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Travels With Maggie: Gruff Exterior, Warm Heart

We Are Back After Six Weeks

I’m so sorry we’ve been absent for six weeks. As I mentioned in our last installment of this series, this old man needed to have hip replacement surgery, so that took me out of normal action for an extended period of time. Not as long as I predicted, mind you, but it still took me six weeks to get back to my normal five miles per day.

The dogs were reasonably patient. I was able to take them on shortened hikes a week after surgery, and relatives and friends stepped up to help out with the walking, so that my constant companions received the exercise they so love with nary a day off.

It’s good to be back, and it’s so nice of you to join us. We’re ready if you’re ready. The walk begins, as always, where the driveway pavement ends and the wonders begin.

Ready and always willing for a walk

Ready and always willing for a walk

The Pace Is Brisk

It feels wonderful to walk with the dogs without pain. I was slowed considerably this past year, so this walk, today, is at a pace I have not experienced in at least eighteen months. The dogs seem to appreciate it. They are playful today. Their tails are held erect, there is a prancing quality to their steps, and their eagerness is infectious.

The torrential downpour of last week, dubbed “The Pineapple Express” by the weather forecasters, has left us. For the past few days we have hunkered down under mist and temperatures hovering just above freezing, not ideal walking weather, but weather which definitely necessitates a spring to your step. There is no casual sauntering in weather like this; there is only a purposeful, eye-on-the-prize, double-time pace.

All around us we see nature, and man, taking the same approach. The squirrels are driven now by nature’s demanding call to store food before it’s too late. The leaves, those remaining, wait for a sudden gust of wind and then all seem to fall at once, tired of desperately clinging to branches with no further purpose. Neighbors jog to retrieve the mail from dripping postal boxes. Birds streak across heavily-laden skies, twigs in their mouths, shoring up their winter quarters as quickly as their wings will allow. Even the clouds are moving briskly, northwest to southeast, unrelenting. It is not a time to dilly-dally, not in Olympia, not in early-December.

Everything seems to be muted in December. The evergreens, still green, but not vibrant. The sounds of daily life are muffled. It’s as though Nature can’t be bothered with glam, but prefers to save the energy for better days to come.

Our neighborhood on a nicer day

Our neighborhood on a nicer day

Maggiie the Grump

Maggie is the oldest, our first, four-and-a-half years old, a beautiful dog with human eyes, and truth be told a real grump on these walks when it comes to meeting other dogs. Not friendly at all, my Maggie, lunging and barking at other canines as they approach, almost embarrassing, certainly something to be aware of, sixty pounds of fury not an easy thing to hold onto. It’s a leash thing, as weird as that may sound. Off-leash she is playful with other dogs; on-leash she acts like murder is on her mind. And it’s only a dog thing with her. She is loving with humans, allowing young and old to approach her and pet her.

I’m the opposite, reserved with people and open with animals. It’s a trust thing for me, driven by deeply-rooted factors, none terribly unique, and I suspect that the same is true with Maggie. She is what she is, I am what I am, and in our own ways we are both loveable. The other night she jumped up on the bed, tucked her snout on my shoulder at three a.m., a sudden mid-sleep need to make contact with her human, and dog-kissed me. She’s that way, my Maggie, and I love her for it.

Great trails, surrounded by nature

Great trails, surrounded by nature

Toby the Playful One

Toby, two months shy of three years old, is the clown of the family. Rain or shine, he wants to play. Dog or human, he wants to play. Any damned hour of the day, any damned day of the week, he wants to play, and he will not be denied. Try to ignore him and he becomes more insistent. Try to shorten a play period or a walk, and some internal clock recognized only by him tells him he’s getting cheated, and by God that’s just not going to happen.

He’s a handful, twice the amount of work as his sister, but I defy anyone to spend five minutes with Toby and not fall in love.

Toby is the reason I don’t walk them both at the same time. He will not leave his sister alone on walks, constantly lunging at her to play with him, and about five minutes of that and I’m exhausted. So two walks per day, per dog, and that’s just the way it is.

He stops to sniff a bush, the same bush he sniffs daily, and I point that out to him.

“Toby, you’ve sniffed that for three-hundred days in a row. What say we move on?” And he just looks at me like “what’s your point, Bill? Let’s make it three-oh-one!”

Bill the Focused

On this day I am six weeks removed from hip replacement surgery. The limp, my constant companion for almost two years, is gone. The bone-on-bone pain, also my companion, is also just a memory. On this day, my job is to make sure my footfalls are solid, no slipping on a slippery day, and to build up muscle mass and muscle memory. Teach myself to walk correctly once more, increase stamina, and place myself in a good position for an upcoming summer of fun.

My head is down, looking at the pavement below, just ahead, looking for possible dangers, my neck scrunched in the parka, one hand gripping the leash firmly, the other tucked in a pocket for warmth. I sense, rather than see, the frantic activity around me. The fair-weather walkers are gone on this day; all that remains as the sun attempts, in vain, to break free of its suffocating blanket of gray, are the veteran walkers and the occasional neighbor rushing outside for a quick chore.

The Drama of Life, a Friendly Smile of Encouragement

We stop to say hello to a new member of our neighborhood universe, a woman, perhaps sixty, maybe sixty-five, shoulder-length hair, a pleasant face, once a real beauty. She waves, says good morning, walks in our direction, asks if she can pet Maggie, but Maggie’s wagging tail already answering. I welcome her to the neighborhood, ask her where she moved from. Virginia, she says, a long way from home, I say, and she explains, with sadness cloaking those pleasant features, that her husband of thirty years just died, there was nothing left for her on the east coast, her family welcoming her in Olympia. I expressed my sorrow for her loss, genuine in intent, for I know that pain, Maggie licked her hand, and we moved one, richer by one new contact, a fellow human simply trying to navigate the treacherous waters of loss.

Further on an older gentleman, older than me, makes his way to the mailbox, stops to say hello, says he sees us daily on our walks from his living room window, how far do you walk, he asks, four or five miles, I say, good for you, he says, and wishes us well as he continues his determined shuffle for the mail. “Handsome dog,” he says over his shoulder, and I swear Maggie beams in the misty curtain.

The Inevitable End

That’s how it is on our walks, a chance for exercise, a chance for this senior citizen to make contact with others, and a chance for my dogs to spread joy to those who need it, whether that be a woman struggling with loss, or a man braving the cold for postal contact from the outside world. We finally arrive at our destination, also the genesis of our journey, smoke coming from the chimney, our woodstove promising well-deserved warmth after a bracing walk through our little portion of a large world, one dog satisfied and another patiently waiting his turn. My hip feels fine, still no pain as Walk #2 begins, and a whole new sensation of wonder awaits me and Toby.

Thank you for joining us on this walk. You can find us most days, darn near all days, where the pavement ends and the wonder begins.

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)