November 5, 2019

You still there?

The language of friendship is not words but meaning.

-Henry David Thoreau


Fall is definitely here. The temperatures are cooler, the buzzing of insects less, and the leaves of many trees are starting to change color. Early morning sunlight stabs through the leaves and freckles the rail-trail tarmac. Noseeums become visible as they swarm in these bright patches. Or maybe they aren’t swarming, but are just observable because the light makes them glow against the dark shadow behind. No, I think they’re swarming there. The temperature drops ten degrees or so as I walk from sunlight to shadow. If we didn’t have a goal in mind, our usual 5.5 mile walk, I’d be tempted to bask in the warmth.

Waldo is up ahead, at the end of his leash, doing his Waldo thing. Head low, his nose an inch or so above the ground, he trots along, rapt by a need to experience the now. And do it in large part by snout power. Every once in a while, he’ll pause, turn and look at me to make sure I’m still there, and then continue on his way. We have this unspoken agreement. Waldo has the freedom to explore wherever he wants, without interruption from me, within the purview of his leash. I follow along behind and keep us both out of trouble as I take my own separate bath in the present moment (and quite a few thoughts that distract me from it). It’s quite equitable, mutually agreeable, and we both flourish from it. And I love to watch Waldo spontaneously enjoying life.

We don’t go far, it happens at least every quarter mile, and we pass an elderly couple out for a stroll, one or two bicyclists whizzing past, a young mother or older grandmother pushing a baby buggy, a jogger or two or three plodding along, sometimes a skateboarder rolling by, or a fellow dog lover out walking their pooch. The mechanized, Waldo and I ignore, except for an unanswered and cursory “Hello” from me. The joggers are often too absorbed, or wired/blue-toothed to a phone to respond to my greeting. The others often react with a greeting and we exchange How-are-yous. I’m impressed that many respond with, “I’m doing well,” instead of the more common and grammatically incorrect, “I’m good.” Waldo usually walks past, then turns and glances at them to see if they are showing any interest in him. If not, he continues on his way. If so, he stops, sidles up to them, wagging his tail on only one side of his body, drops his head and licks at their shoes. After a pat or two, he’s back on track in a been-there-done-that trot down the trail. The people out walking their dogs are different.

I know many of the dogs by name, having met them before (I don’t know any of the people’s names – never seemed necessary to ask). If I don’t recognize the dog, I shorten the leash and call out, “Is he friendly?” as we get close. If the response is no, or if the other dog is in training or for some other reason the owner doesn’t want them to meet, I keep the leash short until we pass, then let it out to its full extent and Waldo bounds out ahead as if nothing interesting has happened. If it’s yes, I keep Waldo’s leash short until I see how the interaction goes. Waldo will approach the other dog in his bowing-and-scraping posture, licking at the other dog’s nose. They sniff at each other a bit then, usually, start jumping around trying their best to play while being tethered. It’s then a chore to try to keep the leashes from getting entangled or untangling them when it happens. Sometimes the other dog will growl and I will pull Waldo away and continue on our way. Waldo never growls. If we know the other dog from previous encounters, things pretty soon devolve into getting everybody unensnared. Throughout, no words are exchanged between Waldo and me. I watch his behavior and he responds to my nonverbal guidance. We read each other through the subtlest of gestures and prompts.

That’s when I know we are friends.

How is this pose?

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