Monday, November 07, 2011

A Woman’s Best Friend

by Zinta Aistars

How can I resist that face? That rusty orange face, muzzle turning white with accumulating years, liquid brown eyes that gaze at me with utter devotion—my old chow pup, Guinnez. After a good run through the muddy woods or a roll in a pile of leaves, he becomes my Guinea Pig. But no swine, this. Guinnez has the loyal chow in his blood, the black polka dots on his tongue as proof, but the pink on his tongue point to, I would guess, a Golden Retriever tossed into the mix. The chow’s more reserved personality is tempered with the lick-your-face sweetness of a Golden.
Guinnez and I have been together now for about 11 years, give or take. I found him at the Kalamazoo animal shelter, a rambunctious young pup of almost a year, still growing, with a red ruff around his neck that by now he’s almost lost. I was told he was a runaway, and I’ve always wondered if his wonderful tail that should have nearly completed a circle above his back being instead cut off at about half its fluffy arc might have something to do with it. As friendly as he is, he is very suspicious of the male gender, expecting the worst (and declaring it loudly) until he learns otherwise, yet with the female gender he is much more trusting. Stories of his life that I will never know and can only guess to what those learned reflexes might reveal …

As for my son, Guinnez bonded quickly enough with him, and worships him beyond all others. The two speak to each other without words and without barks, and when my son leaves the house, Guinnez will slump against the door, waiting, waiting, waiting.

This time I invite him to the door with a jingle of his leash, and he comes running. Such enthusiasm! If we humans could sustain such … and that’s only part of why I like taking him for walks. His immense enjoyment of the world around him is contagious. He makes sure I don’t go too fast to miss it, dragging me back to take a deeper sniff of this clump of grass, of that tree trunk, of the sign post, of the scrunched up wrapper tossed aside. He always stops to smell the roses.

Guinea and I take daily morning walks before I go to work. That means pre-dawn, sometime around 5:30 a.m., when the world is still dark and mysterious and silent. Silent, until I begin to hear all the noises, watching the dog’s velvety ears perk up to form perfect triangles as he leads our march. They bounce sweetly as he trots along to catch up with the rabbits that so often bound across our path. He hears it all, scents it all, his nose lifted to the breeze or snuffling right up against the earth. I always wonder what stories his nose tells him of who has passed and how long lingered and why. When he takes too long, I give him a firm tug, but sometimes he finds a scent so intriguing that he’ll flatten himself against the ground when I tug on his leash, giving himself full weight. Like it or not, I have to wait, and often those are the moments that I catch sight of all that I might have otherwise missed … the rabbit sitting still against the tree, the fallen toy on the sidewalk, the twirling leaves falling slowly, slowly from the tree, the morning moon reflected in the puddle.
On this Sunday, we head to Asylum Lake Preserve. I haven’t been there yet, goodness knows why, as it is just two, three miles from where I live. I’ve always meant to stop and explore, and today, we do. Guinnez has his damp nose pressed to the glass of the car window as we park the car. He bounds from the passenger seat into my lap, between me and steering wheel, waiting for me to open the door and set him free. I can hardly breathe with his weight against me. Such impatience! I tsk, tsk, and he touches my nose with his nose and I can’t help laughing.

Out we go. And the day is beautiful, a cool autumn day of clear and mild sun and expansive blue skies. Many of the most colorful leaves have fallen, leaving trees bare, but enough remain to give us a canopy as we enter the woods. Sun slants through branches overhead. One of the Asylum lakes glimmers deep blue between the trees. Guinnez tugs on the leash to reach a new smell under the crisp leaves … I tug on the leash to pause for a moment and take a picture. Looking at the photos later is like taking the walk a second time, and sometimes seeing new detail I missed when I was there.

Such a fine day has brought out others, humans and dogs. Guinnez greets all pups politely, even the tiny black pup, baby Lab, bounding and leaping around him and between his legs while he waits for her to calm … so hard for her to do. He pays his respects to the German Shepherd-Husky, allowing approach, then coming in a step to touch noses. The two of them circle and turn tails to gain more history, I suppose, or whatever that may tell them. We owners trade words about fine weather while the dogs have their own conversation.

I want to pause longer at the lakeside. I squat down to take photos, the tall yellow grasses and cattails and floating leaves across the surface of the water, until Guinnez loses patience with my dawdling and gives me a firm tug, landing me with rear into soft, muddy ground at the edge of the lake.

“Aw, Guinea Pig!” I whine and brush dirt from my pants while (I swear) he sniggers, lips drawn up in a doggish grin. Who's the piggie now. I make a face at him, and he comes up to lick a broad wet tongue, pink and black, across my face as I twist to rub my backside. “Yeah, yeah, forgiven, love you, too.”

On we go, stopping again to watch ducks bottom up, mallards swimming in lines across a smaller lake. We stop to pick up leaves, check for frogs among the reeds, dance in another slant of sunlight. We lose track of time and wish all days were like this—when time disappears because it is so full of meaning. I wouldn’t trade our companionship for any other. This is our bonding, our shared enjoyment of the natural world around us, each of us tugging each other into the world as we see, hear, taste, feel and perceive it.

I can’t imagine taking such walks without him, my old chow pup friend. When we sit for a while in the milkweed to rest, Guinnez pushes through the tall grass for a moment and lifts his handsome face to the sun. His muzzle glows white in the spill of warm light. We are both growing older, aren’t we? I can’t bear to think of someday being without him, but I know that day will come … as it came for all his many furry predecessors, each bringing their own share of miracles into my life. The Malamute, the Husky, the calico cats and the tiger striped, and the tuxedo barn cat, Tommy, that a little while ago was still around to be this dog’s best cat buddy, and mine. I suspect we both miss him equally and think of him often.

My life would be barren without these animal companions. My house, too quiet. My sleep at night, too chilled without their warmth pressed up against my side. My lap, too empty without my cat curling up while I read a good book. My heart, too shallow without their unconditional love to press it large.

Without my old chow pup, I may not always remember to keep my face turned toward the sun.

My stone portrait of Guinnez

1 comment:

  1. That daily walk with an old friend probably helps shape the mood of the day,