Stompin’ Grounds

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For years I’ve looked at my beautiful best friend and said out loud, “I just love you more and more every day.”  This day was no exception.

I’d already decided that the day was going to be for Jake.  Actually, it was going to be a dog day for both my dogs, Jake and Jessie.

Being incredibly busy, I’d barely had time for life’s bare necessities lately.  Feeling stressed from countless hours at the computer day after day, month after month, I informed my boss I was going to take the day off, away from the computer, and make it a dog day.

Jake had a vet appointment to check some sores I recently discovered under the fur on his tail.  It seemed like a good time for us to go do something fun afterward. 

He was amazingly good at the vet; he had people smiling and complimenting on his good looks.  That’s how it’s been with Jake … not being good at the vet (he was a handful in his early years) but inspiring compliments for being so handsome.  We’ve heard this his whole life and have never tired of it.  In fact, such comments have become more treasured as he’s grown older, here and there showing the battle scars of living.

The vet visit felt a bit like a waste of time and money with a “Possibly allergies or fleas; we see it all the time this time of year” diagnosis.  Twelve years and he’s never had anything like this, but that was that.  Some flea medication and “take away the itch” pills were purchased and off we went in search of some special fun.

For a couple of years when Jake was a youngster we would go to a large place with a flowing creek, big expansive fields, forests, and trails weaving in all directions.  We stopped going as Jake got a little older and the place became more populated with bicyclists and people not liking a pup off-leash, even though there were plenty of acres for all. 

This day was overcast and rainy, and it was still early, so there was absolutely no one there.  Fabulous! 

Jake was also feeling the fabulous-ness as we pulled into the tiny, gravelly road that leads into the area and he realized where we were headed — his old stomping grounds!

Those acres he so enthusiastically ran through as  a rambunctious, energetic young stud.  Full of zip, he would race through the grass after the ball time and time again, jump in the winding creek to cool off, and be back for more ball chasing.  We’d veer off the paved trails into the forest, crossing huge logs, hiking higher and higher.  Always the adventurous one and leading the way, Jake would discover new paths we hadn’t taken before and off we’d go, exploring, discovering, sometimes feeling a little lost but always having the time of our lives.

Now, my sweet guy’s bones can’t quite sprint across the fields of grass or climb up steep trails.  It makes me sad as we walk the once familiar path, his swagger a little stumbly, and I wonder if he feels sad for those days gone by too.

We stroll along blessed with a break in the drizzle, him sniffing, me listening to the precious sounds of nature.  The outcroppings to the creek are overgrown, thankfully, because at the pace the water is rushing due to recent rains, I am thinking my Jake-a-bug could get swept away.

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Still the ever-curious one, he turns off onto a little-ventured trail alongside the creek.  We walk in and out of tall grasses.  The grasses get higher the path gets less visible, and tangles of vegetation obscure the way.  We had pretty much covered all these acres in days past, and my brain tried to recall where this particular direction led.  Not recognizing anything, I’m thinking we should head back.

Several times, I called, “Jake, let’s go back!”  But on a mission, Jake plunged on ahead through the shrubs and grasses, even picking up the pace.  Before long, the tall weeds and brambles were gone and we stood in a charming little meadow under a miraculously blue sky.  It is heavenly.  The burbling of the creek can be heard again.  Panting, Jake heads toward the sound.    

He sees the creek but it’s too steep to reach.  Knowing he’d love a drink of the cool, running water, I search for a safe spot for him to get in.  Impatient with that, Jake meanders down a muddy slope into the swishing pool.  The water swirls around him as he slurps.  Sated, he swims just a bit with the water gently pushing him here and there.  It fills my heart to see him in such bliss.  But then I begin to worry about how he’s going to get out.

He tries to go back up the muddy slope he followed down, but falls backward, struggling for purchase.   Panicked, I slide down, one foot splashing into the creek.  Thankfully, I wore rain boots.  I put both feet in and lift him out where he does a rousing shake and wanders off, sniffing and exploring. 

Sloshing and wet up to my knees but not caring, I guide him back toward the vague path we’d followed and we start trucking the long way back.  Reaching the paved trails, I’m exhausted and know Jake must be as well.  “Well, neither one of us are spring chickens anymore,” I say to his happy smiling face peering up at me. 

At home, Jake settles down for a much-needed rest, I change clothes, ready to continue Dog Day.  I take Jessie, my bouncing-off –the-walls 5-year-old yellow Lab to the river where she burns off pent-up energy by swimming like a crazed fish for about an hour.  Returning home once again, Jake is still napping, his legs running in his sleep, his beautiful face twitching in a dream . . . remembering.  Tired myself, I lay down next to him to grab a nap and reflect.

From the long jaunts of yesterday to today’s shorter trek, we have always been in sync, Jake & I.  And while things are different and slower now with our aging bodies, we still are and will remain in sync, bonded forever by our adventurous spirits.  Together we ride this sweet but difficult journey.