Take a hike
I don’t know what to say. Seems pretty goddamn hopeless. I took a walk with Woody. I like walking behind him in the woods. I realized this somewhere in the Smokies—that I walk different, because I’m walking behind him. His entire being is focused on the walk. He sniffs the ground, sniffs piles of leave, sniffs tree trunks, and sniffs bushes like he’s scrolling twitter. When he finds a particularly interesting spot, he’ll shove his face in and suck at the scent like a wine snob. He’ll randomly sample plants along the edge. A little snack for the road. I was checking every time he found a new plant he loved. But each time found they were perfectly edible. The plants I know are toxic—the ivy and hemlock and bullwort, he avoids. So I trust him now. He seems to know what’s good.
He zigzags down the path and I watch where he’s sticking his nose. I’ve seen too many dogs with swollen, oozing muzzles from snake bites. But eventually, the manic sniffing will stop. He’ll trot along the path in front of me, urging me to go farther. The next switchback smells great from here.
I see his nose twitch when he catches a scent. I see his ears perk forward when he hears something in the woods. He’ll freeze and wait. He won’t even pant, not even to cool himself. His entire body is tuned to what did I just hear. So I listen. And I hear bird songs I’ve never heard before. I look and see wildflowers I’ve never seen. Maybe they only grow right there, in that spot. And I’d have missed them if I were alone, just looking at the trail ahead. He decides whatever he heard wasn’t a threat or potential snack, and we walk some more. Then he hears or smells something again. His ears perk and his body tenses again. He rearranges his legs, ready to run or give chase. I hold his collar to make sure there will be no giving chase. Then I hear it too—a twig snap. A rustle of leaves. So I squat down beside him and wait. A doe crosses the path, then a fawn. He whines and they hop into the brush, to safety. I give Woody a treat for not dragging me into the brush after them. And we keep going, down the path. Until he notices the next thing. So I notice. Then I realize, I haven’t had a thought, a single worry. I’m just listening to the songbirds. And it helps.