The Story of Seamus

05. 23. 2016

Seamus 7 Seamus and feather 2 Seamus and feather

We said good-bye to another Dougherty dog on Saturday and while it was time for Seamus to move on, our hearts are broken all the same. On our way to the vet, we stopped at Bayview Beach for one last drink of Lake Superior and a feather (Seamus always, and I mean always, found a feather on the beach and walked with it hanging it out of his mouth like a stogie). He was happy to see the Lake and while he wasn’t up to a walk (Will carried him), I have to believe it was a good way to end the extraordinary life of a treasured pup.

Seamus 5DSC_6747

The story of Seamus started with my friend Mary, the HBO show Sex and the City and a shared love of dogs. We met in 2001 when I spent summers with the kids and Guinness, our Newfie, on our sailboat, Isle of Skye, in the Apostle Islands Marina. Mary had a big Golden Retriever and we would frequently end up walking the dogs down the dock together and talking about the kids, the dogs, the perils of sailing, roses, her interior design job and trashy TV shows.

Motherhood was challenging in those days (we had five kids in nine years) and a mental vacation to Manhattan with the Sex and the City crew was a nice break from breastfeeding, chasing wayward toddlers and mediating disputes over who knocked over the latest Lego creation. Mary grew up on Staten Island and worked in Manhattan for many years, she was a Sex and the City babe before Cosmopolitans and Manalo Blahniks were cool, and loved dogs as much as I did. When Charlotte, one of the SATC girls, showed up with Elizabeth Taylor, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, in season six, our conversations steered away from whatever self-induced trauma Carrie, Miranda or Samantha were muddling through and directly into a discussion on how the Dougherty clan needed a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Seamus and Henry 2Seamus 4

Mary had breast cancer and in 2006, the cancer started gathering steam and spread into her liver. The last time I saw her in Bayfield, we went to the park overlooking the marina to toss sticks into the Lake for the dogs and our conversation turned to what was becoming more and more apparent- she was getting ready to move on. I asked her to send a sign that she passed over without trouble and being the good friend she was, she agreed. She died that summer and as we were headed back to Minneapolis for her service, I mentioned to Ted that Mary hadn’t sent any signs and I wondered if she was okay. Given that Ted is used to living with a woman who wholeheartedly believes that it’s not only plausible but completely reasonable to expect communication from a friend who’s passed on, his quizzical look in my direction gave me pause….was it too woo-woo to expect a sign from Mary?

We walked into our house in Woodbury to a ringing phone. I answered it and my friend, Nancy Carlson, was on the line with Mary’s sign. Nancy was my kid’s doctor and as luck would have it, a Labrador Retriever breeder and trainer (we didn’t have too much in common on that subject). She agreed to keep her eyes open for a Cavalier for us but wasn’t having much success….until her phone call. Dave, a breeder from northern Minnesota, had purchased a puppy from a New York breeder to show but he was too big for the show ring and needed a family. The deal was sealed when she told me that his name was Rock the Boat and his breeders had a sailboat on Long Island (not Staten but close enough). I picked up Seamus, formerly known as Rocky, a week later in the Black Bear Casino parking lot, and as we walked by Mary’s boat later that evening, with my sign on his new red leash, I knew she was okay.


Seamus was a loving and loyal goofball from the beginning. He spun in circles on his way to his dog dish (he even taught George how spin his way to dinner), he crossed his front paws when he laid down, he had a thing for feathers on the beach, he insisted on sitting on my lap whenever and wherever I was seated, he could hear the refrigerator door opening from a mile away, he took full advantage of his earnest brown eyes and took begging for food to a whole new level, he would take off down the driveway at will (and would never look back, no matter how many times I hollered ‘treat’), he sat in front of the stove and refused to surrender that position no matter how many times he was asked, he would pop his head up into the bedroom window (with his tail wagging so hard his whole body would shake) when I’d come home, he would try and give George a run for his money during Chuck-it time (George’s long legs gave him an unfair advantage but Seamus never stopped trying), he took pride in barking at every single person who had the nerve to enter our house, he would fly down the stairs after raiding the kid’s garbage for treasures, he would hop up on the bed and immediately plop down as if to say ‘just try and make me move’, he appointed himself pre-wash engineer for all dishes in the dishwasher, he followed me everywhere (even into the bathroom) and sat at my feet through the cookbook manuscript days. He was my shadow and there is a big, empty space where he used to be.

I’ve lost dogs before and know that the emptiness eventually lessens but my God, I miss him. He was around for nearly ten years and saw me through Guinness’s passing, Ted’s Dad’s passing, the move to Bayfield, the Good Thyme days, Jack’s move to Madison, Henry’s passing and countless other common milestones that make up a life.  We buried him on a bed of cedar boughs with a heart rock I found on Michigan Island on Saturday, a feather he found on the beach a few weeks ago and Guinness and Henry’s ashes. It’ll take time to get used to this new ‘normal’ and while it’s strange not to have him by my side, it’s the reality of loving dogs- they always leave too soon.

