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Travels With Maggie: It's Not So Scary After All

Is “afterall” one word, or a hyphenated word, or two words? I think I knew that at one time, but the mind isn’t nearly as sharp as it once was. Anyway, my apologies.

By now, many of you know how this works. Each day I take my two dogs for a walk. The walk begins where the pavement of our driveway ends, and where the wonders begin. The weather is absolutely gorgeous in Western Washington this week, so no coat is necessary. Won’t you join us?

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

The Bark Is Worse Than the Bite

Both Maggie and Toby are barkers – deep, threatening, guttural barkers, the kind of bark which says “beware” in every language on the planet, the kind of bark which will weaken knees and transport most humans back to their roots, hunters-gatherers, always on the lookout for wild beasts intent upon savage attacks and raw meat meals.

But it’s all for show! To my knowledge, based on over three years with Maggie, and two with Toby, they are not aggressive dogs. They speak a language with their barking, perhaps nothing more than a warning shot to all who hear it, but there is no follow-through, if you get my meaning. In other words, they sound a hell of a lot more ferocious than they actually are.

Truth be told, there is some scaredy-cat in both of them! Don’t tell them I said that; it might hurt their feelings; but it’s the truth!

Take today’s walk as Exhibit A for the prosecution.

Are you coming????

Are you coming????

Western Washington at Its Best

On days like today, it’s hard to imagine a prettier place on earth than Western Washington. We are tucked between two mountain ranges in a broad, long valley. We have abundant rivers and lakes and an inland sea, and most of our cities and towns are small enough so that overpopulation is just something we read about but never experience.

Our weather is, for the most part, mild and non-threatening. Winters are not extremely cold, summers are not extremely hot, and things like tornadoes and hurricanes are witnessed on television, from afar.

So, days like today, they revitalize and feed the soul. Puffy white clouds slowly waltz overhead. The breeze is gentle, caressing the skin. The sun, bright and soothing, lights our way as the walk begins, spring flowers serving as guideposts along the path, the dogs down low, noses to the ground, a cornucopia of aromas greeting them. There is a bit more freedom in their walk this day, the chains of winter cast off, the oppressive grayness a distant memory.

A Growl Followed by . . .

It happens fairly often on our walks, the growl at another dog approaching, that menacing warning, meant to intimidate, meant to loosen the bowels and clear the way of danger, first Toby, then Maggie, at the sight of a Golden Lab one block away, on-leash, the owner some thirty-something mother in workout clothes, pushing a stroller, walking towards my dogs, all manner of unhappiness about to fall down upon her and her dog, when a sudden gust of wind occurs, blowing a tarp which was draped over a car in the driveway we were passing, the tarp slapping the car as the wind subsided, a loud clapping sound, and I swear my two dogs elevated, levitated, so startled they were at the loud sound, and I couldn’t help it, I laughed, out loud, very loudly, my two menacing, threatening, don’t-mess-with-me dogs, scared out of their wits by that tarp, the approaching mother and stroller and Golden Lab all but forgotten.

All bluster, they are!

But yet . . .

This was the same dog, Maggie, who two years ago chased a coyote off our son’s farm, racing into the woods after that wild creature, no fear apparent, my girl determined, and I have no doubt, if she had caught up with that coyote, she would have done battle.

This is the same dog, Toby, who stood his ground when we were accosted by three dogs, off their leash, charging at us from a neighbor’s yard, not giving an inch, baring his teeth, standing in front of me, ready to take on the threat, ready to protect his human, a lump of emotion filling my throat, so in love with my dog I was at that moment.

Both scared of a tarp!

Are Dogs Like Their Human Owners?

It got me thinking, you know, because that’s what old men do with their time, we ruminate, we philosophize, and we solve all manner of mysteries within our own minds. It got me thinking, how very similar my dogs are to me. I rarely smile. I am gruff in appearance. I am sure I appear menacing when I am approaching, two-day old beard, worn-out clothes, scruffy hair atop my head, certainly not an appealing figure walking along the road, not a warm-and-fuzzy type, you know? And yet stop to talk to me and my voice softens, I am genuinely interested in what you have to say, and yes, I am gentle and kind.

And loud noises startle me!

I won’t back down from trouble or threat, thanks to a father who absolutely made sure his son would stand his ground against all threats, but I’ve been known to jump back a step or two when a horn honks from behind, or a trashcan suddenly clangs loudly as I am walking past a home.

Which got me to thinking about soldiers, and first responders, and PTSD, and how in the living hell do they return to normal life once they have faced the unimaginable?

Just random thoughts on this walk, under perfect skies, with the two best dogs a man could ever hope to have in his life.

Part of a Familiar Landscape

The dogs and I, we are pretty well-known around the neighborhood. The regulars we see, almost on a daily basis, all stop to chat, or at the very least offer up a friendly greeting, to me and the dogs, and I find that reassuring. I’m a loner by nature, a card-carrying introvert, but I enjoy the contact with my fellow humans, and I enjoy being known in my ‘hood.”

Katie waves from across the street, asks how my wife is doing, remarks about how big Toby has gotten, tells me her garden bloomed overnight, that sort of mundane “stuff” that makes our worlds go round. Mr. Hancock, stooped over, shuffling along at a much slower pace, Vietnam vet he is, not much older than me, truth be known, but his years were much harder on his body, on his psyche. Still he looks up, sees us, and the hint of a smile cracks the craggy face, tells me he’s having an OK day, any day OK when above ground, he says, winks, and shuffles on down Miller Street. Then there’s Violet, probably eighty, maybe a little older than that, standing erect as she walks, sunbonnet of bright yellow perched atop her pewter hair, smiling her best smile at my dogs, reaching out a hand, the sniffing commences, soft words of praise for Maggie and Toby, a wish for a wonderful day for me, and she thanks me as she takes her leave, thanks me for letting her share in my obvious pleasure, and isn’t that a nice thing for her to do?

And it is a pleasure, you know, being above ground, as Mr. Hancock so eloquently stated, and walking with my dogs on a stunningly-beautiful Northwest afternoon, as Violet pointed out, and damn if I’m not one lucky s.o.b.

Worn out after the walk

Worn out after the walk

The Walk Has Done Its Magical Job

It never fails. I start these walks laden with heavy thoughts, or concerns, or juggling a long list of “to-dos,” eager to return home to start the terribly important chores I think hold precedent over a simple dog walk, and I return home lightened of my burdens, smiling wider than earlier, and not nearly as concerned about life as I was an hour earlier.

The dogs have, once again, done their jobs.

And ain’t that just too cool for words?

And, on this particular walk, I return home to find a former student waiting for me, a surprise visit, and I smile. That story will be the fuel for the next chapter in this series.

Thanks for joining us! The wonders never cease on these walks. All that’s needed is for all of us to be receptive to them, you know?

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)