Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Secret Holders

Dogs listen to our every thought and they know all our secrets, yet they never tell a sole. This is a treasured feature for us humans. It is natural for us to have to spill our secrets out to someone, especially someone safe who will not lecture and judge and will not pass them on to others. We need this, and it is exactly what we get in canine companionship.

Dogs are loyal beyond description – loyal to us, their pack, their bond. In this loyalty, they watch and listen, and then they hold our secrets with a protective stance, and without condemnation. But I wonder, if they had the means to communicate with words with all humans, would they tell our secrets? Perhaps they would, as a sort of intervention, if they thought it would save our lives. Then again, I think not.

I think it is an innate feature of their character to not pass on the information of another. I think that dogs are not capable, not because of a lack of human language, but because of a lack of logic that makes comparisons and draws conclusions. Dogs are truly without judgment. And they love us so much that they would not interfere with our free will, even if they could.

I don’t think dogs see the bigger picture and the value of letting us make our own mistakes; I don’t think they are consciously aware of this profound understanding of life, yet they are designed to simply live on this level.

So if dogs could think like humans, yet retain their true dog nature, they would still take in all our secrets, listening with love, never judging. They would still be by our side, tirelessly loyal, surrounding us with a powerful, unfaltering acceptance.

I am not ashamed for George to see my flaws and know my secrets. I am completely safe with him. He patiently waits as I berate myself and his wagging tail draws me out of depression and takes me into the day with a renewed hope.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Walking in Light Snow

Our first snowfall of the season. I woke up to find the earth covered in white. I threw my coat on and went out to start the car, feeling the exhilaration when my breath caught the sudden shot of damp cold on my feet. There was only a thin layer of snow, but as the soft center of my arches fell into each step, the snow reached out like a hand and grabbed my feet, one at a time, teasingly releasing only to grab again.

I put George’s green stripped sweater on him and carried him to the car. We drove to the park and got out to walk along the river. George was hesitant at first to get out of the car, so as I stood on the snow-covered pavement coaxing him to join me, I wondered if I could bear the combination of frozen mud, melting-to-the-touch snow, and packed, icy leaves for the duration of the walk. He jumped out of the car before I decided to turn back, so two bare feet and four padded paws ventured down to the river.

The air was still, no wind was blowing, and the nighttime darkness still lingered in the sky so the atmosphere was that profound silence of winter isolation. George and I walked, our steps the only sound, magnifying the fact that we alone occupied the land.

Walking warmed my torso, and my hands, tucked inside my coat pockets, remained toasty warm. Only my face and feet experienced the cold – air on face, wetness on feet. A strange combination of physical sensations – I observed, as if from afar.

George pranced along, more interested in sniffing than anything else. To him, the cold earth was nothing more than an uncomfortable inconvenience. When he stopped to explore something more, he picked up one foot at a time finding temporary relief. I understood because I found that if my feet kept moving, I could enjoy the surge of energy that shot through the base of my feet into my whole being, but if I stood still, I felt cold and I didn’t much like that.

Every now and then I hit a patch of mud that was squishy, but most of it was sharp and hard. The leaves were smooth and slippery. The soft snow fell away as I walked. I watched the ground, mesmerized by the constant arising of surface and the way it made me feel, not only where my feet landed, but all through my body and even into my mind.

I’ve been a barefoot walker all my life, but never before had I tried it in the snow. I’m glad I did, and I’m glad for George because without him, I’m sure I wouldn’t have gone to the river this morning, and certainly not barefoot.

By afternoon the sun had taken the white away from the earth and left us only a very wet outdoors. Weather reports are calling for rain, then freezing rain, so I don’t know when we’ll get our next chance to barefoot in the snow. Will I try in freezing rain? I don’t know.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cherry’s Resilience

We kept Cherry on a long rope in our tiny side yard. She had a nice little dog house to protect her from rain and wind. In Miyazaki the winters are mild, so I felt this arrangement was at least satisfactory. Our landlord lived directly behind us after all, so disobeying the contract and having a dog in the house wasn’t really an option.

