I’ve never been a dog person. I think it depends on whether on not you had one growing up, and I didn’t. I’m very enthusiastic about the idea of a dog, much like the idea of trip to Antarctica, which sounds wonderful in theory, but I’d never go. Nor will I ever get a dog. I recently met a man who is writing a book in the magical realism genre. It’s all about an old merchant sailor whose beloved dog dies, leaving him heartbroken. The magic comes when his dog reappears to him, dispensing life advice, guidance and comfort whenever he is at his most lost and lonely. I think he’s onto a winner! That’s my kind of dog. I’ve poached his idea; not for a book, just for a bit of a try on. My dog doesn’t offer advice, rather, silent companionship. I took him (I think it’s a he) for a short walk on Sunday. It allowed for a slower, more meandering walk, en route rests, watching, feeling, listening. Useful, this dog of mine.
There was a warmth that I hadn’t felt since October – heat in the low sprung sun softening the air and cajoling my bones back to life. The usual pick’n’mix of dogs were tumble-drying themselves on the fast spin across the playing field at the back of Holyrood Palace. Black Labrador, Pointer, Whippet, Springer, Collie, Border Terrier: their collective energy could run a power station. I wondered what breed mine was. This was the spot from which, last May, I spied a tiny fledgling that had fallen from a sycamore; helpless, forsaken, doomed. I sat for an hour guarding it, watching its laborious efforts to climb a trunk in graceless, jerking millimetres until it found a cleft of a low branch in which to hide. I was certain a crow would swallow it by evening, but I wasn’t going to interfere with the laws of nature, the circle of life.
Eyes up and over the wall to the imposing façade of the Palace: all those windows to wash, all those rooms to heat, all those stories, forgotten. The Sunday rush to the summit of Arthur’s Seat had begun. Week on week, it becomes exponentially busier. Beats a pilgrimage to the shops, but I’m afraid we might flatten it with over enthusiasm on our scramble to the top of the heap. February is the sparest month, only a brave few crocuses are out. The stripped trees make it easier to spot flitting birds. The remnants of last years’ determined leaves hang on to branches of a nude birch, fluttering in semi-surrender. My eyes adjust, re-focus, and I’m enchanted when a scraping of leaves transform into a dozen goldfinches. A personal moment of magical realism. At the edge of St. Margaret’s Loch a family feed a snowdrift of swans torn up bread from a plastic bag. They jostle like homeless at a soup kitchen, elegant necks extended in graceless grasping. Terns hover above them, disapproving. Further on in a clearing, someone has scattered seed in a perfect full moon. The pigeons don’t clamour, no commotion, they peck in mindless circles, never feeling full.
I’d long since forgotten about the dog, which is why I can’t be trusted with one. I sit again, my excuse – to rest a post-viral body that feels like a sack of potatoes. I scribble in my notebook. A giant poodle runs towards me. Poodles startle me every time. I think they look like llamas, not like dogs at all; llamas, or exotic, clipped goats. I’m cautious around them; too tall, too leggy, and far too theatrical. Poodle is being walked by an older couple wearing tweeds and equestrian boots, “You tell me off all the time, why can’t I tell you off all the time?” He snaps at her. Poddle runs off into the trees, embarrassed. An assortment of trunks: speckled, freckled, marble smooth, some with deep grooves like mouth of a delta, others ivy-choked. The couple continue to bicker, hack and attack each other, not missing their dog. I can see the Firth of Forth from here. A red trawler is putting out to sea. Today is calm and settled, it’ll be a different story when they get to the North Sea. A silent prayer, “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters.”
I was home and had the kettle on by the time I remembered that I’d left the dog in the park. I’d be worse than the poodle parents. I’ll meet my friend on Thursday, ask him how his book is coming along and tell him about my dog ramble.
The Power of the Dog, by Rudyard Kipling (abridged)
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!),
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone – wherever it goes – for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear!