Having spent the busiest month of my work year in order to join my siblings to care for my 88-year old mother as we transitioned her over to assisted living, I found myself entering a hidden world of elders where so many extraordinary tales were waiting to be told. I’ve hashed through my mind several chapters and standalone stories worth their weight in gold. But today, a different one emerges.
One thing I realized both when I was gone and especially when I returned, was how extraordinary my co-workers were during my absence. I always knew I worked among a group of people who care about each other and have each other’s backs, but I had not experienced the impact of it firsthand until now. Many reached out when I was gone to provide support and assurance to not worry about work. Others offered more words when I returned and had to find my footing once again. So many picked up the extra weight that comes with the start of a Fall semester at a university and shined while doing so.
As I thought about my local work family, another one, full of colleagues from other universities who I meet with regularly and who also sent me words of support and encouragement during this time, came to my attention.
As I was heading to bed last night, I received an email from the Program Manager of my Higher Ed Forum, a group of higher education professionals in the IT Help Desk industry that meets three times a year at various schools throughout North America. We meet and engage in intensive meetings on the latest topics of interest in our profession, share ideas, and open our campuses and hometowns to each other. We work hard and play hard together and grow close in the few days a year we connect. We come from all walks of life and backgrounds, yet find a common thread that makes it easy to share and open up to one another. We have seen each other go through marriages, divorces, sickness, childbirth, losing loved ones, and now, losing each other.
When I saw the email reach my inbox with the subject line of “Sad news”, I thought for a moment that someone was leaving the forum. I didn’t expect to hear that Rion Morgan, a young and brilliant light of a man, was one of the victims of the Plano, Texas shootings this past weekend. I had only met Rion on a couple of occasions when he attended meetings, but he was quick to participate both in our professional discussions and our after hours gatherings. He had a smile that was contagious and a warmth that made you feel like you had been longtime friends.
One of my absolutely favorite nights out was in November 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas when our forum met at Texas Christian University. We had just completed a Vertical Lessons leadership program with Manley Feinberg which included “mastering” the indoor climbing wall at TCU. A group of us found ourselves wandering the area after dinner and landed at the Fort Worth Water Gardens. It was dusk as we walked down into the gardens and I remember Rion very quietly and sweetly offering me a hand as I found my footing down the steps in the dark. When we came upon the Mountain sculpture, of course, we decided it was an opportune moment to scale it. It wasn’t until afterwards that we noted it may not have been the safest thing to do in our street shoes (Belay off!) when we saw the “no climbing” sign on the wall. If there is one thing about this group, it is that you always go home with a story!
I didn’t know Rion well, but I will always remember his light and he will always have a special place in my heart and be a part of this extraordinary family.
I spend quite a bit of time searching for good travel spots with my pup Norbert. After all, I purchased a Cricket trailer for him (okay, for both of us, but really for the ease of traveling with my BFF along). With the trailer, I can easily find places to stay, but I can’t always find the best dog friendly stops.
I often want to find a town where I can stop, go to stores (usually some sort of Outfitters), a restaurant or brew pub. Trying to find places that are “dog friendly” is not as easy as one would expect in this day and age of split second Google searches. Big cities usually have listings but not every moderately populated town does.
So, as I search through areas for my next trip, I realize I happen to live in a place that is often a destination for travelers. Bloomington is a college town in southcentral Indiana with a population of 80K. The 46K students turn this town from a busting mid-sized city to a smaller town during the summer. In addition to all the many IU attractions, Bloomington is also a summer mecca for many who travel to spend time on our large Monroe Lake or one of the many smaller lakes in the area, camp at nearby campgrounds, or visit Bloomington for all its many attractions.
I’m lucky to live in a very dog friendly community. We have several hiking/running trails where one can bring their dog along for a day hike or several days of backpacking; a number of forests and recreational areas for camping; lakes for paddleboarding, kayaking, and motorboating; and restaurants and breweries that have plenty of outdoor seating where your canine companions are welcome.
As a consumer, it is time for me to give back to the dog-loving community and list out some of my favorite venues in the Bloomington, Indiana vicinity. Below is the start of my list which I have no doubt will be updated as friends will remind me of places I forget to mention. If you find this list useful, please pay it forward by posting (on your own blog or in a comment below) your favorite local dog friendly places or findings in areas you’ve traveled.
