Friday, December 06, 2013

Do not hurry the splendid journey

1998 Michael & Bondi in parkIt’s fifteen years today since a pocketful of hair and need grabbed me by the heart-strings and started nudging my life in unexpected directions. Three malamutes have shared that journey with me, beginning with Bondi in 1998 up to his passing in 2009.
1999 Michael&Bondi  2000 0621 (5)
Dougal, a full brother to Bondi from a later litter came along in 2001. The two accompanied me back to Australia in 2003 but difficult circumstances forced me to rehome Dougal in Adelaide with a new sister malamute in early 2004.
2001 Dougal @ 8mths 2002 Snoqualmie Pass - Dougal and Bondi
Munson, loyal companion since mid 2008 is the smallest of them (yet most vocal – I’m never sure whether he’s extemporizing or has a prepared speech for every public occasion), and born in Australia rather than Washington state. Nonetheless all three have spent time on at least two continents, meaning I’ve shelled out rather heavily on six intercontinental flights in the space of ten years. 
2003 Roche Harbor Marina - Dougal and Bondi 20040510 10 Swansea Tasmania - Bondi on pier
Someone asked me the other day what it said about me in owning such large dogs.  While I didn’t anticipate Bondi reaching his ultimate size, in retrospect I feel it makes for a more equal relationship between man and beast. That relationship has nothing to do with the relative size of other dogs or even of other humans for that matter. Even when a malamute is wearing a big dopey grin, it still enters a room with at least the presence of a human.  After I pointed out to someone that Bondi was nowhere near the size of an average Great Dane or the weight of a mastiff, they said “but they’re not proper dogs”. I don’t think they meant to disparage such breeds so much as point up the recognition of the ancestral dog type which a malamute typifies.

In any case, I’m quite a big guy and it’s handy not to have to bend down to give my dog a scritch behind the ears – and I’m still not beyond throwing a malamute onto my lap or over my shoulder for a ladder climb. Malamutes make lousy guard dogs, but their powerful presence is a useful deterrent to those who might wish harm. 

There’s a lovely capsule summary of malamutes by Maria Czerwinska on a Polish site

It is characterized by big strength, endurance, and an interesting disposition. It is a very friendly dog, a good and faithful companion. It does not belong to just one man, everybody can provoke it to play. It is very useful to work and play with a disabled child or an adult person. It can serve as a pulling force of a wheelchair and as a soft toy (a confessor) for long lonely hours in the world inaccessible for others.
2005 Bondi on La Concha, San Sebastian, Spain 2006 Bondi checks out Munson's Cafe
A related question is “why does your dog look so much like a wolf?” I turn that around and point out that malamutes and huskies are pretty close to what the original dogs looked like; the appearance of most other breeds having been radically altered by humans selecting traits for work or aesthetic preferences. Malamutes have a wild, atavistic majesty that I find extraordinary yet I wouldn’t want a wolf precisely because a wolf wouldn’t want me – it’s a creature of the wild, of wolf society alone, rather than a companion shaped by thousands of years of sharing homes, hearths and hearts with humans.

2007 Bondi at Dubrovnik BeachOverlaid on what is essentially dog, and what is quintessentially malamute, each of the boys has their own quite distinct personality. By ensuring they are widely socialised from their early months, I’ve been tapping into their potential to be complete citizens of both human and canine worlds. Sharing that potential, personality and extraordinary beauty with other people is more often than not a complete joy for all involved. In Australia where the commonality of dog ownership is balanced by vexatious restrictions on where they can go in public, my moots can be ambassadors for other happy, healthy urban dogs for the day where they can walk through city plazas or get on a train as easily as in London or Berlin. 
2008 Munson & Bondi on Enmore Road 2009 Bondi & Munson at Luna Park
For this post I’ve picked out a picture from each of the last fifteen years not just for the spectacular places that I’ve visited with each of them, but to also show some of the more personal moments and their own canine companions. The six and a half years of El Loco & El Lobo represents less than half that time. I wish I had more pictures of the special moments from earlier days: the endless loops of Green Lake, exploration of greater Seattle, then Puget Sound and even a corner of British Columbia. After that, the return to Australia, travel around Tasmania and more.

2010 Munson & Scout 2011 Munson & Legend 
This journey has been a very rewarding part of my life, at least as defining as anything I’ve accomplished in the time before. Claudia Hammond, author of Time Warped makes the point that the illusion of time speeding up as we get older is perhaps because we reduce the amount of novelty and identity-generating activities in our lives with recurring patterns of life and work. Allowing the dogs more space in my life has given me permission to explore a broader range of experiences, to continue to lay down extraordinary new memories which I will vividly recall as anything from my teens and twenties. One doesn’t have to look for adrenalin-pumping moments or seek out new stimulants to create special moments or step outside of the insistent current of progress; the euphoria of extreme dog-walking will do: pick up a leash, offer it to your young companion and find a new street or park, a new bench or country.

Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way*
2012 Munson & Gustav 2013 Munson @ Tour Eiffel
* Ithaka by C.P.Cavafy

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