Black Dog Winter: A Gift of Synchronicity

“Black Dog Winter” by Tobias Inigo

“Elaine, would you mind if I used this photo as an inspiration for a new watercolor? If I’m happy with the result I’ll send you a print. I’m in love with the stones and the dog. It’s magic!” Last year about this time, the artist Tobias Inigo sent this message after I shared a forest photo of my orange-vested puppy Disco.

“Tobias, I look forward to your creation.”

“I look forward to the creating,” Tobias wrote.

Days later, he shared his watercolor on Facebook. I commented that the stones in the image were Vic’s cairn and Tobias sent another message.

“Elaine, in your original photo, you did not mention Vic. As I painted this, I felt like the stone cairn might symbolize Vic. I need to send you this painting. It belongs to you. I’m just the channel.”

After Vic died in 2008, our sons rolled granite boulders out of the creek bed and dragged them to the forest knoll with the tractor. We built Vic’s cairn in our farewell ritual. As we built, I knew this would be my place to grieve and pray.

“Don’t send me the original painting,” I wrote to Tobias. “It’s your creation. A print would be wonderful which is what you offered first.”

My photograph

“Elaine, this is not the first time I’ve created a painting and had no idea what was driving me. I believe it is a gift to you,” Tobias responded. “Please, let me do this. I cannot think of anything that feels more right than that. Okay?”

“It feels like too big a gift,” I wrote.

“I will let you decide,” he wrote. “Please know I am more than happy to gift this to you.”

For a few days, I played with the possibility of this gift from an artist who lives by his paint brush and words. I’d never met Tobias, but went to one of his exhibits. Was this a mistake on his part or was I blocking a new perspective trying to arise? I looked at the copy he shared many times a day and loved it more and more—the windswept landscape, the touch of orange, the cautious but curious pup.

“I love you for your offer, Tobias. I’ll let it sit a few days. Breathing…and pausing”

Vic’s cairn in the snow

“…You do realize I rarely take no for an answer,” he wrote, but I needed to decide. My artist friend Lisa Baechtle said it’s sometimes necessary for an artist to give away a painting for their creative process. This experience felt important in ways I didn’t understand, so I went with my heart.

“Tobias, I say Yes! The painting bridges my old world and the new one with this pup. In your image there is a sense of windswept storm with the leaning of the trees. The puppy peers around a tree looking at the cairn with curiosity, but keeps a distance. That distance intrigues me. It feels overwhelming to say yes to your gift, but I’m doing it. Thank you. This is also a lesson in accepting what’s offered with love and taking a new step in the grieving process. May I write about it?” I asked.

“My heartfelt pleasure,” Tobias wrote. “I think your insight with the old and new is very apt. However you choose to write about it is fine with me.”

“Tobias, I’ll let you know what happens next.”

“I’m happy,” Tobias wrote.

“So am I.”

What happened next? The covid-19 pandemic, cancellation or a move to Zoom for most of my activities, and almost 300 days at home. I didn’t know how much I would need Disco’s healing sweetness, her curiosity, her love of the forest and long walks, and her warm body lying on my feet at night.


Tobias Inigo (self-portrait)

Before the pandemic closed the shops in town, I had Tobias’s painting matted and framed. It’s on my wall, and I look at it every day, although I still haven’t met Tobias. His painting connects me to my curious but cautious wild nature and the power of distance and death in our lives this year. It took most of a year to understand the deeper meaning of the image. Have you received something you didn’t expect and searched for an inner message symbolized by the gift?

Tobias Inigo is an artist living in Cortland, NY where he accepts new commissions and works on his inner inspirations. He can be contacted at his email address: To see his paintings, go to his page at Artfinder or his Amazon author page where you’ll also find books he’s written.

For other articles about the joy of adopting a dog, see How to Build a Heart Fire.  For a story about synchronicity and Vic, see When Life Has a Plan: Intuition, Synchronicity, & Love.

  1. What a beautiful, heartfelt story, thank you so much for sharing it! In pure synchronicity last January I was contacted by an artist myself who narrated and created video content. He said he had visited my poetry website, loved my work and promptly offered to create me a video version of one of my poems … for free! And so your post reminds me of my own struggle in accepting such big-heartedness. Anyhow, he chose a poem and the results were astonishing!

