July 23, 2019

The tree was barren of leaves but you brought a new spring.

Long green sprouts, verdant flowers, fresh promise…

-To Lady Mori with Deepest Gratitude and Thanks, Ikkyu Sojun, fifteenth century Japanese Zen monk.


Waldo and I have been together now for about five months. Somehow, it seems longer. It’s been a little over four months since I retired. It feels like a life-time ago. This is good, I think. It means that I have adjusted to the change and settled into a new way of life that is comfortable. Before, I woke to an alarm, rushed to get dressed and ready to go, drove an hour to get to work, spent eight to twelve hours (without break) striving to make people healthy and keep them alive, then drove home for an hour and collapsed in bed, worried about the people I saw, and finally fell into a fitful (and, often, way too short) sleep, just to repeat it all the following day. Now, I wake to an alarm, get up and take Waldo out for a walk (sometimes lasting for three and a half hours) in lush, green, fragrant nature, feeling the breeze in my hair, the sun (and sometimes, the rain) on my skin, and return for a nice nap (if I feel like it), then get up, walk the dog again (a temporary solution to a permanent problem), then sit and do some writing. The difference was a change hard to make. Not (I write this with an “aaaaah,” as I repose in my recliner). Retirement has proven to be an easier transition than I thought it might be.

I saw Waldo as a little puppy, small enough to hold in one arm. He was skittish and afraid of the change that came to his life when I picked him up and took him to his new home. He went from living without restraint on a large farm in Pennsylvania, to living in a third-story one-bedroom apartment that had open stairs, with no risers, that were scary as hell. The only way to relieve himself was to somehow get this old fart (whose pace was as slow as a worm) to take him down the damn stairs and through three doors – and he had to do it all on a leash. The leash attached to varying devices designed to interfere with his natural drive to run, play and go where he willed. They included straps that went around his chest and rubbed his skin raw around his arm pits, to chains that (gently) choked his neck and abraded the hair on his back, and even a set of straps that went around his muzzle that squeezed his snout and turned his head sideways when he yanked at the leash. Now, he has learned how to get by with the constraints and still have fun. He has learned he can romp and play, stalk rabbits, and empty his full tanks when he needs to, but just do it all within a set of guidelines. This is a transition that we have all learned to make as we grow up, although as humans, we (mostly) do it without the physical leash. Anyway, I think Waldo’s adjustment was more difficult and stressful than mine, and he now needs only a leash attached to his collar and a little direction to get him what he wants and needs. And I know he sometimes lays down on his well-padded bed and relaxes with an “aaaaah” as deeply felt as mine.

I have moved to a life of fewer constraints and Waldo to one of more constraints. Yet, we both seem to be quite content.

I keep Waldo safe, healthy and as happy as I can. I train him so he stays out of trouble (a work in progress), I feed him a diet designed for dogs, make sure his medical needs are addressed, play with him and take him for walks in the natural world that surrounds us all (but which we humans take all too much for granted). Waldo motivates me to get the exercise I need, keeps me entertained and is a damn good companion. The two of us go out into the world and open ourselves up through our senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell (Waldo also tastes it, but that’s a little yucky for me). These are personal things that we experience on our own. But we do it together and I would not be doing it at all without Waldo. He is leading me, both figuratively and literally, more than I am leading him.

Well done, Waldo. Well done.

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