I stumbled off the plane at O’Hare, dragging my smelly backpack and my bad attitude with me. I’d spent 6 hours in turbulence, 4 hours sleeping like a pretzel at Heathrow, 2 hours on a bus, and 90 minutes on a sardine flight from Inverness, Scotland, where my luggage was still being held hostage. My weeks of hiking in the Highlands had been a dream come true, but getting home was a nightmare.
Passport control at O’Hare – if you’ve never had the pleasure – is like swimming through muddy water. With electric eels. Today, in addition to the usual delays, there were dogs everywhere. Beagles and hounds and one stunning German Shepherd.
Don’t get me wrong. I like dogs. I have a dog. But with no sleep, no coffee and no shower, I was in no mood for a drug sniffing slow-down in the already long line. I shifted my backpack in resignation.
And then a cute little beagle trotted up behind me.
I had a beagle once. He’d been such a happy, bouncy dog. I couldn’t help but smile.
The queue moved up, I moved up, and the beagle, very politely, blocked my path. I made kissy noises at him, but he did not wag his tail.
Nor did his handler, a very earnest woman from Homeland or TSA or some agency with the power to imprison me.
“Open your backpack, please,” she said crisply, not like any beagle I ever knew. “You must have an apple in there. This dog only tracks apples.”
I dropped my pack to the floor and unzipped. I knew for sure I had some hard salami, dirty socks, and tiny bottles of Glenfiddich that they hadn’t noticed going through security at Heathrow, but –
“The dog’s looking for apples?”
“We’re intercepting all produce.” She caught a whiff of the pack and tried to breathe through her mouth. “Dog says you’ve got some. Let’s have ‘em.”
I dug in, not remembering any recent apple encounters. But there, at the very bottom, was a miserable, half-eaten core. The smoking gun fruit.
The beagle dutifully wagged his tail.
She flipped disgustedly through the rest of my crud, at least sparing my peanut butter cups. “You’re free to go,” she said, taking away my apple and my dignity.
I got through processing in a daze, and collapsed into an Uber with a blessedly untalkative driver. I could not stop thinking about the sheer single-mindedness of that dog.
He only tracks apples, she said. He wanders through hundreds of people every hour, ignoring roast beef crumbs and human body odor and fried chicken wings. He smells all these doggy-delicious aromas, and walks right by them.
My dog can’t walk past a toy rubber pork chop without losing his mind.
Did you ever want to have that kind of laser focus? I did. For years, I tried to fixate so intently on my goals that distractions ceased to exist. No fetching frisbees or chasing squirrels for me, not while there was work to be done. I longed to unleash my inner beagle, and focus completely on apples. I mean, success.
I picked up my terrier, Fergus, from my neighbor, and with my last drops of energy, headed the final two blocks to my house. I watched as he dashed deliriously from butterflies to mud piles. He snarled viciously at a bed of sunflowers – a clear threat to my life — then threw himself at me in triumph.
I brushed a dozen squeaky toys off my bed, and let him climb up. Yes, we have rules about the toys and the bed … but I’d been gone for three weeks. And let’s face it: Fergus and I are not beagles. We are easily distracted and endlessly amused. We are random and ridiculous. We bounce from tree to tree, from idea to idea, from mountain hikes to river rafts.
Just before I dozed off, my son got home from work and poked his head in.
“Welcome home,” he whispered. “Did you eat on the plane, or do you want a snack?” He tossed me a big, juicy apple, which I caught deftly with one hand.
“I don’t need a thing,” I said, and blew him a kiss.