Walking the Dog
By: Dorcas DenHartog
It had been a COVID-downer of a day. It was early September. I’d been in Zoom meetings all day, as our school planned to welcome students in-person for, we hoped but doubted, a day? A week? A couple of weeks would be a dream. If only we could get to know our students before we lost them again behind our screens.
Our team at the Richmond Middle School is the best: my colleagues are positive, can-do, above and beyond, and there for our students and each other with a depth of caring that makes even a bad day ok. But it finally got to me. The fear, anxiety, tension. All I wanted to do was go home, curl up, and go numb. I had come to work with my bag of running clothes and shoes, planning to go for a run and clear my mind on the trails of Oak Hill after work. I left work with no spirit to put them on and headed home with the storm clouds of Mordor swirling around my head.
Driving across Ledyard Bridge I knew once I got home these feelings would only tighten their grasp around my brain, my throat, my shoulders, and strangle me. Desperate but doubtful, I headed to the Ballard Trail.
It was a gray, muddy afternoon, to match my mood. Everyone’s mood that day. I put on shorts and my running shoes, intending just to move my body, maybe clear my mind, untangle the figurative rope that had me tied in knots.
It was odd to just walk. I had no distance or goal to reach, no time to push for, this was not part of some plan; I did not have the energy. I just tried putting one foot in front of the other, walking away from it all.
I had been up this trail countless times. It was a cool spot in the heat of a fall weekend with the xc running team, listening to them chat away as they effortlessly bounded over root and rock. It was a great day trip with kids from the Montshire summer program, distracting them from the effort by pointing out random lichen, flowers, the stripes on the striped maple’s branches. A smile came briefly, but then the thoughts came back like a grumble of thunder. ‘Be here now,’ I tried to tell myself.
I admired a rock with an intrusion of quartz.
I watched and heard the brook’s water babble and chuckle around the rocks and under fallen tree limbs.
I smelled the early autumn pungence of soon to be decaying leaves under my feet.
I took a sprig of hemlock and crushed it between my fingers and held it to my nose.
And I thought of my dogs. If I was walking or running with my dog, she would have had her nose to the ground, taking astounding notes of every sensory detail and the news stories behind them. I could call her, or if on a leash, tug her to come, but she’d be so enthralled I would only be sound and fury to her, signifying nothing. I need to be more like my dog, I realized. And ignore the sound and fury made up by humans.
And so I walked. This time with my head up, looking side to side, taking in the changing tree ecosystems, the moss-draped ledges to the left, the brook to the right, recently set free from a dam upstream, the incredible stonework of stairs. The trail dipped down and through a small clearing and I let my legs roll forward into a trot before slowing to a step up the roots and rocks. The effort loosened my shoulders. The deep breaths relaxed my chest. The memories of Luna made me grin. ‘Walk the dog’, I thought to myself. ‘Be here now.’
I was reminded of a favorite quote hanging by my classroom desk:
Let us first be as simple and well as nature ourselves, dispel the clouds which hang over our brows and take up a little life into our pores.
— Walden, Henry David Thoreau
Run, bike, ski, hike, or walk the dogs. This year, may you all be able to get out into nature, be as simple and well as nature yourselves, taking up a little life into your pores and dispel the clouds of the past year.