Monday, January 31, 2011

Moving Through The Forest

My wife and I, along with Chica, our two-year-old Doberman, recently went on a hike, hoping to find, what we’d heard to be, some spectacular waterfalls on Pilot Creek in El Dorado County, CA. The trail began just a few minutes from where we live, so without a considerable drive to get to the trailhead, we were able, instead, to spend the better part of our day enjoying the hike through the forest, and eventually lunch and relaxation at the river and falls.

It was about a five and a half, or six-mile, round-trip. Part of the hike was moderate in nature, and part was more difficult. The last quarter mile down to the river, the toughest section, was very steep, and to make it even more challenging there were a couple of large trees down across the path. They’d recently fallen, most likely the result of a winter storm. The trunks were still fortified thick with large limbs, leaves and tangled branches. Because of a drop-off on one side of the trail, and a steep hill on the other, there was really no convenient way around the trees. We had to crawl through them on hands and knees, wrestling with the density as we made our way. Chica, of coarse, went through first, delineating the path of least resistance for us to follow.

Chica is very protective by nature, and living in a rather secluded place in the mountains, it is one of the reasons we chose her particular breed for companionship. It’s been both enjoyable, and quite remarkable, to see the expression of her nature, her attentiveness, and her concern for our wellbeing. She is always ‘on duty’, and feels compelled to know what’s going on around us at all times. Our hike out to the falls was a preeminent example of how seriously she takes her job.

From the beginning of the hike Chica ran out about fifty yards ahead of us, and then would circle around one side, come back to the trail about fifty yards behind us, and then head out the other side, only to appear about fifty yards up the trail in front of us again. She ran a wide perimeter for the entire hike out to the falls, and back. She crashed through some very thick forest and brush, and some very steep terrain to investigate lingering scents, to maintain her vigilance, her guardianship of those she understood to be in her charge. As I mentioned, the hike was about five and a half or six miles for us, but she must have covered twenty-five or thirty by the end of the day, maybe more.

What Chica was doing was not reckless, or frenzied self-indulgence. She was, in fact, carrying out what, by instinct, she knew to be her responsibility. It was an innate response to our vulnerability in the forest. She worked a pattern that would ensure that no harm would come to my wife or me, that no threat, man or beast, would come between her and us. She was doing a job, prompted, and driven by, her nature, the absolute core of her nature, and she took the work very seriously. Chica would come back to us when we called her, but also checked back in with us every couple of minutes even when not called. She worked systematically, and kept her full attention on prevention. It was, obviously, quite fulfilling for her, and quite satisfying.
It was also quite endearing.

Watching Chica throughout the course of the day, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the responsibility parents have to safeguard their children in today’s world, a responsibility not only to know where they are, but also to manage who, or what, gets into their lives. I found myself thinking that if every parent took an instinctual approach to their children’s welfare (like Chica has with her protection of us), rather than a relative, and compromised approach, it would be a very different, and much less painful world for the kids to embrace. It is the parent’s commission to set up a perimeter around their children, to run a pattern of protection, as it were, to ensure that no harm would come to them, that no threat, man or beast, would come between the parent and the child.
Some are quite adept at the practice, some learn along the way, and, unfortunately, some just don’t want to be bothered.

There are many beasts not of the two, (or the four) legged variety. With our cultural addiction to Television, Cell phones, the Internet, Video games and such, young people have a pretty perilous terrain to navigate through these days. The parent’s protection gene tends to get worn out, or at least worn down, pretty quickly. But parents must go the extra mile, they must find it within themselves to be vigilant, to be alert, to be sober, to be adult. Even when they don’t feel like it.

Life is a forest, of sorts, and the forest doesn’t really care what happens to our children.
I wish I could send Chica with every child moving through the forest.