This morning, as I awoke to the view of our little woods behind our townhouse, I recalled yesterday afternoon, when I took Shiba out for what I now call a trot, as opposed to a walk. Shiba will be sixteen years old in August. She is blind, half deaf and is missing more than 14 teeth. She eats as much as if not more than our larger, younger, dog Sallie, and if there is a day when she eats less, it's only because Sallie is quicker to find the food. Shiba still prances when she's in a playful mood, and she gets around well, putting one paw forward to feel her way out to the backyard or down the stairs. She takes her time, and if she is unsure where the opening of the sliding door is, she follows Sallie's shadow. On the days when Shiba's eyesight is particularly poor, we pick her up a few inches and turn her in the right direction.
That's how Shiba goes on her trots, too, but it's not the same as being guided in the house. Trots mean freedom for the both of us, for me because finally, I have a dog who (albeit by necessity) will walk off leash without running away and who goes slowly enough that if I have to reach her, I can without having to sprint. And Shiba? She meanders as she wishes, stopping to sniff as long and as many times as she wants. She is no longer encumbered by clip and cord. If she wants to wet on every other blade of grass, she can and does. On a trot, I watch as Shiba carefully seeks guiding shadows to avoid bumping into the cable box or neighbors' fences. And once she is sure she is on a familiar stretch of grass, she begins her little bounce, her joyful expression of movement as she makes me take bigger strides to keep up. When she goes off course, I physically point her body in the right direction. But mostly, I let her lead.
Shiba has always been a persnickety dog with a cat-like attitude. If she doesn't like someone or prefers to be alone, she simply leaves the room. She clearly and strongly communicates what she wants and knows that, usually, she will get it. She resists mandatory brushing, preferring to let the clumps of her thick, winter undercoat fall off naturally. We sometimes play with her fur, pulling out the tufts of red-gold hair (now threaded with more white than ever), and when we are done, she prances, the same way she does after she has had a bath or her nails clipped. It's a dance of independence tinted with gratitude for helping to make her a bit cooler and more comfortable, in spite of her not particularly wanting to be groomed.
This morning, my mind was prancing. It hopped around rejoicing in liberty brought on by the full understanding that I am me and that I have the authority and right to let into my life and heart only those whom I allow. I can be picky and I can be cautious, and I can growl and bark. I can decide where I want to go. I can spend my time with people I love and trust, and I can laugh with them and expect they will treat me with as much respect, dignity and kindness as I treat them. If I start heading the wrong way, they will gently redirect me, and if I have difficulty seeing, I can always follow their benevolent shadows. And though I might shake as Shiba does in the car when she's not sure where we are going or when a traffic light will bring us to a halt, like her, I know for certain that when we get to where we are traveling, I will indeed enjoy it.
Yesterday, stopping to let Shiba take in the exotic scent of June grass layered with (to her) enticing animal smells, I noticed for more than the first time that the woods in the common area have thickened. Years ago, I lamented to our County Supervisor that the trees had died, that we had no greenery, that our "woods" were a hundred yard stretch of nothing but bald branches. He told me that eventually, the remaining trees would drop seeds into the undergrowth, that new trees would grow and plants would cover the now-bare ground. Of course our conversation wasn't that poetic--it was sprinkled with my whining and his polite politics, but yesterday, I thought, "He was right."
It took more years than I wanted to wait, but we do indeed have more fauna behind our home, and even now, in our tiny backyard, some tree (I am sure invasive, but I don't mind) has planted itself beside the shed. Vines and clover are springing up out of the mulch and mud. Thick, tall grass is sparring with weeds to take possession of our unkempt patch of suburban life. I told my husband not to pull up any of this crazy greenery, to let it grow, that the dogs are much happier to wander and have a natural place to graze when their stomachs are upset.
He is letting me have my way. He is one who typically appreciates my eccentricities. I am sure if the yard gets out of hand, he will say something, but he knows how much I love nature. He understands that, like our pets, I need to explore, that I hold in me a wild spirit, that Shiba, plants and all living things are links to my wholeness, that they bring me great joy and that he is part of that joy. I also know if I start on wrong course, he will help me readjust my steering. There are many such people in my life. For that, I am grateful. And free.