It’s probably not fair to call her a pet, as we never really tamed her. She, a dove we named Socks, adopted us, claiming our farm and family of horses as hers.
In the sly way a cat pretends independence, so Socks acted, in the beginning, towards us.
But gradually, as the days progressed, her guard began to slip; and with it, a lesson was gradually exposed to us.
It began the first day she flew into our lives. There she was, a white piece of flotsam in the pasture, dancing between the legs of our mare, Krissy. In a strange way, she seemed aware of my noticing her - darting and hiding behind Krissy’s legs. A pleasing, comical phantom peeking out from a forest of walking trees.
I gave her space, pretending not to see and went about my day. The next morning, a new voice was added to our barn. Up in the rafters, above Krissy’s stall looking down as if leery, yet cooing, danced the dove.
I tipped my hat good morning, gave her space once again and went about my day. Later that afternoon, she was seen around the hay barn, pecking for fallen grain. She puffed her chest and raised her beak as if bold, but it was fleeting as she drifted into the shadows of the water barrel next to the door.
The following day she was still with us, but now perched on the crest of the barn, looking this way and that in the rising sun. Surveying or seeking, I wasn’t sure. This time I offered her a nod, a smile and a verbal greeting. To which she fluffed her wings and looked away.
Soon however she was settling into our routine, waiting to eat grain with the horses in the morning, dance between their feet during the day and sleep protected above Krissy’s stall at night.
After a week, it was inevitable, and we named her - Socks, after the missing white sock of the mare she seemed to trust and befriend. In seven short days, she had become family, waxing our everyday lives like a small pebble dropped in a pond.
As days turned into weeks and weeks bundled themselves into months, Socks somehow became special to us. Set apart, as Sunday is special for a reason all its own, or the odd way one sunrise or sunset can differ from another - special.
Her lessons to us soon became less subtle, yet still outside our grasp as in the evening when we came home from work, we would see her perched on the eaves of our home, waiting and watching for our truck. And when she spied us, she would take flight; soar in great circles, the sun catching her white plumes, turning them to gold. And then she would fly back to the barn as the town crier to tell her chosen companions, their masters were safe and back home.
Such things make the heart swell. Such things cannot be planned or schemed. Such things are simply labeled gifts from God. That is why losing her is so painful even today, some three years later.
The details are not important other than to say my wife and I were called out of town for two weeks. The horses had to be boarded elsewhere. We asked a neighbor to look after Socks, she was family after all.
It was a late October evening when we returned. There was a cold drizzle floating in the air. Our headlights did not stir any familiar form as it swept the eaves of our home, but as their beems broadcast over the driveway, I caught sight of Socks – rocking in the night mist, as if waiting.
I rushed to her and she did not shy away, no coy independence, only that certain peace that always seemed to define her spirit. I took her back to the barn, placed her in the shavings of Krissy’s stall, and wished her good night. She seemed fine, she seemed at peace. It was the last time I was to ever see her. That night, she simply disappeared.
Some things cannot be understood until they are gone. Our loss of Socks was like that. She was more than a pet, more than family. Her too fleeting presence with us was, in a word: precious. Such loss teaches us this. Each moment contains a lifetime – a gift. A lesson not fully learned until after that final good night.
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