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August 22, 2018

The Things Worth Leaving Behind

It used to be easy to pack my car. When it was just Eko and me, even when we lived on the road for a year, the trunk was never full and the cabin was always spacious. I could afford to be thoughtless about the bags I carried because I was never forced to leave anything behind.A marriage, a child, and two dogs later – the question is no longer can we fit everything, but can we even fit everyone? With each subsequent road trip, solving the puzzle of how to squeeze the sum of my life into a single vehicle grows ever more challenging.Looking back on our summer of travel there was a simple answer. Leave Penny and Zero behind. Place them in the safe hands of family or trusted boarder and go on the journey without them. Vacations would be so much easier and less time-consuming. All it would cost is a week away from the dogs.And is bringing the dogs really worth leaving most of my own bags? Is it worth the discomfort of a fifteen hour drive each way? Is it worth limiting where we can go and where we’re welcome to stay?Despite the increasing complexities of life, the answer to each question remains an unequivocal “Yes.”
marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, ekoIt used to be easy to pack my car. When it was just Eko and me, even when we lived on the road for a year, the trunk was never full and the cabin was always spacious. I could afford to be thoughtless about the bags I carried because I was never forced to leave anything behind.A marriage, a child, and two dogs later – the question is no longer can we fit everything, but can we even fit everyone? With each subsequent road trip, solving the puzzle of how to squeeze the sum of my life into a single vehicle grows ever more challenging.Looking back on our summer of travel there was a simple answer. Leave Penny and Zero behind. Place them in the safe hands of family or trusted boarder and go on the journey without them. Vacations would be so much easier and less time-consuming. All it would cost is a week away from the dogs.And is bringing the dogs really worth leaving most of my own bags? Is it worth the discomfort of a fifteen hour drive each way? Is it worth limiting where we can go and where we’re welcome to stay?Despite the increasing complexities of life, the answer to each question remains an unequivocal “Yes.”marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, ekoAnd why do I insist my dogs travel with us? Not because of what they would miss, but because of what would be missing from me.To leave the dogs behind would mean I leave behind a vital part of myself. An integral part of my heart which would not be able to experience, savor and remember the journey. I bring the dogs  both for who I am and on behalf of who I will one day become.Three years ago, Emily and I watched Eko and Penny race across a field in Vermont. Emily had just finished a grueling four years of residency and we were enjoying a long overdue vacation. We rolled in the grass with the dogs, carefree, then jogged back to the house to watch the sunset together.Rhodesian Ridgeback, marking our territory, eko, pennyLife was good. Even then we recognized we rode a wave at its highest point, knowing it could not last. Thankfully, the dogs pulled us back into the moment so we could fully appreciate its bliss rather than look past it.Not long after our trip, the wave crashed. Eko died. I imploded.In the ruinous aftermath of my loss, memories of Eko felt like poison. Every time I thought about him I was paralyzed by a debilitating and visceral agony.But even in my suffering I fought to hold fast to every moment we shared together. In time I learned to visit those moments, to speak to them, and to let them speak to me.A few weeks ago, Penny and Zero danced across a familiar Vermont field. A place I have visited only twice in person, but countless times in memory. We again gathered for sunset. Zero hopped on the bench and cocked his head over the armrest to lean into the sun. The memory of Eko lifting his head into the light, just so, sent a swell through my heart. In an instant I relived the wonderful feeling I experienced that day years before.marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, zeromarking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, ekoI also felt the familiar pull of loss, but I was buoyed in the moment by the love of Emily, Penny, Zero, and a happily babbling Lincoln. I resisted the urge to live in the past while embracing the opportunity to gratefully live with it. I watched the twin suns – one in my eyes, one in my heart – set together, and I felt at peace.In that communion of past and present I spoke to myself in a language I never could have learned on my own. A wordless dialect of moments, memories and feelings – which otherwise might have been lost to the cacophony of the past – understood perfectly thanks to the tutelage of my dogs. The message was clear – whatever the cost, it is always worth delivering my love to this moment fully.Because you do not get those moments back. Often, we forget to make note of them at all. We stare ahead, navigating through life, and fail to turn our heads to revel in where we are along our passage. Fortunately, my dogs always find a way to anchor my heart in the present.Penny licking ice cream off of Lincoln’s face while he laughs hysterically. Zero diving into the waves with unencumbered enthusiasm. Lounging with the dogs at sunset, watching the separate silhouettes of Emily and Lincoln become one as he lays his tired head on her chest. These are my anchors. Now, and always.marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, zeroI have no memories of the clothes I bring on vacation. The seemingly interminable hours in the car quickly fade behind me. I rarely remember much about the houses or hotels where we stay. But I hold in my heart so many beautiful and vivid moments from so many trips because I shared them with my dogs. This tells me all I need to know.It is worth discarding every bag and driving every extra mile to bring the dogs with us. What could I possibly need to bring with me more important than my whole heart?One day I will discover my son is too tall for a dog to lick his face. His body too heavy for his mother to hold. A part of me will lament what I have lost. A greater part will thank my dogs for teaching me to leave everything else behind so that I may carry those memories of him with me always.marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, zero

Comments for The Things Worth Leaving Behind

  1. dashlilly says:

    Great post. I just listened to Oprah’s podcast with Penache Desai. He expresses a similar sentiment — and talks about our dogs as teachers of living in the moment. I recommend it to you! As always great photos.

