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Solstice Nights, Sloughi Dreams, Reprised

First published in The Bay News, Tolosa Press, San Luis Obispo, Dec 2006,
"reprinted with permission from the author"

text and photos by: Ann Calhoun

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly: The essential is invisible to the eye.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Zuri diggin holes“Wooo,” said Zuri (Qarima Shi'Rayan) Sana McGurk, peering out of her crate at the end of the Northwest Airlines luggage carousel at LAX. “Uhnnnrrrrooo?”

Exactly one year ago, I had written in this column, “Sloughi, the whispered prayer to the Dog Gods of the Desert, that this time they will hear and will allow the awaited puppy’s soul to fly from the North African Deserts to the kennel in Iowa for a spring birth. And from there, Inshallah, a small representative of the prized hunting hounds of the Berber tribesmen will arrive in Los Osos, all wobbly knees and elbows, to join the pack. . . . And once again a new year may begin with a new life ready to piddle on the floor, dig holes in the sandy back yard, race with a new family in the dog park, and spend a puppyhood sniffing the sweet chaparral of a California spring.”

But things didn’t work out quite that way. They never do. The old saying still holds true: Man plans; God laughs. For over a year the household has waited for Zuri, and in the way of things, there were delays; a mis-mating, a birth that went tragically awry, and at this end, the sad unexpected losses of three of the Basenji elders, poor Finn MacCool, the rescued greyhound, miserable with his torn skin stapled up, wandering around in a protective but decidedly unfashionable tee-shirt, and me returning from LA. with a new puppy and a ferocious head cold.

ZuriAs ever, the imagined Sloughi dreams of a year ago were very different now. But, finally, there she was, not a spring puppy, but a winter gift, a new beginning, the light of life coming at the darkest night of the year. Wooo.

And in the house, once again the brave nutcrackers gleam in the Christmas lights, but this year they have to peer over huge sheets of cardboard cable-tied together, an effect that makes the house look like Christo has arrived to wrap it up as an art project. Not an elegant look, but one that is a very effective way of living with a new puppy while keeping her safe and all my books and papers and CDs . . . and electrical cords . . . away from curious little teethies.

And so begins our winter journey. The California days and nights won’t be as cold as her Iowa home, but she will be surrounded by her new family and new territory to explore. Already she has discovered the boundless joy of digging big useless holes in the sand just to get a heady sniff or two of the big fat nothing that’s found in the bottom. Already her lithe, sleek black body has marked out a byzantine route through the various shrubs in the back yard, looping over and under and through, pursued by Archibald McDog and Finn who probably think she’s a weirdly colored rabbit to be chased. They have no idea that in a few months, she will be the one giving them a run for their money, after which she’ll turn on a dime and give them nine cents change.

Zuri and Mizigo by fireplaceIf this small household has received a winter’s gift, new life, a new beginning, then perhaps it’s possible for me to wish that every household will have some small measure of the same, some light in the winter’s darkness.

In a world constantly filled with greed and murder and infamy, a world blindly sleepwalking towards its eco-doom in the winter dark, it is the ancient tale of Pandora that comes to mind – not the box of evils that she unwittingly loosed on the world, but what was left in the box at the end: Hope.

That is the thing that lights the Yule log, that illuminates the Chanukah candles, it is the blinding spark in Bethlehem, the warming glow of all the winter celebrations everywhere. It is Hope that sings of angels seen on high, and keeps a small child waiting for Saint Nicolas and the sound of bells, of improbable reindeer hooves on a roof.

And it is Hope that out of the darkness there will come new beginnings, even if it is only in the form of a small puppy that greets the world with a soft, “Wooo.”

Zuri under the lemon tree


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