Butterfly has learned the joy of chasing squirrels. She used to be indifferent, or even oblivious to the running rodents. She didn’t understand what all of Cricket’s running and barking was all about, though she was eager to follow behind her sister wherever she might go. For a while now, I’ve been letting Butterfly run off leash in the backyard (or run with her leash dragging behind her), because she has to run and dance in order to poop, yes, but mostly because she makes a horrible choking noise when she pulls against the leash. Butterfly’s running has led her to discover the squirrels. She runs ahead of me and follows a squirrel to a tree, and Cricket drags me to catch up, and the girls circle the tree as if they’re doing a squirrel dance, thumping their chests and jumping for the sky.
At some point, when Grandma had the girls to herself one afternoon, she decided to walk them further up the hill than usual. They climbed through deep leaf piles, on steep inclines, with Cricket up ahead and Butterfly running behind, while Grandma leaned on tree trunks, and held onto branches for support. Grandma assumed this would be a one time thing, but Butterfly had discovered Nirvana.
The next time I took the dogs out by myself, I let Butterfly run up ahead as usual, assuming she would stop at the halfway point. When I called her to come back, she looked over her shoulder at me and Cricket, and continued to climb higher.
I had a vision of Butterfly in goggles and an aviator jacket but had to shake it off and concentrate.
I couldn’t follow her up the hill, or, rather, I was afraid to try. I clapped my hands and called her name, nothing. Cricket stood next to me, in shock at what her sister was getting to do without her. Butterfly sniffed tree trunks and circled large rocks and stopped to poop before climbing even higher. I felt awful. I always pick up the poop. I need the feeling of accomplishment I get when I collect bags full of poop on a walk.
I had to climb up after her, still holding onto Cricket’s leash. Most of the solid ground under our feet was actually slanted and covered with leaves. Cricket was impatient while I held onto trees and branches whenever I could. I chose unwisely a few times and found myself holding a skinny tree in my hands with no actual part of the tree touching the ground. When we reached a plateau, I found Butterfly’s poop and scooped it up. That was a relief, at least. And then Butterfly came running over to us as if she’d been waiting up there to show us her wonderful new discovery. Cricket did some butt sniffing to get the full story, and then we all trekked back down the hill.
And of course, I did not learn my lesson. For the next few trips, Butterfly seemed satisfied with running up the hill by herself and coming back down pretty quickly. Cricket busied herself with sniffing her usual territory, which is actually rich with interesting smells, and she didn’t complain much about Butterfly’s excursions. And then it snowed.
The whole family went out together to explore the new white world, Cricket, and Butterfly, and Grandma, and me. Everything was covered with snow, including Butterfly’s path up the hill. I watched her run up by herself and idly noticed that I couldn’t figure out which icy patches were covering solid ground and which ones sat on loose piles of leaves that I would fall through. Butterfly explored on her own for longer than usual, but when Grandma asked if she should go up and get her, I looked at all of the ice and shook my head. We would just wait.
When Butterfly was finally ready to come back down, she chose a different route than she was used to, excited at her own daring. But the new path dead-ended at a pile of leaves and sticks and cut up trees left by the maintenance men. She looked at me across the divide with confusion. I told her to go back up the hill and come down the normal way, and she seemed to understand, but as she turned to find her way back up the hill, her leash caught on a sharp piece of wood, and she was stuck.
I am not an athlete, but when my baby is in danger, I do what I have to do. I left Cricket with Grandma and examined the mess in front of me. The tree slices were at odd angles and covered with icy snow, but I took each step slowly, only losing my footing ten or fifteen times. When I reached Butterfly and unhooked her leash, I was thinking a bit more clearly and was able to find a safer route back across for both of us.
I have learned to hold onto that leash, whether she likes it or not. And she protests, a lot, either by coughing and pulling, or by refusing to poop. I know myself. I can’t deny her forever. So I gave myself an insurance policy and lugged a few large branches across the path to discourage her from running all the way up the hill. She went over to the branches and sniffed, and so far, she has been deterred. Thank God Cricket is a typical big sister and has not offered Butterfly her help in figuring out a new way up the hill. If Cricket can’t go up there, then, really, why should anyone else be allowed to go?