What Maisie Knows

It was her eyes that first pulled me in, Maisie’s big, searching, liquid gold, Egyptian princess, smoky, kohl-lined eyes. She looked up at me, looked straight into my broken heart and held on tight, didn’t let go. She still hasn’t. She has a fantastic, cascading tail; she has disheveled, raggedy ears that look like an old mop but feel like the world’s most exquisite silk; she has the sassiest and most determined little walk I’ve ever seen, her hips swinging back and forth, tail and ears moving in time with her paws. But it’s her eyes that melt away the hard edges of my life, it’s her eyes that remind me of how she entered our lives, because it was her eyes that first pulled me in.

And it was her eyes that gave us her name. When my husband first peered into those eyes at the shelter, he wondered aloud what her eyes knew. He too could see that there was some wisdom we would never understand, some mystery behind the caramel color. There is a Henry James novel, one I would like to claim, as part of an educated and erudite persona, I’ve read. But honesty forbids that and so I must admit that it was the movie of the same name, a modern adaptation of the novel and absolutely brilliant film in its own right, What Maisie Knew, that was the inspiration for her name.

The day we brought her home.

What, indeed, does Maisie know? She is a dog and as such is limited in her ability to communicate with us humans, or rather more accurately, we are limited in our ability to understand her. She cannot tell us what her life was like before she came to be our little personal ray of sunshine, she cannot tell us how it came to be that she was running wild when she was picked up by the police, she cannot tell us whether she misses Jerry (her partner-in-crime at the time of the police pickup) or whether we are enough of a family for her.

But it is endlessly fascinating to me to watch her watch the world, to watch her and to wonder, what does Maisie see, what does Maisie know. My husband used to joke when we first brought her home that she was watching our every move, all the while silently noting, “so that’s how they open that white box and that’s where they keep the good food,” all the while plotting how she was going to take over the house whenever we were gone.

Nowhere is her watchfulness more evident than when we are on the road. Henry, my beloved Henry, was also a well-traveled dog, our band’s first canine roadie. But Henry was content to sleep stretched out in the back, his chin resting on the cooler or an arm rest. He always came alive when we got off the road, came especially alive when we hit the gravel, but mostly he was happy to just sleep. We called our van his kennel-on-wheels.

But Maisie. Maisie has to take it all in, with a gaze that is equal in its intensity and its silent observing. She doesn’t rest her chin on the armrest, she props herself up with her front paws on the armrest, stretching herself as tall as she possibly can to take in as much as she possibly can. And she watches and watches and watches. She watches endlessly undulating fields of corn fly by. She watches flat, dry, and dusty ranch lands, and verdant, rolling foothills; she watches heavily forested ancient mountains, trees so thick you’d swear you could walk on top of them, and roiling rapids of mountain rivers, water that was snowpack just minutes before.

Maisie watching as we cross into Idaho, on a rainy May afternoon.

Maisie has traveled with us, in the 18 months we’ve had her, to 27 states. She has been on both the east and west coasts. She’s hiked the northern Appalachians of Vermont and the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, the Sierra Nevada Range of California and the Front Range of Colorado, the Pacific Coast Mountains of Oregon and the Ozarks of southern Missouri. She has dipped her paws in the Pacific Ocean and though she has yet to see the Atlantic, she has stood in the mountain streams that make their way to that mighty ocean and that’s pretty damn close.

Maisie being completely dwarfed by the amazing redwoods in northern California.

It’s not just in the car that she watches, though. She watches every where she goes. If we stop and sit somewhere, she doesn’t lie at my feet and rest like Henry did or like I’ve seen other dogs do, content just to be with her people; instead she sits perfectly upright, ears pitched forward, eyes taking it all in, just in case.

Maisie watching the kayakers play in the Yampa River from the hotel balcony in Steamboat Springs.

When we walk, it is always with a sense of purpose, a purpose that typically involves her eyes constantly scanning the horizon from a foot above the ground, ever alert and watchful, lest a squirrel or chipmunk escape her notice. It charms me to watch her, even while it frustrates me as I continue to try to train her, quietly repeating “watch me, watch me,” a treat waiting in my outstretched hand, until she finally turns and points that same laser-quality focus on me.

Maisie taking in the high mountain wildflowers above Jackson, Wyoming.

I am a writer and a songwriter. My husband is a songwriter, too, whose modus operandi is “go somewhere quiet and listen.” He has embraced that concept wholeheartedly and as a result, he is a prolific songwriter, writing lyrics that are overflowing in rich metaphor with meanings that are veiled in evocative mystery. I have the feeling that if Maisie could write, she would, in spite of her propensity for vocalizing, have the same motto.

