The early morning autumn sun in Western Kentucky starts out bashful and timid, but by eleven or so, it cheers up. We peel layers, the dogs and I. My skinny sleek-coated built for speed canines have a hard time staying warm when the temperature dips below fifty. So they wear coats. If they are running, the coats are unnecessary, cumbersome, silly. But for leashed walking or getting in a cold van or hanging around outside for human chatter, they are mandatory.
There was a frost this morning, but now I have shed my jacket and sweater and all but the oldest dogs have been relieved of their coats. We drove out to the country to chase toys and each other; to run and run. I can be worried about my world, I can be walking with heavy shoulders and constant sighs. I can feel like I've wasted my life, like I have no talent, like I've done no good. Until my dogs start running and playing on a perfect day in the country and they grin at me as they run past and I am on top of my world.
I've brought my Very Old Dog. He is too fragile at thirteen and a half to rough house with the youngsters. Spinal stenosis divorces his legs from his will. I know he wants to rip and tear and teach those pups just how to run. I know he remembers what it felt like to run like poetry. Eyes shining while legs harmonize with the wind, lungs and heart filling, pumping, smiling and the whole world blurs by in awe.
I keep his leash on while the youngsters cavort. They swoop too close and I yell, "Hey! Watch out!" and they laugh at me and cut even closer on the next pass. I can feel the Very Old Dog's heart beating in the leash in my hand perfectly, as though the leash itself were arterial. His valves are leaky and the big old muscle has to work harder than ever. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. His ears are standing straight up at attention and he barely whines with each exhale: "Let me go, let me go, let me run like I used to, let me go."
I am tempted.
My dear friends arrive, and they offer to hold the young 'uns on leads.
"Sure. Why not."
I leave Sam I Am loose; he's old enough to be sensible, and he's polite by nature. I hold my breath as Very Old Dog and Sam I Am play tug with a de-stuffed toy. "Be careful of your neck, you silly Old Dog." I silently entreat the Old Dog gods to look out for him. It is so beautiful today. I have even taken off his coat. He is smiling as he wins the toy. Sam I Am is so gracious.
And then Very Old Dog takes off. His stride, once the simple picture of ground eating perfection, is all kattywonkus. (Oh Lord, don't fall down.) Sam I Am feels my concern and looks at me, worried. Very Old Dog feels nothing but the grass under his toes and the sun in his great big heart.
He pulls up to me wagging.
And every single thing in my world is right.