Miles to Go Before I Sleep: A Love Story in Motion
Move verb \ˈmüv\: to go or pass to another place or in a certain direction with a continuous motion; to start away from some point or place. Syn. go, walk, proceed, progress, advance, change, shift.
Moving has always been a part of my life. In elementary school, I would get in trouble for constantly fidgeting. In middle school, the P.E. teachers would let me run laps for the entire P.E. period instead of forcing me to play four square for an hour with the other kids. In high school, I’d take the bathroom pass and walk laps around the campus just to stay awake. In college, I’d get up before the sun and swim laps until it was time for class. In the professional world, I’ve been fired because I’ve gotten too bored being stuck at a desk. In jobs that have allowed me to be in constant motion, I have thrived. I fill my “time off” with hiking, writing (with my foot constantly tapping), or driving just for the fun of it. I’ve been reprimanded by countless teachers, by parents, and others, “stop moving.” “Stop tapping your pen.” “Fidgeting is an awful habit.” But honestly, stillness is not a state that occurs naturally to me.
I’m sure some people perceive my need to constantly move as a negative trait. I’m flighty or unfocused. To them, I’m sure I seem constantly bored – dissatisfied with the current moment. But really, I’m none of those things. In order to progress, one has to move forward. If I was going to get deep, I’d say I’m always on the move not because I hate where I am or the moment that I’m in in the present, but because I feel the need to progress – not to dwell.
For all of the reminders I’ve gotten from other humans to “stop moving,” I’ve received an equal amount of encouragement from my dogs to do exactly the opposite.
There are people who can sit at a desk every single day from 8 to 5 and not move. There are people who can go to dinner and not bounce their leg under the table. There are people who only get in their car to go from A to B and will never go down a dirt road just to see where it goes. But dogs are a different story. I’ve found that dogs love to move just as much as I do.
There’s never been a time that my dogs haven’t been stoked out of their minds to go for a ride in the car. Even if we don’t go anywhere cool, the journey is just as important (if not more important) than actually getting anywhere. They’re at home on the move. Chewy has never not been down to go hiking with me. He can’t read a trail map, but he’d follow me to the end of the trail and the end of the world without hesitation regardless. June Bug has never passed up the opportunity to splash in a creek or run through an empty corn field. Moving is progress, fun, and an essential need for them. And for me.
I can tell when my dogs and I have gone too long without moving. You can cut the restlessness in the air with a knife. Their brown eyes will start to dart around. They sigh loudly and impatiently. They sit like coiled springs, ready.
Then, we pack up and we get in the car and the second we start moving, we all but explode. I watch them run around me on some muddy trail and I see in their sweet, wild eyes the mirror of my inextricable need to move. We get high on the miles and moments we pass. I’ve never experienced another being on this earth that shares my physical need to move so much as dogs. And that’s one of a million reasons why I love them so much.
When I see my dogs turn around at a switchback to look at me, I think about our ancestors. I imagine myself as a human living in the world before office jobs and 401Ks where my primary goal is just to survive. I picture my dogs as early descendants of their wolf forefathers – barely meeting the definition of domesticated. In that world, we’d rely on each other. And we’d rely on moving. We’d have to cover miles every day to find food, water, and shelter. There would be no cell phones or mail to deliver a message so we’d have to run to communicate with others who didn’t live near us. We wouldn’t have mortgages or jobs chaining us down. We could and would move all the time.
That’s the reality of the world we come from. We are not so far removed from that and I think that’s something that people tend to forget. Wolf packs migrated hundreds of miles chasing herds of deer or elk to eat. And so too did humans. However, humans didn’t have the sharp teeth and claws that wolves had. We didn’t have the ability to run down a deer in an open field. We bested our prey by simply following and pushing herds to exhaustion. We fed ourselves by literally staying in constant motion. Humans, as a species, realized that wolves were doing what we were doing, but better, so we carefully domesticated them. We bred them over generations for many tasks like hunting, herding, protection, etc. All those specific tasks boil down to this – we handmade dogs to move alongside us.
In the modern world, it’s easy to forget all that. When your dog is curled up on the floor across the room while you struggle to get the next email sent, draft the next proposal, meet the next deadline, that primal instinct fades. The need to move along falls away. Modernity is stillness perfected.
But, like it or not, we come from those people that chased herds of animals across continents. We hunted alongside wolves. We moved in order to live. Our big houses and our important jobs won’t change where we come from.
In my life, I strive to stay moving. As an Army spouse, that was my reality – Florida to Kansas and back again. Now that Troy is no longer active duty, we could settle down, but we’re not. We’re buying a van and traveling the US with our dogs. We’ll be in constant motion for at least a month because we want to. This is something we’ve dreamed of, planned for, longed for, and struggled for. Even though there’s no way for us to communicate to our dogs, “hey pups, in a week we’re going to pack up a van and go bum around the desert for a month,” I know that they yearn for that freedom and that constant motion just as much as we do.
I’ve been asked by a couple people, “don’t you think it’s cruel to make two dogs live in a van with you?” And I can’t find the words to say to those people that I think it’s cruel to make them live anywhere more sedentary than that. Cruel would be keeping them locked in a house while we worked for 9 hours a day. Cruel would be only allowing them to touch the grass in our little half acre lot in some suburb. Cruel would be denying them their primal need to cover miles and miles of rocky, rough terrain, never letting them sleep under the stars, never letting them chase a rabbit in the brush, never letting them splash through a river in the pine flats, never letting them climb mountains, get dust in their fur, or breathe in air that is just as ancient and wild as they are.
And it would be cruel for me to deny myself those things as well.
I love dogs because dogs love to move just as much as I do.
When the time comes for my dogs to be still forever, I’ll scatter their ashes somewhere endless and wild – a desert canyon or a rocky shoreline or a rolling prairie. And when it comes my time to be still forever, I hope someone will do the same for me. So even in our stillness and our nothingness, we remain part of some corner of the world that’s still primal – a tiny piece that still stays in motion. Just like we did.
Happy third birthday to my soulmate, Chewy. Thank you for following me to the ends of the world. Here’s to many, many, many more years of moving.