While I feel pretty attuned to my dog – though nowhere near as attuned as he is to me – there have been times, lots of times, during our seven months of traveling that I’ve wondered what he really thinks of it all.
We’ve been on the go since the end of May, not staying anywhere, until our most recent stop, for longer than two or three days. More often, it has been a new Motel 6, or similarly priced lodgings, every night, followed by four, five or six hours of drive time, then landing in a new place, with new smells, which must be sniffed out and, of course, peed on.
By the time we’re done, in another week, we will have traveled over 22,000 miles, he will have peed on 31 states (and Canada) and we will have crossed the country twice in our red Jeep Liberty.
And he will have, hundreds of times, looked up at me with those big brown eyes, which are so highly expressive.
If only I knew what they were expressing.
The back of my Jeep, which once meant he was heading on an outing, has become — other than me, and dinner — one of the few constants in his life of late. It, more than any place, is home, and he still jumps in it excitedly.
During our four weeks of sitting still in Arizona, he still waits to jump in the car. Is it conditioning, or is he truly eager to go; and, if the latter, is it because he has come to love the road, or that he wants to finally get the hell home?
Is he enjoying the adventure, or, irony of ironies, does he find the Liberty confining?
While Ace seems to have adapted wonderfully to the new routine – or lack of one – and shows no visible signs of being unhappy, I still wonder if not being rooted, not having one place to call home, is bothering him.
Does he find being a vagabond liberating, as I – most of the time – do, or is he longing for a place of his own, an end to the travels, a return to the daily routine? Dogs do seem to love their routines.
His tail has remained curled most of the time, and that has always been the most obvious barometer of his mood.
But there are times I look at him, when he’s lying with his head on his paws that I wonder: Is he sad, is he depressed, or is he just lying with his head on his paws?
It’s important for me to know, because this trip, in more ways than one, is about him.
In addition to having nothing better to do, thinking it might be fun to travel across America, documenting our daily exploits and seeking out dog stories — to put together a “Travels With Charley” for modern times, only a more dog-centric version — this journey was also sparked by a feeling I was left with after writing my first book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”
After researching the often incredible lengths bereaved pet owners go to when their dogs get sick and die, including that most high tech length of all – cloning – it struck me, in what is likely neither a deep nor original thought, that we humans could, and should, do a better job of savoring our loved ones (of all species) while they’re still around. Maybe then, rather than prolonged and paralyzing grief, we could, knowing we had fully celebrated their lives, better accept their deaths.
I don’t really know if that would lessen the pain of a loved one’s departure. It could, for all I know, only make it worse. But that’s not the point. The point is we humans, as the song goes, “don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” that we take things for granted – not just unpaved paradises, but our parents, our planet, our friends and our dogs.
And while I’m as guilty as anybody on the parents and friends part, I resolved – after writing about how people go so far as to “stuff,” mummify and freeze dry their deceased pets, or pay $100,000 to produce a genetic replica through cloning – that Ace would be appreciated. In life.
That doesn’t mean spoiled and pampered — that’s entirely different. But I made a promise to myself to fully enjoy my dog — to, if it’s not too precious a word, treasure him (not that I didn’t already) — in our relatively brief time together. (Ace, who came into my life when he was 6 months old, is going on 7 years now, and being a big dog, will be lucky to reach the teens.)
I saw the trip, rightly or wrongly, as a way to do that – to take the time we shared beyond the routine of coming home from work, walking to the park, eating dinner and snuggling in front of the TV — though, again, for all I know, perhaps that was the life that Ace really preferred.
If, as I suspect, our dogs reflect our moods, then doing what makes me happiest, I reasoned, would make him happiest – especially given the fact that we’d be doing it together — and probably nothing makes me happier, other than Ace laying his head on my belly, than traveling, writing, seeing new things, and meeting new people.
So, even though finances didn’t really permit it, with an assist from my 401K and unemployment benefits, we set off on this journey, not being sure where it would lead, how long it might last, or what, other than some stories to share, it might result in.
