The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Be Well Be Happy

June is a month where a lot seems to happen in my family, and this year is no exception. It started well this year, as I celebrated 12 months without an alcoholic drink, which in some ways was less challenging than I expected because I have friends taking this adventure along with me, and it was so nice to feel healthy, clear-headed and full of energy. Even at dawn!

I have really enjoyed some beautiful sunrises over the ocean, which is absolutely the best way to start the day. Then I went on the vacation of a lifetime, a National Geographic expedition with my younger daughter to the Galapagos Islands, way out in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador. It was number one on my bucket list (yes, I’ve decided it’s time to get going on that!) and our days were filled from dawn to dusk, which is equal in length on the equator, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with hikes and snorkeling and talks from the naturalists on board and photography lessons and interesting chats with fellow travelers from all over the world.

There are many islands that make up the Galapagos, all volcanic, and it is all national parkland, and access is strictly limited. I was happy to hear this because I didn’t like to think of inquisitive tourists like myself making a negative impact on the unspoiled islands. We trekked in groups of six or eight and always with a naturalist, wrapped in layers of protective clothing, including floppy hats, sunglasses and gloves, to protect against the strong UV rays.

Albatrosses and frigate birds were courting and their bizarre dances and bright plumage were in full force for us to enjoy, and they had no fear of humans. This was amazing! We had to keep a two-meter distance, but sometimes they came closer to inspect and preen and we sat quietly to take it all in. Iguanas, sea lions and birds alike were completely unafraid of humans. The blue footed boobies courted us and tapped towards us with their attractive feet as if to say “Look at me, I eat so well my feet turn blue and I’d be a great provider for your family.”

The albatrosses in pairs weaved their heads, clacked beaks and pointed them skyward with a shriek in their wonderful, elaborate dance. We swam with sea lions, and sharks, off reefs that dropped 100 feet into the turquoise waters and were exquisitely clear, with hundreds of parrot fish and barracuda moving beneath us and the occasional Galapagos penguin zooming by like a bullet underwater.

Tourist money helps to fund the Charles Darwin Research Facility on the Island of Santa Cruz, and it was a dream to sit among the Giant Tortoises and watch them mash ripe guavas as they trundled over the territory. The air smelled of guava and incense from the Palo Santo trees. My daughter, goes away at college so I don’t get to see her that often. When she’s home she’s always surrounded by her Rockaway buddies. She and I talked under the full moon as we crossed the equator for the first time and gazed up at the Southern Cross about the endless variety of mother nature, and the joys of being able to take this trip together, and everything in between! I am so grateful for this incredibly precious time.

We came home on June 11 and our family dog, the magnificent Montague, our nine- year-old golden retriever, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the spleen on the day that we left for the Galapagos, had taken a turn for the worse. Monty was the best of dogs, with a golden heart and a sweet, loving disposition that made people stop and smile and put their hands out for a quick stroke. As a puppy he used to dive into the pool with complete abandon, and create a huge splash. He and I would have swim races, where I would cheat and still often not get to the ball first. My kids grew up with him and we competed for who would get to hug him at night.

I’ve heard him described as a gentleman, a humble, noble and serious creature, who always seemed to know if someone needed comfort or support because he would lay his big, blonde head on your lap and just be there for you. On Tuesday, friends came to visit to hear about my trip and between tales of fish and fowl, they sat with him and breathed with him. He even received a massage! The following day his breathing had worsened and his abdomen had swollen and we had to take him to Rockaway Beach Veterinary Services where Dr. Hollander and his staff helped us, with kindness and dignity, and we had to say goodbye to our dear friend.

There is a lot of beauty to this story, as well as pain. I give thanks for the life Monty led and the happiness he brought us, and although he passed away too young, he brought a lot of joy into the world.

I came upon this quote from an interview with the poet Mary Oliver, which spoke to me: “And now my old dog is dead, and another I had after him, and my parents are dead, and that first world, that old house, is sold and lost, and the books I gathered there lost, or sold — but more books bought, and in another place, board by board and stone by stone, like a house, a true life built, and all because I was steadfast about one or two things: loving foxes, and poems, the blank piece of paper, and my own energy — and mostly the shimmering shoulders of the world that shrug carelessly over the fate of any individual that they may, the better, keep the Niles and the Amazons flowing. And that I did not give to anyone the responsibility for my life. It is mine. I made it. And can do what I want to with it. Live it. Give it back, someday, without bitterness, to the wild and weedy dunes.”

June has shown me the best of times and the worst of times and the important thing is to live it. Here and now. Just today I heard the joyful news that my friend Catherine is expecting a baby. Experience the grief as well as the joy and the world continues to spin, and as Louis Armstrong sang “It’s a Wonderful World.”

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