Thank you so much for coming to visit a dog poet. My poems for Colleen’s weekly poetry challenge are a take on life from a canine perspective. We poets – and to date I seem to be the only dog poet – write one of the structured poems permitted and have to integrate, as synonyms, the two words given as a prompt.
This week the word are spring and sing; I am doing a Tanka.
You can find out about it all, and have a go yourself, by clicking below:
Last week I had to relinquish my van, which had been our friend, transport and accommodation, as we climbed the first 50 mountains on our quest to conquer the 282 Munros in Scotland; they are the mountains over 3000 feet. While I had grown to love the character of my van it seems that’s it’s unreliability was a bit of a liability. I had very mixed feelings about this transformation and wrote about then in this blog:
Last Monday my afternoon slumber was badly disturbed, or so I thought at the time. In Ben’s life, mornings are all about playing ball in the forest for a couple of hours and, after all that exertion, afternoons give way to lots and lots of zzzzzzzzzzs; life’s not all bad.
Being a creature of habit, I’m not at my best when such a well-oiled routine is interrupted and, therefore, I was in a foul mood when woken and directed to the garden (nature’s own public convenience), before getting into my seat in the car.
Arriving at B’s work to collect her early perked me up no end, but my body clock was seriously confused; what was going on? We started back towards home, but then went sailing (well, OK driving) right past the end of our road. Curiouser and curiouser, I thought, but such a lot of thinking was beginning to make my headspace hurt and the anxiety butterflies had started their workout in my tummy. There really is only one response to such uncertainty, so I thumped down on my seat – to let my feelings be known – and then proceeded to catch up on some shut-eye.
When the motion of rubber on tarmac became uneven I was jolted into consciousness and serious worry commenced. There was nothing recognisable here that could anchor me to time or place. The familiar dance of the butterflies I had experienced earlier became a frantic workout, involving cartwheels, back flips and double somersaults.
We had fetched up by some ruinous mill-type building, with portacabins and lots of cars, seemingly abandoned, decorating the landscape. Not only was the unfamiliar a cause for concern but B and David immediately deserted me and I didn’t know if they would ever come back. As you can imagine, I followed their footsteps with my eyes out on stalks and my neck stretched to the back window, which is a very long way, even in our little Fabia. Well, what a funny thing. B and David were giving one of those abandoned cars the once over and, before you could say “Ben, meet your new Munromobile”, B had driven off in it with a strange man, and David was sitting beside me.
It turns out that my van is being traded in for a newer model. Oh my goodness me, you should see it. Well, actually you can, here’s some photos. Will you take a look at that!
The mileage is only just over half way round the clock (whatever that means), and everything works as it should, which is a real novelty. Now the van won’t blow a fuse if she forgets the back door lock is dysfunctional, and neither will she get the key stuck in the passenger lock, because that one doesn’t work either. The audio system does the job properly too, which means melodious tunes. No longer do musicians sound as if they are undergoing some very nasty examination while trying to sing at the same time. And, if that isn’t enough, just look at the paintwork. I know appearances are only skin deep but I can do shallow if it means a spiffing car. I can tell you, I will be sitting up very proudly as we make for Munro country, waving my paw as if, for all the world, I was related to royalty.
And….., as if that wasn’t enough, very soon it is going to look like this – hells bells!
When B came back from her test drive she asked for my opinion, and obviously that was a no- brainer. What adventures we are going to have as veritable owners of our Renault Kangoo, which is seven years younger than my van. I wish B could lose seven years just like that. Then we might be able to get up our Munros one heck of a lot quicker.
I’m going to call my new car/van Tanka. It’s after the poetry competition I enter most Tuesdays. While a Tanka is a form of poetry originating from Japan, my new Munromobile looks a little bit like a tank and drives like pure poetry in motion.