Restaurants/Brew Pubs (dogs welcome in outdoor seating and indoor at non-food serving locales; notes include Norbert’s favorite meals):
Scenic Viewhttp://scenicviewbloomington.com/ (outdoor patio with a view overlooking Lake Monroe; Norbert always looks forward to an order of the thick cut bacon; humans love the Sunday half-priced Bacon Bloody Mary)
Upland Brew Pub (outdoor garden area; Norbert loves the local Fischer farms hamburger, plain and cooked rare; humans are fans of their sours, but there is a brew for all tastes here; if the pooch isn’t with you, stop by the Wood Shop next door for a sours extravaganza)
Upland West (great dog locale! No food, but you can bring your own. Dogs are welcome inside or out on the patio; humans say you can’t beat their $2 Sunday pints)
Big Woods Bloomington – formerly Quaff On! in the heart of Bloomington has a small outdoor deck and a new garden area (Norbert has been known to coerce a few bites of the Soft Pretzel sticks w/ Beer Cheese; humans swear by the pulled pork bbq nachos)
Big Woods The Original – this one is again, in nearby Brown County (Nashville, IN) and has a small deck where you can bring your pup; there is also a Big Woods Pizza a couple blocks over though I’m not sure about outdoor seating for your dog
Oddball Fermentableshttp://www.oddballcyser.com/ (a unique drinking experience open on the weekends that is a labor of love between some local friends who created a variety of cysers (cider-mead hybrids) that you can taste individually or in a homemade concoction. This house turned into a cysery has a small outdoor seating area in the back and a food truck that brings some extraordinary tastes for the foodie in you. Like Big Woods West, Oddball Fermentables is not a restaurant so I believe you can bring your pup inside as well – call first to make sure though!)
The Tap Bloomingtonhttp://www.thetapbeerbar.com/ (yet one more craft brewery in Btown along with a plethora of other rotating craft brews on tap with a small strip of outdoor seating where your Fido can accompany you)
Function Brewinghttp://www.functionbrewing.com/ (another local craft brewery with a small outdoor seating area where Norbert has been welcomed that is worth a stop)
Laughing Planet Cafehttp://www.thelaughingplanetcafe.com/ (restaurant that features locally-farmed foods in burritos of the week with a large outdoor deck where you can dine with your buddy)
Story Innhttp://www.storyinn.com/ (a bit off the beaten path in our neighboring Brown County, but if you are visiting Brown County State Park, it is well worth the trip; check and make sure the outdoor area is open; Norbert still hasn’t made a visit there, but his older brother Tucker swore by the bacon and eggs)
With the temperatures warming, the urge to hook up The Doghouse to the Outback and head down the road with my favorite traveling partner in toe, grows. While prepping for some new adventures, here’s a pictorial year in review of my travels with Norbert!
April – HDI (Help Desk Institute) Annual Conference, Orlando, Florida with a stop in Central, South Carolina:
Norbert and I trekked down to Orlando for one of my work conferences where he landed us a free upgrade to a business suite that included a full bar and lounge. Along the way we made a stop in South Carolina where we stayed with a friend’s friend and were treated to some great food, conversation, drink, and a beautiful day hike.
Black rat snake who didn’t appreciate our presence #hiss
This rookie RV’er learned some good lessons during this first trek out with The Doghouse which included knowing ahead of time where you are heading in a campground and not taking 1600 lb trailer up a muddy hill even if you have all-wheel drive, accepting help from strangers when needed, and understanding that a place in Kentucky called Lonestar has nothing to do with Texas and everything to do with its abundance of ticks. The best part of the trip was hanging out in The Doghouse during a rainy night, drinking cold brews and exchanging laughs with friends.
June – SUP with your Pup class and Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Enroute to Fredericksburg campground
Rest stop with the big rigs
All of my travels have had their significance, but this trip east was a decision I made unlike any other. It was the result of a culmination of events in my life and in the world around me that tipped the scales (we’ll save that for another blog post though).
Perhaps it was a mid-life crisis, but call it what you will. I came to the realization that I had spent too many years trying to live up to others’ expectations or waiting for abc to happen, or for xyz to come along… When another trip with friends changed too many times, I decided it was time to walk away and do something for me. I had read a book the year before to teach Norbert how to standup paddle board with me and had found a class back east that the author taught. I hopped online, found an upcoming class, and before I knew it, I had signed up for a class in Virgina.
