Travels With Maggie: And the Blind Shall See
Autumn Has Arrived
It happened quickly this year, hardly any warning at all, as though Nature was just plain tired of the heat and long days and decided to pull the plug overnight. One day it was ninety and the next thunder, lightning, and darkness by seven.
Just a man and his dog, walking down a country road, surrounded by the crispness of autumn in Olympia, Washington, a bright October day greeting us.
Won’t you join us?
The Crispness of Autumn
On this particular day the sun is struggling to rise above the tree line. Twenty-eight degrees the night before turned the softness of summer into the crispness of autumn overnight. The ash, the cedar, the fir, scrub maple and birch, all brittle now, the suppleness gone from their limbs, they snap and creak and moan in the wind, as though just the thought of the oncoming winter made them sad and old.
Sounds seem amplified in the fall. Squirrels overhead can be easily heard as they scamper. Rodents scurrying in the brush are no longer muffled by the soft under-footing and instead are amplified, meaning Maggie hears it all, every field mouse, every guinea hen, every mole and gopher, weasel and coyote, stealth takes a vacation in the woods, during the autumn. Comings and goings are announced, intentionally or not, and the predators silently celebrate as their jobs have simplified considerably, Darwinism in surround sound.
There is no mystery to the forest in October. Leaves have fallen. The line of sight is extended. What once was a foreboding, menacing shape is now revealed, simply a tree trunk, nothing more, nothing less.
Colors Transform Slowly
Unlike Vermont where green turns to red seemingly overnight, here in the Pacific Northwest the changing of colors is almost deliberate in its realization, just a hint here, a hint there, greens first mute, slowly fade, replaced by greenish yellow, weeks to orange, still more weeks to red, not vibrant hues but, still, a welcome feast for the eyes and soul.
This will be the last autumn for some, the first for others, an eternal tag-team of life played out before us. Maggie and I will disappear from the census, at some point, when our time has come, ashes to ashes, part of the landscape, feeding the soil, the soil feeding the plants, the plants feeding the inhabitants of the forest, and so it goes, the circle, uncut, uncensored, and unabridged, all as it should be.
Maggie races ahead to one of the two remaining fields along this road, rolls in the stiff, dead grasses, scratching her back, then leaps up and twirls, I swear my girl is twirling, a pup again, splendor and joy radiating outward, and I laugh and laugh and God it feels good.
The Spires of Oxford
To a dog the framing of a house, surrounded by woods and fields, must appear as spires appeared on the Middle Ages landscape, spear points reaching for the heavens, strength and devotion, abnormal and magical, symbols of grandeur. Maggie doesn’t quite know what to make of the wooden ribs, the beams . . . a skeletal preview of some antediluvian beast about to rise from the fall rains, or a friend whose purpose is yet unannounced. She walks the perimeter, sniffing, probing, inspecting, and then repeats inside the body of the beast, her tail down, guarded and yet hopeful, not unlike most of us as we face each day, guarded and yet hopeful, the default setting of the human species, for we have seen the antediluvian beast face to face, and we know what Maggie does not know, not yet, not now. My dog is still innocent, in her third year, and I want her to remain as such for as long as possible.
A Storm Approaching
The winds signal a shift. You can hear them coming, if you listen closely, molecules moving at high speed, displacing air, rushing through trees from miles off, a very subtle, muted sound, growing louder as it approaches, subtle and yet important. Winds mean a shift in pressure, low pressure displacing high, cold displacing warmth, and on this day the shift is sudden. Birds erupt from trees overhead, and ground grasses bend, as if one, Maggie’s coat ruffling in the same direction, and for a moment she is alarmed, not quite sure what is happening, but then as is her norm she lifts her snout to the air, sniffs, recognizes God only knows what, and calms down again. It’s amazing to see, this one act play, all happening within a five minute span, nature changing, my dog recognizing it, reacting to it, and signaling to me that all is well.
The blue is replaced with gray, the hawks harder to see with that overhead backdrop, and the sun disappears, just that quickly a new set is constructed for this play we call life. As we turn for our trip back to the truck, the first chilly raindrops fall, my girl not minding at all, her coat provides good protection, but me, I’m without hat and not too happy with my predicament. My steps quicken, in a sudden hurry to find the warmth of the truck, and Maggie reacting to the hurry-up, trotting now, knowing a treat awaits her on the front seat.
“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” Stephen Hawking
Snug as a Bug in a Rug
I remember those words as Maggie and I sit in the truck, words of my dad tucking me into bed at night, snug as a bug in a rug, and I smile. Maggie puts her head in my lap and I run my hands along her damp coat, and right there, in that moment, all the problems in my world, which are miniscule by comparison, are gone. Silly concerns about unpaid bills and an impending move, concerns about friends dying and the frailty of life, they all disappear and it’s just a man and his dog, watching the limbs bend in the wind, the leaves falling from those limbs, and the skies changing in color, and there is great comfort in that simple moment of existing.
There is a lesson there, a sermon perhaps, for someone prone to sermonizing. Me, I’m just a simple man who has, at times, managed to make life difficult, but who finally pulled his head out and saw the truth of the matter. Life is love and love is life, there you go, tattoo that on your forehead for future reference, the truth of the ages for all to see, a truth as old as mankind, a truth my dog Maggie understood at birth and still understands today . . . life is love and love is life!
Thanks so much for joining us on our walk today. I hope you enjoyed our company as much as we enjoyed yours. If you’re ever in the neighborhood we would love for you to join us again. You can always find us where the pavement ends and the wonder begins.
“Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.” Albert Schweitzer
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Bill Holland