It’s a beautiful morning. Not clear or sunny or warm, but lacking rain and therefore beautiful in the eyes of a Pacific Northwesterner. The dogs and I are hiking to Nesmith Point a few miles passed Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. Well, we’ll get as close as we can get. The snow will likely stop us before we reach the summit.
I’m experimenting with Banjo. He and I have been hiking together for five years and I have yet to let him walk a path off leash for more than a minute. The puppy, Tobi, is always off leash because he doesn’t wander far. His preference is to be as close to Banjo as possible at all times and in the event that Banjo has had enough of him already, he then clings to me. But Banjo is independent and therefore a flight risk.
Banjo remains on leash for many reasons including, but not limited to, his actions as a puppy back in the day, his penchant for chasing anything that moves farther than my eyes can see, his general agreeableness to being on leash and my inability to give him credit for how much he has matured since puppyhood.
But who are we kidding? Mostly it’s because I’m too scared to risk losing him. When he would dart off into the woods as a puppy my partner and I would stand stone still, our hearts racing, holding hands and our breath. We would listen for him. Nothing. We would call his name. Nothing. Passersby on whatever trail we were on would give us the combined pitiful/shame on you/oh but man that would suck if it were me look and promise to keep an eye out for him.
Eventually he would return and we would feel like proud parents learning how to let their boy jump out of the nest. He came back! That must mean he really loves us.
There are many things I’ve learned to tackle on my own since I decided to fly solo, but hiking in the woods with my dog off leash is not one of them. Banjo is my rock, my protector, my best buddy. He’s my dog, my first dog, a dog in its best form: obedient, lovable and fierce when it matters. The thought of him running off and getting lost or worse… but then there’s the guilt of keeping him literally tied to me.
Lao Tsu’s words repeat like a mantra inside my head:
He who does not trust enough will not be trusted.
He who does not trust enough will not be trusted.
He who does not trust…
So OK. I’ve lived long enough to understand that, more often than not, trust brings joy and exhilaration. I don’t understand the exact equation for this phenomenon but I feel it every time. Even when I trust someone to do something and they let me down, I still walk tall through the aftermath. Today’s the day I let Banjo go.
And he is behaving remarkably well. He stays on the trail, doesn’t run too far ahead and obeys all of my commands. Really all I have to do is keep an eye on him, notice when he’s staring off into the distance or listening for a ruffle in the leaves, and relax. I relax. He relaxes. Tobi spins in circles.
Two hours in, the worst of his offenses has been stopping to eat grass too often, but now we’ve reached the snow and he’s dashed off just like he used to. Banjo loves snow. He jumps into it, digs holes down in it, eats it, runs through it. It’s packed down hard enough that I can walk over it for quite a ways but it’s slippery and I’m moving slowly.
I can feel panic rising in my throat because he’s not responding to my pleading calls and for a second I can’t see him. He who does not trust enough… The woods are dense, he’s blending in and my feet are starting to sink into the softer mounds… will not be trusted. I tell Tobi to go get him, which he thankfully does, and I have him in my sights again. Shit. He’s far off the trail. He who does not trust enough… he’s found a dead squirrel and is flinging it around like a rope toy… will not be trusted. This does not bode well for getting him back. I’m trying to run but the snow is too deep for me to realistically get to him. My sneakers are getting wet and I’m winded.
This isn’t working. Breathe. Change tactics.
I stop moving and take control of the fear. The voice that comes out of my mouth starts somewhere down in my toes. It’s the one mothers reserve for when they really mean it. I didn’t know I was capable of that octave, that projection. My voice echoes between the trees. He immediately looks up, lets the dead rodent fall from his mouth and runs as fast as he can up the slippery slope to my side.
I’m stunned. I almost can’t believe it worked. I trusted him. He in turn trusted that life with me is better than eating dead squirrels while romping in a forest of snow. We are instantly back together, turned around to head down the mountain as if nothing scary happened and everyone is happy.
Trusting is the only way to being trusted and if it fails you, you walk away and try again. I mean whatever, Lao Tsu said it a gazillion years ago and of course he was right because he’s always right and he apparently knew everything before any of us were even on our way into being.
The point is I actually get it now.