Travels With Maggie: Mutual Understanding
Bring Your Raingear
It’s that time of year, coined The Big Dark in these parts, that stretches from October through March, when it seems darkness, darkness, my old friend is our default setting here in the Pacific Northwest. So slip on your raincoat, make sure you have a hat, you might also consider some rubber boots, and join us on our walkabout. We love it when you do.
I spend a great deal of time with Maggie and her brother Toby . . . a great deal of time! Truthfully I spend more time with them than I do with Bev. I talk to them. I walk with them. I share with them. And I swear to you, on this rainy Olympia afternoon, that they talk and share with me.
Maggie races ahead of me. Something has her attention, some sight I did not see, some smell I could not smell, some sound I could not hear, but then, fifty feet ahead she stops, turns in my direction, barks at me as if to say “hurry the hell up, Bill,” and then continues her sprint. The object of her mission, it turned out, was a rabbit hole, and by the time I do catch up Maggie is digging in that hole, obviously certain that a little four-legged critter is inside. She stops digging, looks at me, barks as if to say “Are you going to help or just watch me?” and then continues digging.
Now I say “as if to say,” but the thing is, I’m convinced that is what she was communicating.
I read once that dogs do not “think” in a language like we do, but they do have the cognitive level of a three-to-five year old child, and that’s fairly advanced “thinking.”
Eventually Maggie gives up the quest when I say “leave it” and we continue on. Her reward is a pat on the head, a treat, and a “good dog,” which immediately sets her tail to wagging. It turns out dogs are attuned to our emotions. They know when we are sad, when we are happy, when we are angry or confused or frightened, and I gotta tell ya, I’ve known some people who lacked that level of empathy. They are noble creatures, these canines, exhibiting the best in human characteristics, leaving the worst to the humans themselves.
Because I spend so much time with these dogs, I have certain insights into their character and behavior. For instance, I can say without hesitation that Maggie does not pass judgment on people because of their religion. She doesn’t give a hoot about their politics. She couldn’t care less about their economic status, nor does she care about their social status, race, place of origin, sexual orientation, and on and on and on. She sniffs a person, decides on whether they are “naturally good,” and that’s that, thank you very much, and on to the next.
Can you imagine?
The sun briefly spreads apart the curtain of gloom overhead, a shaft of light, and enlightenment, for all to see, and then just as quickly disappears again.
Wisdom is fleeting for us all, hard earned and as slippery as a greased pig at the county fair.
Toby and Loyalty
Maggie’s brother, Toby, is with us on this particular day, and he’s a handful at times, full of “piss and vinegar,” as Grandma was fond of saying, he is still a puppy of nine months and his energy is, at times, exhausting. He constantly pesters his sister for play time, and that play time can be a bit intense. He and Maggie will run off into the field and commence with the wrestling, snarling, baring of teeth, nips and bites and hair-pulling, looking to any stranger as though they hate each other. In truth they are just siblings doing what siblings do, and after a time they disentangle and playfully run off to explore more rabbit holes. Their play is not aggressive in any way; there is no animosity involved in it.
But I have seen Toby aggressive. Toss in another dog, one not related, a dog looking for some fun, perhaps a bit too enthusiastic towards Maggie, and Toby will flick the switch from fun-lover to defender in a heartbeat. Toby does not like other dogs messing with his sister, and I’ve seen similar reactions from peace-loving Maggie when Toby appears to be “threatened.” When it happens I’m reminded of something my dad often told me.
“Family and friends, Billy, are to be protected and defended. Those kinds of bonds are sacred!”
Toby and Maggie understand perfectly! You can play rough with family. You can occasionally even fight with family. But at the end of the day, family is family, and that bond must be maintained and constantly strengthened. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but Maggie and Toby don’t complicate life like humans do.
It Rained Last Night
As a matter of fact, it has rained the past six days, the Pacific Ocean firing storms at our little corner of the world, one after another after another, a fire hose aimed to the east, and the fields along our walk are soggy with standing water, and man alive my dogs love standing water. They seem to sense its existence before they see it because they are off like a shot, into that field, hydroplaning water as they sprint through puddles, droplets of water flung into the sky, brother and sister whooping and hollering, having the time of their young lives, reminding me of days long gone when me and my friends could not pass a puddle without splashing in it, much to the unhappiness of our mothers, our mud-splattered clothes sure to raise disapproval when we arrived home.
But the parental disapproval was worth it for us, as kids, and I don’t have the heart to stop my dogs from having that same fun. In fact, I brought an extra towel to dry them off when their playtime has ended because, well, I understand. A certain percentage of life should be reserved just for puddle-splashing.
A Different Kind of Rain
The wind kicks up and the trees shower us with leaves, reds and oranges and yellows, a rainbow falling from the sky, Toby and Maggie chasing the colors along the road, outrunning some, giving up on others, tongues lagging, barks echoing off the forest, birds suddenly taking off from limbs, a doe streaks across the field, followed by another, guinea hens sound the alarm, chickens cluck, horses join in the chorus, a chorus of nature, better than anything I’ve ever heard on the radio, better than any concert I’ve attended, it is the sound of life all around me, and me and my dogs we are part of it, at that time, in that place, and it’s beautiful. The sun makes one more appearance as we reach the truck, illuminating millions of rain drops on leaves and blades of grass, millions of sparkles dancing in the wind, glittering ballerinas on Nature’s stage, performing just for us.
Just a man and his dogs, learning about life while participating in it, and you are always welcome to join us where the pavement ends and the wonder begins.
© 2019 Bill Holland