WHAT DOGS KNOW
The complaints were so many this morning, rising pre-dawn, in the cold, fumbling around in the dark trying to find my shoes and socks, hoping for some not too old left over microwaved coffee that would get my wheels spinning before stumbling out onto the street for a run I really didn’t want and might just as well do without. But some rituals are difficult to ignore. Would I rather do this or suffer through my self imposed guilt trip for the remainder of the day? Back a year or two ago old Buster would have already been stretching and yawning loudly in the darkened kitchen and laundry room where he spent his nights, making sure that I was up and moving in his direction. Buster didn’t need a morning ritual to get himself ready for the morning run. If you were up, he was ready. Even if you weren’t up, he still was ready. And if he was ready, then you weren’t going to sleep for much longer. He would pace the kitchen and scratch and yawn, his collar jingling unmistakably, in anticipation. I miss that. I miss him. A lot. Damn.
What’s that old saying? It goes something like this: “Somewhere in Africa a gazelle is waking up, knowing that he must outrun the fastest lion or else he will be eaten that day. Somewhere in Africa a lion is waking up, knowing that he must outrun the slowest gazelle or he will be going hungry that day. Whether you are a gazelle or a lion when the sun comes up, you’d better be out there running.” I suppose the old dog had that one imprinted somewhere in his DNA. If the sun was coming up he was ready to hit the bricks. I hadn’t thought about him for a little while, but those interludes are few and quite far in between. I miss my friend.
It is an interesting coincidence. I stumble out the door this morning at first light and who is out there to greet me? That little red fox. His coat is a gorgeous burnt umber, his feet black and the tip of his tail snowy white, and he runs with an odd looking stiff legged gait, but he effortlessly covers an admirable amount of distance very quickly, and we runners should appreciate each other. I haven’t seen him in a while. Now, thinking about Buster and then seeing him, well, that is a coincidence. Buster was exceptionally well mannered on the run, but when he picked up that scent, he was transported to another place entirely. Buster was a beagle/rottweiler mix. And the beagle in him totally dominated when he crossed the trail of his natural quarry. His bark became a mournful howl and then we were off to the races. I think it was for the chase, they ran against each other for the sport of the chase and not out of blood lust. It was a game for the fox, I could swear that he was grinning from ear to little ear as he pranced about, always safely out ahead of us. For Buster I’m not sure, he was in another dimension, one into which we humans are not normally allowed to venture.
But this uninspired morning, as I start down the street, I see my little friend look back over his shoulder, readying himself for the chase once more. His head is high, his nose sampling the air with anticipation, his ears perked to pick up the howl of the hound. But Buster is no more. And after a few seconds the head drops and the nose stops sniffing, and the ears go back into standby mode. I feel his sense of disappointment. Maybe it is just me…no, I do not really care to believe that. Those two raced each other for a long time, like Buster and I ran together for a long time. Yes, those friendships are just so hard to lose.
Just yesterday I was running the Greenways alone, from Fleishmann Road to Crump, and then back. Buster and I used to run that one together too, and Lake Overstreet and Phipps Park, and the orange single track, and the blue course, and the Munson Hills, and the Killearn golf course, and if I ran it, he was usually there to run it with me. On the Greenways I find myself running down the big hill, looking left, out over the green expanse of the huge field bordering the interstate, near Thornton Road… When we ran around that field, I would always stick to the mowed trail that traces the outer periphery of the field, but Buster would invariably desert the trail for the tall grass, flushing out whatever critters were hiding nearby. When the field grass was really tall I couldn’t see him at all, but I could chart his progress by where the grass was bending and rebounding. Sometime there would be a moment or two of silence, just enough for me to be concerned about where he might have gone. Then either the grass would begin moving again, or else he would bust out of there, hot on the trail of a rabbit or perhaps some other figment of both of our imaginations, running himself into oxygen debt before returning to my side. Only he didn’t know that it was oxygen debt or that he was building up a lactic acid deficit. He thought that he was having fun. Actually, he wasn’t thinking at all, he was just living as he was meant to live. I should have learned more from him.
The big green field reminds me. It reminds me that I was running the Lake Overstreet loop a few days ago. Sometimes while running there, Buster and I would wander down to the lake. In the summer I would kick off my running shoes and stand calf deep in the cool water and he would lay down next to me in the shallows, letting it cover him up to his shoulders, that must have felt good. It is running through my mind in a jumble as I run, the big green field and the cool still waters of the lake, this means something, but exactly what? I go several more miles on the trail to Crump Road and turn around, and then it comes to me as if in a dream:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul.”
Whoa….And then for the second time in my life the wind blew right through me like I wasn’t even there.
Maybe we are all really apparitions, figments of our own collective imaginations? But the feeling remains strong with me for the last 5 miles. After 15 miles I should feel sweaty and rank, but I feel so clean and refreshed. Yes, times seem to be tough right now. I guess I forget a lot of the time, but we all have much to give thanks for. Appreciate your every run, your wife, husband, children, parents, and yes, even your dogs and cats. Especially each other. Try to remember.
Buster, my friend, thank you for again reminding me about how good it is to be alive.