Nala sprints ahead of me on the Wildwood Trail, floppy ears and tongue falling out of her mouth.
She rounds a corner and for a second I lose sight of her. She senses this and turns around, stopping quick once we make eye contact. Her ears point to the sky, she licks her nose, and runs back towards me, colliding with my shins. After a quick face lick and a pet, she takes off down the trail again.
She wasn’t always this happy.
This past Christmas, I walked into the house and saw my husband with a very young, very soft puppy in his arms. She had one blue eye, one brown eye, a maple brown coat with white socks, freckles on her snout, and a red bow on her head.
We called her a myriad of other names first: Aspen, Fox, Mulan Fitzroy (our combined creative genius that I regret not defending). For the first week she skirted around the house — avoiding our attempts to shower her with love. She hid under coffee tables and cowered in dark corners. She flinched at loud noises, and only came near if you didn’t look directly at her.
Instead of infectious puppy energy, Nala sat timidly in the corner with her tail tucked between her legs, and ears cemented to the back of her head.
My husband, Coby, intended to bring home a dog full of high energy; we dreamed of her chasing behind us on long runs, or cozying up to our friends at the climbing area. We’re both adventurous and high energy. We spend our weekends with dirt up to our ears on winding forest trails, or snow over our heads in the backcountry. We prefer the mountains to cities and the climbing gym to happy hour (usually).
But Nala didn’t quite fit the personality of a Border Collie.
Her disinterest in human interaction, and her heightened sense of the world around her, made us question this decision — had we made a serious mistake? We wondered if we’d adopted a pup whose personality clashed with ours.
Rearranging Our Lives for a Frightened Puppy
Our lives were going to look a lot different with Nala.
Backcountry ski tours would need to be shorter, multi-pitch climbs were out of the question, and international trips meant dog-boarding, dogsitters, or forfeiting the trip all together. I worried about the amount of time it would take to train her, what raising a puppy in an apartment would look like, and the overall responsibility of dog ownership.
Soon after we adopted Nala, we boarded a plane and moved to Portland, Oregon. Nala’s skittish tendencies were amplified in the city. She pulled desperately on the leash as we maneuvered sidewalks, crosswalks, dump trucks, and bicycles. When I briefly tied her up outside a Starbucks to grab coffee, she attempted to gnaw through her leash.
Almost immediately, I adjusted my lifestyle. I turned down opportunities to ski because I couldn’t leave Nala for an extended time. I skipped a weekend at Smith Rock because my partners wanted to climb multi-pitch routes and no one could watch her at the base. I even spent less time at the climbing gym because I felt guilty leaving her at home.
Discovering Nala’s Happy Place
In February, I took Nala on her first ski tour to Tilly Jane in Mount Hood National Forest. We parked the car, I buckled her into her harness, and coaxed her out of the backseat. I worried about the length of the tour, and if she’d be able to manage the eighteen inches of fresh powder.
As soon as she touched the snow, Nala transformed.
Using the tip of her nose, she threw snow into the air and tried to catch it. She threw her body into snow banks and rolled out of them. And when I took her off leash she darted down the trail without looking back.
Archaeologists found proof that domesticated canine’s accompanied mankind up to 14,600 years ago. Turns out, when humans were living their most simple form of life, hunting and gathering, interacting with nature on a day-to-day basis, dogs were there, I assume, to help find food and enrich the human experience.
At least that’s how I feel about Nala. Nala means spending more time outside, and enjoying that time intensely. Instead of thinking about my job or bills or getting an oil change on a hike, I’m laughing at Nala’s crooked jog, and her “EVERYTHING IS AMAZING AND THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER” face. Though these activities may be shorter, they’re equally more rich.
It’s Hard, But It’s Worth It
As a twenty-something married woman, with a full-time salaried job, the demands on my time far exceed the actual amount of time I have. It’s something I think many people living in 2018 understand. I thought having a dog meant another time-intensive activity that I’d have to shuffle between meetings in my google calendar.
Surprisingly and not, Nala has fully integrated into our active lifestyle. Not only that, but she improves nearly every aspect of life. When motivation sinks to an all-time low, Nala serves as a reminder to get outside, despite the desire to stay in bed all day. Because when Nala is on the trail, she’s prancing, frolicking, rolling through the mud. She bounds a hundred feet ahead of me and sprints back. She greets other dogs with an excited pounce, then takes off to smell more fern or tree trunks or fallen moss.
Yes, adopting Nala has come with its own set of struggles, like anything. But being able to share her joy and see her in what was once a canine’s natural habitat often makes me think, maybe we’re all doing it wrong.
Maybe Nala’s right. Maybe we all just need is to get outside and play in the mud.