The month of April had some hard moments in it.
Owen is re-aranging the woods. He hoists a sturdy fallen branch, then another, then another, until his arms are full of grubby logs with ragged bark, some under his armpits, some clutched to his chest. Then, at a whim it seems, he jettisons them, one! two! three! to rot elsewhere, farther down the trail. Our little caravan just gets walking smoothly again when Owen darts down off the path, jerking our poor bulldog abruptly backwards, to test a giant rotting log – – can he lift it?
“That’s too big Owen” I say. And he knows it, anyway, and settles for ripping off a handful of the satisfyingly crumbly, spongy interior instead. The dog strains forward, unwilling to abandon the walk he has waited for too long today. “No pull, Trum,” I say, to no particular purpose. The dog will keep pulling, and Owen will keep reaching for the logs that capture his attention.
Besides rotting logs, Owen seems especially drawn to wood partially obscured by leaves and forest floor, the most wet and muddy. He digs them out and clutches a couple to his chest, and I sigh inwardly. In a less patient moment, I hear myself kvetch. “No, Owen. Not the muddy one. I just washed that jacket. Why…?”
Whining “why” is to no purpose either. Who knows why?
I can’t imagine that Owen hears too much of my fussing. He has a job to do. He is on a mission. And since Owen on a mission is so much more fun than Owen in a state of fog, I can’t feel too unhappy about the mud on his shirt and coat.
Here he stops by another favorite : the splintering trunk of a tree, broken off in high winds. Owen grabs a huge splinter in the group that fans out jagged, and he twists and works it until the jag of wood rips free. Or it doesn’t. Never mind, he will be back to wrestle with it again. Eventually, it will give in. Those usually limp hands of his can be surprisingly strong. Insistent.
We have reached the bottom of the valley, and crossed the funny patched up wooden bridge over the stream there, allowing the dog to get a drink — well, I allowed it, taking the leash to give the dog’s neck a rest. Trumbull the bulldog is very helpful on these walks, straining forward as dogs will do, keeping Owen moving, but it isn’t much fun for him. Our old dog Rascal and Owen were more copacetic. They both meandered, putzing along, taking turns pulling each other. Rascal seemed to understand Owen – maybe it was because being a herding dog he understood the nature of his job.
Now the walking is more tiring as the path rises, until we can look down into the ravine covered in last year’s leaf fall. Owen moves slower. Or stops. His fatigue makes him go slower — but mine makes me want to push forward, up the hill, and get this walk over with. I want to be already home and cooking supper – even better sitting down and eating it. Owen’s body going slow, in front of me on the path, blocking forward movement suddenly, overwhelmingly, presents the picture of how the care of him is consuming my life right now, draining me, exhausting me, preventing me from doing what I want to do. My thoughts turn suicidal and murderous, and I step off the path to give myself a time-out on a smooth fallen trunk. Tears and sobs shift the ugly state of mind. The sun peeks across into my eyes from behind striated western clouds, through the tiny green foliage of many beech trees. Owen presents me with a rotten log. To be helpful? To see if I will be mad at him for picking up more muddy rotten wood? Who knows. I can only nod at him, waiting for the sadness to process through me, and leave me clear again.
And Owen strides through the woods, back and forth between the trees, checking trunks, investigating under logs, re-arranging the forest to his own mysterious specs.