My dog, Bender, who will be 10 years-old this year, has been training me for his whole life how to play The Rock Game. On the surface, The Rock Game looks like a game of fetch, only there's a labrador-maw-sized rock to be tossed around instead of a ball. But The Rock Game is not what you think.
So far, in my 10 years of training, I've determined that the flow of the rock game is basically this:
Step 1) Trailwork, ideally benching trail. I'm working my ass off with a rogue hoe, and Bender vanishes only to...
Step 2) Bender arrives back with a rock. Any kind of rock will do, quartz, granite, sandstone, whatever - so long as he can barely manage to pick it up. There's a fine balance here between a rock that is big enough to play the game and one that is too big for him to lug up the hill from the creek to where I'm working.
Step 3) This is where it gets tricky. For years I assumed the object of the game was "fetch" where I'd pick it up, throw it, and he'd chase it down and return it. But he's given me enough hard looks now after watching me chuck it into the woods again, for me to have learned that's not it. And he's shown me...many times, and I've finally realized that the goal of the rock game is to kick it around, toss it some (but not too far), stress out about the fact that he's about to lose it, and to eventually lose it in the berm I'm building. Where fetch is a game with a treasured object - a ball, a stick, a toy - where you always manage to retrieve said object, the rock game is just that, a rock, and the eventual, unavoidable conclusion of the game is to lose it.
This is hard for me to understand.
history of which I've written about several times in these here pages. In a physical sense, the Subaru was a complete piece of shit. It leaked oil. Needed new tires. Didn't run very well. Sometimes didn't run at all. It was well past time for it to go, and I knew that, and when I saw that the KBB value for the car, even if it were in good condition (which it was not) was $650, I realized it was now or never. This is how people end up with piece of shit cars parked in their yard that won't start. But in her prime, she was a hell of a car - a road-tripping, bike-hauling, cross-country party on wheels. She'd seen both the pacific and the atlantic, had parked at trailheads from Arizona to New Hampshire and back again. That car was the last real physical thing I had left from my seven years in Colorado as a 20-something bike bum, where the sum of my responsibility on any given day was to simply go to work and ride my bike. To me, she was a symbol of a life I used to have, and despite her physical state of disrepair (and my own, for that matter) that car was like a part of me.
Full disclosure: I cried like a fucking baby. I got $1,000 for it, which is murder if you ask me, maybe for both of us. As a bizarre frame of reference about the nature of monetary value, it would have taken greater than FOUR of such Subarus, which could still travel at 85 miles/hour if you needed it to, to equal ONE of my race bikes. Chew on that rock, whydon'tcha.
There are so many things in your life, as you start to push 40 years, that are on their way out. Those pets you got right after college, the ones that taught you that you could actually love something more than yourself. The car you brought your kids home in. The existence of a thing we used to call "front derailleur." Democracy. If the things you love are not already gone, most of them have at least packed a bag, gotten their affairs in order.
Bender naps in the yard, the sunshine feels pretty good on his old bones, I can tell, but otherwise he seems unaware of the passage of time. Around lunchtime, he'll sit right outside of my window here where he can keep an eye on me to see if I'm going to take a break, pick up a hoe, and head for the trail to try to beat whatever this is out of me. We play The Rock Game pretty much every time now, his best and only way to help me understand, but still I don't get it. We keep losing the rocks. They're in the trails around here. The loss of each one is enormously stressful for him, as evidenced by the grey hairs along his chin and around his eyes. He has to nap for 3 hours when we get back. And still, he keeps wrestling them out of the creek, dumping them in the dirt, and looking up at me with his tail wagging like a puppy, "see. See! SEE!"
I still don't really see, but he hasn't stopped trying and so neither have I, as evidenced by all of these trails around here with stray rocks packed into the berms at weird angles that don't make any sense. Not everything makes sense.
My hope is that their strength will help them hold together, that what doesn't trip us or kill us now will one day help to hold us up, up, up.