  2. calijones says:

    So beautiful, actually made me choke up.

  3. Cyndy says:

    As we have come to anticipate, you express so many emotions we feel but are not able to express quite as elegantly. Thank you so much. Life is better because of your stories and thoughts!

  4. the answer is always YES. we drove to my parents with a small bag for us but the trunk was filled to the brim with dog stuff ( we have a car same size as a bean can). my mom convinced us to stay a little longer and she even invited me to a shopping trip to get some new clothes… think it was a win in any way ;O)))
    I felt the same like you as our wave crashed shortly after yours… and I still fear the memories, because I’m still not able to accept…

  5. OlRedHair says:

    Wonderful Post. This is just what I needed at this point. I am still raw from the loss of my beloved Golden Retriever, Molly. But you phrase about living with the past, not in the past is going to be a big help to me. Thank you!

  6. Jan & Rusty says:

    I love ALL of your posts, but this one really spoke to me directly. I lost my Rusty last week to a fast growing and deadly brain tumor. I’m in the beginning of the debilitating and visceral agony you lived through after losing Eco. Your words today tell me there is hope, that someday I will be able to visit the moments we shared over 14 years and let them speak to me again. Thank you, Will.

  7. Emmadog says:

    Mom never flies anywhere because she wants us with her when she travels. We are an important part of her life, and we all like to go through life and experiences together. Some people may not have the need to travel with their dog, which is a personal decision, but we are like you, Mom would leave all the baggage behind to make room for us.

  8. Victoria says:

    as always such a heartfelt post that makes you think and be greatful for what you have and what you can hold on to – the love of your 4 legged and 2 legged family and friends. So well put – thanks Will

  9. chris says:

    I feel the same you do. We remember the memories of our dogs and a long time ago I forgot to write down the memories (now I try to do better) I would rather have my dogs on vacation and smile alot (as we all know their lives are way too short) than not smile on my vacation. We do not visit relatives or go anywhere unless the dogs accompany us. At one time we had 4 German Shepherds, an 8 year old and my husband and I all in a camper. It was the memories and the smiles we remember.

  10. Tracie McGuire says:

    Thank you Will for reminding me why we choose to drive on every vacation, only stay in big dog friendly sites, and have more than half of the car packed with dog accessories (bowls, toys, food, ect). In planning trips I sometimes forget why it’s so important to bring the dogs with us. Then in the middle of the trip that moment occurs when everything is exactly as it should be and my heart is full and bursting with love. Your post reminds me of those perfect moments, thank you.

  11. KarenS says:

    This post is so timely, as we just returned home from a long weekend. Like you, we have always travelled with our dogs. Last year it was our aging seniors, this year a new puppy.

    Age determines what you can do, but it doesn’t necessarily mean stop! My husband can no longer do what he wants to do, time and disease takes their toll, but we can still head out to places both new and familiar to experience life. And be part of the world.

    There’s been some sadness as I miss my old guys, and joy watching the puppy learn about the bigger world. There will be another heartbreak as I see the sun setting on another part of my world. But these are memories that keep me going.

    There may be limitations in what you can pack into a car, but somehow the heart continues to make room.

  12. Kismet says:

    The dogs always go on the trips. Me, I get boarded at the Bird Palace and never get to go.

  13. KDKH says:

    Do yourself a favor and buy a larger car. When our 4th child arrived, we had to buy a suburban!

  14. Geri Zeibert says:

    Will, the beauty and empathy in your posts never fail to astound me. Once again you have me choking back tears and nodding in agreement. Blessings

  15. Fran welch says:

    So appropriate as the time Gets passed draws near. I will never forget, oh my goodness, my heart broke, I was sad for along time because we got to live his life thru you. Thank God brighter days ahead since then. The best medicine to heal was Zero. This blog is so good n never disappoints n please never leave without the pups cause you will leave something behind, the treasures, adventuress that even Lincoln will appreciate in time. Eko is smiling on you all Will. I can’t believe also how big Zero is to Eko. Love to all

  16. RidgebackLife says:

    Your post is so timely. We’re currently in Scotland and have been away from Neeka and Khoi for two and a half weeks. It has been so difficult, especially for me. In the U.K., families seem to take their dogs on holiday everywhere and the pups are welcome. We encountered our first Ridgeback near Hadrian’s Wall. In a restaurant! They would love it here, but alas, the flight would not have been a happy one. Our next mini vacation will include our a Ridgies. (Apparently Khoi has been moping since we left )

  17. Hi Will
    You have such a lovely way with words and your videos are superb! They always make me so happy when I read/see them. Keep up the amazing work.

