words and photos by Brittany Trask
As I walked my 17-year-old Chow Chow Bear, otherwise known as “Chookie,” for what was to be our final time in September 2018, I stood proud and transfixed. I was mesmerized by a piece of fur that had shaken itself loose from Chookie’s cuddly frame, drifting through the twilight like shimmering copper, only to assuredly land on my partially untied tennis shoe. It was during this moment that I began to realize how Chookie’s meaning to me had changed over the years. Her fur had became something to use rather than a place to bury my tearstained face after yet another abusive incident with my parents. I thought about how lovely it would be to simultaneously commemorate Chookie and make the argument that fibers – specifically those of a Chow Chow and Suri Alpaca – and the fiber arts as a whole can save a life and beautify even the darkest of souls.
This is a difficult piece to write, much like anything that is worthwhile, because there’s so much I have experienced both positive and negative. I’ve served as a lightning rod for irrational anger and have allegedly been the reason for my parent’s alcoholism and abusive behaviors; I am a sexual assault survivor, recovered self-mutilator, perennial scapegoat, and recovered anorectic. To Chookie though, I was her human, someone who could always be counted on to appreciate the freshly killed prey she’d set at my feet because I knew it was her way of showing love. She’d accompany me on my runs, sans leash, or sleep on the topmost stair since my bedroom door didn’t have a lock, or climb into bed with me in the winter because heat was only available downstairs where my parents were. In essence, she became my confidant and protector since her arrival as an 8-week-old puppy when I was 11 years old, and she remained thus throughout 3 moves, a graduate school experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and the start of a stable loving relationship with another human being, all the while acting as a better role model to me than those who thought themselves suited to the task.
After a temporary separation caused by college, Chookie and I were reunited under odd circumstances and she found a second-favorite human and home in/with my boyfriend Brad, effortlessly made friends with the cats we’d taken in, which was surprising given the higher-than-average prey drive she’d possessed throughout her life. In the meantime, I began spinning yarn, saving her fur, and preparing to move to North Dakota for graduate school with Chookie and Trillian the kitten in tow. What I didn’t realize was her ability to console and comfort would increase exponentially while I navigated a difficult Master’s degree in English by myself.
After 2 years of long-distance pep talks and annual visits, Brad asked me to come back to Ohio with Chookie and Trillian, which I accepted because I was growing to really love him and what he brought to my life. I was freer, able to feel comfortable enough in my own skin to be and love myself. Over the next 2 years, as I gave in to the gnawing thought that I should at least try to get the fiber arts business set up that I’d been dreaming of for years, Chookie and her soft fibrous constancy were there for a nuzzle, or a leisurely walk on Gladys St where she was much beloved by the neighborhood for being the elegant, amicable old dog she was, spry frame galloping up and down the street.
All this time, I was spinning the most amazing suri alpaca fiber and becoming friends with the owners to the point where shearing day was my Christmas in May. Spinning fiber from animals you have gotten to know is a very rewarding pastime, but spinning chiengora for not just myself and others (there was a commissioned spin for someone’s Australian Shepherd) takes what is a truly transcendental experience and transforms it into something akin to nirvana or moksha.
When Chookie died on 14 September 2018, I requested the vet shave her so I could spin it. A week had gone by since that transfixing walk, and I didn’t want to honor such a noble member of my family with a glass necklace full of ashes. I wanted to do something meaningful with what I had left but wasn’t sure I would have enough for a huge project, so I have been plain-weaving tiny pieces that combine the fur and fiber of animals no longer with us to give to people who knew Chookie and helped take care of her while we were away. This piece is not just about Chookie or the 2 alpacas, Blaze and Diva, who died, but about all the fiber-producing animals that have warmed our hearts and souls as fiber artists over the years, helped us through trauma and painful moments, inspired us to be our best selves, and showed us that the path to happiness lies in the simple motions of picking up and holding some fiber.
A leisurely stroll can be a beautiful thing, but the addition of a 4-legged companion can make such a venture all the better. Chookie hated the leash when she was younger but came to appreciate it as her vision deteriorated and our walks became an intermittent switching of who was walking whom. One thing’s for sure, Chookie has taught me what Bill Maher firmly believes:
“It just doesn’t matter.”
Enjoy the walk, Chookie!
Brittany Trask resides in Northeast Ohio where she owns and operates The Medicinal Spinner and lives with her boyfriend Brad and 3 kooky cats. She enjoys teaching others about the healing power of the fiber arts, reenacting, writing, and the macabre. Find her on Facebook or at www.themedicinalspinner.com.