Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Walking With a Friend.
Sunday morning, a morning of sunshine after weeks of rain, a morning full of birdsong and warm air and a meadow full of wild flowers.
My friend and I walk 'here', a fascinating place with a rich history as a military hospital, a pioneering psychiatric hospital, and now a nature reserve.
My friend and I have a great deal in common. We like a lot of the same things, although she has something of a penchant for poking her nose into other people's business, a trait I do not share.
She is younger than me, and blonde, and probably has a more illustrious family tree. Her name is Hannah, and you may have realised by now that she is a Labrador Retriever.
We wander along the paths through the woodlands and over the meadows. She is sometimes just ahead, sometimes just behind, but never far away.
She likes to greet people, but not necessarily their dogs, whom she tolerates politely. She is not very keen on children, and will often take a detour to avoid them. People wearing sun-glasses make her uncomfortable, and I remember my deaf friends telling me how difficult it is to lip read people wearing sun-glasses. Dogs need to read whole facial expression, too.
There are some parts of the woodland where Hannah feels uneasy. As we approach she goes slightly stiff legged and walks carefully behind me, allowing me to encounter any dangers first.
Hannah is not a guard dog.
This beautiful plot of land has known great sadness.
People have suffered here, and there are parts of the woodland where the hairs rise on the back of Hannah's neck and all along her spine, so that she looks like a Rhodesian Ridgeback. She sticks close to my heels, looking to neither right nor left.
This is the site of the old hospital mortuary. Hannah picks up some sort of vibe and just wants to get past the place, not to linger for even the most interesting scent.
I feel sad too. A sense of gloom hangs over this stretch of woodland, but Hannah's behaviour emphasises my own feeling. Which comes first - the dog's reaction or my own?
We both step briskly out of the woodland and through the gate into the meadow where she bounds and pirouettes with joy - instant transformation in the open sunlight.
She knows what is coming, but bounces and grins and waits for permission to go.
There is water ahead, usually a stream with shallow pools, and she can hurl herself into it with the sort of abandon that occurs when a happy Labrador senses water. She can hit the water and flop down into it, then race through it, biting at it, laughing at it, revelling in it, a joy as infectious as the gloom of ten minutes ago.
I can share her enjoyment, the enjoyment of sunshine, an open space, freedom, the view of the hills. I do not need to join her in the water, although she would clearly like me to do so, and cannot quite understand my reluctance. She comes and shakes herself close to me, demonstrating that water is good, wetness is great, a damp car is going to smell heavenly.
Hannah is not my dog. She is a friend, and a much valued friend because whenever I have the urge to go and find myself another dog to rescue I call on Hannah. She reminds me, in the best possible way, that owning a dog is a great big responsibility, a great big expense. It involves limitations and forward planning, and I've done all that for many years. I must not do it again, because I have other important commitments. If you take on a dog it has to come very high indeed on your agenda, especially when you live alone.
So Hannah and I walk together.
And I'm also very grateful to another good friend who happens to be Hannah's owner.