A Guy and His Dogs
The first dog I had as a pet was Sugar, a Cocker Spaniel when I was three. Oddly I still remember that dog, these many years later. She ran off one day, gone from my life, leaving a heartbroken toddler in her wake.
Two years later my parents bought me a new puppy, a Fox Terrier; I named her Pixie, and Pixie was with me for the next eighteen years. I absolutely loved that dog, she being an important part of my childhood and teen years, with me through grade school, high school, and college, a more-devoted dog you are not likely to find.
Fast forward fifty years and say hello to Maggie. Now technically, Maggie is my wife’s dog, but she and I spend a great amount of time together, so I’m claiming part ownership, thank you very much.
Best damned dog I’ve ever owned.
Maggie is fast-approaching her second birthday. Hard to believe, really, but the calendar does not lie. It’s my hope that Maggie and I will grow old together. I suspect she will be a great comfort for me this coming decade. I hope she thinks the same about me.
Maggie goes with me to the farm every afternoon and helps me feed the chickens. When our chores are done we then take a walk in the country, a stroll for the soul, a way to decompress, and a way to learn about, and observe, life.
Won’t you join us?
Maggie and I were out at the farm yesterday. It was raining, as it has a tendency to do in Western Washington, in March. We went into the hay barn in search of chicken eggs (found five), and then she and I just sat on a bale of hay and watched it rain. The barn was rich with the aroma of fresh hay. The rain created a damp barnyard smell, a mixture of mud and droppings, straw and goat feed, disparate aromas which somehow combined to create a rich sweetness.
Fifty yards away the evergreens swayed in the wind, and riding that wind, overhead, two hawks surveyed their own personal buffet below.
The rain stopped and we walked down the country lane leading to, and from, the farm, passing various goats, all curious, all nudging the fence, all dreaming of escape . . . passing the llama and the sheep, content to munch wet pasture grass, escaping not on their minds at all . . . passing the horses, the pigs, all under the watchful eye of two peacocks sitting on a shed roof. Two deer broke cover and bounded over the road ahead of us, Maggie, enthralled, giving chase in vain but seemingly not caring, for the joy is in the chase for my girl, and not the outcome.
And then we came upon, to borrow from Crosby, Stills, and Nash, a child of God, walking along the road towards us, another sojourner enjoying a wet afternoon. Maggie stopped, stood still for a moment, and then began barking. It wasn’t a menacing bark; no malice was intended; it was rather a “I see you, state your business, the jury is still out on whether you are friend or foe” kind of bark. No tail wagging, no growling, just a simple announcement in dog-speak for the stranger to hear and comprehend.
It was at that moment that I realized my Maggie girl was growing up.
Wariness Where There Was Once Unbridled Acceptance
When Maggie was a wee lass all humans were her friends. She would approach any two-legged descendant of the cave man with glee, tail wagging, butt swaying to and fro, eager to meet them and establish a bond. Not so as she approaches the celebration of her second year. Strangers, though not her enemies, are not automatically trusted. There is a wariness to Maggie’s approach, a “test the waters before I dive in” approach, certainly not born from any horrific event in her past but more instinctual. She has arrived at a time in her life where trust is earned and not freely given.
And, of course, that got me to thinking about myself and how similar Maggie and I are.
As a child I trusted all with the wide-eyed innocence of youth. I had no reason not to. I was never abused as a lad. I spent my younger years in a protective bubble of love where never was heard a discouraging word, and concepts like heartbreak, distrust, disloyalty, and deceit were simply not in my vocabulary nor my heart.
But somehow . . . at some point . . . that changed! At some age I became instinctually distrustful of strangers. I no longer ran forth, without prompting, to grab a leg and hug any giant within reach, but rather stood back and observed . . . stood back and categorized . . . friend or foe . . . safety or danger.
And it’s been that way ever since.
The Death of Innocence
And the days became months, and the months, years, and that distrust . . . that wariness . . . that death of innocence . . . became more pronounced and more instinctual than the trusting nature it replaced.
And I find that sad!
What caused it? What happened over that span of time to cause the death of my innocence?
The answer, or course, is simple and yet oh, so complicated. Deaths occurred, lies occurred, cheating, theft, and duplicity occurred. The frailty of humanity occurred, to put a pretty bow on it, the selfishness and the anger and the stone-cold, dead-eyed sociopathic anomalies occurred, the news stories of horrific nightmares in living color, the first-hand accounts and the stories told round the campfire, they all occurred, and over time that shit adds up, my friends, adds up and weighs down upon you, bearing down, making it, at times, hard to breathe, in and out, in and out, it will be all right, it will be all right, but then it isn’t, then the one bad occurrence becomes five, then ten, and suddenly you find yourself, decades later, looking at strangers with jaded eyes and one hand on the butt of your metaphoric gun.
Back to the Walk
Just a man, and his dog, walking down a country road, learning from each other, and I find that very, very cool.
Maggie is learning to take cues from me. She has the ability to sense when I am at ease around people and she has the ability to sense when people make me tense. She is tuned in to some cosmic radio station I will never hear . . . or perhaps I do hear it and don’t realize it. Perhaps it’s nothing more than instinct, something I’ve always had, and something I need to learn to trust in once more.
The young woman we met that day? Maggie sniffed an offered hand, looked at me for an unspoken cue, and then wagged her tail. The woman, Julie was her name, had passed the test and was considered trustworthy and a friend for life. It was as simple as that and yet so much more complicated.
Just a man, and his dog, walking down a country road . . . you are invited to join us next time. Friends are always welcome. Put on your walking shoes and meet us on the road next time. If you pass Maggie's inspection, all is well.
© 2019 Bill Holland