I climb into the beat up old Honda Civic. The whole car looks as it should after enduring the teenage years and college years of a group of lively, exuberant girls. The back seat is draped with an old beige quilt to cover the holes made by use and rouge cigarette cherries and the ceiling has remnants of nail polish and small glow-in-the-dark star stickers. Her windows in the back all have semi-translucent smears across the bottom half that I have to straight up to be able to see past.
We have been lucky enough for a break in the winter weather to have a day or two of sun. Its shining through the back window, warming my back and my head. I turn my face to the sun and breathe the fresh air. I exhale deeply, pushing out the stale apartment air to make room for spring. I can smell the hint of fresh blooms on the dogwood tree.
The ancient engine reluctantly charges to life, giving a few clicks before the final dedication to life. The passenger door swings open wide and Ben climbs in. He turns and smiles at me, then leans to her to kiss her cheek. She smiles, returns his kiss, and coaxes the Civic into reverse. Within moments we are gliding easily down highway, wind tugging and pulling at us.
Our hiking spot is on the outskirts of the city in a preserve. Its a typical “save the environment” kind of park: gravel paths, exorbitant amounts vegetation (properly labeled, of course), and minimal animal life. They keep the ponds stocked, the piers in good repair, and citizens feeling as if they are truly experiencing what nature has to offer.
The parking lot is empty this late in the afternoon. Most people have caught their fish, worn out their children, and drove home to tell their neighbors of their adventures in the great, wide outdoors. We park close to an overgrown path and pile out of the car. I stretch from the long car ride and walk ahead of the happy couple, who is currently busy entwining limbs and exchanging glances.
We usually try to stay away from the hordes of people who frequent this park. Partially because it becomes overpopulated at important junctures and no one love crying children more than the two canoodling behind me. Put a crying baby within fifty feet of these two and they instantly tense up and run like deer who realize those headlights are getting closer.
Almost a mile down the winding path, I could smell it. It had the faint scent of rain and earth mixing into a joyous combination. I put my nose to the ground and began following the tendril of scent. The happy couple were talking animatedly with smiles on their faces, paying no attention to what was happening ahead of them. I quickened my pace, lowered my tail, and trotted toward the intoxicating smell.
It was hidden behind some brush and down a small hill. I carefully maneuvered down the hill until my front paws found their way into the warm putty-like earth. I bent to breathe in the earthy smells. My aching paws were enveloped by sun-warmed mud, the pain being pulled out by its natural healing properties.
When my paws were completely submerged, my bad hip starting squealing for attention. I lowered it into the puddle. Unfortunately, mud not only heals the aches of an old body but it also is one of the most slippery substances on Earth. When I rose up out of bath nature had decided that I so desperately needed, I had mud caked in my nostrils and I could feel its grit in my mouth and on my teeth.
Since I already knew I was covered, I allowed myself a liberty that I had not enjoyed since the days of my puppyhood on the farm. I rolled and jumped in the sweet smelling mud. In a fit of pure joy, my tongue hung from my mouth and I yelled happily for my humans to come and join me.
When they finally came to join me in my frolicking, their faces no longer seemed entranced with each other. They were both focused on me. I stopped jumping and rolling and sat quietly in the middle of my own nirvana. I could tell by the way her mouth formed a straight line, she was not nearly as happy as I had expected her to be.
They guided me by my collar the entire way back to where the car was parked, then proceeded to attack me with a green tube spouting ice cold water. The joy and relaxation I had found in that small slice of happiness was immediately washed away by my fear of dying of the cold. They must have seen how much I was shivering, and gave me sun-warmed towels that smelled like human sweat and old McDonald’s to dry with.
Once we returned home, I curled into my bed and drifted to sleep. In my dreams, I met that mud puddle again and was able to run and play without fear of hoses spurting cold water. I ran hard and yelled loudly in my own piece of heaven.