Healing Places

| December 11, 2013

MaggieWe lost our beautiful dog Maggie this past weekend. She was about twelve – not young but not terribly old, either. Her passing was still sudden and unexpected. I remember picking her up at a dreary animal shelter all those years ago. Sarah could not bear to go in and see the caged animals, so I went in alone. Of course I wanted to adopt every last animal they had, but something about Maggie touched me just a little more than the others. She was a giant puppy, filled with energy and confined to a tiny cage. Her eyes were so sad.

The shelter had a visitation room where Sarah and I were ushered once I made the choice. When they brought Maggie in, she just burst with happiness, jumping and licking and playing. Such a stark contrast to her sad existence in the small cage. The attendants at the shelter told us that large black dogs are less likely to be adopted than others, and by then there was no longer a doubt in our minds. It was the start of a journey, and what a journey it was. Maggie was with us through difficult times, major life changes, hikes and camps and other animals coming and going into and from our lives. She survived cancer, was rescued from a barbaric leg trap, and recovered from a deep depression after the death of our old dog Cletis. Together we gasped for air on high summits, sat in sunny patches in remote canyons, played in snow, and just lounged on the couch watching the day fading. She had a huge smile and a big personality, and the house feels empty without her. She grew old but never grew up. A big, lively mischievous puppy till the end.

Some people seek solace in the company of others. I seem to be the opposite. I need time alone in the wild to heal. After losing Maggie I went to be with the rocks and trees and creeks and winter. Temperatures had been below 0˚F for several days. Everything was white and frozen and silent. I stopped to appreciate the aspens and the long views from the Aquarius, reminded again of how fortunate I was to live here and to be a part of these places; not just witnessing their stories, but being a character in them.

Calf Creek seemed like a good choice. There was nobody around. The walk, the solitude and silence, the warm light reflecting from the sandstone as the sun traverses low in the sky, the beauty of the place and its history all whisper calming missives in a language that requires no words. The place is in me as much as I am in it. My own blink of a lifetime juxtaposed against life cycles hundreds of millions of years in the making, making me cherish the gift of time still available to me.

It is easy in the midst of cities and virtual worlds to believe that life is fast-paced, requiring great investment of labor, multi-tasking, never-enough-hours-in-the-day kind of thinking; a mode that is erosive and poisonous to everything that makes life worthwhile. City life to me always felt like listening to the great symphony of existence played at ten times the speed, turning it into a blurry cacophony, leaving no space to fully appreciate its infinite nuanced beauty with the attention it deserves. Life here, in contrast, is like tuning into the frequency of the universe; to flow along and cross paths with a multitude of beats and rhythms, sensuous adagios and triumphant allegros and everything in between. To be here is to be connected to something far greater, more wondrous and brilliant and moving than all that is included in, and excluded from the artifice of human hives. To be here, for me, is to truly live and to appreciate life in a deeper sense than anywhere else I had ever been.

Sadness paints everything with a melancholy brush, beauty tinged with a bitter sweetness, heavy and intoxicating, tempting me to give in to the siren song of sorrow just before realizing there is still much living to do. Alone, I can break down and pull myself back together again. I don’t need to avoid appearances or grasp on to empty platitudes and cynicism to skip over the painful part. The pain is necessary. Without it, we never truly heal.

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Category: All Posts, Featured, Journal

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is an author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau—a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (11)

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  1. Tif says:

    Beautiful post, Guy. Thanks, as always, for sharing.

  2. Jim Bullard says:

    Dogs are special friends. They leave a large hole in our lives when they die. We heal from the loss but never forget our best friends.

  3. Jack Larson says:

    It has been said that the only way out of the pain is through it. Three years later, I still grieve the death of Beau. When I went through several cancer threats, he stuck to me like glue. He was my constant companion in the forest and the mountains. I have vivid memories of him flying down Oregon beaches. He was my spiritual director who was forever teaching me what it meant to be truly alive; he deepened my capacity for joy, for forgiveness, for being fully present, for appreciating the gift of life. Beau changed me forever. He was my friend. Gradual healing has come in the midst of the natural world where we shared so much.

  4. Jack Graham says:

    I’ll call you tomorrow… I’m facing the same with Duke. I always am amazed with those who can be alone with themselves to gather thoughts and enjoy what our eyes allow us to enjoy. I am glad you were in Calf Creek. It is a really great place, though I’ve never been there in the winter.
    Knowing you, I can tell that your images depict your feelings. You are Louis Armstrong with a camera my friend!-… best to Sarah..JG

  5. Wade Thorson says:

    So sorry for your loss. I’ve lost two rescues now, out of four. And each of them was harder than the last. The wilderness helps us understand the circle of life and offers quiet consolation.

  6. Guy:

    Woof. (The word for when all other words just don’t seem to fit.)


  7. Richard Wong says:

    I’m sorry to hear that, Guy. My family has had two dogs in my life and I loved both of them. They offer such great companionship that we oftentimes can’t get from our own kind.

  8. Monica Orchard says:

    I have been enjoying your posts for many months. You have inspired me to make radical, wonderful life changes recently. I have agreed with you, disagreed with you, your words have made me laugh, dare, hope, reflect, wonder and today they made me cry. Here’s to the memory of your Maggie and my dear little Tessi.

  9. I agree totally,after losing a son a little over a year ago, I found my place to heal was hiking the back country of Dinosaur National Monument.You never get over the loss but in time things get a little easier. Thanks for the inspirational writing and photography Guy.

  10. Bruce says:


    I give you credit for sharing your story. I find that visiting dog shelters is quite depressing because I want to adopt them all myself and realize I can’t. I cried like a baby when we had to put down our last dog, Cramer.

    You’ve picked a great state to live in to trek away to find peace and solace amid the wonders of nature. I do the same in the woods here where I live.

    Utah is on my bucket list of places to return to and your inspirational photography keeps that burning desire in me to return with photography gear in tow.

    Thank You!

  11. André says:

    I am going to have a similar story Guy! We got Snooky when he was one year old from a shelter and he originated from a Puppy mill he’s 12 now and I’m bracing myself I know that I’m going to feel the way you described so well in your blog!
    The pain we feel when they go is just passing short term period, when you’ll recognize Magie in other dogs and your mind will go back to all those beautiful memories.