Monday, April 29, 2013

The Afternoon Walk

Coming to terms with very little at all

Probably my favorite time of day is my afternoon walk with “the girls” as my wife and I call our two dogs, a black chihuahua named Bridget, 4 years old and a red English Cocker Spaniel named Katniss, almost a year old. I am not generally home from work very long before we go out.

It begins by me saying “Bridget, would you like to go for a walk?” Bridget's answers are nonverbal but nonetheless clear and always in the affirmative. I put Bridget on one end of two leashes I have tied together and go out to get Katniss.

Katniss lives outside because, for her, life is just too fun to be contained. So, indoor life would be like putting lightening in a box. She always greets me at the back gate with a toy. I often throw it for her a few times before she climbs up on the fence to accept her leash and training collar. I then pull her up from the fence and bury my face in her sun-warmed fur. She nuzzels back for a few seconds and then wiggles out for the walk.

For the first ten feet of the walk, the training collar is completely necessary. Katniss is so enthused to be out that she often jumps in circles and would run everywhere if allowed. Bridget looks with disdain at these antics and will sometimes even nip at Katniss to tell her that we need to WALK, not dance.

Then we walk from our street, down the main street to another side street to a dry creek bed. All along the way we are greeted by the barking of hundreds (well, at least lots) of other dogs all jealous of us and our happy romp. When we get to the creek bed, the real fun starts. We walk up the creek bed about 20 feet and then the leashes come off. The dogs run. I walk.

Technically, the creek is in town and the leashlessness is quite illegal, but we are not concerned. If we were to ask a surveyor, the creek is in people's backyards and “private property.” Still, if property is, as the economic theorists I respect believe, the application of labor to nature's bounty, this place is far from property. Here, nature allows no labor to have lasting effects. The flash floods that occur when it rains a few times a year would rip away any attempt at fencing or building. Here, the cottonwood, the Russian olive, the live oak, the juniper and (unfortunately) the Siberian elm grow unencumbered by any attempts by humans to tame them. Here one can find deer, javalina, raccoon, skunks and if the tales are true, mountain lions. This is a space right here in town which cannot be tamed, so it isn't. Instead people wander and hike on it like it is “public property” if such a thing can exist and we can all feel very free.

I walk along the path and watch the dogs dart among the trees and bushes. The place is alive with birds 365 days a year, and 366 on leap year. According to the philosophy by which Katniss lives, we should all do what we can. Birds can fly. So, they should. She is eager to follow her natural instinct and put every dove, quail, raven, starling and sparrow into the air with all the enthusiasm of a dog bread for 400 years for flushing. Bridget is also hunting. Often Bridget will find trash. Other times she will find a delicious lizard. Both dogs find the bones of deer who met their fate in the little ravine

As we walk up the creek we enter into a space that one would never think one was in town. The trees block any view of buildings and the wind in their branches washes out the noises of traffic. This time of year, the air is filled with a million pieces of cottonwood cotton almost reaching the ground before being whirled back up to the sky. I like to find a place to sit in this area. I watch my dogs, the birds and an occasional mule deer. Today I watched a gopher snake all curled up on a rock in the shade that had been a rock in the sun and was now probably perfect for maintaining his temperature. He watched me. I watched him. I don't like snakes and he didn't seem particularly fond of me either. Still, we put our archetypal differences aside and warily followed a policy of non-interference. I was somewhat concerned that he might attempt vengeance on the chihuahua for her reptilian pallet, but they never noticed each other.

I love it here. If I did not believe in God, in this place I would have to believe in many gods: gods of cottonwood and yucca and rocks and gopher snakes. But I only believe in one God and He's enough for all of this and more besides. Sometimes I sing. Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes I sit. Sometimes I wander over to see what the dogs are sniffing. Eventually, I walk on up the bank and around the corner.

Our walk makes a huge circle and when we come out, and the leashes come back on, we head over to the soccer field. If there are no games or practices, the leashes come off briefly again. If there are children playing, we walk around them. That brings us to the other end of the main road, which brings us back to our road which brings us home. And I put Katniss back in the back yard and let Bridget in the front, and face the chores of supper and dishes and the stresses of living a modern life. Sometimes, however, I look out the back door at Katniss playing with shadows of birds and briefly consider that I may just decide to step out back and live with her.  

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