    Oh, I can relate well to Lisa’s reply as the poem “The Goddess and Her Green Man” was my gift to you! Interestingly, like Disco, I too found myself hiding behind a tree! Hmm, I’ve only ever written a handful of poems solely for others and all were inspired by love alone. I adore what you say about the lesson of accepting what’s offered with love and about the power of distance. Sending you much love and light across the oceans and oaks between us, Deborah.

    • Thank you, Deborah. I’m fortunate to have artist friends. I imagine “The Goddess and Her Green Man” will appear in my social media world around spring solstice or Beltane. I love that you say it was inspired by love alone. Thank you, dear friend from across the sea. It’s solid white and brown (tree trunks) here now, so a few months until the green returns. I’m so glad you said yes, too. So where is that video? I just did a search and can’t find it, so maybe you took it down the rabbit hole with you? I have Tobias’s painting in my house now and two paintings by Lisa, so slowly, ever so slowly, Vic’s photos are being moved to other parts of the house and new impulses are arising. Sending love to you and Lin as the lockdown becomes more strict in England. We’re in a terrible mess with covid here and I hope a new government can begin to lead us in doing something about it. It’s a hard time and still we have love, light, oaks, and oceans.

      • Aww, thank you Elaine for your lovely reply! Hopefully here’s the link to Jason’s amazing video version of my “November” poem that he created for me last January:

        It’s wonderful of Tobias to gift you the painting! It makes me so happy to think of it with you in your home. Oh, I love hearing about that new impulses are arising … that’s what I thought when I first read your post as something new (Disco) enters your landscape.

        We’re having a black, black dog winter in the UK. Me, I’m staying down my cosy rabbit hole as the UK enters it’s third national lockdown. The daily news is heartbreaking! I think we’ll be here with Persephone until spring.

        • That my poem hangs in your heart is the greatest compliment I’ve ever received! xxx

        • Deborah, I hope there will be a video of each monthly poem. The world needs your poetry.

          It’s a dark winter here, too. I’m fortunate I can stay home and friends come here for walks a few times a week. I can order groceries online and pick them up curbside, or someone else picks them up for me. Yesterday’s nasty happenings in our nation’s capital were ugly and upsetting, but they had planned this for a long time. Now we’re seeing law enforcement opened the gates and let them in. I think our government held for another day and the nation’s capital was quiet last night plus a new president was confirmed. This political rage is a nasty mix with covid, although I don’t live in the worst political or covid areas where the hospitals are overflowing. I’m grateful for that. Yes, I hope we will emerge with Persephone and/or with the Green Man.

  2. No wonder I relate to you so well, Elaine. We both connect deeply to nature and to art.

    Thank you for reminding me again of the details surrounding constructing Vic’s cairn, and then for the conversations that flowed between you and artist Tobias. I find it interesting that both Tobias and Lisa regard themselves as channels of generosity, conduits of blessing. Wow! But like you, sometimes I find it hard to receive gifts, feeling more comfortable being the giver. I’m looking now at the watercolor of “Elaine’s Creek,” done by Ms. Baechtle, so lovely. Thank you!

    In these cold days, I’m happy that you have the comfort of Disco’s presence and warm body lying on your feet at night. May January bequeath you more warmth and synchronicity, Elaine!

    • Marian, I’m grateful for the generosity of Tobias and Lisa whose paintings (they’re both watercolor artists) hang in my home and also for the generosity of Deborah Gregory whose poem hangs in my heart. Lisa’s “Elaine’s Creek” in the original large form hangs on my wall with a companion image of the same creek in a different season. There’s something about that lovely curve in the stream, even though I have a larger stream on my land. I commissioned Lisa to paint my son’s 3 dogs for his Christmas gift. Yesterday she helped me frame the painting and pack it up so it can be mailed this week. He saw a photo of it on Christmas, but we didn’t want to deal with the crush of mailing until after holidays. (I sure hope I can be with my sons for holidays next year.) Disco is a sweet comfort. Willow is a gentle heart but has never been a snuggling dog. Disco loves to snuggle and I didn’t know how much I needed that physical comfort in these alone times. Blessings to you and your companion human snuggler.

  3. What an inspiring story, Elaine. As a visual artist myself, I know that when I want to gift a painting to someone, it gives me joy to do it. So glad you accepted Tobias’ original painting.

