“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Part II, Day 32: Which Way Do We Go?

I've been trying to get back to see the trillium since our two-hour walk on Sunday, but on two consecutive walks this week, Zoe said no.

She likes the woods and the trillium just fine; what she took strenuous objection to was the route we had to take to get there.  When Zoe puts her foot down, when she does her "hell no, we won't go," she becomes very heavy and immobile.  I could, if I chose, put her back on the lead and try to tug her toward my destination, but what would be the joy in that?  These walks are for her.  I am her person, and I am there to serve.  If I had to force the matter and exert my will, it wouldn't be any fun.

What's fun is to figure out what she wants, what she doesn't want, and why.

Take Tuesday, for example.  On Tuesday she objected to puberty.  En masse.  We had crossed the path and were on the island, and were about to cross the second bridge.  But then, just up ahead, a group of about 30 kids, mostly boys in middle school, gathered in a clump to admire this cute three-legged dog making her way into their world.

I heard them before I saw them, but I saw her before I heard them.  She sat down and said, hell no.

Mind you, this is a shy dog.  She doesn't go to parties.  She prefers the one-on-one, or a group of three, maybe four.  It's difficult to go into depth on philosophical matters when there are ten, twenty, or maybe thirty boys, age 12-13, who all want to pat her on the head and say, "hi dog, hi hi hi!"

What I loved about this crossroads was the child leader who came forth.  A boy with a buzz cut who had clearly done time in the canine community said, "Guys, you're scaring this dog.  Let me go forward first.  Alone."  He told his minions to shush, and then he presented himself to our girl.  He was indisputably the alpha boy and no one doubted his authority, least of all, me.

The problem was that he did not have eyes in back of his head.  He didn't know, because he was too busy looking sweetly at Zoe and asking her in all the right ways if she wanted to sit and be patted, that the gang had not in the least bit thinned out, and so it looked to Zoe like the boy was luring her there with my help so that she could then be high-fived by about sixty growing hands--all at the same time.

Zoe was on the bridge a foot away from Alpha Boy, seriously considering his proposal, but then she decided against it, and that was that.  She turned around and walked away.

"What's her name?  If I call her, will she come?" the boy asked me.  What he really wanted to know was if this dog had been trained at all.

"I think she's just decided that this is too large a group to meet," I said, as Zoe's reverse walk turned into a run.  Before I finished the sentence she had whizzed over the bridge and was halfway down the first leg of our path.

But then I saw what all my weeks and months of training had accomplished.  She turned and looked behind several times to make sure I was watching.  She made sure we made eye contact every time she turned her head.  And then she made sure I could see that she was waiting for me in a quiet, discreet spot closer to the river, away from the throngs.

The smallest boy in this group, the least alpha one of the pack, stopped to yell to me, "Your dog is sweet.  She's the nicest dog I've ever seen."  

I wanted to thank him, but I was hurrying away, trying to catch up to my dog.

On Wednesday her objective to the path was purely aesthetic.

We were at the same point where things broke down on Tuesday, on the second bridge, and we heard loud music.  I hope she isn't starting to think that whenever we cross this bridge now, she'll be bombarded with sensations.  Middle school boys, loud music: after a while it's the same kind of too- muchness.

There was a band playing on campus.  The music sailing across the river to us was "Y.M.C.A."

Zoe looked at me and said, "Seriously?"  She sat down.

I wanted to explain the seventies to her.  I wanted to tell her about dance parties, gay rights, and how this fun, upbeat song by the Village People is the gay anthem.  But that it's also a song played at major sports events. I just read, for example, that it made the Guinness Book of Records in 2009 when 44,000 people sang the song at the Sun Bowl in Texas.  I wanted her to know that in a certain frame of mind, if you want to dance, and you know some fun arm moves, it's a great song for fostering unity, better even than the Hokey Pokey.  Better than a conga line or the macarena.  I wanted her to realize she was dismissing number 7 on VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Dance Songs of the 20th Century.
But I knew not to argue with her.  She had that certain determined head tilt.  Crossing the bridge was out of the question.  We killed some time at the island, where we wandered along the river's edge, chased sticks, and then followed the undergrowth to the edge and watched a German shepherd on the other side of the bridge charge toward the live music without hesitation.

"One can't argue with taste," Zoe finally said.

When I brought home this puppy nine years ago, the prevailing opinion, from all the sources I read and the classes Zoe and I attended, was that I had to be the firm pack leader.  That Zoe would be more content and feel more secure if she knew that I was alpha, that it was my way or the highway.

That isn't the relationship we established.  I'm alpha when it comes to big things, like, she can't play in traffic.  She acquiesces so sweetly to so many things we never bargained for: going to veterinarians once a month or more, submitting to blood tests, x-rays, intravenous treatments of drugs I never knew the names of before this September, acupuncture needles, herbs and vitamins and endless pills, all kinds of poking and prodding, and then the spectacle of me, her person, coming to her every night when she's settling into bed and telling her how great she is, how she is brave and good and resilient and strong, when she really just wants to sleep and dream about chasing rabbits and eating a maggoty old squirrel.

But one of the things I love about Zoe is her confidence in her own opinions.  While I dither about what to do in so many ways, especially on the page--should character X go here?  will character Y sleep with character Z?  am i over-doing it on the back story?  should i move this scene over there?--she knows where she wants to play, and why.  And when I worry about how to ask for things I need, and how to give my dog the things she needs most, she always knows where to go.  This way, her nose shows me.  She points, in her regal way, and the direction is clear.  That way.  No, not there.  Are you kidding me?  What, are you kidding me?
I think we're going to have to drive to the entrance to these woods if I want to walk through them again before the last of the trillium die


  1. I know exactly how Zoe feels, and I'm glad she has an understanding "mom"--I guess more than understanding--it's respecting her choices. The same principle works with horses. You have to be the "lead mare" in many situations, so that when you say to your thousand-pound horse "back up, you big lug, you are standing on my foot" or "move over onto the shoulder, a truck is coming" he moves. But whenever possible I like to give him the choice. When we're just wandering around the woodsy trails I drop the reins and he can do anything (except eat grass!-- a choking hazard with the bit in), including stop for a nap, or even head for home (as long as it is not at a run!). When we go for a graze after a ride, I follow him around from grass clump to grass clump, as he finds the best-tasting spots. Our world is so hemmed in and hazardous for a horse that mostly these symbols of freedom (!) are more like prisoners. So respecting his opinions and wishes as much as possible is the best I can do.

  2. I love this description of what it means to be the lead mare. I'm enjoying the images you create here. I love especially the idea of stopping for a nap. I would love to try that! And I like the idea of the horse finding the best-tasting spots. Thanks so much for this note!