Dogs in the Days of the Grandparents


Randy, roamer of the hills, poses for the camera while German Shepherd Moxie sips from the creek

Brown-coated Randy is never happier than when roaming the hills in search of smells and small critters. His person, Nicolás, tends to the coffee plants and the trails that connect them while Randy of the upwardly curved tail like the coiled ribbon on a birthday present bounds among the trees and bushes, sniffer to the ground and tail upward like a flamboyant radio antenna.


These hills – Randy’s hills – are the green and tan hills that rise from San Juan La Laguna village at the edge of elegant Lake Atitlan. These rugged hills that encircle the lake are sparsely populated and tamed only by narrow trails and scattered swatches of sloping fields and terraced ridges. Here, now, coffee is the principal crop and there are no large creatures left to threaten it. But that’s not how it used to be.


‘In the days of the grandparents’ as is said to refer to a time just nearly beyond memory, it used to be the maíz (corn) and frijól (beans) that grew in the small clearings. And it used to be as well in those days that the hills teamed with all manner of hungry creature and wild beastie.


In the evenings and on church days they would creep out from among the tall bushes and trees and they would dig up the young sprouts and clear the tall leaves of their ripening fruit. So it was in those days that the ‘grandparents’ brought in dogs to guard their fields.


Randy of the long tongue

These lean, alert, guard dogs – the many-times-great grandparents of Randy and his generation – patrolled the perimeters of the hillside fields, roamed the narrow spaces along where the wild bush was burned back, and garrisoned the breaches where the hungry, hillside creatures lurked and salivated.


Today the wild creatures are fewer and the coffee crop doesn’t present the same enticing meal. Today, also, Nicolás – of whom the children not yet born will speak when in some future time they say ‘in the days of the grandparents’ – Nicolás wears blue jeans and a t-shirt imported secondhand from the United States instead of the traditional Mayan frock. Today, he spends more time collecting a tributary usage fee from the tourists who hike these hills than protecting the crop.


For Randy this means roaming the hills instead of guarding a plot. But the old instinct of his ancestors is intact. You can see it in the twinkle that passes across his eye in the moment that he sees a rustle in the tall grass or sniffs a familiar scent. The moment when he detects that a critter is near about. There is a flash in his eye and then he, Randy, roamer of the hills and chaser of critters, bolts off to do his work.

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Los Angeles, CA, USA + Panajachel, Guatemala