The beginning of wisdom, as the Chinese say, is calling things by their right names. (E. O. Wilson, as cited by Elizabeth J. Rosenthal, Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson)

Friday, December 31, 2010

A Long Stick

December 31, 2009.  Thursday.
Situation:  Work tonight, so rest early afternoon.  Around three, put on my walking clothes.  Mway hears me, scoots down the stairs ahead of me in anticipation.  On the porch is a new stick, which Moi and Mway apparently used earlier today, firm and fresh, and more than a yard long,.
State of the Path.  Inch of snow powder on the ground, lining the limbs of trees, from a snow that fell last night.  It’s easy walking, feel a little wet inside my boots, but weather much warmer.   Follow footsteps of Moi, paw prints of Mway, in the new snow.   Would like to take side paths, fine snow, fine stick, too bad I’m in a hurry.
State of the Creek:  The ice is receding from what it was yesterday, giving way to channels of water on the sunny side of the banks.  Where the ice is still thick, it is now completely white and opaque, and it is still too thick to poke through with my walking stick.  But I can shave off the ice at the edges facing the warmer bank sides.  Fresh snow caps the rocks in the stream, lies on top of the strewn branches and logs.  It is a brown, low stream today, flowing gently and quietly between the snow covered banks.
The Fetch:   I throw the stick exactly 21 times.   In the same directions as yesterday.  I like the feel of the longer stick as I’m throwing it, can take a good windup, feel pulses through my back and stomach muscles as it leaves my hand .   Mway can track it, spy it among the weeds, easily, even when it falls and gets stuck in the same wild olive shrub as yesterday.  The stick is almost as long as she is: sometimes she has to wrestle with it to draw it out of the weeds and to situate it comfortably between her teeth for carrying.  As she carries it back, she runs a little slower than she would with a smaller stick, and the long stick dangles lopsided in her mouth.  She looks a little like a small child struggling to carry a flag in a parade.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Little Bit on Sticks

December 30, 2009.  Wednesday.
Situation.  Work tonight.  So after puttering around in the morning, I lie down to rest and read around 2 pm.  It’s close to 3 when I decide I should start moving.  I hear Alma coming for her lesson with Moi and Mway downstairs barking for her treat.  I finally get up out of bed, and as I walk past Moi’s bedroom, I see Mway on the floor, eyeing me.
State of the Path.  I have to leave for work about 4, so I have an hour to take Mway for a walk, shower, and do a couple tasks – I feel rushed.  It’s cold like yesterday, the ground frozen.  I just do the circuit, down to the creek and back.  In the store of sticks kept on the bench on the back porch, I couldn’t find the one I’ve been using the last couple days – Mway may have left it lying somewhere in the backyard on a walk with Moi.  The sticks that are there on the bench are all rather small, but I recall seeing one in the kitchen that might be a good size, so I go back in to get that one.  On all my walks I have taught Mway that I like her to drop the stick at the back door so that I can put it on the bench (and have it handy for the next walk).  Moi, on the other hand, lets Mway bring the stick in the house, which Mway then drops anywhere indiscriminately.
State of the Creek.  Walk quickly down to the creek.  More ice than yesterday, but it is not frozen in all places.  I test the ice in three places with my walking stick.  After six or more taps, I crack and dinge it, but can’t poke through it.  The ice is transparent: you can see brown water flowing beneath it.  The creek is almost completely silent.
The Fetch.  The stick I’ve brought along, although bigger than the ones on the porch, is still smaller than I like, only about 15 inches long, and rather well worn from Mway chomping on it on previous walks.  I like a stick at least a yard long, the better to wing it.  Although I’m in a hurry today, Mway isn’t, and I end up throwing the stick more than twenty times.  Today I pitch it in three places in the dead goldenrod, toward the cement rubble pile, toward the exit of the clearing, and toward the garden.  Mway is full of her typical energy, spinning around as I hold the stick in the air to throw it, then dashing off in a bee line to where I’ve thrown it, snapping it up then dashing back to drop it at my feet.  Eventually the stick she retrieves is smaller than what I’ve thrown:  already well worn it breaks apart even more either from the impact of landing on the ground or from Mway chomping on it.  It’s finally too small for me to enjoy throwing it.  I toss it toward the garden and watch it land in the branches at the base of a wild olive shrub.  Mway dashes off after it but paces back and forth around the shrub, unable to find the stick.  Exasperated I walk the twenty feet to the shrub and point the stick out to Mway.  She lunges at it and dislodges it, then presents it to me between her teeth, but I don’t feel like throwing such a small stick and, throwing my hands up and saying “Nah, that’s it,” start marching away back toward the house, Mway having no choice but to follow me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Expanding the Area

