Beta Culture: Earthman’s Journey – Part 4 of 8

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For eight years in my 20s and 30s, I was a draft horse teamster at a resort-town ranch, driving a two-up hitch of massive blond Belgians or coal-black Percherons, on a huge hay wagon for mid-summer meadow rides, or on big sleighs that would glide over the high-mountain snow on moonlit winter nights.

Molly was one of the ranch dogs. She was no particular color – a little black, a little brown, a little gray, all mixed up in a dark grizzle. Like most cowdog breeds, she was a sturdy little thing, weighing forty pounds at most and standing about 18 inches high.

She was no great spark in the personality field. Poor Molly was a bit of a slinker – one of those quiet, careful dogs who skirts around the edges of action, waiting to see if it’s safe to be noticed.

And it seemed that “notice,” for Molly, frequently came in the negative form.

Let me say right here that the people who owned the place took very good care of their animals. They were about as good as they could be to their livestock without actually inviting them into the house. Even that rule was suspended for their numerous bobcat-sized Siamese and Manx cats, and a succession of lucky dogs.

But businesses mean employees, and they were not always as enlightened. Molly probably heard “Molly, get out!” and “Molly, get away!” a thousand times. There may even have been a clod of dirt pegged her way at times.

I didn’t have a lot of patience for her myself. She’d seldom come out to meet me in the morning. Never wanted to go along on an adventure. Never wanted to come play, like some of the other dogs. Molly just wasn’t much fun.

But late one day, as I was coming up to the main ranch house from the bunkhouse, Molly somehow connected with me.

She happened to be lying across the trail as I came down it. She nervously thumped her tail on the ground at my approach, but I was in too much of a hurry to bother with her and I said “Look out, dog!” She instantly jumped up and skittered off to the side.

I glanced back at her, though, and saw her trudging slowly away with her whole body a message of dejection. I stopped, suddenly struck by the thought, “What must it be like for her?”

Left out. Never played with. Seldom petted.

Mixed in with all the random moments of your life that pass unremarked and unremembered, there are those sometimes-surprising few that stick with you for a long, long time. Through accident of time and life and human nature, these moments of happiness, or tragedy, or sudden understanding, become the axles around which the rest of your life turns.

Perspectives shift. Things change. Doors open.

Though I had a close friendship with my own canine buddy, Ranger, I was completely unimpressed with Molly. If I had ever cared to think about it, I might have known that there was something missing in her life. I might have said well, from her point of view, if there was such a thing, it would seem that she gets only occasional crumbs of affection. Tiny tag ends of attention, second thoughts, unconscious pats. Half-loves.

But I didn’t care enough to think of that. She was just another… well, dog.

Now, though, slow-motion flashbulbs went off in my head and freeze-framed me where I stood. For the first time ever, I wondered “What would it be like to be Molly?”