Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: Dogs

She’s All That And More

It’s 7.02 and my alarm did not go off. How do I know this? Because of the coldish wet nose that is gently pushing down on the mattress near my own nose. Perhaps a molecule or two are exchanged in the process, that’s how fine her touch is. She knows that my weekdays start at 7am. On weekends we sleep in; she knows that too.

Make that magical feature number 1.

She seeks my gaze when I start dressing or even just reaching for a pair of socks. She looks into my soul and my soul warms up. ‘Can I come along?’ She almost always does. If the adventure is but grocery shopping, it’s togetherness she’s after. So am I. We listen to Nina Simone and Stan Rogers in the car and our eyes meet in the rear-view mirror every now and then. To never feel lonely; infinitive.

Magical feature number 2.

The other day we got ambushed by a coyote on the trails. Twice. The first time she barked her big dog bark, charged the coyote only so far, and then came to stand by me as we both scanned the hills. The second time around she chased it further but came back unharmed. She looked at me: we’re going home now. I listen every time. I learned that in the woods where it’s just the two of us (and the plethora of wild creatures stalking us!) and her nose and instincts always prevail. I am safe because of her; I never question her instinct.

That’s magical feature number 3. (Number 3 applies to people too. She sniffs out the strange ones and blocks their access to me. Go figure. I shrug and say hello but from a distance. As per my dog’s suggestion.)

She sleeps by my side of the bed and when I can’t fall asleep, I let my hand rest on her. Research says… everything calms down and I feel my thoughts tuck each other into imaginary beds… All’s peaceful again. Closeness. Gratefulness.

That’s magical feature number 4.  

I signal our hiking trajectory wordlessly; I wave my hand and she gets it. I teach her the words for the things we meet on our hikes: snake, stick, cone, person, bird, puppy, plane (nope, we don’t fly but planes do and she looks up wondering what they are. Planes. So there.) I ask her if she is hungry on the way home and she licks her snout looking up at me. She knows people’s names. Her dog friends’ too. While I solemnly promise to never refer to her as ‘fur baby’, she knows me as Mama. Because the boys call me that. To be fair, we are raising each other, her and I. But yes, on paper I am the dog owner and the dog’s name is Poppy.

Today is her birthday. She turns 3! A pallid midday sun catches us playing soccer with a cone on a frozen beach. I kick the cone we found buried in sand, she runs to catch it and creates a mini sandstorm. Repeat. Repeat. Until. What? Already time to go? OK, once more.

We stop by the side of the frozen river. It’s quiet but for the hum of the city in the distance. I crouch down and she nestles into me. I kiss the side of her head and she closes her eyes gently. She sighs. I sigh. I’d change nothing; not her relentless bicycle chasing or occasional stubbornness. The car will be full of sand again. So what. Repeat. Forever.

Gratefulness

Happy birthday, Poppy girl. May our snuggles and adventures never end.

This Is Her, Our Pup

It’s 8.03 so her eyes are on me. Ready? Not yet, cuddles first. Not sure when this became a morning ritual. Her head on my chest, eyes closed, so much is being said without a word coming out.

She knows my every move. Mornings are particularly important because when you have that kind of nose you want to see what the new day tells you about the night before.

She waits by the door, eyes fixated on me. Love and pressure go together sometimes. Finally, the door opens and we’re out. It’s -18 and sunny, though the sun is scarce on our block still. Heel, leave it, good job, repeat. Her little feet dance on the sidewalk this way and that, her nose sniffing tracks of cats and dogs and birds. So much has happened overnight. Again.

The park is white and frozen. We know where the sunny parts are so that’s where we’re heading. Interference. A dog that mostly doesn’t like other dogs, his owner says, shows up. She feels it’s not a friendly greeting but a ‘let me sniff you so I can bash you shortly’, so she declines. A short-lived pursuit follows; her tail is down, she is not comfortable like she is with other dogs. She stands her ground though. A brave pup she is.

We move along. She runs ahead. I stop to adjust my mittens and I notice her standing in the middle of the path waiting. We gaze at each other for a few seconds. ‘Should we keep going?’ I ask. She tilts her head. All right then.