December 29, 2009.  Tuesday.
Situation:  Work this afternoon, and don’t get home till a little after 4.  Still, Mwayla skulks around the kitchen, follows me furtively up the stairs: she expects to have an afternoon walk.  I change into my walking clothes -- old jeans, a work shirt, and white socks that I only wear for the walk -- then put on my boots and snow suit.  Mway paces around the table, her whines of anticipation building up into huffs of impatience.
State of the Path.  The ground is frozen hard, not waxy like yesterday; it is only crunchy down by bug land where the mud, now frozen, had been whipped up and pitted by Mway walking over it on warmer days.  Only in one spot is the mud soft: where a seep apparently keeps the mud from freezing.  Because of the cold, I want to take a short walk, so I avoid both side paths, along the old orchard and by the failed skating pond; simply make the circuit down to the creek, along it for a ways, then up to the clearing and back to the house.
State of the Creek:   Ice has crystallized around many of the rocks; in the deeper parts, a thin layer of ice has started to form, which I puncture in two places, with two or three thrusts of my walking stick.   Because of the ice, the creek is quieter today, as it runs in fewer places, mainly at the cascade under the multiflora-choked oaks at the midpoint along the creek.
The Fetch:  It seems that more of the dead goldenrod has been been beaten down by the weather and by Mway, and I think to myself that I can start to expand the area in which I throw Mway’s stick.   I throw it mainly toward the poison-ivy covered pile of cement rubble and back toward the upper part of the clearing, but I don’t yet throw it much farther into the dead goldenrod still standing.  My hands are already numb, and I don’t feel like thinking too hard.  Mway has a little more energy than she did yesterday, but she still only fetches the stick under 10 times before she growls, chomps, and shakes the stick in her mouth, instead of dropping it at my foot, indicating that she has fetched the stick for as long as she wants.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Atlas Finally Gone

December 28, 2009.  Monday.
Situation:   No work today so I take Mway out around 4 pm.  She goes through part of her routine to coax me out the door:  slamming her body against the bedroom door while I’m reading, eyeing me imploringly when I’m down in the kitchen, circling the kitchen table and whining as I put on my rubber boots and snow suit.
State of the Path:  Pretty much the same as the last time, but the ground feels more waxy and crunchy underfoot.  The air is especially cold and humid – even with my snowsuit, I realize right away that I don’t feel like walking.  The jaggers and briars that stick out into the path do irritate me today – especially one multiflora bush somewhere along the path that I never noticed before, which catches my arms with its overreaching thorn stems – I think to myself that this is one I’ll have to trim back sometime this winter.  Eventually I come across some flecks of snow on the path, just a dribble from some very few flurries that must have fallen today.  Along the creek, a small tree has fallen across the path.  Its little trunk is still rooted in the ground, so I just leave it where it is for now.
State of the Creek:  The water is a little lower today; in places its color is turning rusty brown, but it is still not iced up.  There is what appears to be solid ice in the first feed channel to the skating pond.  I don’t step on it, though, for fear of putting my foot through it like I did the other day.  I venture to hop over the channel, but the foot holds are shallow, and the ground too cold to make them deeper by pressing into them.  I realize that this channel is becoming harder and harder for me to hop across, and I’d like to do something about it. The second feed channel (which I don’t have to cross) has running water flowing out of it.
The Fetch:  Up in the clearing, I expect Mway to be very eager to fetch, especially since this is our first walk since Atlas went home.  I throw the stick farther out into the dead stands of goldenrod around the garden, trying to utilize Mway’s body force to knock them down.  Mway is enthusiastic, spinning around at my feet and running at top speed toward the stick, but not especially so.   I notice some pretty fungus on an abandoned stick.  We fetch, maybe 6 or 7 times, and that’s it; she’s ready to quit rather quickly, keeping the stick in her mouth after she fetches it to tell me so.  I’m ready to quit too, and as usual she runs ahead of me as we head back toward the house.   Maybe she is as cold as I am.  By the time I reach the back door my hands and feet are turning numb.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunday, A Day Off

