The Longest Track
The buzzer sounded much earlier than most mornings. In fact, it wasn’t even morning. I knew it was late, late night. Late enough it was almost early, early morning, but not quite. I flicked an ear as the buzzer continued to sound, but long ago I learned She never got up the first time it went off, usually not even the second. Today was no different. I eased back into sleep, but had no time to dream before the buzzer went off a second time, and to my surprise She got up.
Right away I could tell She wasn’t feeling her best. I always know how She feels- the colors tell me. Sight, taste, smell and touch- the colors are always there. Today they felt sticky, tasted a bit stale, swirled sluggishly, and looked bile yellow. Blech. However, She moved with a determination she didn’t seem to feel, and went about her morning routine. I went about my morning routine as well, which consists of following Her around, having a nap in the toilet room while she stands under the water spray, and then getting fed. Except, what is this? She prepared the food, but then carried it out to the car. Hmmm…. She warmed some hotdogs up in the white humming box. I thought the future looked grim with the lack of morning food, but the smell of the hotdogs promises otherwise.
Her colors stayed the same as She loaded us all up into the car. Eldest rode up front in her Seat of Specialness, while Longtail and I rode in our separate boxes. Once I rode up front in the Seat of Honor. It was great! Seeing the world rush by at speeds faster than I could ever run, taking in delicate sips of heavily scented air through the cracked open window, and finally, when the excited caused me to retreat into sleep, curling up on the soft cushion, with Her hand resting on my head. True bliss. Once Longtail rode on the Seat of Comfort, but that didn’t end so well for anyone. But what were we saying? The car- yes. It was a bit later now, or earlier, depending on if it was morning yet or not. I decided it was, just barely.
After a while I could tell by the motion of the car that we were on the wide, smooth road that goes fast. We stayed on it for a while. Even though I couldn’t see Her, I could taste that her colors were no more pleasant. If anything, they were getting worse. Now She tasted like that slimy, several day old potato peel I found that had been stinking the house up. It had no taste of its own, except the taste of corruption. Gag. Her colors didn’t smell much better either.
We rode in silence, Her with Her thoughts, and me wondering when I’d get breakfast. I could smell the hotdogs laughing at me.
Finally, the sky began to lighten. The air coming in the cracked open back window told me the sun hadn’t started to warm the day yet, but we were squarely in Morning. A little bit after that, the air tasted like life, and the car brightened suddenly. The sun had risen. Everytime I taste the sun, I feel joy. It is life and happiness and food. She didn’t seem to share my joy. I tasted decaying citrus and felt like ants were crawling all over me. If this continued, I was going to start feeling ill myself.
I must have dozed off (that happens with surprising accuracy) because next thing I knew the car had stopped, the sun was bright, and I smelled dirt. A lot of dirt. I began to have an idea of what kind of day this was shaping up to be.
The door slid open, and I got my first good look at Her in the bright morning light. Her colors were dull green, swirling with some stinky mud brown; swirling one way, then rotating the other way. It made me sick just to look at. I averted my eyes, and thought hard about not smelling or tasting her. If we were here for what I thought we were here for, what is the problem?
She went to the back and got out the long red tracking line. I knew it! She opened up Longtail’s box, put on her working collar, and spoke with what I could smell was false cheeriness. I whined and pawed at my box door, but She ignored me and gave Longtail a pat. A bit later She came back, gave Longtail a bunch of MY hotdogs, fed her breakfast, and put her back in her box. Was it my turn now? Nope- next she got out Eldest. Eldest was gone quite some time- what could be taking them so long? I couldn’t see anything from my box. I briefly considered attempting to chew my way out, but from past experience I knew that would Displease Her. I settled in to wait, contenting myself with chewing on one of my blankies.
Finally She and Eldest came back, and the hotdogs and breakfast were repeated. My turn, my turn, my turn! I pawed at my box door some more. But hey, what’s this? Her colors had lightened to grass green, the brown was almost gone, and they had settled into a calmish drifting motion. My tongue confirmed that She now tasted like a slightly stale kibble I dug out from under the stove once. Much tastier than that potato peel. I still don’t know what She is all worked up about. Here we are, on a beautiful sunny morning, getting ready to Track! This is a cause for spinning in a circle, ending in a play bow, giving a little woof, and taking off with your tail tucked before anyone can catch you. Not cause for acting like you just ate a tasty block of blue food found behind the shed, and She pounces on you, shoves something horrible down your throat until you puke your guts out, and are whisked off to the Healers and left there all night. Nope, if Tracking was like that, I’d refuse to come out of my box. But that is what She is acting like. I decide sometimes there is no understanding Her and resolve to leave it at that and try to not let it bother me.
Much to my dismay, She closes the doors and the car starts up. No turn for me? But it is only a short drive before we pull over and this time I get the working collar! I leap out of the car with a mighty bound, almost knocking her over. My nose goes up and I drink in the warming air. Even though her colors are so agitated I expect them to boil over at any second- the brown is back and drowning the green- She is still in enough command of Herself to order me back into the car and make me wait to be properly released. I hate to wait. I’m ready now. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now? Yes!
