It comes unexpectedly, escalating from a mild trot on an otherwise ho-hum walk into a sudden, full-tilt explosion, and at the end, a soaring leap that seems to have no limits. They might be superheroes, our dogs, bounding across the Grand Canyon, forelegs extended, bodies uncoiling, eyes flashing, fur riffling, ears flapping in the slipstream.
Never mind that Chloe, our 40-pound yellow mix of something or other, is typically hurdling nothing more than a fallen tree or a low rock outcrop impeding one of our routine walks through the woods. Or that for Fred, all 11 pounds of pure Maltese macho, the bottomless chasm he’s leaping is merely the boundary where the hardwood floor ends and the edge of the carpet begins.
They are flying with abandon, completely in the moment, and it’s a wonderful thing to see. I love to watch it – stride, stride, stride, gathering speed, and then that final glorious leap, a full-on moment of doggy bliss.
It reminds me of small children as they engage in feats of astounding, imagined heroism in some fantasy world they’ve dreamed up.
As a boy I was treated to that feeling by a rambunctious friend, Marty. We grew up on my grandfather’s 40-acre golf course, which for us was a delightful, giant playground filled with creeks, hills, big oak trees and a thick copse of woods, the golfers a minor inconvenience to our schemes. We played army and tag and football and all the other games that kids enjoyed.
But Marty had an active imagination, and I remember taking off a few times in the late-evening gloom across those rolling hills, our minds fired with images from the 1968 Winter Olympics and France’s Jean Claude Killy, who dominated the downhill ski competition that year. We, of course, were picturing ourselves as downhill ski competitors, matching the matchless Killy gate-for-gate.
I’m sure we looked pretty stupid, but thankfully it was probably only in that completely un-self-conscious way that is an unrecognized gift of childhood. Downhill racers we were not: we had golf clubs turned upside down for ski poles, one in each hand, but we still shushed and leaped our way over moguls, Marty barking the commentary. The crescendo came when we went tearing down a black-diamond run at top speed, completely unfazed by the fact that instead of snow on a precipitous alpine pitch it was the winter-brown grass of my Paw-Paw’s Number Nine fairway, a laughably gentle slope that petered out by the creek.
Most of us, when we grow up, lose that abandon, that ability to lose ourselves in the moment. We get glimpses of it if we pay attention to children engrossed in play, and we can glimpse it with pets, too.
I have the luck of that on occasion. On a recent morning as we trudged up the abandoned logging road from the creek on one of our routine early strolls, Chloe’s gentle amble ramped up instantly into a full-bore sprint. Her ears perked up and her strides widened as she gathered pace. Just as she topped the rise above me, she gathered herself and unfurled in a huge, glorious leap, her Superman moment, arcing five feet through the air, only to land at a complete dead stop, her legs springing like shock absorbers.
I wonder what picture filled her mind at that moment. Likely something I might find vaguely distasteful – a pouncing kill on some helpless bunny or squirrel. Distasteful, but a total surrender to instinct and in its own way, a thing of beauty.
But I can almost imagine she saw herself as Rin Tin Tin, flying to the rescue of some imperiled toddler, much like small boys who once swooped down the easy slopes of an Alabama golf course, imaging they were heroes in the Winter Olympics.