December 27, 2009.  Sunday.
Situation:  Work all day today, and do not get home until after dark.  No walk for Mway from me today.   Moi has just arrived back from driving Atlas home to Jazz’s.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why the Big Pup?

December 26, 2009.  Saturday.
Situation:   Today, more typically, took an afternoon walk at 3 pm, prior to work this evening and before showering etc.   But Atlas is still here, and he knew what was in store, pacing and whimpering at the door, as if he’s been going on walks with us for years now.  Mway stood away from the door, just looking on quietly, as if to say “why does this big pup have to go along with us?”
State of the Path:   All the snow from yesterday is gone, washed away apparently from the rain that started yesterday afternoon.   Lots of mud, grass in spots as green as if it were summer time, clumps of grass along the old orchard that I mistake for the garlic grass that comes up profusely in the spring.  As soon as I step outside I expect to be irritated by the jaggers that are probably jutting into the path, but they do not seem as bad as I expected.   Atlas wanders away a lot, even venturing through the back hedgerow into Hutchinson’s field, but he keeps looking backward, to keep track of where we are.  I take note of the many new raspberry runners that have come up along the old orchard, pinkish purple and more slender than the redder blackberry briars so prevalent in the back acre.  There have not been many raspberries the past couple years; looks like there could be more this year.
State of the Creek:  The water is running about as strongly as yesterday, a thick brown green color.  No ice at all.  But in the eddies, there is the foam that you sometimes see, which looks like soap suds.  I’m not sure what this is, if it is cow urine, or a concoction from nitrogen runoff, or simply oxygenization of the stream.   Coming up through bug land along the sumac ridge, I am surprised to find some spots of ice.  When we get to the creek, Atlas runs up to it, but stops short, until he sees Mway wade into it, then he jumps in and out of it, smiling, as if he’s done this all his life.
The Fetch:   Coming up from the creek, Atlas wanders down the channel into the skating pond, and so I follow Mway up to the clearing alone (I don’t hop across the channel, because I’m afraid of slipping on the mud).  As soon as I get to the clearing behind Mway, I turn around and I see Atlas’s big white form running along to catch up with us.   I manage to throw one stick for Mway before he arrives, and I get a second one off before Atlas has the wits about him to interfere.  On the third throw, he bounds off and steals Mway’s stick.   After Mway fetches the fourth stick, she simply starts heading down the path back to the house, Atlas following with his stick.   I don’t have a chance to leash Atlas, so in the backyard, while Mway sits with her stick, I chase Atlas around the house.  Finally I throw Mway’s stick once, and Altas drops his.  I manage to collar him as he runs by me to snatch Mway’s stick away.  When I come back out into the yard after dragging him into the house, Mway is only interested in fetching the stick once or twice.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

