Earlier this week the morning windchill was -10◦ so my puppy and I missed our morning walk. She was all out of sorts, pacing and whining. I felt a bit off too. I’m fortunate that my work days start late enough that every morning I can fit in a 30-minute outing with her after sunrise. Since she became a part of our family seven months ago, we have missed very few mornings –only due to a change in my schedule (an early morning meeting or travel) or for extreme weather conditions – torrential rain, massive snow storm, or like that morning, dangerously cold temps. Otherwise we are out there every day, checking out the neighborhood, doing one of three available routes from our house.
My father used to call walks like this “the daily constitutional.” Sure, there are some mornings when I don’t really feel like going out there, especially in less than stellar weather. I could do other things with that half hour, like a bit more sleep, or more writing time. But once I get out there, I’m glad we went.
I enjoy seeing the world coming awake, the sun having just come up, the quietness fading as people head out to work or school. Everything seems prettier just after sunrise. And according to my pup, it is apparently a great time for sniffing and catching up on all of the nocturnal animal activity she missed. There is also a comfort in the routine of it all.
When I was a young girl, we knew all of our neighbors within a 2-mile or more radius. Now not so much. Life is a bit different with less personal contact. We know our immediate neighbors – as a matter of fact we are BFFs with our next door neighbs. But once you get further down the road, or around the corner, the familiarity ends. Thanks to these walks, where knowledge ends, my imagination begins. My pup and I recognize certain routines for each house we stroll past, and I like to play the game of putting together clues, or just making up my own stories for those who live there.
First we got to know houses by the dogs that inhabit each home. There’s The Senior Boxer’s Raised Ranch, The Twin Pugs’ Abode, The My-Bark-is-Worse-Than-My-Bite Retriever’s Turf, and Mr. McBarky the Tiny Tough Terrier’s Terrain. Then over time, I’ve started to fill in the blanks a bit about the humans.
In one direction, we’ve got the gentleman who spent his summer working very hard on creating expansive gardens in his front yard, only to run out of time before actually adding more plants or mulch. Then there’s the retired couple who travel a lot, the young woman who has been doing a massive renovation of her home while trying to live in it at the same time (my kudos to her, been there done that, and it ain’t easy), the woman who has a small daycare in her home, and the slightly frazzled mom who wrangles her kids every morning to get their stuff in the car in time to drive them to school.
In another direction, there’s the cop with the beautiful big shepherd dog, the rather wacky family with a veritable zoo or farm in their backyard, the mysterious potential hoarding-case house, and the ever-expanding solar farm.
The third loop is the most interesting because it includes a more traditional neighborhood. Let’s see… we’ve got the young dad who works third shift, the nurse who’s large tree fell over in a bad storm, the home of the smokers who have a tarp on their roof and a flooded driveway, the busy family with multiple dogs and kids who have not noticed the broken folding lawn chair that lies crumpled in their front yard, and the home of the very sweet retired Italian couple with a cute cat and extensive garden. There are the two sisters who walk that same loop in pleasant weather. And there’s the home with the misguided water sprinkler that makes a funny sound as it sprays their mailbox.
Sometimes the puzzles take longer to put together. There is one older man who I would expect to be retired, yet I saw him head off to work every day. Until one morning when we happened to be walking about an hour later than usual, and I saw that same man pull back into his driveway and into his garage. Given the fact his recycling bin each week is full of neatly folded newspapers, I have now surmised (ie: created his story in my head) that every day he goes out to get a cup of coffee and the paper. My neighborhood stories must always be cute and friendly, unlike the reality that probably lurks behind most doors.
The last part of that loop brings us by the Farm Stand and Nursery which of course changes and evolves throughout the year, starting with early spring flowers and ending with Christmas trees – after which the hard-working folks can finally take a vacation. The familiarity of watching the seasons through that farm is comforting.
During afternoon weekend walks we will from time to time stop by the farm stand to bring home some veggies or plants, and my pup relishes the attention she receives there. During one of these stops, another woman customer said to me “You walk her every morning, don’t you.” It had never dawned on me that my morning observations could go both ways. Perhaps I’ve been a character in one of the home owner’s stories. Perhaps I should put more thought into what I’m wearing or put on some makeup. Nah. That would make my character far less interesting.
And so our daily strolls will continue, God willing, rain or shine for years to come. We will see families move away, and new ones come in. We will see renovations, landscaping changes, and children and puppies grow. I will continue to make up stories, and my pup will still chase squirrels up trees and stop to sniff the deer highway that runs over an old stone wall.
Next week, on Christmas morning, while our home-from-college son slumbers and my husband starts making coffee and cocoa, perhaps we will slip out for a holiday edition of our Daily Constitutional. The morning will be even more peaceful. The farm stand will be closed for the season. Inside those homes, excited children will be waking parents, or couples will be exchanging gifts over breakfast, or families will be preparing to drive to visit relatives. Outside, however, there will be quiet, just our footsteps crunching through snow and ice along the roadside, and the sound of my doggo sniffing and snorting as she investigates. Instead of making up stories, I’ll think about the one story that means the most. That so many years ago, in the quiet and stillness of an early morning, a newborn baby changed the world.
Thank you, dear readers, for being there for my shared stories. May you each find your own slice of peace, stillness and love this Christmas.