October 22, 2019

“No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”

-Edmund Burke


A couple of months ago, sometime between late June and early July — well before I sprained my ankle, Waldo and I were doing our long 8.7-mile walk on the rail-trail. The sun was high, it was close to midday, and it was hot, right around 83 degrees. The air was still with only an occasional relief-giving breath of wind helping to evaporate the sweat soaking my clothes and forehead. Waldo’s tongue was fully extended and dripping, saliva drops flying as his longer-than-snoot tongue flopped about with each step. I carried a backpack holding two bottles of water for him and one was already empty as we approached the old railroad caboose that marked our turnaround spot.

There are those who believe that our ancestors survived because we can sweat. The argument goes that they were able to run down game, gazelles and such, not because they were faster, but because they had better endurance since they could sweat and the game animals couldn’t. Estimates suggest that animals, like dogs, can maintain their body temperature during prolonged exercise on days that don’t exceed the mid-seventies. Humans do better, regulating their temperatures in up to mid-eighties weather. Above those temperatures, rest and cooling off in the shade, or a dip in a creek, is periodically needed.

On this walk, Waldo didn’t slow down in the slightest. If the heat was bothering him, he didn’t show it. Just the same, I decided that hereafter, I would not take Waldo out for long walks when the temperature was above 73 or so. Sleep be damned (and it often was in the following weeks – there were days we got up at 4 AM), we would leave early enough so the temperature would not exceed the mid-seventies. But, on that day, there we were, baked in the hot sun.

The rail-trail is quite arboreal, lots of welcome shade, up until the last mile to the caboose. It then, suddenly, opens up to a city-scape as it passes very close to downtown Hudson. For about a tenth of a mile, the path goes right to the curb and is protected from cars, trucks and motorcycles by only an iron pipe fence. This always made Waldo nervous and, even though I kept him on a tight leash there, his tail was tucked and he anxiously fought his tether, even when I put my body between him and the car-sheep. Beyond that, the trail runs between two busy streets, each separated from where we walk by only about fifteen feet or so of well-manicured lawn. Waldo liked to run, full tilt, parallel to the streets, on one side or the other, chasing the car-sheep, but staying on the grass. I tried my best to discourage him from this, but my success was sketchy. We live in a city and can’t avoid being close to traffic and I wanted Waldo to get used to walking near it, so I used this as a training opportunity.

Shortly after crossing the last stoplight-controlled street, we came to the old caboose, ensconced on a very short piece of rail in the grass. There’s a bench in front of it and I took off the backpack, pulled out the remaining full water-bottle and sat down with a grateful sigh. Waldo went into the shade offered by the caboose and laid down. I called to him and tugged on the leash, trying to get him to come and get the drink of water I knew he needed. He rolled around on the grass, ignoring me. I insisted and pulled harder on the leash, calling him to me. The leash suddenly went slack and rolled up into its handle. Somehow, Waldo got the clasp on the end of the leash to open up and it came free from his Halti. Oh, shit!

I glanced at Waldo. In his eyes, there showed a sudden realization, flashing by in only a millisecond, that he was no longer encumbered, no longer tethered, that he was free! In the next millisecond, his eyes told me that he decided this means go! And he went – with gusto, at a full gallop, back along the rail-trail the way we had come.

Oh crap! This was bad, very bad. He could outrun me even if I were athletic and in my twenties. I had no chance of chasing him down, and he was in no mood to come back on his own. Visions of Waldo running off into the distance, disappearing into side streets, twisted my stomach up in knots. And, God damn it, if he were to cross the street and get hit by a car…

I dropped his water bottle and the pack on the bench and went after him. I called to him calmly, trying not to let the anxiety, fear and frustration that I felt show in my tone and walked in a quick, but not rushed, pace toward him. The last thing I wanted was to get into a race with him – something he might think of as a game.

What the hell was I going to do now?

Continued next week…

Here car-sheep, here car-sheep!

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