A Life With Dogs

A Life With Dogs

By: Kerrin Winter-Churchill  Date: 07/1/2007


by Kerrin Winter-Churchill

Wild Cherry Blossoms

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" was the burning question in my childhood home and I didn't have a suitable answer. Frozen with fear, I would stare wide-eyed as my mother would routinely suggest a career as a nurse, doctor or a lawyer. "These fields are always in demand. wild cherry
Wild Cherry BlossomsThey will provide a steady income,"" she'd say. "How about getting your real estate license? Or get an MBA. Or go into political science and work for the government?" For some reason, these practical suggestions filled me with fear. "Were these my only options?" I wondered. "Is that what my life as an adult was going to be like?"

To this day, I admire all of these professions but I just could not see myself working in any of the suggested fields. The closest I could ever come to imagining myself in the workforce was as an artist. And so I would answer my mother saying, "I am going to be an Artist," and she would frown. "Artists are poor. You don't want to be poor when you grow up do you?" asked my very practical, Germanic mother.

My heart would sink at her words. I was dreamer. I hadn't thought about that ― what kid like me ever thought about that? But for a child, hope springs eternal and I would brighten with my next big idea. "Okay, then I will raise horses and do art on the side and I won't need much money ― I'll live with my dogs." At this point, my mother would usually roll her eyes, say it was "Hopeless," and walk away muttering under her breath, "Dogs, always dogs with this one." If I felt any anguish in my heart, it was quickly remedied by a long walk in the woods with my beloved shorthairs. Stealing away, I'd slip outside, fling the kennel doors wide, and my heart would rise with happy beats watching my dogs bark for joy as they'd go tearing across the field to the back woods with me following at their heels.

Springtime In Ohio
Spring is a very muddy season, but with dogs running ahead, splashing through wet lands, joyously bounding their way through the fresh air filled with song birds and bright green, nature's orchestra transported me to a different place and time. Here was a deeper world of the senses, seemingly made especially just for me.  dogs looking down
Dogs wait, higher up the trailAs I walked along, I'd notice woodland wildflowers, may apples, trilliums and Jack-in-the-pulpits poking their way through the soft earth, while, above, sprigs of leaves swayed in the gentle wind and the familiar call of the Flicker ― my favorite of the woodpeckers ― sounded from East to West, as an entire community of the robust, red capped, tawny birds discussed our visit to their woods.

Dogs wait, higher up the trail.

Running off their first burst of freedom, my five dogs always settled close to me and together, we hiked along. Entranced by the fresh woodland smells, our steps were lively and the spongy earth sprang back with our every footfall. Cares and worries were a thing of the past. Here was joy, here was my woods, a banquet of sensation for a vagabond child in the company of her beloved dogs.

We had several routes to choose from, but usually we gravitated towards the "Ridge-top Trail." Hiking to it was good exercise and, although it was a harder trail, it was much more interesting than traveling across the flat portions of the woods. To get there, we'd first carefully make our way into a deep ravine. Then we'd splash over rocks in a branch of the Chippewa Creek before climbing almost straight up onto the trail. Sometimes I'd slip and lose my grip and go tumbling all the way back to the creek. The dogs would stay on top waiting for me, barking their encouragement. I'd climb back up, muddy but triumphant, calling my victory "Girl vs. Mountain."

Stormy crossing the creek

The payoff for the hard climb was an incredible vista of huge, old silvery beech trees against a smoky grey sky, looking off to a lower valley where hawks often soared. The dogs always paused with me while I stood catching my breath, soaking in the atmosphere. Standing there, I often thought about the days long before when the land was scouted by native Americans, the Chippewa who came down from Michigan to hunt this fertile ground. Quietly giving thanks to God for this beauty ― yes, even when I was a kid I talked to God and appreciated His glory ― we would continue on to an old fallen-down grist mill where I would sit and watch the dogs as they ran in wide circles around me pursuing doggy things.

Seated on my old mill stone, I'd think about the future and wonder what I'd be. Away from adults and their practical minds, the woods gave me the freedom to dream and the dogs that surrounded me ― well, they made me realize that it was okay to be this close to the earth and to them ― their faith in me was unconditional ― and, when one by one they'd come in close to check on me, I could feel the bond and knew their love for me was just as true. It was there in that setting that I swore my life to dogs. I didn't know how ― I had no idea ― but somehow the presence of my dogs made it okay and I knew whatever path I chose in life, dogs would be a part of it, and knowing that made the fears of a future me fall away.

Prudence on Ridgetop Trail

What would life be like without dogs? I can't say. I do know that some of us need dogs. They fill a deep crevice in our souls that won't be satisfied by any other creature or artistic expression. Did the dogs help me realize my dreams? I have no doubt. Without their steady companionship, my sojourns to the woods might have stopped long ago. Who can say how the practical world might have swallowed me.

Many years have passed and my childhood dogs are all gone. I still walk the woods with my current darlings. Starting out, we pass a special stand of oak trees, each adorned with a large field stone marker at their feet. There we pay silent homage to those old friends of the child that was me. Whenever we do, the breeze seems to lift up, and the dogs of my today seem to stand still for a moment as though listening to words on the wind. That's when I think back to those old days and smile: The dogs have brought me home safely. My childhood dreams are alive.

Today I am an artist and a horse breeder who walks in the constant company of dogs. And while my mother, God bless her, still rolls her eyes at my impractical lifestyle, I know my feet are steady on the springy earth of Life's path. And yes, once in a while the footing loses its spring as the trail leads across rocks and stumps or gets so slippery I slide all the way down into muck. Lucky for me, there is always a dog nearby reminding me of just how rich the trail up ahead will be. A life with dogs is a life filled with hope. It's the only life for me.

Photos courtesy www.WinterChurchillphotography.com

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