I searched for places to stay with Norbert and nothing was appealing or particularly cheap (I paid an extra $50/night in Orlando during my conference to have Norbert in the hotel with me). Long story short, I bought a Taxa Outdoors’ Cricket Trek, now dubbed The Doghouse, so my boy and I could travel with ease. My second trip with it would be a cross country trip to this class as well as a campground in Shenandoah National Park where I met up with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in about 20yrs (NOTE: This IS the year the Cubs won the World Series)
July-August – Copper Harbor, MI
We traveled north to Copper Harbor with some friends where the boy and I paddled everyday in walking distance from our campground while my pals took a mountain bike class. The waters of Lake Superior (north of the Lake Fanny Hooe, where we paddled) was crystal clear (and cold!) It definitely made me think more about what we do to our environment and the abundance of potable water that Americans take for granted.
September – Colorado
Longest road trip to date. I went to Colorado for several reasons. I had been thinking of joining a Cricket Rally in Eagle in mid-September. Then, I received a wedding invitation from a friend who I wasn’t particularly close to but felt a strong kindred spirit connection. Maybe it was the mountains, but something drew me, and I knew I needed to go and be present. It was a long drive, but I was able to keep Norbert entertained with my singing.
Serenading Norbert #1
Serenading Norbert #2
Serenading Norbert #3
Serenading Norbert #4
Norbert and I made our way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Steamboat Lake State Park, Carbondale (where I took a day trip to the Maroon Bells and another to Delta where I saw another dear friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years), and then to Sylvan Lake State Park. After my two-week trip, I can say with certainty that I’m in love with Colorado.
Trips in the Great Sand Dunes, Carbondale, and Sylvan Lake State Park (Norbert w/ Taxa Outdoors’ Cricket founder and architect, Garrett Finney)
Trip to beautiful Maroon Bells and to Delta to see and old friend and one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known.
My first planned trip in 2017 had to be cancelled due to some unexpected events, but I worry not. As I get more comfortable going off the beaten path and off grid with Norbert, I know new adventures await.
Perhaps it’s time to pull out a map and toss some darts…
As I reflect on the year past and concede the death of my childhood on many levels with the loss of famed figures such as Florence Henderson, Prince, Muhammad Ali, and Pat Summit, there is one ending that occurred in 2016 that I rejoice in, and continue to process as the days and months pass. I was born into a Cubs fan family and have bled Cubby Blue throughout my five decades on this earth. This year I saw the end of an era – the Era of the Lovable Losers.
1976-77 fifth grade class photo in my favorite Cubbies t-shirt and Cubby blue suede shoes with red laces (I snuck out of the house with a sweater over my shirt so my mom wouldn’t know I was wearing it for my class photo)
Watching the final outs, streaming on an iPhone 6S, as the Cubs earn their ticket to the World Series for the first time since 1945.
Like many Cubs fans, the post-season flooded me with memories of watching games with my Dad, and in particular, a late season game in August of 1984. That was the year I truly believed the Cubs were going all the way and was also the last year the Cubs only sold Bleacher seats (good ol’ Bleacher Bums) on game day. Dad and I stood in line and were able to get one of the last tickets sold in Standing Room Only in the Bleachers. The sun was ablaze and my poor Dad looked like a lobster at the end of the day. I don’t remember the game much, but there was most definitely hope in the air. I had heard from my brothers that Dad attended the last Cubs World Series game, Game 7 against the Tigers on October 10, 1945, but I also seemed to know it wasn’t something to bring up. At that game in 1984 though, I asked him about it and he told me how he took the train across town to go to the game. He stared out to the field and recalled how the Tigers were clobbering the Cubs before the first half of the first inning was over. As he unfolded the heart wrenching details, his eyes drifted back to that place and time. I silently listened as he spoke of players whose names were unknown to me, what they did during the season, how great they were, and how they came apart in that final game. It was an extraordinary moment. In it all, we stood there in the August sun with a new sense of hope.
