I have had little trouble honoring my goal of getting outside this month. The weather is (mostly) cooperating and I live in a beautiful place with woods and a river nearby. It is an amazing feeling to reconnect with nature as more than an occasional escape. In my past I have often been a person who walked in the woods every day and routinely did 6-12 mile hikes almost every weekend.
I am happy to report that despite my additional years and what I am fondly calling my extra ‘thesis weight,’ I can still manage the walking and the hills quite nicely, thank you very much. I am even happier to report that my recent discovery of kayaking on the Susquehanna will give me some wonderful variety in the way I experience my beautiful surroundings.
This is a sad re-birth, however. My Hannah, while still alive and well, can no longer tolerate long wanders in the woods. She has a hard time with short walks too, in fact, and so we have mostly been sticking to the neighborhood and the local dog park and limiting our outings to 45 minutes or less.
It is hard to remember hiking without Hannah, my outdoor companion. With the exception of the few hikes I have taken abroad or across the country, Hannah has walked every single walk with me for thirteen years. In fact, she’s probably hiked twice what I have. Her border collie instincts kick in when we are outdoors, and she always checks on the herd – running from the front to the back of any group – and then to the front again.
A great trail dog, Hannah helps me to stop and relax and enjoy the view. She stays close by even while she is exploring – always returning to me every few minutes to check-in. She motivates me to get outside when I don’t feel like moving, and then I am so grateful for the fresh air in my lungs. Her sheer love of the walk and the outdoors (tail wagging all the while) puts me in a great mood and encourages me to focus on here – now – not on anything else. When I take her off-leash she is overjoyed. She sits obediently while I remove her collar and stays until I give her the command to run free, when she bounds off, elated. I am elated to be off-leash too.
A few years ago a friend, who knows I am clutzy and prone to walking into file cabinets and tripping on my own feet, noticed something while we were hiking together. He said “for someone who gets new bruises every day, you sure can walk on the rocky trails of PA without any trouble at all. What’s that about?”
I pondered his observation – something I’d never noticed but that is certainly true. I think the answer is that when I’m in the woods, I am just in the woods. I am walking and relaxing and focused on that one activity. For a person prone to multi-tasking (and have I mentioned making things far more complicated than they need to be), this singular focus is an important way I recharge and care for myself. And it is something I have most certainly learned from my dog.
In spite of her grey hairs and her aching joints, Hannah is still a happy, healthy dog. I am hopeful that I have at least a few more good years with her.
I know that her company is a gift, whether we get into the woods or not. But I am missing her there, and I am grieving.