It is late in the evening as I type these words. I stepped outside a moment ago and heard a symphony of nighttime sounds in the forest. Crickets galore, and frogs, and various creatures moving around in the woods. Inside the cabin the dehumidifier drones on, erasing all the sounds of nature. Upstairs Marlene is in bed reading a book. A few feet away Dudley, our seven-month-old basset hound, sleeps in his cage.
The last few days I have been thinking about Dudley a lot because he follows me wherever I go. If I get up to walk to the kitchen, he pads along behind me, his long, droopy ears flopping from side to side, his tail inscribing circles in the air. Two days ago Dudley followed me into the bedroom next to the kitchen. I had to find something and didn't even notice he was with me until I saw that he had stretched out on the slate tile floor, looking at his reflection in the mirror. The moment I started to leave, he got up and followed me.
In many ways he is the perfect Mississippi dog because during the hot, muggy afternoons, he finds a place to flop down on the gravel driveway, in the shade next to the car. He is a classic basset hound, with a long nose, loose skin, forlorn eyes, droopy ears, short legs, a torso just a few inches off the ground, and a long tail that he wags whenever he sees me. The guidebook says that bassets are social dogs. They love being around people and they enjoy the company of other dogs. It also says they are stubborn, independent, with an exquisite sense of smell, and you have to train them with food because they have an insatiable appetite. The good news is, bassets only shed during one season of the year, from January to December. It seems like shedding season hit around here about a month ago. We've got dog hair everywhere, but we don't mind. When we got Dudley on Christmas Eve, he was so tiny he could fit in my hand. In the early days, we spent a lot of time playing with him on the couch. Now that he is bigger, he will come over and start barking (loudly) until we let him up on the couch. He rests his rump on my legs and spreads himself across Marlene's lap, with his long face looking up at her.
He loves to be wherever we are. The other day he flopped in front of the kitchen door, knowing that we would have to step over him to go outside. If he hears keys jingle, he runs to the door because he knows we're going to leave and he wants to go with us. Yesterday Dudley followed me out on the deck. When I sat down, he curled up at my feet. A few seconds later, I jumped up and went inside. He looked at me reproachfully, as if to say, "Why did you leave so quickly?" And so it goes during the day. We get him up, take him outside where he does his business, he plays outside for a while, then he comes back inside and lays down. He follows us from room to room, and sometimes he pesters me by nipping at my shoelaces. He takes a nap in the afternoon, we play with him in the evening, and he goes to bed early. It's a dog's life.
As I pondered my fine young basset hound, I thought about how much he wants to be with us. This afternoon we had to go into town for an hour or two. That meant putting Dudley in the dog run, which he doesn't particularly like. But if I walk into the dog run myself, all the way to the end, and call out, "Dudley, come here. You're a good boy. You're Daddy's boy," he will start coming. Today he sat for a second, and then he started walking very slowly toward the dog run. He's a smart boy, and he knew we were going to leave him, but he wanted to be where I was so he came inside the dog run anyway. That's obedience, but it's also love and trust.
I should be clear and say that he doesn't always instantly obey. Who does? He has a mind of his own, and sometimes he just doesn't want to come when we call him. Yesterday Marlene and I walked with Dudley along the half-mile gravel road to the cattle gate that opens to the country road. When we got to the gate, despite my admonitions, he ran ahead, past the gate, onto the grass next to the road, romping and sniffing and having a fine old time. Meanwhile I was calling and chasing after him. He is a boy, after all, and he has to explore new things. When I caught him, he looked at me for a moment and then ran back to the gravel road. And together the three of us walked back to the cabin. To be sure, he walked with us and behind us and ahead of us, but always in the general vicinity.
This thought has come into my head over and over again. He wants to be with us, and nothing makes him happier than to be where we are--kitchen, dining room, bedroom--it doesn't matter. I don't think we ever really taught him that. I'm not sure we could teach him that. It seems to be in his nature to want to be with us. And even when he gets stubborn or rebellious, he still desires our presence. He trusts me enough to follow me into the dog run, knowing that he will soon be left alone.
A popular worship chorus says, "I just want to be where you are, dwelling daily in your presence." It ends with these words: "I just want to be (I just want to be), I just want to be (I wanna be) with You." Though the sentiment is very biblical (it could be found in many of the psalms), I never could connect with it very well. Sometimes my life seems more like this old refrain, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love."
And then I thought about Dudley. St. Dudley. No one has to tell him, "Spend time with your master." He does it because he wants to. He honors me not simply by being in my presence, but by being so eager, day after day, to see me. Tomorrow when he and I and Marlene go for a walk, I already know he'll be jumping around with anticipation, waiting for me to come out. Who wouldn't love a dog like that?