Friday, May 26, 2006

Paisley - In Memorium

It has been one year since our first Border Collie Paisley died. Paisley was fourteen and a half; her loss was not a surprise. For the last year of her life, she had been slowing down. Then one evening exactly one year ago, she didn’t seem right. She was lying on her spot on her favorite Persian rug; her breathing was difficult. I took Julia to the store for dinner fixings. When I came back, Mark was sitting on the front stoop and Paisley was next to him. He was patting her. He said she had come to see him. I didn’t know how she could have gotten there. But he was her boss – he and the sheep were her reason to live. She wanted to be near him.

We started with four Romney sheep in 1979 – Betsy, Putney, Frieda and Alfie. Then we got the ram Zeno. Every year we had more. We went to Scotland a few times and watched the farmers on their hills with their dogs by their sides. The black and white dogs gracefully rounded up the sheep and brought them to the farmer. It was all too romantic and beautiful – a farmer, his sheep, and his dog.

Soon we had fifty sheep. We were living in eastern Massachusetts and our sheep were living on Mark’s family farm in western Massachusetts. Mark organized the sheep so he could leave them fenced and fed for a couple days until he could make it back out west to tend to them. As our sheep numbers increased, it became clear that a dog would be helpful. Although Mark and I made a humorous site -- running around, waving our arms, and trying to corral fifty sheep, we truly were ineffective. Mark decided it was time for a dog. I let him decide. Getting a Border Collie is a huge time committent; it had to be his decision (even though I was dying for a new dog). So we found her. She was beautiful – a fluffy, speckled Border Collie with spunk. Her spots reminded me of paisleys, a favorite motif from textiles. So we named her Paisley.

It soon became clear that Paisley had talent. At our old place in eastern Mass, we had chickens. Paisley never left the side of the fence, she just stared at them and chased along the side of the fence. Most dog trainers say this will ruin a dog. Lucky for us, it didn’t ruin Paisley. When we would take her to the sheep, she became possessed – as only a Border Collie can. She would crouch down and slowly walk up. She would dive. She didn’t know why or what she was doing, she just knew she had to.

Mark took a few lessons so he could try to understand the mind of a Border Collie. He read a lot of books and watched a lot of Border Collie videos. Slowly he figured out what she wanted for commands. They became a team. They were inseparable. I loved her too, but he “was it” for her.

For thirteen years, Paisley and Mark moved sheep around. From field to field, the sheep clipped the grass. After the field was finished, he and she would move them again. I loved watching – I clearly was not part of it. Mark would send her out to find the sheep. She liked to run wide – very wide. She would disappear. Then suddenly, I would hear it – hundreds of little hooves barreling towards Mark with the dog in hot pursuit. Every time I watched, it made me smile and I was amazed. In the sheep would go, just where Mark and Paisley wanted them.

After fifteen years in Eastern Massachusetts, we found a place of our own five miles from the farm where the sheep lived. We moved here with our not yet year old daughter, Julia. By then, we had another Border Collie Phoebe. (Unfortunately, sweet as she is, Phoebe isn’t interested in sheep! Chickens are her thing – I’m her boss.)

One hot late summer day, Mark told me he was going to bring the sheep up from the other farm to our new place to begin grazing our overgrown pastures. I figured he would spend the day with the dog, loading sheep into the rickety trailer and hauling them up to our new farm. He had different plans. He, the eighty sheep, and Paisley were going to walk. Paisley was about ten years old and beginning to slow down. The road was busy one, but it was a weekend. People could wait – after all, this is the country. Part of the way was unpaved - it wouldn’t be too hard on the sheep’s feet. Off they went. I waited at home with a one year old listening. It took them four hours. They all made it – Mark, the sheep, none of whom had never walked that far in a day, with Paisley behind them. It was such a great day – such a lovely feeling of success with a dog and a bunch of unruly sheep. Neither of us will ever forget it.

Nor will we ever forget Paisley. She died the next morning in her favorite spot. It was her time. She had a good life. She was never sick a day. She lived and worked hard. When we found her, we didn’t know what to do. We cried. We drank some coffee. We had to decide where to bury her. Mark said she needed to be in a field near her sheep. She loved her fields and her sheep. Later that afternoon, we dug a hole with the bucket of the tractor in my perennial garden overlooking her fields and buried her. I planted a white tree peony above her. The tree peony is blooming today. Paisley had a good life.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for telling the lovely tale of Paisley. What a great dog and a nice family for her to have. I am endeared to creatures who work. My family and I live on our horse farm; our livelihood is caring for others' horses and teaching people to ride. Our school horses are my teaching partners, and I understand Paisley's need to do her job and do it well with her person, Mark. How nice to remember and share her contributions to your farm and your family.

