Here’s Mud in Your Eye
I couldn’t figure out what to write about in this month’s column. Then I went for a hike with my skittish dog on a very windy day down a muddy hill with 45 pounds on my back…
Bailey is a dog of habit. Every morning, we have the same routine: she gets out of bed after me, takes a big, long stretch, and then waggles up to me and through my legs repeatedly while I say good morning. After 3-5 passes, she sits down behind me and scratches under her collar, signaling the morning ritual is complete and it’s time to go downstairs so I can feed her leftover eggs. I’m sure she believes the only reason I am eating the eggs to begin with is to reduce the amount on the plate to her customary sampling size.
Normally those pre-scheduled stops are the highlight of the trip for her (if not for me) except, of course, when Bailey sees another dog. Then, as comedian Owen Benjamin explains, you would think she had stumbled across extraterrestrial life. (Warning: adult language in this video clip.)
Close encounters of the canine kind aside, Bailey can be a little skittish on these walks, and when it is windy, she is very alert to strange noises and movements. Her shyness is actually why we picked Bailey out eight years ago. In a small pen under a big oak tree on a Madison County farm, we saw a boiling black bunch of rolling, yippy Labradoodle puppies, and when the door to the pen opened, all the puppies went romping out into the field. All except the runt, who tip-toed through the pen door, peered out at her siblings running this way and that, and decided instead to sidle over to the humans where things seemed calm and safe. Since our ten-year-old daughter Madison had a fear of dogs at the time (but had bravely consented to us getting a puppy), we figured this gentle little runt was the right one for us.
As you may have read in previous columns, I hope to hike the Grand Canyon next year with my brother, brother-in-law and perhaps some nieces and nephews. As part of the training for this trip, I began wearing a backpack when I walk Bailey, weighted down with water bottles. This was a new wrinkle in our routine, and at first Bailey was not sure she liked it. She was particularly nervous about the odd squeaking sound the plastic water bottles made when I walked, as they shifted and rubbed against each other.
Bailey eventually got used to the noise. But when the wind is blowing hard and the trees and bushes are crackling and dancing around us, Bailey is back on high alert, yanking my shoulder out of its socket (she is a decent-sized, 50-pound dog) when I accidentally kick a stick or trip over my own feet behind her.
Last Saturday was one of those days, a gusty finish to several days of rain. Bailey and I (carrying 45-pounds of water bottles in my backpack) had completed the compulsories by the lake and were walking down a muddy, bush-lined path next to the neighborhood clubhouse. The bush branches were whipping around in the wind, and Bailey was already jumpy as the path began sloping sharply downhill toward the community playground. As we descended the grade, I saw a young family playing beyond the monkey bars. Distracted for a moment, my foot slipped forward sharply on the slick hill, dropping me onto one knee in the mud.
I felt stupid, but for only a second, because then the momentum of my 45-pound backpack rushing forward tipped me sharply head-first down the hill. Thankfully, I was able to catch myself (using the hand holding the leash – this becomes relevant shortly) just before my face hit the mud.
Now I really felt stupid, but only for a second. That’s when all the ruckus of me falling and the water bottles squeaking scared the heck out of Bailey and she took off running down the hill. I didn’t know she had bolted because I was looking down, an inch from a Chesterfield mud facial. So it was a big surprise when Bailey hit the end of the leash at full speed, yanking my leash-hand/arm out from under me and I collapsed into the mud barely keeping my face above the mire.
NOW I felt really, really stupid, but only for a second. That’s because the sounds of (and the sounds made by) a 54-year-old man falling face-first into the mud in public convinced Bailey that she needed to GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE, and she kept running… dragging me, by the leash, down the muddy hill.
My first thought was: “God, I hope no one saw that.” My second thought was: “Oh, yeah, there’s a whole family 30 feet away. I’m pretty sure someone saw that.” My third thought: “This is pretty funny.”
I don’t know what Bailey thought when she finally stopped running and looked back to see me laughing and struggling to get up out of the mud, but I’ll bet it wasn’t, “I admire that guy so much.”
I got to my feet and looked over at the young family to see if any of them were having trouble breathing due to hysterics, and they had missed the whole thing. My relief turned to tragedy, however, when I realized the parents were my friends Nick and Cindy, who I think would have really enjoyed the show. I had to settle for telling them the story the next Sunday in Ben’s man-cave during football (everyone should have a friend with a boat, and everyone should have a friend with a man-cave…). And now I’m sharing it with you.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Men commonly exaggerate the theme… My work is writing, and I do not hesitate, though I know that no subject is too trivial for me, tried by ordinary standards; for, ye fools, the theme is nothing, the life is everything. All that interests the reader is the depth and intensity of the life excited.”
I didn’t know what to write about in this month’s column, until I went for a hike with my skittish dog… It was a trivial event, but I hope you found it interesting.
Chuck Hansen’s book are available at Amazon.com: Nose-Sucker Thingees, Weeds Whacking Back & Cats in the Bathtub (a collection of humor essays) and Build Your Castles in the Air: Thoreau’s Inspiring Advice for Success in Business (and Life) in the 21st Century.