We had planned to travel to Shenandoah National Park and take in the monuments, memorials and museums in and around Washington, DC, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. With inflation soaring and gas prices at historic highs, it just didn’t seem right to spend so much money on a long road trip. Instead, we opted to stay close to home, at Loyd Park. Fortunately, we were able to reserve a site for most of our vacation time, so we set up camp in the early afternoon on Memorial Day, allowing Chef Cliff enough time to prepare a tri-tip steak using the reverse-sear technique perfected by grill master Steven Raichlen. It combines the low and slow cooking of traditional barbecue with the high-heat charring practiced at steakhouses. The result: a dark, sizzling crust and a rosy center that was cooked to perfection. Accompanied by charred corn and a dish of brussels sprouts with grapes, shallots and balsamic dressing, it was a fantastic first-night supper.
Later that evening, we noticed an escalation in the jaw problem that our oldest chihuahua, Baxter, had been experiencing over the course of several days. Although he was able to eat his supper, we decided to monitor him and wait for him to let us know when it was time to act. He started crying out in pain later that night, but we could do little more than provide the comfort of our love.
On Tuesday morning, we took the dogs on a long walk along the camping loop. Baxter was beginning to show some serious neurological symptoms, yet he was able to make the entire walk, so we proceeded with our routine, which included a hot dog cookout and a long afternoon nap. Again, Baxter ate his supper and didn’t seem to be showing anything beyond occasional discomfort and neurological problems. So, for Tuesday’s supper, we enjoyed salmon kebabs over rice along with grilled vegetables.
But that night, Baxter took a turn for the worse. He started crying out in pain and we were unable to comfort him.
Next morning, we started calling area animal shelters and hospitals to see when we might be able to bring him in. The earliest appointment we could get was on Saturday morning. So we decided to spend all our time with the dogs, not knowing what Baxter’s immediate future would be. That evening, we had our regular televisit with Jon’s mom and apprised her of the situation. Afterwards, we had a dinner of tuna crudo and snuggled with the dogs while watching TV.
Baxter’s condition declined rapidly throughout the night, and we worried that he might not be able to make it to Saturday. So after a somewhat sleepless night, we decided to just take him to our regular vet and ask them to squeeze him in between appointments.
We let the old boy go on Thursday morning, and then spent the rest of the day mourning his death and celebrating his life, posting online and receiving texted condolences from family and friends.
On Thursday night, we focused on comfort food: Moroccan chicken thighs with orange and fennel. After a day filled with grieving and crying, we needed to exhale and begin adjusting to our new reality. No more wrangling, feeding, or accommodating five dogs. It was a new dynamic. We felt it. And we knew our remaining dogs did, too. Baxter’s death left Ranger, now our oldest dog, to take on a new role as leader of the pack, albeit he had some uncertainty and reluctance.
In a kind of symbolic “transition of power,” Jon replaced Ranger’s collar with Baxter’s, so Ranger would feel more confident about his new role.
On Date Night, Chef Cliff had prepared to grill a bacon-wrapped filet mignon and serve it alongside a baked potato and grilled vegetables. As it was also Cliff’s sister’s birthday, we had also planned to call her after dinner with our good wishes. But the weather had other plans for us.
At just around 7:15, after we had enjoyed cocktails and watched the evening news, a supercell storm developed overhead, dropping about 5 inches of rain within an hour. We honestly thought we were going to be washed away in a flash flood!
Still, Cliff managed to prepare our Date Night dinner inside Cloud 9 using our electric skillet, while all around us the rain continued falling and the water continued flowing. We finally reached out to Teresa to express our birthday wishes around 11:15–with 45 minutes to spare before the end of her special day (although she enjoys celebrating her “birthday month,” so we still have more time to express our good wishes and affection after we dry out).
Saturday found us adjusting to our new normal by engaging in familiar rituals. For dinner, Chef Cliff prepared grilled pork chops, cob corn, and green beans. We ended the first Saturday of Pride Month by watching “Fire Island,” a gay romantic comedy streaming on Hulu that was inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The story centers around two friends who set out to have a memorable week at the iconic gay vacation destination.
We found its representation of gay life to be piercing, even unnerving, despite the fact that it was intended to be uplifting. The film used clichés and stereotypes to soften the bittersweet reality that hunting for the hookup, which at times can be exuberant, is often dominated by debilitating preconceptions and pettiness. The island’s party scenes were depicted as racist, classist, and superficial–an intended “escape” from the oppressive heterosexual mainland the boys left behind. While the characters eschewed what one called the “gay marriage nightmare, with joint Instagram accounts and a French bulldog,” in the end, it was an older couple slow-dancing on a dock who represented the ideal gay life–a life of commitment, companionship, continuity, and comfort.
Such a life is something we take pride in having.