Carla said...

This is my first visit to your blog, and I loved reading the story of Paisley's life. I'm glad the tree peony is blooming.

Marcia said...

What a wonderful and touching story. I'm rarely moved to tears, but I had to run for a tissue! I've watched the sheep dogs in action, and am always amazed at the work they do. I enjoy your blog very much. Thanks for writing it!

Anonymous said...

She was the best dog.

I remember when you brought her into the CEY offices as a puppy and she tore up yarn cones and drooled all over them.

I also remember the last time I saw her in 2004, throwing the ball with her and Phoebe, but not too far for her, and further for Phoebe.

She was always up for the game.

Linda

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog because of the knitty tea cozy...
but wanted to drop a note to say THANK YOU for all of your years of fabuloous designing before knitting became hip and hot...Your designs made my early years as a Mom bearable and even FUN (my children are both autistic and we spent so much time in emergency rooms and doctors offices and I always carried around your ethnic knitted dolls booklet and made them to soothe my frazzled nerves...)
I'm going to get some of the JULIA and make myself a tea cozy!
Thanks again,
Greta
gretaknits.typepad.com/lifelong_knitter

Wendi said...

I found your blog last week and decided I should take the time to comment.
Thank you for the beautiful story!

Lindsey said...

What a lovely story! Our Border Collie, Alfie, turns 10 on Tuesday. We got him when he was 8 weeks old and he's the light of our life. We used to live on a golf course and occassionally the cows would break through the fence from the hills on the other side of the fairway. Jim would say to Alfie, "Let's go, Alfie!" and run out the door. Even though he'd had no training with herding, Alfie would herd those cows right back to where they belonged. He'd be beside himself with joy, because he was doing what he'd been born to do. What a joy he was to watch!

These days, the only thing he has to herd are our 3 cats, but they keep him busy.

lucy said...

What a beautiful story! Paisley sounds like such a wonderful dog. We have a Cardigan Welsh Corgi (also a herding job), but no sheep. He has to herd the 2 cats around the house :o)

Kathi (knitty fan) said...

Dear Kristin,

I'm glad you have such happy memories of Paisley. I had an Aussie Cattle dog who lived to 19 1/2 years. It was so hard to put her down. The best story I have of her is when we went on vacation and passed a field of cows (which I don't think she'd ever seen before). She started getting so excited in the back of the truck that we had to stop by the side of the road to check what was going on back there. She just knew she was supposed to do SOMETHING. lol

Sharon said...

I sit here with tears in my eyes... It is always hard when lose someone who you love and cherish... It sounds as though Paisley will always dwell in your heart...

Mary Anne said...

What a beautiful tribute to a loyal friend. Thank you for sharing your story. I just came to your blog through your felted tea cozy pattern on Knitty. How cool that you have a blog! Just finished reading back through the months and have enjoyed every post.
cheers

Maureen said...

If more people gave more credit to the animals in their lives,the world would be a far better place!
Like you I said "sleep well" to a four footed friend nearly a year ago,and I still miss him so.........

Twisted Knitter said...

What a wonderful and touching tribute to Paisley. No where are the tissues?

Julie said...

What a very special story of a very special dog. Thanks for telling it. I've had a few good dogs in my life, and they will never be forgotten or replaced.

sereknitty72 said...

oh, that made me cry...I lost my beloved Elmer last year and I'm still not over it. Its such a gift in one's life to have known a wonderful dog, don't you think?

Lee-ann said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lee-ann said...

Hello Kristin, Your story about Paisley's passing was so nice and reminded me about out lovely dog kelly who lived with us on our 180 acres until her death and she too was shuch a good dog and loved to work the paddocks. every morning she would head off after breakfast and you could see her out the kitchen window just following the boundry fence to check all was well

Lee-ann said...

Sorry! pressed the send button too soon lol lol lol
anyway I love your blog page and will be back to see a little more of your beautiful work.

Suse said...

What a beautiful story ... thanks for sharing it. We had (at our old house) a plant like that only here (Australia) it's called a Californian Tree Poppy. I've posted it pics of it on my blog before. Thank you for reminding me that I should plant another one here at my new house.

Anonymous said...

I just lost my beautiful border collie, Kelly, last week. To say that the story of Paisley brought me to tears would be an understatement. Thanks for sharing her with me for a little while.