We take a trail that will ultimately take us to the sunny parts. It’s cold. My face is stinging. She dashes up and down the hills chasing birds. Then she stops by the squirrel tree. Yes, there is one she knows of in the park. Other than the whooshing sounds made by my feet and hers, all is quiet.

We reach the sunny path. As soon as I feel the sun on my face I stop and let it kiss my cheeks. She does too. We exchange glances again. We speak sparkling together; a language that makes your day brighter.

All of a sudden she starts sniffing with a vengeance. Her nose plows through deep snow and then she holds it up and smells the air. There are tracks that she sniffs again and again. Then I understand. The snow becomes a translator of our pup’s behaviour. When we’re walking down the street or around here, certain tracks that the snow makes now visible, make her go crazy.

I follow a narrow set of tracks with my eyes all the way up the hill. I wouldn’t have been aware of that if she wasn’t here to make me see. Coyotes. We saw one the other day just out of the park. She looks like one, people say. One day we’ll meet face to face, coyotes and us. I know she’ll be brave, but I hope she’ll be wise too.

We’re in the shade again. It’s cold and I’m thinking of warmth and hot coffee, boys waking up, and morning snuggles with little boy. It’s a good sunny, day. It’s her first birthday.

She’s been a catalyst of laughter in our home, she’s reminded us all of the simple pleasure of being, quiet and peaceful, and let the world go by even for just a bit. She knows our names, we know her favourite games and hiding places and we’re constantly revising the house rules just so we can have more of her.

Happy birthday, pup, glad you’re ours and we’re yours. We love you so.

Of Dogs and Poop – A Necessary Conversation

There is no better way to start the day than by stepping outside for a brisk walk. In my case, that involves the dog too. Our destination on most mornings is Peterson Creek. For weeks now the park has been a winter wonderland, sheltered under beautiful patches of blue or, at times, ominous-looking grey clouds that brought more snow. To have it so close is something I am grateful for.

Snow does a few things to a dog: it provides an endless amount of magical material for playing, somersaulting, and digging, which is good, but it also covers all the available sticks, which is not ideal. As the temperature rises and snow starts melting, the reverse applies. Sticks appear and patches of mushy muck replace the white layer. The dog welcomes both.

A seemingly handy thing that snow does for the dog owners on the other hand, is that it hides the daily stinky piles that the well-functioning digestive system of their beloved canine produces. That works until the meltdown begins, at which point the piles surface and the beautiful winter wonderland becomes a rather dreaded territory dotted with old and new poop, and lots of it. It is as ugly as it sounds.

The number of piles of dog poop left in Peterson Creek is staggering. Every day more snow disappears and more piles appear. Some already bagged up, which makes no sense at all; some surface on the side of many a city street near the park. There is the occasional ugly wide smear over the sidewalk which is hard to avoid stepping in as it stretches way beyond the initial patch and somehow it manages to stick to your shoes eventually. Risky stuff.

As much as I do not enjoy taking my mittens off in the freezing cold to collect my pup’s piles, and as much as I do not enjoy carrying the bag to a distant enough garbage bin, I do both anyway. It’s part of the unwritten code of being considerate towards fellow humans. Dog ownership obliges.

Also, if you have a dog that has, at least once, indulged in rolling in a pile of poop or another repugnantly-smelling organic matter, you would understand the added stress and disgust that uncollected old poop brings about. Yes, ours is a roller.

Over the years and prior to owning a dog, I had the unpleasant experience of stepping in dog poop left by the side of the street or on some trail. I had my kids climb into the car without realizing they carried dog fecal matter on their shoes. The smell often lingered after the car was cleaned and disinfected.

Psychologists might possibly lean towards saying that one is less disgusted by one’s own dog poop, should they happen to spread it inside the car or on the entrance carpet. Either way, one way of not conducting an experiment of that sort is by simply picking up after your dog.

Should the dog poop disappear due to sudden increased levels of consideration for the fellow humans, one could argue, there is also the threat of other species leaving theirs behind with no chance of having anyone picking it up. Fair enough.

Bears, coyotes, deer, geese, you name it. They are part of our immediate world here in Kamloops and beyond, and I hold no grudges towards any of them, though the dog occasionally plunges neck first into their poop. I accept that as part of a shared territory.

