Eyes on the Tail Not the Trail

She bolted from the car like a dog that had been cooped up indoors for too long. Her tongue and ears didn’t quite waggle around like my dogs’ when the smell of the woods hits their snouts. But she ran with the same purpose, like Bailey, the youngest, racing off-track over fallen trees and exposed roots after a squirrel, eyes on that silky tail, rather than the neatly marked trail.

She ran with force, despite not knowing the land. Despite us warning her about the wild African animals in this town. The baboons. The snakes. The rock rabbits. The circling crows. The sharks. It’s probably not a nice thing for an adult to tell an eight year old in a new country, but this was her first time on a mountain. England, the home she’d known all her life, was an ocean away. We had to make sure she understood: Africa is not for sissies.

Law one of the mountain, we said, stay on the trail.

But just like a pack of wild dogs, she fled the cable car at the top of Table Mountain and sprinted toward the edge. (Side note: It’s ok, I can compare her to a pack of wild dogs. She’s my cousin. Family rule.) We watched her ignore signs and railings and loose shoe laces and icy gusts of wind. We watched her lure dassies with pretend food, by rubbing the tips of her tiny fingers together, to get a closer look at the wild rabbit creature (dassies need no encouragement; they’re quite happy to come up and bite your nose off).

Everything was new to her and instead of being afraid, instead of heeding caution, she tugged on Superman’s cape, spat into the wind, pulled the cloak off the old lone ranger, and messed around with Jim. To quote that Jim Croche song. She had all the chutzpah of the Shih Tzu. And she saw more of the top of Table Mountain that day than most locals do in their lifetimes.

I saw new corners and angles, particularly ones I really didn’t need to attempt to dangle off, but I felt it… her energy, her curiosity, the certainty of a child running wild and the deep joy of going off-track. Sometimes it takes an eight year old, or a Shih Tzu, to remind us of that, to dare us to trespass and to run outside the lines.

That said, I’m still not entirely against leashes for children.

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