Once upon a time my friend, J, tried to get me to love long solitary walks. I refused, agreeing with Max Beerbohm, the early 20thcentury writer who claimed taking a walk made one a dullard, and was to be avoided at all costs. Once upon around the same time, my friend, P, was trying to explain the pleasures of owning dogs (as the dog munched on the arm of her living room couch). I declined.
Now it seems I have reversed both of those refusals at once: I walk my dog. Every morning. It is often the best part of my day. Who knew?
Everything that happens to you teaches you something. (Of course, there are things no one wants learn, like what it feels like to get struck by lightning, or step on a rusty nail or get lost at sea.) But that being said, there are worlds within our world that we haven’t a clue about until something or someone opens them to us.
My walk is often solitary, which gives me time to think, and write in my head, and observe the general situation that as a former city dweller I still call “nature.” Locate the woodpecker high up in one of the trees. Worry about the neighborhood bear sightings. Appreciate the beauty of flowering weeds without wanting to know their names.
We occasionally meet friends and their humans and stop to socialize.
Sometimes, though, when it is quiet, the dog and I talk. He stops in the middle of the road. His ears perk up. He leans, straining the leash. “What’s up, bud?” I might say. Sometimes he answers with a low growl, but mostly he assumes I know he is onto something too faint for me to hear. My dog is a good listener, too. If I need to rehash an argument, or bring up something I promised myself I would not bring up again, or verbalize a worry I won’t speak of with anyone else, he’s there for me. The other morning, as we were walking the quiet country road, as I was explaining something about something to my dog (and I might have been vehement about it, waving my arms and gesturing), a car passed us, and for an instant I saw the passenger seeing me, doing what I was doing. I could imagine her saying to the driver, “Did you see that crazy lady talking to her dog?” And maybe the driver said, “All sorts of nuts in the world.”
In a flash I remembered something from many years ago when I lived in Queens and worked at a bookstore. I saw a woman walking an empty leash, talking to it. I saw this woman regularly, on my way to work. She was middle-aged, slim, with a dark ponytail, and dressed casually, like someone who would go back to her apartment and stay there rather than someone who would drop the (dog) leash and go off to work. Crazy, I thought at the time. Crazy- lonely. Had she once had a dog who ran away? Gotten run over by a bus on the busy Queens street where the #77 ran? The image, strange and sad, has returned to me often, usually as the germ of a story I will one day write. Now, though, I suddenly felt the story change. How? I don’t know, but having a dog and walking a dog and talking to the dog has expanded my understanding of it in some way.
I still don’t have the answer to what happened to that woman. But maybe “crazy” doesn’t apply. Maybe “crazy” as a delineation is too easy — almost a dismissal of the pain and love she might have felt for this once-dog at the end of her leash. Maybe crazy applies less and less as I learn more and more? Or maybe as long as I am implicated, it isn’t crazy anymore. Feeling something as if it is something that may (or has) happened to me enlarges my view. Maybe this can apply to other things in life, in the way I look at others?