Humor writer Bill Bryson wrote a wonderful book, A Walk in the Woods, about his trek down the Appalachian Trail. To escape our busy lives, my husband and I walk our own miniature Appalachian with our Labradoodle, Gordon, every day. Though, I think a better name for Bill’s book would have been Spider Webs in My Face. We walk too early in the morning, and the spiders have spent all night swinging from one side of the trail to the other, building wildly hopeful food nets. I spend the entire trek trying to dupe my husband Mike into walking a little ahead of me, so HE can do all the spastic flailing about and face clawing. I don’t know why the spiders build their webs across the trail. I guess they figure if they can catch an errant high school cross country runner, they’ll be able to just sit back and listen to the kid’s Ipod for a year or two before they have to start looking for dinner again.
Being within walking distance of the wooded trail allows us to exercise both ourselves and the dog without dying of boredom. Without it, we would be forced to plod around and around our tiny neighborhood, like hamsters on a wheel. By the second time around the block, we’ve already sniped about how that couple’s gnomes could use a coat of paint, and how if I ever go missing be sure to check that guy’s basement. Then what? The trail is much more interesting. We get to ponder questions like: Who dumped the clothes washer in the woods? It’s like a rusty Stonehenge out there now, built by ancient ancestors, possibly as far back as the early 1970s. How did they get that monolith out there? And why? Was going to the dump really more work than trudging 140 paces into the woods behind the high school with a 400lb Kenmore?
In addition to totems by Sears, we get to see deer almost every day. When we come across them, they look at us like teenagers caught smoking and scurry back into the woods. We usually only see one at first, but as soon as they start running, three more will magically appear beside her, like Predator aliens with faulty invisibility suits, their white tails flashing goodbye.
On the trail we can let the dog off the leash, which is nice for everyone involved. Gordon gets to run around; we don’t get our arm periodically pulled from our shoulders because a squirrel, or “Leaf Monkey” as Mike likes to call them, popped from behind a tree. This is particularly handy when we walk my brother-in-law’s dog, Brock, who is absolutely psychotic about birds. It’s nice to let him zip around after the sparrows, though if a particularly interesting bird ever crossed our path, we’d be getting paw-marked postcards from Hawaii before we could stop him.
Brock is oblivious to wingless animals. Once, he ran right over a sleeping fawn, much to the horror of a little boy and his father, who were taking its photo and sharing a bonding moment. Mortified, we screamed at Brock to stop, so he immediately turned and ran back over the baby deer, which by that time had had enough and ran bleating after Mama. We smiled sheepishly at the father and the now sobbing child, mumbled something about Brock not really being our dog, and made our way quickly down the trail. I’m sure they still tell the story about the jerks in the woods and their deer-hating, miniature hellhound. If they weren’t going to forever remember that touching moment, they certainly will now. Really, they should thank us.
Letting the dogs off the leash allows them to go at their own pace. Generally, Gordon insists on leading the way, but if he gets a good whiff of something, he’ll pause to investigate and let us get ahead. After a moment, he’ll realize he isn’t leading any more, and we’ll hear him making his way back to us. There are two ways he returns:
1. At hyper-speed, where we have to hold perfectly still so he can fly by without taking out our knees in the process.
2. At a steady jog, where he passes us sounding a lot like a little train trying to make it up the mountain.
While Gordon is not terribly interested in birds or people, he does have a pathological need to sniff everyone. If we pass other walkers on the trail, he’ll act oblivious, until JUST as they pass him. Then, he will suddenly whirl his head and RAM his nose into their thigh (if they are lucky) to ensure he gets a whiff before they get away. There is nothing an early morning walker likes better than having a 60lb Labradoodle stab him in a tender area with his nose, take a quick snorf as the victim tries in vain to recover his breath, and then trot off like the exchange means nothing. They must feel so used.
Gordon just can’t help himself. He’s like a Muppet Darwin, cataloging all the creatures that pass him for later study; scientific and detached.
Other than spider webs, angry fathers and indignant baby deer, here are a few other downsides to the trail walk. The occasional sprint after a deer that ends with two hours of picking burrs from Gordon’s curly mop. The muddy paws you have to wash before Gordon can take his post trail nap in our his bed. The chiggers I got last year that almost drove me totally insane. My skin doctor described it perfectly as an “Arthropod Assault” — a microscopic mugging that left me itchy for over a month.
But the good outweighs the bad. We play hide and seek with Gordon behind the trees, each of us taking turns disappearing when he is forging ahead and not paying attention. We watch him skitter away, back end moving faster than his front end, when an acorn unexpectedly falls on his rump. And, most importantly, everybody gets much needed exercise so some of us aren’t bouncing off the walls for the rest of the day. And by that I mean my husband.