I used to have two big dogs. There isn’t anything we enjoyed as much as a long, meandering walk in a farm field near our home.
Shadow, my older, loving, furry friend, passed away after one such long walk. One minute she was there, the next, she suffered a heart attack and died in my arms. A reward for being such a good friend I suppose, that there was no gradual aging to the point of wondering what was kindest; holding on or letting go.
She was a smart dog and learned things effortlessly, rarely making the same mistake twice. She was quite a character, too, running and getting her leash when it was time for a walk, even sometimes grabbing a few Kleenex in her teeth from the box, knowing that I would stop at the door to go back for some before we headed out..
This young fellow though, Badger, a cross between a Border collie and a pachyderm of some sort, was none too bright. He only knew the word “walk” and was, for all intents and purposes, good company, a good watch dog, but basically just a dog.
On such a long walk there were often huge ravens sitting in the field. They would call and taunt the dogs, which of course gave chase. The smarter dog, Shadow, learned quite quickly what they were all about and sometimes gave chase for something to do. Once they retreated to the treetops she would look up at them in great disdain and then disregard them as lesser beings and move forth, eager to find some bit of something awful to roll in.
Badger, however was another story. He would see the crows high stepping, looking completely unaware of him, talking amongst themselves as crows do. He would fix his gaze on them and charge, his long front legs almost folding completely beneath him, the back ones barely touching ground before the front ones unfurled magically, pulling ahead again, and gave him and his one hundred pound body, that tremendous momentum. There was no hesitation, no pulling back, no half-hearted attempt. It was all out, each time with more gusto than the last.
“Ninny!” I would call lovingly each time, “It’s not like you’re going to get them.”
I’d watch him every single time, charging those birds and when they made that inevitable, almost lazy flight up to the trees, I would shake my head, grin, and think what a foolish dog and wonder if he would ever figure it out.
Still, each and every time, he would race up to them and when their wings unfolded to take flight he did not stop short as Shadow always did, he kept going and then, with a mighty effort he would launch himself towards them, legs akimbo, flailing wildly.
Then it hit me.
“Good Heavens…’” I thought, “He’s trying to fly!”
Maybe he thought that if birds could do it, how hard could it be?
Maybe he thought that it was something that one day, if he practiced hard enough, would finally take?
Maybe he did it for that split second that he became airborne and tasted that little bit of freedom that comes when one realizes they’re doing something they never thought they could.
To this day, though a bit slower, he continues that long-strided, full-out gallop, and each time he catapults his long body heavenward. To be honest, if ever a dog learns to fly I expect it will be him.
I know they say we mistakenly attribute human qualities to animals and there is probably some sense to that, but I can tell you this. If there is anything I ever learned that has stood me in good stead, it is what I learned from the silly old dog in the middle of a farm field.
No matter how tough life might be, or how hopeless a thing, or how big a dream…
Never quit trying to fly.