This morning was a glorious one for running mountain trails with my dogs. Crisp frosty air, blue skies, the early sun rising above the trees and ridges to the east casting a warm glow through the tall pine tree branches. Huckleberry shrubs are bright red under the trees and the aspens are turning a vibrant golden-yellow. A dusting of snow, the remains of a storm late last week, makes the boys happy; Finn gleefully rolls in the first patch we come upon, kicking his legs in the air as he twists his spine back and forth against the snow. I’m tempted to join him. I love the snow, too.
What could possibly interfere with this utopian scene?
Well, shit. Literally.
Let me explain.
During the drive to the trailhead, Conall was more restless than usual. There’s a winding canyon we drive through regularly, whether accessing trails or heading into town for groceries. It’s a roughly three-mile climb of a thousand feet in elevation. In the past year, Conall has begun acting nervous during this stretch of road, as if he’s afraid, or car sick. I’m not sure what started this reaction; for the first three years of his life it wasn’t an issue, and anywhere else we drive, he’s fine, including when we drive back down the canyon. This morning, though, Conall seems especially stressed, adding vocalizations to his pacing as we climb through the canyon. After topping out of the canyon and turning onto the road leading to the trailhead, Conall settles down, despite that road also being winding and climbing.
Shortly after starting our run, Conall heads off-trail several feet to leave a deposit. This is routine if they haven’t already done their business in the yard at home. I’ve always been thankful that both of my dogs naturally move well off trail to do their business.*
What isn’t routine is the mess on Conall’s trousers (or “pants” – the long fur on the back legs) when he returns to the trail.
Ugh. A severe case of the trots. Clearly something he ate didn’t agree with him. No wonder he was antsy in the car.
When he crouched to poop he was on a slope with his hind end higher than his front; obviously his trousers dipped into his runny poop, which stuck nicely to the fur in several long, thick, stinky streaks.
Conall couldn’t have cared less. No embarrassment on his part. He starts trotting (no pun intended) up the road, the streaks of poop in his fur swinging like tassels on a stripper. I keep thinking surely the sensation of that swishing poop on his hind end will bother him and he’ll try scooting in the dirt or snow to remove it.
Nope. He acts as if everything’s normal. Nothing to see here!
Me? I’m horrified, and glad we’re unlikely to encounter anyone else on the mountain this Monday morning.
Was it the Lean Cuisine Swedish meatball dinner I shared with them last night? Or the BBQ-flavored knuckle bones I gave them to gnaw on later? I’ll never know, but I’m betting on the meatballs. Thankfully, because we’re in the great outdoors, unless I get really close to Conall I can’t smell it. I notice Finn doesn’t tuck in too close behind Conall. Trust me, his smeared trousers really stink. I’m sooooo happy Conall didn’t explode in the car on the drive up.
I’m not keen on looking at that brown mess for the rest of our run. What to do?
I grab Conall’s tail for leverage – thank god he holds his tail curled over his back or it would have been smeared as well – and try using small sticks to remove the mess.
I try a small broken branch with dead leaves.
The fur on his trousers is long and sort of rough, perfect for holding onto all that fresh runny poop.
As soon as we get high enough to find a patch of crusty snow, I ask Conall to sit, hoping that might help remove some of the mess but after the sticks and branch he’s looking at me like I’m insane and in true Malamute fashion pretends he can’t hear me. I give up. It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway.
We continue up a service road of the ski resort whose trails we’re playing on. Two employees in a truck come down the road, waving and smiling as the boys and I stand off to the side to let them pass. I hope they don’t look in their rearview mirror and see Conall’s brown butt, I think as I release the boys and we continue running up the road. Again, it occurs to me that I’m the only one embarrassed about this.
Rather like a musher behind a team of sled dogs, I’m usually bringing up the rear when running with my dogs. That means my view almost always includes their fluffy butts. Normally not a problem, but this morning, well, it takes me a while to resign myself to viewing that yucky brown mess on Conall’s trousers for the rest of the run. I resolve to only take photos that don’t include him from behind.
After reaching the summit we start our long, meandering and fun descent on a single-track trail. Two-thirds of the way down I hear voices, at least two people, laughing and talking. I’m pretty sure they’re resort employees working on maintaining and improving the trails before the snow buries them for the winter. Conall hears them as well. He LOVES saying hello to people we encounter on trails. I always try to make sure people are prepared because if surprised, some initially think “Wolf!” and are afraid, and some just don’t like dogs. (How is that possible?) The resort’s trail crews, though, are always happy to see him. Conall’s greetings are just that – a quick Nice to see you! and then back to the business of moving on down the trail with me and Finn. He’s always polite, never jumping on anyone although he will steal a kiss if someone leans down and gives him the opportunity.
This crew – all young, one male, two females – are working in among some trees about 30 feet off the trail. I can only hear them. Conall jumps onto a boulder alongside our trail to get a better view, and that’s when the guy sees him and I see the guy. Having met Conall before, he laughs and says, “Look, he got on that boulder to find us!” At that friendly greeting, Conall starts heading their way so I yell, “He’s coming to say hello to you!” I hear one of the women say, “Oh good!” I add, “He’s friendly, but you might want to stay away from his back end; he had a case of the trots and is a mess!” I hear laughter and “Hi!” as Conall finds them – I can’t see him or them, although I can picture Conall greeting each with trail swooping low and side-to-side in a submissive yet obviously happy way. The guy calls out, asking if Conall is a Malamute. I confirm that he is. As Finn and I continue slowly down our trail I call for Conall to join us. He comes dashing through the trees and back onto the trail with a look of glee on his face. I hope he didn’t leave a smear of poop on any of them, I think, that sense of embarrassment kicking in. But Conall wasn’t embarrassed about his stinky self; it was an accident and he can’t do anything about it, so why be embarrassed? All he wants to do is make new friends and spread some joy. And he did.
My dogs keep teaching me valuable life lessons.
We continue down the mountain. At the base I see two men talking near a shed. Conall also sees them, and his body language says, “Oh boy, more friends to make!” I repeat the earlier routine as Conall approaches the men, issuing a warning about his back end, and they laugh as they pat his head. Greeting accomplished, Conall turns and rejoins me and Finn as we make our way to the parking lot.
Back home, I clean Conall’s trousers with warm damp towels and scissors. His trousers are a bit thinner now, but they’re white again and he no longer stinks.
So much for a quiet Monday where I needn’t worry about anyone seeing Conall’s dirty trousers. Yet what Conall taught me is that all my worrying was silly and a waste of energy. Conall didn’t care, and neither did anyone he met that morning. Accidents happen. Why make a big deal of it? People generally are forgiving and understanding, and those who aren’t? I don’t need people like that.
Conall spread lots of joy despite being stinky and dirty, and people appreciated it. That’s all that matters.
*Note: for those readers used to living in a more urban or suburban area, ready to take me to task for not picking up my dogs’ poop, please understand that in this area, in this forest, managers actually prefer you leave it where it drops, so long as it’s not on a path. Wrapping the poop in plastic and depositing it in a garbage can, assuming you can even find one of those – most trailheads don’t have one – simply adds to the waste they must collect and transfer elsewhere where it will then take decades for that plastic bag to decompose. There are so few people and dogs on these trails, one never notices dog poop; it’s just not an issue. What we do notice are the uncollected dog poop bags on trails or at trailheads left by visiting tourists who are conditioned to always pick up after their dogs but then are unwilling to carry it out with them when they can’t find a handy garbage can nearby. Now that is an issue.
Feature photo: aspen trees starting to turn golden in autumn.