These are strange times indeed, but I don’t have to tell you that because unlike that day back in January, 2019 when it was residents of Minnesota and a couple of neighboring states battling frigid temperatures, something not unexpected during our winters, March, 2020 sees the entire world battling an enemy no one expected and for which no one was prepared. It’s confusing, it’s scary, it’s heartbreaking, and I can’t decide if the fact that everyone, all around the world, is in this together is comforting or terrifying.
But throughout it all, the Golden Retriever and I are still walking. It’s part of our daily routine and has been for all of her seven years. We have a path right behind our house that we jump on every morning. She knows the drill: the first half mile she gets to run, untethered, joyously kicking up her heels, romping through the weeds, sniffing all the places that need sniffing. That first half mile is relatively straight, no trees to block the view, so I can easily see if someone is heading toward us and if that happens, can call her back and leash her. But here’s the thing…there’s almost never anyone on the path with us. Really, if we come across more than a couple of people on our three to four mile route, we consider it an event worth noting.
The last couple of weeks, though? So. Many. People. It’s become a veritable free-for-all on our path. Solo walkers, families, moms with kids, dads with kids, couples, runners, bikers, dog walkers, you name ‘em, they’re on our path. While we’re not shoulder to shoulder and are maintaining proper social distancing, it’s become crowded out there, folks. I get it, we all are stuck at home and looking for things to do, and exercising is a good choice, but it’s just plain weird.
The Golden Retriever has taken to sulking when she sees her leash. The crowds mean the days of off-leash running are in the past. To add insult to injury, our walks are no longer just the two of us. Enter: Boomer.
Our daughter and her dog, an eighty-five pound lab who is equal parts lovable pup and canine wrecking ball are living with us temporarily as she waits to finalize her house purchase. Boomer’s got all the energy and lack of manners one would expect from a year-and-a-half-old overgrown puppy and he is the bane of Rigi’s existence.
So, our walks have come to this:
Getting out the door poses the first challenge. Boomer is so excited he actually jumps over Rigi to get out the door first. The leashes are now tangled and I have to stop to untangle them. Boomer races Rigi down the driveway, pulling me along for the ride, never realizing that Rigi is in no way interested in a race. Rigi knows the walk will proceed at her pace no matter how fast the moron tries to run. Rigi is so dignified.
We barely make it up the street, around the corner and onto the path before we have to make our first stop. Boomer needs to use the restroom. This one requires one of the baggies shoved in my pocket and will be followed by at least a dozen more quick pit stops. Rigi rolls her eyes.
As we make our way along the path, we pass person after person, dog after dog, and each encounter requires me to deftly twist the leashes around my hands to shorten them so the doggies can’t interact with their comrades. Social distancing applies to dogs too, doesn’t it? I don’t think I’m imagining things when I note the “better you than me” glances I get from those we pass.
We’ve walked about a half mile now. Boomer has stopped five times for those pit stops, has eaten every disgusting thing he can get his mouth on, and has found every bit of mud there is to find. Even though it’s in the thirties, I’m sweating. There’s no way I can remove a layer, though, because I don’t dare let go of Boomer’s leash for a second. The guy is a huge flight risk.
We continue on our route but have to stop when the geese fly overhead. This is just simply too good to miss. Boomer turns himself in circles and leans his head so far back, his front paws come off the ground and he loses his balance. Of course, in his exuberance, he tangles his leash around Rigi who stands stoically, her eyes pleading with me for rescue from this ill-mannered cretin.
Around the two-and-a-half mile mark Boomer calms down some when he finally starts to tire. Rigi continues at her steady pace. We’re used to this route, and two-and-a-half miles is nothing for her. In Boomer’s defense, he’s crisscrossed the path so many times, he’s covered probably twice that distance. It’s understandable he’s tired.
A stick! Doesn’t matter that he plucked it from the edge of the woods, that it’s not really a stick but a limb from an oak tree, that it’s longer than he is, Boomer’s going to hold that stick in his mouth and prance down the path with his prize. Of course, it trips him, it pokes Rigi, and it catches in the mud and jerks his head side to side, but Boomer’s not one to give up. One snap of his jaw and the branch breaks into a more manageable length. He’s proud of himself, holds his head a little higher, and we continue on. Rigi has taken to sighing. I wouldn’t be surprised if she teaches herself to speak just so she can tell Boomer what she thinks of him.
A couple of kids on bikes gleefully ding their bells at us to let us know they’re behind us. I think I would have preferred being hit by the bikes than trying to calm Boomer who, for some reason, is terrified by the bells and flies into a twisting, jumping frenzy. I’m pretty sure my arm’s still attached, but I’m not going to take my jacket off to check, will just hope for the best.
Home is in sight. We’re dirty, we’re thirsty, but best of all, we’re tired. A tired Boomer is a beautiful thing. There’s still the matter of getting his feet washed, a process he fights with every fiber of his being and that has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion, but once we accomplish that, get everyone a treat and a gallon of water, if all goes according to plan, the dogs will sleep for a few hours. And I will drink my coffee, open my computer, look at the news, and realize that I’m grateful to Boomer for taking my mind off that news for the past hour.
I hope you’re healthy, safe, staying home, and that our news gets better soon.