SLOW LEARNER

 Sam almost has me trained.

I’m presently enrolled in his University of Unhurried Walk.

Since he returned from the vet a month ago, with a new $1600 knee (left rear), Sam has had me at his beck and call. Part of the post-op protocol given us by Dr. Blackmar has been to keep Sam, previously an outdoor dog with free run of the county, inside the house and under close watch. It is to be that way for three months. It has been a month today. …

The exception to house confinement is leash walks that are to get progressively longer as Sam gets progressively stronger. By the end of February, he should be able to return to life as a farm dog, at which time I will have to recondition his mind to understand that 16 hours a day on the couch is not normal canine activity. 

I’ve never owned a leash dog before; I never wanted to. It is interesting that I now find myself owned by a leash dog. Having enjoyed a long spell at home for the holidays, I’ve been able to give Sam pretty much constant attention since his surgery, an experience that I have found quite pleasant actually. He has spent most of his time in the house (on the couch or the rug) or at the studio with me, sleeping a lot, hearing my voice a lot, getting frequent bits of touch. On no particular schedule, we’ve taken short strolls around the house, through the field in front of the house, on the road behind the house, down the path to the tree house, and in the area around the studio. It’s been a bit of a challenge for a long-legged creature like myself to learn the desultory walking habits of a lame dog. And while Sam seems satisfied to stay close by my side part of the time, walking at my pace and moving in my direction, he mostly likes to meander slowly, with lots of stops and starts, led by a nose close to the ground or slightly upturned, apparently in search of something or other.

At other times, he simply stops, as if attentive to a distant voice or vague scent, and stands for a spell until he decides, on criteria unknown to me, to move along. I could, of course, drag him or pull hard on the leash to get him back on my course and back at my pace. I have, though, resisted that temptation and, instead, am giving him the lead, in the process learning ‘slow,’ learning ‘stroll,’ learning ‘look’, learning ‘let someone else be in charge for a few minutes.’ On a number of occasions, when I’ve gotten out in front of him, Sam leans back on his heels, stops, and waits for me to get to the end of the leash. I’ve turned around to find him standing, head slightly dropped, looking right at me. i’m not sure what he means by the gesture, if anything, but it almost seems that, as the new year begins, someone is telling me not to hurry, that at my recent pace I run the risk of missing something really good, and that I would be wise to let someone else lead the way until I learn the distant voices and vague scents of the better way. Oh, the blessing of a good dog.

Reflective living and ‘adorational attentiveness,’ which both defy hurry, have been themes in some of my songwriting in the past and, I hope, will be my mindset for ‘09. Being on the leash is reminding me that i‘m still very much a student of those mindsets, that I have much to learn.

 PS (January 15) – Speaking of man and dog, I was recently introduced to a beautiful children’s book (full of solid food for grown up minds) by Mrs. Lane, third grade teacher at Park elementary. (Her’s is one of the classes that I read to on Thursdays.) Today, we finished Stone Fox, by John Reynolds Gardiner and Greg Hargreaves. If you have children to whom you read out loud, or if you’ve got 15 minutes for a ‘leash walk’ that will do your heart good, you might want to read it.

 span style=”font-family:Calibri;”>PS2 –  Sam would have you know that he is no longer a $20 dog.)