After only short hikes all week, Gilgamesh is a coiled spring on four feet, desperate to run. In the afternoon, we both give up trying to do anything else and hike up a small but sharp mountain. It’s just a few miles, but challenging ones: the oak leaves make the steep trail more slippery than when it’s covered with snow.
Gilly gives me heart attack after heart attack with his total confidence that the ground will bear him up always. I’m slipping every few steps, holding on to saplings and scraping for purchase: he’s not, of course, with those gorgeous, flexible feet and strong claws – but I’m convinced he will, any second.
His job is trust. My job is vigilance.
After an austere and lovely few minutes at the peak, I check the light, realize it’s falling fast, and we start down.
Gilly bounces from rock to rock at high speed.
I make him stop, sit down and listen to me.
“Gilly,” I say. “You’re amazing, and impressive, and a shining mountain-goat of a dog, sure-footed and astonishing, and I love you and you can fly and boulder-dance and if anything happened to you I’d be lost so you better HEEL and STAY HEELED right now because you’re being a complete asshole!”
He rolls his eyes and heels behind me like an angel until we get to the last steep slope above Indian Pond; then he sees the clearing by the water.
I see him see it, and hear the intention in his bunched muscles, but before I can say anything he’s flown. Full of joy, he hurls himself down the last incline, hop-scotching from sharp rock to sharp rock, in what looks to me like less of a controlled fall than a demonstration of sheer hubris. “GILLY!” I shout.
He reaches the clearing, turns, and sits, completely un-winded and collected, then looks at me with that dog-patented “why do you hate my joy?” expression. Scrambling down the rocks in ungainly bi-pedal style I splutter something about mortality and how we’ve talked about this and doesn’t he remember June of 2008 and what if he broke a leg or something? He putters around in the water, ignoring me.
Interrupting my lecture, a Pug puppy comes snorting up the path.
She falls madly in love with her persecuted elder on sight, and bounces him.
Embarrassed, he backs away. She chases him, bowing and snorting and smiling. He acts casual and starts sniffing around, trying to ignore her. She pounces and frolics. I notice that he’s starting to wear his ears in their Very Important Dog position, and start laughing.
She pursues Gilly relentlessly with single-minded emulation of everything he does, practically shouting in every movement “when I grow up I’m gonna be just like YOU! You’re the coolest dog in the world!”
Gilly seems to know that she probably says this to all the boys, but eventually, she wears him down: in spite of his advanced age and dignity, Gilly starts giggling and gets utterly caught up in a long, loud leaf-stomping tag-romp that takes us the rest of the way down the mountain.
Happy and tired. All the way down.
Upright and laughing in spite of everything that has happened, everything that could and will.
His joy is my gravity, an unalterable law.