    • Thank you, Lynne. I’m also glad I said yes and the image helped me dig a little deeper into my own needs during this time. This is the first time in my life that I’ve allowed a dog on the bed (on top of a washable quilt). But on these cold nights, she is so, so warm.

  4. Both the painting and your written piece are gorgeous and inspiring. What a gift (and I mean that in all possible ways)!

    • Thank you, Cathy. Wasn’t that an amazing gift. I knew it was, but couldn’t have said how or why. It took many months to understand. I hope you are well, healthy, and warm.

  5. This is soooo lovely Elaine. It’s true that the giver really wants to give; s/he receives joy and lightness in so doing for their chosen recipient.
    Tobias’ painting is lovely, as is your photograph. The placing of the cairn and Disco is perfect!
    Enjoy this wonderful picture –

    • I enjoy it every day, Susan. It was an interesting unfoldment that couldn’t be rushed. The culmination was writing this post.

  6. So strange. I just posted on Facebook about a gift given to me yesterday by a close friend. He is an artist as well. He paints on glass. No mistakes, no changes can be made. There is a precision about his work that astounds me.

    I too found it hard to accept such a gift. It took him months to make.

    It is a hawk flying directly at the viewer with some bare rocks below. Its feathers are carefully articulated, its eyes direct and piercing. The background a brilliant sunset orange.
    I had the thought this afternoon it would take a long time for me to understand why this came into my life. And then I read this blog. Love that synchronicity.
    I’ll get back to you after I live with it for a while.

    Tobias’ work is wonderful. I love Vic’s cairn. And I love Disco even though we’ve never met because he gives you such love and joy. Lovely work of art.

    • I saw that on your FB page, Lauren. A gorgeous and uplifting gift from James Root. My color!! I don’t know Tobias and there is no plan to meet him. It was a gift from the ethers. I love the synchronicity, too–and our mutual hesitation about receiving a precious gift. I not only received the painting, but then was helped by Lisa who is a watercolor artist. She prepared the piece for framing and went with me to the frame shop (in the days when we went into shops) to help choose the matting and frame. So I received help from two artists. Lisa also gave me a painting of my creek and I have another of her paintings on my wall. Slowly a shift is happening away from Vic’s photographs to including original art. So slow…

      Disco is a joyful wild addition to my life. She gets Willow and me out for long walks twice a day in all weather. She’s always enthusiastic and sweet. She was a rescued pup. I adopted her at 8 weeks, but she was brought from FL with her litter by the SPCA and didn’t spend much time with her mother. I think that’s why she’s so snuggly and also less self-confident than Willow or other dogs I’ve had. I’ve never had a snuggler before and I needed one.

      I think about Chuck often and hope he’s safe. Nothing feels safe these days except home–and that’s an illusion, too. I love you, dear friend, and hope I’ll see your new home someday.

  7. PS You could fill the back room with his photos, cover the walls all of them. They are so very beautiful.
    And, I get having art change.
    I am told the Japanese even have little curtains that they will cover their art sometimes for a while. And then, when it is revealed again, it is seen with fresh eyes and appreciation.

    • So far I’m just moving things around and put one of Vic’s photos upstairs leaning against a wall because I haven’t found a place for it. I have 3 pieces of new art to enjoy which opens me to new possibilities. Two gifts and one a loan that I’ll probably buy.

  8. Thank you for this post. It brings up so many heartwarming words and images that I don’t know where to begin. Your photograph and Tobias’s rendition of it are both exquisite. I can imagine how much pleasure it brings you to be able to enjoy it every day. Thank you also for sharing the artist’s information. I look forward to visiting his site to see other examples of his work.

    For me, the best art is that which moves me in some way. I keep my most meaningful artworks in my work space because that’s where I spend most of my waking hours. As you know because you’ve been here, my desk is on open upstairs balcony facing three large picture windows through which I view the glorious wild cypress swamp and the birds that visit it. Mother Nature’s sublime art moves me as much, and sometimes more, than human-made art, as I know it does for you. We are so fortunate to be able to enjoy her friendship and benevolent gifts, especially in this time of COVIS when we have so little physical contact with human friends.