    Warm Regards,
    Corinne

  18. Barbara Gayle says:

    Oh, such beautiful writing! I loved this piece, and really took it to heart. There was a darling Piebald Dachshund, Cowboy, who lived next door to me. We bonded in an instant, and Cowboy came to my house for sleepovers and cuddles. I knew it wouldn’t last, but decided to give him the full love I have in my heart. Why not? That’s what dogs do for us, right? Well, my Cowboy and his humans moved away. I miss his silly little football body and endlessly wagging tail. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming. But that kind of love is unforgettable, and I have no regrets. One day soon, I hope to have my own wiggly, smooth, silly Dachshund by my side to remind me of the beautiful human-canine bond that is forever.

  19. So well said. Why would anybody go anywhere with the right clothes and only half their heart? Crazy.

  20. Beautiful! Only people like you (and your readers) understand why I gave up so much for my pup … and I don’t regret it at all.

  21. Shannon says:

    Fantastic!!

  22. beautifully, beautifully stated….it’s the people, the animals, NOT the “things”, NOT anything material that TRULY matters! I thought of you last weekend! I was at a cousins wedding in Chicago, they live near Wrigley in a gorgeous over 100 year old home………I wanted to go to Montrose and look for all of you!

  23. coastingnz says:

    So true. Our lifes are just more complete with our fur babies in them. Holidays just aren’t they same when they aren’t there.

  24. I can only say that this was a most special post. I have lived a long life and at various times during those years have come to these realizations time and again. Staying in the moment but carrying memories with me of the sweet passage of time and important faces and feelings. It’s important to recognize those moments as later in life, you and Emily will share them.

    Hugs, Pam

  25. Melody says:

    Tears of joy and sorrow are pouring down! You wrote what is in my heart. We did so many camping trips with our dogs and our daughter. My Zonka has since passed and Luna is up there in age so we now do local trips.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  26. You capture so well what makes our relationship with our canine companions so special … but also that along the way sometimes there is that extra-special one that always has a space in our heart.

  27. Tennent says:

    It drives me crazy that dog owners leave their dogs behind….dogs are pack animals and you are their pack…I own 3 Ridgebacks and they are very bonded to their owners….mine have always been with me.

  28. I admit that when I read your previous post about your vacation I wondered how you fit everything and everyone in. Thanks for the reminder that it’s not about the stuff.

  29. It’s never the destinations in life, it’s all about the journey getting there that make it special. And it’s generally a much better trip when a dog rides shotgun along that path.

  30. Ogee says:

    “I resisted the urge to live in the past while embracing the opportunity to gratefully live with it.” Time does heal. Beautiful post, Will.

  31. Lisa says:

    OMGosh Will, once again you have expressed so much of what I feel on the joys of traveling with our pups. Yes, yes, and yes. Life without them is not an option for me and probably many others. Thank you for helping to express the why so beautifully in words.

  32. Muriel Piddoubny says:

    Hi I m discovering your page (I m living in France and I was looking at vacation places accepting two dogs either in camp sites with our tent or as rental appartments…in France or Spain and I found your page…… and am very very happy about it). I ve just read and seen the videos and I understand very much your feelings (I grew up as your child with dogs then I had to wait my 10 birthday to have my own dog who lived ten years. Then after my third child I wanted my children to share the joy to live with a dog (raised myself with Belgian Shepherds, my final choice after a very long search was a Bergian Shepherd Groenendael) who shared 17 years with us (so a very very big part of our life….raised with our children, so he was our fourth child). Now our children live their life ; our actual dog had a hard time to understand why they were “disappearing from home” (he shared four years with our old one) and I didn’t seem to worry as much he was…. for years my poor actual dog wondered why our pack was getting apart like that, now (he is 11 year and a half old) he seems to accept (not understand) the fact. When my father died four years ago we took his dog with us ; both dogs were used to be together so it went smooth -though they were both not neutered and both male-. He is almost 7 years old and he is the one with some health problems (I was ready to confront that with the older one, not with this one). We re getting old (66 for my husband and 62 myself) and wonder if we will be ready in years to have no more dog……. Personnally I think that at least one of my children would take care of one dog if anything happened to us so I still think there is a place for a dog (may be not a puppy but a old dog). Anyway it is a BIG PLEASURE TO READ YOU about your family life with your dogs and the feelings you went (go) through about Eko, because as a dog lover I recognize whole feelings you are going through. THANK YOU FOR THIS PAGE.

  33. Clare Hall says:

    I was referred to your blog by someone on the Rhodesian Ridgebacks Rule fb group and am so glad I was! My husband and I travel full time with our RR Beausarge (17mo) and a tiny 6lb mix Coco (14yrs). This post in particular spoke to my heart! Our pups are our kids and we take them everywhere possible. We are actually on the road now heading up to Chicago and will be there for several weeks so I was scanning your page for suggestions. Beausarge has yet to meet another RR so we are hoping Chicago might be the place! Zero and Penny are precious! Great photos.

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