March on the Plains

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Yesterday morning Martha and I joined the group for a walk on the Plains. We were a little late, and the road where we parked was hard packed dirt, glazed with old ice. Not a great walking or driving surface. Martha got off to a slow start, obliged as she was to sniff everything. We finally got going along the packed down snowmobile trails and caught up with the group.

It was pretty cold – high teens – but I was warmly dressed. The trail was a little tricky, because if you stepped off the packed snow, your foot went down deep into the soft powder on the sides of the trail.  The group moved along at a brisk pace.  The dogs were quite a mix – three large labs, a golden, a beagle, and few tiny ones including a chihuahua, a teacup yorkie, and some others. It was a great walk, even if we were only out for about an hour.

I expected that Martha would be a little sore afterwards, since we’d been inactive for so long and she had pushed herself pretty hard.  I gave her some pain meds when we got home. Later that evening, when we were at my folk’s house for dinner, she was pretty stiff. I stayed overnight, but I slept on the couch on the first floor because Martha wasn’t able to climb the stairs. Uh oh.

She hadn’t improved much overnight, and I gave her some more meds when we got home this morning. She has an appointment to see the chiropractic/acupuncture vet on Wednesday. She can just about get onto the couch, but can’t leap up to the bed, and it breaks my heart to see her like this.

She will be twelve in May.

Not only Emily.

Headstone of William S. Clark, West Cemetery, Amherst, MA USA
Headstone of William S. Clark, West Cemetery, Amherst, MA USA

I walk Martha in West Cemetery nearly every day, all year round, rain or shine.  I frequently see people wandering around as though they are looking for a particular gravesite.  Most of the time, they are trying to find Emily Dickinson’s grave, so I point them in that direction and off they go. It’s fairly easy to identify these folks, because they usually arrive in a late model sedan with Connecticut license plates – a rental car, for sure.

One recent mid-day, Martha and I spotted such a vehicle, parked near the Town Tomb.  Three well-dressed Asian men got out, and looked around as though seeking – a particular gravesite.  I approached and asked them if they were looking for Emily.  To my surprise, they said no.  They were looking for someone named “Clark.”

They explained that they were from Hokkaido University, and they were looking for the grave of William S. Clark.  Clark, the third president of Massachusetts Agricultural College, had later been hired by the Japanese government as a foreign advisor to establish the Sapporo Agricultural College (SAC), now Hokkaido University. Although he was only there for eight months,  Clark made a huge impression on the Japanese, and there is a large statute of him on the campus of Hokkaido University. He was buried in West Cemetery.

I remembered that the Town of Amherst has an online map and directory  of West Cemetery, so I looked it up on my phone and soon enough we were standing before a large, white marble stone which bore the name of William S,. Clark.

Somewhere in Hokkaido, Japan, there is a photograph of three well-dressed Japanese professors, standing with me and Martha next to William Clark’s grave.

Herders v Retrievers (Keepers v Finders?)

Wharrrgll!
Wharrrgll!

Herders v Retrievers (Keepers v Finders?)

Retrievers, for their part, were bred to sit in a boat or duck blinds for hours – often in the company of new-to-them dogs and people. Labs were not bred or selected for any sort of aggression. They are, in general, social dogs who wag harder when seeing a strange dog than most herding dogs wag at their best canine friends. They are frequently “close talkers” who bumble jovially into personal space with a grin on their face that a herding dog can be just itching to wipe off.

Working with Dogs

Martha greeting

I read an article in Forbes online which reminded me of the reasons why I have shared my workspace with Martha since she was 9 weeks old.

Fido can be a startup founders best friend

There are more and more articles like this, and I’m encouraged.  I’d like to think that if I change jobs, I will still be able to bring my dog to work with me every day.  I don’t think I could work well without her.

 

The magic of the trail

There is some kind of magic that happens when a group of humans and dogs walk together. We all start as strangers. The dogs are variously excited, curious, nervous, shy, or even afraid, finding themselves among others of diverse sizes, shapes and temperaments. The humans are friendly but cautious, watching their dogs reacting to the adventure about to begin. We introduce ourselves. Most of us will more easily remember the names of the dogs rather than the names of their humans. We take a final attendance check, and head out on the trail.

Three to five minutes into the walk, the leashes start to come off. Some dogs surge ahead, but others hang behind, close to their humans. Some of the dogs will stay on leashes for the entire walk, and that’s just fine. We watch our dogs chase up and down the trail, chasing each other, circling back to check on us, sniffing for a treat here and there. Big dogs, little dogs, running and playing and clowning but always moving forward, moving together, two legged and four legged, along the path to the destination of the day.

Sometimes we walk a loop trail. Often we walk to a certain point or place and then retrace our steps. As the walk progresses, we shift positions, walking and talking with different people in the group, different paces, many conversations. The dogs shift position, too, finding some pack order or rank as they move along, becoming more comfortable with each other, working together to progress along the path.

We stop, at least once, for a short rest. We stop sometimes because of the rules. They are few and simple. First, you must always be able to see the person behind you on the trail (unless you know you are last.) If you can’t see that person, you must stop to let them catch up and come into view before proceeding. Second, if you come to a turn or intersection in the path, you must stop until everyone catches up and knows which way to turn. That’s about it.

The rest is short because the dogs will tend to pick on each other if they stop moving forward for too long. Sometimes I think that’s true of humans, too. We turn back, or move through the loop, now relaxed and happy in our company, on to the end of the walk. We water our dogs, load into the cars with many fond goodbyes and wishes to see each other again soon. We have created a peaceful, happy community of humans and dogs for a little while. Our souls are the better for it.