“I’ll wait for you. And if I fall behind, wait for me.” “If I Should Fall Behind” by Bruce Springsteen
No other harmony is quite like it–the long forged, veterans in hiking, camaraderie that envelopes a dog and his owner. Even the labels seem grossly ill-suited. “Owner?” “Master?” “Family Member?” “Friend?” At least the last 2 get into the ball park.
Such partnerships form the most perfect vehicle for enjoying silence and just being together as any relationship I know of on this earth. These kind of joint walks become instantly real, and are conspicuously absent of guile and image building. It transcends mere healthy functionality and evolves into a sweet communion.
There is truly something very much like love in the whole equation when a hike is enjoyed to this extent over time. It becomes a mutual fan club that allows for plenty of pit stops along the way for both parties.
When my dog Ranger needs extra sniff time, while hot on the lead of some important breakthrough, I indulge him in sniffing around for clues to unlock some archeological mystery. And when I feel like I am in the presence of some tree that needs to be fully appreciated, he does the same for me.
Just like expert internet surfers and texters in a doctor’s waiting room, we both easily occupy ourselves while the other one is delayed and stricken with curiosity.
Even in the most unglamorous places, by a mail box or fence post, I make sure that Ranger has had suitable time to be a sleuth.
Of course, when the unearthed source look too objectionable to me, I do, from time to time, find myself needing to gently tug on the leash handle so as to snap Ranger out of his reverie. And sometimes I get the feeling that he actually appreciates my intervening at such times, as he seems to sense that he may need extra help in snapping out of some serious obsessive compulsive disorder and is glad to resume the walk. Likewise, when I too get distracted by wanting to feel a leaf or roll a sprig of hemlock needles in my hand, Ranger likewise, waits patiently for me too–except he never yanks on his side of the leash to wake me out of my fixations!
The sacred nature of dog walking allows for a feeling of totally uninhibited bliss—free of performance and one-upmanship. Our dogs truly do help shape our character and make us want to be “more like the person he or she thinks we are” already. And it seems that the positive influence is mutually beneficial in the long run.
“People have said, “Don’t cry’ to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is, ‘I’m too uncomfortable when you show your feelings. Don’t cry.’ I’d rather have them say, ‘Go ahead and cry. I’m here to be with you.’ Fred Rogers
Dogs are here to be with us—every flawed bit of us. When an old dog and an old man bond this closely for going on a decade, the relationship becomes vulnerably dependent. I say this because any kind of deep, servicing love ends in heartbreak eventually—as our pet intensifies the fleeting nature of life and mortality in a compressed time frame.
Non-dog lovers of course, or people who vow to never repeat the same pain from a previous dog, will rationally point out such pitfalls of loving a dog. The attachment is deep. The parting too soon and too heart rending.
Therefore, the logic goes, if you know the ending will be sad—why even buy into the plot—why put yourself through that when you know how it is going to end?
And the answer of course is the same answer we know to be true when asked why we ourselves bother to get up in the morning every day like we do (after all the reoccurring patterns and trends that take us nowhere) and still keep renewing our subscription for yet another day of mustering more hope and faith?
In the big picture, our pets provide not only immeasurable HELP in the present tense for us, they also warm our hearts in the FUTURE too after their passing.
And so we go step by step together—and we wait—stemming the onset of time as long as possible, savoring the moments. Dogs teach the lesson of being in the present better than any meditation technique known to mankind.
Great families and great friends are like that. It is a commitment to the very end. And despite the pain, when a sweet friendship matures, it becomes the kind of deep reward that is only be achieved with time. There are no buy-outs or short cuts.
Like old married couples that end up morphing into similar looks and poses, dogs and the people they walk with, also end up merging into the same habits and preferences. It isn’t some self-conscience, deliberate plan that requires mediation and compromise. It just is.
Eccentricities and improbable directions and locations are strongly encouraged for maximum effectiveness. Each partner exhorts each other, but not in some competitive statistical battle of wills.
The walk on the trail is equally valid and restorative whether in a sad mood or a jubilant one. Life is full of paradox on dog walks. Turning your mind off can lead to great divine sparks of inspiration. Losing yourself means finding yourself.
And I think the paradigm of the old dog owner and the old dog works best. It is the most finely honed and perfected. When there are bursts of energy, and the aches and pains are dormant, they are savored all the more. When there are long reflective glances or hill perches under the stars, they are more profound.
The more I think about it—I become convinced that all these step-by-step dog walks done faithfully over all these decades has done a lot more than just lower my blood pressure and reverse at least SOME of the effects of all my bad eating habits —it has left me no choice but to be HAPPY. This has had a practical application for me as a kind of COUNTER-NEGATIVITY antidote during all these years of not being able to take those dream, far away vacations, due to being overtaxed, hit by recessionary indifference, and stymied by hyper airline inflation.
Can bad economic years control my outward spending? You bet. Can they control and eliminate the creativity and quality of my trips? Not in the slightest.
My dog walks are so engrossing and engaging that I get FILLED up. There is no room left for bitterness or self-pity to take root.
With my dog, I can STILL be a traveler, with a travelers set of eyes, even if grounded at home without a car.
To paraphrase Thoreau, “why go all the way around the world to count cats in Zanzibar” when you can be so filled up locally and regionally just noticing all the forests and parks and rivers awaiting us in this area?
And dogs are the best mediums in forcing us to stop and smell the roses. IF we still have a remnant of the child still harbored inside our souls as adults, it will irresistibly find a way to get triggered while we are walking our dog.
In fact sometimes when I am at my WORST at being an alpha male leader in getting my dog to obey my wishes—that is the precise point of the trip where it becomes more successful and I have more fun. I am thinking of all those PRE commute walks at 6 AM, when Ranger shakes me out of my groggy state to stop to just admire the stillness of the morning for a minute longer; while learning to put all my worries and anxieties aside for possibly being late to work. Sometimes in life you have to ask yourself—“is it really worth it to yank on the leash and make a big spectacle of making the dog go where I want him to?”
Soon I am an appreciator of life again and not just a harried professional dispensing of his morning rituals.
When I think of dog walking I become most inclined to really believe that “LIFE really IS GOOD’ and not just a lighthearted motto copyrighted on a t-shirt or coffee cup. It IS the little things in life that matter most and teach us most profoundly. And much more than that—I think the very act of doing it over the years builds up a symbolism that is MUCH bigger than its face value. It portends heaven itself and the love waiting for us–all encapsulated in the unconditional friendship of a dog.
John 15:15 “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”