Listening (to snakes?)

August 28, 2011 by Jen

On this beautiful late summer afternoon, I decided to take a hike around a local lake. It’s about a 7 mile walk, but the trail is shady and smooth, with a few gentle hills and lots of families walking, biking, or running on it.

I was reminded, along the way, how peaceful it can be just to listen.

After approximately a mile of walking, I stopped to sit on the rocks beside a small creek flowing into the lake. As soon as I sat down, a woman approached with two dogs (both off the leash, both with the variegated-cardboard look that half-dry hair tends to produce). One was a lanky black and white mix; the other was a shorter, stubbier brown and black. Sort of a “Bert and Ernie” of dogs.

They immediately splashed into the creek in front of me. All I said was, “Looks like they’ve enjoyed a swim.”

That phrase initiated a 20-minute conversation that covered the entire gamut:

–the draining of the lake

–therapy dogs (her smaller dog is registered and works mainly with Alzheimer’s patients)

–the AKC’s recent decision to permit mixed breeds to compete in obedience trials…

–which enabled her dog, now highly successful, to compete after two years of being ready but unqualified

–the judge whose Australian Shepherd her dog beat in his own breed show

–the term “sharp pencil” judges

–the animal therapy test and reasons why dogs fail it

–her dog’s knee surgery for a roving kneecap

–animal insurance policies.

During the conversation, I asked maybe 3-4 questions and made some affirmative noises. She seemed eager to talk, to show pictures of her dogs, the show facilities where she had competed, and the ribbons they had won. In the meantime, her dogs ambled around us, sniffed, shook water on both of us, and let me scratch their ears.

Then we all moved on.

About mile 4, I had a somewhat shorter conversation with a small snake named Hermann Benvolio. He agreed to keep his older siblings out of the path, and I agreed to stay out of his way while he crossed the trail. We parted friends, in mutual sadness for the animosity between our kin.

It was lovely.

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