Free Dog State (and illustrating chickens)

After I dropped the kids off on their first day of school, I parked my car at the track and took myself for a few victory laps. I was getting sorely out of jogging shape by the time I hung up my homeschool hat, and nothing quite speaks to my soul like a vacant quarter-mile track, easy on the knees; silent as an empty house.

I think most people are turned off by the sight of a high school track, shadeless and lonely, but I am telling you—mindlessly jogging in a circle is severely underrated. Even better, at this particular track I lose cell phone coverage in the home stretch. The mind can wander; the feet not so much.

I trot along and contemplate getting chickens at Honey Creek, even though we’ve been warned that such creatures don’t stand a chance against the coyotes and other predators that lurk at night. I think about how chickens have nothing to offer the world. Then I wonder if I could draw a decent chicken, good enough to illustrate a children’s book. What do chicken beaks look like, exactly? How will I draw them speaking? I imagine the story will have a moral; for example, in our weakness we can still do things that require great strength. A David versus Goliath, perhaps a mocking fox that falls into an enormous hole pecked out of the earth by small, mindless chickens.
One mile, done.

So it was kind of funny when two stray dogs moseyed into the grass infield and stared at me on that first morning, threatening my solitude. I looked around for where they might have come from, but they seemed to appear from the direction of the school. They were friendly mutts, but not so friendly to get near me, just a wagging sort of acquaintance. Fat little bodies, at least a dozen breeds baked into each hound. Old or young, who knows, a mix of beagle and shepherd and corgi shapes, streaks of liver spots, graying noses.

In Colorado, a well-meaning pet lover would have immediately appeared on scene, calling animal control and affectionately beckoning the dumb dogs to come hither. There’d be a twinge of anger and disbelief in their voice as they blamed whomever left these dogs all on their own in the world. A pet for every home; a home for every pet. Justice for those who cannot speak for themselves. One particularly caring soul might even “adopt” the mutts, forever sealing their right to an “adopt, don’t shop!” (Or worse, “I rescued my best friend”) bumper sticker.

I slowed my pace and called for the dogs so I could take a picture. For my own amusement I sent it to my dad.
“Missouri is a free dog state,” he texted.

It seems to be the case, at least out here in the middle of nowhere. Once we tried to “adopt” a reservation dog from New Mexico. It went psycho and tried to kill our neighbors, so after three weeks we gave it back to the shelter. I got the feeling Marnie would’ve been a happier dog if she’d been left on the reservation.

Which gets me back to my main point: perspective is reality. I see an empty track; I see possibility. Another person might see unending laps of drudgery.
I see dogs on the track, I hope they’re not the biting type, and I also hope they actually belong to a someone who actually does care about them. But I’m also very glad there is a dead space for cellphone coverage so I don’t feel compelled to call animal control.

It sure is good to be back in the land of under-used high school tracks and free dogs.


  1. henhouselady says:

    My jogging days are behind me, but i love to walk a good high school track. I’m glad the dogs are friendly.


    1. EPStegner says:

      bless the track, what a grand innovation. I intend to read a story or two of yours next!

      Liked by 1 person

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