I walk my dogs every day, usually first thing in the morning. Though sometimes I am reluctant to leave my cozy house—especially when it’s cold out—I rarely regret it once I’m out there. Besides giving myself and the dogs much needed daily exercise, my walks are a time for my mind to wander and ponder, to settle, to move over what’s puzzling and tugging at my brain. The pace of my breath quickly matches that of my feet. Something about that rhythm and the movement is soothing, allowing my swirling thoughts, wonderings and uncertainties to achieve a coherence.
I’d like to tell you the entirety of my walks are filled with this sense of peace but I can’t. Because I do have two dogs on my hands. Yesterday as I walked, they dragged me half the way. The smell of some animal, a wild one I’m assuming, made them both frenzied.
They were both tugging on their leads, hard, and sniffing frantically. Sugarplum was yipping. High, quick barks that seemed excited but also nervous.
Buddy was zig-zagging back and forth, clacking his teeth together rapidly, something he does when he’s most freaked out. Their frenzy infected me and I felt worse, not better, by the end.
Sometimes they’ll simultaneously take off after a smell-in opposite directions. Caught unawares, my arms get yanked and I feel like I’m going to be drawn and halved.
But even worse, I’ve discovered, is when they run in opposite directions but the one whose leash is in my right hand runs left and the one whose leash is in my left hand runs right. I find myself with my arms crossed tight across my body in a canine-created straight jacket. I find it both funny and annoying. Tending toward the annoying the more it happens.
Also a destroyer of the peace is Buddy’s habit of eating dog poop he finds along the way. Labs are know for their fondness for food and generally eating whatever disgusting stuff is at their disposal. Buddy is no exception. As we walk, he lunges at piles of poop on the side of the road, scarfing them down as fast as he can find them.
This has two unhappy results. One is that I devote part of my energy to poop spotting—keeping an eye out for poop so I can steer him away from it. It’s not a preferred use of my energy and attention. On shit. I get distracted or just can’t see it and then next thing I know, he’s flinging himself at these tasty little piles and I’m yanking him away, adding annoyance as well as pain to the hand gripping the leash and the shoulder attached to that hand.
Periodically we’ll meet another dog, sending Sugarplum into a frenzy of excitement. This involves more yipping and pulling. It’s annoying but also sweet because really all she wants to do is greet the other dog and play.
But between the frenzied excited moments, I find silence and peace and happiness. I like being outside and noticing the small changes that happen over the seasons.
Spring is announced by water gurgling in the irrigation ditch again and bright green grass. Summer brings wildflowers and a riot of birds. By fall the grasses have turned brown and crunchy, the leaves begin to fall. Winter sometimes brings snow.
I see deer, wild turkey, hawks and bald eagles, the occasional bobcat. It’s sunny or cloudy or windy or hot or cold. I see my neighbors and exchange waves or stop to say hello.
I watch the dogs follow their noses, some smells passed over quickly, others riveting their noses to the spot. I wish I could be a dog for a day and understand the stories the scents tell them.
All of this—the sights, sounds, smells and dogs being dogs—gives me a groundedness from which to start my day. My dogs, being creatures of habit, don’t understand it when life interrupts the morning walk. It throws their rhythm off. As it does mine. The morning walk is essential for them—and for me.