I take a look at the wide expanse of dirt. It is about half dirt and half low, broadleaf weeds, giving the entire area a patchy look. I see it there- my track. It looks very appetizing. It is bright, sky blue. I can tell I would like the person who left it behind. I open my mouth to pant and it tastes as good as it looks; Like rolling in wet grass after a romp on the training field with Bushy. I can’t wait to actually get a whiff of it. I know the weeds will help hold the scent, so there should be plenty left for me to smell.
She and I go together to do the pre-track ritual. It seems kind of pointless to me. When we Track on our own, we never have to do this. Maybe it is because when we are alone there is no one to do it with? That seems like a complicated thought and I banish it. Hey- I know that guy! But I banish that thought as well- we are approaching The Track. The closer we get, the more the real world fades, and all that exists is The Track. I’m dimly aware that She is holding me back as I attempt to drag her forward. She won’t let my head down, but I see the bendy stick-with-hat getting closer and I know any second it will happen.
Now. The tension on the line is gone. My head drops and my head fills with amazing sights, tastes, and smells. The Track stretches before me, an unbroken blue line. But eyes are so useless for this. Yes, the scent gives off the blue haze, thicker at the bottom, pale and see through as it evaporates the further it gets from the ground. But if a breeze should appear, or if we come to some bushes, I won’t be as sure of the direction. Plus, looking at a scent when you can smell it instead is the difference between biting a toy and biting something alive. It just doesn’t compare, and if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it any better.
The scent of the track fills my nose, settles on my tongue, and explodes in my brain. The tensions about what is bothering Her are forgotten, and it is as if a hand is stroking my head slowing, applying just the right pressure; this is good, this is what I am here for; follow this scent, and all will be well. And so I do.
I don’t hear the footsteps behind me, but the tension on the line tells me She is following. The scent clings to the weeds, but is dryer in the dirt. It pools in the divots of the soil, and flees before the rising sun where directly exposed to the full glory of Life. The blue haze shimmers in front of my eyes as I walk directly into the scent. I hear a long intake of breath and gentle release from Her, and my concentration wavers for just a moment. I caught a whiff of Her colors above the Scent. Her colors have cooled and I don’t have to see them to know they are a gentle yellow, streaked with the rosy white of happiness. So She does like Tracking after all. You wouldn’t have known from the way she was feeling this morning.
I continue on at my leisurely Tracking pace. I Track and Track and Track. The song in my head tells me this is good, this is what I am here for. I continue on. Eventually I become aware of a thought forming that is telling me this is the longest I have ever tracked in a straight line. A little boring perhaps, but a Track is a Track and any Track is a good Track for me. I continue on. Suddenly, under my nose appears a square of dead animal hide. The blue scent is rising from it like a smoke signal. After Tracking so long in a straight line I am temporarily befuddled. I paw at it. Suddenly, I remember my Training and lie down. The tension is released on my line and She approaches. I get The Pet, and Pleasing Words. Her colors smell like a new marrow bone, and within the yellow are bursts of exciting red. I taste rabbit droppings and feel fresh mud between my toe. She tells me to Track On, which I gladly oblige.
Soon afterwards I come to a rather large dirt mound. Up I go, no hesitation. The scent is rolling down the mound towards me, but She and I have millions of paces on all kinds of terrain under our line, I’m not fooled. Up I go, through the blue haze. At the top of the mound, the Track turns to the left. Now the scent is rolling down the mound. It is actually pretty, forming little waves and it coasts down. Again, I’m not fooled, I smell a stronger Scent, originating from a footstep, on the top of the next mound. I step over the gully to the next mound. And again, the Scent is rolling down the mound, now actually rolling down both sides, but again, a stronger Scent is again coming from the top of the next mound. I step again.
The line starts to move a bit erratically and I infer from her colors (a worried, jagged grey) that She is having some trouble navigating the terrain. But I don’t falter. Once we were tracking through a field littered with gopher holes and she fell in one and dropped the line. I kept going (snickering just a little- so foolish and unsteady to walk around on 2 legs like some ungainly bird) and she eventually caught up and picked up the dragging line. She said the Encouraging Words, so I learned to keep going is to be Correct. Besides, the Truth is I don’t want to stop. The Scent is still in my brain, wrapping tentacles around each lobe and crevice, telling me this is good, telling me not to stop. So I don’t. I step over several more gullies on top of the mounds. I loose count, but do note that the line continues to flop and grow taunt and more slack. She’ll be ok back there. Nothing to worry about. It isn’t too much longer until on the top of one mound, the track turns right, and I follow it off the mound and back into the flat dirt and low, ground hugging weeds.