We walked with cherry several times a day as I trained her in basic obedience. The kids played with her often – she was a regular member of the neighborhood gang. Though sweet and very friendly, she had wild eyes that reflected her desire to run at every opportunity. She never did learn to come when her name was called, so we weren’t able to let her run freely very often. It would have been difficult in a small, crowded Japanese neighborhood anyway. We tried it at the beach, but always had to sit for hours, long after we were ready to go home, waiting for her return. She had a great sense of direction and a wonderful memory, so without fail, she did always return to us.

In those early years we went hiking nearly every Saturday with a group of my students from the college. Cherry went with us on every adventure, of course. Once we had to climb steep rocks to get across a small gorge. Each of my children rode on the backs of one of the students, but Cherry managed to climb very well on her own. Then suddenly she slipped. Her rope was jerked out of my hand and I screamed. We all froze, eyes and mouths wide open, as we watcher her fall several hundred feet. Stunned by the fall, she lay limp at the bottom of the ravine.

Jin-kun scampered down the rocks to rescue her. When he got to her, she licked him relentlessly. “I think she’s OK!” he yelled up to us. Then Cherry sprang to her feet and sprinted back up the rocks. Someone grabbed her rope as she ran past because we all knew that if she got past us, she would take off on her own and none of us could chase her on that terrain.

That was my first indication of just how resilient that little dog could be!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A New Pup: Cherry

When my kids were little we lived in Japan. I taught at a small liberal arts college (Miyazaki International College) at the southern tip of Kyushu. We lived in a new neighborhood at the edge of a state university that specialized in medicine and agriculture. Just beyond our neighborhood was the ocean to one side, rural countryside at the other.

One day, while riding our bikes through the big campus, we came to a small brown puppy curled up in a cardboard box in front of one of the dorms. A handwritten sign was stapled to the front of the box: “If I am not claimed by Friday, I will be adopted by the test lab.”

We got off our bikes and played with the pup. The kids begged me to take her home. Cute as she was, I was hesitant to take on the responsibility. We lived in a rented house and I knew we couldn’t have a dog inside. I also knew that we wouldn’t be staying in Japan forever, so the problem of taking a dog through customs and back to the United States looked complicated and expensive. I said “no”, but was keenly aware that my heart strings were already tied up in knots for the kids, the adorable little pup, and even for myself.

That night, the puppy was all we could talk about. I finally agreed to go back Friday after school and if the puppy was still there, we would take her home…

When Friday finally came, we peddled as fast as we could to the dorm where we’d seen the little dog. The box was still there, but it was empty. We stood around and lamented for awhile, then walked around looking for her. She was gone. We got on our bikes and started to head home when suddenly, she came tearing out from around another building. At top speed, she ran right toward us. I got off my bike just in time to catch her when she leapt into my arms. The kids were screaming and jumping and the pup was squirming all over us.

We took her home and named her Cherry for her cherry red coat.

Cherry changed our lives…

Monday, November 9, 2009

My First Blog Entry

OK, so I’m starting this blog in early November, late in the barefooting season. Nonetheless, with a passion for both dogs and barefooting, the barefoot dog woman seems an appropriate title for this new endeavor.

My little stray mutt named George is my trusting companion in all I do, including barefooting. I pull George’s pale blue sweater over his little mohawked head and together, we tread barefoot out the door to begin our day. This morning the two of us went out to the park At the edge of town and padded over the damp leaf carpet that lined the river’s bank. The thick covering of golden and magenta leaves on the ground cushioned our soles from the stray sticks that had poked and scratched in warmer months. It’s been unusually cold the past few weeks, so this sudden rise in temperature was a welcome to both of us.

George will be barefoot all through the winter; I’ve never tried those booties they sell in upscale doggie boutiques and don’t ever intend to. I think he would be appalled. I’ll make it through the first few snow falls, but when the ground is frozen solid and the snow comes up over my ankles, I’ll have to pull the boots out of boxes and pack my feet into them.

Nonetheless, this barefoot dog woman is ready to start blogging about the love of nature and my connection to it through the soles of my feet while experiencing the world with canine companions.