As for the dog poo piles, they can and should be picked up without any other incentive needed. Public spaces cannot be made into a dog’s toilet, no matter how unpleasant the task of picking it up. Snow in this case is a fake friend. Out of sight in winter means into view when snow melts. That is both inconsiderate towards people and disrespectful towards nature, which we do not have the right to destroy in any way. We have the privilege to enjoy and the obligation to preserve.

Ice, Boys plus Dog = Perfect Day

Today’s late morning is exploding with sunshine.
“Should we go see a frozen waterfall?”
The boys agree. Today we hike in Peterson Creek Park.

We explored part of the park in the fall. It was hot, dry and challenging. A first steep hike for the boys.

Now it’s different. The creek has icy sideburns and the sun stomps its bright feet in it like a giant millipede. It’s easy to feel blessed in such a place. And hope it will stay like this. For ever sounds about right.

We walk alongside the creek and watch the sideburns grow to cover it. We hear the water gurgling underneath. The heart of the creek drumming away…

“A wolf! Mom, is that a wolf?”
Perfectly matching the shade of bushes, a fluffy light grey Husky is watching. He runs ahead of us, then stops and waits.

The boys are elated. We call him Buddy and delight in his lively company. He jumps all over, runs up and down the trail, bumping my little guy off his feet more than once but there’s no protests. They’d love to have a dog, I know that. I would too, but not yet.

We hike towards the waterfall, and though slippery and gnarly at times, the trail reveals surprises too.
“A cave! Mom, a cave!” We’ve been hunting for caves since we got to Kamloops and as spectacular it is to find one when you set for it, it’s even better to find one when you don’t expect it.

Buddy follows us inside the cave. The darkness is both tempting and scary. We’ll bring a flashlight next time. Out again and to the waterfall.
Buddy leads the way, we follow.

“Can we keep him, Mom?” I knew that was coming. We can’t, but we’ll get one soon.

We reach the waterfall. Frozen and guarded by tree-studded rock walls, it dwarfs us. I take photos but like so many times before, I know the photos cannot catch the very soul of it. Amazing, frozen beauty with a water heart drumming away.

The boys explore the surroundings, and so does Buddy, clearly in his element.

A man reaches the place we’re at and we greet. He tells me how he used to come up here when his children were my boys’ age. Photos of the kids standing by the waterfall, he has some too. We chat about how precious it is to show kids the beauty of a place like this.

We’re new to Kamloops and already sold to its beauty, I tell him. He laughs: “You could go out 365 days a year to explore around here, and not get bored or run out of places to discover.” I had a hunch that was the case.

Our impromptu chat reveals that we share common ancestry, the Romans, and we speak a common language too: environmentalism. I have always reveled in meeting people who change their ways to protect the planet, knowing that our lives and the planet’s well-being are intertwined that way.

But changes do not always come easy. Where to start? Changing our perspective, I’d say. Needs versus wants, it should not be hard to stick to “needs” mostly… That would keep the above mentioned 365 places pristine.

“Wants” ultimately lead us towards an environmental sellout. Searching for what really matters should start within us, to be complemented by nature’s primal beauty.

The boys explore and stick their hands in the “eyes” the creek opens through its icy cover. Their happy voices hop from one side of the rocky walls to the other, much like their temporary furry friend.
“Mom, my boots have water in them, I stepped in the creek.”
Same as always then, just like it should be.

We say good bye. I am grateful to have learned that this year is Giuseppe Verdi’s two-hundredth birth anniversary. As a kid, I used to snuggle with my mom and watch Verdi’s operas. My first realization that music transcends language and the reason my boys know Pavarotti’s music.

We make our way back to the car, sliding down the trail with no mercy for the bottom of our pants. The creek sings under the icy surface.

Buddy left. He’s likely found his owner. I didn’t want him to get lost; I know about that heartache. But he made our hike that much more special. Thank you, Buddy!

At home I make hot chocolate and we look at the photos I took. Buddy’s in there too. We spend the rest of the afternoon reading. Feeling blessed is but one way of saying thank you.

Originally published as “‘Wolves,’ caves and adventures await in city park” in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday, February 2, 2013

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