VERNON COUNTY - It was a peaceful autumn drive along the north shore of Lake Superior, with sunshine, blue skies, and a hint of whitecaps on the big lake. Dane and I were on our way to Bayfield, where we were going to catch the ferry to Stockton Island to spend a few nights camping among the black bears. We made one quick stop in Duluth for gas and snacks before heading to the small town of Cornucopia and a chance to stretch our legs. As Dane pulled the car over, panic ensued when he discovered that he didn’t have his wallet.
I walked away from the car, while Dane tossed one bag out after another, looking for his missing wallet. I spent my time in the historic Ehlers General Store, knowing that I would only get in the way of Dane’s process. I learned long ago to keep quiet and out of his way when he misplaces something.
It was remembering this event, and knowing how Dane reacts to losing items, that had me baffled one recent sorrowful Saturday afternoon. The day before, Dane had carefully carried Raime, my 14-year-old border collie, out of the backseat of my car, with Téte trying hard to keep her nose pressed next to Raime’s lifeless body.
Téte, my full-of-life thick-bodied mutt, was clearly as upset as we were. Finnegan, my youngest dog, was also concerned but stayed back until Dane had set Raime down on his favorite white blanket in the backyard. Then Finn was nose to nose with Raime and wondering why he wasn’t getting up.
Eventually Louisa, the pig, came over to say goodbye to Raime, as did the goats, ducks, and geese. It was late in the day when we gave Raime some last strokes, covered his cold body, and slowly walked up to the house. We decided to get up early the next day for his burial.
Digging a hole in Wisconsin in December wasn’t easy, even though the winter had been mild. Dane worked hard, his jacket flung aside, sweat glistening on his forehead. The dirt piled up as Téte and Finn became more and more curious.
Raime was a large dog, about 62 pounds. Dane dug a hole about four-feet deep and wide enough to accommodate Raime’s body. We carried him over to it on his white blanket and had to straddle the hole to lower him down; Dane warned me not to drop him. Once the dog was down in the hole, Dane lay down on the ground above and leaned into the grave to maneuver Raime’s legs and head so he fit comfortably.
I yelled, “Wait!” and ran into the house to get Joon from the freezer. Joon was my parakeet who had died two weeks earlier and who had yet to be buried. We took Joon out of the plastic bag that held her and nestled her into the fur on Raime’s shoulder.
Dane worried that Louisa was going to fall into the hole as she peered over at Raime and Joon. Téte had her nose as far into the grave as she could get it. Finn was whining at the surface.
I thanked Raime for all his loyalty over the past 14 years and wished him peace. Dane bowed his head and we both felt the pain of losing a loving and faithful pet. Shoveling the cold earth back into the hole was no easy task.
Dane replaced the sod and stomped it down the best he could. I told Dane I’d take the dogs for their daily walk, to give me some quiet time and let the pups run. He went home.
I was surprised when I pulled into my driveway a few hours later to find Dane sitting on the porch. I jumped out and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“You’re not going to believe this, but I think I buried my cell phone with Raime. I’ve looked everywhere and that’s the only place it could be.”
“You have got to be kidding me.” But he wasn’t. Knowing how Dane had reacted to losing his wallet, I knew he’d looked everywhere else, and he assured me he had.
Out came the shovel and the process of unburying Raime began. Téte and Finn were interested. I ran in and got my landline phone and called Dane’s phone but we didn’t hear anything. He shoveled out more dirt and eventually got down to poor Raime. His next shovel of dirt sent Joon flying. Finn grabbed the bird’s body and started to run away with it. “Finnegan!” I yelled. Dane retrieved Joon and secured her under a clump of dirt, then dialed his number on the landline again. There was a faint sound.
The phone was under Raime!
Dane retrieved his phone from the bottom of the grave and was thrilled to find it intact and still working. We both chuckled and said Raime was probably laughing at us, thinking what dummies we were.
Although Dane never did find his wallet when ransacking the car in Cornucopia, he didn’t get as frantic about misplacing the phone. Somehow knowing his phone was buried with Raime seemed to make him feel calmer about losing it. Or maybe he was plain tuckered out from the physical work of moving all that dirt, along with the grief of burying a friend.
As we walked up to the house arm in arm, I looked at Dane gratefully and said, “Good Lord, that has got to be the craziest critter burial and unburial we’ve ever had.”