Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Early Morning Walks

This comes close to the highlight of my day – my early morning stroll with Niko as the sun rises and the day comes to life. We step out the door around 5 or 7, although during these long nights of winter I admit to an occasional starting time of 8.  We live close to the center of town so our routes are predictable; we rely on paths, sidewalks, and streets the city has determined appropriate for walking. Each morning we cover two to three miles, an adventurous expedition for Niko, a meditative stroll for me.

If we are out early the squirrels are still asleep – to my delight and Niko's distress. As day becomes a reality, we meet others who are venturing forth for business or pleasure. Students emerge from dorms; this morning two fell all over Niko in mutual appreciation; one has two dogs at home she misses. Others pass by at a quick pace, heads down, wired to media and music. Some look warily at this fierce beast by my side, who often stands stock still until it is clear whether the passer-by will or will not stop to greet him.

Niko knows much more about the recent history of our path than I do. I am clueless unless there has been a recent snowfall and even I can figure out that a squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, or yet larger co-resident has preceded us along our path. Niko buries his nose in each fresh piece of information (whether seen by me as a paw print in the snow or only sensed by him through his superior number of receptors on, around, and in his nose area). His ability to read the newspaper of recent events is joyous; in the dog world the newspapers speak of only exciting, upbeat information.

Then there is always information in plain sight, discarded by humans along the way. Almost every morning I have to pry a wayward kleenex from his jaws, and there are of course the more obvious leavings – perhaps half of a donut, an oddly discarded sandwich, or a piece of detritus that is completely unrecognizable to me but irresistible to him. I keep watch for these pieces of street garbage and hope I spot them before he does. Recycling and trash days are particularly interesting.

We meet people and their friendly dogs; we exchange greetings and names and ages of dogs that we promptly forget. We meet people who claim their dog is friendly, but it approaches at top snarl and we detour and agree that maybe another day would be better (for what, I don't know). We often pass a homeless man with his dog Sweetie; we always stop to chat.

I was dogless for two-and-a-half months in early 2015; I vowed I would walk anyway, as I experimented with what it would be like not to have a dog. I managed two morning walks in that time. I strode purposefully. head down, greeting no one; I was totally uninterested in logging the pieces of food people had dropped along the sidewalks. People walking dogs did not stop for me, even though I wanted to shout out "Hey! I too had a dog, a companion on the street." I paid no notice of details along the way. And had no reason to reflect on what I passed.

But with Niko, I am all eyes. And I reflect, interpret what I see, draw meaning from it. Like the small print in the recycling bin this morning – how incredibly hopeful people are that they might have some influence and control over their lives. Imagine – someone makes, and people buy and install, squirrel-proof bird feeders. I am sure all the neighborhood squirrels came out to take a look at this empty box, hopefully unpacked and neatly folded and discarded, and took up the challenge; at this very moment they are most likely stuffing themselves with bird food dispensed from the box's former contents.

There is a famous Bible verse that extols the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Niko and I share all three on our walks: Faith that we will have a splendid time; hope that we will find adventures along the way; and love of just being companions along the way, together, pursuing our own thoughts, rejoicing and giving thanks for every step we take. Amen! And Happy Groundhog Day!

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