Maisie and Dennis taking in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean in northern California.

I, on the other hand, have to practically beat my songs and my words into submission, or pull them out with winches and pulleys, like trying to move a truck sunk deep in the mud. And it is probably because I don’t take enough time to go somewhere quiet and listen like my husband, watch with quiet intention like my dog. I allow too much flotsam and jetsam to float around my little boat, let too much of other people’s words and thoughts creep into my airspace. I am plagued by too much sorrow and regret around my own failings and shortcomings, and I allow too many green clouds, brought on by everyone else’s successes, to darken my horizon.

We were on the road a long time, 44 days for anyone counting. That was a long time to watch Maisie watch the world. Towards the end of our trip, when we were in Seattle, we somehow thought it would be a good idea to take a chunk of our tour earnings and buy a 1987 Ford F250 diesel 4×4 with a 1965 Alaskan camper sitting in its bed. We are incurable romantics and we fell in love with both the truck and the camper and couldn’t, apparently, help ourselves, regardless of whether this was a smart vehicle for us to own.

The “new” truck and camper. Yes, all three of us slept in there, and yes, it was cozy.

Buying the camper meant making the nearly 2000 mile journey in our own two-vehicle caravan, a caravan that wound its way through the empty plains of eastern Washington into the mountains of the Idaho panhandle, through the peaks and valleys of Montana and Wyoming, and back into the plains of South Dakota. I insisted that Maisie accompany me, and Maisie insisted that she ride shotgun in the van. I resisted at first, not being terribly comfortable with her in the front seat, but it’s a sparsely travelled drive and we were taking our sweet time, what with that camper in the back of our new old truck, and so I relented.

Which means I got to watch her watch even more. She did eventually settle in, sleeping for good stretches of the trip, curled up in a tiny ball on the big bucket seat next to me. When she needed something from me — a pee break or a treat — she sat and stared at me. Silent except for her eyes nearly boring a hole in me until I noticed her and attended to her needs. Sometimes she even rested her chin on the armrest or the cooler, giving my heart a bittersweet pang at the memory of road trips with Henry.

I missed my husband, even though I could see him in my rearview mirror, even though we stopped a lot (being uncertain as to whether all of the water had been removed from truck’s front gas tank — per the seller — and thus necessitating frequent stops to fill the smaller rear tank). It’s a lot of miles to cover without sharing the driving duties. But at the same time, I cherished the time alone, luxuriated in the time to take in the country around me in silence, without having to talk to anyone, getting to watch and observe and store quietly in my heart all that I was seeing.

Turning the corner onto our street after so much time away saw me breathe a deep sigh of relief. Maisie was beside herself when she saw where we were, jumping from the passenger seat to my lap and back again, busting at the seams to get out of the car and home. But the sweet relief I felt quickly gave way to anxiety and stress around facing the facts of our real life. Being on the road isn’t for the faint of heart, but in many ways, it’s so much simpler and it becomes so easy to pretend away all of the clutter, physical and other, that we allow into our lives.

We’ve been back just under a month now, and I am finally settling in to life without four wheels under me. I’ve taken Maisie’s advice and I’m spending more time watching and observing, in the form of long walks with her, regular meditation, and a lot more time off the computer. I’m happier when I do these things, when I take the time to nurture my fundamentally introverted (in spite of outward appearances) nature. I’m happier when I observe and then put my observations into words, into songs or poetry or ramblings on my blog.

Maisie gazing out over Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

Really, I don’t know why Maisie is so intent on watching the world. I would love for just one day to be inside her mind, to know what she is thinking while she is absorbing the world around her through her eyes. But watching her watch the world is yet one more beautiful reminder for me on how to be more present, how to once again access our Buddha nature. And so I will leave you with the words of the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, whose wisdom Maisie instinctually embodies: “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”

* * * * *

So, dear readers, how do you see the world as you travel through it? How does the way you see the world influence the way you view the world? And do your animal companions have an impact on the way in which you walk through the world? I always love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment below!

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4 Replies to “What Maisie Knows”

    1. Thank you, Brenda! She indeed is a wonderfully cooperative subject, that’s for sure. Now if she would only be equally cooperative on the leash!

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  1. I appreciate your dog-love reflections. If you and Maisie would enjoy an off leash ramble, you are welcome at the farm. Likely River and Maya would share their favorite hunting spots.

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    1. Just now seeing this, John! Thank you for the invite. I think a romp at the farm is a fantastic idea…she needs more social time with other dogs!

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