It seems that I’m often on motorways at this time of year, in the weeks leading up to Lammas, when the fields are golden with wheat and yellow with rape, and cylinders of gathered hay scatter the land. There is something rich and hopeful about this part of the season and something calming about viewing it at speed from a long straight road that cuts through the landscape.
But there is nothing serene about this journey. We are travelling to a specialist veterinary hospital, where our dog, Winston, will be checked over by a neurologist and receive an MRI scan, after developing a sudden weakness in his back legs. I watch the fields unfold, attempting to dampen the anxiety of this unexpected journey. Suddenly, I glimpse something strange at the side of the road, something I know shouldn’t be there. For a moment, I don’t know what I’ve seen, but then I realise it is a deer, walking on the verge. We hold our breath – she’s too close to the motorway – but in a moment, she turns and melts safely into the trees. I’ve often thought that the deer is the spirit of the woods, a gentle, airy spirit, barely glimpsed. Seeing her now is a good omen, I think.
At the hospital there is talk of slipped discs and surgery, meningitis or stroke. There is definitely a neurological problem, but it seems to be at the low end of the scale. We leave Winston for assessment and drive home silently. As we do, the month’s heat gathers into ominous clouds, hinting at a storm that doesn’t come. To a house that is silent and strange without him.
The clouds finally break the next day. A light drizzle sets in that won’t do much for the withered plants, but brings the temperature down to more comfortable levels. We’re bringing Winston home today. He has two calcified discs, that have caused inflammation of his spine, but they’re hopeful that it will settle with medication and physiotherapy. He is confused and crying after the anaesthetic, panting beside me on the journey home with wide eyes.
We settle into a week of worry and waiting. Winston has been my walking companion for almost six years. It is because of him that I re-discovered nature. It is on our walks that I see what I see. But he is forced to rest, only short visits to the park at the end of the road. Yet there are still glimpses to be had on short walks, or on no walks at all: gilded clouds above our back yard, swifts screaming high in the sky near sunset, goldfinches chattering on the telegraph wires, my only ladybird of the summer on our gate post.
A week later and we return to the hospital for a check up and to see the physio. Dark clouds mass over the motorway once more. Winston’s neurologist wants to watch him walk, so we take him outside to find that rain has finally come. More than drizzle this time. Strong, soaking rain. We don’t care that it’s falling as we walk, we’re all refreshed by it. And with the balm of the rain comes good news. He is stronger, the inflammation must be settling. We come away, for now, with instructions for massage and gentle exercises. This is not something that will go away. We will have to manage it, there may be things he can no longer do, it could become worse. We don’t know how long the journey will be or where it will take us. Back at home, I stand in the yard as the rain falls, tilting my face into it. I’ve waited weeks for this, for the benediction of rain. The scent of it in the air is like hope.