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Travels With Maggie: Breaking Bad Habits

No Raincoat Necessary

Low clouds, low ceiling, low pressure, no moisture, comfortable temps, all await us as we park the truck in the roundabout and prepare for our walk, right at the edge, where the pavement ends and the wonder begins. We have Maggie’s brother Toby with us today. Would you like to join us?

Brother and sister about six months ago. I need to take new pictures.

Brother and sister about six months ago. I need to take new pictures.

Toby Is a Handful

He’s still a pup, this Toby dog, and he is full of piss and vinegar, a shout out to my grandma for that lovely saying. The farm is an explosion to Toby’s senses, an overload if you will, and he just doesn’t know how to handle it all. Full-speed ahead is his default setting, chasing guinea fowl, chasing squirrels, chasing a passing truck, visiting carpenters, racing into the woods, barking at falling leaves, twirling in chase of his tail, it is exhausting just watching Maggie’s brother when he joins us. Maggie keeps up with him for awhile but eventually she silently says “to hell with it” and joins me on the walk, letting her brother continue his manic search for entertainment.

We catch up with Toby fifty yards down the road. He’s prone in a mud puddle, looking at us like we’re nuts for not joining him, forty-six degrees, half-submerged in water, looking quite pleased with himself, and then exploding out of the water, racing to me, and of course jumping up, front paws on my chest, water dripping down my pants, and me deciding whether Toby’s value outweighs his negatives. Of course it does, and I must admit to laughing after the initial shock of it all, loving that big pup and his “don’t give a shit” attitude about life.

Toby doesn’t know it yet, but he’s about two months from a trip to the Vet to be neutered, so he’d best enjoy his wildness while he’s still got it.

It Saddens Me a Bit

This neutering thing, it seems a bit primitive and yes, I understand the importance of it all, I know it’s necessary, but still, a part of me will mourn his loss of Puppyhood when the time comes, and the reflective side of me will mourn a bit for all of us when we pass from childhood to the teen years to adulthood, losing a bit of the Wild Child with each step up the ladder of maturity.

When was the last time I played in a mud puddle? When was the last time I chased the figurative squirrel or ran headlong into the unknown in search for answers, and damn the consequences? How about you? Same questions?

My wife Bev still dances in the rain. She still splashes in puddles, and I love that about her, the childlike innocence she still retains, just one of many reasons I stick close to her, hoping some of it will rub off on me. Bev, Maggie, and Toby, they are my connections to the whimsical, and I love them for it, so yes, snipping Toby’s tubes will be a sad occasion for me, just as it was when Maggie was spayed, and that’s just the real of it.

Mysteries await us

Mysteries await us

Bat out of Hell

There’s a stanza from the Meatloaf song, “Bat Out Of Hell,” which has always resonated with me:

I'm gonna hit the highway like a battering ram
On a silver black phantom bike
When the metal is hot and the engine is hungry
And we're all about to see the light

That’s what Toby is like on this walk. That’s what I was like at one time, full-speed ahead, damn the consequences, deal with the fallout after the fact, and squeeze as much of living as possible out of each experience. It was a hair-raising way to live, always on the edge, always pushing the envelope, always working the gears for more rpm’s and a higher speed, but the inevitable will happen, the engine will blow, and then I was left to pick up the pieces and start over, hopefully wiser, and hopefully more in control.

These walks, along a country road, just a man and his dog, are a way for me to find balance. They are a way for me to appreciate all that I sped by as a young man. They are a time of introspection and reflection, taking inventory and allowing myself some affirmation. Yes, I made mistakes, just as Toby did about a month ago when he jumped into deep grass and disturbed some yellow-jackets, but the mistakes were not deadly, I did survive, and now my job is to learn from them.

Heat-Seeking Missile

That’s what Toby reminds me of as he dashes into the woods, something’s got his attention for sure, the barking commences, and Maggie follows, but you can tell her heart isn’t in it. She goes about fifty feet, stops, sniffs, and returns to me. All we can hear is thrashing, twigs snapping, and more barking as Toby continues his assault on the peacefulness of our Hundred Acre Wood. I look at Maggie, she looks at me, we both shrug, turn, and return to the road. Toby will catch up with us once the adventure in the woods has ended.

And he does!

A world of adventure

A world of adventure

Hard-Playing Siblings

It’s fascinating watching Toby and Maggie play together. They play hard. They bare their teeth, nip at each other, snarl, push, tackle, all while running full-speed across a field, and to anyone not in the know, it appears that those two dogs hate each other. Maggie is fond of the “hind leg takedown,” a maneuver she has perfected, while Toby is more a cannonball sort of warrior, using sheer body weight and speed to overpower anyone in his path. Quite frankly I’m amazed they don’t hurt each other during these walks. Oh, occasionally I’ll hear a yelp from one of them, and at night I’ll find a scar or two while petting them, but it really is just “rough and tumble” stuff that siblings have been doing since time began.

And it’s pretty entertaining! On this day it reminds me of that old childhood game “Red Rover,” where you try to crash through a blockade of arms to reach the goal. I can’t tell you the number of times I came home from school covered in scrapes and bruises from a rousing game of “Red Rover” during recess. Mom would just shake her head, apply some iodine, and I was good to go for the next “battle.”

Did iodine do any good at all in healing my wounds? Does any of my worrying about Toby and Maggie do any good? I prefer to just let them be dogs and thoroughly enjoy the decade of life they have ahead of them. Who knows when their last romp across the field will happen? Who knows when our last romp will occur?

It’s Time to Go Home

Always a battle of wits, this time-to-go-home affair. Maggie is always fine with it. Home means comfort and love. Toby, on the other hand, wants the fun to never end. He would stay at the farm for hours if I allowed it, and I always have to trick him to the truck with treats. I understand completely, the words of my mother ringing in my memory, “get home by dark, Bill,” and me squeezing every minute of playtime possible out of the setting sun. Still, it is a bad habit I will have to break in Toby. A semblance of obedience is necessary for most of us if we are to function smoothly in our world.

My two soaking wet dogs pile into the truck, I crank up the engine, turn up the heater, and steer towards home. Thirty seconds into the trip they are asleep, visions of mud puddles and wrestling in the field dancing in their heads.

It’s been a good walk, and we thank you for joining us. You can find us here most days, where the pavement ends and the wonder begins, just an old man and his dogs.

2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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