The object only became visible after a wave of anxiety arose and then receded again. How strange, I thought, and picked one up. We were walking along a beach in Hansville, WA, a small town on the coast of the Olympic Peninsula. A group of us had gathered to learn about becoming leaders of the wilderness ministry at my church, and we’d been given the task of walking the beach in search of an object that had something to teach us.
My first steps were filled with a sense of focus—or more accurately—pressure, to complete the task at hand, as though I were responsible for conjuring up something, anything worth sharing. My vision began to narrow until I became aware of my shrinking perspective and stepped out again from the confines of my mind to sense again my physical body in this place.
It was then that I noticed the abundance and detail of what surrounded us: the growth of green emerging from the sand, the glimmering light bouncing off the water, and the presence of hundreds of pine cones. Immediately, the memory of my dog arose at the sight of the pine cones; she was crazy about those little things. I learned early on in our life together that there was no need for purchasing new toys as long as sticks and pine cones were around, and in the Northwest, they always are.
Six months ago, I re-homed my nearly two year old mini Aussie after finally accepting that while her faithful companionship taught me more than I’d bargained for, both she and I were made for more. She yearned to spend more of her days amidst the natural world, gathering sticks, pine cones, and other animals–even horses I’m told, whom she tries to herd (until they get too close, of course, at which time she emits her characteristically dramatic cry for help). And I, I needed more time to spend in the company of other human beings in pursuit of a life’s work that is more befitting of the way I’ve been made.
Perhaps we needed each other for a season to learn that it is ok—no, it is good—to depend on one another, to trust that though we both failed royally and regularly, she still trusted me, and I her… and she wouldn’t dare let another soul between us. She had a fierceness and a loyalty to her that was evident to everyone who knew her well. I’ll never forget the time I was trail running in Mazama; my roommate and I were camping out there over a holiday weekend, and there was a lovely hiking trail right across the road from where we were camping. My roommate decided to hike the trail while Kona and I ran it. On our way back down, we passed my roommate and for the several minutes that followed, my dog refused to continue on. She was literally digging her heels in, as though we could not possibly go on without my roommate. True to her nature, she fought to keep her pack together.
Even as I recall this story, I can feel my chest and throat tighten with that confounding sense of sadness and gladness for such a powerful experience of love. And, it is this feeling that emerged at the sight of the pine cones that littered the beach in Hansville that day, as if to say: will you dare to believe that though your loyal little companion is no longer with you wherever you go, still, the presence of love and loyalty is available to you wherever you go? Will you dare to believe that there is someone who longs with such unity of purpose and desire to stay close to you, no matter the cost? And will you, too, dare to devote yourself to remain close to love and longing in return, no matter the cost?