Friday, March 20, 2009

Greetings from Oklahoma

Hi, everyone! Today is the last day of our trip to rural, north-central Oklahoma. (Pictures to come.) Let me tell you that a cattle ranch in Oklahoma, from the dogs' point of view, is better than Dog Park--it has wide open spaces, birds to chase, cattle to bark at, stock tanks to splash around in, cow patties to roll in, and small children to herd. Plus, it's an official leash-free zone. Bonus (for me): Someone does not have to pick up the poop! Drawback: It's tick season already (although I seem to be the only one picking the creepy little buggers off my neck).

Every day we wander around the young wheat fields and ogle the cattle--Angus, which are big, black, and without horns. We also have helped plant spring gardens, cleared brush (take that George Bush), and hung laundry to let the famous Oklahoma winds dry our jeans so stiff that we can barely walk in them.

Oklahoma is Muzzy's homeland, and although she has become citified, she has reverted to being quite the ranch dog. She barks at the cattle and at anyone who sets foot on the property--and not in her puppy voice, but in a new, deep confident grown-up dog voice. Instead of letting Roma take the lead (Roma would rather be asleep under the dining table in the ranch house), Muzzy is the one at the front of the pack. At one point, I was lying the grass dozing (it was an experiment; I wanted to see what the big deal is--why do dogs and cows love to lie around in the grass? Answer: The grass is warm and sof, and the wind billows over you, and all you want to do is sleep in the sun), and I realized that I didn't know where Roma was. (Roma is pretty much deaf now, so the problem is that if she runs off too far, no amount of yelling will bring her home.) I sat up from my slumber and saw Roma way out in a field. Muzzy picked up on my concern, and, without a word from me, took off to herd Roma back. Then, just as she was about to pounce on Roma, Roma squatted in a business-like way, and, mid-leap, Muzzy changed course and avoided crashing into the old pooper. It was a strange little moment in which Muzzy read both my mind and also Roma's body language. I marveled at her perceptiveness. I wondered, Who is this dog?

We end our pastoral tomorrow. Then it's nine hours in the car and back to Austin and Dog Park, which will seem puny in comparison, I'm afraid. But it also will be filled with friends (canine) who will probably sniff my boots and (human) who can provide treats and all the news we've missed. We'll see how Muzzy fits back in to the pecking (or rather, barking) order.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Mile in Their Minds

The trails at our Dog Park roughly form a figure-eight. There's the upper loop and the lower loop, with a trail down the middle the connects both to one of the parking  lots. A full loop is one that encompasses both upper and lower trails. It takes you away from the cars and the company buildings along the trees behind the neighboring houses and the creek bed and back again. There is only a short stretch on the loop where you can't see houses or hear cars on the nearby streets. 

For years, fellow Dog Parkers and I would idly wonder as we strolled,  "How long is a full loop?" Based on no particular measurement, we decided it must be a mile. Surely it was a mile. A mile was a nice neat figure, and it made us feel good when  we managed to circle the Park three times. "I walked three miles today," we could say proudly as we slumped in the shade under the pecan trees and cracked nuts to feed the dogs. 

One day, a fellow named R. decided he would measure the loop. So he went out when no one else was around and walked a full loop while counting his steps. He walked some large number--something in the thousands. Then, because he knew the exactly length of his stride, he calculated that the full loop was really closer to .75  mile. This number did not go over well. How could the loop be less than a mile? People were suspicious of R.'s calculations. He may have been a computer geek, but his political views were a little too Republican. Plus, did anyone actually see him walk the loop? People chose to ignore R.'s calculations.

Later, a young woman named R.L. began training for a marathon. She decided to use her pedometer to measure the full loop so she could run there for training. Her readings were even more drastic. According to R.L., the loop was hardly more than half a mile! Dog Park was shrinking with each calculation! Again, people quibbled. "Well, R.L. has those short little legs, of course her measurements are off." Again, people doubted and kept on walking a loop that was still a mile in their minds. 

Many years later, I still have no idea how long a full loop really is. And I don't want to know. For me, the Loop is a state of mind. Like life, sometimes it feels interminable, especially the uphill part. Sometimes, when I am engaged in conversation or lost in cloud-watching, my girls and I finish a full loop in what feels like seconds. Some days we even lose track of how many loops we've completed. Because that is what Dog Park is about—escaping from the niggling little things. The Park, despite being only hundreds of yards from major Austin thoroughfares, is a little island, a doggy Neverland, that most people don't know exists. It's a place where dogs rule. And, frankly, the dogs don't give a damn how long the loop is. "What loop?," they say. "Just throw the ball! "