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Travels With Maggie: The Forest Primeval

Updated on July 3, 2019

Maggie Is Recovered

Back at full-strength, my girl is, no complications from the spaying, and ready to romp on our daily walks once again.

Won’t you join us? As June transitions into July, the Pacific Northwest is basking in morning clouds (we call it a marine layer) and afternoon sunshine, highs in the seventies daily, mild and lovely. You won’t need a light jacket on our walk. This is good walking weather for sure, so let’s get started. And Tobias won’t be joining us today. He still hasn’t learned his manners when around chickens, so I left him home with a bone.

A Fallen Soldier

There is construction happening along the country path. One home is framed and awaiting electricians and plumbers. Another has just cleared away the scrub grass in preparation for the pouring of a foundation. One casualty of all this “progress” was the cutting down of a majestic maple tree, probably one-hundred feet in height, I’m guessing a century in age if a day.

A century . . . that tree was here just after the end of World War I. It stood through the Great Depression, World War 2, the Korean War, and Vietnam. The Oil Embargo did not faze it, nor the Iran Contra Affair, and it breezed through all of man’s attempts to poison it with pesticides and rapidly deteriorating air.

Only to be cut down so a home can be erected.

It saddens me. Maggie doesn’t know what to make of it. We’ve passed that tree for two years now, a daily sentinel along our walk, and my girl looked confused as we walked by the mammoth corpse.

The mood of that walk changed. The air seemed to hold a bit more bite. Leaves rustled with a wind non-existent two minutes earlier and then, just as suddenly, all was quiet, nature holding her breath. In anticipation? In warning? In mourning?

A Copse of Trees

Shortly after we came to a copse of trees; I’ve always loved that word, copse, and often wondered about its origin. A copse, a thicket, a coppice, all meaning the same thing, a grove if you will, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, I would say. To someone from Oklahoma, it would be a forest. To someone from the Yukon, it might seem like landscaping. To me and Maggie girl, on that day, it was foreboding.

In midstride Maggie stopped, looked into that dark curtain of undergrowth, limbs, and shadows, and growled. The hair rose on her back, the growl grew in intensity, and I was suddenly transported back to childhood and the irrational fear each shadow held for me. There is something primal about a forest so thick that vision is limited in range to single feet. It is the unknown which has always sparked flames of insecurity and trepidation. It is nights in bed as a child, branches scraping against glass during a windstorm; it is entering a dark room after watching a horror movie; it is irrational and it is real, exhilarating and terrifying, a universal truth in a world of ambiguity.

I could see nothing and yet I was certain something was there. Many a coyote inhabits these lands, as well as an occasional black bear and even a cougar from time to time. It is not unusual for pets to go missing, for livestock to disappear during the night, and even for the occasional jogger to be attacked, so Maggie’s growl definitely had me on full alert.

The cracking of undergrowth could be heard, clearly at first and then faintly, and then Maggie stopped growling, looked at me, and wagged her tail. The danger had moved on and Maggie was telling me we could resume our walk. I relaxed my sphincters, took one more glance into the gloom, patted my girl on the head, and marched on, once again humbled by nature, once again well-aware of my stature in the natural hierarchy.

The Return

We reached the end of the road, turned around, and retraced our steps homeward bound, the copse now on our right as we approached. A shift of clouds, the required advancement of the sun, and that section of “forest” was illuminated and no longer the precursor of danger. Maggie glanced once at it, sniffed the air, and then moved on, carefree in every way, and isn’t that just the way life is, problems to be faced, challenges towering above us, threatening to smother us, and then a shift in the clouds, a little sunshine, and the dark moment is gone. How many times, in my lifetime, has that been true, the darkest days suddenly bathed in sunlight, and all is once again well in the world?

Those lessons are learned over time. They are learned in the heat of battle, in the muck and mire of problems, some real, some imagined. They mold us, they strengthen us, and they prepare us for even larger challenges. We finally reach a point in life where we can sniff the air and distinguish real threats from imagined, and in that moment we gain a modicum of wisdom upon which we can build.

The Walk Ends

Maggie wags her tail. The end of the walk means “treat time” for her, and a treat she does deserve. I’ve learned to trust my girl on these walks. She has instincts I simply do not have. And I suspect, in her dog way, she has learned to trust in me, and that fills me with joy.

Maggie is my connection with the past, the 1950’s in Technicolor, a way to revisit some very good memories of a boy and his dog, back when there was no expiration date on youth, and every damned thing you dreamt was possible. It was a time of innocence, and a touch of innocence in 2019 is just what this sojourner needs to brighten his day. It seems, to me, that innocence is in short supply these days, and I find that sad. We have grown up much too quickly. Our psyches and emotions struggle to catch up with the tidal wave of information, good and bad, flooding over us daily. It’s probably much the same for a new puppy, like Maggie’s brother Tobias, every single day an onslaught upon the senses, a bombardment of the new, and I’m sure it is unsettling for him at times, just as watching the news is unsettling for me.

So these walks are necessary for my sanity, and necessary for my balance. They ground me in the “what’s important” foundation of life. On these walks, Maggie and I boil life down to its basic component, that being love. Some would say I’m too simplistic in my viewpoints. I would say to them that I wake each morning happy, and go to bed at night the same, so how wrong can I be with my simplicity?

I look at Maggie, her tail wagging, and I know she is happy. She doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about possessions or money. She has no concept of greed, and she has no desire to climb the ladder of success. She is with her owner, she knows she is loved, and her life is fulfilled.

Yep, I probably am too simplistic!

Thanks for joining us. If you are ever in Olympia, I invite you to join us. We would love to walk side-by-side with you, and discuss matters of importance.

Matters like love!



2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


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