Sometimes its not about hiking the 100 mile wilderness or crossing the Knife Edge on Katahdin. Not about the anticipation of stepping out into a week long solo backpacking trip on the AT from Caratunk to Monson.
No, sometimes it’s a different kind of walking as its been here these past three weeks in Maryland where I’m enjoying the gift of time with my sister, nephews and niece for card playing and movies, conversations and cooking interspersed with dog walks. The walking these days in the ordinary, everyday, several times a day little journeys of taking the dog for a walk around the block.
Chet the dog is 12, deaf, arthritic and can’t see too well. His favorite activity of the day is sleeping in his bed or better yet, snuggled up next to my sister on the couch. Except, that is when you pick him up from his slumber and place him by the door. His little stump of a tail starts wagging and though he no longer barks in joyful anticipation, sometimes he will muster a croaky yelp of delight.
A carry off the front steps that he no longer can navigate. Gently placed down at the crest of the hill outside the house followed by his wheezy cough. Sometimes, especially at night, he’ll bound for a few steps down the hill remembering perhaps what it was like to be a puppy again, ears flopping to the edge of the curb. He’ll stand there for a moment and then leap out like he’s about to take a jump off a high diving board, ears flapping.
John Muir hated the word “hike” and urged people to “saunter” through the outdoors instead. Chet agrees. He doesn’t care how far we go, and knows that is not the point of the walk. Sometimes we make it all around the block. Sometimes, he turns around part way and heads toward home. What he cares about is all these smells. The smells that will keep his nose in the grass, at the tree, by the bushes until with the tug of his leash he’s encouraged to keep on sauntering along. I haven’t gotten down to smell what he does down there nor do I plan to. But it must be a world of wonder from his focused sniffing out the evidence of dogs and the wayward fox.
When was it I forgot the joy of the slow saunter on a gray sidewalk going nowhere but here, around this slow curve up the hill, past the house construction, gnarly bare limbs against the gray sky, brown leaves crumbled by the curb. The green wreath, blue and yellow flashing Christmas lights, a tree through the window.
Dog walking brings everything down to here and now. Nowhere far to go, not a lot to do but be here, steady and slow, to wait and watch.
There is something perhaps to be said for this steady circling, the daily ritual walks that bring all the uncertainty and expectancy, anxiety and anticipation of these days down to this time, this moment.
On this gray drizzly night, I’m ready to be home. I pull Chet forward, “Come on, come on.”
It will be a slow walk to get there and no rushing the smells at the next corner. But slowly, steadily we’re making our way.
I hope this new year may bring you walks of challenge and discovery, and yes, even more so, the gift of the wonder right here in the ordinary, everyday walks around your block.