Last game I went to with my Dad
Since that time, I never fully believed in my heart that the Cubs were going all the way like I did as a teen in 1984 — not again, until this year. As many others have stated, this team was different, this team was special. I “watched” each post-season game with my brothers and sisters via text messaging with Dad’s spirit nearby. I also found myself connecting with old friends via Facebook, many of whom I have had little connection with other than the Cubs. That is one of the magical things about baseball – regardless of differences, depth of connections, frequency of contact, baseball seems to bring people together, even non-baseball fans. It is a common thread and it is something we need more than anything today.
So, when I wondered out loud about the possibility of going to Wrigley for a World Series game, one of my closest and wisest friends quipped, “Pay for experiences, not things,” and I took it to heart.
Long story, short, I found myself going to Game 5 at Wrigley Field which was potentially the final game of the World Series since the Cubs were down 3-1 at that point. I knew I’d regret not going to see it if it turned out to be the last time the Cubs played a WS game in my lifetime. So, I bit the bullet, and with a few clicks of an iPhone app, had a ticket to my first night game at Wrigley. It was glorious. My seat was phenomenal – Section 102, Row 9, Seat 1. When Eddie Vedder came out to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” I couldn’t imagine anyone better. Moments later, Vedder topped it when he asked the fans to sing along with Harry and he and the left field jumbotron pulls up a video of Harry Caray. An audible “Oh!” came from the crowd, followed by a choking of tears, followed by huge smiles and joyous singing. That is baseball magic. The game was a nail biter, but the Cubbies came through and held off the Indians with a 3-2 win. Until November 2, 2016 it was the greatest baseball game I had ever attended.
The field is calling and I must go
Found my brother Dan amongst the masses after the Cubs take Game 5
I bought tickets for Game 7 along with two friends on the way back from Chicago the next day. It may take another year or ten before I am able to truly process that game. There will never be another like it in my lifetime, I am certain of that. Many will discuss the highlights and dissect and reconstruct the game pitch-by-pitch, but the collective emotion that was in Progressive Field that night between both Cubs and Indians fans, was something beyond adequate description. I had a level of stress in those final innings that left me holding my pounding head and rocking side to side with only the ability to cry out, “We Love You, Cubbies!” because I remembered hearing Joe Maddon once state in an interview how he would hear that one Cubs fans up in the nosebleeds and how much that meant — I was going to do my part (which I also did by not getting my hair cut for the last two months of the season so not to jinx the team)…
What was most magical about being at that game was how much it felt like we were transported back to a 1970s baseball game (sans the electronic scoreboards and jumbotrons). Players and fans alike, displayed a sportsmanship that seems rare these days. I sat with a mix of Cubs and Indians fans. We expressed our excitement of being there, shared stories of family members passed with each other, and teased each other in good spirit as the game became more tense. Two Cleveland fans sitting behind me offered and traded seats with two friends so we could all sit together. During the short rain delay, someone yelled out, “How ’bout we just call it a draw?!” and many on both sides agreed we should. When all was said and done, there were handshakes and congratulations and empathy expressed. I’ve never witnessed a sporting event like this in my life. Then again, none of us there, ever had.
Brought Dad to Game 7 with me
Nosebleeds were great seats!
I will always be a true blue Cubs fan, win or lose, but can say that Cleveland is now my second favorite team and I wish them final victory someday as well (so long as it’s not against the Cubs).
With less than an hour left before the Cubs first World Series game since 1945, I give you this…
To my friends who don’t quite understand us,
Explaining the emotion of Cubs fans is nearly impossible. It’s similar to being a kid and believing in your heart that the Easter Bunny exists and if you stay up late enough or wake up early enough, you might get a glimpse of that cotton-tailed wonder. Years come and go and sometimes you are teased with doors that are ajar, knowing you just missed seeing that bunny. And though the naysayers tell you the EB isn’t real, you still want to believe. In your heart you know it is still possible (after all, your Dad caught a glimpse of that bunny in 1945). And then all of a sudden, along with thousands of others who have been in search of that rabbit, holding out hope, a giant bunny comes bounding into the room sharing treats and joy and hope in the guise of a Montero pinch hit grand slam, a Contreras 2-6 pick off, an “Ice in his veins” Lester shutout, and a ridiculously acrobatic Baez defensive maneuver.
