Common belief suggests most of us are being held hostage by the pandemic and are slumped in our basements awaiting the all-clear signal. Yet if this were true, freeways wouldn't be packed and resorts Up North wouldn't already be hanging No Vacancy signs out for the fishing opener.
I was thinking about this the other day and also about Newton's first law of motion. Training dogs at the time, I was mentally jousting with littermate 15-month-old Labradors named Rowdy and Fella, who more-or-less on command were doing as instructed, more or less. This included taking hand signals at a distance to move right, left or back.
According to Newton, "An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force."
Though more figuratively than literally, in this case my hand signals were the unbalanced force that overcame the dogs' resistance to motion, or inertia.
Even in winter, with the snow and cold and dark of early morning greeting me as I trudge to a training field, a couple of canines at my side, tails wagging, I can't beat it, not as entertainment nor as pandemic distraction, this training of dogs, and young dogs especially.
If you're lucky and a dog is willing, movement will be gained each day toward a Zen-like understanding between master and charge that each is performing exactly as the other intends. Convincing dogs of this, and oneself, while not overly difficult, ultimately is more chess than checkers, and takes time.
Ironically, during the pandemic, time is what many of us have more of, not less, and not utilizing it to some good end might be regretted when more normal days return.
A friend the other day told me about long walks he and his wife were taking every day; walks that didn't occur before Covid reared its nasty noggin. The walks lead nowhere and yet everywhere, he said, and I nodded understanding because each morning after Rowdy, Fella and I train, we head for the hinterlands, walking.
At first the three of us rambled along certain routes, one way out and back another. But over time, where we went and in which direction became a toss-up, and as often as not I let the dogs lead the way, high-stepping as they did through snow. Sometimes the three of us surprised deer sunning in grassy beds. Other times we watched in the distance as hawks with dark intent circled pastures, ready to pounce. The farther we walked, the farther we wanted to walk, gaining, not losing, energy with each step.
"Few places in the world are more dangerous than home," the naturalist and author John Muir once said, and it's doubtful he was speaking of physical dangers, like slipping on bathroom floors.
More worrisome is the notion of home as fortress, which to the occupant provides the illusion of safety at the expense of confinement. Better to get outside and move, if only to walk, which as counterpoint to being homebound is as palliative as any pill.
"In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks," Muir also said, and he had it right.
On the last day of the duck season I brought along both Rowdy and Fella, planning as I did to have the dogs take turns in the blind as a sort of initiation into the real world of waterfowling.
My dad used to say, "Never brag about a dog unless its dead or 2,000 miles away."
Animals, after all, like people, can disappoint, or, more generously, slip up at precisely the wrong time.
Years ago when I drove a truck I was staying in an Atlanta motel when my golden retriever escaped from my grasp and leaped into a nearby swimming pool landing almost exactly onto the head of a dog-paddling elderly woman.
After which he bolted into an empty room and backed a frightened maid into a bathtub.
That kind of thing.
Ducks flew sporatically as the morning's shadows shortened, and Fella retrieved the first two greenheads to arc downward, one splashing into a pond ringed with ice, the other across a small creek and up a hill. There was some coaxing on my part on the second retrieve, and I recalled again Newton's thinking on motion as I attempted to convince him at a distance to go right, rather than left, as he insisted.
Rowdy later also distinguished himself, or so I thought, chasing down a mallard that had somersaulted into a plowed field with a broken wing.
On the way home, the dogs slept deeply in my truck's backseat.
They were happy, and content enough, I figured, with me as their buddy.
I guess I was happy, too, and anticipated eagerly training with them the next morning, and walking after that.