Lately, I’ve been feeling quite depressed, largely because I have had too much free time on my hands. This phenomenon is new to me. I cannot remember a single period of time in my life where I had three months of waking, sending kids out the door, staying home—alone, for 8 hours or more each day and having nothing mandatory to do; no job to show up to; no deadline for edits to be done by; no oncology appointment to worry about. Most of my life has been spent with a little one, or medium one and even a large one at home waiting for me to spend time with her/him, where it made sense to do my own cleaning, gardening, painting, grocery shopping, minor construction, toe nails, because child care is expensive and I wanted to be home with my children. I wanted to play house. I’m glad I did.
But, it seems all of a sudden, I am playing house alone and though I have time to do all the chores I have been used to doing, I don’t feel like doing them. I have had lots of speaking engagement, fund raising events and family obligations but this week has been particularly quiet. What to do? I have only myself to answer to. I do have my little dog, Poochini, here curled up at my feet as I write, his soft white Papillion fur, soothing and ridiculously soft, makes him a wonderful companion but I get the feeling he is bored. He isn’t getting any younger, his graying muzzle now evidence of his 7 years of age. I have found myself letting him go outside off leash lately which is dangerous. We live on a mountain. We have seen coyote, bobcat, deer and where there are deer, there are mountain lions, although I have not seen one, they could be around. Dave swears he has seen a cat bigger than a bobcat, smaller than a cougar, perhaps a lynx. At any rate, all but the deer are potential predators for Pooch, so why am I letting him out without a leash? I’m traumatized every time he goes running down the steep slope into the bushes wild eyed, wet nosed, quick paced paw, alert, hurried, possessed by the scent of rabbit, wild dog, squirrel or perhaps the neighbor’s boxer, who I have named Dolly because of her huge barrel chest.
Dolly began appearing on our large bricked driveway, collarless, timid, and a bit reckless a few months ago. When first approached, she would dart away, bound down the hill and disappear into the chaparral below. A few days after her first appearance, I was on the front porch and saw her on the driveway to my left. We made eye contact and she braced herself to dart away. I sat down where I was; spoke softly, “Its okay. Come on over.” She took one step toward me. I remained sitting, repeating my invitation. She took another step, and then another. Eventually, without interruption from Dave or Jacob in the house, she met my hand. I stroked her massive head, noted her collarless ness, told her she looked like a “Dolly” to me and she wagged her pointed whip-like tail so hard it almost knocked over a flower pot. I stood slowly for fear of her toppling me, to which she jumped back a bit and then made downward dog moves inviting me to play. We’ve been friends ever since.
Dolly is massive for a boxer, broad shouldered, thick legged, black gummed and slobbery. When she romps on the front deck the wood slats shake and rattle. Pooch, at first defensive of her, ran her off into the trees barking with the bravado of a bull mastiff, I’m sure to establish dominance. Pooch and Dolly are now friends. They frolic like cat and mouse—her the 90 pound cat and him the 10 pound mouse. He is fast and furious, she is silly and sluggish.
One night, Dolly appeared at our door and I made the mistake of letting her in the house. We were about to eat dinner so rather than chase her around I thought we should eat and then I’d deal with her. Perhaps she would settle down and lay at our feet. Jess, Jacob, Jojo and I sat eating tacos when Dolly approached the table with an almost full pound of cheddar cheese like a brick in her wide open smiling mouth dripping saliva onto our wood kitchen floors, tail wagging, seeming to say, “Hey thanks! You guys are the best neighbors ever.”
We shooed her out. As she wolfed down the rest of the cheese Jess suggested we tie a note around Dolly’s neck to see if her owners would contact us. She wrote:
We have named your dog Dolly. We enjoy her visits but were thinking you might get worried about her. If you can’t find her, call us. Here is our number…….. Oh, and you owe us a one pound block of Tillamook.
The DeLong Family
That evening, cheese fully consumed, Dolly disappeared into the dark slope behind us. Not, 20 minutes later, my phone rang and I heard laughter, “Hello? This is your neighbor, the one with the dog you named Dolly. Her name is Shema. So sorry about the cheese.”
We laughed at the efficiency of the note and that I didn’t think I could ever call Dolly, Shema. We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to keep an eye out for each other’s wayward dogs.
Dolly has come and gone many times and Pooch has gotten into the habit of descending our unfenced yard to, I’m pretty certain, find her. What puzzles me is why I am so complacent about letting him out the front door to pee off leash? I used to be diligent about constraining him. And then, he went through a long period of being obedient, I’d give him the command to pee, open the door, he’d go do his thing and come right back. Now he bolts out the front door blindly charging down the front steps chasing the bunnies lining the walkway to his favorite pee spot. I think he enjoys the element of surprise. He used to stop at the hedges but now he chases the bunnies into the bushes. When he comes back, and I have learned, he always does, he has a wild satisfied look about him, like he has fed his canine nature with the indulgent pleasure of the chase. I check him for ticks but I am not mad at him. In fact I ask, “How was it? Are you as happy as you look?” He pants, his little wet tongue dripping, his nose freshly wet and deeply black, his eyes wide and sparkling. I’m sure he has fox in his DNA. You see, the unexplored calls him, as it does me and as it does Dolly. I’m strangely happy for him.
These quiet days, my first lengthy exploration into myself, have given me time to be off leash, untagged, sniffing the air, chasing its scent, risking danger, not knowing where I’m going, who I will encounter or what will cross my path. I leave the answers in the hands of God’s universe. Some days I meditate for an hour, pray, read, write and feel fulfilled connecting with the divine running through me. Other days I feel deeply depressed, lonely, underachieved, frightened that I won’t have enough money or enough time or enough energy or enough drive or enough talent and like I should be doing something for someone, somewhere, but I’m not clear on what that something or someone should be yet. Even with the bouts of doubt, I know embracing the quiet is the correct thing for me to be doing right now. I believe this period of self discovery is the precursor to my block of cheese. I believe I am shyly making my way on to new platforms where I will gladly mouth the satisfying chunk of delight set before me at exactly the right time and in so enjoying I will be able to offer what I have digested in these quiet weeks with others. The difference between Dolly and me is I can speak. No one will need to tie a note around my neck to declare where I have been or give me a new name. This is me in full discovery mode, eyes wide open, intellect wet with intrigue, following the scent of my soul.