DSC_3962 DSC_4368


You’re like a little wild thing
that was never sent to school.
Sit, I say, and you jump up.
Come, I say, and you go galloping down the sand
to the nearest dead fish
with which you perfume your sweet neck.
It is summer.
How many summers does a little dog have?

Run, run, Percy.
This is our school.

Mary Oliver, Dog Songs



Our Words For Water

05. 29. 2015

DSC_5881 DSC_5883 DSC_5885

In a week where the newspaper headlines asked, ‘What in the heck is going on with Wisconsin public education?’, ‘Budget committee cuts scientists’ and ‘GOP proposes 250 million cut to UW system’, I photographed a group of 5th graders from the Bayfield Elementary School writing their words for water on chalkboards. Talk about parallel universes…our elected officials in Madison are working their way through a budget full of cuts to educational and environmental programs and these young children in Bayfield were mid-way through their Water Week and sharing their stories about growing up and living on the shores of Lake Superior.

DSC_5888 DSC_5897 DSC_5900

Water is Life. Home. Nature’s Blood. Ancient & Powerful. All words that mean something to the kids in Kathy and Karen’s classrooms; words that reflect an understanding and deep appreciation for an endangered and precious resource. As I stood there, watching their hands etch words in chalk, I wished the men and women in Madison responsible for spawning the headlines I read this week could stand and witness what education and an appreciation for the natural world looked like. These kids deserve better and they’re relying on the adults in their lives to do better. 

DSC_5903 DSC_5906 DSC_5913

The intent of the Words for Water project  is to encourage people who live in the Lake Superior basin (or who just love Lake Superior) to think and act collectively when it comes to any legislation, industry or regulations that impacts water quality. At its heart, Words for Water is a way to gather our words and stitch them into a collective love story to Lake Superior. We must define our shared values around water and use our words to create good, lasting change.

DSC_5918 DSC_5924

Our words have weight and if there ever was a time to wield that power, it’s now. Aldo Leopold said, ‘Cease being intimidated by the argument that a right action is impossible because it does not yield maximum profits, or that a wrong action is to be condoned because it pays’ and I wholeheartedly agree.  I have yet to see words like ‘profit’, ‘mitigate’, ‘runoff’ or ‘CAFO’ on the chalkboards yet these words have a massive impact on the water we are speaking for.

Our society has lost its moral compass but that doesn’t mean we can’t chart a different course than the one plotted by our elected officials. The kids I met at the Bayfield School on Thursday, as well as every child on this planet, are waiting for us to find True North again and protect their homes. Let’s write a story of love, stewardship, bravery and compassion….revolution always starts with words. 

DSC_5935 DSC_5947


Follow The Water

22 March 2015

The snow is almost gone, the ice road is defunct and tender greenery is emerging from the earth. Spring sprung quickly this year and while it’s been cold for the past couple of days, the sun is warm and the ground is softening. Bayview Beach is still solid ice and I wanted to hear and […]

Read the full article →

Reflection & Clarity

6 March 2015

Shards of glass can cut and wound or magnify a vision. Mosaic celebrates brokenness and the beauty of being brought together. Our survival, the vitality of the planet depends on mental flexibility and emotional acuity. Hands raised. Hands put to work. We can improvise. We can create without a map. And we don’t have to […]

Read the full article →


4 January 2015

Sadie has volleyball practice at Marshall School and it’s good to be back in Duluth again (talk to me in March, the thrill most likely will have worn off). We kept our first sailboat, Isle of Skye, in Harbor Cove Marina for a couple of years and I have so many memories of the boys […]

Read the full article →

Chicken Thighs with an Asian Flair

23 November 2014

Sadie’s playing volleyball in Duluth, Meghan joined the swim team in Bayfield and Charlie’s developed a very busy social calendar in Washburn. Given the potential for a massive scheduling fiasco, quick and easy dinners are the name of the game. The criteria is simple: it needs to be relatively decent tasting and can’t require much […]

Read the full article →

Snow Day

12 November 2014

Why do I wake up early on snow days? Like really early, like 5:34 AM early?? We decided that Wednesday would be a ‘Dougherty Day’ regardless of what the Washburn School District had to say about the weather. I should have been sleeping like a baby at 5:34 but instead, I was up, checking my […]

Read the full article →

Hot & Sour Soup for a Cold & Snowy Day

11 November 2014

Winter is here, the kids had their first snow day and I couldn’t be happier. It’s been snowing since yesterday and I think we have about 15 inches on the ground, and it’s still falling. I had forgotten the thrill of seeing a Winter Storm Warning pop up on my phone, it brought me right […]

Read the full article →


5 November 2014

Wherever  Wherever we walk we will make Wherever we protest we will go planting Make poems seed grass feed a child growing build a house Whatever we stand against We will stand feeding and seeding Wherever I walk I will make Muriel Rukeyser

Read the full article →

Milkweed Magic

3 November 2014

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition. Rumi I put my garden to bed for the winter yesterday afternoon and in between pulling, cutting and pruning, I spent 30 minutes in full-out wonder at the symmetry and engineering of a milkweed pod. It’s perfectly designed to birth and give […]

Read the full article →