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Archive for May, 2010

Walking with Dogs

Most of the folks around here celebrate Cinco de Mayo on May 5th; I celebrate my dear friend Petri Blue on this day. We were together 11 1/2 years, and six years ago today, she gave up the ghost.  Petri Blue

I covered a lot of terrain with that dog, as she was definitely the outdoorsy type. When we moved to Austin, we first got to know this town and surrounding areas by way of the greenbelts and trails: Bartholomew Park, Barton Springs Greenbelt, Wilderness Park and Zilker Park, Pease Park, Reimer’s Ranch, Bull Creek. I always felt safe exploring the woods with just her, assuming that her presence would deter any threats we might encounter (this was probably misplaced confidence – Petri never hurt a fly (and to me, never really looked remotely capable of such a thing), but all those folks back in Athens who used to yell “look at that big black dog!” and scream or shy away, and ask “does it bite?” made me think she was at least intimidating to unknowing strangers).

Today, I took my current furry companions (~1/6 and ~1/8 Petri-size) to Bull Creek, on a remembrance hike. Griffin & Busy, they are good sports, and provide an effective counterpoint to remembering a dog very different from them.

Pete, her prime directive was fetching (a thoroughly programmed labrador retriever). A ball, a stick, a broken old frisbee she found in the brush, whatever. She didn’t care about other dogs (unless they were going for her ball or stick), and might notice another person if they looked like they could potentially throw something. I let her off leash to run, because she never went far, and came back on command. She stayed on the move constantly, hunting up throwable items from the underbrush and only stopping to drop said item in the middle of the trail if/when she found something.

Griffin & Busy are all about territory. Sniffing, marking, barking their bloody little heads off when another dog comes by. Can’t let these two off leash no way no how – they need wranglin’! I try to distract them with treats from my pocket, and keep a good eye out ahead on the trail so I can be prepared for any close encounters.
As long as no one else is around, its a pretty peaceful time. I did feel a little vulnerable on the trail today, as I’m not as confident these dogs could protect me from harm, even though Griffin’s shriek is ear-piercing and frightening in its own right. These two have made me appreciate how amazingly easy Petri was to be with.

Needless to say, time and circumstances have kept me from walking/hiking with these dogs as much as I did with Petri. She required it, and made it easy, so we went out 3-4 times a week. I’m lucky to get these two weensies out beyond our neighborhood once a week.

It is so therapeutic out there, on the trail. I noticed on my walk today that my mind slowed down, and thoughts came at an comfortable, familiar pace, set by the rhythm of my footsteps, heartbeat, breath. That internal calmness is rare in me these days, as I’m usually fretting over money, my house, my job, my lack of creative activity, yadda yadda. Walking with dogs brings me solidly into the present. That’s how they roll, too, not regretting or worrying about an unknown future, but wholeheartedly in the present. Note to self.

As I pondered these canine-inspired wisdoms, Jennie the dog from Higglety-Pigglety-Pop came to mind. The main character in my favorite children’s book, Jennie thought there must be more to life, and wandered out to find it, without much of a plan (but following her instincts), and losing everything she had packed along the way. Over the course of her journey, she did acquire that elusive thing that would satisfy her yearning for something more: experience. Once she had that, everything else fell into place, and she lived happily ever after.

Maybe I should follow the dogs, and just trust that my journey is a good one, instead of trying to wrangle and pursue some pre-defined measure of success. Maybe the best path to a well-lived life is learning to live in the present.

-Mel

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