It Doesn't Matter It's Christmas

December 25, 2009.  Friday.
The Situation:   Mway lies quietly on the floor, her snout buried in discarded product packaging and holiday wrapping.  Unusual day today: normally Moi has already taken Mway out for her early morning walk, long before I wake up.   But today everyone, Moi, me, Jungle Boy, and Jazz Baby, is spending all morning sitting around the living room, tearing up pieces of paper and plastic and throwing them on the floor.  Jazz’s German shepherd dog, a big white pup, has come along with her to visit.  He’s been pacing around the house, jumping up at the door windows, making a constantly shifting nuisance of himself; Moi and Jazz tie him up outside for a while, but he does nothing there but whimper and bark.  (I suspect he remembers a walk from his last visit.)  I try to keep my stuff, especially the food items, stacked in one corner of the living room, and keep clear at least a small area free of trash around me.  We reach the last few items to rip open around 11:30, and, though what I’d really like to do next is eat breakfast, I decide to take the dogs out, partly because I need some air, partly because I can’t stand Atlas pacing around any more.
State of the Path:   Mway scoots down the backyard sidewalk, her spindly legs carrying her slightly stout, but taut, body, the stub of her tail flexing.  She does her best to ignore the gangly Atlas frolicking at her side.  I’ve seen her snap at him in the past, but I suspect, although she’s not frightened of him, that she’s mindful that his mouth could just about engulf her head.  The path, which begins beyond out biggest outbuilding, is the same as it has been for the past few days.  The weeds along it are beaten down from the several snowfalls this past fall, but there are places the jaggers and briars still poke into the pathway, though you can sometimes whack them back with a stick, and where they are not too thick, you can try to trample them down to widen the path.   Where tall grass grows in summer, particularly down at bug land, the path is beginning to widen considerably.  At this time of year, the path makes a clear, unimpeded circuit down to the creek then back up.  There is also a side path along the old orchard, which however disappears as you doubleback to the main path through a thicket of blackberry briars and goldenrod – these have been knocked down by the snowfalls, but you still have to trample on them, very rough going for Mway to step on.  The side path along the failed skating pond is also clear, but this can be treacherous as you have to hop over the first feed channel, which is now filled with ice and whose foot holds on its banks are not clearly visible.   A few days ago I put a plank of wood across the channel, but it didn’t hold my weight, and my boot went plopping through the ice into freezing water.  Since my rubber boots (no more than a year old) are split open at the seams, they easily fill with water – they are about worthless, and my socks are always wet after my walk.  At the far end of the skating pond, the path is impeded by one of the sumac trees on the bank that fell over this past fall and pokes its branches into the path – since the weeds are down now, you can easily side step it.   The few inches of snow that fell here this past weekend from the big snowstorm that whammied the Big Metroplis are still on the ground.  The path itself is pitted with human foot prints, mostly iced up, and dog paw prints.  It is not bad walking, but I bring my own walking stick, because it can be slippery at places.  At the seeps down by bugland, the mud is frozen.   By the old orchard, I have noticed in the last few days a very strange animal path, like I’ve never seen before.  All over the place you see rabbit and squirrel prints, but there is an expressway of them running along the old orchard, a straight, deeply worn path of paw prints.
State of the Creek:   The water is at its typical height; it is not frozen and is still running despite the very cold weather the last couple weeks; only in a few places along the banks and the exposed tree roots are there a few small shelves of thin ice.   The last few days, you can hear the creek gurgling over the rocks.  I didn’t notice this today, as my attention was on the dogs.
The Fetch:   Atlas loves to come along for the walk and follows along fairly well.  Like Blue used to do, he wanders off frequently, but for the most part he keeps to the circuit with Mway and me, and ends up with us in the clearing behind the garden, where I always throw the stick for Mway.  The last few days I have been pitching the stick into the still standing areas of dead goldenrod, to get Mway to knock them down.   Today my hope is merely to try to throw the stick without Atlas interfering too much.  I brought two fetching sticks with me, because I know how Atlas acts.  Sure enough he behaves as I expect: doesn’t play fetch, but rather snatch-the-stick away-from-Mway-and-run-off-with-it.   I try to outsmart him for Mway’s sake: while he’s running away with the first stick, I throw the other one in the opposite direction.  Mway goes after that.  But Atlas then drops the first stick, and runs over to snatch away the second stick.   As the dogs tug, I find the first stick, throw that one.   Mway knows what I’m doing, what we’re trying to accomplish.  She runs after the first stick now.  Atlas drops the second stick, looks up for a moment, smiles; he’s not going to be outsmarted.   First one stick, then the other; on and on, back and forth.  After a while I snap a leash onto Atlas, and he pulls me back to the house.   Mway, however, doesn’t follow us to the door; instead, waits in the backyard, chewing on one of the sticks, in anticipation of my coming back to throw the stick in our usual fashion.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Walk to Mark the Silence