We got Tanka from Fraser Murray Cars Sales in Penicuik, near Edinburgh, and his is a v. v. v commendable outfit, getting lots of those five star things. I even got a donation in my fundraising pot. I’m going to add Fraser Murray Car Sales to my team, when I get back from my weekend away. Me and B are telling everyone to get their cars there.
I couldn’t sleep on the way back home. My tummy was in such a state. I don’t even know how to describe it. I had got so v. v. v excited, but now there was another drama going on and the butterflies were in free-fall. What was going to happen to myvan. B and me had started our big Munro challenge in it and, in fact, it had been our accommodation for the first 50 Munros. I know it had let us down a few times, and had more quirky qualities than you could shake a stick at, but it had character and I had grown to love it. We had even identified our own special song in it; albeit with Ronan Keating singing in a pitch something akin to soprano. I also got worried about Micky, who had come back for shelter again this year, as winter approached; how would he keep warm now? Apparently, the new model was top security, not even a little field mouse could gain entry. Then there were all my mini paw prints, each one denoting a Munro I had climbed. Where could I put them now, with nine windows taking up all the space? Oh dearie me, now I wasn’t so sure at all.
I know B’s tummy was in a similar state to mine, and I believe hers started going wobbly when she produced that thing they call a credit card. Me and B had a big conflab when got home. B reassured me that we would find somewhere to put my paw prints and, while she is going to get a bit of kit that becomes a bed, for the sake of her old bones, I can still have my cushion beside her. Also, and oh this took my breath away, as Micky hasn’t been back for quite a while now, it is highly likely that he is a goner.
B was still going on but by this time my head space was like mince, and I was flat out dreaming of a Renault Kangoo parked far below towering Munro peaks.
I concluded last year’s review by looking forward to doing more of the self-actualising stuff – through walking on mountains and writing about it all – having established that all my other needs were being met, according to this big cheese called Maslow. So let’s see how it all worked out.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
To make sense of my life in 2018, I have decided to take a tour through the unfolding seasons.
To be quiet honest with you, not much was doing in the New Year and I found myself joining in with that down-in-the-mouth trend that is so catching in January. What, with lots of slouching about, lying in front of the fire and supporting a rather extensive tum, after an over indulgence of Christmas treats, I could hardly muster enough energy – let alone enthusiasm – for even a short walk. I had metamorphosed from self-actualising Munro Buddy into lethargic mass of excess flab, mirroring my people.
Just as I was in danger of succumbing to something called sloth, I was saved from myself by the arrival of two very different events. Firstly, my personal friend, Julia Bradbury (of UK TV fame), sent me a present for allowing her to host my blog on her new website. Spotting the postie with a parcel I made contact – not altogether welcome – with his hand, getting through the packaging in a 1, 1, 2 and, before you could say http://www.theoutdoorguide.co.uk, I was sporting a rather spiffing buff and looking rather dandy, even if I say so myself. Ben’s personality and hiding lights under bushels are two mutually exclusive concepts, if you get my drift.
It’s possible that the bohemian look of this rather rakish neckerchief predisposed me to take advantage of the second happening, in that otherwise uneventful start to the year. While surfing the net on my blog site, as dogs do, I chanced up a weekly poetry challenge. Well I thought, as Border Collies do, why not. With the extra time on my paws and the new debonair look, what was there to lose, aside from a v. v. v temperamental ego. So, in the twinkling of a keyboard’s return button, Munro buddy became budding poet and, oh my dog, with what results. Ping, ping, ping … went the notification alerts on my PC, as readers liked what they saw, necessitating a quick visit to the garden, my tummy getting all excited.
Since that day, most Tuesdays have been a creative frenzy as I put paw to paper turning a two-word prompt into structured poems. Would you believe it, I am the only dog poet among this company of new literary friends. Colleen Cheesebro provides all the rules, the two words and, each week, Colleen selects one author as poet of the week. You could have blown me down with a writer’s quill when I achieved this accolade myself, at only my second attempt, with a little Senryu I wrote.
