Another beautiful day on Great Cumbrae. The morning is devoted to collecting specimens above the water line - plants, bugs, dirt, peat. After lunch, we're scheduled to put together presentations that the kids will present to the entire group. We collect samples, then head back up to the hostel for a bite to eat.
Then we get the email. The heat back on Long Island is still brutal, and Edina, our oldest dog, didn't make it through. While we were collecting samples and relaxing off the Scottish coast, poor Edina expired at home. She had been sick for several years with Cushing's Disease, but this news just...
You can't really put into words the emotions that hit you like waves when you get news like this. You feel a terrible, empty feeling that you will never see the poor dog again. You feel guilty that you weren't there for her, not that it would've made a difference. You start to wonder what she was thinking. Was she wondering where we were? Was she thinking "They'll be back in a minute to help me?" Did you spend a few minutes petting her before you left for the airport, or were you in too much of a rush to see her that one last moment? Then you start to feel upset with yourself for telling her that she smelled bad or snored too loudly.
That was what went through my mind for the first second. After that, you start to think about whether, and how, to tell the kids about it. Should you wait until the trip home? Should you tell them right away to be honest with them and let them get their emotions out? We decided to tell them just after lunch.
Julian and Cordelia are two very different people, and they reacted much as I expected. Julian has always been fairly stoic, and he didn't say much at all. Cordelia burst into inconsolable tears, and just kept saying that she wanted to hold Edina again. I sat with Cordelia for half an hour or so, talking about the good things we remember about Edina and how you should never take anything you love for granted, because it may not always be there.
We went back to the lab for the afternoon work, which involved cataloguing the morning collection and creating a report on our findings. Julian was short-tempered and sullen, and after a while said that he was tired and just went to his room to lie down for the afternoon. Cordelia was still fighting back her upset, but we worked on the transparencies and she decided to graph her findings.
We gathered in the marine station lecture hall. A few kids went first, and then Cordelia walked up to the front. About four hours after finding that the dog she'd had since birth had died, she looked over the crowd, and her poise kicked in. She detailed the types of life we'd found in the tidal zone. She mapped them by role (predator, scavenger, etc.). She spoke clearly and directly, and even put in a joke. She was the youngest person in the room, and ended up with the award for best presentation. It was an amazing moment by any measure, but the ability to do this was not something you'd expect of any child.
After dinner, Cordelia went to an art lesson. Julian came back out and played volleyball with the other kids. I got on my bike and just started to go. I did a 6.5 mile look through the island, just looking at nature and life and all these cows who had no idea that Edina ever existed.
Lying in my tiny hostel bed that night, I flashed through the long day. I was the first person to see Edina at the kennel 12 years ago. I spent her whole life with her. I would never see her again, and I would never get to whisper to her that loved her as I scratched her belly with a dog brush. I cried myself to sleep, quietly.
Edina: June 19, 1994 - Aug 2, 2006