Tiny little fuchsia flowers with long stems that make them look like miniature kites dot the walkway from the front door to the living room where the dog gate is propped in a zig-zag formation to keep the dogs away from the good furniture and carpeting. Before we moved in, the previous owners had a Chihuahua who made a star pattern in tinkling markings that despite new pad and carpeting to replace their hideous dusty rose colored flooring and bleaching the ground underneath and spraying “Dog B Gone” on the infected areas, my dogs with their 220 million smelling receive cells, headed straight for those spots and proudly declared them “theirs” with their urine.
Each morning I get up and walk the dogs. It’s a ritual, a routine we’ve been enjoying for years now. No matter how often the pattern is repeated, they are as excited as if Ed McMahon himself had risen from the dead to ring your doorbell with a check for $20 million dollars. The little dog gets so excited he attacks the bigger dog, who shakes him off and runs back and forth with her toy waiting for me to snag her so I can snap on the leash. Out we go.
We have a set of four paths that we take, each winding its way for 1-3 miles. Depending on my mood, the weather, and how much time we have I’ll usually let the dogs let me know which path to take. One is purely residential, a big loop around ours and the adjacent neighborhood. The seasons in California in the suburbs are marked more with the decorations that people put up than by the weather. Sure the days are shorter in the winter and chilly at night, the late winter is rainy and the dog days of August are hotter than Hades in a frying basket, but mostly we see the creek rise and sometimes flood, the flowers bloom and turn green in the winter and “golden” (aka brown & dead for those pessimists out there) in the summer. People dutifully put out their Shamrock doodads, then their Easter rabbits, 4th of July, Halloween, and then go bonkers for the Christmas holidays. No snow? No problem! The twinkling lights don’t care.
Ours is a typical Northern California suburb. From afar the houses look like a boring mess of adobe colored tiling that are packed too close together and run in tracks in forced “neighborhoods”, devoid of any cultural pulse according to my “city” friends, but we like this quasi Mediterranean-Mexican mix style and feel at home. Our yards aren’t as big as where either of us grew up, but that’s the price we pay for living in sunshine I suppose.
We walk through the cul-de-sacs and see bikes propped up, landscaping men (always men) in their long sleeves and hats, pruning and trimming the postage stamp sized lawns with their massive houses plunked at odd angles to create a faux semblance of privacy (our house is lucky, set apart from the others we don’t look into anyone else’s – this was a MUST for us to buy our house).
The truth is, we’re very close together, but further apart than most other places I’ve lived. The crisis manuals warn that everyone should know where the young children and elderly are so that they can be gotten to first in case of a disaster, but I doubt most people on our street know what kids belong to which house, let alone their neighbors’ names. This part saddens me.
The dogs sniff and sniff and sniff. And then they sniff some more. I often want to get inside their heads to learn what they’re actually processing in all this sniffing. The dog trainers say that the butt-sniffing is a quick way to judge the health of the animal (and subsequent pack-level attitudes). Our dogs act tough towards some dogs and meek towards others. There is no obvious correlation of size – they jump on big dogs (as if the large ones couldn’t toss them aside like an appetizer) and are frightened of very small ones (like Chihuahuas).
The other paths are to parks and along the creek and bike walkways. I try to go before the “mommy brigade” thunders out onto the pathway – you can hear them coming a mile away and they take the entire path and look at you and dogs as though you might hurt their precious cargo. This particular batch I don’t like them in their herd mentality. Perhaps individually they are nice but in this pack they are loud and braying. The other groups we avoid are a bunch of kids, because kids don’t always know their sense of space and they think my dogs are cute and want to pet them. My dogs ARE cute, but they’re not kid-friendly when approached in the sort of windmill yelling manner children have.
Sometimes I’ll let them run down by the creek. They love it. I hate it. I have to spend the next couple of hours picking burs and arrowheads out of their fur and washing them off. They hate that part too, but the romps in the water seem worth it, at least once in a while.
The one thing I insist on is every spring, for the two weeks that the pear and cherry blossoms are hanging pregnant with their joyous bundles, we have to walk down “flower way” where the smells are intoxicating. I can bury my nose in the blooms, popping out like little milkways, for hours. There is no smell that can be manufactured to be as delightful as those fresh blossoms. I wish they lasted longer. The snowball trees will keep their blooms for about a month, but they have no scent (at least until Autumn when the leaves turn into a sticky syrup that coats the sidewalks with its messy resin and leaves black walnut stains everywhere).
