Thursday, July 12, 2007

Puppy dog tales and messy laughter.

The evening air had not yet shed enough of the day's heat to be comfortable when Ellie and I set off for our walk at Nose Hill Park last night, but she needed the walk and I needed the quiet of the park. Mollie, Ellie's little white friend who thinks she's a big dog, bounced along between the long green grasses, her short little legs scurrying to keep up with Ellie's graceful stride. Around my head, the odd mosquito buzzed, while above, a hawk glided through the thick air. I hoped he didn't think Mollie was an after dinner snack.

Nose Hill is a 280 acre expanse of rolling prairie grasses dotted with clumps of poplar trees that stretches across the northern limits of the city. For Ellie, Nose Hill is paradise. Off-leash for most of its expanse, at this time of year, the park is one vast area of verdant grasses blanketed with wildflowers. Brown-eyed Suzies. Daisies. Purple Vetch. Ragweed. Fireweed. The ground is a rainbow-coloured blanket of happiness.

It is one of my very favourite places to walk.

Last night, as the sun eased its way into the blanket of night held in place on the western horizon by the jagged edge ridge of the Rocky Mountains, I walked along the path that lines the edge of the top of Nose Hill and carefully planned my route. Ellie has an affinity for water. Rather, Ellie has an affinity for mud baths. She loves them. Mud puddles. Delicious, oozing, viscous mud. Her favourite pasttime is to leap into the puddle, lower her body and sprawl. She squirms upon her tummy, with only her head visible above the mud. And she smiles. A huge grin pulling back the corners of her mouth. Ellie loves the mud. I have learned to be tolerant. Mollie has learned to imitate her big sister. When you're a small white Bichon with fur like hair that mud and sticks and grass collect in, rolling in the mud is heaven I presume to her small little mind. To me, it's a moment of utter horror, and then laughter. What else can I do?

There is little water on this side of Nose Hill where I walk. There's a pond that slowly, through the summer months, begins to evaporate until only a skiff of water remains by late August. It's one of Ellie's favourite places, as long as I indulge in her game of fetch. I throw a stick. She retrieves. I throw. She retrieves. I've not yet tested the limits of her attention to retrieve. My right arm has given out long before her nature has tired.

I was confident last night that the pond would be the only waterway I would encounter. By this time in July, most of the mud puddles that appear with spring's rain have disappeared and Ellie and I can walk without concern that she will find her favourite haunt. Nature and a golden retriever with an uncanny nose for moisture have a way of proving me wrong. It wasn't a large puddle. Only slightly longer than Ellie. But it was deep. And it was filled with, to quote Flanders and Swann, "mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for cooling the blood."

I didn't see it until too late. Ellie was running through the grasses along the edge of the old abandoned gravel pit. I was walking on the ridge above. I looked down and saw only dried up pools of mud. Not Ellie. She found the one and only mud bath. She leaped. I watched in horror. It was too late to call her off. She'd already fallen from grace.

My mind raced into all the reasons why I should be angry. It was late in the evening. I didn't want to walk over to the pond. She'd never dry enough to come in the house before bed time. I didn't feel like dealing with a wet dirty dog. And....

What about Mollie? On no! Frantically, I searched for a glimpse of her freshly groomed white body. I called out. Too late. She'd already found the source of Ellie's joy. Plop! I couldn't see her between the long grasses, but I could hear her. Splashing about. Revelling in the coolness of the mud.

I wanted desperately to be angry. I wanted to scream and yell at the two recalcitrant dogs who weren't smart enough to stay out of trouble. I wanted to. And for a moment I felt the anger sere my mind. Felt it's hot liquid course like a wildfire through my body, heating up my already hot skin. But, one look at the joy on Ellie's face. One look at the two of them rolling in the mud cancelled out all anger as I started to laugh.

It was too late for anger. Might as well get into the moment and enjoy the ride.

Eventually, Ellie stepped from her beauty spa and shook herself off. Mud flew in every direction. I had at least had the good sense to stay far enough away to not be covered. Though, why on earth I would wear a white shirt and pants to Nose Hill is beyond my common sense! Mollie followed her sister out of the pond. No amount of shaking was going to clear her fur of the cloying mud. She looked like a skunk. Her entire body was caked with dark, glistening mud, except for one strip along her back. At least she didn't stink.... But I was wrong. The pungent odour of sun baked, earthy mud tickled my nose.

We went to the pond. It wasn't enough. I had to give her a bath when we got home.

Animals are great teachers. English novelist, Samuel Butler wrote, “The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.”

It was hot as I walked last night. I didn't have the sense to bring a hat. I forgot my water bottle and the puppy's in the car. Ellie took matters into her own paws and solved her dilemma with her favourite sport. Mud bathing.

I love walking barefoot in the mud. I haven't done it in years though. Time and age and 'growing up' has dispelled me of the notion that dancing in the mud is a worthy pasttime for someone like me. As I watched Ellie in her mud, I thought about taking my shoes off and cooling my feet alongside her. I thought about it. And I thought about all the reasons why that was a bad idea. I listed them in my head. Dirty. Messy. Smelly. Who knows what's in the pond. I didn't have a towel. I was a long way from the car. I'd look stupid if anyone saw me. I'd look like a fool. I'd be uncomfortable for the ten minute walk back to the car. I'd.... The list went on. There were five thousand reasons why not to do it. and I couldn't think of one to say, YES! Do it! Have fun!

Truth is, there's always time for fun. There's always time for kicking up the heels, slipping into fancy and revelling in the things we love.

Ellie doesn't have my constraints. She doesn't have the sensibility of my age to hold her back from taking every and any opportunity she gets to cool herself off and revel in the pure joy of being a dog.

I can learn a lot from my dog. And one of them is: Don't take myself so seriously.

George Bird Evans, author of A Breed Apart: A Tribute to the Hunting Dogs That Own Our Souls, says, “I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren't certain we knew better.”

Last night, I thought I knew better. I didn't. I missed an opportunity to have fun. To simply enjoy the moment, revel in the pure joy of being alive.

Life is best lived in the dirt. Life is meant to be messy. My mind set on what to do about messy dog's when I got home, I forgot to step into the moment and simply be part of the enjoyment.

Time to get busy being less certain about what I know. Time to get into exploring all that I can be and experience when I let myself be free to enjoy the moment as it unfolds. Time to Live. Love. Laugh.

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