I've scribbled the alphabet for meaning since I can remember.
“The whole Universe is your home. All are your family.” – Neem Karoli Baba
Every morning my walking meditation is behind a bouncing black tail. She romps out her puppy energy, and I move my body in the morning light. It’s a good trade.
Every so often, we put in a little extra effort and trip down to Kealia on Kauai’s East Side. We, Nui and I (pictured above in black), stroll down the sandy slide to the water’s edge. One Monday morning, with no dog friends in sight, we meander. I throw a few sticks; she does a few turns, and we both breathe in the easy beauty of the salty morning.
Deep in an ocean stare, out of my right periphery, a tail bolts. Turning, I see the shaggy outline of another Kauai mutt bow to meet Nui’s playful charge. Taking my time, watching the two canines out-speeding each other, scattering fur and sand, I see the owner strolling down the second sandy entrance, coffee cup in hand, broad build, and ample tattoos on both calves.
“Howzit?” he calls.
“Hey,” I wave back, slowing down to his speeding up, meeting in the middle. “My dog is so stoked you guys showed up.”
“Mine too. He normally listens, but he tore right out of the car down the beach. One Uncle told me, when the dogs sniff that tree at the trail, it’s like they’re checking dog facebook.”
We both laugh and chat small as we catch up to the dogs.
“Go on, Duke. Go on!” He turns to me, just after tossing driftwood into the river stream, “I try teach him swim. He’s getting it. You live here long?”
“Me too. Where ?”
“Me neither, but I’m used to it.”
“It’s tricky, missing my family, but I love it here.”
“Oh me, too. No plans on leaving.”
“Me neither,” I answer as we both turn towards the dogs.
I am watching the dog watch his owner; one paw poised, waiting for the launch. “By the looks of it, he adores you,” slips out. I had noticed the word “hate” tattooed on the man’s right clavicle, his profile and shirt prevented me from seeing what the remaining script was. His smile was unmistakably wide.
“Oh you know, this dog saved my life. No for real. Every time I come home, he’s happy. I used to be at the bars with the boys all night, now I gotta go home and walk my dog. If I stay out, and wake up all hungover, then Duke pouts, and I feel horrible, so I tell you I take care of this dog and the dog taking better care of me.”
“Isn’t that the truth? They’re amazing,” I warm towards my new beach stranger.
“You know, he found me.”
“Yeah,” he turns to pick up a stick and I see “love” on the left of his neck.
“A year ago, this same weekend, I was camping up on the West Side, with my girlfriend and in the middle of the night, he comes to our site. You know how some hunting dogs are – “
“Yeah,” I squirm, shaking my head, “I know. I try not to judge another lifestyle, but it’s hard for me to see the dogs…” I trail off, neither one of us wanting to say it.
“So you know,” he continues, “so here he comes, starving and his paws,” he turns his own hands over, and I can see the world tattooed on his forearm, “are bleeding. They’re bleeding! What am I supposed to do?” He waves his coffee cup hand, “I feed him a package of hot dogs.”
“Right!” he laughs. “Of course. Then I pack up in the morning. Pay him no mind, just pack and then when I am finished packing,” he pauses, “he jumps in my truck.” Lincoln turns his Volcom sunglasssed eyes toward me and asks, “What am I supposed to do?”
“Take him; he picked you.”
“Right?” he shrugs. “But, eventhough I take him home and I feed him, I let him make up his mind. He ran away a few times, chewed through ropes and stuff, but he always ended up back at my house.”
“You guys are meant to be – “
“In all my 38 years,” his shoulders open, “this is my first dog. And like you said earlier I, well, I’m like attached. I did the right thing, took him to get him chipped, and registered, and all the tags and the glow in the dark collar for nighttime. Everything. So I gotta tell you what happened this weekend.”
I can clearly see the “love” and the “hate” at the base of his neck, but I can only see the top loop of a script that runs across his midline. What connects love and hate I wonder? I reshift my focus back to Lincoln.
“So I went camping this weekend –“
Lincoln has a gap in his teeth, and kindness in his voice. And even though I can’t see his eyes, I know they too are kind because I can feel their gaze. His broad chested gait has the mark of a tough guy, but the way he walks with his dog, gives way a softer core.
“-so I am at the same spot, and this guy comes up to me and says, is that your dog? And my stomach turn, because I just know he knows this dog. So the guy says, ‘My friend lost a hunting dog a year ago and that’s him.’ And you know what I say? I say, ‘No way. I had him for three years already.’ I lied. I know it’s not right to lie and I lied. And I was making that decision in that moment. I was watching myself. I just knew that man knew that dog, and look at him –“
Duke and Nui were spinning and twirling circles, tumbling over each other at warp speed, along a glowing Kauai morning shoreline, beyond even the most cliché Disney moment.
“All I saw was him losing an eye to a pig, or living his life in a box, hungry –“ Lincoln shifts his weight and shook his head. “That happened four days ago and I am still contemplating that lie.”
“You did the right thing.”
“Of course. Of course it isn’t right to lie. But he is your dog. He chose you. You weren’t lying to lie, you were making a choice to protect him the best you could. I mean look at him-“
Tails gallop by straight into the river stream.
“You think he would live like this without you, Lincoln? I mean we both know lying isn’t right. And we both know it isn’t right to judge how others live, but we both know what it is to protect our, our dogs, yeah?”
“Yeah,” he smiles looking off at Duke.
“It sounds like maybe you saved him.”
“A dog can change your life man. In ways you never, I mean really change your life.”
Had I seen the tattoos and the broad shoulders walking along the bike path alone, I could have been different. But what I saw first was the playful way his dog met mine. A dog that happy and open, speaks of an owner of the same ilk. Sometimes we are so in our minds about what has been right and what is wrong that we can miss the clarity of the moment. In this moment, we were both standing in the sun.
“Look at how they are playing,” I see Nui and Duke both facing off in a perfect downward dog, tails wagging into a stare-off contest.
He laughs and smiles, “What was your name again, I am sorry,” he reaches out his hand.
Taking my hand he bows slightly, “I’m really glad to meet you Kate.”
“I’m glad to meet you too, Lincoln. But the dogs already knew that, huh?”
“Yeah,” he laughs, “the dogs always know.”
I Am So Glad
Start seeing everything as God,
But keep it a secret.
Become like a man who is awestruck
Listening to a Golden Nightingale sing in a beautiful foreign language
While God invisibly nests
Upon its tongue.
Who can you tell in this world that when a dog runs up to you
Wagging its ecstatic tail,
You lean down and whisper in its ear,
I am so glad You are happy to see me.
I am so glad,
So very glad You have come.”
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