Holly Dog, our Golden Retriever who died last week just shy of her 12th birthday, was versatile. Among other things, she was good at napping, licking dirty plates in the dishwasher, digging holes and, after she had sinned, looking innocent.
Holly was a Christmas present for our daughters. She also was known as Mrs. Puppy. I don’t know why. It’d been a long time since she was a puppy and, as far as I know, she never married.
We got along fine, but the digging of holes I found troublesome. She loved a small triangular patch of land in the backyard bordered by the house, a picket fence and the driveway. It is perhaps 5 feet by 6 feet by 8 feet.
I thought this would be a nice place to grow grass. She thought it would be a nice place to dig. Having foot-deep holes next to the house, where rainwater could gather, did not seem smart to me. Thus began a battle that lasted nearly 12 years.
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I’d retrieve the shovel, fill the holes, cover the area with pine straw and set obstacles to block her from digging – a half dozen bricks one time, three cinder blocks another time or maybe two trash cans.
That would work. For a while. Then Holly would figure out a new way to dig around the obstacles. I’d return from the office to find a deep hole next to the house and a commensurate amount of dirt on the driveway. Always she’d be lounging nearby with a wry smile.
She was a strategic thinker and a first-rate digger. But that wasn’t her best quality.
Each night about 9, she’d look at me with those big, brown eyes and shoot me a look that said, “Walk. We must walk.”
I’d grab the leash and we’d amble into the night in our neighborhood in West Raleigh. No cell phone, no music, no nothing. Just Holly and me.
She’d take the lead, up and down the hills near Wade Avenue. She was purposeful and steady. The dark quiet refreshed us both. Until her last year or two, we moved briskly. Around the corner, past the park, then a big hill to climb. The sound of distant traffic would drift over the pines.
She always was up for a walk, a dog for all seasons. In spring, there might be a soft breeze. In summer, the noisy crickets. In fall, the sounds of a football game, a campus party or the State Fair. In winter, perhaps a silent snow.
The night would wash over me, removing the remains of the day, the irritating minutiae that once seemed so important but really was not. This was my time to let go of things that aren’t important and to hold on to what is.
According to the writer William Dalrymple, the scholars of medieval Europe called this kind of silent walking “Solvitur ambulando” (“It is solved by walking”). Indeed, the Indian monk Mahavira is said to have walked his way to enlightenment.
The best walking companion is a dog, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, and he was right. Holly knew I found the silence luxuriant and never tried to chat me up.
The Christian theologian Howard Thurman believed that it is in quiet that one discovers the will of God. He thought we should be deliberate in seeking silence by pursuing it with diligence and what he called “consecutiveness” – a daily effort.
“No one is ever free from the peculiar pressures of his own life,” Thurman wrote. But we must reach beyond those pressures to examine our true self and find our path. Thurman said we must establish an Island of Peace within our soul.
A faithful dog (or maybe a dog full of faith?) led me every night to my Island of Peace. I’ll still walk every night. But it won’t be the same.