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March 1, 2018

Remembering Ourselves Through Dogs

We forget almost everything. Life is singular and precious, but it is too expansive for our minds to hold in its entirety. We relinquish rote, routine and unremarkable memories willingly, hoping to save space for the occasions we cherish most. But the pernicious flaw of recollection is that we cannot always choose the moments we keep. So if memories are an imperfect inheritance from ourselves, how can we invest our fortunes today so that despite what we lose, our minds and hearts may be richer tomorrow?
imag0678.jpg We forget almost everything. Life is singular and precious, but it is too expansive for our minds to hold in its entirety. We relinquish rote, routine and unremarkable memories willingly, hoping to save space for the occasions we cherish most. But the pernicious flaw of recollection is that we cannot always choose the moments we keep. So if memories are an imperfect inheritance from ourselves, how can we invest our fortunes today so that despite what we lose, our minds and hearts may be richer tomorrow? —— After 15,000+ miles and nearly a year on the road, I turned our red SUV, Clifford, into a long dusty driveway on a ranch just outside of Livingston, Montana. The dirt road gave way to grass at the edge of the small cabin where we would spend our last days of this cross-species, cross-country adventure. As I prepared to leash Eko with well-worn habit I stopped to look around at the vast expanse of property. I tossed the leash back into the car and set Eko free. He bounded joyfully through the long grass of early summer while I greeted my friend Patrick, whose family owned the home. Another friend of his was also staying for the week, and shortly after my arrival that friend’s friends showed up in a conversion van. I learned these guys had a band called Wheeler Brothers and they were in the middle of their own long tour. It seemed the cabin called to all of sorts weary travelers, offering quiet refuge to those in need. imag06821.jpg With many hands we made light work of preparing dinner. We sat around a fire pit, we watched the sun set, and we ate well. Perhaps Eko best of all. He nuzzled and kissed each one of us with undeserved reverence. They were confident, reassuring nuzzles which insisted we toss our doubts into the fire. They were wild, ecstatic kisses which demanded we believe ourselves worthy of such love. A small share of dinner seemed a paltry sum for the rejuvenation, but Eko asked no more than that of us. He then laid at my feet to bask by the fire while the sun faded over the horizon and summer constellations settled into place. When our wood and troubles burned low we extinguished them both and crowded back into the cabin. I slept a deep, restorative sleep. A sleep untroubled by the imperfections of the day before it or the expectations of the day to come. The next morning Eko and I hopped into the car for a trip to Yellowstone. One of the band members gave me their latest CD to listen to on the ride. Yes, in this ancient time compact discs were still in use. The bluesy-rock album provided an Americana soundtrack for our drive through the park. Gentle, warm winds swirled through the car and Eko titled his nose upwards to savor the untamed air. With the exception of a buffalo who decided to lounge in the middle of the road for a time, it was a smooth, scenic drive from the entrance to Old Faithful. imag0691.jpg We arrived at the back of the gallery just in time for the show. Hundreds of people gathered in anticipation and you could feel a communal purpose in the moments before the superheated water shot skyward. I remember the geyser, but I have a better memory of studying the gathered congregation. After the eruption of anticipation/geothermal forces, a milling uncertainty settled over the crowd. A listless discomfort best captured by a woman next to me who asked her husband, “So…what do we do now?” Most everyone seemed to share his shrug and his unsatisfying answer of, “I don’t know. Get lunch, I guess?” While the people and geyser trickled away, we hit the road back to the ranch. I thought Old Faithful a fitting metaphor for our trip. Not just the trip that day, but for our entire trip across the country. It was a year of purpose and excitement. We swam in the Atlantic, hiked the Rockies and surfed in the Pacific. We paraded