Alpha Male Bonding: Day Nine
I introduced Tsuga in the Foreword (and what I think should actually be called the Preface) to the book, but then discovered there were no entries at all about him! There needs to be at least a few, and here is one that I remember with fondness when the pup was only about two months old.
It is legendary how Labradors love the water. They were bred to swim out into the waves and fetch fishing nets in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic (and were originally called Newfoundland Dogs). They even have webbing between their toes that makes them excellent swimmers, and heavy insulating coats to keep them warm when wet. On Tsuga's second day with us, I couldn't wait to carry him down to the edge of the water knowing what a puppy joy it was going to be for him to discover that he would grow up on a place with two creeks right out his back door.
You can imagine my disappointment when he was not only not interested in the water, but seemed to actually be afraid of it--ran away from it, as if it were coming after him! Maybe the fact that there was motion and noise set off his alarms, and it might be that he could not smell any signals--neither friend of foe--from this long undulating creature. Maybe this was unsettling to a pup with such a short lifetime in this strange world where all the water he had ever known was mirror-still in a round plastic bowl.
But today, Tsuga was ready to get his feet wet, on his own terms. With a purpose, he hopped off the end of the bridge by the house and headed straight to the shallow water of the branch. It was as if this was something he finally mustered the courage to do, and must do quickly before his fear could talk him out of it. Into the trickly he jumped with all fours, and attacked the muddy bottom with is paws, sending up a spray of black muck. Soon, and for the first time but certainly not the last, he became a mostly black yellow lab. You could see the pride of accomplishment in his doggie face, all the world like a little kid making mudpies, proud to be really dirty now--like a grown-up working dog. He needed to go to the creek for a bath, but I would let him decide if he wanted to face the bigger waters.
So we headed over toward the creek crossing the by the barn. I sat just at the water's edge while the pup explored in the high rushes and sedges by the stream. Soon he came cautiously to brink, and put his paws just barely in the current with comical ambivalence. He so wanted to see what this motion and flash of water was all about, pushed ahead by curiousity, held back by a native fear of the unknown. In the end, his drive to exlore won out, and all at once he pounced with all four feet, splashing into two inches of cold, flowing water. To my surprise, he even flopped down with his pink tummy in the stream for a few brief seconds. And in two shakes of a puppy dog tail, he tore out of the water past me, heading for the safety of the house.
But then, he stopped. You could almost see it happening. "Wait a minute!" he said. "I'm wet, a little cooler, but I'm okay! I'm safe! That was fun!" So he made a circle, coming back to lie under my bent knees where I sat. You could see his wheels spinning, resting there, chin down on his paws. Then, creeping on his belly, he went back to the edge, then in once more, running around wildly in the wide part of the stream before quickly retreating back under my legs for protection. Over and over again he tested the waters, again and again he returned to sanctuary.
It was the funniest, dearest-doggiest thing I had seen since Buster left us, and I laughed til I cried. This is not a figure of speech. I cried for the beauty of that moment, for the pure goodness of the sunshine; for crows and ravens and goldfinches all around on a clear, crisp autumn day. The tears were for the innocence of a young life that I was allowing to fill the place of one I still remembered and missed so much. They were for the rightness and goodness of this new bonding with another intelligence and for the transcience of all of it. There is a perfection in such a moment that is ineffible and overwhelming. Thanks, Little Buddy, I needed that.