Louie is standing by the door, ready for his morning walk. I look at the thermometer-22 degrees. Too cold, I tell him. He barks and stares at me, unblinking.
Okay. Okay. Reluctantly, I pull on my Lands End winter coat with hood, gloves that leave my fingers bare for usual dog walking tasks but with half-mittens attached, plastic bag and Kleenex. I also remember to take along my cell phone.
Unlike what the dog whisperer recommends, we go the same way every day; up to the park, follow the path through the playground, zigzag past the swimming pool, and onto the back street. We swing by Blossom’s white picket-fenced yard. Blossom, a white dog of unknown origin, used to greet us with fierce barks but she’s grown old and doesn’t hear or see us anymore. We turn the corner, stop at the front side of the park to get a free doggy bag, walk under the pine trees, cross the street and head for home; exactly one mile.
The walk is my gift to Louie, I tell myself – his connection to the world. Straight out of the driveway, he heads for the light pole that leans ever increasingly towards the neighbor’s driveway. After giving it a good smell, he stops at the school blinker light and then on to the pachysandra that has invaded someone’s front yard. I too get to check out the neighborhood; new decorations, cars in the driveways, now and then a glimpse of the growing crop of babies and frequently, friendly waves.
Along the way, we do a bit of policing; pick up occasional cans and bottles to toss in the park trashcan that Louie visits daily. He knows every blade of grass and every dog on the back street. Joey, the Jack Russell, lives in the little green house with the chimes hanging from the porch. Even when the front door is closed, he hears Louie and yaps until we go by.
Wonderdog, the big, gangly black Rhodesian ridgeback mix, lives across the street next to the house with the little red wagon and several bicycles in the drive. He never leaves his yard, even when squirrels taunt him. He was out with his owner the first time I saw him and he scared me half to death. He galloped toward us and I braced for his lunge but he came to a dead stop right at the edge of his property. Louie went nuts but Wonderdog turned and nonchalantly walked away. His owner smiled and waved. I waved back but I continued to keep a nervous eye on his dog until we turned the corner at Blossom’s house.
Next time we passed Wonderdog and his owner, I asked if they had an electric fence but he said no. I asked how he’d trained his dog so well but he laughed and said if I thought Wonderdog was so great I should see the other dog they keep in the backyard.
We still maintain a watchful eye on Wonderdog but he continues to ignore us and to date, we’ve never seen the mysterious backyard dog.
A young family with twins moved into the house just passed Blossom’s picket fence. They used to have a huge, healthy old oak tree in their front yard. How I wished I had such a beauty in our yard. It towered over the twin’s house providing abundant shade. Its leaves turned a beautiful burnished red in the fall. Of course, that meant heavy duty raking but that seemed a small price to pay for such splendor. One day, as we came upon the house, I saw big hunks of the oak tree trunk lying by the curb ready to be hauled away. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Who would do that, cut down a gorgeous tree? I shake my head, deeply offended. There are street side bushes at the corner of this house and I don’t mind Louie taking his time there at all. I used to pick up their papers and leave them by their front door but I don’t do that anymore.
The squirrels know it is January and time to start their mating routine. Louie and I watch them chasing one another at top speed across the ground and up the park trees where they perform feats of awesome agility. The males are chasing females but also other males, staking out their territory. What a show. At the same time, I try to watch out for pinecones under foot, which would spell disaster for me were I to trip on one and fall. That’s why I try not to forget my I-Phone.
Back in our warm home, Louie climbs on the couch for a nap. I on the other hand, am energized, what with all those released endorphins swirling around in my head. They are Louie’s gifts to me.