I had my maiden voyage with Yogi off leash in the woods a few days ago. I was going to ease into it, looking for a twenty foot training lead in the store section of where we go to puppy class. The owner of the school and dog day camp Beth happened to be right there and when I told her my intent she smiled and said, “Don’t be afraid, just let him go, he will be fine.” I let this advice in, still not sure. But when the moment carrying the energy of ‘now or never’ came the next morning, I simply let him go. I had a bag of treats in my hand and he knew it. Maybe that’s why, after a brief wild few minutes of racing freedom to try to catch Nora, he came right away when I called and then fell into a trot a few paces behind me the rest of the way. I couldn’t believe it! All these years with Nora racing ahead like a scout and barely ever seen, this feeling of his presence, silently and solidly behind me, was deeply comforting. I speculated. Could this be his genetic predisposition to guard manifesting already? It certainly felt that way. Great Pyr gentle giants have been bred for service in such a specific way, to guard flocks of sheep from all manner of predators. It felt like Yogi had my back.
The next day out I watched more closely. Yogi definitely displayed all the signs of having a mind of his own, veering off into to ferns, running into the meadow before I could stop him,
getting distracted by a smell, or Nora chasing him off the trail. But he faithfully came running when I called every time, received his treat, and fell back in behind. And if he took off in pursuit of Nora, he would stop before too long and turn around to look for me. This was fundamentally already so different than Nora, who, on first chance off leash and free, ran huge wild sprints deep into the woods before returning to see if I was actually still there.
And if I had any doubt that Yogi was staying with me because of my exemplary training or otherwise learned behavior, all I have to do is try to take him for a walk on the leash. There is no urging him to follow my lead, it is folly to think I have a chance of making it to the mailbox and back in any reasonable length of time. He has his own tempo and own idea about how the walk will go and sits solidly, not moving, looking up at me with that patient tolerant, ‘oh you really must just give it up’ expression on his face before standing up to move an inch, literally, to smell the next blade of grass. Only after he feels the shift in me to really be there with him, does he began his trot in earnest toward the mailbox.
Yogi may be a breed that protects in obvious ways. But I think he is also here to protect what it means to be in service in a powerfully subtle way too. He is independently clear. There is no telling him otherwise and yet, he is completely present at the same time, even in sleep.
Being in service needs to be a collaboration after all. We can’t be together unless we are truly together. And we can’t learn from each other unless there is trust and respect for who we are in service with, whether it be another human, canine, animal, plant, natural element, or spirit.
I went to the funeral of a dear man this week who truly lived a life of service. I’ve never met anyone who could ignite the spirit of giving back the way Stan could. He had a way of connecting to that part of me that needed and wanted to reach out and engage others through passion and commitment. He made it fun his way. He did it with integrity. He became a kind of father of the heart figure during all my years in Amherst, through our mutual commitment to various town committees and involvement in Rotary. I realize that intersecting with Stan the way I was able to all those years helped me develop my own path of service as a creative, as a person committed to being a presence in all I do. It was sad saying goodbye. The part of me that has been able to engage so readily in a public form of service has changed. But honoring Stan helped me realize the vision and commitment to being in service has only grown bigger.
I think about the service of plants in these burgeoning summer months. Last year I planted a lot of calendula, an herbal form of marigold that has always been a favorite. The shades of orange, the musty earthy aroma, and the healing capability of just this one plant are so inspiring.
I filled a jar with the blossoms and covered them with olive oil last fall. After almost eight months of calendula infusing oil, the jar finally called. Within minutes, I was melting beeswax to add to some of the strained oil to make salve. Assorted jars filled with the golden glow of plant potential.
It is such a simple and satisfying way to bring the essence of something into the light for best use.
The calendula is so prolific that I haven’t even needed to plant more. It has reseeded and reappeared in the garden again, sparking orange passion for another year of inspired service.