Monday, December 11, 2017


I'm doing an "Advent Photo Challenge" on Instagram which requires me to post a photo each day on my account (JewellofaWriter) that reflects the word of the day. Although it doesn't stress me out to skip a word or two, it helps to know what a couple of days' worth of words are in order to be aware when I'm out and about, so I was thinking of today's word, Silence, when the dog and I were walking along the river yesterday.
I chose a different photo for Instagram (a photo of the snow falling on the goose decoys on the pond) because this photo of "silence" comes with a story that's more suited to this space.

This photo is of my six year old Boxer, Abby.
My previous dog, Stella, who came with me when I moved to Nova Scotia in 2007, was very athletic and energetic, as well as headstrong and stubborn. When we lived in urban Ontario, I spent hours walking the streets with her, and every couple of days, we headed out to the trails in the forest or to a friend's farm so she could run off-leash. She loved to run -- for every kilometer I hiked, she ran five -- but this meant she took off from me, often disappeared from sight. I started clipping a bear bell on her so that I could always track her; then it sounded like one of Santa's reindeer was running around.
I seemed to be yelling for her, and at her, all the time, and it exhausted me. It made me angry, irrationally so, but the anger was also full of worry: that she would get hurt and I couldn't find her, that she would attack another dog if she came upon them (I later realized she actually played with the dogs she met; she only attacked them with me out of an overdeveloped protective instinct). 

Then I read an essay by author and writing coach Natalie Goldberg about a walking meditation she did as part of a Buddhist retreat she was attending in a city. She walked through the city silently, without ever speaking. It was liberating, she discovered, to walk in silence, to quiet both one's mouth and one's mind.
It was worth a try so early one Sunday morning (before I'd started attending church again, my worship happened in the reforestation area) when I knew there wouldn't be anyone else around, I set out on the C Trail through the forest. I would hike for 90 minutes without speaking to my dog. I would not call her, I would not speak her name, I would not say anything. I would simply walk in silence.

I'd also read that speaking softly gets a dog's attention far better than shouting, which seems true considering we humans tune out shouters and whiners and cursers. Dogs also get most of their information from our body language -- from what we do rather than what we say.

So I did this silent meditation walk and felt calmer and not exhausted by anger at the end of the hike. Stella still ran around, sometimes out of sight, but I do believe she was intrigued by the novelty of my quietude once she realized there was nothing coming out of my mouth. I think this meant she realized she had to watch me for information rather than tune me out.

This is what I think of when I walk with Abby, when we stand looking out at the river, when she doesn't chase the ducks that fly out of the swampy area, when we pass through these fields or the woods behind the house, and she stays with me. Even when she disappears into the tree plantation, and I eventually call her, I don't get angry like I did with Stella, the "Whatever" dog, the canine equivalent of a teenager. Stella would disappear for so long, I'd be walking home before she appeared again.
It's much nicer to not walk and worry. It's much nicer to have the dog actually walking with me.

I appreciate being able to walk in silence with my dog.

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