    Have I received something I didn’t expect and searched for an inner message symbolized by the gift? I receive unexpected gifts every night in my dreams. The most recent one contained the following meaningful alchemical images: a dog, two piles of dog poop, and a large round cake covered in silky, glittering, edible gold threads!!! I’m always amazed by what Dream Mother chooses to gift me with!

    • Jeanie, I dreamed last night that my old dog Willow was in the clothes dryer which was full of other inappropriate things. I was afraid she was killed, but she wasn’t hurt, although a little stunned by the spinning. That’s the way I feel these days–spinning in an inappropriate political world.

      It’s 8:30 am and I’ve already been out for my first walk of the day. Disco keeps Willow and me moving and she’s still wearing an orange vest. I’m reminded of the years after Vic’s death when the only one thing made me feel I could survive the day or the hour was a walk in the forest with my dog. It still works for me. Your office has beautiful light and you also have a climate with light. Blessings to you and all of us as we scramble through the next 10 days.

  9. After some days delaying, in which your post was hanging on my mailbox, I’ve finally found the necessary quiet time to read this heart-touching story. The artist has hit the point. His painting has a so much living colour that I thought first it is the photo that you took! It is indeed a beautiful painting, and we can even the Sun is shining much clearer and feel even warmer. In your other photo (the cairn in snow) It looks like someone stooped sitting in the snow. Anyway, It had touched my soul, thank you, my dear Elaine.

    • I love how the snow and stones make new sculptural shapes. I love afternoon snow in the forest. It’s a hard time in so many ways, but I’m grateful to go through these times surrounded by beauty.

      My husband had many synchronicity experiences–deep meaningful life-changing ones. We helped each other let the meaning arise. It was wonderful to live with someone who loved Jungian psychology and dreams as much as I do.

  10. Elaine, what a lovely and inspiring post. Thank you. And the painting is gorgeous. I know you write about synchronicity sometimes and I want to tell you that reading this felt important this morning. About a month ago, I was offered a pop art portrait of my pets for an honest review of the (commercial) company that makes them. At the same time, I’d been emailing with an artist friend about his work, and learned that he also does various types of pet portraits: both fine art and pop art.. I spoke to both the friend and the company, and both thought it would be great to be featured in a blog post about pet art. So I began to planning the post. Then, a day or two later (on Jan. 2), my father-in-law died. And although his passing wasn’t completely unexpected (he was 90 and in declining physical and mental health), the family—especially my m-I-l — is grieving terribly. And Covid has only complicated everything, with certain family members becoming lackadaisical about Covid protocols in their grief. Many feel the need to gather indoors now, and I understand that impulse so well. However, as we keep being reminded by experts, the virus doesn’t care about grief, or anything else. The past couple of weeks— which, without Covid in our midst would’ve been a sad but unifying family time, have been frought with anxiety, fear, and disagreements. As a person quite concerned about the possibility of my m-I-l getting sick, and also the parent of a child undergoing severe mental health issues exacerbated by fear of Covid, I’ve found myself an unwilling member of the Covid police, and repeatedly rebuffed by family members who *believe* they’re being safe. It’s keeping me up nights and I’m currently persona non grata among some members of my husband’s family. Not a great feeling, and it’s made writing very difficult for me. (The entire pandemic has been a very dry writing period for me.) But your post has caused me to realize that I need to just keep doing my best, hoping for an end to this scourge soon, and in the meantime, writing that blog post! I can’t end Covid or change the way some people think, but maybe I can support some beautiful art.

    • Oh, Mary. Your family is struggling and so are you. I’ve often thought how hard it would be to go through an experience like yours or to have a family member in the hospital or nursing home. I understand being a member of the Covid Police. I believe in following the rules because they work and don’t want to take unnecessary chances. If I were you, I’d write about what’s happening in your family with no thought of publishing it–or maybe turning it into fiction when the dust has settled. We need written records of what we’re going through–but meanwhile it’s hard to be the family scapegoat. I hope you choose what keeps you safe, including not going to indoor group activities or getting exposed yourself. Zoom? It’s hard, but you can support beautiful art now and maybe uncork your creativity by doing a little spewing on paper. I go to a writing class (for 11 years now) and it’s an opportunity to write about sad and upsetting things without the need to publish everything or most of the things I write. We also keep what we write confidential. I find a weekly meeting with other writers helpful any time, but especially during this nasty pandemic with no clear end in sight. (We meet on Zoom now.) Wishing you better days and flowing words, Elaine