            Toward the end of 2009, I decided to start keeping a daily journal about taking my wife’s dog for a walk, as an exercise in defiance of a silence that had imposed itself around me (metaphysically, politically, culturally, psychologically – in short, in every way but literally, i.e. aurally).  It was not my expectation to dispel the silence: metaphysically it was necessary for a sense of self in the first place; in the other ways it was too powerful for me to do anything about.  I only hoped, by a wan gesture of protest, to mark the fact of its imposition, and to the extent that for an entire year I disciplined myself, after I took the dog for a walk (which I did almost every day), to sit down and write about it, I feel that I have been successful in fulfilling that hope.
            The journal bears all the scars of the exigencies of its production.  The walk and the writing usually occurring in the midst of a busy, noisy day, I often didn’t have time to write as much as I wanted, and seldom, if ever, the time to write as well as I would’ve liked.  Reflection and revision were practically impossible.  Such research as was needed had to be done in a hurry and was often incomplete.  Awkward phrases, clumsy transitions, redundancies, sloppy word choices, underdeveloped passages, slapdash punctuation, even misspellings – I haven’t had the chance to reread much, but these must be abundant.  The word “get,” I’m sure, must stand in frequently as le mot juste.  Such as it is then, the effort, the sheer commitment to the page and to the occasion, goes to being nearly everything; and perhaps the significance of what I’ve written – what’s interesting about it -- is solely sociological, if not medical.
            Nevertheless, there is content, a whole year’s worth, as much as anyone could want; and by happenstance, because I live near fields and woods, it turns out to be, somewhat startling to me, a nature journal -- however uninformed by any of the biological and geological sciences, and though less influenced perhaps by the roster of nature writers, from Henry David Thoreau to Rachel Carson, than by the de-naturalist perspective of Vivian in Oscar Wilde’s essay “The Decay of Lying” or the vision of nature de trop in the works of Samuel Beckett.  “The infinite variety of Nature,” Vivian says, “that is a pure myth….It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her”: hence, day after day as I took Mwayla for a walk near my house, noting a shrub first bare, then in leaf, another still bare, the first now in flower, the second finally in leaf, the first suddenly bearing fruit, the second yet in leaf, both at last bare again, I felt not only that I was witnessing the change of seasons but also that, like a weak jazz musician, I was stumbling, chorus after chorus, through the chord changes of a difficult tune.  Walks with Mway I call it; the title should bring to mind John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, though the differences are striking.  Steinbeck travels with his poodle in a truck camper from Maine to California in search of America; Mway and I stay entirely within our property, and only go as far as one of the neighbors can hit a golf ball.
            Part way through, it occurred to me I should be writing it as a blog.  But how could I do something that I’d only heard about?  My wife, more computer savvy than I am, eventually steered me in the right direction.  I’m starting late, so I’ve proposed to at least keep things even, putting December 25, 2009, up on line on December 25, 2010, December 26, 2009, up on line on December 26, 2010, and so on through the days of the year until December 24, 2010, my last entry, goes up on December 24, 2011.  The effect will be like nothing except what occurs in science fiction: a man, stuck in the past with his wife’s dog, sending messages through time to the present to anyone in the world who might hear him.

            Good reading everyone,
            Sisyphus Gregor