July 13, 2021

Let’s play stick!


In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.

-W. H. Auden


The days have cooled down, now with temps around 60℉ when we start our walk and in the high 60’s to low 70s when we finish.  We sleep in, well, I do, until 7 AM, then rise, get ready and hit the trail before 8 AM.  Waldo, of course, is already awake when I open my eyes.  His big, round, brown orbs are glaring at me from his bed in his crate, as if by force of will alone his stare can get me out of bed.  God knows, his will is stronger than mine when I first rouse from sleep.

Waldo dances around in tight circles in front of me as I bend over, trying to tie my boots.  After about three or four circuits, he stops and paws my hands, trying to get me to hurry up.  He is not impressed by my logical argument that what he’s doing only makes it take longer before we can get out the door.  I tell him to sit, which he does after a pause where it seems like he’s thinking, “Do I have to?  Sit?  You gotta be kidding!  I wanna go out!”  He sits for no more than a few seconds, then he’s up and spinning around again.  At least once during this dance, he goes over to his food and water dishes, both of which are aluminum, and gives them a resounding whack.  I think he feels the gong-like sound adds needed punctuation to his fervor.

We get out to the car and, after a brief pee break, I open the passenger door and Waldo readily jumps in and sits.  Once the car starts moving, he nudges my arm with his nose and licks my sleeve.  I think the ride makes him nervous and he needs constant reassurance.  So, we go down the street, I have one hand on the steering wheel and the other is on Waldo, petting, patting and scratching his fur.  He’s facing me and he raises his right foreleg, insisting that I scratch his chest.  Apparently, this is an unspoken contract and, once his demand is met, I am obliged to continue until we stop the car.  Any interruption of the caress, even by the demands of road safety, is immediately met with more nudging, licking and a look on a furry face that says, “Hey!  Did I say you could stop?”  It seems that petting the dog in the car is of the highest priority in Waldo-world.

Once on the rail-trail, Waldo is trotting out in front at the end of the leash.  He relieves himself, sniffs the bushes, finds a ubiquitous stick, then is off once again, breaking trail.  This continues for a bit, then he finds a bigger stick, drops back to right in front of me and gives me a look like, “Wanna play some stick?”

Now, I’m not really quite sure what the rules are to this game of Waldo-stick, but I think they bear some semblance to the rules of Calvin-ball — poorly defined and somewhat fluid.  It goes something like this: sometimes he’ll drop the stick in front of me, then pick it up and run ahead a couple of feet.  I think he’s saying, “Chase me!”  I’m too old for much of that, especially when we’re going to walk six miles or more.  So, I pretend not to understand.  In response, he drops back behind me, then comes up next to me, blind-siding me, and starts stabbing me with his stick.  Sometimes, if I continue to ignore him, he’ll jab the damn thing between my legs and almost trip me.

On other occasions, if he has a longer stick, he’ll grab one end and drag the other just in front of where I need to put my feet as I walk.  I have an easy solution for this.  I step on the grounded end of the stick and either break it (to pause the play, which has the potential to create a sprained ankle or worse) or I pick the thing up.  If I do the latter, a heavy game of tug-of-war ensues.   This continues until either I let go, which means the prior gambit is repeated, or I’m able to take the stick from him.  If I have the stick, I throw it for him and again we start over.

Sometimes I’ll grab another stick and wave it in front of him.  This is met with wide-eyed, tail-wagging enthusiasm.  He stops, waits until I get close, then drops the stick he has in his mouth.  I throw my stick and he picks up his stick (God forbid I should get it!) and bounds happily off to retrieve the new one.  If I repeat this ploy, Waldo drops all his sticks, picks them all up again after I toss the new one, and he then adds to his collection.  He’s had as many as five sticks in his mouth at once, depending on their size.  It looks like he’s carrying a small bush (which, by the way, sometimes he does).  Passersby exclaim, “Ah, how cute!”

“I think he’s building a nest,” I reply.

So it goes, until we return home and rest.  I may not understand the rules of the game, but I do know the goal.

And we both win.



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