When I run with my dogs on the trails through the woods, I usually allow them to be off leash. We seldom run into anyone else, and they like to explore. The female likes to tag behind me, stopping to sniff and investigate, and then she makes a mad dash to catch up when I whistle for her. She bounds up the trail, ears flapping, thrilled by her speed and independence. My male dog, Riley, likes to run ahead, leading the pack, but he comes back often, doesn’t let me out of his sight. His is a shepherd, and he thinks it is his job to keep us all together. So last week, when he caught a scent and bolted off through the trees, faster than I have ever seen him move, I wasn’t initially worried. He is a momma’s boy, and he is happiest when I am right there, telling him what a good dog he is. I whistled for him, and kept up with my run, but when after a few minutes he had not rejoined me, I doubled back to where I had last seen him, and my calling for him took on a more urgent tone. “Go find Riley,” I told my other dog, but she just looked at me.
A few minutes later, as I was still calling, a few women came towards us. “Is he a big black dog?” they asked. “We tried to lure him to us with hot dogs, but he was only interested in the deer he was chasing.” I groaned. “Please tell me he wasn’t anywhere close to them.” “Oh no!” they laughed. “He was never going to catch them, but he had no idea. He just kept up like he was almost there.” “You gotta keep hope alive,” I sighed, and thanked them for their effort.
Not long after, Riley came crashing through the trees, frothing and panting, exhausted and wild-eyed. I put him on his leash, and gave him a little talk about safety, but I didn’t really scold, because secretly, I was happy for him. He is a good boy, and he usually stays on the trail, in eyesight. He comes when he is called, and does what he is told. But sometimes, you get a whiff of something that calls to your true nature, and you have to go! Even the most delicious of domesticated treats can’t hold you back, you have to follow that scent, even if you can never catch it. You can always find your way back to your trail, but when nature compels, you have to follow.
Julie's writing focuses on interacting with nature, and pulls from experiences of kayaking, gardening, and taming dragons. Her favorite places include Forest Hill Park, the James River, the Galapagos Islands, and wine bars. She is a psychologist by day.
Julie takes classes with Valley.