across grasslands and deserts, and we literally paraded at the front of a Mardi Gras parade. We ran through the serenity of deep forests and the cacophony of city streets, reveling in them both. We were a geothermal event, reaching for the sky, calling for all to come see how high a heart may soar when lifted by the warm, enduring love of a dog. 8.1.jpg Like the geyser behind us, our show was trickling to an end and I wasn’t sure what to do next. Because it’s easy to steer when guided by major landmarks and life events – the difficulty is navigating the world when the course is entirely up to you. We lazed a path back out of the park, letting the CD play through on repeat. It was our anthem of the adrift and uncertain. The sun had just begun to set when we pulled back into the ranch. Patrick called us over to his four-wheeler to join him for a tour of the property. I hopped on board but when I told Eko to jump in with me he declined. Instead he wagged his tail impishly and gave a big, bouncing bow. The kind he gave when he was eager to play. Eko had seen the four-wheeler in action  before and after sitting in the car all day I knew exactly what he wanted. “Alright then, let’s do it,” I said. Patrick needed no encouragement and we accelerated down the path. Eko leapt into a gallop and kept pace aside us. Thinking himself a gracious host, Patrick only half-pressed the pedal so as not to leave his guest in the dust. But Eko stayed nose and nose, then pulled ahead, daring us to go faster. Patrick obliged. The cart and dog raced aside each other at top speed across the sun-drenched field. If not for the fence at the property’s end it seemed we might go on until one of us ran out of gas. Based on Eko’s huge smile when he jumped up to greet me I wouldn’t have bet against him. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMKNXsIzF0Q We returned to the ranch at a more leisurely pace. On his triumphant trot back across the field Eko found a large deer antler and carried his prize to the porch. He set to work on trimming the antler down, the beginnings of a labor of love which would take him the better part of three years to complete. Our last night at this waypoint was like the others – quiet and uncomplicated. Before turning into bed I sat alone with Eko underneath the stars. There was no grand contemplation or cosmic event. Just a brief, wonder full moment with my dog. Early the next morning we turned from the dirt driveway back onto the paved road for the long drive to Chicago – our new home and our final guidepost. I had no idea what we would do next, but our short stay in Montana reminded me how most of what’s worth remembering in life happens beyond the boundaries of monuments and monoliths. —— imag0671.jpg Six years later, writing these words, I still remember those days in Montana vividly. This, despite the fact we did less there than at any other stop on our journey. And the ostensible highlight of the trip – Old Faithful – is what I remember the least about. For a long time I think I mistook landmark events for landmark memories. I believed the greater the exploit the more valuable the memory. Yes, all the incredible places we visited and all the adventures we had provided us with joyful purpose and meaning. Yet none of those memories are as meaningful to me as the ones I have of watching Eko lick faces around a fire, racing with him across a field, or silently sitting together under the stars. It seems then it is less important what we remember and more important who we remember. Family, friends, pets, and others, yes. But above all else, the most valuable memories are a reunion between who we are and who we once were. Each memory a star in a constellation that shows us the true shape of ourselves. But identity is ephemeral. Memories of identity even more so. To better capture ourselves in memory we attach them to people, places, songs, or some other touchstone of our choosing. Looking back, I know now that my dogs are invaluable touchstones in my own life. They are living extensions of my memory whom I entrust to hold all the moments, feelings and identities I might otherwise forget. This is why I traveled with Eko then, and why I continue to bring my dogs with me wherever I go. I still lose most memories, but I know my dogs hold fast to the single, continuous memory which matters most. When I remember my dogs, I remember myself. imag0673.jpg  

