I seem to notice that if I am joyous and skipping through the woods, following my collared up dogs through their hunting with a lightness to my step and easy beating to my heart, that they will see my good nature as a pass for absurdity. I will find them wrapped up in a blasphemous game, such as an entire pack joined in on a porcupine. I’ll end up pulling quills for hours upon hours in the field until the sun is rising and cursing them to hell and back for my bloody efforts.
But if I’m sad, deeply sad, heavy with layers of sorrow and walking along the forest path unengaged with the world around me, the pack will do something extraordinary. They’ll tree a robust bobcat in the middle of a thunderstorm. And they’ll do it as though it was just a simple task which they could have always done, had I only asked it of them! And I just get to stand there and find myself smiling again with the darkness lifted from my soul, even in the pouring rain.
Comparatively, their power to uplift my injured spirit is more significant than their tendency to further complicate my somber disposition.
Oftentimes, my most heartbroken and painful days will turn into my best memories because of my animals’ responses to my emotion. They treat me gently and carefully, when I am mournful and hurt. They become less forceful and trying. They seem to accept my direction effortlessly and connect with me more comfortably. It reminds me of how open and soft I am when I have been wounded. I become gentle. I become fragile. And I believe that the animals might find it easier to work with that energy, than they do when you are championing the world.
I used to have a paint horse that would often throw his best bucks whenever he found me really feeling inflamed and thrilled with my afternoon…
“What kinda manner is that, Zalikai? Come now!”
“Ahh, it’s fun. You can handle it. It’s fun!”
Insufferable little paint horse, always challenging me on my best days.
But there were other times that I’d go to him quietly and I’d ask for a ride when I could not take the bucking. He was a solid friend, that little paint horse. He was easy going and relaxed, humble and uncomplicated. He was all about the simple pleasures in life and he was always eager to forgive and forget, raising his beautiful head and blinking the sleep from his eye…
“I thought you were bringing hay.”
“Are you hungry? It’s past midnight.”
“I know it is very late. I was asleep, but I heard your steps.”
“I need to go for a walk and I am too weak to walk alone. I thought you might carry me, please would you?”
“I can, of course, if you need me to. I’ll graze the wild grass, if you don’t mind.”
And I wouldn’t mind and we’d walk through the entire night, quiet and alone in our thoughts. I wouldn’t need to guide him or even urge him forward; he’d just walk in familiar directions and take me along comfortable scenes, visiting places where we had made better memories in our past. Peaceful breath. Attentive ears. Soothing stride with a careful stepping of his hooves. And by sunrise, we’d be turning in the direction of our home or just stepping out of the forest to see its gate. It was all by his own design, the entire ride.
I now have a horse that can really move! He is a great horse and a powerful horse, he can be a forceful horse to handle on your best days. But he is also very emotional because he has suffered through much in the past. He is incredibly smart, but he can be distant. He doesn’t want to fight you, but he absolutely will if he feels insulted or harmed. He is sophisticated, well-bred, and well-traveled. And he can dance…
“I am sorry, Theo, to wake you.”
“I was already awake and I was watching the moon.”
“I am sorry, but I was hoping we could dance together in the field. Not for too long, but just for a little while. I am hurting. But I know it’s very late.”
“I will dance with you, for as long as you need, if that will help you to feel happy again and not to hurt. I do not mind it. And you do not need to feel sorry for asking.”
And have you ever sat on a tall white horse with enormous movement, in an empty field lit by the moon, with tears in your eyes and your entire body weak, and him dancing for you simply because it would help you feel happy again? Piaffe. Passage. Pirouette. You asked him so lightly because that was all you could do, and he responded. You are reminded that your cues should always be this gentle and open because feel how easily the horse can respond! It might not sound like the most beautiful thing in the world, but it is. I only needed that midnight dancing once and I’ve never quite had the same grace out of this since, though we continue to develop a deep understanding of each other and have become trusted friends.
Sometimes, you just sit on the back porch with a good hound dog and a beer. Maybe, you have more than one beer…
“You’re my main man now, you know.”
“It’s a shitty deal for you really. I mean, if we’re being honest, you know, no man has ever been happy about that arrangement for long. Fuck it. It’s a shitty deal for you.”
“But I’m not a man. I’m just a dog.”
“Ha! Copy that. You’re a good dog, Floyd River Red Rum. You’re a good one.”
“Want to go out and tree some coons? You’re smashed. I’m not. I can tree some coons. Makes you feel better. Makes me feel better.”
“We could. Fuck it. We could. We’d have to walk.”
“I like walking. No problem. You should bay at them. Bay ‘em up like we do.”
“Man, come now…”
“I ain’t kiddin’. Bay ‘em up! It releases…you have some fancy word for it…”
“That’s right. Endorphins. It releases them. That’s why we do it. Makes us feel better. Works. You gotta do it a lot though. Gotta throw your whole voice out there. Slam that bark with your paws and holler up that tree with all ya got. Wake up the woods. Wake ‘em all up! It’ll make you feel better, baying up through those branches to the moon. Even if nothing ever comes down for you…”
And he’s right.