At first, I planned for three months on the road. When that was done, we kept going, heading to the former home of John Steinbeck on Long Island and, on the same day he left 50 years earlier, starting again, roughly following the same route the author took in “Travels With Charley.” That took another three months.
Now, we’re preparing to head back east – we’re still not sure where home is, but Baltimore will do for now. We’ll be sticking to interstate highways to make better time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this trip, it’s that schedules and itineraries – and particularly interstate highways — make traveling, at once, more stressful and boring. They snuff out any opportunities for spontaneity. You miss out on the character, and characters, America has to offer.
But as we “make good time,” I’ll be a little less stressed about whether Ace is enjoying the ride.
Despite all the time I pondered the questions; despite my long looks into his soulful brown eyes attempting to gauge his emotions; despite some one-sided conversations where I’ve attempted to explain things, with his only response being giving me his paw; despite priding myself on having some dog empathy, I’d been unable to figure out the answer to that question: Is Ace having fun?
So, last week, before I left Cave Creek, I sought a second opinion.
It was Ace’s second visit with an animal communicator – the first having come when I was researching a series I wrote for the Baltimore Sun about trying to uncover the past of my mysterious new dog, adopted from what used to be the city pound.
What was he, and where did he come from? For the answers then I turned to DNA testing (which showed him to be a Rottweiler-Chow-Akita), to legwork (walking the streets of the neighborhood where records showed he’d been picked up as a stray) and, finally, to an animal communicator. Perhaps the answers, I figured, could come straight from the source: Ace.
I’m neither a big believer, or for that matter a big disbeliever, in those that claim animals talk to them, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to listen – to them, or, if possible, to Ace.
Not long after parking myself in Cave Creek, Arizona, I visited For Goodness Sake, a thrift store that donates part of its profits to animal rescue organizations. At a weekend fund-raising event there, I entered a raffle for a session with a local animal communicator, and I won.
Last week, Ace and I sat down with Debbie Johnstone of Listen 2 Animals.
And according to her, Ace had lots to say.
(Tomorrow: Ace talks)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 28th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animal communicators, animals, arizona, behavior, cave creek, communicate, country, debbie johnstone, dog, dogs, dogs on the road, empathy, happiness, john steinbeck, liberating, liberty, listen 2 animals, miles, moods, pets, reading, road trip, routine, steinbeck, travel, traveling, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley, trip, vagabond
The trailer in Arizona where Ace and I are spending December is just a mile from Carefree Highway. Maybe two miles. Possibly three. It doesn’t matter.
“Carefree Highway” is also a Gordon Lightfoot song — one, it seems to me, that’s more about the dangers of being carefree than the joy of being carefree, about how, if we’re too carefree, some important things might slip away. It happens to be one of my four, maybe five, possibly ten or 15 — let’s not sweat the details too much — favorite songs.
I’m a fan of the song, the highway, and Carefree itself, though the town — as with being truly carefree — is a place you can dwell only if you have a lot of money.
Being truly carefree, I realize — though the word is commonly used to market retirement communities, vacation packages and cemetery plots — requires great gobs of money and tuning out all that’s going on in the world, as in “I spend winters in Carefree and the rest of the year in the state of Blissful Ignorance.”
I’m not sure carefree — the state of mind — is a destination I want to reach, but it’s something to strive for.
I’d imagine being truly carefree is pretty close to boring. Yet, in seeking carefree, by losing some of the unnecessary baggage that’s making us go bald and get ulcers, we can perhaps find ourselves in a place where we’re not so burdened as to be unable to enjoy all the wonder and beauty life has to offer.
Did that last paragraph sound like a self-help book, or what?
Anyway, Carefree Highway is where I go for groceries (Shopping list? Who needs a list?), and where I got my hair trimmed (“However you want to cut it is just fine”), and where, when I walked into the Home Depot and was asked by an official greeter if I needed help finding anything, I went blank. (“To tell you the truth, I don’t remember what I came in for. I’ll just walk around until it comes back to me.”)
