I’d be hard put to say what my big, brown longhaired dog enjoys more – his freewheeling romps across the pastures and through the woods of our 80-acre farm, or the more constrained strolls, on a leash, about the neighborhood when I am based in town. As Omaha has proved himself to be a wholly devoted companion, I can let him loose on the farm, knowing I won’t lose sight of him for more than a minute. He’ll plunge over a rise, nose to the ground, then come leaping back into view, looking desperately about until he spots me. And then comes his low-to-the-ground rush home, and a wild reunion that might have signified a year’s absence for its frenzy.
The farm has its own unique scents and intrigue. Coyotes are abundant, and their gamy marks and trails crisscross the big back pasture, intersecting those of deer, wild turkeys, and various small mammals. The stream widens here and there into deep pools that no self-respecting canine could resist after a long, panting run. Cow paths ease the way through tall grass with their own singular odor of quiet domesticity. Omaha revels in it all and knows no boundaries other than my strict refusal to let him harass or nose over any turtle that wisely hunkers into its shell upon his joyous approach.
Things are different for him in town. He is tethered by collar and leash and must adhere to a more sedate pace as I’ve never been a jogger, let alone a sprinter. He doesn’t seem to object to his more restricted movement – particularly given the olfactory feast of a walk through a neighborhood replete with varietal members of his own tribe. Besides, all of the dogs in town are in the same boat: gently or, if need be, firmly restrained. In a word, they’re civilized, if only by default. Unless he sees another canine (think firmly restrained), he positively chills – and deeply concentrates on all of the nasal delights not found on the farm. At times, especially in exploring dense shrubs, it’s almost as if he’s meditating.
I do not so much walk the dog as stand and meditate myself between short bursts of 20 or 30 steps as he brakes before bush after redolent bush, hedge after hedge, and street post after street post. No lawyer reviewing a high-stakes corporate contract could be more thorough than Omaha at certain widely favored clumps of decorative foliage. His nose twitches from twig to twig as if he recognizes each individual scent mark, perhaps even its author and time of placement. Rarely in a hurry, I shift from foot to foot and give him slack to explore all sides of the issue and, finally, to address the jury of his peers. By the time he tugs on the leash, ready to move on, I am sometimes far away mentally.
Stop signs? Nirvana! Many times a car has braked and its driver has waved us across an intersection, only to recognize that the dog is so deeply invested in the recent history of the post that the driver simply nods and drives on. I stand and let my mind wander.
Deer are abundant in this neighborhood and much tamer here in town than on the farm. One doe in particular has taken a shine to us, tracking and joining us on early morning walks, sometimes prancing within a foot or two of Omaha. He takes this in stride. (Deer? Ho-hum. Plenty of you on the farm....) I shoo away the doe before I swing open the door, lest she follow us into the house.
Back on the farm again, we both enjoy the freedom to set our own pace as well as the truly wild herds of deer (so much fun to hopelessly chase, followed by a cooling dip in the stream). Omaha romps and rolls as I stride purposefully and untethered across the pasture with carrots for the horses and cows – knowing Omaha will be right beside me to pick up any pieces that big, loose lips let fall.
I still haven’t figured out which lifestyle he most favors. But he has yet to complain about either. Let’s just say the dog makes the best of both his worlds.