Folding into warm contours
Dissolving in dreams
This is what Colleen wrote about my poem,
“Other than the fact that I ADORE dogs who write poetry, the simplicity of Ben’s words tells the whole story of this Senryu and the fabulous picture posted with the poem. It just felt like something a dog would write about. Sometimes the simplest things bring the most pleasure.”
Me and Colleen have become great friends over the last year and she has given me such encouragement. You can read all about the challenge here. Colleen’s weekly poetry challenge
By the by, if you need something to help you dissolve into dreams at night you can read all my poems just here All Ben’s poems
Eventually we seemed to be turning from winter into spring, as snow and ice gave way to buds and blossom. By this time and with slightly longer walks, I was beginning to fight the flab, looking towards the Munro year ahead.
Alas, my aspirations became a causality of the Beast from the East, when a late blast of bitterly cold weather swept across the UK from the North Sea, lasting well into April and thwarting my fitness regime.
Then, just like the return of an old friend, the ‘cruellest month’ flipped into May and, with that transition summer asserted itself early, casting spring to the dogs, in a rather questionable manner of speaking.
As the annual cycle of growth accelerated so the old girl began to back peddle faster still. By the time she was 15, Canine Cognitive Dementia had set in and her back legs were, well… let’s just say it – useless. I found out lots about the CCD condition and have written a whole page of advice, in my own inimitable style, to help others Ben’s top tips for doggy dementia
The old girl’s 15th Birthday (not her wine!!)
Suddenly, we all became allied healthcare professionals, our raîson d’etre being two fold:
To keep the old girl going, as long as she was happy.
Not to keep her going a moment after she wasn’t happy anymore.
My main role in this nurturing environment was to help maintain an aura of calm by suppressing my ADHD tendencies (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Doggy), something I have written about before. I did my best but it was v. v. v hard work.
Alas, I had to play second fiddle, which is also quiet hard for a self-confessed egoist who thinks he is conductor material. I kept hearing phrases like ‘his time will come’ and ‘we’ll make it up to him’, but they didn’t mean at lot to me at the time. I did get a lot of long walks during the week away at our caravan and just had to alternate my people, so that one of them could take on carer responsibilities for our old girl. All the walking was getting me match fit for the Munros which were, apparently, just around the corner; something that rather puzzled me as we always seemed to spend hours getting to Munros in my van. I concluded that it was a very long corner.
Just then, nearly half way though my year, our orbit tipped out of kilter, everything went topsy turvy and it is only now, at the beginning of 2019 that we are getting back to normal, if I can ever believe in such a thing again. Firstly, just at the end of that May holiday my female person went away and then she kept coming and going for weeks on end. Being a dog I hadn’t a clue what was going on but boy did I do a good imitation of “I’m your best friend, just try and beat this welcome”, every time she came home. David tried his best too but, to be honest, he just hasn’t got the style or, for that matter, the waggy tail to go with it. Anyway, I just made damn sure I got in first to get all the cuddles.
We did make a Munro trip shortly after and spent three glorious days together, scouring the hills, reaching high peaks with fabulous views and we got to the top of 5 Munros. We even reached the first big landmark, notching up the 50th Munro for our bag. In the evenings we’d soak up the unparalleled beauty of the highlands while listening to our own special song, “You say it best, when you say nothing at all.” As nighttime approached I’d jump in the back of my van and snuggle up for sleep in the little space I had available, falling quickly into zzzs after our energetic day on the mountains.
Summit of Beinn a’Chreachain Looking North
Summit of Beinn Achaladair Looking North across Rannoch Moor
When we are away my person does a lot of talking into those strange things bi-peds are always putting to their ears. I do worry about her… a lot, though it seems to bring her some sort of comfort. Then she puts the horrid thing to my ear and it really freaks me out. I look all over for the voice but I can never find him and it makes me sad. When we went through this ritual on our third night we both ended up sad because the voice machine told us the old girl was going further down the tubes. We vowed we would go home after our next walk, a day early; arriving as a surprise cavalry, bringing reinforcements.
