Into the Woods

A few months ago my dear friends gave me the best gift possible: my own set of keys to their cabin in the woods. To a country girl who adores the smell of pine trees and the sound of the wind through their boughs, this was a ticket to paradise. A place I could shed the stress of owning my own business, write about whatever moved me and spend time with Harley, surrounded by the beautiful Santa Catalina Mountains.

Part of the experience of going to the cabin is getting there and today was no exception. The Arizona sun is brutal six months out of the year, beating down with a ferocity that can only be compared to a convection oven. It’s oppressive and hostile. But with the changing of the season, the sun loses her angry edge. Her light falls softer now, wrapping you in a gentle blanket of subtle golds.

Today, the sun was swaddling Harley as he rode quietly in the back of the Subaru. The back seats were down as usual so he could stay close and be comfortable on his dog bed while we wound our way up the Mount Lemmon highway. Sometimes he sits in a sphinx position, watching the landscape change from saguaro cactus to open grass lands to ponderosa pines at 7,000 feet. As the sun warms his face, his eyes close softly and his head lowers, drifting toward sleep.

Not wanting to miss anything, he adjusts his long, lean body to watch out the front window. Sleep is a dogged pursuer. He puts his head on the shoulder of the passenger seat, resting his chin and jaw on the edge, his nose slanting upward. This is one of my favorite views of him. Completely relaxed, warm sun on his face, breathing softly. Occasionally, he’ll put his head on my seat and I’ll feel his whiskers gently tickle my cheek. If he’ll let me, I’ll massage the other side of his flews, soft fur with wiry whiskers.

I love going to the mountain and having him at my side makes it even more special. This is a mother-son trip. We’ll have lunch together on the picnic table on the deck. He’ll get my crusts and a few other bites. We’ll walk on the rutted roads, exploring paths we haven’t discovered yet. We’ll walk at his pace, stopping to sniff every pine cone and forage under every bush he finds interesting. He’ll stride along beside me, occasionally glancing up with an open-mouth grin to say, “This is great, Mom. Smells so good up here!” We’ll meander back to the cabin where we’ll get a drink of water and settle in for a late afternoon nap, a soothing finish after a rocky walk.

This weekend is as much about him as it is about me. Getting back to my foundation in part means coming back to him. He has become a warm, slobbering, snorting cornerstone for me. He keeps me grounded and focused on what’s really important: loving and living every moment as it comes. No future, no past, just right now. I’m that person who can get lost in her own head, overwhelmed by possibilities, expectations, successes, failures, managing and controlling as much as I can. It’s no wonder that my stress overload indicator is a strong desire to take a nap.

Harley is the one who stops me in my mental tracks, who draws me back to the present and helps me recognize how wonderful it really is. Watching him rest peacefully on his side, breathing deeply, front legs bent delicately at the wrist, back legs stretched up to his chest in a perfect pike position, I can’t imagine how I would be different without him, where I’d be right now. But, you know, I honestly don’t care. I’m here, I’m happy, I’m at peace with myself and I couldn’t—wouldn’t—ask for anything else.

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