It is not lost on me that the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” has crossed my mind and vocal cords often during the past 60 years.

Today, I took Gillis, the 56-pound puppy on our daily walk. When we got on the path in the park, where there are loads of woods and green fields, I took Gillis off his leash. I wanted to let him run and get some of his abundant energy out of him. Wearing him out in the morning makes the day go better for the rest of us in the house.

I was walking along quite cocky and confident as Gillis would move ahead of me 10-15 yards, sniff at some grass near the sidewalk and then look to see where I was on the path. Sometimes I will stop in my steps to let him get ahead and then he’ll come back to where I am standing. He does that quite well. As long as he is not distracted.

What I had not banked on was that a few minutes after I let him off the leash, Gillis saw a rabbit jump out of its warren and run for the woods and brush like a scalded tomcat. If  he had been on a leash at that moment, I would have been dragged to death like a charioteer in “Ben Hur.”

Gillis covered with stickers

I stood there for a few moments to watch him go through the thick grass and the woods. Finally, he emerged from the woods. My expression of pride changed dramatically to horror! This picture will show you a bit of what I saw. He looked like someone had poured sesame seed salad dressing all over his body. He was covered with thousands of stickers. And I do mean multiple thousands. He had so many stickers that the white part of his coat was grey with the stickers. It was particularly heavy and thick around his nose and muzzle.

I got him back on the leash and we headed home. When I got home, I doused him with water and began using our dog brushes to comb out the stickers. It was a daunting task, to say the least. It was also a pain in the ass. Not like the damn dog wanted to help me out in any way. He jumped back and forth, but after an hour and a half, I had a good portion of his back cleaned. But his undercarriage, legs, muzzle and butt were still covered with gazillions of these stickers.

As I tried to begin working on his muzzle, his contrariness began to demonstrate itself significantly. Patti and I finally decided we needed to get him to a groomer because, more than likely, he needed to be shaved of these bothersome monsters.

When we got him to the groomer, we confirmed that they would  first try to comb out the stickers, but if they couldn’t do that, then they would give him a shave. After 2-3 hours, the groomer called and said that Gillis was ready. They also sent the picture below of him — after they had cleaned him up and gave him a bath.

Gillis 'de-stickered'

I was amazed. No more stickers. And, they didn’t have to shave him, either. I can’t fault Gillis for what he did. He saw a rabbit and he loves to chase them. So off he went! Don’t chase a rabbit tomorrow, when you can chase the little devil RIGHT NOW!

So, today, THIS old dog learned a new trick: don’t take the dog off his leash until he is at least a year old and has had SIGNIFICANT leash training. Also, I learned that when Gillis is after a rabbit, his hearing loss is profound. He never heard me when I yelled for him to heel or to come back to the path. No, indeed. He had a singular purpose and we both paid for it with him loaded stem to stern with thousands of the stickers.

So, the next time this old dog takes the young pup for a walk, you can bet that he’ll be on the leash. After all, what kind of master would I be if this dog thought that HE ran things around here?

He’s the one that got the tender-loving care from the groomer and the nifty bath that made him smell like a French poodle fresh out of the spa.

Three years ago, Patti and I left our home in Austin to go to a wedding in Florida. We had time on our hands so we decided to get there in a roundabout way. First, we went to Dallas and then wove an interesting path through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia before we arrived in Orlando. Along the way, we drove past Vicksburg, some 60s civil rights sites in Mississippi, Selma and Montgomery.

We were both very excited to take a trip through the South. Neither of us had traveled through much of the South since we were college students, which was many, many years ago.

It was very interesting to take these routes to Orlando. I should in my heart know that the South in 2009 is not the same Old South that existed in the late 60s. When I was younger and going through the south, there were fewer interstates and more two-lane blacktop traveling. Consequently, then the following was a fairly common site: trashy wooden shacks with open windows looking like they were about to collapse at any moment, but there was a shiny brand-new Cadillac parked next to the house.

I remember visiting a college friend of mine in Pahokee, Florida shortly after I graduated from college in 1972. He took me to a local bar.

Not the same bar I visited

The bar was on this dirt road at the outskirts of town. It had two doors at the front of the solitary building. One door had no markings, but the other door had “Colored” printed over the door. Inside, there was a bar that ran the full length of the building. There was some makeshift sheetrock feebly installed about three-quarters of the length of the building, floor to ceiling. Where the sheetrock met the bar, the feeble installation continued to the wall behind the bar, but the sheetrock was open about one foot above the bar. There was just enough of a clearance that the barkeeper at the larger part of the bar could push a glass of beer under the sheetrock to the barkeeper that tended to the black customers in the other part of the bar. If you stood at the bar, you could  look under the clearance of the sheetrock and see the customers on the other side of the bar.

In 2009, of course, there were more interstates, and fewer shacks to see. But what we did see was just as disturbing. As we drove through the towns and cities along the way, it appeared that every town and city had its share of Home Depots, Wal-Marts, Lowe’s and other national brand retail centers. The South along the routes we took had become so homogenous, so bland and lacking of character or distinction.

But what made this experience a profound experience was we listened to John Grisham‘s Ford County along the way to and from Orlando. If you are familiar with this Grisham book, you know it is a series of short stories about the South and the interesting characters who live there. As we traveled, we listened to these stories, soaking up every syllable, since Grisham himself was the narrator.

By the time we returned to Austin, we felt like we had fully experienced a new Southern experience. We ate the local food, we stayed in small hotels and occasionally would get off the interstates to look for those shacks, all the while John Grisham was narrating the stories over the car’s speakers. It was such a profound experience, and one we truly value to this day.

This is a very long prelude to a similar experience I had today.

For the past two-three weeks, I have been taking Gillis on walks — trying to work off some of his endless supply of energy. About a half-mile from the ranch house there is a park. The park has  4-5 soccer fields, some playground equipment and a hike/bike path that goes along a small creek.

I’m getting Gillis used to walking on a leash and, particularly, paying attention to walk to the right of the person holding the leash. At first, it was very chaotic, but lately the pooch is starting to understand.

Some days I take my iPod, and some days I don’t. Usually, we walk the almost-two-mile distance and rest on a bench at the park for a few minutes before heading back. While we rest, and Gillis usually sits on the bench, too, I watch the starlings dart up and down over the soccer fields, watch any rollerbladers, hikers or cyclists who may be on the track with us. Mostly, it is very quiet. There are fields of wildflowers and trees along the creek. These trees look like the Monterey Oaks that someone might see along Pebble Beach in California.

After we get to the bench, I can sit for quite a while, just listening to the birds and the breezes wafting through the trees. It is bliss.

Gentle on My Mind

Earlier in this posting, I mentioned how it is possible to have an experience and with a little added touch turn it into a profound experience. Well, today, I took the iPod and shuffled a bunch of Glen Campbell songs from when I was in college.

Just at the point that Gillis and I got to the park bench, Glen Campbell began singing “Gentle on My Mind.” I guess I suffered a sensory overload because the lyrics of the song, the rhythm of the music, the melody and voice of the singer struck me as in pure synchronicity with the breezes blowing through the trees, and the birds darting above the soccer fields.

For those brief moments, nothing else mattered in the world. I wasn’t thinking about the cancer, didn’t care about bills or what I had on my To-Do list for the day, nothing. For the length of that song, I felt like that was where I was supposed to be at that moment, experiencing those feelings of joy. comfort and contentment.

I don’t think I am alone in experiencing these emotions. Others have had similar experiences and written about them much more eloquently than I have here. My wish is that everyone I know can find that similar experience and have that feeling of pure bliss and contentment — if you have not already experienced this joy.