Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Larry and the Tramp

- The Beach Life & A Few Amazing True Stories

About My Best Friend Ever -

     Dogs are so smart!

     I lived in a little Florida beach village on the Gulf of Mexico called Mexico Beach in 1976-77.  My otherwise empty fourplex was about ten yards from the white sandy beach and warm salty waters.  It was just a terrific place and time.  No more than a couple of hundred people lived in the village, mostly retirees on a budget and some young Air Force couples from Tyndall Air Force base about 14 miles away.  The air was clear and the breezes invigorating.  The water was pristine and you could feel the healing power of the salt and minerals.

     There's something special about immersing yourself in the warm briny water, part of the greater body of circulating water holding life together as we know it, with its contents having about the same saline solution as your blood.  It conjures a balance that you feel working its way into more of your life than you realize.

     As the planets and constellations slowly wheeled overhead every night without deviation or hesitation, which you would soon learn to intuit even when cloudy, and the moon phases regular and prominent and a satellite or two following their calculated tracks directly overhead faithfully night after night, the immersion into a balanced sense of life merged with an unhindered awe of how natural and easy life can become, how much sense it can make. 

     Tramp, my scruffy and sensible little tan terrier, lived with me.  Truth be known, I was at least as scruffy as Tramp and likely not quite as sensible, and in that way our lives at the beach were a continuation of our lives next to my college campus, where he had become somewhat of a local legend among those in the know.  In a way, I played a close second fiddle to my amazing wonder friend.

     We'd walk to my classes every day, he with his red bandana around his neck and me with my books and bellbottoms.  When I disappeared into the buildings, he'd run across campus to the coeds' cafeteria and be fed by young women eager to please this resourceful little cutie.  When my classes were over, he'd be there outside the building again waiting for me.  Sometimes there'd be a note from my sister, who also attended LSU, or friends tucked into his bandana.

     One day my sister walked into a basement classroom on a rainy day.  There on the floor at the foot of her specific desk was Tramp, wet and lying peacefully, though she had never even seen him outside the building before.  One night he showed up alone at the apartment of a friend of mine on the opposite side of campus where he'd never been, and I wasn't even there.  He started barking, and they opened the door wondering what was going on.  There was Tramp, looking for me.

     When Tramp and I lived further from campus, he and I would ride the free bus to school.  One day when I was sick and stayed home, Tramp got on the almost full bus by himself, an English doubledecker, walked up the stairs, and hopped onto a seat next to a surprised young woman.  She looked around to see whom he was with, but to her surprise she was his only traveling companion.  Tramp rode the bus to campus, got off as usual, no doubt went to the cafeteria, probably the motive for his trip, and at the end of the day rode it back home.

     Even knowing well Tramp's incredible omniscience-like state - and we were completely in sync as friends and allies, as each other's alter egos, instinctively understanding what the other was intending and who each other was and who we were together - I was floored to hear this tale of the doubledecker bus ride about my very best bloke friend ever.

     Now at the beach, Tramp joined in the liberating pursuits and communal life of a small diverse group of dogs, whose humans understood the joys held in promise for their animal friends in this paradise.  They roamed at will.  To not let Tramp roam in such an idyllic place would have seemed cruel.  He and his friends didn't wander away.  Nor did they turn wild but instead simply enjoyed each other's company and would explore and play all day and often sleep on the beach together at night.  Tramp would come home to eat almost every day, and sometimes spend the night, but he just thrived with and loved the freedom and companionship of his fellow dogs.

     One day a new dog showed up, a little thing, perhaps abandoned or lost, and it must have recently been rolling indulgently in dead fish, because it was the foulest smelling thing I've ever come across even since. And not just pungency but intensity as well. It was so foul and strong that Tramp and his group of friends couldn't stand it. It must have been especially horrible for dogs, with their powerful sense of smell,  and as the little dog tried to follow them around, they kept discouraging it with fanged feints and low growls.  Yet the little dog kept following them.

     One day I was fairly astonished to observe the original dog group skillfully herding the new dog toward the edge of the water.  It became scared with the other dogs forming a crescent wall around him and not letting him break through their ranks. Soon the little dog had to retreat into the shallow water of the Gulf to keep away from Tramp and his friends. At that point, the dog became soaked in saltwater, which began to clean him of his stench. After a few minutes, the dogs let the little dog back onto the beach.  It rolled exulting in the sand with the dogs standing all around it, and they all then went on with their day together.

I'm so glad I got to let Tramp have that kind of freedom, one that so few dogs experience, and without their having turned wild and harmful, but instead showing the essence of compassion and kindness.  They made sure that their lost new friend would have a place alongside them, cleverly doing what was necessary, without harm or cruelty.  And with all their homes, there was plenty of food to share and go around.

     Tramp and his friends would later help me out of a sticky situation as well.  One night, out of a year's worth of nights, I singlehandedly and singlemindedly became roaring drunk on wine, not for any particular reason, and I found myself running with abandon under the stars back and forth on the beach along the edge of the water.  I would run a long distance in one direction, turn, and then run back.  It was exhilarating, my body in wild motion, caught up in the salty warm breeze with the crashing waves the soundtrack, one of those moments you feel you can run if not live forever.

     After a few back and forths like this, on the run back, I began to feel very woozy and quickly became semi-conscious mid stride.  I fell down on the sand and passed out.  I tried to wake but couldn't.  I don't know how long I was lying there.  I don't think it was an especially long time, but what woke me finally was Tramp and his friends licking my face.  They'd come essentially out of nowhere, and with me on the ground they went about their devoted and slobbering rescue work.

     I'd become stinking drunk, and as with the little dog they found a cure for what ailed me.  I was stuporously amazed and entirely aware of what they were doing and why and could see how incredibly happy they looked doing it, as I was still lying there and eye to eye with them.  Their cohesion as a group and the beneficence of their purpose was transcendent to experience.

     I had been entirely in love with these little people prior, but the love expanded even moreso in that moment, permanently, their ways, wiles, and exuberant love an expression of their souls, and it was like becoming joyously accepted into a group of people whom I greatly admired, and perhaps envied a bit, more than anything in the world.  I belonged.

     With their persistence and encouragement, and after profusely thanking them with drunk loving words and drunk hugs and strokes, I managed to stand up and walk home to a good and dry night's sleep, instead of perhaps drowning in the tide, amazed all the way home and into my dreams.

     Why do dogs act this way?  The answer really can't be put perfectly into words. 
I believe though, when given the chance, they learn the greater purpose of life, to live fully in the moment and essentially do no harm, and in the process gratefully become as integral and positive a part of life as is doggedly possible.

     Tramp was not only my friend.  He was my mentor, and as dear a love as there can be.

     I'll always be grateful to you, my profound sweet best friend.


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