About the time Wrangler the Blue Heeler found me I was also given a book of poems by Wendell Berry, his “timbered choir” poems of trees among which he took Sunday walks on his Kentucky farm.
I had known a bit of Berry before, but these Sabbath poems – written across many years -captivated me, and became part of my own weekly prayer walks.
On a Sunday morning, book in my hand, Wrangler and I would walk through a neighbor’s yard, open a gate, and pass down a driveway into a woodsy community park bisected by a small creek.
Midway through these woods three small bridges criss-cross the water, back and forth.
I would sit on one of the bridges, and while Wrangler sniffed around some fascinating scent of what had been there, I would sit quietly, looking up at the tall trees, which on Wendell Berry’s farm became his “timbered choir.”
Wrangler would soon come and lie down beside me, especially if there was a sunny spot on a cool morning, and turn over to have his tummy rubbed.
I would open and select one of Berry’s poems as a kind of devotional for the day, or the week to come. It was uncanny how often one would speak directly to my condition, and when I read it out loud it I was sure Wrangler got it too.
I might sometimes quote Berry’s much-loved description of how when wakened at night by despair for the world, he would go into the woods to rest in the “the peace of wild things”, creatures who did not overtax themselves with worries about the future.
Often I would mark a line or two, and then lift a prayer for my friends around the world. My copy is dog-eared and dated from those Sunday walks, so when I thumb through it now it is a kind of testament of those years.
Lately Wrangler and I did not go as often to the woods on Sunday mornings. A neighbor dog had attacked and wounded him last year, and I was cautious about taking him where he might be hurt again. I wish now I had been more determined about keeping up those walks.
The last photos of the two of us show us walking in those woods, gazing up at each other, then at the sky. It is a visual memory of a devoted companion, who will not again walk those woods, sniff those smells, or lie peacefully on the bridges.
Sometime soon, some winter Sunday, I will walk alone to that place. I will remember my pal with thanks and with tears.
And I may well read this from Berry’s Sabbath poems.
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
into the lasting world
and will not leave,
I can imagine Wendell B giving a nod .. and the echo of an affirming bark from some place not too far away and a sigh of the breeze through the timbered choir adding an Amen.