It is a marvel to me how Winston has the ability to choose and pick up sticks (aka large limbs or logs) in his mouth which are generally double his body length and carry them at a full run preciously in the centre of the length of wood so they stick out, perfectly balanced, on either side of his black head. He never fails to hold the stick with his head held high and at a height precisely set for clocking me in the back of the knees time and time again. He uses the stick as a “helpful” reminder that he would be well pleased for me to hoick the stick, limb or log over my head and chuck it as far as I can for him to retrieve over and over again. He particularly likes to use his stick trick when I am a remiss dog owner and “forget” his ball and its handy launcher in an attempt to have a more peaceful walk with him. Instead, Winston has other ideas and is quite the master at finding any sort of projectile for me to throw for him just so he can be assured that he will have something to retrieve over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Indeed, Winston, has become increasingly insane about retrieving and it is wild for me to consider how he got to such a state. I mean, it is like an addiction from the moment he notes me coming to he drops a slightly defuzzing tennis ball on my still-stuck-to-the-pillow head and then proceeds to follow me around dropping it at my feet, in my lap, on my laptop, even in the middle of my backgammon game until I give in to a game of fetch. He seems to be under the impression he needs to refresh my memory that the ball or stick is there to be thrown and that he would very much like to retrieve it over and over again. I am not kidding, once I decided to count how many times he would bring the ball back and on a half hour walk, I counted he retrieved it ninety-seven times. He was relentless; the bursitis in my shoulder being the only thing stopping him from clearing 100.
More disturbingly, the thing I have noticed most about his retrieving recently, is that it seems as though he is taking it beyond his instinct of doing something that comes naturally and enjoyably to him and, instead, bearing it as a responsibility. Winston is as hard a task master on himself as he is on me pressing me with his balls and sticks into the throwing part of the retrieving. It has gotten to the point where I feel like it some how is not as fun as it used to be for him or me. It has gotten to the point where I feel like I am just monotonously throwing it long enough such that I can keep up the pace and move the walk along so I can keep him distracted and meanwhile get on with the real task at hand, which for me, is thinking through my to do list. Just as Winston obsessively tries to keep up his commitments to retrieving anything and everything, I obsessively try to keep up with my commitments of retrieving my responsibilities, looping my to do list, adding to it and tweaking it from the moment we begin our walk some times all the way until get back to the car. I have to admit, when it comes down to it seems we are really as bad as each other on these walks with Winston cycling through his retrieves and drops and me multitasking in the worst way – purposefully striding through our jaunt so I can tick it off and move on to the next activity I need to complete in my morning, my day or my week.
Last weekend, however, as we were walking sans the “b-a-l-l”, (if you say it then you are doomed to throwing it over and over again), and I was side stepping the hefty sticks he was trying to whale into my legs, I decided something had to snap us out of our bad habits. I decided I would just ignore each stick, limb or log and by acting like I hadn’t seen (or felt) it would see if I could break the recent pattern of our promenades. It took a little while, but eventually with a little perseverance, Winston stopped with his retrieving responsibilities and charged around like he used to, pre the retriever instinct kicking in. He took off after a scent, wound beneath the spent feathery fern fronds, ducked and dived over and under felled trees, dashed through and drank, like only a dog can, from murky muddy puddles and romped behind the scenes of the wild rhodendron clearing its roots and snuffling through its leaves and old blackberry brambles. He checked in periodically, but he seemed so carefree I did not dare call him back. I just let him cross the well worn path we walked together, way ahead or hanging behind, following where ever the scent would guide him. It was a joy to see him so in tune with the woods and so exhilarated with his charge through the early morning walk.
Free from throwing Winston’s stick, I stopped worrying through my list, and suddenly realised I had gotten into my stride. Just like Winston, untethered from my mental burdens, I could actually revel in the stretch of my walk and let my mind wander more freely.
I know with New Year’s resolutions looming and back to work catching up to be done post the holidays, it is easy to accumulate a giant set of responsibilities and build a structure to accomplishing our goals. However, in watching Winston let go of what he thought he had to do and wind into rolling into the moment he was actually in, he seemed so freed and joyful I had to see his change of tact as one to follow. I know you can’t leave everything behind as kids still need laundry and meals and life has to carry on with its practicalities, but watching Winston reminded me of the necessity of taking a time out, to just keep it simple and to, maybe, stroll or even run every once in a while unburdened without a stick or ball or responsibility to be retrieved in the course of a day.
As a Capricorn, I am notorious for liking to get things done, but I guess Winston showed me there is a quality to taking some down time which can be even more beneficial and productive if you can put the to dos aside for a moment or two. I may not have worked out the logistics of how I was going to shove in the next load of laundry while preparing the Sunday roast while ordering my on-line groceries, but I did move things forward in my spirit, releasing it for a moment to rest and properly rejuvenate for my next set of duties. Above all, given the quiet moment, I thought about keeping a balance between abiding our mutual inclinations to follow our instincts so doggedly and changing it up a bit, even in a little way, so as to improve the quality of our walks wherever, whichever way they wind us.