Walking the Master In the Snows

Here in the Northeast we’ve been hit with a couple of snowstorms recently.   Last weekend’s left us with thigh-high amounts.  This makes it very difficult for Nessie, my mid-size “blended breed” (read: mutt) to romp.  So she winds up looking like a dolphin,  springing up excitedly above her 14″ height to advance herself in the powdery snow.

Over time, the snow changes quality, however, and now, a few days later, it is no longer powdery but has a creme brulee-like crust on top, making it more like a landmine for her.  The sun-glazed snow will support her weight for a while, but then .. oops! … she’ll break through and is left with one or two legs buried.   So where yesterday she plowed ahead fearlessly despite  great effort in the snows that dwarf her, today she has become a bit unsure and timid, waiting for the crystalline ground to crack open and catch her off-guard.

Nessie pondering the snow: "Hmm.. do I dare?"

So, instead of wandering off-leash in the back between woods and creek like we usually do, I snapped on her leash and we took the wide and easy road on her walk this morning.    Snowplowed and well-traveled, the road was a bit more sure, a bit less scary, a lot less work, but not as free, not as much fun and certainly not as beautiful.

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Walking the Master: Part II

 

Nessie

Nessie

In Walking the Master:  Part I I talked about how Laddie became my master on our daily walks, teaching me mindfulness, joy, living in the moment.   

Laddie died in January 2008 at the age of 12 and his passing left a huge void in the family.  But at the same time, we knew it would be a while before we could own another dog.

When the conversation started, and I saw the wheels turning in the heads of my now-grown children, I carefully planted seeds:  “Labs are such great dogs.” “If I were to get another dog I’d go to a shelter and get an adult dog.  They are less likely to get adopted, and they’re already housebroken.”  “I can only hope that my next dog as as chilled out and gentle as Laddie was.”  

When the kids sprung the “surprise” on us this Christmas, it was clear something had definitely gotten lost in the translation.  In fact, it seemed that they took it in their heads to get us the exact opposite of what I had talked about, because our little Christmas bundle of joy was a half terrier/half border collie rambunctious 6-week old pup.  At least she was from a shelter–that part they got right.  The kids talked about how they “met” her mom at the shelter, too, and how laid back and cool she was.  I wondered why they hadn’t brought me the mom.   

Because, by my Scottish husband’s decree, no one is allowed anything but a Scottish name in our family, we decided that the perfect name for her would be Nessie–which is also the nickname for the Loch Ness Monster.  Very appropriate.   

The border collie half of her breeding seems to be the dominant half, because she is highly energetic with a strong herding instinct.  I found this out the first time she grabbed my pant leg as I left my bedroom and entered the hall, nearly hurtling me and my coffee down the flight of stairs .   She also herds brooms, leaves, and anything else that blows across the yard.   I snap on her leash, which she then takes in her mouth, leading ME out the door.  When I walk her in the morning, I have to avoid the main road out of the subdivision because she goes into a frenzy.  “OMG!!”  She seems to say to herself.  “Mutiny among the Brunswick Acres herd!!”   As much as she seems to realize that corraling all these tin sheep is futile, she tries with all her 25 pounds of might to get them back in their places by barking and straining at every rebellious fugitive fleeing the neighborhood taking its owner to work.

My husband and I are now at the stage where we thought our lives could revolve only around what we wanted.  Now in our 50s, we’re not at anyone’s beck and call–or at least we weren’t until we got Nessie.   In defense mode, we signed her up for training classes.  The famous dog whisperer Cesar Millan‘s book “Be the Pack Leader” is my bedside bible.   We are also investigating agility classes and electronic fences to divert her high-level energy.    As if I just found out that I was pregnant, we ask ourselves every day, “Are we really ready for this?”   But as Nessie works her way into our hearts, we know the answer.

Plus, the truth is, someday, she’ll out-age us.  When we first got her, I said to my son, “Do you realize I’ll be over 70 when she dies?”  And then it occurred to me that there will come a point where she will be even older than we will be.  She will usher us out of mid-life and into our senior years, and then, like Moses at the edge of the Promised Land, her journey will end, as ours continues forth.

When Laddie died, on top of the grief we had over losing such a cherished companion, there was grief over the end of an era.  The life of a dog is roughly half a generation.  Laddie entered our lives when our kids were ages 10 through 17.  By the time he died the kids had entered high school and graduated, entered college and graduated, gotten first jobs, been on 12 family vacations in Vermont, and had moved out of the family home.  So I grieved the fact that this treasured time of our lives was being buried with him.  Laddie had walked the master through that phase of our lives.  Now, Nessie is herding us into the next.    

