March 08, 2022

The trail is slushy.


Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

-Roger Caras


In just a few days, the temperature went form around zero to the high thirties.  The world changed from being all snow and ice to something more akin to slush.  Oh, there’s still plenty of snow and ice around, but its surface is now a wet mushy water-and-ice slurry.  What didn’t melt is now covered in a sodden milky mess that binds, somewhat, to the underlying ice.  That’s enough to provide some traction, as long as you show a modicum of caution.  In practical terms, as long as I don’t push it, I can walk with a normal gait, which means there is little of the additional work that slippery ground and deep snow require. The sound of crunching snow underfoot is replaced by a sloshy swoosh as I walk along and that’s a darn sight better than slipping and sliding while flailing my arms about.

It’s February now, so early spring is not far away.  Soon, I should be seeing the tender shoots of Japanese knotweed poking their heads above the ground, although the greening of deciduous trees is still months away.  It’s slim pickin’s for Waldo as he searches for sticks, but there are some that thrust their bare boney fingers up above the snow.  He seems to like long ones, sometimes up to ten feet or so, and he grabs them by one end, dragging the rest behind him, leaving a shallow serpentine trough essing its way along in his wake.  Soon, he’ll have a plethora of twigs to choose from, but not yet.  Waldo sees a twig sticking up in the air and he lurches for it, almost pulling me off my feet.  I jerk back at the leash and yell, “Damn it, dog!  Stop pulling!”

Waldo and I have been together for a bit over three years now.  We’ve both made adjustments and compromises along the way.  We still do.  But we’ve also formed a bond that is deep and strong.  Seeing to the needs of an animal creates a personal caring that transcends merely making sure that animal is healthy and happy.  There’s a partnership, with deep emotional roots in the subliminal psyche, that’s formed – a sharing of the everyday mundane events of life that is exactly where life is really lived.  This isn’t just about love, although that emotion certainly is there, it’s about sharing all those things that make you human and the animal an animal.  The entirety of my humanity melds with Waldo’s caninity in a profound, although incomplete way.

There is a story about a Buddhist saint who decided to emigrate from India to Tibet.  This monk heard that Tibetans were a calm and peaceful race and he worried that he would not be challenged by the stress of having to deal with difficult people like those in India (of course, he needn’t have worried).  In Buddhism, it’s not enough to know how to remain tranquil in the serenity of a monastery.  To be a well evolved human being, one must learn how to live in the hurly-burly of the everyday human world without being dragged into the furor and drama.  Only then can one claim to have made real progress on the spiritual path.  So, this saint decided to take along an Indian who he knew to be irascible and difficult.  He could have, just as well, taken along a border collie – at least for the difficult part.

What I’m getting to is that, in addition to the love and companionship, laughs and joys, that a dog can give you, they also challenge you to be a better person.  It’s inevitable that a dog will force you, sometimes kicking and screaming, through the entire spectrum of emotions, including anger, fear and disgust.  Waldo is always just being a dog, but there are times when I unthinkingly react to his instinctual behavior with frustration and aggravation.  These reactions have nothing to do with Waldo and everything to do with my inability to react to the universe, at times, in positive and constructive ways.  It doesn’t take a great deal of introspection, at those times, to learn something about myself and seek a more positive way to deal with life.  I sigh and give Waldo his head.

The amazing thing is, although I have seen Waldo angry at other dogs on rare occasion,  and fearful of a wide range of things, like the waving branch on the tree that fell across the rail-trail a while back, he has never, ever, reacted to me in anger or fear despite my reacting to him in negative ways.  He just looks at me as if to say, “What?  Am I going to have to deal Mr. Attitude now?  Come on, we’re out here for fun!”

Waldo is not just my friend, he is also my teacher.


I don’t know what he sees, but it was important enough to drop whatever twigs he could find.

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