Monday, September 19, 2011

SOPHIE'S GIFT – A Lesson in Presence

The "wonder man" is out for a walk today. I try to do this every day, by myself, so I can meditate on my steps and whatever they bring me to around each turn. This time, though, I'm not alone; I'm with Sophie, the miniature schnauzer we're sitting for a month or so.

Here I like to think I'm this sensitive, aware, in-the-moment guy who knows how to relish every experience, who notices and appreciates every little thing.

Seems I'm about to learn a few things.

All I do is whisper the magic word, walk, and Sophie's nearly popping out of her skin with excitement. I have no trouble translating her exclamations from dog to English: Yippee!, Omygod!, and I think I make out one triumphant, fist-pumping YES-S-S!! She—all 15 pounds of her—yanks my arm out straight, dragging me out the door.

We start out on one of my usual routes, the beautiful walking/biking trail that runs along the high, wooded bluffs of the Mississippi here in Southeast Minneapolis. Parts of it are a grassy boulevard; other stretches butt right up to thick forest that plunges steeply down to the water. It's a surprisingly wild area, considering that we're in the middle of the metro.

From the moment I attach her retracting leash, Sophie's pulling with all-out enthusiasm. If I walk fast, she walks faster, her little legs a gray blur under her black chunk of a body. If I trot, she runs; if I run, she sprints.

What I can't see she obviously senses in ways I can only imagine.

We pass a few walkers, bikers and their dogs. And in the woods there are still some wild critters managing to eke out a living—squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, wild turkey, fox, even white-tail deer. I spot a few of the smaller, more conspicuous ones here and there, but every few minutes Sophie pulls up suddenly and rivets her attention on a spot somewhere deep in the woods. What I can't see she obviously senses in ways I can only imagine.

If my enthusiasm and eyesight fall a bit short of Sophie's, my sense of smell never leaves the gate. Vestiges of her shared ancestry with bloodhounds are clear as she sweeps the grass, nose to the ground, in broad zig-zags. Amidst the rich stew of smells—some of them left by feet that passed here days ago—one suddenly stands out, and she breaks the pattern to check it out…twenty feet away.

Even in those rare moments when Sophie's not darting madly this way and that, her eyes still are. They're caught by anything that moves…or just looks interesting. I kick a big, fat acorn which rolls ahead through her legs. Her body dips slightly as she considers giving chase, but by then something else steals her attention.

Of all the "locals" around here, the squirrels are the least secretive. As soon as Sophie spots one, she's off like a shot, every fiber of her being committed to the chase. She can't help it; it's like her legs are programmed to react this way. If the leash is taut, they still run in place, her tender little foot pads skidding, sanding down on the rough sidewalk. If there's any slack in the leash, she's up to full speed by the time it goes taut, yanking her into a near back flip.

The squirrels are merciless. They seem to know she can't get to them, and decide to keep rummaging nonchalantly though the acorns until we're close enough to see their mocking eyes. I'm sure Sophie can smell victory. At the last instant, of course, they run away. I swear a couple of them purposely duck only halfway behind trees, leaving their bushy tails out, twitching, taunting.

I don't think she ever worries about the future or the past or what she doesn't have.

I'd never, for a moment, wish to be dog. But there's much to be admired. Here Sophie's  got all the openness, the curiosity, the hunger for discovery of a young child, and, on top of that, she can run! What a perfect embodiment of pure joy!

Of course I'm amazed by Sophie's sense of smell, but I'm in utter awe of how she can apply that and all her other senses at the same time. It's like a finely-tuned, fully-integrated instrument of sensing. If it weren't for the leash, I'm sure she'd have tracked down a few things more interesting than squirrels.

I love the way she manages to have absolutely no other agenda but the adventure of the moment. I'm impressed with her purity of intention; there's no pretense, no guile. What you see is what you get. And I applaud the way she accepts life as it comes and appreciates every bit of it, just as it is. I don't think she ever worries about the future or the past or what she doesn't have.

We get home and we're standing at the door. I fumble for my keys and open it. Just before she trots in, Sophie stops, turns her head and looks back for a couple of seconds, right up into my eyes. Again, I understand exactly what that look means, and it just seems like a perfect, if improbable, ending to today's lesson in awareness.

I feel like a student, coming to the end of my favorite class—perhaps we all had an especially spirited discussion that day. As I head out into the hall, there's the teacher telling each pupil as he or she walks out, "Thank you!"

Imagine that, the teacher thanking the students! No, Sophie, believe me, the thanks are all mine!


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