If we walk along the bike trail, we always see odd things. We’ve “rescued” lots of dogs who’ve escaped while families fumble around in their rushed morning routines, we saw a sign posted once about a serial killer in the making who had killed their cat and left it in their garbage (it later turned out the cat had been hit by a car and another neighbor recognized it and left it in their garbage so at least they’d know). Today we saw a cat tail, so maybe there is a serial-killer-to-be in our area. My dogs sniffed it for an eternity, not understanding. Or at least I think they didn’t understand. Not too far from this odd site was a massive, HUGE, steaming pile of doo-doo. This made no sense. It was way too much for a dog, but it was compacted and piled unlike a horse does. Were the two things related? Was a lion on the loose? I kept my eye out.
Studying our neighbors’ landscaping as we walk reflects their style – country, exotic, couldn’t-care-less, wild. I believe it when they say there are more than 2000 types of palm trees in the world. Not quite Hawaii but lots of different kinds, often with volleyball nets tied between them. My favorite time is spring, when the poppies and daffodils sprout, the blossoms are giving us our closest thing to “snow” and the pale purple of the lavender plants sit next to the last hisses of the bright red berries that slash across them, trading bright for the soft hues of summer.
We’ve been followed by lost dogs, lost children, and once, by a coyote. He was across the creek, but that would be nothing for this guy to cross. I was on a part where the closest house is a ways away, and that thing slunk low and followed us for at least half a mile, despite my yelling and waving my arms and throwing a rock at it. It wasn’t afraid at all. Finally I picked up my dogs and ran towards the street. It must have known that was its limit for I saw it bounding back across the field.
But the oddest thing I’ve ever had happen while on our morning walk was passing a path regular, a nice old man with a Golden Retriever who was on her last legs. She had hip dysplasia and pained her to walk, but she loved her walks so much that he’d bring her in his car and put her at the head of the train and he’d walk ahead and sit on the park bench and read his paper while she made her slow journey towards him, nuzzling him for a reward petting when she finally reached her human.
One day he was sitting there and we approached from the opposite direction with another dog following us. I asked him if he could hold my dog’s leashes for a minute while I checked this dog out. The dog had a collar with an address and nothing else. I didn’t recognize the street, so I wanted to bring the dog back to my house so I could look it up. We were on the same stretch where there were no houses, and bounded on the long ends of the trail by busy streets, so the dog’s chances for getting home safe were compromised. The dog was some sort of sheep or sheltie mix, friendly and happy to be around us.
The gentleman with the Golden Retriever put her in the car and we walked across the street. He followed me part way and I took it from there. A mile and a half later we were at my house, so I put this fluffy guy in the backyard and looked up the street address on mapquest. It didn’t exist. Great! So I went out front and was trying to figure out what to do as I had to go to work, when a cop drove by. I flagged him down and he was kind enough to have someone at the station look up th street for me – some new street that hadn’t been mapped yet. This happened all the time with housing developments springing up practically overnight.
I put the dog in my car and drove over to their house. They had an old house, a smaller house with a big front lawn. The hose was running, the garage door was open and there was a truck parked in the driveway. The dog got out excitedly, so I figured this was his house. I knocked on the front door. No answer. I went around to the garage door and banged again – no answer. I hesitantly went to the back door and saw the sliding patio door was open a few inches. The dog wiggled its way inside and I pulled it open to help, and noticed that there was a hot cup of coffee and two half eaten bowls of cereal on the table alongside the milk carton. WHOA! Either I watch too many cop drama shows or this family had either been abducted by aliens in the middle of breakfast or slaughtered in the back room! I tried to get the dog to come, but he was running through the house. He didn’t seem to be distressed and plopped down on the sofa, so I closed the door and went back around front.
I sat in their driveway for 20 minutes, hoping someone would come. I had left my cell phone at home, but I wasn’t too far. I left them a note that I’d found their dog & had put him inside, and gave them my number if they had any questions. I drove home, thinking that I might call the cops and explain and ask them to look in. When I got home 10 minutes later, my dogs were wondering where their new friends were and I checked my messages. Sure enough, there was a message from the owner, a woman who I’m sure if she thought about it more wouldn’t have done it, but her voice message was initially nasty asking WHY I had opened the door to their house! It then tapered off into a nicer thank you very much, that when they realized the dog had gotten out the entire family ran outside and had gone looking for him. I listened to that message several times, finally laughing about it. I wish I’d saved it because it was funny.
Most days our doggie walks are uneventful. Happy pulling (Cesar Millan would be appalled), running down the path or across the park field, sniffing sniffing sniffing, pooping and peeing all over, and coming home exhausted and happy and filling the house with those little pink kite-flowers.