Asking A Lot exists as a manuscript, a full-length nonfiction work that explores my life here with dogs. Truth be told, I’m still writing and rewriting, revising and editing, and then writing some more. “Work in progress” is the clichéd phrase we trot out when we’re knee deep in swampy muck and wading in deeper, no sign of being finished on the horizon. But at least as a complete draft, it exists.
The morning walks are the centerpiece. That’s where the action is most days. The morning walks are where I meditate, think, write in my head, train the dogs, and observe. Every day, come hell or high water, we go, and every day I shoot photos, watch the dogs, and sink a little deeper into this life. One morning it’s about 18 degrees and snowing like a motherfucker. The next morning it’s subzero is brilliantly sunny. Either way, I don’t hurry. In some ways it’s the best part of the day so I savor it, even if it’s only an hour. I dress for the weather and piss and moan about it afterwards. It’s all part of the fun.
The thing is, so much of what is best about the morning walk is wordless. I can throw one thousand adjectives at a page but still feel like I’ve missed the boat when it comes to conveying the texture of Peeka’s fur. Or the golden light of angled sun through the rime ice. So much of what makes me go weak at the knees, or spurs me on to wander for another mile or so despite the fill-in-the-blank weather defies description. The day I heard the ravens chasing off the bald eagle and both sounded like grumpy old men, hollering at each other to get off their lawns – what listening to that did to me was physical and emotional and spiritual. Wrapping it up is words is intellectual: the one thing the experience wasn’t. The dogs share these moments with me. They stop and cock their heads and I follow their gaze to see the acrobatics of a red squirrel or the distant formation of Canada geese, and, well, the fact that we’re watching together just knocks my socks off.
Most days there is no drama, no high stakes wildlife encounter or dog fight. Most days the mountain and I are like an old couple sharing a morning cup of coffee together. The mountain shoves a stunning vista across the breakfast table at me and I nod appreciatively. We both continue to enjoy our morning ritual with the dogs. The other day I took photos of urine in snow. Fox, coyote, and deer piss stains in snow. They aren’t especially beautiful or even very visually arresting… but they were there, so I took note. The mountain showed them to me and I glanced over the offering before moving on, a bit like me showing Tom a particularly incisive meme or breathtaking dog photo. His eyes flick over the image, he grunts in appreciation, and then continues arguing about politics with some meatheads on Facebook.
I don’t argue when I’m on the morning walk but tell that to the neighbors who hear me shouting. Brody eats poop. Not just deer or bunny or porcupine, but carnivore poop. That’ll get me bellowing like a stag in rut every time. This week, it seems, Bindi has decided to give this filthy habit a try. After tackling her, hollering terrifying epithets designed to make the inhabitants of the next county over blush, and removing the frozen logs from her maw, she smooches me. Enthusiastically. In the eye, or if I’m not careful, French smooching. Oh yes, poop tongue in the mouth. It’s a wonder I’m not dead.
Some days I think a film would have been better. Gorgeous lighting and long patient shots of fur with snowflakes, ripples on the pond, juncos and chickadees in the trees. Some days I am at a loss, the majesty caught in my throat. The mountain and I are a lot alike: average. Bramley is a crappy little uninteresting foothill, one of many in this area. No old growth, no thrilling cliffs or ledges, no drama. I’m just a human with some dogs, trying to take it all in. It’s not the Galapagos; it’s not Everest. It’s not the Sargasso Sea or the Grand Canyon. It’s just where I live. Perhaps a film could elevate it, make it pop and sparkle. Perhaps on film I could communicate the awe. It the very least, the blooper reel would be hilarious – getting mugged by a dog or two is a regular event. The Otterbox on my phone isn’t for looks.
But for all my photos and “home movie” quality videos, I know that words are my superpower. I’m not visual. I’m wordy. Very wordy at times. And I am one of those “the book is always better than the movie” folks. I can’t make a film about my life with dogs because I have too much to say, and a compelling need to blabber. I might be living the film version, but I’m writing the internal experience, the part the film cannot access no matter how many lingering shots of my furrowed brow or some other metaphor we try to capture.
Being faintly dissatisfied and wishing I could nail it… these emotions are my constant companions. They act as muses, spurring me to revise again, reread, slice and dice. They are welcome guests in my head, and I trust that they will help me make it better.
Thanks for witnessing the process and coming along for the ride.