The rest of the summer was sung to the old girls tune, her every wish our command. Ben was never the centre of attention in those tranquil dog days. Not actually neglected you understand but just left to my own devices. I kept tapping away at my device of choice and on 19th August I was award the title ‘Poet of the Week’, for the second time. The dog poet honoured a second time
This brought me such a lot of joy at a sad time for us all. My poetry kept me going because, without the Munros to write about, the soul had gone out of my prose.
There wouldn’t be anymore mountains in our collecting bag until the old girl didn’t need to be looked after anymore. None of us wanted to bring that day forward, not one little bit. Even a self-centred dog poet like me knows intuitively when a bit of the old altruism is required. Thus on those summer evenings, when we came in from the garden, I’d snuggle up to the old girl – forsaking my rightful place on the soft furnishings beside B – and offer a bit of fellow comfort. I think she liked it. Walks were reduced to lots of running after ball – maximum energy from Ben, least effort from my people – but you won’t catch me complaining about that and it was always meant to be just a temporary arrangement.
Feeling a little overwhelmed, must sleep. Part two shortly.
Thank you very much for visiting my blog. This is my response to Colleen’s weekly poetry challenge. The two prompt words, to be included but used synonymously, are Ghost and Hollow.
My poem this week is about how I felt when 32 imposing bi peds came, in a never ending torrent, over the mountain ahead of me. My people seemed to think they were the best thing since sliced bread (if you like that sort of thing) but, to me, they were terrifying aliens invading my already anxious space. I was so confused. One minute we were having a lovely mountain walk and the next my male person was on the ground and there was some sort of commotion and then a v. v. v long wait. I was getting very nervous because I didn’t have a clue what was going on. Why weren’t we walking on and on to the top. Who were these people, carrying on with those things they attach to their ears, and why was my person all wrapped up and looking sad. What in heavens name was that thunderous noise coming from the sky.
how lovely of you to visit me, thank you. This is the latest offering of the dog-poet in response to Colleen’s weekly poetry challenge The two prompt words this week, to be integrated synonymously, are happy and morose.
The words Happy and Morose make me think about how my whole world rests on choices that are made for me, over which I have no control. After having a full tummy and feeling safe, what I love most is being out walking with my people. When I am most down-at-heart (and I can do sullen and stroppy very convincingly) is when my people go out and leave me. I have to report that it’s never for long, it just feels like forever.
Two sides of a coin –
Heads up, on the hills, joyful;
Tails down, home alone, glum.
The phone calls that had been exchanged, between the spot 400 metres from my parking place (just off the road at Bridge of Orchy, where we had a faint signal), and our caravan in Ullswater, were sorrowful and full of pathos. The old girl was giving out, her back legs no longer working at all, or reviving just a little. Caring duties had become wearing duties and our absence had added an additional strain to the small domestic unit. After last nights call me and B had a long chin wag, reaching a decision to go home a day early, after our walk the next day.
Thus it was, thinking of the old girl, that we set off to Beinn Mhanach with our hearts in our boots making for v. v. v heavy feet, causing the inspirational celebratory of yesterday to metamorphose into Mrs Plod. It was a long, long walk in of nearly two hours duration, through the beautiful Auch Gleann, with not many metres of ascent along the way. Thankfully, on a day forecast to be v. v. v hot, an early start had given us a head start and shade thrown down by the hills kept us cool.
As we came to the hydro works, and our route took off north up the steep-sided, pathless flank of ‘The Mountain of the Monks’, the sun in splendour announced itself in blazing shades of gold, at just the wrong time. Thus, the usual huffing and puffing serenade was today punctuated with much panting and pausing, which even I was joining in. The quick steep hop up for speedy Gonzales, who had written one of our guide books, was given quite a different description in which the words: shattered, sprawling and, bitten off more than I can chew, decorated the page. However, and with good grace, Mr Sun put his hat back on and this little gesture gave us a bit of respite. We fought our way up hill by way of meandering Zig Zaggs that eventually got us to an easier gradient, just below the top.