I’ve seen several pictures of fans immediately after the final outs of the NLCS who did something similar to my reaction. We cheered in victory, followed by tears of joy and bewilderment of what transpired before our very eyes. Most of us continue to be flooded with memories of family and friends and all the magical stuff that comes along with following the Cubs, and that alone, is extraordinary.
Whatever happens in this next week, I can assure you of one thing. The Easter Bunny is REAL and seeing that bunny for the first time ever is absolutely magnificent.
When he was but a few weeks old, I promised Norbert a life of outdoor adventures. His older sister, Earhart, discovered the joy of trail running a bit later in life just as I had, and though she only had a few good years on the trail with me, they were some of our best together. I wanted the same for Norbert… and, for me.
Last year, after sustaining a couple semi-serious injuries while trail running, I started thinking of other outdoor activities I could do with my canine companion. I had seen some pictures of dogs on kayaks in an outdoors magazine so I began researching when I came across information about Stand Up Paddleboarding with your dog. A SUP seemed to be an easier (and more stable) option with a dog than a kayak, and the fact that modern day paddleboarding has its roots in Hawaii where my mother grew up, this new activity seemed like the obvious choice.
After much Googling about various boards and “how tos” with your dog, I came across a book by Maria Christina Schultz called How to SUP with your PUP: A guide to stand up paddleboarding with your dog. While researching and reading the author’s blog and webpage, I then came across some classes on SUPing with your dog that she taught. I immediately reached out to her to see if there were going to be any more classes as it was already late in the summer. There weren’t any more for the season, plus I hadn’t even bought a board yet, nor, um, had I ever paddleboarded…
So, I bought Maria’s book and began teaching Norbert “dryland” training in my living room using an old wakeboard as his platform. I also delved into YouTube instructional videos to teach myself how to paddle and finally dumped some cash on an inflatable SUP, which Maria had suggested in an email exchange. After several trips to the lake on my own, I found my sea legs, and figured out how to maneuver myself around, followed by trips with Norbert on the water. All in all, he did fairly well thanks to Maria’s book and the assistance of my dog trainer, but Norbert was still spending more time in the water (and/or putting me in the drink) than he was on the board.
When Spring came around and vacation plans with a friend didn’t pan out, I began to think of other options when I remembered the “SUP with your PUP” classes. I hopped online and found the season’s first classes were the same week I had originally planned vacation, so without hesitancy, I signed up.
It wasn’t until after clicking away at the registration that I read the not so fine print about a prerequisite beginners’ class. Given I was YouTube trained, I thought I better contact the instructor and see if I could get in a class prior to the weekend-long SUP PUP course. Maria was fantastic! She worked with my schedule so I could take a private lesson the night before the two-day course and provided me with some great information on travel locales which included a gorgeous trail on my final leg of the trip in Shenandoah National Park (I saw my first bear there!).
As I was planning my trip, I considered tent or hammock camping, but wasn’t sure I wanted to try that solo with Norbert on a cross-country trip. I had only hammock camped with him once in my backyard and though he slept soundly in the hammock with me, I did not, and figured since I’d be doing all the driving, I needed solid nights of sleep.
I started researching “dog friendly” hotels and Airbnbs. The Airbnbs were either too far, too expensive, or too sketchy for the liking and the hotels all wanted to charge extra fees to have my dog stay with me while others decided he was outside of an acceptable weight limit (Really? A weight limit on a dog? Most big dogs I know are much more chill than many of their smaller counterparts). Since I knew I wanted to include Norbert in my outdoor adventures now, and well into the future, I began looking at travel vans and small RVs when I came across the Taxa Cricket Trek, a lightweight travel trailer designed by a former NASA engineer (Yay, geeks!).
Next thing I know, I’m heading east with Norbert and the Cricket (now aptly named “The Doghouse”) and spending our first night in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Morehead, KY. I set up the RV about ten minutes before the skies unleashed a torrential downpour and hailstorm. Norbert looked at me wide-eyed as the thunder exploded overhead and the hail pounded the aluminum shelter. I looked at him and calmly told him it was just a little storm. He sighed and snuggled up next to me for the night.
The next day we made our way on the long trek to the Fredericksburg, VA area and quickly learned the pluses to stopping at rest stops rather than gas stations to let Norbert do his business. The clean bathrooms and well-manicured grass sans broken glass and garbage at most gas stations made for a much more pleasant stop. Plus, I felt a sense of safety pulling up alongside the truckers. Their huge semis dwarfed The Doghouse but it felt a bit like my big brothers were watching out for me whenever I pulled up next to them.
