All that matters
It’s a sad day. Calvin the Wonder Dog must be getting kryptonite in his kibbles. While still as perky as ever, he can no longer keep up on our runs. It’s been a slow but steady decline these past few years. In his prime, he was a mountain biker’s dream dog where the greater efficiency of wheel and bearings versus paws never fazed him, since his paws had an agility advantage. Once as I closed him out of his line on some narrow single track, he jumped, bouncing his shoulders into my leg and used it to ricochet around me, never missing a beat. Then a few years passed and on downhills the wheels seemed a little unfair, then a lot. So we ran. On hikes, his out-and-back roaming loops steadily shrunk until he now walks with us albeit a permanent 10 feet ahead, as he always will be the lead dog. Luckily this transition coincided with my understanding that dogs in the wild need to be under control and close. A leash guarantees both. The mere passing presence of a dog is enough to disturb elk and deer for many minutes. If too many dogs are roaming around, the deer never settle down enough to eat as much as they need to survive the winter. For elk and deer, our short summers are eat-all-you-can season. Now if I see a deer, signs of one or the dogs start sticking their noses up in the air as they scent the breeze, I turn around. I can easily go somewhere else or come back at a better time for them. The dogs don’t seem to mind, as they’re not destination minded.Today I had to slow down for Calvin’s comfort. Like playing soccer with a child, you do enough to play but not overwhelm. A dog’s life is unbearably short and such an unwelcome lesson on aging, illustrated by Calvin’s change from an anything-all-the-time dog to his now preferred relaxed amble. The other dog Numu, aka “the cow,” has never run, at least not at my pleasure. If released from the leash she is quite capable of running – more of a bull’s charge than Calvin’s coiled gait, but only where she wants to go. On leash she’s an 80 pound sea anchor of inertia, allowing her legs to pendulum slowly under her if you don’t go her desired way or pace.She reminds me of those sci-fi “Dune” novels where selective individual force fields protect all from the speeding impacts of bullets while allowing the passage of normal gestures like handshakes and embraces. In “Dune,” killing is done with measured, slow strikes of bladed weapons. Numu would be an ideal “Dune” attack dog, easing slowly but stubbornly close for a lazy but powerful bite.Anyway, now my walks are slow and sedate, and if I get over my frustration of wanting to move, it’s a lot of fun. Much of what we do in the outdoors is focused on moving and seeing how fast and far we move. Dogs, while enjoying moving, are also inhaling the essence of the wild. They stop all the time just to check it out. The fact that they’re moving slower now doesn’t upset them one bit. They are still out and about, and that’s all that matters. If I get into their mindset, dawdling doesn’t matter. Punctuality is a human construct, not a dog’s.I notice more of the trails and paths that I used to see as only obstacles to get over. Nature at any scale is fascinating. The more you look, the more you see and realize there is to see. Sitting on tufts of almost soft grass, watching native bumble bees steadily visit and buzz pollinate wildflowers I’ve barely noticed, while the hounds roll on their backs in inebriated joy, focuses my attention outside of myself. That’s something running or biking rarely does. Then it’s all about me, my heart rate, my choice of line, my endorphins, my time. Now I get that as I’m late and rushing to work after the always longer-than-expected morning dog walk.I’m guessing that even at his most sprightly, Calvin used his senses to place himself in the outdoors much more than I ever could. Dogs really live in a parallel universe to ours, which we don’t have the instinct or ability to inhabit – though we get the odd glimpse now and again. As I age and become the old man rocking on the back porch, happily observing and savoring the sights and sounds of life going on around me, I may get closer to why my dogs find the same walk down the same lane to the has-to-be-visited bush so pleasantly essential. I’m sure they could understand the emotional power to the mad lines of William Blake more than most:”To see a World in a Grain of SandAnd a Heaven in a Wild FlowerHold Infinity in the palm of your handAnd Eternity in an hour.”Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.