  11. Thank you, Elaine. You are a gift. Thank you for reading through that rambling comment and understanding. It’s a crummy time, for sure. And I love your idea of writing about what’s going on with no thought whatsoever of publishing it. The feelings are very raw right now, and painful, and we’ve still got a long way to go before anything like healing can begin. My husband and I need to help his mom–she lives very close to us and is in poor health–but we also need to keep ourselves and our family safe. Just knowing you’re out there truly helps. XOX

    • Thank you for your generous thoughts, Mary. I’m grateful I have no one to take care of except myself and my dogs. Writing began for me as a form of therapy (Jungian Active Imagination) ~30 years ago. It took center stage when my husband was dying. Even if I didn’t have time to journal when he was in crisis, I’d make a list at the end of the day of all the lousy things that had happened because I knew I would forget the details later. I think we do that in trauma, including national trauma. I imagine that in writing free-style, you could safely release blocked feelings and open to new possibilities at the same time. (These days I dream about clogged toilets and dirty public bathrooms with no soap, so I will follow my own advice after I get a blog finished.) I rarely write about politics, but I did this week. Then I’ll write about the many, many things making me sad. It will be long if I let the feelings and words flow. Be well in every way. You help me by making heart contact.

  12. Elaine, this is such a beautiful, heartfelt, and inspirational piece, and the painting is absolutely gorgeous. I love that you shared your deeply thoughtful process of being able to accept such a gift. (And it makes me smile to know that your wild and wonderful Disco snuggles with you at night.)

    In answer to the question you posed to your readers, I received a completely unexpected gift from a friend who arrived for an overnight visit about a year after I had been diagnosed with the chronic illness I live with (POTS), which leaves me unable to be active in the outer world. Nancy loves knitting and pulled out of her bag a quilt she was just starting to work on (small squares of oh, so many different colors of merino wool yarn) that brought me such delight. When she saw the look in my eyes, she said, “It’s yours to work on and finish.” I gasped and said I couldn’t possibly accept such a gift. Not only did it seem far too big a gift, but also I had done no knitting since I was a teenager. Nancy said that was no problem and gave me a tutorial. I told her I needed to sleep on it and would ask for a dream to give me guidance. The two dreams I received that night allowed me to give her an unequivocal “yes.” In one dream, we were walking through very deep snow in the woods and she was my guide; I knew I could do it if I followed her lead and stayed in her tracks. In the second dream, I was unraveling my favorite merino wool shirt and turning it into a ball of yarn. That morning, when I accepted the gift with gratitude, Nancy then gave me her knitting bag filled with all the yarn she was going to use on the project.
    It took me almost two years to finish it, and it became a meditation shawl for my husband (as he fell in love with it as I worked on it). And now I have started on my second shawl, without an idea of where it will end up — though your post makes me think there is another gift to be given.
    Thank you, Elaine, for helping me keep alive the magic in life when it is so easy to focus on how difficult it feels right now.

    • Such beautiful instructive dreams, Anne. They didn’t leave any room for doubt which is a tremendous gift. I’m so glad you accepted the quilt and your husband uses it for his meditation shawl. Do you need a meditation shawl for yourself? Hmmmm…. My friend Lisa who helped with framing Tobias’s watercolor is also a watercolor artist and she gave me a painting of a stream in my woods. Then, because she did two paintings of that stream from the same spot but in different seasons, she offered me the second as a loan. Both hang on my wall, next to each other, as I slowly replace some of Vic’s photographs with new art work. I may decide to purchase Lisa’s second painting of the creek, but there’s no hurry. I’m sure I’ll write about this, but this week my mind has been consumed with politics. I rarely write about politics, but felt an urgency about doing that. NOW!

      I think this is the first time you named your illness, so I looked it up. What a hard thing to deal with–and I know a few of those symptoms first hand. (My older dog Willow is sweet and likes to be petted, but she’s not a snuggler and happily sleeps on her bed on the floor next to my bed. Disco likes to press her warm body against mine which is lovely in the winter. She’s my personal heating pad. Thank you for your supportive words, Anne. They mean a lot to me.

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