Like many famous scripts of the time and times before, Alice in Wonderland was initially spun as entertainment for children.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson prepared and then wove the tale for three of a friend’s young daughters while on a boating excursion in England. One of the girls, Alice, loved it so much she pleaded with Dodgson to write it down for her. The rest is history.
It’s odd that in Florida, despite the heat, summer is a busy time. When the day yawns and shadows lengthen, breezes pick up. We find ourselves out of doors performing chores or playing games and swimming with Boo until the no-see’ums drive us in.
Summer also involves a lot of desk time for work and performing home maintenance projects. This year demanded much of that after back-to-back hurricanes the previous two years.
There has been little time to reflect and write, though there have been a whole lot of words wandering around. Wrangling them down to my fingers and out the keyboard to the screen has been difficult.
When words elude my swatting hands, I am reminded of the infamous riddle the Tea Party attendees put to Alice:
“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
“Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat; and it is ‘nevar’ put with the wrong end in front!”
Words are funny like that.
Our work at the Farm has been dictated by the weather.
Summer in Florida is summer in Florida.
You can’t fight it.
The rain-shortened days that send us at a sprint to our vehicles when the afternoon deluge begins as well as the searing heat and humidity that demand short runs are a part of the Farm, a part of life in Florida and a part of what we love to do.
Any of the versatile, ever-changing minute-by-minute nature – and that includes bugs – Florida can throw at us during a day at the Farm remains far better than not having a day at the Farm.
As with Alice on her journey, Boo and me have been presented with a variety of keys and doors. We have spent our summer days at the Farm jiggling keyholes to see what lay beyond the doors.
Some doors have held epiphanies.
Some doors have held progress.
Some doors are marked with scoffs from our feet and paws.
Some doors have been slammed shut.
Some doors have been softly, quietly, closed to return to later.
Through each door was food and drink that has made us larger, and, made us small.
Whether bitter or sweet, the bounty of knowledge beyond each door offered fresh pickings from which to grow and old battles we continue to conquer.
The furry little soul who I have lived every part of my life to this point to meet again on this walkabout continues to sweep me along the rapids of the rivers of my dreams from long ago. As Boo lay curled up next to me in blissful, exhausted slumber this Monday evening after a day at the Farm, I think of how very different my life was prior to her arrival three summers ago.
Because of Boo, keys to a new series of doors were offered to me this summer.
In April Mike asked me if I would like to work with Liam as the neutral dog/handler team at the AKC Farm Dog Certification test the Farm hosted in July. Mike’s co-trainer Laurie asked if I wanted to help her, Lisha and Mike with the set-up for both the class the week prior and test day.
How quickly I responded ‘yes’ to both probably should have been embarrassing.
All totaled, the Farm hosted 39 handler/dog teams for the event.
Liam turned 13 the month before and he worked with the spirit of a six-year-old. I was a little nervous, but my trusty buddy lent me his quiet confidence.
Our job required walking in a square perimeter around the team taking the test. The idea was for the dog to remain uninterested or “neutral” to Liam and me. The morning judge instructed us that although it was the handler’s job to control their dog to remain neutral and they were the ones being judged, it was our responsibility to ensure that we provided a good working scenario for the testing team.
We had a few un-neutral blips at the beginning that cued my nervousness. Liam eyed a cute girl-dog he thought might fall smitten to his Coyote charm – and once he just – stopped – because that’s what Liam does. After our initial shakes it didn’t take us long to find a rhythm and settle in to fulfill our responsibility to the testing teams.
With about six teams left to go during the second session at the end of the day, Liam decided he was done. Like our Sadie, when Coyote Red Dog is done, he leaves no doubt.
Trekker, Laurie’s Aussie – one of the happiest, coolest gamers in the world – came in from the bullpen as my battery mate and he efficiently and gleefully worked to put a save on the board for the day.
Trekker is the first highly-trained obedience dog I have ever had the opportunity to handle in any manner. There is no way to describe those last six perimeter squares of the day with Trekker other than a thrill.
It was very hot – typical July weather in South Florida. We were blessed with a great breeze that treated us all day and the rains held until the last piece of equipment was picked up and stashed away.
Though a lot of work, it was even more fun, and provided an opportunity for observation and learning that a library of books could never hold – a veritable treasure trove for the mind of one hungry for dog knowledge.
Over the two weekends, I was able to observe teams that trained for and competed in agility, herding, gun dog work, nose work, obedience, conformation, utility and probably more.
Some dogs, including Lisha’s Skye, also serve as therapy dogs and Trekker, who took the test with his Mom, is her demonstration medical alert service dog. The diversity of handlers, dogs and their fortes was vast and really cool.
At both the class and the test, the range was wide in experience, handling, working and training abilities. The environment was highly organized and clicked like clockwork. Thanks to Mike and Laurie and the morning judge, Ron, even the most novice of teams were put at ease, allowing confidence to flow up and down the leashes.
At the class and during the break between sessions on the day of the test, I enjoyed listening to conversations that ranged from dog food, training technique, grooming, health and prevention, breed discussions and higher-level trainer/handlers giving tips and encouragement to the less experienced. Everyone felt welcome and the energy vibe pulsed a sense of belonging – the connecting point being a love of working with dogs.
As the day went on Liam and I were standing in the wide-open field at our post and drinking it all in, and I began to think about Boo and me.
I have always asserted that we would never compete. Our goal in our herding work – I always contested – is to learn to work farm chores as opposed to run trial courses. Admittedly this stems from my own social issues and belief I would never have the confidence to test or compete handling Boo or any dog for that matter.
Idly stroking Liam’s broad head I began to think for the first time that maybe some day, Boo and I would be able to do something like this.
As this revelation rattled around my brain, Liam dunked his head in my ice bag – which at some point in the day had become his self-appointed, self-serve hydration vessel – grabbed a few crushed cubes, crunched and raised his eyebrows.
Through those yellow-green eyes he spoke to me.
“Why not you and Boo?”
“I don’t know Big Man,” I looked back at him. “Do you think we can really do it?”
The Red Dog went still in mid-crunch and leaned away with that over-the-shoulder expression of assessment that is all Liam.
After his eyes held mine for a moment, he snorted ice all over me and lifted that magnificent white muzzle to plant a full-tongued kiss across my face before bending down for another mouthful.
I laughed, hugged his neck and rubbed his back between his shoulder blades, just how he likes it.
“Thanks Liam,” I whispered in his perfect red ears as he nosed me back. “Maybe we will. Just maybe we will.”
Through the Rabbit Hole, Down on the Farm, this summer gave way to an adventure laced with illogic logic and logical logic and behind the very best door, talking dogs.