By Jeff Taylor/for MISSOULA CURRENT
Mosquitoes and ticks, algebraic equations, lies in election years, war between nations, bigots and tailgaters, paper-cut stings: these are among my least favorite things. Among my most favorite, and probably yours, are dogs.
As if I needed more proof that the universe is benign, Dunrovin Ranch is blessed with many good dogs. They are not just for decoration, either; they guard the property well, and I pity the white rhinoceros who dares set one hoof on these premises, for they would bark him to pieces. At this point, none has dared, and I dare to predict that none ever will.
Dogs are great teachers. They arouse our compassion and our kindness. They demonstrate the balance of work and play; they accept every waking minute as a gift, schooling us by example. They show us how to take it easy, not to worry so much, and to have a little faith that everything will be all right. Put them in a pickup truck with their heads out a window, and you will vicariously experience a shot of sweet ecstasy. Throw a ball and they will joyfully fetch it.
A tiny but vital fraction of my working day is spent interacting with these dogs, if only to say hello; I smile, and they smile back. The smallest is Kola, a Jack Russell terrier who greets me every morning with a promise to rip out my shoelaces, if I suddenly turn into a rhino. The largest is fluffy old Sandor, who dreams in the shade. Jewel seems to be an easygoing Labrador mix, in charge of keeping an eye on her best friend, little Kola, who is prone to fits of excitement. And I just met Chaplin today, the only one with a mustache.
Tres and Ohso are two brilliant border collies, and ever since I came to work here, Ohso has been teaching me how to throw a rubber ball. Insofar as he’s concerned, it is my sole function and best trick.
Long ago, I did this every day with my own best friend, whose name was Dogananda. He was faithful and wise and good; may he sleep in peace beneath the meadow he once roamed.
I am out of practice, but border collies are very patient. The heuristic methodology begins with simple presentation of the object to be hurled; Ohso drops it at my feet, and coyly makes eye contact: Here you go, Man.
Now the ball is, so to speak, in my court. If I leave it there and walk away to another spot, he will just carry it after me and drop it right there. If I throw it, it will be returned to me. Same ball, same dog, same lawn, same man launching it; but every time, it’s a little different.
The ball has been there for ten seconds, which is about two days in dog years. He knows I’ll throw it, over and over, every single time he asks, because his faith in this is unshakeable. How I wish sometimes that my own faith was as strong and pure.
The cycle will repeat itself endlessly; but this moment will never come again. Five more seconds pass.
Of course I pick it up. Of course I throw it far, far away, across the expanse of green lawn. Of course he rockets after it, perfectly focused, and snaps it up before the third bounce. He comes trotting back, because he understands the true Meaning of Life, and is trying to teach it to me.
And just for a moment, I am grateful to comprehend that no small job here at Dunrovin, be it ever so silly, is ever insignificant.
Jeff Taylor is the author of “Tools of the Trade: The Art and Craft of Carpentry,” and “Tools of the Earth: The Practice and Pleasure of Gardening” (Chronicle Books). The View from Donrovin appears weekly at the Missoula Current.