Just like that, an exuberant beagle goes from a bubbly, bouncy, sack full of wiggles to a jealous lover. It happens more often than I’d care to admit. Partially because it’s easier to stop for drive-thru during the commute, and partially due to my weakness for eating complete crap while driving. I don’t know why it’s engrained in me to seek out cheap greasy food while hurtling down the highway, but I’m going to blame my parents.
It’s not the beagle’s fault. Beagles aren’t dogs. Beagles are noses with dog-like growths attached. The beagle could probably tell just from smelling you how many french fries you’d consumed, if the beagle could count. My beagle can count to two. That’s how many small tennis balls are required to play fetch. Any fewer and he just stands there, waiting for you to throw another one. Any more and he has to make a life wrenching decision about which one to leave behind when returning with his prize.
“You had TWO french fries,” two being the beagle’s concept of many.
Sometimes we go for a ride. It’s even odds that this trip will be to the vet for a nail trim, or for a walk someplace far from home. The beagle doesn’t care. He just knows we’re doing something different. He knows that for once, after being left behind two times, this time he gets to go with.
“I get to go? I get to go! This is the garage! I don’t get to go in the garage. There’s two smells here! Smells I haven’t smelled! I have to smell them! Was that a french fry cup?”
For as much as he likes the idea of ‘going,’ the beagle isn’t so keen on the actual riding. He usually needs a few minutes of reassurance before we even back out of the garage. He stands on the center console and paws at me until I pet him and hold him, reassure him that everything is okay. I used to try to hurry out of the garage and get on the road. Now I observe the ritual of petting and soothing. It only takes a couple of minutes. The beagle appreciates it.
“I don’t feel so good. I think I’m just going to lie down here behind the seat...”
There isn’t much room behind the seat in a sports car, but the beagle isn’t a large dog. The beagle still manages to crush himself into the cat bed that he claimed for beagle-kind when he was a tiny puppy. He’s outgrown it half again, but still manages to curl up into it when he’s not feeling good. The same is true behind my seat. It’s good that he’s out of the way when I’m driving, but I worry when I can’t see him. The floor becomes matted with beagle hair. What would my life be without beagle hair marking all of my possessions?
“Are we there? We’re slowing down.” He creeps up from his cozy hole and sniffs out the window as best he can. The distance from seat to window is a grand canyon for the beagle. “Are we done driving? I don’t feel so well.”
We are done driving. It’s just a nature trail. Not even a real trail, but a reclaimed railway that has been paved for cyclists. It winds along the freeway, next to a trout stream; the only urban trout stream in Iowa, or is it the world? You can be sure there aren’t two urban trout streams.
It takes me a few minutes to get situated. The older I get, the more I resemble Columbo when getting out of the car. Do I have my keys? My phone? Where are my headphones? Wait, where is the leash? Oh, right, stuffed in the door next to the ‘car leash.’
“We’re there! We’re there! Where is there? There are things to smell! Why are you taking so long Columbo? Open the door! There are things to smell! I must smell the things! There are two things to smell!”
We used to walk five miles a day. Now we’re lucky to get out once a week for a quick stroll around the block. The beagle doesn’t care how long we go. The beagle just wants to go. Today we’re going longer than just around the block. I have a long, retracting leash for him, twenty five feet of nylon that gives him fifty feet to explore. He runs ahead, finds something to smell. I walk past. By the time he’s out of leash he’s ready to run ahead and find something new to smell. We ticked off two hundred miles this way last summer.
“There have been dogs on this trail. Recently. The trail is fresh. Quickly Watson, the game is afoot!”
I see the dog and its owner ahead of us. They’re moving at a better pace than we are, power walking in yoga pants and Under Armor. The beagle would see them too if he’d just look up. As I said before, the beagle isn’t a dog, it’s a nose with a dog-like growth attached. I stopped trying to point things out to the beagle years ago. Now I just smile and laugh at him. The number of rabbits and squirrels that have escaped thanks to his nasal fixation is beyond counting. Like any patient parent, I know to be supportive. I tell him that, yes there was a dog that just passed by here.
“They’re close! The trail is getting stronger! A dog peed here! It’s not a girl dog… and they didn’t have asparagus for lunch. I must mark this spot for further study.”
It’s good to be out, even in the warm sun. It’s cooler off the bike trail, under the trees that line the world’s only urban trout stream. It strikes me that the beagle is protected from ticks but I am not as we make our way through the under growth and saplings. I hate ticks. He comes in closer, unsure of where we’re going. He still sniffs the ground, but without a trail to run along he stays close to me. I wonder if we’re walking through poison oak. Despite the heat I’m glad I wore jeans rather than cutoffs. We stop to look in the stream, to search for trout. I search for trout. The beagle can’t smell a fish in a stream.
We walk quietly along game trails, away from cyclist and yoga pants. The freeway wooshes a few dozen yards away. It’s as quiet and still as it gets in the city. I push tree branches out of the way, trudge through loose sand, avoid muddy patches from the recent floods. I stop to just be there in the shade, in as much peace as I ever find outside of my own head.
“Dad, are you okay? There are things to smell. I’ve smelled all these things. Dad? There’s two more things to smell.”
This is where something is supposed to happen. I’m supposed to sit down and cry and the beagle licks my face. It doesn’t work that way though. This is life, not a story. The picturesque dramatic things never happen at the right times in life.
We keep walking, keep smelling, keep moving. Eventually we emerge from the woods back onto the trail with young cyclists in too much gear, more fit than people along the world’s longest urban trout stream have a right to be. We turn back for the car.
“I smelled two things! We went for a walk! I’m hot now.”
We climb back into the car, I crank the AC up and the beagle’s tongue drips on the center console. The Car Talk guys laugh on the radio as I pull away.
“I like going for walks.”
So do I.