I arrived a day before my lesson in hopes of finding my way around the area and getting out to the state park for some hiking and trail running with the boy. The weather didn’t abide with the trail plans so Norby and I spent some time in downtown Fredericksburg where we found a great little farm to table restaurant, Foode, where we shared a burger, hotdog, and some fries.
Since the state park was full, I opted for a KOA near Fredericksburg which turned out to be surprisingly nice. It wasn’t exactly hardcore camping, but I did get a nice site along a small lake and met some interesting folks on my three-day stay there. Both Norbert and the Cricket seemed to attract some interest so I was able to get my fill of people interaction (this introvert doesn’t need much). This is one of the pluses I’ve found with traveling alone. I tend to meet people who otherwise wouldn’t interact with me, nor me with them, and learn a bit of their stories in crossing paths.
I met up with Maria later that afternoon at a city park along the Rappahannock River not long after the skies cleared from a day of rain. She taught me the SUP basics which included putting me in the drink when my lack of balance exposed itself (one of many times I found myself overboard that weekend, mostly with the help of my canine). Maria was a phenomenal instructor – clear, patient, and positive. It was so good to get a chance to meet her before the class. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to have Norbert meet her as well.
Norbert can be a bit wary of strangers at first (both people and canines) so I was a bit dumbfounded when, after exchanging a couple of butt sniffs with Kona, Maria’s sweet, tri-colored Aussie, Norbert immediately went over to Maria and melted himself into her lap. I’m not sure if Kona’s butt told him that this was her mom and she was a good one, or if Norbert just sensed it himself. Regardless, I knew at that moment I had made the right decision to travel across the country for this adventure.
As for the SUP with your PUP class… it was fantastic! The class was well organized with short lectures/discussions and various drills on land and then on water that were mixed in with plenty of play breaks for the dogs to splash around and chase their toys. Each part built on the other and all of us received personal instruction from Maria and her assistant, Amy.
Though I try to go into any new endeavor with an open mind and do my best not to have any expectations, at first, I was a bit nervous about the class. Norbert is a fairly young dog who has a whole LOT of energy. When I arrived, it seemed like most of the dogs in the class were very regal full breeds or designer dogs with excellent pedigrees/training/manners. And then I show up… the Indiana gal, with Norbert, the muttley hound with gangly limbs and loud bark. Every time I had him on the board that first day, he would see some plant life popping out of the water and would jump at it as if it were a squirrel or rabbit in the backyard. I lost track of how many times he dumped me in the lake that first day…
Nevertheless, I was having a blast and loved meeting everyone and their beloved canines. This was two days filled with the joy of people connecting with their furry beasts. For the weekend class, Maria brought along her beautiful Red Merle Aussie, Riley, who was our canine instructor. He demonstrated everything perfectly on queue – the connection he had with Maria was palpable; the two were so in tune with each other and seemed to read each other with a look. Though Riley was the most obedient and attentive dog when directed, he was also the sneakiest little guy who could sniff out a single Zukes treat in your hand when you had your back turned. I swear he had a gleam in his eye when he’d get caught!
On day two, Norbert threw a fit after I left him on shore while trying to do some water drills on the board without him. I returned and was close to hanging my Hoosier head in shame when the little man rallied. In a matter of minutes, he perfected “Peek-a-boo” with me on the edge of the water (“Peek-a-boo” was a move our instructor showed us to get Riley to move up on the board between her legs and sit). The real test came when I took him back out on the paddleboard. For some reason, he suddenly decided to listen and stay put while I paddled all around the lake. It was a first! I think I may have even heard him utter, “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.” It was truly wonderful.
EPILOGUE: I’ve now traveled solo with Norbert on two different long road trips plus a third trip to the Upper Peninsula with friends who took a mountain biking class while Norbert and I paddled. One thing that has enhanced my journeys, particularly when traveling alone with Norbert, is having the right technology on hand. Though I don’t entirely depend on it – I keep paper maps, have some practical survival training in the outdoors, and have a strong “street sense” when traveling alone – using apps such as Waze and Google Maps and having friends to check in with via cell, has given me the confidence to take roads less traveled which in turn provides me with the opportunity to take scenic roads rather than always sticking to Interstates. Various apps have also led me to some lesser known trails where Norbert and I can explore without the crowds. Yes, guidebooks have been around for a long time, but when traveling alone, it’s nice to have something on hand that helps guide you from point A to point B in a not so necessarily straight line.
