We balanced ourselves as we skied down the slippery steps and headed toward the tree line. My hound tugged against the leather leash and pulled me like he was a snow dog making tracks out in the wild. It was as close as we could get to such a thing– our three-acre view of unkempt trees. The sight of the snow cradled on all the branches had lured me out of the house to hike the woods with my dog and my boy.
We studied the animal footprints and tried to guess what had hopped or galloped through before we walked the path. “I’m making Elliot tracks,” my little boy told me, stomping his feet into the deep snow. Hoover jumped up and over every fallen trunk along our path, diving in and out of the powdery surf like a dolphin in deep waters, pure glee. He was made for this, except for the leash in my hand.
I forced out the breath that I’d been holding. It billowed into a small cloud and veiled my view. It’s all a vapor. I paraphrased the verse and kicked at a rotted log. That beauty around me would soon vanish to the tune of a Komatsu PC300 excavator shaking our sacred ground and ripping out comfortable trees by their roots.
“These trees won’t be here next winter,” I said trying to break the news to Elliot without letting my sadness leak through, “We have to enjoy them while we have them.”
My husband and I had dreamed of buying a bit of that land and fencing it off for our crazy hound and our boy to run around on. A boy needs a place to ramble and we thought if our dog could run like he was meant to, then just maybe our home could be more serene. No more dog paws ice skating across hardwoods at the sound of our little boy’s outbursts. No neurotic scratching at the bowl and drooling for food when it was right there in front of him. No more yelping at the top of his lungs for half an hour if we dared take the bark collar off. That land next to us would be the answer to all of our problems, we dreamed. But then the sign had gone up: a public hearing to discuss land use, our beloved three-acre view in question.
By next fall, the working men surrounded us with their loud voices and loud machines and it felt like they were clawing at my gut when they cut on those trees. I walked out to the backyard to let the guys know to Beware of Dog. We hadn’t yet put up the signs. I muzzled the beast every time I sent him out into the yard, but in case the contraption came loose I wanted them to be on guard. I could just picture them doing the same as our neighbor Frieda, dangling their arms over the fence and getting chomped.
“Aww. We won’t give him any trouble,” one of the workers said. They knew a thing or two about hunting dogs. “That guy over there’s got some Bluetick pups in the truck,” they said, filling me in on the little cousins to my Treeing Walker.
The next day, somebody rang the doorbell. I gritted my teeth. The bell sent Hoover into a frenzy like it made a Pavlovian dog’s stomach growl. I stepped out into the entry and closed the glass door behind me before opening our front door to see who to thank for setting my dog off. Standing there, a soft-spoken working man in a baseball cap held out a book to me. A gold-filament silhouette of a hound dog sparkled on the black-as-a-tomb fabric cover while my own dog circled and clawed and yelled out through the sealed entry. Pages were dotted with the words of another man who had, once upon a time, started something new, perfecting the chase, the persistence, the bay and bark. While I was worried about losing the woods next door, God was using that very plot of land to prepare a place for a redemption story, bringing to my welcome mat the grandson of the man who started Hoover’s breed in the 1930s.
After another winter and spring and another bite (this time with Elliot as the victim) and what seemed like a thousand people saying “No”, “Sorry” and “It’s time to give up”, I cracked the black book open, desperate. I peered inside the front flap, grabbed the phone and pressed in each of the handwritten numbers. I waited for that soft-spoken voice to answer and then I howled out my story, tears flowing. The next day, he showed up in front of our house with a dog crate on his truck. The working man was a God-send, making things work for us, bringing a wayward hound back to the roots of the both of them, back to the very property where his grandfather cultivated the breed, where Hoover, the hooligan hound, could become who he was made to be: White River Hoover, the hunting dog.
There is a house blocking my view now. It’s been planted where the trees once stood. But my stomach doesn’t sink at the sight. It’s not that I don’t miss the woods, but what happened there has given me a new view, a view of the Spirit sprinkling serendipity into my difficulty, of Him acting behind the scenes to work all things together for good. Soil churned and upturned next door was the substance God used for bringing peace and balance to my home.
The land had to be cleared for it to happen, for my path to cross with the houndsman’s, for Hoover and all of his anxiety to be gone with the woods. I shouldn’t have been surprised even if I was amazed. It had happened before, this emptying out to make room for the new. I had to let go of flimsy dreams as I filled a cardboard box with mementos to get rid of: a hand-cut crystal vase, a container of apology letters, and a framed picture of a mountain drenched in the deluge that almost sent me careening down slippery rocks. It is hard for a writer-type to let go, to toss out the evidence, to permanently delete the details of a study in love and human behavior. But I knew I had to make room for the new, for the man who would someday be my husband to woo me without all those artifacts on display. He did so, and I can’t believe I didn’t clear the land sooner. Later, we’d learn the same lesson together, that when friendships crumble without explanation and all attempts at salvage wind up back in the junk pile, the Spirit helps us to let go and wait for what He has dreamed up for us. We turn our palms down and release our burdens, and then raise our hands up again, ready to receive, knowing that He withholds no good thing. We can trust Him to redeem the void, to use the empty places.
I’m still awestruck about all that God did in my 2011. What about you? What has been cleared from your life to make room for the new?
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster, p. 31