Comments for Remembering Ourselves Through Dogs

  1. you said it very well…and maybe that day you were not only in the middle of equator and north pole , you were in the middle of the fullest life … and you made a memory what stays forever ( you can read your blog to remember LOL)

  2. Kim S. says:

    When is your book coming out???? I need a hard copy of all your wonderful posts, so I can savor them again and again. Some have me laughing, others crying, and still others nodding my head emphatically yes at the antics of the pups. Great reading!

  3. C. Taylor says:

    Wil, once again you amaze me with the way you capture words and put them into ways so many of us can relate to. Like Kim S., I too want to know when you are going to come out with your book??

  4. RidgebackLife says:

    Did you take philosophy classes at Notre Dame? I believe you have found the true meaning of life! Dogs!
    Thank you for bringing back those days. I miss Will and Eko, but I still love the new family and their story❤️

  5. Great post and great writing Will. A liberating element of getting old (me) is enjoying the fact that a much younger man probably just a little more than half my age (you) can inspire me in so many ways. And without taking anything away from you I also know that part of your voice is that of Eko’s who’s strength, character and unconditional love – as you’ve suggested many times – helped turn the boy into the man.

  6. Emmadog says:

    Great piece. Mom says dogs keep her young and happy. She loves being able to be herself and do silly things with us. It’s never so much about where we go, but how we get there and our experiences along the way that really matter the most. We don’t have to go to the best places on earth, because most of the time the really out of the way nowhere places are the best in the world.

  7. Melody Esposito says:

    I am crying but more out of joy. Thanks for the reminder to hold our memories with our dogs closely. My Zonka passed 3 years ago and our girl, Luna, is 11. They are my heart and soul.

  8. UrbanCollieChick says:

    Couldn’t be more timely for me. As I get older, I think my memory needs more exercise because I need to write more things down. Journals are wonderful for this purpose, and photographs are good too, for capturing moments.

    Then I read something like this, and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing I’m not alone.

    I read an article somewhere that the wisest and sharpest among us are the ones that drop a lot of the everyday items from their minds that weigh us down. The ones who don’t make banter of things like what bills went up this week, what groceries need buying, which Kardashian dumped their mate, etc. The wisest of us dump those bits of data from their grey matter, recognizing their lack of value, saving their internal hard drive space for the greater matters. These get categorized into matters that affect us all such as where we stand against climate change, and, those which affect us personally, such as moments spent with loved ones.

    I would say from this post, you are wise beyond your years.

  9. czechsix says:

    “…it is less important what we remember and more important who we remember”

    When I am gone – tell stories of me!

    You’re a good storyteller, Will. So are your dogs, in their own way.

    It’s an important duty for us naked apes, and perhaps for those other species that associate with us also.

    Thanks. Nice piece.

  10. Geri Zeibert says:

    You move me to tears and show me the way to joy. Thanks, Will, Eko, Penny and Zero.

  11. Jörg Kohlhase says:

    Erinnerungen sind das was uns später bleibt wenn unser treuer Begleiter nicht mehr an unsere Seite ist . Manchmal denkt man offensichtlich drüber nach wenn man an bestimmten Orten ist . Aber es gibt auch Tage so wie bei mir wo ich mit meinen neuen Hund durch den Wald oder der Feldflur wandere , wo mir an bestimmten Wegpunkte oder ähnliches sofort Erinnerungen an meinen alten Ridgeback hoch kommen . Es sind dann Erinnerungen an Sachen die wir dort erlebt haben und dann Revue passieren .
    Schön das Du uns an deine Erinnerungen teilhaben lässt .

  12. Murphy's Law says:

    I am a new follower of yours and hope you don’t mind me commenting before I even get my feet wet. I don’t blog myself, but I get great enjoyment out of following a few select blogs like yours. This post certainly is full of food for thought. At 78 years old, I have slowly learned to weed out most of the clutter in what’s left of my memory bank, and to concentrate on those seemingly ‘insignificant’ events that are truly memorable.

    Eko is so handsome. How lucky you both are to have found each other. Murphy is our girl. We’ve had her for 8 years, but she is 10. The people who had her for the first two years of her life abused her so badly that three days after we brought her home from the shelter she was at the veterinarians having a hind leg amputated because those ‘people’ destroyed it.

    Happily, she’s the only one who doesn’t know she’s missing a leg!! Murphy is a beautiful Australian Shepherd mix, and still tries to ‘herd’ me into the shower! I can’t imagine life without her….and don’t want to. She is the essence of happiness.

