Without really thinking about it, by the time I had reached the ripe old age of 55, I had somehow completed most everything on my so called bucket list — you know, all the things you want to do before you kick the bucket. I don’t remember how most of these bucket list activities got on my list in the first place. Traveling, running marathons, writing novels — these are all things that “sound” good, impressive, but were they truly life-altering accomplishments? No, probably not.
Stephen Covey, the recently deceased author and self-help guru, taught an important lesson in life and time management. He said, “The enemy of the best is the good.” I hate to admit it, but I suspect that my bucket list was a lot of very good things that also got in the way of me doing the very best things.
I’m making a new list for the last third of my life. This won’t be a list of bragging rights; this will be my list of living rights. My living-right list is going to have one theme: valuing relationships with others –- God, Earth, wife, children, family, friends and last, but hardly least, my dog. Dogs can teach us a lot about relationships. They are good at them. Maybe, better than we think. Bringing out the best in each other is the gold standard for all healthy relationships. Dogs do that for me.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that I made it my very first living-right task to take a long and special walk with my dog, Rudy. I mean a really long walk. Two days to be exact, to the top of a mountain, then camp in the Pecos wilderness of New Mexico and then another day walking back down the mountain. I wanted to do it for myself, but I wanted to do it for Rudy, too.
After spending two weeks thinking and preparing, Rudy and I set out on a cloudless, warm summer day.
The weather was cool, so Rudy had no problem scurrying up the trail. At 10,000 feet of elevation, it was slow going for my Kansas acclimated lungs. Slow was good. It left plenty of time for feeling and experiencing and not just doing. Bucket lists are about completing something; living-right lists are about savoring every step along the way. It’s about doing something, not so you can check it off the list and forget about it, but instead integrate the experience into your very being.
I had a regional guidebook with me that I consulted along the way to make sure we didn’t wander off the trail or get into trouble. It warned about all the obvious risks of mountain hiking in the New Mexico Rockies — dehydration, blisters, sunburn, etc. The author had my kind of job. He took lots of walks with his dog and then wrote about it. He observed that bears were a rare occurrence — he’d only seen three in all his years of hiking and, in any event, they were just the shy little black bears and not the grumpy, grizzly variety.
I knew Rudy and I were in for a special hike: we saw two different bears within the first hour! Each bear was coming down the trail at the same time as I was going up it. They stopped, looked at me and Rudy, turned around, and just went the other way. Rudy was so busy looking at chipmunks and sniffing deer scat that he did not even notice the bears! I tried to explain to Rudy the whole business about the enemy of the best being the good. He told me to mind my own business. He would enjoy what he wanted to enjoy and I could enjoy what I wanted. Fair enough. We walked on.
As we came through a meadow, Rudy very proudly scared up three or four turkeys to add to our wildlife sightings. But more than what we saw — the beautiful vistas, bears and turkeys — what really amazed me most about our hike was the incredible quiet we enjoyed together. There was so little noise to distract us. It was like we were passing through distilled, pure tranquility.
After a few hours of hiking, I was dragging and had to take frequent rest breaks. Rudy didn’t mind. He simply found a spot and took in the scenery.
By late afternoon, we got to the lake. I set up the tent and we tried to eat. Rudy had zero interest in the dog chows I brought up the mountain. I took one bite of the freeze-dried, organic bean and rice dish that I heated up over the fire. One bite was enough; the rest went into the lake. I was so tired, that I went to bed early and just stared at the stars. Rudy seemed to thoroughly enjoy just sitting by the tent and looking out into the woods. Neither of us slept much that night.
I felt a bit vulnerable out in the middle of nowhere, alone in a tent with my dog. Rudy was pretty clear about this one. I had nothing to be afraid of. We were exactly where we needed to be — him and me. We were living right and that was all that really mattered. Dogs don’t have bucket lists or agendas. They just like to be with you. That’s enough.
Greg’s most recent book, A Christmas Home, was released by Crown on November 1. It’s the story of Todd McCray, the dog named Christmas, and their pals—Todd’s High School friend, Laura, and her service dog, Gracie. Budget cuts force the closing of their local shelter where Todd works and Laura volunteers. Todd and Laura set out to find new homes for a shelter full of dogs and cats and in the process find themselves and each other. You can read Greg’s previous blog posts for Petfinder and visit him at www.facebook.com/authorgregkincaid.