just below the ridge line, east of Tinnamon's Creek, that's where we found Lily's dachshund.
The brown, island patch of fur beneath its snout was caked with blood -- throat turn, chewed.
No coat remained on its front legs. Framework mostly. Some dangling, loose tissue.
White fibers I didn't recognize dotted the shriveled body. How many days had it been?
"What'd you expect to find?" Harvey said, lifting the tag. "Brannagh. 5321 Starlite Drive."
"I know, I know. Lily's still going to break. Doesn't matter what I expected."
Harvey ran his palm along the dog's belly. Whispered something I didn't catch. The sun began to sink behind the mountains -- everything turned a variance of purple. And the wind came in, unannounced, as wind tends to do. What's the protocol on a dead dog? Bury at the scene of the crime? A pile of rocks left behind for hikers on the passing by to say, "I wonder what happened there." Or did we bag the unfortunate beast? Ring the doorbell. Ask Lily if she's got a shovel. Our fathers made no mention of times like that.
"I've never understood why people have pets," Harvey said. "Do you just want to be miserable? Your cat Socks, Millie, whatever, is gonna die. Your turtle Larry is gonna die. The charismatic hamster in the classroom, running the wheel, knows every step with its stupid paws could be its last. 22 fourth graders taught expiration dates. Teachers sign up for that. Brannagh was gonna die. Lily knew she'd outlive the dog."
Four deer looked on down by the creek. Still, yet comfortable in their stillness. I could have touched them if I wanted to. I hated that. Deer in Colorado made me feel powerless. They assumed, automatically, that I carried no firearm, only a camera and a bit of Chex Mix. Pallid threads continued to float down from the sky.
"What is this stuff?" I asked.
"Falling. In her fur, right there. On your shirt. In your hair. The white stuff."
After a quick scan of his chest, Harvey pinched one of the white fibers between his index finger and thumb. Hardly gave it a thought before giving it a flick.
"They're just coming off the cottonwoods. Happens toward the end of spring," Harvey said, reaching in his back pocket and pulling out a garbage bag.
"Is that what we are going to do?"
"I'm not burying the dog out here. Lily needs closure. If she 'breaks,' she breaks."
Harvey opened the black bag. Stepped on the bottom of it. So it would hold against the wind.
"Put the dog in here," he said.
"I'm not doing that."
"Well, you have to."
"I'm holding the trash bag."
The dog's eyes weren't there. Whatever mysterious factor that leads people to buy dachshunds, whether concentrated dose of cuteness or unmerited friendliness, it had bled out. I walked around to the other side of the dog. Stuck my hands under its spine -- cleanest spot. Stiff from rigor mortis, sure, but stiffer than rigor mortis alone. I knew the stiffness of death from my childhood collection of unfortunate pets. The sun had baked him, made the matted tufts sharp. I dropped Brannagh in the bag. Harvey lifted up quickly, as to not let the corpse hit the ground.
With the deer still watching, we began to climb up the rockface, taking us back to the trail. My eyes fixated on my feet to avoid a misstep. Harvey took the lead, looking only forward. When he began to speak, he did not turn around.
"You know what's funny about the cottonwoods? I hadn't thought about this in a long time -- both my mom and dad had a theory about what you so eloquently called 'white stuff.' Mom, sticking by her poverty- and church-induced eternal optimism, said that the white strands falling from the sky, came off the clouds. 'Heaven's confetti,' she said. It was God reminding us that his grace reaches all of us."
"What did your dad think?"
"Well, Dad worked hard for what money we had, and going to church wasn't exactly his idea. Believed God owed him a little more. He didn't even sit with us. Back pew kinda guy. Mom would lead prayers focused solely on him moving up a few benches. Anyway, I say all that to say, being poor and going to church created optimism's opposite in my father. It wasn't long after I graduated high school, before I moved to Fort Collins, that Dad gave me his theory."
Harvey reached the top of the ridge. Gave me a hand. Dog's corpse slung over his shoulder. He looked at me.
"My dad said that the white strands from heaven weren't signs of encouragement. He said they were tears of those who'd gone before. People looking down, weeping at -- not only what violence brother does to brother -- but also at how we **** away every breath. 'Trading dreams for dollars.' "
"Which do you think is true."
Turning away from me, Harvey switched the garbage bag from his right shoulder to his left.
"Neither is an option. And to remind you, neither is the correct option. For the sake of humoring you?"
"Yes, for the sake of humoring me."
"I think my mother's would be more accurate."
"Why is that?"
"The cottonwoods shed one time a year. Seems to me that white stuff would be falling all the time if it was the disappointment and sorrow of those who've passed. One time a year. I can see God giving us a little something one time a year."