  13. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    Exactly! If something happens to slip through the cracks it’s nice to have this little memory safety net to look back on.

  14. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    Thanks for the encouragement! I’ve started to compile a bunch of posts into an outline so hopefully I’ll be able to work towards a narrative worthy of publishing.

  15. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    Thanks! I’ve started to compile and outline what a collection of essays might look like in book form. Working towards having something I think is worthy of publishing.

  16. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    I did, but I picked up most of my philosophical underpinnings from Eko!

  17. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    Thank you! I’ve discovered my skill in life is not coming up with my own wisdom, but blatantly stealing it from my dogs.

  18. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    Exactly! Whatever else we are with are dogs, we are always are truest self.

  19. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    Thank you! The wisdom all belongs to my dogs. Thankfully they’re gracious enough to share

  20. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    Thank you! And I love that line. No better legacy than the enduring stories we leave behind.

  21. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    Thank you for all the kind words (and thank you Google for translating them ;-)) A good reminder that love and memories and dogs cross all boundaries!

  22. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    As you know, the garden of the mind requires tending at all times and all ages. When we forget to weed, we’re fortunate to have dogs like Eko and Murphy to remind us what is imporant

  23. I’ve been a foster dog mom for several years and finally ‘foster-failed’ and adopted a blue-eyed Staffie puppy I named Frankie. He has quickly become the love of my life and I took him on a trip a few months ago. Reading your post brought back my wonderful memories of traveling (for the first time!) with my dog. We met people I would have never spoken to without him along and we spent time just taking sitting on some steps taking in the sights instead of rushing to the next thing. We hiked in the woods and sat by a fire, too. The trip was so much richer, for his presence.

    Next summer, I’m hoping to take him on a real road trip as co-pilot in my little convertible. My family and my reasonable friends think this is a crazy idea, and maybe it is. And yet, I’ve already begun to map it out. Thanks for the renewed inspiration.


  24. sarahkyllo says:

    This is such a beautiful post. Sometimes just seeing your dog out in the wild, enjoying every moment, reminds you of what is important and what is truly worth remembering. Thank you for sharing.

  25. Eve says:

    beautifully written as always, please keep writing the articles, it brings a lot of joy xx

  26. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    It is a crazy idea, which is exactly why you should do it! You’ll have many regrets in life, but a road trip with Frankie won’t be one of them!

  27. Eve says:

    Nothing like seeing the world thru another’s eyes! Such a great memory of the one you traveled with on that trip and I have fond memories of travels too!! Enjoy the post and as always hugs to all!

  28. Kismet says:

    The dogs always go on trips. Me? I get boarded at the bird store.

  29. So many beautiful words and thoughts. My favorite words here are “wonder full” because… Yup, some moments are just that…

  30. Michael Bondor says:

    I love watching them run…

  31. What a winsome recollection of a significant moment and even more significant relationship.

  32. Jo Rhodes says:

    Your timing is always perfect. When I miss Eko most you post memories of him. Thank you.
    Love Always, Jo, Sam, and Dean

  33. Ogee says:

    Beautiful, Will.

  34. Chris says:

    Will, your stories and pictures have been such a great testament to the bond your dogs shared with you. I constantly find myself looking to my little guy Zulu and finding the same well of reflection, trust, hope and perseverance you’ve found with your pack.

    Thanks for sharing these moments. They’re a great reminder to us all to go explore the world with our four legged friends and encounter the day the same way they do. Full of grace, wonder and excitement.

  35. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    Thanks for stopping by to share them with me. Means a lot to have people to commune with about the empathy we share with our dogs.

  36. Derren says:

    Thank you Lovely! xxx

  37. cathwhistler says:

    Beautiful! Hearing your words in my mind while watching the video brought a wide smile to my face. Thank you, I’ll be off to go kiss all my dogs now. 🙂

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