On our way up the focus had largely been taken up with the lack of progress made by B’s plodding feet. Then, at the summit, all was transformed. A 360o vista displayed the Southern Highlands in a panorama that spoke straight to the soul. This contrast refreshed mind and spirit so that, thoughts of ditching the whole project were miraculously vanished from the radar, no more than 45 minutes after being planted there. Drama and Queen are a two words that passed through my mind at this time, for some reason.
Soaking up the views, and the inevitably bit with the camera, delayed our departure but, finally, the long drive home penetrated our thoughts and we turned to face the slog down the big hill and long walk back to my van.
If zig, zagging was a means of easing the gradient on the way up, all it served to achieve on the way down was dizziness and total confusion. One minute we were heading west in the direction of the fence we had crossed on our way up and the next we were going a long way east in exactly the opposite direction from where my van was parked. I became more than a bit disturbed by this loss of direction, thinking that perhaps my person’s brain had been pickled by the sun and the effort, or perhaps the bottles that make her very happy, which populate my van. Then, thankfully, just in the nick of time, some fellow hikers sitting by the fence called over, in a hail fellow well met sort of greeting. Happily, B waved and trooped over, back on a westward trajectory. More of that incomprehensible Munro dialect that I had witnessed yesterday took place over the next ten minutes or so but, I was so pleased with these humans I remembered my manners and even got praise and treats from them, for my good behaviour, much to the disgust of the canine in their pack.
This diversion seemed to have cleared B’s brain because, after this, we set off straight down hill and were soon back on the track, starting the long walk back to my van. With the object of today’s adventure achieved and the 52nd Munro firmly in the bag, we began to visualise the lovely surprise that David would get when he saw me; I would brighten up his day.
Not too far from the end of our walk, while crossing a cattle grid, we encountered the strangest thing. A chubby little lamb had fallen through the grid and couldn’t work out an escape route, a thing that was beyond our combined grey matter too, even though I’m a big-brained Border Collie. We set our hopes on finding someone at home – a farmer type – in the cottages that were now in sight. Before then though we were able to flag down a passing vehicle and a shepherd was at the wheel. Twenty minutes later the truck passed again and a big thumbs up signalled success. We were so happy that we had rescued little Larry from his frightening ordeal.
I had meant, during the journey home, to keep a wary eye on B ensuring she didn’t go in for any of that dozing thing she often does when in the car with David. However, with the best will in the world, I did a bit of that dozing thing myself. Well, to be absolutely truthful, it was more of an out for the count, REM sleep, sort of dozing. I only came too when I was woken because it was everyone’s bedtime and I was in my garden at home. I’m sure I must have had some open eye time, to get a bit of dinner down me but, imagine this, I don’t remember; I was robbed.
Now there are no more Munros for Ben, until the old girl is the pot of gold where rainbow bridge ends 😦
On day two of our 2018 Munroing, after an early night and much needed sleep, we did rise with the dawn chorus and by 6am were travelling north, making our first foray into the astonishing beauty of Glen Coe. Here mountains rose towards the sky like none I had ever seen before. Gone were the grassy curves of the Perthshire hills, and the relentless, undulating tedium of the Cairngorms. Here, a display of might and power soared in sublime rock formations that truly took the breath away. Also, following such a prolonged spell of dry weather, the gullies had been robbed of the fearful spill and a silence, eerily tangible at this early hour, reverberated through the passage of the roadside giants. How on earth was one able to walk in this awesome place, I wondered.
