Sunday, August 29, 2010

Taking a walk with Holly

I feel like I have been neglecting Holly lately, in favor of the baby. Panda demands a lot of time, and of course, she is very cute and photogenic, but that is no excuse for ignoring the older, better behaved dog.

Actually, it started in the winter, during the terrible last part of Grace's life, when I wanted to savor every moment with her and took Holly for granted. She and I clung together for a while after we lost Grace, but when spring arrived, full of birding trips and a new puppy, my attention was divided between activities. Then came summer's heat, puppy training, and too many hours spent working. I was tired, too tired to devote any leftover spare time to my sweet, patient old girl.

Dogs, of course, are the most forgiving souls on the planet, always understanding, never blaming or accusing. Still, when those soulful brown eyes kept looking up at me every time I left the house, I began to feel guilty.

This week, I vowed to take Holly out for some one-on-one time with Mom. The enthusiasm she showed when she realized we were going out together nearly broke my heart. She pranced down the sidewalk and waited eagerly by the car door. Going for a ride is always fun for Holly, but this time the destination was more than just the post office and the IGA.

Crooked Run. My own little private sanctuary. Despite the fact that this nature preserve actually belongs to the Clermont County Parks Dept., I feel very possessive of this wooded spot on the Ohio River. There is a pleasant loop trail about a mile long, as well as some meandering paths that criss-cross the preserve. It is quiet and peaceful, and we rarely see another human soul. Holly knows it as well as I - it is our favorite morning walk. Come along with us.
We walk slowly, at the pace of a dog's nose. I have no particular agenda this morning, so am content to let Holly take her time, soaking in an incredible world of scent that I will never know.I find that this allows me the freedom to fiddle with the camera settings, trying to render the dappled sunlight and shades of green and brown into images that reflect what I am really seeing. When none of the factory presets work, I reach deep within myself for the courage to go to Manual mode, and discover I can take a picture, now and then.I'm carrying my binoculars, but hardly using them. Instead, I am hearing the birds rather than seeing them, identifying them almost without thinking about it. I'm not chasing or working these birds, not listing or counting them. Instead, I am breathing them in, absorbing their essence through my skin. I am birding by osmosis. Zen birding - I like it.

Neither am I using the leash draped around my neck. I carry it for form's sake, in case we meet another walker or a park official, but I really don't need it. Holly and I are tethered by something stronger than a nylon collar and a leather lead. We have a bond unbreakable, forged of love and understanding, tempered by time. She knows not to leave the trail or run off. She doesn't even chase the rabbit we flush from the edge of the path. I know I can trust her implicitly.

She wanders ahead, but always at a respectful distance.
If I fall too far behind, she stops and looks back, checking for me and maintaining eye contact. When I don't move quickly enough to keep up with her, she turns and trots back, encouraging me to move along.If I do happen to lose sight of her, I'm not worried.
I know she will wait for me, and when I come around the bend, I will be greeted by this face.
As we near the end of the trail, Holly's slowing down. She's more likely to be found at my side or even trailing behind a few paces, and it strikes me that my high-energy Lab mix is nearly 12 years old. She doesn't quite have the stamina she had in the past.

She is willing to sit and waitwhile I snap pictures of wildflowersand seedpodsand fishermenand weird galls on leaves.She even lies down to restwhen I take forever getting my exposures right.Fortunately, she is still able to serve as my scout and my protector. She checks that the bridge over the pond's overflow is safe for me to cross, even though the water, which is usually level with the boardwalk, has dried to crust.Too soon, the walk was over. The heat and humidity were taking their toll on us both, and it was time to head home. It was only an hour walk, a brief time to spend with my old friend, but such a special time, and one that we both needed. Devote an hour of uncomplicated time to your dog today - you won't be sorry.


Mrs. Martz said...

My eyes are misty and my heart is warm

Karen said...

Absolutely lovely post, Kathi.

KGMom said...

True true.
I am very glad to read about Holly--her face looks so much like our new dog Ziva's. (Only older.)
You are so right about dogs being forgiving. They are, they are.

Thanks for the walk.
Say HI to Holly from me!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your walk with Holly. She approaches a camera toting human with the same attitude as my own dear black lab mix Madam Lasagna. Only Madam L spends a lot of time encouraging me to hurry up and get to the creek for her soak.
Thanks again. Holly is very sweet!


Julie Zickefoose said...

Misty eyes here, too. This is a beautiful post. Here's to leads hanging slack around grateful necks, to dogs who can be trusted and dog owners who know how to create that kind of stretchy but unbreakable bond.

That last portrait of Holly says it all. She's a beautiful dog.

Robin said...

What a wonderful post! You touched my heart.
My old friend's about the same age as Holly.
Holly your a sweet sweet girl!

Mary Beth- Denapple's daughter said...

beautiful dog and a beautiful morning walk. Hope the two of you find more times for walks like this often.

Nina said...

Very sweet.
And nicely finished with a picture of the grizzled muzzle.
An older dog is a treasure.