Taking some time to be present

Oggie is a rescued dog, so her precise breed and age are unknown, but the Ogden rescue agency thought she was about eight months old when we adopted her. This summer she’ll be turning nine.

Without a doubt, she’s slowing down. A 45-minute hike in the canyon has turned into an hour-and-a-half amble with her pausing often to rest her paws in the shade.

Since even slow exercise is good for arthritic dogs and their senior companions, I finally decided to see, smell, feel, and hear the world around us while she rests.

I’m not the first to consider using pets to focus our attention on the present. In the post, “How Pets Offer Us the Gift of Mindfulness,” David Michie discusses the “direct” mode where we pay attention to our senses and the “narrative” mode where we’re stuck in our heads, adding, “Unsurprisingly, there is a powerful and positive correlation between being in direct mode and being happy.”

A week ago, we were walking on the east side of the canyon, and I was mostly in the narrative mode. We had hiked up to the rim far from the stream. I waited for Oggie before taking a favorite shortcut to a lower trail.

Since she’s intelligent, she often stops on the way down, waiting for me to whistle, so she can come trotting toward me and receive a treat.

This time, however, she didn’t come when I whistled. She was focused on a small grove of trees, so I climbed back up, thinking she might have spotted a squirrel or chipmunk.

As soon as I reached her, a large bird flew down from one of the trees, startling me. The bird looked big enough to be a sage hen or grouse although I’d never seen either in the canyon.

Telling Oggie to stay, I crept closer to the bird when a jackrabbit burst from the grove’s undergrowth and dashed toward the little caves in the cliff, surprising me again.

After all, I had just walked by that grove of junipers, pinyons, and scrub oak. When I could see the bird clearly, it turned out to be a duck with a cinnamon head.

Oggie began padding toward the fresh meat, so I leashed her and dropped the strap handle around a stump, but by the time I finally investigated the grove, I couldn’t see the duck anywhere.

After we arrived home, the enigma of a webbed-footed duck in a tree led me to our bird book and then to the great collective brain of the internet.

Wood ducks have special claws on their feet which allow them to climb trees, but wood ducks are rare in Utah and sport a Brad Pitt hairdo with iridescent, slicked back crown feathers, so I finally concluded it was a female common merganser.

Slightly larger than a mallard, common mergansers often nest in trees. They are beautiful birds with long bodies, crests that normally lie over their heads, and serrated red beaks.

This one must have just been passing through because I’ve investigated that same grove every time we walk with no sign of a duck.

A few days later, while Oggie rested under a sagebrush, bumblebees kept bumping into me, delirious in the spring air. At least I thought they were bumblebees because they were the same size and shape and produced a distinct buzzing noise.

I should have been alarmed at the close encounters, but they seemed more intent on following pheromone scent trails rather than on the large intruder who kept getting in their way.

When some landed on a sagebrush, I could see they had hard brown forewings, transparent hindwings, body fuzz, and spatula-shaped antennae – not bumblebees at all but desert beetles.

They seemed almost drunk on the sunshine, delectable sage, and pheromone smell. One even hung upside down from a sage leaf without moving a leg or a wing.

Although I didn’t think the spring elixir would actually kill anything, the beetle didn’t move until, concerned by its inertia, I gently shook the branch.

Later, I discovered these desert beetles are officially identified as paracotalpa granicollis from the scarab family. They often live in juniper forests, and because of their fuzz are called little bears or little bear scarabs.

Delighted by the little bears, I was still laughing about their inebriated state days later, but beetles also have a spiritual significance.

In ancient Egypt, the scarab was considered sacred, associated with the sun deity, creation, and resurrection. Like all insects, they undergo a metamorphosis from egg to larva to chrysalis to winged creature.

Because of the symbolism, Egyptians often wore scarab amulets and placed scarab effigies over the hearts of mummies so their dead could metamorphize and transcend to the next realm.

Years ago, a friend gave me a scarab necklace she had purchased on her world travels. It looks ancient with Egyptian hieroglyphs inscribed on the back. Now, whenever I wear it, I remember the sacredness of the insignificant and occasionally tipsy beetle.

Since most of my life I’ve been tightly wound, being present isn’t natural for me. It takes practice and patience and more practice, but it’s a paradigm shift that promises a different way of being, perhaps even a kind of metamorphosis.

It brings unexpected encounters in the natural world and gratitude for a beautiful dog who is opening me to the sense of wonder.

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