For our walk today this question was answered – as predicted in our guide book – by the National Trust, that preserver of the nation’s treasures. Under it’s auspices the clearest of paths had been laid right from my van up onto the ridge and then, branching north and south, it marched between the two Munros on today’s hit list. This definition gave us such a paw up that, within two hours of parking my van, we were recording our arrival at the big
beside a cairn that said: “Ben, you have arrived”.
Sadly, we had got up too early for the world’s media to capture the moment and, although I was a little disappointed, did I really want to share that moment with anyone else? Me and B, big hug on top of Stob dubh, the first of the two Munros on todays ridge.
The day had started cloudless, with awesome peaks striking the sky in sharp contrasts of black colliding with blue but, as the heat generated by an early sun met cooler shadows in the glens, a surging mist filled the channels and, rising up, threw a protective cape around the shoulders of these majestic hills. The stupendous view down Glen Etive, that had been promised, was exchanged for a mind’s eye image informed by the OS map, of what we were missing.
Meantime, to our west, determined peaks began to puncture the cover, as the effusive mist met a diffusing sun. As we descended to the bealachthe sky began to clear revealing a whole new panorama, where ridges rode the sky, like flocks of migrating birds dipping and soaring with the wind.
The next ascent looked tough and steep but, within 20 minutes, B was chatting personably, at the top, with a very friendly and young (sorry B, but it’s true) two legged thing of the male variety.
In fact, I was witnessing one of those disconcerting conversations, unique to Munroists, where they discuss their conquests. It starts off fine with a straight comparison of the number in the bag. We are also on reasonably firm ground with an exchange of how many years they have been at it. After that things become somewhat more sticky as more specifics of the Munrograpy are required. A few of the Bens are easy to get the tongue around and the bi peds can even have a reasonable stab at one or two Gaelic looking names such as, Schiehallion, or Meall Garbh; sometimes even just a geographical location helps but, after that, we enter a void. Places where so much energy has been spent, where they have found the best and worst of themselves, and where they have gained the most amazing pride in achievements never thought possible, are just visual memories stored in the brain, never to be shared through the medium of words.
Note to B, must learn Gaelic.
Having a little giggle to myself, as the humans grappled with their inadequacies, I maintained that façade of calm I had manufactured since I left home on Wednesday. Just then, the silly man jumped up on a rock, stood at least a metre higher, and frightened the living day lights out of me (whatever that means). I was not happy at all and got all tensed up. However, I didn’t give it wellie until, just then, two other humanoids invaded my space. That was it. All my amazing self-control gone in a mille-second and, in a barking and lunging frenzy, I released all that pent-up and constrained energy I had been trying so hard to contain. It was brilliant 🙂
Luckily B still had a hold of my lead otherwise… well, neither of us want to go there. It’s hard to let the two legged things know that it’s nothing personal because so many of them just want to be my friends. The pair I had just become acquainted with were, in a manner of barking, no different. I was eventually quietened with substantial quantities of Primular but I had lost my equilibrium and was angry with everyone for the rest of the day.
I suppose it’s a bit of a shame because we really should have been soaking up the views but a dog must do… Hats off, B managed a bit of snapping somehow.
Before we left the summit B – despite my noise – had a bit of a confab with the new arrivals. They had only done their first Munro just yesterday, albeit they had climbed “The Ben”, the biggest of them all. By this time B was all puffed up because, for the first time ever, she had done more Munro’s than the combined total of the three people atop Stob Coire Raineach. The latter visitors were very impressed by our project because, I think, of B’s great age. Such flattery gave a spring to her step on the way back and mitigated, to some extent, the venting I gave to my angry mood when anyone passed. Not long after we were back at my van the novices from the top arrived down, telling B they had been talking about her all the way down and what an inspiration she was. Well, I had to muffle a v. v. v big snorting thing. They really needed to see that inspiration in action, or rather in-action, on the pathless slopes of Ben Mhanach. However, I’m jumping the gun here and before that particular walk report I need zzzs.