The mud is thick outside, ankle-deep on the Forest Service road that climbs into the hills alongside my property. The county road fronting my home is also a mess, seemingly more liquid than solid. And the nearby creeks, filled with melt and rain, are rolling wildly with a slur of sediment and brush.
This is springtime, mud season in my Montana valley. During this string of damp and sunless days, I consider carefully before heading outdoors. Because I am the beloved of two Labs, I must acknowledge that where I go, eight paws will follow. And those paws will not step carefully around puddles and they will not avoid mud sloughs or slop. Those paws, and the bodies they propel, will hurl toward and into great coffee colored puddles and will run inside the length of roadside ditches. The paws and the bodies and the mud and the wet become crashing cannon balls of joy, baptized by spring and anointed with exuberance.
And yet, despite the seasonal inconvenience and unavoidable mayhem, I must venture out with the dogs. This is the agreement we have, my Labs and me. Outside they must go, to run and to roll, to chase and to be chased, to expend the vast reservoirs of energy that build in young and healthy dogs. In return, they provide the intangibles that fill my heart and feed my spirit – joy each day, and love that is beyond measure.
So I dress in raingear and step into rubber boots. I place old towels in the entryway and I barricade the doggie door. Our pre-hike preparations have become de rigueur over the years, a reality of living far from pavement and among creeks and dirt roads and pine trees. The outside often finds its way inside, carried on boot bottoms and paw pads.
Upon our return to the house and before the dogs stampede to their food bowls, I will need to lasso Lab necks, to straddle between my knees first one mutt and then the next. I will towel dry hairy bodies and de-mud eight paws. Tails will surely slap to and fro, mouths will gently gnaw my forearms and there will be half-hearted escape attempts. Despite their protestations, the dogs enjoy getting what I term “the business,” knowing full-well that all good dogs get cookies once the toweling is complete.
But first we must venture outside and into the drizzle. We have wet roads to walk, and damp trails to hike. The dogs need to run, and I need to smile.