My vibrant, bursting-with-life, deeply loving Labrador, Nira Jacobsen, has passed. She was twelve years old.
Nira came to me as a twelve-week old pup on July 7th, 2011, while I was living in Durham, North Carolina. We traversed many topographies together—emotional, psychological and geographic—from the Piedmont of North Carolina, to a ranch on the Navajo Nation, to the western Mediterranean, to countless cross-country roadtrips: she was my constant companion.
We were kindred spirits. Nira loved food (all kinds), sleeping in a ray of sunlight, the warmth a the fireplace, rolling on her back, scootching her nose along the ground with her butt up in the air, and, above all, she loved running through the Bosque and fetching enormous sticks in the Rio Grande. Nira was a fellow adventurer, nature-lover, mischief-creator. She had striking flecks of red and gold in her eyes. As a friend on the Navajo Nation used to say, her eyes looked like they could see right into your soul. And maybe they could.
Nira was, for me, an important truthteller. When I started dating in my late thirties, Nira was my bellweather, my litmus test for the innate goodness, depth and honesty of the person I was considering coming to know. If Nira didn’t like them, or didn’t trust them, that was a sure sign that they weren’t the right human for me.
In 2019-2020, Nira lived with me for my Fulbright year in Sardinia, Italy. It was a year for the history books: we drove to the beach together each Sunday in my gray Open Corsa, hiked in the Mediterranean macchia, ate long lunches, and afterwards, we would walk along the beach and she would explore the craggy shoreline of S’Archittu; I have never seen such unfettered joy in her, or in another creature, as Nira on the Sardinian coastline exploring the world—barnacles, fish, driftwood, shells—around her. When, in 2020, I was forced to leave Italy early due to the global pandemic, Nira had to stay behind with her Italian dogsitter, Denise. Denise and Gabriele loved Nira like nobody’s business, taking her for countless walks during the pandemic in the initial lockdown phase in Italy. Later that summer, Nira ended up in Rome when her flight to the US was, yet again, canceled indefinately, and she was taken in by another amazing Italy family, the Angelicis, who ended up taking her on their family vacation to the Italian alps, where she swam in alpine lakes and feasted on grana padano and prosciutto to her heart’s content. We now refer to this period with the Angelici’s as “Nira’s Italian holiday.” After forty eight hours of travel, Nira finally flew back into the US, unfased and ready for her dinner, ready to resume all her New Mexico rituals.
Nira appears in many of my songs, including “Me, My Dog and my Guitar,” from my first album, and the song I cowrite with Meredith Wilder when Nira was in Sardinia and I was in the United Arab Emirates, “Everything in this Life I need to Know/I learned it from my dog.” She taught me about profound resilience, about being and feeling OK as I am, and as who I am, and about equanimity, even when everything else, at times, feels like it is falling apart. She offered unconditional and unequivocal love in its purest, most palpable form.
And so now, like any deep sorrow, I am going through waves of overwhelming grief that pause my breath and also tears of joy as I remember the exquisite vitality, sense of groundedness and shared companionship that Nira and I shared, together. She will always be my road warrior, my tender heart, and my wisest confidante.
In December, Nira collapsed from a tumor and was diagnosed with cancer. Eastern Mountain Veterinary service (in Edgewood, NM) removed the tumor and performed the lifesaving surgery, which gave us six more vibrant months with Nira, in which she ran, swam, and tackled porcupines to her heart’s content. Last Wednesday, under the care of our dogsitter Adelaide, she suffered a second collapse, and passed on, at 8:45 in the morning. We are so grateful for the time this surgery gave us and the ability to say goodbye with intention and care, always remembering that any of thoese days could be her last.
Nira had many caretakers over the years who have also loved her deeply including John Parish, Arlondo Bia, Denise Valentini, Adelaide McMillan, Matteo Angelici, Ariel & Alex, Maddie & Andrés, James & Lindsay Parish, Regan and Jessica Homeyer, Helen Moorefield and Dair Obenshain. Thank you to each of you for the love and care you offered Nira.
This morning I listened to this cowrite, again, featuring Meredith Wilder on lead vocals and me on harmonies and lapsteel. It feels as true, now, as it felt when we wrote it three years ago:
“Joyful as a child but you’re an old soul
everything in this life I need to know
I learned it from my dog”
Perhaps you’ll find it true when you listen to it, as well.
Namaste'. May you be healthy, may you be peaceful, may you be at peace.