But for today, Nessie and I will hang out together.  We’ve been on our morning walk back by the creek where we checked in on the new family of ducklings the mallards have just given birth to.   Later on, we’ll play snoutball in the back yard–a version of soccer that Nessie invented–using her snout and a basketball.  She’ll do her wilding for sure in the evening when we’re winding down, spinning around on the furniture like a whirling dervish.    And I’ll enjoy it–because a dozen years just goes by too darn fast–and it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking people years or dog years.   It’s a short walk, after all.

Walking the Master: Part I

Here is an essay I wrote several years ago about our beloved dog, Laddie (1995-2008).   

My apologies to Kip across the street.  How often was Kip the victim of my gloating jibes to my children:  “See—that’s why we don’t have a dog.”

For rain or shine, summer’s steam or winter’s snow, Kip would be out every morning, 7:25-7:40 to be exact, walking the family border collie, Joy, before work. 

He was a heaven-sent defense against our children who pleaded relentlessly with all their childlike promises:  “I’d walk him every day.  I’d feed him.  I’d play with him.”  “Sure you would,” we said with parental wisdom.  

Something went wacky with my husband one Christmas, however, when he embarked on a secret quest for a dog.  Secret even from me, his wife.  When he brought home an 8-week old Lab mix, he was guilty of the worst marital betrayal ever—Lifestyle Upheaval Without Consent.  I might as well have brought home a new baby and said, “Oh, but I couldn’t resist.  He was so cute.  And the kids will love it.”    I was not pleased.  But I admitted the pup sure was cute.

I thought Laddie might need me the first night, so I put him in his crate and slept beside him on the family room couch.  He did need me.  He was a nervous pup, unsure of his captors, and so he threw up on his doggie blanket.  I pulled him up on the couch, close to me, he curled up, I curled up around him, and we both fell back asleep, and bonded.  

Soon Kip and I were waving to each other every morning, although my shift in the park adjacent to our house was slightly later than his.  The kids soon abdicated their promises to do all the walking with lame excuses like having to go to school and things like that, so it was mostly just Laddie and me in the morning.  And I wondered which neighbors were gloating from their cozy kitchens. 

But, curiously, soon I realized it was not me walking Laddie in the morning.  Laddie was walking me. When Laddie takes me for a walk, he looks carefully at everything, sniffs it, examines it.   He walks purposefully and aimlessly at the same time in a way only dog can do.  There are some things he examines with both curiosity and trepidation , like the port-o-johns at the baseball field.  But they don’t go unnoticed.  Nothing goes unnoticed.  These are things he’s teaching me how to do.   

Without the walks Laddie takes me on every day I would never notice that some mornings are gray, some are eggshell blue.  I would never hear the honking of geese, and the thuddy spring sound that the bullfrongs in the creek make.   I wouldn’t have been able to say I walked happily in the rain in my adult life, without worrying about getting my hair wet.  I wouldn’t have the opportunity to emblazon the lime green of spring, the verdant green of summer, the firey hues of fall or ice blue cast of winter into my daily life. 

 

If Laddie never took me for a walk, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to clear my mind and let it drift in a drifting that would result in ideas and thoughts and plans that I’d eventually execute at work or home.   During our walk, ideas waft in and out of my mind surely and imperceptibly like waves at low tide, but this only happens when Laddie takes me for a walk.  Otherwise, there’s no time in my day for idea-wafting.

 

If Laddie never took me for a walk, I wouldn’t hear the church bells beckoning….church bells that I eventually heeded after years of lapse.  After all, you hear them often enough and you finally say,  “Enough already.  I’ll go!”  I never heard them from inside the house, with Matt Lauer blabbing and the morning laundry churning.

 

No, sometimes Laddie’s curled up under the bed sleeping but I’ll have that urge.  I’ll stand by the door and look at him expectantly.  He’ll try to avoid my gaze.  Then I’ll rattle his leash, and he’ll go eat some kibbles and try to ignore me.  Then I’ll whine a little, “Laddie, want to go out?”  He’ll sigh and let me snap on his leash.  And as we head out the door, with my tail wagging, I could swear he says under his breath, “O.K., girl, come on.  I know you have to go out!”  

Laddie smelling the roses (or, in this case, tulips)

Laddie smelling the roses (or, in this case, tulips)