The low winter sun streams through the Douglas fir and cedar branches along the Wildwood Trail. The trail winds along a contour line out in the deep wooded heart of the park and I am alone. Well, almost alone. Around a bend in the trail comes my dog, running full out, her ears flapping and mud flying out behind her. She skids to a halt in front of me, her doggy face practically grinning as she hops up to touch my hand with her nose, spins and darts off up the trail. I can’t help but laugh.
I laugh out loud, my voice muffled by the ferns and fir tree foliage all around me. I laugh at her silly antics and goofy ways. She’s not a clown of a dog, but her little hop, flapping ears and flying leaps make me crow with laughter. I giggle uncontrollably at her yipping and yowling in her sleep. Is she dreaming about giant squirrels or flying tennis balls? Goddess only knows what goes on in the mind of a dog.
My laugh softens into a chuckle and a grin as I catch sight of a flock of chickadees tumbling their way through a stand of cedar and hemlock trees. The sheer joy she gets out of living her dog life makes me laugh, too. She is never self-conscious about her pleasure at a smelly fence post, at a sunny spot in the lawn or a good chase. She is never anything but herself, without reservation or apology. The chickadees come closer, chipping and chirping at each other, completely oblivious of my presence. They, too, are fully present in their lives, not worrying or pretending. They simply are. One flits from one branch to another, doing a somersault over the new perch, hangs upside down and digs in the needles for bugs. I can’t help but grin.
I recently heard an interview with Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit priest and astronomer, in which he tells a story about his mother. When he was about 9 years old she played cards with him one rainy Saturday afternoon. They played for hours and she let him win more often than not. Of course, she could have beat him every hand but that wasn’t the point. Playing the game was a way for her to say she loved him and Brother Guy sees exploring God’s created universe as a similar game. He is an astronomer and a mathematician so super novas and equations explaining planetary orbits are the game God plays with him to show his love.
I am a naturalist and a dog person so God plays a slightly different game with me. She shows me how to stop worrying and just be through a muddy Labrador. She shows me how she cares for every being through a flock of chickadees. She shows me that she will light my way with a big bright moon rising over the mountain as I drive home. She shows me that she loves me by making me laugh.
— Alyss Broderick