Bella’s Circus Act

As anyone in Wisconsin will attest to, there doesn’t seem to be any real progress towards Spring this year. The weather has been hovering around freezing at night, and up into the 50’s, maybe, during the day. It has been rainy, cold and windy. The sun shows itself every few days just to tease us and fuel our faith that Spring will indeed arrive. Regardless of the cloudy, cold and wet morning, I hauled  our lovable Golden Retriever Bella out to the country house this morning to do some cleaning and yard work.

After cleaning the house from top to bottom, Bella and I took a walk down the driveway to kill a little time, letting the grass dry a bit so that I could run the mower. Bella loves walking the driveway and always uses a very predictable “search and rescue” pattern as we pass through the main stretch of the driveway, which bisects two main crop plots of about 30 acres. She just does her dog thing … looking for food, critters to chase, or a mud puddle to slog through. She does it with a beautiful, easy gallop that covers impressive amounts of land in the amount of time available as I take the straight path to end of the drive. As we reach the road and turn to head back to the house, she starts to run off the driveway … but then “remembers” and abruptly returns to my side.

It was early Spring a year or two ago that Bella, from that same launching point, ran East across the marshy area that exists between the pond and the road. There was still ice and traces of snow, and even though I tried to call her back, she ran ahead at increasing speed. As she got deeper into the marsh, I could see some of the ice begin to give way. She stumbled, regained her balance, and stumbled again. This was new for her and she sensed it wasn’t good. She knew she was where she shouldn’t be and altered her course along an arc back towards the driveway. Sadly, she was running too fast, she was too heavy, and simply too far into the thin ice. When she reached a particularly soft area, a huge plume of water rose into the air as she broke through, and she tumbled through the water, ice and mud. Bella quickly paddled, struggled, and pulled herself onto one of the many tussocks that dot the marsh area. There she stood, soaking wet, dirty, afraid, with her paws pulled together in the firm center of the mound … much like a circus elephant balancing on a ball. Between her and the driveway was roughly thirty yards of icy, wet marsh.

In answer to the calls to come, she simply whimpered and cried. It was quite an interesting situation … a test of wills. Bella clearly was hoping for some rescue attempt. For me, the idea of wading into three feet of mud, water and ice was understandably unappealing. In addition, there was little doubt that her ability to crawl out of that situation, weight distributed across four limbs and paws, was infinitely greater than my ability to get her out. The standoff, me calling her and her pleading cries in return, lasted for a minute or two … and then I did what had to be done. I yelled to her I was going, punctuated it with “come on, let’s go” and headed up the driveway. She watched in disbelief and fear for a dozen steps or so, and then heaved herself forward with a great leap and paddled, clawed, and dragged herself to solid ground. She emerged cold, wet and scared, but was otherwise completely fine.

Today when I saw her abruptly change her course and return to my side, all of those memories flooded back to me. I couldn’t help but wonder what of that day she remembered. Does she simply associate that area with danger? Or does she have vivid memories of balancing precariously on that small tuft of grass and mud, hoping for a rescue that didn’t come? Or maybe, she remembered it as a time that challenged who she was, what she was made of. She was uncomfortable and afraid of what she had to go through, but persevered, pushed forward and came out on the other side. It made her more confident and more self assured. There is a lesson in there, for both dogs and people; at times it may be necessary to run through the cold and the mud to get to where you need to go, but there will be firm footing on the other side. Have faith in yourself. It may not be pleasant, but you will get there.

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