Perhaps it’s the power of suggestion, or the fact that the desert soothes me, but when, or after, driving down Carefree Highway, I tend to feel that way — at peace, worry-free and prone to not letting anything bother me.
Even with all my inner peace (and no, I’m not on the Prozac Expressway), one thing did get to nagging me: Was the Gordon Lightfoot song written about the actual 30-mile-long road that stretches east from U.S. Route 60, south of Wickenburg, to the town of Carefree? Or was it just a name the Canadian artist dreamed up?
I decided we all needed to know the answer to this question: Which came first the road or the song, and was there any connection between the two? Not knowing the answer was prohibiting me from being carefree. So I turned to where we all turn nowadays for answers: No, not God. The Internet.
Lightfoot’s song was released in 1974 — 10 years before the town of Carefree officially incorporated — but the area was already being called Carefree, and had been since not long after local entrepreneurs K.T. Palmer and Tom Darlington formed a partnership and acquired the land for the town they foresaw in the 1950s.
Carefree Highway, also known as State Route 74, was already being called that, as well — pre-Lightfoot.
According to Wikipedia, the song “Carefree Highway” is about the highway in Arizona, and Lightfoot wrote it after passing the exit sign for it on Interstate 17. Some other accounts say he wrote the song in a rental car, while others suggest he just wrote down the name of the road, thinking it would make a good song title. Some say he put his note in a glove compartment and almost forgot about it, but Lightfoot told Crawdaddy magazine that he put it in his suitcase and found it eight months later.
The Internet can be pretty carefree when it comes to facts.
The closest thing we could find to first-hand information was a Carefree Times blog item written by Nancy Westmoreland, who says she asked Lightfoot the question after a performance.
“The story goes that he was on the band’s bus, traveling for an engagement at the Gammage Auditorium, when he saw the large marquee freeway sign along Interstate 17. He actually had the bus driver pull over so he could get out and snap a close-up photo of the huge off-ramp sign. When he arrived home, he had the picture blown up and placed on his living room wall. He wrote the song while on the bus, and it became one of his biggest hits, exposing millions around the world to the Carefree Highway.”
That’s a lot of exposure for a town, according to the town’s website, of about 4,000 people.
Carefree, which adjoins Cave Creek, the town I’m staying in, is a highly upscale community. As if to live up to its name, it does not assess a property tax. It seems to not get too uppity, either, when it comes to people slapping mansions onto the side of mountains. Its street names bespeak mellow as well. There’s Easy Street, Tranquil Trail, Nonchalant Avenue and Nevermind Trail. One can even find the intersection of Ho and Hum, which then branches into Ho-Hum Road.
There is no Don’t Get Your Knickers in a Knot Boulevard, no Don’t Worry Be Happy Drive, but give Carefree time. It has lots of growth ahead, and — once our worries about the economy are over — there’ll likely be lots of new streets to name. I’d suggest Lightfoot, for then — in addition to the name having a nice, tread softly, tree-hugging feel to it — things would have come in a full and harmonious circle.
For, as it turns out, Carefree Highway, the road, was the inspiration for “Carefree Highway,” the song.
I know this not because I could read his mind, but because, after navigating the misinformation superhighway, I finally stumbled upon this — a video of Lightfoot performing two years ago in Hanford, California. “Here’s one that got written while I was driving from Flagstaff to Phoenix and I saw a sign that said Carefree,” he says in introducing the song.
At 71, Lightfoot’s voice is not quite as rich and mellifluous as it once was, but — given both he and the song are classics — that doesn’t matter. In other words:
I don’t care.
Posted by John Woestendiek December 15th, 2010 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: arizona, baggage, burdens, carefree, carefree highway, cave creek, connection, dog's country, dogscountry, facts, gordon lightfoot, happiness, highway, inspiration, internet, lightfoot, music, name, road, road songs, sign, song, tourism, town, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, worries