Bear and I recently ran into a gaggle of twentysomethings on the Boardwalk. Bear was his usual charming self, trying to kiss the girls and to bum snacks and cigarettes from the boys. One young man was particularly excited to meet us. It turns out he’d already filed an application for an aussiedoodle from the same local breeder. Bear’s charms closed the deal.
The guy was full of curious questions about life with the dogs. Finally, he asked “Do they need a lot of exercise?”
I responded with the same observation I so often find myself repeating to my children, particularly Eleanor: “It depends what you think the word ‘need’ means.”
Both dogs and people need exercise. Some dogs and people really need exercise.
Our household consists of three children, two dogs, and Papa. Half of the family becomes stir crazy if we’re trapped inside for too long. The other half think quarantine is the best thing that’s ever happened.
Rosalind and Oliver are convinced “exercise” is something that occurs in Minecraft, Fortnite, and Grand Theft Auto. Meanwhile, our long-delayed trip to the dog groomer revealed a frankly zaftig Buster underneath all that fur. Whenever the dogs and I leave for a Walk, Buster is responsible for the huffing and puffing you’ll hear before we make it past the driveway.
Among the other three family members, Bear whines the most if he’s deprived of outside time. I’m third. Eleanor is second. She energetically fills her life with softball, volleyball, gymnastics, whatever. During these trying times, she’ll settle for a brisk walk through campus. Alone. Eleanor is too much of a teenager to be seen in public with her pets or parent – even though everyone else in Bellingham knows the dogs are adorable, and I’m the Cool Gay Dad.
Bear and I have rigorous standards. It doesn’t count as a Walk unless we go at least a mile. You and Buster might consider sometime less to be a “walk,” but we know it’s just a trip to the outhouse. You might as well hang out in our lovely enclosed backyard.
A mere Walk is not the same as a Real Walk. On a Real Walk, I can collect my thoughts and do some serious writing in my head. Meanwhile the dogs can get all their ya-yas out.
The transition from a Walk to a Real Walk usually occurs somewhere between the 2 and 3 mile marks. Coincidentally, that’s also about where Buster collapses and fakes an injury, like a European soccer player.
Friday Walks can happen any day of the week. Buster isn’t even invited. To prepare for a Friday Walk, Bear and I pack the essentials into a backpack: writing supplies, snacky treats, a mobile dog dish, a flask of tap water for Bear, and Eleanor’s hand-me-down Hydroflask with Brita-filtered cold water for me.
On a Friday Walk we go for at least five miles, but usually more like eight or ten. We’ll try various routes through campus, the arboretum, downtown, and Fairhaven, invariably looping through the waterfront Boardwalk and Boulevard Park. We’ll stop at the off-leash park, or one of our three favorite coffee shops, or the post office. Once we stopped at the gay bar downtown, only to realize I’d forgotten my wallet. So Bear and I had to have another cider and snacky treat, and wait for Eleanor to walk down the hill. Obviously Rosalind, Oliver, and Buster didn’t accompany her.
On Friday Walks, Bear and I will stop several times to write down our thoughts and transcribe our witty conversations, preferably at a park where the benches have back support. And we invariably end with a brisk hike to the top of South Hill and home.
Recently the smoke from forest fires across the West was so terrible the dogs and I couldn’t go on any Real Walks or Friday Walks. Unlike Seattle and Portland, Bellingham never made it to the maroon level of “Hazardous.” Instead we alternated between red (“Unhealthy”) and purple (“Very Unhealthy”).
Fortunately, rain returned over the weekend and brought us back into the green zone. On Sunday Bear and I went on our first Friday Walk in ages. It was also our First Fall Walk.
Autumn is the air; masked collegiate nerds are playing frisbee on campus; my beard is back; and it’s almost time to break out the fleece. The smoke-induced break indoors underscored the change in seasons. Its obviously getting dark earlier, which makes it difficult to fit in a Real Walk after dinner. Buster and I will need to schedule our daytime Walks between inconveniences like the kids’ school, legal work, and rain showers. Some sacrifices may be required: perhaps healthy children’s meals, evening rabbit prowls, Zoom writing group meetings, or Buster.
You may ask, whose needs will be prioritized? It depends on what you think the word “Alpha” means.