Before any other, there was Peanuts, a beastly Malamute/German Shepherd mix from my Hammond, Indiana neighborhood. With a fierce teeth-bearing bark and a heavy chain hooked between him and a maple tree in front of his house, he was feared by most in the late 1960s/early 1970s blue-collar neighborhood.
The furry beast had gotten loose one day and interrupted a game of tag. All the bigger kids had run off when they saw him approach. Frozen in fear, I offered up my hand to Peanuts in hopes that he would sniff and let me pass. Instead, he opened his mouth and took my hand into his carnivorous chamber, halfway to my elbow. I expected to find a nub at the end of my arm when he was done, but instead, he licked and licked.
In retrospect, it may have been the remnants of the Dreamcicle I had earlier that afternoon that encouraged this greeting. Regardless of the reason, we had an understanding from that point on, and he became my trusted friend that day. There were countless times in my early youth, I would sit under that maple with him and share my deepest secrets, sometimes soaking his fur with my tears and falling asleep curled up next to him. Without judgment and with the utmost compassion, he would listen and made me feel safe in a world I was quickly learning wasn’t always kind.
To this day, he still visits me in my dreams and visions, bringing comfort.
It wasn’t until adulthood, I finally brought a dog into my everyday life. The first was Achates, a gregarious chocolate lab who would balance any item on his head for as long as the human required. He saw me through my first act of dog motherhood in all its grandeur and error.
Scout, the broken-legged puppy found off the highway that my vet pawned off on me with the expectation that she may limp and never be particularly mobile. Wrong. Scout made a habit of jumping our three-foot fence in a single leap several times before we figured out how she escaped the backyard.
Doc, the one not quite wired right. His Weimaraner energy was endless. He ate two couches and was constantly counter surfing no matter of how much he was exercised. A day after emergency surgery from a burst spleen, he tried to go for a run. If I had to come up with one word to describe him, it would be “Go!”
Then there was Earhart, the quiet, stoic and protective one who had more dogonality than any other I’ve known. She would wait for the right opportunity to grab a piece of food off the table when you left the room, would turn her back to you when she didn’t get her way, and learned in her senior years, the joy of unraveling toilet paper rolls. Though she was never overtly affectionate, she would show her love by finding a spot next to you and lean in with all her weight.
During my Doc and Earhart years, I was also joined by Tucker and Maddie, my step-dogs, who were as much a part of my family as any other. Maddie had the spirit of a youth. When we’d take her hiking in her elder years, she would fearlessly bound up and down the hollers leaving herself nearly lame for a day or two afterwards, but always with a glint in her eyes. And Tucker, a giant yellow lab, who I’m fairly certain was the Buddha incarnate.
Also, in October 2005, there were the hundreds who touched my heart during a 10 day recovery effort in Tylertown, MS, post-Hurricane Katrina. In particular, those big canines in the Back 40 at the Best Friends Animal Rescue sanctuary will always be embedded in my soul. I learned more about trust, forgiveness, resilience, and love from these beautiful beasts than any human could ever teach me.
My home (yellow tent) amongst my pack
Will never look at a blue tarp in the same way again
And then there is, of course, Norbert the Miracle Mutt, who my same vet of 25 years who brought Scout into my life, brought Doc back from near death, and has cared for all my fur companions through the years (it’s no wonder her birthday falls on National Dog Day), brought this little man into my life. Even at five weeks, his eyes would study my every move and there is no doubt, we imprinted on each other at a critical time in both our lives.
Words cannot truly describe what dog is; what “dog” brings to our lives. Yet I know that many understand, without the words.
So, I’ll go get a baked dog treat and dip it in some organic peanut butter and present it to Norbert and tell him he is the best boy in the world and he will look at me and say, “OMG! It’s peanut butter AND a treat! PEANUT BUTTER ON A TREAT!!! YES! This is the best thing in the world ever!!!!!!!”