The blue haze is getting a bit faint. The warming sun is drying it out. That is why I don’t trust my eyes. The haze will leave before the smell does. Still, it is pretty to look at while it lasts. I realize I am thirsty. Surly this is the longest I’ve ever Tracked. And now, here is what must be the last Found. It is like the floor coving at home. I lay down, and once again She approaches. Again with the Pet and Words, and she turns to exchange sounds with the other people who were following us. I’m a bit ashamed to say I thought we were done and sat up smartly. When I realize I wasn’t asked to, I sink slowly back down and hide my embarrassment with some panting.
This is new- She is giving me water in a little bowl right here on the Track. Usually I have to wait until we get back to the car. I wonder, does this mean there is more Tracking? I’m ready, but it is getting hotter, the water wasn’t quite enough, and I am now sure this the Longest Track.
Most humans aren’t so good at sharing their Thoughts. The colors they give off are the best they can do, and even then I suspect those are subconscious thoughts. However, every so often they will have a thought so strong that anyone nearby can’t help but hear it. Just now one came shooting out of her like me released for the long bite (ie- fast and powerful, not that I’m bragging.) It said Not Done Yet, But I Know You Can Do It. I wag my tail. It beats a dusty tattoo on the ground. I know I can do it, too. But it is nice to know She agrees.
She gives the command, and off we go. At this point I can’t recall every turn we made and everything I Found. I know I overshot a corner, or maybe two. I don’t claim to be perfect. At some point we crossed other Tracks. They were a bit stronger, the Oak Brown haze hadn’t dissipated as much, but when you are following Blue, you don’t get distracted by Oak Brown. Unless maybe you do. Things happen. This time Things Did Not Happen and the other Tracks did not fool me. My nose didn’t even twitch to the side. But later, something Did Happen. I’m not sure what, but I found myself following a scent that was there, then it wasn’t. I followed it back the other way, just a few steps off the side of the blue each time. Then I realized it wasn’t blue. What was I thinking? I hurried back to where I thought I left the blue, and yes, there it was. The blue grabbed my nose like a fish on a hook and pulled me back down the correct Track.
We continued on, She and I. Now I was quite thirty, and my breathing was a little forced. Involuntarily, my mouth opened. I couldn’t help it, I was getting hot and had to cool off a bit. The scent was gripped in my brain just as strongly. I was still on Track, but my nose was creeping up. I willed it go to back down, but with the slight pant I was giving, it stayed up. How much longer was the Track? I had several reserves left, but I knew I couldn’t keep this up for hours. But I had no thought of quitting. When the Scent is clinging to my brain, filling my nose, my eyes, and feeling like a blanket on my skin, I cannot quit.
I waded into some pretty purple flowers. They came up to about my elbow. The Scent clung to them like ticks on a deer; it was all over me. Above my head, below my nose, and assaulting me from the sides. I came out of the clump of flowers, and was suddenly in the barren dirt again. The Scent fled like birds before a wildfire. Speaking of fire, is it dry out here, or what? I spotted another clump of flowers ahead and prepared myself for anther deluge of Scent. But before I reached them, another Found sprung up between my feet and I dropped straight down, thankful for the rest.
As She approached, I took the opportunity for a real Pant. I could feel my tongue curling in on itself. Yikes. I was hotter than I thought. Not dangerously, sickly hot. No. But hotter than I am used to getting on a Track. I took the Pet and Words. I put my nose down and was ready to Track On when instead I realized She was giving me the Finished words. I sat up and attempted to heel attentively to the group of people, who were all giving off the same satisfied cobalt, spiked with starbursts of gold. It is always fun to see humans all feeling the same way. They tasted like table scraps. Made my mouth water just tasting their happiness and relief.
But what really made it worthwhile was when I got a good look at Her. The sickness of the morning dull greens and browns were completely replaced with a radiant glow of purest, softest gold. It shimmered and danced and expanded out from her like the rays of the sun. She smelt like mountain pine trees in a cool, crisp summer morning, and she tasted like Herself. Pure Heaven.
I love to Track, and I’d do it for the feeling it gives me that this is good, this is right, keep going. But when it gets tough, and when it gets hot, and when I’d rather be curled up on a blankie, it is the thought of her radiant glow of happiness and her smell of Heaven that keeps me trying. I Track for myself, but I Live for Her.
The Longest Track was done. The Scent was still in my nose, but the blue line was erased, released into the air, floating on the thermals that only the birds play in. I walked panting at Her side. I had a drink of cool, fresh water while the humans talked. It eased my parched throat and smelt like clouds. I heard lots of mentions of Eeff Aych, but that is one of those incomprehensible things humans discuss at great length that means nothing to me. Sort of like the National Debt or Fissile Material. Who knows why humans find any of that important? As I hopped into my box and accepted my hotdogs, all I knew as I drifted off to sleep was I found all the Founds, followed the Longest Track to the End, and She was glowing with all the colors and smells of Happiness. I slept peacefully, dreaming only of Her.
Dottie earned her FH and Pie and Fancy earned their TR2s last weekend. The FH is aged 3 hrs and is like a TDX in that is has a change of terrain and is really long. The TR2 are aged 30 minuets and are longer TR1 tracks.